This is the first in a series of journal excerpts, articles, and essays from the Motherland, where the years of raising four kids was a lopsided, lurching, joyous process.
My husband Greg and I had our four children 20 months apart. Jenna, our oldest, was five when her third brother was born. Greg was gone a great deal of those early years working in Alaska, and there were many months when I was solo parenting with a houseful of frisky kids with strong opinions on everything.
Today we are nearing the end of child rearing—Jenna is now 23, Ben is 21, Daniel is 19, and Nick is 18 years old. Three of the four are launched out into the world on their own, wise and wonderful young adults who still have strong opinions on everything, but instead of horses, teachers, and baseball tryouts, they are focusing on sustainable agriculture, Latin American economic policies and the next new energy source. Over the years I kept fat journals from the very beginning when parenting was new and every day brought the unexpected—from confusion and chaos to tenderness and understanding. I learned much, we suffered some, and in the end, I wouldn’t change much of anything. Oh I made big mistakes as a parent, but we survived--more than that, I think we thrived--not in spite of, but because of, the storms we weathered and the connections made between us.
The No-Fun Party
The following was written near Nicky’s 6th birthday. Jenna is 11, Ben 9, and Daniel is 7 years old.
Jenna called from school this morning to check on me. I fell skiing yesterday and was sure I had broken my thumb. My whole body is swelled up I think while looking in the mirror this morning. I am getting old. No more rubber band bones that give and flex, now I tear and bruise. Didn’t stop Nicky from complaining loudly for two days about his birthday. A NO-FUN party (only three boys invited, one who ended up stuck in the mud at the bottom of the slough in the last 20 minutes of free time. Daniel had to dig him out. His mother picked him up while he was in the bathtub, I handed her a soggy paper bag with his muddy clothes in it with apologies.) We got Nick a complex computer game I thought was easier than it turned out to be. Jenna and Ben are sure enjoying it. More complaints: he wanted more presents, better presents, more attention. Daddy’s gone to Alaska and Ben gouged out hunks of his chocolate cake when no one was looking. At least we got rid of his nightmares.
“I wished I had what Ben’s got!” he cried one night.
“What’s that?” I asked puzzled.
“You know, he can’t get to sleep. I don’t want to sleep because that bad dream might come back.”
I wiped his tears, patted my lap and thought and thought while I rocked.
“I know!” I said. “I’ll give you my worry doll Aunt Jan gave me. Put it under your pillow. It takes all the worries and bad dreams from you, it works every time.”
“Do you use it?” he asked dubiously.
“Of course. I’ll need it back, but you can borrow it.”
It worked. That night and the next. That worry doll turned up everywhere in the following weeks—under beds, in the washer, wedged between the mattress and wall. Her hair has fallen off, she has lost her features, and the limbs are fuzzed together, but she still works her magic. Sometimes, I muse on this rainy morning, all it takes is a concrete solution—--hold this, drink that, jump four times, do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around.
That’s what it’s all about.