Friday, October 21, 2011

The Edge of Frustration

Let me tell you what frustration is not. It is not the tiny, little infant currently curled up in my lap.

Let me tell you what frustration is. It is the tiny, little infant currently curled up in my lap.

Contradictory? Not in the least. Peculiar? Certainly.

Babies are weird, or rather, how babies make me feel is weird. You can go from being a sane, rational human being with everything ordered, planned, systematized and scheduled to a wild lunatic with hair disheveled, house a mess, and a terrible sense that not only have your forgotten something important, but that it will probably come and eat you soon. This is where I am tonight, sitting in the dimly lit office, typing away at the too-bright screen, and wondering when the--whatever it is--will arrive, and whether I'm just an appetizer or the main course.

Fridays are supposed to be quiet days, but we have had no such luck today. Our best plans were waylaid, and there was nothing that anyone could have done, said, or foreseen to forestall the derailment. The whole day was an exercise in frustration for me. Frustration to speak well in front of my classes, frustration to lead a discussion section, frustration to have a sense of what side is up and what side is down. I need one of those labels you find on the cereal box, or a package from UPS--open this side. Then, of course, there is the frustration of attempting to lay your child in his crib. He seems tremendously asleep. His breathing is fixed. His eyes flutter ever so gently, but then, just as you place him on that beddish surface, his eyes burst open, his face wrinkles in distaste, and he scolds you for being myopic. Bespectacled though I am, he still feels it necessary to remind me of my failure to sense his inner wakefulness, his need for yet one more trip to the bottle, one more change of the diaper, and one more agitating attempt at lowering him into his crib.

Maybe it is the lack of sleep. I've been up since 3:00 am this morning. Maybe it is the cumulative effort of teaching (bad day today), writing (ha!), husbanding (not doing enough there), and parenting (feels like a lot on Tuesdays, but never enough on Wednesdays), but I feel disorganized. I have lists, but trouble keeping them. I have notes, but trouble following them. I have tasks, and planners, and calendars, and programs, and timers, and alarms, and sundry other aids, but still I feel like Alice, except that I think I drank my Eat Me and ate my Drink Me. I am not sure what to do. Sleep, probably. The demons of exhaustion are the ugliest suckers, I know. But something more must be done tomorrow. I need to get a sense of equilibrium. I need to find a better balance. I thought I had it, and then the week before my conference, everything started to get shaky.

Hey, Reader, whoever you are. What do you do to find balance? Any advice for this father of two, dissertating, teaching, administrating, husbanding madman? Inquiring minds want to know. 



Sparrow: Your hair looks beautiful today. Did you do something different?
Fox: I washed it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Toddler Theology

Today, Thorn and I prayed over a snack:

Me: Shall we pray?
Thorn: Ok!
Me: Say with me: God...
Thorn: God...
Me: Bless...
Thorn: Bless...
Me: Cookies!
Thorn: Cookies! No way! Silly God.

Thorn giggles, ascribing humor to God. "Silly God!" he repeats, wondering why I'm laughing so hard, but eager to get extra applause. Later, as I munch a few grainy, gluten-free squares with my boy, I consider Thorn's clarity of vision. Even though the first cultural constructions have already begun to box him, his mind is still amazingly unfettered. He sees nothing odd about pouring tea on his soy yogurt, calling his Latino soccer player doll "mommy," or praying for his uncle's dog's knee. It has been particularly interesting to me to see his theological development. What is God to a child?

Papa: Where is God?
Thorn: In the picture.
Papa: No...where is God?
Thorn: Oh no! Missin'.

Thorn has always seen Jesus in pictures, and the similarity in how he is portrayed allows Thorn to point out "God" whenever there's an image in his picture Bible, framed on the wall, or in Sunday school. (Amusingly enough, the similarity is less in skin color and more in the white robe and red sash.) For Thorn, God has a definite shape. God is also a person, because Thorn talks to God, and expects to be heard. How, then, can God be there when Thorn prays, but missing when he looks for a visible presence? Then again, we're talking about a kid who thinks he's invisible if he covers his eyes...

What are your own experiences with young children and God?


Addendum from the breakfast table (Thorn calls himself "Tah"):

Me: God loves Tah.
Thorn: God loves Tah so much.
Me: Where is God?
Thorn: God follow Tah home in car.
Me: From church?
Thorn: Uh huh. God see mommy from back chair.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Time Boon Go Boom

I've divided my life into fifteen-minute increments, stolen here and there around childcare. Some exercise here, some laundry-folding there, some book-reading while feeding, some character development while in the shower--as I've said in earlier entries, you make it work, or you go nuts.

The boon is that I can now fit into fifteen minutes more than twenty-something me could have done in two hours. Heck, two days. I remember reading that Octavia Butler told aspiring writers to read when they were young, because they'd never have that much time again. Amen.

Fifteen minutes is all I need to accomplish most things. So what happens when both the toddler and the baby manage to sleep for two hours in the afternoon? First, of course, you don't know it will be two hours, and you go sneaking around, desperately cramming in all of the fifteen-minute things you can. I did tendonitis exercises. I put my legs on ice while finishing a book. Then, not believing my luck, I wrote one, then two, 1,000-page letters. I revised a short story, pausing to look at Kit's crib every few minutes. Mania increasing, I did the dishes. I read a poem my brother had written. I reviewed vocabulary, wondering how I'd construct THANK YOU GOD FOR TIME in ancient Greek. I sketched out ideas for a couple of characters. I read a commentary on the Biblical book of Numbers, and began reading a book on Mohammed.

By the time I got to the readings, the mania was becoming bewilderment. When would they wake? What could I do next? What would happen if, heaven forbid, I ran out of tasks? I was walking in an unexpected garden, but instead of admiring the plantlife, I had begun to worry about bees. Or if I'd lost my keys. Or where I'd parked my car. So I stopped. I sat down. I freaked out at the stillness, and then looked outside.

Trees. They're always there outside the window, but I don't look out, unless I'm giving Thorn some lesson on the weather, the seasons, or the rampant deer. I believe everyone ought to know their neighborhood trees as a courtesy, because they'll still be there, most of them, when we've gone. I made a pact with myself to identify the trees closest to the window. When the boys awoke in tandem, screaming, I bundled them out the door and into the grass.

The trees were wild apples. I confess this knowledge pleased me more than any other accomplishment today.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Life with Boys: Mornings with Kit

Kit is my alarm clock. Come four each morning, his little cries and groans, his demands for food, stir me from whatever dreams were nestled in my 3 o'clock brain. I rise, warm a bottle, and then hold him, rocking him ever so gently. Sometimes he drifts back into a restless sleep. Sometimes he screams. I much prefer the former. When the bottle is warm, and the water it sits in cold, I take bottle, baby, burp cloth, and make my way through our darkened apartment to the office. I settle into my chair, the marvelous boppy on my lap, and feed Kit his bottle. Most often he drinks heartily and competently. Other times he spits and fights, chokes and coughs, and makes a terrible mess of it. Then, understandably, frustrated from tiredness and hunger, he cries and screams, and fusses madly until exhaustion or some combination of soothing techniques works to settle him. I would take pride in my ability to soothe, but I have the sense that it is more luck, more fortuna, than any skill of mine. When successful, and the milk has settled in his wee belly, he smiles up at me. His little eyes search, disappointed in the yellow glare of my desk lamp, and eager for a familiar face. His smiles make me smile, and then my smiles make him smile. It is infectious; a disease I'm willing to partake of daily. Then, pressed close to me, pacifier in its lofty place, Kit is rocked, and rocked, and rocked, and snuggled, and rocked some more. At last the blue-gray eyes that defy our attempts to declare them grow heavy in their lids, and then close. We rock a bit more for good measure, until the pacifier is dislodged, and the brow relaxes, and the breathing grows steady. Sometimes we rock even more than that, but that is due to my own breath growing steady. It is not easy to stay awake at 4:45 in the morning. When, at last, sleep is sound, I rise, carry Kit back through the darkened apartment, settle him in his criblet, and restore myself to my own, now cold bed. I don't mind that chill, though. I am warmed enough. I have spent the earliest, quietest part of the morning with my littlest lamb. These days do not last forever, I'm told. I cherish them while they do.