Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Friendsday #10

My kids are eight and five.  Our days are generally filled with video games, laugh track TV shows, and chapter books.  We’re all routine-y, so the dynamic of mom and kid interaction is pretty predictable and lovely.  We have what I like to call the occasional full moon fall out when one of them loses his mind over something completely inane (or more often I reach some sort of mental limit and have to apologize later), but really, truly, honestly most of our days are awesome.  Breakfast, lunch, school, after school activities, dinner, bedtime.  With so very little drama that I feel like I’m cheating at parenting somehow.

A good number of my friends are still in the under five stage of motherhood, and it seems strange to say, but that stage of motherhood feels like a lifetime ago.  I am so far removed from nursing, sleep schedules, napping, potty training, and sleep deprivation that sometimes my mind plays tricks on me.  I think to myself—was it really as bad as *these people* make it out to be?  “These people” are all of my friends who post things on Facebook on the regular like “Bedtime has been moved to 6:00 this evening so no one dies” or “I haven’t slept longer than one hour straight in four nights…teething is from the devil!”

I read those words, and I’m tempted to do what older women did to me when I was bemoaning the fact that my husband was gone AGAIN during an emergency room visit or that someone had just peed all over the shower curtain.  I’m tempted to give advice or say something like “Cherish your littles because they grow so fast!”  But I don’t.  1) Because I would never actually say something that cheesy, and 2) because I remember wanting to punch people in the face when they said those sorts of things to me.  (If someone ASKS for my advice, I’ll give it, but I’ve made a general rule to let other people parent their children because they’re not mine to parent.)

The reality is that those early years were challenging.  Will didn’t sleep through the night and rarely napped longer than 23 minutes (seriously, you could have used him as a cookie timer) until he was 2 1/2.  You read that right.  TWO YEARS AND SIX MONTHS of waking up multiple times a night.  I didn’t give him away because he was freakishly happy during the day even with no sleep.  Ben, on the other hand, slept like he wrote the book on sleeping but screamed like someone was giving him a lobotomy for the first nine months of his life every time we got in the car.  Will had a four-month period during his third year where he would screamcry until he threw up if I told him to take a nap.  Of course, this was right around the time that Ben began to HATE clothes—all clothes, including his diaper.  So, sometimes they would scream in tandem, chasing me around the house like two little naked, sleepy banshees.

The reality of what those days were actually like lies somewhere between my nostalgia of a quiet nursing baby and the disaster I described above.  In fact, it’s all of that, nostalgia and disaster rolled into a moment of motherhood that shaped me in ways that no other relationship with human beings has.

That might be the longest introduction I’ve ever written for a Friendsday post, but I say all of that to say this: the reason we all made it through that stage in tact had a lot to do with my friend, Jenna.  

Jenna, I chose this picture because 1) I love your hair like this,
and 2) almost all of the pictures of just you are of a pregnant you.  Ha!
Jenna’s husband and my husband were both pilots at Charleston AFB when we met, and I’d known of Jenna through friends for a long time before I ever met her.  Our friendship started at Rolly Pollies, one of those places with lots of wide open squishy space for your children to bounce around and run.  Our oldest kids, Will and Samantha, were enrolled in the Beetles class, where they were learning basic gymnastics and other energy-using skills.  For us, two women with three-year-olds and newborns, it was forty-five minutes of someone else engaging with our children a couple of times a week.  Jenna and I would sit on the benches watching Will and Sam balance on the beam or flip on the trampoline while we nursed our babies and talked about The Bachelor.  The conversation was not deep, but it was also not about Little Bill or goldfish crackers.

Eventually, the conversation shifted to sharing our mothering experiences, our faith, and our life as military spouses.  We started attending “open gym” sessions together, when we could let our growing babies crawl around on the giant blocks while the bigs jumped in the foam pit.  Quickly, we added a new dimension to our routine—grabbing dinner at an Asian fusion place in the same area as Rolly Pollies.  We’d bundle everyone into the car and drive over to Red Leaf, where the waitresses (thankfully) fell in love with our brood.

Will and Sam would play “school” under the table (which I realize seems wildly inappropriate in most eating establishments), each of them taking turns “teaching” each other how to spell new words.  We’d drink tea and eat pad thai and gyoza, checking on our table trolls occasionally and nursing the littles.
Jenna and her super duper family
Before Jenna and her family moved, we had added one more dynamic to our ritual that sometimes included our in town husbands.  After our earlyish dinner, our counterparts would be getting off work, so they’d join us and our worn out babes at Rita’s, an Italian ice place that served snocones and custard.  On several occasions, our kids, now all old enough to at least toddle around a bit, would run the length of the building in the drainage ditch that separated parking lots, while our husbands timed them to see how fast they were.  And we would sit on the red benches, spooning the last our our snocones into our mouths as the sun set.

I think part of the reason I have a hard time remembering how difficult that stage of life was is because most of my memories are like this—laughing and eating and watching my kids make friends.  When our family took a road trip to CA two summers ago, Jenna packed up her three kids (she’d added one since we’d seen them last) and drove to Downtown Disney from a couple of hours away to have dinner with us.  We stay connected through social media—with conversations about homeschool and The Bachelor (some things don’t change), and I’m continually entertained and encouraged by the way she opens herself up to the people around her through her “Friday confessions,” in which she relays some story about something stupid she’s done in her life.  

One of my friends, who is in the thick of this stage of motherhood right now posted on Facebook, “If it takes a village, where’s mine?”  And I responded, “Ha!  You have to build it!”  I know why she posted that exasperated status—she’s got a three-year-old who wants to do everything by himself and a five-month-old who can’t do anything for herself, and that can feel really isolating—especially in this life where our husbands are gone so much and our families don’t live near.  

Jenna was a huge part of my village in a time when I often felt like the idiot.  Village-building can be challenging and exhausting (and not natural for those of us who would rather hide away in our Hobbit holes), but it is also life-affirming and life-saving at times.

Thank you, Jenna, for being a person who showed me the value of raising the roof of friendship over pillars of shared laughter and tears and on a foundation of vulnerability and love.  Keep up the good work—you are one of the best village people I know.

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