Sunday, December 28, 2014

To My Sweet Sam on his Fifth

Dear Sam,

Happy very late 5th birthday, buddy (11/23/14)! In case it helps, I also have neglected to take you to get your well-child check up, and here we are 34 days post-birthday.  The latter is more understandable than this late birthday letter, I'll admit: Your ear tubes have come out and thus you have not been well enough to get vaccinations, and because we've been to the pediatrician three times since your birthday, I already know officially how much you weigh -- 40 pounds.  Moreover, I don't need anyone to tell me that you're tall.  I can see that for myself though I do love a good percentile now and then to confirm my notions.  I also know that you are big enough for 10 ml of amoxicillin or 7 ml of Augmentin twice a day for 10 days, discard the rest.  Bubble gum flavor.  And while we're talking numbers, don't worry about all those milliliters of fake bubble gum because hopefully we'll have your third set of ear tubes put in before you turn six!  Yay! 

As I lay in your bed tonight rubbing your back and trying to figure out what smelled like barf, it occurred to me to consider the length of the arc of my adjustment to motherhood.  I figure I'm not anywhere near the apex, but I've been hanging on long enough to be about a quarter of the way up perhaps -- which means I'm decently discerning about things that matter, I guess.  One of which is that the ER is a very unnecessary place as long as everybody's bones are intact, there is no unstoppable bleeding, and all are capable of breathing on their own.  Another important aspect of ascending the arc is gaining the ability not to worry about the faint smell of vomit unless there is a reason more important than olfactory unpleasantness.  Especially not at 8:30 p.m. when everything is otherwise quiet and you're not sure if the extra sheets are clean.  But perhaps one of the most important aspects of traversing the arc is learning not to cling to comfort.  Motherhood is a lot of things, but it is most certainly not always comfortable -- physically, mentally, or emotionally. 

You see, Sam, after John was born, I said for years that I couldn't handle anymore children ... didn't want more babies hanging on my hip.  And then one day I imagined a bald little Thanksgiving baby, and 41 weeks later, there was you.  Moreover, if I thought that I was overwhelmed with one child, two has just about done me in is only slightly more of a work of love.  You ask me all the time if we're going to have another baby, and I cheerfully explain that that is impossible for our family because we have just enough kiddos in our house!  The truth is that it is both in spite of and because of the fact that motherhood consistently and constantly pushes me out of my comfort zone that it is the greatest work of my life.

Over this last year, Sam, I have struggled to maintain even the slightest glimpse of balancing motherhood with the other parts of my life.  I fear that it has many times been to your detriment.  But I promise you that I will always keep trying to do better at being more present with you, listening to you, and seeing you in all your Sammishness. 

Tonight, for example, while I was fiendishly sniffing for the barf-smell source, you were showing off your new addition skills -- holding up fingers and modeling your abilities, then asking me to do much more difficult mathematical equations such as [insert your incredulous giggle here]: twenty plus twenty!  Followed by ceaseless iterations of "Do you know what it is, Mom?  What is it?  20+20!  Oh my gosh!  Mom!  What is it?!?!?"  I waited just to see if you might be able to get it, but, exhausted with impatience, you finally said, "Well?"

I answered, "It's forty!  Can you believe it?!?"  To which you replied, "Wow! I really didn't know!  That's awesome if you're telling the truth, young lady." 

It really is 40, love.  I've been studying for the GRE, so I'm relative sure.

Despite my lack of work-life balance, this year has been a good one for you as a student Sam.  You switched schools and are at a much more progressive preschool where they espouse child-led learning (emergent is the keyword if anyone wants to google it).  Your teachers let you choose what you'd like to learn and then guide you in a direction that helps you develop that particular skill through play.  They also make you taste everything at lunch (which is prepared at the center) before you can have more bread or crackers, your staples.  You have told me more than once that the school is fine other than the tasting.  Once you told me that you tried chicken -- "real chicken!"  But that you "definitely didn't eat the bones."  Sam, I relish that little detail of your random October day even now -- your pride, bravado, and storytelling skills all capture me. 

As a brother, you are still learning that you are the little one.  This means that for the time being, John will be able to beat you at pretty much anything you try.  This also means that the arc of my adjustment to motherhood must bend quite uncomfortably in the direction of patience because the two of you are pretty relentless in all aspects of your interactions.  One thing that I love about you, Sam, is that you never give up the idea that you can beat John in cards or football, spaghetti eating or chicken chasing.  You hold out an endless hope of one day succeeding.  This everlasting optimism is part of why we love you so much, and part of what makes us worry constantly that you'll crack your head open.

Right now, Sam, your brother is all the directions you want to go in.  You often seem lost when he's not in the house.  You also like your individual time with me and your dad, but I don't think there's any other playmate you prefer more than your brother, even if he's holding your head under the pool of water that forms at the end of the slip-n-slide.

So, Sam, since this is closer to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday than to your own, I think I will end by taking the liberty to examine one of his most famous sayings.  I love this quote because it inspires us to think about the bigger picture rather than focusing on all the small details which may or may not be pleasant to consider.  It asks us to ponder not what tiny battles we have won or lost, but to envision the greater cause.  He said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."  I think of this often when I'm getting mired down in the everyday conundrums of how to be a good mom.  I tell myself that the moments may seem long (especially the ones involving sibling rivalry and/or unidentifiable barf smells), but the years seem short. 

One of your own more morbid yet sweet aphorisms is that you'll always love me, and I'll always be your mom, even when we're all dead.  This is very true, sweet.  It doesn't matter what happens in any moment -- for better or worse -- in the long run all that matters is that I'm your mom.  My sweet Sam, it is my fervent prayer that the arc of my motherhood will not get bent out of shape by impatience, selfishness, or misguided values.  Rather, I'll do my best to keep my arc bending in the direction of you, sweet, which is most certainly toward love.

With my biggest ever hug,