Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sean 4.6

I realize I never posted a "four-month" blog post with Sean, mostly because we were getting ready to leave for seven weeks for a combination of Squadron Officer School at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery for Nate (basically the training all captains in the Air Force have to go to so they can eventually be promoted to majors), Thanksgiving in Tennessee, and Christmas in Colorado. Now we are safely in Montgomery, in an "historical house" we rented on Airbnb that has ripply, creaky wood floors and mirrors everywhere, and I present you with this rambling "Sean at four and 2/3 months old" post. :-)

Just last night, as I was giving Sean his pre-bed bottle (I have taken to pumping in the mornings so that we can basically stuff him right before bed; it helps him sleep longer!) I looked over at Nate and said mournfully, "What happened to my teeny tiny baby?" So far no one has said to me, "Enjoy it because they grow up so fast!" but if someone did, I would affirm the statement heartily. No one has to tell me to enjoy it. Somebody just needs to tell me the magic formula for slowing down the growth!

Because really, how perfect is Sean right now! The can't-crawl-but-sure-trying-hard stage, the can-almost-sit-up-on-his-own stage, the experimenting-with-his-voice stage so that some days he squeaks and squawks like a mouse-parakeet combination, and some days, like today, he growls and roars like an asthmatic jaguar or a guttural gorilla. Lately he's been waking up around 5am and I nurse him in bed with me and then we both fall back to sleep. He wakes up before I do and starts chattering and cooing to himself, and when I finally manage to unglue my eyelids, there he is, beaming benevolently at me and babbling "good morning" in his own special language. His personality reveals itself more and more every day, and my stars but this child is as stubborn as both his parents! He's been fighting naps the past couple of days– utterly determined not to fall asleep in his pack'n'play, to the point of passing out on his blanket on the floor, and, yesterday, nodding off while sitting on my lap as we Skyped with Grammy in Colorado. The good news is that he has finally decided that being in his carseat is no longer the worst affliction known to man, which is good timing since he's spent quite a bit of time in it in the travels of the past week.

The past month and a half have contained a number of "firsts"– the first time I left Sean with someone other than a family member (thanks Heidi!!), the first time, just shy of four months old, when he rolled from his back to his tummy (we could see the determination on his face as he stubbornly tried over and over until he finally mastered it!), and the first bachelor weekend that he and Nate had together back in October. I had managed to pump and freeze enough milk to make it possible for me to go on the squadron wives' getaway to Wilmington, NC, and after being reassured by my husband, my mother, my sister, and my friends that I was not a terrible mother for wanting a weekend away, I went! I didn't cry when I left, either, but I think I only managed to get through the weekend by not thinking about Sean. Nate was forbidden to call me unless it was a real emergency, and since three poopy diapers in one day didn't constitute an emergency, so we merely texted so that I could reassure myself that both husband and son were alive and well. And they were! I think it was good for me to get away and be reminded that Sean's existence doesn't absolutely depend on me– while obviously it's best that I take care of him, he isn't going to shrivel up and die if I'm not there.

The pictures will tell the rest of the story of the past month and a half:

Is it terrible of me that when I see this picture
I hear, "Damn it feels good to be a gangster"
in my head?!
Emperor Cheerfullus Maximus

Breaking all kinds of safety regulations, no doubt!

Super Baby!

A mini Mozart?
I tried to explain to him that in polite society
it is not quite The Thing to try to eat the tablecloth.
He disagreed.

Oh, do stop boring me, all of you.
The loves of my life!
Selfie with Mama!
Trying on hats just for fun!

Finally getting to meet Auntie Maggie and Uncle
Ben leads to giggles all round!
"Hey Mom, watch this!"
Being shown around Auburn by Auntie Maggie. 
This is what happens when he fights naptime.

He quite enjoys his tongue.

He has taken to practicing the skydiving posture.

He wasn't particularly impressed by the flamingos.
There are anteaters back there somewhere!
Watching the goats with Daddy!

I am so in love with this little man, and so incredibly thankful for life with him and his daddy.
Happy Thanksgiving, friends! 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Safety vs. Freedom

Last night I read A Pocketful of Cricket (by Rebecca Caudill) to Sean as a bedtime story. For the most part he does a fantastic job of paying attention, though he tends to be more interested in watching my face than in looking at the pictures. Which is very flattering to me!

Anyway, A Pocketful of Cricket is a very sweet story about a little boy named Jay who finds a cricket on his way home from bringing in the cows, and makes it his friend, and ends up bringing it with him on his first day of school. In his dark pocket, Cricket starts fiddling ("Chee, chee," fiddled Cricket!) and when Teacher realizes that Jay is the one with the cricket, she asks him to put it outside. Jay just sits and looks at his desk, finally pleading that he wouldn't be able to find Cricket again. "You could find another cricket, couldn't you?" asked Teacher. Jay shook his head. "It wouldn't be this one," he said. Teacher realizes that Cricket is not just any old cricket, he is Jay's friend, so she asks Jay to bring Cricket up and talk about him for Show-and-Tell.

I remember my mom reading A Pocketful of Cricket to my brother and sister and me, so of course there's special memories attached to reading it now to Sean. But I couldn't help thinking about several things about the story after we were through: Jay is six years old. And in the story, it's his job to walk down a lane, wade across a creek, walk through a cornfield, and climb over a rail fence into the cow pasture to bring home the cows every evening. The story also mentions that he can whittle, which means he has a pocket knife. He puts himself to bed at night. On his first day of school, he meets the bus by himself at the mailbox at the end of the road. When he gets to school, the driver tells him where to go. He introduces himself to the teacher.

And he's six years old. Given the media and CPS frenzy that ensued when a ten year old and his six year old sister walked home from the park, I wondered if anyone who freaks out at the idea has ever read classic children's books. Remember Henry Huggins and Beezus and Ramona? Those kids were out walking and riding their bicycles all over town. They were building clubhouses (with real hammers and nails and old boards!!) and earning money by having paper routes. One of my favorite series, by Elizabeth Enright, features the Melendy family. It's set during World War II, and in the first book thirteen year old Mona, twelve year old Rush, and ten-and-a-half year old Randy individually traipse around New York City. When their six-year-old brother Oliver imitates them and goes by himself to the circus and gets lost, of course everyone panics a bit, but a policeman finds him and brings him home, none the worse for wear. There is no Child Protective Service investigation.

When I was growing up and scribbling stories in my notebooks, the elder members of my family would tease me for being morbid because, so often, the children who were the main characters were orphans. What I've realized now is that it wasn't morbidity, but rather the only way I could think of for allowing my children to be independent enough to go out and have adventures. My black-and-white conscience couldn't square with letting my characters disobey orders from well-meaning adults to stay put. So I neatly solved the moral dilemma by killing the parents off, thus freeing the children to have adventures with a clear conscience.

I have lots of dreams for Sean's childhood. One of them is that Sean will be able to experience a lot more freedom and independence than what is now socially the norm. I want him to be confident and ready to engage with the world around him, not hanging back fearfully. I want him to talk to strangers. I want him to know that yes, there are dragons in the world, but those dragons can be killed!  I want him to know that his father and I love him so, so much, and that while of course we want him to be safe, physical safety isn't the ultimate goal of existence. I want him to know we long for him to be capable and smart and use the brain that God gave him to do fun and interesting and yes, sometimes, risky things. I want to ruthlessly kill that part of my spirit that would selfishly smother Sean with my own fears and prevent him from learning how to be his own person. I want to slay that part of me that prizes my own peace-of-mind above my son's actual well being. I want to remember that most things worth doing carry elements of challenge or risk. I want to raise a son who is ready by the time he is a young man to get out and have adventures and do what he feels God is calling him to do, even if it might seem risky.

And who knows what that will look like? I don't know exactly, but I have ideas. The first step will probably be letting him go for a boat ride with his Grandaddy next year, once he's big enough to fit into a life jacket. Honestly, that idea is not attractive to me. But Sean's life isn't about my peace of mind, is it?

Right now, he's four months old. He's dependent on Nate and me for everything. But I see that glint of determination in his eye as he practices sitting up, and I watched the triumphant expression on his little face when he finally mastered rolling from his back to his tummy. I can already see the grit and the stubbornness in his little personality, and all I can think is, Watch out, world! Sean is coming!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tracing Rainbows

Last Saturday, we found out our next assignment. We have really really been hoping for Holloman AFB in Alamogordo, New Mexico, which is where they've moved the F-16 B-course. I had it all planned out: we were going to live on base, and have built-in community in the other military families surrounding us. There is a PCA church in Alamogordo (with the same name as the one we attend here in Sumter!) It's an eight-hour drive to Colorado Springs, which means we could see a lot more of my family. Nate's parents would come out and visit us and Nate and his dad could finally take their years-in-the-works hunting trip. Alamagordo is another tiny town, but at least it is in the west and there are 9,000 foot mountains within a 30-minute drive, and we were told, lots of outdoorsy stuff to do. Nate would be a wonderful instructor to all the fledgling F-16 pilots. And best of all, we had been told on the information sheet for this particular assignment bloc that AFPC really needs pilots at Holloman and that no one wants to go there. Our hope were high.

Saturday morning, I was getting dressed when I saw that Nate's squadron commander had texted him. "Give me a call, I have your assignment." I ran out of our bedroom holding his phone, and sat in tense silence with Sean on my lap while Nate went into his office to make the call. I thought I'd be able to tell from his side of the conversation, but it was just a lot of "yes sirs" and "okay" and "sounds good" which didn't really mean a thing.

Nate came out of his office and I mutely questioned him with a look.

"Kunsan," he said.

I started to cry. And they weren't tears of joy.

Kunsan, South Korea: the assignment we really, really, really didn't want. The one that means either insane amounts of wrangling and finagling and money and brain power and energy to bring Sean and me along to a base that the Air Force has labelled "remote" (which is a polite term for "we don't want your family here")– or else a year-long separation with Nate going alone.

My first reaction: I thought we were going to get a break. These past two years have been so hard. God, why aren't You giving us a break?

Holloman would have given us a break. Life in the B-course isn't the insane tempo of twelve hour days, weeks and weeks of TDYs, and the ever-looming possibility of deployment. Nate has a teacher streak in him. We would get to see my family. We would get to visit Livia and Lucy's grave on a regular basis. We would be near mountains again. It would have made so much sense.

And yet: Kunsan.

I had my meltdown. And then I flexed my underdeveloped Air Force wife "keep calm and carry on" muscle, and we started trying to figure out what to do.

We pretty quickly came back to what we had said we would do if we ever got Kunsan (which, the reality is, most fighter pilots do get Kunsan at one point or another.) Nate will go alone, and Sean and I will move back to Colorado Springs. If we didn't have Sean, I would go to Korea and find an apartment off-base like many wives do, but Sean changes lots of things. The tempo of work will be just as busy if not busier there than it is here, meaning that even if Nate was allowed to live off-base with us, we would still see little of him, and I would be left to parent Sean without a close community and support network. We would be last in line for medical care at the on-base clinic and if Sean had something seriously wrong with him I'd have to take him to a Korean hospital. And, as my older sister wisely put it, "Better to be apart and be able to focus on doing well the tasks before each of you, than to be together and feel like you're constantly failing the other person." It sounds terrible to say that it might be better for our marriage to be apart for a year than together, but really in our specific circumstances we think it is true.

So this is where we are at. We don't have a report date yet, and I'm making a long list of all the questions I have and the things we have to do and find out and take care of before Nate goes. And I'm trying, pretty much relentlessly, to trace the rainbows through the rain. At least it's only a year. At least he won't be deployed and in the line of danger (at least not in any more danger than the entire country of South Korea is in with the wackjobs in North Korea). At least we'll get to Skype all the time. At least Sean and I will be able to go over and visit him at least a couple of times. At least when it's finished he should never have to do it again. At least it's not a remote tour in the Middle East (not unheard of.) At least Sean is so young that he'll have no memories of it– it will be way harder on us than him. At least I have family and community and a church in Colorado Springs that we can go home to. At least at least at least.

And it still sucks. I'm still not happy about it (though I can't be totally devastated at the prospect of spending a year back in my beloved Colorado.) I still wish we were going to New Mexico. A year apart is going to be really hard, and I know there will be many more meltdowns in the future.

But– I'm not trying to sound cliché or trite– God is faithful. I really do believe that. I really do believe that He knows what is best for Nate, for me, for Sean, for us as a family, and that if that means a year long separation, somehow it's more for our good than New Mexico would be. I'm reading The Jesus Storybook Bible to Sean (almost) every day, and just a couple days ago we reached the Crucifixion. Sally Lloyd-Jones tells it very simply so that a child can understand, and yet her words pack an emotional wallop. My voice broke:

"Papa?" Jesus cried, frantically searching the sky. "Papa? Where are you? Don't leave me!"
And for the first time– and the last– when he spoke, nothing happened. God didn't answer. He turned away from his Boy.

I know that Sean is too young to understand, but still when the chapter was over I whispered to him, "Jesus did that for us– for me, for you. He did it to save us from our sin, because he loves us, because he wants us to be with him always."

He was abandoned by his Father so that I would never have to endure abandonment. He went through hell to take away the hell that I deserve.

That's why I trust God in this next assignment. It's not easy and I'm not pretending that it will be. But I need look no further than the Cross to see the naked, bloody proof of just how far God is willing to go to love me and save me and be with me. Jesus went to hell and back for our sake. I can trust him with Kunsan.

The title of this post comes from the third verse of one of my favorite hymns, "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go":
O Joy that seekest me through pain
I cannot close my heart to thee
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.

Photo credit: Greg McCown