Like riding a bike

Sometimes when I am overwhelmed I just start typing. And often I don't even know how I feel until I see it typed on the screen. The words fly out faster than my fingers can keep up. I rarely take the time to capitalize letters or spell things correctly. I just type. Because  somehow everything seems to make more sense when I do.

My son on the other hand, seems to be physically in pain any time he has to write something that comes from his head rather than from the passage. If you ask him to write 10 things about spiders --he would write 20, but If you ask him to write about his day or favorite food he gets a stomach ache, breaks his pencil, and just stares at the blank page. I try to help him offering topics, ideas, even leading sentences.
He tells me that they won't work.
They they are no good.
That he can't write about that.
That I don't know what a "hook" is. Or that it isn't "expository" writing.
These are the nights of homework I dread.
Not that I like any of them. but give me math problems or spelling words or reading logs anyday over a simple paragraph.

The first few weeks of school my son kept missing recess. He had to stay inside and finish coloring and filling out all those ridiculous beginning of the year papers. I didn't understand why he wasn't finishing. He makes top grades. He can multiply and divide and tell me the difference between a dolphin and a porpoise. He aces spelling tests, he flies through his math homework I didn't understand why he wasn't finishing his work. I assumed he was socializing and horsing around.
Eventually I got it out of him. Those papers all asked things like "what do you want to do when you grow up" ...and my son was still thinking about it.

Please for the love of four square just make something up so you can go outside and play already. No one will hold you to it when you are 22. You can figure out your life later, just fill in your blanks and go to recess.

The school year has flown by and we haven't had homework since field day. And  frankly that is fine by me. I even stopped checking his binder. Which apparently was a big mistake because with only 6 days of school left his class is writing essays. Expository and narrative essays to go in his file for the next year's teachers. and my son. my usually compliant rule following teacher's pet of a son didn't bother to write a single line in two whole school days. His teacher begged, pleaded, bribed him, punished him, gave him ideas and still his paper remained blank.

The prompt was to describe something that he had struggled with but was eventually successful at.

I got home from a long day of school and was already used to this new no homework policy and wanted nothing more than to melt into  the couch and watch TV or read a book.
Instead, my TV watching was interupted by what sounded like a small animal being slaughtered at the kitchen table.
Long horrid sighs. Whimpers. Belly aches. Sore throats. Broken pencils. Death throws.
So I walked in there and tried to help with a few ideas.
They were all shot down.
He sighed even bigger sighs and told me he just didn't know what to write. Despite the 50 ideas I had just given him. If I could master his messy 7 year old boy hand writing I would have taken his chewed up pencil and written the ridiculous thing myself.

I was starting to think that maybe the topic of his big struggle that he overcame could be about writing this very essay.
Again, he said no.

But. The topic was really an obvious one.
He needed to write about learning to ride his bike.

Owen rides his bike about as well as he experesses his ideas with the written word.

Because he won't get started.
He is afraid of looking bad.
He makes excuses.
We live in a cul de sac that is filled with boys. When I drive down my street I usually have to dodge the bike ramps, cones, go-karts, obstacle courses and the occasional kickball game. Our neighbors, all younger are pros on the bike. They can hop curbs take jumps and race down the street.
Owen's feet still barely reach the pedals.

He knows they are better.
So he always rides his scooter, or races them on foot.

He will not get on his bike if there are kids out front.
He is embarrassed. He wobbles and struggles up hills and can't stop the thing without hopping awkwardly off. So the thing mostly stays parked in the garage.
I try to encourage him to ride and practice when no one is around...but  am always met with an incredible amount of resistance.
I've seen him ride up and down the street dozens of times. He can do it. He just lacks the confidence and the practice to do it without being forced. That and it would help if he grew just one more inch. Every time I get out the bike out I struggle to find the balance between encouraging him and pushing him. I don't know if he needs tough love or an enormous amount of patience. It is a beating for all of us.

Just like this essay he is supposed to write.

So despite the fact that it sprinkling outside and because it is unusually quiet in the culdesac. I open the garage door and tell my son to go outside.

He thinks he is off the hook and all but runs out the door.
Until I tell him we are outside to ride his bike.
Tess hops on her pink Barbie one with streamers down the handlebars but Owen is again full of excuses. And sighs.

I assure him that no one can see. That he needs to practice. That he has grown a little since the last time and that it will be easier. He is still shaking. I hold the bike steady while he gets on and he takes off. Wobbly at first but then with ease down the driveway and down the street. And then of course he panicked and bailed. The fall has him reluctant to get back on. It starts raining a little bit harder but I refuse to call it a day.  We make him get back on. By himself and cruise up and down the street a few times. He never got comfortable or confident but he did get at least a tiny bit better.

Eventually, we parked the bike back in the garage and headed back into the kitchen.

His paper was still there.  Blank.

I told him to write about that. What just happened. Everything he felt and remembered about the last 15 minutes. Being scared. Being wobbly. The wind in his hair. The rain starting to come down. Struggling to find his balance and to reach the peddles. Hoping none of his friends came out and saw him. Falling off. Getting back on. Making slow progress.

He still sighed and whimpered and had a half dozen excuses but eventually the pencil started moving.
It was painful. and took a million times longer than it should have and will never win him a Pulitzer. but. It got done.

I have no trouble riding a bike. And most days I have no trouble finding words.

Still, occasionally, I get my own version of writer's block. I feel like I have nothing to say. Nothing worth sharing.
Maybe I have found the solution to that.

Sometimes you have to put the pencil down. Or the keyboard. And go outside and live.
To write what you know. You have to know.
You have to get on the bike.


The hospital hall looked long and daunting and I stepped into a bathroom to wait out the contraction. Because by this point walking and talking through them was out of the questions. I didn’t bother to change out of my pajamas because I was certain, despite the steady and consistent pain coming every few minutes. That this was a false alarm. The nurses were going to send me right back home. Clearly, I didn’t know a single thing. About labor or being a mom.

Eventually I made it to triage and realized that I wasn’t going anywhere. I was dilated and this kid was ready to make an appearance. A few short hours, and an epidural later, I was at a 10. But she told me not to push. That the baby was not in the right place or location or something like that. All I know is that it hurt like hell and that I had thrown up for the first four months of my pregnancy. I was down to about one pair of pants and two shirts I was comfortable in and I could not sleep for more than 45 minutes without getting up to pee.  I was ready to not be pregnant and the meet this baby who I imagined would come out looking exactly like my husband and I couldn’t wait to hold.
You do not tell a girl in this position to “hold tight” unless you give her epidural a refill.

I had read the books. I had backed my bags complete with a fuzzy socks and a mix cd.
My husband and I had discussed that he would stay away from the business end of things, but around 5 am after hours of hard labor and one sided epidurals and uncomfortable rearranging that still had not led my son to move down properly – when the nurse told him to grab a leg and count. He did. And gave me to go ahead. Pregnancy and especially delivery are an exercise in stripping the mother of all dignity and privacy, because after leaving the hospital you will not get to go to the bathroom alone for approximately 3-5 years.

 I had gone to the birthing class and recalled something about finding a focal point in the room and breathing. But those things didn’t help. I pushed and pushed. My friends waiting in the hall took bets with the nurses on time of arrival. They lost and eventually, the next doctor came in for the morning shift and told everyone to prep me for surgery.
Things moved quickly after that and it gets a little blurry, until I remember the doctor pushing and pulling and tugging and this pink rugged thing being pulled out of me.
There was a pause. Longer than I wanted but I’m sure it was just a few seconds and then a much expected wail.

 They cleaned him up and stitched my abdomen back up and the nurses manhandled him, like he was a rugged tough animal who had been around for awhile, rather than just an 8 lb boy only a few minutes old.  I waited on whatever painkillers they would give me, he waited for someone to explain why they hell he was no longer in the safe comforts of my womb. He came out with hair that was almost black, dark skin and pale blue eyes. This was not the blond haired child we were expecting. This was not the birth we had planned. And that has to be part of the beauty of motherhood and life. It never goes as planned.

 And everytime the nurses came in, they were so incredibly rough with this little tiny man that me and my husband had made. The hit him hard on the back to loosen up the fluid still in his lungs and flung him around like a bag of flour. The first time I had to dress him or change a diaper – I remember being so fearful that his little arms or legs would snap. That I was going to break him.  This fear didn’t leave me until carrying him down the stairs from his one year check up.  Thinking the nurse should have given me a sticker and a dum dum. Because I had somehow kept this kid alive for an entire year.

Nurses know way more than new moms.
They know that babies are tough. And strong. And that they can handle a strong pat on the back to burb them and being a little firm grip during a diaper change.
And still, to this day, I sometimes need a little reminding that my kids are stronger than I give them credit for. Strong enough apparently, that they actually let us take him home.

 He ate and pooped and slept in short spurts and cried. On repeat. Just like that for days. Months even.
And I mostly did exactly the same thing. Camped out on my couch, while watching bad TV or reading books. I was niave and new at this, so I thought that my life wasn’t going to change so much. I hosted a small dinner party less than a week from bringing him home from the hospital. I dressed him in onsies and lugged him on coffee dates and to restaurants and my arm muscles grew from lugging that infant carrier around all summer.
And I wasn’t sure what motherhood was all about. It had to be more than sore nipples and bad daytime TV and even worse TV in the middle of the night.

And he grew. Quickly. Eating faster than I could keep up with. It seemed like everytime I did laundry I had new clothes to pack and give away that no longer fit. The newborn Pampers seemed so tiny and I wondered how long I could get away with wearing pants with an elastic waistline. My heart swelled when he squeezed my little finger, when his mouth made that little O that only babies make and even more when I got more than 2 hours of sleep in a row. And I loved him more than I knew possible.
But I was also so incredibly tired.
Because growing your heart apparently takes an awful lot out of a girl.

My life did change more than I had prepared for of course. I could not keep up with it all, and around the four month mark when my hormones plummeted and my hair started falling out in fistfuls. I gave in.

I slept more. I went out less. And I decided maybe I should join a gym.

Then next time I became a mother was completely different. The pregnancy harder. I threw up for six months instead of only four and had a myriad of other unfun symptoms including the most disqusting set of varicose viens that everytime I consider wearing shorts I think I should probably do everyone a favor and cover them up. (that and what mother of two has the energy to shave their legs). The delivery, this time a scheduled c-section I thought would be so much easier. But an excess of scar tissue, lots of bleeding and an overnight nurse who didn’t quite set up my catheter correctly did not leaving me feeling any better than the last time. This time, I didn’t shutter too much when the nurses beat on her back or jerked her around. And again, she came out looking nothing like we expected. Her brother had a thick full head of dark hair and long eyelashes and dark olive skin. Tess was completely bald, had ivory skin and came out letting everyone know exactly what she wanted and when. Even the experienced nurses weren’t sure what to do with her.

This time, I packed less for the hospital and had less of a plan. But I still thought it would be so much easier the second time around. Because I knew what to do.
The first year of her life, my daughter taught me nothing else, other than how little sleep I could live on, how to make the pediatrician fit you in even if they are full and that people, even when they have almost exactly the same DNA couldn’t be more different.

 I’ve read before that the days and long but the years are short. And today, while my daughter calls me “mamacita” because she is learning to speak some "spinich" at school and offers to set the table by sticking an opened stick of butter right smack in the middle of the table and nothing else. It has been a fantastic, but long day and I want to pour myself one more glass of wine. And break off another hunk of crusty bread and wipe it right across the butter she laid out.

 And maybe that is what motherhood is about.
Seeing strength in these little tiny fragile things that you have been entrusted to keep alive. If they are stronger than they look, than so am I. Even tired with very little sleep after a night of ear infections or bad dreams or last minute school projects.
That the plan is good, but be ready to watch it slip away. Along with your skinny jeans and birth plans and papers that will never get all the way graded. The days will unfold exactly as they should and it is best to find a reason to laugh and dance in the living room anyways. And that on those long days, I remind myself to look at the doorframe, where the sharpie markers inch their way higher and higher. The carseats and onsies are long gone and one day very very soon I  will have to start shopping at god-forbid Justice. Because my kids grow and learn all the time. I can't stop it or slow it down and as bittersweet as it is, I really don't want to. They no longer smell like lavender baby lotion or even apple juice and graham crackers – but usually my boy smells like sweat from baseball practice and my daughter smells like whatever perfume or chocolote she snuck. It is us grownups that sometimes forget to grow and learn. We don't do it automatically anymore but is still I believe how we are made. To constantly be growing and learning and pursuing. And my kids remind me to do this too, everytime  I put away pair of shoes that no longer fit or hear my son spell a word that I don't know how to spell myself. There are no marks on the doorframe to measure what has grown the most in our home, even more than the piles of laundry. This mamacita’s heart.

happy plates and kangaroos

My daughter occasionally tells me that she made a happy plate. Which I predict is a phrase she learned at school to encourage them to eat everything that they are given.
Which I'm also guessing is something that doesn't happen very often unless they serve up regular doses of Oreos, chicken nuggets, French fries, and crazy bread. Because that is pretty much what my daughter considers a balanced meal.

My son will eat anything except chocolate. I thought this was due to my fantastic parenting and mature and adventerous palate. Then I had another kid and she blew that theory completely out of the water. Despite the fact that she would be happy to live on a diet of cheetos and fruit snacks, I refuse to really make meals a battle. I'm no short order cook, but if she'd rather eat a corn dog than the pad thai the rest of us are partaking...what is an extra 30 seconds in the microwave. My kids are tiny and I want them to grow, but I know better than to force them to clean their plates. That mentality and the huge portion sizes at Pappasitos are why none of you should want to see me in a bathing suit.

Last week, we skipped church and we took our kids to the zoo. It was a perfect day. Not too hot and the threat of rain kept the big crowds away. We had our run of the place and saw plenty of animals up close. When we got to the Australian exhibit, the zookeeper was out giving a little talk. My kids were right up front and I hung in the back but caught one thing she said.
That kangaroos can't hop backwards. It is impossible for them. Their tail gets in the way. If they want to go back --they have to stop completely. Hop awkwardly around in several little side jumps and then go back. It is a slow awkward process and you rarely see kangaroos do it. They'd much rather just keep going forward. I remember thinking that was profound and that I should come back to that later.

The very next day, I backed my new car into a telephone pole. It was undrivable and I have spent the last few days in a rental.
Because maybe, I am much better at going forwards than backwards.

This week, I figured we better go to Sunday school since we played hooky last week. The actual lesson was taken from an old episode of Mayberry that we watched.  I spent most of the show trying to prove to my husband that Barney Fife was the same guy as Mr. Farley on Three's  Company (a show I'd rather watch over the Andy Griffith show anyday)...that I missed some of the premise. But I know the overall theme was about living in the present. Not getting caught up in the past. And being happy with the things right in front of you.

Moving forwards instead of backwards.
and being content with what we are given.
A lesson, apparently that the kangaroos already have down. Then the teacher said something that made me think of Tess and her happy plate.

"He was happy with the plate that he was given"
Even if it isn't chicken nuggets.
And that is the challenge for us all.