The Family That Plays Together

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The diet is mine.  Fitness is a bit of a family affair – or at least it’s a team effort as far as my life coach and son, six-year-old SuperDude (he really does have super powers), is concerned.  Trailing me on my morning runs up and down the driveway and around the parking circle, his endless chatter and questions distract me from any aches or exhaustion.

We walked and ran this road a few years ago when I was on my last diet.  Pound after pound, SuperDude chased me around my makeshift track, hugged me, and greeted the morning sun with me as we Downward Dogged and Mountain Posed our way through the summer.

He’s older now, but while wisdom threatens to peel some of the fantasies from his vision, his primary power is stronger than ever.  Even as I sit down to write and draw, he’s at the video cabinet finding the perfect routine for tomorrow morning.  And in the morning he’ll cajole and pull me off the couch.  He’s half my size and his chirping and chattering will be powerful enough remind me once again that every gram of muscle I rend from my own fat is not converted just for my own sake.

Hungry

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The same storm systems that spawned numerous twisters out west few weeks ago, brought unusually violent spring weather to southwestern Vermont last week. Six-year-old- Thing2 and I were just pulling out of the supermarket parking lot last Sunday when one of them hit. I’ve had enough near-death experiences to know that this was not one, but it was life-changing it its own way.

I should be too old to be nervous during storms. However, having spent 20 minutes two years ago waiting out a waterspout-turned-tornado while all the adults in the family leaned against a set of massive sliding glass doors to keep the wind from popping them off their tracks and flinging them into the room at my parents’ house in Michigan and then watching funnel clouds form to the north of I80/90 in Indiana last year, I will admit that I am afraid of thunderstorms. And last Sunday’s was a big one.

Just as we were turning out of the parking lot, we were surrounded by pink light and a deafening boom. My arm hair was standing straight up, and I decided to look for someplace to wait out the storm with my youngest child. We drove a few blocks, looking for a substantial building with a parking spot near a door. The lightning was frequent and spectacular, and bye the time we pulled into a fast-food place, my nerves had all but killed my latest diet.

My cell phone heralded our entrance into the restaurant by suddenly emitting a loud warning signal and severe, immediate weather alert. A few other phones began emitting the same alert (the company’s support rep would later tell me that this was part of their service). The warnings seemed superfluous and late at first, but as I read the company’s alert text, it became clear the storm was getting worse.

Thing2 usually carries his superhero persona (SuperDude) with him – costumed or not. As the wind whipped harder, however, the adults around us discussed the ferocity of the storm. The restaurant staff momentarily forgot their ‘posts’ and began chattering loudly with each other and the customers, and, noticing the nervous faces, SuperDude became a six-year-old for the moment.

I actually dread these moments. There are plenty of times when my job description entails soothing his fears – big and small, real or imagined. Usually, I enjoy the cuddling and the bonding. When I’m also scared, keeping Thing2 from feeling the fear is tough. It’s hard because I’m hoping he doesn’t figur out I’m telling him to not do what I’m doing (shaking in my boots), but it’s also hard because it’s the reminder that I’m the one for both of us to lean on and to show him the way.

At that moment the only thing to do was listen for more warnings and keep occupied. I ordered us some food, hoping carbs and a cheap, plastic toy would distract us both. The restaurant managers were wrangling the staff back to their posts now, and we sat down to eat.

Another alert sounded a flash-flood warning. Outside I suddenly noticed cars negotiating bumper-deep water and wondered if we should have found refuge elsewhere. The manager confirmed my doubts a few minutes later in an unexpected way.

The wind was subsiding. The lightning was not, however, and I was a little surprised to see two young employees heading for the door. I thought they were headed home, but the manager called out to them to leave their radios on the table with her. They complied and, rolling up their pants, went outside to clear the parking lot drains, jumping occasionally as lightning cracked nearby.

Had my twelve-year-old been with me, the sight of a manager prioritizing the safety of electronics over her more-easily replaced employees to ensure that a foot of water wouldn’t impede the sale of french fries for five minutes would have been an opportunity for (yet another) object lesson about the importance of studying. Instead it was an object lesson for me. My momentary appall at the complete disregard two human beings’ safety quickly shrank into shame, turning bitter the french fry I was eating.

Any comfort derived from the salt-and-carb salve was gone. I knew I financed this sort of thing everyday. I just don’t see it up close and personal. I waited for Thing2 to finish his meal. When the storm subsided enough we left, and, even though I’d eaten a full day’s calories, I felt empty. I knew, however, that I would only find whant I needed at home. I also knew that I could not keep coming back to that place on the GPS or in my own heart that helps my own apathy flourish.

The Path Twice Taken

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It’s been almost seven years since the Big Guy wheeled me to the door of the hospital and went to get the car.  With a carefully swaddled bundle in my arms, I waited, but we weren’t alone.  The hospital staff was watching over us, but I had another more trustworthy companion waiting on me and the newest member of the family.  

Only three days earlier, when I’d looked at Jack, my then tow-headed boy, I has still seen the baby I had nursed and cuddled.  As he stood beside me, however, hovering over his new brother and checking to make sure I wasn’t getting too much draft, I realized he was firmly into the next phase.  Only then, as I sat near the hospital entrance, glancing at my new baby and then at my very protective and increasingly capable first born did it hit me that we were about to start the journey of taking a completely dependent life form from diapers to door-holding all over again.

It was a journey full of phases.  Some were longer and more arduous than others, but we loved every one of them.  I loved the nursing (once we got the hang of it) and the toothless smile.  I loved the tiny arms that wrapped around my neck, and I was already loving watching him discover the world outside our yard.

This would be the last time I traveled this path.  I was still fairly busy negotiating the next steps with Jack.  At the back of my brain, however, I made a promise to myself to not let the confidence gained over the last six years of parenting translate into indifference to the joy that the upcoming phases with Thing2 would bring.  

Trying to keep that promise has been challenging when we’re busy or swamped with bills.  For the most part both, though, the Big Guy and I have been lucky enough to see and mark the special moments.  We’ve seen the first smile and step, and we’ve been treated to the antics and theatrics.  And we’ve both repeatedly commented that it’s all going too fast.

A few weeks ago I went to a family reunion.  Cousins and cousins-once-removed all brought children to the event.  The ages ran the gamut from nine months to 19 years old.  Some of the cousins met for the first time that weekend, but any shyness was trampled under the feet of toddlers chasing teenagers around the yard.  

The nine-month-old belonged to the daughter of one of my cousins and was the perfect age for the grown ups to play with.  The child’s aunts and grandparents and cousins were only too happy to hold and cuddle her so that the young mother could take a break.   

On the last night of the reunion, the youngest cousin was hungry and fussy after a day of sight-seeing, and, when her mother went to fetch a bottle, I offered to help.

“Will she come to me?” I asked hopefully.  The ten-year-old holding her was looking less enchanted as her whimpers threatened to escalate, and he nodded at me.  I scooped the baby out of his arms, settling her into mine and began to rock on my feet, mentally traveling that time when I was able to solve all my boys’ problems with milk and a snuggle.  

She settled somewhat.  Her mom handed me the bottle.  She sucked the nipple into her mouth and began to drink.  Her eyes became slits, occasionally widening to make sure I was still holding the bottle, until, sated, she gave into sleep.  For a brief minute, I thought, I would love to do this all over again.

As if on cue, Thing2 emerged from the basement where the older children were watching movies.  He watched me with the baby for a minute before wrapping his arms around my waist.  At first I thought he might be jealous or having memories of that era when he rarely left my arms.  Then he looked up at me.

“Mom, can I help with the baby?” he asked.  I looked down at him.  In that moment, I took another time trip, but this time it was to that moment in the hospital lobby.  Thing2, a superhero who always rescues me from my darker thoughts, now helped me mark a new special moment where I noticed he has slipped out of the baby/little kid phase and become part of a wider world, and I smiled at him.

“No, thanks, Buddy,” I answered and asked him if he could announce to the downstairs that it was time for the big kids to eat.  He smiled, instantly forgetting the sleeping baby two feet away as he ran to the basement door and shouted to the other kids to wash hands.  I handed the somehow still-sleeping baby back to her mother and went to get a plate together for my fussier eater and continue our journey.