Did you think I forgot about you? I didn’t. Things have just been…busy. Baby Girl is no longer a baby, and she is a delightful and energetic presence around our home. James’ challenges have been particularly acute at points over the past year, and there is a lot of updating that I need to do. Also, we are expecting another child this summer. (How crazy are they, you ask? Pretty crazy, apparently.) I miss you though, Fly friends. I’m sorry it’s been so quiet for so long over here. I’m not finished with you yet.
I hope you had a wonderful holiday break. If your house is anything like ours, you are probably thrilled to be back at work, school, or in whatever routine normally shapes your life. There are lots of things to share with you, but I only have time for one quick update.
Let’s file this under: “Yes, that really happened, and I’m still having nightmares about it.”
A few days ago, I sat on the couch in our family room. This is my favorite room in our new house. It is a lovely, cozy room, not too big, not too small, and it has our TV and a fireplace, which are two of my favorite things. This room is also open to the kitchen, so I can sit on the couch and have my coffee while I’m still too tired to actually sit at the table and interact with the rest of the family in the morning. We all like it this way.
I was sitting on the couch, reading (an impulse library choice, Crazy Rich Asians, which is a fairly amusing, if kind of pulpy, novel that was popular a year or so ago), when I heard a soft “plop” in the fireplace. Mr. Fly built a fire the night before and the burnt remnants of logs and ashes were still in the bottom of the fireplace. I thought, “Huh, it’s weird that the logs would still be settling now that they have been cold for a while.”
I went back to my book and read for a few more minutes. Until, something near the fireplace caught the corner of my eye. That’s right, something moving. I looked over and saw the tiniest brown mouse, scurrying across the floor. I did the only reasonable thing, pulled up my feet and screamed for Mr. Fly to remove the intruder immediately!
But just in case you are not grasping the full horror of this situation, let me be direct. That “plop” was a mouse. A MOUSE FELL DOWN OUR CHIMNEY. It survived falling down the chimney and then happily scurried towards the kitchen, to dine on the delicious assortment of foods that constantly lives below James’ high chair.
I’m not sure what the moral of this story is, beyond “A soft plop in any circumstances is probably not a good thing,” and “Let’s constantly have a fire so that any other mice that fall down the chimney are burnt up instantaneously.”
I hope you are having a wonderful, mouse-free New Year. Now, I’m off to investigate hypoallergenic cats.
I’ve written a little about my work before, to the extent that you know that I like it. No, I love it. It’s the most fun job I’ve ever had, I like to think that I’m good at it (and have been told so by less biased parties!), I don’t have to wear suits, and it offers a schedule fluidity that is essential to my parenting of James.
I won’t share exactly where I work here, but I am a teacher of a particular kind. I spend about half the semester teaching and half the semester grading papers. This is a “full-time job,” but it is infinitely more manageable for me as a working parent than my previous full-time job. This is not the salt mines, people.
So, I’m left with these weird chunks of the semester where I have work to do, but it’s all done on my own. The problem with this is that when I look at the calendar during these times, it appears blank.
And a blank calendar makes me twitch. I immediately think “I have so much free time to do whatever I want! Let’s sign up for some new activities! I am going to learn to play the guitar! I am going to paint our entire house myself! I am going to be the room mom! I am going to sing in the choir again! I am going to start an etsy shop! (Selling what, you ask? I have no idea. That’s not the point. Don’t be a cold shower.)”
You remember I have three kids? Because apparently, I don’t.
So, I find myself in the grading, faux-free-time part of my job and am busier than I am during the more heavily calendared parts of my job. None of the time commitments I have are bad things, but I feel scattered and unfocused in a way that I don’t when I’m busy doing one thing.
And, our house is still a wreck.
I want the same things I wanted in my more intense, time-consuming job, but I was sensible enough then to understand that with children and a job, there isn’t time for the extras. Feeling pulled in two directions was plenty.
Now, I don’t have that same sensible filter and my scattered attention is starting to feel unmanageable. I have a full-time job but feel like I have to cram in an extra life of stay-at-home-mom activities on the side, during these more fallow work periods. (Or rather, the activities I imagine my SAHM friends do, because I doubt most of them have time to do this stuff either.)
Why do we feel like a blank calendar is a bad thing? Why do we feel like we have to schedule every minute for ourselves and our children? What would happen if we did actually have free time?
If you find out, I’d like to know.
I love shopping, and I love shopping in fancy shops. It is a
gift curse that I am able to pick out the most expensive item in any store without looking at the tag.
Last week, I was in a super fancy boutique. It attracts a curious mix of injected-face matrons and impossibly thin and glamorous 20-something-looking women who inexplicably always have at least three or four children. The salesgirls moonlight as yoga, pilates, and barre teachers. It’s that kind of place.
When I go in there, I always, always feel disheveled, poorly groomed, and afraid that I might get something sticky on one of the outfits. But I keep going back, because I want to shop for the life I wish I had rather than the life I do have. (And if the bizzarely glam 20-somethings can have 3 children and look like that, so can I! Right?)
Anyway, I found some jeans that were a good upgrade from my mom-ish jeans I’d been wearing for a while, and I was feeling very glamorous and sophisticated for buying designer jeans in such a chic shop. That’s what it means to be a grown-up, right? To be able to stare the scary salesgirl in the eye and buy something with your own money?
I was feeling great until, as I was searching for the credit card that is never in my wallet, my purse fell onto the floor. And the purse’s contents spilled everywhere. This would not be a problem if you were a reasonably organized person, but my purse is a terrifying vortex of sticky disorganization. Here are some of the items that scattered over the floor of the shop:
- Two sizes of diapers, for James and Baby Girl
- A half-eaten granola bar
- Multiple airline frequent flyer cards that I continue to carry around even though I fly so rarely that I’ve become that person that needs a “talking to” from the TSA agent because I forget to remove my shoes
- One juice box
- One lipstick that’s been smashed beyond recognition from Baby Girl using it on herself, and then using it like a crayon everywhere else
- Keys to a safe deposit box that I’ve had to have re-keyed twice because I keep losing them (This is not a cheap or easy process, I assure you)
- “Princess Baby Night-Night,” a glittery, painful-to-read book that Baby Girl insists on reading at least once a day
- My wallet, which is empty of credit cards and any other normal wallet contents, but is somehow full of yogurt raisins
- One necklace, beaded by Big Boy, necklace making being his activity of choice instead of doing something “sweaty” in the gym at church
- Stamps (with Christmas designs)
- A bottle of water, that leaked into my purse and immediately begins to leak onto the shop’s floor
- Approximately 1,000 receipts. For what, who can say, because they are all crumpled. And wet.
So much for chic and sophisticated. Points for trying, though, right?
And yeah yeah, this is God or the universe teaching me a lesson about not trying to feel better about myself through shopping, or trying to get an identity through “stuff.” I get it. I still like shopping. Even when it ends badly.
Friends, I’m sorry for the recent silence. I’ve got all kinds of big things planned for us, but for now, let’s talk about something little.
As I write this, I am “working” on the couch with baby girl sitting beside me. She has a fever and so is a bit more subdued than usual. I am grading papers, and she was trying to “help me” with my pen.
She’s not yet 18 months old, but I thought she might like to sit next to me and color, and so I got out an old coloring book and some crayons for her.
Big boy enjoys drawing but never really loved coloring, and James has never shown an interest or ability to do it, despite our purchasing special crayons and them working with him on it at school. So, these crayons and coloring books have sat unused at our house for four or five years.
This was a small sadness for me, because coloring, and art, and drawing were big parts of my childhood and still are things I enjoy. Big Boy is a wonderful child but is so different from me, and James is James. I adore them, but sometimes I find it difficult to recognize my childhood in their childhood.
Having Baby Girl cuddle next to me on the couch and color, then, is an unexpected sweetness. It is a glimpse of what I thought motherhood might be like and has not yet been for me.
More than just a quickly melting sweet, this moment is also a happy reminder that this game is not played out. We are not fixed.
Who knows what our sweet group of three will be interested in, be capable of, and will teach me over this next school year?
I’m so glad I didn’t throw away the crayons. I hope y’all also get some color on this Labor Day.
Big Boy is a smart kid. He’s book smart and just smart-smart. He’s starting to ask questions and say things about James that can unmoor me in an instant.
This morning, from the backseat of the car, we were discussing what we should have for dinner. As our fridge is broken (Because we need one more thing to deal with right now. It was making a hideous grinding noise that we first heard upon opening the door from being out of town for the weekend. The crime scene fridge-side was gory in the extreme.), I told him that dinner would at least be bacon. Because we had a package of bacon that partially thawed when the freezer shut down, and now we needed to cook it.
Bacon for any meal is never a bad thing chez Fly, so we both happily pondered this for a moment. Then, Big Boy dropped the bomb.
“Mommy, did you ask God for James to be special?”
I stammered an incoherent response about how we asked God for all of our children and that we didn’t know James would be special in the way that he is and that Daddy and I love you all and weren’t we glad that we were having bacon for dinner and wasn’t having to clean out the freezer kind of fun?
And then Big Boy asked me, “Well, Mommy, did you ask for Baby Girl not to be special like James?”
And as I drove in silence, I thought about truth and lies and the things we tell ourselves to protect ourselves, and the things we tell the ones we love to protect them, and I didn’t want to lie to my son.
After that beat, I said, “Yes. We asked God for Baby Girl to be just the way she is. She’s special, but not special like James.”
From his backseat booster of wisdom, Big Boy said, “Well, God knew that James couldn’t play with me and I really needed somebody to play with, so he had to make Baby Girl like me.”
I asked him if someone had told him that, and he said no and asked me why I asked that. And I told him that it was just a mature thing to say. (And then I tried to explain maturity, which is kind of an abstract concept. I had to boil it down to “acting like a grown-up,” but that’s not wholly accurate. I wouldn’t say that explanation went as badly as the whole “God’s magic thing” on Easter, but it was close.)
What I didn’t say at the time, and I wish I had, is that I am so thankful that he and Baby Girl have each other, and that we all needed her, and that the sibling bond has been one of the great joys of my life, and I hope they are close for their entire lives. I should have said that I am renewed and delighted and filled with hope for the future when I watch them play, or when, last night, she reached out her arms to him and asked for a kiss.
But that’s all probably a bit heavy for a Tuesday afternoon car ride. There is bacon to eat, after all.
Those of you that follow us on Facebook know that I promised you a happy post. I told you we were having some good days. And yes, that was true. Unfortunately, we’ve been struggling a lot more recently with James’ health, his GI system in particular, and this overtook us before I could properly revel in the good days. I fully appreciate how unfair this is.
One of the most difficult things about parenting a child with special needs is seeing the good times when they are in front of you. There is an undercurrent of sadness and anxiety in parenting him that I’m not sure will ever go away, and so when things are good, sometimes it is hard to recognize that. In this instance, we saw the good time, but the bad thing swept in and I was surprised. Again. You’d think I’d be used to this ebb-and-flow of joy and sadness after the past (almost) four years, but I’m not. I may never be used to the surprising and unexpected new challenges that crop up when we least expect it.
But, let’s go back to the good days. James started sitting up by himself (generally in the bed or on his mat at naptime), and this is a big deal. A tremendous deal. It’s been a long time since he’s passed any sort of milestone, and we’ve even seen some regression this year as we’ve dealt with his health problems.
So, imagine my delighted shock to walk into his room and see him sitting up in the bed, looking at me like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
I asked Mr. Fly whether he’d sat him up, and he said no. Still confused about what was happening, I laid him back down on his back and told him to go to sleep. Just as I was walking out of the room, however, he did it again. He sat up. By himself. And he looked at me again as if he knew all the universe’s secrets and was giving one of them to me right then, pressing a sweet into the palm of my hand.
I cried, shouted to Mr. Fly to run and see this, and of course we videoed this for posterity. There were more happy tears at school when he repeated the same behavior. It is thrilling and unusual to see James able to control his body, and we are all so proud of him.
Pride, however, is not a simple feeling. My mother used to say of me as a child, as I often insisted on wearing some uncomfortable headband or pair of shoes, that “pride knows no pain.” Perhaps that’s true, but as a parent, pride feels exactly like pain. It is both sharp and aching, sudden and deep. It is a cliche of working with special needs children or parenting them that the joys are all the sweeter for the sadness and struggle that comes before them. I guess that’s true. The pride is sweet, all the sweeter for the high price we pay to feel it. But the pain is there too.
I haven’t seen James sit up in a week or two. I don’t know if he is still doing it, or if he’s decided that it is no longer interesting. This happens sometimes, where he will master a skill and then drop it, as if he simply couldn’t be bothered to spend his energy on this anymore. We hope that if we can make some progress with his stomach issues, he will feel better and come back to himself a bit.
My pride knows pain, but I will surely cheer again the next time I see him sit up.
Thanks to all of you for your support and sweet thoughts over these last few difficult weeks.