The Magical Child Experience

I have some bizarre form of a stomach virus that only causes pain for about 18-24 hours and then goes its merry way. So last night while hovering around the bathroom just in case I heard a sound. It was a cross between a bird call, a metallic gonging like a Himalayan singing bowl, and the sort of glittering tinkle that is often associated with cartoon fairies. Being indisposed I was unable to investigate, but it was such a magical sound that I thought, “Some kid must be having a marvelous adventure. I hope it’s one of mine.” Yes, these are the sorts of thoughts I have while ill. I am totally willing to entertain the possibility that it was hallucinated.

But of course this thought led me to a second, “I wonder what Mum Pevensie, of the Chronicles of Narnia, would have thought of her children’s great romp in the wardrobe.”

I mean, mom and eventually dad were backdrop characters to the world of Narnia, though never really explored. Did she notice when her children returned to London from the country that Peter was significantly more self possessed, but also more willful, like an adult accustomed to making his own choices? Did she pick up on Susan’s mature demureness? Edmund’s new reverence? Lucy’s confidence? Did the transformation of years of experience in Narnia get chalked up to, “Well, aren’t they just growing in leaps and bounds?”

But how often to we as parents dismiss our children’s development as a matter of course, that inevitable progression that we all go through. How often do we blithely go about our days, maybe making note of a new trait, and then dismiss it without much thought at all?

I’m not suggesting that our kids are taking magical journeys behind our backs and we aren’t noticing. I’m saying we have an opportunity to celebrate small miracles in our daily parental slog.

When a three year old says, “No, I do it myself!” or a nine year old rolls their eyes at a request for the first time we have a choice– frustration or wonder. I’m not good at making this choice, though the above three year old was one such time. I too often chose to plant my feet in my own path without taking advantage of the vista before me. I have a view of my own childhood experiences and I can use that to marvel at how far I have come. I can dispense loving advice and recognition when those chances come.

Or I can be Chihiro’s parents from that bit of Studio Ghibli brilliance, Spirited Away. She blossoms in the days of adversity she experiences, and they don’t even notice. Their blindness not only gets them into trouble, but it keeps them from seeing the growth in their own daughter. As a kid watching such a movie I’m not sure I even noticed how dumb and self absorbed they were; to me they were just parents. Now as a parent I wonder what they could have been thinking and how does your kid go from, “I don’t want to move, I hate all of this,” to someone poised and ready to meet the new challenges that will come her way. She is in a sense a different person and her parents can’t even tell.

I wonder, as a mom of six, how often my kids undergo such metamorphosis and I don’t notice. How many times do I have the blinders of daily responsibility on so tight I cannot see the magic of my growing kids before me? Do I know them well enough to sense the changes coming or at least recognize them when they do?

I think from now on whenever I hear a magical, unplaceable sound I will hope it means my babies are experiencing an enchantment, and make a point of celebrating their moments of developmental transformation as the evidence of the fantastic they are. If I can increase my ratio of wonder to frustration perhaps this stupid virus and the attendant headache will be worth a little something.

Anika Goes to the Movies: Birthday Edition- Murder on the Orient Express

So it’s my birthday… and in honor thereof I have a very special review. Quick reviews: Birthday donuts 10% off- 5.5/5 stars Seeing a good movie with friends- 6/5 stars Murder on the Orient Express… All the stars!! Well, 4.8/5 … Continue reading

That Which is Broken

I don’t often post about my life on this page, but if this is my website I want it to be an honest place. And I need to write this. So a few things first:

  1. Gift giving/receiving is a huge part of my love language. There are few things that give me greater now than seeing that expression on someone’s face when I’ve given them just the right gift. And those that go out of their way to express thanks for my efforts become my favorite people. Moreover, when I get a present that someone really thought about, that speaks to who I am to them, I develop an irrational level of affection for that person. I’m all for the grand gesture, but it is the small things that say, “This made me think of you, and I’m pretty sure you will love it,” that touch me. As a result I also assign deep significance to objects that carry memory. I have all kinds of cards, knickknacks, and keepsakes that speak to me of people in my life and memories made. I use them to buoy me up in hard times and comfort me when sorrow strikes.
  2. Kintsukuroi or kintsugi is the Japanese art of taking broken pottery and repairing it using lacquer mixed with gold dust to create a new object that is not seen as broken, but a beautiful new creation. 20140214kintsugitop
  3. I am a nerd. I have read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass multiple times. The nonsense in my head always felt at home in Carroll’s wonderland of painted roses and mad tea parties. For my sister’s birthday one year I devised a mad tea party of our own with inside out burgers, twinkle-twinkle drinks, and few dozen other details long lost to memory-eating pregnancies.
  4. I struggle at being a mom. Not in the normal “mommy-guilt, I can’t keep up with Pinterest, I’m sure I’m screwing up my kid’s lives” way. But like I really despise my children. I love them, I promise, but I also can’t stand them. I fantasize about dropping them with grandparents or aunts/uncles and never coming back. I roll my eyes at their questions, see their childhood antics with disdain on my face, and get angry when their innocent accidents interrupt my plans and needs. I’m not nice about it, either. Other moms get the, “You’re a mean mommy!” line for making their kids clean rooms and finish homework. I get it for responding to their spills and tumbles with, “Well, that was dumb. How many more times you gonna trip over that before you pick it up?” I rule with sarcasm and ridicule. To say that Jesus has issues with my parenting and that I will be Remedial Niceness 080 as a precursor to any post-portem enlightenment, is gross understatement. And the saddest bit, is I really am working on it. Have been working on it for years. I go through periods of being able to be kind and supportive (while still firm in my expectations), but they always come to an end, usually with a cruel word at the moment when it will hurt most.
  5. Parenting kids with traumatized pasts is hard. It’s not normal. Disordered living, neglected living during the intensely formative years of life, birth-5 years, creates huge, systemic behavioral and psychological needs. It’s not a phase. They will not “grow out of it.” It is has to be treated and tended to daily. One’s parenting must become the therapy if these kids are to go on to having productive, happy lives that don’t simply carry on the cycles of violence, abuse, and neglect they saw early on. And it’s not simple. What worked one day will not work the next. Kiddos will respond with irrational anger, defiance, disgusting behaviors like deficating and spitting in response to affection and praise. It is the parenting of actual crazy persons. Everything is its opposite.

I tell you all this so that when I say this happened:IMG_0401

You understand a little of what it means.

The set of tea cups to which this belonged was a gift from my husband the year we took our oldest, then four, to Disneyland with his family. He saw me eyeing the set while telling myself it was silly and that we really couldn’t spend much on souvenirs and how would we get it home, etc, etc. He managed to keep it a secret until we got home- a feat in itself. When he gave them to me a new point of light in my heart winked into existence for this man who knew and loved me enough to bring home this simple surprise. Both the cups and saucers are precious pieces of that love and reminders of a time when it was just us three taking on the world, laughing and squealing through Pirates of the Caribbean, and seeing anew how grateful we were to have each other.

Lately, using one of mommy’s Alice cups has become a coveted honor at breakfast time. The perfect child sized portioning of the cups also makes it easy to let them feel like they are being fancy and grown up while dosing out just enough hot chocolate to start the day. And my kids, for the most part, have been careful. They know that mommy loves these cups and that Daddy gave them to her. They know mommy has a special place in her heart for Alice and the Hatter and let’s face it they practically live with the Queen of Hearts.

So this morning I went about our nutso lives like I always do, with the screaming and goading and the “just get ready for school already” attitude. And I denied one child access to the fancy cups. And I knew she was off. I knew she was having one of those days. I should have been better attuned and said no nice cups today. I should have said just cereal for everyone instead of letting some have cereal and some have hot chocolate. I should, I should, I should…. And I also shouldn’t have done several other things in response.

I told her I hate her. I told her to just get out of my house and go to school so I didn’t have to look at her. The walk to school felt like an eternity. I felt sick by the time we got there, mostly over my own behavior, but with loss, too. I sat down on a bench in front of the school and started out my apology with, “Sweetie, it was just a cup.” I explained that I shouldn’t have said such hurtful things, that I should have kept my mouth shut when I was so sad and angry and hurt. I wrapped her in a tight hug and told her to have a good day. She said she was sorry too, and I know she meant it. Moms can tell when you mean it.

Most of you are thinking, “It’s just a cup. What is wrong with you?”

And yeah, you’re right. I could hop onto eBay and probably find the exact same set, in mint condition, for less than the cost of the leggings I’m wearing as mourning sackcloth right now. But it’s not about the cup. It’s about the last 6 years of endless hurt and pain and struggle. It’s about the never-ending battle I fight to give my kids an appreciation for the moments that fill us up, only to have them respond by tearing those memories apart in a pathological cruelty. This is a poignant, proverbial straw breaking my emotional back. And I think I’m writing all of this because I need to have words to wrap around this experience or all I will be left with is the pain: the sorrowing ache of my broken memory, my shattered love object, my failures as a mother, the tears I have shed this morning, and the fact that I have no idea how to piece myself back together.

I know that there are ways to make broken things new. But I have no kitsugi skills; not for my cup, not for my heart. Hope in Christ and time are the two greatest healers. And I know that. I spend considerable energy applying that knowledge. But here, in this moment, I’m just holding the shards of my wholeness wondering if it can ever be right again. What do I make out of this other than a memory of brokenness?

I’m left to sweep away the pieces. Clearly, the floor needed sweeping anyway.