There are notes all over my house. They are stuck to the walls with Disney stickers, and say things like "employees only", "stop! do not enter", "restrooms", and "stop enter your tickiet". They kill me with their scrawly six year old writing. Now I am not (as my family will tell you) the best housekeeper in the world. In fact, I take it as kind of my duty to make people feel good about their own housekeeping skills. When you walk into my home, try as I might to stay on top of things, you might just be attacked by a dust wolf (bunnies are cute - these things aren't), or perhaps pinned under a giant pile of laundry. But still, I like to keep some kind of general order, and I grow weary of brightly colored plastic toys strewn about the house. One particular thing that gets my mama goat is the Little People Garage. Joe-Henry begged us for it last year for his fifth birthday and we got it. But let me tell you, it does not go gently into any kind of toy receptacle. Or giant closet. It's huge and unwilling and I'm really annoyed that I can't find a way to store it neatly. And it's not just the big toys, it's the tiny toys, seemingly THOUSANDS of them, with lots of intricate parts that CANNOT BE LOST or things just won't work the way they are supposed to. And I'm the finder in our house. I am doing my best to instill this ability in my son, and sometimes it works, but mostly, I need to at least coach from the sidelines "go look to the right of your bed, under the penguin on the floor. No? Okay, open the closet and lift up the pink lid on the blue box, take out the ukelele and look under the tambourine. No.....?" And on and on it goes. Yes, these things drive me, as my husband so quaintly puts it, bat-shit crazy.
But the notes. The notes are another thing. They are like the growth chart in our hallway - they show me visibly, how quickly this time is going. He's only been in kindergarten a few months and his writing has so improved. It's not perfect by any measure, but it's so much better, and the stuff he writes about perfectly captures, like a time capsule, who he is right now. It's like looking at a picture of him on the first day of school waiting for the bus. Or hearing a recording of his sweet voice. My husband has a little frame I gave him when Joe-Henry was a newborn. It was one that you could record a greeting and it would play when you pressed the button. I recorded Joe-Henry nursing and grunting and stuck in a picture of his two month old self so Charley could take it to a trade show. I ran across it recently when we moved and it brought tears flooding to my eyes. That was just yesterday! These scribbled little notes are like that, only I see them in my minds eye in the future, when I'm putting together his scrapbook (like I'll ever be that together!) as he heads off to college. I love them so much, and want to keep them up forever.
But the Little People Garage.... it's time is near.
Did you have a great Christmas? Did you get all the toys you wanted? The housecleaning robot, the face de-wrinkler, the personal chef who looks like George Clooney? I didn't either, but I had a GREAT Christmas anyway. And today, today is even better than yesterday, because I'm going to stay in my pajamas ALL DAY LONG. Merry Christmas to ME!
Our day started at 6:54 a.m., when Joe-Henry called "MOM!", and when I went in to his room he announced he had to go to the bathroom, but it was still so dark outside (this being the Pacific Northwest, the crack of dawn is somewhere around 10:00 a.m.), he thought it was still night. So he said "Do you think we could go see what Santa brought and then come back to bed, and open the rest of our presents later?" But I was too excited, and told him the truth. That 6:54 a.m. is a perfectly legitimate time for a six year old to wake up for Christmas morning, because inside of me, there is a six year old ready to rip into some packages her own self. I was also incredibly excited to see the look on his face, to see the shiny wonder in his eyes when he saw what Santa brought him.
He got his remote control indoor helicopter from the Big Man. It was the one thing he asked for when he visited him, and Santa came through, in spite of some misgivings, which it turns out, are over all the wrong things. This particular helicopter sounds like a high powered dentist drill, and it's on a tether so everytime it goes up in the air, it threatens to decapitate someone. The cats love it, and Lulu in particular has shit on the carpet downstairs a few more times than her usual 2 times, overjoyed as she is by the calming sound and the rotors threatening to eat her tail. He also got a cool big boy bike, which he seems completely underwhelmed by. I got it out of him later that he was nervous about it because it was bigger and didn't have training wheels. But he doesn't have to worry - it's going to rain here for the next few months, so we won't be venturing outside until about April anyway. He got myriad other gifts, the requisite books, pajamas and clothes, all of which I thought would completely underwhelm him - "another book? yay." He's been so squirrelly in the lead up to the big day, with the tantrums and the testing of my infinite patience (note the thick layer of sarcasm there), I really thought our Christmas morning would be a dervish of flying paper, followed by him writhing on the floor, alternating emotions like the tasmanian devil going through withdrawals. But he amazed me. He was so gracious and polite and really did take the time to appreciate his presents. He was grateful and excited and happy, and fully aware that these were gifts and not his birthright. I was really proud of him. He said "thank you" and until he got kind of worn out by all the presents, he did seem genuinely moved by everyone's generosity. His favorite toys were the Lionel Train Set, complete with conductors hat from Grandma and Grandpa (Santa has nothing on them - they ARE the best gift givers on the planet), and his Lego Airplane from Aunt Jill (who is tied with her parents for first place in the gift giving), which he and daddy built over the course of a couple hours yesterday. It's an amazing piece of engineering, and he loves flying it to the train station and then the dining room table. Our house is a happy hub of transportation.
We called Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt Jill in California and sent our thanks and holiday greetings and missed them all like crazy. In the late afternoon, my sister and her family and my brother and his darlin' came over and we opened still more presents, then dug into some gumbo-like soup, sandwiches and a pot of chicken soup for my brother, who came down with the nasty, achy flu on Christmas day. Come to think of it, almost everyone was coughing, and the sore throat that I've been nursing for the last several days is dormant now, but I have no doubt it will all probably knock us out just about the time Joe-Henry needs to head back to school, my in-laws come to town, and my sweet hubband heads to San Francisco for a tradeshow. But I'm hoping not. We have a full box of Emergen-C, Costco size crates of oranges and clementines, and enough leftovers that I won't need to cook for a couple weeks, so we are doing our best to head it off.
To ward it off completely, I'm wearing the footy/trap door pjs my husband got me for Christmas. I laughed when I took them out of the box, and couldn't imagine myself putting them on, but I did try them on yesterday morning, just to see if they fit. Not only did they fit, they also made me veeerrrry sleeeeeepy. Plus, my husband thinks they're kind of sexy (the trap door, I guess. Either that or a Cindy Lou Who fetish.) I'd post a picture of me in them, but we managed not to take one (thank you so much honey), but you can get the gist if you just scroll down to the next post and add 41 years and 100 pounds and color. Anyway, I knew I couldn't keep them on, since family was coming over and food needed to be made, and the kitchen tidied, but they called out to me with their robin's egg blue fleece siren song, and family wasn't even in their car yet and I was in them, strutting through the house like a Victoria's Secret model, until I collapsed on the couch, where I spent the next couple hours grinning like a maniac, looking through our wonderful, thoughtful booty under the tree, feelin' the love, and hoping that the love we sent out was spreading smiles as well. Today will be spent cuddling in bed with a book, or curled up on the couch with season one of The Office and eating Chicken Soup, while Charley and Joe-Henry head out to a hobby store for more train track and new guitar strings. I may try to stretch this out all week, since I got THREE new pairs of pajamas. I needed them too. All my flannel pj's were at least 10 years old, the exception being the beautiful pair my sister got me three years ago that I spilled something on and now smell of something mysterious, but not good mysterious. All the pj's I got are impossibly soft and warm and make me feel like someone is taking really good care of me.
I am blessed beyond measure. And sleepy like you dream about.
I don't know which will be more difficult tonight - settling Joe-Henry down enough to get him to sleep, or sending me off to slumber land. My husband and I are both feeling quite elf-ish, and I've come to realize that the elf sleep cycle is quite different from my own. This past week, I've had a hard time sleeping. Either I can't go to sleep, or I can't stay asleep. It's mystified me. I'm not anxious, I'm not worried... why can't I sleep? I think I've figured it out.
I'm excited. I'm looking forward to Christmas in a new way this year. There have been so many changes this past year, and I don't think the reason I'm excited is because we will be spending it with most of my family (although I'm really really looking forward to that), rather than my husband's. I love his family dearly, and we will all miss them this year. Their Christmas' are a thing of wonder, and I have spent the last 15 years celebrating with them, and I will miss them and long for their laughter and love. So that's not it either. I think the reason I'm so excited is because Joe-Henry is six. It's a magical year. He is so happy and filled with sugarplums and wonder, it's hard not to eat him. He's also wound up like a little toy, with no signs of slowing down until about December 28th. That's when the crash will come for all of us, I expect.
There is also, I think, a real sense of this time passing. Of the need to appreciate all the gifts that are laying about my feet every day (along with toy trains and cars and stickers on my walls). I gaze at the lashes resting on his pink cheeks when he's asleep, the way his hand curls protectively around his stuffed animals, and can almost watch him grow. He's taller this year, his face is changing, the bone structure shifting to accomodate new molars, his brain resting up so that tomorrow he'll have energy to grasp even more complex theories. Like, maybe, the fact that Santa is really mom and dad.
Until then, my heart is open to now, to this wonder that is my life. But I'm still really, really excited.
We have a friend at our house. Her name is Ginger. She doesn't poop or pee on the carpet, and she doesn't bark too much, and she lets our boy talk about anything and everything he can't or won't talk to us about. Missing his friends in LA, arguing with his mom, and most especially death. He's been big on the subject lately. I can't even mention his getting bigger anymore, because in his mind that means he's growing up, which means that I'm getting older, which means I'll die someday. It sends him to tears, but at least they're more manageable now. At first discovery of that thought, he was gripped with fear and it took forever to calm him down.
This morning he woke up and climbed into bed with me. Because my hormonal self is out of whack, I've been waking up too early, and I was already awake in bed, reading The New Yorker fiction issue, nursing a sinus headache along with my coffee. He brought Ginger in with him, and snuggled up and requested that I "puppet" Ginger.
He has a million stuffed animals, but only three make it into the regular "puppet" rotation: Ginger the dog, a bear we got in Paris that he named Linky, and JimPolarBear, a dirty little polar bear that speaks with an unlikely Southern accent (ask my husband). But Ginger is Mom's domain, and he loves her dearly, even when he is so mad at me that he can't see straight. The other day, after getting really riled at how unfair I was being (no more tv, clean up your toys - you know, the usual Cruel Dictator stuff), he stopped screaming at me long enough to ask me to puppet Ginger. Somehow she got him to calm down, and even though he didn't want me in the room, I had to be, and Ginger managed to impart a little wisdom and levity into a situation that I as mom couldn't. Even when I'm mad as a hornet, Ginger manages to be unfailingly patient and kind and reasonable. I'm grateful that we've stumbled on this tool. It wasn't my idea - I wish I had been that wise - it was his, and it's something that helps us both deal with things we have a hard time talking about.
It shouldn't surprise me. I used to be in the arts as an actor, and I worked a lot with children, and it was clear to me then that they could embrace things as big as their own feelings far better when it was at an artistic remove. It gave them tools to deal with huge issues.
Like death. This morning, he was telling Ginger about death. About how, when she grows up, he'll be old and then he'll die. And I had to swallow hard, because I suddenly felt the depth of his fear about my own demise. He made me bring her downstairs, so he could play her a "dying lullaby" on his piano. It was gorgeous, and he sang it so sweetly and solemnly, and it rhymed. (Those of you who know him won't be surprised at this, but those of you who don't, well, he's kind of a musical genius. No joke. I know it sounds like I'm just a proud mom, and I am, but this is clearly his gift, and who am I not to toot his horn!) Anyway, it was so moving, and brought both Ginger and mom to tears. I gave him a big hug, and told him how much I loved his song, and this is what he said to me:
"Mom. Your breath really stinks."
But for a few minutes, I felt like we had tackled the big stuff. I felt so grateful for my past in the arts, for my ability to commit to a character, to imagine and fly. But mostly I felt grateful for my son, because being his mom is the best gig in the world.
The other morning, after a completely awful nights sleep, my son woke up before 7:00 (I'd been up since 2:30 a.m. for no good reason). He climbed into bed with me, daddy had already gone to work. We snuggled on my bed quietly, his head on my stomach, both of us dozy and cozy and warm. "Mom!" he whispered, with absolute awe in his voice. "Look at the sunrise! It's soooo beautiful. It's a perfect Christmas Present of a sunrise!" It was, too. Orange and pink and blue, and utterly breathtaking. I was exhausted for the rest of the day, but my spirits were buoyed by this thought: "How lucky I am to have a six year old who knows the worth of a pretty sky." In these days leading to Christmas, I wish you all open eyes and everyday miracles.
Today, I really missed my mom friends. We moved to a new state last spring, and I haven't made a real effort to find my community here. I need to though, because today at the Children's Museum, I felt like such a loner. I'm not - I'm friendly and easy to get along with, but It's hard for me to make the first effort. But there were moms there in bunches, and I overheard one of the mom's suggest to the others that they go to her house and the kids could string popcorn, and I just kind of wanted to cry. Or invite myself along, with my wonderful, lovely son in tow, to play with their kids and I'd pick up some white wine on the way..... I'm so tired today, which is having a huge impact on my mood. For some reason, two nights ago, I woke up at 2:30 a.m. and could not go back to sleep. It didn't affect me much yesterday, but today I felt like I was lugging around a bunch of bowling balls. I was slow and distracted, and emotional. Not bitchy emotional (a rare blessing), but I just felt things really deeply today. As opposed to all those other days, when I'm just a hard as nails, a tough customer, etc.... I've thought about putting an ad in Craigs list or something. "Friends wanted for liberal, middle-aged parents and lovely, bright six year old. We like bluegrass and good food and we play well with others." But then I think it sounds too much like dating, which I was never any good at, and with the whole family involved it would just be too complicated. So I guess we'll have to go about this the old fashioned way. We'll just have to, um, find our people. I know it takes time - good friends are so rare, it should take time. But I'm just so out of practice at making new ones. Before Joe-Henry, I had the theater, and you were all kind of thrown together for a short while, and some of them stuck, and some of them didn't, and the ones that stuck you just hung onto forever. But now that I don't have that defining me, it's so much more open ended and awkward. I watched my son play in this little theater at the museum, and he didn't interact with the other kids much. And I had imaginary conversations with other moms, but nothing out loud, and I thought, "well, sure, he learned that from me." God bless him, he had a blast ("I was the director mom!"), and it didn't bother him, but I know he must feel the lack of special friends. He has pals at school, but no one that comes home with him, no one he talks about a lot, no one he wants to invite over after school. In LA he had lots of those friends. Playdate pals, and true, deep friends. So did I. I'll make new friends here, I know I will. The thing is, it feels strange to be making new friends when I have such great friends already. But they're not here, and I am. I need to model that behavior for my son, that "Hi, my name's Anne, what's yours?" behavior. I'm just not there yet. But I can see it from here.
If you're a parent, or even if you're not, this Holiday thing can get pretty daunting. I've been doing battle with myself every day, trying to keep Christmas in my heart, embracing the mess in my house and treasuring making (burning?!) the cookies with my son. This was in my mailbox today. Anna Quindlen says it better than I ever could.
My dad was a beautiful whistler. It's a lost art, really, but one that he had mastered. He didn't boast about it - he just did it, and it got him through some rough times. Whether he was born with the talent, I can't say, but if he wasn't, he must have practiced a great deal, because it was beautiful. Melodic and lilting and lovely. He tried to teach me, and I'm okay, but I'm not nearly the songbird that he was. Although I did take up the flute in Junior High. I did what I could. And he was proud of everything I did, as he was of all of his kids. I'm not sure if I can fathom how proud he was of me - as a kid, and even as an adult, I never felt that it was deserved, but from a mother's perspective, I get it now. You always just love your kids. They do what they do, and some days (months, years) they make mistakes, but you still can't get over how amazing they are. You can't believe that this person with all this light in them has your DNA. Even if they can't whistle.
Today is my Dad's birthday. He would have been 91 today. I miss him so much. He was 81 when he died in 1997. Almost two years after the big party we gave him for his 80th birthday. He had the time of his life at that party, and so did we. All four of his kids planned it, and old friends came and called. A group of men who served with my dad in England during WWII called him on a cell phone we had rented for the occasion. It was a time when cell phones were only used by doctors and high powered suits, just minutes before they became the ubiquitous annoyance/neccesity they've become today. He wept during the phone call, tears of joy, as they all listened on conference call as I read a letter they wrote to him. It was a perfect letter, full of memories and raucous, manly humor, and it was the highlight of the party for him.
My Dad served proudly in the Army Air Corps during the Second World War, and it was a time that shaped his life, along with growing up during the Great Depression. He talked about his time in the service often as I was growing up, and even more as he got older. It gave him so much - adventure, travel, and lifelong friends. When he was in the thickest throes of dementia, when he was taken out of the here and now, he would live there, in that time, and could remember those details vividly. In the last year of his life though, when he was in a nursing home after a hip operation, he ventured back further - high school, dances at "Nat Park" in Spokane, early childhood in Superior, Wisconsin. I remember one particularly difficult visit was turned around completely by a phone call from an old high school friend. This was a lovely man that my dad hadn't seen in years, but talked about often. My sister and I had been with him most of the day, and he was going in and out of confusion, having a hard time remembering where he was and why he was there. When the phone rang, I spoke with his friend briefly, letting him know as gently as I could that Dad probably wouldn't remember him, but as soon as Dad got on the phone, he was there. In the moment, laughing at old memories. He was good at faking it if he didn't remember something, but this was different. He had total recall of the old days, but was also completely in the present as well. It was a miracle to witness, and heartbreaking to see it fade as soon as he hung up the phone.
He was a strict parent, from what I hear from my older siblings. But with me, he had learned to loosen up. Out of necessity and exhaustion, I think. My mom died when I was eight, and my dad was sort of flummoxed by the whole idea of raising a girl. In addition to this, the year after my mom died, my dad lost his job as a salesman that he'd held since the 40's. He was a meat salesman, and it was during the 70's, the Army Corps of Engineers put Bristol Packing Plant, which sat on the banks of the Snake River, under water. Dad was in a tough, stressful spot, and he handled it by drinking. It got pretty bad for a while there, but in those days, it's what you did, and to be honest, were I in his shoes, I'd probably need a good stiff one myself. He eventually slowed the drinking, and quit smoking altogether when he hit 70, doctors orders, but not before doing some damage. After mom died, he had a girlfriend, Dorothy, and she kept him out of trouble. I don't know why they never married - they should have. They loved each other enough, and were good for each other too. He was old fashioned, and a truly stubbon Norwegian, but I wish still that he had been smarter about this. But for whatever reason, they didn't, yet he was still fortunate enough to call her his girlfriend until the end.
He was an amazing example and role model, and my greatest friend and supporter, and an incurable tease. He could get my goat like no one else, until my son was born and found where all those buttons were. My little boy often teases me just like my Dad used to, and has other habits that his Grandpa Cy had, too.
My son is perfecting his whistle - he whistles everywhere, getting better and better. He's a little songbird in so many ways, and his Grandpa would be mighty proud.
I just read a headline in my email that sent a wave of terror to my heart. It read - "No more babysitters!" I thought maybe perhaps there was a new shortage, that maybe they'd all been snapped up in the Christmas rush, and we'd all been left to fend for ourselves. I'll just bundle him up with a bowl of kibble next to his bed while my husband and I go out to paint the town. But no, it's just a junk email from "PerfectMomSuccess", and if I dared read it, I could find out how, I too, can become a Perfect Mom and a Success, and make millions for my family without ever showering or taking off my pajamas. Thanks anyway, but I'll settle for "FlawedMomGoodEnough". I'll stay in my pajamas, though.
So rest easy, parents. There's still plenty of babysitters around. If you're lucky, like we are, they're even related and won't charge you! Thanks Jim and Judy for taking Joe-Henry to see the steam engines yesterday while I nursed my cold. He's in his pj's right now, calling out all the stops and wearing his Paper Engineer Hat.
As I was laying upstairs on the couch, nursing my ailing sinuses, I thought of a few more things I am truly grateful for.
My friend Dayna, who sent chocolate covered almond toffee. That's not the only reason I'm thankful for her though - she's the kind of pal who encourages you to shine at your brightest just by being her wonderful self. She's smart and thoughtful and beautiful, and I'm so lucky to know her.
My brother Jim and his girlfriend Judy. They've been so wonderful to us as we've made the adjustment of our move. Babysitting, wonderful visits and help with big stuff around our house. They even built our shed, with the help of Jim's friend Ray, and most especially Judy's brother Barry and his wife Kathy. They did a great job, too. It stood firm in a major windstorm last night. The fence made it too! They've been shoring us up and helping us to stand, too. Moving is a huge adjustment, and if we hadn't had them on this end, we might have fallen apart. Thank you so much.
My sister Jan and her family and my brother Dale: My big sister and other big brother. I am so grateful to have family that I love to be around. I know it's not always the case in families. I'm really lucky. We genuinely like each other. We don't always agree, but we get along. I'm grateful to my parents for raising us that way.
My husband Charley. He's committed to us - to his little family. He works hard at something he likes but doesn't love to put food on our table. He's determined and interested in the world and he's a great listener. He knows me so well, and is the best partner I could ask for in this life. He takes good care of himself, riding his bike to work, losing weight, and being himself. I am grateful to have such a loving husband who still makes me laugh and takes my breath away when he walks into a room.
My son, who is almost always happy. I am grateful for his health, for his beautiful, creative, bright mind, and for the way he helps me see the world in a new way. For the sound of his voice, for his amazing musical gifts, for his stubbornness, for his sense of humor and for his loving, forgiving nature. I am not always the mother I want to be. I get frustrated and angry, I get impatient and can be too much of a perfectionist. He can be a pill, pushing my buttons until I want to run screaming, if not to a life without children, at least to a Starbucks, where I can nurse a decaf soy latte and listen to my iPod. But we get back in the ring everyday. And when we're not duking it out, we're in each other's corner, coaxing, encouraging, offering up love and kisses. I am so incredibly lucky to be his mom.
There's so much more to be thankful for, but I"ll just mention this last thing. I'm grateful that my son is in school for two more hours, so that I can take a nap.
Do you ever have one of those days where you feel like all you do is say no? I'm in that place right now, and I know that it's just a matter of Joe-Henry (and his dad) testing my boundaries, to see where mom/wife ends and chaos begins, but honestly it wears me out. With my husband, it's simply a matter of talking things out, and that's actually a very good thing, but with Joe-Henry, I feel like he puts me in a position where I can't help but be the boring, awful, stern mom who has way too many rules.
And yes, I know he'll thank me for it someday. And no, the rules don't change because I'm tired and want a break. But damn. It does get monotonous. I hear myself, and think - "loosen up", but I can't, because I think he needs the no's, he's deliberately going to the place where he knows the no's are, and specifically nosing for the no's. (sorry - I couldn't stop myself).
I'm looking for ways to fit some more "yes"es (yes's?) into our time together. But until then, here we are. "No Mom's" land.
"I have a present for you mom!" Joe-Henry was breathless with excitement coming up the hill today. "Don't even try to guess what it is, because I'm not going to tell you 'til we get to the house! Can you guess what it is?"
Picking him up at the bus stop is such a treat - he's always so happy to see me, and even on the days when he doesn't spill over with news of the serious business of kindergarten, holding his hand as we walk up the hill, just the feel of his warm little paw in mine fills my heart to overflowing.
I needed it today, too. I'm coming down with a cold, I had a fight with my husband, the kind that makes me feel like I've got a horrible hangover, and I'm behind on Christmas. And I just noticed from my bedroom window, that some animal has been crapping on my shed. A lot. Add that to our cat who cannot keep her runny poop in the litter box, and leaves presents for us on the carpeted hallway in the basement, and you get the picture. I was just feeling under it today, feeling slow and sorry for myself.
"Guess what it is?! Guess!" I thought maybe an art project, since he had red paint everywhere, but that wasn't it. "Hmmmm, is it an ornament? Did you make me an ornament at school?" When we got in the door, he raced to open his Spongebob backpack, and he took something small out of the bottom. "Close your eyes! Now open them!" In his hand was a tiny piece of chocolate, wrapped in blue foil. "Sydney passed out chocolate at school today, and I don't like chocolate but you do so I thought you could have it!" After I thanked him and took a nibble, I asked him if he was sure he didn't want to try it, just in case he might like it, so he did. Then we split it. And that was the best part, sharing a little morsel of sweetness with my son, who peeked in at me, weighed down as I was under the blanket of my mood, and coaxed me out into the blessing of the day.
Today, I raise a toast to my in-laws. 51 years together and counting. Last year there was lots of hoopla, and they deserved it all, but this year it's just them. I know they enjoyed last year, but I think of them, going out to a nice dinner tonight, and know how lucky they are to be sharing each other's company. To be 51 years with the one you love and to still share the kind of love that they do.
They were young when they married, he was barely out of his teens, and she was still in them. They had three kids out of highschool by the time they were my age, and have seen so much change in the world since they've been married, not just historically (though it's significant), but just in the way we live. There's more of everything now, more stuff, more convenience, but less time, it seems. But they've kept up - they have more energy than most 30 year olds, and more than I will ever dream of having. They are thoroughly modern and hip and are two of the most intriguing people I know.
I could paint them as a perfect couple, but I think that would be a disservice to them. Do you know all those couples that people write about - the one's who finish one another's sentences? Those sweet older folk who pat each other on the knee and hold hands all the time? Yeah, well, those couples are pikers compared to my in-laws. These guys bicker, they get into it with each other, and they have their own opinions, often in opposition of each other, and they have their own interests. But here's the trick - they are still, to this day, truly sweet on each other. You can't be intimate with someone without disagreeing with them. That's the test and the honor of their commitment. They are two strong individuals who make each other stronger, not because they believe the same things or feel the same way, but because they don't. They're interested in the world, and interesting to each other, and they know how to make each other laugh. Plus, they have a sparkle in their eyes when they're around each other, and I feel lucky to witness it.
So Happy Anniversary, Chuck and Dolores. Enjoy this anniversary, make each other smile, and know that we love you.
Today we celebrated one the of many milestones of childhood. A heart-snapshot moment. I know a few photographers who could capture them, but I'm not one of them (and I didn't have my camera), so this will have to do.
A blustery Pooh-worthy day, cold enough for zipped jackets and scarves and definitely gloves. Joe-Henry and his dad took his bike, with training wheels in the all the way up position to Red and White Park. I walked down later and met them and this is what I saw - My son, in his red fleece sweatshirt and crazy, too-short 70's plaid pants, hood over his bike helmet, so that from the back he looked like he had a huge head, his dad, running along beside, holding on, then not, then not, then not and away he goes! Hearing his triumphant laugh trail behind him in the wind, I surprised myself by crying. He made it all the way around the park. Stopping and starting was the hardest part, but he had it nailed by the end of the trip around the park.
He was so happy I thought he'd vibrate out of the car on the way home.
Being proud of your child is a great feeling; seeing them take pride in themselves is even better. I wish I could tuck it away for later. For those times when he'll need it, to be reminded that it's good to try hard, to be determined, and most importantly, to have fun on the way.
My son is very, very serious about his playing. He always has been. Once, when I heard him "shooting" someone in the backseat of the car, I told him I didn't like it and he said, very matter of fact, "Mom. I'm just playing. That's how I learn." Okaaaayyy. I still have issues with gun play, but he doesn't do it often enough to warrant any attention. And I've learned that if I don't make an issue of it, it will peter out on its own. He's an only child, so he doesn't have any built in playmates to figure out social situations, but we've been really lucky in that regard. He's incredibly kind and gracious in the school yard, and a terrific, imaginative playmate. I love to listen and watch when he plays with others, but my favorite thing to do is to hang around when he's on his own, playing his favorite things: trains or cars or "towns" where he plays with the trains and cars on the floor; "Max Train", where he types in his computer and makes announcements in English and "Spanish" and looks at the map and makes all the stops; or "Baja Fresh", which is similar to Max Train, without the stops, but with the addition of "receipts" - actual receipt tape that he writes on and leaves littering our basement floor. It looks like an accountant went nuts down here. He sometimes asks his Dad to play, but I'm not usually invited. That's okay, there are a lot of unspoken rules about these games, and I tend to break every one of them, and wind up feeling slightly crazy. But I love to listen in. I learn so much about my son and his world, and I'm proud of how observant and engaged he is. When he makes his "Max Train" announcements, my favorite thing is when he'll be announcing the stops in English, then interrupt himself in Spanish to make a different announcement. I've mentioned in another post his "Spanish" isn't really Spanish, but a mix of actual Spanish words with another new language - Pig Farsi, perhaps? - and it cracks me up and warms my heart to hear his chatter. His "town" play has taken a dramatic turn lately. There have been a lot of "accidents", and many police and ambulance cars have had to show up to take care of things. The world must seem so daunting to him right now. He's gained so much independence, and is doing so well in school, and can do so many things by himself that months ago were only doable with an assist from Mom or Dad. It must seem terrifying to think that he might be responsible for himself at some point down the line. But he's preparing for it every time he plays. He's learning so much every day. And so am I. I don't interfere too much in his make believe world, but know that it's an honor to be invited; and he's learning that when he plays, he can figure things out. He'll know when to call on us if a problem is too big to solve on his own. Car accidents and unruly rail passengers still warrant a shout out to mom or dad during play time, although he manages to contain the pretend situation with aplomb. But the little stuff he can handle - cleaning up his messes, doing his homework, personal hygiene. Lucky for us he finally learned to wipe his bottom on his own. He's very proud, and I am greatly relieved, having visions of him yelling for me from the bathroom of his dorm at college with his hands around his ankles - "Mom! POOP!" in a booming man voice. It's hard as a parent to watch your children grow up and away, but it's a necessity.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. That is the sound I am making because I just got my child to bed. Do you make that sound too? I'm sure you do. In fact it's the reason I started this blog - because I know that out there, in homes as different from mine as can be, you are there having that moment too. And it helps me to know this. I think that when I first had my son, when he was a baby, and I had older, more experienced moms gently telling me that I would get through the sleepless nights, the confusion, the crazy hormones and leaky breasts, I had to take it on faith. Because I really wasn't sure anyone had ever been through it before. Sure, it must have happened, because there THEY were, survivors all, and there were THEIR children, whether they were a year or twenty older than my own, but still, how could their experience have been as remotely desperate, as unique as mine? Now granted, there was something to this - our first year was fraught with not only the first baby thing, but we had a child with a really rare syndrome and no one could (or can even now) tell us exactly how it does or might affect him. In addition to this, there were other, more common but still no fun health issues (hypospadius and rsv), so there were more than the usual new parent unknowns. It was chaos on top of anarchy on top of poopy diapers. But from about six months to a year, when things calmed down a bit (when I calmed down a bit), and there started to be a rhythm to our life with this squirmy, noisy new roommate or ours, I began to discover what a great source of comfort and wisdom other mothers were. I didn't have to agree with them, but knowing that they were there, and that they were going through a lot of the same things I was, it made the mountain I was climbing seem less rocky and more scenic. Today, if I'm feeling out of whack, or I'm facing a particularly tough parenting challenge, I'm on the phone to my mom friends. It's especially miraculous to have friends with kids the same age, because you can check in to find out if it's just a phase, or if your child is, indeed, going to be a serial killer/wallflower/trapeze artist/brain surgeon/defense attorney.
Here's what started my Ahhhhhhhh moment tonight. We had the best day today. I got a lot done, got a big portion of our dump of a basement cleaned out, while my boy played with his new mail truck that he earned by cleaning out two big bags of toys. He spent a good hour explaining to me the different ways that busses open their doors, then went on in great detail about doors on the max train and doors on mail trucks, etc. Sometimes it can make me want to stick a pencil in my ear, but today I cherished it. I loved that he wanted to tell me about it - I had patience for all of it, and enjoyed hearing about it. I tried to see him as I might if he weren't my son, and it weren't my monumental responsibility to feed him, keep him healthy, stimulated and happy, all the while tackling all the other five hundred things that always need to get done in a day. It worked - I was charmed by him, and thought he was terrifically smart and sweet and not at all a nagging interruption for my important grown up things. He played Max Train, calling out all the stops into the microphone we have in our basement, and then made the announcements in "Spanish". I use the quotation marks because sometimes it actually does sound like the Spanish announcements they make on the Max, and sometimes it sounds like a cross between French, Latin and Icelandic. Luckily when he is doing this my back is to him, and he can't see my smile. He hates it when I smile at his playing, because it's not playing to him, it's serious business and there is nothing remotely cute or funny about it.
ANYWAY, tonight we went to an event at his school, then we stopped for a burger on our way home. He asked if he could play with his new mail truck while he ate, and because my husband was working late, and I wanted to sit on the couch and read the paper while I ate, I said sure. But ONLY if he ate. If I had to remind him more than once, I would have to take the truck away until after dinner.
Well, of course it happened, because it always does. So I reminded him once, and warned him that if I had to do it again, I'd take the truck away until he finished. Well, when it actually happened, he couldn't believe that I was going to follow through (even though I always do). He got so angry with me, he told me I was a "buttonhead", which I believe is actually "butthead" but he heard it wrong at school, and I'm not going to correct him. So I looked him straight in the eye and said "Sweetie, I see you're angry, but calling me names just made things worse. Now the truck is mine until tomorrow." This made him furious, and he was doing his best not to cry while he made vicious fun of me for being, in his opinion, the "worst mommy EVER!". And this is what he said next. "I want a new mommy!" In the past, when he's travelled down that road, I've calmly asked him to tell me what he wanted his new mommy to be like, so I could write it down and we could give the list to his daddy. And every time, he would cry and wail "NOOOOOO! I don't want a new mommy! You're my mommy! I love YOU!" I always felt a little wicked doing it, but it seemed to turn things around. But this time, he walked over, made a snatching motion at my heart, and said "I'm taking all this love that daddy gave you and I'm going to give it to him and tell him to give it to my new mommy". Somehow, I managed not to laugh OR cry, both responses burbling just under my calm surface, and said "I don't think Daddy will take this love back. I've used it pretty well, and I think I get to keep it. But if you want, you can stay really mad for a while. I know sometimes that feeling just has to be there." He was running out of steam, but he went for one last flourish. "I'm not your son anymore!" To which I said as honestly and calmly as I could "Oh my love. You are always my son. Even when you don't want to be. You can't shake mama - I'm here forever."
And then, it was over. Poof. Just like that. Like we had been caught in a terrible downpour, but now it's done, and even if the sun wasn't out yet, we could see it shining just behind that cloud.
I was proud of myself for not losing my patience and yelling. That seems to be my default mode lately, and I'm working like crazy to change it. To be a better parent. Not perfect, but just better. Tonight I did it, and it felt really good. But if I hadn't, I'd still be here, having my "Ahhhhhhhhhh" moment. And feeling comforted by you, my fellow parent/warriors. We struggle mightily, sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed. But through it all, we are always, always parents. Onward.
My husband, who believes I am as strong as I try to be.
My son, who knows I'm not, but loves me anyway.
My girlfriends, who let me vent, and cry and laugh with me and keep me sane.
Especially my friends who helped me move back in April. Amy, who is organized and kind and steady, and through just showing up, again and again without my asking kept me alive. Really. Shannon, who packed my kitchen, listened to me weep, and kept smiling through it all, even tucking away a lovely note in my coffee pot (which I eventually found!) Erin, who showed up the night before the truck left, completely unasked and was there packing up my bathroom when I got back from buying more boxes. Jana, who kept me tethered to the real world, and fed me every Tuesday night while the kids played and laughed. Jackie, my amazing sister-in-law, who helped me pack that last night into the wee hours, and showed up the next morning with donuts for the movers. My nephew Matt, who showed up on moving day and hauled some really big stuff to the goodwill, and was really sweet. My mother-in-law and father-in-law and Sandy (especially them, they helped even though they REALLY DIDN'T WANT US TO MOVE), who helped us pack, and miss us like crazy, and love us because we're their kids, and want what's best for us. Our realtor, Renu, who brought pie at 9:30 at night the night before our truck left, knowing I would be up until morning, and pie is good. Our mover, Chuck, who made me breathe easier about everything, who was calm and incredibly detailed and great at what he did, and made me feel like even if I didn't arrive in one piece, everything else would.
I am standing now at a safe distance from that crazy time, but I'm feeling emotional about it today. Auld Lang Syne-ish. Maybe it's because I'm writing my Christmas cards, and I'm feeling overwhelmed by this flood of love and goodwill I feel. Or maybe I'm on the sappy end of my hormone rush. It could be a wicked combination of both. Even so, it doesn't make it any less true.
My son, my sweet soulful boy, who has such compassion and love in his heart, has a raging case of the Christmas "Gimmes". Not to be confused with the Birthday "Gimmes". We just got over those a couple weeks ago, but apparently he's had a bad relapse, because he's like a broken record.
We visted Santa the other day. Which was lovely, and fine and took me out of my horrible mood. He was really excited, and loves telling Santa about his year, and asking what kind of cookies he wants. But what was really top on his list was "what will you bring me?" He told Santa he wanted a remote control helicopter, only because there was a vendor cart set up right next to Santa's little set up, one of those carts run by slick salespeople who make the remote control whatever run right in front of your child so that they will immediately want it, and you will spend the next 2 hours hearing about it. I hate those carts. Almost as much as I hate the carts where the salesperson, who is always a man, says (while eyeing my dry, aging hands) "Maam?!" (off to a bad start already - Most women over the age of 26 HATE being called "Maam") "Maam!, would you like to try our miracle hand cream, guaranteed to take care of unsightly dryness and age spots?" And then they take your hand and rub them with goo, between their own hands, all the while selling the bejesus out of this cream. It makes me queasy just to think about it. And I've never once let anyone do it for that reason. Ugh. It just completely creeps me out.
Anyway, so he told Santa what he wanted - a remote control flying helicopter. Okay, that's manageable. But yesterday while he and his dad were out on a Max Train excursion, they stopped in a toy store. Because my wonderful husband works 40 hours a week, going into a toy store with Joe-Henry isn't something he gets to do often, so he has no idea how treacherous this has become. I usually a) avoid it altogether, or b) have a talk with him right before we go inside, saying there will be no toys, we are looking only, and if there is a tantrum about something he wants or when we leave then nothing will go on the list to Santa. I get pretty strict about this around his birthday and Christmas because he has so many toys our house could burst. Anyway, because it was a special outing with his dad, he got to pick out a toy. I will say that my smart husband did make him buy it with his own money that he got for something he did this summer, so he wasn't a total softie. But in the course of this toy store safari, he saw something that has been the only topic of conversation since he got home. Three playmobil train sets. They each cost an arm and a leg. And he is obsessed.
He won't be getting any of these particular trainsets, not because we have too many trains as it is (we do), and not because he will outgrow this particular trainset by next year (he will), or even because we are scrooges (we aren't), but because we have it on good authority that Grandma and Grandpa are getting him a Lionel. The stuff that dreams are made of. Something he will never outgrow. So we know better that he's getting something EVEN COOLER than the thing he's wishing for. But something else is really bothering me, and I guess it's this. I have a hard time witnessing this outright greed in my son. I just really don't want this Christmas, and all Christmases to come to be about stuff. I've had enough of it. I want to teach him, without, you know TEACHING him, what it's about. It's about love, and generosity of spirit, and magic and wonder. It is, isn't it? Because here's the thing - at any other time of the year, my son is all of those things. He is generous of spirit, he's full of magic and wonder and overflows with love. He shows me all the time how to be a better person, just by being himself.
So I will do my best to return the favor and be a model - to not sigh too heavily when he goes on and on (and on) about this train. I will let myself pause while putting up our decorations, remembering each ornament on our tree, the memories that they are made of. I will do my very best not to snap (although I know from experience not to guarantee this one), and I will try even harder not to give in to the impulse to get him that train. I will strain mightily to let this better impulse win out, to actually do the tough job of parenting.
But in the meantime, I might need a good stiff eggnog.
And luckily, my son doesn't know it. Yet. He'll learn it at school probably sooner than I think. And then, I'll get the full force of it. Deservedly so. I wish it weren't true, but dear readers, today I am a bitch. No, make that Bitch. I'm trying like crazy to keep it inside, and not let it come lashing out at my family, but sometimes, my hormones get the better of me, and I get too impatient. Of course, the fact that my son doesn't let me have a f*%$#n phone conversation, or the fact that he waits until I get all the way downstairs, settled into my chair at my computer to yell at the top of his lungs "MOM!" and when I think his yelling in that particular tone must mean that he's bleeding from his eyes, only to discover that all it really means is that I didn't get all the goddamn crust cut off his sandwich, well, I get a little pissy. But still. I hate this feeling, and I hate the way I act, not because it's not called for at times, but because it's so counterproductive. He won't remember that he's being a little terror, he'll remember that I was a great big nasty BEEEEAAAATCH. And more importantly, he won't learn to not do those things. He'll learn that it's okay to react in a way that's completely out of all proportion to what's going on.
So I'm a bitch. And I feel guilty about it. But it'll pass. It always does.
I have to say, having a six year old and being in the throes of perimenopause, it's just kind of a cruel trick of nature.