Friday, August 29, 2014

Telling stories

Today was a bad day.

Sally was up all night, still struggling with a bad cold and probably some teeth.  When Walter and Sean woke us up at 8 I was sure it was 6 or earlier. Sally woke up sad, sad, sad. She was sad while I nursed her, sad while I changed her diaper, sad while I took off her pajamas, and sad while I got her dressed. We were running so late that Sean had to take Walter in to daycare first so he wouldn't completely miss breakfast and then double back for Sally, which made Sean very late for work. I felt awful sending Sally to daycare so sick and sad. It took several tries to hand her over to Sean before she stopped clinging to and reaching for me.  I decided to go get her from daycare and then take her to work with me.  That decision meant I was running late all day, messing up both her schedule and mine for largely my own selfish reasons.  It meant that she didn't get a good nap on day when she really needed one to help with her recovery. She came with me to lunch with my colleagues and made a mess of the floor so bad I tipped 80%. I did not, however, clean up the mess. I took Sally back to daycare, further messing with her routine. Getting her in and out of her carseat was especially difficult today--lots of back-arching, screaming, and crying of real, heartfelt tears. She reached for me, with pleading eyes, begging me to take me out and nurse her, and I just persisted and insisted and made her sit in the seat, because we were running late. I was also late picking the kids up from daycare at the end of the day.  When we got home, Sally woke up very sad again, and had trouble eating because she was so phlegmy. Then I tried to give her some Advil to bring down her fever.  She cried herself into a terrible state but I persisted ... and then she retched and threw up a huge amount of phlegm and Advil (but we couldn't give her more before putting her to bed, because we don't know how much she actually ingested.) We got her out of her clothes and into the shower with me, and she was sad for most of the shower. She bit Sean once and me twice: hard.  She also decided that running toward our open and un-gate-able stairway was a great game, and alternated it with her other favorite game of putting her hands in Hank's water dish. While Sean and I took care of Sally, Walter was by himself in the kitchen, watching an endless stream of Curious George. He watched a lot of videos tonight and did almost no playing, and I had hardly any time with him at all. Perhaps because of that, Walter resisted bedtime mightily and is still awake as I write this at 9:45. He shows absolutely no sign of letting up and going to bed. Hank the Dog is worrying that we'll never be able to take him out.  I can hear Sally coughing over the monitor and I know it's just a matter of time before she wakes up and we have another night full of coughing, spitting up, rocking and crying.  And here I am ... not doing anything to catch up on all the work I need to do.

Today was a good day.

video
Sally slept in her crib all night for the first time in days.  It wasn't uninterrupted sleep, but it was better sleep for both of us than we have been getting lately. I slept quite well on the comfy bed in her room, and was glad I could open my eyes now and then to reassure myself she was OK. Walter and Sean let us sleep in until 8 am and woke us up by singing so sweetly together "Good morning! Good morning! Let's start our favorite way. Good morning! Good morning! And how are you today?"  Even when Sally is sick and sad, hearing her brother sing that song makes her smile. Sean took Walter in first so I could have some more time to get Sally ready.  It took a few tries, but eventually we asked Sally if she was ready to go to school and she told us she was by smiling and reaching for Sean to take her from me. She brightened up and I could tell she's on the mend. I asked a member of my congregation if it would be nice for me to bring Sally to visit her mom who is on hospice care, and who may be in her last days. She said that would be wonderful, so I picked Sally up from daycare and took her to visit S. S. has always loved getting visits from my kids, and it was fun to remember how Walter ran around her apartment when he was first learning to walk, and how Sally fell asleep on her shoulder when she was just 2 months old.  S. was delighted to see Sally and Sally was delighted to see S. Sally held her hand, smiled at her and talked to her in sweet baby language. Sally played with S.'s caregivers and was incredibly happy and sweet. She was sweet during lunch, too, and seemed to genuinely enjoy having some extra time with me during the day. She made my day, and the days of everyone else she encountered, a great deal brighter. When I took her back to daycare, she seemed glad to be there, too.  I found out when I picked her up that she spent some of the afternoon in room 3, where the slightly older kids fell over themselves to make her feel welcome: bringing her their favorite toys to play with, showing her how to sit in the big kid chairs.  When I picked the kids up, one of the slightly older girls helped me get her in her carseat: carefully pulling apart the straps and patting the chair gently to show Sally it was ready for her to sit down. Walter was wonderfully helpful, too, and seemed like he'd also had a great day.  He spent the whole day in dry underwear, using the potty and had no accidents.  On the way home, Sally fell asleep, so we brought her into the house in her chair so she could stay sleeping for a bit, and Walter and I had some good time just the two of us, playing his ukulele. I'd seen a neat cover of one of his favorite Peter Gabriel songs on facebook, and without telling him what I was doing I decided to show him the video. As I brought it up on my phone I whistled just a few bars of it. "Mama! That's 'Don't Give Up'! We heard that yesterday." So smart.  And also, how great is it that he can identify tunes that well and yet still refers to all times in the past as "yesterday"? He spent the rest of the evening singing the song, which is beautiful to begin with and extra beautiful when Walter sings it. When Sally threw up, I got in the shower with her and she was able to get out about a week's worth of phlegm in a relatively pleasant way.  She was still sad, though, and that's when I remembered ... my parents had left a birthday gift for her in the guest room, and said, "Give it to her when she needs a present." This was clearly the moment. I opened the card and showed her the photo of her with Umma and Baba, which they'd put in a magnetic frame. She was overjoyed, and actually clearly said, "Umma!" and a second later, "Baba!"  She gave the photo kisses and smiled and smiled. Then we opened the present: a soft baby doll with a ladybug on her outfit. Sally gave her kisses, too, and beeped her nose.  She played with the doll while we took care of her way-too-long fingernails. When we were done she grabbed the photo and the doll and headed toward the stairs to look for Umma and Baba. We redirected her, and she decided to get in her carseat, instead, so we could take her to Umma and Baba.  She sat in the seat and kissed the photo and the doll, smiling and laughing.  She ran over to Walter and proudly showed him the photo, and then ran over to Hank and showed him, too.  She put the photo on the fridge, giddy with delight. Walter and Sally brushed their teeth together and then went into Walter's room for stories.  I'm usually getting Sally to bed while Sean reads to Walter, so this was a treat for me: Walter sat on my lap while I read Go, Dog, Go to him and he amazed me with his knowledge of opposites and prepositions. I also got to read him the Sleepy Bear book I used to read to him before Sally was born, and he snuggled in very close and did all the interactive parts with me. Then I helped Sally get to sleep.  She was still feeling better than she has been lately and pretty wired. We nursed, and then I rocked with her and sang her lullaby. She reached for her windchime and was so happy when I lifted her up to start it chiming. She fell very fast asleep in my arms, and even though she's coughed a few times, she hasn't woken up yet.  I went into Walter's room where he was watching the original video for "Don't Give Up" with Sean.  I got a wonderful goodnight kiss and hug from him. He asks us to pick him up when we hug him, and so we get to hold him extra close as we do, and marvel at his long legs and strong arms. He gives sweet kisses, leaning in and closing his eyes. "A hug," he says.  "Can you pick me up? Now, a kiss." He cried as we left his room and tried several stalling techniques.  He left his room at one point and came upstairs; we let him sit in bed with us for 15 minutes, snuggling in between us while I worked on this post and Sean watched Rick Steves' Europe. I transcribed some of Walter's patter as I typed. He talked a little bit about his imaginary friend, Bobby. "Bobby and I write sometimes at work. I told you that yesterday! We watch TV sometimes, too. But Bobby doesn't like TV. Hmmmm.  Um, Mama? (Sigh) Sometimes I work at my work. (To the TV.) They are making pasta. They are on a boat, Mama. I love you, Mama.(snuggle.)" When Sean took him downstairs Walter cried and knocked his chair over a few times, but eventually went to sleep, much to the relief (literally) of Hank the Dog.  I'd gotten the idea for this post while I nursed Sally, and it feels wonderful to take the time to write something I don't have to write.
Take me to the people in this picture!

Like most little kids, I had a tenuous grasp on the difference between fact and fiction.  It's fun to see that in Walter, now, as his imagination develops along with his language skills. I blurred the lines between truth and invention well into fifth grade, when one of my best friends, R., called me on it. She didn't call me a liar, though. She said, "Oh, Annie. You're telling stories again.  You're always telling stories." It took me some time to figure out if she meant that as a good thing or a bad thing.  I decided it was a bad thing, at least in the way I'd been doing it.  I worked hard to direct and contain my storytelling toward fiction writing and other intentionally creative pursuits, and learned, in all other contexts, to tell the truth, even when it was uncomfortable or boring to do that.

Like most adults, though, I know now that truth itself is pretty subjective, and the stories we tell (and don't tell, and the way we tell them) shape and construct our reality.  Depending on how I tell it, today was either bad (relatively) or good (relatively).  The truth is that it was something that can't be captured that easily, not even in this post (possibly one of the longest and most tediously detailed I've ever written.)

This past weekend we went to a bluegrass festival, and a woman a little older than my parents engaged us in conversation.  Her name was Suze and she was wearing head-to-toe tie dye and hippie-style headbands that looked pretty authentic.  She complimented us on our parenting and also gave quite a lot of parenting advice.  Then, as Sean chased after Walter, she leaned in close to me and started telling me stories about my kids and their futures.

"What's your little girl's name?" She asked. "Sally! Sally will make a lot of money. She may have a few divorces, too. She'll dress in red and black, with some white accents. And gold jewelry ...just gold, she shouldn't waste her time with silver. Walter, if he doesn't find the right woman ... I'm assuming he's hetero ... I see him with a good dog, like a labrador, as his companion. Walter will always be steady for you. Sally will be your challenge, but she'll be successful." Then she giggled.  "I hope I'm right!" I told her, based on what I know of my children so far, that she might be.  Later on she introduced me and Sally to her husband, who was pleased because he has a sister named Sally; she's a dentist living in the Twin Cities (I didn't ask if she'd had a few divorces, too.)  Suze asked what Sally's middle name is.  "Joan?!  Ohhhh ... she'll have an interesting and successful life!"

Adults who tell stories like this intrigue me.  I wonder about their powers of observation and intuition, and the way they notice so much more than most of us do.  For example, most of the people at the festival assumed Sally was a boy, because she was dressed all in blue boy's clothes that day.  Suze listened to us talking and paid attention enough to know that she's a girl.  Most people don't do that. 

But the real gift Suze gave me was reminding me that my kids have their own stories. Right now, I'm constructing their narratives, and I have a pretty great amount of control over what they'll remember and what they'll know of themselves at this point in their lives. But that's not always going to be the case, and that's a good and scary thing. Someday, Sally might read this post and Suze's story and think, "Well, everything else she predicted is true ... I guess my first couple of marriages are doomed to fail." Or she might think, "That's ridiculous. That hippie lady can't tell me what to do." (I think the latter is more likely, based on Sally's personality at one year old.) Either way, God and Sally are at work on her story, and my role in writing it will be greatly diminished as time goes on. Likewise, I really hope Walter finds the right woman (or man ... I make no assumptions) even though canine companions are wonderful, and labradors especially so. But I don't get to decide that, either.  

That's not my story to tell. 

In the meantime, though, I'm going to keep telling stories.  At some point, Walter and Sally will combine my narrative with their own narratives and come up with something new.  

It should be pretty good.  They come from a family of storytellers, after all.

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