Does Holden Have a Dad?

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That curious little boy with bright eyes and bedhead standing face-to-face with Holden (with his own bright eyes and bedhead) looked up and asked me that this morning at Pre-K drop off.

I noticed my instant reaction was full of thoughts. Conclusions already made. He already knows the answer to that one. He knows Holden is somehow different than the others in this class when it comes to his family. It’s already starting… at four-and-a-half. Here we go.

My head replayed instances where this young child did most likely already see Holden with his step-dad, knowing that he had one.

Did I immediately come to conclusions because that’s where I’m comfortable? To jump ahead and not allow any other possible explanations. Couldn’t it just be mere childhood and innocent curiosity? Because I am the only one who brings Holden to school day after day; that’s all this young child had seen as of recent, anyway. And in actuality, I’m sure there are other children in his class that come from step-families as well. But maybe not.

It was easier to jump to those conclusions alright. Especially since Holden has been bringing home some language lately that I know has NOT been introduced in this household (haha). Language that allows me to believe that children are far more advanced socially than one would think at almost 5-years-old.

But back to that moment. I smiled, waited for Holden to answer the question. Knowing that quite a bit of time between the two of us has been spent getting excited and packing his bag to visit his biological dad, reading books on step-dads, building separate relationships and making memories with the both of them, introducing this idea of having two dads in his life who love him very much. Something that makes his family both different and special. I felt the urge to protect him and answer the question for him, but I didn’t. And Holden didn’t answer the question either. He just stood there, taking in the question. Wondering, I’m sure, how to answer. Does he really know that all this makes him different? It’s all he really knows. And maybe he wasn’t thinking about it at all, either. Holden doesn’t love to answer questions anyway. I think that’s his stance on being the only child. He has been picking and choosing which questions to answer and whose questions to answer (since there have been a lot of them- both people around and questions) since he was a baby. I didn’t force this one either.

And within seconds, they started to giggle, hugged, and were off and engaging in something else. Wrestling on the floor, building blocks, painting, name-writing, playing with arts-and-crafts. Off to play and learn. I so anticipate that red folder that comes home at the end of the day with all of his creations made of construction paper, glue, markers, and love.

I already knew that I can’t protect my child. There will be a lot out of my control. There is a lot out of my control already. And this is just the beginning. The beginning of social influences that might begin to open Holden’s eyes to the ways in which he is different from his friends. Being the child in a step-family won’t be the last way either. For this particular topic though, Holden will decide how he wants to answer that question the next time it’s asked, but for now he chose not to. And it might not have to be so complicated. It was so darn early in the morning after all. It takes him a few hours to wake up, to get his wheels rollin’. I struggle to slide his uniform on day after day, as his body instantly morphs into a 46-pound limp noodle at sunrise. “My legs don’t work this early!” as he throws himself on the floor pretending to cry. It’s only when he starts to play does he really wake up. And then he’s off to learn, through school, and through his “fwiends” even more.

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The day will come

I took Holden to see Inside Out over the weekend. After Kick and Holden returned home from the first all-boys/men camp sleepover with 5 boys under the age of 5 and their dads. The trip consisted of fishing, four-wheelers, BB guns, pillow fights, and body odor. You know, “man” stuff. All and all, it was a great weekend, especially for Holden.

Upon returning home, Holden was a crabby mess of course. Exhausted from the excitement and stimulation. I was aware of my own annoyance as I couldn’t wait to have my sweet boy in my arms hugging me and indulging me in all the adventures he had been on over the past 24 hours. Telling me stories. The minute he walked in he had to show me the details of his Red Ryder that had been in the closet since Kick had presented to him at his 2nd birthday party. It had finally been the time to wipe the dust off and put it to good use. He showed me where you look to aim, how to shoot it, and the little switch around the barrel. His mouth moved a mile a minute.

But then, he took a turn. Eyelids heavy, he refused my wish for him to take a bath. For me to wash him from the stench of that boy smell. The combination of sweat, dirt, urine, and McDonald’s breakfast. Through one ear and out the other my words went, not even a glance to my eyes letting me know he was merely listening. The voice within my heart saying, “All I wanted to do was spend quality time with my child AFTER I clean him up, and right now he doesn’t want a thing to do with me nor does he respect me!” (I think I’ve told you before, I’m anal.) This thought was on repeat. Anxiety rising. I’m aware of it.

Well, he took that bath alright. He put up a good fight at first but only to succumb when the effect of the boys’ weekend was too much to bear- the itch to the back of the underpants. “My bum hoits,” he tells me. Translation: my bum hurts. His speech delay is still lingering after 2 years of therapy- the odd pairing of a Boston accent and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yeah, not much hygiene present during this outdoor rendezvous.

Alas, bathed, clean, smelling good. No more bum hoiting. Off to the movie we went. As a budding therapist, I couldn’t wait to witness the mental health aspects of this children’s movie! I had read the articles and anticipated all that I had been learning over these past two years in graduate school in color on the big screen. Holden and I have been talking about each emotion that we had seen in previews. His favorite? Anger, “because he gets vewwy mad!”

Much more than the flowery, exaggerated, and totally missed by all children plot line (other than the adventure these characters/emotions go on) was the theme of how each emotion serves a purpose in your well being. At the end of the movie (read no further if you haven’t seen it and want to be surprised), Sadness finally gets to feel important- she’s the character that solves the challenge in order to get the little girl “fixed”. When I interpret its depth, sadness does serve a function in everyone’s life. Without acknowledging this emotion as legitimate and giving it some attention, we fall off balance. We change. We find ourselves behaving in ways that don’t align with our values. We’re conflicted. It’s so very internal.

Much more than this takeaway and all its excitement (I could talk about that for hours) though, were the the thoughts I have as a mother. Some kind of inspiration within me. The little girl, 11, was going through transitions in the movie. Memories kept, different emotions taking precedence over them. Stored, then. The memories served to function the different personality islands, or “traits” as I saw them. I was reminded that Holden will only be a child for a very small part of his life. A child that needs to fill up his “Goof Ball” island, his “Family” island, “Friendship” island, and any other island he takes to, feeds, and builds up. Before any other more serious islands come to fruition (Girlfriends, Social Skills, School Pressure, etc.). He should be living in silliness, napping when dirty, getting stinky with the boys. Letting his bum get itchy. BEING A CHILD!

The day will come when it’s no longer cool to come home to Mommy, express his excitement, and fill me in on his adventures.

The day will come when a girlfriend is way more important to fill in on all his thoughts.

The day will come when it won’t be cool to give me a kiss and do our secret motion from Little Rascals where you wiggle your fingers under your chin to each other and say goodbye at the door.

So, for right now, I’m going to make an effort to put anal mom-mode on the back-burner. Let the kid be a kid. (I thought I was doing this already, and maybe I do it often, but it’s nice to get re-reminded.) Indulge in childhood wonderment. Before his memories are stored in shadows, before emotions other than Joy resonate with how he sees and feels the world, before he cares too much about things other than what he gets to see today and who he gets to play with and what he gets to play and what he will learn today and how much time can be spent dancing, before it’s no longer the best part of his day to open his lunchbox and see the shapes I cut his sandwich in, and before he knows a little something about what it’s like to be any kind of adult much sooner than I would hope he would.

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To my son’s step-dad on Father’s Day

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Today is your first “official” Father’s Day. The first day we can celebrate you as a step-father to Holden since we’ve been married shortly less than one year ago. A special day indeed as we are spending it together, and I will love and cherish the moments. Usually we don’t have this. For some reason there was a level of understanding this weekend, further healing.

No one asked you to be here, but here you are.

You’re here, and it’s also much more than that.

You’re his heart, his guide, his protection, his stability, his home. His Kick.

No doubt, something special exists between the two of you. He shows his love for you in all the ways he knows how, for a wild-haired and bright-eyed four-and-half year-old. You’re the one that gets the most affection- the most spontaneous touches, the hugs, the snuggles. He gravitates towards you. He needs to be around you. Hugging your leg. Sitting on your lap. Laying his head on your shoulder.

In a candy store, he picks up a box of Good & Plenty’s. “Can we get these for Kick?” he asks knowing you like them. You’re on his mind.

His eyes watch you, follow you. Waiting for the moment your eyes match his. He smiles knowing you see him. Hoping you’re proud of him. Then quickly glimpses at me to make sure I saw the connection. He focuses on you. Mainly. Always you.

You stand tall and firm. He dances and bobbles around you. Lives in his childhood wonderment and returns to you.

You let him in just enough, and he lets you in fully. You’re teaching him a steady balance of vulnerability and boundaries.

And for right now, You’re the only one whose disappointment or discipline upsets him. He takes it, learns from it. All it takes is a few stern words. It’s as if there’s some magic or power behind that deep voice that speaks his language.

He wants to do what Kick does. Shoot a bow-and-arrow, go fishing. Often times when we’re not with you, he doesn’t hesitate to remind me, “That’s what Kick does!”

“Hey, Kick!” resounds off the walls in our home.

It replaces “Hey, Dad!”

I often wonder what it’s like to be in your shoes. Not being given the title “Dad” for the presence, the love. Not getting to be totally acknowledged by the word. Because that’s exactly what it is, a privilege, a recognition for all that you do for him, for us. I feel that way about being called “Mom” at least. Every time I hear that little voice say it, I think about the preciousness. I would imagine some pain exists below the surface not hearing that little voice say it, though we all know the magnitude of your involvement in his life. “Hey, Kick!” does resonate own sweetness.

I think back to the time Holden was a few months old… a year old… a year and a half. The word “Dad” couldn’t leave my mouth alone, without tears… without anguish. My voice quivered.

Time heals. Much later than that we began to read books at bedtime on Dad’s and Step-Dad’s. I was strong enough then to say the word “Dad” aloud, around the time Holden was able to speak. Partly because I knew I needed to do it for him, but because you instilled within me some kind of strength also. A team effort.

One day Holden will decide what he wants to call you. When he has developed enough to fully understand. To make decisions. To use what you’ve given to him. To hear the word “divorce” and make sense of the world. Of his life. Of his relationship with you.

For now, he loves his Kick. In this moment. All day today. And that’s what he knows.

Something Right

His eyes are fighting to stay open. Lids are working hard but surrender. His breathing becoming heavier and heavier. His body remains heavy. His fatty hand lies limp on my shoulder. Nose to nose. He’s wearing his fire-truck jammies tonight.

Bodies facing each other. The only thing that lies between us is his minion… his t-rex… his ninja turtle… his olaf… his silky blankie… his water cup.

The humming of frogs and crickets echo outside his bedroom window.

I find my own eyes fighting to stay open too. Drifting away, but coming back. My songs have gotten slower, less pronounced. Though I find myself to be one of the world’s worst singers, he insists on me singing him songs every night. The batman theme song is at the top of his list these days.

He was up at 6 a.m. today. On a Saturday morning. Ready to go, play, explore. I’m tired, exhausted. Foggy from staying up late studying for my graduate exam coming up shortly. Up with the dogs early. Fifteen hours later, after a busy day of just being a kid, is tuck-in time. The day consisted of monster-hunting, swimming, laughing, playing, crying, fighting, and boo-boos. “Lay wiff me, mommy,” he pleads. His eyes hopeful and tearing up.

How often I’ve turned down this request. To study. To write another countless paper. “Mommy has to do homework.” He tells me “okayyy” with a quivering mouth in disappointment. The nights of being let down add up inside but every time he asks, his hope rises to the same level.

It takes constant effort to minimize my own anxiety, my own worries about crossing off the to-do list, being productive in the limited amounts of time I have for myself. It is doable though. Controllable. To just say no to myself and to be there, be present. Aligning my breathing pattern with his. Trace my fingertips across that big forehead he got from his mom. Admire the innocence, wonderment, pureness of him. Be aware of the love I have for this child of mine. Remind myself this is why everything.

It’s in these moments, not when I am crossing off the unending list that cycles my anxiety, that I know I’m doing something right. While I am there with him. Know I’m doing something to comfort him, inspire him, love him. Let him in, and him let me in. When he’s not hiding under the dining room table yelling, “you’re not my best friend anymore!” in response to me saying we can only play tag one more time (after about 13 rounds) because it’s bedtime.

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My Moo-mie

Unfortunately the blog has taken the back seat since graduate school began in August. Still working on balancing it all out… but I hope to get back in full swing over the holiday season as I still have lots to share!

I thought I would post this in the meantime for some entertainment. I know it’s a broken record, for all that I’ve been promoting on this site, but it sort of wraps up where Holden and I were and are now in a matter of minutes. A recent project for school that was relevant.

So without further ado, I give you my movie. Or “moo-mie” as Holden would say.

Revelation

I was informed of something yesterday. Something I knew I would have to face in the future and had been prepared to do for quite some time. Something I may have even been looking forward to? Only, once being informed of it, it had been 2 years in the making.

Revelation.

Makes more sense now in the eyes of retrospect.

All this time I didn’t know. Feeling somewhat deceived, but in a much different way this time. Suppressing the all-too-familiar anxiety-ridden symptoms I battled with in my past. During this particular past, what I had found out about (yesterday) was in full swing ahead. Shock.

Something that started way earlier than I would have expected, but something I found out about way later than I expected.

Coping strategies are in place now for being thrown curve balls these days. This sure was one, a big one. And I’d imagine it will be for some time, being it’s been in place now for 2 years. It will continue to be in place.

An impending threat? Not really.

Just an adjustment, I guess. An openness, again, that I had been prepared to have. Only having to somehow conceptualize that it’s been taking place already. That there is and has been presence in Holden’s life that I didn’t know about.

How difficult it is for me to pull down the guard around him as a mother I work so hard to keep in place… knowing it hasn’t been present in certain situations for all this time. How vulnerable I need to be. When Holden is away from me, I have to let go of it. Let him be, let him learn, let him explore.

Until he’s back in my arms. Pull the guard right back up again.

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My eyes couldn’t have opened wider. I asked myself if I was hearing him correctly. What I knew I had right was the confidence in his proclamation. He knew exactly what he was saying in response to, “What’s your name?”

Self-identity goes just far enough in the mind of a two-and-a-half-year old. Lately, Holden has been on a tell-everybody-your-name kick. He’s so proud of his name, Holden Brooks– who he is. He also recognizes his name, points out the letters and yells “me!”

The hold-up here is that his speech isn’t all there just yet, as I’ve alluded to in past posts. See Crocs. We are working on it.

Mom says his language parallels the sounds of the minions from Despicable Me. I, however, argue it’s a mix of a Boston accent and a lisp. Given his pronunciation of Ernie, “UHH-NIE” or Tigers, “TI-GAATH!”

I will not post the numerous videos of this recent development. I’d imagine it would cross that fine line of child exploitation, never my intention. But what I will do is show him these videos years from now. Years and years and years from now, when he can understand what he was saying.

Replace the E with an H in his pronunciation of Ernie. And you get my son, “HUHH-NIE BROOKS,” or… Horney Brooks.

Sometimes the D finds it’s way in there somehow, but sometimes not. If you didn’t know his name was Holden, it is definitely Horney. If you did know his name was Holden, it sort of sounds like it, but not really.

So that’s why we’re not gonna be sharing his new trick with any strangers. However, we are enjoying his pride in proclaiming his name for now.

When Papa asks him his name, “Horney Brooks!”

When he goes to put his name badge in the cup at school to check in, “Horney Brooks!”

When he sees a picture of himself, “Horney Brooks!”

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Water your roots

I love kids for their honesty. In the simple mind of a child, there’s no room for lying. No convoluted, deliberate intentions to sway a word or a story one way or another. Imagination yes, but raw honesty in its best form. The way a child makes sense of something and spits it out makes for a great moment. We could all be a tad bit happier if we followed the honesty of a child, I’d argue.

Kids just say it how it is. Especially when it comes to your imperfections.

Like the one time when we were all kids, three under the age of four. (Before my youngest brother came along 8 years later!) My oldest brother told my mom that her hair roots needed watering. Why wouldn’t mom’s roots work just like a plant? And why would mom look in the mirror with three kids under the age of four?

So too does Holden display this honesty. He has always been upfront with me. Before he could even talk. I pulled him out of the crib one morning last summer. His eyes almost cross-eyed. Zeroed in on my right cheek with a confused smirk. The finger pointed. “DAAAAT!” (“Dat” meaning “that.”) He was pointing to the zit on my cheek.

Nowadays we have more vocabulary. Nowadays we have more understanding. Any blemish he finds on my face he asks, “boo-boo?” He asks this time around with empathy. Because he has three mosquito bite boo-boos on his legs. He brings me his kids anti-itch stick.

What’s funny is that Holden wouldn’t point out these types of things on anyone else. Just to people he’s comfortable with. However, like his mama, his face and body language can be read like a book. We aren’t too good at hiding things, us two.

We are still working on his speech, still going to therapy. I can’t wait to hear the things that come out of his mouth that I can tell he’s thinking about. Can’t wait to hear the words come together that make everything make sense in the mind of a two-and-a-half year old. I can take his honest facial expressions and a few syllables for now.

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Dynamics

I had just put Holden down for his nap. Closed the door behind me when I heard it. The subtle tune being sung in the room next door. I waited outside and leaned my back against the wall and slowly dropped to sit. Closed my eyes and just listened to the song. He was singing to his own baby, caressing him to sleep in Daddy’s arms. In my head I’m thinking “that is one blessed baby boy.”

Later on I watched as Mommy and Daddy went about their day, their routine. Taking turns at changing diapers. Simultaneously entertaining him and playing with him. Loving on him always.

Never once did I hear the words, “you just do it better,  so can you do it?”

This past weekend Holden and I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with some dear friends of mine. I was there to see every minute of their day, their life. The day we left another couple we knew came to visit with their new baby also. Hearing the words this new daddy described regarding watching his wife go through labor and his life since the baby has come so deeply touched my heart that tears streamed down my cheeks. As I’m trying not to wonder how much of my hair had been pulled out so far while solely manhandling my busy Holden this weekend. I wanted to thank them all for laying out right in front of me examples of what I have to look forward to in a family culture.

They seemed to have the parenting thing down, these couples. Young parents, like me. They knew their responsibilities, were in tune with the right kinds of feelings. And every minute I could witness their want to do it. No matter the task at hand, any one of these four parents was willing to put forth the effort.

I realize there are different dynamics and roles with every family, every pair of parents. Not every day or moment adjusting is a happy one. I know this too. Not every minute is there that want. Everyone experiences good and bad days. Parenting is both deeply miserable and extraordinarily rewarding all in one. And more often than not, these oxymorons of emotions can be experienced every single minute of the day.

What I left with though was refreshing. A proof that this whole parenting thing isn’t as difficult as people make it to be (as I make it to be usually). Especially when there are two parents. Two who are on the same page for the majority. Two who complement each other as partners in priorities and decision making. Two parents who have molded their own family dynamics themselves and stick to them.

And what Holden left with was a head full of static from the neighborhood playground slide.

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“School”

I ask him who he made it for and he smiles from ear to ear. With a drawn out and happy “Maaaammmmaaaa!” Eyes squinted.

He’s so proud of the dried-noodle necklace he made for me at his “school.” Green, orange, and yellow. (Holden says “geen, oress, wewwow.”) His favorite colors of the week. He got to bring it home last Friday. I unhinged it hanging from his wooden clothespin beneath his cubicle. This is where all his art hangs to dry. I anticipate seeing what the clothespin displays every day I pick him up. A finger painting, a jelly-fish made with crate paper, a glittery hermit crab.

That noodle necklace though, that’s what got me. He’s so proud to show me that he made it for me. And I couldn’t be more proud either. Wore it the whole way home.

Normally I peep through the window and see how and what he’s doing before opening the door when I pick him up. I would pay to be a fly on that wall all day long. Watch him play, dance, share, paint. Interact with others, his “frens” he says.

I wanted to wait to write a post on Holden’s new school after he transitioned. I knew the first few weeks were an adjustment period, and I didn’t want to declare anything out of impulse- whether he likes it or not, whether or not I was doing the wrong thing. He’s been there now almost two months.

And he loves it.

This past year, Holden had been at a two-mornings-a-week Mother’s Day Out program. It was perfect for him, the age he was. The extent of which he could be away from me. (The extent of which I could be without him, rather.)

I was excited to be informed Holden got a spot into this school. As many schools go in our area, a baby hits the waiting list as an embryo. There was a spot open for him to begin in June, two months before I would begin graduate school. The best thing that could happen. He would have time to transition into this new routine before he absolutely had to go. (Before I needed him to go… Wah.)

That’s what I feel guilty about. No, he doesn’t need to be there right now. But I needed him to be happy there before I started school myself. Holden is and will always be my priority. His well-being is what the majority of my mind thinks about 24/7.

Holden has always done real well with a routine, ever since his infancy. As he suffered so badly from reflux, his routine was how I kept him the most sound. So it’s not surprising that an important routine in his life as a toddler usually delivers one happy boy. To know what to expect. We started a routine.

Holden wakes up. “Mama? Mama!” comes from his room. I already have his breakfast waiting on the coffee table. I open more his already-opened door. “Holden? Holdennn? Is there a Holden in here?” He’s hiding under his blanket. I check the closet, look in his drawers. Bend to look under his bed. Wait a few seconds. Attack him- usually in the thigh. “THERE HE IS!” He chuckles deeply. Gets him every time. And by every time I mean every.single.morning. Routine.

“Pup?” he asks. This means milk of course, my hand is already extended to give him his cup. We usually watch Elmo, chase the dogs around, eat a little breakfast and his orange vitamin before we hop in the car and head to school.

Pass by an apartment complex with its big Leasing sign outside. The street is usually decorated with balloons. Holden pauses from watching Elmo or Barney in the car so we can pass each balloon and say the colors.

Geeeen…

Boooo…

Weddd…

Orrreesss…

Puh-puh…

“All gone!” he concludes. Just a few streets away. At this point he tells me what color snoball he would prefer when I pick him up. The little prince. Another routine… I have to have a cup of milk and a snoball waiting for him in the car. A snoball in the mind of my two-and-a-half year old means that school is over for the day. It’s conditioned him to know that I will be there at the end of the day, when he tells me in the morning which color he wants then.

He has to open the fence gates himself as we make our way to his class room. If a teacher catches Holden opening the gate himself they will say, “No Holden. Only Mommies, teachers, and Daddies open gates, okay?” So I keep a look out for them, those teachers. The ones in red t-shirts. Let my baby open his gates. (Disclaimer: I love the teachers there.)

We get to his door and he shoots straight for the cubicle that holds the cell phones to play with (to put in his pocket for the whole day). If the kids aren’t all seated eating their morning snack that is. If that’s the case Holden sits himself down in his spot at the table and awaits a yummy treat.

One drop-off last week deemed disaster. Holden went to where the cell phones should have been when, unbeknownst to him the cell phones had a new location! He ran right back to me with an empty pocket on the shirt he demanded he needed to wear that day (for the pocket). His face turned bright red, frowned and started crying. “All gone?” he cried to me with his hand flipped up like there was nothing else to do about it. Then, his teacher showed him where the cell phones were and he was good to go from there.

It’s during the routined cell-phone search or snack that I sneak out the door. I wait outside and close my eyes. Make sure he’s not crying and screaming like the few weeks in a rows’ mornings leading up to his comfort in getting dropped off.  I know he’s going to have a great day. He’s going to be busy, he’s going to have fun.

It’s been harder on me than him, this new school. That’s for sure. I knew he would like it being the busy, physical, social boy he is. Not to mention, he’s not around other kids that much. And I’m definitely an advocate for him to be around other kids. Every child is different, and for Holden, school is a good thing. Time to be with other kids, time to share, time to listen, time to learn. And most importantly, time to play.

And time to make noodle-necklaces for his mommy. Something to give me for when I pick him up. He knows I will be back for him. I always will.

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