Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In Heaven the Bagels are Gluten Free

Church can be an issue for me.  Not that I don't want to go to church.  But I'm guessing some churches don't want me and my squirmy, loud, stimmy, and very cute children in attendance.  Right now we aren't exactly the model of quiet reverence.  We have two volumes:  loud and 11. And my children frequently do things that make me utter pearls of wisdom like "You can't put your finger in the space for the telephone jack and expect it not to get stuck, so please stop crying while I go get something to make you more slippery."  Not a direct quote, but you get the point.  Despite how great they look in church clothes, my children are not great material for a pew.

I was raised as a member of a United Methodist church.  There are many things I dig about being a Methodist and there are a lot of great things about the small, community church I grew up attending.  As I write this, my parents are having dinner with a group of friends and family that attend the same church.  We affectionately call them "chicken group" because they began their Wednesday night ritual, meeting at a local restaurant to have the guessed it, pot roast.  Kidding of course.  These friends of my parents are really like an extension of family to most of us second-generation chickeners (chickenettes?).  They have traveled together, celebrated weddings and births together, suffered and comforted one another through tragedies and losses, and have stuck together for countless Wednesday night chicken and Sunday noon meals.  So I figured if anyone was going to suffer through a church service without asking my loud and obnoxious children to leave, it would be these kind people.

Sweet Girl, Little Man and I have attended four church services at home.  Nana and Aunt Carrie get the unenviable task of sitting with us in the back and helping with the distractions. Papa sits up front when he's liturgist, which can cause some consternation for Sweet Girl and was the subject of her escaping up the side aisle.  I suppose since he's doing something for the Lord I should forgive him not sitting with us.  And I will.  Eventually.  The key to distracting Little Man is snacks.  If his mouth is full of gfcf/Frito's goodness, then he can't be full volume.  Though he does make a food song in his throat when he's really enjoying himself.  At least it's not the loud constant babble that has been around for about 16 months now.  (Apparently sometime between the womb and bringing him home he escaped to Ireland where he not only touched the Blarney Stone but crawled on top of it, rolled around all over it, and tucked a piece of it in his onesie to keep forever.  Should I ever find that pebble that granted him his gabbiness, I'm going to hide it in some vegetables where he's sure never to find it as he won't go near them.)  He's also pretty smitten with Nana, which may or may not have something to do with the fact that she'll give him things to eat and hold him all he wants, so sitting with her works well too.   

For Sweet Girl there is the iPod Touch with the sound turned off.  She can usually entertain herself for quite awhile like that, even though it really kind of takes the 'oomph' out of Angry Birds.  She also gets snacks of the same variety as brother's.  She loves music and so she stands up and "sings" along with the hymns.  Much like her father, she is less concerned with lyrical accuracy than with enthusiasm.  We went through a spell where she cried at the end of each hymn because she didn't want it to be over.  While it warms my heart that she is such a fan of music, having to quiet a crying pre-schooler three to four times a service can be daunting.  Thankfully she seems to have grown out of that stage.  Despite the distractions, there is the inevitable shushing and keeping of feet off the pew which always makes me sorry for those around us.  So when we arrived at the latest service we attended, I was even more concerned when I saw the Communion set-up on the altar. 

As I mentioned before, I'm a Methodist and therefore don't believe one has to wait for a First Communion event to take part.  All are welcome at the table in a Methodist church (one of the things I dig about it-no one on Earth is more deserving than any other person on Earth of partaking - Christ's sacrifice was not done to discriminate), so that means Sweet Girl could come up with me and receive Communion.  Sometimes the ushers disperse the elements throughout the pews and sometimes we all partake by Intinction, where we walk to the front, receive the body, dip it in the blood and have the option of kneeling in prayer at the altar.  This is also what my sister and I, in borderline blasphemous fashion, refer to as Drive-by Communion; an apt description even if it does make our parents cringe.  At this particular service we were doing neither of those options and instead were going to the altar, kneeling, and receiving the elements one at a time before receiving a blessing.  I didn't know if Sweet Girl could act somewhat appropriately through the whole thing, but at the same time I know that the more we do something the more she understands it.  And the concept of an omnipresent but invisible God can be hard to grasp for any four year-old, let alone one who has a really hard time with abstract thinking so this is going to take a lot of practice.  But I want Sweet Girl to know that there is an example of perfect love for us to follow, and that this is one way we can feel that perfect love and show our appreciation for it.  So I took her hand, said a different kind of Communion prayer (Please Lord, don't let her think now is the time to run all over the altar, or sing, or scream, or have Papa tickle her.  Oh, and if she could not make me look like a deranged woman with a nervous condition during this sacred ceremony I would be eternally grateful.  Amen.), and headed for Papa at the altar.

Sweet Girl was pleased to be headed in Papa's direction ("Let's go get your Papa!") and then stood in front of me taking in the altar scene.  About 20 seconds in she says in a dramatic stage whisper, "Birthday candles!  Blow out the birthday candles, Mommy!"  And then she proceeds to attempt that from our position 5 feet away.  She's a little squirmy while we wait for the elements to be dispensed, but again happy to see Papa as he passes.  As I receive the piece of bread that symbolizes the body of Christ, I go to take one for Sweet Girl until I realize what I'm doing.  What the bread symbolizes transcends earthly designations, but the bread itself is gluten-filled, and I have learned that even a small infraction can cause some big behaviors for Sweet Girl.  So we skipped that part.  When the juice came around as the blood of Christ shed for us, I got one for me and one for Sweet Girl.  Everyone else quickly drank their thimble cups and bowed their heads.  Sweet Girl on the other hand, slurped once and says, "Mmmmmm!  Mmmmmmmmm!" and takes two more LOUD slurps.  I quickly took her cup to prevent her from attempting to lick every. single. drop out of the cup and we received a blessing.  We headed back to our seats after a quick "Bye, Papa!"  Sweet Girl may not have understood the significance of the ceremony, or even participated fully, but I can assure you that no one up there thought salvation through Christ tasted as sweet as she did.

I know many people don't think children should participate in Communion until they understand the symbolism and the meaning of the elements.  I understand that line of thought.  But I'm also not sure any of us truly comprehend it ourselves.  If we did, we might find it easier to accept others as they are instead of who we think they should be.  We might find more things in common with others rather than disparities.  We might be able to give more of ourselves to others without looking for something in return.  Those are hard things to do, and we're only human.  Sweet Girl has no way of understanding that, and she may never be able to, but I want to give her the chance.  And like most of us, it takes a lot of practice for her to get things right sometimes.  I pray that having her partake in Communion is the right thing to do and that eventually she'll come to have at least an inkling of understanding, even if we will have to find a gluten-free body to practice it with.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What I Meant to Say

*This actually happened awhile ago when I went to see Sean in Texas. After that we vacationed and did the whole "complete family" thing, but this was always at the back of my mind. I wish I was faster/braver/wiser in these situations. I wish I could relive that day and just hand this to her. But I can't and so you have to listen to me instead. Who knows? Maybe through the magic of the Internet and the universe she'll know what I meant to say.*

I saw you in Starbucks with your beautiful boy. You were two people ahead of me in line to order. I was enjoying a day free of car seat machinations as Nana and Aunt Carrie were spoiling Sweet Girl and Little Man at home. I wasn't thinking of anything in particular, mostly that it was nice to be able to get a cup of coffee in the middle of the day. I had left my constant research and behavior analysis at home with my children and had instead been reminding myself what it's like to reach over for your spouse and find him there. But then I saw you and your beautiful boy and it was all there with me again. I had a lot to say to you but kept my mouth shut instead. I didn't say anything because we've never met.  We've never met but I know you.

Your little boy is (probably) a year/year and a half younger than my daughter. At first I didn't realize he was with you.  He was in the store but not standing next to anyone or anything in particular: rather he was constant motion.  Then I heard you address him and ask him to stand next to you, and I realized he was your son. Just like you, I've never met him but I know him too. I know he can't stand still next to you in a line despite his best intentions. I know the loud conversations, the strong aroma of coffee, and the constant whirring and grinding of the machines were sensory overload for him that day. I know he doesn't play like other kids. I know he has certain things that he can handle, but much of the world is just too much for him to process. I know he's more comfortable on his own. I know that he's a good kid and has a great heart and that his behavior that day was not a result of an unloving home environment, lax parenting, or an indulgent lifestyle; it was self-preservation. I know your little boy because he is my daughter.

I saw the looks the others were giving the two of you.  I know that feeling of silent (and sometimes not-so-silent) judgement; how others are measuring up your parenting skills based on a 10 minute experience.  I have had to stand where you stood that day.  For Sweet Girl and me, it was a trip to Target.  I was still waiting for an evaluation and an official diagnosis so we could get some therapies started for her, but I wasn't waiting to to start making some changes.  Starting with her diet.  She never did like vegetables (same here) but the more I read and researched the more I became aware of what I could do to get them in her diet regardless.  The only thing in the way of providing her with better nutrition, was a juicer. 

The night before our trip to Target, Sweet Girl woke up at 3 am.  Boy did she wake up.  A rope ladder short of climbing the walls is a more accurate description, and I got to be there to witness it all.  I was exhausted when daylight rolled around.  I was sure that her mind and body would crash at some point and she would fall asleep for a morning nap.  Wishful thinking.  So I put her in the car for a 30 minute trip to Target.  At this point in time, Sweet Girl was sleeping through the night 3 out of 7 nights a week and she could not handle trips to the grocery store without a meltdown.  She was pretty much non-verbal as well, so I'm not sure what it was that set her off when we went shopping but I'd bet it was sensory overload.  There's just too much much.  Of course she fell asleep in the car on the way to the store.  So I was faced with a choice:  I could go home and hope she slept some more or I could wake her up and complete my task. 

I woke her up.  Boy did she wake up.  From the time her eyelids opened to the time we made it back home, she screamed.  She didn't have a fit.  There was no manipulative wailing or throwing herself down on the ground - this was not a temper tantrum.  This was a release valve for exhaustion, for bodily pain, for near-crippling anxiety, for an overworked brain flooded with sounds, colors, smells, people, and objects at high speed.  This was a literal cry for help.  She just wasn't sure what it was she needed help with.  I held her as close to me as I could while still having her sit in the cart and hurriedly grabbed the juicer.  At the same time I continually whispered/pleaded with Sweet Girl that we would be all right.  If she could just focus on Mommy then we would be all right.  But we were beyond the point of reason.  She was too panicked and tired.  Instead of focusing on me, Sweet Girl focused on screaming.  People stared.  Some offered to help in any way, but most just looked with a mixture of pity and annoyance.  I was too tired to tell them all that this may just be a trip to the store for them, but for this not-yet-two-year-old it was close to torture.  It was torture for her and for me, and I was desperately hoping and praying that I would find a way to make it easier for her.  Desperately trying to make the world seem less foreign and hostile.  Desperately trying to give Sweet Girl a way to say "help" without the screaming.  I wanted to tell them that this was loud and ugly but just give her time rather than your judgement.  But it would have taken me a long time to tell everyone that and time was not kind to us that day, so instead I put my girl and their judgment on my back, checked my pride at the carts, paid, and left.  So I know all about public meltdowns.  I knew exactly what was going on with you and your beautiful boy.

I saw the moment when it became too much for him.  He had been trying to deal with it in his own way; the constant motion.  But after he bumped someone at a table and he received a dirty look (to which he was completely oblivious) you picked him up.  I know what you were thinking.  That this should be easier.  That you're bone-tired and soul-weary and you just need a cup of coffee.  That other people bring their kids to places like this all the time without ever having a problem.  That if you can't get coffee without a battle then what else will you have to give up?  I've had those thoughts too.  All the while, I saw that the lack of motion was about to set off a meltdown but I was thinking that maybe they would have your drink ready in the nick of time.  Almost, but not quite.  I heard him start to scream.  Saw him push away.  I noticed the door had been left wide open to the busy parking lot, and that a set of panicky eyes were locked on it.  So I took two steps to the left and stood firmly as your beautiful boy ran into my knee.  You, red-faced and teary-eyed, grabbed him and apologized. Then you left without your coffee.  We've never met, but I know you.

When you apologized, I lamely offered "It's OK.  You're both just fine."  But what I meant to say was that it gets better.  And that might not mean you ever get to walk into Starbucks with your beautiful boy again, but it may mean that you drive through.  The coffee tastes the same that way.  Or maybe you find an amazing therapist/sitter/family member that can stay with your son, in a place where he is comfortable, while you go grab a cup of coffee or a nap in the car.  What I meant to say was that you'll feel better sometime in the future.  Sweet Girl and I aren't that far removed from Target, and there is the potential for that to happen again at any place, but I feel better about my abilities as a parent and Sweet Girl's abilities to cope that I'm willing to risk it.  You won't have to be a hermit.  You and your son can find ways to deal with public places and eventually even enjoy them.  What I meant to say was that you know your child.  Don't let the judgment or inconsideration of others drown out what you know about yourself and your son.  What I meant to say was that there is hope.  Read everything you can and find what applies to you and your family.  Fight for what your son needs.  There will be a lot of people who tell you to get used to the behavior or to prepare yourself for the worst.  There's a certain amount of pragmatism to that advice, but I think this often comes from people whose world's are so small they can't accommodate growth and hope.  These are the people who are too afraid of dreaming to fall asleep.  There are a lot of these people but there are a lot of people who want to love, support, and nurture your son.  What I meant to say was that you shouldn't give up.  Don't give up on your son or on yourself.  What I meant to say was "I understand."  We've never met, but I know you.  What I said aloud was, "It's OK." But everything else here is what I meant to say.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Disregard the Weeping Woman

No one said this would be easy, but no one said it would be this hard.  A general statement for a whole variety of things that come up in a lifetime.  For me, it applies to dropping Sean off at the airport this morning.  To go back.  To be gone for a bit longer.  To be missed immeasurably more.  I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I sure didn't expect it to be that hard.

Two weeks of R&R for a year's worth of deployment; it's not all that different from many vacation policies here in the States.  Of course, one usually gets the weekends off and gets to go home every night.  Gets to be a live part of milestones like a son's first birthday, or a daughter's first day of school rather than looking at pictures and checking facebook.  But not always, and though I'm feeling a little sorry for our family right now, the truth of the matter is that I dropped Sean off at the airport today so he could go back to work.  Get back to his career choice that provides for our family.  Our family that misses him very much while he's gone.

We did some great things while he was home.  Vacationed in the Outer Banks with our entire family - one of the best things we've ever done.  Celebrated Sweet Girl's birthday.  Hung out at home.  Got reacquainted with one another.  Sean got to know Little Man who is not much like the infant he left.  The kids relished having someone throw them around and having someone to tackle on the living room floor.  One of my favorite memories from the past couple of weeks is looking into the living room and seeing Sean on the floor covered in kids and hearing Sweet Girl say "I love you, Daddy." while Little Man tried to wrap his arms around Daddy's bald head.  There was a lot of laughing and to be honest, I feel we've been a little light on laughter around here before Daddy got home.

The world gets bigger for my kids when Sean is home.  I'm a bit more relaxed.  I know that there is another set of hands to take up the family rope.  We can do more things, see more sights, accomplish more tasks when there are two adults here.  I'm often too intimidated that I won't be able to handle Sweet Girl and Little Man by myself (especially if Sweet Girl is having a bad day) for us to do too many things while Sean is gone.  Not to mention that I have more to do at home to keep the kids fed, bathed, and clothed when it's just me.  So it was a nice change of pace to be able to say "We can do anything we want today." and actually kinda sorta mean it.

So driving him to the airport (Seriously, a legal form of torture to have to take your loved one somewhere knowing it's the first of many steps to separating him/her from you and yours.  There should be a party bus that picks your loved one up and leaves something fun for you in his/her place.  Like a pony.  Or a masseuse.) with the kids in the backseat was hard.  Hearing Sweet Girl say "I'll miss you Daddy." was pretty gut-wrenching.  Hugging him curbside pretty much crushed all my resolve and the tears started.  Watching him walk through the doors to the terminal just plain old sucked.  But I know that we can't be done with this deployment until we start this part of it.  And we're amazingly lucky we got to have the time we did.  At some point I'll stop crying.  I'm about to put the kids in the car to go to Nana and Papa's.  And if Sweet Girl would stop asking "Where's Daddy?" I might be able to make the drive tear free.  But if not, just disregard the weeping woman.  She'll be okay.  She knows how lucky she is.