Monday, November 29, 2010

Peace and Wonder

Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of year for children and parents alike. So why does the holiday season bring out so much winey, crabby, defiant, entitled and spoiled behavior in our kids? True that the onslaught of extra sugary treats must be a contributing factor and yes, the extra family events and late nights that interrupt a child’s normal routine can be a challenge, but it seems that there is something more to it, something we, the parents, add which makes our children even more erratic this time of year.

There has been a lot of negative behavior from my four year old daughter, Twila, lately. Just when I thought we were out of the cloud of three-year-old, non-sensical, emotional terror, the last week of busyness and running around happened and Twila suddenly reverted or verted for the first time to a whole new level of testing, button-pushing, shouting, arguing and defiance.

Ryan and I were laid out for about forty-eight hours with an awful stomach bug on Monday and Tuesday. And for the two days after that had only fits and bursts of energy, so by Saturday morning, Twila was ready for something interesting to do besides sit around our living room, watching movies, occasionally venturing up to the back of the couch pretending to be a princess or witch and eventually ramping up her energy and action until one of us got hurt or a glass of water got spilled and Ryan and I snapped at her.

Feeling quite a bit more energetic ourselves, we thought we would take our daughters to a nearby mall where kids could ride a train, engineered by Santa himself around the shops and kiosks. This idea proved to be overly ambitious almost as soon as we arrived.

Twila’s patience with our low energy and dour attitudes all week was rebounding in a most feisty and contentious way. Every display we passed, she had to grab and handle; each store we walked by she dodged into without a word of request or explanation. When I tried to speak to her or touch her, she jerked away from me like a pro football player dodging a tackle. She would sooner hit the floor than allow me to steady her shoulder with a firm hand.

A few moments of this behavior was enough to have my adrenaline pumping, internal indignation and embarrassment coursing through my veins. I don’t know how to respond to these parental situations except to respond in kind. As she did her best fullback routine, dodging away from me, juking through the crowd, I became an infuriated linebacker growling ferociously behind her until my strong hand closed around her tiny upper arm at which time she reverted back into a wriggling, squirming, screaming four-year-old who, when on her back, legs kicking wildly up at me, proved more dangerous than any pro football player.

I was vaguely aware as I lifted her clean off her feet and transported her flailing body to the side of the crowded mall plaza and held her firmly against the wall that I looked like one of those parents. I’ll admit right now that I am often one of the judging crowd watching those parents who grab and yank their children, who yell and bark at, and insult their small, whimpering kids who (though may be ill tempered) appear to be acting just like normal toddlers and kids. Kids whine, kids complain and nag and beg for things and yes they drive us crazy sometimes but aren’t we supposed to be the bigger person? Aren’t we with our greater strength also charged to have greater self control and patience than our small children?

I felt the judgmental eyes on me as I held Twila’s shoulders tightly as she struggled away from my grip, sticking out her lower lip and furrowing her brow in prideful resentment, in refusal to appear as if she was listening to me.

I realized at that moment, staring into her angry little face, feeling her look into my angry face, crowds of people watching our angry little exchange, that I hate the mall. I’ve never been a shopper, I find it tedious to walk around picking through piles of clothes, flipping through racks, examining products and asking chit-chatty questions of overly friendly store clerks. But that morning, as I crouched over the linoleum seam where the floor met a great, cylindrical pillar, I actually blamed the mall for my daughter’s obnoxious behavior. I blamed the mall for my inability to react wisely to my daughter’s tantrum. I blamed the mall because it was crowded, loud, bright and far too full in so many ways. It was too full of people, too full of products, too full of sounds, too full of something posing as the Christmas spirit. Mostly, though, I blamed myself for bringing my daughter here.

All around were cheerful sounds, bright decorations, festive music, and Christmas-y smells but it wasn’t actually joyful at all. It was still just a crowded, concrete warehouse whose special holiday train I was holding over my daughter’s head to try and coerce good behavior. Talk about the Christmas spirit.

Seemingly happy people with gingerbread lattes and cell phones in palm, walked through the conveyer belt of products, wondering what their children or friends or boyfriends might want in their stockings this year and casually judging me for pinning my four-year-old against the wall as she grimaced and fought against me.

It wasn’t Twila’s fault, it was my fault and the mall’s fault but not her fault. She is still new on this planet and is still learning what social constructs are all about. She is still learning that you shouldn’t shove and run in long crowded hallways of people, that it’s frowned upon to grab the soft arms of cashmere sweaters, hanging in tidy lines as you eat handfuls of oily potato chips. She’s still learning that it’s dangerous to run away from your mother in a crowded place; that trying to hide from your mom in the midst of crowds of strangers makes her crazy with latent fears about abduction. How should she know that going out of the house for the first time in days to a big place with high ceilings doesn’t mean you can run full bore as far as you can?

As usual, it’s me, mom, who should know herself and her children and the condition of malls better than to think the three would make a good combination in the shadow of Thanksgiving weekend as the shopping season gears up towards full on hysteria. It’s my job to keep Twila safe by bringing her to places that are safe for her to act like herself, a normal, active four-year-old who wants to run and hide and yell, not a place where manic shoppers are pushing towards the best deals on overpriced clothes and electronics.

So my lesson was learned as I stood there poised to pounce all over my defiant daughter. I figured it out, if a little late, that this is not where Twila and I would make the most of the Christmas season together. There underneath the melodic sounds of Silver Bells and the intermittent jiggling of “Santa’s” reindeer reigns and the constant shuffling of feet, the screams and cries of children being photographed on Santa’s lap, the chinging of cash registers, the rustling of shopping bags, was the least joyous place for the two of us. And I won’t make that mistake again.

I’ll spend this month, instead, playing with my kids, taking them places they can run around and be themselves. I won’t spend all month teaching them to want things so I can turn around in a month or a year or five years and get angry with them for wanting too many things. Instead we’ll emphasize playing, and spending time together, making crafts and giving to people who actually need things, reading Christmas stories, singing songs and watching Christmas movies. And in this small way I will try to do what I can to not contribute to the consumerist hysteria of a season that is supposed to be full of peace and wonder.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Things To Do With Your Kids On Black Friday Besides Shop

Since Ryan and I are (fortunately) alike in our distaste for crowds, lines, waiting and the general bustling of shops and malls, each year we find ourselves in the position of trying to decide what to do with our wide open Friday after Thanksgiving, a predicament we are particularly fond of. Here are some of our favorite ideas that are sure to keep you and your kids away from the crowds:

10. Go out for breakfast at the normally busy destination breakfast spot that is far away from any shopping and enjoy the short wait afforded by most people congregating at local malls
9. Go to the indoor exhibits at the zoo
8. Visit an art museum
7. See a movie
6. Make a fire and drink hot cocoa
5. Decorate for Christmas
4. Take naps with your babies, enforce a quiet time with your older children, read the paper, enjoy some peace and quiet knowing you are not battling lines of cars competing for a single parking space
3. Hold a Chutes and Ladders tournament
2. Paint canvases (pre-purchased of course from Michaels Crafts or similar) let each person have their own canvas, but use the same color plus black and white then see what each person comes up with
1. Have a snow ball fight!

What do you do and your families do on Black Friday? Post a Comment Here:

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Peace that Surpasses Christmas

The Holiday season descends and as if time wasn’t already moving too quickly, Halloween sneaks up ending summer to start the launch pattern for the rest of the year. Halloween ushers in Christmas decorations at the local Targets, startlingly early and before you’ve turned around Thanksgiving week is here to slingshot us to Christmas whose joyful chaos tumbles us head over heels past the New Year’s Eve celebrations and parties leaving us finally in the company of quiet January.

Christmas (and all that surrounds) is supposed to be the most wonderful time of year, but it is in that expectation that we so often find ourselves let down. We still remember that wonderful feeling of surprise and enchantment that the holiday season brought us when we were children and as adults we chase that same feeling of newness and it’s almost impossible to catch.

Sometimes we try to recreate it through our children, making their Christmas as joyful and enchanting as possible to live vicariously through their surprise and gratitude. But this too leaves so much room for letdown because children hardly ever convey the kind of gratitude that is truly soul-satisfying. Such are children, such is life.

But this year I am trying to be conscious of the warmth and magic of this time of year. I am fighting against the speeding train that is the holiday season rushing past. I’m walking duck-footed down the steep, sandy slope so that I can enjoy the view without slipping all the way down before I know what’s happened.

And it’s not just for the joy of the holidays. I am trying to slow my break-neck pace down in general. As good a report as Twila and I generally have, and as close-knit as our spirits truly are, I am becoming aware of how my high-strung nature, my irrepressible need to control, my often frantic pace, is impacting her. It is not uncommon now for Twila, when she gets frustrated, to stomp around the house growling and shouting “I am an-ga-ry!” She has also been known to turn down offers to read stories or go to the park because she is “too busy.” These seemingly innocent exercises in spirit and will have the tendency to cut straight to my heart and convict my own spirit for the way I often swirl around the house in a flurry of rush and irritation.

I’m not the first mom with the realization that I’m not living in the moment and I won’t be the last but I feel charged never the less, with the responsibility to at least teach Twila and Jada how to live in the moment. Because (at least in theory) I know there is another way to live. I know that it is good to slow down and enjoy the scenery. My parents weren’t afraid to drive to California instead of fly and though it may have been more a necessity than a luxury, those long trips through deserted deserts and mountains with no DVD player and only one children’s cassette tape taught us how to enjoy every possible aspect of a car ride with four children, how to really examine a landscape, how to invent games, together, and in our own minds. And I look back on those trips as a gift.

I have been asking myself lately, in this holiday season, am I giving Twila these kinds of gifts? Gifts of self-discipline and appreciation, memories of laughter and calm and true joy—not instant gratification or glitzy excitement—that she can look back on, draw on when life gets too fast-paced and stressful in her own adulthood?

Even though the pull to the wild, centrifugal force of the holiday season seems almost involuntary at times, I am trying to become aware of the times when these forces begin to draw me in. Ironically, some of the most stressful times of the holiday season for me are when I try to do something fun and festive with my daughter, like make crafts or bake cookies. I am constantly battling my need to control when Twila and I get creative together. I never realized what a control freak I am until Twila started wanting to do things her way and I found it almost impossible to allow her that freedom.

A year ago when we moved into our house, I had the fun idea that Twila and I could buy some big canvasses and paint them together. Let’s just say we had artistic differences and (though at long last we did find a rhythm in which we could paint together happily respecting each other’s vision—an accomplishment I count alongside childbirth and graduation from college) we more often now choose to paint separate canvases.

So it ended up being a blessing of the most unexpected sort, when my dad was available to come bake gingerbread cookies with Twila and Jada and me last week. I forget when I’m not doing it, how hard it is for me to let Twila get her hands on the process of baking (or anything) when we actually get going. How I picture it in my mind is never how it actually goes. I imagine us cooperating, Twila serenely stirring the dough (and not eating globs of raw egg infused batter) and Jada watching interestedly from her highchair. Instead Twila grabs handfuls of flower and wants to taste every spice we use; Jada screams if I set her down and also wants to taste everything in sight.

So when I started to tisk and cluck at Twila for messaging the dry ingredients, I was relieved that my dad was there to smile and laugh with her, to encourage her to get her fingers involved, enthusing that’s how real bakers do it; they get their whole bodies into it! And I felt myself relax ten degrees. As we mixed and stirred and baked, my dad and I took turns holding Jada (my dad always more successful at making her laugh and screech with delight) and helping Twila to messily knead the dough, roll it out, cut shapes of people and apples and eventually, slide the cookies into the oven.

And miraculously in this season of busyness and rushing, there was a three hour period in our kitchen that was fun and calm and festive. For Twila, a Christmas memory was made, for me I was given practice in slowing down and letting go of the reigns and seeing that everything was okay when I didn’t control every step from beginning to end. I was reminded that it’s okay to get messy. I was reminded too (as I so often am) how lucky we are to have all four of Twila and Jada’s grandparents in town, that it takes help to raise kids with joy and patience. And I was reminded that we can slow down, should slow down in this busy season to remind ourselves and teach our kids how to truly appreciate this time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Mom’s Enigma of Time

As a mother, time is an enigmatic concept. At times, it moves painfully slow; at times painfully fast. Time rarely moves—in my experience—at just the right, soothingly comfortable speed.

It has been said of motherhood, the days are long but the years fly by. I think this is a true description of the paradox of ‘mother time.’ But it doesn’t explain enough. Yes, the days are often long, but within them, some hours seem far too short. The hours (or half hours) for example that Jada naps, the hours (or half hours) during the night that she and I rest soundly next to each other before she howls, roots, thrashes and cries looking for some unknowable comfort.

Some moments feel unfairly short too, like the moments during which the kids, the games, the connection between me and my kids, all feel perfectly harmonious. Also cruelly short are the number of moments I am allowed to read an email without being interrupted, quickly write down a creative thought, shower, methodically pick-up or finish a conversation on the phone. Almost non-existent are the moments I am allowed to be by myself when my girls are around.

Oddly, for how short certain hours and moments feel to me, they seem to be almost unbearably long to Twila and Jada. Indeed, the shorter a moment feels to me, the longer its seems to feel to my girls, so that when I am imploring them pointlessly to ‘just give mommy one minute’ it is as if I am asking them to go to their room and finish the duration of their youth quietly in solitude and only come out when they have reached adulthood. Even asking to be left alone in the bathroom seems an impossibly long time to my daughters who respond to such requests with tears and shouts of injustice.

It is the push and pull of this difference in perception that creates one of the main ‘mother, daughter’ tensions in our house.

On Monday as I shuttled back and forth from one end of the house to the next, putting our luggage away from our one night excursion to Soldier Field to witness, in person, another disheartening Vikings loss, and separating dirty laundry from piles of recklessly discarded, but perfectly clean clothing, and delaying Twila’s constant requests to engage in a new imaginative adventure, she finally asked a question that succeeded in attracting my full and undivided attention.

“Mom, who do you think you like better, me or Jada?”

It was a simple question, unemotionally asked, but it made my thoughts plow down to that familiar space of mental self-examination: am I nicer to Jada? Do I give her more attention?

“I like you both the same,” I assured my bright-eyed four year old, kneeling down to her level where she stood in the hall. “I’ve known you longer so in some ways I feel like I know you better but I love you and like you both the same, in different ways, but equally.”

She accepted this easily enough, but I went on, “I mean, that’s like asking you, ‘who do you like more, mom or dad?’ and you couldn’t—”

“Dad,” she said answering the hypothetical reflexively.

I smiled at her honesty, gave her a hug and asked if she wanted to play for a little bit before I went back to the laundry. Of course, she did. Her desire to play and interact with me is insatiable. She’s like a bottomless well, constantly craving attention and interaction.

As we played, I reassured myself with words my mother said a long while back: mothers are important even though they inevitably become the more boring parent. We are needed for nourishment, comfort, protection, consistency, all those really important but less-than-glamorous foundations of growing up. I recognize that by being a stay-at-home mom, I am accepting this role of unglamorous necessity. I know that being a mom means being the heavy; often times being the bad cop. I know I am loved by my daughters and my presence here is an intangible, almost unrecognized gift to them. But I will probably never be thought of as the fun parent.

Each night, I feel like I am on my last leg of patience, running the relay baton breathlessly to the garage door as Ryan comes in, exploding with fresh energy and humor which persists until the last moment of wakefulness as the girls happily drift off to sleep in the arms of their fun, funny, gentle, Dad.

They have no concept of the fact that my patience, energy, and humor have to stretch across a ten hour day while Ryan’s only has to last for the ninety minutes from the time he walks in the door until they go to bed. All they know is that Dad is patient and funny, and always says yes to playing. He is full of smiles and laughs and always ready for a tickle fight. He rarely says no and never has to go do the laundry or make dinner, pay the bills or check his email. So I wasn’t at all surprised that Twila admitted to liking him more. He’s more likable. I even like him more than who I am during the long hours of the quickly passing days.

That’s the real irony of this whole motherhood saga, I can actually see and hear how irritating and naggy I sound to my daughters and somehow I can’t stop myself.

I know life is going fast—too fast and my time to play and laugh and dance and sing is running out as I type, but I can’t make myself fully live in the moment; fully appreciate the finite opportunities I have with my daughters each day. I can’t turn off the necessity of the todo’s jockeying for position at the top of my list. Because the truth is some stuff does have to be done and I can’t just ‘let the house go.’ It’s a catchy phrase but if taken to its logical extreme my kids are getting hauled away by child services. I’d love to let the laundry and the dishes go but then no one would have any clean underwear and we wouldn’t have plates to eat on.

Will my girls one day appreciate that I made healthy dinners just about every night of the week, washed their clothes and took them to school myself each day? Probably, but in the meantime, I am doomed to being the boring parent, the one who doesn’t have time to play, the one whose personal needs are a mere nuisance to my naturally self-centered toddlers.

In the meantime those things which I want to do with my girls and those things that I have to do for my girls, and for our house, for myself, all crash together in a daily collision of priorities. And the days are long, the years are flying by. The hours seems unbearably long and short all at once and even the days that are long end too quickly with not enough getting done, with not enough time spent playing, living in the moment. Free though we are to do whatever we want, Twila always feels like she’s being put off, I always feel like I’m compromising, and letting most people down, Jada is always waiting. And we all three spend much of the day looking forward to Ryan’s fresh energy.

And even as I write, the two hours of Twila’s preschool that seems unbearably long to her, winds speedily down, too quickly for me. And it’s time to end our break from each other and hit the ground running, running, running, again.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Doing Very Little

Twila has a strange stomach bug this week. And there’s nothing like intermittent vomiting to keep a person grounded. In the spirit of looking for the silver lining, I try to see my daughter’s semi-frequent illnesses as an opportunity to slow down, to stay home, to rest and play. More than most days, I try to let the house work wait when Twila is sick. I try to say ’yes’ more than usual to her requests for company while she’s watching TV, a partner to play with, and cuddling on the couch. In a week that fills inexplicably with errands and dates, on sick days, we stay home; we politely decline offers and gently put off to-dos. We slow down and rest.

Oddly, however, this virus seems to have very little effect on Twila’s overall energy when she is not vomiting. Over the course of four days, she has thrown up four times. Three times the first night, none the whole second twenty-four hours, then again yesterday morning. Aside from the twenty or thirty minutes surrounding these acute attacks on her digestion, she seems absolutely fine. So our ‘rest’ is not that restful and our cuddles are more like wrestling matches on the couch. As much as I’d like to sit and read books, Twila would rather climb the back of the couch and dive down on to the cushions (and me, and Jada).

So my romantic idea of a sick day with Twila turns into a power struggle between my very hyper daughter and myself (the ill-tempered wicked witch of the west). I am beginning to understand why parents bring their sick children out into public: sick days are a recipe for making everyone crazy!

As the day wore on yesterday, and Twila was climbing the refrigerator and pushing her newly-standing sister onto her but on the hardwood floors, it became apparent that we needed something to do. I briefly considered an indoor park but quickly realized that my desperation didn’t excuse bringing a four-year-old with the stomach flu into an enclosed space with babies and small children. So we went for a walk.

It was remarkably warm and still as we set out from our house yesterday afternoon, Jada in the Double Chariot Stroller and Twila walking defiantly beside it. She marched with her hands on her hips as if to show that her busyness permitted no time for riding next to her infant sister. In one hand she held a folded page of star stickers which she had uncovered in a pile of papers and crayons in our office. “I’m going to pass out stickers,” she had announced as I strapped Jada into the three-point harness.

As we walked along the quiet, wooded streets of our neighborhood, a thin cloud-cover stretched across the yellowing sky. Twila looked from house to house to find a person on whom she could bestow a precious sticker. All seemed quiet. Then across the street, Twila spotted a thin, hooded figure sitting in a driveway, hunched over her cell phone. The sharply died black hair of a thin teenage girl covered her darkly lined eyes. She was speaking in monotones into her phone, her face nearly covered with a blue sweatshirt hood. She chewed continually on the sleeve of her sweatshirt as Twila boldly approached her.

A pang of hesitation spread over me as I watched Twila go, her fresh and vulnerable spirit standing in sharp contrast to this hard and disenchanted teenager. I wanted to stop Twila, to suggest we find someone else, suggest that maybe she was too busy to accept one of Twila’s stickers. But we were too close now and the girl had noticed Twila.

“There’s a little girl walking up my driveway,” I heard her say dully to whomever she was speaking.

Undaunted, Twila approached her and wordlessly unfolded her page of stickers. She held them up for the young girl to see then began peeling one off.

The young teenager stared expressionless for a moment. Then Twila, an expression of absolute business on her face, reached a single star sticker out to her.

The girl’s stony face suddenly broke into an unexpectedly bright smile. Her eyes registered utter surprise. “She’s giving me a sticker,” she reported into the phone. Her face glowed as she wordlessly stuck the sticker on the breast of her blue sweatshirt. Before she could say thank you, Twila turned and marched back to the street where she met me and we walked on.

A light breeze kicked up as we reached the far side of a wide block, lined by fields and marshes as far as we could see. The breeze was still warm, but I could feel a distinct shifting in the atmosphere. “We should probably head back, it’s going to get chilly,” I suggested. But Twila was trotting up another driveway.

There in the driveway, an elderly woman was pulling grocery bags from the backseat of her car. She stopped as Twila approached, looking furtively from me to her as Twila unfolded her sheet of stickers.

“What have you got there?” She asked kindly. She knelt down with some difficulty as Twila peeled a sticker with the utmost professionalism and handed it over to the woman. “Oh!” she said with surprise, “what’s your name?”

“My name is Twila,” Twila said, “I’m four years old; bye!” Then she turned and skipped away leaving the women chuckling with surprise as she stuck the star to her jacket lapel.

As we rounded the corner, nearing home, the wind suddenly gusted hard, lifting our hair and our clothing around us and swirling the layers around our faces and bodies. Twila searched the vacant streets for someone else to approach. Thick clouds began to blow heavily across the sky. “Let’s get home, honey,” I said, “I can feel the air getting colder and we don’t have jackets.”

“I’m going to find more people,” she said, marching onward. I kept guiding us towards our driveway and when she saw it, she balked. “Mom, I am not ready to go home yet,” she stomped her foot for emphasis.

My hair whipped my face in another strong gust of wind. “It’s time, Twila, we have to get back in and do some things around the house.” The mysterious: ‘some things.’ The ‘things’ that are seemingly endless and keep me from ever getting to the games Twila wants to play with me. It was the wrong thing to say.

She put her hand on her hip and stomped her foot again. “Well if you are not going, then I am going for a walk by myself!”

“No you’re not, Twila.” I turned, half-way down the driveway, to face her, standing motionless at the top, “You are not going for a walk without an adult.”

She sighed in a way I thought I wouldn’t hear for years, “Mom, I’m four years old!” She said emphasizing each word as if this was new news to me.

I was equally exasperated and enchanted by her stubbornness and I softened, seeing so much of my own youthful spirit in her independence. I sighed.

“Okay, look,” I said stomping back to the top, “you may go two houses that way and then you turn around and come back. You stay on this curb and when you turn around you stay on this same curb. Two houses.”

She grinned, excitement replacing her indignation.

“Two houses, Twila.”

She nodded fervently and agreed.

“Okay, have fun,” I said turning around. As I walked down the driveway toward the garage, another strong wind pushed the strolled to the side. I turned and watched as Twila skipped happily away, staying directly on the curb I had designated. I watched her until she disappeared from my sight behind our neighbor’s tree.

As I reached the garage, panic and fear showered down over my head. Whether it is a mom-thing to think of the worst case scenario or just a personal Melissa thing, I have not yet figured out, but as of late, I have been battling back tragic images in every avenue of our lives. As I unstrapped Jada, lifted her from the stroller and perched her on my hip, I was bombarded with images of giant branches being ripped from trees overhead, of Twila getting lost and wandering away, of slowly-rolling rusted Chevy’s approaching my tiny daughter.

I headed straight up the driveway, looking through the trees trying to spot Twila’s purple shirt up on the street. My heart pounded as I headed after her. Then, there she was, already returning, on the same curb she had departed on, her stickers gripped in one hand, a giant smile on her face.

She was close to the top of our driveway. I turned and raced back to the garage. Once inside, I crouched down, busying myself with a pretend task.

“Hi mom, I’m back from my walk!” She sang proudly.

Casually, I turned around, “Oh hi Twila how was it?”

“Good! I went almost three houses down accidentally, but I turned around and stayed on the curve, and I looked for cars!”

She was beaming, a confidant pride glowing from her whole body. She hugged me and we went inside as the sky darkened and the wind kicked up even harder.

That night as the rain began to pour down, the lightning and thunder, flashing and clapping, Twila retold the story of her harrowing journey to Ryan. Whether it was from her stomach bug or the day’s adventures, or the newly changed time, Twila was ready to collapse in bed by seven o’ clock. As we lay in bed, cuddling and getting ready to sing, Twila wrapped her arms around me and whispered in my ear, “You’re so great, Mommy, you’re my best mom, ever.”

“Thanks Twila,” I whispered back, “you’re my best Twila ever.” Then we just lay quietly; her rhythmic breathing slowing until I felt her fall deep into sleep.