This weekend we made the trek to Natchitoches, Louisiana. And by "we," I (unfortunately) don't mean Jonathan. He had to stay behind for a youth lock-in. My aunt and her family have lived in Natchitoches for seven years, and this year she hosted the Richardson Family Christmas! We dined on meat pies, scalloped greens, gumbo, fruit salad, and Boulevard Bread rolls (imported from Little Rock). Then, we threw caution to the wind and topped it all off with bread pudding and German chocolate cake. It was delicious. I can say that with integrity because Spencer was asleep for the first ten minutes of the meal, so I really did get to eat--and even taste--quite a bit! I was literally the first person in line and the first person to start eating. I have no shame.
In fact, the food was so remarkable that when I had to abruptly leave the table to tend to my cranky, half-napped two-year old, my sister and father divvied up the remainder of my meat pie and roll! Imagine my disappointment when after ten or fifteen minutes of cuddling and coddling, I manage to walk by the chair where once was my food, only to realize my plate was completely empty. You know food is outstanding when people are willing to eat after the mother of an often-disease-afflicted toddler.
The company and the food were definitely the highlights of the trip. The traveling itself went very well but not without exhausting everyone involved. I won't bore you with all of the details--just most of them. On the way down, we realized Spencer had a dirty diaper, but we were on a stretch lacking good stopping spots. We pulled over into a church parking lot, but we really didn't want to get out of the car, because once you get out you have to get Spencer back in. And that's not fun for anyone. Toddlers are strong. If he doesn't want to be put into his car seat, it's basically impossible to get him into it. So, I got him out of his car seat, but only to put him in the front seat. Then, I got in the floor of the front seat while my mom held his portable dvd player at an angle pleasing to His Highness. We managed to get him changed and back into his car seat lickety split, all the while, singing along with the Wonder Pets who were saving the nutcracker. It was a magical time.
We didn't arrive at the hotel until 8:45 p.m. We'd left home at half past noon, hoping to encourage as much napping as possible (with only minimal returns, might I add), and that night at 9:00 p.m., I realized that I hadn't gone to the bathroom since. As my sister said, "That can't be good for you."
Spencer took a long time to fall asleep, but he was really good while he did it. I've never experienced anything like it from him. He laid by me in the bed. This was the first time he had ever slept in a bed with me. He hates it. I really don't care for it either, but alas, the Pack and Play is now analogous to a vestigial organ. He laid in the bed, on his back, moving occasionally, jabbering every now and then for over an hour and then finally drifted off to sleep. All I can say--'tis the season for Christmas miracles. One time he sat up, just once, and I said, "It's time to go to sleep. Can you lay your head back down?" And immediately, he did.
I, on the other hand, was apparently suffering from some ridiculous, repressed jealously that Jonathan was going to be up all night, because my psyche or my hormones or the elevator bell kept me up ALL NIGHT LONG. I saw the clock hit every hour but five a.m. I would fall asleep an hour before my child wakes up. It resembled an act out of an absurdist play: crazy-active, out-of-his-element toddler, sleeping soundly, still, not kicking, not talking, not waking restlessly throughout the night; exhausted mother who, for an "easy" day requires eight plus hours of sleep--probably got a combined two and a half hours. Thankfully my sister drove the whole way back. I really do feel like I should go by her an extra Christmas gift...
While much of the next morning made it look as if I don't try hard enough to "distract" my toddler as opposed to saying plain old "no" and facing the imminent, screaming situation head-on, it again became increasingly clear to all who dared offer to lend a hand--a kind, sweet, naive hand--that attempts to "distract" Spencer from things he can't do by showing him fun things he could do instead just don't work. No less than three different family members concluded their particular interaction with some version of "Well, he's very focused!" (insert Spencer crying in the background).
Spencer takes a while to warm up to people, and, unfortunately, we didn't have a while. So, he didn't really embrace his fan club in the manner I'd hoped he would. That kid has a lot of love being offered to him, I hope it isn't too much longer before he'll be able to get in there and receive some of it. There were some smiles here and there, and lots of love for the people he already knows well. He did manage to settle in a little towards the end of the afternoon. He was playing happily in my cousin Sam's closet, enamored with the toy cash register and the cow and the horse that came out of the Lincoln Logs box.
Part of his issue that day could be attributed, at least in part, to the neglect and resulting abuse he'd experience that morning in the hotel room. After a leisurely time of cartoon-viewing with Hillary and then with Gigi and Papa Kurt, he had to accompany his mother back to their boring room. Not all of us get out of bed looking as cute as Spencer. We made it through quite a few hurdles, but then I made the fateful decision to go for the gold and apply some eye make-up. It takes concentration, time, limited range of motion. It renders you vulnerable to Spencer's shenanigans.
I looked over to see him standing on top of the toilet tank--not the toilet seat. It was a big, tall hotel room toilet. He was only a yard or so away from me. I looked at him. His eyes twinkled. I said something having to do with "No" and "Be careful" or "Get down." And, then, in slow motion, he started jumping up and down--one of his signature moves when he knows he's doing something he shouldn't be doing and he's getting called out for it. Jumping up and down. He jumped for what felt like an eternity. And then, one last time, just down. I think he did a sort of front flip. I think his face hit the toilet seat and then also the floor. It all happened so fast, and in addition to bruising and abrading a good deal of his face, it must have scared him, because he was hysterical. He falls a lot, and he gets hurt a lot. And he doesn't get that upset very often. And there I'd been so proud of myself for not letting him get his tooth brush into the toilet even one time. Yeah, that would'a been dangerous.
After that little adventure, he was wounded, body and spirit. Thankfully, a little fresh air did us all a world of good. We strolled through downtown, my once stroller-hating infant, now tolerates it fairly well, especially if you keep it moving at a nice brisk pace. He wasn't in the mood for a lot of browsing, but I was. And in a family, we all have to make sacrifices. Don't worry. His sacrifice was certainly not too great. He also got to romp around outside with Sam's dog Butter, which was probably the highlight of Spencer's Louisiana Christmas.
I had brought the video camera to capture Spencer playing with my cousin Sam (who is seven). I had even charged the battery and made sure all of the settings were right. I so wanted to look back some day and watch footage of Spencer interacting playfully with my aunts and uncles, all who had lovingly entertained and endured me when they were the age I am now. I had visions. They were not realized. And, that, Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is all about. While Spencer has spunk and drive and passion rivaling that of his mother's, he is not me. Deep, isn't it?
Sometimes it's really difficult for me to watch him refuse to jump in and play and interact with people. I'm just thinking, "It's so fun! What is wrong? Don't fuss and look away and squirm when someone (who is not creepy!) smiles at you and speaks to you kindly!!!" But a lesson I'm having to learn, especially around the holidays, is that Spencer is not comfortable with that. And just because I was / am does not make me right. And it does not make him wrong. It makes us different. It makes me a little crazy. Ha! But it makes him special. And it certainly makes his smiles and interactions more valuable, at least according to the law of scarcity.
And, so eventually we packed it all back up, approximately twenty nine hours later, and headed home. Spencer, again, did amazing well in the car (much better than he did on the trip as a whole). And, as testimony to his enduring spirit, he stayed awake the WHOLE drive home. We rolled in at 10:00 p.m., with a wide awake toddler who saved all of his screaming for the moment I attempted to get him out of the car. I won't say it to him, but I'll say it to you--Weirdo!
P.S. Clearly, my time to take pictures was severely limited. A big shout out to *Holly for a couple of these gems. Including this fabulous one of her hubby.