Play-Doh Retro Canister (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There comes a time every year, when the cheerfulness of summer sunshine begins to wear thin. It usually coincides with that week when the new school year looms. It brings with it the mixed emotions of sentimentality, and dread. I tend to meander back through my forest of memories, paying homage to the milestones once again. A pressing awareness of my duty to be thankful for all the blessings that I have had, co-habitates with a melancholy over opportunities missed. We never could afford that swing set for the back yard. But the swings we hung on the sturdy clothes lines sufficed for their fun and they never knew the difference. We never made the big vacation to Disney, but come to find out, they don’t even have much memory of the special things we did do when they were little.
For the millionth time I question my role as stay-at-home mom, although in my case it wasn’t quite as simple as a choice. Yet parallel to that question, resides the ever-present concern that I didn’t give enough. Shouldn’t I have spent more time on “learning activities”? I should have discouraged television, and been more of a baking/cooking type mom. It was so easy when they were pre-school age. I mean, the work wasn’t easy, but engaging them was. And they delighted in my attention. They were open to my every suggestion and idea: finger-painting, Play-Doh, a ride in the wagon, a nap.
They were two little guys who were so different, the first so compliant, his greatest pleasure was to make us smile and murmur our approval. His most coveted reward, a proud “you’re such a helpful boy”. The second came into the world howling his grievance at having been disturbed, and reiterating it every day at bath time for the first 5 weeks, even as he had rudely lingered 10 days past my due date. He has his very own way of seeing, doing, and being. One so cuddly, the other cuddly only on his terms. A dog and a cat! One day shopping for Father’s Day cards, I found one that summed them up. It depicted a cartoon cat and cartoon dog. The dog, in typical dog fashion, being sappy and sentimental, was saying things such as “Dad, I could always count on your strength and wisdom, and I honor you on your special day”, while the cat says, “yeah, yeah, whatever!” From then on, I always thought of their two personalities as “the dog” and “the cat”. But I realized recently, in their teen years, that they have switched a little.
Oh the joy they both have given us; Ben with his mischief, and Isaac with his oh-so-Isaac-ness”: the funny things he would say. “Isaac-isms”, we called them. He used to get so angry when we all burst out laughing at the sheer brilliance of his proclamations. It was so hard to make him understand that we weren’t laughing at him. He has grown into his gift now, and knows how to wield it with great skill. He has such a unique view. I just know God has a plan for the special recipe that makes up Isaac: Bar-Bar’s buddy, teachers favorite, the younger, and the cat.
Then there’s Ben. “Gentle Ben”; first-born, beloved of teacher and coach. He was a sad little elf for a while. So serious, he was. He carried my pain as a part of himself. He felt such responsibility, knew the power he had to bring a smile to my often-sad face, and took it seriously indeed. When God finally saw fit to restore my peace of mind, my Benny had to learn again, how to be a little boy. So God sent him an adorable little friend named Chris, who reminded him how to just be a kid. Once again we saw him lie on the floor and play with cars and trucks and ride bikes and be silly. For a while all he would do was quietly draw. He didn’t want to make messes by pulling out his toys for Mommy to have to pick up. I guess I gave him that impression, as the only control I felt I had in my life at the time, was in containing the clutter. It was instinctive from my upbringing, to swoop behind them the moment they abandoned a particular activity, and put it all “away”. Until finally he just stopped getting things out.
I feel sad when I think of how my illness effected their childhoods. It was a slow, painful revelation, and separate regarding each of them. If I had been able to see it at the time, it would have crushed me, but back then I was too busy surviving.
In my case, it felt like it took a long time for me to catch on to “the mommy” business. Sickness began in earnest with my first pregnancy and has been dogging me ever since. I had no joy in being pregnant. I went into shock when the test came back positive. I just wasn’t ready. I literally could not find my way to work. I was working in home health as an RN at the time, and my first patient was one I’d seen twice a week for 4 weeks. I couldn’t find her house! I was so embarrassed to have to call her, but I explained everything, and when I got there, she sat me down, made me drink some juice, fed me crackers and told me to call another nurse to take over so I could go home. Which was a good idea since I was completely useless at that moment. The entire 9 months my mind fought against absorbing this new reality, and it was so bad, that I never was able to bond with him while I was carryig him. I walked around feeling as if an alien had taken up residence in my body, and all the while I very much resented his audacity. Of all the nerve!
Miserable! That’s all I can say to describe my pregnancy the first go-round. But then, there he was! This precious fellow and my heart full of love til I thought it would burst. We dressed him up like a doll. My husband took a full hour to dress him in the hospital that day, afraid he would break.
We will never forget the bizarre experience we both felt as we strapped him into his little car seat to take him home that first time after the nurse checked to see we had it properly secured. As we prepared to pull away from the hospital, new mom, new dad, each hoping the other to be better prepared than we, ourselves felt, and expecting any moment for someone to rush out and stop us from driving away with this creature who must surely belong to some responsible adult, somewhere. And yet, would you believe we got the hang of it. Oh, it took some time yet to feel we were filling the shoes of proper adults, and it wasn’t all that much later we have awoken to stare middle age in the face. Now I ask you, what wormhole does the time suck into and get so compressed that you scarcely mark it?
Well we brought that baby home and handled him like fine porcelain. We rose to every challenge, met every need, and his smile was our greatest reward, his laughter a bliss we could never have dreamed of. Neither sleep deprivation, nor lack of adult interaction could bring us down. None of it seemed to matter. Our world had a new focus. It was the best of times and we were poor as church mice.
That first Christmas all we could afford was a $10 box of various rattles and teething toys. It didn’t matter. We wrapped them individually, and watched his delight as he discovered each one. He had plenty of gifts from others anyway.
In two years we discovered, with only slightly less shock, that I was expecting again. Only this time I was able to conceive of what we would get out of the deal, the pregnancy was much healthier, and we three loved him and eagerly awaited his arrival. See, the difference was, it was foreign to me, all that was happening the first time. You can’t “know” something until you have experienced it. After the second one, I felt bad about my lack of anticipation for the first one, but I just didn’t understand the blessing I was in for. Much that happens to ous in life is probably like that. We think it’s all only inconvenience and misery, but what if God was weaving together a similar miracle in other uncomfortable and unfamiliar circumstances in my life and I ran screaming the other way? Makes one think.
Well, like I said, on the second go-round we were all eagerly waiting for him. (Until he came and then the first guy wanted to send him back when he got big enough to get into his things).
I remember the feeling that I couldn’t wait to “meet” this one, for him to get here and for us to round out our little family. A new baby brother, and another little chucklehead! And boy, he loved to laugh. He lived up to his name. Isaac means ”laughter”. Well, he lived up to it until the ear infections began. And months with a doctor who refused to refer him for tubes. Finally I found another doctor, and the procedure was scheduled. We will never forget seeing our two-year old “drunk” on narcotics just before his procedure and hollering at the nurse like a waitress in a bar, saying “hheeeeey, you’re a cutey!” But after that, his laughter did return.
Isaac was never easily impressed, and always knew his own mind, even before he had words to express it with. When he was learning to talk, he would look at us with thinly veiled disgust at our inability to decipher his newly forming baby language. When we probed, he would repeat himself, modulating and slightly altering the sounds in the vain hope this would help our meager struggle at comprehension, then he would finally stomp his little foot, and walk away leaving Ben, (still young enough not to have gone entirely stupid) to decipher and interpret to us what Isaac had tried to convey. I always marveled at the success rate of their system. Most of the time, between the two of them, we always managed to figure out what Isaac wanted us to know.
Oh, the years we have had! So many ups and downs. The struggles, the fears, the anxiety for our future. But in it all, so many priceless nuggets of goodness: Crisp fall days, shared belly laughs, snowmen, inside jokes, favorite recollections, “baby videos”, photo albums, baby journals, all to preserve our roots as a little family. We have done the best we could, though it seems less than what our boys deserve. We can only pray, and we do, that God will make up the difference where we lack, and He does. What a sacred privilege to have parented these two blessings. We know God will complete the good work He has begun in them. It is all in His hands, after all. We know this life is only temporary. We are comforted with the blessed knowledge that both have made peace with their Creator.
It has not been easy, mothering and being sick. Not easy for me, not easy for them, nor fair. But when all is said, and done, I am thankful just to be here for them, and can’t ask for more than to be here for as long as they need me, to see them grown, standing on their own two feet, established and equipped. I have my concerns about the world they are inheriting, and grieve for the simplicity they will probably never know. But I know that God will be with them, as He has been with us. And so when that nearing day does come, when they strike out on their own, I will look back on the years with peace, pondering and cherishing the treasures in this “mother’s heart” of mine. And I will count myself richly, richly blessed.