“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Monday, August 27, 2012

Who They Really Are

Lately I've been marveling over how nothing is ever the way you plan it. I'm not deliberately repeating a cliche, I actually mean it. Which is where cliches come from, but still.

I'm a bit (a tiny bit) of a control freak, so having things not go the way I plan them is insanely frustrating. Being a stay-at-home mom last year was supposed to be Super Amazing. But then Joe had to work in Pittsburgh, and I got kidney stones (twice), and my kids got the stomach flu TWICE (both at major holidays), and, the greatest surprise at all, I don't like going into another teacher's classroom to help out. Even if it is my child's classroom. It makes me really uncomfortable, and I think Joey knew it every time.

More than anything lately, I wonder at how much my children manage to surprise me. I believe I know them better than anyone as their mother, and I'm almost definitely correct (as I often am), but still they manage to find unpredictable ways of demonstrating to me who they are, what they stand for (or in Noah's case, won't stand for), and who they will be. These are the every day moments that make me question my control, my effectiveness/success at motherhood, my choice to stay home. I mean, how much difference am I truly making in their lives by being there? There's really no way to know that. I have to only trust that I've done the right thing. But in the end, when my children surprise me, I have to look at how their qualities--the ones that make me INSANE in the moment--will some day make them amazing adults.

When Noah refuses to back down about...whatever it may be...I can't even come up with an example right now, which is probably why I'd never make it as a real writer, but that isn't the point anyway. It's that moment when he is standing in front of me, eyebrows furrowed, mouth turned down at the corners, fire coming out of his nostrils (and he does actually pant when he's angry), everything about his stance screaming, "NEVER, EVER GIVE IN!" I can picture him in front of a rally of people doing something important to change the bad things in the world. Because that's what Noah is really about: standing up for what he wants, for what he feels is unfair and unjust, passionately angry that something is as it absolutely should not be. Unfortunately for him right now, his beliefs are a little skewed by being four years old and wanting ridiculous things ("No, you may not have cookies for breakfast," "Yes, apologizing IS important"--he really hates apologizing more than anything). But some day, channeled into the right places, Noah really will change the world.

And Joey. Where Noah is the brick wall I run into head first a hundred times a day, Joey is the soft spot on my heart. I hope that doesn't sound like I favor one over the other. I don't. I'm actually equally hard on both of them, and equally in love. But Joey is this floating feather, gliding along on a breeze, and when he finally lands, he seems so lost to me. That isn't really fair to him, because he has a lot of strength. But it is the magic inside him that makes him who is. He is well-liked in his class by everyone not because he is cool or athletic, but because he is kind. Every parent and every teacher I've met has said the same thing, "Joey is everyone's friend. He is nice to everyone, no matter the situation." In preschool, when a little girl was being picked on relentlessly day after day and finally started to cry, it was Joey who stepped up beside her and put his arm around her, despite where the majority had gathered on the issue.

I remember when Joey was an infant, and Noah, too, for that matter, and how nervous I was when I visited the pediatrician's office. It felt like a test every time, not about my kids but about how good a mother I was. Everywhere I went with my babies, people would remark about how big they were, and whether or not they seemed tall or strong. This always bothered me because I didn't, and still don't, care if my boys are tall or strong. I think moms of girls probably feel the same way about people always saying how pretty their girls are. Or maybe not; I guess I can't know! But at the doctor's office, it always felt like more of the same. I know that all the weighing and measuring was for health checks, but it was always followed by, "How much is he eating? How well is he sleeping?" And at the end, always concluded with a, "And what are YOU doing about..." question. The very first time, it was, "And what are YOU doing to exercise him and give him social interaction?" He wasn't even two months old. I felt so blindsided by the question, because I hadn't been doing anything. Just cuddling him and telling him how wonderful he was. And after a few weeks, throwing in a few "talls" and "strongs" because I didn't want other people's opinions getting the better of him, even when he was so small.

Even now that they are older and more independent and I am a calmer mother (relatively), I still leave the doctor's office feeling short-changed and lacking. I don't want to hear about whether my kid is healthy. I can tell that for myself. I want to talk about how kind he is, and how every mom and every kid in his class knows it. I want to talk about how when I left him at golf lessons for the first time, all by himself with a group of kids, I felt like I forgot part of myself as I drove away. And how the next time, I gave him an extra kiss goodbye and he pushed me away in embarrassment. And how he has read the Hobbit and the first five Harry Potter books by himself this summer alone, and that when people grow snide and try to trip him up on his comprehension, because they don't believe he could REALLY be reading it and "getting it," he launches into literary discussions about how he feels about Percy Weasley  and Draco Malfoy and how if he ever had to live without his mother like Harry does, it would be terrible.

Once, at Joey's fifteen-month checkup, they handed me a form to fill out. Could he indentify his eyes and nose and mouth? Could he run and gallop? Could he stand on one foot? (a question at which I thought, "Why would I ask him to?") At the question, "Do you feel he talks as well as other children his age?" I circled NO. On the line next to the word "EXPLAIN," I wrote, "He talks BETTER than other children." When the doctor read it, she chuckled merrily and moved on. I had been dismissed, and so had Joey. Or so I felt.

I haven't learned, either. I still celebrate why my kids are wonderful far more than I know I need to, or maybe should. I know my sister is reading this now and rolling her eyes, and that my mom probably stopped reading somewhere after the first paragraph (in fact, I suspect she only reads the first and last paragraphs and pretends to have liked the whole thing; I'm an English teacher--I know that trick). But the fact is, the other day, I sat in the exam room with Joey's pediatrician and waited for her to say, "And how is he reading?" so I could tell her he is beyond brilliant, beyond wonderful. Astounding. I was going to wait for her to offer me a recommended list of colleges that accept seven-year-olds. In fact, while we were waiting for her to come in, I kept having him read the medical posters aloud so they might hear, come in to investigate, and cheer for him.

None of that happened. They didn't even ask about him reading. Or being kind, or generous, or loving. Or a feather who might land and not know what to do. They just said, "Well, he's growing at the same pace he always has. That's good. Now let's get him checked out."

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