It has been an utterly exhausting week. Of course, with Christmas, and visits to family, and visits from family, and all manner of joyful mayhem, it was bound to be exhausting. I feel 2007 limping to a close, and I'm thankful to get out with some semblance of my wits about me. One of my New Year's resolutions is to locate the rest of my wits and reinstall them: we'll see how that goes. In the meantime, here are some highlights from our past week.
We found an absolutely AWESOME professional easel for Vincenzo's Santa Claus gift, and we found it on Craigslist for about 75% less than what we would have paid for it at an art store. It's beautiful; looks like this. We couldn't have been more tickled with our find. And Samuel's godparents gave him a DVD of Hamlet, the Kenneth Brannagh version (you can read more about Samuel's continuing Shakespeare obsession in this previous post).
So, after the obligatory chaos of everyone opening presents and colorful wrapping paper flying everywhere and Dad warning people not to lose the small parts of their gifts (he hearkens back to a painful childhood memory), I went to the kitchen to make breakfast for the troops, leaving the kids to dive into a favorite gift for awhile.
A little while later, I had the occasion to ask Rick: "Now how often does this happen? Our nine year old is watching Hamlet and our seven year old is painting at his easel ON CHRISTMAS MORNING?????" No matter that Elizabeth was most likely screaming at someone, Tallulah probably needed a diaper change, and Lola was in all likelihood changing clothes and leaving a trail of detritus in her wake... the boys were awash in culture and all seemed right with the world.
Both of our families got the kids the most thoughtful and wonderful presents: my kids are certainly some of the luckiest and most blessed in the entire world. I hope they realize this as they get older...
We also made snow globes this week. I will be posting pictures of these once we work out the kinks of the process: this was our first time, and while they are delightful, we are having a few technical problems with them and will be re-doing them. Look for pictures sometime soon. But during the snow globe fiesta, we did have one particularly exciting moment.
Grandma Lola (and her fun little dog Tommy) were visiting, and she and I spent the better part of an afternoon buying supplies for the snow globes. (Note: when people tell you glycerine is easy to get at any drugstore, do not believe them: call ahead to make sure and save yourself some pain and suffering...) We arrived home to an anxious and hungry crowd, ready for some crafting. Grandma graciously offered to buy everyone some dinner from our favorite Mexican restaurant, and she and Rick went to go pick up the food. This left me home with the masses, preparing the snow globe activity.
Imagine the scene: figurines spilling all over the place...children laying claim to the "best" jars...mom trying valiantly to remove the gummy leftovers from a stubborn jar label...Christmas music playing...children finding themselves strangely attracted to the big jars of white and silver glitter that lay on the table...and all of this amidst a house that is just plain messy. Like FEMA-level messy. No room for anyone to work, let alone think, but I had promised snow globes, and time was a-wastin'. No one was interested in me cleaning up first.
I say all this by way of setting the scene for what happened next. It was pure mayhem, and I was trying just to forge ahead without letting the mayhem distract me. Until Vincenzo said: "Mom, look at Tallulah!" And there she was, doll that she is, sitting on her little bottom in the kitchen, feeding herself Tommy's dinner that had been left out on the floor. Displaying some pretty advanced small motor skills in the process, I might add.
I screamed, I swept her up, I gagged. The kids screamed, they laughed, they made disgusting noises. It was nuts...I tried sweeping her mouth of as much dog food as I could manage, but apparently she'd been at this for awhile, because there wasn't much left in her mouth, and not much in the bowl either. Totally and completely disgusting. After cleaning her up the best I could while holding her at arm's length because the stench of the dog food was making me heave, I brushed her teeth and gave her a big bottle of water. HOW GROSS IS THAT? Luckily, Grandma Lola buys very good dog food, so it was actually the kind with real food in it...but that's mighty small consolation when you find yourself picking this "real food" out of your 16-month old daughter's teeth. Eeeeeeew.
We did manage to get an appropriately appalled response from Rick and his mom when they returned and Vincenzo said: "Grandma, the good news is that Tommy's bowl is finally empty; the bad news is, he's not the one that did it!"
And on a more serious note, this week I have been pondering the "long haul" nature of parenting. I think because we have had so much going on this week, so many packed days, I have really been struck by the impossible nature of the task before us: Raise five kids while keeping the house together, the kitchen stocked, the laundry folded, the checkbook balanced, the neighbors happy, the clients happy, the marriage solid, and the soul grounded. I have had many chances this week to reflect on how much we – I – need to keep in mind that parenting is for the long haul, and that the lessons our children most need to know are ones they will not learn overnight. We won't have the satisfaction of seeing them in the moment realize the truth of what we tell them. Instead, we need to trust that our words and deeds will stay with them, will root in their minds and hearts, and that someday they will know we were telling them the truth.
I'm not talking about the kind of cynical seasoned parent who says: "Just wait until you're older, then you'll know what life is really like." I'm talking about the hard lessons we would love for them to know now, the lessons Samuel would like to know now so that he's ready for the future. And I need to remind myself about the crucial need for patience. I need to be patient with them to have the lessons we teach them slowly sink in over time and with lots of gentle repetition. I find myself getting frustrated that I'm yet again trying to coax this child out of hurt feelings or that one out of a screaming tantrum. And yes, there is a place for not letting them "get away" with manipulation. But what they need more than a hard ass is someone to gently, firmly, hold the line and hold it with love, patience, compassion and understanding.
This might not make sense without the particulars, but the particulars are, I think, private for each of my children. But maybe it does anyway, as I'm guessing we can all relate to the experience of wishing we had more patience; it seems as universal as wanting our children to have a coat on in cold weather.
I am not a person who makes New Year's resolutions. It has always seemed false to me to pin all of my hopes on a date on the calendar. Instead, I seem to prefer setting myself up for resolution disappointment multiple times, all year round. But since these reflections are coinciding with the New Year, it seems fitting to shape them into a resolution – a prayer – for 2008: In this New Year, I hope I find the strength and patience to teach my children well, with love and kindness, the things they need to know to be happy. And I hope I teach them not to eat dog food.