Starchild and the mashed potatoes

Today was Henry’s first day with a new teacher in charge of his classroom. His former teacher Marissa moved to California. He knew his new teacher very well, but it was still a change. I don’t know if that affected him at all or if it’s because he’s got a little cold, but he came home a little low on energy.

Cory made soup while Henry watched Daniel Tiger, his favorite show. Henry wanted a snack. He came and grabbed cookies out of the snack drawer, which we grabbed back. He cried on the floor. So Cory had Henry help make the dumplings for the soup.

Henry's favorite show.
Henry’s favorite show.

During dinner, he dumped his water in his soup bowl. I took his drink away. He said he was thirsty. I gave it back. He wanted it in a sippy cup. We made a deal that if he ate four pieces of tempeh, we’d get him a sippy cup. He shoved so much tempeh in his mouth that he gagged. This is a thing he does often. “Because it’s funny.” We said if he puked it up, no sippy cup. He ate it.

After dinner we made a blanket fort. We didn’t really want to, but after mild protesting we gave in. We made it with just two blankets. He had a fit because we didn’t use all the blankets. So we gave in and got all the blankets down from the upstairs closet and made a fort with all of the blankets.

Bath time. Bed time. Read him three Berenstain Bear books. Time for sleep. I was tired so I laid down with him for a while.

“I’m hungry.”

“You should have eaten more dinner.”

“I’m very hungry.”

“Well, you remember that tomorrow at dinner time and eat more so you don’t go to bed hungry.”

“I’m very hungry.”

“Too bad.”

“I’m very hungry!”

Mashed potatoes in bed. Because we are suckers.
Mashed potatoes in bed. Because we are suckers.

And so on for several minutes until Cory goes and gets some leftover mashed potatoes. Here’s the story with the leftover mashed potatoes: Last night I was craving mashed taters like crazy. I’m 30 weeks pregnant now and worried I haven’t been eating well. So while I could have had a bowl of cereal and called it a night, I didn’t. I had my 4 p.m. bowl of cereal, Cory peeled potatoes and put them in a pot of water on the stovetop to cook later, and we took Henry out to chase his Uncle Andrew’s hot air balloon.

As we’re buckling him into the seat, he says to his grandmother DeeDee, “I’m going ballooning.” She says, “You’re going to chase?” He says, “I’m going up in the balloon with Uncle Doo.” We have to explain that it’ll be a while before that happens, because he has to be big enough to see over the basket. But he can touch the balloon, and watch it go up, and help pack it up when they land. He says, “Okay.” He has tic-tacs in his pocket for Uncle Doo.

Balloons in Washington County
Balloons in Washington County

We couldn’t get to where they were taking off, because a bridge was closed and by the time we took the detour they’d have already inflated. So we waited around and watched some other balloons go up. We chased Uncle Doo all over and finally they land in a field that’s only accessible by a dirt road full of ruts that we can’t get through. We can’t even watch them pack up from afar, because trees are in the way. We are about to go home and Henry cries like we’re murdering somebody he loves. So we sit Henry on the top of the car and he eats pasta salad and quinoa for dinner while we wait. Half an hour. On the side of the road. Finally, Uncle Doo comes and Henry delivers his tic-tacs and we go home. It’s like 7:30. Henry’s usual bath time is 7. We skip it, turn on the potatoes and put him to bed. Brush teeth, read stories, sing songs. They’re ready just as it’s time for us to leave the room. We make the mistake of telling him we’re making mashed potatoes and he wants some. Mashed potato picnic in Henry’s room. Brush teeth again. Bedtime. There’s one scoop left and he asks us to save it.

So then here we are tonight, and Henry’s eating that leftover scoop in bed. I want it so bad. He’s trying to eat it laying down. I tell him he has to sit up if he’s going to eat mashed potatoes in bed.

“But I’m very tired.”

I tell him I’m going to eat them if he doesn’t sit up.

“You leave. You’re mean.”

So I do leave. Cory ends up putting the mashed potatoes on Henry’s nightstand at Henry’s request because he’s too tired to eat them but doesn’t want us to take them away. Cory stays in his room for one minute, which is their little routine, and then leaves to get in the shower.

I hear Henry on the monitor crying for Daddy. I go in. He orders me to sit in the rocking chair for one minute. I time out one minute and go to leave. He tells me I can’t.

I’m torn. I’ve been bossed around by this kid for three years, and it’s getting worse and worse. The more I give in, the more he’ll do it. It’s not good for him.

I think about my friends Erin and Colin and their son Odin who died. About how fast life goes, and that he won’t always want us around. About all the things that could go wrong in our lives. How lucky we are to have these moments.

I lay down in bed with him and ask him what’s the matter. He says he can’t fall asleep. He guesses he isn’t going to sleep tonight. I ask if he’s having a hard time. “Yeah, I’m having hard time.” I suggest lavender oil, which he turns down. I suggest deep breathing, which he refuses to do. I suggest wiggling his toes and feeling the sleep come up through his toes to the rest of his body, which he also refuses to do. I suggest “imagining” (guided visualization). Nope. Cory gets out of the shower and comes in.

“Daddy, I’m having hard time.”

Our cartop picnic
Our cartop picnic

We tell him we’re going to leave. He asks us to stay. We stay.We tell him just one minute, then we’re leaving. That we’ll turn off the disco ball lights if we have to come back in afterward. Me in bed, Cory in the rocking chair. I pet his hair like I did when he was little. I try running my fingertips over his face, a trick I saw on YouTube to put a baby to sleep. Henry sleepily smiles and holds my hand, doing it over and over. I make the decision not to leave after one minute, because I see that he is getting closer to sleep and I think it’ll wake him up more if I go.

I close my eyes and slow my breathing, a trick I used to do with him when he was a baby and I wanted him to go to sleep. I’d basically have to go to sleep myself, and his body would follow my lead. Quiet my mind, relax my muscles. I feel Henry’s little hands touching my hair, my face. He’s doing fingertips back to me.

He slips his arm around my neck, pulling me closer so I’m resting my head on his chest. He pats my arm a few times like he’s the adult trying to get me to sleep. And then in the very next moment, I feel him do the sleep twitches that mean he’s asleep. I make a motion to Cory that he’s out. And I lift my head a few minutes later to look at him and just start sobbing.

He’s so perfect. I love him so much. What’s the worst thing that could happen, a child falling asleep feeling loved? Those few pats before he lost consciousness. I can’t even.

Henry's new favorite book.
Henry’s new favorite book.

Cory came and laid in bed with us and I just looked at sleeping Henry and cried. He’s just so perfect. In that moment, I felt like teaching him things, while important, is so secondary to just loving him and making sure he knows he is loved. I know, intellectually, that every time I give in I’m reinforcing manipulative behavior. That he’s testing his boundaries, and that there need to be boundaries. That his sense of entitlement, taking everything for granted, will worsen if I don’t firm up. That he’s not going to starve to death by going to bed hungry one night.

I want to be the type of parent whose children respect them, whose children are not spoiled brats, whose children don’t just ask for more and more and more and are never happy with what they have. I want my children to feel gratitude, to count their blessings. Ironically, it’s the Berenstain Bears book about counting your blessings that we’ve had to read to Henry ten times in the last three days.

But really, knowing that Henry just needed us there with him, snuggled up tight, giving him all the love he could want and more — that he was having a “hard time” and my cuddle is what got him to sleep — the loving touches he gave me — that’s the whole point of being a mom, I think.

My heart exploded into a million tiny fluttering butterflies. Like I was seeing him for the first time and loving him for the first time. It’s been a long while that I’ve just been getting through the days, picking my battles, making sure he’s taken care of but trying to get work done and take care of everything else at the same time.

And tonight I was just clubbed over the head with a big smack of love beams. It was beautiful.

This smile is everything.
This smile is everything.

All is Well

We’ve been trying to conceive Baby Two since February.

I’ve been trying to get to a yoga class at Lemon Tree since I moved in to my Advokate office here at the Shirt Factory since August.

One of those things finally happened today. Spoiler: I’m not pregnant.

I wrestled myself away from the guilt that goes along with leaving Henry and Cory on one of Cory’s rare days off. It’s a work day, though, and it had to happen. And so I wrenched myself away from Henry playing with sand in the living room and went, with my workout clothes on. I bought them in January when I joined the YMCA for a hot minute.

Source: http://sauco.deviantart.com/art/The-Childlike-Empress-50409372

Settling in, the instructor gently asked us all to allow ourselves to be there. To let go of the things on our to-do list. I sprung a couple of tears.

I thought about how crazy it is that I don’t allow myself to breathe or stretch or spend a moment on myself unless I pay for a class and have someone to lead me in it.

Some of it was hard, but mostly it felt good to move my body and stretch and breathe and relax.

During the brief meditation at the end, I stretched out and put an eye pillow on, breathing in. We went through relaxing our entire bodies and withdrawing our senses. I found myself swirling up into a cold winter night sky, up into the stars.

There was one that seemed like it was something I should follow. I asked it why it wouldn’t come to me.

A voice, like the Childlike Empress from the Neverending Story, said I wasn’t ready yet. I pushed, what do you mean I’m not ready? It said Advokate needs me now. I need to get it more settled so I can focus on my new baby when the time is right. That’s true. I hadn’t thought of it that way, though.

I said, but I can’t wait to meet you. The star said All is Well. I said, Henry needs you. The star said All is Well. Rainbow colors swirled through the galaxy and the star got further away. I said, when will I know it’s time? We’re all only getting older. All is Well. All is Well. All is Well.

And here I am at work. Now’s the time to focus here, so when it’s time for Baby Two to come to me, it’ll be set up right.

All is Well.

What Earth Angel and Maleficent have to do with one another

As kids, my little sister and I liked to dance to oldies tunes and Disney songs. We’d put on shows for my parents and give them tickets to our performances. I sometimes danced around by myself.

More so in the dancing-by-myself moments, I’d grab a pillow from the couch and slow dance with it, imagining dancing with a real live boy.

Maybe a real live boy who loved me, and would put his arms around me. And who might say he loved me. While we danced to “Earth Angel.” This likely was because I was a young girl, and perhaps had a little something to do with watching Back to the Future a zillion million times.

The "Earth Angel" scene from Back To The Future
The “Earth Angel” scene from Back To The Future

So what does this have to do with the Angelina Jolie version of Maleficent? Well, I’ll tell you.

If you’ve seen it, or if you’ve read any of the reviews, you know that the classic Disney villain starts out as a lovely fairy until a horrible scene where she’s drugged and her wings are cut from her. She awakens and has an awful scream when she realizes what has happened. I was prepared for that moment in the movie, probably too much so, actually thinking maybe I needed to look away — and in over-psyching myself up for it, that moment didn’t hit me as hard as it could have.

But it did hit me.

What struck me most was the power, grace, exhilaration and freedom she was capable of with those wings, and how defeated, crumpled and unremarkable she seemed without them.

I’ve seen reviews equating it to rape. Clearly there’s that implication; she was drugged by a lover, somebody she trusted; and she awakens to a new reality — one where he has taken something from her and she is changed forever. I wonder if the writers of Maleficent have ever read Andrea Gibson’s poem Blue Blanket.

She’s heard stories of Vietnam vets
Who can still feel this tingling of their amputated limbs
She’s wondering how many women
Are walking around this world
Feeling the tingling of their amputated wings
Remembering what it was to fly, to sing

I also felt like the experience of losing your wings could be paralleled to crippling depression. Some days you wake up and you go to wing around and do all the things you think you can do and then realize you can’t. You’re on the ground. It’s going to take so much longer than it’s supposed to. Why even. I hate everything.

Maleficent realizes her wings are gone
Maleficent realizes her wings are gone

The movie hit chords of all kinds. I’ve been with someone the morning they wake up and have that moment of their wings being gone. I’ve gone to the hospital with them and seen them on the ground walking, seen the wall of thorns go up.

I’ve had my hair cut off; lost my wings slowly over time to somebody I thought I trusted. Not to get all the way into it, but I’m fortunate to never have had an overnight awakening where the wings were gone. Instead, they were ripped off, little by little. I thought maybe I lost them myself, even. I did something to ruin them. I didn’t deserve them. Wasn’t capable of having them.

The wings do come back, though. For that person. For me.

I’m really glad the movie ended the way it did. They do come back. Phoenixes rise from ashes. Wings find their way back home when you need them the most.

I fell for you
And I knew
The vision of your loveliness.
I hope and pray
That someday
That I’ll be the vision of your happiness.

Still with me? Here’s where it comes back to Earth Angel. After the film, there’s a Lana Del Rey version of “Once Upon A Dream” that plays while the credits roll. Cory and I got off the couch and slow danced. The way we did to “Always” the first time we heard it.

I was transported back to slow dancing with a throw pillow. In addition to Earth Angel, Once Upon A Dream was also one of me and the pillow’s favorite dance numbers (My and the pillow? The pillow and I?).

Kate Austin-Avon
“Fae” by Kate Austin-Avon. Click to read my piece “On Soaring.”

11-year-old Kate zoomed forward through space and time, through painful loss of wings, long years on the ground and re-discovering flight, to being in a living room of her own with a real live boy (a husband!) with arms around her and a warm neck to kiss.  Much better than any upholstery. With our sweet boy asleep upstairs. I’m loved and I have my wings.

Happily ever after does exist.

(Hang in there.)

Perfect boy

imageHenry’s so good. It doesn’t make for funny stories so I don’t often write about how good he is in my Family Time column, but he’s really just so good.

Today after dinner as I was putzing in the kitchen, I heard him playing the slide whistle and beating on a drum. I peeked in on him and he was so cute, just sitting there with all of his musical instruments out. Then I heard silence, followed by light grunting. When I went in to see what he was doing, he had picked up all his toys and was lifting the bin to put it back on the shelf where it belongs.

Two years old and the kid has the put-it-away-when-you’re-done skills that most adults don’t have. I didn’t say anything, not wanting to interrupt a moment spouting unnecessary praise when he was doing just fine doing the right thing for his own personal reasons. I was beaming with pride, though.

The next time I checked on him, he was just sitting in a chair. Just sitting there. I guess that could be a little weird, but my guess would be that he was seeing what it was like to sit in that chair and whether he could get into it himself.

He pushes the limits like a two-year-old should, sure, and we tire of talking like his favorite puppet Charlie or playing hide-and-seek for the millionth time. And we certainly have our moments where he goes jellybones, everything’s covered in poop and peanut butter, the sink is running, dinner’s burning on the stove, he’s screaming and we snap.

But lately he says “Thank you, Mommy” when I hand him something. We had a family portrait session with PJN Photography today and they had me throwing leaves up into the air with him. When I’d hand him some leaves to throw, he’d say, “Thank you, Mommy.” My heart just melts. After dinner I gave him a carrot with some hummus I made and he said, “Thank you, Mommy.” We read three stories every night and I read him an extra book tonight. He said “Thank you, Mommy.” Swoon.

The kid is just so perfect. I guess I should have figured. He’s the offspring of Mr. Perfect himself.

Making dinner
Making dinner

Terrible Two

photoMy son Henry turned two on August 22.

On the eve of his first birthday, I went through his tiny baby clothes and heaved profound guttural sobs over the loss of my little newborn son.

I remember him seeming so big compared to his first onesies, and how tragic I felt that I’d never get to hold my snorgly sweet-smelling wee little bundle of joy again.

I thought I’d have a similar experience this year for his birthday, but it must be that the bright light of what’s to come vanquishes the sadness about what’s gone.

For sure, there are moments like the maple syrup incident, the nightly meltdowns about going upstairs to bed, and the roadside pants-pooping. It’s not like parenting is for the weak of heart — or stomach.

There are the days where I’ve been yelled at, peed on, and am on my hands and knees picking rice off the floor while dinner-covered hands are still smearing everything in sight.

If I’m out and about with him and try to carry on a conversation with an adult at the same time, I’m fairly certain I don’t say anything intelligent because I’m trying to mentally stay one step ahead of him so he doesn’t hurt himself, hurt someone else, break something, make a mess, blow something up, and so on.

But all that means that he and I are interacting more than when he was just a drooling hip accessory, and the most notorious “incidents” are lifelong stories we’ll tell; juicy family lore in the making.

Besides, they’re balanced out by other moments.

Moments like him singing happy birthday, one of his favorite songs, to anyone he feels affectionate toward. Like how much he loved the “up high” Ferris Wheel at Magic Forest. Like how he takes his time and says “excuse me” on slides when older, bolder kids barrel past him.

The squinting, showing-the-teeth smile he discovered when Auntie Erika asked him to grin for a photo. Him kissing my parents’ dog Heidi on the nose and sharing his spaghetti with her.

Moments like him chasing ducks at Crandall Park, asking Daddy to play blocks with him, and walking his dolly down Morgan Avenue in a pink stroller. Him yelling “DarkStar!” (the name of his Uncle Andrew’s hot air balloon, which he loves dearly) at an empty blue sky, willing it to appear.

Moments like when he puts his head on my shoulder — albeit a tactic he knows to use when he doesn’t want me to put him down for bed, because I love head-on-the-shoulder so much I’ll just hold him that way forever.

While I do feel wistful about the first days I held my tiny little boy in my arms, I am inspired daily. It’s all I can do to outwit him, outrun him and stay up later than him. Motherhood is great fun, despite its challenges.

I can’t imagine an age less terrible than two.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle‘s Adirondack Family Magazine in Autumn 2014.
Click here to download “Terrible Two” as it ran in The Chronicle.

Parenting is just a bunch of letting go

Kid Henry
Kid Henry

Tonight Henry fell asleep in my arms, nursing before bed in the rocking chair in his bedroom. There’s nothing unusual about that. It happens most every night. But tonight.

Tonight I looked down at my sleeping baby in my arms and realized how big he was. His body’s bigger than my torso, now. His baby hands are kid hands. His baby butt’s a kid butt. Kid legs. Kid face. He’s not my little newborn Henry Austin-Avon any more. He’s crossing the baby line into kidville.

I’ve been so busy counting milestones, looking into the future. Excited that he’s sitting up. Excited that he can play on his own. Excited that he can hold my hands, stand up and walk across a room. Excited that he can put a carrot in his own mouth and eat it. That’s a good thing, probably.

Because the sadness, pain and loss in looking backward is almost unbearable.

Never again will I have to hold his floppy head to my breast to teach him to nurse. Never again will I cup his tiny little body close to mine to calm him, hoping he remembers the sound of my heartbeat. Never again will I have a six-month-old Henry. Or a five-month-old, four-month-old, three-month-old, two-month-old, one-month-old, three-weeks-old, two-days-old, newborn baby Henry.

Feeding himself.
Feeding himself.

The thought’s occurred to me before that it’s okay that time’s passing, because I want to have another baby. That I’ll be able to do it again; to hold my own little newborn baby, to be the only one to calm them down, to be so close.

But I realized tonight that it won’t be the same. I’ll have a two- or three-year-old son running around as a distraction. I’ll be worn out. And it won’t be Henry. It won’t be the first time; like watching a movie the second time or reading a book the second time. The surprises don’t hit you the same way.

I worry that I’ve missed it. I was on my phone, or talking to someone, and I missed it. Henry will never be seven months, two weeks and five days old again. That was just for today, and I was working, Facebooking, sending a press release, designing a postcard, chatting, hanging laundry, driving, in a meeting. I missed it. I missed him today.

Sleeping on Daddy.
Sleeping on Daddy.

Every day is letting go. Every day he is further from me. No longer a part of me. When he doesn’t want to breastfeed any more, our bond will just be a token. I won’t need a babysitter to bring him to me every two hours. We could go our lifetimes apart and he would probably be okay. Someone else can comfort him, after that’s gone.

It breaks my heart. Seriously makes me well up with tears to think about.

From birth, parenting is just a bunch of letting go. First he’s no longer a part of me. Then as he can hold his own head up, feed himself, eat food other than my milk, no longer needs to be carried around. Parents of teenagers, I don’t envy you.

I’m starting to realize why everyone glows at you when you’re pregnant or carrying a newborn.

It’s the best. It’s all ahead of you.

A fleeting moment.
A fleeting moment.

It’s the very very best. The closest. The part where your child needs you the most. The road into the unknown stretches out ahead, all sunshine and blank canvas.

My baby is growing up. He’s still so new, but no longer a newborn. This is so painful. I miss my newborn Henry so badly. It hurts, makes my chest cave in, to think that I will never hold my newborn Henry again.

He doesn’t exist.

My newborn Henry doesn’t exist any more.

I can’t think of anything more awful than that. I mourn for my son. He’s gone; the little curled frog legs, the long wispy brown hair, the twitchy breathing and high-pitched sleep squeaks. I wish I took more video. But it’s just not the same.

I console myself knowing that newborn Henry has grown into infant Henry, and infant Henry is the most beautiful, bright, happy, funny boy in the history of children. He’s amazing. He’s perfect. He’s a shining star, radiating joy and love.

And when he doesn’t exist any more, I’ll have toddler Henry to keep me busy. And then little boy Henry, and older boy Henry, preteen Henry, teen Henry, young adult Henry, adult Henry and beyond — all wonderful people I look forward to meeting.

… If I can just try to let go of his past selves.

Deliberately, with love

A friend posted on Facebook asking what her friends did today to make the world a better place. I wrote: “Made Christmas cookies with my family. Raising Henry to be a loving, empathetic, soulful creature who is secure, generous, kind, confident and self-reliant is my project right now. A boy who will love, not hate; lead, not follow; and teach others to do the same. A chain letter of empathy.”

I haven’t been good about writing here. I don’t know what I planned to use austinavon.com for, and I’ve mused about it developing into a “mommy blog” or even just my thoughts about Henry, hopes and dreams, etc. Photos to share with family. But Facebook seems to fill the purpose more often than not.

But anyway, answering that question made me want to write more about it. About my purpose as a mother.

I don’t blame mothers for things their children do. I know that I have great parents and was a shithead in high school, through no fault of theirs. But being a mom, I feel like I have a chance at making the world a better place in a chain-letter kind of way. Not only through my own actions, but in the way I raise my son.

During our trip to Albany for a nuchal translucency screening, when we found out at 12 weeks that we were having a son, the first thing to loudly clang in my head was the last line of Andrea Gibson’s slam poem Blue Blanket, which is a jarring, raw poem about rape:

Hold your kids tight.
Hold your kids tight.

she’s not asking what you’re gonna tell your daughter
she asking what
you’re gonna teach

your SON

What am I gonna teach my son?

That we’re all just people, with blood and bones and guts. We all have feelings, parents, things we love, things we’ve lost, triggers that make us happy and sad. No matter what we look like or how we come across, we have a lot in common. It spans not only color lines and gender differences and sexual orientations, but city vs. country folk, people from other countries, workers vs. customers, people who are bitchy to you – everybody.

And so we treat one another with empathy and respect. As we would like to be treated. Across any organized religion, the golden rule is king for a reason. It’s not only the right thing to do to put yourself in another’s shoes; it’s the way you’ll understand the world, and the way you’ll get by in it better.

Treat people with respect because you understand them, because you have tried to visualize and feel for yourself what it’s like to be them and why they do or say things.

I’ll admit that I still snap sometimes; that I bang my head against the wall trying to figure out what the hell someone is thinking and why they’d say such-and-such a thing to me. I’m not a perfect saint who always turns the other cheek.

But deeper, when I think it through, underlying everything I do, I’m trying to see it all from another’s perspective.

We were all this loved
We were all this loved

And I want to pass that on. I think we’d all be okay if we did, too. It’s near impossible to just be mellow and peaceful all the time, but if we aim to make it a constant practice of realizing we are all wearing the same skin, with the same hearts pounding beneath, seeing one another as mirror images of ourselves (“maybe we’re all tomatoes“) then less bad things would happen.

I’ve had this clarity, being a mom myself now, about all of humanity. Everyone who is alive right now had someone who cared about them enough to make sure they’re here now. To feed them, buy them clothes, wake them up in the morning to go to school. Even if it was the bare minimum and they had horrible parents, even just the basics takes a giant act of love and sacrifice. It makes me realize that we are all loved, or were as children, at least. And that doesn’t really go away over time, does it? No matter who you are, if you are alive, somebody has loved you and taken care of you.

Anyway, it was really important to me to make sure that Henry and I bonded immediately after birth, because I think feeling alone is what makes bad things happen. When people can’t recognize that we’re all just doing our best and trying to get by. When they think of everyone else as “other” or feel like they themselves are “other”. Instead of as one.

And if we open our arms to hold one another and also trust that there are open arms out there when we need them, we’ll realize that we aren’t alone.

We have each other.