Firstborn

I was a late bloomer.  Always late on those simple milestones that seem so important to a tween – you know, the ones you painfully watched your best friend achieve first.  She even got to shave her legs first!  And I thought my argument in favor of that particular privilege would be well-served if I had it in front of her mother.  Instead, her very outspoken mother said, “why the hell would you want to do that?  I told Holly, once you start shaving you’ll have to do it the rest of your life.”  Well, I didn’t care.  It mattered more to NOT be the only girl in the 6th grade with hairy legs.  Nevertheless my mom relented, and I arrived at my next swim class to nods of approval for my Schick-smooth legs.

Needless to say, twenty years later me and my shaved legs celebrated the biggest milestone of all – the impending arrival of my first child.  Who – by the way – would be born just seven months after Thomas, Holly’s firstborn.  He wasn’t exactly planned, but my husband and I spent many a night over dinner and drinks discussing when would be a good time to end the honeymoon and what names these little offspring would have.  I had recently moved out of the vampiric restaurant life into a real bonafide day job.  I knew it was only a matter of time and, at 30, time was marching all over my biological clock.

So the night I confirmed it, after a week of ungodly fatigue and crippling smell and taste aversions, I wasn’t surprised.  I was completely, shamelessly scared out of my mind.  My husband stood there like a deer caught in the headlights, holding the stick, while I cried.  Thrilled, yes.   But almost a second after it sunk in, I remembered the women’s tales I’d overheard in childhood and I realized that this precious thing would eventually have to come out.  Of me.

Pregnancy is  such a magical time in a woman’s life.  The first time anyway.  All the in-laws are thrilled beyond reason, coworkers are overattentive and complete strangers smile and open doors for you.  Six weeks of morning sickness that would be more appropriately termed “morning-noon-and-night” sickness, not to mention the amazing physical transformation of my 5’2″ frame.  By week 41 I looked and felt like a bloated cow, every bone and joint creaking under the forty additional pounds I was carrying.

And he was in no hurry to come out, apparently.  I didn’t mind so much – he was a good resident – he slept when I slept, unlike his little sister who kicked the hell out of my internal organs right up until the moment she was born.  But then on a Wednesday afternoon in late October, 2000 my water broke and there was no turning back.  Twelve hours and two epidurals later, the most beautiful creature I have ever seen burst forth from my body.  When my ob/gyn-aunt placed him on my chest I saw the cleft in his little quivering chin, so like his daddy’s, and I wept along with him.  

My mother has often said about me that I was exactly “who I was” from the moment I was born.   It wasn’t until I had my own that I fully understood.  My son was and is every bit the same as that very first hour.  He was soon quiet after the interruption of being born – content to lie peacefully in his father’s arms (and everyone else’s thereafter).

Those first moments I had alone with him, after everyone had gone home, were the moments that would bind us to each other for a lifetime.  The moments every mother never forgets – the first time you really see each other, where you stare into those tiny eyes studying the face he will never forget.  Where you hold him close to you and feel his tiny breath on your face and you whisper all the love and hope and longing you have for him.

He is still mostly a peaceful kid, polite and full of enthusiasm and compassion for others, terrific sense of humor and a fast friend to anyone willing to befriend him, and his mom – at least for now – is still the most important woman in his life.  He spent his first 4 1/2 years being the center of our universe, and graciously stepped aside when his fiesty little sister was born with her endless supply of worries.  I watched him stand over her crib with tears in his eyes, spoon-feed her when no one else could and show her the ropes on Playstation 2.  Five years later he still makes her handmade birthday cards signed by his entire class, and allows her to squeeze the life out of him when she’s showing him her own special brand of affection.  He is sensitive and artistic, loves Legos and video games, and enjoys non-competitive backyard sports with the family.  As he grows older he resembles his father more but each day I see more of myself in the person he is.

On this day ten years ago, Owen Daniel (his middle name honoring his great-grandfather Daniel “Danny”, whom he would never meet) came into my life and I would never be the same.  He made me a mother, gave me a reason to smile and get up every morning, a reason to breathe.  It was through him that so many more wonderful friends became a part of our lives.  I am so blessed to be his mother and I thank God every day for his existence.  Happy birthday to my sweet baby boy!  I love you.




Owen Daniel
October 26, 2000  at 1:43am
7lbs 10oz     21 1/2 inches long

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Say What??

It’s taken me over a week to write this – I’ve written it twice.  The first time it sounded too supermom hokey – “oh it’s so wonderful teaching my daughter.”  The second time a little too Joan Crawford – “no colored pencils!!”  Hopefully, the third time’s a charm.  If not, you can stop reading now.

Having a front row seat to my daughter’s journey to literacy is so incredibly cool, and watching the light click on as she makes connections is inspiring.  But hold on!  She does, however, ricochet between highly motivated student and total slacker.  Some days she’s so excited to learn she’s initiating her own writing practice and racing through worksheets like an editor on a deadline.  Other days she’s so unfocused and distracted I just want to rip my hair out.  Look at me!  LOOK AT ME.

I wonder how educators find the patience for the kids constantly staring out the window or humming their own little tune during lessons where you know they haven’t heard a word.  Mr. Garmin, my 11th grade Chemistry teacher (who, now that I come to think of it, was probably younger than I am now) once yanked my brain out of the clouds by asking me if I liked squirrel pot pie.  I’m sure he learned pretty fast how fun and easy it is to f*** with spacey hormonal teenagers.  When I asked Ava what she thought would happen if she behaved like this in Owen’s school she said nothing, because she wouldn’t do it in Owen’s school.  How’s that for crazy-making?

Meanwhile I find myself uttering those saintly preschool phrases like, “eyes and ears on me,” when I really want to scream “sit down and shut up!”  And, inevitably, my little passive-aggressive nymph will look me straight in the eye and shout, “don’t yell at me!”  even when I’m not.  Deep breath.  In.  Out.  In.  Out.  What was I thinking?  In.  Out.  I can’t teach this child.  In.  Out.  

And then I remember that she’s learning more than letters and numbers from me.  Like the other day our morning conversation began as a dialogue about why grownups yell at each other, that sometimes they don’t get along but that it’s never okay to hurt each other.  She quickly added that if you call your best friend stupid, she won’t be your best friend anymore and somehow this all segued into a discussion about profanity.  Both of my kids currently find profanity, and any adult’s use of it, hilarious.  And here’s me – former queen of the f-bomb – trying to explain why swearing is not nice, even when grownups do it and it’s especially not pretty coming from a little girl or boy.  Owen pointed out that daddy uses the “s” word a lot and Mom-mom likes the f-bomb.  Yes, my son said “f-bomb.”

In life there are teachable moments, and then there are those other moments where you lose all credibility for laughing your ass off instead of keeping the stiff upper lip-reprimand pose.  The new “Fred” movie has really opened the door for discussion  with my 5 and almost-10-year old about the use of foul language, whether real or implied.  Fred’s constant use of “oh my gammit!” is like nails on a chalkboard and I recently found myself explaining to Ava that it’s gammit, not dammit.  Either way, I don’t want her to say it.  Thankfully, no more airings of this show have eliminated another whole argument about parent-regulated television.

Then the other day Ava walked into the kitchen where the dog was lying and declared, “it smells like shit in here!”  Just as quickly she clapped her hand over her mouth, eyes wide as saucers, and braced herself for……………..my momentary silence followed by a Mona Lisa smile that erupted into side-splitting laughter.

How angry could I get?  My own personal constitution has always been made up of equal parts humor and mischief, with a slice of seriousness on the side.  Which got me into trouble one night last week over dinner as Owen and I reviewed mammals for his science test.  He had to describe what makes mammals different from other animals like, say, mammary glands.  Well, this became the dinner discussion of the month.

I asked him what mammary glands are – mammary glands produce milk to feed their young, came his studied response.  Yes, but where are they located?  (Okay, I will admit this was not a review question but I just couldn’t help it.)  “Um, in their stomach?”  (“Oh, I know! I know!” came the response from the other side of the peanut gallery.)  I shook my head and pressed on – “well, do I have mammary glands?”  His response was, in the quiet voice reserved only for moments of uncertainty, “um… I don’t think so………maybe?……. I don’t know.”  Now in my defense, I have to say that I really wanted him to think about what he’s learning, not just memorize words in a textbook.  And then of course the little ham on my right seizes her opportunity to add “butt” to our anatomy lesson, and the discussion went right down the proverbial toilet.

Don’t Look Now

I would like to add exterminator to my resume.  Not that this is some great admirable trait to brag about.  It’s not.  But, I hate bugs.  I know they all have a place in God’s vision of creation, but personally, I am skeeved by them.  I don’t want to look at them up close and I really don’t want to squish them.  However, when Owen came downstairs one morning yelling about a 1000-legger in his room, I had to go “try” to be the hero.  Those things run faster than a kid after an ice cream truck, so I knew I had no time to drag out the vacuum (my weapon of choice in the war against bugs) to suck it up – I’d be lucky to even find it.  Upstairs, I grabbed a wayward sneaker and attempted to search for this hairy needle in a haystack of Legos and action figures.  Then Owen let out a blood-curdling scream that would rival a roomful of girls at a slumber party and I all but dropped the shoe.  And the poor little bugger made his run for life behind the pirate ship.   He didn’t make it.

Most of the week went like that.   Making the impossible, possible, through a little ingenuity and a lot more luck.  Ava and I have finally found our groove!  It only took six weeks, a handful of threats, and lots of positive reinforcement.  I have found that we both work best in the morning, right after her 60 carb breakfast and my two cups of leaded coffee.  We both bottom out after lunch, so everything’s gotta be done before if possible.  I have no idea how we’ll make it through 1st grade, which is expected to be at least a full 5 hour day.

Last week, however, she was eager to pick up and continue lessons after Owen got home – while he did his homework.  Afterward, the two of them watched the online programs that comprise her 4 cycles of learning each day – requesting to continue into the next day’s lessons while I cooked dinner.  They sat there, they two, giggling at the actor’s presentations in each cycle.

At this point I’m not sure who the favorite is – Dr. Algae is pretty cool and probably my favorite (you know you’re getting old when a goofy 40-something guy in a labcoat with thinning hair is “cute”) but last week the clear winner in the humor awards category went to Mr. Reed Moore, “Reading Teacher Extraordinaire” (ingenious, huh?)  His Friday shtick included examples of feelings people have and what it makes them do – like sing when happy (here he breaks out in an operatic “Figaro” – hilarious) or yell when angry (this was the pants-wetting throw-back-your-head scream that the kids replayed no less than 8 times).  That same yell they reenacted several times for dad didn’t quite get the reaction they’d hoped for.

So I am thankful that the beginning of the week was no forecast for the remainder.  The minute Owen stepped off the bus on Monday and saw me, he burst into tears.  I already knew something was wrong from the math teacher’s call not five minutes earlier – but I would have to return her call to get the full story.  Owen was so upset I could only understand the part about me forgetting to sign two quizzes (one in math).  This year the consequence of not getting your stuff signed is a “warning,” or, moving your “clip” from green to yellow.  For my stellar student, this is akin to being told he’s been called to the principal’s office for not tying his shoes.

I feel compelled at this point to say I think it’s absolutely RIDICULOUS to punish kids for missing signatures.  Why not just send a notice home to the parents?  Or make a phone call?  Essentially it makes these kids not more responsible for themselves, but responsible for their parents.  If that doesn’t raise a generation of kids with stomach ulcers… well…. I’m just sayin’.

So, Mrs. P told me that when she collected the “signed” quizzes, the one she got from Owen “didn’t look right.”  She gave him a look, to which he responded, “um, my mom wrote really small this time.”  “Owen, do you have something you’d like to tell me?”  At this time my son, ever the sensitive do-gooder, burst into tears.  He was so afraid of getting a warning, my otherwise good kid (who’s also a terrible liar) was willing to forge my signature.  In pencil.  She explained to him that doing so was like lying (I bet this surely calmed him down) and she’d rather he told her the truth than deceive her.

And so I hung up with her, after a very nice conversation about his personality, our personal family circumstances and how rewarding teaching is.  I found Owen downstairs, flat on his back on the couch.  I sat down and attempted to comfort him with promises to be more organized and to come up with an after-school game plan.  He told me his stomach hurt.  It hurts because you got yourself so upset, I told him, but it’s okay because Mrs. P isn’t mad and I’m not mad and- he burst into tears all over again!  Because there was something else he had to tell me and “I know you’re going to be really mad.”  At this point I did what every compassionate mother would do – I busted up laughing. 

He looked aghast until I told him I already knew.  And even more surprised that I wasn’t angry about it.  Don’t you know how many generations of kids have forged their parents’ signatures?  I said.  Like a thousand? he said.  Oh way more than that, I said.  Even I did it. 
YOU signed Nanny’s signature? he asked.  Yep.  And I got caught too.  And I bet she did it too, I said.  Wow, he said.

Oops, I did it again.  Mom is human too. 

Throw Me a Life Raft

A week that began like any other – week 5 promised tests and quizzes in multiple subjects with my signature required in multiple places – and a grumpy 9-year-old boy who continued to insist “I already know it!” as he stomped away from my unanswered question about a story he’s being tested on.  My son is a whiz in math but, well, reading comprehension just aint his thang.  Unless he’s reading the latest insider’s guide to beating Bowser in SuperMario Bros.-whatever, most of what he reads goes through the eyeballs and gets lost somewhere in that mysterious space between his ears.  Sure he loves to ask me to help him study, but the minute he can’t answer one question he becomes a bigger drama queen than his sister.

Meanwhile back in cyber school Ava and I conducted a seed-to-plant science experiment whereby all results pointed to plant 1 winning the growth race,  but plant 2 grew four inches tall while we stared at the soil in plant 1.  So – Ava wanted to know -why didn’t our plant 1 grow like Dr. Algae’s (cyber science teacher) plant 1?  Well, honey, because not only can Mommy not draw or cut a straight line but she can’t grow a damn bean seed out of 2 inches of dirt.  Seriously, though, mommy didn’t know.  Defective seed?  Perhaps we pushed it down too far?

Last week she was in rare form, demanding that I give her a cookie before she ate her dinner “or else I’ll—” (insert any from a long list of threats she’s catalogued in her head), testing the short limits of my patience and insisting that Owen play with her under threat of bodily injury.  And she meant it.  I can see that this type of behavior may one day be a turn off to potential suitors.

Really, though, school itself wasn’t so bad – it was the before and after that hovered dangerously close to straight-jacket lunacy.  Two days in a row I had to change her (insulin pump) infusion site (two consecutive high numbers require it) in the middle of our day – Ava positively hates this and puts up one hell of a fight.  One would think after two years of insulin pumping she’d know the deal; however, in what now seems like a colossal mistake, she is accustomed to being asleep during routine changes.  She is not at all pleased with the unexpected ones – which would be the understatement of the week.

Our infusion set is a stainless steel needle attached to a circular adhesive pad from which the tube to the pump is connected and disconnected.  This subcutaneous needle is short and thin and takes just seconds to push in – much like a push pin.  However, on a moving target it can take an eternity during which there is a great hullabaloo of kicking, screaming, tears and pleading.  She’s as strong as an ox, my little 40lb brick house, and it is now next to impossible to hold her still.

So, on the second day of changing the site mid-day – she amped it up and went berserk, alternately screaming “I hate it! I hate it!” and “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” – tears streaming down her cheeks and I’m the one left feeling like the tyrant who must put her through her perceived hell.  All with the windows open, for the whole neighborhood -were they listening – to bear witness to what must’ve sounded like a murder in progress.  Forty minutes later it was in,  and we were both sweaty and crying.  For the record, I have tried this infusion set on myself – me, a former needle-phobe – and it was nothing but a tiny, slightly burning pinch.  Really, I’m the strong one in the house – but that particular day was going to be my day for a complete mental breakdown.

I guess you could say I’m the lucky one, being home with her 24/7 since June 18, 2007, I never had the luxury of depression or frustration over the injustice or senselessness of it all.  I relieved all the tears I’d allotted myself every night in the hospital with her, after she’d fallen asleep.  Ever since, I’ve subscribed to the “one-day-at-a-time” philosophy to get me through.  My job right now is to raise her right, feed her healthy foods and be her pancreas until there’s a cure, and get her through kindergarten in one piece.  No time for drama, no time for me to be angry or long for life the way it used to be, before diabetes.  My job is to teach her to live the best life with a positive attitude in spite of diabetes and, when she’s ready, how to take care of herself to avoid the complications she’s oblivious to at her tender age of 5.

And so ends week 5, where we learned about the life cycle of a frog and made apple prints out of apples and pastel paint. We added two new sight words to our Word Wall and she proudly read me the corresponding sight word books.  We had a play date too -after which she told me she now wanted to go to Owie’s school.  And, ironically, Owie himself came home the very same day and said he wanted to go to PA Cyber again.

On another note, I remember the fourth grade.  I remember liking boys, while they seemed either oblivious or totally grossed out.  My son seems to fall somewhere in the awkward middle of this mentality; while he once had a crush on a little girl in 1st grade, he now gets angry at the mere mention of girls.  I walked with his class for the annual PTO Walk-a-Thon last week and delighted not only in the dramatic size differences between the boys and girls but in the very conversational young lady hanging around my oblivious son.  No clue whatsoever.  (I treaded lightly on this topic later, and he admitted she was “nice.”)  But when buddy William remarked how alike Owen and I looked, he quickly said “uh, not really” and picked up his pace.  At this point it occurred to me this may be the last year I am invited to this event.

Ava enjoyed herself in spite of the human dressed as a 6-foot dog giving all the kids high 5’s (which was probably the main reason her blood sugar soared over 200).  She was so worried this thing was going to touch her she refused to stand with Owen’s class until it was long gone.  On the walk itself she was content to walk ahead of me, hand-in-hand with her brother, basking in the attention of his classmates.

And I – once again – had the surreal revelation that I am really a 40-something mom, not one of them.  Or, a 20-something “former hot chick” trapped in a middle-aged war-torn body. Well, as the song goes, “you don’t know what you’ve got, until it’s gone…”  but that’s another post.