Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Pondering life and death

Every now and then something happens that makes me contemplate my length of time on this earth. I wonder how long I will be around, whether or not I will have made any significant contribution to the world, and what the quality of my life will be like before I go. Sometimes this ends on a happy note, thinking about everything I have done in my short 29 years so far, and other times it ends on a sadder note, thinking about everything I would miss out on being a part of should I make my big exit earlier rather than later.

What brought about these thoughts this time around was taking the kids to visit their great-grandmother or "Grandmaman" as we call her. I am truly amazed every time I spend time with this woman. She is 91 going on 40 and has a spunk about her and a sparkle in her eye that make her seem so much younger than she really is. She has no serious health problems and is completely coherent when making conversation. She lives in an apartment complex for seniors, but in no way is it a retirement home. They all live independently, prepare their own meals, take care of their own apartments, and no medical services are provided there. It's hard to believe that she is only a few years away from 100. We should all be so lucky.

She raised 2 children and watched as they grew up, got married and blessed her with 5 grandchildren, one of whom is my husband Eddie. Not only has she lived long enough to see those grandchildren grow up but she now has 5 great-grandchildren to love and adore. She joked with me this past weekend that she was going to have to start writing everyone's birthdays down because she was starting to lose track!

The thought of making it to the same point in my own life is unimaginable to me. My kids are so young that I can't even fathom being a grandmother, let alone being around when my kids' kids have kids!

On the flip side of this is my aunt, godmother and namesake who is in her early fifties and very ill. She has a condition called Amyloidosis which apparently has been present since birth but was only detected now during a health screening by her insurance company. The ironic and truly sad part of all of this is that she is possibly one of the most health conscious people I know. It's frustrating to think that you can spend so much time taking good care of yourself and your health and then be blindsided by a disease that you have absolutely no control over. She has said that she has made peace with the fact that she is dying, but can anyone ever really be at peace with that thought?

The possibility of losing her to this disease saddens me on so many levels. It saddens me to think that she won't be a part of my life anymore. It saddens me to think about the husband and daughter she will leave behind. It saddens to me think about all of the things in her daughter's future that she is going to miss, like her playing softball in the Olympics this year and maybe someday getting married and having kids of her own. I know she would have been an excellent grandmother. It saddens me to think of her mother, my grandmother, who will outlive her own daughter. I can't even imagine the grief of watching your own child die and being completely helpless to do anything about it.

When I think about losing her, I can't help but think about my own life and death. There are so many things I've always just seemed to take for granted, like being around to raise my kids, seeing them off on their first day of kindergarten, helping them with their homework, cheering them on at their sporting events, hugging them at their high school graduation. And of course there are other things too like being there to hold them when they feel sick, to support them through a broken heart, to encourage them to follow their dreams. I've never considered the possibility of not being there to dance with my kids at their weddings, not being there to hold my grand-babies in my arms.

I guess all I can do is take the best care of my kids' mommy that I can, hope for a long and healthy life and let them know every single day how much I love them. Isn't that really all anyone can do?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Winter woes

For some crazy reason I insist on taking the kids for a walk every afternoon, no matter how cold/windy/snowy it is. Actually that's a lie. 20 degrees below is my cut-off. If it's colder than that, we stay in. Otherwise we hit the streets, stop by the mailbox and sing songs while we go. While this seems like a great idea on the surface (who could argue the benefits of kids getting fresh air everyday?) the struggle to get everyone dressed and out the door for this afternoon ritual has me doubting my resolve on a daily basis.

Last year doing this was a cinch. I had an extremely compliant 2 year old who could almost completely dress herself for the outdoors on her own and an immobile baby who just had to be thrown into a one piece snowsuit and hat. Fast forward one year later and I now have a 3 year old who can't seem to talk and do anything else at the same time, which is a huge problem since she is ALWAYS talking! Add to that a toddler who sprints and hides under the kitchen table at the mere mention of putting on his jacket, and the preparation for our pleasant afternoon stroll has turned into war.

After many many many requests of "Nicki please stop talking and put on your hat. Nicki please stop talking and put on your boots. Nicki please stop talking and put on your jacket", each of which is met with very loud and exasperated sighs on her part, I somehow wrangle Gabe out from under the table (which of course makes him completely irate) and get him into his snow pants, boots and hat. His mittens and jacket pose a whole new problem because he of course has a toy in each hand which he will not let go of. The boy has a killer grip, let me tell you. No amount of "Please give Mommy the block/ball/book/doll" will convince him to give them up and since I am above bribery (most of the time), when I finally remove them from his hands I am rewarded with a large amount of writhing and screaming, neither of which is lessened when I try to cram his tiny hands into his mittens and actually get the thumbs in the thumb holes.

I have timed this entire ordeal at about 15 minutes. Of course when you are in the thick of it, it feels like an eternity. So with loud sighs and big tears we make our way out the door. The not so funny reality of course is that we are probably outside for all of 20 minutes before we (ok I) get too cold and come home. So is torturing 3 bodies into 6 boots, 2 pairs of snow pants, 3 jackets, 3 hats and 6 mittens worth being outdoors for for all of 20 minutes? Miraculously, the answer must be yes since I continue to do it...

When we finally get outside it's like all is forgotten. The fresh air fills our lungs and we are free. Free to talk or be silent, free to go quickly or take our time, free to watch the sun set, the moon rise and the snow fall. Free to be together. And free to do it all over again the next day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A little TLC

I didn't get much sleep last night. Gabe, who usually sleeps through the night without a problem, was up at midnight, 1am and 2am calling for Mommy. I debated going in to him at first, wondering if my arrival and then eventual exit would do more harm then good. But since this was an unusual occurrence for him, I decided that something must really be up. I was then faced with the question of what to do when I went into his room. Our breastfeeding relationship ended last month, so I no longer had that in my back pocket as comfort insurance.

I crept into his room letting only a tiny bit of the hall light shine in. I picked him up out of his crib, held him for a moment and he calmed instantly. I checked his diaper just in case, but all was well. I doubted that teething was the issue since the last of his first set of molars had come in last month and I figured we had a few weeks at least before the next set started wreaking havoc.

I always found it hard to believe that the only thing that could be "wrong" was that my kids needed my presence and physical comfort. To me a baby always needed something more tangible, like milk, a clean diaper or teething relief. It didn't seem possible to me that my mere presence would be enough to soothe all that ails them. I am after all, just me. Sometimes I have to remind myself that in my kids' eyes I am so much more than "just me" - I am a nurturer, a provider, a teacher, a comforter, a helper, a hugger. I'm a mommy. And sometimes being close to me is all that they need.

So I took him over to the rocker where I nursed him a million times as a baby and toddler and just held him close. I rocked back and forth and sang softly to him for a while and then we just sat in silence, enveloped in each other's warmth. He put his head on my shoulder and sucked his thumb a little as his eyelids slowly started to droop. We sat together like that for over a half hour and I swear that time stopped. There was nowhere else in the world that either of us wanted to be. About a half dozen times he looked up at me with sleepy eyes and I gently kissed him on the cheek. He would then close his eyes, smile and put his head back on my shoulder, completely at peace and content. Eventually I eased him back into his crib and crawled back into bed to try and catch a few more hours of sleep before my early riser woke for the day.

As I lay there in bed I thought to myself how few and far between these moments are and how precious they are to me. Both of my kids have only been occasional night-wakers, and while I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of other moms I know who are up 2, 3, 4 times a night with their kids, I am glad for the middle of the night cuddles we have shared. I hope the memories of those times never fade.

Meet the kids

I have 2 incredible children. Dominique (Nicki), age 3, is the most amazing little girl I have ever had the honour of knowing. She is smart as a whip and many people have told me that having a conversation with her is like talking to a mini-adult. Her favourite thing in the world to do is look at books, a love I hope she will sustain well into adulthood. She is laid back and even tempered, living for the most part in a world of grey acceptance and agreeability, just like her Daddy.

Gabriel (Gabe), age 16 months, is a constant enigma. He was a very easy going infant, quiet and calm most of the time. As a toddler he now has a much more complicated personality. He is incredibly loving and affectionate, showering us with constant hugs and kisses. But at the same time he can appear to lose his mind over the smallest of things, like putting on his jacket or coming to the dinner table. He seems to live in the more extreme world of black and white, just like me.

Being as different as they are, they pose a interesting set of challenges on a day to day basis. But the love they have for each other is absolutely incredible and the most wondrous thing in the world to be witness to. Today when Gabe and I went to pick Nicki up from her morning at preschool, they ran down the hall to each other with arms outstretched, just like you see long lost loves do in the movies. The whole thing seemed to play out in slow motion as they greeted each other with a huge embrace. One of the women from the school saw this and said to me "You are so lucky." I smiled and said thank you and couldn't help but agree.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Learning as we go

Someone somewhere should really write an instruction manual for children. This manual should cover years 0 through 18 and should be handed out to you when you give birth. It should address such topics as "What to do when your toddler throws a mega-meltdown tantrum in public - see page 14" and "What to do when your preschooler refuses to get out of bed in the morning - see page 76".

As it stands now, we are given this miraculous ability to procreate and are then sent on our way to fumble through parenthood without any knowledge whatsoever. Trial and error was never my preferred learning method; certainly not when it comes to the responsibility of molding the lives of brand new human beings!

But somehow, someway, we make our way through each and every day. We hopefully learn from our mistakes and then hold our breath and cross our fingers that our children will turn out to be the confident, respectful, loving, intelligent people we have tried to teach them to be. I'll keep my toes crossed too, just in case.