Motherhood

Wax On, Wax Off

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The would-be scene of a grisly murder

Parenting is sticky business. There are days when I am acutely aware that I may not be cut out for this gig. Those are the days when I blow my parental gasket and slam doors and caterwaul with unbridled enthusiasm at my children over socks left on the floor right next to the laundry bin or half-empty cartons of yogurt stuffed behind a couch cushion. Those are the days when I am the very definition of insanity, once again doing the same thing that has failed before to achieve the desired result. Then there are the days when, through the grace of some unforeseen divine intervention, I pull it together long enough to do something that is nearly the right thing in the right situation. Like, for example, on the day when my fourteen-year-old son came to me fresh off watching a PG-13 comedy video on You Tube where he learned a new word, a word describing a sexual act that makes many grown adults shudder (or tilt their heads not unlike a cocker spaniel after hearing a word unfamiliar to their floppy ears). On that day I managed to swallow my shock long enough to offer a generic explanation of said act hoping to delay for him what would be an eye-opening if not wholly disturbing Google search on the NC-17 subject matter. On the days like that one, when I manage to keep my wits about me, I celebrate the alignment of the stars and enjoy it because I know moments of parenting clarity have, in the past, been few and far between, and my next ill-conceived, epic, parental meltdown could be right around the corner if I get too cocky.

A couple of days ago, my youngest son presented me with an opportunity to rise to the occasion again. After doing some more unboxing and cleaning in the basement family room the boys have designated The Teen Zone, I turned on one of those flameless, scented candle warmers to try to defunkify the place in their absence. (Teenage boys are smelly.) Not long after they had returned from a friend’s house, a panicked cry emanated from their space. Through a pained whimper I managed to make out phrases like “this is bad” and “oh no.” You know those moments when you think your child might be bleeding profusely and there is a fear of what you might find when you come face-to-face with them? That’s where my brain was. My son was about to present me with a mostly severed appendage or a head wound so deep I would be viewing his bony skull. When he made it to me, though, I could see no visible signs of trauma. Simultaneously relieved that he was okay and terrified at what that meant with regard to his cries, I asked him what was going on. The words came through breathless cries…spill, wax, accident, sorry, mistake, carpet, bad.

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Not blood splatter, but it could have been.

Now, this house is new to us and we have been working to make it our comfortable home for months. And, to that end, we had the worn basement carpet torn out in mid-January and replaced with fresh, super plush carpeting that is a bit like walking on heaven when your stocking feet touch it. As Luke and I hit the threshold of the family room, I could see why he was panic-stricken. Directly in front of the bookshelf where the candle warmer sat, still glowing innocently and without any sign of guilt or remorse, there was a sizable splattering of eggplant-colored, cinnamon-and-vanilla-scented wax. A flurry of words escaped my mouth, most of which were interrogatives and none of which (surprisingly enough) were screamed, but I never listened for the answers because I knew none of them would help. I knew I needed a minute to get my mind in order before I said or did something I would regret. I turned and walked up the stairs, Luke trailing on my heels. He kept talking and explaining while my mind reeled and I muttered my disappointment quietly. I got to the door of my room.

“You stay out here. I need to be alone for a minute,” I told him as I began to close the bedroom door behind me. “Don’t touch the wax. It will only make it worse,” I added as an afterthought as the door clicked solidly shut.

I paced for a minute trying to get my bearings. I whipped off a quick text to a good friend to get my feelings off my chest silently. Luke just spilled purple candle wax on a big spot of our basement carpet. Huge stain. Heartbroken. I took a deep breath. The one thing I knew for sure was that the mess would set with time, and I didn’t have the luxury of a full-scale devolution into parental disgust. Through the door, I could hear Luke talking to himself under his breath. I knew it was an accident. I knew he was simultaneously horrified, frightened, and wondering if the $100 he had earned at the craft fair would get him very far in his soon-to-be life as a hobo. I stood for a moment registering his feelings. Suddenly, I wasn’t an angry parent freaking out about a stain on recently installed carpeting. I was in Luke’s soul, scared and sad and feeling worthless. How many times had I been in his shoes, wondering what punishment would be meted out after my colossal error in judgment? My heart ached for him. I opened the door.

“Come on, Luke. Let’s see what we can do.” 

A text came through from Heather. Try ironing it out? Put a rag or old t-shirt down and then iron over that. Medium heat. Then try rubbing alcohol to get the color out.

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Slightly less horrific

It sounded like a plausible solution. A quick Google search yielded the same advice. Luke, desperate to make amends, asked how he could help. I had him fetch items for me while I labored to free the new carpet of its unwelcome waxy coating. As I worked, I talked to Luke and reminded him that we all do things like this. Accidents happen. Most of them matter very little. I could see him begin to relax, his hobo life fading into the background for the time being. Little by little, after some icing, scraping, ironing, and blotting, the wax seemed to be coming out. I began to exhale too. This might be fixable after all. After about thirty minutes of triage, the carpet looked only slightly stained. I was hoping that some form of chemical solution could ameliorate that condition. Sure enough. An hour after the tragic incident, the carpet looked nearly uniform or at least good enough that someone might not even notice if they weren’t directed to search for a stain in that area. The carpet, Luke, and I had all survived, only slightly worse for the wear.

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We shall live to see another day.

In the past, I’ve been too quick to anger in situations that warranted no anger at all. I’ve cried over spilled milk. I’ve fussed over holes in new jeans. And I’ve had full-fledged tantrums over doors left open while the heat was on inside. But as time with my sons living under our roof dwindles, I’ve become more aware of how big my “little” meltdowns can feel to my sons and how little even the “big” things in life are in the grand scheme. If our carpet had been permanently stained, would that have sucked? Absolutely. But I’ve been thinking about how much worse things would be in my life if I had created a situation in which my son no longer felt comfortable coming to me when things went wrong. I know I was that kid…the one who was afraid to be honest about accidents and mistakes. The one who would rather hide things and lie to escape censure. The one who spent far too long avoiding challenges, afraid to make a move lest it make me appear foolish or, heaven forbid, human. As an adult, I continue to work to overcome these fears and embrace my humanity. I’m not sure what grace intervened Sunday when Luke came to me, but all week long I have been hearing the phrase “wax on, wax off” from The Karate Kid in my head. Mr. Miyagi has been speaking to me, reminding me that patience, presence of mind, and repetition are the keys to success. My ability to go more slowly, tread more lightly, and think more carefully in difficult situations with our sons is improving. I have hope that these skills will someday transfer to other situations in my life as well. I’m not quite skillful or patient enough to catch a fly with chopsticks yet, but I’m feeling a bit more Miyagish with each small parental success.

 

 

The Book Without Pictures

ImageFew things are as burdensome to a child with dyslexia as required reading. At least, this is what I have discerned over years of working with Luke and watching him battle with text. Because the only way out is through, Luke has to work twice as hard as typical children to make half the progress in reading. With a couple years of personalized instruction in decoding (phonics for children with dyslexia) and comprehension, he has made huge strides. He has jumped four grade levels in reading in two years. He is now a sixth grader reading at fifth-grade level. Things are getting easier, but they are still not easy.

And so, reading continues to be Luke’s least favorite activity. It’s the last bit of homework he chooses to attack each night. On the rare occasions that I can convince him to read aloud so I can track his progress, I swear the process is more difficult for me than it is for him. He is painfully slow, stumbling over words most children his age would not blink twice at. He continues to interchange “what” with “that” and “why” with “who” often enough that I find myself unable to follow along with the story in places. But, along he plugs, undaunted, while I do my own decoding to keep up.

For a couple months now, I’ve watched Luke carrying around this hardback book and pulling it out during his reading period. I never really thought about it much. I knew the title, had a vague idea what the story was about and that his teacher had chosen it for him, and that was where my brain came to rest on it. It was a book about a soldier in Afghanistan who felt compelled to save the stray dogs he found there. And it combined two of Luke’s favorite topics: war and puppies.

The other day, a little disheartened to see him still lugging around and reading the same book, I asked him about it.

“Luke…how many pages do you have left in that book? It seems like you have been reading it forever,” I said.

“About fifty, I think,” he replied easily.

“How long have you been reading that book now?” I asked.

“Since October sometime, I think. I can’t remember.”

“What page are you on?” I inquired.

“249” came the reply.

I sat with this number for a while, letting it slowly seep its way into my understanding like water filtering into sand. Two hundred forty-nine pages. Two hundred. Plus forty. Plus nine. Holy crap. That is a lot of pages for Luke.

“Can I take a look at it?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said, handing me Pen Farthing’s One Dog at a Time. All 308 pages of it. I flipped to the book’s center expecting to see a slew of photographs. There were none. Next, I paged carefully through the book. Twenty five chapters. Twelve point font. No drawings. No graphics. Adult vocabulary. War theme. Full of acronyms, foreign place names, and soldier-driven terminology. Then, it hit me. My eyes grew wide. This is a grown up’s book.

“Luke, this is a serious book. I’m really proud of you for sticking with it,” I praised.

“I’ve been going extra slowly because I want to make sure I’m not missing anything,” he told me.

“If you’re going to have this book at home over Christmas Break, I’d like to read it,” I told him. “I’m thinking we can share it and then when we’re both done we can have a book club meeting about it. Maybe we can go to Red Robin, just the two of us, and talk about it?”

“Sure,” he said. “It might take me a little longer to finish it, though,” he acknowledged.
“No worries,” I replied as I handed the book back to him so he could finish up his required twenty minutes of painstaking work.

I stood there, watching him for a few minutes, reveling in how tough he is. He is a warrior. Every day as a student he goes into battle, fighting to size up, outmaneuver, and slay the beasts that would diminish his opportunities for success. He knows more about himself and about what he can and cannot do than most adults I know. He struggles. He problem solves. He strategizes. He adjusts. And, most importantly, he perseveres. While reading a 300-page book at 12 might not be a tremendous effort for many children, it’s a Herculean task for Luke. So, I hope you’ll excuse me if I appear to zone out while you remind me again about your child’s sixth consecutive semester on the Dean’s List. I mean, that’s great and all, but my dyslexic son is nearly finished reading a three-hundred page book without pictures. Clearly, I win.

What I Teach My Children About The Illusion of Security

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They might have guns but we have flowers.

Ever since the tragic events in Paris last Friday, my mind has been tempest tossed. Coming immediately on the heels of the deadliest bombing in Beirut in 25 years, the senseless murder of innocent civilians in the City of Light was a tough blow, the second poignant lesson in the fragility of life in two days. It seems I can’t sift through the news anymore without reading about another heinous act. While I know that countless acts of murder, rape, and violence have been perpetrated for as long as humans have existed, the constant barrage of stories about the dark side of humanity elucidated by the news media over the Internet and forwarded around the globe via social media can take a toll on even the most hopeful souls.

As a mother, I have struggled with what to share with my sons about these events and what example to set for them with my words about them. When they were younger, I cautiously shielded them from gratuitous details about natural disasters, shootings, and suicide bombings, proffering just enough information to make them aware but not enough to cause them sleepless nights. Parenting is a non-stop balancing act, and I regularly walk the high wire between too much information and not enough. Our sons are 12 and 14 now, plenty old enough to be aware of world events and form opinions about them. At school they watch news clips from CNN, an education I am grateful for because it provides an opportunity for open discourse at home about the world. I welcome the invitation to engage with our sons and answer questions and concerns as they arise. I like to think that in doing so my husband and I are raising informed, thinking, and engaged citizens of the world.

Today, during my daily run through of my social media news feeds, I read that governors of 27 states have declared they will not welcome Syrian refugees due to security concerns after the Paris attacks. I scratched my head. Regardless of the fact that states do not have the right to refuse refugees our federal government chooses to accept, I marvel at the naiveté of leaders who presume that refusing refugees is the surest way to keep their citizens safe. But many people in this country harbor the illusion that security is an entity we can guarantee and enforce because, well, we’re the United States of America, dammit. But we can’t. We never have been able to and we never will be. We can’t stop bad things from happening. Bad things are as certain as the sunrise, and security is merely an illusion we cling to as a means to mitigate our fears.

I live in Colorado, one of only seven states that has said it will welcome refugees displaced by the atrocities in Syria, which have left over 250,000 civilians dead and nearly half of its population of 22 million seeking a safe haven elsewhere. While many are against this, I am pleased with our governor’s proclamation. I don’t believe that turning away victims of terrorism will keep us any safer than we are now. Could an ISIS sympathizer be among the refugees who end up in Colorado? Probably. There have already been arrests of suspected ISIS militants and supporters in the US, and there is no reason to imagine we will be able to stop more from seeking to harm us if that is what they intend. Even our best attempts at national security will leave unexpected holes for terrorists to slip through. We are not capable of squelching every plot. We didn’t foresee the attack on Pearl Harbor or the attacks of 9/11. Is that a reason to turn away hundreds of innocents who are displaced and suffering, seeking a better, safer place for their family? I don’t think so. I like to think that we are a better nation than that.

The truth is that life is tenuous and fraught with peril, and there is little to nothing we can do about it. This is what I tell my sons daily. You could lose your life to a terrorist suicide bomber in a crowded cafe or to a mentally disturbed individual in a movie theater, to a drunk driver on their way home or to an incurable cancer. You could be the healthiest person out there and keel over from a heart attack. You can do everything right, take all the proper precautions, but you will still fall someday. Not one of us is getting out of this life alive, and we can’t guarantee that security to our children either. But the legacy we leave with our actions can and will make a difference in the lives of others. I would like my children to witness from me love, generosity, and bravery in the face of life’s sometimes scary realities rather than fear, isolationism, and cowardice disguised as protectionism. I would rather my sons learn to take a calculated risk for the sake of goodness than to shun others for an imagined sense of security.

Right after I read that article about the governors unwilling to welcome refugees, I found this video of a Parisian father and his young son being interviewed at the site of the Bataclan attacks where citizens were gathering to leave flowers and light candles in memory of the lives lost there. The father tells his son that there are bad people everywhere and that the flowers and candles being placed are there to protect him. I won’t lie. I get weepy every time I replay that video, and I have watched it at least a dozen times already. In the most beautiful way possible, this father is teaching his son that bad things happen but we don’t need to fear them. We need to accept them, focus on the good we can do, and go on with our lives. If we operate from a place of peace and love and hope, we are freer from fear than if we barricade ourselves in to hide from it. Fear can become an inescapable prison or our impetus to live in the present.

I showed my sons the video of that father because it speaks more eloquently about security than anything I’ve seen on the Internet since the attacks on Beirut and Paris. I’ve felt my heart shrivel as I scanned comments from friends about why we should not open our nation and our hearts to those who seek peace because we might regret it. While I understand their concerns, I can’t believe that this is what we have come to. We citizens of the United States forget how fortunate we are to be here and the sacrifices made by previous citizens that afforded us the luxury of birthright and the illusion of security. We forget that most of our ancestors arrived on these shores disillusioned, frightened, and clinging to hope promised by a lady standing in a harbor, the same feelings the Syrian refugees now hold. My husband and I are supporting our governor as he opens the doors to our incredible state. We are talking to our sons and teaching them that the inscription on Lady Liberty does not have caveats. It’s not “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore but only if they aren’t coming from a war torn Middle Eastern country or from a south-of-the-border neighbor with drug problems because we don’t want any of THOSE.” We are telling them that life is scary. Bad things do happen. But the more good we put out into the world and the more we focus on that, the better things will become. My silent parental prayer today and every day is that our sons will grow to love this world despite the negatives and to live boldly in it without fear for as many days as they have.

That Time Whip-Nae-Nae Saved The Day

Nothing stinky here

Nothing stinky here

As our children grow, most of their changes occur imperceptibly. One moment you are gazing into their chubby, little cherub face and the next you are looking directly into the eyes of a slender-faced, high-cheekboned teenager and wondering what wicked sorcery changed them overnight. And while their adult appearance seems to develop in the proverbial eye blink, the transformation in their personalities as they mature from tantrum-tossing toddler into too-cool-for-school teenager seems to take forever. My sons both pitched fits in public places that I swore would last longer than the Cenozoic Era. I watched with grateful glee as the tantrums decreased in duration over the years, evolving from epic, hour-long fuss fests into eye-rolling disgust lasting two seconds from start to finish. It was marked forward progress and it was much easier to notice because it directly impacted the level of peace and quiet in my daily life. Over the years, I have become guardedly optimistic about my sons’ potential to become respectful, open-minded, kind, and decent adult humans because I have witnessed their emotional growth firsthand and been present to overhear other adults as they remarked on it too.

On Halloween evening last weekend, our oldest son did something that proved he is more mature than his meager fourteen years might assert. Right around 6:30 pm, as costumed children began serenading us with Trick-or-Treat calls from our front step, our sons finally decided to get their teenage acts together and get into costume for what Joe proclaimed would be his last year trick-or-treating. For the auspicious occasion, he had chosen a demented, shiny skeleton mask in his first-ever attempt to dress in a costume that could potentially unnerve small children. As he was donning his scary costume, however, there was a wardrobe malfunction with the mask that required last-minute triage with super glue. He put the mask on after the quick-fix solution and discovered the fumes from the not yet dried glue made his eyes water. Not good. We waited a few minutes for the glue to dry and he tried again. Still no go. Everyone else in the trick-or-treating party was ready to hit the road, but Joe’s costume was suddenly out of the question. I immediately apologized for not foreseeing the potential sticky situation in my instant glue fix, but he brushed it off without another thought.

In years past, our ADHD son would likely have in the same situation devolved into a weepy mess and declared the holiday a total loss. He might have thrown himself on his bed and cried in frustration. This year, though, was different. I was the one who was irked and disappointed about the worthless $25 mask that could not be worn. He was calm and collected. Reasoning that he was already dressed in full black, he decided he could easily transition his costume from scary death apparition to scary mime with some white face paint. (Mimes are a freakishly scary Halloween costume, you have to admit.) I dug around in the costume bucket only to discover there was no viable white makeup to use for his transformation. Dammit. Joe and I started brainstorming. I ran to the basement to my containers of old Halloween costumes and searched for something he could use in a pinch. The least feminine item I was able to turn up was a headband for a skunk costume. I brought it to him.

“What about this?” I asked, adding, “I also have a black cat headband, but the ears have a glittery, bright pink in them.”

“I can be a skunk,” he announced confidently and without the slightest hint of teenage embarrassment or disappointment.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I can probably figure out something better if you give me a few more minutes to dig around,” I explained.

“Nope. The skunk is good. I can be a skunk.”

We found some white felt fabric in my office and safety pinned a stripe down the back of his otherwise all black outfit. I pulled out a black eyeliner pencil and drew a skunk nose and whiskers on his face. He put on the headband and checked the mirror.

“I look a little bit like a girl,” he assessed, “but I don’t care. I’m not missing trick-or-treating. Luke and Anthony might make fun of me, but I can deal with it. I’ll just tell everyone I’m doing the stanky leg,” he said, giving a nod to Silento’s Watch Me song.

(Thanks to Joe, I spent the entire evening with the watch-me-whip-watch-me-nae-nae chorus running through my head. And now it is probably in yours. You’re welcome.)

I handed him a flannel pillowcase and he was off, taking on the mantle of leader of the pack with confident aplomb. We’ve spent years working with Joe, both explaining and demonstrating ways to transform lemons into lemonade and chicken shit into chicken salad when things did not go his way. While Luke has always been capable of adjusting quickly when things went awry, Joe has struggled for years, full of sulks and things-always-go-wrong-for-me woe and hours of perseveration. Each meltdown has brought with it an opportunity for growth, and we’ve watched it occur slowly. But this time was markedly different. This time there was zero meltdown. This time he pulled a page out of my fix-it-on-the-fly handbook and adapted to the unfortunate change in plan without a second thought. I’m not sure I have ever felt prouder than I did as I witnessed his determination to jump over this pothole on the greatest of all kid holidays. He did at fourteen something I was not able to accomplish until my mid forties. He made a conscious choice not to take himself so damned seriously. And he rocked it.

As for me, I am going to follow Joe’s example and continue to work at not taking myself quite as seriously. Also, I will never again hear that ridiculous Watch Me song without thinking about the way inspiration and strength can come from the oddest things…like the stanky leg.

Halloween Ain’t Over Until I Have Burns From A Hot Glue Gun

The year he wanted to be a Lego.

The year he was a Lego

It is a story as old as time. On September 20th, Mom asks sons what they want to be for Halloween. Sons shrug. On October 1st, Mom asks once again what they want to be for Halloween. Oldest son replies with a vague, “something scary.” Younger son shrugs. On October 15th, Mom tells sons the shipping deadline for their dream costume is rapidly approaching and asks if they want to look online with her for costumes. Nope. On October 24th, Mom urges sons to get it figured out or risk spending Halloween handing out candy to other children. Oldest son says he will be “something scary” but he still doesn’t know what. Youngest son says he’s working on an idea. On October 26th, five days before Halloween and one day before the school Halloween party, youngest son announces in the car on the way to school that he would like to be his favorite Pokemon character, Mudkip.

“I’m not sure where we are getting you a Mudkip costume at this late date,” Mom says.

“It’s okay, Mom. I’ve got it all figured out,” says ridiculously imaginative youngest son. “I know exactly what we need to make it. It won’t cost much. I just need a blue sweatshirt with hood, blue sweatpants, and some fabric, probably grey, orange, black, and white.”

The year he was Pacman.

The year he was Pacman

“Uh huh,” Mom replies warily. “You know I don’t have time to shop for all that stuff today. I have plans.”

“We can get the stuff after school. I will pick out everything I need. I will make it,” says I-am-too-cute-to-say-no-to youngest son.

“Uh huh,” sighs frustrated Mom who now knows how she will be spending her entire Monday evening.

So I resigned myself to my fate. I spent my day painting the family room at the new house before heading to pick the boys up at 4. As soon as they were in the car, we drove over to Hobby Lobby for costume supplies, except we weren’t entirely sure if we would find what we needed.

Luckily for Luke and I, we’re great in clutch situations. We were gifted with the ability to pull something from nothing. We go in with a Plan A, but when Plan A falls apart we quickly devise a Plan B. When that doesn’t work, we run our way through the alphabet. I’m not sure we’ve ever had to go beyond Plan D to find a solution to the problem at hand. When we couldn’t find the right color blue hoodie (and I quickly ascertained that finding one at this point would require multiple trips to various stores across town that we had neither time nor gas for), I got Luke to settle for a blue t-shirt in exactly the right shade. From there we figured out how to create a suitable headpiece for the costume, and Luke agreed to forgo matching bottoms to make the costume a bit more age appropriate. I mean, what kid at age twelve wants to be wearing the equivalent of the pink bunny suit from A Christmas Story to school?

When we got home, I fished out the hot glue gun, my sewing kit, some polyester fiberfill fluff, and got to work. Luke was costume designer. I was seamstress. He wanted to do more hands on work but I relegated him to cutting because, honestly, that hot glue gun is a nasty bitch. I couldn’t see how landing my son in the emergency room with burns was going to expedite our costume creation. We dumped out the supplies and took turns devising schemes to turn our meager $14 in supplies into an adorable costume. We cut and recut shapes for the eyes and nostrils until they looked right. Luke stuffed some of the pieces to adequate fill, and I glued and sewed until we ended up with something Luke could live with. It wasn’t exactly what he had pictured, but he accepted that it was his lack of expedience that led to this backup version of his whimsical plan.

The year he was Mudkip.

The year he was Mudkip

As I was busy using my fifth-rate sewing skills to attach the tail to Luke’s costume, I thought about why I end up in this predicament year after year with this kid, slaving away on a costume that will be tossed out once the pillowcase comes home heavy with candy. It’s partially because he’s my youngest and he’s growing up too quickly. It’s partially because his ingenuity and enthusiasm are contagious. It’s partially because I enjoy seeing how close I can come to executing his perfect costume. But it’s mostly because I don’t want to be the kind of mother who isn’t willing to give herself second-degree burns (yes…I earned a blister) with a hot glue gun the night before her son’s Halloween party at school. It’s my way of letting my sons know there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them, including pouring my blood, sweat, and tears out for them when they need me the most.

I think a lot these days about the legacy I will leave with my sons. If I’m gone suddenly tomorrow, what will they remember? What will they miss? Will they recall that I made up crazy dances to sitcom theme songs or that I fashioned a makeshift triage in my office for their injured stuffed animals? Will they look back fondly at the times when together we coaxed something from nothing in the clutch? No matter what they will recollect someday, I live at peace today in the knowledge that I gave this motherhood bag my all. I never backed away, even on the worst days when my car sang the sirens’ song of the open road. I left it all in the ring and I have no regrets about the time I invested in my children and their dreams while putting my own on hold. It’s just too damn bad I still haven’t mastered the fine art of the hot glue gun.

Seven Years To A Dog

Goodbye, suburbia. Hello, brick ranch in the city!

Goodbye, suburbia. Hello, brick ranch in the city!

You know the time discrepancy they say exists between human years and dog years? I feel that same time disparity in my life right now. I am the dog in this scenario, and I have lived a year in the past month. In four short weeks, we looked at homes, found one, and closed on it. On Monday, we took possession of a 1960s-era, boxy, brick ranch in the city. We will spend the next six months renovating it, transforming it into our personal space in preparation for our final severance from suburbia next spring. This morning I find myself sitting in our future dining room writing at a plastic table while awaiting the internet installer. After only a few days, the house feels like home. I already know how the sun moves through the rooms and the ambient light changes throughout the day. I recognize the quiet rumble of the heater when it springs to life with its echoes of distant thunder. The backyard is my oasis, a private park with mature trees gently shading the ideal spot for an adirondack chair and a good book. Denver is my old friend. Everything is close here, intimate and accessible. And, in an introvert’s dream, I can live anonymously in its confines, obscured by the constant buzz of a world hurriedly carrying on without any notice of me.

Still, with all the familiarity around me in my new space, there is upheaval. I find myself in a netherworld, half out of my old life and half into my new existence. The boys are growing up faster than I imagined they could. Joe starts high school next year and he is now tall enough that I can watch his green eyes up close as he processes that he will soon be taller than me. He shows no signs of regret in leaving our current home and growing up; he relishes the dream of a basement space where he can revel unabated in teenage solitude. The new house gives him room to slide out of my hands and into his independent life as he was always meant to do, but the implications of this transition are simultaneously amazing and horrifying. There are days when all I want to do is sit on the couch swilling midday wine and wallowing in episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine on PBS Kids to mourn his growth. Alas, no amount of wishing to go back has materialized a time machine in which I could take that trip.

So I have found other coping mechanisms. I admit I’ve sought refuge in a binge-watching grave of The Office. You know, television is great for creating vacuous space in your head. And it’s a good place to idle while you’re waiting for motivation, but it’s no place to reside permanently. It’s time to bid adieu to things past. I’m working to separate from parts of my existence that were so integral to my being that I feel physically crushed by their emotional loss. I’ve been hobbling along in a Dunder-Mifflin haze for too long trying to avoid noticing those phantom limbs. Now that we’re committed to this new house, though, that time must end. Shit is getting real. It’s time to harness my rapidly spinning mind and use that energy to move, both literally and figuratively.

One way I hope to manage this shift over the next year is by returning to writing. As we inch along making improvements to our new home, I am going to document the physical transformation of our new space here. Along the way, I will work with added ferocity to live in the present (even though the present becomes the past with increasing speed as the boys get older). I’m positive I will discover a thing or two about myself and about my future trajectory as we set ourselves up for this next phase in our lives. Learning new skills, like tiling floors and installing custom closets, could help improve my self-esteem and garner additional confidence. The more I allow myself think about it, the more excited I become to shake off the weight of Michael Scott and see what I will uncover and where I will land. Goodbye, Scranton.

The Silence That Gave Me A Headache

 

When five days became five years…

 
I dropped our boys off for summer camp high in the Colorado Rockies this past Monday. It was a first for all of us, their first time going away alone (although they did have each other) and our first time being home without them for a week. When I drove down the dirt road away from them, it was bittersweet. I was excited for their adventure but already aware of the hole their absence was creating in my life. For fourteen years, these two beings have comprised the entirety of my reason for living. I hardly recall who I am outside the mantle of motherhood. And it’s at times like these that I feel most vulnerable and exposed. Who the hell am I anyway?

I enjoyed an oddly silent, solo lunch and a peaceful ride home without constant chatter about Halo and Mario Kart. I stopped at the store and bought groceries for two, cooked a meal for grown ups without having to omit ingredients, and enjoyed a drink with dinner. Hubby and I slept uneasily that night in a house that was too damn quiet, as if we noticed the missing heartbeats of the two neighbors who usually reside in the next room. I spent most of my week cleaning like a woman desperate to reclaim her once spotless home. Over three days I made a sizable dent in the clutter and bit by bit the house began to look like no one lived in it. It was a hollow victory. The cleaner it got, the emptier I felt. And that’s when, for a split second, I pondered my loss, not having a career to fill my days and fulfill my life. To derail that train of thought to nowhere good, I popped the cap on a bottle of hard cider because, well, I don’t have a job and 2 pm is 5 pm somewhere, and I smiled for my good fortune.

Big changes are on our horizon. The boys will be heading to a new school in 2016, which means a move back to the city for us. While I am dying to escape the suburbs and the HOA and the insipid neighborhood banter I never felt comfortable around, there is melancholy in my soul as we prepare to sell the only home our little family has ever known. And directly behind the gate we will walk through as we move forward, the gate through which all the possibility and potential of the future exists, lies the burial plot of things we’re leaving behind…sandboxes, playgrounds, slip and slides, and snow forts. Saying goodbye is part of moving on, but I have always been better at hello.

It’s been a rough week for me as I cleaned house physically, mentally, and emotionally. I am glad to be leaving some things behind, happy to explore new options and reinvent myself. Some things I thought I could count on, though, have evaporated while I stood in disbelief, grasping as they morphed from liquid to gas before my eyes like water vanishing of a scorching, summer sidewalk. I am better and stronger for this trial experience of life, once again, without children. Steve and I have talked about cashing in on our house and using the money to travel more with our sons before they move on to their own life adventures without us. The past fourteen years have been a blur, and we want to eradicate any potential for a Cats in the Cradle ending in this family. I will miss the things that are no longer part of my life, but I am curious what I will concoct to fill the vacant spaces going forward. 

We will claim our handsome, capable sons on Saturday and be grateful once again to have a disorganized house filled with bedlam. The time for permanent quiet is not long off now, and it’s approaching much more rapidly than I ever could have anticipated in June 2001 when Joe was born. But before it hits I think I will buy Luke that electric guitar he wants. I might buy that drum kit I have always wanted too and knock percussion lessons off my lifetime to-do list. If there’s one thing I have learned this week, it’s that silence leaves me way too much time to think. I should probably focus on doing things as noisily as possible from now on. Maybe I can get some pointers from our sons?

Check This Box

Cutest note ever

Spring is in the air. The songbirds have returned to my bird-feeder welfare state. Tulips are in blooming underneath our spring snow. The flowering trees have kicked my allergies into overdrive. We’re solidly entrenched in the season of new beginnings and hope, which is why I was not at all surprised when the other day my youngest climbed into my car after school smiling quite sheepishly, holding in his hand a folded paper note with a smiley face painted on the outside.

He was whispering rather excitedly to his brother and his brother, in turn, was whispering back. Their hushed conversation was both animated and intense. I had a good idea what was going on based on conversations we’d been having for weeks, but I waited to be included. Finally, Joe’s excitement spilled over.

“Luke got a note from Maddy,” he gushed. Then he added, “It’s depressing.”

“How is it depressing exactly?”

“It just highlights my many failed attempts with girls,” Joe said.

“How many attempts?” I asked. This was all news to me.

“Eight,” he replied instantly with complete assurity.

“Okay. Can we talk about that in a minute? This isn’t about you. It’s about Luke. Let him tell his own story,” I chided. “What’s going on, Luke?”

“Well, after school I found this note in my locker,” he replied, handing me the piece of paper.

It was your garden variety, grade-school note. With carefully chosen words, the author was attempting to ascertain Luke’s level of interest in her. The innocence of the note made me smile. Any note with a “check this box” format wins my heart every time, and this note had two different questions with corresponding boxes. Add to it the charming spelling irregularities of dyslexia and you’ve got about the sweetest correspondence ever. I handed it back to Luke.

“So, how are you going to respond?” I asked

“I’m not sure,” he said.

“I thought you like Maddy,” I replied.

“I do. I’m just nervous. What if I tell her I like her and she doesn’t like me?”

“She wouldn’t have bothered to write the note if she didn’t like you,” I told him. “Girls generally don’t bother with guys they don’t like. We try to avoid them. Trust me.”

“Well, then, I think I will answer yes to the liking her question. But I don’t know what to say about the question of if I have a girlfriend,” he said.

Do you have a girlfriend?” I inquired knowing full well the answer.

“No, but…,” he paused.

“You are afraid to put yourself out there?” I asked.

“Kind of,” he said.

“I can tell you this. If you like her, you shouldn’t play games. Be honest.”

“Okay. I will tell her I don’t have a girlfriend then.”

“Or…or you could make a third box to check that says Not Yet. That would let her know you’re hoping she will be your girlfriend,” I suggested, digging way back into my memories of flirting protocol. “That puts the ball back in her court,” I said, “but still keeps you safe because it’s not a definitive answer.”

“Yes. I like that,” he replied with clear relief that there was a way to respond that didn’t leave him completely vulnerable.

He folded up the note, put it away, and Joe used the opportunity to begin his lamentation about his 12-year-old brother’s third success in dating while he still only had one success, way back in kindergarten, and he’s almost fourteen. It’s hard to be Joe.

I’m grateful that my sons are willing to talk to me about girls, at least thus far. The world of interpersonal relationships is a minefield. I hope to keep the lines of communication open with them as they negotiate their way through it. They know I am an old lady, but they also know I dated plenty before I married their dad. I have shared some of my stories of heartbreak, embarrassment, rejection, and shame so they know I have been there and can commiserate. It will be difficult to stand by during the tragedy of their first broken heart but, for now, I’m enjoying the check-this-box phase of newly sprung love or, in this case, like.

Asleep At The Wheel Again…ADHD and Motherhood

The day my 8 year old decided to cut his own hair and photograph it.

The day my 8 year old decided to cut his own hair and record the event. Not his best decision-making moment, but it has made for some good laughs.

It’s laundry day. Well…actually, every day is laundry day, but today I finally decided to toss a couple loads into the washer. As I collected the boys’ hamper, I noticed that Joe had thrown a couple of his jackets in. I hate it when he does that. Sometimes the hamper is replete with clean clothes he tried on but decided not to wear. While I’m grateful that he’s finally learned to put his clothes into a hamper after thirteen years, he now puts everything in there. He often puts his shoes in there. His shoes. It’s much easier to toss everything into the bin than to put it away, right? It keeps the floor clean and then he doesn’t have to listen to me complain about that too. It’s genius, actually. A simple, expedient filing system that gets me off his back, at least for the present moment. And Joe is 100% in the present moment all the time.

Frustrated by the discovery of the jackets, I confronted him.

“Joe…why are these coats in here?”

“I wore them,” he said with typical teenage attitude, eyeing me like I am a moron for not realizing that dirty clothes go in the hamper.

“You can wear a jacket more than once before it needs to be washed. Unless it’s got a stain or it stinks, you should just hang it up to wear again,” I informed him.

He appeared uninterested.

“Every time you do this, it’s more work for me. I know we’ve talked about this before,” I said with the usual tone of parental disappointment that is meant to encourage enough self-reflection and remorse to induce self-awakening and, hopefully, an apology. If you’re wondering if it ever works, the answer is no.

“I know,” he admitted.

“Well, then, why do you keep doing it?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t mean to do it. It just happens on accident all the time.”

And, there it is. A succinct description of exactly what ADHD is. Joe’s ADHD includes impulsivity, inattention to detail, and inability to focus. So many times when he was younger I would repeatedly scold him for the same behaviors. Once, before we’d diagnosed his ADHD, I asked him why he kept chewing on his shirts even though we had discussed ad nauseam that he needed to stop doing it. He said he didn’t know why he did it. He knew it was wrong, but he simply couldn’t help it. That explanation was mind numbing. Here was a kid who was obviously intelligent, who could repeat minutiae about different dinosaurs from different epochs, remembering the dates they existed and statistics about their size and weight, but there he stood telling me he didn’t know why he kept gnawing his clothing like he was a goat. As a parent, it frustrated the living hell out of me. How could he be so smart yet so unaware at the same time?

When we had Joe evaluated for ADHD, the psychiatrists at Children’s Hospital explained to me that the frontal lobe of Joe’s brain simply doesn’t work the way mine does, ultimately leading to his greater difficulty in choosing between good and bad actions. As a child, if I was punished for something one time, the frontal lobe of my brain would remind me of that event and help me make better choices the next time I encountered a similar situation. Joe’s frontal lobe, however, simply isn’t as active as mine. The doctors explained that it is as if there is a little man in there whose job is to help him make good choices but that little man continually falls asleep on the job. It wasn’t until much later, when Joe better understood himself and his brain, that he was able to admit that his inability to stop negative behaviors when he knew they were wrong frustrated the living hell out of him too. We’ve spent the years since his diagnosis working to understand how we can help Joe and what we simply need to accept is part of his make up. It’s a work in progress.

I’m laughing now thinking about the question I posed to Joe earlier. I know how he works. I just needed to remind him again and move on. He will eventually stop putting clean clothes in the hamper, just like he eventually started putting dirty ones in there. It’s merely going to take a lot of patience and a lot of repetition. Six years into my understanding of this ADHD world, I am still making silly parenting mistakes with Joe.

You’ve got to wonder when the little man in my frontal lobe started taking so many naps.

Our Nation of Fools, Zealots, and Unicorns

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” ~Abraham Lincoln

“Never argue with a fool. Onlookers might not be able to tell the difference.” ~Mark Twain

You know what makes me tired? I mean, mother-of-toddler-triplets tired? The non-stop, exhaustive, political and religious divisiveness presented in the daily media. With Hillary Clinton’s long-expected announcement about her second presidential bid, things have become even uglier in my world. It’s not that I’m not interested in politics. I am. Like most Americans, I have plenty of opinions about our government and whether we have become the kind of nation our forefathers envisioned when they drafted our Constitution. Most of these opinions I keep to myself because I’ve learned that bickering with people whose minds are made up is a Sisyphean task. People say they’re capable of open-ended, honest, fair, and cooperative discourse about opposing views, but I’ve seen too many dinner parties turn into shouting matches over who is right and who is stupid to believe it exists. And the more polarized we’ve become as a nation, the less likely it seems that we will ever be able to have friendly discussions about opposing political or religious views. It’s a shame, really.

I have a significant number of family members and friends who never seem to tire of political and religious controversy. In the days before I knew better, I got into “discussions” (yes…that word needs quotation marks) with these people about my views. Some of these people wrote me off. The rest, however, made me their pet cause, which has proven to be worse. These people have since made it their life’s work to enlighten me about how misguided I am in an effort to save my soul. This, too, is exhausting. There aren’t enough free hours in my day to read the emailed articles sent to inform me of my inherent and unacceptable wrongness. So, I don’t read them. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that I had a choice…I could save established relationships with people who disagree with me or I could spend my life defending myself and my views to them while becoming increasingly agitated about my need to do so. So I chose to let go. The emails sent for my edification go straight into my junk folder where they remain unopened in communication limbo. Every once in a while, I hit delete for the whole lot of filtered messages in a ritualistic, spiritual cleansing.

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” ~Abraham Lincoln

Some people think that my unwillingness to go into battle over my beliefs is cowardly. While they proudly spout their views in every possible public forum under the guise of free speech, repeating news-generated talking points or quoting pieces from partisan publications, I remain silent. And my silence merely reinforces their opinion that if my beliefs held any merit I could defend them. It’s a nasty cycle. I suppose I could catalog and save statistical evidence to offer while disputing my detractors, but how would that ever be worth the effort when they are so convinced of their moral higher ground that they would find a way to dispel my proof and continue along in their assertion that I am at best misguided and at worst completely wrong? I’m female and, despite having been raised Catholic, I now identify more as atheist than Christian. I’m an anomaly. According to a Pew Research study in 2012, only 2.4% of US citizens identify as atheist. Of that 2.4%, it’s been estimated that only 25% are women. I’m so far out there right now, statistically speaking, that I’m nearly a unicorn. Some don’t believe I even exist.

Because I am different from the majority and do not myself fit in, I work on accepting others where they are because life is hard enough without creating controversy where none is necessary. In 2001, we bonded over a previously unimaginable horror. In those moments after the Twin Towers fell, there were no labels. It didn’t matter if you were Democrat or Republican, Christian or Jew, pink or brown. In those moments, we were all simply Americans. While I would never wish for those days back, I do have some nostalgia for the feeling that, as different as we were, we were all in it together. And I wonder sometimes at how in 14 years we’ve slid so far away from the united in the United States of America. Us versus them is now a continual ideological battle being waged within our own borders. It serves the best interests of no one.

So, I won’t debate you if our politics and religious views don’t mesh. I won’t unfriend you on Facebook merely because we don’t agree. But I won’t support this pervasive notion that any one group has cornered the market on morality in this country. There is no one way to be more intrinsically American than another, and no one group deserves a greater say than another. As a young child in the early 70s, I learned that we were free to be you and me. We were all unique, but we all somehow belonged here together in our differences. Maybe that was really idealistic, but I liked that message. I’m not exactly sure when things changed and we became so intolerant of the value of each individual within the confines of our united society, but I’m not buying into this new paradigm. I’m not defending my beliefs. I’m not kowtowing to the majority you create that leaves me on the outside. And I’m not teaching my kids with my actions that they have to explain why their opinion counts. It just does. They’re free to be whatever they want, and they don’t have to fit in to belong. This is America, dammit. And their mother is a frigging unicorn.