Temper

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I walked away feeling uneasy.

No. The other kids in his Mother’s Day Out program weren’t hitting. Holden didn’t learn it from them. That’s what his teacher told me.

I asked her because surely this new development in his daily routine had to be learned elsewhere- from the other kids, perhaps? I had a hard time believing my angel-faced Holden was born with this innate urge to hit me in the face when he doesn’t get his way and right away.

He’s just being two. She said when she must have noticed the disappointment in my face I tried not to show as I heard it wasn’t the fault of the other kids.

“Delay gratification.” I command myself as I see his eyes full of hope. He’s pointing at the candy or cheese puffs on the top shelf of the pantry without even having a bite of his veggies. As he begs me his hopeful smile starts to turn upside down, face shades red, eyes fill with tears. I know what’s next.

Hand winds straight back from the elbow. Palm open. He starts waddling towards me. All thirty inches and thirty pounds of him. Full of rejection and ready to hit me. Hitting me, giving me equally what “no” means to him in his two-year-old mind.

Delay their gratification. Don’t give them what they want when they want it. One of the most important lessons I am having to bestow upon my quick-tempered boy.

He doesn’t like me in this instant. He doesn’t like me enough to want to hurt me.

As I laugh it off internally, I grab his hand, squeeze it and say sternly, “No hit mommy. Bad, bad boy.” He is staring straight into my eyes and intensely breathing through his nostrils.

As soon as I release his hand from mine, it bounces back for another shot.

I think it’s about time for the time-out chair in the corner. That’s what I’ll do next. Verbal manipulation isn’t going to be enough as I was hoping would be my most accurate form of discipline.

It’s an intense journey. Figuring out what kind of response is going to elicit the right response in a child, especially in the heat of the moment- having to “nip in the butt” those behaviors right away that need to be stopped. To spank or not to spank? One controversial parenting decision is quickly approaching my future.

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It’s a family thing

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I knew the game at a young age.

When it’s around you all the time, you soak it in. Just like a language. Baseball was mine, my family’s language. Us kids? We grew up in the dugout. All four of us. Standing right next to our dad, the coach. Just as he did next to his father growing up.

For us, it’s never “just a game.” It goes beyond that. Way beyond.

I chewed bubblegum and scuffed my shoes in the red dirt covering up the wet sunflower seed shells. Always wore a helmet. Dad made me. Mom usually french braided my hair to fit under that helmet when it was my turn as bat girl. I so looked forward to those games where I could indulge in the variety of Bubblicious or Big League Chew. Occasionally I’d have myself a bag of sunflower seeds. I’d chew and suck on them until my mouth was raw of saltiness.

I could barely see over the steps that led up to the field. But I watched, learned. I knew what was going on. I knew the strategies of the sacrifice bunt and anticipated the turn of the double play. I’d get excited about a good at bat, but even moreso a bad one because I’d wait for whoever it was that struck out to walk back towards me with his head down. I knew the second his dirty cleat reached that top step the reaction was coming. The cuss word, the jolt of the helmet back into it’s cubicle. I couldn’t wait to see it happen. It was like they didn’t know or care that a little girl with a cheek full of gum was there watching. Looking up to them. The men, the boys. The well rounded, all-American, good-hearted baseball players. The good guys.

Baseball was a lifestyle. Is a lifestyle for my family. Full of motivation, discipline, commitment. I learned these qualities spending all those years in the dugout. Quietly I’d watch and learn right from wrong. Occasionally dad would look my way and give me a wink or subtle smile. It felt safe there, despite the high-frequency of f-bombs and jockstrap/cup adjustments right before my pre-pubecent eyes. Literally, eye-level.

There’s just something about the sport. At the college level at least, all I know really. Something good at its root. Something that pulls on my heartstrings. A reason to celebrate, a reason for heartbreak.

My son is two years old, and already knows this. My dad’s first gift to him was a leather glove with his name embroidered on it. “Papa’s field” is his favorite place. I can’t drive past it without him pointing and whining to get out. He pushes himself up against the corner of our section’s seats, eyes zeroed in at Papa standing in the dugout. The slightest glimpse from him towards Holden and his arms go up. His face reads “Papa, come get me!” He yearns to run on the field, play catch.

I’m grateful for this, for the sport of baseball and the role it will play in Holden’s life. As it’s done for the few generations before him, I’m hopeful that it instills in him what it’s done for us. It’s just a family thing.

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A Gift

I was told to close my eyes and not open them until he said so.

I’m really, really bad at surprises. I never know how to react, and I’m a terrible actress, a terrible liar. So the anticipation of my reaction is what kills me. Always when the attention is on me to open a present. (Surely you have noticed by now in this blog that I’m my own worst enemy- most of my current stress is completely self-induced.) So I start to perspire. How do I react? What do I say? I know I will love it but, how do I make sure he knows that I love it? One of my most immense qualities is also such a flaw- making sure those around are happy and appreciated. Over my own contentment always.

Oh no, already teary. Temples are sweating now. The seconds feel like hours. What’s taking so long?

Okay, you can open now.

And immediately I see this.

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Silence.

Oh my God.

That’s all I could say. Over and over.

An extraordinary interpretation of one of my favorite moments thus far with Holden. The raw happiness captured perfectly on canvas. This moment was Holden’s first football weekend at the University of Notre Dame, where I attended college. A place that is so special to me. It became even more special when I got to share it with Holden last October. The morning we left our trip to go home, a beautiful day. The sun seeping through the bare, dewy branches, shining on our faces amidst all the oranges, reds, and yellows of the crunchy leaves that seemed to have drop over night. The air was chilly and we were layered up, playing outside in those leaves. Had to leave Mass early because Holden was not having the quiet reverence required at the Basilica on campus. Preferred much more running on his toes and yelling, laughing outside in all the leaves.

Being outside with Holden is so peaceful. I recalled during his infancy how being outside and listening to the natural sounds- the songs of birds, the whisper of the wind, the pattering of squirrels across the backyard fence- these were things that brought him happiness when he was suffering so badly from reflux. He’d so much as squirm and grunt and I’d have him outside before that first scream could exude.

Little did I know in those early months what our next couple years would look like.

This morning was so reminiscent of that peace. Holden had nothing but a smile on his face as he ran back and forth, falling down, feeding the squirrels. On the grounds of a place that had been so dear to my heart both during college and most of my adolescence. For me, a place that represented both innocence and anticipation of the life to come once I left those grounds.

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I admire art and always have. I love to paint myself and always have. Creativity is a pathway for communication, no matter what’s trying to be said. I admire it even more so when an artist is able to touch your heart, remind you of moments so pure and joyous regardless of what situation you find yourself in.

I think about this as I touch the canvas softly, eyes squinting to see the beautiful details. The record of Holden and I’s bond laid out before me.

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This piece is is a beautiful one. Each brush stroke full of purpose, encapsulating the peaceful feelings that filled my heart that morning. And every morning with Holden. Even when those mornings begin well into the middle of the night with a certain bodily fluid or two. Welcome to toddlerhood.

What an amazing and meaningful gift to me, a subtle reminder of how blessed I am to be in the position I’m in. To have the life I’ve got. And now, to share it with someone who appreciates that life I’ve got. And to appreciate that someone who has that appreciation. So much more than a Valentine’s day gift.

For more information on the incredible New Orleans artist, please visit http://www.tamicurtisellis.com/.

La La Land

Once upon a time I lived in a fantasy world. I lived in the idea of what my life was instead of what it was in actuality. I wasn’t responsible for much, and I didn’t need to feel responsible either. I wasn’t hungry, wasn’t driven. I was settled, floating in self-induced ignorance and bliss.

One sorry excuse for that special person inside I repeatedly suppressed. I was missing out but didn’t realize it- that wasn’t until the idea of my life met my life all in a matter of a few minutes.

Talk about one major reality check. One severe reprimand for careless, depth-deprived and naive decisions that got me there. Then came the repercussions. Depression and anxiety disorders. The two of them sure can tango.

La La Land proved to be sad. That castle made of candy was a mirage of my own. If you had asked me while I was living there, I probably could have told you I could taste it because that’s how real it seemed.

These days I look at it with a grateful heart, a humbled heart. I’m thankful that everything happened the way it did. Ironic how sometimes those who you’re “supposed” to be angry at turn out to be the people you could thank the most. Yes, I put a could in there. I haven’t exactly done that.

Lots of people look (or did look before I began my blog) at my situation with pity- don’t. These days I look at it with full retrospective knowledge, and I got what was bound to happen. Like I said, careless decisions. Sometimes following your heart and carelessness go hand in hand, unfortunately. Punishment? Eh, I don’t like the concept of it. Karma? Not so much either. It’s more of a cause-and-effect type of relationship.

La La Land is no more. I live in what’s real every day, little by little unsuppressing that once-suppressed person. Close my eyes and listen to my breath. I’m here, in the now. I’m not wrapped up in an idea, not putting on a show that I don’t know I’m putting on. I speak slower, I mean every word in full. Listen, and feel everyone else’s words resonate. Feel liberated. Take it all in. Exhale. Be alive. Be me.

“There’s something liberating about not pretending.”-Drew Barrymore

Selfishness

Get a good night’s sleep.

That’s the first tip on any “preparing for the big exam” list. In my case, it was the GRE. The exam I had been prepping for day in and day out. Finally it was the night before that 4-hour timer where every second counts started at 8:00 a.m.

Get a good night’s sleep. One lamb over the fence, two lambs, three… “BLUUGHHH.” Then splattering noises. “Wahhhhhh!”

Clock reads 11:04 p.m. Holden’s sick. Vomited all over his crib. Soaked pajamas, runny nose, dinner all over his pillow. That little round facing looking up at me with hazel eyes full of  tears.

Change clothes. Change diaper. Remove soiled blankets and pillows. Wipe face. A little Sprite. Back to bed.

Get a good night’s sleep.

“BLAH.” Splatter. “Wahhh!”

Repeat for the next eight hours. Until I found myself cradling my two-year-old boy inside his crib with the few blankets left that were clean. Rubbing his forehead and humming Amazing Grace. Finally asleep and sound. Until he threw up in my face.

Get a good night’s sleep? Not this girl. Not this mom. Not this person who’s trying to better herself and her family by going to graduate school but has to take an exam to get into that graduate school first.

Not this 26-year-old who wants to go to graduate school so that I can try to better the life of others by utilizing this boatload of empathy I’ve been so graciously given over the past few years.

You keep going. Going hard. With motivation, the Big Why, as we say in real estate.

8:00 a.m. Exam time.

Time to take the test I had been preparing for and devoting time and energy to. Time and time again I asked myself if it was worth all the stress. I’m the type of person who needs to work really hard because getting tested on how to take a standardized test, exactly what the GRE is testing for, doesn’t come natural to me. So I was overwhelmed at times. Because I knew that test needed to have a certain number pop up when it was all over. It needed that number to get to the place I want to go: to get to where I can be what I want to be. I needed that score to tell me that it was worth that stress. If that number wasn’t there, I was getting told, “No. You’re not going there.” A life lesson that is always so hard to accept when you come across it and try to refuse it.

Amidst the studying, I was having to compromise my priority in life. Being that best mom I could be to my little boy. Get a babysitter, go to a class, study all the time. Oh, on top of work. All of which included not spending that time with Holden. Necessary to achieve what I needed to in a score that shows I’m capable of, ultimately, helping others. Sounds great, but is it selfish? Is it selfish of me to get from point A to point B by missing time with Holden so that I can better Holden’s life in the long run? I wonder this over and over again. It’s a constant series of questions as I do so much every day.

I realize that more often than not moms these days go back to work. 6-8 weeks maternity leave I believe is the norm. In my situation, since Holden’s birth, I have tried and tried to overcompensate everything I could for Holden to feel like nothing is missing. For me to be present always. To swing from trees with him. To laugh with him. There to mold him, love him, teach him, influence him all the “right” way.  Trying to do it every minute probably has handicapped both him and I in a way, because you’re the best parent when you take care of yourself. I hadn’t done that for a while. And now, I’m trying. I’m trying because my reality is in check.

I wonder as I try to put the pieces together of how I am going to do what I want to do. “What I want to be when I grow up.” And I’m really excited about that. I’m just doing it all backwards. Backwards, though I don’t mind really. Having a child and then going back to school. However, my life began when Holden was born, so in a way, it can feel like I’m just starting.

And it keeps getting better every day. Better even when I’m elbows deep in vomit in the middle of the night before a very important test. Wouldn’t change a thing.

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