We wheeled our bikes out of the garage yesterday afternoon, happily looking forward to riding through the bright, warm summer afternoon to our local fro yo store. My littlest (21 months) was buckled in the Burley trailer, already flipping through one of the lift-the-flap board books I keep in there, and my oldest (6) was fast on his way to the street corner. He waited for me there while I closed the garage door, strapped my helmet on and pedaled down the block to catch up with him. This was only our second bike ride since summer began. Parker, my oldest, had broken his arm at the beginning of the summer; his cast had been off for a couple weeks but he’d only felt ready to begin biking again the day before. It had made my heart so happy to see him speeding along, a huge grin on his face, shouting, “See you later, alligator!” as he raced ahead of me. That sense of glee was still with us yesterday, at long last biking together again along the streets of our neighborhood.
Immediately, though, I could tell something was wrong. Whereas he’d been hard to keep up with the day before, yesterday he pedaled slowly, at times laboriously. We’d both woken up with a bit of a cold so I figured he just wasn’t feeling quite up to snuff. It was hot, he hadn’t eaten much lunch, we were pedaling sort of uphill and definitely into the wind; he’ll get going once we turned the corner up ahead, into the shade, out of the wind, I told myself. But he continued to go very slowly. A car came up behind us so I pulled back to fall in line behind Parker. It was then I noticed that he was holding his supposedly mended arm funny, keeping it up at a weird angle. A block later, we’d stopped biking, our plans to get frozen yogurt abandoned. I stood there on the side of the road, trying to decide what to do. Parker kept avowing that his arm didn’t hurt but I could see a distinct bulge where he’d broken it and he screamed when I tried to touch it. It was a Friday afternoon: what were the chances I’d be able to get him in to see either his pediatrician or his orthopedist before the end of the work day? Was it worth trying to call either one while we stood there in the hot sunshine in front of a strange house? Deciding not, I locked Parker’s bike to a street sign, helped him into the Burley (which his little brother was none too pleased about) and biked home. “Mommy, PLEASE try to e-void the big bumps!” Parker called after I’d mindlessly ridden over a manhole cover.
Fifteen minutes later, we were back in the ER, exactly seven weeks after the initial break. We recognized several of the staff and they in turn recognized us. I highly recommend the Friday afternoon shift at Sequoia Hospital. They are cheerful, kind and patient. I figure pretty soon I’ll be able to start writing Yelp reviews of the local ERs. Eighteen months ago, my ER experience was effectively nil. Yesterday’s visit was my fifth since December of 2011. After my youngest was born, friends and family started making comments about life with two boys. “Oh, you’re in for a handful!” “Watch out, mama! I hope you’re ready for life to get crazy!” I’d just smile and give them a little half-hearted chuckle. The feminist in me felt affronted by these remarks. I have two sisters. Growing up, we played sports and climbed trees and jumped off furniture and did flips off the monkey bars; shy, retiring flowers we were not. Yes, little boys can be rambunctious but so can little girls. Besides, life had already gotten crazy. My husband had died while I was five months pregnant with my second child, while my first child and I were en route to visit family in California, at which point we’d just stayed with my family in California, leaving our life and friends in the Caribbean behind. How much “crazier” could life get?
Twenty-one months into life with two boys, I say that my sense of feminist outrage over the “Oho, two boys! Hunker down!” comments was justified. Parenting little kids can get absolutely nuts at times but parenting little boys, as far as I can tell, doesn’t get any more nuts than parenting little girls. All small children can be willful, energetic and high maintenance (to name a few). Tending to your offspring, whether one child or five, all boys or all girls, is tough work–the best kind of work, but tough work nonetheless. As to the “How much crazier can life get?” question, well, that’s a little trickier to answer. Yes, we’ve been to the ER five times in eighteen months. We’ve moved three times since my husband died. My oldest went from homeschool to a Montessori preschool to a non-Montessori elementary school. My youngest had hernia surgery, followed by five months of surgery-related complications. Et cetera. Life has been crazy. Crazier, though? Who’s to say. How do you quantify crazy?
I spent most of my adolescence and young adulthood either trying to avoid life’s inherent craziness or trying to control it. It made for misery. Even after I’d learned to let go a little, after I’d married and become a mom, I still structured my days to ensure as much predictability as possible. I needed routine, probably even more so than my child did. If my husband wanted to sleep in — and not wake up early enough to watch our son so I could take a long walk before he left for work — I’d freak out. And usually for good reason: those days I did not start off with a walk often unfolded awfully, with me short-tempered and even more avoidant than normal. I had friends who’d watch one another’s kids at the drop of a hat. I couldn’t wrap my head around that. What? Suddenly agree to take care of two more children?!? In addition to your own?! But that would disrupt your entire day! I lived high on a hillside on a tiny island in the middle of the Caribbean, far away from my family and the hustle and bustle of the modern world. I lived in a self-made cocoon of schedules and routine. I felt safe, maybe even content. And then my husband died.
It was in my grief support group, about three months after Mike passed, that I heard the words that would finally, irrevocably change my perspective on life. It was my turn to speak and I was describing how I’d been feeling sad, yes, but also extremely edgy. I complained about how I couldn’t find even a fleeting sense of peace, and how frustrating that was since my life before Mike died had been purposefully structured around cultivating calmness. My grief counselor looked at me for a moment, with nary the compassion and sympathy I’d been righteously expecting. She took a breath and then responded, speaking slowly and carefully. She said that Life — capital L — isn’t calm or peaceful. We have to find peace within ourselves, even in the midst of chaos, even in the midst of craziness. She held my gaze for an instant and then moved on. I sat there, befuddled. I didn’t want to accept what she’d said but her words must have resonated somewhere inside me because I kept mulling them over for days afterward. Then I happened upon this quotation: “Peace is not the absence of chaos or conflict, but rather finding yourself in the midst of that chaos and remaining calm in your heart.” I read those words simultaneously feeling a sense of illumination and a sense of resignation. OK, I get it. I get it. Time to stop standing around in the concession area; time to climb aboard the roller coaster called Life, sit back and experience the ride.
My life today is crazy. ER trips and moving house and new schools, yes, but also the less dramatic kind of crazy: trying to get breakfast made and laundry folded and teeth brushed; trying to nourish our bodies with healthful food, trying to cook food that will actually be eaten; trying to get us where we need be, looking at least somewhat presentable; trying to keep both boys entertained while encouraging sharing and peaceful conflict resolution; trying to respond to emails and phone calls; trying to keep the vegetables in my garden growing. My day-to-day life is probably a lot like any other mom’s. Pretty much the only predictable parts of the day are naptime and bedtime, and even those sometimes feel like moving targets; no more long morning walks for me, no more carefully cultivated interludes of calm throughout the day. Life with two small boys is crazy, but it’s not their fault. It’s Life, and I’m grateful for it in all its complex, chaotic messiness.
The x-rays at the ER yesterday confirmed that my son’s arm bones had broken again in the same spot. He burst into tears when the physician’s assistant told him. “Not another cast!” I hugged and consoled him. Then a nurse brought in two big teddy bears, one for Parker and one for his brother. The tears quickly dried while the boys happily played with their new bears. Up and down and around the roller coaster we go.
Back in the ‘burbs after living in the Caribbean for more than half a decade, I’m a widowed mom of two young boys. I do my best to practice attachment parenting and peaceful parenting, to live mindfully and holistically; sometimes, though, this roller coaster called Life derails my good intentions. Above all else, I strive to be happy and grateful for each day as it unfolds.