Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My Hands Are Full

Recently I had this conversation:

Me: Excuse me, I signed my kids up for story time, but I'm not sure when the session ends...
Librarian: It will end May 13th. Do you want me to write that down?
Me: No, I've got it. I may not remember the day but I'll remember that it's a teen and I'll go from there.
Librarian: Really? Because you look like you might forget.
Me: I've got it, I'll get the right week, thank you.
Librarian: Really? If ever there was a person who might forget, it would be you. You have your hands full.

In that moment I literally had my hands full, I was carrying seven books (they each get to pick their age), two DVDs (one for each), a baby, and a wallet. But my kids were behaving, my kids were wonderful in fact. And that day was wonderful: I got to take a shower. Hell, I even shaved my legs, put on make up, actually did my hair and put on some cute new clothes. I ran errands, made appointments for the baby, picked up my kids from school (I was there early), and made a trip to the library. Sure, the Librarian was correct, I did forget the date, the 13th, but I knew it was a teen and I knew that it had to end on a Wednesday. I looked at a calendar, used the information she gave me and figured out that our last day was the 13th. Personally, I chocked that day up as a win, but still her comments really bothered me. 

Today, the same thing happened. Another comment was made about me having my hands full and while today was not as wonderful to start as the previous, before we left the house I paid two bills, did a few things for work, investigated an ENT, got my kids dressed, made breakfast (eggs even), fed a baby and myself (for once), took a shower, did my hair, got dressed in cute clothing and arrived early to story time. It wasn't the librarian this time who made the comment, but it was another mother. My kids were wonderful at the library, they were using the appropriate level of noise in the children's section as they waited their turn to enter the story time room. They picked out the books they wanted to take home, we read a book each all while the baby sat up on my lap and was quietly listening to the stories and playing with a toy. We entered the story time room and my kids sat front and center behaving and following directions, participating and dancing along. My daughter fell asleep in her front carrier. I sat there for 30 minutes smiling at my children because they were being so wonderful and it's rare that I get to see them in a classroom-like setting, and you know? I was impressed! As we were leaving and I was getting coats on everyone, I felt like I kept getting stares. I was asked by another mother the ages of my children, I told her, "almost five, three and 4 months". She replied, "that's a lot, you've got your hands full." I just smiled back. I didn't have a great answer. 

After story time my kids and I were hungry, so we went to a restaurant nearby. There was a little spat over where we would all sit, and I had to remind the oldest to sit on his bottom, and I had to quite a baby who needed to burp, but all in all, it was a great meal. I kept getting stared at by a mostly male environment as I nursed my daughter, encouraged my kids to use great manners, and reminded them that we had to use quieter voices in a restaurant. They weren't yelling and screaming, in fact, they were trying to make conversations with those around us. They were counting people with hats on, they were counting how many males and females were in the building and so on. It was constructive conversations, but we were stared at nonetheless.

When we went to our swim lesson I wore the baby in the front pouch and carried the swim bag. Henrik held my hand and Theo held his. We were in a nice line, no one was being silly, we were just walking. "Oh, you have your hands full" said another member. I just flashed a quick smile as I entered the locker room. All was well as they prepped for class but after class it was a little more challenging as I got the two boys showered, dressed and brushed their hair all while holding their sister. We were started at again. Maybe it was because the boys look like twins, maybe it's because they both happened to pick out blue shirts which made their twin-ness more of a possibility, maybe it was because I was no longer baby wearing and I had to do all of this single handed. Maybe it's because I have three kids. I'm not sure but I felt watched and for the first time really felt uncomfortable as a mother. 

A while back a friend (who also has three children) was told that she had her hands full, and her remark back was, "yes, full of love". And I liked that answer a lot. But it's not my answer. Of course I love my children. Of course I dedicate my daily life to their education, their safety and their comfort. Of course I would do anything for them, but answering that my hands are full of love isn't want I want people to hear when they make a comment about my life. My hands are full. They are literally full of keys, a phone, a diaper bag and my infant daughter. But they are also full of keeping track of my two sons. They are full of exhaustion and little hope of a full nights sleep. They are full of comfort that everything will be OK while their dad is away. They are full of strength that I can not only carry seven books, two DVDs, and a baby and not drop anything, but also strength that I can take care of myself in the process. They are full of worry that one of the boys won't stay close as we go into a parking lot, or that they will get lost as we make our way through a busy room. They are full of fear that I won't succeed in this process. They are full of artwork made for me from school, things they want to mail to their dad, and their soggy, muddy gloves from the playground, but they are also full of hugs and kisses for my return at pick up time. They are full of love, so much love that it makes me beam when I think of them. 

My hands are busy every second of every day tending to boo boos, keeping their treasures, congratulating achievements, high-fives, wiping noses, directing clean ups, changing diapers, making food, cleaning the house, putting away laundry, doing my job (yes, real work), doing "mom school", reading books, building Legos, wiping up baby spit-up, doing butt checks after they go to the bathroom, stimulating three kids, connecting with my friends in group texts and talking to my husband. My hands are full of of snuggles, kisses, and soft, chubby hands just waiting to have their turn at "mom time". My hands are full. They are sticky, they are dry from washing them because they are covered in snot and whatever that is over there. But, they are well used, and they are full of life. 

I'm hurt and a little offended that society thinks that my third child, or maybe the fact that I have two boys so close in age, means my hands are full and I can't function at life. My kids are good kids, they are wild at times, they play off one another and become silly, they don't always listen, and they are curious. But they have kind, wonderful hearts that stand up for the people they love and question the things they don't quite understand or don't believe to be fair. They are full of life themselves and are eager to share it with all of us. I, like all of you, have days where I don't get to eat a real meal, take a shower and cannot wait for nap time. But I am making it. I am doing it. I am living each day like it's meant to be lived. I want my kids to know that life is hard, it's always throwing curve balls at you, but I want them to see that their mom can handle it all and still make time for them, herself... and even have a little fun together. So when people tell me, on days that I think I'm kicking ass, that I'm struggling at life. I want them to know, I'm not. I'm living. And I'm doing it well. My hands may be occupied by three kids under five, a host of other objects and covered in baby puke, but my hands are full of life, and that's exactly what I wanted in this world. 

So the next time I'm told by complete strangers that my hands are full, I'm going to look back and them and smile. I'm going to stand up taller, pull my kids in closer and tell them, "yes, they are, very full of life". Then I'm going to move along with my kids dressed as super heroes and give them each an air high-five as we exit the building because, we are kicking ass at life. We made it out the door on time or early, no one peed their pants in public, and we probably brushed our teeth. We are together, they are laughing, I'm wrangling, and we are off on an adventure that will bring us closer to one another, and hopefully, when they are older, and perhaps when they have kids of their own, they will remember to live. To live in the moment, to cherish what we are given and to give life all we've got. Because if your hands aren't full of life, then you're not doing it right. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Skating Lessons

In the midst of the chaos of moving and having a baby, I asked each set of grandparents if they could help with something special. I wanted each of them to have some special activity to do with the boys while we were home. I wanted this because I'd get a few hours to myself, but I also wanted them to have sometime with their grand kids in an area that is important to them and my children. I wanted the grandparents to fully experience my boys' talent, their pride in accomplishing something and their enjoyment from their hobbies. I asked Eric's parents if they would search around for a hockey/skating program for the boys. Hank and Theo had been in skating lessons for about 12 weeks before we moved and they were quite impressive and quickly advancing.

Hockey had become quite the activity in our house. With Eric being a college hockey player with a few bragging rights of his own, of course it brought joy to him when his boys loved skating and playing around on the ice. But to me it was different. Hockey had become so much of my life with Eric. I remember staying out late going to games with his parents in freezing rinks for games that didn't start until 9 PM. I remember countless hours of riding home with Eric after his games, his hands still smelling like hockey gloves (it's why we never held hands, that smell always rubbed off onto mine) and Linkin Park playing on the radio. I remember following the college score boards to see Eric's name rise to the top, I remember watching practice after practice and learning the plays along with Eric. And now, to watch my boys was a special gift. Eric says they have no choice, they have to learn how to skate, and he's right, if they don't learn now, they won't be good skaters at age 12 if that's what they decide to do. But for our boys, it's not a chore. They enjoy it. I think that part of the enjoyment is because we are playing and skating in a rink with a box named after their dad, with a giant banner of their dad hanging from the ceiling, and with t-shirts with their name on them in the gift shop. It's different here. Here my boys have a history that makes up who they are and who we are as a family. When I watch my two and four year old glide and skate past others in their class I think, "wow, the genetics are strong in these kids" but I also think, "what am I getting myself into?!" I love watching the boys skate. They do it proudly, without complaint and always come off the ice with a smile. After their lessons, Eric joins them to chase them around the ice, play games with toys chasing them (so they will skate faster), and even carry them as he skates so beautifully around the rink.

It's a time when I see my children the most happy, and in turn, that makes me happy. I could honestly care less if they choose hockey to be their sport, I think Eric may feel differently. I do love seeing my children excel at something and if they choose to quit a talent then I'll have a problem with it. Eric and I have often discussed their skills on the ice, we laugh because Theo insists on falling or crawling on the ice because he wants to be a goalie. He shouldn't be a goalie though, he's got an phenomenal shot for a 2 year old. And we wish for Henrik to believe in himself just a bit more because that child can skate. He has a stunning stride and his long legs, yet lower stance make him the perfect candidate for a hockey or speed skater. We laugh about how because I'm a stay-at-home mom, I'll be the one getting up at ungodly hours to take them to practice in the minivan when I swore that I'd never drive a minivan and I'd never take a kid to practice before sunrise. I've learned to love these skating lessons that happen mid-afternoon on a Sunday when my children should be napping because my family is doing something we love.

Today, when we went to their new skate lessons I had a bad feeling the second I walked into rink. When I went to complete their registration, the lady processing the paperwork wouldn't listen to me about the classes the boys should be in. Instead, she told me that because they had never been in lessons at this rink and because they were under age 5, they had to start at the first beginner class. I was livid, but it wasn't her decision, she was just doing her job. After they were all laced up, and we put the boys with their teachers, I tried to address the situation with their instructors that my boys had already passed this class, both teachers rolled their eyes at me and said that they would test the boys. I asked them if they would move them mid lesson once they saw how capable they were, they said "sure" like I was a crazy parent thinking my children were better than their class. I got even more upset when the first 10 minutes of their class were spent OFF THE ICE learning how to get up after you fall. Theo's teacher kept telling him to do it differently, which was odd to me, because he was the only kid who could get up. I became that parent, I hated myself for it but I could see the looks on my boys faces like they had been let down. I leaned into my boys and told them to do what they knew and that they should just do it how they learned it. I told them to do their best to show their teachers that they knew how to do this already so they could get into a better class. They did. They were still corrected on how they stood up. Does it really matter? If you fall, and you get up, does it matter how you got up? Or that you got up?

When they were finally allowed on the ice, assistants actually picked up my boys and moved them to a location where their class would be held. SERIOUSLY? Isn't this learn to skate? My boys can skate, let them! Then they spent the next 7 minutes SITTING on the ice making snow angels. I was really upset at this point. YES, that is good for the kids who SHOULD be in that class, but my kids were bored out of their minds, not challenged and looking at me like this was the stupidest thing they had ever done. I feared that this was going to kill their love of skating and hockey. So, I became that parent again. This time I didn't feel bad about it. I told Henrik to skate over to a class that was doing what he was learning when we left Colorado. He skated over. I told him to start doing what the class was doing while I went and looked for someone in charge. His new teacher wouldn't let him skate because he wasn't "assigned" to her class. He was picked up and carried to the woman in charge. I was livid. I tried to explain to this woman that he was in the wrong class. She asked his age, I said 4. She told me that because he was 4 he had to be in this class. I explained that he and his 2 year old brother had already passed Snowplow Sam 1 and 2 and they should NOT be with kids who are crying and making snow angles on the ice. She said it was policy. I said, then I'd like my money back. I didn't pay $160 for my kids to spend their 25 minutes of instruction sitting on the ground when they could skate.

She then offered to test Henrik. She admitted he should move up, in fact, she even had him skip a class and put him in an even higher level. I told her that Theo should be moved to Snowplow Sam 2 instead of Sam 1. She mocked me as she remembered that I told her the boys already passed that class. I replied, "he's two, while he is talented, I don't think he should be in a class with with 6 year olds just yet. Maybe next session he should be with them, you already put Hank in a class with 14 year olds". She told me to relax, but I just couldn't. It was now the "end" of their instruction time and for the remaining 30 minutes the children were supposed to go to the other half of the ice and skate around, however, there were 70 kids on the ice and no one to direct them. It was a jam of children who had never been on ice with skating gates taking up space. I heard another parent complain that there was no direction for the last 30 minutes. The same lady who I spoke with before, said, "There's 70 kids out there, it's the first day. It will get better". The woman replied, "but what are they supposed to do out there if there isn't an instructor out there?" She was  was hushed and then never got a response. A second later the director called over one of the figure skating teen assistance and actually said, "Skate around and look like you're doing something, parents are getting upset". Were we ever.

Henrik came over 10 minutes in and said he was done. I explained that this was different than our lessons in Colorado and this was how they did things at this new rink. "I don't like it" he said, his head hanging low. I didn't like it either. I didn't like his defeated stance or attitude either. I finally convinced him to skate two times around. When he completed it, he came back and pouted at me. Tears started to fill his eyes. I took him off the ice, "What's up buddy?"

He made a fist like a little kid would and wiped his eyes so that tears wouldn't actually fall, "I miss Dad. I want him to skate with me". I lost it, right there. I started to cry, but I tried to keep them back so he could see me being strong or whatever. I failed. I could hardly speak, my voice cracked as I said, "I miss him too. I wish he was here. I know he's really proud of you for trying out a new class and a new rink..."

"But I want to skate and they won't let me," Hank interrupted.

"I know, but I talked to the person in charge and they will get it right for next time, next lesson you will have fun, and if you don't we will just finish our commitment and then take a break from hockey until we can find a program we like," I tried to sound excited, though I was just as pissed as he was.

"I don't want to play hockey," he said as he lowered his head.

"Yes you do! And you're great at it, heck, you even showed the director that you could skate backwards and she moved you up! It will be better next time I promise. And next time, I'll take a video for dad and we can send it to him".

Hank nodded in agreement.

Finally the lesson ended. Theo came off the ice first, "I did it. I was the best. I was cawing for you because I didn't wike it doh". I took off his helmet, "I know buddy, I heard you I just wasn't allowed on the ice. We will make it better next time." He wiped snot all over his sleeve and said, "I wike Ms. Donna", She was their instructor at home in Colorado, "I wike dis teacher, but, I didn't wern anyfing. I'm da best at standing." I laughed because, it was totally true, he was the only child who was standing in his class, the rest were struggling to get up, but for some reason, they wanted to correct the way Theo got up. He actually spent the whole lesson standing doing nothing while the kids around him slipped and cried for 10 minutes.

When we got back in the car, I was furious, I needed to let off steam. I was able to call Eric. I told him everything and he just agreed with me that it was stupid. He said, "If noting else it's a chance for them to be on the ice" as he tried to calm me down. "It's NOT! If anything, these next six weeks will be an opportunity for them to hate skating and do nothing. I don't want them to do nothing, they are capable, great skaters!" I heard myself there. But I didn't care, I didn't care if I was a hockey mom or a stage mom. My whole philosophy to parenting and life is that it should be challenging and fun, and this was just a waste of money making my children miss their father and hate an activity that our family loved. Then I started to cry, "And the worst part is, Eric, Henrik said he wanted to skate with you and this hockey rink wasn't fun. I knew we'd have an "I miss daddy" day, but I didn't expect it to be so soon".

"Are you cwying, Momma?" Theo asked softly from the backseat of the car.
"Yes" I replied as I sniffed and wiped my eyes
"Why?" Asked Henrik, "Is it because this was a horrible day and they didn't even let me skate?"
I started to laugh, "Yes actually. It's a silly thing to cry about, but that's why I'm crying. That and I miss dad and want him to be here with us for skating."
"We miss Dad too" the boys said in unison.

Eric calmed me down and I drove home. The boys and I made being together and doing fun things the priority for the rest of the day. It felt really good to get on the floor and make Theo laugh as I poked and tickled him as I flew him in the air. It made me happy to see Henrik submerse himself in Legos and feel accomplished at his building skills after he had no pride this afternoon. Seeing his bright smile as he showed me his underwater car/submarine with a camera and a whale-like tale to help it move made me see even more that this rink was not the right place for us. I'm hoping it will get better, I'm hoping that next week I can see the same joy on the ice from these boys that I'm getting while we played all afternoon.

That evening at dinner, Henrik said, "Mom, how was your day?"
"My day was frustrating," I said.
"But other than the hockey part, how was your day?" he clarified.
I laughed, "My day was fun. I liked playing with you boys and seeing you so happy." Henrik seemed satisfied with my answer. I asked Henrik the same question, he thought for a second, "I miss dad. I wanted him to be at hockey with me." "MEEEE TOOO" chimed Theo.

I assured them that we'd keep Dad posted on their hockey lessons and that we'd send pictures and videos to him while they skated. I let them know that Dad was proud and that I missed him too. It's a really hard place for me to be in. Hockey is something Eric wants them to learn and it's something I've grown to love because of what it does for our family, but without him, would it be the same? I guess only time will tell. And it's one of those things that a deployment wife has to do while her spouse is away: find a way to keep the love and fun in the family while her partner is gone. I'll get there. I'll feel more confident about it soon. We just have to take it one day at a time.