Friday, December 16, 2011
In theory, I could talk about a lot of things tonight...
...like the way my MacBook Pro laptop has completely crapped out on me this week, which frankly, sucks.
I could also discuss how this blog will look from here on out, now that we've officially passed day 365 and are cruising into year two.
Heck, we could even get crazy and talk about the Christmas spirit. After all, 'tis the season and there's plenty of thought provoking, spiritual material to mull over...
It isn't going to happen tonight though, because all I can hear in my head right now is the melody of a 1976 Thin Lizzy song... which I've rewritten appropriately for our family's newly minted 2011 winter school holiday break:
Guess who just got back today?
Those wild-eyed boys that had been away
Haven't changed, haven't much to say
But man, I still think those cats are great...
They were asking if we could head downtown,
How it was that fun could be found
I told them it was time to settle down
Before they drove their mommy crazy
The boys are back in town...
Our boys are back in town
You know their l'il sister likes to dance a lot
Every day she shows them what she's got
A shy and mellow child she's not
I mean that girl's a dynamo
Tonight over in our kitchen space
Well the girl got up and slapped her brother's face
Man we just fell about the place
Trying to teach her kindness...
Tonight we had so much time to kill
While we waited for our chicken on the grill
Their tempers flew and anger spilled
When the boys want to fight, our house is chaos
That jukebox in the corner blasting out my favorite song
The nights are getting colder, it won't be long
It won't be long till school days come...
But for now our boys are HERE again
The boys are back in town ~
Our boys are back in town!
* * *
So there you have it. I am eight hours into the winter holiday break from school and if tonight is anything to judge by, it's going to be one hell of a 'vacation'.
There must be some evolutionary explanation for the way in which I consistently manage to forget just how hard it is to take care of the three of them at once, especially on days when we have no school/play-date/camp/vacation/agenda.
My convenient 'forgetting' thing must be some sort of survival mechanism... their survival, that is ;-) LOL! If I'd *remembered* how hard it was with just two of them at home fighting with each other 24/7, my husband and I probably wouldn't have had a third.
Now that she's here though, I wouldn't trade her for anything...
So I just have to wade back into the fray tomorrow morning, and try to figure out how to entertain all three of them at once without completely losing my marbles over the next two weeks.
Thank goodness for the major distractions of Christmas and Santa Claus!
Tonight my husband actually reminded my children that we have a direct line to Santa Claus and the North Pole that we can utilize at our discretion at any point over the next nine days... "So you'd better be on your best behavior!" he admonished, but the line didn't get as much traction as he'd hoped.
When you've played the Santa card a full week before Christmas, you're really scraping the bottom of the barrel on discipline... because once that card has been played, really - what's left?
I'll admit that the kids routed us 3-2 tonight in a blaze of (their) glory and (our) exhaustion.
It's no coincidence that my husband was in bed asleep an hour before our daughter finally tucked her head into her pillow. I myself ~ usually a night owl ~ can barely keep my eyes open.
For now then, let us say that Year Two of the blog has opened with a bang AND a whimper:
Our charming, tempestuous bunch had the house literally reverberating with noise and energy to the point that the doors were shaking tonight. (BANG!)
My husband and I held the line until bedtime but then meekly retreated into slumber (whimper...) resting up to stand strong for another day.
School will be out for seventeen days and whether we're ready or not, our boys are back...
* * *
This post stands in lieu of
March 29, 2011 ~ Day 110
A Lost Day
Friday, December 9, 2011
A card arrived in the mail from my big brother today... a birthday card.
Printed on thick, luxurious cream colored cardstock almost velvety to the touch is the photo of a baby tilting its head to the left.
The baby is young enough that you can't really tell from the face whether it's a boy or a girl, but the white polka dotted dress with ruffles and flowers give a pretty substantial hint.
My favorite thing about this photo are the baby's big pointy ears and dark shadows under her eyes. She's got an interesting face... not necessarily a beauty, but there's some kind of a glow behind her smile. Looks like someone who could hold a spirited conversation.
When I pulled this card with her picture out of its envelope today, I couldn't help grinning. I've always loved this photo.
I brandished the card in front of my six year old son.
"Who's that baby?"
Glancing at it for a millisecond, he responded without hesitation.
"It's you, Mom."
I started to tickle him.
"Why are you so SMART?!?!?!"
"Don't you think that baby is ADORABLE?????" I teased. "Without her... there would never have been a YOU!!!"
My son dodged the hand ruffling his hair and laughed. "Sure, Mom. You were a nice baby."
He then scampered away to play with the new remote control car that arrived in the mail today, the same car he earned 25 cents at a time doing chores around the house over the past five months. ($40 saved in quarters = approximately 160 chores. The kid has been really, really focused.)
Gazing again at the card in my hand, I tried to remember what it was like to be that baby. I'm not sure how old I was in the photo... maybe six months? It's hard to say because, like my own daughter, I was born a few months prematurely. It took me quite a while to grow into my own skin.
I have no clear memories before the age of five though, not one.
So I don't honestly have any recollection of the burgundy rug upon which my blanket and I were sprawled that day... nor do I personally remember the dress.
If I had to take a guess at the photographer though, I imagine it was my same beloved big brother who sent me the card. I'm guessing this picture bonds us in more than one way, because he was probably the person who snapped it nearly 36 years ago. He takes amazing photographs, and essentially chronicled my entire childhood through his expert, loving lens.
* * *
This photo captures an instant in time, a relationship, and also some essence of me that must surely still be in there.
I look at the baby's serious yet smiling face and I think of how much has happened to fill her tiny head (alas, it's still tiny) in three and a half decades.
Knowing what I know now about the future life that little girl was destined to live - MY life - I think if I could go back in time - I would probably scoop her up and give her a cuddle. Then tickle her and make her laugh, as I did today with my son, because laughter is so crucial.
I wish I'd done a lot more laughing as a little girl, teenager and young adult. Taken life a lot more lightly!
As a mother I do laugh a great deal with my own kids, but even now I think I could use more laughter in my life. I absolutely love to laugh and am so grateful for the wit, silliness and humor that my friends, family and husband bring to me every day. Even before I met my husband, the boys I always adored growing up were the ones who made me laugh.
I have a best friend so close, she's been like a sister to me since high school. We've known each other for over nearly 30 years now. One of the best compliments she ever gave me was to tell me that, despite how shy I am, I can be really funny when I'm relaxed and have got my guard down.
I felt instantly like I'd won an Academy Award. "I'm FUNNY!"
"SHE SAYS I'M FUNNY!!!"
Decades later, I often remind my children about this.
"Well I SEE you boys over there rolling your eyes at Mommy's HILARIOUS joke about pasta... but don't forget, I'M FUNNY!!! Your Auntie D says so!"
"Mom. You and Auntie D are... OLD."
"You're right!!!" I chortle. "Gee whiz, I'm so old it's AMAZING I'm even standing right now. How has my hair not fallen out yet or gone completely white? Thirty-five long years! Where's my cane???"
* * *
Despite what my sons may think right now though, I don't feel old.
In fact, I feel a whole lot younger than I did three years ago with a dying father, pregnancy complications and bed-rest. I may actually be a decade younger now than I was back then.
I'm also younger than I was one year ago today - when I conceived of the 365 day blog project and explained how it would work.
Writing this blog has actually played a large part in making me younger, healthier, happier.
When I look back on this year, so many dreams have come true.
Some I'd planned, some I'd hoped for - and many I'd never even imagined. I feel so much gratitude for these 365 days. It's been a true joy to record them.
* * *
In just a handful of minutes the clock will strike midnight and, like Cinderella's fairytale ball gown, my 35th year will vanish forever into the dark night.
35 has been for me a year of magic and miracles. Despite a lot of transition and some agonizing, terrifying moments - the year turned out to be so profoundly special. It now ranks as one of the top three years of my life... 17, 26 and 35.
(I guess every 9 years, something really beautiful unfolds ~ so I'm looking forward to 44 already!)
For now though, I have a heartfelt birthday wish:
May this coming 36th year be filled with genuine joy and laughter shared by our family - the body shaking, gut wrenching, clutch-your-stomach kind of belly laughs that cause us to wipe away tears... or, in my case (as a woman who's borne three children) race to the bathroom. Which my children do find VERY funny.
May we stay happy, healthy, loving and ready to discover humor in all situations... and may we somehow manage to bring light and joy to the lives of everyone we encounter along our collective journey through this dynamic, beautiful world.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
My husband is absolutely lovely.
For my 36th birthday in two days, he went way out of his natural comfort zone to make a plan.
A romantic, birthday plan.
Typically he defers to me in matters of planning, but knowing this is going to be a special weekend, he decided to take charge. Very attractive!
First, he arranged babysitting.
That's just a huge gift right there. He singlehandedly orchestrated two grandparents and a babysitter to ensure that he and I would have at least 24 hours to ourselves.
Next, he offered to whisk me back to Los Angeles - the scene of our last romantic getaway.
He even planned a sunset stroll at the Getty Center - the site where he'd originally planned to propose years ago (before, overcome with exuberance, we ended up getting engaged while sitting on a bag of Costco toilet paper).
So basically, for his effort and genuine gift of time and love, my husband gets an A+++. I really appreciate it. He's not a romantic by nature, so the extra effort means a lot.
* * *
Here's the catch:
Christmas is coming.
In fact, Christmas is just two weeks away.
I'm a mom, with three small children who are all SO excited about Santa Claus.
In fact, they've written Santa some really darling letters politely requesting some very expensive toys. On top of which, they're expecting presents from us.
This is pretty much the main reason why I highly dislike Christmas. There is so much financial pressure on us as parents, it takes all the joy out of the season for me.
So even though I should have been thrilled that my darling husband had planned to take me away on a special getaway, instead I've been stressed out.
"How much is it going to cost? What are we going to do in Los Angeles? How can we justify that kind of expense?" Those have pretty much been the questions on my mind.
"If we're just going to do dinner and a movie," I reasoned, "It doesn't make any sense to spend that much time driving and burn through that much gas. The cost of gasoline alone might buy one of my children a special present - a camera, a scooter, a play kitchen, a beginner guitar.
For nights I have tossed and turned, worrying about our trip to L.A.
Finally my husband asked what was wrong.
* * *
I didn't really want to tell him. I didn't want him to think I haven't hugely appreciated his planning, and his big gesture. It's a really sweet thing that he wanted to give me a trip for my birthday.
"I'm a little worried," I said. "About money. I would LOVE to go away with you. But Christmas is coming fast... and I have so many things I need to buy for people we love in the next two weeks. I'm just not sure if this is the right time for Los Angeles."
We went back and forth for a few days. There was one really good reason to travel to LA, beyond my birthday. A family we absolutely love lives up there, and we haven't seen them for many months. Spending time with them would be a great reason to travel anywhere.
Then the wife, who is my dear friend, kindly confided that they will actually be traveling to our town for a week at Christmastime!
This made everything clear, at least to me. I can't wait to see them and am so grateful that they're coming our way.
With that wrapped up, my answer was right in front of me:
I wanted to stay home for my birthday. No fancy trips. No long drives. I want to stay in the city I love with the man I love, and enjoy the genuine beauty of our real life.
I drove around for a while yesterday looking for places where I most wanted to spend my birthday with my husband. My daughter and I drove along the ocean for about an hour, checking out cute little spots. Nothing clicked at first, nothing called my name.
When my daughter melted down in the car (before falling fast asleep) I turned around and we slowly drove back along the coast toward home.
The closer we got toward home, the more comfortable I felt. The more I appreciated the landscape, and the more I felt happy and serene.
Then I realized something very wonderful.
"What I really want for my birthday, is the exact life I am already living. I am so happy here! I love my home."
This is a new thing for me.
A year ago at this time, I felt desperate to get away from our community. I was willing to leave the city and even the country just to get out of the rut we'd fallen into as a family. A year ago, I couldn't get far enough away from my real life. Many days, I fought the urge to drive away... and just keep driving.
I wasn't happy in myself, nor was I happy in our life. Sickness played into that, but a lot of other things played into it too.
How thrilling then, to realize just twelve months later that the life I chose for our family in this new community is still exactly the life I most want... even for a special occasion.
Every day as I drive my children home from school or soccer or the grocery store, I am the most joyful when I enter our neighborhood and wend my way down its serene, cheery streets - full of holiday lights and decorations.
I've chosen a good home, and it's revitalized everything beautifully!
Our children are thriving, our marriage has never been stronger, and my attitude about the health challenges I face has improved a thousand-fold. I am growing a great community-based support system and even developing my faith! My career is back in action, and there is joy in my heart more often than not.
What I want most for my birthday is to spend it celebrating the massive gift I received from life one year ago. I am so blessed by this second chance at lasting happiness, and so grateful for the life we've built.
* * *
In conclusion, we're staying here!
My husband and I are going to luxuriate in our community for my 36th birthday. We got an amazing deal at a local hotel, close to a nearby mountain we love to hike. We're going to enjoy a locally grown, locally prepared meal. See a film at one of our favorite theaters... hold hands as we amble down the streets of our own neighborhood, spinning dreams for our bright future.
I love you, honey. You and the kids are the best birthday presents ever.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
It looks like I've caught myself trying to live through my kid in the past 24 hours, and bungling my words right and left.
I managed to genuinely hurt his feelings, which sucks.
Today happened to be "Pajama Day" at my six year old son's school. One of those "school spirit" type events where children get to be goofy and silly in their pajamas while learning.
I loved those days - both as a child and as a teacher.
Dress up days in elementary school gave me the chance to liberate myself from the role of awkward youngest sibling wearing hand-me-down pinafores and jeans bought on sale (in bulk) at J.C. Penneys.
On dress up days, I got to be anyone I wanted to be. My parents understood the fun of costumes and supported my eager delight in 'crazy hair day', 'crazy hat day', 'crazy sock day' and oh heck, any old crazy spirited day.
Decades later as a teacher, I loved to see the creativity my students put into the funny dress days their student body council put together. I always admired the kids who had the spunk to really "go for it" and dress up in whatever silly, crazy or fun fashion they felt like - without caring about what anyone else was thinking.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my confident students were also often my popular students.
Human beings gravitate toward others who are comfortable in their own skin. Even confident children radiate power.
Sensitive, insecure children who are NOT comfortable within themselves... awkward, shy children... well... those children are a lot like me as a kid. Not the "me during spirit week" (always a more brassy, ballsy version of my true self) but me the other 175 days of the school year.
Gawky. Overly sensitive. Trying too hard to fit in.
That was me at the age of six. And sixteen.
* * *
My son is six years old. As I've mentioned, today happened to his "Pajama Day".
"Ooooh honey!" I exclaimed yesterday when I got the eBulletin. "Pajama Day! That will be AWESOME!!! I'll wash up your best pajamas. Maybe the ones with the snowboards on them? Or would you prefer the basketballs?"
"I don't want to wear my pajamas to school."
"I don't want to dress up."
"But honey, it's going to be so much fun!"
"I don't want to."
"Son, don't you remember the last time you didn't want to dress up? Remember how at Halloween you assured me that none of the other kids at school were going to be dressing up in costume? And then you turned out to be pretty much the only kid in the whole school that wasn't dressed up? And you felt sad and embarrassed?"
"I don't care."
"Well, how about you wear your pajamas and put a change of clothes in your backpack? Then if it turns out that a lot of kids aren't dressed up, you can just ask your teacher to go change in the bathroom?"
"But hon - what if you turn out (again) to be the only kid in your class not dressed up?"
"I don't care. I am embarrassed. I don't want to wear my pajamas to school."
"Won't you be embarrassed if you are the only kid NOT wearing them?"
"I don't care. Pajamas don't belong at school. I'm not wearing my pajamas."
* * *
My husband chimed in, supporting my point of view.
"It'll be really fun, little man. You should do it. I always dressed up on those days growing up. We had a great time."
My son held steadfast, eyes filling with tears but voice belligerent.
I made one final counter-offer:
"How about I just wash your pajamas and put them in your backpack," I sighed. "And if you get to school and everyone else is dressed up, you can change into them?"
He didn't answer, which optimistically I took as a yes.
I washed the soft brown flannel snowboard pajamas and put them in the bottom of his backpack.
* * *
At 12:30pm this afternoon, my daughter and I strolled up to collect her brother from school. It was half day. He'd attended, wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Pajamas stuffed into the bottom of his red backpack.
We arrived just in time. The school bell rang on cue, and students began to stream out of the open door of his classroom.
I watched to see what was coming toward us.
Pajama. Pajama. Pajama. Pajama. Pajama. Pajama... you get the picture. Pajamas everywhere.
It looked like all of the kids - girls AND boys - in my son's class had worn their pajamas. Monster pajamas. Bunny rabbit pajamas. Robot pajamas. Flowered pajamas with little hearts. One little girl wore a blue, full body zip-up footie pajama... with no shoes!
Then came my kid. Sour-faced and defiant. Still wearing his t-shirt and green khaki shorts.
He stared me down with an angry, hurt look.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"WHY ARE YOU STANDING SO CLOSE TO THE CLASSROOM?" he hissed.
"You're TOO CLOSE!"
"Oh. Wow. Ok, sorry about that. So, how was your day?"
His lower lip trembled but his voice did not quiver. Actually, it was filled with accusation.
"Mom - YOU WERE WRONG. I *wasn't* the only kid not wearing my pajamas. There were TWO other kids too. Without pajamas. Pajamas DO NOT BELONG AT SCHOOL." He seemed pretty wrought up.
"Oh, okay. Well, that's great. I'm glad you feel good about your decision. So, how was the rest of your day?"
We veered toward the school gate and began the long walk home.
* * *
As it turned out, my boy was in a real funk for the remainder of the day. By 2pm he'd had a massive meltdown (crying, screaming) and ended up in his room for a calming down period.
I had a lot of time to think.
"Is all of this a sign that he is too similar to me... to the way I was as a kid? Is he trying too hard to be cool and not having confidence in himself? Is he too sensitive, like his mama?"
My son does at times seem painfully conscious of what the other boys and girls around him are thinking. Even when he totally misjudges a situation, like today. Not dressing up because he was embarrassed and wanted to fit in... then angry because he didn't dress up when the other kids did.
Later though, I began to see everything from a different point of view.
"Maybe he really didn't want to dress up. In which case, he was going against the popular grain to stay in his normal clothes, rather than bowing to peer and parental pressure to put on pajamas! Maybe today was actually a sign of great confidence!"
Is my boy is just beating to his own drum - as he always has - or is he shying away from any potential embarrassment?
* * *
I learned something sad today. It really shames me to admit it, but here's the unvarnished truth:
Late this afternoon I realized that my six year old son views me as one of "them". As I tried to talk with him about feeling more confident in himself, he burst into tears.
"Your words make me feel BAD," he sobbed. "Whose side are you ON?"
To my immense regret, my boy apparently sees me as someone who judges him. He genuinely felt yesterday and today that we, his parents, were trying to turn him into somebody he's not.
This realization breaks my heart. From now on I need to work a lot harder to keep my mouth shut as he figures things out for himself socially... so that, no matter what, my boy knows without question that his father and I are his biggest fans.
If I'm not really conscious and careful about my role in his upbringing, I may unwittingly thrust my own adult perspectives upon him. My well-intentioned words may be hurtful to him. I may try to mold or shape him without even realizing.
I don't really want to change my son. He is incredible just the way he is. Every single unique trait, quality or quirk in that child is special to me.
I yearn badly to help him avoid my many mistakes. Sometimes this almost primal desire to protect him from awkwardness trips me up as a parent. I discover myself trying to make his choices for him, save him from what I perceive to be potential mistakes. Stop him from acting like me.
Parenting is tricky. I see all of my own challenges reflected right back at me in my children. They say the things you dislike the things in other people are the things you dislike the most in yourself. I don't dislike my son. I adore him. Parenting is just way more complicated than I ever imagined it to be.
I'm busy trying to better myself as a nearly-36 year old human being but I need to remember in the process to leave my 6 year old "mini-me" alone and let him work on himself, at his own pace. He's just a kid, trying to figure it out.
It's really time for me to step back. Way back.
My job as a parent is to protect my children from physical danger and provide them with a foundation of love. To keep those lines of communication open and build that sense of trust and mutual respect. Most importantly - I need to let my kids know that no matter what else happens - they will always have a mother who loves them for who they are.
I can't stop my kids from making mistakes, or from standing out right at the moment when they most ardently desire to fit in. I can't stop them from being socially awkward, shy and sensitive.
It isn't appropriate for me to try to navigate the complex social interactions of childhood and adolescence for my three favorite little people. Even if I wanted to, the world is different now than it was thirty years ago when I was six years old... and technology has made childhood different too.
No, I already have a role to fill - a crucial role - that I can't afford to get wrong.
I'm his mother. That makes me so lucky. I'm the one that gets to applaud and hug and remind him in his low moments why he is truly such an incredible human being.
I really screwed that up today.
To my son ~ I'm so sorry.
Whether I've shown it well or not I'm truly proud of you, just the way you are. I'll try a lot harder in the future. Please know that I'm one million percent on your side.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
I think it's fair and natural for mothers to dream about their children in the future and to harbor hopes for their lives.
That said, I don't want to become the kind of parent who lives through her children, a "stage mother" who attempts to mold my kids into the human being I always hoped to be.
For this reason, in these last few days of the year in which I've been writing, I am confiding into this 365 blog my hopes.
I'd rather write them all down quietly and let it go. I don't ever want to pressure my children to live the kind of life I have (or haven't) lived, or the life I'd wish for each of them.
Their lives are theirs! Win or lose, it's all about them.
So in my own quiet way, here are ten hopes I have for my own children:
10) I hope that my children will travel the world, much more than I have done. I hope they will see whole continents that I may never see - places like Africa, South America, Asia. There is great value in understanding how different people around our planet live. Creating friendships around the globe connects us powerfully to our shared (and different) values. I hope my three children will experience the wonders this beautiful Earth has to offer them.
9) I would love it if my children would give themselves the opportunity to grow a little, before they commit themselves financially to long-term debt. Since the age of 17 I have been saddled with significant debt in the way of school loans and later car loans... hopefully sometime soon even a house payment. Debt has a way of anchoring you to one place in life, to one geographic location. If my school loans hadn't come due six months after I graduated from college, I would probably have spent a few years seeing the world on a shoestring. That would have been fun.
8) I hope that my children will keep in close touch with each other as they grow and move forward into their own individual lives. The older I have grown, the more I have understood and deeply appreciated the value of family. I am closer to my siblings now than I've ever been. My children are so lucky to have siblings so near in age to each other... with only two years between them all (6, 4, 2). I hope that despite their present squabbles they learn along the way that the greatest gift in life a parent can give you, after their unconditional love, is a sibling.
7) I hope that my children will choose to have real weddings, whether in churches... on bluffs overlooking the ocean... bungee jumping, wherever. I hope they will understand (in a way that I definitely did NOT) that there is something sort of important about experiencing the traditions and conventions of society. I never had that white dress or walk down the aisle with my father. Looking back, especially given my father's Alzheimer's, I really wish I'd done those things.
I grew up thinking that elopements were the height of romance and that a wedding should really be about the two people getting married. In hindsight though, I realize that what makes a wedding truly special is being able to make those lifelong vows with the loving support of all of your family and friends beaming upon you. I hope my children will, on their own and without pressure from me, see value in sharing their sacred moments.
6) I hope that my three children will be more confident than I have been. I hope they will recognize from the get-go how special and amazing they all are, in their own unique ways. I hope they will value themselves too much to let others treat them badly. Once, a very right-wing Christian young man I'd been romantically entangled with during college snapped at me - "I hate myself for having used you, and I hate you for having let me do it." While his emotions might have been too volatile for the situation, what he said was eye-opening. I *did* let him walk all over me, and I hope my own children never allow others to do that to them.
5) I hope my children learn not to take for granted the relationship they have with their grandparents, us (their folks), their siblings or their friends. I took a lot of things for granted as a child and now it is too late to go back and re-do them. I rarely appreciated my father until it was too late, and his mind had begun to fail. I didn't recognize how special each of my close friends were until I'd lost one of them to cancer and leukemia. I didn't recognize how rare true love is until I had my heart soundly broken by someone I loved greatly. I hope it won't take loss for my own children to value the people and relationships in their lives.
4) It would be blessed if my children could lead healthy lives into their wise old age. Despite whatever genetic gifts I may have given them, in the way of genes predisposing them to autoimmunity, I do not believe their futures need to be dictated at all by health struggles or worries. Modern medicine, Chinese medicine, a healthy lifestyle with a good diet and moderation in their consumption of toxins like alcohol, sugar and carbohydrates... lots of exercise... sleep & maintaining a peaceful inner state. I believe all of these things can afford my kids extremely long and productive lives. I pray that they are wise enough to take advantage of the blessings of living in the 2000s when so many things can be healed and prevented.
3) I hope my children will find faith. At the age of nearly 36 I am still struggling to find peace in my heart with any faith. There are things I love about Unitarianism, Buddhism, Judaism and Protestantism. I still do not have a spiritual home, or a heart in alignment with any particular principle. The one thing I believe in is Love. "God is Love", I tell my children, "and love is all around you." I hope that my children will grow with a deeper sense of trust than I have done, less skepticism, and less of an intellectual questioning of matters that cannot be understood merely by the brain.
2) May my children be accepting, tolerant, compassionate people who embrace the differences that separate them from other human beings. May they strive to find commonalities with strangers, rather than focusing on the things that hold them apart. May they make many unexpected friends in their lives, and may they BE true friends to all who know them.
1) Lastly, I hope my children will proceed throughout their lives understanding the incredible value of honesty, integrity and loyalty. If there is one thing their father and I share more than anything, it is our deep core belief in living a life around these principles. We are people of our word, people that would move heaven and earth not to let others down. I hope my children will live by the "Golden Rule" and feel their own motivation to make decent, respectable choices. An honest life lived with integrity and loyalty - and love!!! - is the best thing I could hope for my kids.
* * *
To my kids, when you inevitably read this someday:
I love you. Whether you ultimately share my private hopes for your lives or not, I support each of you 1,000,000%. The three of you have already made the most cherished dream of my life come true.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
When we broke into small groups, each table was asked to speak about four questions.
At our table, the first discussion question was, "What do you hope to accomplish this holiday season?"
The seven ladies at our table looked expectantly at each other, smiling.
No-one made the first move to speak.
Shy by nature, I have trained myself over decades to summon the courage to pipe up at moments when I'd actually rather hide behind a book or flyer.
I learned in graduate school that if you are the first to speak, it breaks the ice and also allows you to speak less later on in the group discussion... having already participated in a visible way.
In a way, it's easier to go first than to add something after everyone else at the table has spoken.
So in my paradoxically bold-yet-shy way, I began to confide yesterday what I really hoped to accomplish with the holidays this year. The words sort of tumbled out.
"I wish," I began, "that I could create the holiday spirit in my own home like my own mother did for me when I was young.
My parents really made the holidays special, especially my mother. She loves giving more than anything... and as a child our house during the month of December was filled with so much love, cosiness and creativity. My mother was always baking, crafting, cooking and giving during the holiday season. I learned to love Christmas thanks to my mother. Our home at the holidays was always calm and peaceful, without any tension.
My home today, thirty years later," I added, "Is a totally different story. It is filled with chaos rather than Christmas carols. Always noisy, rarely tidy. My children have tantrums frequently and fight with each other. I haven't even begun our Christmas shopping yet, let alone any projects. It is nothing the way I remember holidays growing up, nothing close to what I wish holidays would be for my own children. I hope I will be able to create even a quarter of the joy of the season within my own family that my mother created for me."
The other women at my table responded with great kindness.
"I believe," said the mother immediately to my right, "that you are selling yourself short. Just by listening to you I believe that you are probably doing much more than you realize for your children."
"Honestly," said a grandmother sitting across from me, "Your childhood experience doesn't sound very normal. I think you are comparing yourself to something that isn't really typical. The home and family you have now sound a lot more like most families."
"I'll bet," said another mother, "that you probably just remember the good things from your childhood. I'm sure if you asked your mother about those same years, she would tell you that there were plenty of things that weren't perfect - just things a small child wouldn't have known about or noticed."
"You know," mused the woman to my left, "There are probably many things that you do differently and maybe even better than your own mother did them with you. It sounds like you are comparing yourself to her strengths, but instead maybe you should look at your own strengths. There are probably plenty of great things you do with your children that she never did with you."
Our conversation continued forward with other questions and other speakers, but this small exchange reveals a lot about why I love my church mother's group. I am really grateful for the feeling of community and "team" spirit there... the way in which I can arrive burdened and worried that I may be the worst mother in the world, and leave feeling uplifted and called to gratitude.
Since that chat, I've been mulling it over. What they said.
Do I have strengths that my mother didn't have?
What are the things that I do well as a mom, that I'm proud of? What do I bring to the table that works?
Maybe these are questions that every woman asks herself after becoming a mother.
Traditionally it has always been hard for me to identify my strengths, especially as a parent. It is common knowledge among my close family and friends that I am very hard on myself, and frequently struggle against the vague feeling that I am in some way failing.
When my daughter ingested about 90 vitamin B-12 pills, for example... or when she took a massive tumble off the top row of an auditorium of stadium seats last weekend and tumbled not one - but TWO - rows down landing hard on the concrete...
At those moments, which occur far too frequently, I cannot help hating myself a little. I can tell you in all honesty that as I screamed and leapt for my child - yet did not manage to catch her - I experienced the powerful fear that she might have a terrible injury and it was all my fault for not being a better mother.
"If only I'd held onto her more closely, if only I'd never taken her to see this stupid penguin movie at all!"
Even when she manages to pull through and run around cheerily after these kinds of events, it takes me a long time to get over them.
* * *
But I digress.
My challenge is to do what my church mother's group suggested - look for the positive traits in myself and discover the ways in which - albeit differently from my own mother - I too bring special gifts to my kids.
I think this is a useful exercise, and maybe something that *all* mothers should do from time to time... take stock of what they are proud of and what they are doing well.
It took me a long time to come up with a list of things I do that my mother did not do with me... things that I am happy to give my children. (I was lucky enough to have such a great mother that there are very few things she didn't do for me.) Here though, is my list:
What I Bring As A Mother
- Sometimes when music is playing in the grocery store, I spontaneously dance and sing with my kids in the aisles... in a very undignified and highly goofy way. I'm glad I can let loose with my kids and show them the lighter sides of life.
- I have done a lot of volunteering in my kids' classrooms already, and plan to do a lot more. This is something I did not experience as a child.
- My husband and I take our kids out into nature to go hiking, biking and playing. I didn't get much time in nature as a kid, other than my own back yard or the beach. I'm glad that we take our kids to the mountains. I'm glad my boys have already camped with their dad in the back yard by the ages of 6 and 4.
- In our house, the 5 second rule is valid and ~ much to my mother's dismay ~ we often let our children eat food they have accidentally dropped on the floor at our house. My husband and I share the belief that modern society is over-sanitized, contributing to the growing number of autoimmune problems including allergies and asthma that children face today. We believe a little dirt is good for you. I grew up in a home that was pretty much always sparkling clean... and just look at where my immune system is today. Hmmmmm.
- My children have siblings close in age! Growing up, I would have killed for a brother or sister close to my own age. I tried to pretend that the ten years between my nearest sibling and me was not very long... but in the end, there is a huge difference between 10 and 20, or 16 and 26. My childhood was very lonely a lot of the time and I had so much jealousy toward my friends with brothers and sisters near our age. They always seemed so close, even when they were fighting. I always loved my four much-older siblings but I really wished I had someone to hang out with at home with my folks.
- I talk with my kids in a very honest, profound way about our family life. We've already had the "talk" about how babies are made (we got as far as the boy has a seed and the girl has an egg, and together the seed and the egg make a baby)... something I didn't learn about until the age of 10 or 11. We've also talked through the glitches that arise now and then in our family relationships, and even discussed at length our personal strengths, fears and deeper beliefs with our kids (using child appropriate words). I value that we are a family that talks about things, as I grew up in a home where serious talking was done behind closed doors.
- My sons play soccer, something I would have loved to have done as a little girl. It's awesome. I have been so proud and impressed... so happy for them as they learn teamwork, confidence and determination. It is important to me to give my children the experiences I missed out on as a kid: team sports, youth group, families that hang out together and kids that grow up together.
- We are a family that openly embraces gay marriage, setting a tone that tells our children when they grow up they can marry anyone they truly love (of either gender) who treats them well. The first wedding my sons attended in their young lives was that of my brother and his husband. It was a beautiful day, a stunning wedding, and the perfect first experience of "marriage" for our kids to see. I value that my children are growing up in a household where no matter what their ultimate orientation, they will feel loved and appreciated for who they are.
- Every day I give my children the example of a woman who is brave and capable enough to take care of things by herself. Whether I'm out cutting down tree branches, killing widow spiders, plunging the toilet or washing the car, I'm a confident and proactive woman without the patience to wait around until a man can take care of things for me. My father was way over-protective of my mother and in the house where I grew up, she was not allowed to drive after dark by herself. I chose to marry a man who - for better and worse - sees me as his equal (capable of doing everything he can and more) which pushes me to grow stronger every day. His question, "Why can't *you* do it?" over 10 years has caused me to realize that happily, I CAN.
- I've taught our kids about saving money from a young age. I bought all of them piggy banks and every time they do a chore for me they are obliged to bank their money to save for something special that they really covet. My eldest son has now finally earned enough money to buy himself the remote control car he has wanted for about four months. Even his baby sister gets excited about earning pennies for her "piggy piggy". I wish my folks had been economically savvy to teach me about saving when I was a little kid. If I had understood debt and finances better, I might have spent the $125,000.00 from my college education on buying a little house at the age of 18... which would, ten years later, have been worth many times the investment. I think I could have gotten a great education at a state school and ended up a lot more financially solvent. Instead, I accrued a ton of debt and will now be paying off my degrees until I'm 65 or so.
- My husband and I give our kids a carefree, creative, relaxed growing environment. When I was a kid my dad used to shake his head in dismay at the mess in my bedroom... as compared to the rest of their pristine house. "How will you ever have a gentleman caller when you get older if you live like this! You're going to have to learn how to keep things cleaner." Ironically (but also happily) I fell in love with a man who tolerate mess very well and is arguably as messy as I am... although in different ways. Our home is very rarely clean, even though I devote many, many hours to cleaning and laundry during the week. Our children are thus comfortable in chaos and not uptight about keeping things perfect. This is probably a good thing in the long run.
* * *
Diving into this holiday season, it's nice to remember that though I won't ever be my own amazing mother ~ I'm still a devoted and sincere mother. I love my kids just as vastly as my own parents loved me.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
I don't want to speak too soon but... lately, parenting has been pretty darn fun.
I'm not sure if my kids are actually getting easier or I'm just finally getting the hang of having three. Maybe we're meeting somewhere in the middle?
Of course, having the boys both in school five days a week makes a huge difference. Three weeks from now over the lengthy Christmas vacation with all 3 kids at home, I may be singing the blues and begging for babysitting.
For now though, I'm really soaking up my time with my favorite wee people.
(And when I say wee people, I literally mean people who go wee. Not whee! But wee. In the past two weeks I've discovered my children peeing on the carpet, peeing on their own shoes, and today... bless her heart, my daughter cheerily exclaimed "Mama! I make a poopoo in the baftub!")
Here are some of my favorite things about my children right now, in no particular order:
I love the half-hour before I put my sons to bed these days, when we read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" together side by side.
It means so much to me that my eldest son would now rather read with me than watch "Man Vs. Wild" (his favorite show) with daddy. (Since birth he has ~always~ preferred his daddy, so this is really significant!)
Tonight he held my hand for twenty minutes while I read aloud a chapter about Hagrid taking Harry Potter to Gringotts and then wand shopping. My son listened with such seriousness, soaking in every word. Adorable!
* * *
For the past several weeks our daughter has been extremely huggy. Everywhere we go, she wants to sit on our laps and hug us. Sometimes this can get really annoying, like when I'm trying to say - use the bathroom by myself.
Most of the time though, I don't mind kneeling down at her level and giving her a big hug. When I can make the time, I do try to sit down for a second and let her sit on my lap. We read a story or just talk for a few minutes before she scampers away.
I know she won't be saying "Mama, I want a LAP!" for much longer. So I've resolved just to treasure it.
* * *
Tonight our younger boy brought home a worksheet covered in careful, painstaking kid scrawl. He had written all of the numbers from 1 to 100 on it. "Mommy!" he called as soon as he jumped out of the car. "I mastered my 100s board! I know my numbers now!!!"
Even though he was really tired after a long day he still gave me a glowing smile when he came through the front door. I love seeing how proud he is of his hard work, and how excited he is that he can actually recognize a few words now.
About three weeks ago when I took he and his brother to see a children's movie called "Puss In Boots," the little guy looked up and said:
"Mommy - what is "B", "B", "Q"? What does that mean?"
I was blown away by him reading his very first word (at least, the first one he's read in my presence). Last night on his own he sounded out the word "of" at the top of one of the Harry Potter pages. I couldn't have been more proud.
* * *
Lately I notice all of the time how tall my children are getting.
It would be fair to say that my eldest son is almost what one might call "lanky". He is sprouting up and thinning out, and he's at last grown into his head. We used to call him Charlie Brown as a little boy (although he looks a lot more like Linus) because his head was so disproportionate to his body. These days, it fits perfectly... and I think he's turning into a pretty handsome kiddo. (I'm not biased at all... heeheehee.)
* * *
Tonight my daughter was having a hard time falling to sleep and crying a lot. I came in to sit with her and calm her down, and hung out for a little while in the darkness of her room. Illuminated only by the glow of red starlight projected from her Target-brand lady bug nightlight toy, the bedroom seemed so peaceful and warm.
I inhaled her freshly bathed shampoo scent and held her tiny hand as she drifted off to dreamland. All I could think during those minutes was, "I can't remember life before having children. I cannot even imagine not having this little girl by my side."
I then briefly wondered whether my children had already been with me, spiritually or non-physically, throughout all of my 28 single, childless years. Hovering near me, waiting to join me in this plane of existence. It's nice to think that they were there.
* * *
Suddenly and unexpectedly, we've outgrown strollers as a family. I cannot even express how cool this is usually... except in the moments where the two year old decides she doesn't feel like walking a step further (and then lays down right in the middle of the sidewalk and refuses to budge).
We're also getting amazingly close to becoming a diaper-free family! As evidenced by today's 'poop-in-the-tub' incident and many other diaper free adventures, my daughter is very motivated to stop wearing diapers and I believe she will potty train herself long before she turns three.
No strollers? No diapers! Wow. I don't even recognize us.
Who is this family of five walking hand in hand? (I love it.)
I know it makes me sound like a cold and heartless witch, but I honestly never loved the baby stage of parenting. I was one step away from a heart attack every day during the first year or two of each of my children's lives.
This is pretty much the first time in about seven years that I haven't been constantly stressed out or terrified that we were going to lose one of our precious little people.
Maybe our son's accident last summer and the long, drawn-out aftermath of infection and drug reaction helped me to shake free of the bonds of fear. In the end, I realized two things.
(A) My children are going to be ok. Good odds on this.
(B) I just have to make peace with the unpredictability of life. Can't live in a constant state of worry. It isn't good for any of us.
I guess we've all changed in the last few years, and happily our individual changes are summing up to a really functional whole. We're starting to become something greater than its parts... not a perfect family, but... a tight-knit family.
I 100% love being a mom these days. Wouldn't have it any other way.
These may be 'famous last words' but you never know. I've got a good feeling that somewhere when we weren't looking, we turned a corner as a family ~ and it's just going to get better from here.
Monday, November 28, 2011
"Did she get senioritis?" you may wonder... "Does she have Spring Fever?"
"Has she given up on the project right before the finish?"
The answer to all of these is no.
I've actually been really hard at work all of this time. I'm just working on a different project close to my heart.
It's so important to me, in fact, that I'm going to reprint a post here that I just wrote for one of my other blogs "Healing Autoimmunity".
I really want to get the word out about the serotonin research project I've been putting together.
I read last week that we are all connected to everyone else in the world by 4.5 people on Facebook.
If that is true, then it stands to reason that by sharing the research I've aggregated with my 200+ Facebook friends, *someone* may have a personal connection or friendship with a "real" scientist or researcher who might know what to do with all of this information. I've got 57 studies here (culled from hundreds and hundreds I've read) that show what I believe to be a really important trend.
If you are a scientist or doctor or work for a pharmaceutical company; if you KNOW a scientist or doctor or pharmaceutical rep; if your *best friend* knows a scientist or doctor or pharmaceutical rep... maybe together we could get this aggregated research into the hands of that special person who might actually be able to change the world for millions of folks.
So here it is ~ my big theory, and the hope that someone with a mind for innovation and the resources to make concrete change will know what to do with it!
A Brief Explanation of my Serotonin-Autoimmunity Research
Thanks with all my heart for checking it out.
This 365 blog is a gift I plan to leave my children some day... but I'd SO much rather be here with them in person!
Sunday, November 20, 2011
We'd been enjoying date night on a rainy evening, dinner in a warm and reasonably priced restaurant with good conversation and laughter.
Dodging raindrops to get to the theater before the previews started, we arrived a little wet but no worse for wear. Settling into our seats, we held hands and comfortably waited for the movie to begin.
The movie turned out to be well told ~ funny, poignant and very realistic. Without giving away too much of the plot, it turned out to share the story of a family grappling with a tragic injury to one of the parents.
Thanks to really pitch-perfect, honest acting by George Clooney and the girls playing his daughters (whose names I don't yet know) I found myself more and more drawn into the storyline.
By the end of the film, I was openly weeping. Hot tears were streaming down my cheeks unchecked, a torrent of emotion welling up from the deeper part of me that remembers all too well what it was like to experience the protracted illness and loss of my father two years ago.
I believe that anyone who has lost a person close to them (parent, spouse, lover, child, sibling) would experience what I did while watching the film... namely, recognition.
I recognized the situation and emotions the actors were portraying, because I have been there. I have felt those things. I have gone through all of it up close.
The rest of what I plan to write includes information relating to the ending of the film, so if you are a person that likes to be surprised by the ending of movies, I want to be clear that there are serious spoilers ahead. SPOILER ALERT. I don't want to ruin your enjoyment of this film, so if you don't want to know what happens please stop reading now.
For those folks still reading, we're back to that moment at the end of the film when my husband and I sat in the dark - still holding hands - but rather than feeling loving or romantic, I was involved in some shoulder-shaking sobbing... trying not to disturb the people around us.
On the big screen, George Clooney's character and his daughters were sitting on a boat in the open water with an urn. In the urn: the ashes of the woman they had all loved (and hated, and admired, and yearned for, and despaired over). Under a bright, sunny sky they then took turns casting her ashes into the clear turquoise water. Her ashes rippled under the surface of the water, cascading gently downward.
I was completely caught off-guard by the scene.
I have been there, in the open water on a sunny day. Casting ashes into the ocean with my family. Watching them spread like angels under the waves.
Suddenly the intensity of that moment in my real life returned, overwhelmed my senses. I cried for my father and for the pain of all children who have lost a parent, all husbands and wives who have lost a spouse. All parents who have lost a child.
My husband, such a good man, held my hand.
He sat with me for a moment, as I wept. But though we were side by side holding hands in the dark, we were also miles and miles apart.
He, who has not yet experienced such an incredibly personal loss, really enjoyed the film - but it didn't affect him emotionally. It was just a movie to him - a great, well-done movie.
He could not relate to the characters. He has never clasped the ashes of a loved one in his hand and discovered for himself that ashes are not fine and powdery but rather grainy and gritty. He has never held the cremated flesh and bones of a parent, once vital but now lost, in his palm and then cast them into the sea.
My husband has a true and beautiful heart. He is not an emotional guy but he feels things strongly just like the rest of us and he has vast, deep love for his family. He adores his parents, siblings, children, me; his close friends. He may not wear his heart on his sleeve, but he would do anything for the people he loves and he shows love in the way he lives his life daily.
He is so genuine that I half-thought he would understand; that he'd cry with me.
Two years ago when Dad died I expected my husband to know exactly what to say, what to do... how I felt. What I needed. What I didn't need... somehow by osmosis - just because he lived with me and saw me every day. Naively and unrealistically, I assumed that he could feel what it was like to live in my skin, sense the weight of my grief.
When it turned out that he wasn't in the same emotional place that I was in... when my father's death was more like a movie to him than a personal devastation... I responded with anger, frustration, disbelief.
It took a while for me to work through my own loss and realize that no matter how close we are to others - they can't bear our pains or wounds for us. They can't walk through our valleys of shadow.
What I've learned during the two years since the death of my father is this:
You can't be angry with someone or feel let down by them for not sharing the twisting, searing pain of your private grief. For not matching your pain... tear for tear, or empathizing with your tragedy.
Even when we are in love, even when we are best friends, even when we are a family - there are still many roads that must be walked down alone.
Experiencing the death and loss of a close friend or family member turns out to be a lot like so many pivotal life experiences (falling in love, having sex, becoming a parent, being hospitalized, facing a serious illness or undergoing surgery)...
You just can't explain in words to someone who has never been through those things what they actually feel like. Loss is one more thing a person can only really understand if they have experienced it.
* * *
I wept tonight at the end of the movie, spontaneously and from the heart. It was a lonely, broken feeling ~ and for a short time those emotions from two years ago swept back over me.
My husband patted me awkwardly and kindly, and then shepherded me back to our car. We drove home in total silence, just the sound of rain pouring down on our windshield. For twenty minutes we did not exchange a word.
Two years ago, I would probably have responded with disappointment to his silence. I might have felt hurt or frustrated that he didn't want to wade with me into the depths of mourning. That he had nothing to say.
Tonight, I reflected quietly on the fact that there was no possible way he could understand what I was feeling at that moment - because (thankfully) he has not ever had to hold the cremated remains of a loved one in his hand and feel that last connection to their once-warm body ebbing away from him.
I realized that my pain is something I don't want him to have to share, to feel. I would never wish it upon him (or anyone). I'm so truly glad he still has both of his parents, all of our children, me. I hope he never learns that kind of aching.
As we drove home to our beautiful, sleeping, breathing family - I thanked him in my heart for holding space for me. For giving me the mental and emotional room in which to grieve and cry, without trying to interject his own ideas about my loss. Without pretending that he knew what it felt like.
I thanked him for being alive. For being here. For loving me.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
He's gotten a lot of 'page time' in this 365 blog over the past eleven months.
I've tried to be honest along the way, even during the episodes when we weren't at our finest as a family.
This post, for example, chronicled my despair during one of the darker moments we shared earlier in the year.
All the while, I have told him the truth:
That I am keeping a blog about our lives. That I am writing it for him, and his siblings. That it tells everything ~ both the good and the bad. "It will be a candid snapshot of our family," I've said, "Warts and all."
I will admit though that I always hoped, even during our very hardest times, that eventually this year would come to stand as a turning point in our family dynamic. A transition, slow and steady, during which our son really came into his own.
Dyed-in-the-wool optimist that I am, I have been hoping all along for a genuinely happy ending.
"I know he can do it," I confided in my husband last Spring. "I just wish I could make the process of growth less painful for him. I wish I could make the whole thing more comfortable - for all of us."
"He'll make it," my husband assured me. "He's going to be fine."
* * *
As the year progressed, little by little, it became clear that many good things WERE quietly happening with our eldest son.
We moved to a new community and a new school.
Our son, who had been described by his first kindergarten teacher as a 'loner' who was 'hard to get to know' began to come out of his shell at school. His new kindergarten teacher, a jewel of a woman, brought out the best in him right away.
"I love school," he told me one day.
That was a great moment.
As the year progressed, he made a handful of good friends... and kept in touch with the best friend who had moved home to Australia. He began to feel more comfortable in his skin; appreciated; contented.
During the summertime, our son grappled with the intensity of watching his younger brother seriously injured - and the feelings of frustration and even jealousy that arose when watching that same brother lavished with attention during the healing process.
"I just wish it was over," our six year old confided. "I wish we could go back to the way things used to be."
Still, watching his little brother go through a serious medical crisis changed the way our son treated his siblings. He learned to restrain his temper. He'd developed a deeper understanding of the potential consequences of using sudden violent force (even simply to slam a door).
I believe (although I don't have actual evidence to back it up... it's just a feeling...) that my son also realized during those eight precarious weeks when his brother fought injury and infection, that he actually loves his little brother. Sure he may find him pretty annoying a lot of the time; but deep down, he doesn't want to lose him.
By the start of September we'd entered a new chapter, a new school year.
The six year old returned to school invigorated. He was ready to learn, excited to spend time with friends, joyous to get some freedom and independence from the family.
Happily, the past two months have been pretty awesome. He lucked out and got a great teacher... someone experienced and kind, who sees the best in him.
He played a third season of soccer and wowed his new coach and teammates by his initially-unexpected precision and ferocity on the soccer field.
His dancing has continued to bring him joy, and at the weekly classes his teacher tells me that he is improving and putting his heart into learning.
He's even made a few more good friends, despite his essentially shy nature. "Your son walks around with the biggest smile on his face at school," another mother has confided in me.
I myself watch him skip to class and can't help grinning. He gets the skipping gene from me.
Essentially, our son is enjoying a great Fall.
Two weeks ago, my husband and I received a short email from our son's first grade teacher.
"Your son will be honored at an award ceremony on November 16th," it read. "I hope you will be able to join us at the assembly."
"I am?" our son responded when we told him the good news. "I'm getting an award?"
"You sure are, buddy."
"Well I'm not going to tell the other kids in class," he replied. "It isn't nice to brag about that kind of thing."
"That's fine," I responded. "But is it okay if mommy feels proud and brags a little? I want to tell Grandma."
"Okay," he nodded thoughtfully. "Grandma is fine."
* * *
Obviously though, I'm sharing our son's good news with more people than grandma.
I know this is only one experience... one day in the course of a year. I know that many other days have contained many other kinds of episodes... and our 365 days aren't even up yet.
But you know what? I'm claiming it!
I'm claiming his happy ending.
I love our six year old son so much, and he deserves to be known for the best of who he is - and not just the weaker moments. He deserves to know how much good his father and I see in him.
Our boy is growing and maturing so much. He shows such kindness and maturity when helping to care for his little sister. Despite their lifelong rivalry, these days I find him more often than not teaching his little brother how to play games on the computer, or showing him how to do math. There has been more sharing than fighting.
My husband and I have not visited our family's play therapist much lately, because we haven't needed her. Our children are actually getting along for the most part. We seem to have weathered the worst part of this year's storm.
Everyone deserves the chance for a new beginning, and I feel that our son has really made the most of his fresh start.
It makes sense that as he has grown more successful and fulfilled in life, he has become a kinder and gentler person. Loud and rambunctious yes, full of life ~ just like his siblings, but kind and gentle too.
I thought it would be fitting then to include here the words written by my son's teacher to commemorate the award he received on stage today in front of the entire school. Her paragraph - included on the back side of his award certificate - shows our son at his best... as he is seen by those who know him for who he is NOW, rather than who he was a few months or years ago.
So here it is... that happy ending I dreamt of back in February:
ALL AROUND GREAT BOY AWARD
"He is full of talent, intelligence, kindness and fun. He works magic in math, is an insightful reader and just excels in every area. He also has a warm smile to share with his friends!!!"
What a lovely sentiment. How could any parent not burst with pride and joy to hear their kid appreciated so warmly!
For our son though, I have this to add...
Your Dad and I are so proud of you, and not simply because you were honored with an award today by your teacher. The award is very nice, but what your Dad and I are really proud of is how hard you've worked in every part of your life to be the best of who you are... rising to meet every challenge.
Your dedication and commitment show these days in everything you do - from bike riding to reading books to your sister. We are just thrilled to watch you grow into the fine young man, true friend and loving brother you are becoming with every passing day.
You are a once-in-a-lifetime son and an amazing human being. Daddy and I feel really, truly lucky to be your parents. We love you very much, sweetheart.
The (Happy) End.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Think of life like a pie.
A whole, unsliced, beautiful and tasty homemade pie.
Just waiting to be served with ice cream.
When you're as young as my children - say, six years old - life is (thankfully) simple. Your pie usually gets sliced into three sections:
Even though there can be real, true struggles for a kid at the age of six in any of those arenas - wishing for a best friend, for example... or losing a parent... or struggling to learn - there are still only three big pieces of pie in your pan.
So, if you can get even two of your three categories working fairly well (say, Family and School; or Friends and Family; or School and Friends) then essentially, at least 2/3 of your pie is savory and delicious.
Overall your life may feel like it's going pretty well.
You may come to a point where you seem to have divined the recipe for success.
* * *
Ten years later at the age of 16, your pie of life may have grown a bit more complex. There are certainly more slices to which you need to devote your time and attention.
Now it may look like this:
Family... parents still together? grandparents still around to lavish you with love?
Friends... mean kids or online bullying? social scene becomes more intense
School... AP classes? SAT? College prep? Pressure!
Athletics... team games? long practices!
Clubs... you need a lot of outside interests if you want to go to college
Boyfriend/Girlfriend... this slice of the pie usually takes up a lot of time and thought
Afterschool job... finally you're making money, starting to take care of yourself
College applications... should you go to college? if so, where? how much should you spend?
...there's also that nagging question everyone you meet starts to ask you:
SO, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE?
At the age of 16 or so, most kids feel like their pie is being sliced up by too many authority figures telling them what to do. If you're one of those kids... you may dream of the day when *finally* you will be able to slice up your own pie however you want to. You may fondly recall the early days when your pie had only three slices and a full 1/3 of it was devoted to friendships.
* * *
Now skip ahead another decade. You're 26.
If everything has gone well, you're in a pretty good place. Your pie is making sense. Yes, it's sliced more carefully these days but there's still plenty of you left to dream about helping yourself to seconds and thirds.
Your pie may look something like this:
Family... are your parents still around? Independent?
Friends... you've finally settled into some lifelong friendships that you can count on
Work... you're learning a lot, growing your career and thinking about future prospects
Travel... whether for work or fun, there are many more opportunities to see the world now
Home... whether in a rented apartment or your own 'first house' you finally have your own place
Relationship... if you have one, it may be getting serious. if you don't, you're probably finally serious about looking for one
Health/Exercise... you're having fun with this... taking care of yourself, staying in shape. it feels good.
The pie at 26 has more pressure and stress than it did at 16, but also more freedom and fun. At last you DO get to cut the slices however you want to... serve yourself a cup of freshly brewed coffee that you pay for with your own income. You can eat as much whipped topping as you like, and nobody but you can decide whether to lavish your life with chocolate sauce.
* * *
Pie at 36. That's essentially where we are today.
My childhood best friend and I talked at length this morning about what our pies are like at 36. She just had a birthday two months ago. My birthday will be here in a handful of weeks. It's pie time and apparently, we're in season.
But what has happened to our pies over the last ten years?
What do they look like now?
Speaking only for myself, my pie is sliced so thinly these days there are essentially just slivers of me to go around.
36 YEAR OLD PIE
Friends... making time to see your friends becomes a complex negotiation involving bargaining and sacrifices ("I'll watch the kids for you while you go for a ride, if you can watch them for me while I get together with Debbie for coffee.")
Family... this now includes your family of origin, your in-laws and the family you've created
Work... if you're a working parent you feel torn between what you need to do for your job and the instinctual yearning to nurture your children. If you're a stay-at-home parent, you're often overwhelmed with the monotony of day-to-day life managing little beings who schizophrenically cry one minute, laugh uproariously the next, and love to shout "NO!" at you in the most difficult situations. You long for intellectual stimulation and job satisfaction.
Children... the Suns around which your planet now rotates. your new bosses ~ who will never be perfectly satisfied with your job performance. get used to it. the workload now includes:
- Helping with homework
- Positive discipline
- Mediation between siblings
Marriage... the commitment of two people to look at each other squarely in the eye every morning and every evening, see the best and worst in each other, and keep loving each other no matter what. Even when home life is dictated by the whims of small children. Even when you see each other (alone) for about 2 hours each week.
Faith... becomes so much more vital at the age of 36. Friends and family members have died. Real life has brought real crisis and loss. It becomes important to believe in something.
Pediatrician Visits... increase exponentially with every additional child. I have three children. Yesterday I joked to the nurse that we should be paying rent at their office, we come so often.
Household Work... never ends. Dishes, gardening, organizing, sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, painting, re-covering furniture, making beds, scrubbing bathtubs... on and on and on.
Saving and Budgeting... trying to get ahead. So hard with additional, "surprise" expenses. Surprise! The sewer's backed up! That will be $240! Surprise! Your 6 year old likes to take long showers... That will be $280! Surprise! Your daughter decided to scrape all the paint off of her wall with a lead toy car! That will be $2000, your entire security deposit.
Laundry... you would not BELIEVE how big how many slices of your life's pie can be devoted to laundry.
Health/Exercise... gets squeezed in here and there wherever it can fit. Often sacrificed to fulfill the needs of the family.
Sleep... suddenly becomes a crucial piece of the pie. Whole years of sleep can be lost when you have small children. If you don't carve a decent slice for sleep, nobody else will be handing it to you on a plate.
This is just my own 36 year old pie, of course,
My best friend has a different pie, with lots of different flavors and sizes. Hers is filled right now with academic pursuits, travel, conferences, proposals and pregnancy. Our slices have different titles - but here is what they have in common:
We're both sliced so thinly right now, we're never satisfied by the small amount of ourselves we can devote to any individual pursuit.
* * *
"Why is it like this?" we wonder.
"Life used to be so uncomplicated. We used to accomplish so much."
We remember the days when we sat around reading, playing Nintendo and throwing around the basketball together (she taught me to play H-O-R-S-E... back in the day when we had time to spend an entire afternoon doing stuff like that).
How did all of that change? It feels like yesterday.
Here is the answer we've come to... and maybe it applies to you too:
At the age of six our pie featured three big, tasty pieces.
Today we are using the same exact pan to serve up 20 slices.
Anyone who has ever cut a single pie into 20 slices can tell you ~ no matter how carefully you cut, it still gets messy. You'll never be fully satisfied...
...and that's ok.
Even a tiny little slice of pumpkin or apple pie can be delicious and worthwhile when you're devoting it to something important. Life is more complex nowadays but that doesn't make it worse.
There may be less of us to go around, but hey ~ a little still goes a long way.
After all, even a tiny slice of long-distance conversation with my best friend can still sweeten my entire day.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
It's hard to think of quality, coherent ideas when you've got a head cold.
Even my brain is dripping...
Yesterday was 11-11-11 though and it felt like such a wonderful moment to hit the re-set button on life and look for things to be grateful for.
Today happens to be a Saturday and rain is pouring in one steady, thick torrent on our cosy little house.
My sons are out in this mess, at their respective soccer games with their dad. Saturday is typically my day with the kiddos and I am so grateful to my husband for giving me a respite from sitting in the rain as I tackle this head cold with Vitamin C and garlic.
Playing soccer in the pouring rain is probably not the best thing for boys that have been pretty sick recently... but since I'm not there with jackets or umbrellas, this feels like a good moment to let go.
Can't control it, might as well not worry about it. I'm sure their dad has things covered. Who knows, they might come home soaked to the bone and feeling completely energized!
I really love the rain. Especially when I don't have to be out in it. Rain is so cleansing and we get very little of it in Southern California. It's a rare treat that my husband and I appreciate.
In fact, we get such little 'real' weather around here that we're really excited to plan a trip to the snow this year! Others who live in the snow may find this sort of adventure to be mundane or silly-sounding ~ but my children have actually never seen snow before, not in person.
They are out-of-their-heads excited about a first trip to the snow.
My own first experience with snow didn't occur until I was 12 or 13 because my father hated snow and avoided it at all costs.
My parents and I took a road trip through a national park during the month of July. There along the roadside we found a few hard, dirty, frozen hillside remnants of snowfall.
"There." My dad gestured toward the crusty old bank.
"Snow. Now you've seen it."
I made my first snowball - more like an ice ball - and threw it at my dad. Who ducked, and got back into the car.
Then we drove on.
I want a better first experience with snow for my own kiddos!
(Mine won't be hard to top.)
* * *
Whenever my sons complain about the frustration they feel in their current life situation (young and at the mercy of our grown-up plans), I actually understand.
I love being an adult because FINALLY I get to do all of the fun stuff I always wanted to do as a kid.
Like go to the snow whenever I feel like it... or decorate our house for the holidays!
That is a big one for me!
My father never let us put up Christmas lights outdoors when I was growing up because he thought they would burn the house down. I don't know what the statistics are on that sort of thing... although I can guarantee you that Dad did. I'm sure he based his decision on something factual and fear-based.
As I rapidly approach the wonderful age of 36, I'm FINALLY going to fulfill my cherished Christmas dream since the age of 6 - putting holiday lights and decorations outside of our house!
Last week I purchased white icicle lights for the outside of our sloping roof and I am really jazzed to get them up. Our street is famous for its holiday displays and I can't wait to be a part of that.
My kids and I also found a large set of new cookie-cutters in fun shapes: stars, trees, snowmen, stockings, hearts... and I can't wait to bust them out and start baking! I (heart) the holiday season!
* * *
My husband and he is now on his way home now with two soaked, extremely muddy boys... one of whom apparently refused to wear his jacket and feels very cold.
Time for me to swing into gear with thick towels, hot showers, lunch and cocoa. I hope someday my three children love the cosy indoor part of rainy days just as much as I do!
I foresee an afternoon of naps, building forts with blankets, playing cards, drawing, cooking and reading stories with my darling partners-in-crime... my kids.
I love rainy Saturdays!
Monday, November 7, 2011
Not that this is news to me... for as long as I've known the man he has dreamt of owning his own property and shaping it into something fantastic.
We once owned a house, in fact.
A house with 'potential' in an economically-depressed area that we thought might gentrify pretty nicely over the course of ten years.
When we moved there in 2004 we had a life plan; and our house had its own niche in that plan.
We would live there for five years. Fix it up. Get married and travel the world a bit. And then, when we were ready - we'd start our family and look for a new home. We'd keep this first house as a rental property.
In our plan, the house would someday pay for itself thanks to renters... while we invested our increased joint income into a second home located somewhere more suitable for raising a family.
Seven months after moving into our house, however, my favorite guy and I discovered that sometimes when you're busy making plans... you actually make babies.
Surprise! We were pregnant!
Just not in the right location.
We spent seven more months in that house while my pregnancy progressed. With every passing day I grew larger and more unwieldy. Things about the house and the neighborhood that I had barely noticed before began to drive me up the wall.
Mold. We had a lot of black and pink mold in that house... in the walls, in the bathroom. My allergies went nuts while I was pregnant. I could barely breathe half of the time. I sneezed all the time and felt miserable.
Neighbors. A man lived across the street who was literally schizophrenic. When he took his meds he was docile and quiet, always waiting across the street from our front door for the special bus to come and take him to his facility. When he forgot the meds, he was full of rage and threatening comments. Many of them were sexual, and directed at me - a large, pregnant blimp. More on this later.
Crime. Suddenly I became more aware of the drug and gang-related activity in our immediate area. I began to take note of who hung out in front of the federally subsidized housing near our house. I began to cringe when the 'ghetto-bird' (AKA police helicopter) would hover over our neighborhood nightly. I found it a lot more stressful to park down the street in the dark late at night, too pregnant to walk or run swiftly.
Schools. There were no good schools anywhere near us. Not anywhere. The schools in our neighborhood were undesirable for any child. Including ours.
~ And Then One Day ~
When I was seven months pregnant and enormous - looking something like a giant panda (as a dear friend of mine likes to say) - we had an event.
I had grown to dread walking out of my front door in the morning, hoping that the schizophrenic neighbor would not be standing there staring at me. I used to peek out through the side of the window just to make sure he wasn't there. Sometimes I walked all the way around the block from the alley side, just to avoid him.
On this day though, my truck was parked directly in front of my house... so there was no escaping it - I would need to leave through the front door.
Opening it gingerly, I looked across the street and cringed. The middle-aged man - who was at least six foot two inches, very muscular and strong - was sitting on the sidewalk right across from my front door with a bottle of liquor in a brown paper bag in his hand.
He began to call out to me. I fumbled my keys.
"I SEE YOU!!!!!!!!!!" he called.
Ignoring him, I shut the door and grasped my satchel.
"I LIKE THAT DRESS YOU'RE WEARING. THAT'S A NICCCCCCCCCCCCE DRESS... YOU LOOK HOTTTTT."
Poker-faced I walked down the stairs toward my car.
"I LIKE IT WHEN YOU WEAR YOUR SANDALS," he whistled. "YOU LOOK SEXY IN SANDALS."
(If I hadn't already known the man was actually insane, I would have definitely known it at that moment. At 7 months pregnant in a long maternity dress and flat sensible shoes, I looked anything but attractive.)
"I KNOW YOU HEAR ME. ANSWER ME. ANSWER ME.
I KNOW YOU HEAR ME, YOU BITCH."
He smashed his bottle in the bag against the side of the curb. Glass tinkled to the ground.
"F*^$ YOU, YOU F^$%ing BITCH!"
Grasping my keys harder, I jumped into my car as fast as I could, locked the door and started the motor.
I pulled the car away from the curb and drove as fast as I could. Only when I got to the stoplight four blocks away did I finally exhale and then realized how hard I was trembling.
I drove and drove until all I could feel was my unborn son kicking in my belly and all I could think about was protecting him at all costs.
When at last I stopped driving, I looked up to see that I had driven home to the house where I grew up. I had driven to my parents' house, 30 minutes away.
"I'm never going back there," I shuddered as I told my mom and dad what had happened. "I will not bring a little child into that home."
True to my word (and much to my husband's chagrin) I didn't.
* * *
In the end, everything worked out better than we could have hoped though.
Our home sold at a small profit, despite the fact that we'd lived there for less than 18 months. We banked the profit and became renters.
Not long after, the real estate bubble burst and that house plummeted in value.
My husband began to thank me for prompting us to sell when we did. He thanked me a lot.
Renting was great!
As renters, we gained flexibility... spontaneity. We saved money. We moved around to suit our needs. We moved a lot!
Since we sold our first house, we've moved approximately every two years. Mainly these moves have met the growing needs of our rapidly expanding family - as we added not one but two more children to our brood in a short span of time. We needed more space - more bedrooms!
We've also moved for better schools, and to find our 'perfect fit' in the neighborhoods where we could see ourselves staying for the long haul.
At last ~ nine months ago ~ my honey and I found it. Everything we'd been looking for...
The right neighborhood. The right schools. The right place to raise our three children. It's been downright dreamy.
We've been here for close to a year now and my husband and I agree that we've found the spot where we want to stay for the next 30+ years. We've found the community we hope to grow old in, together.
* * *
The unwanted attention from that schizophrenic man feels like lifetimes ago... and I've come to a place where I now feel gratitude (rather than fear) when I think of him. His provocation got us out of that house a year before the bottom fell out of the housing market.
And get this ~ that house is now worth (according to Zillow.Com) $143,400.00 LESS than we paid for it seven years ago. It has depreciated in value by almost 31%.
That schizophrenic man turned out to be an angel in disguise who saved my husband and me from tremendous financial hardship. We would've been stuck in that house forever... instead we got free and actually gained from the experience!
* * *
Seven years and three children later.
We've looped back and arrived again at the real estate crossroads.
We're older now and smarter. We've got more Real Life under our belts.
The economy has been lousy and the market is full of people trying to unload their houses before they lose their shirts.
For a couple thinking about buying, the time may be ripe.
Do we buy? Do we keep renting?
If we buy, when is the moment? Is NOW that moment? Interest rates are at a historical low. Do we gamble that they aren't going to get any lower?
I keep asking myself if home ownership is the right place to invest our money. Owning your own home used to symbolize fulfilling the American Dream... but could it be that the American Dream is changing?
- Is the new dream to have a safe retirement and pension plan, secure from Ponzi schemes?
- Is the new dream to rent a reasonably priced home and save the rest of any 'mortgage' nest egg for retirement?
- Is the new dream to save your finances for health care costs and long-term care insurance?
- Is the new dream simply to have a stable job?
Is the new dream just to survive?
Pew Research Center just published an analysis stating that Americans aged 35 and younger are 47 times less wealthy than our counterparts in their mid-60s. Have I mentioned that I'm 35?
Also, according to their article, this huge wealth disparity can be traced directly to housing:
"Housing has been the main driver of these divergent wealth trends. Rising home equity has been the linchpin of the higher wealth of older households in 2009 compared with their counterparts in 1984. Declining home equity has been one factor in the lower wealth held by young households in 2009 compared with their counterparts in 1984."
As of tonight Zillow.Com is reporting that "U.S. ‘Underwater’ Homeowners Increase to 28.6%"
So, there you have it - our dilemma.
Are we going to be part of the group that buys low and gains tremendous equity over the next 30 years? When we are 65, will we be 47x wealthier than our youthful peers?
Or do we risk joining the vast number of young households who purchased at the wrong time and have now lost everything as their homes are worth far less than they paid for them? If we buy now, are we diving headfirst into a swimming pool with no water?
Henry David Thoreau once wrote:
"Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them."
It's a lot to think about.