End of a Stay-At-Home Era…at Least for Now….

Today is my last day as a stay at home mom. Well, for now, anyway.

Phase I of settling into Madison is complete. All the boxes are put away, things are somewhat in their rightful place again, we’re not tripping over things–much. All we got left is small things, putting up pictures, finding a system to do laundry that doesn’t involve just tossing everything on the floor, etc. Now that we have settled, it’s time to start Phase II–going back into the work force. (Stage III–finding a writer’s group, will proceed in June. Stay tuned as I figure that out.)

I would love to say that the decision to go back to work was agonizing, soul-searching, deeply conflicting against my inner values. If I so happen to run into any die-hard stay-at-home mothers who shake their heads at my predicament, perhaps I would say that. But really, the truth is, it wasn’t that hard a decision at all. A part-time job opened up at the place my hubby now works, so I decided to apply and what-do-you-know, they hired me. So I start tomorrow. Just like that.

The main factor in all this is the word “part-time”. Back when my hubby and I discussed this, I was pretty clear that when I did go back to the working world, I wanted to do it part-time. Partly (grumble…grumble…using the same stem of word twice. such a no-no…) because I wanted time to adjust to working again, partly because I wanted time to focus on Willow (which I am building back up to. Really.). And partly because, well, I guess I don’t want to give up my status of stay-at-home mom. Not just yet.

But the real reason why I’m going back to work? Real reason? I’m bored.

When Daniel came into our lives four years ago, I felt that the best thing for Daniel…and for me…was to stay at home with him. It was great. Not only did I learn how to care for a baby, but I also got to teach things to him, basic things like eating and walking, but also fun things like singing and playing and dancing. He saw me cleaning and working at home, interacting with other mothers. I took him to the library, read him books, did playgroups and crafts (though the latter didn’t happen until his late threes, considering that he barely sat still do to anything crafty). As he transitioned from baby to toddler to sass-back preschooler, I slowly begin to realize that there’s a limit to how much I can teach him. I can introduce him to new music and new places, but when it comes to teaching skills like putting together puzzles or how to put on his shoes, well, I suck. Immensely.

The problem is, I think I have very little patience for those sort of things. I subscribe to magazines like Wondertime and Parenting, and they’re filled with happy mothers happily showing their happy kids to do happy things. And for three years, I can say that I was that type of mother. But then, something happened. Daniel started getting more independent. I started expecting more from him…perhaps more than he was ready to do. I remember back when we started potty-training him again, and I was trying so hard to get him how to stand and pee, rushing him into the bathroom whenever his dad was in there so he could see how to do it (Hubby didn’t really appreciate that.) Daniel, of course, wasn’t having it.

Sometime afterwards, Daniel went to go spend the night over a friend’s house. The next day, I’m working, Daniel’s playing in his room. I see him run into the bathroom, so I glance in to make sure he’s okay–and he is using the washroom standing up. Flabbergasted, I asked him, “How’d you do that?” To which Daniel shrugged and said, “Drew does it.” (Drew being his friend).

At that moment, I realized:

  1. Daniel’s doesn’t need me all that much anymore.
  2. Daniel needs other kids in his life.
  3. I think I’ve taught him everything I know.
  4. What’s the point of staying at home if all he does is watch TV and play by himself?

Now, obviously I know that there are tons of more things to teach him. I know that Daniel still needs me, will in fact need me for a long time (unless he’s in his 30s and still living at home. Then we’ll have a problem). But I think we’ve reached a point in our lives where Daniel will benefit from being around kids his own age, having an outside teacher, learning to be a little boy without his mother hovering around. The boy is ready, eagerly ready, for preschool.

So I guess this is challenging my view of motherhood. It seems that the idea of being a mother is not being there for your children, but rather, it’s to make your children more independent so they don’t have to rely on you forever. In other words, I think that I just worked myself out of the stay-at-home job. Motherhood seems to be a influx thing. And that’s cool. I really had fun doing it. In fact, I know that when the next kid shows up, I’ll most likely do the same thing. But at the same time, it’s nice to know that I don’t have to do the stay-at-home thing forever.

Well, this has turned out to be a rambling post. I think I better go and make the most of my last day staying at home all day. There’s laundry to do, bills to pay, books to put on the bookshelf…

Bleh. Forget it. I’m taking Daniel out to get some ice cream.

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Putting the Magic Back in Christmas

This past Sunday at church, we were asked a question: What does Christmas mean to you? And don’t hold back. What does it really mean?

After some thought, I said, “For me, Christmas had a mysterious quality to it, like I never knew what to expect. It’s sad because lately I’ve been missing that. Nowadays, Christmas means stress and figuring out whose house to go to and what to buy for who and stuff like that. I want to bring back the magic, and I don’t mean in a pagan way. I want to bring back that joy and delight that came when Christmas started coming.”

I remember when I lost that feeling, several years ago after I got married. I think I was walking around an outdoors mall, seeing the decorations and hearing the music, and not feeling much of anything. It saddened me, because I’ve always loved Christmas. I think I’ve felt that way for a long time since I’ve became an adult, but it was the first time I suddenly realized that the magic of Christmas was missing. That sense of wonder and awe, the feeling of ritual that comes in bringing out and decorating a Christmas tree, listening to Christmas music, that feeling on anticipation on Christmas Eve, of waking up at 4am and sneaking down with my sisters to see the Christmas tree still lit and the presents underneath. That type of wonder and mysteriousness and, well, magic.

Christmas was so much more fun when I was a kid. I didn’t think I would ever get that feeling back. Until Monday.

Ever see A Christmas Story? Who hasn’t? The movie’s pretty much a classic by now, or at least TBS wants it to be, showing it over and over and over and over on Christmas day. Geez hammer it into our brains already, why don’t you? But I’m getting off track. There’s the scene in the movie (and if I’m spoiling it for you, tough. It’s been out since the 80s and been shown on every channel–if you haven’t seen it, then you can’t be reading the blog because that mean you have absolutely no technology in your house) where the father asks Ralphie if he had a good Christmas. The kid hems and haws, then the father says, “Hey, what’s that over there? Looks like Santa left a present.” Ralphie goes over and pulls out the gift hiding behind the piano (or radiator…I can’t really remember). Of course, it’s the BB gun he’s been wanting throughout the entire movie. I always liked that part of the movie when Ralphie rips the paper off and his eyes get big as he realizes what it is. But this year, this Monday, I found myself paying more attention to the parents’ reaction.

Next time you see the movie, pay careful attention to the Mom and Dad. The father is nearly lost in his own wonder, excitement mirroring that of Ralphie’s as he watches his son pull open the gift. His hands even rises and mimics his son’s as he pours the BBs into the barrel. Meanwhile, the mother is watching them, her eyes moving from her son to her husband in surprise. For one brief moment, the father and the son is of one mind and one heart, and the mother can’t help but recognize it, albeit in a bewildered way.

I found myself thinking of that scene when we were opening gifts a little later. Daniel was sitting on his Daddy’s lap, and when he opened a gift, he immediately recognized it for what it was. “James!” he called out gleefully as he pulled out a train. (And yes, at two years old, my kid can recognize different trains from the Thomas the Train Engine series. Go figure.) The delight that crossed both his face, and my hubbie’s face as he realized that Daniel knew the gift, was, well…magical.

That got me to thinking about gift-giving in general. Christmas has always been about buying stuff. Buy! Buy! Buy! The stores tell us to buy stuff to make the people you love happy! Then buy more stuff. Buy! Buy! Buy! But that’s not what Christmas is about. It’s all about the giving. Giving something to someone to make them happy. And that doesn’t have to be exclusively gifts. It can be anything: from showing up at someone’s house you haven’t seen in a long time, to acknowledging a person’s hard work in front of them, to giving basic toiletries to needy families. It’s seeing that look of surprise, then joy that comes over their faces that personifies the magic of Christmas. That I-wasn’t-expecting-this-but-you-gave-it-to-me-anyway look. That same look on Ralphie’s face when he got the BB gun, and his father’s face as he watched his son’s delight.

I think God had that in mind when Jesus came down to earth. He gave the world a gift that no one deserved, that no one expected. Mary certainly didn’t have it in mind. I wish I saw her and Joseph’s faces when the shepherds appeared. I wish I saw the shepherds’ faces when all those angels appeared in the sky, then they rushed to Bethlehem to see if what the angels’ spoke of was true. I wish I saw the three wise men’s faces when they saw the star. His gift of redemption from sin certainly goes unappreciated today, but back then, the shepherd and wise men, and Mary and Joseph, realizing what the little baby meant, rejoiced. And God, seeing that, rejoiced as well, and He allowed the angels to fill the air with rejoicing.

That, my friends, is absolutely magical.

Now that Daniel’s a little bit older and beginning to understand Christmas a bit (“Present!” he said all Christmas day), how do I, as a mother, impart that sense of wonder on him? Not just at Christmas, but throughout the year? It’s a bit of a challenge. My hubby and I will have to go against the materialistic world and its “Buy stuff! Buy stuff!” message. But I think that sense of wonder is coming back for me. I want to cultivate it, see things through my son’s eyes. I don’t mean live vicariously through him, but to share his sense of wonder and joy. To be of one heart and one mind. And I want him to learn that Christmas isn’t just about receiving. It’s also about giving. I don’t know how to teach him that, but I’m gonna try.

And I’m taking the word magical back. Too often, magical seems to imply pagan, evil, satanic rituals in Christian circles. But the word can also convey the sense of awe, joy, wonder and delight. I want to experience that in my Christian walk. How do you think people responded when Jesus walked on water, calmed storms, raised the dead, healed the sick? By yawning and sarcastic comments of “Yeah, we’ve seen that before.” No, they were awed! They were stunned! God wants us to be delighted by what he’s done and to crave more of His wonder, His awesomeness, His…well, magicalness!

Merry Christmas, y’all. Merry Christmas to every single one of you. Here’s to praying that God will instill that bit of magicalness in you all in 2007 and beyond.

And just like that he was potty trained…

Okay…I don’t know how I did it, but it appears Daniel is potty trained.

Yesterday, he finally learned how to do #2 in the potty. I wasn’t actually there when it happened. Looks like my hubby had the pleasure of teaching him. That’s good, because I sure didn’t know how I was going to teach him that.

So let’s see. I got the potty at the beginning of August. Started the real training around September 20. So roughly a month of preparation and about a week of actual training.

Dude. That’s not bad…I’m not really calling him completely potty trained though. He still needs to learn how to go to the bathroom on his own. So we’re still in process…I’m just being really casual about it.

I’m still trying to figure out how, exactly, he figured it out. What were his mental processes?

Wait a minute–Mommy is saying pee-pee and poo-poo in the potty. That yellow stuff is pee-pee. She wants me to pee-pee in the potty. Therefore, instead of peeing into a diaper, I can now pee into the potty. What is she–nuts? Don’t she realizes that the universe will explode if I did that?

She’s making me sit down…I don’t want to…ack! Pee is coming out! The world is coming to an ENNNDDDDD!!!

Hold on. The world’s still here. Mommy’s still here. And pee-pee is in the potty. Hmmm….

Let’s try it again.

Now she’s making me wipe it off the floor. What does the woman want? Oh. Put it in the potty. Hmmm…pee-pee. Potty. Pee-pee. Potty. Pee-pee goes in the potty. Oh boy! Snackies!

So…if I say ‘pee-pee’, she’ll take me to the potty and I’ll pee in the potty. Does that happen all the time? Let’s experiment. “Pee-pee, Mommy!” Not that I have to go or anything. I just want to see what happens…

“All done potty?” Hmmm…she doesn’t look happy. It must be that when I have to pee-pee, instead of going directly in the diaper, I must hold it until we get to the potty. Hey. I can do that. I was holding it all day when she didn’t put any diapers on me, and when they wanted me to pee that time in that hospital in California. But I didn’t do it, no sir. So they had to stick that cath–TELETUBBIES! THOMAS THE TRAIN ENGINE! HAPPY THOUGHTS! HAPPY THOUGHTS!

So let’s see. Wait…there’s this sensation…in my pee-pee area. It doesn’t exactly hurt…it feels like, like I need to pee! Yes! I feel the need for pee. Don’t go in the diaper, Mommy said. I’ll hold it, and tell Mommy I need to pee. “Mommy! Pee-pee?” She must believe me because she’s moving my hand away from my pee-pee area. Hmmm…I don’t remember doing that. It must be an automatic response. She’s taking me in. We’re pulling the pants down….she’s pointing me to the potty…so that must be my cue not to hold pee in anymore.

Eureka! Pee-pee goes in the potty! It makes sense, now! Mommy’s so happy! And I’m happy, too! This is easy! I no longer have to wear a diaper! I can be just like Daddy now! Hey, if I can accomplish this, then the whole world can be for my taking! I can dominate the entire continent. Entire cities will fall to my brilliance! I will be the KING OF THE WORLD!!!

Ooo! Elmo’s on!

Actually, I suspect his process is more like:

Diggle diggle DIAPER blahbythomas digglepwane PEE PEE dadadadad POTTY mmamamdiggle blah blah weese POTTY dadad PEE PEE? POTTY digle mommyelmo tv GO PEE PEE backdiggle aheeego awldun cookiedaughter eh socks? socks? tocks? POTTY, oh okay WORLD DOMINATION diglge uhoh takeeena takeena diggle ELMO.

It’s gonna be a brave new world….

That’s Supposed to be Elmo?!?!

Yesterday was pretty rough for Daniel’s first day of potty training. To give you an idea of what it’s like, I want you to go ahead and pee in your pants. Go ahead. Do it. It’s all right. You’ll be fine. Just pee in your pants. Go on.

Won’t do it, huh? Going to the toilet is ingrained in us (unless you’re drunk and stumbling about at two in the morning and can’t find a bathroom. I sure hope no one reading this had that experience–and before you ask, no I didn’t either.) But that’s tantamount to what I’m teaching Daniel to do. For two and a half years, we’ve taught him not to pee on the floor, or in the bath, or on your uncle’s lap, but in a diaper. And now, I’m suddenly telling him to pee in this tiny little potty, or in this huge toilet. The rules have changed and Daniel doesn’t like it one bit (although today, he’s no longer freaking out whenever pee pours out of him. Now he views it with a growing fascination)

Regardless, yesterday afternoon, both of us was fried and frustrated. But then I learned that Kevin Clash was coming to Barbara’s Bookstore in Oak Park to promote his new book My Life as a Furry Red Monster, and he was bringing Elmo with him. For those of you who don’t have children, Kevin Clash is the voice of Elmo. He’s also a 6 foot black guy with a deep voice. The blurb in the Tribune’s book section said that he was coming to read passages from his book and do a signing. I’ve always been curious on what made Clash decide to create Elmo, and because Daniel’s a toddler, he automatically loves Elmo. So I figured I drive down and give Daniel a little treat.

Well, I wasn’t the only one to think this. When we got there at 7:30pm, the store was packed. Everybody and their mama came down to see Elmo and a long line snaked all through the store, filled with babbling, sobbing children. There had to be at least 200 people there. I had to wrestle through to see Clash, manipulating an Elmo puppet on his hand, in the center of the store. They decided not to have Clash read and just have Elmo greet the children, one at a time. I looked at the crowd and thought, “Naw…it isn’t worth this. Daniel can see Elmo on TV anytime.”

But then, Daniel caught sight of Elmo and his eyes lit up. “Elmo!” And at that particular moment, the next child coming up to Clash completely freaked, grabbing his mother and sobbing on her arms. Clash, who had been speaking in a normal voice, cried out as Elmo, “Oh, no! Don’t cry!” And he made the puppet wrap his red furry arms around the boy, laid Elmo’s head on the boy’s head, and cry in sympathy. This caused the boy to stop and stare at Elmo in surprise.

That impressed me. Hey, he really is good with kids, I thought. So I stayed.

The good thing about a kids’ signing is that unlike adults, some kids don’t have the patience to wait and wait until they meet their hero. They get tired, hungry, whiny and what not. When they do, the parents shrug and finally leave, towing their screaming kid behind them. So the crowd slowly thinned out over time, making the line shorter. And the bookstaff did a good job in scattering Elmo books around the store, so the rest of us who had restless toddlers could snag a book and read it to them while we wait. And as I watched Clash, a strange, freaky thing happened. Clash slowly disappeared–oh, he was still there, but it was like he didn’t register anymore. All I could see was Elmo: laughing, hugging, waving to a camera. As he broke off from meeting people to come up to the little girl crying behind us and telling her to, “Don’t cry–you’ll see Elmo soon? Okay? Kiss, kiss!” The girl stared at Elmo in wonder. She wasn’t disconcerted that he had no feet and appeared attached to a guy. For a moment, I had a taste of what she felt: Elmo touched me. Elmo just gave me a kiss. He really does care about me. Elmo is real.

Now that’s a good actor.

Around 9pm, Daniel finally got to meet Elmo. He walked up to him and reached a curious hand out to feel his fur. Clash asked me for his name, and Elmo said, “Hi Daniel!” Delighted, Daniel honked his nose. “Hi, Elmo!” One of the staff took his picture (seeing that I stupidly left my camera at home), then Elmo asked for a hug, and Daniel obliged. I then thanked Clash for all he has done and he replied, normally, “Oh no problem. It’s what I do.”

I don’t know if Daniel will ever remember that he met Elmo. I don’t know if he even remembers what happened last night. Today, I turned on Elmo and just like any other morning, Daniel sat, glued to the TV, and joyously called out, “Elmo!” He doesn’t care who voices Elmo, or that Elmo is just a puppet. All he knows is he cares a lot about Elmo.

And that’s the mark of a true artist.

I think I will read Clash’s book after all…

Edit: You know, I completely forgot that I had a picture of Daniel taken with Keven Clash and Elmo. So here it is for all posterity.

Early Morning Musing before I head to the Festival

Bees circle around my boy.

He knows about bees because he sees them a lot in our Dr. Seuss books. But this is the first time he is confronted with their lumbering, yellow striped bodies as they hover around him and his fire engine pushcar. Daniel’s amazed and delighted. “Bee!” He calls out to me.

“Yes, bee,” I reply, frozen in midlunge to grab him away.

But Daniel doesn’t know how to fear bees. But he also doesn’t blindly grab at one. He stands perfectly still, watching as the bees hover close, their feelers waving, inspecting. Then, they give a collective shrug and fly off to cluster on the white starbursts of my Chinese Chives.

My son says, “Bye-bye, bees!” Then, he runs and actually leaps off our patio onto our sea of grass. Hardly a cause for concern, because our patio is at ground level, but the fact that my son treats our lawn as his own swimming pool gives me another reason to marvel him. First, this kid shows me how to behave around bees, not by screaming and flailing my arms, making a stinging imminent, but remaining still to showing them: no, I’m not a flower. Move along…move along. And then, to leap into our lawn, putting all his childish joy in his legs and hurling himself into the last bit of summer, taking advantage of the sun and blue sky and the warm air scented with a grassy onions.

I want to leap through life like that. I think God commands us to leap into life like that.

Daniel, who still has trouble with the mechanics of straight jumping up-and-down, squeals and runs to the patio again to try out his newfound skill. But our neighbor then chooses to come out on his own patio (much higher than ours). Daniel spies him and decides to greet him by lifting up his shirt and showing off his diaperless bottom. “Hi!”

A son and a moon on a warm summer’s day. Ah, life is too full of bliss.