To Practice What I Already Know

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Blogged while trying to avoid yard sale preparations.

I have “unspecified” anxiety – which I’m fairly certain just means, “I get nervous frequently and for no apparent reason.” My grandmother had anxiety, and I’m just going to assume it’s genetically inherited since I have no real reason to have it otherwise. Well, okay – I have a good reason, but I seriously don’t worry over Veruca’s diabetes. I just DO IT.

Anyway, counseling. I went to counseling. But not for anxiety. However, I was anxious about it. I’ve been to counseling before, and it wasn’t really for me. I went in my 20s because I thought I should, and the therapist was great, but I really wasn’t into sitting on a couch dissecting my childhood and my character. For the record, I’m still not.

I went again about 3 or 4 years ago, after the custody crap was over, in an attempt to heal myself from the trauma of that fight I didn’t start. I went once. I ran. Far, far away. This therapist was a little “too close” to the situation I was trying to heal from. She asked too many questions about the technical parts of the custody battle, like who was the judge, who was my attorney, who was his attorney, etc. And here’s where this healing foray for me ended – she knew everyone involved. Well, everyone but my attorney. My anxiety took liftoff to space and it was over. My trust ended before it even began.

Anyway, back to the present. Long story short, after the debacle in my ex’s driveway I called for an appointment. I had a long wait. You know when you have plenty of time to ruminate over something, and you start coming up with reasons not to do it? Yeah.

I have been having issues with Veruca for a while now. Mostly parenting issues. I have realized that she causes me anxiety. She is demanding, and spoiled, and challenging, and takes no prisoners. She will ask me something a hundred times, and no matter how many times I say no – she’ll ask just one more time. That expression, “when momma aint happy, aint nobody happy”? This is Veruca. Now, I’m fully aware that she is not the problem. I am.

The counseling I was seeking was two-fold. One, was empowering me to become a better parent and take control. The other was about working through old baggage that I carry from an abusive marriage. Baggage I had under control, until that day it wasn’t.

“Jane” listened intently, repeated back to me what she heard, and made suggestions. Followed by orders to put my crown back on and stop taking shit from Veruca. Essentially, shut down the learned behaviors by NOT reacting emotionally to them. Being matter-of-fact. Sounds easy, right? I had been taking the “choose your battles” to new levels by pulling out of the war altogether. Or, I continued to engage with her when I should have been saying it once and meaning it. I knew that this was a huge part of what was usurping my joy. I am the one who has the power to be happy, and the power to stop a little terrorist from taking it away. Sometimes ya gotta fight the battle to win the war. It’s a process.

So far it’s been a week, and I’m feeling much better. So far, Veruca hasn’t really tried to engage me in anything. I practice deep breaths and matter-of-fact statements and, though inside my heart is racing and I’m tense, I focus on a calm face and voice. It seems to be working. However, having lived twelve years where you never knew what was coming around the next corner, I’m not so naïve to believe that everything is hunky dory.

As for the second part of my counseling needs, I was reminded that I was married to a “big bully” who liked to control everything, and everyone. The acknowledgement of abuse. And, while it seems silly, I needed to hear a professional tell me that what happened in the driveway was assault. It was assault. And I could have called the police.

And in one quick statement, that’s all over with. And, aren’t you glad you’re not married to that anymore? Yes it is, and yes I am.

 

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Present State of Mind

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Written to the sound of my dove calling, a cool breeze coming through the window, and Todd on the phone doing damage control on his software program.

They drove me to drink. We have a community yard sale coming up this weekend and I decided to spend yesterday organizing my crap for that, rather than wait until the night before like I always seem to. I dug in to our “office,” where I had been hiding all this stuff during the party. I’m quite proud of myself for getting this done in light of my present apathy. And, during what sounded like an airstrike coming from above in the form of my two kids already pissing each other off less than a week since school ended.

The screeching sound of Veruca’s voice, coupled with the slamming of doors and dog’s nails running across the floors above me, sent my blood pressure aloft. I took a deep breath and ignored it. Tried to ignore it. Her voice, relentless as diabetes always is, reached a fevered pitch whereby I was sure she was in some imminent danger. I stalked upstairs and there they were, in the hall, Opac wielding a hand towel, and she – standing in her doorway – red-faced and angry as a rattlesnake.

What IS it with siblings? I just don’t get it. They regularly needle each other until one is certifiably homicidal, and in summer they like to take it to the next level. I was an only child, with the exception of a stepsister during my youngest years – and we did totally “hate” on each other, though it was never violent. I have a stepbrother who is 11 years my junior, who attempted to terrorize my 20-something self with practical jokes like removing all the screws from my bed frame and stealing my remote control, and at age 23 I got a baby brother. I was never really in a position to fight with the two of them – given my adult status. Nor did I care to. Occasionally I’d like to slap my little brother, but for reasons I don’t care to elaborate on today.

Meanwhile, back in the Cuckoo’s Nest, Veruca – as expected – was climbing up my ass and, apparently, looking for a time-out. Her constant interrogations left me feeling stabby and by 6:30 last night I snapped for the second time after I told her I was not going to discuss it anymore (it was a specific topic I answered once – about 8 hours before). It is times like this she is 100% her father and I just want to scream.

Opac had football practice last night, simultaneously with a cheer meeting for the junior league Veruca is in, and I spent two hours of my evening in a car with a daughter on crack – she didn’t stop talking for HOURS. It doesn’t seem so bad until she initiates every single God-forsakened sentence with “mom” or “I have a question.” And she requires acknowledgment that you heard her. I finally got home by 8 and decided that it was five o’clock, everywhere.

So, on this 4th day of summer vacation:

Football practice has begun with a bang – Opac reported nearly half the participants threw up during runs on the soccer field. He was “able to keep it together.”

Both kids’ bedrooms were thoroughly cleaned yesterday after mom’s meltdown. (Surprisingly, they took the threat of going nowhere that day seriously.)

I’ve coughed up $55 so far for cheer stuff and there’s more to come, but I got a $10 refund from the football coaches for a cancelled 7-on-7 at the YMCA.

I’ve been living on party leftovers – jerk chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, fresh mozzarella, hummus, and poached salmon. There’s still more left – so much so that I’m taking a detour today on my way to work to drop off some to my girlfriend.

I completely forgot Opac’s physical yesterday at the doctor’s.

Veruca has been watching The Secret Life of the American Teenager. I sat down with her to watch last night and was surprised to see Molly Ringwald, Bo Duke (!!!!), and Shailene Woodley. There’s an awful lot of conversation about sex on this show. Too much, if you ask me. But – she and I have an ongoing open conversation about this subject, so questions get answered on the regular. Recently, I corrected her pronunciation of testicles (it was hilarious), whereby she repeatedly asked me to stop saying the word with even more hilarious results. The whole thing left me punch drunk and I couldn’t help repeating testicles several times, once to Todd, which left her mortified.

Go ahead, say testicles out loud. Try it. I dare you not to laugh.

 

Grown up, But Not Fully Grown

I had to go out today because Opac forgot to take his medication. So I drove to the high school with impeccable and completely unplanned timing (since I can never remember his schedule), as he was in the middle of lunch. The office has a window looking out into the cafeteria, so I saw him coming from the other side of the room. His gait was tall and serious, like an FBI agent moving stealthily through a crowded airport. Of course he had no idea why he was being paged to the office, but I can’t imagine he’d be worried given that he’s, like, never in trouble.

He came in and was all business, took his pill and bid me goodbye in a formal way like a boss ending an interview. As I walked out the front doors, I giggled to myself. He’s so different in any school-related environment… cutting an austere figure with his mother in the presence of his peers. I wish I could say he’s trying to be the cool dude, but I don’t really believe he’s trying. I think he’s more just trying not to look like a doofus.

At home where he is relaxed, he is silly, loud, obnoxious, cool, and occasionally emotional and sensitive. He was home sick for 3 days last week and, while he usually is hiding out in his room, he spent most of those days on the couch hanging with me. I absolutely love the moments I can spend one-on-one with him, because they are fewer and farther between. He’s fifteen now. He’s in high school. He’s already anticipating being 16 this year and driving.  A car. In just three short years, my baby boy – the little man who snuggled against me for the first four years of his life, whose big brown eyes and long dark lashes gazed at me with love and wonder – will be looking ahead to college and moving away. I’m sure I’m not the first mother to announce that I’m not ready.

I took the opportunity to finally rent Straight Outta Compton because Veruca was in school and I’m that mom. He’s totally a rap addict, and was looking forward to seeing this since the day it opened in theaters. I bought the other movie he hadn’t seen – Star Wars: The Force Awakens – which he’s been dying to see… one, because he’s been a huge fan since I introduced him to the original trilogy when he was 4, and two, because everybody else has seen it and he’s been unwillingly exposed to a handful of spoilers. I popped that DVD in and periodically watched his face for reactions. When the first shot of the Millennium Falcon appeared, I watched the slow smile spread from his lips to his eyes and it filled me with the exact same joy and heart-rush that I felt every time we watched Star Wars together. It was like watching that four-year-old boy’s thrills, one frame at a time.

I’m glad he likes to share with me. He shares every last detail and thought about the music he listens to, what happened at Death Row Records (not like I wasn’t sitting right next to him watching the movie), how his Biology test went today, how many deadlifts he did in weight training yesterday, and all the God-awful-stoopid videos he finds on You Tube. I don’t want the conversation to stop. I hang on to those moments like I held on to my Todd’s gazes across the gymnasium in high school. He won’t talk to me about girls. I ask occasionally, and he quickly brushes it off like a nagging mosquito. He will still occasionally take my hand, absentmindedly wrapping his fingers around mine, and then just as quickly drop it like he suddenly remembered he’s 15. When he got in the car to go home last weekend, he picked up my makeup bag from his seat and asked what it was. And then he asked me why I wear makeup because I don’t need it. Sigh.

I once wrote about how surreal it is to be hugged by your own flesh and blood that is now larger than you. How he can pick me up. He still hugs me every day. I make him. Well – it started out that way – I told him he has to hug me once a day, every day. He hasn’t forgotten and some days when we’re really busy he will come to me for it before I’ve had a chance to even think about it. And I’m grateful. These are all the things I’m holding on to… hoping they will always overshadow the other 50% of who he is. I’m still getting used to the stubble on his face when I kiss his cheek. I will never get used to him growing up.

What’s New Under the Sun

As my youngest rapidly approaches the end of her elementary career, I am reminded of not only how young she is, but also how fast she’s growing up. And I’m not ready.
Several nights ago, Veruca got her first phone call from a boy. She was all cool and simultaneously silly – and he’s “just a friend” and he bet her $5 that if he called her, her mom would answer the phone. If that isn’t the biggest crock of bull to get a girl’s phone number… and she fell for it, hook, line and sinker. Whatever the exchange was, they kept getting cut off (you know, cell phone service being what it is) and he kept calling back, and eventually she turned her phone off so he couldn’t call again. Ha!
Last night at dinner she told us that he didn’t give her the five bucks he bet her, and she was pissed. Okay – not really. More like, not fair – that’s not how the game works. Todd told her to ask him for it – you know, a bet’s a bet and she won fair and square. She said, can you tell him? We joked about him calling on her behalf as her “attorney.” We had a good laugh before I looked at her and said, seriously – he likes you – why do you think he asked for your number? Which apparently hadn’t been considered.
There’s an awful lot of liking being circulated through the fifth grade. This one likes that one, that one wants to date this one… wait, date? Who dates in fifth grade?!
Annnndd… apparently the principal knows the answer. Yesterday Veruca told me Mrs. Fitz came to the classroom to talk about some big problems they’re having in school. In Veruca’s words, some kids are “having sex in school.” Cue screeching brakes. (We were in the car.) I said WHAT?! Just how is that even possible? I don’t know, she said, probably in the bathroom. This was her guess – and by now I’m wondering just exactly what Mrs. Fitz said. Did she actually use the word “sex”? She did. Still – I found myself thinking out loud… just how is that even possible? You know – mechanics, people! Meanwhile, in her usual way of ignoring and talking over me, Veruca speculated it could’ve been anyone from kindergarten through fifth grade, though probably 3rd or 4thor 5th graders. Huh.
Coincidentally, there was an incident about 10 days ago where Veruca heard a boy in art class tell her friend to “suck my —k” and she was upset about it. She said she told the teacher and she did nothing. This is where it pays to be a sleuth – because you absolutely cannot take anything a 10-year-old says at face value without some digging. (She only told the teacher that he said a bad word.) Needless to say, I told her that he cannot talk that way to a girl – or anyone. It’s wrong and in some parts of the grown up world it’s considered sexual harassment – which is a crime. So, the next day she took it to the assistant principal, who thanked her for coming forward.
So another big issue in school is profanity. Well, now there’s a surprise. Veruca tells me that the back of the bus is Grand Central for misdemeanors of the elementary kind. Meanwhile, back in school… Hunter dropped the f-bomb in the adjacent classroom and everybody’s talking about it.
My son, whom I will now refer to as Opac (OHpock), is learning how to fine tune his communication skills not only by texting me when he wants to stay after weight-training to play a little b-ball with his friends, but also by not spontaneously exclaiming the f-bomb at his sister. It’s a work in progress. The dollar in a jar isn’t working with him, primarily because he has no money. Next offense will result in grounding. And it won’t be pretty.
Veruca couldn’t wait to tell him what her principal said. She said, guess what my principal said to our class today? And then she looked at me and said, you tell him. Like it’s my story to tell. Opac shared that all kinds of stuff like that was happening in middle school last year, which really did nothing to ease my discomfort about the whole matter. Who remembers this stuff??
When I was in elementary school there was liking going on, though in nearly all circumstances it was one-sided, and mostly boys on the receiving end. I remember liking a boy in first grade who lived in my apartment complex. I wrote him love letters which he received and graciously tore up. Next boy was in third grade and surely unrequited, though I never told him.
Middle school was quite different. I found myself both the target and the huntress, but my first grade lesson had taught me to be more cool.  As in, act completely indifferent to anyone who shows interest. I was “going with” a boy in 6th grade for no other reason than that he asked me, and we never even held hands, let alone saw each other outside of school. There was that girl who was luxuriating in the rather obvious signs of puberty that made her an unfortunate and unintended reputation. I flew obliviously under the radar with my underdeveloped body. My first somewhat real date came years later, in 10th grade, again with a boy I had barely noticed until he’d asked. I was 15. Fifteen! My son is fifteen. He’s shown no signs of interest in anything not tied to a football. And for that – I am grateful.
Veruca, on the other hand, is acutely aware of the boys. A rumor circulated back to her that Steven likes her, and she was on a search and destroy mission to find out who started it. I suggested that she focus on her studies, and less on someone she’s not interested in. Probably fell on deaf ears, like almost everything else I tell her. And last night before she went to bed, she told me that cell-phone-boy is her boyfriend. Since when? I suppose it doesn’t matter, at least until he walks over from his development and knocks on the door.
I’ll let Opac answer it.
Keeping watch on the neighborhood.

 

Overheard in a Fitting Room

A 10-year-old walks into a space-challenged fitting room after trying on a dress, and wedges herself into the corner seat. The click of hangers and whoosh of fabrics … a few seconds of trivial conversation turns to this.
 
Dad really loves Stephanie.
I hope so. I’m glad.
You want him to be happy.
Yes, I do.
Why did you and dad get divorced?
We didn’t get along. We fought a lot.
But you don’t fight anymore.
That’s because we’re not married anymore.
What did you fight about?
Everything. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on very much. But I’m not sorry we got married – because I have you, and your brother.
You’d still have us, even if you married Todd instead.
Well, I’d still have kids, they just wouldn’t have been you and –
Yeah, cause then we’d look like Todd. Eww!
What?!
Well, his face is skinny…
What are you saying?
No – I mean, he’s alright but –
Well, I like him.

 

Respect, Accountability, and a New Name

It’s 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, the day after MLK, Jr. day. Not a sound in the house… because my children are still sleeping. That’s because they were up late partying with their uncle Matt, playing Wii, until Veruca came and woke me at midnight to announce she was going to bed.
Why Veruca, you ask? Because I’m changing her name. (As for the late bedtime, you can address my parenting skills or lack of them, later. Just after you explain to me what a perfect parent is.)
I actually started a blog post 2 weeks ago about this very topic… and it looks like this…
~I have decided to rename everyone in the house. Out of frustration, it’s all I can do to cope with the ridiculousness that is my house.
I’ll start with the youngest. My daughter will now be known as Veruca. Little Veruca wants what she wants and she is none too happy when things don’t go her way. Little Veruca is worse with daddy, which isn’t “really” funny but in a way I feel like karma has been served up rare and tangy like my tuna tartare. Veruca doesn’t get away with much here. Plus her evil stepfather calls her out on her bullshit in a much calmer way (read: not screaming like a lunatic and foaming at the mouth) than her mother.
This morning she laid in bed until the last minute. We did an insulin pump set change and after 7 years of pumping you would think that would go smooth as flan. Not. She will twist herself in a panic over where I’m putting the site, and then insist the spot isn’t a good one – as if I have no idea what I’m doing. It is positively maddening. Then she wanted a sweatshirt that was in the wash, and complained she had “nothing to wear.” Or, rather – that the sweatshirt was the only one that goes with her outfit.
As I walked out of her room and back to the kitchen, the door slammed shut. Back down the hall I went, took a deep breath, and reached for the door handle. She opened it suddenly, and tried to tell me it was “an accident.” That’s her favorite excuse for missteps these days, like on New Year’s Eve when I called her and she ended the call telling me that Owen couldn’t come to the phone right now because “he’s taking a shit.” Oh yes, she did. It was an accident.  I can only guess where she learned the phrase above – she certainly didn’t hear it here.
Nevertheless, we had a long, one-sided conversation where she learned that the next time she complains about her clothes not being clean and/or slams her door at me, she’ll be doing her own laundry. And then I reiterated that communication (without raising your voice, too) is key to getting what you need without conflict. Pat me on the back. I know Todd would be proud. ~
Anyway, I guess I had planned to continue reassigning names, but I got stuck on#2. I don’t really have many complaints about my firstborn – other than his inability to say he’s sorry and his annoying habit of interrupting. Which, for the record, are not meant to be downplayed.
I hate being interrupted. It’s a peeve I’ve had as long as I can remember – one of the most memorable being my 17th birthday. Every time I opened my mouth, someone else would start talking. It pissed me off so much, I just stopped talking. I mean, it was MY birthday and they wouldn’t have been enjoying this fine dinner on a deck overlooking South Street if it weren’t for ME. (The only-child syndrome notwithstanding. Which I was, until somebody decided it was a great idea to give me a brother when I was old enough to be his mother.) (Did that sound sarcastic and ungrateful? It wasn’t meant to be. I love my big little brother – and his ability to put away an expensive bottle of single malt.)
Todd remembers it differently – and snickers as he recalls how every time my mom went to take a bite of her chicken I’d start clucking under my breath. I think he’s wrong. I do not remember this at all.
Anyway, the “I’m sorry” issue is a big fish to fry. My son, at fifteen, will always respond defensively to any accusation and then make excuses why he did the offensive thing, rather than apologize. His dad is notorious for placing blame on others, rather than be accountable himself. I don’t recall the words ever leaving his lips in the 13 years we were married. As for me, and being always the target of blame, I rarely apologized to him. The reasons may be wrong, but they are quite clear. To apologize to him meant he was right to blame me, and that led to more accusations and more opportunities for me to BE wrong.
What O took away from that? You don’t have to say you’re sorry, there’s always someone or something else to blame, and – especially when you’re the unfair target of blame – you refuse to be made further wrong. In dad’s house, he is blamed a lot for Veruca’s reactions. As a young child, he was chastised for not giving her what she was screaming for. In our house today, everyone is accountable. However, that doesn’t make the “s” word come any easier. It’s a work in progress.
The house is quieter these days. Neph has taken his leave and moved home. I have mixed feelings about it. It was nice to have a “third child” but he is, in reality, an “adult” with very definite ideas of what he does and doesn’t want. He is the oldest son in his household, and with that comes a sense of entitlement that is difficult to grasp at times. He has a great deal to learn. As do my kids, but I’m hoping to do it with a lot less drama – God willing. Accountability is high on the list here.
And now, in an effort to keep my posts to roughly no more than 1,000 words, I leave you with one of my favorite quotes by the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘ what are you doing for others?’

 

Baby Girl

Six years ago after what seemed like the longest nine months of my life – 13 putrid weeks of round-the-clock nausea and five agonizing months of worrisome ultrasounds – and the shortest imagined delivery that almost ended in the car, Ava was born.

She was, perhaps, the most anticipated baby ever – she was planned, and she was the highly coveted girl…. albeit without the dilated right renal ureter that continues to be loosely followed by a CHOP urologist. the grandparents’ only other grandchild was my firstborn, Owen, so they were beyond thrilled for another and a GIRL!! My mother-in-law was beside herself; having had two boys, she’d missed out on the little dresses and pink frilly stuff and cool girlie sandals she now buys with frivolous abandon.

She was born amidst worry over what we didn’t know – would she be “normal”? What would this “hydronephrosis” mean for her life? She, like her brother, developed jaundice after birth, but required nearly two weeks on the wallaby blanket and frequent visits from a visiting nurse who would stick her foot to check her bilirubin levels. During those visits my newborn baby girl would kick her spindly legs and flush in fury the deepest shade of red. The nurse commented on how strong she was – a little fighter – as the moment her foot was touched she’d launch into her miniature tirade. Naive me – I beamed with pride and smiled nervously as her foot was again stuck for a blood sample. Little did I know this “little fighter” would one day face the biggest challenge of her young life and make every day a test of my own strength.

Over the days, weeks and years since, I’ve watched her evolve from a clingy momma’s girl who could not be touched, held or even looked at by anyone outside her inner circle (me, daddy and Owen)… slowly to open her arms my mom and mother-in-law and, after two years or so, begin to talk to and even hug my dad. It would take nearly two more years before she would even talk to my brother or her father’s brother.

Publically she is polite, quiet and shy – leaving all who meet her to comment on her sweetness and how cute she is (and after they walk away she says indignantly, “I am NOT cute”). She will never let on how spirited she truly is; she reserves her most challenging moments for lucky me. One of my friends once called and was shocked to learn the source of all the ruckus in the background, as Ava ran through the house screaming at the top of her lungs.

At home and inside her ever-widening comfort zone she is silly, loud and boisterous, singing little songs she’s either learned or made up, doing her best Beyonce butt-shake and getting up in your face and invading personal space. She has a quick temper that turns aggressive when things don’t go her way, particularly when she’s engaged in Wii with her brother. She drives me crazy with her demands and insolent refusal to cooperate when it is most critical, dodging blood glucose tests as I chase her through the house and screaming like a homicide victim when I catch her. She is not above fearlessly boycotting food just minutes after an insulin bolus for 60 carbs, for such ridiculous infringements like Owen smiling at her, or my refusal to to let her eat dessert first.

She is what my mother warned me would be a “challenging” child, and while it is frustrating at all levels for all of us from time to time… it is this tough-as-nails constitution that is her source of strength through all the things no child should have to endure from the tender age of two. She endured 5-6 insulin shots a day for the first year of her diabetes life, having to wait for food and watching other little kids stuff themselves with the cholesterol-raising cupcakes and cookies that she so craves but knows full well today she should not have all the time. She has had to endure up to 17 finger sticks a day to check her blood glucose, hundreds of insulin pump set changes… with (as she already understands) no end in sight… and yes – there are many days when she’s just had enough. What would you feel??

And yet, on the flip side, with those she is closest to, she is sensitive and affectionate, squeezing her brother in a bone-crushing hug while declaring “I love you… you’re the BEST brudder.” She has an almost intolerable need to be close to me, and I have to remind myself that one day I will miss her desire to sit on my lap for lessons or just a snuggle. She is warm and open, and often mischievous with those she knows well… family or friends. She has a fantastic sense of humor, and a joyful laugh … and it doesn’t matter whether you share the joke or not. Often, NOT sharing the joke somehow increases her hysteria.

She is smart as a whip and a fast learner, grasping academics with ease… and quick-witted with lightning-fast delivery of comments more likely to emerge from a 14-year-old. Her sense of logic is sometimes far beyond her years, how she rationalizes concepts you’d never expect her to understand, like how she will take over her diabetes care and when, who she will see in heaven and who will go first, whether or not she’ll have babies and who I will marry next (no kidding). I cannot at this very moment think of a single specific thing she said recently that blew me away, but believe me -they are daily and numerous. (I’ll blame it on sleep-deprivation.)

I celebrate my spirited daughter… with all her unnerving, annoying and endearing qualities… she is in so many ways my “mini-me,” which is probably the source of my constant frustration and empty wine bottles. It took me nearly 3 weeks to write this to my satisfaction.. I kept stumbling for the right words as she drove me to the edge of madness where screaming is the only method of communication, making it so difficult to adequately express how special she is to me and how I love her so… equally as much as her brother, but differently. So, this is the best I can do, today.

Happy Birthday Baby Girl! I love you and the “best mom” is only as good as her best girl.
May 21, 2005 at 3:24am
7lbs. 5oz., 22 inches

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

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.