Monday, January 27, 2014

A long post you don't have to read unless I gave birth to you.

I have a friend with whom I can analyze everything and everyone. She knows me pretty well, which means she could tick off a list of my faults from now until Thanksgiving.

The other day, she said something in passing that has reverberated over and over with me.

She said, “You’re kind.”

Um, hello? I’m passive aggressive and snarky and judgmental and I definitely think incredibly mean thoughts that would probably crush people if I said them out loud. I’m not kind.

“Yes, you are. Whenever you have a choice, you choose kindness. You try not to hurt people.”

I thought about that. True or not true, it’s definitely a quality I value. I remember a conversation with this friend when our daughters were barely walking. She said if she had one hope for her daughter, it was that she’d be tough. I said if I had one hope for mine, it’s that she’d be kind.

Then I started wondering what I’d say today. That little pigtailed toddler is now a pretty awesome almost-12-year-old with an equally awesome nine-year-old brother. What is it, in my 43 (okay...43 plus) years of wisdom, I’d wish for them?

Well, I’d hope for happiness. I’d hope for a happiness that isn’t dependent on grades or money or friends or soccer goals or weight or looks. I’d hope for a happiness that starts so deep within their cores that nothing can ever steal it; an intrinsic happiness that exists because they love who they are.

I’d hope for gratitude. I’d hope they wake up every day thanking God for the ability to open their eyes and get out of bed. I’d hope they appreciate it when their most basic life necessities are met, because not everyone has a roof or heat or food. I’d hope they appreciate the extra things they have, whether they’re (ah-hem) fabulous parents or nice clothes or great trips or junk food. I’d hope they appreciate their health every single day.

I’d hope for self respect. I’d hope they know what gifts their bodies are, and that they take care of them. Physically, emotionally, mentally, in relationships, with the food they eat, when they’re confronted with alcohol or drugs or any of the other crap they’ll face.

I’d hope for honesty. I’d hope that they can be honest with themselves, with their friends, with their eventual (and mighty lucky, if I do say so myself) spouses. I’d hope they’re trustworthy, because little destroys someone more than being betrayed. I’d also hope they understand the value of a good little white lie (remember, I want them to be kind, and I don’t really want to hear that my butt’s gotten huge or my dinner looks like dog throw up).

I’d hope for courage. I’d hope they know they can do anything they want, and let common sense – not fear – be the only thing that stops them.

I’d hope for loyalty. I’d hope that they can always be counted on, I’d hope that they always show up. My husband has a history of showing up when he’s not expected but greatly appreciated; he’s gotten on more last-minute flights to attend funerals and be at bedsides than I can count. That’s one of my favorite things about him.

I’d hope for faith. It can be any kind of faith; we’ve given them the foundation of one religion, but faith isn’t defined by one religion. I’d hope they believe that God exists and loves them, and that their faith provides a moral compass and sense of contentment and security that nothing else in the world really can.

I’d hope they have an enormous capacity to love and an equally enormous capacity to forgive. Loving means they will likely get hurt. Forgiving means they won’t be destroyed. Loving and being loved are so fundamental to happiness; I’d hope my kids never have baggage or walls that hamper their ability to do either.

…and I’d hope they know when to let go. Let go of toxic friends, let go of toxic relationships, let go of anyone who doesn’t treat them with kindness and respect. I'd hope they don't harbor grudges, don’t look for retaliation, don’t stuff anger down inside; I'd hope they just accept that people are different, and move on.

And yes. I’d hope they’re kind. I’d hope they’re not the reason someone feels ashamed or inferior or picked on. Rather, I’d hope they’re the friend whose phone rings when someone can’t stop crying. I’d hope they’re the friend who will stick up for a buddy at school or be the one refusing to join in a derogatory conversation about a classmate. Later, I'd hope they're the ones who will stop malicious gossip in its tracks. I’d hope that, when given the choice, they choose kindness. There’s so much heartbreaking meanness in this world; I’d love to know that there are a couple more souls out there trying to counter it.

Am I some fabulous role model for my children, embodying the fulfillment of each of these hopes? Not a chance. I’m a little of some of these things, none of others, and a lot of others. I'm definitely a work in progress.

And that brings me to my final hope for my kids: I’d hope they don’t give up. I’d hope they don’t give up on happiness just because life gets hard; I’d hope they don’t give up on who they want to be just because they aren’t; I’d hope they don’t give up on love because they get hurt.

And I’d really hope that, as adults, they remember to call their mother every day to say, “I love you.” Because I can already tell you I'll really miss them.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Devils to angels, just like that.

I woke up this morning a lot earlier than intended because there were little feet tangled up in my legs. There was an arm belonging to the feet draped across my neck, and there was a little head nestled into my shoulder.

I don’t really like to be bugged when I sleep. I’m a ridiculously light sleeper; my poor husband knows that if he turns on a light downstairs, breathes heavily or rolls over a lot, I’m up and then I’m up for hours. The whole day, usually.

So my day began at 4 am and I was pretty crabby about it.

“Ugh!” I thought crabbily, as my brain started ticking away with my worries and to-dos. “Now I’m up. I can’t wait for the day these kids don’t come crawling in my bed!”

I got up without disturbing the invader and walked down the stairs, thinking, “I can’t wait for the day there aren’t handprints going down the stairs! Clean walls, that’s what I’ll have.”

“Hmpf,” I grumbled in the kitchen, “Someday I won’t have to make these lunches every morning. The kids won’t expect seasonally appropriate jokes on their napkins (What do you call a really old snowman? Water!) and I won’t have to have all this dumb environmentally friendly packing cluttering my cabinets.”

As the day went on, that was my paradigm.

Someday my mornings won’t include anyone saying, “It IS clean. I barely wore it yesterday.”

(That’s gross.)

Someday I won’t be a breakfast short-order cook, mentally calculating grams of protein.

(Eggs? Cheese? Yogurt? C'mon, pick one.)

Someday I won’t ask one single person, “Did you poop or do you need Miralax?”

(Okay. Seriously?)

Someday I won’t have to tie shoelaces (“You do it tighter!) or brush hair (“It doesn’t hurt when you do it!”).

Someday I won’t have to put on a bra to walk to school in 20-degree weather.

(Yup, I was still crabby.)

Someday I won’t have to step over Nerf guns on the stairs.

Someday I won’t have to fold so many piles of laundry.

Someday I won’t have to remember to buy Goldfish or Cheerios at the store.

(A thought, quickly banished: Will these aisles make me feel nostalgic? Sad, even?)

Someday I won’t get football-tackle hugs outside the elementary school at 3:00.

(Oh, but I do love those after-school hugs.)

Someday I won’t get asked to help with homework.

Someday they’ll ask for the keys instead of a ride.

(Oh, right. I guess so.)

Someday I won’t have to correct manners at every meal.

(But we’ll still be having family dinners, right? Yes, right?)

Someday I won’t be able to sing the entire Phineas and Ferb theme song.

Someday I won’t lay down with my children and say prayers at night.

(Um, but the whole “If I die before I wake” thing – isn’t it risky to not say prayers?)

Someday no one will ask me to “activate” their dream catcher.

(Really? A world with inactive dream catchers?)

Someday no one will come find me because a bad dream was scary and a parent’s hug will make it vanish.

(Totally unacceptable. My superpowers...where will I use them?)

And someday no affectionate, sleepy kid will come crawling in my bed and wrap his or her arms and legs around me.

(Sniff. Sob. I can't bear it.)

Tonight I was sitting on the couch with a book, well past Caroline’s bedtime. She came down and silently sat next to me. She snuggled up and said, “Can we cuddle? Just for five minutes? I’ll sleep better.”

And as I put down my book and held her close, I said, “Guess what?”

“So will I.”

Friday, January 10, 2014

Because he's nine and it's cute.

The other day, Jack remarked that he saw “a dog that looked like a cross between a Chihuahua and a brussel sprout.”


It was like a game of 20 Questions. “Was it round?” “Was it green?” “Did it look like a stalk or a single sprout?” “Was it close to the ground?” “Was it fat?” “Did it just remind you of a brussel sprout?”

I was genuinely curious. And I had to be sure he wasn’t suffering from a stroke.

“Noooooo...” He was truly puzzled by my questions.

I kept firing away. "Jack, how in the world can a dog remind you of a brussel sprout?"

Finally, blessedly, a light bulb went off in my head. With all the enthusiasm of a contestant hitting the jackpot on Jeopardy, I screamed, “A JACK RUSSELL TERRIER!” and he screamed, “YESSSSS THAT’S TOTALLY WHAT I MEANT!!” and I thought, “Wow, I really need to feed these kids a vegetable other than broccoli.”

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pride Goeth Before the (Potential) Fall

My first mistake was thinking I had outgrown it. Out-matured it.

The paralytic fear (are these real terms or am I making them up?) I once had of lice, that is.

I thought I could look at the old me and laugh, kindly but wisely, and say to myself, “There, there. You were just the crazy mom, a toddler through a fifth grader, really, because it lasted a while...who was terrified of something like lice that would both titillate and annihilate your barely concealed OCD personality. But you were so completely batshit crazy that your long-haired daughter will never share a brush. She’ll resist the urge to swipe that fun clown hat off her friend’s head so she can try it on. Really, her ears could be frostbitten and an innocent saleslady could offer her a cashmere scarf and she’d think of the likelihood of lice and say no thank you. Because you’re that much of a lunatic, and you’ve brainwashed her into being a conscientious lice avoider just like you.”

I was proud of what I had overcome. No longer did I hear about neighborhood lice outbreaks and calculate whether it had been at least 72 hours since our last playdate! No longer did my heart seize with fear when I heard those awful words: “I want to wear my hair down!” I could delete the never-called Lice Lady from my contacts! I could throw away the preventive RID that had occupied a shelf in my medicine cabinet for nearly a decade! The only elementary schooler I have left is a boy, and he has short hair and isn’t going to hug his friends all day! Hallelujah!

I let my guard down, that was the problem. Damn you, complacency. Damn you.

Because that maturity existed before my daughter went away for three days with her entire large sixth grade class. It existed before she shared a cabin with ten girls, before I knew about pillow fights or (shudder) the “extra” pillows the conference center made available.

I got to pick her up today. All morning, I thought of nothing more than how excited I was to see her. I thought of how much I had missed her, of how happy her brother would be to see her. I thought of what we’d have for dinner and of how we’d sit together and laugh and she’d fill me in on everything that had happened.

When she got off the bus, she looked…tired. And a little unkempt. But I was just really thrilled to see her.

As we waited for her luggage, I found myself quite unconsciously scanning her scalp. “Stop!” I reprimanded myself silently.

I reached out a finger to see if I could brush a little white speck off her hair.

She rolled her eyes and said, “I don’t have lice.”

“Of course not!” I laughed nervously. “I wasn’t looking for lice!”

But it was too late. Latent Lice Paranoia had swept in and obliterated all sense of peace. My brain had every neuron screaming, "LICE! Pass it on!"

When we got home, she saw the Hershey jar had new chocolate hearts in it and started toward the kitchen. “Later!” I trilled as I pushed her up the stairs. “Let’s get you into the shower! I bet you didn’t shower for three days!”

“I showered last night. Can I at least take off my coat?”

“In the bathroom, in the bathroom...” I herded her in and brought the clothes hamper in. And shut the door.

It was like a decontamination chamber. Clothes and ski jacket came off, went in the hamper and then into the wash (hot water) and dryer (high heat). She shampooed her hair twice, rinsed it twice, then sat through a serious and microscopic visual inspection. After she cleared the initial inspection, I dried every strand of her hair with the hairdryer on high to render her scalp inhospitable to any lice that were potentially on our street and thinking of popping in.

Her luggage went from the car into the wash. Her sleeping bag will remain outside for at least a week, in the polar vortex, far from any human hosts.

Did my daughter have lice? No. Of course not. Did she sit patiently while her completely certifiable mother confirmed the lack of lice? Yes, of course she did. Because she loves me just the way I am.

And she wanted access to those chocolate hearts.

So, two postscripts. One, I know plenty of mothers who will read this and completely understand the nutty place my mind went. They just won’t admit it.

And two, both of my kids can bookmark this page to show their therapists when they’re middle aged and trying to sort out their emotional baggage. I know, kids. I'm sorry. Call and I’ll give you a credit card number to pay for your appointment. It’s the least I can do.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sister Sledge

I have a gigantic family: four siblings, a zillion cousins, several sisters-in-law, numerous nieces and nephews and lots of aunts and uncles. My husband has four sisters, two sets of parents, two brothers-in-law and eight nieces and nephews. My kids are two of nearly 20 kids in their generation. We see almost every one of those people a lot, and the interpersonal relationships (for better or, often, for worse) and the conversational landmines to avoid and the old arguments and the taboo subjects get overwhelming and quite tiresome. When they do, I usually feel an urge to take my little group of four and move to an island and change our last name to Smith.

Some people think even being one of five kids is pretty cool. Several friends commented to me that the five of us walking down the aisle at my dad’s funeral mass painted a striking picture. One friend even said we made her want to have more kids. I responded, mostly in my head, with, “What the hell are you talking about? Do you know what it’s like to be one of five? We beat the crap out of each other until we moved away from home. With four siblings, you’re always mad at one, and usually talking behind his or her back. Your parents totally have a favorite and a least favorite and you always know where you stand. You get one twentieth of the parental attention and you always get compared to someone else. Having a pretty picture at a funeral just isn’t worth it, trust me.”

On Saturday night, I had an interesting group (some would say a motley crew) around my dining room table. Me and my husband. My sister. One sister in law. My father’s brother’s wife. My mother’s brother and his wife.

We had a ball. We ate and we drank and we laughed and we talked and it didn’t occur to me until much later that it was an odd assortment of people. I mean, there were five different last names, and different ages and backgrounds and financial situations and marital situations and political perspectives, and yet we’re all related somehow or another.

Yesterday, I realized that it was one of the most effortless dinner parties I’ve ever thrown. It didn’t matter who sat where, or if the napkins were perfectly ironed. It didn’t matter if you wanted to talk about religion or politics or some other forbidden topic. It didn’t matter if your child screamed bloody murder from the kitchen (not mine, I must point out) or if you wanted to put your elbows on the table.

It mattered that there was a lot of food (check), a lot of wine (duh…check) and tons of laughter (check).

And I realized that’s the upside of family. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about people who know you and accept you. It’s about people you don’t have to impress. It’s about people you can’t really offend. It’s about people who live in different states and have totally different life experiences and yet can sit around one table and have an endless stream of conversations about a crazy range of topics that are oddly applicable to everyone.

It’s about my aunt sitting up until almost midnight telling me stories about my mom, or my uncle stopping by to say hi and staying for dinner. It’s about my sister stopping for something I forgot at the store even though she had three kids with her. It’s about the fact that I could’ve screwed the whole night up, and they’re still stuck with me, or they could have (HAD KIDS WHO THREW OREOS ALL OVER MY KITCHEN AND THEN STEPPED ON THEM) screwed it all up and they’d still be invited back.

Yes, it’s about age-old wars and one-upmanship and hurt feelings and gossip (by about 10 p.m., I bet ears were burning up and down the East Coast and even across the ocean) but it’s a gift. And, at least this past weekend, it’s not one I felt the need to return.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

80s Flashback

Did my mother have to deal with this?

In 1981, I was 11. I wish my mother was alive (for many reasons) but so I could call her after a morning like yesterday’s and say, “I’m so sorry!”

I’ll set the scene – my kitchen, Friday morning. Few inches of snow on the ground so schools were closed. It was seriously cold at 16 degrees. The first middle school ski club trip was planned but cancelled because of the sub-freezing temperatures and, oh, the risk of frostbite and hypothermia. You know. Everyday perils for kids.

Caroline was really disappointed. Very disappointed.

Caroline: Can we still ski today?

Me: Sure. But it will be really, really cold. Dangerously cold.

Caroline: Never mind. Forget it.

Me: No, I don’t mind, but maybe you guys take your lesson for an hour and see how you feel.

Caroline: My friends don’t want to take lessons and it’s stupid to go there for a lesson then leave.

Me: Okay, but if you’re going to be alone on the slopes without an adult, wouldn’t you feel safer having brushed up on skiing?

Caroline: You always tell me what to do.

Caroline: And you always tell me what the weather is.

Me: Okay, well, skiing is certainly an option. If not, Jack has a hockey game scheduled – we could go do that.

Jack: I measured the snow with my tongue because my tongue is two inches long.

Caroline: I don’t want to go to hockey, I want to ski.

Jack: We have three inches.

Me: Okay, let’s ski.

Caroline: But I’m not taking a lesson.

Me, brightly: Okay! (In my head: Bad choice.)

Caroline: Didn’t you hear me? None of my friends want to ski.

Me, brightly: Okay! (In my head: Here we go.)

Caroline: I want to ski.

Caroline: But I don’t want to take a lesson.

Caroline: But it might be too cold.

Caroline, near tears: Stop telling me what to do!

Me, smiling brightly but not saying a word. (In my head: I didn’t say a word.)

Caroline: UGH! This is the worst snow day ever!

Caroline, stomping up the stairs: WHY CAN’T YOU JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO?????

(In my head: Oh, Mom. This is what you meant by payback kid.)

(In my head, as an afterthought: Isn't two inches abnormally long for the tongue of a third grader?)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Day 2.

Close your eyes.

Picture a lady, hunched over. She has one hand on her lower back and a permanent grimace on her face. She walks with lurching steps, stopping to sit every chance she gets. If she must stand for long, she leans heavily on counters and against walls.

Now picture she’s asked to sew something. Some little thing, perhaps for a kid. (A demanding kid.) She peers at the thread and changes the needle for one with a bigger hole. She holds the needle at arm's length, squinting at it. She brings it in closer. She holds the needle and thread against the dark wood of a cabinet so she can see them. She tries, unsuccessfully, to thread the needle with poorly aimed stabs before she just gives up.

Now open your eyes.


It’s me.

Can you believe I just described a 43 year old woman? A woman who, until recently, was up to any physical challenge that didn’t involve heights? A woman who scoffs at offers of help carrying things and takes out the trash and DOESN’T HAVE TIME TO BE OLD??? Well, neither can I. My ruptured disc is mad about something and my contacts aren’t working and I just aged thirty years in 24 hours.

However, the good news is that I’m not really old, and I’ll feel better in a few days.

But I still won’t really know how to sew.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New year, new me. Sort of. Not really.

Whew, it’s 7:56 pm as I start this – which means I still have time to implement one of my New Year’s resolutions.

Pretty much, I hate the whole idea of New Year’s resolutions because they ask you to list all the really crappy things about yourself and then prioritize to find the crappiest and then try to fix that one or those two. Then, if (when) you fail, say around February 1, you feel like you’re even crappier. That sounds fun.

I know my areas of – ahem – weakness. I don’t floss. I have a wicked sweet tooth. I still like Diet Coke even though chances are it’s making a nuclear wasteland of my brain. When I am trying to decide between a nice cup of herbal tea and a nice glass of wine, the wine usually wins. When I don’t feel like working out, I don’t. If I have something really funny to say but it’s a little bit snarky, I still say it. Sometimes I forget hostess gifts and thank-you notes. Sometimes I am doing something really nice for someone and I complain about it and then I lose ALL the celestial brownie points for being nice. I harbor a secret desire to paint my husband’s fingernails while he’s sleeping because he has GORGEOUS nails. I would be at a perfect weight if I lost ten pounds. Sometimes I still dream of being an only child. I get jealous of really good moms who also have really good careers. Sometimes I want to move to a desert island all by myself and stay there. There are days I eat M&Ms for lunch and cheese and crackers for dinner. Sadly, I could go on and on.

Mainly, though, one of my big self complaints is that I love to write and yet, in all the sadness and anxiety of that crummy S.O.B. that was 2013 (and 2012 wasn’t so hot either), I just stopped. Flat. Out. Stopped.

And now I want to start again, and there’s only one way to do it…wake up every day and write something.

So I’m going to try something that’s intrigued me for a while, and I am going to use writing prompts to try to write almost every day. I am going to post whatever I write here, because that holds me accountable. But I’ll go ahead and ask you now to not read what I write. I won’t put it on Facebook or Twitter unless it’s a real post; pretty much, if you’re answering writing prompts and listing what you did all day or using 650 words to explain you’re tired, it’s just not interesting writing. If it works, though, I will go back to semi-regular real posts in February.

So, this counts. Day 1.