A Different Kind of Love

I remember chatting with my friend Christie one afternoon while I was puking my way through my second pregnancy.

“Don’t worry about not having enough love in your heart for both of them. It’s so weird; you think you couldn’t possibly love any child as much as the first, right? Trust me, when you see that little face it’s like a whole new space that you didn’t even know you had, opens up in your heart. They’ll each have their own dedicated space, totally equal.”

I’ve never forgotten that conversation, especially on mornings like the one I just had.

Oh, you didn’t think I was just writing to check in, did you?

HA!

So this morning- this glorious, serene morning of mine.

About 10 minutes into our commute I realized that I was only hearing Vince’s chirpy, chatty voice from the back seat. Glancing in the mirror, I saw Grace’s “this is my angry face” expression burning a hole in her window.

“Are you mad at me?” I asked.

“Yes.”

She was mad. The one who had refused to use the toilet and instead defiantly peed in her diaper while standing in front of me (potty-training is going SUPER well, in case you’re wondering). The one who wouldn’t let me change that wet diaper before we got in the car. The one who started wrestling with me and folding herself in half to keep me from reaching said diaper. The one who had, as soon as I gave up and took a step back, flung herself backwards against a wall and then yelled, “Why did you hurt me?!” loudly enough for my neighbors to hear through the most sound-proof of windows.

SHE was mad.

Want to hear the funniest part? As I peeked at her through the mirror- lip slightly extended, arms crossed, lids lowered just slightly, brows furrowed- my heart fluttered a little bit and I had to bite my lip to stop myself from smiling.

She saw my contorted face in the mirror and giggled.

“You have any flamingo (mango) mints??” she asked nonchalantly, uncrossing her arms and flopping her foot onto Vince’s leg.

And just like that, she was over it.

Look up “Spitfire” in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of my daughter- see also “Stubborn” and “Determined to have things her way.” The tenacity that she exhibits at this age is more than I’ve managed to harness in my 35 years.

And I love it.

So I may love both of my children equally, but the love is definitely…different.

Vince is my comfy, safe space kind of love. He can’t wait to share all of his triumphs with me. He seeks me out for comfort when he experiences hurt or failure. He jumps into my bed every morning and asks if we have time for “a cuddle buddle,” then wraps his arms around me like a vine and falls peacefully back to sleep.

Vince is my steady love. I know when I have a bad day he’ll be on his best behavior to make it a little bit easier.  I know he’ll always want to dance with me, laugh at my ridiculous jokes and share his car snacks. I know when I walk into the room wearing so much as a new t-shirt he’ll gasp and say, “Wow, Mommy, did you just get that? You look beautiful!” and actually mean it.

Vince is my nurturing love. He’s the first one to ask if I need a hug when I look even the slightest bit upset. If I decide to recline my seat on the couch (on the rare occasion that I get to sit on the couch), he bolts out of the living room and returns with his biggest, fluffiest pillow “so you can rest your head and still see the tv.” He praises every meal I put on the table- not to brag, but I have been told I am the best peanut butter and jelly maker In The World.

When I look at Vince, I’m filled with a pleasant, warm, fuzzy feeling. He’s my old soul, my constant friend and the one who makes me feel like I must be doing something right to have a kid like him.

And Grace?

When I look at Grace, I’m consumed with a jittery, expectant feeling. She’s my firecracker, the one that keeps me on my toes and makes me strive to be a more spontaneous, think-outside-the-box kind of mama.

Grace is my anticipation kind of love. Will she run over and fling her arms around me at daycare pickup, or stick her tongue out, tell me, “I’m not READY!” and run away? Will she lie in my arms and ask for “just one more book?” at bedtime, or take her sippy cup and her blanket and tuck herself in? When I hear Vince squealing, is it because she’s tickling him or kicking him in the face? (I’ve walked in on both…)

Grace is my sneaky love. Just when she’s thrown all the tantrums my blood pressure can handle; just when the tears start to streak down my face as I hide in the bathroom; just as I start angrily rolling meatballs in the kitchen and take a silent over/under on the chances I’ll survive her teenage years; she pops up behind me, throws her arms around my leg, yells, “I just love you, Mommy!” and bounces out of the room.

Grace is my exciting love.  Watching her face light up when I buy her a dress, flip flops or blue nail polish that resembles one of mine “so we can be twinnies Mommy!” makes my entire day. I giggle right alongside her when she jumps up and performs an impromptu “Hop, hop, hop like a penguin” dance for everyone in the room. I can’t help but crack up when she crawls onto my lap, rests her head next to mine and sweetly whispers, “I’m farting on you right now.”

So yes, I definitely love them an equal amount. Neither of them has a bigger piece of my heart, I can promise you that. But I never knew that “love” could mean so many different things until I met the two of them. Because of them I get to experience every emotion on the spectrum, every color of the rainbow and every stage of heartburn imaginable. I get to enjoy warm, cuddly love and unpredictable, exciting love. I’m surrounded by sweet smiles and mischievous smirks; soft, long hugs and firm drive-by squeezes; “I love you so much, Mommy,” whispered in my ear and “You know you love me Mommy!” shouted from the next room.

I may have told Christie that I believed her that day, but I admit I was still a little nervous about figuring out how to share myself once I became a mom of two. Little did I know that not only did I have enough love to go around, but that it comes in more varieties than Ben & Jerry’s has flavors.

So here’s to safe, comfy love; crazy, impulsive love; and the little humans who open all the nooks and crannies of our hearts that we never knew existed, just by loving us.

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Broken Hearts

“Wanna hear something funny?”

“Of course.”

“Donnie just walked out of Mom’s bedroom with one of her chocolate bars.”

“Oh my God! Nicky, I just pulled her wallet out of her purse and guess what was stuck to it? A wad of tissues.”

My sister and I laughed like two tipsy friends at happy hour, but it was a thin veil for the fear that was coursing through us.

It was déjà vu all over again.

The last 10 years of my grandmother’s life were largely spent in and out of emergency departments and specialists’ offices- waiting for test results; waiting for new diagnoses; waiting for medication adjustments; waiting to hear we had more time; just…waiting.

When she passed, tucked underneath the 6 months of almost insurmountable depression that covered me like a heavy wool blanket, was a tiny, almost imperceptible feeling of relief.

She was free, and we could breathe.

No more 2am trips to the ER; no more frantic phone calls; no more watching her fade in and out and bargaining with God to bring her back to us.

Fast-forward 8 years, and there I was on Saturday afternoon, white-knuckling the steering wheel as I followed the ambulance to the hospital.

Three episodes in 2 hours. Chest pain, jaw pain, shoulder pain, dizziness…that horrible wince on her face and the faint whine that escaped her lips as the squeezing caused her to double over in pain. And it washed over me. The day my grandmother had experienced 3 episodes in a few hours….had called 911 as a precaution…and had a massive heart attack in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

I watched the techs take vitals, chart symptoms, and assure my mother that no, she wasn’t wasting their time and yes, she did the right thing by calling 911, because all of her symptoms pointed to a heart attack.

I closed my eyes and there was my grandmother, arguing that she was fine- it was just indigestion- and she was ready to go home.

I unstuck my legs from the vinyl bench to get up and adjust the height of her bed; as I searched for a button I was suddenly back in Grandma’s rehab center, laughing like a little kid as I pushed all the buttons, making her bed dance, and she warned, “You rotten kid, when I can get out of this bed I’m gonna hop you in the ass!” while she laughed alongside me.

I listened to one doctor after another.

“You should think about getting a stationary bike to get your heart muscle going, maybe just put it in the living room…”

I closed my eyes and saw my grandmother’s exercise bike, sitting in the living room, draped with clean laundry.

I watched the monitor reading off blood pressure, oxygen levels and heart rate, the numbers blurring together the more I stared at it, expecting it to give me some sort of answer.

I pulled open a tiny cranberry juice container and bobbed a tea bag into a Styrofoam cup of lukewarm water because my mother wasn’t allowed to exert herself too much until they were sure she was stable.

“I’m not touching that broccoli…you think they could have spared a little more pasta?….ugh, this tea is cold….I do like this fruit cup though.”

I shuddered.

Déjà vu all over again.

When my mother had been admitted- and she had promised me she wasn’t going to try to make a break for it- I decided it was safe to go home. I kissed her goodbye and she smiled at me, and once again, it washed over me.

The afternoon that my grandmother had kissed me goodbye, assured me she was fine…and then had 2 massive heart attacks in her hospital bed as I was pulling out of the parking lot.

I got in my car and stared at my phone. It stared back at me.

And suddenly…I couldn’t breathe.

The next day we waited for more doctors to chime in. I sat on another vinyl bench seat and watched my mother’s emotions range from nonchalance to anger to fear. I listened to her complain about the consistency of the cream of wheat and opt for the French toast. I saw her joke with the nurses and tell me about all the alarms she heard going off in the other rooms overnight.

“I’ve been praying for Room 9 all morning….2 code blues, Cathy. That’s not good at all.”

I searched the hallways for the water machine and we laughed about how I pushed the button too hard and an avalanche of ice came pouring down on me.

They released her with no real answers and instructions to, in the nurse’s words “call 911 and get your butt right back here if you feel ANY pain at ALL.”

And the entire time, the feeling was washing over me like a frigid waterfall, trying its best to drown me.

Here we were again.

Waiting.

Would this become my new normal…again? Juggling schedules and doctor visits with my sister, as I had watched my grandmother’s children do for all those years? Scolding my mother for eating Chinese food because “How many times do we have to tell you it’s loaded with salt! You have a heart condition!” and watching her face dim slightly because she didn’t appreciate being treated like a child?

How many more times would my son climb into my bed at 6:30am, asking, “Where did you go yesterday, Mommy? You said you were just going out for a minute and then we would go to Francine & Ryan’s barbecue and I could play with all the other kids…but you never came back.”

How could I effectively explain that as I drove past my parents’ house on my way to the liquor store, something had tugged on me to turn around? That I didn’t have time to come home and tell him anything before I grabbed my mother’s purse and followed the flashing lights onto the highway? That I had snuck into his room when I returned from the hospital, hugged him as he slept, and wondered if he’d ever have that same intuition and find me sitting on my couch, wincing and looking into his eyes with the fear of not knowing why my body was betraying me?

I didn’t tell him in that moment. But I’ve decided that eventually, I will.

I’m going to tell him that if this ever becomes his “new normal,” he needs to laugh.

He needs to laugh when he finds hidden chocolate bars in my bedside table (because we all know I’m going to be the old lady who hides chocolate). Laugh when I blurt out “What is this cold brown water?! Get money out of my purse and get me a real damn coffee.” Laugh when he pulls my wallet out of my purse and 17 tissues fall out.

Laugh when I ask him to raise my head a bit, he accidentally pushes the wrong button and my feet go flying into the air instead. Laugh when the ice comes pouring out of the machine and he’s frantically putting cup after cup under it and looking around to make sure no one is watching this fiasco.

I’ll tell him. He should know, just in case. Because if there’s one thing that the wild ride with my grandmother taught me, it’s that laughter is the only effective way to numb the pain of a broken heart.

One To Two

I work with a lot of lovely people, but one of my favorites is Donna. Two things you need to know about Donna- she has 4 kids, and she gives very good, very no-bullshit advice. So it stands to reason that if Donna gives you advice about parenting, it’s going to be pretty solid.

Which brings me to my story.

When I was watermelon-sized and knee-deep in panic about keeping two tiny humans alive, Donna dispensed this little jewel:

“The transition from 0 to 1 is hard, but 1 to 2 is definitely the worst. After that, 2 to 3 is a piece of cake, and 3 to 4? Forget it, it’s nothing. But 1 to 2 is definitely the worst. But you’ll get the hang of it.”

Grace will be 3 years old next week.

I’m still waiting to get the hang of it.

But in any case, Donna couldn’t have been more right.

I think the most challenging parts of going from 1 to 2 kids are the milestones. You get it done with kid #1 and think, “Easy peasy lemon squeezy!” Then kid #2 gets there and cuts up a lemon and squirts it into your eyes.

For instance, the crib to bed scenario.

2015:

“Vince, you’re 2 ½ years old now, and in a few months your little sister will be here and she needs a crib, so we think it’s time for you to sleep in a big boy bed.”

“A big boy bed?”

“Yup, so we bought you this Mickey Mouse bed!!”

“Mickey Mouse Craphouse?!” (he hadn’t quite mastered the “L” in2015)

“Yup! Why don’t we put it together and then you can take a nap in it.”

“Ok!”

BOOM.

Never mentioned the crib again. Never got out of the bed when he wasn’t supposed to. Never looked back.

2017 (April):

“You know, Grace, we just bought this house with a big girl room for you, and you’re going to be 2 years old, so we bought you this cool big girl bed!”

“No.”

2017 (May, June, July, August, September, October):

“You know, Grace, we could just put your crib mattress in this big girl bed-“

“I like my big girl CRIB.”

2018 (November):

“Santa might bring you cool, big girl toys if he sees you sleeping in a cool, big girl bed!”

“I want baby toys.”

2017 (December):

“We’re just going to put this big girl bed in the basement.”

“Bye bed.”

2018 (July):

“You’re going to be 3 years old in a few weeks. You’re a big girl. You need to start doing big girl things. Pick one- sleep in the big girl bed or ditch the diapers because I am NOT bringing a pack-n-play and diapers on vacation. I will bring ONE of those things so CHOOSE.”

::Massive eye roll:: “I’ll sleep in the bed.”

2018 (Still July):

“Gracie, it’s 2am, you need to go back to your bed.”

“I want to sleep in your bed.”

“No, you need to learn-“

“I want to sleep in your bed.”

“No, you have a bed.”

“I miss my crib. You took my crib away. You BROKE it. Now it’s GONE. I want to be a BABY. I want my CRIB back-“

“Ok just get in here and go to sleep….”

Which brings me to our next saga….Potty. Training.

2015: I potty-trained Vince during the first 3 days of my maternity leave.

2016: I introduced Grace to the potty.

2017: I introduced Grace to the potty.

2018: I introduced Grace to the potty. Grace agreed to use the potty. Grace was almost completely potty-trained….aaaaand then we somehow landed on “Go To Diapers. Do Not Pass Pull-Ups. Do Not Collect the $100/Month you’d be saving on diapers, wipes, and various butt creams.”

So here we are, one week from her 3rd birthday, and she is so against potty training that she pulls off her underwear, craps on the floor, pulls up her underwear, and goes on her merry way.

She pees in a diaper and refuses to let me change it because, “I LIKE wearing dirty diapers!”

She peed on a dining room chair and insisted, “It’s fine. I went to the bathroom like a big girl…on this chair.”

Needless to say, this is not how I remember this milestone going the first time around.

Now, let me stop here to say a few things:

  1. I know that all children are different and develop at their own pace
  2. I have been patient, positive and gentle throughout this process, until the “nonchalantly crapping on the floor” incident

BUT- my seams are starting to come apart here.

And so, I did something I never, ever would have done with kid #1- I bribed her with sugar.

We were 45 minutes into our commute home yesterday when I heard, “Mommy, I have to potty.”

“Ok, Baby, we’re about 20 minutes from home so just go in your diaper. It’s ok.”

“I don’t have one.”

“What?!”

“I’m wearing my big girl underwear.”

“WHAT?!”

Daycare had sent her home in underwear. We are SO far away from that point. So. Very. Far.

The panic set in pretty quickly.

“Ok, um, there are no bathrooms near here, Honey, can you…. cross your leggies???”

I imagined rivers of pee flowing from her carseat onto the backseat, down to the floor, under the front seat and onto my feet.

When this kid goes, she GOES.

“Ok Mommy. But I really have to poop too.”

Oh for the love of ALL that’s Holy.

So I said something I NEVER would have said to my raised-on-nothing-but-organic-greens first child.

“If you keep your big girl undies dry until we get home, I will give you 2 lollipops for dinner.”

I was too frantic to feel guilty. I was too busy navigating my way through traffic, rain, and a cop I was sure was going to pull me over for looking unhinged, inevitably causing my daughter to unleash a flood worthy of a Bible story.

You’ll never guess what happened.

She stayed dry.

I ran that girl into my house like we were being chased by a wild turkey, plopped her on the toilet, and….she used the potty!

I squealed, cheered and hugged her as she beamed with pride. I told her how proud I was, and she said, “Oh, Mommy, I’m so proud of me too!”

We did a victory dance to the kitchen, she giddily claimed her 2 lollipops, took a few licks of each, and then ate an entire, healthy, well-balanced dinner.

She did it. WE did it.

This was not at all how I remember it going with kid #1- any of it, really, but especially this stuff.

I did everything I swore I’d never do- lost my patience, gave up, resorted to bribery and ultimatums…so I’m not perfect. I was better the first time around.

Like Donna said, one to two is the WORST.

But you know what else it is?

It’s pretty damn rewarding.

When the milestones are easy, they’re exciting. But when they’re damn near impossible, and you somehow pull them off? Oh my God the elation. I cried and hugged the poor girl while she was still peeing.

So yes, one to two is tough. It makes you rethink everything you know as a parent. It makes you reinvent and rearrange and reconsider running away.

But it also makes you realize a few things.

  1. It may not happen easily, but it’ll happen.
  2. Sometimes lollipops are a pre-meal appetizer and that’s ok.20180725_185540.jpg

Romance

I had just dragged myself through the front door after a 12-hour day. I was lamenting the fact that it was somehow only Tuesday when I was enthusiastically greeted by a dachshund who got tangled between my legs and a Labrador puppy who pile-drove me back into the front door.

My kids were sitting inches away from all this commotion. Did I get any help? Maybe a “Hey there, Mommy, you look a little tired. May we take one of your 6 bags?”

Nope. Not a peep. Not so much as a GLANCE.

As I shuffled past them, I noticed something. Something refreshing and sweet. Mango. Mango…body wash. Children’s mango bodywash.

They were clean!

Two clean children, in their pajamas, watching television. A sweeter sight I’ve never seen.

At least until I walked into the kitchen.

There it was, the most beautiful, romantic…I can’t even talk about it, I might get choked up.

A pile of chicken nuggets.

There was a neat little pile of baked chicken nuggets cooling on a dish on the counter, right next to a fragrant, hearty-looking stir-fry. Next to that was my sink- completely empty and scrubbed clean. The dishwasher swished happily beside it, full of all the dishes I didn’t have to wash.

On top of the dishwasher? All of the water bottles and sippy cups that the kids would need for school the next day, lined up neatly, lids (matching lids!) resting on top. The straws were even- I hope you’re sitting- the straws were already MacGyvered into the little lid holes.

As I stood there swooning, I heard footsteps coming up the basement stairs. The door creaked open and in strolled Pat, clad in an old t-shirt, covered in sweat, carting a large cardboard box.

“So,” he panted, “a few things.”  “First, the new agitator came today, it’s in. I just finished. Look how bad this old one was!” he exclaimed, holding up the old, broken washing machine part triumphantly.

“Second, did you go in the freezer before bed last night? It was open this morning- like really open, probably about this much (a quick demonstration ensued).  But don’t worry, I checked everything. The chicken sausage was still completely frozen- (looking at the worry on my face)- No, I checked it, don’t worry.”

“Anyway,” he continued, wiping sweat from his brow, “your dinner is on the stove. I browned the turkey and just threw a bunch of shit in it (adorable laugh), it smells pretty good though, right? I added taco seasoning, and I threw a little cinnamon in there since it worked so well with the bean chili. I just figured I’d give it another try. Let me know what you think.”

I followed my personal chef/handyman as he headed for the sunroom with the grimy old washing machine part. “I ran an empty load to check- I used like half the bottle of this Mrs. Meyers mint spray in it, I know you really like that one. So the instructions (wiping more sweat), I’m reading them and they’re like, ‘There’s this one bolt that has to come out, but to get to it you have to rig up this thing with a string and a tool, and really pull, but you still might not be able to get it out, it’s practically impossible unless you’re Hercules (adorable laugh). Cath, I just pulled- I mean, it took a few tries and I had to work it a little, but the thing came right out. Hercules…who even starts an instruction video like that? (adorable laugh, brow wipe) It looks like it’s working pretty well…”

In that moment, in that sun room, all I wanted to do was grab the box out of his hands and throw him right on the couch.

It’s funny how what sweeps you off your feet changes a little bit (ok, a lot) as time passes.

When we were teenagers, he used to sketch roses and fairies and leave them in my backpack or my locker. Once a week he’d visit me at my part-time job at a florist and bring me chicken salad sandwiches from Mr. Bruno’s, my favorite Italian place across the street.

In college he once left a little stuffed animal under the windshield wiper of my car. How he spotted my car in the cavernous mall parking garage STILL confuses me, but he did.

When we moved in together I would occasionally find those “Between You and Me” cards on my pillow when we were working opposite shifts. You know them. The tall cards with the long, ornate poems scrawled on 3 sides- he would always sign them “I always seem to find the ones that could have been written just about us.”

I mean, come on.

But time passes…and things change.

Engagement turned into marriage, and surprise flowers showed up at my office a little less often. But after working a double or an overnight, he would always walk wearily through the door with “your favorite sandwich from Natoli’s by my job site,” or a bagel with vegan vegetable cream cheese because, “I stopped for coffee and saw it on the menu, I couldn’t believe it! I hope it’s good for what I paid for it.”

And then…two turned into three, and three turned into four.

Children…they have a way of changing things.

Long, romantic, expensive dinners turned into grabbing a quick bite at the place down the street while my mother-in-law watched a sick child that we’d been home with for 5 days straight.

Spontaneous 3-day weekends turned into day trips to the zoo, planned around a nap schedule.

Marathon, hours-long sessions of…cuddling…turned into “Wait, let me check on them real quick and lock the door. Don’t fall asleep while I’m gone!”

And now I was standing in my kitchen at 7:45 on a Tuesday night, staring at my sweaty, disheveled, husband, who was so happy and animated as he talked about chicken sausage and washing machine agitators and botanical mint spray.

And I have never wanted him more.

Romance is nice- it’s lovely, really. We still go away once a year, just for a night, without kids or dogs, eat at an expensive restaurant, stay in a B&B, and stroll along a tiny main street with antique shops and cafes.

The other 364 nights?

We laugh a lot, over ridiculous things.

One of us waits in the kitchen with a glass of wine or a cupcake when the other texts “on my way, awful day.”

He sets my favorite mug under the Keurig before he leaves at 5 in the morning; on weekends I let him sleep late and push the “brew” button just as I hear him heading down the stairs.

We grab each other’s butts while we’re cooking and cleaning. This is a staple of any healthy marriage and I highly recommend it.

We’re there for each other.

In a household with 2 small humans, 2 destructive dogs, and so many loads of laundry that I’m surprised we’re not buried in socks (no wonder the poor washer keeled over), just being there for each other is a far greater expression of love than all the long-stemmed roses in the world (they’re over-priced anyway. I know- I worked in a florist.)

So romance…it’s all in how you look at it. Sometimes it’s Godiva chocolate and massages in a candle-lit room. Sometimes it’s a tired guy standing in front of you with a broken piece of plastic and a smile, and a pile of chicken nuggets on the counter.

I’ll take that second one every day of the week.

 

The End of an Era

I wish I was more like my husband.

I watched him calmly, methodically taking apart his half of the crib as I struggled to operate my Allen wrench through the ridiculous fountain of tears streaming down my face, and I just kept thinking, “Why can’t I be as solid as this man? Nothing rattles him. I’m dismantling an old, bitten, scratched up crib and I may cry so hard I need to sit down.”

(Spoiler Alert: I did cry so hard, and I did need to sit down.)

“Can you believe we’ve had this crib for 6 years? And just like that, we’re taking it apart.”

Pat replied with his signature smirk, “And this is the LAST time we’ll ever take it apart.”

He was referring to our 3 moves in 5 years, not our years-long debate about having a third baby (well, I had done most of the debating…he sat and listened and adamantly shook his head). But as he glanced up to smile at me he saw the blotchy mess that was my face and heard my feeble attempt at a chuckle, and it clicked.

“It’s just…so final, you know? For six years this crib has been a constant in every one of our apartments…it’s kept two babies safe and secure, and now it’s just…going on the curb, you know? It’s just so…it’s the end of an entire era in our lives, you know?”

He knew.

“You want to hear something funny?” He was attempting funny. “This is the most expensive piece of furniture we owned for all those years. Isn’t that funny? We sat on that cheap Ikea couch, but the crib…and it really held up! All those moves, taking it apart, putting it back together. And it stayed in great shape every time. A crib was our most expensive….pretty funny, right?”

I laughed- partly because he was right, but mostly because after all of our years together he knows exactly what I need. He knew he had to redirect before I crumbled like a stale cookie (much like the ones that are in various states of mummification underneath the car seats in my truck).

He knew I was going to run my fingers over every little dent and baby-tooth bite mark on its smooth surface, and remember tickling their chins and saying, “If you’re hungry you need to tell Mommy; don’t go eating the good furniture!”

He knew that as I turned the Allen wrench I’d reminisce about the day we excitedly took it out of the box and started putting it together, even though I was only 5 months into a high-risk pregnancy that had already almost ended twice…“Remember? It was in our little one-bedroom apartment in Garfield. And Jacqi and Alex walked in and I was sitting on the floor working on my half, and Jacqi said ‘Wow! You finally popped! Look at that belly, you finally look pregnant!’ Remember that?”

He knew I’d stare furtively at it through the window after we had placed it on the curb, and that I’d wonder how it was suddenly over. An entire chapter of our lives- a chapter I wasn’t ready to see being taken away by a garbage truck.

He knew that no matter how diligently my common sense (and our bank accounts) tried to convince me that we couldn’t expand our family, my heart twisted and turned with yearning for one more little face that would stare up at me from that crib, reaching out for a bottle or a blanket or a 2 a.m. cuddle session.

He knew.

So as we walked back into the house after leaving 6 years of our lives up against the sidewalk, he turned around, placed his hands gently on my shoulders, looked at me with that steady, calm gaze of his, and said, “I do remember putting that crib together in our little one-bedroom apartment. And now look at where we are. Look where these six years have taken us. How far we’ve come. It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?”

I hate when he’s right.

HATE it.

I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t anymore.

I had to smile as Gracie bounced around excitedly while we re-arranged her furniture. I had to laugh when she ran into her bedroom and exclaimed, “It’s my new magical big-girl room! It’s so cute! I just LOVE it!!” I had to smirk a little bit while she perused the area rugs at Target an hour later and declared, “Yes, that one. Fuzzy pink. I would like that one please. For my magical big-girl room.”

It was an ending, yes. It was an ending I knew was coming. It was an ending that I knew was going to wrench my emotions into a knot that landed somewhere in the pit of my stomach.

But it was also a beginning.

We had survived painful, high-risk, frightening pregnancies. We had survived sleepless nights and mystery infant illnesses and first boo-boos and pureed sweet potato crusted all over the walls (and the dog). We had survived 2 a.m. feedings and the horrors of teething and the torture of breast pumps and the wincing of my credit card every time I ordered another case of formula.

And as much as I wasn’t ready to leave all of that behind me (because believe it or not, you do miss it ALL when it’s over), I started to realize that I have so much more in front of me.

There will (barring divine intervention or a failed vasectomy) never be another crib in my house. But there is a full-size bed with Spider-Man sheets that’s perfect for cuddling with Vince while reading Harry Potter and exploring the ever-confusing world of Pokemon.

There will never be another newborn cry summoning me into a bedroom at 2 a.m…but almost daily I hear a 5:30 a.m. giggle as Gracie, enjoying her new crib-less freedom, pops into my bedroom, hops into my bed, and snuggles against me.

There will never be another bout of morning sickness or a frantic run to Shop-Rite at 11:30 at night because all I can hold down are lemons dipped in chocolate pudding…well, actually, I’m okay with not revisiting that.

So I’m not exactly the poster-child for “Don’t cry because it’s over- smile because it happened!”

No.

I’m more of an, “It’s over and I’m going to hide in the bathroom for five minutes and sob my damn head off until I can’t breathe, and you can’t stop me!” kinda girl.

But I guess it’s time to wipe my eyes, blow my nose and move forward.

One might say it’s the beginning of an era. And from where I’m standing, it’s looking pretty good.

Cheez-Its

“So then I said, ‘Cheese it, it’s the cops!’”

My poor mother’s face was so full of confusion as the laugh rose from the pit of my stomach and exploded out of me so forcefully that tears started streaming down my cheeks.

“What?! Cathy. That’s just what we SAID back then.”

“I’ve never….I’ve never heard….all I can think of is a giant Cheez-It in a police hat chasing you down…”

That was the end of my mother’s story about the night her cousin Johnny set off fireworks during a house party and she had to cover for him.

I pulled the car over and held my stomach as the laughter poured out and the tears flowed, and I couldn’t help but notice how nice it felt to laugh until it hurt. To cry until my nose started to run.

It was almost….cleansing.

I’ve been sorely in need of a good, hard, purifying laugh lately- we both have.

We’ve been too busy for this. Too busy researching symptoms and discussing our expert “I read this on the Mayo Clinic’s website” diagnoses. Too busy discussing how unfair life and death and illness are. Too busy telling each other that no matter what happens, we’ll get through it together. Too busy crying and wringing our hands and biting our lips when no one is watching. Too busy being terrified that someone we love, someone who completes us and is an integral part of us, might be leaving us well before we are ready to say goodbye.

We’ve been too busy to laugh.

But in that car, in that moment, in that Bonefish Grill parking lot, bellies full of lobster and filet mignon and sautéed veggies, we laughed.

Oh my God did we laugh.

And as my body shook with this pure, uncontrollable wave of happiness, I took a break from being terrified. I took a break from feeling sad and angry and helpless and in pain. And I thanked God or the Universe or my lucky stars or whatever you choose to believe in, that I had this moment, in the middle of this weekend, to refuel my resolve.

I looked over at my mother, who was giggle-crying as she shook her head and declared, “You’re such an idiot, Cathy Rose…” and I knew, somehow, that it was going to be ok. I watched her letting herself get swept away in our ridiculous moment and marveled at this whole other woman that I was suddenly getting to know.

I saw a woman who had decided that we were going away for a 3-day weekend to celebrate my birthday- the same woman who hasn’t been away from her husband for more than a night in 38 years.

I saw a woman who had sipped wine at not one, but TWO wineries earlier that day- the same woman who gives my sister and me worried glances every time we pour 2oz of sangria into a glass at a party.

I saw a woman who had spent hours relaxing in the indoor pool and jacuzzi at our hotel in the middle of the countryside- the same woman who has often declared she only likes “beach motels and outdoor pools- I just don’t do the whole “country” thing.”

I saw a woman who had climbed 7 flights-SEVEN FLIGHTS- of stairs while excitedly touring a castle earlier that afternoon- the same woman who sometimes struggles to get up the 3 steps from my porch to my front door.

I saw a woman who had jumped out of the car at every stop on the self-guided driving tour at Valley Forge the day before, telling me, “Who cares if it’s raining, let’s go see the huts! I love this stuff!” as I grumbled and shivered through the rain and wet grass.

I saw a woman who had spent the past 2 days telling me story after story about her childhood, her early days with my dad, her marriage, her career, her relationships with her family members, her regrets, her hopes, her dreams, her fears…all while we meandered through the peaceful, winding roads of Pennsylvania, on our way to this place or that, not really caring when we got there.

I saw a woman who was stronger than she gave herself credit for- maybe stronger than any of us knew.

I saw a woman who could stand on her own- a woman who LIKED standing on her own.

I saw a woman whose company I wished I hadn’t missed for so many years while we were busy being too stubborn to get through a long lunch, let alone a long weekend.

I saw a woman who I was so grateful to call my mom.

I saw a woman that I was so endlessly proud to call my friend.

I saw a woman who was going to be just fine.

We eventually pulled ourselves together enough to get back to our hotel, throw on our bathing suits and unwind in the jacuzzi. We looked like two women on a fun, spur-of-the-moment trip together, two friends who had been this close forever- two people without a care in the world.

The other people in that pool had no idea that we’d almost cancelled our trip because we both felt too heavy to celebrate anything. They didn’t know we had stopped at a chapel on the way to the hotel, lit candles, kneeled in a pew, prayed our asses off, and given each other a reassuring embrace in the middle of the aisle when no one was looking.

They didn’t know that 5 or 10 years ago we both would have laughed in the face of anyone who suggested we take any kind of trip together.

They didn’t know how grateful I was to be making these memories with someone with whom I had prayed I would one day share any kind of relationship.

They also didn’t know that this trip had told me everything I needed to know about the kind of woman my mother is, and the pillar of strength she will be when the time comes for her to hold herself up.

So we haven’t had much time to relax lately. We’ve been quite busy worrying ourselves into the abyss over something that may or may not be happening to someone we love (in my family, we have honed the art of patching together the worst-case scenario and then wearing it like a coat).

But in that brief moment- imagining a hat-wearing, badge-flashing cheese cracker ringing the doorbell of my parents’ first apartment- we shrugged off the coat, and we laughed.

And I know now, without a doubt, that no matter what happens, I’ll have one hell of a strong woman in my corner.

I also know that I’ll be bringing Cheez-It’s to every family function for the rest of my life.

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The Ugly Truth

This morning, as I was crawling along the wood floors, spraying and wiping the poop I didn’t know Marty had stepped in during her morning walk, trying not to gag from the smell and yelling, “Guys, I’m not asking again, brush your TEETH!” I was reminded of a conversation I had a few days ago.

“I don’t know how you do it all. Two jobs, the commute, two kids, two dogs, and you still make time for everything!”

I started laughing thinking about what that person would say if she saw me now, sliding along the entire first floor of my house in a dress, blowing my frizzy hair out of my face, and spraying Mrs. Meyer’s mint cleanser every few inches in an attempt to clean all of the crap my dog was (still) gleefully stamping all over the house.

It’s not the first time someone has said it to me. I get a fair amount of “I don’t know how you keep it all together,” and “How do you find the time to do all these special weekends and themed nights with your kids?!” I also get the occasional “You’re such an incredible mom- they’re so lucky they have you as an example of a strong, confident woman.” That one really makes me roll on the floor.

So here’s how I keep it all together.

Here’s the ugly truth.

Most mornings, I blink back tears at least once and curse myself for not doing lunch prep the night before as one dog runs into the water cooler again, the other dog craps on my floor, and two kids refuse to put their shoes on or throw their pajamas in the hamper.

Most nights, I curse myself for not having time to fold the laundry, read one more chapter of Harry Potter to Vince, or sing one more song to Grace as I drag my feet up the stairs and into bed.

At some point during most of our “surprise weekends” or “themed nights” I’m stressing myself trying to find the “next adventure” and wondering if they’ll ever remember any of it anyway.

I see a chiropractor for the chronic back pain caused by the commute, and a therapist for the anxiety and depression that nag me almost daily.

I drink a glass of wine, stand in the kitchen eating crunchy peanut butter out of the jar, or listen to metal bands to calm my nerves.

As much as I try to celebrate my mom body, I often frown when I look in the mirror because all I can see is a floppy mess; I absently stick my fingers into my stretch marks or gently tug at the kangaroo pouch that I have to tuck into my jeans every morning; and when my husband wraps me in his arms at night and whispers in my ear that my body has never looked so beautiful, I’m firmly convinced he’s full of shit.

When my children have pushed every button and trampled on every last nerve and I reach the end of my rope and raise my voice, I immediately feel guilty and slightly nervous that my neighbors are going to call child services and report that a raving lunatic is living next door. Although so far they just keep inviting me over to have a beer on their porch, so I think they can see right through my kids’ angelic facades and are trying to rescue me.

When I see pictures of my friends’ beautiful vacations, clean, neat homes, and brightly smiling children I wonder how they keep it all together, admire their amazing lives, and bite my lip as I wonder if I’m quietly known as the “failure” of the group. I also wonder if they’ll share the magic of how they get their kids to brush their hair, wash their faces and wear both shirts AND pants. I’m really in awe of that.

So that’s the ugly truth. I don’t do it all. I certainly do not keep it all together. I barely have time to breathe. And most days, I am far less than incredible and hope that my children don’t turn out anything at all like their twitchy, nervous, self-doubting mother.

But here’s the not-so-ugly part of it; I never quit. When life hands me a morning of poop-streaked hardwood floors, I get on my hands and knees, scrub them, wash my hands, and move along. When I’m so exhausted from reading and singing that all I have left to give are cuddles, I cuddle the hell outta those kids. When the anxiety of not doing enough or being enough plagues me, I remember that when I walk through the door every night their eyes light up and they trip over themselves to wrap themselves up in my arms and tell me all about their days. I remember that when my husband is doubting himself, the first person he turns to is me.

I might be a mess, but damnit if I’m not a loyal, dedicated one.

I sometimes wonder what I did to deserve any of the incredible miracles that exist around me- a husband who greets me each night with a kiss on the forehead and dinner on the table; two adorable, albeit always somehow very muddy and/or chocolate-covered children who are growing into sweet, compassionate, hilarious little human beings; two dogs who fill the house with love, goofy antics and the faint smell of wet fur (and sometimes poop); friends who stick by me through my best and worst moments…all of them, even the dogs, know that I’m usually not “all together” and yet, they continue to love me so fiercely that they keep me going even on my messiest days.

So why am I sharing all of this? Why am I letting you into the “one flick of a tile away from toppling all the dominoes” situation in my brain? Because I’m fairly certain this is all of us. We’re all a mess. None of us are “together.” None of us “do it all.” We just fumble through each day, determined and driven by all the blessings around us that keep recharging our batteries.

And that’s okay.

Kids are tough. Jobs are tough. Pets are tough, and smelly. Marriage is tough. Who could handle all of that alone? Text your friends; tell them when you’re having a day and let them recharge you. Recharge them when you know they need it. Leave the laundry for tomorrow, eat the peanut butter out of the jar, and find someone to cuddle. Cry if you have to. Hide in the bathroom and play Snoopy Pop- if you can’t do anything else productive at least you can say you freed a few Woodstocks from colored bubbles.

Just don’t quit.

And when someone marvels at how you do it all, just smile. Because some days you may not think you’re that incredible, but let me tell you something.

You are.

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The Secret

Thirty-seven years.

Thirty-seven years of the same person, day after day, night after night, moment after moment.

When I look back at my childhood, I often wonder how you guys lasted thirty-seven years. I’ve tried to discover the magical secret that kept you together when anyone else would have tossed the rings and the commitments out the window.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize this is your secret (and I’m about to share it with everyone, sorry):

You took 37 years, and you lived them moment by moment.

Thirty-seven years of incredible, wonderful, horrifying, frightening, peaceful, blissful moments- you took them as they came. One at a time.

Like the moment you walked into a shopping mall to buy curtains for your very first apartment, saw a puppy in a pet store window, and went home as a family of three (a curtainless family of three).

The moment you found out the baby you’d been praying for was growing inside you; the moment, 10 years later, that you watched her tired eyes light up when, after months of wasting away to nothing, she saw her doctor walk into her hospital room and say “We know what’s wrong, and we can fix it;” the moment, 11 years after that, she walked through the door and told you she was starting her own lifetime of moments with someone.

The moment you met your second little girl and Dad walked around the hospital room sobbing, thanking the entire staff, and exclaiming, “I have another daughter!” The moment, many years later, that you saw the lump on that little girl’s back and knew your life was about to be turned upside down; the moment, 5 years after that, that she told you in a few short months, you’d have a new title: grandparents.

The moment you arrived at my apartment to see pictures from our trip to Ireland and instead saw a cake on the table that read, “We’re having a baby;” the moment, 4 years later, that you walked into my hospital room at 3am to wish me luck delivering that baby’s little sister; and of course, the moment Mom held my hand as that little girl made her big entrance into the world.

The moments you were promoted at work and the future suddenly looked brighter; the moments you were laid off and that future was suddenly dark and uncertain.

The moment the doctor looked at Dad and said, “I’m sorry, it’s cancer,” and the moment he said “Congratulations, you’re cancer-free!”

The moment the doctor looked at Mom and said, “You need open-heart surgery,” and the moment he said, “She made it through.”

The moments that money was “ok”; the moments there was no money at all.

The moments when the new landlord would hand you the key and say, “Welcome to your new home!” and the moments the landlord would say, “I’m sorry, I’m selling the house.”

The moments we ran around the beach, gathering shells, building castles and holding your hands as you saved us from the biggest waves….and the moments the two of you adjusted to vacations being just the two of you.

The quiet moments, early in the morning, sipping coffee on the porch of Uncle Tony’s condo in Vermont while your two little girls sleepily watched cartoons and waved to you from the living room.

The crazy moments spent getting those little girls ready for their proms, their graduations, and their weddings.

Of course, we can’t forget the moment that started it all- the moment that Mom, you pulled into that gas station 38 years ago, rolled down your window, looked up, locked eyes with Dad, and suddenly couldn’t remember what you were supposed to say.

The moment Dad, you handed Mom that little plastic robot full of candy, and she opened it to find a ring.

The moment you stood in a church in front of everyone you love, and promised that no matter what moments were ahead of you, you’d face them together.

And you have.

You’ve taken a moment here….and a moment there…and used them to build this vibrant, full, infinitely strong life together.

You’ve used the best moments to show us how life is meant to be lived; you’ve used the worst moments to teach us how to handle ourselves when life refuses to cooperate.

And through every moment I’ve been lucky enough to share with you through the years- the good, the bad, the frighteningly ugly and the devastatingly beautiful- I’ve noticed one constant.

As each moment washes over you, your hands instinctively reach for each other, your eyes lock for a just a second, and you live that moment together.

So that’s it. The secret’s out.

Happy 37th Anniversary, Mom and Dad. May you have many, many more moments ahead of you, and may your hands be firmly entwined as you walk through each of them, one at a time.674096_0349

Rocco

Rocco had an “episode” a few weeks ago.

I saw it coming, slowly, for a few days, but I refused to see it at first. I always do.

“He’s just tired. He probably slept in an awkward position. He’s shaking because he’s cold; maybe I should turn up the heat.”

But eventually, I come to terms with it.

This time the “come to terms with it” moment happened when I held a treat out to him and he couldn’t take it.

He tried. He pushed it around with his nose and angled himself this way and that…but his jaw wouldn’t work for him.

He tried to look up and give me the “Mommy, we have a problem” look, but his neck betrayed him.

That’s when I came to terms with it.

I calmly picked up the treat and returned it to his cookie jar. I got down on the floor with a spoonful of peanut butter and held him in my arms at just the right angle for him to lap it up. When he was done I carried him to the couch, wrapped him up in a blanket, and let him rest.

Then I sat on the kitchen floor and sobbed.

I’m not sure why I continuously refuse to see it.

I was warned when we rescued him at 4 months old, and the vet rattled off the long list of ailments that befall miniature dachshunds.

I was warned when he went into acute liver failure at 2 years old and spent 5 days in the hospital, defying every odd, beating every prognosis, and making every staff member fall in love with his goofy, bobble-headed antics.

I was warned when, despite the twice-yearly dental appointments and twice-daily tooth scrubbings, he developed gum disease and needed surgery at 9 years old.

I was warned when, at 10 years old, he let out an ear-splitting howl and collapsed on the living room floor the night after Christmas, and I spent 5 hours in an emergency vet waiting room, praying that this wasn’t how we were going to say goodbye. They showed me the x-rays, talked to me about severe spinal arthritis of the neck, and told me that they couldn’t believe he hadn’t become paralyzed years ago. They praised me for his steady diet of whole foods, regular dosages of glucosamine and chondroitin, msm, fish oil, pei mussels, nightly back massages and leg rotations, and everything else we’d been doing since he was a puppy to stave off what was happening anyway. They told me if it wasn’t for that type of care, he’d already be gone. I left feeling like we’d somehow failed him anyway.

That was the night we sat up until the morning, talking about our options, holding him, scratching his ears, telling him how much we loved him…and promising him that if he told us it was time, we’d listen.

They had told me to keep doing what we were doing. They told me that we’d know when it was time.

When I saw him pushing that tiny treat around the floor- my dog, who used to eat an entire chicken breast in one breath and threaten to take down your hand if you didn’t get it out of the way fast enough- I prayed. I prayed HARD.

“Not yet. PLEASE don’t let it be time.”

For 2 days we held him. We watched him. Pat scrambled eggs for him. I held spoons with peanut butter while he happily, carefully navigated his way around them. I wiped him down, wrapped him up, and snuggled in bed with him at 2am after I found him lying in a puddle he’d made, most likely because he hadn’t been able to bend his back legs when we took him outside at bedtime. I whispered in his floppy little ear, “If you’re ready, it’s ok. I understand. If it’s time, I’ll be brave for you.”

I stayed up all night, preparing myself to make the phone call. I stopped praying for a miracle.

But I got one.

The next day, our pain-riddled old man bounced out of his bed and ate an entire bowl of food. He trotted outside, charged around the yard, and tugged on his leash to take a stroll up the street. He came inside and ate his treat, then ran over to our 50lb lab, Marty, grabbed her treat out of her mouth, and tore off into the living room while she tried to figure out what had just happened.

Before Marty or I could pick our jaws up from the floor, my spunky, goofy, stubborn, energetic little friend was staring up at me, tail wagging, feet hopping, looking toward his cookie jar. I looked at him and saw my 4 month-old puppy again.

We had made it through. Again. He had told me, loudly and clearly, that it wasn’t time.

I know it will be time, eventually. I know it when he can’t quite make out who is standing in front of him. I know it when he can’t hear me calling him until I tap him on the back. I knew it a few days ago when, for a few hours, his jaw failed him again. I know it on rainy nights when I have to hold him close and rub the ache out of his legs and neck.

I know.

But for some reason, when I see him, he’s not 13 years old. He’s not gray. His eyes aren’t cloudy and his walk isn’t shaky.

All I see is my spunky, goofy, stubborn, energetic little friend.

I see him posing proudly in his Halloween costumes (my favorites were Pirate, Frog, and Bumble Bee). I see him floating across the pool in an inflatable canoe, eyes closed and tail wagging gently in the sun. I see him peeing a circle around my feet and then staring at me vindictively from the doorway, after I yelled at him for jumping off the couch. I see him chasing a stink bug around the bedroom of our apartment and then shrieking and hiding behind me when it stopped running away and started creeping towards him.

I see him pressed against my chest catching my tears every time the little stick didn’t show the 2 lines I’d been praying for, and lying across my belly for nine months when it finally did. I see him standing protectively in front of the infant swing, chest puffed out, with a “State Your Business” expression on his face when anyone came to meet “his” new babies.

I see him dancing around the refrigerator at 5pm each night; bouncing at my feet as I finished Sunday morning eggs, turkey bacon and pancakes because he knew he was getting his very own bowlful; and getting his head stuck in an empty container of dairy-free ice cream that somehow made its way out of the recycling bin.

I see the silent keeper of my secrets, the giver of endless cuddles, and the only member of the house who wants to lie in bed with me and get sneezed on when I’m sick.

I know that one day I’ll have to come to terms with it. One day will be “that” day.

But it wasn’t a few weeks ago, and it’s not today.

So today, I don’t want to see it.

Today, I’ll just look down and see my spunky little friend staring up at me. And I’ll thank my lucky stars for small miracles.

The Funny Little Old Couple

So here’s the current state of affairs in our house.

“Gracie, no! That’s not how you brush your teeth. Look, look at me- no! You can’t just suck the toothbrush! Mommy, come in here please, she’s sucking the toothbrush and you need to tell her!”

“Vinny, she’s 2 years old. She’s doing her best. Leave her alone.”

“No, Mommy. No. She needs to learn the right way, and what she is doing is incorrect. We can’t just leave her alone and not teach her, she’ll get cavities, and they hurt, and she’ll need fillings…”

That was 7:30 this morning.

Last night…

“I’m all done with dinner!”

“Me too, I all done with dinner too!”

“Gracie, you are not all done, there is still ½ a meatball in your bowl.”

“I’m DONE!”

“Vince, honey, she’s just trying to be like you, let it go.”

“But Mommy I can’t. It’s not right. We can’t just let her say things if they’re not true, it’s not right.”

And here’s a little gem from Sunday morning:

“Gracie, please give that to me.”

“NO!”

“Gracie, you heard Mommy say no markers on the dining room table, only crayons. Now please give it to Vinny.”

“NO! It’s my marker and I use it because I wanna use it! Let GO!”

“Gracie, no! If you get marker on the table, it will stain. And if it stains we’ll have to find a way to clean it up. This is Mommy’s grandma’s table and we don’t want to make her sad. Now give me-“

“NOOOOO!”

“Gracie this is not nice! Mommy, she needs a timeout until she calms down.”

In summary, I’ve observed three things over the past few months.

  1. Vince is in fact an identical miniature of his father.
  2. My 5 year-old son has decided that he is my 2 year-old daughter’s primary parent.
  3. I may or may not be raising Sheldon Cooper.

I admit that I don’t often intervene unless things get ugly or someone is bleeding. There is something to be said for letting someone else take the reins for a minute so you can take 7 sips of coffee while it’s hot (yes, you can take 7 relaxed sips in a minute- anymore and you’re just rushing it. Not that I’ve counted.) Also, it’s not such a bad thing to have a mini-enforcer who is on the level of the child that is, well, a bit…headstrong and completely unwilling to listen to her actual parents. Yes, that sums it up nicely.

Besides, they’re not always butting heads. Oh, no, on the contrary. When they aren’t doing battle, they enjoy sitting hip to hip and watching Netflix; opening each other’s snacks; washing each other’s hair in the bath; having dance parties; cooking together in their play kitchen; and gently play-wrestling until Grace gets a little too real, starts throwing fists and launching arm bars, and we have to declare a timeout.

We like to refer to them as our funny little old couple. They exist on a fair amount of bickering backed by a foundation of unconditional love. We think it’s adorable.

But I’ve recently begun to wonder if my kids are perhaps too close to one another.

I find myself saying, pretty often, “Vince, you’re not her dad. You can’t tell her what to do.” “Vince, you can’t scold her like that; she’s not your daughter, she’s your sister.” “Vince, you can’t give her a timeout! You’re NOT her parent!” “Grace, will you please stop sitting on your brother’s neck?! And- hey, don’t spit on him!”

Ok that last one, that’s just something that disturbs me and I needed to vent. Anyway.

I mean, I’m so glad that they love each other so much. I’m so grateful that they truly enjoy each other’s company. But I’ve started to wonder if maybe it’s damaging them in some way to be so…well…in each other’s business all the time.

As though it heard my question, the Universe came through and gave my daughter the meltdown of all meltdowns.

At 7:45 this morning.

In my driveway.

Right next to my neighbor’s window (my neighbor who, I should add, texted me to say she hoped my day got better- THAT’S how loud it was).

Apparently, when I said, “Sure you can carry Mommy’s lunch bag to the car!” what Grace interpreted was, “Sure you can carry Mommy’s lunch bag to the car, bring it into the back seat, open it and eat everything in it!” When she found out that wasn’t the case…let’s just say it’s a good thing Mommy has catlike reflexes, because she hurled her head towards the gravel faster than Marty the Puppy dives into her bowl at breakfast.

Oh, but the mayhem didn’t end there. No, no, no. After flinging my lunch bag at me, the Tornado Formerly Known as Gracie demanded I hand over my phone so she could “watch a video while you drive.”

The response I wanted to give: “AAAAhhahahahaahahahahahahaa!!!”

The response I actually gave: “No, Grace, we do not get things when we behave like this.”

This, as you can imagine, did not sit well.

So here’s where the Universe pulled the bait and switch and gave me my answer.

As I pulled out of the driveway and headed towards our first drop-off, the screams died down and I suddenly heard the tiniest, quietest of exchanges going on in my back seat. I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Vince leaning his hand to Grace’s, who sniffled and reached out to hold it.

“Are you ok, Gracie girl?” I heard him whisper.

Sniffle. “I’m ok, Vincent.”

“It’s going to be ok, don’t you worry. Love you.”

“Ok, Vincent. Love you.”

Are you melting right now? I definitely was. Ugh, kids and the emotional rollercoaster they strap you into.

By the time I pulled into the school parking lot, all was quiet behind me.  I turned to let Vince know he could open the door…and saw him sitting on Gracie’s side of the car, whispering to her. She was staring into his eyes, nodding, and smiling. Then he kissed her forehead and I melted into a puddle on the floor of my car.

As I walked him to the door (3 feet from the car, people, don’t freak out. I didn’t give Grace the keys and tell her to take a spin around the lot while I dropped him off), I asked, “So, what were you talking to Grace about?”

“Well, I just wanted to make sure she was ok, and I told her if she just took a deep breath and calmed down, things would get better. I told her when I’m having a tantrum and start getting crazy, you tell me to sit on my bed until I can calm down. And once I do, everything is ok. So I was just letting her know, to help her.”

There was my answer.

Standing next to me, his tiny hand in mine, his curly orange mohawk glinting in the Sun, was one half of the best funny little old couple I ever could have asked for.

They’re ok.

I love that they love each other. I love watching them cuddle under a blanket and choose a movie together. I love hearing Gracie call, “Where’s my Vinny? I missed you!” after school, and watching Vince come running, calling back, “There’s my Gracie! How was your day?”

I love their silly arguments and their undying loyalty to one another. I love that he wants to guide her and protect her. I love that he’s the first person she runs to when she needs boo boo ice or someone to twist open her applesauce pouch.

As long as they’re not still washing each other’s hair in the bath in 5 years…I think they’re going to be ok.