On How Not to Disappear

I had a funny post lined up for today. But my heart has been on my yoga mat since Monday morning. I wrote this letter to my yoga instructor on Monday night, and I keep coming back to it…feeling like it’s a post.

Ang,

What’s the easiest thing for you to do once you’re a Mom?

Disappear.

I woke up this morning before 6. My husband had already left for work for the day.

I tiptoed downstairs and packed the kids’ snacks and lunches. I laid out their uniforms for school.

I woke each of them with gentle kisses and a quiet voice because loud, impatient voices put me on edge.

By the time they got to the table, each boys’ favorite breakfast was sitting at his spot.

I helped my 4 year old pull his shirt over his head, but only a little bit, because he likes to do it all by himself.

I told my 7 year old I was proud of him because he got himself dressed without needing any reminders.

I remembered to put my 9 year old’s medicine next to his plate.

When my 11 year old followed me into the laundry room, I listened to him complain quietly about his 9 year old brother and, instead of reprimanding him for complaining about his brother, I applauded his discretion and reminded me he can always come to me to vent.

I realized I had done everyone’s laundry but mine. So I strung together a multitude of curses as I picked through my clothes to find some pants for yoga. I whispered the curses instead of saying them aloud.

I drove the boys to school and could barely concentrate over the sound of my 4 year old screaming that he wanted me to “TURN AROUND AND GO HOME! I NEED MY WOOBIE SO I CAN SUCK MY THUMB!”  I did not drive home to get his blanket. I did not scream at him. I did not bang my head repeatedly against the steering wheel in protest…but I wanted to.

Instead I dried his tears. And I carried that 4 year old boy into school. For lots of reasons. But mostly because he asked me to.  And because I still can.

I drove 30 minutes out of my way to go to Costco so that I could buy 10 lbs of chicken. Who buys 10 lbs of chicken?  I did today. Because my 11 year old competes in Reading Olympics, and tomorrow it’s our turn to provide lunch for 15 fifth grade boys. He is obsessed with buffalo wings at the moment. But wings don’t travel well. So, I told him I’d make buffalo chicken sandwiches. I’ll be shredding that shit forever. It’s a bunch of work. But I’m doing this for my 11 year old because this is his love language. He isn’t overly affectionate. He’s guarded. But, it will make him feel loved and proud when he shares his favorite meal with his friends.

I swung by the pediatrician’s office to pick up my 9 year old’s prescription refill. I made an appointment for him to be weighed because this medication is an appetite suppressant. I had a fleeting moment of sadness that my beautiful child has inherited an attention disorder. And that the changes in diet and the behavioral modifications weren’t the answers. Then I remembered what an attention disorder looks like for an adult who isn’t medicated. It looks like more work than you ever thought you’d have to give to your marriage, to your job, to your friendships…and still coming up short. It looks like a lifetime of regrets. It looks like severe depression. Then I felt better about giving my son that medicine. Because we are giving him a chance at a better outcome than that. And my boy deserves that chance. Doesn’t everyone?

I dropped that prescription off at the pharmacy.

I rolled my windows down as I drove because today was a glorious day and I wanted to experience every ounce of its glory. My papers flew all over the minivan…the 9 year old minivan that is making an alarming humming noise but has to last us for 1 more year…but I didn’t care. I kept the windows down anyway. And I turned the radio up. And I sang.

I showered quickly, then cleaned and sliced 7 lbs of strawberries. Also for Reading Olympics. These boys eat like fucking kings.

I grabbed 4 water bottles, a vat of Goldfish, 3 lacrosse sticks, a frisbee, a basketball, and a football. I threw them all into the car and drove to pick up the kids from school.

My 9 year old had robotics class after school, but he forgot. When I reminded him, he got tears in his eyes and was disappointed that he’d forgotten…and worried that he’d miss something. I put my arm around him, and reassured my sensitive boy that the class hadn’t started yet. I took my 7 year old’s hand and pointed my 9 year old to his robotics teacher.

I hung by the monkey bars while my 7 year old showed me for the very first time that he is strong enough and brave enough to navigate them. Nothing comes naturally for him except for his smile. He has to work harder than all of his brothers. It makes me worry more about him. But it makes me love him with a ferocity that I reserve only for him. When he showed me that he could climb across those monkey bars, I wanted to cry. I wanted to jump up and down and lift him up and scream to everyone there, “do you know how hard he has worked for this? Do you know about his low muscle tone? And the occupational and physical therapy he’s endured to get to this point?” But I didn’t. I choked back my tears. I opened my arms. He flashed me that smile, then he leaned into my embrace. I whispered, “I’m proud of how hard you worked to climb across those monkey bars. I love to watch you climb.” I chose my words carefully because I’ve read books that suggest I should reward my kids’ effort, not their achievements.

When really I just wanted to say, “Nobody has ever loved anyone in the history of the entire world as much as I love you.”

on how not to disappear

I played tag with my 4 year old. I rolled up his pants because he was hot. I swept his hair off his head. I kissed the white scar that stood out prominently against his pink cheeks.

I let my 11 year old hang out inside school with a friend of his because he claimed it was too hot outside. It was a big deal to him that I trusted him to act responsibly, and it made me happy that he indeed acted responsibly.

I sat on a bench at the playground with a woman who is painfully shy and an absolute comedic genius. She is a dear friend. I laughed with her, and we watched our boys together, and we marveled at their friendships and their limbs growing longer, and the feel of the sun on our faces.

I collected my boys and all of their backpacks, and we drove home.

I stood at the counter to eat my dinner while I put their dinners on plates and listened to them laughing with their father. I was just distracted enough not to know what they laughed about, but tuned in just enough to appreciate the sound of their laughter.

I layered 7 lbs of chicken between two crockpots, slathered it in buffalo sauce, and topped it off with powdered ranch dressing.

I kissed each of them goodbye and drove back to their school…for the third time today…to listen to my 11 year old’s science teacher talk to the 5th grade parents about how he will approach sex education with our boys in the coming weeks. I decided I should tell my oldest son about my period…because I know this boy, and he hates to feel like he’s the last one to know something. If it comes as a surprise to him in class, he’ll be frustrated. I started to get distracted thinking about how I would explain it to him. But I caught myself and reminded myself to listen to my son’s teacher. And I’m glad I did, because I felt lucky. He talked about what a privilege it is to be a part of something so important in our boys’ lives. While he spoke, I looked around his room, and was surprised to find a snake slithering around in its cage a mere 2 feet behind my head. It freaked me out a touch, but mostly I felt lucky again. My kids dig snakes. And this is their science classroom. And there’s a snake in here. And that is sweet. And, speaking of snakes, can’t my son’s science teacher just tell them that their penises could fall off if they catch an STD? Because that’s the approach I’m considering taking with him.

I stopped at the Acme on my way home. Because I told my oldest son I’d make homemade ranch dressing to go with his buffalo chicken sandwiches. Because there is nothing like homemade ranch dressing. I threw in some green grapes as well. To go with the strawberries. Yes, for the fucking Reading Olympics.

I got home and went straight into the kitchen. I finished the dinner dishes, packed the lunches and snacks for tomorrow, and sifted the flour and cocoa for my 11 year old’s favorite cake. Because he also requested his favorite cake for dessert at tomorrow’s…wait for it…Reading Olympics. In the hopes of licking the bowl, he joined me in the kitchen while I put the cake together. I told him then about how a girl gets her period, and he told me for the millionth time how glad he is to be a boy. His 9 year old brother joined us, and he told funny stories about robotics today. He does killer impressions, and we laughed at the ones he did for us. He was particularly wound up because he too licked the bowl from the cake. The two of them made ridiculous faces at each other and laughed in a way that I remember doing with my siblings when we were kids. A way that I still do with them now. And I thought about how happy I am that my sons have one another like we have one other. And how, even though the morning started with my oldest annoyed at his brother, the night is ending with the two of them doubled over with laughter at jokes only siblings can truly appreciate.

I kissed them goodnight, shredded the chicken FOREVA, checked the cake with a toothpick, and finally sat down to write. I should be writing a piece for my blog. But I felt so compelled to write to you.

I am way behind on my blog. I had hoped to have a book chapter to my agent this week. A holy-shit-you-nailed-this-one-Bethany funny one. The laundry is piling up so much that I have to smell it to decipher the clean from the dirty. And I live with 5 guys, so that is unspeakably nasty. The Easter baskets are still sitting on the kitchen counter. There are Christmas decorations laying on the floor in my kids’ rooms, still waiting for me to walk them upstairs to the attic. My parents are coming home from FL tomorrow. They’ve been gone for 3 months, and my Mom asked me to have some things in their refrigerator for them. I owe my son’s psychologist an email. I owe my niece a birthday gift. I have to ship my nephew’s gift…2 months late…to Arizona. I owe my Mom a birthday gift…3 months late. We put our cat down last month, and I want to write a thank you note to the hospital for being so incredibly lovely to us and so gentle with him in his last hours.

I really considered not going to yoga this morning because my cup is overflowing so fucking much I can’t see straight. It’s so far beyond overflowing. It’s like a fucking geyser.

As my friend Nina says, these are first world problems.  First world problems. But my life, like most lives, isn’t without its problems.

Every minute of my day today was about someone else. Every single minute. Virtually every thought. Except for the time that I spent on my mat. I was present for my practice. I made an effort to take my warrior pose a little deeper in my front leg. And my legs are still shaky because of it. Instead of doing a regular handstand, I decided to push myself and revisit an attempt at the bad-ass one armed handstand. And my shoulder shook with the effort, but I heard your voice in my head saying, “shaking is good”, so I stuck with it.

The stress that I felt running up those stairs to class clutching a child’s navy blue golf shirt in lieu of a towel was gone by the time our class had ended.

My To Do List was just as long.

Time was moving just as quickly.

But my attitude was entirely different.

I floated through the remainder of the day with a sense of calm and thankfulness.

I still feel it now. At midnight. As I prepare to throw the remaining 3 lbs of chicken into the crockpot to cook overnight.

The people under my roof rely on me desperately. And I don’t want to let them down. I want to be available to them in whatever capacity they need me. It’s easy to forget about what’s important for me when I feel the pull of so many things they need.

What’s the easiest thing for you to do once you’re a Mom?

Disappear.

But today I didn’t get lost.

I didn’t disappear.

I didn’t forget about me.

I willingly took a break from the madness.

I felt full of gratitude today.

Because of yoga.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Ang.  For being my spiritual bartender and introducing me to this amazing practice. For holding my hand in some spots. And knowing when to let go in others.  It is exactly what I need to anchor me during this, the busiest time of my life. At a time when so much of my life is about everyone but me.

My version of leaning in. Or maybe leaning over.

My version of leaning in. Or maybe leaning over.

XO, Namaste, and all that good stuff,

Bethany

The Evolution of a Parent

 

Slap me. If I claim I’m the same parent to my fourth child that I was to my first child, please slap me.

I held my first son eleven years ago and instantly fell in love. I was intoxicated by his newborn smell. I spent days watching him sleep. I devoured the parenting books, since my plan was to be the best mother of all time. As soon as he could sit unassisted, I signed us up for Gymboree class. Before he could crawl, I enrolled us in swim class. The day he clapped, I found the perfect music class for us. We hit the library every Thursday. And I fancied myself a favorite of the librarian since I was the only parent who didn’t smuggle goldfish into storytime. I read him three books every night. I rocked him every evening in the glider, where I recounted for him every single thing we’d done that day. Right down to what he’d eaten for breakfast.

I took myself seriously. And I took my job as his parent even more seriously. The night before delivering my second baby, I stood next to his crib and whispered to my sleeping son, the boy who’d stolen my heart, “I will never ever love another boy the way that I love you.”

Imagine my surprise when baby number two was another boy, and I grew to love him sometimes more just as much! I tethered the baby to the front of me, and braved Gymboree, music, and library. For obvious reasons, swimming got the kibosh.

I continued that pattern of giving birth to babies and wearing them as an accessory while attending classes I was convinced would boost their older siblings’ IQ scores social skills until my husband finally had a vasectomy my aching back could take no more. My aching back held up long enough for us to have four kids. All of them boys.

My fourth son has seen and done things to which I’d never have exposed my first son. He’s as nimble as a monkey because he’s never been on a playground that’s age appropriate. He’s three years old and knows every Ninjago, Pokemon, and Harry Potter character. His voice is the loudest in our house because he learned early that it’s the only way I’ll hear him. I’ve taken him to storytime at the library exactly once. We may have been asked to leave.

I still take my job as their parent very seriously. But I no longer take myself seriously.

I’ve learned resourcefulness.

When the sink is full of dirty dishes, the homework hasn’t been started, the lunches still need packing, it’s bedtime for the younger two, and a new episode of Breaking Bad is about to start…I ask one of the older boys to read their brothers one short bedtime story.

When I can’t muster the energy to bathe them after we’ve spent seven solid hours at the pool, I remember that swimming in the pool (yes, even the pee-pee baby pool) is the equivalent of bathing in summertime. I gave birth to four non blondes. Nobody’s hair is at risk of turning green. It’s all good.

When my taxed bladder threatens to give out, and I’m in my minivan at Target, I’m faced with a dilemma. Schlep four boys into the ladies room (two of them are borderline too old for that, and the other two will inevitably lick the sink), or toss them Angry Birds on my iPhone while I crawl into the trunk and relieve myself in a Dunkin Donuts cup? I’m going with the cup every time. Ask my kids…they’ve become Angry Birds experts.

I was at the gym recently waiting to sign my kids into babysitting. Ahead of me was a Mom with one son. I watched the seconds turn into minutes, as she, with no sense of urgency, made nametags for: her son, herself, her son’s diaper bag, her gym bag, and her son’s two stuffed animals.  It took her long enough that I had time to mentally review every curse I know. She then held the sharpie hostage while she debated with him who should pick up the stuffed animals he’d thrown onto the ground. When my inner monologue had run out of expletives, I vowed to work more yoga into my routine and smiled at her. I recognized her. She was a Mom with her first son. A boy who’d stolen her heart. She was taking herself seriously…and her job as his Mom even more seriously. I bet she’s never urinated into a cup in her car.

evolution

I glanced at my first son, the boy I’d rocked in the glider every night as a baby. He stands almost as tall as I do. I struggled to remember the last time he’s sat on my lap. Has it been a year? I wrapped my arms around his shoulders, which promise to be as broad as his Daddy’s, and took a moment to breathe in the scent of the first of four boys to steal my heart. I am not the same Mom to four kids that I was to one. But I will never ever love another boy the way that I love you.

*An abridged version of this piece appeared in the Huffington Post on July 13th in the Parents section.