My kids are 22-months apart. I always think that is so close in age, until I remember that my sister and I are only 14-months apart. Which always prompts the question, “What the hell were my parents thinking?!?!”
Having a sister so close in age, I never really worried about how close in age Bean and Gracie would be. In fact, even when I was in the throws of their ages being so challenging, I didn’t realize it. It wasn’t until we got through that really hard time that I realized that their ages had been an issue.
Having two kids is awesome, but those first few months – maybe even the first year – were a doozey. Bean was going through the terrible two’s while we had a newborn. He was potty training while we were dealing with midnight feedings. I mean, I don’t think you could pick two more needy phases for kids to be in. Don’t get me wrong, we loved every minute of it! But looking back, I can certainly see that it might have been a little bit easier if they had been a little further apart in age.
The kids are a little bit older now. Gracie is 18-months old and Bean is three. And our world is getting better and better and cooler and cooler and insanely fun. These two ages might be my favorite so far. I think I’ve said that about every age, but it is really true this time.
Now, Bean and Gracie are at that magical age where they can play together without me and Chris having to referee or sit with them the entire time. Their favorite thing to do is to run around upstairs together. I put the baby gate up at the top of the stairs, and so they run back and forth between their two bedrooms at their own will. Chris and I sit downstairs and just smile as we listen to them giggle and squeal and talk back and forth.
Gracie can’t talk in sentences yet, but she can say a lot of words and make a lot of noise. In fact, when she gets going, she can sound like she’s speaking complete sentences, until you realize you haven’t understood a single word she’s said. But that doesn’t seem to matter to Bean. He has full conversations with Gracie sitting upstairs in their rooms. I remember my mom telling stories about how I could understand what Ginny was saying long before anyone else could understand her, and I often think Bean and Gracie are the same way. And that makes me happy.
Bean is at that awesome age of exploration. His favorite question right now is, “Why?” It’s never in an argumentative way, but he’s just always curious. Gracie is also at an age of curiosity. She wants to know how things work. Between the two of them trying to understand everything around them, they have taken apart almost our entire house. They get into EVERYTHING. It drives us crazy, but it is incredibly fun to watch their little minds work.
I know that they may not always get along, but I also know that even when my sister and I went through phases of not being close, we were still close in ways other people would never understand. I hope that for my kids. I can’t wait to watch their relationship grow.
This was a big year for our family. Bean turned three, which meant that he was now able to play any and every sport offered at our local YMCA. Chris and I were pumped. We had our sideline chairs polished up and read to go. This was also the year that both kids were enrolled in Safe Start infant survival swimming lessons. I was totally ready for this one, too. Nothing scared me more than having a home with a pool and two kids who can’t swim.
Swimming lessons for Bean ended up being awesome. Truly one of the greatest experiences we’ve had with kids. He learned how to flip himself over in the pool if he were to fall in and float until he could swim to the side and hold on until help came. I can’t tell you how proud I was of him. By the end, he could jump in the pool in full winter attire (long sleeve shirt, winter coat, pants, socks, and shoes), and swim/float all the way to the side.
His teacher could even flip him head over feet in the water and he could still get himself to the surface and float/swim over to the side. It was pretty spectacular.
It took Bean six weeks to complete the course. Gracie took twelve weeks. Every day for twelve weeks, I hauled that little redheaded spitfire up to the YMCA so that she could learn how to save herself. And every day Gracie screamed and pitched a fit through the lesson and refused to swim. It got to the point where they had additional instructors from Safe Start come out and try to help Gracie. At one lesson one afternoon there were THREE instructors in the water with her. And still, nothing.
Finally, I told her very sweet (and highly experienced) teacher that I just could not keep coming every day. So last week was our last week with Gracie at the pool. By the end, she could TECHNICALLY float. Kind of. Sort of.
When she got out of the pool on the last day of lessons, her teacher tried to make me feel better by saying, “I’m PRETTY sure that if Gracie fell in the pool, she could PROBABLY float…”
Who was she kidding? We both knew Gracie would sink like a rock. But I appreciated her effort. Truly. In fact, we decided that in six months when Gracie is a little older, we would bring Gracie back to that same teacher for real swimming lessons, not just Safe Start classes. We all agreed that Gracie, though technically the age that was required for the program, was just not ready.
Which brings us to soccer.
Bean started soccer in September. He had practices on Thursdays and games on Saturdays. Bean loved the idea of soccer. He loved all the equipment, like the shin guards and soccer balls. But he just never got into the actual game. He stood out on the soccer field and watched everyone else run around. Chris and I spent more time running around during practices and games trying to get him to play than he did.
On game days, he got really excited to GO to the games, but when we got there, he would say, “Can I sit in the shade with Gracie?” or “Let’s go home and see the doggies.” Still, Chris and I wanted him to learn about commitment to his team and all that other sportsman stuff, so we cheered loudly and dragged him out on the soccer fields during games and practices.
But last weekend, when it came time to get ready for the soccer game, Bean started crying because he didn’t to go. And at the game he cried because he wanted to go home. And on Thursday, he cried when he had to go to practice. Finally, we realized what was completely obvious. Bean was just not ready for a team sport yet. No matter how much we tried to talk to him about sticking with things and not quitting, he was just too young to understand that concept yet. All he knew was that he HAD to go do something that he didn’t want to do at all, and everyone kept telling him how much fun it was supposed to be.
This week I emailed his coach and told him that Bean wasn’t going to finish out the season. He wasn’t surprised, really. Bean was the youngest on the team and was the only three-year-old to make it this long into the season. Two others had already quit after the first two weeks.
So, we learned a parenting lesson this fall. Just because your kids are the right age, doesn’t mean they are ready for things. We also learned that just because Chris and I are excited about something doesn’t mean that our kids will be, too. We are dialing it back a couple notches and settling down a bit. I mean, they’re only 18-months and three-years-old for Pete’s sake! Mommy and Daddy need to take a chill pill.
Bean is playing pre-K soccer through the YMCA league in our neighborhood. Chris and I are beyond excited. The entire reason we became parents was so we could sit on a sideline somewhere someday. Seriously. Kid sports crack me up, man. And watching your own kid play sports is even more hysterical.
I mean, look at Bean Man. Check out those shin guards. They hit him about mid-thigh. And those socks? Forgetaboutit.
Tonight was the first practice, so when we got there it was a bit chaotic. Chris and Bean braved the crowds of tot-sized soccer players to find our coach. And can I just say how much I enjoyed watching Chris walk across a soccer field with Bean? Yummy.
Once we found the right field, Coach got the kids to make a circle and warm up. Have you ever seen a three-year-old do jumping jacks? They understand the flapping their arms part, but they can’t quite get their feet to jump apart. So, all 10 of them stood in a circle, jumping up and down, flapping their arms. I died.
They also stretched by touching their toes. That was pretty cute, too. You know, cause their feet are not that far away.
The coach also had them run laps around their half of the soccer field. It was pretty cute. Bean kept running while looking behind him, like he thought his teammates were chasing him.
My favorite part of practice, though, was when they’d be standing in a little team huddle and all of a sudden Bean’s head would pop up, he’d look over to me and Chris, and give up this huge cheesy grin while flashing a thumbs up. That kid, man. Cracks me up.
Gracie, on the other hand, was not impressed with sideline sitting at her big brother’s soccer practice. She sat for a while, whined about the gnats, ate some blades of grass, cried for a snack, cried because she couldn’t go onto the field, and cried because I forgot to bring her a snack. About 15 minutes into practice, Gracie stormed off, shouting, “Soccer is for the commoners. I’m out.”
I, on the other hand, couldn’t have been happier. I’ve been super excited about becoming a soccer mom. I put on my personal Facebook page this afternoon that I was ready for my stretchy mom jeans now that I was a soccer mom. My bestie out in LA sent me a message in response that was too good not to share:
“Remember back in college when you were a bright-eyed bride to be and we gushed about the uncharted territory ahead; we made a deal that day. I forget the exact wording, but it was something along the lines of, “Em, if I ever start talking about mom jeans and elastic waists, shake me; knock some sense back into me, slap me with a salmon. Throw a glass of [white] wine on me. Wave your hands back and forth in front of my face really fast and scream ‘IT’S NOT WORTH IT!!’” …so here I am, fulfilling my promise; my duties as a friend and a bridesmaid. Don’t do it, Katie. You’re too cute, too young still, so much life ahead of you. Don’t give up now. YOU GOT THIS!! (salmon slap)”
We continued our discussion via text:
Me: Hang on, let me lace up my Keds and then you can pour white wine on me.
Em: Who has time for shoelaces when you have two little kiddoes??? Velcro goes great with mom jeans.
Me: Fo’ real. I don’t even have time for a cup of coffee these days. Good thing I have an enormous travel mug to carry with me. It’s monogrammed, by the way. I’m not an animal.
Em: …with “World’s Greatest Mom,” of course.
Regardless of how my friends may tease, of how my friends may judge, or of how large my backside looks in jeans with an elastic waist. I am proud to be a soccer mom! PROUD, I SAY!
Now, pass me my pale pink visor and my “MICHAEL’S MOM” t-shirt. I have orange slices and Hi-C juice boxes to give out.
On the car ride to the hospital, even before I knew my dad had died, I worried about what I would say to Bean. Gracie is really too little to understand or to even know that something is wrong, but Bean Man was a different story. He’s old enough to know when something is going on. And he was really close with my dad.
I asked my mom the first night what she thought we should tell Bean. I was at a complete loss, but I knew he would wake up at Nana and Granddad’s house and ask where Granddad was. My mom said she didn’t care what we told him, but please not to tell him that Granddad was in the koi pond with Lt. Dan…
The next morning when Bean woke up, he predictably asked about Granddad. So, Chris and I took him back into his bedroom (he and Gracie have their own room at my parent’s house) and sat down with him. We told him that Granddad had gone to live at God’s house in Heaven, and that we wouldn’t see him anymore. But that he still loved us and we still loved him, and that we could talk to him when we said our prayers to God. Bean thought about it for a minute, nodded, and then got down from the bed and went to watch TV. Chris and I didn’t want to push anything on Bean, so we let him go on his own for a while.
That morning, in the midst of all our own tears, neighbors and friends of my parents were in and out of the house. In the chaos, I slipped away to find Bean, who I hadn’t seen in a while. I found him in my parent’s room, sitting on their bed, watching a movie. When I asked him if he wanted to come out and sit with us, he said no. He ended up sitting on their bed for about three and a half hours, which is really unlike Bean. He didn’t say anything, but you could tell he wanted to be by himself. So, we left him in there, and just kept poking our heads in every half hour or so and inviting him out to the living room with us. I think he could tell something was going on, and I’m sure all that raw emotion was really hard for him to see. In hindsight, I’m glad he had the foresight to separate himself, really.
For the next 24 hours, Bean didn’t mention my dad at all. That in and of itself is really strange. Bean always talked a lot about my dad. Another thing he did was stop referring to things as “Nana and Granddad’s”-something. It was always “Nana and Granddad’s chair,” or “Nana and Granddad’s bed,” or “Nana and Granddad’s car.” Suddenly, everything was Nana’s. There was not one mention of my dad. I know that may not seem strange when you read it, but it was very strange behavior for Bean. Still, though, we left him alone. We would check in with him and made sure to hug him extra hard and we got him out of the house a bit and went for a walk around the neighborhood. But we didn’t ask him about Granddad or force him to talk more about it.
On Monday night, my mom went to bed early, and before I went in there with her (she and I slept together in her and my dad’s bed for those first few nights), I went outside to call my sister. I was really struggling that afternoon, and sometimes only a sister can pull you through something. She and I talked and cried and laughed and cried some more for over an hour. It was the hardest I’d cried since my dad had died. Bean must have seen me outside at some point because when I came inside to say goodnight to him, he was sitting up in his dark, quiet bedroom all by himself.
I laid down next to him and put my face right next to his. He took his index finger and traced my cheek, where a tear would fall. Something very unlike Bean to do.
“Mom,” he whispered. “Are you sad?”
“Yes, buddy. I’m sad.”
“Is it because of Granddad?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I miss Granddad a lot. Do you miss him?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I miss him a lot, too.”
“That’s okay,” I told him. “I think we’re going to miss him for a long time.”
Bean sat there for a second and then said, “Maybe tomorrow, we could go sit in his chair!”
“That’s a great idea!” I said.
“Okay, mom,” he said brightly. “You come get me in the morning and we can go sit in Granddad’s chair together.”
“Sounds great!” I said.
And the next morning, that’s exactly what we did.
Bean still has been very quiet this week, and we continue to not question him or push him to talk about Granddad. But we are trying to pay special attention to him and give him some extra loving.
Last night at bedtime, Bean asked if we could read a family picture album that my mom put together for Bean’s second birthday. In that album were quite a few pictures of my dad, and Bean pointed him out and we talked a little bit about him. Then, after the book was finished, we said our prayers together. For Bean’s bedtime prayers, I say one little line and then Bean and Chris repeat that line. Our prayer went something like this, “Dear God, thank you for all the good things that happened today, and thank you for all the bad things that happened today. Bless our family, and help us to be good boys and girls. Please take care of our Granddad. Tell him that we miss him a lot. Amen.”
I think we are handling Bean’s grief as well as we can. I keep having to remind myself that, though Bean is small, his grief is big, just like mine. And that he will grieve differently than me, but it is still grief. I’m going to call our minister tomorrow and talk with her about some things we can be doing to help Bean through this time. You can really mess a person up if you don’t handle death the right way, and I don’t want Bean to become afraid of God or death, and I certainly don’t want us to belittle or sidestep his grieving process, whatever it might be. But, for now, I think he’s doing okay.
There are a lot of things that make me sad right now, but I think Bean might be at the top of my list. His special relationship with my dad was such a joy for me to see, and such a powerful part of both their lives. I worry so much that Bean will forget my dad. Or, more specifically, he’ll forget how much my dad loved him. I don’t want to force death or my dad’s memory on him, but I also don’t want Bean to put that away in some corner of his mind and forget that incredible feeling of such deep love and pride my dad had in him.
But maybe that’s mine and Chris’s job as parents. To help him remember, and to help him grieve. Right now, I’m just lifting my little Beanie up in prayer, that his perfect little heart will feel complete and whole again soon, and that my dad’s spirit will fill him to the brim.