Sunday, December 30, 2012

For my husband of 21 years

The Wild Rose
Wendell Barry

Sometimes, hidden from me
 in daily custom and in trust,

I live by you unaware, 
as if by the beating of my heart,

Suddenly you flare again in my sight,
A wild rose blooming at the edge
 of the thicket,  grace and light
 where yesterday was only shade,

and once again I am blessed, choosing 
again what I chose before



Friday, December 21, 2012


It's the end of the world today.

It's dark, raining and cold. My high school son sends me an angry text message telling me of a gun threat at school. It is only a rumor, but still....Why did I make him go today? It is my fault.

My oldest son is thousands of miles away and I miss the smell of him, the feel of his reluctant hug. He will be absent at Christmas, like he was at Thanksgiving. Like he is every day now.

The tasks I need to accomplish today all seem repetitive, boring, senseless. I almost go to that bad place, but I just happen to look to my left and there they are:

Life tries to catch me up in her dramas and I almost start spinning away with her, but the sweet, simple discussion between two 5-year old boys anchors me.

They save me once more.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Serendipity, angels and one fat cat

I believe in angels. I like believing that the people close to me who have died are still with me somehow. I like feeling that angels are around me or can be summoned at a moments notice when I need comfort or support.

There was a time when I didn't give angels any thought. That was the time before I lost someone I loved. Once a loved one "transitions", you start to really wonder where to. Of course, no one has the absolute truth about the matter, so we all just go with what feels best, with what we believe.

I am a stay-at-home mom and have been doing this glorious job for over 18 years. It is the best job there is and my life has been very full, but lately I have been starting to feel like I need something more. Something for me.

I started to think about writing.  Jeb and I have had a pretty unique parenting journey; I could write a few of my thoughts down, share some adventures and work my brain a bit in the process. I could write a blog maybe? That would be something I could do and still keep my current job (my 5 year old twins are building a fort with the couch as I write this). Now if I only knew how to write a blog...

I jumped in and wrote a piece that had been on my mind to share for a while. The post  was about two of my angels: my fifth child and my mother. This child came to us in a special way and she and my mother died within weeks of each other. I named my daughter Ava Mae because my mother's nickname was May. I knew they were connected and I wanted Ava's name to reflect this. It was a very personal and got some of wonderful feedback (with the help of my brothers, Ned and Drew, and Facebook). I enjoyed how it felt to create it and the connections that were born from it. I was fueled.

During the time I was writing the piece, I was looking into going to a yoga workshop in Rhode Island. Well, it turned out the workshop got cancelled, but I happened to notice that the center that was holding the workshop was also offering a one day class on blogging.  Huh. That 's weird. I was just thinking I needed something like that... I clicked on the link. It was a four hour class, held on a Saturday in an area that looked like fun. Why not? A few clicks later, I was headed to Rhode Island.

As a mom of 6 kids I'm always looking for some time alone. My job is a dream, but sometimes I lose myself in it and I crave a little solitude to clear my head. So, click, click, click.  The four hour workshop became a full weekend away alone for Mom in R.I.
not bad...

I've done this before: run away for the weekend. My understanding husband gallantly and expertly holds down the fort while I go searching for my sanity. The pattern is always pretty much the same:
Stage 1:  anticipation and excitement of going away alone
Stage 2:  the stress of actually making the break
Stage 3:  the relief of finally arriving at my destination
Stage 4:  missing my family.  Oh, the irony!

But this time I had some company. The owner of the house had a cat that came with the rental. She was a sweet, fat tabby that looked like my favorite cat back home. It was comforting to have another living creature in the too quiet house. We chatted for a bit and she sat next to me on the couch as I ate my dinner and watched a movie.

The next day on the way home from the blogging class, I drove by an ice cream shop and craned my neck as I realized, "Hey...I've been there!". After a few moments, the rusty wheels of my brain started turning and I recalled I was indeed in this area for a training about 12 years ago. Not once when I was planning my trip did it cross my mind that I had been here before.

When I came back to the quiet house, the cat was happy to see me. She cuddled up next to me on the couch as searched the internet to encourage my brain to bring back a few more memories. It popped into my head that I had lunch with a few of the other attendees at the training over a decade ago. A few clicks later I found the restaurant we went to. It was only three doors down from where I had just spent my day. I remembered the name of the restaurant because there was a feeling of discomfort attached to it. My companions were discussing the name of the restaurant. It was called The Mews, but another thought it was Muse. I was uncomfortable because I didn't quite know the meaning of either word, but acted as if I did.  "Muse" was always one of those words that I knew I should know, but never made the effort to look up.

Well, dammit, 12 years later, I was gonna look up those darn words! I zipped on over to Wiki (and of course made a donation) and first looked up "Mews". Mews can be a British courtyard or the sound a cat makes. I smiled and gave the warm lump purring beside me a pat.

Under "Muse" was the following:

"Some authors invoke Muses when writing poetry, hymns, or epic history. The invocation typically occurs at or near the beginning, and calls for help or inspiration, or simply invites the Muse to sing through the author. Some prose authors also call on the aid of Muses, who are called as the true speaker for whom an author is merely a mouthpiece".

Wow. When I wrote my piece on Ava Mae, I asked her to help me. At one point, I even closed my eyes and asked her to speak through me. She was my Muse. 

While I was retrieving memories with the help of the web, the owner of the house texted me to see how things were going and if I needed anything. The only thing I needed was to know the name of the soft creature now on my lap. I felt like we had a connection and it felt strange not to know her name. As I was stroking her head, in came his reply:

May. The damn cat's name was May.

Ok, do I really think the fat cat belonging to a complete stranger actually had some type an angelic message for me from beyond, just because she happened to have the same name as my mother and daughter?

Sure. As a matter of fact, I do.

And why the hell not?

"There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." ~Albert Einstein

Monday, December 10, 2012

Pellet vs Wood: A public service announcement

Our gas bill averaged $700 a month last winter. Outrageous. We had to do something.  We couldn't afford to heat with gas again for another long, cold New England winter. We needed to find an alternative heat source. The two most popular choices were either a pellet stove or a wood stove.

We spend weeks debating the two. We asked everyone we knew how they heated their home and collected all the data. We decided on pellet because it was cheaper. If we wanted to do wood, we would have to line our chimney and that alone would cost us $2500. We just couldn't swing that at the moment and we wanted instant gratification in the form of economical heat.

A lot of our research took place online. When I searched "pellet vs wood", I got consumer forums and stove dealers trying to sell their goods. What I wish I came across was an honest, personal account like the one that I am going to share with you here. I would have had my answer in minutes and saved us about 2 grand.

This is also an excellent example of things going awry when a person does not follow their gut feelings. Yes, gut feelings are important when choosing major appliances as well as the deep ethereal stuff. If I go back and analyze my feelings, all the signs were all there:

Upon learning stove needs to be plugged in:
Feeling: Well, that's just not right.

Devil on my shoulder leading me away from true feelings: That will be fine. Living in town you never lose power anyway. You can hide the plug.

On using strange, wooden, bunny-turd like things to heat my home:
Feeling: That just doesn't sit well with me. How much energy is being used to make these things and package them and ship them around? Am I going to be at the mercy of some retailer now? Will the cost of pellets be driven up whenever they see fit?

Devil: It's fine! Fine, I say! Its just the logging industry efficiently using their waste. Jobs are being created!

Concern about the fan noise:
Feeling: A fan going all the time? I don't know. Living with a house chock full with 7 other humans, I am very sensitive to noise. Silence is more than golden; It is sacred. I'm not sure I can live with a fan blowing constantly.

Devil: Would you stop your whining? For the first time in 18 years your house will be toasty warm all winter and you can comfortably pay your heating bills. You can live with a gentle "whir" in the background.

When our expert technician came and installed the stove and turned it on, I looked at him, stunned. "You're kidding, right?". I had to ask him this question in my head because the embarrassing reality was that I had never heard a real pellet stove in action. The fact is (as I bow my head in shame), I watched a YouTube video to hear what one sounded like. The Devil said it was fine.

The truth is that fucking fan drives me insane. Bonkers. Once one of the kids accidentally unplugged (!) the stove and I almost wept with the gift of the sudden quiet. I took a deep, cleansing breath and thought, "Oh my, that is so nice."

"You are being a spoiled, ungrateful brat!" my devil friend told me. "Suck it up."

...And then we had the following experience this Saturday morning. The experience that allowed me to slap that devil off my shoulder and look at our situation clearly. And that's what it is: our situation  There are lots of valid opinions out there, but now the answer to what is right for me is crystal clear. When I was in the throes of the decision making process, I did not tune in to my real feelings and I let the feelings related to money make the decision. In the end, I did not get what I really wanted and now we are living with the consequences.  Damn. I hate when that happens.

So here it is: my gift to those grappling with this important question: Should we get a pellet stove or a wood stove?  Maybe the following scenario will help you decide...

Thursday, December 6, 2:46 pm: Check for pellet stove clears.

Saturday, December 8, 7:12 am: Wake up to cold house. Pellet stove has stopped working.  

    7:18 am: turn on gas heat

    7:23 am: make coffee to better cope with what is in store and how the morning will most likely unfold...

    8:03 am:                                      
In-house technician manually empties 40 lbs of pellets from stove with used yogurt container. Pellets litter the floor.

8:36 am:
Tech with pre-existing sore back single-handedly attempts to move 300 lb insert to diagnose the problem

9:02 am:
Cheerful assistant "helps" by holding flashlight. Hope the support will prevent the tech from blowing his stack

9:27 am:
A new problem arises and a tech apprentice moves in to make assessment

9:31 am
Manual is consulted. Technician borrows 10-year old daughter's hip, leopard print reading glasses to read unhelpful, poorly written text.

10:01 am

Tech is back at it while children decide pellets will be fun to play with.

10:26 am
"Special" forces in red fleece jammies are called in for a consult. Children continue to fling pellets around room

10:46 am
Tech thinks he has solved the problem. Moves 300 lb stove back into place and turns stove on.
Tech has failed to solve the problem. Tech demonstrates gallant self control and mutters expletives only to self.
Our hero leaves for well-timed acupuncture appointment for sore back.

11:01 am
With in-house tech safely out of earshot, Wife calls real technician

1:35 pm

Our in-house tech returns. Cannot stand the fact that he has not solved the mystery. Dismantles stove yet again to reevaluate problem.
To be continued, unfortunately.

As I sit here now, on Monday morning, the house is still blissfully quiet. Liquid gold is flowing through our baseboard heaters. Our excellent real technician will arrive at some point and get that damn pellet stove working again and Jeb and I will start saving our pennies for the wood stove that we really wanted in the first place.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How do you find your Soul Mate*?

*(a.k.a. your one true love, the love of your life...blah, blah)

An open letter to my children

and anyone else who will listen to me

Do I really have the answer to this age old question?

Yup. I do. So, listen up. I know what I'm talking about.

I've have been married to the love of my life for 22 years and I still find comfort in his embrace, electricity in his kiss and delight in his humor. At the end of the day, I still want to sit by his side. The fact that I still feel this way about your dad is remarkable. You realize this don't you? So, stop rolling your eyes and take some notes.

Look around you. How many of your friends have parents that are still married? Of those that are still married, how many of them actually like each other? After 20-plus years, I think its pretty obvious that your dad and I still like each other. In fact, I think he is the smartest, funniest, kindest, and (cover your eyes) sexiest man I know. If Johnny Depp knocked on the door and wanted a quick roll in the hay, I would say, "No thanks, Johnny. I'm good". Then I would proceed to invite him in, sit him on the couch and help him figure out what went wrong with Vanessa. This is because I know what I'm talking about. I got this.

If you have any interest in a joyful life, do not fuck this one up.

Choosing your partner is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life. It is absolutely the most important decision if you are going to have a family. It is the foundation on which everything else is built. This foundation needs to be rock solid. Your father and I had no idea how important this strength would be in years to come. As you well know, our journey has not been easy, but it has always been good. Always.

The crises that we went through could have destroyed our family if our relationship wasn't as solid as it is. Instead of crumbling, we became stronger. As the storms blew in, we wrapped layer after layer of love around us and became impenetrable. This could never of happened if we didn't like each other so much. Who could stand to be wrapped in all those layers if they were made of  sandpaper? Choose to wrap yourself in cashmere. Life is full of intensity; it is guaranteed. You'd be smart to make yourself comfortable.

People talk themselves into staying in relationships all the time: "If s/he only did _____, everything would be perfect."   "S/he's just really stressed right now". One of my friends once uttered the classic whopper: "I think he'll settle down once we have kids"...painful divorce.

They never just stop to think about how they really feel about the person, deep down. Truth is, they are a little scared to discover the truth. But it is there. It is always there. You just have to have the guts to look for it. Don't be afraid to ask the two most basic, yet essential, questions: "Do I like this person?" and "Does this person like me?" Ridiculously obvious, I know, but critical. Never once in 22 years has your Dad made me feel bad about or doubt myself. 

Not once. He likes me. I'd let all my chips ride on it.

Do not, under any circumstances, settle for good enough. You, as your own person, need to feel complete on your own. You need to feel confident that you would be just fine to live your life with only yourself to keep you company. You have to like you: fully and completely,  inside and out. You need to know you deserve the very best and settle for nothing less.

How do you cultivate such magnificent self esteem?  Do what you love. Find out what makes you feel good inside and selfishly pursue it. Think about you first. I know it goes against a lot of the advice out there, but as I said before, I got this one. Now, this doesn't mean go be a total asshole. It just means you should never make excuses  for taking care of yourself. Always be considerate of and kind to others, but never compromise what is important to you. Pay attention to what you feel in your heart. Do what makes you smile and makes you feel really, really great. Think about the airplane analogy: when the air masks drop from the ceiling, get yourself some oxygen first, then you'll be capable of  helping the ones you love. Make sure you love yourself first, before you ask another to do the same. 

When your dad and I met, neither one of us was looking for "the one”. We were both right in the middle of getting our degrees and the course load was intense. We were so focused on doing something were cared about,  neither one of us was looking outside of ourselves for completion. We just happened to meet up during a break in semesters and started to hang out. And while we were hanging out, we had fun. The best kind of fun: the kind where you laugh so hard your cheeks hurt and tears come to your eyes. The kind of fun you want to last forever. It just felt so good to be together, we wanted to hang out all of the time. And so we did, for 22 years and counting.

Sounds so great you want to go out and find it immediately, right? Well, if you are actively "looking for the one", just knock it off. Call off the search. Searching is not how you find it. Instead, go out and do something that makes you happy.  When you feel great about yourself and are content just being you, the "one" will  magically appear. You will attract another who feels the same way about themselves and that match will be a powerful one. Like two strong magnets. 

Do not underestimate attraction.  You need to be attracted to your mate. If the spark isn't there, it isn't there. You cannot grow a spark, yet it is essential to the formula. Attraction can be an illogical thing, so don't waste your time analyzing it. You can be dating the best looking person you have ever seen or the kindest person on the planet, but something just doesn't click. You don’t feel that chemistry; the pheromones just ain't flowing. On the flip side, the person you are attracted to does not have the physical appearance that society would label as beautiful, but you find you cant stay away from them. Pay attention to these things! They really, really matter. How do you feel when you are around this person? Do you find yourself smiling without knowing it or do you feel a little flicker of annoyance starting in your gut? Just be honest with yourself. Deep down the answer is right there. Does this person do it for me or not? Trust your gut.

You have the wisdom. You just have to be willing to acknowledge it.

A loving relationship feels good. It makes you happy. It makes you smile. When you are truly in love, you will feel like you are going to burst with joy. Yes, I'm telling you, this does happen. It is not a fairy tale.  It is the most amazing feeling and it really does happen

So go forth my dear child. Find out who you are and what you love and when the time is right, the love of your life will appear.

Listen to me. I know.


...and Now

Monday, November 19, 2012

November, Living Fully and the gift of Ava

Maple grieves
The ghosts of her
Departed leaves.
The ground is hard,
As hard as stone.
The year is old,
The birds are flown.
And yet the world,
In its distress,
Displays a certain
-   John Updike, A Child's Calendar

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it,

the dead feeling of winter.  Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show."
-   Andrew Wyeth

For most of my life, I took November for granted. The month was just gray and cold and, up until seven years ago, I didn't truly appreciate Thanksgiving. November was just a month I didn't particularly care for.

There was a certain ominous beauty to it, though. I couldn't deny that. The way nature so obviously turned inward. At first glance, everything appears dead, but is it really?

We were given the most intense, beautiful lesson of our lives in November of 2005. Our fifth child, Ava Mae, was born in our home and lived nine peaceful days. She took her last breath in the very same room she took her first.

We found out that Ava had something special in store for us in my 30th week of her pregnancy. An  ultrasound showed signs of trisomy 13, a chromosomal abnormality "incompatible with life", as the doctor stated. We agreed to the ultrasound because of our two previous births; our third child, Kelly, surprised us with Down Syndrome and our fourth, lovely Grethe (Greta), shocked us with a congenital abnormality that required immediate surgery and a month long hospitalization 2 hours from our home. We were told the two conditions were not related and I was confident all would be well. Statistically, things were in our favor for a healthy baby. But life had other plans for us.

After the ultrasound, I walked out of that examining room carrying the same life inside me that I walked in carrying only an hour before. Inside me, a little girl moved about and made herself known to me every hour of every day, but now I was told her life will not continue after it left the comfort and of my body.

What does one do with that information?

You move forward. You move forward because you still have children that need to eat and run and laugh and go through the motions of living. You move forward because the family needs food and the laundry needs to be done and the bills need to be paid. And when your 11-year old son asks why you are crying, you sit him down with his sweet 9-year old brother and talk about death.

And what happens is totally unexpected. They are not frightened. They are open and curious. We marvel together about the ironic fact that the one thing we can all be certain of, the only thing we can all count on happening in this life, we fear: Death.

What does death mean anyway? What really happens to us? Do we become angels and get to fly around and do whatever we please? Oh, and is Heaven made of candy? It must be. These are the things I discuss with my older children and it is really shockingly beautiful. I spend as much time as they will allow in their presence and I am anxious to talk about the baby whenever it spontaneously comes up. Their perception of the situation is so matter-of-fact and so amazingly light. Mom has a baby in her belly and this baby just may not be built for this world.

Simple. End of story. Now let's get on with this kickball game.

It wasn't so simple for me, however. I was carrying this life inside of me. I felt my little girl poke and move about. I oscillated between hoping for a miracle and knowing my baby would die. The roller coaster of emotions was exhausting. I knew I needed to surrender. I was powerless in the fight. But surrendering is not easy. I needed some help.

In the beginning of November, my mother gave me a great gift. She died.

My mother was a glorious woman. She was beautiful, active and fun. She loved to travel and loved to eat and loved clothes. But something started to happen to my dynamic mother when she entered her 60's. Her speech was altered and her memory was not the same. The experts ran tests and had their opinions, but no one was able to help my mother. She deteriorated slowly and left her family and friends a little bit each day until finally, the mother I loved so deeply, was no longer there. The illness that leached the life force from my mother spanned over 10 years.  At the end of her life, she was in a nursing home, confined to a bed, not able to perform even the simplest tasks on her own.  There was nothing left but her body. She no longer knew me or any of my four siblings.

When I received the call that she was not doing well, I immediately drove the 2 hours to be by her side. I sat beside her with my brother and sister and watched her struggle for her last breaths.  After several hours, I asked to be alone with her. I laid my head on her chest and put my arms around her. I felt the rhythm of her labored breath and asked her to help me with my baby. Help me get through this, mommy. I felt the only way she could do that was outside her prison of a body. I begged her to leave this physical world and help me as a spirit.

She died that night and I was elated. I know it may sound strange, but anyone who has lost a loved one to dementia will understand. Now I had a loving spirit to help me navigate the time ahead with my baby. I was so grateful. Truly euphoric. When I had to spend 8 hours on my feet greeting my mother's friends at her wake and answering all of their well-meaning questions about my pregnant belly, my mother was there. I truly felt joy.

I saw November's beauty that year for the first time. The days surrounding my mother's death were unseasonably warm. Walking home from her wake, the sky lit up with lightning and rumbled with thunder. What a spectacular send off!  I remembered that my mother loved this time of year because the trees dropped their leaves and allowed her to see things in a whole different way. After the storm, I looked out at the leafless trees and noticed their grace and beauty for the first time-their bare branches like dancers reaching up to the heavens.

Ava Mae was born two weeks after my mother died. She arrived almost 4 weeks early and lived peacefully in our home for all of her nine days. There was so much intensity and beauty in those days I can't even begin to describe it here, but what I will try to describe are the gifts she left with us.

She made us stand still and experience the full cycle of life. She made us face our fears and keep pushing through, keep moving forward.

She made us live FULLY. We experienced every emotion- the full range- from the deepest pain to the most exquisite joy. During my pregnancy I explored a lot of spiritual material looking for some answers. I remember hearing Deepak Chopra speak of how we are often too afraid to live fully. I didn't quite understand what he meant until after Ava. If I were actually given the choice to have my child live for only a few days or to skip the whole experience all together, which would I choose?   Her time with us is one of the greatest gifts of my life and I am profoundly grateful for the experience, but would I consciously choose to go through it? Probably not.

Living fully is scary, dammit! Some things in life are so intense, it takes all the courage we have to move through them. I think that's why we don't get to choose. Humans will not choose to go through pain, but it is only through experiencing such pain that the true deep,exquisite beauty of everyday life is revealed.

Any yet, even after this most powerful lesson, I still might choose the to skip the hard stuff all together and take the "easy" road. That's why I'm glad we're not running this show. Because "easy" is boring and nothing ever changes or grows the "easy" way. Oh, there are times when we may believe we have everything under control and have this whole cosmic mess figured out, but we don't. No one does. I now believe its our job to  just flow through this life as gracefully as we can. Ride the waves with skill and ease. Float and hand over the oars, because the hard and fast truth is we are not rowing this boat, siree.  Poet Annie Dillard wrote, "We are most deeply asleep at the switch when we fancy we control any switches at all".

Ava taught us to push away from the controls. In the end, we had no choice but to surrender and let the experience wash over us. Change us.

Today we will have our yearly birthday party for Ava. We will light her candle in the morning. The same candle that burned every day of her life 7 years ago. We will make a cake and celebrate what her life taught us and what having her spirit around us means to us now. Celebrating her will allow us to appreciate the love we have for one another and will remind us not to take such important things for granted.

And then, without realizing it, life rolls along and even Ava's lessons fade.

But then November comes again, in all of her beauty, and we are reminded once more.


"I guess I could be really pissed off about what happened to me, but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain. And I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday."

-- Lester Burnham from the movie American Beauty

Friday, May 11, 2012


My teenage son is leaving for Brazil on an exchange in a few months. This weekend he's gone on a preparatory retreat locally for a few days. A few hours before he left, we had a blow-up. He was trying to finish a movie that was required watching for the retreat (this was assigned months in advance, of course). He was watching it in the family room and his 4 year old twin brothers were in the room. The movie shifted to a scene that was inappropriate for his brothers, so I asked him to finish in his room. 
He refused.
I asked nicely again.
He refused again.
I stated that this was not a choice.
He heatedly refused.
I removed the movie and stood by my request.
He exploded.
I try to remain calm and explain his options while he follows me screaming about my evil, unreasonable ways. 

This goes on for 30 minutes. He push, push, pushes while I try to calmly stand my ground without losing my temper or showing that I'm really not so sure all this is worth it and maybe I should have kept my mouth shut and let him just finish the movie in the family room and asked the younger boys to leave the room even though he has the nicest room in the house and could easily move.

He begins to call me names an tell me how rotten I am. I see the shock on the faces of my little ones and I do the wrong thing:

 I lose it, too.

I tell my oldest baby that this is the exact behavior that I will not miss when he leaves us for 10 months. I say that maybe it is time for him to go. It is one of those times where the words come out of your mouth and, even as you are saying them, you know a good mother should never say such things.

I do it anyway. I cannot stop myself.

All of the fear about this exchange comes tumbling out of both of us. In a few months, my baby will get on a plane and travel to a foreign country where he does not know a soul and does not speak the language. He will leave the comfort of his home, his family and friends and live in a house with complete strangers for close to a year.

Right there in front of me is the little boy he used to be. He, too, was once 4 years old and his only concern was what imaginary game to play next. When he bumped his knee, I was the one he ran to for comfort. He crawled on my lap when he was sleepy or scared. He sang his A-B-C's while we cheered him on and hid our smiles as he said the k twice. He was the baby that curled his body into mine as he nursed while we both drifted off into a blissful sleep. He was once an adorable little boy that loved his mama like no one else.

That same boy is now taller than me with high cheekbones and whiskers and big muscles.  That same boy now needs to find his own life.  To do that he has to release parts of his old life. To find out who he is, he has to push Mama out of the picture a bit. This is not a conscious push, it's done gradually over time throughout the teenage years with occasional, unexpected, heated explosions. 

At least, that's what I think is happening. This process of growth can be so painful at times, I look at all of my younger children and think, what the *bleep* did I do?! How am I going to survive this four more times?. It never, ever occurred to me that my little baby that I just wanted to inhale would someday turn into a man that I would actually, genuinely, dislike at times.  I never stopped to think that I was churning out a bunch of creatures that would eat all my food, complain about it not being any good, leave their dishes on the table and then roll their eyes at me when asked to pick up their possessions (that I paid for!).

The teenage years are not a constant stream of pain. They have peaks and valley's. They ebb and flow. There has to be some bright spots in there or our species would not survive. If it were all constant pain, we, as a species, would eventually figure out that these cute, sweet smelling babies eventually turn into large, foul smelling, shrieking monsters and we would just choose not to go through with this whole child raising nonsense. 

The larger versions of these sweet babies, however, can do some pretty amazing things when they are not in the unconscious "I need to find out who I am so I'm going to be cruel to my mother" stage. They can be incredibly smart, strong, funny, creative and kind (to others, that is) and that in turn can make us very proud. When we are on the peak, celebrating with our dazzling star of a child, we have to store some of that light away for the next time we visit the dark, dry, harsh valley. In the end, hopefully it will all balance out into a nice, calm, lovely straight line.

So, for now I guess I'll just try to do my best and love my teenager no matter what. I will try to explain to him that when it sounds like I want him to leave, what I am really saying is that I just want him to love me like that little four year old boy did.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Toddlers and Teens

I have been given a tremendous gift. A gift that few people have the privilege of experiencing.

I am parenting teens and toddlers at the same time.

When people hear this, their reaction is usually not a positive one; both age groups tend to have a bad reputation.  Remarkably, experiencing the two simultaneously helps cancel a lot of the negative stuff out.

Let me explain...
When my teens are being so awful that I am almost brought to tears, I can turn around and grab a loving toddler and get a whole lot of unconditional love. The contrast of having incredibly adorable people in the same house with incredibly not-adorable people allows me to appreciate the adorable ones that much more.
You see, now as I parent my toddlers, I know what is coming (and lots of time it ain't pretty) and it reminds me to soak up every bit of these little beings. Every. Single. Second.

When I became a mother for the first time I was 28 years old. When I had my twins I was 42. One thing about getting older: you really are so much wiser. Your priorities shift, and for the better. You tend not to sweat the small stuff as much because, to be honest, you really don't have the energy for that anymore. When my first child was born, it took me quite a while to adjust to my new role as a mother. I spend the first few months feeling a tad resentful that this little creature had stolen my life. I mean, what the hell?!
Eighteen years later, that original life is nothing but a fuzzy memory, so I don't feel like I am missing out on a single thing.

My toddlers (and twins, no less) add nothing but joy. A tantrum? Go ahead, give it your best go; I've seen it all before. Belligerent behavior? Go for it. What is the worst that can happen? When you are 3 years old, Mommy does not have to worry about you turning to drugs and alcohol when you don't get your way. That comes later and I am fully aware of the fact.

Let me be clear: I have fantastic teenagers. They are respectful, loving and kind. But then, in a blink, they are not. I know this is totally normal developmental behavior, but let me tell you, it really sucks (and fyi, I don't allow people to use the s-word in my home, but in this situation, no other word is more appropriate).

We as humans are built this way. Teens need to push away to develop their own identity. I get it, but it still feels like a kick to the gut, every time. And if you are bouncing a chubby, drooling baby on your knee as you read this and thinking, "not my darling...", I'm telling you, it will happen. It has to. That is the work of the teenager: to separate and create their own identity (and break their mothers heart while doing so.)
One day I'm conversing with my loving child and the next, a person I do not recognize physically or emotionally is screaming at me.

It happens to all of them and I know it will happen with my babies. This is why I drink every minute with them up and I am so grateful for the gift of them I could just about burst.

One more cool thing. That screaming teen I spoke of? He will turn into putty in the hands of the adorable toddler. Nothing will fill me up more than to see my 15 year old play with his little brothers. My teens love my toddlers with a ferocity. It helps them take themselves a little less seriously. It lets them play. Nothing else in their world gives them full license to act like a little kid again and to have some plain and simple fun.  Mixed in with that is the bonus of a dose of pure love.

It is a beautiful thing. It is a glorious, fabulous gift and I soak it up every time it happens because I know in a blink, my toddlers will be teens.