unexpected

He had just given me my toilet back. Now he was telling me we would be without water for another 24 hours. Or more.

“But……we are going to have a baby…..tomorrow morning.” The plumber already knew that. They had been working long hours to get me working pipes before I popped.

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Later that night there was a drug bust across the street.

The next day four different shifts of women rallied around our older boys to care for them while we birthed their brother.

The omen was clear. Chaos would abound.

Which is exactly why I never planned on having a third child. In my opinion control is preferable to chaos.

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Lucky for me, life does not always go according to my plan.

Because chaos has, indeed, abounded since that day five years ago when our third boy entered this world. But so has endless amounts of love.

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And somehow the fact that he is a whole hand old today is making me pause extra-long and think about the enormity of it all. (That and the fact that we did all of his celebrating this past weekend so there is nothing left for me to do but be sentimental.)

An era is ending. And that era lasted much longer than I thought it would. About five years longer. But what a beautiful era it was. Hard. Gruelingly hard. But simultaneously boundlessly beautiful.

Zachary was my gift to get to do it all over again, one last time. To live in different skin than I did the first two times. More comfortable skin. Completely imperfect and still quite messy skin, but somehow more peaceful skin.

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The one thing I wanted to do more than anything with my life was be a mom. But once I got there all of my “stuff” came to the surface and it was like breathing through mud. Slowly, very slowly, I have been working through all of that stuff. Learning to be loved. Learning to love.

And I have nothing but gratitude. Because somehow, the third time around I was free to enjoy the process. Somehow I was enjoying not only Zachary growing up but all three of my boys at the same time, in this new skin.

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And although my children are not out of the nest yet, the fact that all are now out of the formative years seems significant. And today I have not only been delighting in this child and all of who he is, but also in all he brought to me.

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Happy birthday Little Z. And thank you.

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chicken fingers

This was a celebration for me. A marker of growth, of change for the good.

A few years ago, I let myself see an ugliness inside of me. It was something I tried to hide from for years before that. I was too ashamed to admit, even to myself.

I have resisted writing about my ugliness because it comes out in context with one of my sons and it is my ugliness, not his. I would never want for him to someday read my writing and do what we as children always do, internalize our parent’s brokenness as our own defectiveness.

But these chicken fingers were just too much to pass up. So here I go.

chicken fingers

I have had trouble accepting my middle son for exactly who he is. Don’t get me wrong, simultaneously I recognize and love what he brings to the table and how he gets me outside myself.

But he’s different than me. And when it comes to being different, I like to think I am the right way and anyone else is the wrong way. Apparently that includes my children. Great.

He likes to make messes and struggles to clean them up. He’s well liked and sweet and tender and makes some pretty great choices on who to be friends with, but he’s also just a little bit…..awkward. Quirky. Unique.

And he doesn’t like words. And words are how I function. They’re my strong suit.

But that’s not how he wants to be loved. He is intuitive. He senses what is going on behind the scenes, in my heart. So that means I have to actually work through my issues instead of just covering them up by using the right words.

Fantastic.

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What kind of mother has trouble accepting her child?

I will tell you.

The kind of mother who has trouble accepting herself. Fully. Un-conditionally. Wholeheartedly.

Because what Brene Brown says is true. We can only accept others to the degree we accept ourselves.

Finally, eventually, I became safe enough to myself to go below the surface and deal with the issues that lie beneath. The process has been slow and scary.

But bit by bit, I work my way through. I have in no way arrived, but I am not where I used to be. And these chicken fingers told me so.

We call this Abby’s chicken. There are eggs and flour and dredging involved which means….messes. And my Colby loves to embrace a good mess.

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Which is exactly why I avoid cooking with him. Because undoubtedly my perfectionism flares and I end up sending messages either spoken or unspoken that he is wrong for being the way that he is. Lovely.

But this time, I delighted in Colby and his chicken fingers. I laughed and celebrated his jois de vive. I let go and embraced the process. And of course, I had to take pictures, which he loved.

Growth shows in the little things. Like making chicken with my son. And enjoying it. And more importantly, enjoying him.

rookie move

I know better. Rookie move on my part. Reverse psychology is a risky strategy to use with a four-year-old. Backfires happen easily and in the blink of an eye. They are highly unpredictable creatures.

And that is in fact what happened to me today. I meant what I said as a threat in hope that it would stop the whining. “Well then, maybe I should just not take you to school today!” I touted.

Preschool, I might add. The school that he loves and couldn’t wait to go to five seconds before we got into the car. Of course that threat would work.

Not so much.

Before I knew it, I was in a power struggle with my youngest son. I wanted him to go to school. Badly. That is one of the few times during the week I actually get to myself. But I had threatened and he took me up on it.

And just like quicksand, the harder I tried to get out the deeper I sank. And the deeper I sank the more committed I was to winning. And the more furious I became that I don’t control other human beings. Or at least the small one I was working with at the moment.

When we got home, I sent him to his room. This was another move in my strategic game. Yes, I was playing emotional chess with my four year old. Not one of my saner moments.

As he cried in his room and I ate some breakfast (never parent on an empty stomach), I reached out for help and called my husband. Sometimes all I need is someone outside my current struggle to bring me back to reality.

After I hung up the phone – now having food in my stomach – I realized…..the best way out of this was to put the game away and just tell the truth.

As a parent, sometimes the hardest thing to do is admit to my children when I have screwed up. The whole idea seems counter-intuitive. Kids need to know their parents are in control and know what they are doing. Admitting I don’t just seems wrong.

But what I have noticed time and time again as I have copped to my shortcomings is that it actually settles them. Not in a disrespectful way, either. In a genuine, the-world-seems-safer-now kind of way.

I totally don’t get it. I just know it to be true.

So I went into my son, scooped him up out of his bed and snuggled in with him on the couch. I told him I made a mistake. I told him I shouldn’t have said I wouldn’t take him to school. School is important and we don’t get to decide we don’t want to go just because. And I said I was sorry.

I told him what his choices would be moving forward. We snuggled some more. And then we headed out. No drama. No tears. No games.

Just us.

summer love

The lump sits in my throat as tears brim in my eyes. Nostalgia sweeps over me and I am left both joyful and grieving. What a summer this has been.

The garb has been plopped in the sand, the smiles slathered like sunscreen across our faces, and sibling skirmishes have been carried away by the cool breeze coming off the waves.

I can feel us all breath. Deep and cleansing, the air collectively fills our lungs. We are together in the best way.

I anticipated the summer to be a disaster. This has been a difficult year filled with a lot of transition. I figured summer would simply be more of the same. A lot more. All day long more.

But life often surprises us and sometimes those surprises turn out to be just the relief we need.

After a school year charting new territory of middle school and having that territory effect so much more than just the one in middle school, this relief came to a weary bunch. But it came.

We have actually enjoyed one another this summer. Even my children. Not all day long every day, but enough. Enough to say that we found one another again in this new landscape.

And the beach seems to symbolize all the goodness we have experienced in our togetherness this summer. So as I watch my boys playing at the shore engaged in some team building fun, gratitude fills my heart. For this time together. For each one of them. For all of them together.

I realize that in a few short days, the start of school will mark the end of this summer. We will never get it back. Time marches on. And I don’t want to stop it because I love the process of life. But I wish I could save just a few of those grains of sand from the hourglass and set them aside for safekeeping.

love from Ghee

He is the embodiment of security for my youngest son. A tangible representation of faithfulness, gentleness, support, and love. I do not know how an inanimate object takes on such soulful qualities.

I like to think my son already has those qualities inside of him, which is how he is able to attach them to his beloved blanket. The blanket’s name is “Ghee”, and we don’t quite know how he acquired it, nor how he came to hold all that he does for my son.

One of my friends gave us this once blue (but now grey) cable-knit gift when my son was just a baby. I could swear Ghee was his favorite of all the blankets, but I thought that must be my imagination, the dream of someone who sang to her teddy bear when she was little, wishing that just one of her children would develop a fondness for a security item.

So after one of Ghee’s washings, back in the closet he went while my son developed attachments to the flannel blankets in abundant supply, always lying around handy.

But then one day my son was old enough to point to what he wanted. And when he saw Ghee on the closet shelf he communicated his desire clearly. As the saying goes when telling love stories…the rest is history.

Just recently, my son offered me a gesture of tenderness and love beyond what I ever thought I would receive. Recognizing this gesture required both the anthropologist in me, studying my son’s unique and individual culture, as well as the treasure-hunter in me, always on the look out for glimpses of unearned love.

We had just snuggled into my son’s bottom bunk after stories and one final trip to the bathroom. Ghee was there, as he always is. My son burrowed in closely to me as he always does, hugging his precious Ghee.

Then he pulled away a bit, wiggled Ghee out from underneath the covers and gently but firmly wadded him up against my neck right underneath my chin.

I recognized this offering right away and tried to open my heart as wide as I could to catch all the intimacy and purity of love held by this moment.

I have seen my son do this, night after night after night for as long as I can remember. He holds Ghee in this same spot whenever he is tired and ready for bed, sad and wanting to be comforted, lonely and wanting company, happy and glad to be home.

This spot, tucked under my son’s chin and soothing against the skin on his throat, is where Ghee feels the best to my son. That spot somehow transfers the magical wonders of Ghee the most clearly, the most effectively, and in the best possible way.

And now, with this one gesture, he was offering his most precious of moments to me. He was sharing. He wanted me to experience this wonderful feeling, too. I felt so honored, humbled, loved. Touched by the sacred, ceremonial beauty held out by a four-year-old and his treasured companion.

mysterious middle child

I find him the greatest mystery of the three of them. He is both the most like me and the least like me all at once. One of our friends (who relates to him and seems to “get him” in a way that I long to) told me he is probably a mystery to himself right now, too.

He feels things deeply. And a lot. And he doesn’t quite know what to do with it all. And neither have I. Who grows up in a family that deals well with emotion? No one that I know.

But I have been learning about my own emotions and how to handle them and not to fear them, and – of course – that helps me with his emotions too. And we have been working together on our feelings and accepting them and making space for them and communicating them.

It is incredibly difficult work.

For an eight year old and a thirty-eight year old.

But there is this song by Jason Mraz, who was already a favorite at Chez Koo, and it came on right after the board break that took all of who my son was. Of course. The song is called, “I won’t give up”.

And so this has become his song, and it helps me understand him better. Every time I hear it my soul belts out every word. Because it seems like our song, too. He is my son, so I love him more deeply than I ever knew I could. Deeper than I even understand.

At the crescendo of the song, the words hold so much more than what they say. “I had to learn what I’ve got, and what I’m not, and who I am.” I think those are words of life. My life. And my life with my mysteriously beautiful and wonderful son. Without understanding it all the time, we are becoming. Together.

So give the song a listen. After all, I figured out how to put it here for you (which you should be highly impressed by even though it is not centered, considering I am the world’s largest tech-no-it-all 🙂 ). You won’t regret it. Maybe it will become your song, too.

presence

I have seen a shift in him. When he used to tout, “Don’t worry, Mom! I can do it myself!” before he proudly headed to the bathroom, glad to display he is just as big and capable as his older brothers, now he shyly says, “Mom, I want you to come wis me.”

His sub-conscious imagination is flourishing, developmentally right on time. There have only been a few bad dreams so far, but they have affected him. The last one took a toll. That night I was in his room three times and woke up with him next to me, a bit foggy on when he actually arrived there.

After that night I noticed he wanted company at times when previously he would have shown off his cool skills of self-reliance. He does not want to be on the other side of the house without a companion. And his preference is Mom.

I will be honest. I don’t mind. In fact, even though it may be a tad inconvenient at times, I find it rather comforting myself. I know what it is to need the presence of another safe human being. Not to have them give me anything or tell me anything or solve my problems for me, but just to be with me. In my fear. In my insecurity. In my emotional need.

Having a tangible safe person with me reminds me that the things in my head are not real. They are abstract and they cannot come and hurt me. Which of course seems obvious now as I write, but when I am alone and my imagination runs and panic races its heat through my body I am less sure.

In my son’s normal developmental stage of imagination going wild, I am reminded of what a gift it is to simply be present with someone. Not to solve or fix or do for them, but just to be with them. Someone who doesn’t force me to face the fears inside my head alone, just to make me stronger. But instead says we are in this together. I am with you. No matter how rational or irrational your fears are, I will not leave.

And so when he is the first one up and comes to me at six o’clock in the morning and says he wants to snuggle I actually physically smile. Because it is so beautiful to be together. Present with one another. And I love that he is not too proud or embarrassed or ashamed to ask. I hope he never is.