Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Lion Costume that Wasn't

There's nothing like your kid's school assignments to expose your own lack of abilities.

Ethan came home with the paper early last week. On Friday they were supposed to dress like their favorite character from a book. I thought about this. Ethan's not a huge independent reader, but we have been reading the Chronicles of Narnia and he's really enjoying them.

"What if you dressed up like Peter, the High King?" I asked. I envisioned cutting a sword and shield out of cardboard. Rudimentary, yes, but doable.

"Nooo...I want to be Aslan," Ethan insisted.

Aslan. The great lion. Drat.

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Yes! We're not supposed to go buy anything," he said, obviously repeating his teacher's overtures.

Right. Because I have a lion costume just li-on around here (sorry, couldn't resist). I'm sure some parents do. The crafty ones. I'm sure they have felt and yarn and God-knows what else on hand. We didn't even have construction paper.

I Goggled "simple lion costume" and then almost fell off my chair. Ah, yes. The Pinterest world has taken the word "simple" to new heights. Or maybe it's just that I'm really, really challenged, artistically speaking.

Over the years since Anna's started school I've learned that a lot of these projects seem to put the parents' talents (or lack thereof) on display. It was no different when I was a kid. I'll never forget my mom staying up late, muttering all kind of bad words, to construct a model of a hurricane for my science project that was built from cotton balls, Styrofoam, and Popcicle sticks. (Thanks, mom). Sadly, there is that pressure to compete...and no one likes that feeling of knowing their kid is probably going to show up with the shoddiest costume.

But there's no way I was suddenly going to become talented or be able to run out and round up a lion costume. And anyway, "she said we don't have to wear anything," Ethan had added. "Or we can just tape it to our bodies."

Okay, that's more like it. I dug around again online and found a lion face craft that involved a paper plate and construction paper (even that we didn't have in the house). T-minus 24 hours to deadline.

The day ended up being crazy. My little nephew decided to be born that morning and I wanted to get up to the hospital to visit him later that day. That meant grocery shopping first (and grabbing some construction paper while there). Then it was Chloe's nap while I did some freelance work, lunch for her, the half-hour drive up to Springfield, and back not long before Ethan got off the bus. I was still furiously cutting strips of paper and gluing them to the plate when he came home.

"Look what I'm doing!" I exclaimed. He didn't appear impressed.

We had to momentarily leave the project to pick up Anna from drama. Then back home I attempted to cook dinner, keep an eye on Chloe, and finish gluing. Just before we had to sit down to dinner, I finished...

...and it looked awful. It looked like a preschool craft. It looked as if someone perhaps younger than a first grader had made it. I had essentially made a mask held up by a pencil. Instead of a lion, it looked like a sunburst.

"Ethan, it's Aslan!" I exclaimed, really wondering who I was kidding. He didn't say much of anything. I roared enthusiastically. Ethan didn't say anything.

Until the next morning, when we had about 20 minutes to get ready for school. "I just want a picture of a lion," he said. "Can you print one out and tape it to me? Maybe...I can wear the mask for Chloe's birthday party," he added. I appreciated his attempt to not hurt my feelings.


I was supposed to be making lunches, but I called up a lion coloring picture on the computer and printed it out. Furiously coloring and then cutting, I finished with just a few minutes to spare. Thank the Lord I found the one roll of tape that hadn't disappeared in our house and stuck the picture to his chest. Ethan smiled his approval.

I hope at school, they understand. I hope they know that I really do care, even if my son showed up at school not long ago with a shirt on inside-out. Even if he walked in recently without gloves when it was 10 degrees because he'd brought all of his gloves to school and left him in his locker.

I am trying. Really.

Even if you'd never know by the crumpled lion plastered on the front of his football shirt.

*On a side note, as I went to publish this blog post, Ethan saw the picture of the lion craft. His response? "That did not looking ANYTHING like Aslan!"

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Thank You, Third, For Helping Me Chill (Just a Little)

So this week we celebrate Chloe's first birthday, and I'm going to be utterly cliché here and just say I cannot believe that was a year. Blink. Gone.

Chloe is a true joy and a gift. We had a bit of rough going at first. There was the hip dysplasia and brace she was in for three months. The almost-helmet she had to wear for a flat head (that's rounding itself out, thankfully). Lots of newborn fussiness. Not sleeping through the night until much later than her big brother and sis. But she is a sweet, laid-back, tentative, music-loving, pasta slurping, precious little one who shrieks and grunts when she's happy and rarely cries.

I feel the teensiest bad for her sometimes. You see, she's mellowed her mamma out. Just a little. Or if you ask Dan, maybe not that much. You've got to understand -- although my house, my appearance, my car, may not be meticulous, I still tend to be a kind of anal person. Some would call me...shall we say...high strung. Always stressing about something. Getting worked up about minutiae.

But to them, I would say, I present Exhibit A., also know as Miss Chloe Grace. Let's talk about things I have allowed my third to do that I would have never envisioned with my first (or second, even). If you're in a judging mood, there's lots of material here to work with:

- If food falls on the floor, I've completely conceded that she will eat it. And never mind any of that fake, tittering, "five-second rule!" laugh stuff either, which at least makes it sound as if you are apologizing for letting your kid eat off the floor. We don't have a dog here to eat up scraps. I do sweep and vacuum and attempt to keep things somewhat sanitary. But I can only do what I can do, and honestly, I have to focus more of my energy on making sure anything she won't choke on is removed from the floor.

- I gave her ice cream when she was six months old. The huge smile that lit up her face was well worth it. Since then she's sampled cookies, French fries, and yeah, more ice cream. I draw the line at soda, and I'm not buying her McDonalds Happy Meals (yet), but yeah, she's tried a few other goodies here and there. And most of it is not organic, either. Never mind non-GMO. Here's the way I look at it: food is expensive enough. Connecticut is expensive enough. Fruits and vegetables alone are expensive enough. Every time I look at the grocery bill, I cringe. I just can't go there at this phase.

- That whole "no screens" before age 2 or whatever it is just doesn't work with three kids. If we're watching a movie on a snow day, what are we supposed to do -- ban her to her crib? So yeah, she's watched parts of movies and football games and Wii Smashbrothers battles. She seems pretty unscathed by this. I don't like the idea of running the TV all day and having that as a constant background space filler, but if it goes on and she's up, well...oh well.

- We've been blessed with a lot of clothes from people for Chloe, so she's a hand-me-down girl. Essentially, she's worn about three brand new outfits in her entire little life. When I think back to the new stuff I (and my mom!) showered Anna with at her age (the thought of buying consignment never entered my mind), I feel a teensy bit guilty. Except -- imagine that -- she's fine. She's absolutely fine, doesn't have a clue, and the stuff she's wearing is still pretty darned cute.

- Our house is not baby-proofed. At all. Well, except for one gate at the top of the stairs. Poisonous stuff is up high, but the rest of our house, it's kind of open season. So yeah, she's ripping apart kitchen cabinets and swiping DVDs and books onto the floor. My feeling is -- if it gives her a half-hour of satisfaction and me a half-hour of peace, it's worth the five minutes it takes to clean it up. I should probably get at least some outlet protectors, now that I think of it. But that just hasn't happened yet.

I think I know why firstborn children are usually the ones to grow up and become presidents and CEOs. I can understand why they are the driven over-achievers. That's what happens when your parents' intense focus and drive is placed on you alone for at least a few years. Dan and I are firstborns, and while his personality is laid back, I can tell you I definitely had the voice in my head growing up that said "You better get all A's or else!!"

But thirds, they just kind of go with the flow, by necessity. They teach us what we should have known all along -- life is too complex and too full to control. And we are too completely human to ever get it completely right.

I thank my little one for forcing me to see; forcing me to stop; inviting me to throw up my hands and laugh sometimes; and help me stop to remember that these days -- the good, the stressful, the long and drawn out -- are truly fleeting. Thank you, Chloe, for teaching me how to breathe.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Wubble Incident

We were at the Manchester Target, which is never a nice place to be in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, and Ethan had decided he wanted a Wubble.

A Wubble "looks like a bubble, plays like a ball" according to their advertising, and inflates up to three feet. He mentioned it before (right after Christmas, of course!) and I said maybe he could earn the money for it. The Wubble costs 20 bucks and he already has a little over 10 in his piggy bank.

Ethan had sort of blew that idea off, and hadn't mentioned the Wubble for a week or so until we walked into Target and he insisted on seeing it. So after getting the usual stuff we headed to the toy section, and there it was, in the aisle with outdoor inflatable-type stuff. There was only one Wubble left (they are packaged in relatively small hexagon-shaped boxes) and the box was a little ripped.

"I want it!" Ethan demanded, sounding very much like a typical kid. He took the box down from the shelf to get a closer look. I told him he wasn't getting it today and that he could, as we'd discussed, work around the house doing extra little jobs to earn money for it.

I foolishly assumed we were done with the Wubble.

Silly, silly woman.

Twenty minutes later, I loaded what I'd bought into the car, buckled Chloe into the car seat and hopped in the front. As I was pulling out into the massively busy parking lot, I could see a strange, eager gleam in Ethan's eye. It was the kind of look he always gets when he's done something wrong and he can't help but spill the beans.

"Did you see I have THIS?" he asked. He bent over and lifted up the Wubble box he'd been examining back in the store.

Un. Believe. Able. Apparently, as he explained a second later, he'd shoved the Wubble under the cart when I wasn't looking, and sneaked it into the car as I was loading things into the trunk.

Let's just say the next 10 minutes involved a rambling diatribe on the evils of stealing as I gripped the steering wheel and tried not to hit pedestrians. I formulated a plan: we were about to pick up Dan over at the business and go out somewhere. I would get Dan, we would head back to Target, and one of us would walk back in with him. And the Wubble.

"Why did you do that?" I demanded, knowing the answer, of course.

"Because I really wanted it!" he exclaimed. Well, duh, mom.

We talked about right and wrong, and laws, and God, and stealing, and how stealing hurts the stores and the people who work for them, and trust, and not getting what we want the second we want it. I will admit I threw in a few lines about what happens to grown-ups who steal (he's got a definite fear of prisons), but of course he had to reply, "But I'm not 18 yet," so then I told him about "kid jail" and that sometimes really bad young people had to go there. That gave him pause.

A half-hour later we were back in Target, waiting in the customer service line. I held the Wubble under my arm. Ethan was crying and I began to worry someone would wonder what was going on, especially when he burst out with, "I don't want to go to jail!"

"You're not going to jail," I whispered calmly, as the lady behind me gave us strange looks. "But you DO need to do this."

I had hoped Ethan would hand over the Wubble, admit to stealing, and apologize. Once we got to the counter, he buried his head in my arm. "I can't do it," he sobbed.

"My son took this," I said to the woman in her fifties, whose eyes opened wide with understanding. "Oh...Ohhhh." She looked down at Ethan.

"What do you say?" I nudged. An I'm sorry came out in nearly a whisper.

"Do you promise to never, ever do anything like that again?" the woman said in a stern but not unkind voice. Ethan nodded, she thanked me for returning the Wubble, and we headed back to the car.

I enveloped Ethan in a big hug in the parking lot. He buried his face in my coat for a moment, sobbing, then looked up at me with big eyes filled with tears.

I was waiting for that moment. You know? Like in the old sitcoms when the sappy music starts playing and the audience says "Awww" (Full House immediately comes to mind) as the lesson learned is brought to light. I was thinking of those Davey & Goliath reruns I used to watch as a kid on Saturday mornings. Google Davey & Goliath and you'll find hordes of people guffawing over the utter corniness and "fundamentalist" values. I loved it as a kid. Claymation Davey (who was quite a brat sometimes, I have to say) always had that moment when he realized his wrongdoing, when he understood he had offended God and hurt his family.

Ethan looked up at me with those big eyes, his expression sorrowful.

"What is it, hon?" I asked, waiting for the confession, the expressions of remorse.

"I REALLY WANTED THAT WUBBLE! I didn't want to give it back!!!" More tears.


And so, we got into the car and headed out for what was either a very late lunch or a very early dinner. I wondered, yet again, if the messages, the morals we are attempting to teach our kids are sinking in even a little bit. After talking this over with a few friends, one pointed out that Ethan may very well see me every day grabbing every little thing off the shelf in Target and throwing it in the cart, and thought he'd do the same. She wondered if maybe I shouldn't make a point of taking something down I really wanted, and then putting it back, announcing that I didn't have enough money and would need to save for it.

She may be right. And maybe this incident has done its part to help deter Ethan from embarking on a life of crime.

But I don't care. From now on, when we're out shopping, I'm making sure to always check under the cart.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

How My Child's Therapy Helped Me Be a Better Parent

We were in the town library, and I was attempting (and not really succeeding) at getting Chloe to do a very simple puzzle. As she picked up a piece and began shoving it in as best as she could back onto the board, upside down, I heard myself say "turn it OVER!" in a voice that reminded me exactly of a therapist Ethan had had at some point. I'm not even sure which one.

There's definitely something about watching Chloe learn and grow that is inevitably bringing back all sorts of flashes of Anna's and Ethan's infant and toddlerhoods. Therapists were a big part of Ethan's life from ages almost 2 until about 5 (and still are more marginally today). Speech therapists. Play therapists. ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapists. Physical and occupational therapists. And so, as I watch Chloe, I remember. And as I remember, I recall how much I've learned.

You see, all of those sessions over the years, all of those interactions and discussions, taught me a lot about autism, yes. But in retrospect I can see that through Ethan's therapies I also picked up a few things that helped me be a better parent:

1) One of the most profound things I learned while Ethan was having therapy was about setting your child up for success, when he's learning something new. I don't mean letting your child win or constantly telling her she's going to be a success or that she's done something amazing when she hasn't. What I mean is -- when they're just attempting a new skill, especially if they have a pretty low tolerance for frustration, set them up to succeed so they'll keep trying more difficult challenges.

The puzzle reminded me of Ethan attempting puzzles during therapy sessions when he was little. Placing a completely blank puzzle in front of a child and telling her to get moving is probably going to overwhelm her. But start with just two pieces, and suddenly she gets that sense of accomplishment and is eager for more.

Today if Anna's trying to clean her outrageously messy room or Ethan's attempting to help with vacuuming, I still encourage them to start small, to do something that will give them a sense of accomplishment. There's nothing worse than trying to do something and not knowing where to start. Even adults can relate to that.

2) Be willing to change the plan if what you're doing is not working. The best therapists, I've found, are the ones who are willing to deviate from the plan if they're not reaching the child. I can't think of how many times Ethan would get into "silly" mode during therapy sessions and not want to complete the task at hand. And while yes, there is a time that your child is going to have to learn to sit and attend to the task at hand, the greater issue is that you reach and make a connection with them. If you push an issue with force or inflexibility you may get a result in the moment, but there's a far higher chance it won't be a lasting one.

When Ethan was rolling around on the floor giggling instead of complete a certain task, many times his therapists would think of a creative way to reach him at his make what they were doing more fun...or to hold off until another day. Keeping this kind of open mind is invaluable whether your child is 2 or 20, but particularly when you've battling a strong-willed toddler (or I suppose a strong-willed middle or high schooler). Which leads me to:

3) Know your child's tolerance level and threshold, meaning: know when he's passed that point of no return and is no longer listening or learning. I see this with Chloe all of the time actually, when she has her physical therapy appointments for torticollis. She's not a big fan of therapy, but can usually tolerate about 40 minutes before she starts to get cranky. Her therapist makes a point to do a couple of things. One is to start with more fun activities that aren't going to stress her early on and make the appointment go south immediately. The other is to watch for signs of distress and to give a break when that happens. When you do, you buy more time and actually help increase your child's tolerance level.

And really, it's a good lesson for all of us: when you're getting stressed, don't quit. Take a break, then return. You just might surprise yourself with what you can accomplish if you push yourself just a little bit more (but not too, too much).

I never knew that while rushing from one appointment to the next, that by watching other people down on the floor with one child, I might learn things that would apply to all of them. And apply to life. These are lessons that can never be unlearned, and that we'll always keep living out, as each of our kids learns and grows.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Santa Problems

The end of a long, long day (snow day from school, sans snow) was drawing to a close. We'd just watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and maybe Ethan was thinking of the scene with Father Christmas.

I don't know, but as we were saying bedtime prayers he blurted out, "I don't really like my Mario." His voice was trembling.

Mario is a little stuffed Mario he got in his stocking. I found it at Target for a few bucks.

"Ethe, that's okay. It's not a big deal," I replied.

"I don't like Mario that much," he continued. His eyes were almost filling with tears. "What I wanted was a stuffed Yoshi."

Ah, man. This didn't sound like ungratefulness. He seemed genuinely upset.

"I ASKED Santa. Why didn't he listen to me??!" he demanded indignantly.

I think I've written before about our conundrum, as far as Ethan and Santa is concerned. I never liked the idea of making up elaborate stories about a jolly fat man only for my kids to find out their beloved Santa did not, in fact, exist. At the same time, telling Ethan straight out that Santa isn't real seems like a bad idea. There's nothing I can picture as clearly in my head as Ethan announcing to his class during "short share" that Santa is other kids start crying and arguing.

And so we have played a weird kind of waffling, ambiguous, subtle dance here about the Santa thing. We did this with Anna as well and it worked just fine. By about age 6 or 7 she was convinced Santa wasn't real and was just waiting for most other kids to figure it out, too.

This time around, we have trouble.

"He never listens to me!" Ethan was saying, about to cry, and my heart started aching. For a quick second I wanted to hit myself for not thinking to ask the kid what he wanted for Christmas. I mean, I did ask, but didn't push it. At the time he didn't feel like talking about it so I hadn't gotten much out of him. Now I wondered...when did he ask? We hadn't brought him to Santa. What had he been doing, praying in his room at night to Santa, making requests we hadn't known about? Oy vey.

I made a quick calculation. Christmas was 11 months away. We had time to deal with the consequences later. Forget the kids. I couldn't let him think he hadn't been listened to, and I couldn't add more lies to a lie to try to fix it. It was time to take action.

I took a deep breath. "Ethan, Santa is just a story," I said. "It's not that he didn't listen to you."

His response was not what I expected. Unfortunately.

"YES! He IS real! He has to be real!" More tears now. "He's the one who brings us presents!"

"What if mom and dad are the one who give you presents?"

"No," he said stubbornly. "Santa is real, and he comes on Christmas Eve and puts all the presents under the tree. And he didn't listen to me."

I sat there for a moment, silently fuming at every Christmas movie, book, TV special and song in our culture that absolutely had convinced my literal-minded son that Santa had to be real. Never mind NORAD-track Santa. He had to be real, Ethan had told us another time. We had watched him on the computer! Professional sounding grown-ups had reported on his progress across the globe!

For a moment, I hated them all, and then I felt my eyes filling with tears. I'm not even sure why. Maybe because it had been a long, long snow day without any snow with three kids in the house who all wanted to do different things. Maybe because I wondered if we should have either played up Santa or spilled the beans from the beginning, even though neither option seemed very attractive. Maybe because there seemed to be so many days like this, full of second-guessing, full of trying to make people happy and not succeeding, and knowing that making my kids happy shouldn't be the end goal but still feeling crappy when they're not.

"It's okay, mamma," Ethan said. "Why are you crying?"

"I don't know, Ethan." I felt foolish. "I guess because sometimes even parents feel like they don't make the right choices."

"Don't cry, mamma, it's okay," he said. I was touched by his concern while simultaneously feeling bad for crying in front of him. After that, he was off to bed.

...without us resolving the Santa issue.


Will I ever learn?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Planes, Trains, and Understanding

We were up in the room Ethan and Chloe are currently sharing, and Chloe was engaging in her favorite activity these days: grabbing toys out of bins and tossing them to the floor.

I picked up a toy dinosaur and made it roar. Then I had it take a bite out of a (plastic) tree. Chloe was fascinated.

She threw a Thomas train to the floor. "Chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga" I said, pushing it around. Again, she was enthralled.

There was a little toy plane on the floor as well. I picked it up and made airplane sounds, soaring it through the air. Chloe grabbed the plane and tried to do the same.

I was thrown back to a memory. Ethan was about to turn two and was undergoing an OT evaluation with CCMC. I believe the specific test was called the Peabody Assessment. The therapist basically had him sitting at a desk and was asking him (or observing whether or not) he performed certain tasks.

At one point, she put two little blocks together, added a third, smaller block on top of the front block, and then began pushing the blocks and making train noises. (Apparently that third block was supposed to serve as the train's smokestack.) She waited for Ethan to do the same. Nothing.

What I remember next is not so much that he didn't do the task (Fail!) but her response. She got frustrated. She said and tried and few more times. I almost felt as if she thought he could do it, that with his obvious smarts he should be able to do it, and she was surprised that he couldn't. "C'mon," she kind of muttered under her breath. She almost sounded annoyed, and her demeanor made me tense.

Ethan just looked at the blocks as if he really didn't know or care what he was supposed to do. He didn't mind building them into a tower or knocking them down. But he was not putting two blocks together and pushing them around and making "choo-choo" sounds.

For a year, Ethan ended up with that therapist, who was well meaning but had many other moments in which she huffed and sighed and seemed almost disappointed with his progress. I found our appointments to often be almost deflating, although I appreciated how much I learned about occupational therapy, and how much Ethan learned, during that time.

These days Ethan no longer has OT. If you ask him to imitate an action like that test with the blocks, of course he will.

If you ask him to play with his toys the way a typical child would, might see that for about two minutes. And then he will usually decide to smash everything in a bad guys vs. good guys fight. This is the one play theme he knows and the one way to carry it out. Everything gets tipped over; Legos he spent so long putting together end up in pieces.

And so many times I find myself huffing and puffing like that therapist, sighing or frustrated...

...until moments like that one with Chloe, airplane in hand, making sounds or trying to.

I've said before and I'll say again that we have no idea at this point if Chloe is or isn't on the autism spectrum. But I will say there have been days she does things and until she does them I hadn't remembered that Ethan didn't at her age.

And it's not the fact that she pushes a car and tries to say "vroom." It's how effortlessly she does it. It's as if, of course, yeah, I watch what a grown-up does and try to do it too.

When I watch Chloe, I see how certain things are truly wired into us. Like imitation and play. Like the desire for certain types of play.

I'm reminded that I can't sigh or be annoyed with my son about something that is not his fault. It's not in his inner make-up.

He's not trying to be a little stinker.

It's more like he's baking cookies without all of the ingredients. And because the "ingredients" he does have are pretty good, and he's a pretty inventive "chef," the end result is, if unconventional, still pretty darned good.

Forgive the imperfect analogy. It's just coming to me now as I watch my little one learn and grow, and pray that with her big brother, I will have more compassion and understanding.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Well, the Christmas break has come and gone, and let's just say I'm not going to be taking home any "Mom of the Year" awards.

Okay, I'll try not to be too hard on myself. I didn't yell...that much. I allowed Anna to have a friend over (they baked a lopsided cake they didn't eat and stayed up until 3:30 a.m.). I played board games with Ethan and managed not to lose it when he lost it and threw Connect 4 pieces all over the kitchen when he lost too many games in a row.

But this is what I wish.

I wish I would be more unflappable and less sensitive.

I wish I wouldn't take every negative action my kids take as a sign of their impending doom in adulthood.

I wish I wouldn't forget to be grateful and count my blessings.

I wish I was a little less comfortable in all of my flesh and a little more like the God I follow.

There were Christmases when I wondered if Ethan would ever be excited about the holiday...would ever want to open presents...

...and yet still I found myself annoyed that he couldn't just open his toys like a typical kid and then want to spend the day playing with them instead of cajoling, "Screen time! I want the DS!" (Or Kindle, or iPad, depending on where we were.)

There was a time when Ethan ignored Anna and didn't have the language to argue with her. But these days when they are constantly fighting, I forget that. I forget that, because the fighting and hitting and tattling and whining seems non-stop. Also, I often don't know quite how to handle their fights, because they usually involve Ethan being a little stinker and Anna being a typical big sister mixed in with him not knowing how to relate due to his own issues, but if I try to excuse any of that with Anna she's thinks we're favoring him.

I hate how, while I love my kids unconditionally, I find it so much easier to love when they are being sweet and good.

I hate feeling tired and frustrated with my kids but then at night lying in bed when it's peaceful and wanting to cry because they're growing up so fast and some day I'll remember them like this with, perhaps, nostalgia and longing.

Most of all, I hate that feeling that maybe, just maybe, even though those kind of people irritate me, I may indeed be one of those annoying people who always manages to find something to complain or be negative about.

All I can do is stop.

All I can do, right now, anytime, is to choose to celebrate what was right about this break and the holidays in general.

I can think about the sky awash with stars on a crystal cold night when we went to the living nativity, and Ethan's excited expression when he saw the baby Jesus. "There's Jesus!" he exclaimed, and of course he knew it wasn't really Jesus, but his eyes were bright. I can remember the sounds of Christmas carolers and the way there was a perfect light snow on the day of our Christmas service at church. The world out of the window, from my view on the stage where we sang, was white. I can think of the sweet voices of children, perfectly imperfect. I remember Chloe at her first sight of snowflakes, outside, tasting them on her tongue, wanting more. I remember singing while my brother played the piano on Christmas night, and card games and laughter and the rip of wrapping paper. I think of the lights at Forest Park and the kids in the backseat of the car, and watching Home Alone while eating popcorn and snuggling under blankets. I think of sledding and laughing and kids playing chase and a new book from the library and cold hands on a hot cup of coffee.

And of course, I see what was there all along, when I choose where I fix my gaze.

When I let go of condemnation and regret, of wishing and hating.