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  • The View-Master

    July 3, 2009

    I wrote this in April and set it aside.

    * * * *

    These days, life seems to click past from weekend to weekend, holiday to holiday, school year to school year.  It is as though I am seeing my life through a View-Master.  With the click of the thumb, one season disappears from view and is replaced with another.  And then another, and another.

    It is April. In another month or so, the school year will be over and we’ll look forward to lazy summer days, swimming and popsicles.  Click.  Then Father’s Day.  Click. Then Independence Day.  Click. And then Labor Day.  Click. And then back to school again.

    I was almost 39 when we married and AD was 42.  We were both on the dark side of 40 when Sean came along.  And perhaps because we are older or because we came to parenthood in the 11th hour, time is the filter which sifts the meaning out of the mundane for us.  Time is our most precious and finite resource and informs our every thought.

    The other day I watched a young woman in the grocery store pushing a cart with her baby in the seat.  I watched her stop the cart and lean in to rub noses with her baby and coo sweet round syllables to her.  I estimated her to be about 25 and I thought about how if she lives to be 80, she will get 55 years with her baby.  And I was a little envious.

    If I’m lucky enough to live to be 80, I will get 36 years with my child.  I am so grateful that I ever got to be a mom. I am grateful for every single day, even the days when I cry and complain about how hard it is because I know that no matter how many years I get, in the closing moments of life as I am ushered off  into the shadow of death, if I wish for anything at all, it will be more time.

    This right-now season that fills the frame of the View-Master, is especially vibrant and crisp and golden.  My eyes want to linger here, to stay just a little bit longer…

    Click.

    Cuter

    June 16, 2009

    “He’s cuter than he used to be.”

    This was a comment that I overheard recently at a family gathering. When I realized the speaker was referring to my son, I laughed involuntarily. Not a belly laugh, but a sniff of disbelief as though I were trying to expel a gnat from my nose. Cuter than he used to be! Absurd.

    Her words seeped into the spongy part of my brain that processes and analyzes. I was surprised when I started to feel a little indignant. What exactly did she mean by that? That Sean wasn’t cute to start with but was just now approaching entry level cute? She was obviously unaware that the nurse in the delivery room had pronounced him “too cute” at birth. Too cute — too, as in unbearably cute, a level of cuteness that could not be tolerated, criminally cute. A professional nurse would not lie about something as serious as that.

    It was the first time that it had ever occurred to me that there might be someone on the earth who didn’t see Sean as I do – that someone might actually think that he is not cute, but just average, just so-so. I was astonished.

    As conversations about cousins, weather and jobs rose and fell and floated around the room, I held the expression of someone who was listening intently. I nodded and said things like “Is that right? You don’t say” all while diagramming those six words in my head. Cuter than he used to be.

    What if she were right? What if I was mistaken and Sean wasn’t catalogue cover cute? I kneaded this idea like a cat atop a velvet pillow. Silently, purposefully, obsessively pushing, pushing. Would it be so bad if my kid wasn’t cute or would it just be bad that I was so blind?

    As I pondered these things, I recalled that it was just the other day that Antique Daddy and I were looking through some early photos of Sean and we both agreed, and even laughed about how deluded we were. We didn’t remember him looking so goofy. We didn’t remember that his head looked like a big bald happy toothless bowling ball attached to drunken rag doll body. We thought he was too cute.  And in our eyes,  he was too cute – so stunningly and unbearably cute that we could do little else but sit around and look at him and sigh.

    It turns out that he is cuter than he used to be. And I am even more blindly in love with him than I used to be.

    * * * *

    This post was originally published in June of 2006.  Every season Sean is cuter than he used to be and his daddy and I are astonished at how much more in love with this child we are than we used to be. We didn’t think it was possible.

    Learning To Let It Go

    June 9, 2009

    Several months ago Sean had his friend Marlee over to play.  I banished them out to the backyard where they had a terrific time collecting poor unsuspecting roly poly bugs, dragging all the toys out into the yard, playing in the sandbox and digging up what would be my flower beds if I ever get around to putting in seasonal color. Unlikely.

    At one point, I looked out the back windows to check on them and they were hauling sand from the sandbox up to the house and pouring it all over the stone path and the patio.  So I opened the door and asked them not to do that and to please keep the sand in the vicinity of the sandbox.

    And that was that.  I never gave it another thought.  Not one.

    Yesterday, I’m sitting at my desk working on my computer, and out of the wild blue yonder, Sean comes to me and puts his hand on my leg, his sign that he needs to tell me something.  I stop typing and turn and look at him.  He has his shirt on backwards and there is evidence of a blue Popsicle on his face.  My heart stops momentarily when I realize that I had a hand in this marvelous creation.

    “Mom,” he says seriously, “There is something you need to know.”

    I look at him and widen my eyes to indicate that I am all ears.

    “Remember when Marlee came over and we were in the backyard?”

    “Yes.”

    “Well, it was her idea to take the sand out of the sandbox.”

    I blink slowly and widen my eyes again to indicate I’m waiting for the rest of the story.

    He looks at me with wide blue eyes and blinks.

    I blink back and wait for context.

    “And?” I finally ask.

    “I just wanted you to know that.”

    As I look into his face that is mine, I was impressed with his terrific memory and baffled that he would carry around an obscure meaningless event and then dredge it up for no obvious reason.

    God help this child, he is just like his mother.

    Then I blinked again and wondered how to teach him not to hang on to this kind of stuff, how to teach him the fine are of letting go.

    This Boy

    May 25, 2009

    Photobucket

    This here is a boy after my own heart.

    We love art and words and cooking and taking pictures and telling stories and clouds and collecting leaves and rocks and silliness and hanging out together doing nothing.

    And I want to do as much of that as possible with this boy before he grows up and has a change of heart.

    The Kindergarten Mat

    May 8, 2009

    When Sean was about two, I bought him one of those kindergarten mats at Walmart.  I’m sure you know the kind I’m talking about:  plastic, red on one side and blue on the other, folds into fours.  If you are like me, you probably had one yourself when you were in kindergarten. And that is exactly the reason I bought it — because I had one. Nostalgia, pure and simple. That and impulse.

    Be that as it may, we have had that mat for three years now and so far it has not once been used as mat upon which to nap.

    The first year we had it, the mat was a ticket booth. Sean would set it on its edge into a square. He would then stand inside the square and alternately take and sell invisible tickets, just like a little scalper. Over the course of any afternoon I would buy and redeem hundreds of tickets. I was a loyal and enthusiastic customer.

    The next year, the mat was a boat. He would lay it out on the breakfast room floor and spend hours outfitting it and laying in supplies for the journey – a tiny lawn chair with a built-in umbrella, Goldfish, sippy cup of milk, matchbox cars, plastic animals, books — you know, all the seafaring necessities. And then he and I would set sail for far away places.

    This year the kindergarten mat is a surf board. He puts it on top of the coffee table and hangs ten.  I stand on the back and shoo the sharks away.

    And now, this school year is about to come to a close.  In September he will start kindergarten.

    And maybe then, the kindergarten mat will be a kindergarten mat.

    The Laundry Sink

    February 5, 2009

    I was standing at my laundry sink the other day cleaning mud off of Sean’s shoes when AD came in and asked me what I was doing. We stood there and chatted for a few minutes as I scrubbed.

    He remarked that he couldn’t remember the last time we bathed Sean in the laundry sink.  I stopped to think for a minute and I couldn’t remember either.  The season of laundry sink baths had quietly slipped away and we didn’t even notice.

    When I brought Sean home from the hospital he weighed four pounds and I was, for the most part, terrified of him.  He was just so little and scrawny and I didn’t seem to have any natural mothering instincts the first few weeks.

    One of the scariest things to me as a new mother, other than trimming those itty bitty fingernails, was bathing him.  I couldn’t find any place in our house conducive to bathing a little four pound humanoid.

    Leaning over the bathtub just didn’t work for me. For one thing I had this incision across my belly and even after that healed it hurt my back and knees to lean over the tub. It was just an uncomfortably awkward position that seemed to fight against my center of gravity and made bath time joyless.

    I tried using the little baby bathtub on the kitchen counter and even on the vanity in my bathroom, but our counters are extra tall and I’m not extra tall.  When you add the height of the baby tub and a slippery wet baby, it just felt terrifyingly precarious — not at all relaxing and serene as they show in the Johnson & Johnson ads.  There wasn’t enough room for the towels and soaps and I was always bumping something off or having to stretch to reach what I needed while keeping one hand on a squirmy wet baby while water sloshed down the front of me and the cabinets.  It made me cry big fat “I can’t do this mommy thing” tears.

    Eventually I figured out that I could set the little baby bathtub into the sink in our laundry room.   Of course, a woman bathing her baby in the laundry sink wasn’t going to make the cover of Greatest Parents Ever magazine, but it was great for my height and I could put all the stuff I needed on the washer which was right at arms length.  Once I figured that out, we bathed him in the laundry sink all the time and bathing my baby became one of the sweetest tasks of the day for all parties concerned.

    It wasn’t long before we were bathing him in the laundry sink without the baby bathtub and then it seems that I blinked and he was sitting up by himself in the sink and then I blinked again and he was scaling the cabinet and climbing in all by himself.

    And just like a baby in the womb, he grew and grew and grew until his long legs were all tucked up under his chin when he sat in the sink.  And I guess, being the astute parents that we are, we did sort of notice every once in a while that he was getting kind of big for the laundry sink.  But mostly we saw not the long and lanky legs of a growing boy, but our baby.

    Somewhere along the way last summer he started occasionally bathing in the tub in his bathroom.  But then at some point unmarked by fanfare, it became always the tub and never the laundry sink.  And now, as I stood there scrubbing mud off his tennis shoes, I couldn’t remember the last time we bathed him in the laundry sink.

    That’s the thing with these non-Hallmark moments and milestones of childhood, there is no cake or cards to mark the occasion when something ends.  Unlike the beginnings, you only notice that you’ve moved beyond the milestone long after the fact.

    The days of babyhood blend quietly and seamlessly into childhood in weeks and months, one season folding imperceptibly into the next.  It gives me a bit of heartburn to understand that the only way to see that is from a distance.

    The season of laundry sink baths had quietly slipped away and we didn’t notice.

    We didn’t even notice.

    Or I would have baked a cake.

    Photo Temporarily Unavailable

    The Invisible Line

    January 13, 2009

    I remember the first time I heard Sean call me mom instead of mommy.  It was in the Wal-Mart parking lot.  As we got out of the car, he reached up and grabbed my hand and said in his best grown-up voice, “You better hold my hand mom, parking lots can be dangerous.”

    I remember how my ears perked up when he said mom.  It was an awakening sort of sound, like at a wedding when someone clinks a spoon on a wine glass — a sound that rises above and is out of rhythm with the other noise of life and makes you stop what you are doing and take note of the moment.

    It seemed that in that moment we crossed over an invisible line – mommy on one side and mom on the other, baby on one side and boy on the other.

    But the other day, he slipped up and he called me mommy.  He didn’t even notice it, but I did.

    And once again, it was the clear call of a tiny bell that says,  stop and listen, take note.  It was a sweet sweet sound in my ear, to be called mommy again, for the first time in a long while.

    I wanted to stand very still and savor the moment because I know I won’t be crossing back over that invisible line into babyhood again. We have gone too far.  And honestly, I don’t desire to swim against the currents of time.

    But it sure was nice to visit.

    Pine Cones and Pennies

    December 30, 2008

    If I am to be honest, I would have to say that this was not the merriest Christmas on record.  Having said that, we are well and we are fed, so it’s also not the worst Christmas on record either.

    I will not bother to whine about the particulars because I doubt that I am the only person in America who has been slapped upside the head by life lately or that my woes are worthy of mention compared to those that I know many of you are suffering.

    In addition to all that, shortly after lunch on Christmas day, my mother-in-law’s twin brother came to the backdoor unannounced.   Aunt Jean and I were in the kitchen washing up the lunch dishes when Uncle Leo appeared in the doorway.

    I could see in his face that he had come to deliver the news we had all been expecting.  “Pearl is gone,” he said quietly and matter-of-factly.  After a long illness and untold suffering, Aunt Pearl had finally yielded the pain of this life to the sweet relief of death. And I did not blame her. She was 85-years-old.

    Later that afternoon, AD and Sean and I went for a walk around the block to clear our heads and to see if we could find our misplaced merry.  The sun sparkled brightly through leafless trees and the December air was cold and cleansing; its sting felt good on my face.  AD and I walked hand-in-hand, listening to Sean chatter as he trotted ahead of us, collecting pine cones for me to carry home.

    Before we were home, I realized that next year and in the years to come,  I won’t remember the sorrows of this season, for they too shall pass.  I will only remember how Sean’s hair shimmered like a brand new penny under the winter sun and the prickly feel of a pine cone pressed into my hand.

    * * *

    What will you remember of this holiday season?

    A Children Ache

    December 28, 2008

    Every night before bedtime, and sometimes before school, Sean and AD will read at least one chapter from a book of children’s classics.

    Having gone through most of the other more exciting and well known titles, we are down to Pollyanna. But he is just as enthralled with Pollyanna as he was with The Swiss Family Robinson.

    Stepping up to chapter books like Tom Sawyer and Oliver Twist has presented many opportunities to talk about some of the more unsavory and unpleasant aspects of life.  Many of the characters are orphaned or suffer cruelty at the hands of those who should protect them.  And there is always a concern to AD and me over how much of this kind of information is appropriate for a five-year-old.

    But the thing about Sean that continually amazes us is how wise he is beyond his years and how tenderly perceptive he is about the human condition and matters of the heart.  Although we would certainly like to claim credit for that,  it’s simply the way God made him.

    If you don’t recall or haven’t read the story of Pollyanna, she is a young girl who was orphaned and goes to live with her Aunt Polly who is a cold and crusty middle-aged spinster.  Aunt Polly suffered a thwarted romance early in her life which left her bitter and she has never gotten over it.  Aunt Polly has a big house, yet she makes Pollyanna sleep in a hot, stuffy, bleak attic and in general gives Pollyanna no affection.  Nonetheless, as the story goes, it is Pollyanna’s way to see the silver lining in every gray cloud.

    At one point in the story, AD stopped reading and looked over the book at Sean who was lying in bed.  “Why do you suppose Aunt Polly is so gruff?” he asked.

    “I think she has a children ache,” Sean said quietly.

    “Oh Sean,” AD sighed, “I think you are so right. A lot of times when people are gruff on the outside, and sad or mean, it’s because they are hurting on the inside.”

    It’s true. I had a children ache once too.

    More Four. Please.

    November 6, 2008

    Yesterday afternoon, I heard a muffled scuffling banging sound coming from Sean’s room.   I somehow knew it was him hanging by one hand like an orangutan from the upper hang rod in his closet with the other hand blindly reaching, swiping and digging for something in the deep dark recesses of the closet.  I also knew that he was standing tip toe on one foot on a precariously positioned stool that was about to tip over while he balanced his other foot on the lower hang rod, all but knocking off the fall and winter clothes I had just organized and hung there the week before.

    I can’t really describe the sound to you because it’s like a dog whistle – only moms can hear it.  And when moms here this sound, their ears perk up and they think, “Rut-roh. Dats not good.”

    So I quickly dried my hands and dashed into his room where I found him in his closet hanging by one hand like an orangutan from the upper hang rod and desperately reaching for something buried in the back with the other hand.  Just like it sounded.

    “Dude, dude, dude,” I said as I pulled him off the home style uneven bars, “What are you doing?”

    “I’m looking for my pirate suit,” he said.

    I had in fact hung the pirate suit in the very back of the closet thinking he would forget all about it. It barely fit him when I bought it a month or two ago and it has since been washed and accidentally dried in the dryer.  Nonetheless, I pulled out the pirate suit and handed it to him.

    He quickly stripped down to his skivvies and wiggled into it.

    “Velcro me up matey! Will ‘ya?” he ordered, turning his back to me with his hands on his hips.

    “Aye aye Captain,” I said and then like a sales clerk in a bridal shop, I did my best to squeeze my too big customer into a too small costume, tucking and tugging, pulling and praying, coaxing the Velcro together with all my might.

    When he turned around, he was so blindingly cute that I lost my peripheral vision and the part of the brain that does math and reasoning.  I reached out to him and pulled him into my lap so we were nose to nose and was surprised when he willingly obliged. He smelled sweet and of cinnamon, like graham crackers.

    “Give your mommy a hug Captain,” I ordered him.

    He playfully pushed me to the ground and I pulled him into my chest and quickly hugged him before he tried to squiggle away.

    But he didn’t squiggle away.  Instead, he wrapped his arms around my neck, nestled into me and stayed there.

    So I laid there on the floor on my back with my arms wrapped around my 4-year-old pirate boy and watched the ceiling fan go round and round.  He twirled my hair and I ran my finger up and down the miraculous thing that is his spine and listened to him breathe. No words were spoken.  I did not want the moment to pass because I never know when it will be the last time before he will be too busy or too big to spontaneously snuggle with his mom on the floor.  Four has been sweet and funny and joyful beyond what should be legal.

    Five is on the horizon and I know it will bring its own brand of joy, but I would give just about anything for more four. Please.