Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Messiness

            Last day canoeing.
            As we were drifting along on a placid section of the river with the bright blue sky reflecting from shore to shore, I thought about my son’s eyes – piercing blue and somehow significant. They’re definitely his most prominent feature, a large, bright, and inquisitive.
            They’re so unique, in fact, that my mother randomly said a wonderful prayer of blessing one day – that his eyes would heal people’s spirits with their unique tenderness and light.
            As I drifted down the river and pictured Joshua’s eyes, it struck me how little time I’ve spent with him compared to Celia. It’s been a natural split of duties for Michelle to mostly take care of the newborn while I take care of the older child, but I wonder if it’s caused me to have less bonding with my son. It’s odd because I still can’t believe I’m a father of two now – and yet through the whole trip I’ve been telling all sorts of stories about them.
            I think I need to be careful not to let this time pass too quickly. This stage of life I’m in right now is unique – I’ll only experience it once. How odd, that I fight the temptation to get it over with quickly so that I can move on. I suppose we could treat all of life like that, because there are always going to be things that make us uncomfortable or that are unappealing.
            I think there’s a certain level of enjoyment – or at least thankfulness – we need to somehow find even in the midst of life’s messiest moments. Because, hey, from my experience, the more we truly get involved with life, the messier it gets.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Appreciating

            Last night we were sitting around the campfire with a couple of guitars, and one old fella was singing ballads from the old days. There were tens of thousands of stars visible to the naked eye, and a pale blue sliver visible over the tips of the horizon, where the sun had set a couple hours before.
            I stared into the fire and it hit me, like never before – I’ve really moved to Montana. This is my new life.
            I’ve started to really appreciate being out on this canoe trip with my dad and ten other mostly-old folks. One man came up to me and told me, with tears in his eyes, how touched he was to see the relationship I have with my dad. His dad had passed away when he was a baby. He looked me in the eye and said, “What you have is precious. I feel privileged to see it.”
            I instantly not only appreciated my dad, but I thought of my own son, two months old, and all the living we’ll get to experience together. What a blessing.
            I was talking to another woman who said, a bit choked up that it’s been a hard year. I don’t know her details, but I knew deep down that it was hard for her in ways far more difficult than raising kids. Raising kids from scratch is tough and tiring work, but at the end of the day, it’s all about experiencing new expressions of life and hope. This is far more satisfying than some of the negative trials we face, especially as we get older.
            Once again I feel privileged to be a new dad. I don’t think it was possible for me to have this perspective while I was in the middle of it, changing both kids’ diapers on the assembly line and desperately working to prevent cries from erupting. But out here in God’s country I can take the time to sit back, reflect, and be thankful.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Major Breakdown

            Second day canoeing down the Missouri River, and I’m amazed that I’m out here. I think about Michelle and the kids a lot and pray that they make it alright without me.
            I worry a bit, because Michelle had a major breakdown a few days ago. I’ve never seen her so worked up, worn down, stressed out, and upset. And of course, with their mother all whacked out, the kids were stressed as well. I walked in the door and instantly took charge. I ordered Michelle to go take a walk, fed Celia, explaining to her that Mommy was having a bad day, and it happens to everyone, so don’t worry. And I had Joshua strapped to my chest the whole time.
            Sometimes I wonder why Michelle gets so worked up. Is it hormones? Is it normal for women? I look around at other women raising kids, and in all honesty I have no idea if they go through something similar, because it’s so private. By the time I see them, they’ve got on their public faces, as if parenting is easy.
            On nice thing about being out on the river is having time to think. I’ve been a bit frustrated at how quickly this month is passing me by. Time is slipping away. Joshua is starting to smile and pay attention to mobiles. Celia is maturing rapidly – when she runs she’s starting to have more balance, and she’s using correct grammar for longer and longer sentences. And I – I feel like I’m stagnant. Like that patch of calm water we hit today – it feels like an effort to move forward.
            I don’t want this time to shoot past, but I don’t want to be stuck, either. Being a parent of two kids under two is a special time. More difficult, perhaps, most certainly more grueling. And in some ways, when we have a moment to sit back and look at life with some perspective, these days are more precious as well.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Survival Mode

            We’ve been in Montana for three weeks now, and I haven’t found a single moment to write thoughts down. Today I’ll be leaving town on a four day canoe trip with my dad, and I’m not sure how Michelle’s going to survive without me. In fact, I’ve never seen her so stressed out in my whole life.
            We are in survival mode.
            The thought struck me when I shook the hand of a good friend of my dad’s who was passing through town with his teenage son. I was holding my squawking two-month-old as my twenty-two-month-old grabbed my leg saying, “Daddy! Come here!” in her highest pitch possible.
            My dad’s friend looked at me with one of those looks that said, “I know what you’re going through,” but he seemed so relaxed I instantly had the thought that not only had he been there, he’d gotten through and survived.
            I caught sight of a tiny glimpse of hope – the light at the end of the tunnel. We can get through this time. We just have to hold our breaths and survive it.
            Celia was in shock for the first week. She’d get to her new room at the end of a long day and say, “Where’s my room! I want home! Where are my books!”
            My heart went out to her. And when she woke up screaming three or four times a night all that week, my sleep went out to her as well.
            One of my big goals with this transition time has been to take advantage of being near the wilderness and take Celia out as much as possible. Celia is growing to love the great outdoors. On the one hand I’ve been feeling utterly exhausted, yet I’m also able to get out and take my family to a lake or for a hike.
            Every time I’m out in creation, I’m absolutely thrilled to be here. Yes, we are stressed. But we are near creation, and near all the family members who shower my kids with love.
            We’ve been eating like royalty. My dad is an exquisite, world-class chef, and every single day we have amazing meals. I find it odd to be taking all this time off, enjoying those wonderful moments, yet almost “needing” to do it, for sanity. If I don’t take the kids out, they go stir crazy. And if I don’t get out, I’ll go crazy as well.
            Yesterday Michelle decided to go get a massage after being advised that her high stress levels are giving our son bad gas, and so there I was with my young girl who was pushing every boundary, hitting her cousin on the head, pulling the more fragile items off the shelf, basically telling me non-verbally that she needed to get out of the house. And my son was whimpering and trying to nap but kept waking himself up after every few minutes (which is the worst thing on a parent, because we want them to get their rest, and it’s so painful when they can’t seem to get it).
            In a quick move of desperation I said, “Okay! Off to the beach!”
            Yes, Missoula Montana has a little beach. It’s not like Vancouver, where the beach stretches all along the ocean. It’s a little patch on the river, next to the train tracks. The last time I took her there a single train engine passed by, and it’s whistle was so loud –CHOO! CHOO! – that Celia freaked out and climbed into her stroller. I explained that it was a train, like in all the books. I said, “Choo, choo,” in a nice voice, and I could see her eyes light up with understanding. It’s one thing to read it in a book, and another to be a stone’s throw away when the whistle blows. Quite a memorable experience for a kid under two.
            So, the first thing Celia said when we arrived at the beach was, “Train!”
            I smiled, “Yes, Sweetheart. The train crosses that bridge right over there.”
            She seemed happier than at the house, and started running around on the sand. I had one moment of peace before Joshua started to wail.
            I checked his diaper. Dry.
            It’s always a bummer to me when he starts crying and it’s not the diaper, because it means he’s going to need something more difficult to give – sometimes he needs to be finagled into a new position. Sometimes he’s overly desperate for sleep. In this case, he was hungry. Which of course sucks for both of us.
            He ended up wailing for a good solid twenty minutes before Michelle and I connected. Celia surprised me by climbing into the stroller way before I asked her to. I think the crying was her signal that we’d be leaving.
            She’s been handling the stress extremely well, from my perspective. It’s hard to be living in a home that’s not your home, and right in the middle of all sorts of big changes (like a new family member, a change of country, a change of routine).
            I am happy to have my parents’ home to stay in, and I’m also eager to have my own space again. I am looking forward to having our own home, to having an office again, and to getting Celia into daycare as soon as possible.
            As I stood on the beach yesterday, I had a moment of calm. Only a moment, mind you, but enough to think – I’m in survival mode, but I’ll get through this. Life won’t be like this forever. I can do it. Enjoy what I can, and it’ll pass so quickly I’ll be amazed.
            So, that’s what I’m going to do. Hold my breath and keep swimming.