Monday, March 28, 2016

A Snowy Yoda Easter

I think Easter is a perfectly lovely holiday. I was raised Methodist, and when forced to fill out a demographic form I will still default to checking "Methodist" for my religion, but our family are not regular church goers at this point in our lives. Some of my favorite church memories growing up involved Easter. Dressing up, getting new shoes, candy, kids in pastels running like mad in pursuit of ALL THE EGGS, but one of my favorite memories was flowering the Easter cross. 
A massive wooden cross hung at the front of our church sanctuary, all dark wood in a dark brick 1980's Methodist church. We had stained glass windows, but everything seemed dark in there until Easter. On Easter, that dark serious cross turned into a massive flower cross when a large wooden frame filled with small holes was placed over it. Then before the first service, all of the Sunday school students and teachers filled each hole with a fresh flower. The narthex smelled amazing when filled with those hundreds and hundreds of lilies, tulips, carnations and roses. Once all of the holes were filled with flowers, several of the men would lift the frame, carry it into the sanctuary, and carefully hang it over the wooden cross. It was such a joyous moment, filled with the sensory power of color and fragrance as hundreds of springtime flowers filled the sanctuary, reminding us all of why we were sitting there dressed in our Easter best, filling the pews. That's the kind of Easter I enjoy now. A celebration of spring time and renewal and time spent with loved ones. So we had our own version of that this year, plus some snow.
Xavier's got the Easter bunny all figured out, so we still hid some eggs and gathered his favorite treats in a basket, but it was more mellow excitement than last year. 10 years old don't always want you to see how excited they are and a little bit of cynicism starts to sneak in. But even in the snow, he ventured out in pursuit of the eggs and had a great time, ever present Easter ring pop firmly in place. I told him that all day  I could imagine what he looked like as a baby, since that ring pop looked like a pacifier shoved in his mouth.  He was unamused. After the eggs were retrieved, candy consumption had dwindled, and Joe and I had consumed some massive quantities of coffee after our 5:45am wake up, we lounged around in our pjs, the weather making us less inclined to get out of the house until our family dinner plans later.
So the boys watched some TV, played a little tablet, I did some drawing, talked to Grandma Becky on the phone, until we all got a little bored and Xavier asked if we could cook something fancy for lunch. Instead of fancy lunch, we decided we'd finally try out our Star Wars cookie cutters.  
I mixed up our go to 3 in 1 Sugar Cookie recipe, got the dough chilling in the fridge, and made my very first Royal Icing. Wow, that's so easy with a Kitchen Aid mixer. It almost felt like cheating, it took so little effort. And once the icing was all bagged up and ready, we waited for our dough to chill out and watched the classic Easter movie, The Wolverine. Ok, maybe it's not an Easter classic, but doesn't Wolverine fit in with that whole rebirth, rejuvenation theme? I kid. 

Once our dough was chilled, we rolled it out and started cutting. Now I want to be real with you here. These photos are adorable. My kid's focused attention, the fun with knives and cutters. The peeking into the oven to see if the cookies are done. Oh so cute. And I love baking. But. But baking with a ten year old, a stubborn, challenging, deeply independent 10 year old, is hard and messy and sometimes frustrating. It's not bad, but it's not easy. So much wrangling and instructions ignored, and eventually I just leaned in and let him do his own thing. Because they're just cookies, right? So he set himself up with a little jelly bean cutting station, and got to decorating, because the Star Wars cutters were "kind of boring and needed to be more fun." And who doesn't think Darth Vader looks even more menacing with red jelly bean eyes? So I'm teaching the kid some actual baking/cooking skill and he's teaching me to be less of a control freak in the kitchen, ok, in the world at large. 

Cookies baked, we could get down to the fun part: the decorating! We each took a turn with the icing bags, and we came out with some gorgeous Storm Troopers, some wise green Yodas, a jelly beaned set of Darth Vaders, some abstract stars, and crunchy delicious Boba Fetts too. It really was fun. And no 10 year old can be cynical when Mom lets you pipe green frosting directly into your own mouth at the end! 

So cookies baked we headed off to my dad and step-mom's house for family dinner complete with uncle and cousins and homemade biscuits, all the necessities of a happy Easter. It was a really nice day. 

The thing I'm figuring out with having kids at the holidays is that expectations need to be managed. Ours and his. I need to be less controlling about the plan of the day, I need to anticipate that the non-routine weekend filled with less sleep, more sugar, more people, and more stress, will almost certainly guarantee some kind of kid melt down, and that's ok. I need to just be ok with hanging out with my family without some kind of Pinterest fantasy of what the day will hold. Sure, I wanted a lovely family portrait on Easter. We all looked nice and showered and happy, and of course my kid stuck a blueberry ring pop in his mouth moments before photo time. But who cares? This is what he looks like. This captures his personality and ours better than some pleasant holiday portrait. So I'm working on embracing that part and caring less about how straight my Storm Trooper frosting is. So Happy Easter to you! Embrace the crooked Storm Trooper in all of us!

Monday, March 07, 2016

15 Months In

I've been a mom for a total of about fifteen months now. It simultaneously feels like fifteen years and fifteen minutes. I love it. I love it every single day. Oh, there are moments, almost every single day, where I think: "well, this sucks" or "why did I pick this battle?" or "How are my bones actually tired?" or "Did I really just say 'asshole' in front of my kid again? Yep. I did." or "Really, more laundry?" or "I'm wiping pee off the floor again." or "What in the hell are we having for dinner?" or "I really, really wish I could sit here and read my own book instead of reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid:The Long Haul." or "Is it bedtime yet? What? It's only 7??" or "Is it really that bad if he had a bag of Doritos for breakfast once this week? Ok, twice? Nah." And I think of all of the other parents out there doing their own version of what Joe and I are doing, and I feel like we're probably in some pretty excellent company.

I went back recently and read some writing I had done just a couple of months after Xavier joined our family, and man, I've gained some confidence in myself as a mom since then. I want to hug that early 2015 version of myself and tell her to just hang on. It was somehow both natural and shocking to suddenly love and care for this kid. And I was thrown for a total loop, for a few months. My identity and confidence were tossed around. My fear and anxiety hit new impressive levels. I wanted to cry, and then throw up, and then hug everyone in a twenty foot vicinity, all within just a few minutes time, and then shout to the roof tops about how wonderful and terrifying it all was. It was like a kid tsunami had hit my shores. I felt displaced and raw and new and scared and ready for it, all at once.

And then we settled in. We did. Just being together. Time. The beautiful simple sedimentary layers of bedtime stories, and long hugs, tickling on the couch, and teeth brushing and road trips, and school drop offs and inside jokes, and lunch boxes packed, and dancing around the living room, and tablet negotiations, and all those layers made us into a family. We settled in. Throw in some helpful professionals, and excellent family support, and here we are, figuring it all out just fine. I don't mean to gloss over the hard parts. They exist. They probably exist in all families, and they have a particular challenge when you add older kids to a family, but I think we're all doing really well, like shockingly "you've earned a gold star" well, especially Xavier. Most importantly Xavier. When people give me a compliment about it, I'm starting to actually be able to just say "Thanks!" and not laugh and give fifteen examples of how I've screwed up as recently as this morning. That's progress, right?

But we've tapped into our resources too. We see a family therapist. She is the earth mother, funny, wise, expert realist that we need. I've seen my own therapist, who can look at my face and somehow know exactly what I'm about to say, she is a gold star human too. And we've had great teachers and doctors, and friends and neighbors, and lots and lots of family who love Xavier and want to spend time with him one on one, so Joe and I can have the chance to "drink wine and kiss and watch R rated movies" at least once or twice a month too. (Xavier's description of what date night must be like without him.) And suddenly there is no doubt we are a family, and that Mom title has started to feel like mine.

Over these fast and frenzied fifteen months I've realized, good lord, this is the best title. Being a mom is a blast. Every day is more fun in some ways than my days were before. Not the kind of ways like I had before with free, open, luxurious stretches of time, but it has highlighted and brought more to my life than I even knew to want. So much. So much laughter in our house and car and everywhere, every single day. And yes, so much pain and joy and drama. Usually that brief, fleeting drama, Jesus, ten year old kids are dramatic, or at least ours is. But the emotions, good and bad, are just thrilling. Not adrenaline pumping like a good chase scene in a movie or a first kiss, but thrilling like seeing a whale burst out of the ocean where there was only flat gray water seconds before, or thrilling like catching a glimpse of leaves that have gone from green to fire engine red over a weekend. You know these things are going to happen, they just do, but they still thrill. To watch my child develop new skills or get excited about something new, or to get stronger, taller, more stable. It's thrilling to watch my kid get more and more comfortable with our families. To watch him develop relationships, to come out of his shell, to finally get our sarcasm (not appreciate it, certainly, but get it and mimic it disturbingly well), to open up, to start to settle in somewhere, to realize he's never leaving, ever, ever. He's taller and stronger, and he really needs some new pants. There's more of him there, and that is the best feeling. Because we helped make sure that would happen. We're all settling into our roles. And my cheery brand of positive realism has found its best role. I forget so much of the negative stuff so fast, and that works here. It works well.

 It took awhile for it not to feel like I was pretending to be a mom. Like someone wasn't going to pull me aside and ask me trivia questions about my child to prove I was his mom. "No, seriously, I promise, he's mine!" I get brief flashes of that feeling sometimes when people I don't know well ask me if I have kids. "Oh, I do, I really do have kids", but I still have this odd feeling when I answer, because the full story is so different from your typical family. And yet it's really not. It's so so different and so so the same. Just as all families are the same and different.

Anyway, since things feel a bit more settled, I feel ready to start writing more again. I'm back! I have no shame about writing mostly about kid stuff, I'm trying to compile some kind of history of our little not-typical family, so I've been jotting down notes and impressions and glimpses of my feelings/our experiences into a word document over the last months, saving emails and funny kid Facebook posts, so I don't lose it all in the chaos of the day to day. There's so much I want to write about and keep and remember about these first years and all the next years too. So I'm writing some, some for just us and some to share. Because families need their stories, especially new families. We need our stories. Kids need to know who they are and where they've come from, and Xavier has a nine year history that we weren't a part of, but that we can help him learn to understand.  He also deserves to get to hear about how our new family came together and to let us reflect back to him the ways we've seen him grow and change. The silly dances and songs he makes up, the friends he has now, the things he loves to do, the snuggles with the dog, he has parents to watch and remember and tell him how much he's changed over the ten years we get to have him, before he heads off on his own. Ok, eight years or so before he heads off on his own. But ten years just scares me less. So let's stick with ten. And if I write about our family and share it here with friends and family, I feel like it helps fill in that gap of nine years when we didn't have him in our lives yet, we've got all of those years to make up for when uncles and aunts and grandparents and cousins would have bonded and connected with him and us as a family, so if I can help our loved ones feel like they know him better here, then it feels like that nine year gap gets a little smaller.  All that is to say that I'm planning to write a little more. About parenting, but also back to our trips and lives and cooking and things that amuse me, and also as a way to force Joe to cough up his photos, so I can put them to good use. It's a little like coming out of a new parenting fog, ready to join the world fully again. So here we are, we're a family. I'm a mom, and a bunch of other things too obviously, and I feel like I'm fully back again.