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Art

11 Apr

Alex loves to say,”No.”  Ask him almost any question, and the answer is usually no.  Just because.  So when I asked him the other day if he wanted to paint, I could see the no on the tip of his tongue, but right before he said it, he realized what I’d asked.  An emphatic, “Yes!” came out instead.  He loves to paint.  Part of the thrill is getting to sit at my table in my craft room.  The craft room holds such wonders for him, and he loves to explore, digging through all my drawers, delighting in the things he finds.  I really should be better about taking the time to let him use my materials, but because his art projects usually make a huge mess, I’m too often unwilling to take the time to deal with it.  I need to just get over that.

I changed him into his painting clothes.  He refuses to wear a smock, so he has an outfit I bought super cheap that he wears and can slop paint all over.  Then I set him up with several brushes and paint colors (I let him use my acrylics) and let him go at it.  He gets very serious about his paintings, and I just love watching his little face as he thinks about what colors he wants to use, which brush he needs, and where he’s going to place it on the paper.  I’ve shown him how to use a few things, but beyond that, I let him do whatever he wants without coaching.

Child art is a beautiful thing.

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Grace in the Moment

19 Mar

I found myself chasing after a toddler who was running through the house with a giant bottle of mouthwash sloshing in his hand, as he yelled, “Fish!  Fish!”  Having recently introduced him to Finding Nemo, he’s now highly interested in all things aquatic, and a big bottle of blue mouthwash is obviously the best place in the house to potentially find sea life.

I wish I could say I found his imagination endearing in that moment, but it was the final knot in a string of behaviors for which I had waning patience.  If my patience were a sheet of ice, it was cracked and spidery and threatening to break at any time.  The headache I’d nursed all day wasn’t helping matters.  As desperate as I’ve been for spring after a long winter cooped up inside, I’m miserable with the high pollen alerts we’ve had all week.  When mama doesn’t feel well, every little thing becomes magnified.

It’s in these moments that I find myself breathing deeply, praying for patience, and reminding myself again that he’s 2.  He’s 2.  He’s acting exactly the way God intended 2-year-olds to act.  (Although I’m pretty sure mine is way more dramatic than the average child of his age.)  He’s developmentally exactly where he should be.  This is a good thing.  I just often wish that his development didn’t involve tearing my house apart with curiosity.

I’m not one to place motherhood on a pedestal.  All of life is hard, no matter what your calling is.  Every trial and experience is meant to hone our holiness, draw us closer to God, help us understand the call to be Christ-like.  But I can honestly say that I’ve never understood the concept of dying to self more than I have these last two years of being a mom.  Never before have I been so aware of my own selfishness.  I see it when I’m awakened in the middle of the night by a child crying because something in his room or bed isn’t just right.   Or when he wails because he messed up the shirt he’s wearing, and there isn’t another one like it to change him into, and I don’t understand why it matters so much, so I feel frustrated that I can’t just put any old shirt on him without eliciting a tantrum.  Or when I want to sit and have a moment’s peace, but he wants something from me, whatever that may be, and it’s the Most Important Thing Ever in that moment.

Dying to self looks an awful lot like paying attention to what matters to other people, regardless of what I think.  And then acting, regardless of how I feel.

I’m selfish to the core.  I’d just never noticed it before because I’ve never had to take care of anyone who is helpless.  But here I am, caring for a small person for whom the entire world is brand new, very big, and sometimes scary.  One night, that thing that brings him comfort and security just might be having his kitty blanket covering him instead of his train blanket.  What brings him joy for the day may be wearing a shirt with an animal on it.  (Oh, how my boy loves animals!)  And what makes him feel most loved is having his mommy let him get messy with paints or playing trains or chase or just sitting with him while he watches Cars for the umpteenth time.

The best I can do is ask for grace and strive to show it.  And remind myself that if I don’t look at least a little bit like Jesus in my everyday life, then my child may never know Him.  Most of all, I need to remember that my son is a gift–the gift I never knew I wanted, but God knew I needed, so he saw fit to give him to me.  And I’m grateful, so very grateful, even in the moments that I don’t feel it.  Especially in the moments I don’t feel it, because those are the times that God is growing me, stretching me, teaching me, and turning me into the woman he wants me to be.

On a train ride--worst scenery ever, but totally worth it to see Alex's excitement over riding an actual train for the first time

On a train ride–worst scenery ever, but totally worth it to see Alex’s excitement over riding an actual train for the first time

Recovery

10 Feb

Life has been rough lately.  I’ve been sick for the last 7 weeks.  Yes.  SEVEN weeks.  Bronchitis, sinusitis, pleurisy, costochondritis.  We’ve truly been in survival mode.  Alex has watched way too much TV, and I can’t even feel guilty about that because at least he had something to do while Mommy was laid up on the couch, trying not to cry from all the pain.  Alex came down with croup the same week that I ended up at the ER because I thought I’d fractured a rib.  (That was when I was diagnosed with costochondritis, 2 days after being diagnosed with pleurisy.)  And Steven was laid up in bed the entire weekend (of that same week!) with a high fever and just generally feeling awful.

Yep, no guilt that the entire family can pretty much quote all of the movie Cars now.  TV has been my best friend and babysitter through much of this.  Forts help, too.

While all this was going on, we were also having issues with our new kitten, Theo.  While he figured out the litter box in a single night, he wasn’t consistent with it.  He was already treated once for a bladder infection, so the vet thought it was now behavioral.  I wasn’t convinced.  We were cleaning messes off the floor daily, but he was containing them to the same spots, and they weren’t vindictive in nature.  When he peed on the bare tile, that was my opportunity to suck it up in a syringe and take it to the vet’s office for testing.  I was right; it’s medical.  Theo has crystals in his urine, so he and Ninja are now on a prescription diet to take care of the problem.  So far, so good.  Theo is now consistently using his box.   So glad because when you’re already feeling awful, having to clean up feces and urine every day is just lousy.

This week I finally started to feel better.  I’m cooking again, after weeks of takeout and eating from the freezer.  Good thing because all the meals I’d stocked are now gone.  My singing voice still isn’t right, but at least I no longer sound like a 13-year-old boy whose voice is changing when I sing Alex’s night-night song to him every evening.  And while I can’t go outside most days of our unusually-cold winter, we did have one day last week that the temps were high enough not to set off a massive bout of coughing.  Alex was thrilled to get to play in the snow.

Please ignore the complete lack of makeup.  I do not look like a proper Dallas girl.  My excuse: I was sick.

Please ignore the complete lack of makeup. I do not look like a proper Dallas girl. My excuse: I was sick.

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And when the weekend rolled around, he got to go back out with his daddy.  They threw snow at each other.  Super fun.

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My autoimmune issues are causing this to be an extra-long ordeal, and I feel as if I’ll never be well again.  But I seem to be past the worst.  I can hold my child again without gasping in pain.  The coughing has subsided greatly.  I haven’t had to bust out the heavy-duty narcotics for over a week.  And I can now run errands again without having Steven along to carry Alex and lift him into a shopping cart.  Struggling to lift my 34-lb. toddler has been the hardest part of this.  Sick and in pain or not, I had to care for my child.  Thankfully, Alex has really been quite good while we’ve been mostly housebound for the past 2 months.  He’s had his moments of practically tearing the house apart from cabin fever, but in general, he’s been wonderfully well behaved and happily entertained by his toys and movies.  Housekeeping fell by the wayside, which made me crazy, but I knew to let some of that go.  When I cleaned the entire house this past week, it felt like victory.

There’s a light at the end of the (ridiculously long) tunnel.

Enough

18 Dec

The only parenting book I’ve purchased is this one.  The main premise is that when it comes to raising kids, less is more.  Kids are overwhelmed by too many toys, books, TV, information, etc.  Scale it all back, and kids have an easier time.

For the most part, I’ve found this book to be spot on.  However, I thought the author was nuts to say to keep only about a dozen books out at once for your child.  But even that makes sense to me these days.  Alex keeps going to the same books over and over.  We’ll spend a week devouring The Big Red Barn, Broadway Barks, or I Want to Be an Astronaut.  Over and over and over.  Then he eventually moves on to another few books.

But somehow, we let the toys creep in.  And in and in and in.  Over the summer we noticed that all Alex wanted to do was color.  At first, we thought it was the excitement of his new craft table, but the tantrums ramped up at the same time.  Finally, we figured out that he was overwhelmed by the sheer number of toys.  He had three baskets/boxes of toys in the living room alone, and they were overflowing.  Finding a toy meant digging through the mess, and he just couldn’t handle it.  So he abandoned his toys, and only wanted to color and watch TV.

We culled through the toys, got rid of a few, boxed up a few others to take out at a later date.   It worked.  Alex started playing with his toys again, and the tantrums lessened.

We find ourselves somehow back in the same situation.  Too many toys, too many choices.  And Christmas is coming very, very soon.

See these toys below?

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My little guy is obsessed with trains right now.   Those are the only two he owns, and he loves them.  They’re in constant play, and that little plastic Thomas the Tank Engine is his bed buddy every night and during naps.  While he loves playing with the (better) Thomas trains in the church nursery, truth is, he’d be perfectly happy with just these 2 trains.  He doesn’t know that he’s supposed to want more, at least, according to our culture.

(At this point, I should probably mention that he’s not only getting Thomas trains and tracks for Christmas, but also a Thomas train table.  Grandparents are awesome!)

We came home from Thanksgiving in Texas with a ton of new toys from my husband’s side of the family.  We bought toys while we were in Dallas for Christmas.  And the toys from my side of the family have arrived.   I’m finding myself wondering where we’re going to put everything!  More than that, I’m questioning whether or not we should even give Alex the gifts we bought for him.  For example, we bought him a set of cars and one of those rugs with car tracks on it.  But in light of all the trains, I’m not sure the car stuff will be played with.  I have a strong suspicion our boy will be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of stuff coming his way.

This is the sort of parenting dilemma I never anticipated.

We culled through the toys again last night, and we need to weed out a few more.  I’m trying to take to heart what Simplicity Parenting says about toys.  Our culture, and frankly our parental desires to give our kids things that will make them happy, say that if a kid likes his toy car, then he’ll love a dozen of them.  But instead of loving his one or two cars, he’s overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cars and won’t care much about any of them.

Alex loves Veggie Tales, and his stuffed Bob the Tomato is his best buddy.  Bob goes almost everywhere with us.  We considered buying him Larry the Cucumber to go with his Bob, but then decided against it.  We’d rather have him love Bob, instead of having to divide his attention/affection between the two.  We’ve seen a hierarchy of preference among his stuffed animals, and frankly, he just doesn’t need to add to it.

He has enough.

Sickness and Guilt

24 Jul

Alex woke up Monday morning covered in strep rash.  I’ve become very familiar with this rash, so I immediately phoned the doctor and made him an appointment.  I’d rather look like a crazy mommy and find that there’s nothing wrong with him, than not have it checked out and have it develop into a high fever and misery for us all.

It’s strep.  Again.  This makes the fifth time this year.

The doctor suggested that someone is a carrier and repeatedly reinfecting him.  Since Steven hadn’t been tested at all, she wanted him to go to after-hours care that evening for a test.  Just to be safe, we both got tested.  (I was tested back in January or February, which means I’m not the carrier, but I got checked out again just in case I’d picked it up since then.)  We both tested negative.  Next up: the grandparents.  I realized that Alex’s bouts with strep tended to follow visits to or from my parents.  So they were both kind enough to get tested.  They’re negative, too.  We’re back to square one.

I mentioned this on Facebook.  I kind of wish I hadn’t.  I think people are trying to be helpful, but when I’m being grilled about whether or not I’ve disinfected my entire house and all the toys or being reminded that they make shopping-cart covers for infants, I feel like I’m being accused of not properly protecting my boy.  I carry enough mama guilt as it is; I don’t need any more heaped on top of me.  I confess: I forgot to change his toothbrush after the last bout.  I changed it every other time, but this time, I forgot.  Guilt guilt guilt.  

We went to the health food store, as we’re out of baby probiotics.  Alex tends to get a yeast infection whenever he’s on antibiotics.  The lady at the store was super sweet and just wanted to be helpful, so I didn’t get mad at her.  But when she gasped that I need to get him off of antibiotics because they’ll just mess him up, I felt another little piece of guilt being placed on my head.  (For the record, I’m a big believer in antibiotics for bacterial infections like strep.  I do not believe in trusting “natural,” unscientifically-proven, non-FDA-approved supplements to get rid of an infection that can cause kidney or heart damage or even death.  I’m okay with crunchy; I’m not okay with foolish.)  But it felt like another person suggesting that I’m not doing the right thing for my child.

I’m almost 40.  In general, becoming a mom so much later in life has been awesome when it comes to parenting decisions.  For the most part, I’m confident.  I have zero interest in the so-called Mommy Wars.  You raise your kid your way, and I’ll raise my kid mine. I don’t care what you do.  And I genuinely don’t care if you don’t like the way I do things.  I do what’s best for me and my family.

But when my child is sick so frequently, all the doubt I don’t usually wrestle with comes creeping in.  I know that he eats a healthy, well-balanced diet.  He sleeps regularly and well.  We have a schedule and a routine that makes our days run smoothly.  He’s an easy, generally-well-behaved baby who is growing and learning.  But knowing that still can’t erase the worry I feel that I’m doing something wrong because he’s sick so much.  This undefined feeling of guilt piles on and threatens to smother me with its ugly accusations.

Still, there are bright moments in the midst of the trial.  For the most part, Alex feels fine.  Because we caught it early this time, he’s only had a low-grade fever and a little crankiness.  I laughed when his doctor told him to feel better.  He was rolling on the floor, tickling me through the slats of the bench in the exam room, laughing hysterically because I laughed each time he did it.  He felt just fine.

Doogie lost a whisker in the living room.  Alex and I found it.  I tickled him with it, and he fell over with laughter.  He took the whisker from me and tried to tickle back.  He ran to his daddy and “tickled” him with the whisker, which in reality was more like punching him in the shoulder while holding the whisker.  But Steven, who isn’t even remotely ticklish, laughed for Alex, who was delighted with this new activity.   He might be sick, but he’s full of joy and life.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, gets him down.

I guess I’m doing something right, after all.

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Limiting Screen Time

3 Jul

I never thought I’d be the parent who had to break her kid of a TV habit.  I wasn’t even going to let him watch TV until he was 2.  I’ve read the research.  I’m creative and can entertain a small person.  But then came the Great Month of Illness, and TV was suddenly my mothering salvation.  If I’m sick or have a migraine, it’s great to turn on Baby Einstein or PBS Kids and have Alex still for a few moments. And when he was so sick last week with scarlet fever?  I pretty much kept PBS Kids on all most of the day.

Now Alex whines and points at the TV frequently, asking me to turn it on.

The irony is that my husband and I rarely watch TV.  We don’t even have cable, and we even dumped Netflix for the more lousy Amazon Prime streaming simply because it’s cheaper and I get free Kindle book borrowing and 2-day shipping.  We’re just not big TV people.  The only show I watch when it’s actually on is Downton Abbey.  

Now that he’s all better, I’m working on breaking this TV habit that he so quickly picked up.  And I won’t lie; I’ve realized that I was finding TV a very convenient thing.  I can turn it on and go get food prepared.  Or fix my hair.  Or be on my computer.  I also came to the conclusion that perhaps Alex wouldn’t be so enamored with the big screen if I wasn’t so frequently on my small screen, otherwise known as my iPod Touch.  Yep, when I’m busy Facebooking, he wants his own screen of some sort to stare at.

Monkey see, monkey do.

Yesterday was rough.  Lots of pointing at the TV and whining.  My saying no.  Fit throwing.  My attempts at pointing out his massive piles of toys.  Books.  More crying.

Then he started wandering the living room.  And noticed a bookshelf he’d never paid attention to before.  He found this:

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It’s a small Winnie-the-Pooh made for me over 25 years ago by a friend’s mom.  I can’t even remember the significance of it, really.  I think maybe we used to quote Winnie-the-Pooh?  Regardless of my faulty memory, it’s a precious memento of my teen years.  I do know it was a going-away present when I moved from Slidell, La. back to my beloved Texas.  So I internally freaked when Alex got hold of it.

But he was so enamored with it that I just didn’t have the heart to say no and take it away.

My little Winnie-the-Pooh went everywhere with him yesterday.  He took it to the library, where we chose books, colored a picture, played with puzzles, stuffed animals, and sensory bottles.  He napped with it.  He clutched it all through a haircut at the kids’ hair place.  He loves it.  This morning, he went straight to it after breakfast.

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He didn’t ask for TV this morning, at least not until he got in trouble for disturbing Ninja when I specifically told him not to.  Then he looked for some comfort and turned to the television.  So this will be an ongoing battle.  But we’re working on it.  And in the meantime, we’re reading more.  Both of us.  Because I’m trying to put down the iPod and read real books in front of him.  Because as I said before, monkey see, monkey do.

He’s currently trying t0 climb the trash can.  He came up with that one all on his own.