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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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summer

My kind of Sexy

…is a summertime morning striptease. (It’s not what you think. Tell my husband not to get too excited.)

Summer mornings are my favorite. Especially ones like today. Do-nothing mornings — where I can sit and watch the fog drift in wisps on the silvery light — moth-wings light, lamb’s wool light, low-slung and easy.

I love to watch the sky unwind those ribbons of lambs-wool light, to slowly unwrap the earth — a long, sensual striptease revealing round, lush tree tops, and soft, dripping foliage.

The katydids swell with approval, the birds erupt in chorus, a woodpecker pulses the beat.

Somewhere amid the clover, a bee, slow from his overindulgence on nectar the night before, treads water in the liquid air. Not quite ready to start his day, not quite ready to get busy.

I get it. It’s so easy to overindulge in the potent nectar of these perfect summer days. The sun is long and tempting, and nature bursts free of her seams. She is hot and completely undone.

Gardens grow blousy with feverish growth and roadsides explode, keeping pace.

And we, as humans, we just want to imbibe. There is just so much fun to be had. Trails. Rivers. Beaches. Pools. Family. Friendship. Fireworks. Fun.

Like the wings of the hummingbirds at my feeder, summer is a blur of glittering seconds, so fast you can only see where it’s been, rarely standing still to see the up-close-and-perfect detail.

We cram action, hummingbird style, into layers and layers of summertime fun. Time is a frenzy most days.

But this morning I’m taking it slow. Because slow is my kind of sexy.

My boys — they get bored. All three of them. They like action. They like fun. And to them, sitting still and soaking it all in is a far cry from fun. So they’ve gathered up their things and taken off to the pool.

But me, I’m saddled up in this morning, eager to sit for a spell. Literally. Waiting for a spell. For creativity to light, to take up my fingers, to tickle my keyboard, and to unchain my mind.

And it takes awhile. The words appear slow, a tantalizing striptease.

Tendrils of misty promise, backlit by vision, fuzzy and opaque, flit about, flirting with my senses. Then, slivers of clarity — a single word, tweaked and pulled to a taut, perfect pearl. More coaxing ensues, until finally, big, rounded handfuls of glittering splendor are revealed. Eager and pliable. Hot and ready to couple and link.

It takes time to tease words into the light –to convince them to unveil their secrets and put themselves on full display.

And time is a frenzy most days.

But today, even the hummingbirds have slowed their windspeed. They defy their nature and perch at the feeder. Drinking deeply. Soaking in the sweet syrup of summertime.

It is — or was — a beautiful, do-nothing morning, succulent and ripe, and ready to open, to yield her secrets beneath my eager persistence.

But now. Now our time together is done. The show is over. Life demands my attention more than my words.

But as always, I’m left yearning for more. And that is my kind of sexy.

The end of school is not always a happy occasion…

We are six weeks away from the end of the school year. Six weeks away from summer. Six weeks away from unlimited sunshine and freedom. A week ago, I could hardly wait.

But then, my principal said something in a faculty meeting that really hit me. Hard.

She reminded us that graduation is approaching. And while graduation generally means the culmination of over a decade of hard work, it also generally means the culmination of childhood.

And some students are not ready for adulthood.

And some students have already had far too much adulthood. And they long for a return to their schooldays. And to innocence lost.

And believe me, there has been so much innocence lost.

I’ve taught a lot of students in my eighteen years as an educator. All teenagers, but ultimately, all still children. Children who deal with standard kid things. Like puppy love and shoe-envy and math allergies.

And, sadly, children who deal with standard adult things. Like work and money-troubles and death and pregnancy.

And tragically, children who deal with things no child OR adult should ever deal with. Things like rape and sex trafficking and addiction and suicide.

Teach for a year. Teach for a month. Teach for a day — And you will start to understand the obstacles and downright darkness surrounding some of our most vulnerable and precious of resources: our children. And the numbers are far greater than you can imagine.

I’ve taught students — children — who have been raped.

Children raped by strangers. Children raped by friends. Children raped at parties. Children raped at home. Children raped by fathers.

Children whose mothers sold their child’s virginity for a $100 meth fix.

Children coping with the trauma and shame of rape, plus the trauma and shame of family serving time for avenging that rape.

I’ve taught students — children — engaged to be married to high school sweethearts. And insanely happy about it. At sixteen. Seventeen. And I’ve taught students betrothed to men they didn’t know back in a home country they scarcely remembered. And insanely hopeless about it. At sixteen. Seventeen.

I’ve had students addicted to smart phones, to video games, to porn, to substances.

I’ve had students high in my classroom. Glassy-eyed and giggly. Or cracked out and twitchy, picking endlessly at arms, at scalps, at cheeks, at skin rupturing, crusting, rupturing again.

I’ve had students who are pregnant. I’ve had students who’ve had abortions.

I’ve had students who sleep around. Students who sleep on mattresses in kitchens, who sleep on blankets in closets, who sleep on sofas, on floorboards, in backseats

I’ve had students sleep straight through my classroom because they work all night in a factory to put food on the table for siblings.

I’ve had students sleep straight through my classroom because they stay up all night playing Fortnite to escape the reality of abuse.

I’ve had students sleep straight through my classroom because they stay up all night playing Fortnite because there is no one home to tell them to go to bed.

I’ve taught homeless students. Homeless students living with friends. Homeless students living in shelters. Homeless students living in cars.

I’ve taught hungry students. Hungry students with nothing at home to eat. Hungry students on free-and-reduced breakfast and lunch service. Hungry students who go home on Friday afternoons with backpacks full of ready-serve dinners and snacks. Full backpacks; far-from-enough.

And I’ve taught hungry students whose parents won’t fill out the paperwork. Hungry children who go home on Friday afternoons with nothing at home to sustain them at all. Not food. Not love.

I’ve taught children who’ve eaten friends’ leftover pizza and bread crusts, proffered snacks from my emergency stash, restaurant refuse, their parents’ prescription pills.

I’ve had students have meltdowns, have seizures, have medical emergencies. I’ve had students who’ve overdosed.

I’ve had students who made it. And I’ve had students who didn’t.

I’ve had students who’ve died in car accidents. I’ve had students who’ve died by suicide.

I’ve had students lose parents to cancer, to violence, to addictions.

I’ve had students whose moms are in prison for child endangerment. I’ve had students whose fathers are regularly subpoenaed for child support.

I’ve had students whose grandparents are raising them. Whose foster families are raising them. Whose siblings are raising them. Who are raising themselves.

I’ve taught students who dropped out. I’ve taught students who stayed in — but failed grades repeatedly. Not because they were incapable, but because they were in chaos.

Because school is their sanctuary. Because the classroom is their cocoon. Because at school there are adults who care. There are classmates. There is structure. There is connection.

And outside there is only darkness.

There is so much darkness in this world. So much heartache. My students’ hearts have broken a hundred-thousand times.

My own heart has broken a hundred-thousand times.

Yes, summer is coming. Graduation is coming.

But as you and your loved ones celebrate accomplishments and rites of passages and bright, shiny futures, please remember that the same cannot be said of everyone.

Because for some, the end of school means no more breakfast or lunch. No more smiles and assurances. No more illusions of normalcy.

No more safety net.

No, the end of school is not always a happy occasion.

***

Please research how you can best help young people in need in your community, your church, your neighborhood. Volunteer. Be connected. Stay connected.

How to Potty Train Twin Boys (Lord, I Wish this Were an Instruction Manual)

But it’s not. It is a desperation outlet for a mama at her wit’s end. It has been a long and arduous journey, with no clear ending in sight.

Here we are, over halfway through my teacher’s summer, and I am failing miserably at the one and only assignment on my mama to-do list (or maybe I should call it my to-doo doo list): potty training my three-year old boys.

Now I don’t want to mislead you. One boy is nearly there. He is currently wearing Captain America underpants sixteen hours a day with zero recorded accidents. (And that includes two twelve-hour road trips to Michigan and back with only two pitstops.) Why, then, you might ask, do I say “nearly there?” Because going number two is hardly a number one priority for Parker. He will hold his feces for days just to avoid the whole messy situation. And then, just when you think his intestines will perforate he quietly asks, with a sheepish twinkle in his eye, for a diaper. The potty is out of the question. It’s either a diaper or an impacted colon. Those are the options he gives us.

Why, you might ask, is he never afraid to liquidate his holdings, but is positively terrified to make a solid deposit? Your question is my question. He won’t say. Or at least, he can’t. He can’t vocalize his fear. And the experts claim it is unequivocally fear. Fear of losing a part of himself. Or of falling into the giant porcelain abyss. Or whatever other crazy cause they come up with. After all, nothing about a three-year old’s thought process is logical. I just know the minute we give him a diaper he goes over to a private corner and bears down like he’s birthing a boulder. And generally, after days of holding out, he is.

So with regard to potty training my twin boys, I’m half way there. Just below 50%, which in a teacher’s grade book is failing big time.

But if I look at it in terms of baseball statistics, our summer is going well. Like really, really well. So I prefer to look at it this way. They are my boys and this is summer, so what better analogy to use than one involving the boys of summer? In this scenario, I’m batting slightly less than .500 (taking into consideration the whole pee vs poo ratio for the one boy). And while I’m certainly no sports analyst, and the balls I know more about are the shape of inflated pig’s bladders and slung by a fellow wearing shoulder pads rather than round ones slung by a guy on a mound chewing tobacco (the guy, not the mound), I do know enough to know that batting .500 for an entire season is a damn-near impossible feat. But so is training twin boys. So I tell myself that. To feel better about our current situation. And our current situation is… Yeah, I don’t even know what to call it.

We are striking out at every turn with our youngest – the control-freak, OCD wunderkind who has mastered an entire repertoire of Disney soundtracks and the phonetic alphabet. But he hasn’t mastered this. And we’ve tried every potty-training life-hack known to momkind.

First, we bought colorful and appealing superhero undies. We oohed and ahhed over their comfort and built-in superpowers. He was unimpressed. We had his brother model them. He was equally unimpressed. We forced him into them. (Unimpressed is not the word to use here.) We figured his perfectionist nature wouldn’t allow him to have an accident. We were so wrong. All we got out of the endeavor was piddle stains on our Persian rugs and strained nerves on every last one of us.

We tried letting him watch the rest of us go potty. He actually loves this scenario. He laughs at the bubbles we make in the toilet basin, especially brother and daddy, who have distance and hose pressure on their side. But that’s all we get. Laughs. We get laughs.

We tried stripping him naked — because apparently that’s a tactic that works for some folks. Alas, not us. He lay in the floor for what felt like forever, writhing in hysteria and begging for his diaper and Santa PJs. (Yes, it’s July. Christmas in July is a thing. Don’t you watch the shopping networks?) And in all honesty, I’ve tried replacing them with a more seasonal option, but that’s going about as well as our potty training forays.

We tried peeing in the grass in the backyard (Well, Parker and Dad have. I abstained). Boys are supposed to love this. To see it as liberating — some sort of connection with Neanderthal roots maybe? I have no idea. Anyway, daddy and brother modeled the behavior. Tate was uninspired.

boysofsummerstanding

We would try positive reinforcement, but there’s been nothing to praise of yet.

We even lowered ourselves to the point of pitting brother against brother – thinking the whole competition factor would kick in. Nobody wants to be a loser, right? Yeah, that didn’t work. Tate happily praises Parker for his numerous successes, running to bring him his reward without even trying to sneak a Skittle for himself. So that pretty much tells me we are at a stalemate here, folks.

A stalemate of mammoth proportions. Our situation is so dire that Tate will no longer voluntarily climb into a bathtub out of fear of that natural urge that hits when a body meets warm water. Loss of bladder control has become his worst nightmare. (I pray he wasn’t irreparably scarred by the whole tinkling superhero fiasco.)

We are living in a constant state of anxiety – and near-filth – these days. I sling him, as he climbs my torso like a frightened kitten, into the tub where I then I scrub him as fast as humanly possible, hitting all the major cracks and crevices, while he frantically whimpers: I’m gonna pee pee on myself! I’m gonna pee pee on myself!

Which prompts me to sweep him out of the tub and over to the pot, where there’s nary a whiz to be heard. Just his dad explaining, over and over, “Don’t play with it, just push it down. Don’t play with it, just push it down.” So that’s what he says, now, too. “Don’t play with it, just push it down.” All the while, though, our littlest midget is spinning his widget.

The situation is not healthy for any of us, and I really have no idea how to fix it. Like, at all. I’m at a total loss. I was lulled into a false sense of security after having the girls. They were successfully potty-trained before they were two. And of course, I’d always heard the rumors that boys are harder. And I’m here to tell you those aren’t rumors. Those are cold, hard case files from boy moms the world over. And I know I am generalizing here. I’ve heard tales of boys out there confidently flinging their diapers aside at 18 months, eager to pee like daddy, standing tall and showering the shrubs or bathroom tiles or family pets in willful abandon. But I am here to say I do not know any of them. There’s no evidentiary proof.

I figure I can look at my summer to-do list two ways. I’m either failing miserably, or I’m knocking it out of the park. As an eternal optimist, I’m going with the latter.

So in our household, my boys of summer are celebrating our season’s success with Skittles rewards for one guy and Disney tune showcases for the other. We are a team with diverse talents. And we are winning.

boysofsummerpjs

 

 

Why I’m Afraid of the Dark: True Southern Gothic

The summer solstice is here. That means summertime. Where the days are long and the nights are sticky. Pools and fireworks and barbecued weenies. Mermaid days. Firefly nights.

I love me some summer. Always have. As a teacher, I love them even more than ever. They are my chance to relax and recover. They are unbelievably important to my state of mind.

But I remember one summer way back when that totally wracked my state of mind. It was the summer that ended my childhood. It was the summer before my sixth-grade year. It was the summer I heard demons in my living room. It was the summer I learned we were moving to a giant metropolis and leaving my friends and fun and beloved frog pond far behind. It was the summer of my fall.

Up until then I’d been knobby-kneed, sun kissed, and barefoot. I had three sisters, a new baby brother, and more than a mild addiction to lime Kool Aid. I wore my hair long and tangled and crunchy with chlorine. I loved horses and roller skates and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I knew nothing about life but what my small little patch of Yoknapatawpha had taught me: kudzu and snake skins and sandy creek beds; frog ponds and field corn and honeysuckle vines. My own little Garden of Eden postage stamp.

My friends and I – a neighborhood pack of elementary school vagabonds — roamed the backroads and the brambles in search of the most perfect summer. And we damned near found it amidst a syrup of sweat and random scents: deadheaded marigolds, sunbaked magnolia blossoms, warm pine needles, maypops cracked wide open on hot asphalt, and truckloads of mosquito spray, which we rode our bikes behind like we were soaring through clouds in fighter jets.  Those are the smells I remember from that summer. It was a summer full to the brim. Mosquitoes and memories multiplying under a speckled canopy of freckles and stars.

And then came the demons.

It wasn’t what you would think. It wasn’t howling and hissing and holy water sizzling on flesh. I saw that sort of thing later, in some Hollywood versions of possession. No, this to me was, and still is, far scarier. Because it happened. To me. In real life. And it was nothing like in the movies.

It happened in a run-of-the-mill southern den, amid a velveteen sofa, a couple of flame-stitched wingbacks, and a good many, good-intentioned, God-fearing people. There was a laying-on of hands, a cacophony of tongue-speaking… and hissing. I remember harsh, guttural hissings. Lots of repetitive phrases, lots of In the Name of the Lords and Get behind me, Satans.

This is not something your average eleven-year-old should be exposed to. Just saying.

It left me terrified of the dark to this day.

It happened in our living room during a cell meeting – the little home prayer groups that were sprouting up all around our neck of the southeast back then. Led by people dissatisfied with the ways of organized religion. Rather ironic, considering they organized their own, new brand of religion, which ended up leaving me terrified of any and all organized religion.

It was just a small gathering of people I’d grown up around. And they were there, in our living room, worshipping God in the way they thought best. Lots of singing, praying, lifting of hands, and speaking in tongues. I was used to it.

Until it took that turn. That devilish turn. I remember – or maybe I invented — a smile. The biggest smile you ever did see on the biggest, best man I ever knew. A great, big-bellied, big-hearted man with a great big watermelon smile. Only this smile wasn’t his smile. It was creepy and folded in. Like a jack-o-lantern two weeks too old.

As dozens of men surrounded the smile, and dozens of women prayed fervently, that smile broke my innocence. And I can never go back.

To this day, I can’t watch possession movies. I just can’t. Give me all the Criminal Minds and Law & Orders and Sherlocks you’ve got. I lap them up — my adult version of lime Kool-Aid. I am more than mildly addicted. But possession flicks? Nope. Not happening.

And whenever I wake at 3:00 AM – the witching hour, the devil’s hour — I shiver and slide over closer to my sleeping husband, terrified of the knowledge I absorbed way back then.

It can’t be undone. It can’t be dismissed.

Were the demons real? Who knows? I was told once that I was possessed, too. I was pretty sure I wasn’t. Still, it was scary as all get out to be told that. And to witness all that I witnessed. For there were far more exorcisms than just the one.

And this summer, I’ve been revisiting that time — working on a novel that integrates some of those same situations and the ensuing darkness that enveloped me.

It all began with a grinning demon. And it all ended with a damsel in distress.

It took her years to escape. She’s still working on it, actually.

Four Toddler Tragedies Over Memorial Day Weekend; A Cold Start to Summer

I was sitting drowsily on the couch this Memorial Day weekend watching our boys play. The four of us had just awakened from a blissfully long nap. Each boy was playing quietly – a rarity in our house – in his own separate corner. One with his alphabet puzzle; one with his police cars. Occasionally I caught the blur of cardinals and wrens from the corner of my eye as they swept in for seeds from the feeder off the deck. School was officially over, Mike’s and my summer was two days old, and we were slipping into it like a pair of favorite flip flops: light, easy, unencumbered. All was sweet with the world.

Then I saw the news. The first of four horrific stories I would hear over the weekend. All involving toddlers our boys’ age. I saw the first on a small, local news source: a three-year-old drowned in a pool at a local neighborhood. My heart wobbled. My eyes welled. My thoughts went out to that poor family. That precious little girl and the fear she’d faced all by herself, her loved ones not knowing until it was too late. My heart cracked along with my voice as I asked the universe, WHY?

The next news came two days later. This one, even more horrific (how can that be possible, you ask?) because a felony murder charge and four counts of cruelty to children followed in its wake. Yet another three-year-old, this time a boy, had drowned in a pool. And this time, the sweet baby not only fought his way through to the other side alone and frightened, but had pretty much been fighting his way through to the other side, alone and afraid, his entire life. The only ones ever there to comfort him most days were his three other siblings: a four-year old and a set of one-year-old twins. On Monday, they’d been left alone in their home for over fourteen hours, needing food, diaper changes, and comforting. But most of all, needing love. A parent who cared. My heart cracked wide open. This time I begged the universe for an answer to WHY?

Later that night, my eldest daughter texted Mike and me with a simple request: “Don’t let the boys around lawnmowers.” We were putting the boys to bed and I didn’t have time to respond. But I knew it wasn’t going to be good. She was on 24-hour call.  As a surgeon on trauma, most of what she sees isn’t good. Especially on holidays. I was afraid to learn the story behind her plea. I snuggled Tate a bit harder, as we finished his lullaby. Then I slipped him in amongst his blankets and kissed him goodnight. Mike had Parker in the other room, and I knew he was doing the same.

It wasn’t until later that I learned the full story. (Trauma call doesn’t give surgeons a lot of time to make phone calls.) But when I heard, my hand flew to my mouth. I fought back the urge to scream. Yet another three-year old. This one made it, thankfully. But he lost a leg. To a massive, zero-turn lawn mower. It chewed and hacked at him until there was nothing anyone could do to save it. But they could save him. And they did. This time, the boy’s father had been there. He’d borne witness to the carnage.

And then the final news. Again, from Monday. Again, on Memorial Day. Because the cold, callous universe took full advantage of the beginnings of summer and all the seemingly joyous things that should come with it – family reunions, pool parties, greening lawns – to delve roughshod into innocence and destroy it. Again, on Monday, a father, arriving home after a quick trip into town for BBQ supplies… he backed into his driveway and unknowingly pinned his toddler son between his truck and the house.

This is a story that keeps repeating itself. I’ve heard it so many time. Two times in the last year, it has reached the national news. Children of former NFL stars, both three-years old, were accidentally run over in the past year. One by a parent. One by a family friend. And now this toddler (who thankfully lived). All three cases have been accidents.

As all these over Memorial Day weekend have been accidents, even the one with the murder charge. No one intentionally set out for any of this to happen. And I can’t imagine the guilt that they all feel (yes, again, even that mother). They know they were negligent — one criminally so –but they were all negligent and they know it.

And please believe me, I’m not casting stones here. Not at all. Because we’ve all been there (though most of us haven’t been in the place that the second mother was. I don’t EVEN understand how anyone can ever be in that place). But as for the others, we’ve all been there. I for sure have – a fact that rips through my heart and wedges deep in my conscience.

I’ve been the parent who hasn’t gotten off her cramped, sweaty knees and stripped off my gardening gloves to go see where my three-year-old twins have wandered off to. Just three more minutes. Three. That’s all I need to plant two more marigolds. What can go wrong in three minutes?

I’ve been the parent who hasn’t put proper latches on the basement door because the boys know – they’ve been told time-and-time again – not to open that door unless Mommy and Daddy are right there. They know those stairs – those sixteen, crazy-steep stairs — are dangerous. But they’re good boys. They listen to their parents.

I’ve been the parent who gets preoccupied with my phone while the boys are playing in the yard and their daddy is due home. Even when I know – and they know – he’ll be backing down the driveway any minute. They’ve been taught to stay out of the way of moving cars. Never mind their fascination with all motorized vehicles. They know better.

But here’s the thing with toddlers (and, honestly, kids all the way up to age 25, when the rational part of their brain finally matures — but especially toddlers) — we can say they know better, but they really don’t know better. Because they don’t know. They really don’t.

To “know” means to have the facts and information and skill sets to understand a situation; to have an awareness gained by experience. And our babies don’t have that awareness, those skill sets, that experience. What could happen means absolutely nothing to toddlers.

They only know they want to swim in that pool – that same pool they played in with their mommy last night. They only know their daddy is out there on that great big lawnmower. They love that lawnmower. They sat on it once while it was parked under the deck and it was a memory they cherish. Just like they cherish daddy. Oh, how they love him. So of course, they want to run out to greet him as he comes home.

And from a toddler’s mindset, how could any of these things be dangerous? They’ve played with them all. They’re not like the outlet that jolted them when they put a fork in it, or the hot stove that blistered their thumb last week, or the bumblebee that stung their pudgy foot last Wednesday in the clover. There’s nothing to fear with these fun things. They really don’t know any better.

As parents, we’re the ones who have to know better; we have to do better; we have to be better. It’s a big responsibility, and one we can’t put on our toddlers. It requires diligence and vigilance.

And yes, accidents happen. All the time. I hear the stories constantly. And when I think of all the horrors that can sweep in and destroy families in a single breath, it stops me cold. I shudder in horror. And of course I ask WHY? Because there but for the grace of God is not just a saying. It’s the truth. All these young victims have been my boys’ ages. Almost all had parents just like me: loving, caring, trying to do their best. But our best can be better.

So, as we slip on into the summer season – and then later fall and winter, and then back into spring and summer again on this endlessly spinning planet — let’s be attentive to our babies. Let’s live in the moment. With them. Because that is where they reside. In the moment. And those moments fly by. And soon enough they’ll be grown. Or else they won’t.

So don’t waste or regret a single moment.

pool

Four Toddler Tragedies Over Memorial Day Weekend; A Cold Start to Summer

I was sitting drowsily on the couch this Memorial Day weekend watching our boys play. The four of us had just awakened from a blissfully long nap. Each boy was playing quietly – a rarity in our house – in his own separate corner. One with his alphabet puzzle; one with his police cars. Occasionally I caught the blur of cardinals and wrens from the corner of my eye as they swept in for seeds from the feeder off the deck. School was officially over, Mike’s and my summer was two days old, and we were slipping into it like a pair of favorite flip flops: light, easy, unencumbered. All was sweet with the world.

Then I saw the news. The first of four horrific stories I would hear over the weekend. All involving toddlers our boys’ age. I saw the first on a small, local news source: a three-year-old drowned in a pool at a local neighborhood. My heart wobbled. My eyes welled. My thoughts went out to that poor family. That precious little girl and the fear she’d faced all by herself, her loved ones not knowing until it was too late. My heart cracked along with my voice as I asked the universe, WHY?

The next news came two days later. This one, even more horrific (how can that be possible, you ask?) because a felony murder charge and four counts of cruelty to children followed in its wake. Yet another three-year-old, this time a boy, had drowned in a pool. And this time, the sweet baby not only fought his way through to the other side alone and frightened, but had pretty much been fighting his way through to the other side, alone and afraid, his entire life. The only ones ever there to comfort him most days were his three other siblings: a four-year old and a set of one-year-old twins. On Monday, they’d been left alone in their home for over fourteen hours, needing food, diaper changes, and comforting. But most of all, needing love. A parent who cared. My heart cracked wide open. This time I begged the universe for an answer to WHY?

Later that night, my eldest daughter texted Mike and me with a simple request: “Don’t let the boys around lawnmowers.” We were putting the boys to bed and I didn’t have time to respond. But I knew it wasn’t going to be good. She was on 24-hour call.  As a surgeon on trauma, most of what she sees isn’t good. Especially on holidays. I was afraid to learn the story behind her plea. I snuggled Tate a bit harder, as we finished his lullaby. Then I slipped him in amongst his blankets and kissed him goodnight. Mike had Parker in the other room, and I knew he was doing the same.

It wasn’t until later that I learned the full story. (Trauma call doesn’t give surgeons a lot of time to make phone calls.) But when I heard, my hand flew to my mouth. I fought back the urge to scream. Yet another three-year old. This one made it, thankfully. But he lost a leg. To a massive, zero-turn lawn mower. It chewed and hacked at him until there was nothing anyone could do to save it. But they could save him. And they did. This time, the boy’s father had been there. He’d borne witness to the carnage.

And then the final news. Again, from Monday. Again, on Memorial Day. Because the cold, callous universe took full advantage of the beginnings of summer and all the seemingly joyous things that should come with it – family reunions, pool parties, greening lawns – to delve roughshod into innocence and destroy it. Again, on Monday, a father, arriving home after a quick trip into town for BBQ supplies… he backed into his driveway and unknowingly pinned his toddler son between his truck and the house.

This is a story that keeps repeating itself. I’ve heard it so many time. Two times in the last year, it has reached the national news. Children of former NFL stars, both three-years old, were accidentally run over in the past year. One by a parent. One by a family friend. And now this toddler (who thankfully lived). All three cases have been accidents.

As all these over Memorial Day weekend have been accidents, even the one with the murder charge. No one intentionally set out for any of this to happen. And I can’t imagine the guilt that they all feel (yes, again, even that mother). They know they were negligent — one criminally so –but they were all negligent and they know it.

And please believe me, I’m not casting stones here. Not at all. Because we’ve all been there (though most of us haven’t been in the place that the second mother was. I don’t EVEN understand how anyone can ever be in that place). But as for the others, we’ve all been there. I for sure have – a fact that rips through my heart and wedges deep in my conscience.

I’ve been the parent who hasn’t gotten off her cramped, sweaty knees and stripped off my gardening gloves to go see where my three-year-old twins have wandered off to. Just three more minutes. Three. That’s all I need to plant two more marigolds. What can go wrong in three minutes?

I’ve been the parent who hasn’t put proper latches on the basement door because the boys know – they’ve been told time-and-time again – not to open that door unless Mommy and Daddy are right there. They know those stairs – those sixteen, crazy-steep stairs — are dangerous. But they’re good boys. They listen to their parents.

I’ve been the parent who gets preoccupied with my phone while the boys are playing in the yard and their daddy is due home. Even when I know – and they know – he’ll be backing down the driveway any minute. They’ve been taught to stay out of the way of moving cars. Never mind their fascination with all motorized vehicles. They know better.

But here’s the thing with toddlers (and, honestly, kids all the way up to age 25, when the rational part of their brain finally matures — but especially toddlers) — we can say they know better, but they really don’t know better. Because they don’t know. They really don’t.

To “know” means to have the facts and information and skill sets to understand a situation; to have an awareness gained by experience. And our babies don’t have that awareness, those skill sets, that experience. What could happen means absolutely nothing to toddlers.

They only know they want to swim in that pool – that same pool they played in with their mommy last night. They only know their daddy is out there on that great big lawnmower. They love that lawnmower. They sat on it once while it was parked under the deck and it was a memory they cherish. Just like they cherish daddy. Oh, how they love him. So of course, they want to run out to greet him as he comes home.

And from a toddler’s mindset, how could any of these things be dangerous? They’ve played with them all. They’re not like the outlet that jolted them when they put a fork in it, or the hot stove that blistered their thumb last week, or the bumblebee that stung their pudgy foot last Wednesday in the clover. There’s nothing to fear with these fun things. They really don’t know any better.

As parents, we’re the ones who have to know better; we have to do better; we have to be better. It’s a big responsibility, and one we can’t put on our toddlers. It requires diligence and vigilance.

And yes, accidents happen. All the time. I hear the stories constantly. And when I think of all the horrors that can sweep in and destroy families in a single breath, it stops me cold. I shudder in horror. And of course I ask WHY? Because there but for the grace of God is not just a saying. It’s the truth. All these young victims have been my boys’ ages. Almost all had parents just like me: loving, caring, trying to do their best. But our best can be better.

So, as we slip on into the summer season – and then later fall and winter, and then back into spring and summer again on this endlessly spinning planet — let’s be attentive to our babies. Let’s live in the moment. With them. Because that is where they reside. In the moment. And those moments fly by. And soon enough they’ll be grown. Or else they won’t.

So don’t waste or regret a single moment.

pool

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