Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It was the first Vacation Bible School of the summer, and their hopes were high. I signed them in while they chatted up the octogenarians, cutting to the chase on family secrets and video game cheats. They had been here before, so they could talk with casual confidence about the layout of the building and reminisce about last year. We hit a glitch when Toby's name tag wasn't pre-made. Brynn had hers, and being a deeply loyal and concerned sister, she bolted for the sanctuary and her group of first-grade best friends she had never met. 

Toby, bereft of his second half, suddenly got very nervous. 

"I don't wanna go," he whispered to me. "I don't want to go here, I want to go home." 
"Let's just go check it out," I answer, leading him reluctantly into the sanctuary.

We sit, side by side in the pew, watching the kids mill around and volunteers scrambling with last-minute details. I remind him how much fun he had last year, how he made friends and sang in the choir. 

"I just want to be with you," he answers, slipping his long-not-baby-fingers into my hand and rendering my heart to a quivering mass of love. Every one of my kids has the ability to bring me to my metaphorical knees, and this boy has a death grip on my heart. I prayed for him, begged for him, worked harder than I have ever worked to keep him alive. Everything in me ached to grip his little hand and just go, go back home and hold him forever. 

photo by Shelley Paulson
Something else in me, though, continually reminds me that these children, flesh of my heart, are not just extensions of me, just the rewards and the joys I have been given. They are people, small people-in-training, learning how to live and breathe and serve others, how to walk independently. Every time I drive away from them, my body aches like I'm missing a part of myself. Every time I pick them back up, they are new, braver, sweeter, still mine but increasingly their own. 

"I want you to stay," I lie. "I want you to go up to your group and make a friend and spend the day. If you hate it, you don't have to come back. But you have to try." He looks at me, with the same baby eyes that brought me to tears of thankfulness in those first months. I look back, transmitting confidence and strength, pushing back any desperate hope to keep him small and mine forever. That panic, that wish is for later, when I am alone in my van. Today, I am making one tiny stride to building a man. "Go," I say, "go! You're going to love it." 

And he did, and he went back and made friends, and then he came home and climbed in my chair, arms and legs and elbows and energy enveloping me in a painful, boisterous boy-hug. I take the hit, I will always take the hit, because he is my baby and I am his mama. Always. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

"I'll sell some stuff on Ebay," I think. "I'll sell some stuff and I'll just order a pickup from a postal worker and it's like RAINING MONEY." "Maybe I'm an optimist," I think.

Fast forward through 7 days of cackling "Dance, my minions, dance," as the bids came in. Now push play, hurry, you're too far if you're already at the part where I am crying at the post office, rewind STOP. I realize I can't do my normal digital postal approach because I have to have USPS boxes or something and I think, "I'll just take the kids to the post office. How bad could it be?"

Photo by Shelley Paulson
Listen, new moms and drunk moms and moms who forget a lot of things, it can be so bad. Don't take your kids places. Stay in your house. Anyway, I was all excited because I bought this rolling shopping bag thing and I was excited to use it and all of the children were excited as well, so they started punching each other and pulling the straps off the bag and also just deliberately crushing orange crackers in the rug, because that is an always thing. I took possession of the bag and made some threats and we were off. It took 8 minutes to get to the post office, during which time I answered 14,000 questions about the postal service, stamps, Ebay and the government and a couple of curve balls about Minecraft.

"Listen," I tell my offspring, "It might be crowded in here and we might have to stand in line so just stay with me and don't crash into people, look where you're going and don't climb on things and try to respect people's space and don't touch anything and don't pee in your pants and don't be loud."

I once read a study or maybe just a headline of a study or maybe it was on a sitcom, who knows, the point is that young children have a tendency to hear selectively and tend to filter out negatives, so instead of saying, "Cain, don't hit your brother in the head with a rock," you should say, "Cain, do you think you could throw that rock in the river? You're so strong, I bet with teamwork you and Abel could throw some rocks real far and then we'll have ice cream!" 

And that study might be on to something, because they did.all.the.things. While they were crashing into people and fighting and trying to get inside priority mail boxes and climbing into hazardous waste containers, I was trying to figure out which box I needed, and how the what you're supposed to do, and the line was in front of us and behind us, all just grown people who know how to ship things and not bring hellions into the post office. By the time we were second in line, my Michelle Duggar vibe was wearing off and I was handing out some pretty intense eye threats and also sweating a LOT. The lady behind me asked kindly, "Is your husband deployed?" In retrospect, I should have lied. "Yes," I should have said. "He's deployed, and boy are these kids wild. Army life, am I right?" But I didn't, I just told the truth and sweated a lot more.

We got to the counter just as Tristan almost successfully broke into the glass Breast Cancer Awareness display case. "Uh, you need to go over there and do blah blah blah," said the clerk, who had no pity for fools acting like this was the UPS store where they tape your boxes for you and smile and tell a poor fake Army wife what to do. I gave 10 seconds thought to making a run for it, but the fear of getting bad feedback on Ebay made me stay the course.

Out we went into the lobby, where I taped boxes and ignored small people committing federal offenses while Toby, in repeated attempts to be helpful, said things like "Man, this must be stressful," and "You're so sweaty..." and "So, Rhode Island is an island, huh? Interesting."

Finally I had it all packed and taped and made some pretty direct statements to my constituents about what would never happen again while we were in our second round of line waiting. Again, they did not listen. Or more specifically, the smaller ones did not listen. Toby tried some generic pep-talking and R2 just obsessively pointed at the Spiderman postage posters while the other two tried out their audition tape for Supernanny.

"Okay," says the lady, "This box costs about $1000 to ship because of blah blah blah" and I just handed her my card like, "Girl, please."

On the way out Toby offered to carry the cart and ended up bludgeoning me in the forehead pretty solidly. I stumbled to the car, sweaty bangs sticking to my bruised and possibly bleeding head, while Brynn excitedly requested either ice cream or toys as our next stop, on account of their good behavior. I would have laughed but it was too painful.

Friday, July 4, 2014

I love this nation so much. I'm not blind to our flaws. In fact, I participate heartily in many of her flaws, like, for example CORN DOGS. And also in her triumphs like CORN DOGS and DEMOCRACY because this is the greatest country in the world. Happy Birthday Merica.

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