Saturday, January 28, 2012

Two whole hours

I'm all alone.
Well, not really...I'm in a cafe filled with people. People are everywhere. I can hear all kinds of conversations. Someone is even saying, "Mommy, Mommmmeeee...," but I can breathe easy - he's not talking to me!

My heart is light.

I am planning to order a latte and a scone, sit here completely by myself and consume them as slowly as I want to. I will not be eating fast in an attempt to finish quickly before someone wakes up and demands to be nursed. I will not be eating and drinking with a baby in my lap, painstakingly trying to ensure that nothing hot, spicy or stain-producing falls onto her. I will not have to leave the scone half-finished and reheat the latte four times in the microwave over the course of the afternoon because I keep getting up to refill someone's juice or wipe someone's nose. I'm going to eat and drink however I want, and I have two hours to do it.

My husband ran ten miles this morning, so I now have about two hours to do anything I want. It was a fair trade...each of us taking the children for the other to get some time alone. I felt several times this week that my life depended on this upcoming break. When I left to come out this afternoon, alone, carrying only a small bag with my knitting, my iPad, my keys and wallet, and wearing a silk scarf (because no one was going to spit up on it), I looked at George sitting in the rocker with the two babies, and I felt more affection and gratitude for the man than I have all week.

The latte and scone arrive. I stare at them, feeling a surge of gratitude for this cafe, for the woman who made the latte, for the granulated sugar on top of the scone. I am in a little heavenly moment, all alone at my table, in my little cafe, all alone...

And then, it happens.

They come in. I know they aren't from around here, because they are close to my age and have no children with them and are clad head to toe in North Face apparel and are carrying brochures. The woman has blonde pigtails. Seriously. As I'm considering how weird it is that I'm part enough of this town to know at a glance who's visiting from someplace else, they come waltzing in and choose a table one away from mine and start perusing the menu. I can hear every single word they are saying.

Omigod, look, they have lattes.
Oooh, you can get soup and sandwich together! Oh, but I don't like any of these sandwiches.
Do you think the chai tea latte is vegan? Should we ask? I don't know, do you want to?
Do you think the dog is okay in the truck? I'll go check.

The guy leaves. When the waitress comes, the girl says, "Um, like, which is better? The chai spice or the vanilla chai latte?" The waitress says one is sweeter or something, and the girl sighs heavily and says she just can't decide. She guesses she'll have the vanilla.

Then, for some reason I can't possibly imagine, she decides to move to the table Right Next To Mine. It's like the old booths in Friendly's, where there are two tables right beside each other with a divider in the middle. If you have a big group, you can pretend that you're at one huge table and take out the divider and be all congenial and big-group with your conversation.

By now, it's very clear that these people and I would never be at Friendly's (or anywhere) together in a big group. Or a small group. Not at all. They are making me crazy. And here we are, separated by almost nothing. We're practically sharing a table. If I shift my eyes to the right, I can read her menu.

I turn a little so I'm facing away from them and try to read my book.

The guy comes back, and the girl repeats, word for word, her exchange with the waitress. Only now, she's the expert on chai lattes. "The vanilla is sweeter, you wouldn't like it," she says sagely. He nods seriously, wonders aloud how many more calories are in the medium than the small?

They go over every single sandwich option. They are agonizing over their choice. What kind of bread? Is it homemade? What if one sandwich is too much? Maybe a half sandwich? Should she get a wrap? A salad? No, she wouldn't be full enough. Oh, they have cinnamon rolls! They look good! Where? In the cabinet! Oh, they probably made them this morning, they might not be fresh... Another waitress comes and tells them the specials, which throws their whole process into a tailspin. "Omigod, they have lentil soup. I just have to get that. When she said that, lentils, I just knew I had to have something hot! But do you think it will take too long to make? What time do the caverns close? What if our food takes too long and we don't make it? Maybe we should just walk down to the visitors center and ask? No, let's just call them from the table...but maybe we should order first, just to be safe? But we don't know what we want. Maybe that pizza grilled cheese she mentioned? No, too fattening! Besides, we are having Italian for dinner. We are? Yes, lasagna? Oh, I don't know if that sounds good to me any more."

By the time the waitress returns, they are marginally closer to a decision. But then the guy orders the vanilla chai, sparking another whole discussion about whether he will like it and how it will go with the tuna melt on rye and whether he should get a small (like she did) or upsize to a medium.

"I just love, love, love rye bread, don't you? I'd eat absolutely anything if it was on rye," she says...and then she says to the waitress, still awkwardly standing there..."this is just, like, such an impossible decision!"

And that's when I just can't handle it any more.

It is not an impossible decision, lady. Pick a sandwich. Pick a drink. You will eat again. You probably go to restaurants all the time. What if you pick the wrong thing? What if it's awful and you absolutely hate it? You will not die. And if your boyfriend orders the wrong drink and it's too sweet? The wrong size and can't finish it? He'll survive.

You have a moment- a moment together, a moment in a restaurant, a chance to enjoy being together and sharing a meal. Your dog is waiting in the truck. Stop worrying so much about getting the perfect thing and just order!

I think of George, at home with our three little people, and I feel sad that I'm not sitting here in this restaurant with him. And I feel bad about how grumpy I've been to him this week.

Why is it so hard, I wonder, to work as a team?

Sometimes I almost feel like I'm competing with him. Who got more sleep? Who had a chance to go out alone more times this week, even if it was just to the grocery store or to get gas? Who had the opportunity to shower alone?

I love our children, and so does he, I know. He's a dedicated and wonderful father. I'm a caring and involved mother. So why do I feel like we are each aiming to get the biggest slice of a pie at the expense of the other?

The thing is- if we actually had a pie, or a brownie, or a vanilla chai latte or a tiny Ferrero Rocher candy, we would be splitting that and sharing it with joy, no matter how small it was. I never enjoy any treat as much if I can't save a little taste of it for him. Songs are always better if he has heard them, too (or if he has told me about them in the first place). I have always thought of us as having a rare thing, a true collaborative partnership. Yet lately, instead of partners, I feel like we're competitors.

Although we recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary, we have been overcoming adversity and having adventures together since 1998. We actually like being together...traveling, running, hiking, cooking, discussing politics, hanging out and playing Wii. Neither of us is even remotely as annoying as either half of the couple next to me.

It is a true privilege to find someone so special with whom to share a life's work. Not everyone has what we have. I know this.

Lately, though, I find myself bristling frequently when he speaks. I'm frustrated when he cooks and leaves the counter a mess. I roll my eyes, close doors harder than I need to when I'm annoyed, sigh impatiently. I'm not as kind as I could be. I'm tired and overwhelmed, yes...but this is the most important person in my world we're talking about. Would it kill me to try to be nicer?

Why is it so hard to work together on this project of parenting the twins and The Boy? It's our biggest challenge yet- why can't we just be in each other's court?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Destination Post Office

It's all about managing the situation today. I have one goal: to get to The Post Office. With all three children. By myself. It would be a bonus if we could get to stand outside for a minute during that process.

Starting at 7:30 this morning, I began arranging everything, absolutely everything, to work toward that goal. At 9:53, things were looking good. The Boy had eaten breakfast. I had most of one cup of coffee on the inside of me (and even though I was wearing the rest of it on the outside for a little while, it still counts). Both babies were changed, fed, dressed, and sleepy. I had even showered (!) and was getting dressed while The Boy played in the bathroom floor with his trains. The babies were hanging out in front of a mirror in their bouncy seats, gooing and cooing pleasantly.

(I never fully appreciated before what it meant to be able to close the bathroom door and be alone in there. Any bathroom time I have now is a very public, very carefully engineered experience. Generally, I expect to be rinsing the soap out of my hair while singing to the twinfants and doing a running commentary on the train action offered by The Boy, who is crashing the engines into the wall and yelling, "Look, Mama...what's gonna happen?"

The Boy: Crash! Whoa! Look at that!
Mama: Whoa! The yellow box car is going straight up the door! Now over, across...oh, my goodness, he just crashed into the green tanker car!
The Boy: Here comes the engine!! Whoo whoo!! Crash!!

If I knew anything about sports, I think I might have a future on ESPN. Too bad there is no ESPN about trains. I've learned a lot about those.)

And now, to get to The Post Office...

The babies were generally entertained by our exchange and sat, all four eyes glued on The Boy, until they both fell asleep. I decided that two sleeping babies meant I should stop getting us all ready and just play with The Boy in his room (something I rarely get to do any more, so both of us really need it). The offer of some playtime with me seemed to motivate The Boy to get dressed faster than normal (though I ended up having to pretend to be a "robot crane dressing machine" to finish the job). We managed to put together his giraffe puzzle twice before both girls woke up demanding to be fed again.

Having nursed the twinfants, I set out again to get us out the door. "Son, look at Mommy. I am going to brush my teeth. Then you will need to put on your shoes and coat." I loaded both babies into their car seats, LadyBug screaming the whole time. At this point, still shoeless and coatless, The Boy lay down on the floor and refused to speak, move or open his eyes. I tried talking, redirecting, joking, tickling, hugging...he was unresponsive. I ended up dragging him around and trying to put his shoes on him. (I am not unsympathetic, but we had to get out of the house.) By this time, Belle had started screaming and was in serious need of a diaper change. The Boy was moaning, "no, no, no," and I was quickly moving toward a meltdown of my own. I opened my mouth to tell The Boy to get up, took a deep breath, and started singing.

Magnificat, magnificat,
magnificat anima mea dominum...

It didn't come from deep within my soul. It didn't feel like a holy song. It just sprang into my brain and out of my mouth, replacing the words of frustration I'd been about to say. I sang it over and over.

Magnificat, Magnificat...

Maybe at this point in the story, there should be a beam of heavenly light that breaks through the ceiling as a beautiful major chord in second inversion sounds. Harps...a string tremolo...maybe some wind chimes? Both babies should stop crying and open their eyes wide, looking cherubic. The Boy should sit up and smile, and say, "Mama, that's beautiful!" And smiling, I should energetically move everyone toward the car, a shining gold halo encircling my head. I'm pretty sure that's how the Blessed Virgin looked when she was getting everybody ready to go to The Post Office.

Surprisingly, none of that happened. Piercing wails emanated from both car seats. I rocked the loudest car seat with my foot while pushing The Boy's arm into his jacket. I kept singing while I brushed my teeth...magnificat anima mea...I carried The Boy into the living room and deposited him on the sofa, then lugged both car seats with their purple-faced occupants out to join him. I hauled Belle out of her seat and spread out the changing pad with one hand, deftly switching a poopy diaper for a clean one right in the living room floor, rocking LadyBug's car seat with my left elbow. Magnificat. Belle howled as I put her back into her seat, tugged on my own jacket, then picked up the diaper bag, both car seats, and my letters for The Post Office.

Getting there meant everything now.

I nudged The Boy out the door with my knee, loaded the two screaming baby seats into the car, grabbed The Boy and a granola bar from the diaper bag to feed him, and buckled him into his seat. Magnificat anima mea dominum...I checked for keys, phone, and wallet, bucked my seat belt, and backed out of the driveway, still singing, teeth gritted, over a din of crying, unhappy children. How many were there? Just three? It sounded like forty-six.

They all stopped wailing when the car started moving. We were on the way. It was 11:43 AM, and for a split second, it was silent.

I managed to get the letters mailed and even get in a short walk with everybody before lunch. The Boy's normal good humor returned when we got outside after mailing the letters. Maybe he just wanted to leave the house as badly as I did.

I'm told this stuff is going to get easier. I don't know about that. What amazes me today is that it is possible now to leave the house with all of them. So what if it took over four hours to run a ten-minute errand? I did it! And I didn't lose my temper or my keys or any of the children. I survived. I'm calling it a success.


Friday, January 20, 2012


"You are SO BLESSED."

We can't really go anywhere anymore without someone telling us this.

Yes, we are blessed, and we know it. Somehow, though, when they say it in such an aggressive tone, leaning forward, eyebrows raised...almost daring me to disagree with them as I juggle two babies and a few bags of groceries, fumbling for my car keys while I try to use my knee to keep the grocery cart from rolling away and load our three-year-old into the car without dropping anything or anyone, I feel like "blessed" doesn't accurately describe how I feel.

Our world changed dramatically last September with the birth of our twin girls. Things have felt barely manageable since then, in many ways. Before the twins, I was working part-time in a job I really liked, feeling like I was doing a good job of balancing work and life and mothering my little boy, finding time for myself and for my family, finding time to bake. Now, I am a stay-at-home parent to three children, having trouble finding time to take a shower, and feeling like "balance" is the least likely word to describe my life.

Earlier this week, I was talking with my husband, George, about this concept of blessing...the idea that God has given you something really good and you darn well better be grateful for it...and explaining how troubled I felt that some blessings feel hard to accept. He brought up an interesting idea from his days in seminary. What if blessings are not necessarily supposed to be feel-good, happy-all-the-time things? What if blessings are just something with which you are entrusted, something that has come to you to be part of your life? Would that mean that it is okay to struggle with them, acceptable to question them, worthwhile to wonder if you can even handle them?

This felt like a little bit of truth to me. And then, I saw this essay by Glennon Melton in the Huffington Post. My conversation with George combined with the honest wisdom of Ms. Melton's post made me realize that it helps me just to know there is someone else on the path, someone who has struggled with similar feelings, someone who knows what it feels like to chafe a little bit under the weight of a blessing (and to occasionally feel guilty about it).

I've never written a blog post before. In fact, I'm not sure I even want to. But I'm putting this out there. I've seen a few other women make reference to Ms. Melton's post and say it resonated with them. Maybe there is strength in numbers. Maybe someone else wants company on this journey. We don't have to be in the same place or even have the same views. It's just about sharing what we have and doing the best we can. Sometimes my best doesn't feel like enough, but it's what I have to offer...and I have to trust that Grace is going to stretch my best to cover what needs covering.

I'm reminded of an old hymn we sang in the church where I grew up: "Come, thou Fount of every blessing/Tune my heart to sing thy grace." It never occurred to me before to wonder why a heart would need tuning, but maybe mine does. Maybe I need a reminder that I am indeed blessed, in big ways and small ones, countless times every day. And maybe it's okay that I'm not always rejoicing over those blessings but am instead struggling to learn to live with some of them.

This is what I have to offer today - a reason to start. It's small, and it feels very insignificant, but it's a little turning point for me. From now on, I will try to meet my frustration and guilt with a simple prayer: "Bless my best."

That's the most any of us can do.