This Is Adolescence: 13

I have a teenage son.

It gives me pause to say it aloud.

Just like I stumbled over the words “fiance” and “husband” when I first spoke them, there is something surreal about hearing myself admit to having a teenage son.

He certainly looks the part.

When he sleeps, he takes up the entire bed. He throws his long, toned arms overhead in repose. Even on the coldest nights, the covers are cast off, and he dons the obligatory teenage sleepwear–gym shorts and an oversized t shirt.

When did he last wear pajamas? A year ago? Two years?

There are no pajamas in the land of 13.

When he stands, 13 is tall enough that I have to look up to meet his eyes, indigo like his Father’s. They share the same broad shoulders and enviably long legs. I know those legs by heart. I see them every day as 13 maintains his three-stride-ahead-of-me distance. He carries himself with just as much confidence as his Father and a touch more humility.

Is it wrong to hope that’s my doing?

13 has an upper lip in need of its first shave.

He ambles around in a men’s size 11 shoe.

He grunts more frequently than he speaks.

When he does talk, his voice is so deep that–when I hear it from a room away–I wonder which of my children let the strange man into the house.

***

I am negotiating with 13 as I write this. He is painfully private, so I feel it’s only right to ask his permission before writing about him. His reply? “You may write about me. But it will cost you.” He lobbies for a YouTube account. I have something less permanent in mind. Like a chocolate milkshake.

Negotiations remain at a standstill.

***

I am puzzled by 13 as I write this. He would eat buffalo chicken sandwiches every day of the week if I let him. And chase it with a jar of olives. I find wrappers in his pockets from packs of Mentos. Mentos. Are they back? Were they ever really in?

13 fills every blank space in his first grade brother’s My Book About Me with the word “poop.” All 63 pages.

13 ducks when I reach out to fix his hair. He allows me to kiss him goodbye and goodnight, but he rolls his eyes almost every time I do it.

13 removes the tank lid from the toilet, assesses why it won’t flush, and remedies the problem in under a minute. Yet he wants me to spread cream cheese on his bagel.

13 prefers to stay home and watch Jimmy Fallon clips rather than accompany his buddies to a middle school dance. “Why would I ever want to go there?” he asks.

“I know what that means,” I whisper my husband. “It’s The Girls. He isn’t ready to be around The Girls yet.”

13’s only wants are Doritos, video games, YouTube videos, and sleep.

Rinse (really well. And, I beg you, rinse again) and repeat.

I know this boy.

Except maybe I don’t. Because one day, he rolls in and announces he tried out for a part in the school play. And he’s made it. He doesn’t remember which part he got, but it’s a big one.

The one thing he is specific about?

“The Girls. There are lots of them,” he smiles and raises his eyebrows as he relays this.

Wait, he’s not smiling.

He’s beaming.

So maybe he is ready…it just needs to be on his terms.

***

I am frustrated with 13 as I write this. When I reach under his bed in search of a missing  Nike Elite sock, my hand brushes his laptop. His school laptop. Which he should have with him right now. Because he is at school. I am frustrated not because he has forgotten it. In a house with five males, things get forgotten. I am frustrated that his laptop is in his room when we have a clear no-electronics-in-the-bedroom rule. A rule he continues to break.

I don’t find the overpriced sock. Instead I find the security blanket that was his comfort and constant companion through the first years of his young life. To anyone outside our immediate family, it looks like a rag collecting dust. For me, it’s like bumping into a dear old friend. It is his Velveteen Rabbit, the most treasured item from his childhood.

But he is 13.

Has it been abandoned? Outgrown and forgotten like Jessie in Toy Story? A movie we watched together a decade ago while he sucked his thumb, wrapped in that very blanket and snuggled on my lap.

Or does he leave it under his bed on purpose? Does it comfort him at the end of each day to know that it still exists and is literally within his grasp?

I know better than to ask him. His answer would come in the form of Sarcasm. 13 speaks it every hour of every day. Except for the thirty minutes before he goes to bed. Which coincide with the thirty minutes I’m most mentally and physically drained. He is quieter than ever–if you don’t count the grunting–so when he speaks, I try to listen. It’s then that he allows the mask to slip, and I glimpse the young man who wants to do right. By himself, by his parents, by his brothers, by his teachers, by his friends.

We speak in hushed tones in darkness, save for the faint glow of a street light that casts a single beam through his bedroom window. Comforted by the shadows, he breaks down the difference between cool and uncool. Listening to him, it occurs to me that cool is not just an adjective. It’s a verb, it’s a noun, it’s an adverb. It’s the object of every 13 year old preposition. The gap between his definition of cool and mine would take several oceans to fill. It’s the difference between having experienced life and having one’s entire life still ahead of him.

He explains why he doesn’t text an old friend as much and that it doesn’t bother him.

Confides that one girl is not as friendly in his eyes as another, but he is in no hurry to speak to either of them.

I answer questions if he asks, and rail against the voice in my head that aches to turn every moment into a teaching moment. It is the most well-intentioned part of me. It’s also the part that shuts him down most quickly.

I walk away from those insightful nights with a better understanding of where 13 believes he resides in this world. He wants to fit in, but is not uncomfortable standing out.

It’s not a bad place to be.

***

I am captivated by 13 as I write this. He is our oldest child. His firsts are our firsts. Ours is a complicated dynamic because 13 has three younger brothers. It’s noisy. It’s smelly. It’s snacks all the time. There is bleeding. We have stitches. My husband and I have little confidence in our ability to anticipate what 13 needs because this is the first time we’ve parented 13.

Hello, how do you do?

So much of our interacting is my asking him not to do some things…

“Please don’t tease your brothers,”

“Please don’t curse at the dinner table,”

“Please don’t cook anything while you’re babysitting,”

…while begging him to do others…

“Please change your socks. Every. Day.”

“Please wait to tell me this story when we are not around little ears.”

“Remove your headphones when I’m speaking to you. What did I say? I SAID REMOVE YOUR HEADPHONES WHEN I’M SPEAKING TO YOU!”

13 enjoys his math teacher so much that he agrees to spend his Sunday afternoon volunteering at a school open house simply to spend more time with him.

For all of his grunting, 13 grows animated when the subject of Santa Claus arises. This is his fourth Christmas in the know, but you’d never guess by listening to him regale his younger brothers with stories of that time he heard reindeer on the roof. He’s no readier for the magic to end than we are. We are bonded in our enthusiasm to keep the littles believing.

When we go out in public and I have the wherewithal to step back and let him take the lead, I am able to appreciate the young man he is becoming.

I find that I like him.

He is clever. Well spoken. Smart. He engages comfortably with adults. He enjoys people and wants to put them at ease. He is an old soul. He reminds me of the things I love most about my Dad.

fourcast-1765-2

Yes, I miss when his hand was little, and it fit so perfectly in mine. I miss the way he climbed onto my lap. I miss hugs initiated by his little arms. I miss singing him a lullaby every night.

But 13 is good stuff.

It is watching The Walking Dead with him, but knowing, no matter how much he begs, he is way too young for Homeland.

It’s skimming the last hundred pages of Stephen King’s 11/22/63 because I can’t wait to give it to him to read next.

It’s intentionally sitting next to him on a haunted hayride so that I can seek refuge behind his broad shoulders.

It’s talking more candidly about health and human sexuality because I want him to be informed, be safe, be respectful, be happy. I want him to feel normal.

It’s knowing that he is going to make mistakes–that he needs to make mistakes–and hoping they aren’t the kind of mistakes from which he can’t recover.

***

He remains three strides ahead of me on the sidewalk.

I’m no longer the central character I was in his story a mere decade ago.

13 feels compelled to walk his own path. His need to brave it on his own transcends my desire to be alongside him every step of the way.

Where I fit into his life is not his concern.

That I am here is all he needs to know.

I will not look to close the gap between us.

For now, I’ll stay out of sight, out of mind–yet still within arm’s reach at the end of the day.

Just like his beloved old blanket.

It’s not a bad place to be in this surreal world of mine.

Now that I have a teenage son.

TIA logo

***

This is the third installment of This Is Adolescence. It is a true thrill to be a voice in this writing series. Thanks to Lindsey Mead and Allison Tate for having me. Lindsey kicked off our series with a beautiful look at age 11. Allison followed with insight about 12 that so paralleled my experience with 12 that if I didn’t know she lived in Florida, I’d believe she were my very own peeping tom right here in Philadelphia. I’m looking forward to reading ages 14 through 18, written by Catherine Newman, Jessica Lahey, Marcelle Soviero, Shannon Duffy, and Lisa Heffernan. 

 

Who’s On Third?

Yoohoo! Houston! It’s me, Bethany!

Yep, we have a problem.

There’s a teenager in the house.

Waldorf is now 13.

And because, overwhelmingly, the response to an article I wrote for WhatToExpect.com was “Read Masterminds and Wingman by Rosalind Wiseman,” I bought the book and have been reading it.

I think I’m not supposed to ask my teenage son direct questions. At least not about school the minute he gets into the car. On that I’m fairly clear.

I’m not sure if the same applies when I’m picking him up from a social event.

Which recently happened.

And I haven’t read all of Masterminds and Wingmen, so proceed with one eye opened. And keep the other eye on your delicious toddler who is right now pulling on your pant leg and sucking on zwieback while you try to read. Know that one day, this too will be your life.

***

“So, your brother had a really fun time at his party.  He told me he played violent video games.” I start with this nugget as soon as the host closes the door behind us.

See what I did there? I am talking to him, but not about him. And I’m speaking his language. The language of video games. Also, I don’t know if this is right or wrong. But we’re in it together now, so just roll with me.  

“Violent video games? Hmm. I’ll have to get to the bottom of that,” he replies.

“It’s disturbing to me, but he seemed excited about it.” Because duh. Violent video games are fucking disturbing.  

We cross the quiet street side by side and he slides into the passenger seat of my car. At 5’8”, Waldorf is three inches taller than I am. Unless we drive somewhere as a family, he has permanently staked his claim to shotgun until he graduates to the driver’s seat.

Am I supposed to ask him now if he had fun? Or am I not supposed to ask him? Is that question off limits altogether? Is it school I’m not supposed to ask him about or is it everything?

Wait, am I even allowed to talk?

I haven’t read that far in the book yet.

You see, I want to read the entire book, but FOUR KIDS.

He breaks the silence with, “Speaking of violence, I almost got violent.”

Oh, great. More violence. “Really? In a video game?”

“No. At the party,” he says matter-of-factly.

Well, now I’m going to make some extra turns and go home the long way. Because what the hell is this?

“Oh, dear.” Oof, that’s not the right thing to say. “What happened?”

“I’ll tell you what happened. One of my friends was acting…out of control,” he is casual, but out of the corner of my eye, I notice he is flexing and unflexing his fingers as he speaks.

“Define ‘out of control’,” I say in an award winning attempt to keep the alarm out of my voice. Despite the fact that my throat is closing.

“Like a dog without a leash,” he replies without hesitation.

“Wow,” is all I can manage.

Because Wow

A. We don’t have a dog.

B.That’s quite a metaphor for this particular boy.

“Exactly,” he says as though he has illustrated his point clearly. Game Over, Mom. Discussion Closed, lady.

“Well, some dogs are OK without leashes. Like Josephine who walks across the school playground? But other dogs always need to be on a leash,” I point out.

I can’t see him in the dark, but I don’t need to to know that he is rolling his eyes as he turns to address my profile, “Josephine, if you remember correctly, attacked another dog on the playground last year. You saw it with your own eyes. Which proves my point.”

“What point is that?” I ask.

“Pffffft.”

“Waldorf? Which point?”

“My. Point. That all dogs need leashes.” Again, duh.

I am so confused. Was there a dog at the party? Two dogs? Was his friend acting like a dog towards the girls? Pantomiming a four legged animal? Or acting like a metaphorical dog in a sexual manner?

“So, what does that mean in human terms? Being a dog without a leash?” I ask.

“You know what it means,” he fires back.

“Does it mean he was disrespectful? Was he inappropriate? Was he destructive in someone else’s home?”

“I don’t have time for specifics. You know what it means,” he snaps.

“I do?”

I do??

“Yes.”

Fuck!

WWRWD

What Would Rosalind Wiseman Do?

“What do you think I think it means?” I ask. It sounds like something a psychiatrist might say. I don’t know whether that’s a stroke of genius or the kiss of death. But it’s all I have.

“Oh, it means what you think it means,” he says.

What??

“What do you think it means?” Again with the shrink speak.

“What I think is different from what you think. But in this case, we’re both right,” he shrugs.

“We are?”

We are????

“Yes,” he crosses his arms and looks out the window.

I’m so confused. I’m so confused! Should I call the parents who just hosted my son and see if their dog is OK? Did someone let their dog out without a leash?

He interrupts my frantic thoughts, “Listen, when someone is out of control, there is only one thing that can happen, and you know what it is.”

“I do?”

“Yes.”

“Can you give me a hint? Because I feel really tired in my brain and I don’t know the one thing that can happen when someone is out of control.” Help me. For the love of god, help me.

“All you need to know is I handled it,” he replies.

You handled it?” I ask.

“That’s what I said.”

“Did you handle it properly?” I ask.

“I know how to handle these things. I handle them all the time. It falls on me. And so…I do it.”

Don't worry, Ma. I handled it.

Don’t worry, Ma. I handled it.

Now the moment I publish this, I’m going to get a barrage of texts from my Mom friends. “Spill it. Who is the dog without a leash? You’d tell me if it were my son, right?”

Who it was and what happened are inconsequential.

There is a much bigger issue here.

CAN ANYONE DECODE THE FUCKING CONVERSATION I HAD WITH MY 13 YEAR OLD SON???

We had a serious conversation. It appeared he felt that he needed to get it off his chest. And I love that he knew he could tell me.

But I am so very confused.

***

Later that night, after we send Waldorf to bed, B&B catches me digging through the bottom of a Lucky Charms cereal box.

“You don’t eat that cereal,” he says.

“I’m not eating the cereal. I’m looking for the secret decoder ring at the bottom.”

I relay the exchange I had in the car to my husband.

He laughs and remarks, “Good for him. Handling it.”

OMFG. Not him too.

“You’re not helping me. What does that mean?” I ask.

He shrugs, “I don’t know. Did he duct tape the dude to a chair or something? Pull him aside and tell him he was acting like a dick?”

I wave my hands frantically in front of me, “I don’t know! I need you to get to the bottom of it. I am so confused. He sounded like Luca fucking Brasi in the passenger seat of my car! But I’m not Don Corleone. I’M KAY!”

He smiles, “He’s figuring it out. Maybe that’s all you need to know. He had a conflict and he feels like he resolved it on his own. It’s OK for you to be Kay. Plus Luca Brasi is the enforcer. Which is bad-ass.”

***

It’s not OK.

Because Kay is the single most annoying character in The Godfather.

Even worse, Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.

The good news is, I heard Rosalind Wiseman speak at my kids’ school last night. And she was fantastic!  I’m going to see if I can get a hold of her email address. Then I’ll ask her to do me a solid and clear this mess up.

In the meantime, I’ll keep reading.

Also, I’ve moved on to Cracker Jack boxes.

Because I could really use that decoder ring.

 

Summer 2014? Mulligan Please.

Dear Boys,

Do you remember that day when we went on the rides this summer? It was that blazing hot day in July. Ours was a minivan brigade with your cousins trailing behind us. We drove from Sea Isle to Ocean City and parked in the first open spot that we found. We made the trek to the boardwalk to get seven kids out of your grandparent’s house before the afternoon rain started. But the rain never came, so we shouted over the carnival music “just buy more tickets!” So we did. We bought and we rode. The music played and we yelled.  And there were copious amounts of cotton candy. Never ending bags. Your lips were lined blue and pink with sweet crystals that never quite made it into your mouths.

Remember when I kicked off my flip flops and followed you to that ride…the swings suspended from chains that go around and around in circles? I was so excited! Excited to go on the swings, but even more excited to be the Mom…your Mom…who goes on the swings with her kids. It matters to me, you guys. What you think about me. Yes, I know you love me. But Dad is like fun on crack. Exponential fun. Funfetti. And I like to do fun things with you too. And there’s a part of me that hopes that you think “I love that we have a Mom who does fun things with us.” But you probably just think, “I told her blue cotton candy. Why did she just hand me pink?”

So I ran with you. With the sun on my face, cotton candy dissolving on my tongue, sweat trailing down my back, carnival music playing in my ears, we ran toward the swings together. To the seats that were lined up along the outside because those are the ones that swing the highest. We buckled ourselves in, and I smiled when I realized that my bare feet didn’t even touch the ground. “Ha,” I thought, “will you look at me? Just like one of the kids.”

And then the ride started.

And my smile disappeared.

I white knuckled the chains of that swing as we flew higher and higher and circled around faster and faster.

My body flew horizontally through the air. My eyes were clenched tightly closed, and I spoke these words aloud. “I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK.”

Maybe if I open my eyes it will be better.

I opened my eyes just long enough to notice you boys throwing your heads back with joy. And just long enough to realize that opening my eyes didn’t help.

“I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK,” back to the mantra and the eye closing.

I willed myself to swallow down the rising bile and focus instead on your laughter.

“Hi, Mom! Don’t throw up!”

That was you, Verb. You weren’t tall enough to go on the swings, so you stayed with your Aunt and yelled at me with your raspy little voice every time I passed over your head, “Hi, Mom! Don’t throw up!”

Carnival music.

“I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK.”

“Hi, Mom! Don’t throw up!”

Carnival music.

“I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK.”

“Hi, Mom! Don’t throw up!”

I wanted so badly to love every minute of it. But, the reality was I couldn’t wait for it to fucking end.

Which is a perfect metaphor for our summer.

You guys, I wanted so badly to love every minute of it.

But the reality was…I couldn’t wait for it to fucking end.

I want to be good at summer. And I am. In June. And June does too count as a month because you finished school on June 3rd, Waldorf, and the rest of you finished on June 6th. And it was a half fucking day. So, come on. June was a full month of vacation in this house. And I was like funfetti for a change. I was yes to everything. Warm donuts for breakfast, water ice for lunch, cousins non stop, afternoons spent on the beach, buffalo wings for dinner, bedtimes be damned. So much yes. All of it yes.

I care. That we don’t fill your summer so completely that you head into a new school year under a cloud of exhaustion. So ours are unstructured summers. They are a throwback to a simpler time. It’s decompression at its finest. It allows you the time to recharge your batteries and be ready to do this school thing all over again come September. It is my gift to you, boys. It allows you the opportunity to be brothers. I need you to have time to be brothers. I need it for you. To cultivate that bond. To build that house on a strong foundation. And I need it for me. To watch you pair off and to listen to your conversations when you don’t realize I’m in the next room. Yelling at one brother, then defending him in the next breath. Laughing so uncontrollably that I sidestep the creakiest stairs so I can tiptoe up to your room to bear quiet witness to so much happiness.

It was a hard summer for me, you guys. Throwback summers feel like a fantastic idea during the mayhem that is May, but by mid-July the reality hits me like a gigantic WTF. There are weeks at a time that my gift to you feels like a punishment for me. Just like on that ride, I couldn’t find my footing at all this summer. I expect you guys to go through a million periods of WTF. So much of what lies ahead of you will be a struggle to find your footing. When it happens to me…and I feel like I should have a fairly good handle on this parenting thing by now…it freaks me out.

Ah, but my Facebook page was full of excitement, wasn’t it? We were making memories. Like a boss. We were making memories so hard I was hash-tagging it. #makingmemories

If my pictures could speak, here’s what they’d say…

nickprom “I don’t know. I’m kinda tired. I don’t even really feel like going out.”

2 Bethany's and a Kathy “If you feel something wet on your shoulder, it’s just my armpit. I sweat. A lot. It’s nice to meet you both, by the way!”

PaperMoon “I’m so glad we decided to go to breakfast instead of going for a run. No part of my ass is glad, but the rest of me is glad.”

Custards, Cakes and Creamery“Look at the camera now or I will take your ice cream and make you watch me while I eat it.”

18minutes “Jesus fucking Christmas. How many idiots does it take to make the number 18? Look like you mean it, guys!”

breakfast table

“No, we’re not going to keep the beads out all summer long. Because Mommy hates crafts, that’s why.”

zoo

“Waldorf, stop touching your brother and get out of the picture. GET OUT OF THE PICTURE! You’re ruining it, and you’re ruining my day. You better not ruin this entire fucking summer or so help me Jesus I will ship you away next summer.”

photographer

“Holy Moses. The only thing missing is a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. What’s that? I said the boys are so lucky they have a Dad who documents their memories like this!”

curleysfries

” I should be running instead of eating these. Oh well.We got cheese, right? I’m not eating these unless they’re smothered in cheese.”

snowcone

“Why would you ever choose a snow cone? They are the dumbest desserts ever. Flavorless. Now, smile, and pretend you made a good choice. Pretend you’re eating a chipwich.”

IMG_5764

“For the last time, STOP STRANGLING YOUR BROTHER! Jesus CHRIST! Now smile so I can send a picture to Dad to show him how nicely you’re playing.”

license plate

“What the hell were you doing climbing on my car? Hang on. Just hold it up there while I take a picture. My GOD, your feet are dirty. Jesus fucking Christ with you boys. Disgusting creatures.”

tractor

“Just so we’re clear, I will beat your ass if you try to run your brother over with that lawnmower. You hear me, right?”

Delpool

“For the love of god, stop telling everyone you just puked! We cleaned it up without anybody noticing, can’t it be our little secret?”

IMG_5816

“Oh, mother fucker. Well, 80% of them are having fun.”

IMG_5821

“If you spin your brother too fast on that ride, I will beat you! BEAT YOU! Aw, look how sweet you two are.”

flag

“Let’s play a game. Here are the rules. I’m going to close my eyes. And you’re going to move your body away from me and stop asking me for snacks. 1-2-3-Go!”

 

realdiamond

“This Neil Diamond cover band would be so much more enjoyable if we had left these asshole kids at home. I fucking hate them right now. Hand me a beer, will you? Let’s take a selfie and pretend we’re having fun.”

icecream

“Do you want to wait in this line for ice cream or do you want me to drag you home and put you to bed right now? Stop being so annoying. Mommy loves you.”

bruise

“I guess you didn’t hear Mommy telling you not to run at the pool. This is what happens when you don’t listen to Mommy. Be careful where you put your penis. Trust me on that one too.”

snake

“Come on, Ma, get in! What is that smell? It smells just like earthworms after a rainstorm. Gross! Shit, where are the kids? Can you take this snake off of us so we can find our kids? Hurry before the let the ferret out!”

ycsic

“Can you boys stop acting like jackasses for one minute? Just ONE MINUTE??? JESUS! Now look at the camera and smile if you want electronics ever again.”

IMG_5898

“Hey, Verb, if you don’t listen to me, I’m going to dig a hole, put you in it, and bury you. Then I’m going to leave you there. How does that sound? Now look at me and smile for this picture.”

 

stanleycup

“Goddammit, Waldorf, do you have any sense of urgency in any part of your existence? There is an entire beach full of people waiting behind us! Fucking move! So help me, if you don’t smile, I will save every penny I have to send you to sleep away camp all summer next year. Hey, there it is! The Stanley Cup! We’re making memories this summer, guys, aren’t we?!”

stadium

“Hey, guys, could you at least try to muster a little enthusiasm? Woohoo! New school stadium! Can you play the part please? No? Thanks for nothing. Assholes.”

fountain “Wait, why would you put them in the fountain? Why not behind the fountain? You thought it would look cooler? Let me ask you something…how many people do you think took a piss in that fountain? And now our kids are standing in how many people’s piss? The city of brotherly love. Our kids are standing in a fountain. Of piss.”

artmuseum

“Lie down. Right here. Because I asked you to lie down. I want to take a picture of you boys lying down. No, don’t stand over there. Because it’s stupid. I want you to lie down. Why do you have to make this difficult? Fine. I’ll take the picture, but it’s going to look fucking stupid with you standing off to the side. Annoying child. Swine.”

pickyourown

“Stop stop stop stop. STOP. Stop throwing blueberries. Now. Stop. STOP. IT. STOP THROWING BLUEBERRIES AND LOOK AT ME. LOOK AT ME AND STOP. STOP THROWING BLUEBERRIES. LOOK AT ME. Look at me. Stop. Yes. NO. Stop. Look at me. Stop. Mother fuck it all. I fucking hate July.”

If my pictures could speak, I’d be in a heap of trouble, boys.

I’m a person. Just one person. A human being who screws up like every other human being.

And I feel like I screwed up this summer. And I’m sorry. My balance was completely off. I know I can do better.

There’s so much life in this house. There’s evidence in every corner of it. The shoes, the Legos, the home improvement projects, the artwork, the photography equipment, the books, the bodies, the voices. Ours is a full life. It’s a chaotic one. And as I sit and write in a house that’s still full but finally quiet, I am reminded it’s a finite one as well. There’s a beginning and an end. And you are not mine. You’re here on loan for a short period. Granted, it feels especially long every June, July, and August. But I’m reminded every time I see a Mom with a baby how very quickly the years go by. When I have to reach up to hug you, Waldorf. When you smile wide enough that your braces show, Kenyan. Every time you mutter, “whatever,” Interrogator. And the fact that I no longer have to wear you like an accessory, Verb.

You’re on loan to me for a short time.

Next summer, if you still want me to, I will kick off my flip flops and run after you. With the sun on my face, the sweat trailing down my back, and the music in my ears, I will buckle myself into a swing…the one next to the swing that goes the highest. I will smile when I realize, again, that my bare feet don’t touch the ground.

And with some luck, I won’t have to remind myself that I’m OK.

Maybe one of you will reach out and hold my hand. And that will make all the difference.

I think I’d like that.

I know I can do better next summer.

Love,

Mom

P.S. I’m serious. Always be careful where you put your penis.

 

Before, Before, Before…

Before the foyer was a mess of cleats and library books,

Before Axe deodorant established residence in the bathroom,

Before I began tilting my chin up instead of down to look him in the eye,

Before the kitchen counter became a catchall for birthday invitations and permission slips,

Before entire sofas were buried under clean laundry needing folding,

Before he cared what brand of sneakers he wore,

Before cool was on his radar,

Before play-dates became hangouts,

Before he asked me to stop singing his lullaby,

Before every inch of the house became littered with Legos,

Before I realized he didn’t inherit my straight teeth,

Before the invention of Minecraft–which, for the record, I still don’t understand,

Before running out to Target for poster board the night before a project is due,

Before I swore no child of mine would ever be medicated,

Before Little League games that went into extra innings but only on school nights,

Before piano lessons and all the complaining that accompanied his practicing,

Before he grew too big to carry,

Before I became selective about sharing the babysitter’s name for fear someone else might snatch her away,

Before the first visit from the tooth fairy,

Before the months of fretting over which school was right,

Before the wall needed repainting because those were permanent markers,

Before the first little lies he told, which were eventually followed by bigger ones,

Before time-outs on the step,

Before story time at the library,

Before swim lessons,

Before the panic of having lost him for two very long minutes in Kohl’s,

Before the discovery that Baby Einstein offered thirteen consecutive minutes of peace during which I could inhale dinner,

Before I could make everything better by pulling him onto my lap for a hug,

Before the torture that is sleep deprivation,

Before the exceedingly slow drive home from the hospital because we had a “Baby on board”,

Before I knew to trust my instincts because they’re actually pretty good,

Before I understood that this is harder than anything,

Before. Before. Before.

I held a baby.

Moments after he drew his first breath.

I had dreamed of him for as long as I could remember.

The love was there…fierce and primal and expected.

Even bigger than the love was the hope. So enormous and undeniably present that I could just about reach out and touch it. No dream was too big for this perfect little bundle who had his entire life before him.

Who will he be?

***

He’ll be as tall as his father. He’ll need braces. He’ll be exceedingly guarded, but never after 10PM. He’ll have a quiet confidence. He’ll have a good voice, but he won’t like to sing. He’ll be outstanding with numbers, but struggle with words. He’ll hate mornings. He’ll love hijinx. He’ll be resistant to change. He’ll be a brother again, and again, and again.

He’ll have someone whose love remains fierce and primal. And whose hope for him will always be big enough to reach out and touch.

He’ll call her Mom.

Well, hello

Well, hello

To all who stumble through this journey the way I do..

Vessels of hope…

Believers in dreams…

Folders of laundry…

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

God on High, Once is Enough

Imagine a Mom. A Mom with a deep crease in her forehead and saggy boobs.

You know.

A Regular Mom.

Imagine that Regular Mom has a husband and four sons. The poor girl is substantially outnumbered. No wonder that crease is so deep. So many boys. So little meaningful conversation. That Regular Mom with the deep crease and the saggy boobs longs to get the lowdown from her boys after school every day. How was that brownie I put in your lunch? Who did you sit with? Were your friends kind to you? Did you laugh today? What made you laugh?

But pfffft. Those boys of hers aren’t wired for chit chat. They come home from school, dump their bags precariously in the entryway where Regular Mom will trip on them, load their pockets with cheeseballs and head straight for the trampoline to beat the piss out of one another. So Regular Mom…that saint of a woman…heads into the kitchen to prepare seventeen different dishes that will be consumed by five males in the span of three minutes. She turns on Howard Stern–at least he’ll talk to her–and hopes that tonight’s dinner conversation does not include any sound, smell, or mention of flatulence. Just this once.

Regular Mom has a tough pill to swallow every March. Her kids have THE LONGEST SPRING BREAK EVER. Eleven days off from school.

In a row.

And that includes the weekends because oh yes they do so fucking count.

Many months ago, she researched what it would cost to fly that sizable family out to Arizona to visit her sister for a portion of that eleven day nut punch. A quick Google search showed that it costs too many American dollars to put six winter-weary butts on a plane headed West in the month of March.

Regular Mom’s parents don’t like shoveling snow, so they spend the cold winter months in Florida. Regular Mom did a quick Google search on the price of flights to Florida, and it turns out it costs too many American dollars to fly six people there in March too.

“Son of a motherless goat,” she said, “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle before I do another eleven day staycation with crowd.”

Her offspring wouldn’t know a dinner conversation that didn’t include the word “fart” if it came up and bit them on their gassy little asses, but Regular Mom still wanted to connect with each and every one of her sons.

So she Googled the often-talked-about-but-never-before-visited Great Wolf Lodge.

Indoor Water Park Extravaganza

Indoor Water Park Extravaganza

Here is what she learned.

It costs $500 to:

  • frolic about in an indoor water park in ankle deep water that is arguably 50% urine from the bladders of other people’s kids,

  • spend the night in a smaller bed than she’s used to in one room that will sleep her entire family,

  • wrestle on a bathing suit unexpectedly three months earlier than she usually dreads doing, and

  • leave exhausted with the high likelihood of plantar warts in her near future.

So she said to her husband, “WHAT KIND OF A RACKET IS THIS?”

But Regular Mom’s husband said, “Think of our third son. That boy loves being in the water more than anything. Picture the look of excitement on his face when we tell him we’re going. It’s well worth the price of admission merely to see the happiness in his eyes.”

And Regular Mom thought her husband made a good point. Boy #3 is a patient soul with an infectious smile and a pure heart. So she confirmed the overnight arrangements with the vision of her elated third born son’s face in her mind’s eye. And a twitch in her actual eye from the exorbitant price of admission.

Regular Mom bought several pairs of new goggles on the sly. She crept up the stairs into the frigid, dark attic–a space not fit for a full grown adult which forces her to navigate all the clothing bins on her knees–to locate and launder the bathing suits. She packed the overnight bags surreptitiously. So great was her anticipation of her third son’s excitement, that she smiled and chuckled aloud as she prepared for their surprise overnight trip.

And when the time came to share the news with their four sons of the trip to the often-talked-about-but-never-before-visited Great Wolf Lodge, Regular Mom and her husband assembled the children at the table.

“Please guess where we are taking you.”

“Lolly and Poppy’s New Jersey beach house.”

“No.”

“Lolly and Poppy’s Florida beach house.”

“No.”

“Arizona.”

“No.”

“Why not Arizona? I want to go to Arizona. You said we would go to Arizona one day.”

“Stop complaining. Keep guessing.”

“The Oreland Swim Club.”

“No, but close.”

“I don’t have any more guesses.

…This is a stupid game.

…Can’t you just tell us already?

…Can I watch a show?”

“OK, boys, Dad and I are taking you to…”

Regular Mom looked at her husband, and he reached out and squeezed her hand. They smiled because a moment like this–when you make an announcement that elicits pure joy in the people you love so fiercely and completely–this is what makes all of the sleepless nights and the backtalk and the bad pre-teen Disney shows and the vomiting on fresh sheets at 2AM worth it. This is the moment.

“We are taking you to…

…GREAT! WOLF! LODGE!!!!”

Regular Mom craned her neck around her youngest son and looked expectantly at her third son, the sweetheart of the bunch, the boy whose smile warms her all the way to her toes.

“What?” he stammered, “WHAT?!”

“Yes!” Regular Mom nodded and clapped. “Great Wolf Lodge! The indoor water park! What do you think?!”

And her third son yelled, “I’M NOT GOING IN THE WATER! AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!” And then he covered his crestfallen face with his hands, laid his head on the table, and proceeded to cry. Hysterically.

Not the happy tears.

Regular Mom looked at her husband, and he looked back at her. And there was no need to speak. Because they were both thinking the same thing.

This, unfortunately, is what parenting is about.

Parenting is thinking you’ve got it so perfectly right…only to discover you couldn’t have been more wrong.

Parenting is the illusion of a whole lotta YES…and the reality of OH, HELL NO.

Not just one NO.

A series of NO’s.

NO’s that get progressively louder and borderline violent.

Welcome to parenthood! Jump in, the water’s great! We’re swimming in somebody else’s pee, but honestly. It couldn’t be better. Embrace the unpredictability!

They dried the tears of their third born son, hurried the children into the car just as the snow began falling, and drove North towards their destination. What should have been a ninety minute drive became ninety minute drive + sixty additional tense minutes. Because four kids.

They checked into the hotel. Donned their bathing suits. Scarfed down Uncrustables. Distributed goggles. And down to the water park the six of them schlepped.

When they were finally together as a family in the pool–before the lifeguard whistled at the oldest son for pulling the second born under water, and before the other lifeguard whistled at the youngest for taking a running leap into the pool and cannon-balling his tiny muscular frame onto the heads and necks of unsuspecting strangers, and before Regular Mom threatened her husband that if he dared to take one more picture she would rip that expensive lens off his camera and send it down the party slide in an oversized raft–Regular Mom and her husband shared a smile. They were surrounded by their children…no one crying, no one in trouble, no one demanding a snack, no one having to poop…and life was good.

Regular Mom stood contentedly in four feet of disturbingly warm water, waiting for her youngest son to launch himself into her arms, when she felt a tap on her leg underwater. She turned to find her third son breaking the surface of the pool.

“Hi, Mom,” he smiled.

“Hi, sweetheart,” she smiled back. Her smile grew bigger as she noticed his goggles weren’t properly suctioned. His eyes were swimming in little pools of water behind those goggles.

“Sorry I was in a bad mood about coming to Great Wolf Lodge, Mom,” he said quietly.

“That’s OK, buddy.”

“I thought we were going to the Lego Store, Mom. I really just wanted to go to the Lego Store. But this is fun.”

“I’m glad you’re having a good time,” What a precious boy.

“Mom, can I ask you a question?”

“Absolutely, buddy.”

He looked over both his shoulders, swam up almost on top of her and asked, “Mom, would you sacrifice yourself for me?”

What’s that now?

Regular Mom chewed on the inside of her mouth to avoid smiling, “Without hesitation.”

“Does that mean yes or no?”

“That means yes. And twice on Sunday’s,” she nodded, as she kissed his wet forehead.

“Twice on Sunday’s? What is that, Mom?”

“It means yes. I would sacrifice myself for you,” it took all her effort to keep a straight face. Especially with the chlorine rolling directly into her eyes.

He nodded his head. Looked over his shoulders once again. Emptied his goggles, dove under water, and swam off without so much as a glance back at Regular Mom.

Sacrifice myself? She wondered what he could possibly be talking about when her reverie was broken by her youngest son’s wet, flying body. Which struck her square on the side of the head.

“You were supposed to catch me!” he spat the words at her. Along with some pool water for good measure.

Once she regained her faculties and was no longer seeing two, three, and four of her children…oh, wait, that’s how many kids she actually has…she swam over to her husband.

“I don’t know what #3 has planned, but he just swam up to me like the Loch Ness fucking Monster and asked me if I would sacrifice myself for him.”

Her husband raised his eyebrows and nodded his head, “Really?” he asked. “That’s interesting. Because he asked me earlier if I know anyone who had fallen into a ravine and survived.”

Hang on, what?

“Let’s keep our eye on that kid,” Regular Mom said.

“And let’s not make plans to visit the Grand Canyon anytime soon.”

“Good call,” Regular Mom agreed.

Regular Mom, her husband, and sons enjoyed hours at the indoor water park. They stayed until well after their two younger sons’ bedtimes. They stayed until Regular Mom could feel the sting of chlorine on her eyeballs when she wasn’t even in the pool. She worried maybe the fine people of Great Wolf Lodge were vaporizing the chlorine and pumping it into the air supply to compensate for all of the peeing in the pools, and that’s when she gave her family the high sign. They trudged up the four flights of stairs to their room, and decided on sleeping arrangements.

The younger two, who were exhausted, would share the pullout sofa bed since it sat on the opposite side of a partitioned wall and offered a modicum of privacy and quiet.

The oldest boy announced, “I’m not sleeping with my other brother,” and both Regular Mom and her husband groaned.

Because that meant one of them had to share a bed with that action.

Non-stop kicking. Sideways sleeping. Talking in his sleep. Walking in his sleep. Night terrors. Hogging of covers. That’s what it’s like to share a bed with their second born son. He is a beacon of light during the day. And the angel of death in slumber.

“Fine. I’ll sleep with him,” Regular Mom’s husband grumbled. The light went out in his eyes as the gravity of the night ahead of him sunk in.

It had been a long time since Regular Mom had slept in the same bed with her oldest son. When he flopped on the bed as far away from her as possible without rolling onto the floor, she was reminded of how much he’d grown and how twelve year old boys pretty much altogether suck.

She smiled at him and said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoon with you.”

He rolled his eyes, and replied, “As usual I don’t know what you’re talking about, but don’t touch me, old lady,” and then he flipped his head so she wouldn’t breathe on his face.

Regular Mom doesn’t pray very often. But, lying in an overpriced room with her family, sharing an undersized bed with her oldest son got her thinking. These are the people I love most in the world. They are my reason. Every day.

And Regular Mom was overcome with emotion.

Mostly that emotion was dread.

She lay next to her firstborn son–whose voice is deeper, whose shoulders are broader, whose feet are as big as his grandfather’s, whose upper lip is covered in peach fuzz, whose hormones are raging–and Regular Mom prayed.

“God on high, Hear my prayer. In my need, you have always been there. He is young. He’s afraid. Let him rest. Heaven blessed.”

It was just like Jean Val jean singing over Marius in Les Miserables.

Except it was nothing like that.

Because, it was night two of her period.

The night her uterus bleeds with the vengeance of five uteruses.

Uteri?

So her prayer went more like this:

Dear Patron Saint of Heavy Periods,

Please hear and answer my prayer. My son is 12 years old. It’s an uncomfortable age. That was a particularly awkward year for me. I remember flashes of sequins and a favorite pair of fluorescent striped corduroys.  Please, PLEASE do not let me bleed all over these white sheets.  I have nowhere to hide. If I leak, if my oldest child wakes in a pool of his mother’s uterine lining, he will be scarred for life. More scarred than I was by that awful haircut I had at 12 years old. And I’m still carrying that around.

So, um, Amen?  

Regular Mom only slept about 45 minutes total that night, so scared was she that she would bleed all over the shared bed and damage her son irrevocably.

So she lay awake all night long.

And early the next morning, when she shimmied her way out of bed, she smiled. It had been a perfect, leak-free, sleepless night. Her 12 year old son’s delicate psyche would remain intact. At least until the next family vacation.

Regular Mom’s husband had already left the reservation to take pictures get her a Dunkin Donuts coffee.

Is that the sun coming up? Nice shot. Say, why's my coffee so cold?

Is that the sun coming up? Nice shot. Say, why’s my coffee so cold?

She made mental notes about the day ahead. There was packing to do and breakfast to make and hours more fun to be had. But for now, she would let her boys sleep.

Regular Mom crept over to peek around the partition at her two younger sons, who were just stirring.

“Mom, can you lay with us?” whispered the third son.

They made space for her between them, and she slipped under the sheets and wrapped her arms around her third and fourth babies.

“Mom, what o’clock is it?” asked the youngest.

“It’s still dark outside,” she whispered. “That means it’s the perfect o’clock for you to lay with Mommy.”

“Mom, are we gonna come here again? To Great Wolf Lodge?” asked her third son.

Regular Mom replied, “Well, we’re going to have fun at the waterpark again today. But I don’t know if we’ll come back after that. For our family, I think visiting Great Wolf Lodge once is probably enough.”

The two boys snuggled up against her, she kissed the tops of their heads and whispered, “This is the best part of my day.”

Her third son reached his arms around her neck and gave her an unexpected hug. He gazed up at her with that face that melts her heart and said,  “Mom, does that mean we can go to the Lego Store tomorrow? Because I really only wanted to go to the Lego Store this spring break.”

***

And that, my friends, is what spring break looks like in the life of a Regular Mom.

Just add nine more days.

Word.

 

All Because of Two Cupcakes

The other day, I was standing gloriously alone in my kitchen. No one else was home. Just me and the cat who I still refuse to call Clawdia. I call her “Girly Girl” because it’s the first thing that comes out of my mouth when I see her.

It’s weird. I know. Cats are weird too, so it’s kinda poetic.

So I stood alone in my kitchen, and I had in front of me 4 perfect cupcakes. Purchased for my 4 not so perfect kids. They really looked good. I opened the box. And they really smelled good. And I’ve eaten these cupcakes before, so I knew they would really taste good.

But, like a smart 39 year old mother of four who practices moderation in all aspects of her life, I closed the lid, walked away, and caught up on Orange Is the New Black before I had to pick up the boys from school.

Just kidding.

I ate one of the cupcakes.

Just half of it at first.

And, damn, that shit was good.

So. Very. Good.

Then, I thought, I’ll just put this half back, and I’ll just try this other cupcake because I bought these cupcakes for the boys, but I sorta bought this one for me.

And, mother of pearl, that next cupcake was So. Very. Very. Very. Good.

It was so good that I didn’t even stop halfway through. I actually looked at the cat and said, “Holy shit, this is insanely good. It’s a shame you can’t eat cupcakes, Girly Girl.”

And she looked away because she always looks away.

Or because I had icing on my nose.

So, then I looked at the first half-eaten cupcake, and I thought, I ate slightly more than half of that, and one of those kids is going to have a hissy when there is less than half a cupcake to eat, so I may as well just eat the rest of that one too. Then I’ll tell the boys I bought 2 cupcakes for the 4 of them to split, and won’t we all just sing Kumbaya over that.

And that was a good plan. So that’s what I did. And everyone was happy. Not Kumbaya happy, but happy.

Everyone was happy but me.

Because 2 cupcakes.

If someone else in the house had swallowed 2 cupcakes in quick succession, there would have been 20 minutes of mania, his metabolism would have run at its typical Usain Bolt speed, and then he’d chill out and we’d sing Kumbaya.

But my husband didn’t double-fist the cupcakes.

I did.

I thought and thought and thought about the cupcakes. Not because they were delicious. Because I’m a lot of things, but I’m not the girl who stands at her counter and eats 1 cupcake after another while she sympathizes with a cat she calls Girly Girl.

I thought, This is how it starts.

This is the beginning of a road I don’t want to go down.

A road that starts with two cupcakes…

…and it ends with Bob Harper.

And if there’s one thing on this earth more delicious than cupcakes, it’s Bob Harper.

So I thought about meeting Bob, and what our conversation would sound like.

Bob and I would be alone. With like 6 or 7 cameras, but mostly alone. We’d be outside the gym because Jillian would have just screamed at me to “GET OUT OF MY GYM!” And I’d be crying. Because why does she have to scream like that? Isn’t it humiliating enough that I have to be in spandex on the scale every week? Truly, Jillian, why?!

But Bob wouldn’t scream at me. He would wrap his sexy tattooed arm around me and say, “Girlfriend, tell me what’s going on.”

And I’d say, “Bob, it all started with the cupcakes.”

And he’d say, “Let’s talk about the cupcakes.”

And I’d lay my head on his shoulder, and that would send the camera people into a tizzy, and they would snap and gesticulate and mouth “cut that shit out!” and eventually I’d listen to them because my nose would start running, and if I’m leaving a trail of bodily fluids on Bob Harper, it’s not going to be snot.

I’d clear my throat and do my best not to glance at his creepy mustache. But it’s so thick and bushy I’d almost have to squint very hard so that I wouldn’t see it.

I’d look into his concerned blue eyes, and I’d say…

“Bob, I ate 2 cupcakes because…

I was hungry. And I had PMS. Also, They were from The Brunettes Bookshop Bakery. And, Bob, They. Taste. So. Good.”

And he’d nod and say, “OK. Those are the easy reasons. Why else did you eat the cupcakes?”

And I’d say, “I felt sorry for myself that week, Bob. I had hurt my back, and yoga didn’t help. And it hurt too much to run.”

And Bob would ask, “How did you hurt your back?”

And I’d say, “I tried to bring sexy back at my kids’ Homecoming by pairing heeled boots with my skinny jeans. Pony rides, hay rides, lemon sticks, and heeled boots…makes sense, doesn’t it?

And he’d say, “It makes perfect sense. Although I’d have gone with a flannel shirt and leather skinnies.”

And I’d say, “But I can’t rock the leather skinnies like you can, Bob.”

And he’d say, “Please tell me they were ankle booties.”

And I’d be ashamed and say, “Sadly, the boots that hurt my back were soooooo 2 seasons ago.”

And he’d make a face like he’d just caught a whiff of something nasty, and say, “Ewwww. Let’s change the subject, why else did you eat the cupcakes?”

And I’d say, “Because, when I was standing at the stove with one hand massaging my aching back and the other sauteing onions for dinner, I asked my husband to set the table for dinner. And do you know where he went, Bob? He climbed up on the roof of the house!”

And he’d look confused and ask, “Was he cleaning the gutters?”

And I’d raise my eyebrows and say, “One would think that, Bob. But, no. He was dressed as a witch.”

And he’d look puzzled and ask, “Why?”

And I’d say, “Because it was close to Halloween.”

And he’d ask, “And?”

And I’d say, “And he had the camera set up, and he yelled down from the roof to our oldest son, ‘don’t touch anything! Just press the button to take a picture!’”

And again Bob would ask, “Why?”

And I’d say, “Because that’s what he does, Bob!”

And Bob’s eyes would glaze over, and he’d murmur, “Oh, I love a man who likes to dress up.”

And I’d say, “Focus, Bob. Focus. I just wanted him to set the table for dinner.”

And he’d ask, “When you met him, was he the type to set the table for dinner?”

And I’d say, “No, Bob, he was the type to do naked stair dives down the fraternity house steps. You’re glazing over again, Bob. Focus.”

And he’d say, “Girlfriend, people don’t change. The guy who does naked stair dives…and that sounds super hot…doesn’t become the guy who sets the table for dinner just because you married him.”

And I’d say, “You’re right. He becomes the man who dresses up as a witch and stands on roof of your house at the exact moment the light is right because he woke up thinking this would be a cool picture.”

And he’d ask, “Well? Was it a good picture?”

And I’d say, “It was a great picture.”

Oh, yes he did.

Oh, yes he did.

He’d add, “And I bet it was a funny story too. And isn’t that what you do? Tell funny stories?”

And I’d say, “I tell stories, Bob. Yes. They happen to be funny because I married a man who dresses up like a witch and stands on the roof because he thinks it might make a good picture.”

And he’d say, “He’s giving you good material, girlfriend.”

And I’d say, “That’s one way to look at it, Bob.”

Bob would grow serious again, and ask, “Why else did you eat the cupcakes?”

And I’d take a deep breath and answer, “I ate the cupcakes because I am 3…OK 4…months late writing thank you cards to two different families who were brave and generous enough to open their homes to my  family this summer. And I’m beside myself that I haven’t gotten my act together before this, because I don’t want either of them to think that we didn’t appreciate every single second of their hospitality. And, in this crazy age when my home phone only rings when a solicitor calls or when one of my kids is sitting in the principal’s office, a handwritten thank you note takes so little effort but carries so much impact.

And speaking of thank you notes, I still owe thank you notes to friends who cooked for me when I was navigating Target on a motorized cart last May after I rolled my ankle on the jump rope my husband ordered for us but was actually designed for The Incredible Hulk.

And he’d say “What?”

And I’d say, “Don’t ask, Bob. Just watch the video. I ate the cupcakes because I still owe thank you notes to friends who cooked for me when the boys and I had the plague right before Christmas last year when my husband thought we were faking.

I ate the cupcakes because every time I get out of my car at school, I see someone and immediately realize I never replied to her email/text/phone call. I had every intention, but it just…poof…never happened.

When I stop to think about all the friends I haven’t replied to, I feel sad because I miss Ave. When the Verb was still a baby and I was nursing around the clock, I was forced to sit down. And I would use that time to catch up with her via text. And she made every day happier for me. And I miss that friendship.

I ate the cupcakes because the six of us have missed more parties than I can count because the evite still remains unanswered…sometimes unopened…in my email.

I ate the cupcakes because every time I think I’ll have time to write, somebody gets sick, has a field trip, has a day off, or asks that I attend a meeting. Or all of the above.

Because every time someone gets sick, has a field trip, has a day off, or asks that I attend a meeting, I can’t get dinner together.

And then we eat too much pizza.

And occasionally, and don’t fucking judge me, Bob, I take the kids to McDonald’s.”

And he’d shoot me a venomous look.

And I’d say, “Don’t look at me like that, Bob. I need your support right now.  And when I occasionally…and it’s rare, Bob, OK, it’s rare…take them to McDonald’s,  the Verb blows my cover by marching into kindergarten and dictating a story about being a scarecrow who gets chicken nuggets from McDonald’s.

And then that story makes it onto the wall of the building where all the parents walk their kids into school, so they can all read about how I poison my kids and their scarecrows with McDonald’s.”

Thanks for this, Verb. Truly.

Thanks for this, Verb. Truly.

And Bob would shrug and says, ““Well, that serves you right.”

And then I would shoot him a nasty look. But he’s so cute that I couldn’t be angry at him for long.

I’d take a deep breath and say, “I ate the cupcakes because every time I go to a meeting at school, they talk less about the test scores and more about raising our children to be resilient, and it all makes sense to me.

But I have to remember to let the kids solve their own problems more than I already do.

Because every time all four of the kids are on the trampoline together, my sweet Interrogator bursts into the house choking back tears.

And more often than not, I run outside to his aid.

Because he is my heart, Bob.

But I’m not teaching him resilience when I wag my finger and tell his brothers they will rue the day they made him cry.”

By now, Bob will have forgiven my McDonald’s indiscretion, so he’d put his arm around me and say, “You’re teaching them love and kindness. There’s nothing wrong with that. They’re still so young. The resilience will come.”

I’d take another breath and say, “I ate the cupcakes because whenever I login to Facebook and see that all of my writing friends are writing, it makes me feel panicked, and all I can think is, what about lean in??  Lean the fuck in, sisters, how about some fucking solidarity? Can’t we all be prolific at the same time?”

And Bob would say, “You’ve lost me. What do you mean?”

And I’d say, “I mean, I’m sitting in the fucking parking lot at Costco for the 3rd time in 2 weeks, Bob, and I want to write! But I can’t, Bob! I CAN’T WRITE! Because they keep eating, Bob. All the people in my house keep eating. And not the cupcakes. I’ve got the cupcakes covered. They eat all the other things. All the time they eat, eat, eat. So all the times I want to write, I’m spending food shopping.”

And he’d say, “Bethany, take care of your family first, and write when you feel inspired. And be happy for your friends when they carve time out to write. Writers need to write. It’s what they do.”

And I’d say, “That makes sense, Bob.”

And I’d say, “I ate the cupcakes because things are constantly falling through the cracks. Small things. But things. Every day I’m saying, ‘Shoot, I forgot,’. And I feel like I cannot get ahead of it. I cannot get organized. And I’m trying to be organized. But I’m double-fisting cupcakes, Bob. And I just know that all of the organized people in my life are going to be sending out their Christmas cards today and I’ll feel like they’re being organized AT me, Bob. Like I’m struggling to learn the steps to the Bunny Hop, and I’ll open up the mailbox, and BAM! They’re going all Michael Jackson’s Thriller on my ass!

And I know it’s not personal, Bob. It’s organized people being organized. Getting shit done and crossing it off the list. But I’m in a 2 cupcake kinda place right now, so it makes me feel like I’m failing. It makes me feel like I’m behind. Like I cannot get my shit together. And I hate that feeling, Bob.”

And he’d say, “That sounds like a lot of reasons to eat two cupcakes.”

And I’d say, “Hang on, Bob, I’m not finished yet. No one has ever accused me of being succinct.

I ate the cupcakes because here comes Christmas, and how the donkey hell are we going to pay for that?”

And he’d say, “Well, you’re the one who had 4 kids.”

And I’d say, “I know that, Bob. I married the guy who did naked stair dives down the fraternity house steps. We didn’t exactly think it through.

I ate the cupcakes because this is the year we sit down with the Kenyan and explain that the gifts that accompany Christmas are not exactly the handiwork of elves who work for a jolly man in a red suit…and with that simple explanation, we will extinguish some of the greatest mystery and magic of his childhood, and he will grow up just the tiniest bit in that moment. And it will happen right before our eyes. And he is perfect in all of his belief and innocence just the way he is, and I dread that I’ll be responsible for delivering the news that will lessen the wonder in his blue eyes.”

And then I’ll really be crying. The ugly cry. Because believe me when I say the Kenyan is one of the brightest lights in my life.

I’ll wipe my swollen, tear-streaked face on my Biggest Loser tee shirt, and say, “I ate the cupcakes because it’s another year of hanging stockings that don’t have airline tickets to Arizona in them. Because, as much as we’d love to see Little Sister over spring break, it costs 2 mortgage payments to fly the 6 of us back and forth across the country that particular week. And we aren’t in a position to do that.

I ate the cupcakes because 12 year olds suck. We just got out of diapers in my house! Everyone can swim! They all sleep through the night, and just when I think it’s going to be all the awesome stuff parenting is supposed to be, I have a 12 year old in the house. And most of the time it just sucks!

It’s brooding and a fuzzy upper lip and irritation at my existence that radiates from every pore of his hormonal body.

It’s stealing glances at him and my breath catching because I see glimpses of the man he’s growing into.

It’s listening to him and losing my shit because WHAT IS WITH THIS ATTITUDE?

It’s wanting to fast forward through this stage with him while simultaneously wanting to slam on the brakes because the next time he is nice to me, I’ll know he is being nice to cover up the fact that…like a typical fucking jackass teenager…he just snap chatted a picture of his naked torso to a girl I haven’t met.”

And Bob will ask, “What’s snap chat?”

And I’ll say, “Here, let’s have a tutorial. You take a naked picture of yourself, then you snap chat it to me, and it disappears in 10 seconds. And I would NEVER take a screen shot to look at every single day for the rest of my life, so don’t even sweat that. Never. I promise. Never.”

And he’ll say, “I practice yoga naked, so I’ll do it then.”

And I’ll say, “That’s perfect, Bob. Just perfect.”

And he’ll say, “Focus, Bethany.”

And I’ll say, “I ate the cupcakes because every time I walk into the dentist with my youngest son, they ask, ‘how did your son lose his tooth at such a young age?’ And I shrug, smile, and answer, ‘I don’t know. He’s the youngest of 4 boys.’ And that’s the truth, but they always continue to look at me like that’s not an answer. And I’m like, ‘We have a trampoline. And 4 boys. They are all boys. And they bounce. And they wrestle. Boys!’

And I feel judged. And I know they’re in the business of teeth, and my son is missing a tooth. But I’m his Mom. And I am in the business of putting my body, my dreams, my heart, my spirit, my entire existence into providing love, consistency, and a safe place for him and his brothers. And I don’t fucking know what happened to his tooth! I have 4 boys! And a trampoline! And 4 fucking boys! It’s yet another thing that slipped through the cracks, Bob. And, really, I just want the crowd at the dentist to say, ‘Damn, he looks cute without that front tooth.’ Is that too much to ask, Bob?”

And Bob would say, “I saw his picture, and I think he looks adorable without that front tooth.”

And I’d say, “Thank you, Bob. I knew I could count on you. I ate the cupcakes because my family just got kicked in the gut with a life-changing diagnosis, and not the kind that changes anyone’s life for the better. The kind where everyone cries. And expectations are shifted. And dreams are shattered.

I ate the cupcakes because I wrote some stuff. And so far nobody wants it. And I feel vulnerable. And what if maybe nobody ever wants it? That makes me feel gross and icky and uncomfortable. And like Michael Schaefer still doesn’t know I exist even though I loved him from afar for every. single. day. of grade school.”

And Bob would look at me, and say, “Just because Michael Schaefer didn’t acknowledge you doesn’t mean you’re not worth acknowledging. And just because nobody wants what you wrote yet doesn’t mean no one will ever want it. There’s a teaching opportunity here.”

And I’d say, “I know, Bob. Resilience. Re-mutha-fucking-silience. But it doesn’t sting any less.”

And I’d put my head on his shoulder again because he is basically not even gay at this point, and it feels like we are practically a couple.

And he’d whisper into my hair, “So, what are you going to do?”

And that’s when I’d seal the deal with my yoga talk. Because I know Bob loves yoga as much as he loves tattoos. And I love yoga almost as much as I love Bob.

I’d say, “You know, Bob, I was practicing yoga the other day, and my instructor said something that stuck with me. She said, ‘criticism is just noise.’”

And Bob would lift his leg and lay it over mine, and he’d say, “I love that.”

And I’d say, “I love it too. I’m criticizing myself, Bob. It’s too much noise. Too frequently.

I feel overwhelmed, Bob. And I’m allowing it to get in the way of all that’s good in my life.

I have a house that’s full. Full of life. And all the good and the bad that comes with it.

I have too much good in my life and I am too many things to too many people to allow all this noise.

So no more cupcakes for me, Bob.

I want to sing Kumbaya.”

And Bob would say, “Bethany, I’ve never said this to a woman, but I’d put my crotch-less leather chaps on for you any day of the week. And twice on Sundays, cowgirl.”

And I’d say, “Oh, Bob, I’d love to yoga you so hard that creepy mustache of yours falls right the fuck off.

But I’m in love with the witch standing on my roof.

Don’t look so sad.

If you’re ever in Philadelphia, let’s take a yoga class together.

And we can do all the partner handstands your heart desires.”

So I feel much better after my talk with Bob.

Even if it was just in my head.

All that. Because of two cupcakes.

 

They Call me The Gatekeeper

Parenting is a tricky bastard. It moves. It shifts. It misleads. As soon as you feel you’ve got a firm grasp on it, it turns to dust in your hands, blowing right through your over-confident fingers.

It leaves you frazzled. Wishing for a do-over. It makes a fool of you.

I have been a parent for only 12 years. Yet I recognize it for the nimble minx that it is.

When I think about the kind of parent I want to be, I picture a scene from a movie. Like Diane Keaton in The Family Stone. As loving as she is loved. Filled with compassion and joy. She radiates in the company of her husband and children.The dinner table scene? It gets me. Every. Time. It. Gets. Me.

But life isn’t like a movie. The dinner table at my house is more like a scene from Animal House than The Family Stone. There’s nothing romantic about a family dinner. Real life is a bunch of rowdy kids around a table making fart noises in their armpits. They say things like, “your meatloaf is disgusting,” and, “When’s Dad going to be home, he’s more fun than you,” and “I never remember what happened at school, who do you always ask,” and “I hate everyday Math”.

Oh…wait, that last statement was mine.

Have you ever seen Bridesmaids? Remember the part when Rita talks about her 3 boys?

Well, we’re almost there. Actually, we may even be there, but I may be a little bit in denial. The disgusting part has arrived, uninvited, on my doorstep. The scent that filled my home and defined my first decade of parenting is now gone.

Not a trace of baby powder left.

Armpits whizzing past me smell like hoagies.

Sneakers left by the front door stink like roadkill that has been left to bake in the sun for days.

Showers are taking FOR.EV.ER.

When I pick through the piles of dirty laundry to locate and wash the totally overpriced and quite frankly butt-ugly Nike Elite socks that are all the rage among middle school boys, I find washcloths. Oy. Doth my nose detect a waft of shampoo when the boys emerge from the shower? It does not. I don’t want to know what’s happening in there. I don’t need to know what’s happening in there. That’s why God put doors on bathrooms. To keep some mystery in the house. If my boys could be a little less European about how frequently they shampoo, I’d be super jazzed.

I’m saying things I never thought I’d have to say aloud. Things like, “I think it’s a bad idea to be naked in the same room with the cat.”

And, “Please remove your nose from your brother’s butt cheeks. You’ll smell that fart soon enough.”

And, “Dancing on the breakfast table naked sure looks like fun. But swinging your man jewels around like that is considered inappropriate in most circles. Also, I don’t really want your penis near my avocado smoothie.”

Did you grow up watching The Cosby Show? Remember when Heathcliff Huxtable would threaten his kids, “I brought you into this world, and I’ll take you out”?

And your parents would laugh, and you’d think, “I don’t get it. Mom and Dad are laughing. I’m supposed to be laughing, so I’ll laugh, but I don’t get it.”

We’re officially there. And, son of a bitch four times over, I get it.

Indeed. I get it.

There are no prize-winning scripts in parenting. It’s just you, your children, and the great unexpected.

What will they do?

And what, pray tell, will you say in reply?

Just last week, I sat across the dinner table from Waldorf and said things to him I never imagined I’d say to my child.

“Listen to me, and listen to me good,” I hissed, jabbing my finger in his direction to hammer my point home.

“You are acting like a colossal dick. Your attitude is crap. You had better turn it around, or when your father gets home from work, he will fucking JACK you.”

Say what? Jack you? Like car jack you? And how big is the difference between acting like a regular dick and acting like a colossal dick? Is it measurable?

But I was on a roll. And there’s no stopping Mom when she’s on a roll…

“Look at my face,” I said. “I am The Gatekeeper. Every decision that is made in this house must come through me. If you don’t change your attitude immediately, I will remove everything fun from your life. I can do that. Because I am The Gatekeeper. And I control all the things. The fun things. And the not fun things…all the things. I control them all…”

In all of the Hollywood inspired visions I’ve had of myself as a mother, I never once fantasized about cursing my oldest son out. Or threatening him physically on behalf of my husband. And I especially didn’t picture myself reaching into the depths of 1984 to channel a character played in Ghostbusters.

Does Diane Keaton do that? No she does not.

Apparently, I do.

I’m a little worried about this new phase of parenting we’re entering in my house.

We haven’t even hit driving yet.

Or sexting.

Or driving while sexting.

One thing is for sure. This parenting gig is hard. It’s nothing like the way they portray it in the movies.

I know this. Because…

I’m just a girl.

Standing in front of four boys.

Asking them to pee with some precision.

The Case of the Missing Nipple

caseofthemissingnipple

Verb: “What if I shoot a stranger with a bone arrow?”

Me: “That’s not nice.”

Verb: “No, Mom, a bad stranger. A bad stranger who is trying to take me. What if I shoot him in the eye with a bone arrow?”

Interrogator: “Well, that would hurt. And he probably wouldn’t be able to see.”

Me: “How about we change the subject?”

Verb: “OK, if a stranger tries to take me, I will hit him and kick him.”

Me: “And you can bite him. And scream. But only if a stranger tries to take you. Otherwise, no hitting, kicking, biting, screaming.”

Verb: “Or bone arrows.”

Me: “Right.”

Interrogator: “What if somebody shot a stranger who was trying to take you?”

Verb: “Like who? Like our grandfather?”

Me: “Guess what? My grandfather was shot.”

Chorus: “What?”

Me: “My grandfather was shot.”

Interrogator: “Your grandfather got a shot?”

Me: “No, my grandfather was shot.”

Interrogator: “Shocked?”

Me: “SHOT. He was SHOT. With a gun!”

Interrogator: “He was shot with a gun?”

Kenyan: “Who would do that?”

Verb: “A bad guy.”

Me: “He was in the war.”

Interrogator: “What war?”

Me: “World War II. The one against Adolf Hitler.”

Waldorf: “Adolf? That’s a ridiculous name.”

Me: “Well, he was a ridiculous man. Not in a good way.”

Interrogator: “Who gave him a shot?”

Waldorf: “No one gave him a shot, for crying out loud! He was shot! Pow pow pow!”

Interrogator: “So, did he die?”

Me: “He did. But not from getting shot.”

Verb: “He got shot to death and he lived?”

Me: “No. He got shot. And someone removed the bullet. And he lived. Then, when he was old, he died.”

Waldorf: “Oh, wait a minute, this is your grandfather who lost his nipple, right?”

Me: “Right.”

Kenyan: “He lost his what?”

Me: “His nipple.”

Verb, to Interrogator: “Hahahaha! She said ‘nipple’!”

Me: “I said nipple, yes. Nipple, nipple, nipple. My grandfather was shot. And he lost his nipple. It’s not funny.”

Interrogator: “Did the bullet shoot his nipple off?”

Me: “No. The bullet went into his chest. After the bullet was removed, they sewed my Pop back together and he only had one nipple left after he came out of surgery.”

Interrogator: “Well, what did they do with the other one?”

Me: “I don’t know.”

Interrogator: “Well, where did it go?”

Me: “Maybe it was inside out. I don’t know.”

Verb: “An inside out nipple is just weird.”

Me: “Well, anyway, he was a soldier. And he was very brave. And he got shot. Then he came home, and soon after, Lolly was born.”

Kenyan: ‘Was he older than Dad?”

Interrogator: “Whose Dad?”

Kenyan: “Your Dad.”

Interrogator: “My Dad? My Dad is your Dad.”

Kenyan: “I know!”

Interrogator: “You mean our Dad?”

Waldorf: “Yes! For crying out loud! I can’t stand this anymore!”

Kenyan: “So? Was your grandfather older than our Dad?”

Me: “Obviously he was older than Dad. Dad hadn’t even been born yet.”

Kenyan: “I mean when he was shot!”

Interrogator: “Who was shot?”

Kenyan: “Interrogator!”

Waldorf: “OH MY GOD! CAN EVERYBODY PLEASE BE QUIET!”

Interrogator: “We’re still talking about this? Why is everyone screaming in this car?”

Kenyan: “Unfortunately, yes. We are still talking about it.”

Me: “My grandfather, at the time he was shot, was younger than your Dad is now.”

Verb: “And then he died?”

Me: “Well, not right then. He lived first. Then, he died. When he was old.”

Interrogator: “And he didn’t have a nipple.”

Me: “Right.”

Interrogator: “I hope he shot that bad guy back.”

Verb: “With a bone arrow.”

Interrogator: “In the eye.”

*****

This is Childhood continues this week with Amanda Magee’s dazzling tribute to Eight. Amanda is an amazing talent. Please read her here.

The Irony is Everywhere

ironyiseverywhere

“So, can I have a Facebook account?”

I look at Waldorf and immediately laugh in response to his question, “Haha! No.”

“Why not?”

“It’s illegal for you to have a Facebook account. You’re only 11 years old.”

“Oh,” he digests this information.

“And Facebook is my territory,” I add.

“Oh, don’t worry. I don’t want to read what you write,” he says with a smile.

Indeed you do not. You’d be none too pleased.

“OK, can I have a Twitter account?” he asks.

“No again.”

“Why not?”

“It’s also illegal for you to have a Twitter account at 11 years old. Plus, the internet is full of strangers. Dad and I don’t want you connecting with strangers online. It’s dangerous.”

***

I stand in the back of the school auditorium. Grinning and clapping my hands. Homa Tavangar, author of Growing Up Global, has just finished speaking to a group of girls at my kids’ school.

As the students file out of the auditorium, I head toward the stage, my copy of Growing Up Global in hand, eager to meet Homa in person. Hoping she’ll sign my book.

I’ve seen her picture and know her writing voice. She’s seen my picture and knows my writing voice as well. But this is the first time we’ve been in the same room together.

I smile broadly, and her grin mirrors mine. “It’s so nice to finally meet you in person!” we say simultaneously.

She is warm and engaging. She’ll be back at school to introduce the screening of 10×10’s Girl Rising on March 13th. We speak briefly about the film, and she signs my book.

How do I know Homa? We follow each other on Twitter. And we’ve shared a handful of emails.

Essentially, we are two strangers.

Who connected online.

It’s ironic, isn’t it?

***************

“Kenyan, did you start your science project yet?”

“No.”

“Well, it’s due in 2 weeks. Maybe now is a good time to start.”

“OK.”

“What are you going to invent?” I ask. “Something you need in your everyday life that we don’t have?”

“Yes.”

“OK. So what do you need that we don’t have?”

He considers my question. “A pool. So I can swim.”

“Hmm. Not really an invention.”

“A TV in my room?” he suggests.

I shake my head, “This isn’t a wish list, Kenyan. It’s problem solving. Identifying a need and coming up with a solution.”

His eyes light up, “Well, I forget to take my medicine sometimes. Maybe I’ll invent something to help me remember.”

“Good thinking.”

“And I forget to floss,” he continues.

“OK.”

“Hey! Maybe I’ll build a super toothbrush holder that can hold my medicine on one side and my floss on the other side! Because I always remember to brush my teeth!”

“Bingo! Get to it!”

“I’m going to call it The Remind-O-Tron.”

“It’s catchy, Kenyan. And how can you forget the Remind-O-Tron, right?”

***
Ding.

I look down at my phone to read the text I’ve just received. It’s from a Mom from school. A friend.

“Hey, the Kenyan told me he left his science experiment at home. Want me to come pick it up?”

SON OF A BITCH.

“No. Thank you for offering. I’ll bring it to him.”

I text B&B,

“The Kenyan left The Remind-O-Tron at home.”

“Oh no. You mean he FORGOT The Remind-O-Tron?”

“Yes. That’s what I mean.”

And no. The irony is not lost on me.

*******************

In my sternest voice, I tell them, “Boys, we are at the dinner table. Haven’t I made it clear that the place to talk about pee and poop and butts and penises is in the bathroom? Please stop the potty talk at the dinner table.”

“Sorry, Mom,” comes the chorus from around the table.

“Can I just say one thing?” the Interrogator asks earnestly.

“Yes, Interrogator. You may.”

“FART!!!!!!”

The entire table, B&B included, erupts in laughter. The Interrogator breaks into his 6 year old smile. The one with the adorable dimples and the gap where his two front teeth used to be. Unable to help himself, and thrilled with his brothers’ laughter, he throws his head back and yells again, “FFFFFFAAAAAAARRRRRRRTTTTTT!”

***

“So boys, Mommy has something very exciting to tell you!”

The Interrogator and the Verb look up at me from across the dinner table. We’re not eating yet. They are too busy scratching the table up with their Lego figurines, who are engaged in battle.

“Did you get us a new Lego set?” the Verb asks in his husky voice.

“Did you get us our own iPad’s?” the Interrogator inquires.

“No. And no. You know how Mommy writes stories sometimes?”

“I thought that was email,” chimes the little one.

“I thought that was texting,” says the big one.

“It’s not email. Or texting. Well, sometimes it is. But Mommy likes to write stories.”

“About us?”

“Sometimes, yes.”

“Do you make me a red power ranger in your stories?” the Verb wonders.

“Am I Captain America in your stories?” the Interrogator demands.

“No. And no. They’re just funny stories. Anyway, Mommy wrote a story and it’s going to be published in a real book!”

“What’s the name of your book, Mom?”

“The title is I Just Want to Pee Alone.”

The Interrogator heaves with laughter and slaps his palm against the table, scattering the Legos. The Verb laughs that laugh B&B loves the most. The one where he sounds just like Snoopy from Charlie Brown.

“Ha hahahahahahaha! Ahhhhh hahahahahahahaha!”

“You did potty talk at the dinner table, Mom. Pee is potty talk. No dessert for you.”

“Ah hahahahahaha!”

The irony is indeed everywhere.

But I’m too excited to care. Jen of People I Want to Punch in the Throat has compiled an anthology of hilarious stories by female bloggers, and I’m thrilled that I’m among them.

What did I write about? Well, you’ll just have to buy it and read for yourself.

I Just Want to Pee Alone

Don’t you too? Available this spring.

********************
Our This is Childhood Series continues with Tracy of Sellabitmum talking about how different age 7 has looked on two of her three daughters. Tracy is a Minnesota Mom whose blog is one of my favorites. Her pictures are stunning, and her reflections on age 7 moved me to tears. Please read her here.

This is Childhood, ages 8, 9, and 10 continues for the next three weeks when the talented Amanda MageeDenise Ullem, and Lindsey Mead take on those years.

In Lieu of a Bundle of Cash and a Vat of Alcohol…

inlieuof

I couldn’t get through What Six Looks Like. I had to stop. Not stop, wipe my eyes, regroup, and revisit. Just plain stop. I’m intimately aware of what six looks like. Particularly this week as I’ve smeared Vicks vapo-rub on his feverish chest and whispered, “I’ll come in the night if you call me, sweet boy”. I know how his breathing sounds when it stops because his nose is so stuffed that he can’t suck his thumb so he’s forced to breathe through his mouth. Which he hates. I know what six sounds like when he asks me in the most hopeful tone he can muster with a throat so raw as his, “Mom, will I feel better by tonight?”

I had to stop reading that beautifully heart-wrenching piece for self preservation. For fear I’d visualize the six year old who has a vise-like grip on my heart in that classroom with the other 20 babies.

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. That’s what the song says, right? It feels less than wonderful this week. Our nation feels the burden of the loss of 26 unique human beings who bounded into school on Friday with roughly an hour to spare before each of their lives was cut short…painfully, tragically, senselessly ended.

I feel it. Everywhere. Tears soaked my sweatshirt as I listened to the President say each of their names during his speech. And then again when I watched the candlelit tribute on The Voice.  Little Sister texts me from across the country with her heartbreak. I can’t login to Facebook without seeing pictures of the teachers, surviving and dead, heroes who took bullets to protect their students and survivors who locked their students in closets for protection. I see the weight of Friday’s tragedy in the lines of our school teachers’ faces. The way a fireman loses a brother to a fire…so these teachers have lost fellow educators to this shooting.

Winter break sneaks up on me every year. This year is no exception. The teachers in my boys’ lives deserve a bundle of cash and a vat of alcohol.  I have neither. But I have a half decent memory. And I was raised by two people who taught me, by example, the value of positive reinforcement.  And that sometimes it’s the expression of gratitude itself that, when it comes from a genuine place, is simply and gloriously enough.

While it’s specific to my kids’ school, I hope that the sentiment is broad enough that it resonates beyond that.

So, this is what I wrote to the educators who, every day, make a difference in my kids’ lives…

****

B&B says one of the greatest gifts I give him is the ability not to worry when he leaves the house. He knows our boys are in competent hands. He’s confident they’ll be loved, reasoned with, read to, disciplined, taught…made my first priority.

When it came time for us to choose a school for our boys, we hoped we’d find an extension of our home.  A place we could leave our boys, in competent hands, with the ability not to worry once we left campus.

Here is what we’ve found…

It’s the technology coordinator celebrating how much Waldorf loves computers and giving him the latitude to experiment during her Fabulous Fridays.

It’s the Admissions Coordinator always reaching out to say hi, even when she is in the midst of meeting a new family for the very first time.

It’s the Chair of Engineering and Robotics giving his time and patience to expand that program to our youngest boys. It’s his allowing the Kenyan to bring his cousin from Arizona into robotics class when he visited last Thanksgiving.

It’s the new kindergarten teacher’s infectious grin and inherent happiness that make me wish I could bottle her energy and do a shot of it every morning.

It’s the Interrogator’s and the Verb’s music teacher teaching the youngest boys to sing “Here in my House”, which, no matter how many times I hear it, makes me cry. Every. Single. Time.

It’s the Kenyan’s music teacher getting an active group of 2nd and 3rd graders to stand fidget-free and sing with unabashed innocence every December and May.  And choosing a score of music that does not put his audience to sleep.

It’s seeing Waldorf’s kindergarten assistant…five years later…in the back pew of the chapel during that chorus performance. It’s the warm hug she offers and the ease with which we settle into conversation.

It’s the chair of the music department working countless hours with boy choir to take my breath away when I sit in the church pew on a Sunday afternoon in December and marvel as our oldest, most private son sings holiday songs in English, French, and Hebrew. It’s his grace and professionalism in the face of a nasty stomach bug that had his students leaving the stage in the midst of their beautiful performance.

It was Waldorf’s First Grade Teacher inviting me into the First Grade classroom every month the year the Verb was born so her students could make predictions about how much Waldorf’s newest baby brother had grown since the last time they’d seen him.

It’s the connection those boys, now fifth graders, still feel to the Verb because he was their “First Grade Baby”.

It’s Mrs.G. pulling the Interrogator’s first tooth when he wouldn’t let me do it.

It’s the head of school responding to every one of our many e-mails over the years. And always with warmth and wit.

It’s the principal prefacing his phone calls to me with, “Everyone is fine,” knowing I fully expect one of those calls to be news of a broken bone. It’s his ability to take into consideration how young the Verb is when he’s called to inform me that the Verb has bit someone. On the rump.

It’s the assistant to the head of school’s open door. It’s the way she lights up and beckons us in every time we walk past. Truly a friend who wants to catch up.

It’s the athletic director putting sticks in the hands of first graders hoping to grow our lacrosse program from the bottom up.

It’s the first grade assistant, pulling me aside to tell me how much fun Waldorf makes Math Enrichment.

It’s the male art teacher and the magical way he has with our boys to make Art a subject to which they look more forward than PE.

It’s the female art teacher keeping Art just as fun and expressive as her male counterpart does.

It’s the lead security officer, who we miss seeing directing traffic every morning and afternoon, wearing his Phillies hat.

It’s Coach calling the boys “knuckle heads” and “dopey dopes” in PE, and our allowing it because…well, because it’s Coach.

It was the science teacher telling me how much the Kenyan had matured in the years she’d taught him. It was standing on the sidewalk outside the science building and her reaching out to touch the Verb’s cheek and tell him how sorry she was that she’d never have him in her science classroom because she was retiring.

It’s the morning and afternoon receptionists knowing our boys. It’s their smiles every time we walk through the front doors.

It’s the very tall PE teacher’s wondrous way of turning a booming voice into a gentle one for our kindergarten boys.

It’s the lower school librarian’s ability to steer the Kenyan toward books out of which we’re unable to get his freckled nose.

It’s the director of library services expecting that this house is one that would indeed devour library books…swallow them whole, never to be seen or heard from again. It is her laughter when I celebrate that, in 7 years’ time, we’ve been able to locate every single library book.  Every. Single. One.

It’s the pre-k assistant telling me that the Interrogator and the Verb slump against each other, relaxing and sucking their thumbs, while she reads and sings to them for the last 15 minutes of their day. It’s the smile I feel, starting in my heart, when I visualize my sons at the end of their long day finding comfort in each other.

It’s the director of the outdoor program and the amazing trips he facilitates. It’s the opportunity we have in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades to spend coveted one-on-one time with our sons during these trips. It’s the confidence our boys feel, beginning in 5th grade, when they arrive home after having been away for several days without their parents.

It’s the school nurse telling me she needs me to fill out papers, then realizing I’m not that Mom of three boys…I’m that Mom of four boys. It’s her telling me she gets a kick out of each of my four boys.

It’s the energy that the admissions team brings to their department. It’s my ambushing one in her office and stalking another on the way to his car in order to dish about a potential 7th grade boy who would be such a great fit.

It’s Waldorf’s 3rd grade homeroom teacher understanding that all we wanted in 3rd grade was for him to learn to exercise his inner monologue. It’s my telling her we were hoping for one more magical Christmas with four believers, and her agreeing to keep her ears open to see what the word was with those 3rd grade boys.

It’s the practice that 3rd grade teacher’s male counterpart had of asking the boys a math question before allowing entry into his classroom.

It was the Interrogator’s kindergarten teacher telling me, “The Interrogator is my guy. He is my sweet, sweet guy.” And my Mama’s heart feeling the tug, tug, tug of knowing my earnest little boy was understood and loved by this dear teacher.

It’s the Kenyan’s kindergarten teacher, four years ago, telling me, “The Kenyan would be a superstar if you give him that extra year”. It’s that same teacher, who now has the Interrogator in his 2nd year of kindergarten, shaking hands with him, catching his eye and saying, “You’re such a good guy.” It’s her telling us that, when he looks at her, it’s like he sees right into her soul, which is one of the things we love most about him. It’s her turning a blind eye to the fact that I often pack him a grape jelly sandwich on white bread…because hers is a peanut-free classroom, and she knows I am simply out of ideas.

It’s Waldorf’s 4th grade teacher’s broad grin and contagious laughter whenever we sat down for a parent teacher conference. It’s the hug she has for me whenever I see her…even though I have no one under her tutelage this year.

It’s her 4th grade counterpart’s quiet way of getting more from our boys. It was her understanding that Waldorf needed to exercise his language arts muscle because writing doesn’t come as easy as numbers do to him.

It’s the one teacher to have the Kenyan in her class three times starting every conference with a smile on her face and the statements, “I love your boy. He needs to move.” It was her willingness to work with us because she understood my hesitance to start him on medication.

It’s the Kenyan’ first grade teacher’s ability to embrace those quirky things about our boys that irritate us the most. Like the Kenyan’s need to move.

It’s the Kenyan’s current teacher, his 3rd grade teacher, in the midst of his monkey sound effects, having the presence and good humor to comment, “you know those sound effects are really good”! It’s her appreciating his wit and partnering with us to build his confidence.

It’s the pre-k teacher. The only teacher to have taught all four of our boys. The teacher who texted me a video while I was Christmas shopping in Target of the Verb telling me he’d lost his first tooth. It’s her refraining from judgment because 4 years old is too young to lose a tooth…clearly this is the the youngest child who’s received repeated poundings on the living room floor and elbows on the trampoline. It’s her taking my Verb by the hand and walking him through school so he could visit the classrooms of his three older brothers to announce, “Look, guys, I lost my first tooth!”

It’s the texts I received after that pre-k teacher took the Verb to those classrooms from parents whose boys have no younger brothers, but experienced the warmth of that brotherly celebration when he visited their classrooms with his big news.

It’s the assistant to the principal giving the Verb a dollar when he lost that tooth. Which really helped because I only had four dollars in my wallet that night, so I was able to pass it off as the fifth and final dollar from the tooth fairy.

It’s the memories of the two PE teachers who’ve died. And the way they inspired school spirit and teamwork in our boys during their youngest years. It’s in the way their memory still lives on with the boys…in the way the Kenyan yells at the Verb if he climbs on the Mr. P.’s memorial stone and in the way Waldorf understands that the principal greets the boys on the circle every morning because he’s carrying on Mr. C’s legacy.

It’s the school psychologist, who is always available to me. How do we tell Waldorf the truth about Santa Claus? What shall we tell him about sex? What does he need to know about Jerry Sandusky? Should we tell him about the Aurora shooting? It’s her willingness to discuss it with me, the insight she offers, and the confidence I feel after hanging up that I have the value of her sage advice ringing in my ears as we navigate these firsts of parenting with our oldest son.

It’s Waldorf’s current teacher, his 5th grade teacher, understanding that we’re content with his desire to be the class clown, so long as he considers his friends’ feelings. It’s her reassuring us that he doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.

It’s her 5th grade counterpart stopping me in the hallway and placing her hand over her heart while she thanks me for the gift of my oldest son in her classroom. It’s my inability to speak because I remember when this beautiful, statuesque woman was a four year old with pigtails and knee socks…and I think how nice it would be if I could thank her Mom and Dad for the gift of their daughter to our sons.

It’s the kindness and sense of community from the parents. The fact that I’ve been home sick with at least one of my boys for five long days. And, in that time, I’ve had matzoh ball soup placed on my doorstep from a school friend of 7 years and chicken soup delivered from a school friend of 4 months. It’s in the way we take care of one another.

In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, as my gaze falls repeatedly on my six year old son, whose bright blue eyes are full of wonder, trust, and laughter…a boy too big for me to carry, yet still small enough to snuggle on my lap…I think about what each of you has meant to our sons. School is truly their home away from home. Thanks to each and every one of you for knowing and loving our boys. For weaving yourselves into the fabrics of each of their stories.

We hoped for a school that would be an extension of our home.

It feels like we’ve chosen brilliantly.

Sending Our Love for the Happiest of Holidays,
XOXOXO