Saturday, July 2, 2011
July 2, 2011 ~ Day 204
Why Did The Chicken
Eat Two Jelly Beans?
While I did hear little voices in the background, they were neither laughing nor screeching as usual. "Daddy, we're awake," they called politely. "Mommy, we're awake. Please open the baby gate. We want to get out."
"Why are our kids so mellow this morning? Why are they asking us to open their gate?" I wondered dully... and then remembered.
Our eldest son ~ the usual opener of gates ~ was not at home in our house with us. Instead, he'd spent the night alone with my mother at her home twenty minutes away.
Where there should be three - playing, fussing, fighting and scampering - there were only two.
A dark, ugly little worry appeared in my gut and gnawed away at my conscience, as I wondered whether my son had slept well... whether he'd been frightened... whether he would be calmer today.
Turning to my husband I groaned. "Did we do the right thing?"
I still couldn't believe we'd banished him to grandma's house, despite the gravity of his repeated actions. How clearly I remembered pronouncing adamantly (and self-righteously) to my husband years before when our son was a baby, "I would *never* send my child away! I don't UNDERSTAND parents who do that kind of thing!"
Funny how life gives you a little taste of the things you've judged others for doing. As it turns out, the view looks a little different from the trenches.
"Don't worry about our oldest child," my husband assured me. "He's fine."
Yet our house was too quiet, too calm. His absence left a gaping hole in the day.
* * * * * * *
Not long after, the telephone rang.
"Hi dear, it's Mom."
"How are you? How's our little guy?"
"He was a perfect angel. He slept through the night without a single peep, woke and dressed himself this morning without coming to wake me up, and I found him downstairs quietly playing with blocks. He let me sleep in."
"Wow, that's so good to hear," I responded. "I'll be over to get him as soon as I've bathed his brother and sister.
"Great. I'll go ahead and make him a nice breakfast now."
I hurried... and once we were bundled into the car and on our way, I tried to breathe deeply.
"He slept well. He's eating. These things put together mean that the entire experience can't have been that bad for him. Maybe he'll even be happy to see us."
Yet when we arrived, I could tell right away that my son was NOT calm or a happy camper. He made funny faces at us. His voice was shrill. He raced after his little brother in a slightly crazy fashion. He was a little *too* boisterous... a little *too* buoyant.
For lack of a more descriptive, more appropriate word - my kid was clearly a bit slap happy.
I clenched my jaw, steeling myself for his inevitable emotional crash.
It came about an hour after pickup, when we were at the park. "Come on guys," I called out. "Your sister is getting tired. Let's go look at the boats in the harbor."
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" he screamed. "I don't WANT to go look at boats. I don't LIKE boats."
It didn't take much genius to know that the meltdown had commenced.
"You know," I responded. "I'm sorry you don't like boats but we DO need to leave the park and go home now."
Ignoring the intensity of his yelling, I lifted his little sister up and carried her toward the parking lot with my younger son following fairly closely by my heels. (The younger guy was a tad punchy and reactive too, thanks mainly to the influence of his excitable brother... so it made for quite a chorus of cries.)
My children resembled frantic, angry Christmas carolers as they screeched their way along the side of the tennis courts.
* * * * * * *
By the time we arrived at home, twenty exhausting minutes later, I had only one mission: Get these children fed, get the baby to bed.
I began to cook macaroni and cheese, my eldest son's favorite, ignoring to the best of my ability the loud and tempestuous shouts of my children in the back yard. "If I can just get their tummies full," I reasoned, "they may chill out a little... and even if they don't, it will give me time to think calmly and non-reactively."
Within about forty minutes, I'd managed to feed both of my macaroni-lovers and put the little one down for her nap. My cheese-hating child, the younger boy, had been given a bowl of tomato soup which he promptly used as a swimming pool for a Thomas the Tank Engine tractor toy, carefully lifting and hauling loads of tomato soup which he then deposited on the table... forming a lovely, if wasteful, tomato pool.
In short, he refused to eat.
Soon then, he too was tucked into bed and ready for a nap.
Which left us there - just me and my older son.
In the kitchen, eating tomato soup and macaroni.
Staring each other down.
"You know Mom," he announced in a pristinely clear voice. "My brother wouldn't eat this tomato soup but *I* think it is dee-licious. I really love it."
"That's great honey."
"I mean, I really like this soup Mom. My brother didn't eat it. He played with his food. But I didn't. I didn't play with my food. I think it tastes SO good."
"Uh-hum..." I murmured, figuring out exactly where he was headed with his commentary.
"He isn't really a good eater," my son added. "You know, my brother is really picky."
"But I'm not picky. I eat everything! I am a good eater."
I looked at my son, closely. He sat tall and straight backed at the kids table, too big for his miniature chair (yet unwilling to give it up, unwilling to admit that he has outgrown the table that fits his younger brother and sister). He was eying me fervently, as though willing me to catch his drift... WILLING me to affirm to him that HE was the better son. The superior child.
His anguish and ardent desire were almost palpable.
This boy child, this little man - made in my image and so sensitive just like me... I probably understand him better than either of the other children. I know his emotions, his hopes. His fears.
"What do I say to this?" I wondered silently. "How do I assure him?"
Suddenly, it seemed clear that I needed to tackle the subject head-on.
"Why are you mean to your brother?"
"Because he bothers me."
"Why does he bother you?"
"Because he whines and he always wants things his way, and he doesn't play my way."
"Do you like your brother?"
"Then why do you hit him?"
"My brain gets upset. My brain gets so frustrated."
"You know how to control that though. You have never hit or hurt ANY other child except your brother, and maybe once or twice, your sister. So why don't you control it with him?"
"Do you think that we had your brother to replace you?"
"Yes." He stared at me fiercely.
"Why do you think that?"
"Do you know that your dad and I love you?"
"Do you love yourself?"
"You don't love yourself, honey? Why not?"
"Because. My brother is like me but he is a very nice boy. I am a bad boy."
"No, that is NOT true!" I emphasized. "You are BOTH nice boys. You ARE a nice boy. Sometimes you make poor choices, but you are always a nice boy."
"No, I am a bad boy."
"Well, maybe you want to be bad. But I know you - and you're not."
"Do you think that I love your brother more than I love you?"
"Why do you think that?"
"You are nice to him. You get mad at me."
"Do I get mad at you all the time? Or only when you've hurt your brother or sister?"
(Mumbling) "When I've hurt somebody."
"So does that mean I love them more than you?"
"I love you, your brother and your sister all the same. I love you differently from each other, because you are all very different kinds of people. But I love you the same amount."
"THAT'S WHY!" he burst out.
"THAT'S WHY I DO IT. THAT'S THE REASON."
"That's why you hit your brother? You mean you hurt him because you think I love him more?"
"Oh honey. Don't you know how much I love you? I do so much for you, every day. I tell you so often how much you mean to me.
It's just that my job is to protect my kids. So if one of my kids hurts another one of my kids, I care for the hurt kid. If your brother was hurting YOU, *he* would be the one in trouble - not you."
He sat silently, looking away.
"Don't you remember all the good times we've spent together? Can you remember back far enough to before your brother was born, when it was just you and me? We had six good months of doing everything together. We were really close back then."
"I remember!" he cried. "I MISS IT."
"Well," I asked. "What do you miss specifically?"
"I miss doing things with just YOU. Nobody else. No brother. No sister. Just you."
"Do you want to do that kind of stuff again?"
"Like a mommy-son date?"
"And you think you can manage to be nicer to your brother if you have more of my attention just for you?"
"So, let's do it. Let's have a weekly date - just you and me." Wracking my brain, I tried to think of when I could fit a few hours of quality time with my son that wouldn't get messed up with tutoring jobs or other family obligations.
"How about Saturday nights?" I asked. "Would you like to have dates with me on Saturday nights?"
I mulled it over in my head. "You know," I added, "That makes a lot of sense. When your Dad and I go out, it's usually on a Sunday or Monday night.
Your little brother would love to have more time alone with just his daddy. They hardly ever spend time together without you or me... Why don't we have a weekly date where you and Mommy go out, your brother and your Daddy have their own special time, and we trade off who takes the baby girl?"
My son looked at me as though someone had just pulled the lid off of Heaven and let him look inside.
"I would love that Mommy. I want to have a date with you!"
"Why don't we start tonight?" I smiled. "I'll be home from tutoring by 6pm. Do you want to do something special with me when I get back?"
"Can we go somewhere?"
"Sure. Why don't you think about what you'd like to do and you can tell me about it when I finish tutoring?"
"Okay." He smiled and stood, unprompted, not only calm but actually sparkly and a bit bouncy. "I'm going to go take my nap now Mom. I'll see you tonight for our date."
As I watched him retreat toward the back of the house, I wondered in disbelief if it could really be THIS simple. Could I really make him THAT happy and calm, just by paying focused attention to him? Just by lavishing my attention squarely upon him?
* * * * * * *
Four hours later found me driving in our truck with my son strapped securely into the extra-cab back seat. "Where are we heading?"
"I want Mexican Food. Well, or Chinese Food. Actually, a hamburger would be great too."
"Well, there are three pretty good hamburger places just down the street from our house in the tourist section of town. Do you want to check those ones out?"
"YES!" he cheered.
We drove toward dinner.
"You know what I was thinking, Mom? I was thinking we should go DO something. We should go SOMEWHERE."
"Oh yeah? Where were you thinking of?"
"Well, like the PARK for example. We could go to the park!"
Not by coincidence, we happened to be driving past a very nice local park. Flicking on my turn signal without warning, I pulled suddenly into a space right in front of the park fence.
"Okay. Done." I smiled. "Let's go to the park."
My son climbed out of the truck and stood next to me. "Will you tie my sweatshirt around my waist for me?"
"Sure, or I can just hold it for you."
"No, Mom. I want you to have your hands free so you can PLAY with me!"
"You mean like climb jungle gyms with you?"
"Wow," I nodded. "I can't remember the last time I actually played and had fun at a park. I've been so busy watching you and your brother and sister."
"I want you to play with me tonight."
"Okay then, let's go play!"
For the better part of thirty minutes, we played. My son raced me up the play structure ladders, instructed me to go down twisting slides, had me climb the monkey bars. "This is how kids have fun," he encouraged me. I pushed him in the tire swing, we jumped on the flexible bridge.
There were no other children at the park at nearly 7pm on a Saturday night - just a bunch of adult guys playing pickup basketball. We had the run of the area ourselves.
"Do you want to go and play on the toddler play gym?" he asked. "I love that one too."
"Sure, why not? As long as I don't break any of the equipment because I am so heavy."
We walked across the park to the two year old area, with its red fire truck and two story wooden house. "Climb up here with me, Mom!" he called.
"Okay," I replied and crawled carefully up the tiny ladder. "Wow, you guys have a nice view up here." From his side I could see the Sun setting over the ocean.
"Yeah," he agreed - "And do you want to know what is really cool Mom?"
"What's that, honey?"
"Check this out." He led me over toward a strange looking hole in the side of the playhouse, a hole which opened onto a sort of megaphone. "If you talk into this thing, they can hear your voice all over the park!"
"Really?" I smiled, having heard he and his brother project their voices through this megaphone-like contraption on many, many occasions. "That's SO cool!"
"Talk into it Mom! You'll see!"
"Hello? Hello? This is your Mother speaking. I love you. Can you hear me?"
He giggled. "I can make it MUCH louder than you, Mom. Wanna see?"
"Sure, I'd love to." I stepped aside.
A booming, giggling, boyish voice sounded over the playground:
"WHY DID THE CHICKEN EAT TWO JELLY BEANS????"
"Um..." I laughed out loud. "I don't know!"
"SO THAT IT COULD GET ALL OF THE EYEBALLS!!!!!!!!!!!" My son laughed so hard he almost had to sit down. "EYEBALLS!!!!!!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!"
"You are hilarious," I hugged him. "Chicken and Jelly Beans. That's really creative!"
"Can I push you on the swings?"
"Sure, why not? And then, let's go get our hamburgers."
We climbed down from our sky perch in the top story of the wooden house and raced over to the swing set. I sat down, for the first time in at least six years, in a swing - all by myself. No baby in my lap. No child I had to watch out for or call out to. Just me.
I reached out my legs and then pumped them inward. I felt a firm push on my back.
"Here you go, Mom!" he cried. "I'll push you really high in the air! I'm really strong!"
"Yes, you are," I agreed. "You *are* very strong." My heart melted a little, for this man-child who yearns so much to grow up... yet also wants so intensely to be my baby.
"You are good at this," my son complimented. "Hey Mom?"
"Can you take a turn pushing me now?"
"I would love to."
* * * * * * *
Passersby at the park this evening would not have guessed how powerful we were right then. To the untrained eye, we were merely a slightly disheveled thirty-five year old mother pushing her eager, nearly-six year old son on the swing at dinnertime. Smiling a lot. Laughing together.
They might never have guessed that this was the first time in four years I can remember pushing my son on a swing, without also having to push his little brother or sister at the same time. The very first time we have been to a park in all those years, just the two of us, simply to play. They surely could not have known that yesterday evening at this time, we were experiencing the height of disconnection, frustration and sorrow.
Yet, I knew.
Together, we were renewing a bond and forming a precious memory that I'll cherish forever. My son in his red shirt with the yellow surfboard on the front pocket. His curling brown hair full of sand. Singing and smiling into the coming dusk, fully and totally happy. Me putting both hands out to catch him... then pushing gently and firmly to hoist him back into the air.
It is a dance, this parenting thing. We go backward. We go forward.
My boy yearns to let go of the chains holding him to the swingset, wishes he could take off from its rubber seat and really fly. Yet when gravity pulls him back to Earth, he rushes swiftly and unconsciously for my love and the comfort of steady hands on his back guiding him in a positive direction.
At last secure and joyous he thrills to the knowledge that ~ for now ~ I am not taking my eyes off of him for a second.