Gifts

I am not a Grinch, I swear.

I LOVE the holidays- decorating, baking, lights, movies, hot chocolate in reindeer mugs- I’m all about it. But gifts? Eh.

Hear me out- we’re just not “stuff” people.

My husband and I have long given up on exchanging gifts. We buy what we need as we need it, so the idea of “buying just to buy” is uncomfortable for us. Plus, we like to randomly gift things to each other- the element of surprise is nice. Nothing says “I love you” like a really good bottle of bourbon or new fuzzy socks on a random Tuesday in February (fuzzy socks are a close second to food on the pathway to my heart).

And the stress that I see on other people’s faces as they’re trying to figure out “what to buy” and “how to afford it all” just seems…kinda silly to me. I thought the whole point was just to be with loved ones, not to foreclose on your mortgage to stuff as much as possible under the tree.

Yes, we make sure the kids have plenty of shiny boxes to open on Christmas morning (although they like to point out that  there are a disproportionate amount of books and educational toys in there), but we also repeat (until our voices are hoarse) that this season is about giving, not about getting a bunch of shiny new things. And before those shiny new things find their way into the kids’ bedrooms, they have to hand over their no-longer-used toys for donation.  Vince is totally on-board with this…Grace is a bit of a kicking, screaming work in progress.

And sometimes I think they get it. Like the other day, when I suggested going to the local zoo to see a Christmas light display and Vince, using his very-wise-and-adult tone, reminded me, “It would be nice to go, but let’s remember that the whole point of Christmas is being together and giving love, not flashy lights and cocoa with marshmallows.”

“Yeah but we can still have cocoa and smashmallows, right?!?!”  <— Grace, lover of all things “smashmallow”

Listen, I said to cut back on the materialism- no one said anything about taking away smashmallows. That’s just crazy.

Anyway…then there are the times I’m convinced they don’t get it at all- like last week, when Vince asked for a skateboard that shoots sparks. I said, “You already gave me your list.”

“I know, but add that. I want that and all the other stuff.”

Sigh, palm to forehead.

“Vinny, you remember that it’s just a list of things you’d like, and you’re not getting all of them, right?”

His mouth grumbled, “Yeah,” but his face said, “Eff you lady, I want it all and I want it now!” I had mental flashes of Veruca Salt dancing on the EggDicator.

And then there are times like last night, when I realize that maybe I’m the one who isn’t getting it.

Pat and I were doing the “bath-pajamas-book” routine when I peeked into Vince’s room and found him lying on his bed, his face buried in his hands.

“Bud, what’s wrong?”

“Your Christmas morning is going to be ruined and it’s all my fault.” <— Vince, lover of the dramatic delivery

“What? Why?”

“I bought you a gift at the holiday shop at school today.”

“I know, the earrings- I love them!”

He was too excited to wait for Christmas, so we all got our gifts the moment we walked through the door last night.

Also, please don’t tell him that I don’t have pierced ears.

“No….I bought you something else. It was a flower. And I can’t find it.”

“Oh! Well, it has to be somewhere, let’s look together.”

Spoiler Alert: It was nowhere.

More sulking ensued.

I tried to reason with him. “Vince, you gave me a great gift, and I got it early which is really cool. I don’t need another one.”

“Yes you do!” he replied, suddenly in tears.

“Bud, what’s going on?”

“Mommy, there’s never anything under the tree for you and Daddy.”

“Well….no, but we have enough fun watching you guys open your stuff.”

“But that’s not fair! You’re the best Mommy ever, and you do everything for us, and on Christmas morning you make sure we have so many gifts to open, and you give a bunch of food and stuff to other people who don’t have anything. And you don’t get anything. It’s not fair. You deserve presents. It was a really pretty rose, and it was incidented (I’m guessing scented?? Jury’s out). It was going to be under the tree so you’d have something to open on Christmas morning. So you’d finally have a gift under the tree.”

Oh kid. Please don’t make me cry in the middle of the bath-pajamas-book routine. It’s timed very specifically, and any incidence of sobbing just throws it all off.

“Vince, thank you SO much. Thank you for thinking of me, and for planning that really nice surprise. I’m so sorry it got lost, but I have some good news.”

“What?”

“This, what you just told me- that’s the best gift ever.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is. And when you and Gracie snuggle in bed with me after Daddy leaves for work. And when you ask if you can set the table or load the dishwasher. And when you share your blanket when we watch a movie. And…hmmm…when we sing together in the car! Dance parties…and when I’m sick and you hang out with me and teach me about Pokemon. Vince, you and Gracie are huge, huge gifts for me. Having these two little people that I made, who want to love me with all of their hearts- Dude, there’s nothing better than that. Nothing.”

“Really?”

“Definitely.”

“Ok…but we still have a problem. I bought Daddy an extra gift so he’d have something to open too. So now he has one and you don’t.”

“Ok, how much was the rose?”

“$6.”

“Ok, Daddy will take you out this weekend to buy me another surprise. As long as you promise you understand that there’s no better gift than you guys –deal?”

“Deal!”

I left his room marveling at how I had managed to create a little person whose heart was bigger than his whole body; someone who understood that Christmas gifts aren’t always about “buying just to buy,” but rather about small tokens that show love and give joy.

And then I smugly informed Pat that he had to take Vince to buy me a gift that was a beautiful, heartfelt representation of the sacrifice, love and care that I, as a mother, pour into our children’s lives….for $5.99 or under.

“I like cookies,” I added.

“Done.”

Hey, I may not be a stuff person, but I’ll never turn down comfort food (in case you’re wondering what to buy me this year).

Visiting

“What are all those things?”

“What things?”

“The big rocks over there in that park.”

We were driving past a cemetery. This was going to be a load of fun.

“Those are called gravestones. We put them there to visit people who go to Heaven.”

“So you talk to the rock?”

“Yes, but…like, my grandma Gracie, I go and sit at her stone and tell her about my life, and about you guys, even though, I mean, I don’t HAVE to be there for her to know stuff. She can see us and she knows what’s going on.”

“Because she’s in our house? Floating around? Like a spirit?”

“Well, yes and no- I don’t think she floats around our house like Casper-“

::Hysterical laughter from the back seat::

“-but I do smell her perfume sometimes. Like she’s…around…you know?”

This was going so well. So very, very well.

“Ok how about…would you like to come see my grandma with me?”

“Now?”

He was battling a sinus infection, it was 28 degrees outside, it was noon and neither of us had eaten, and my logical next step was to bring him to kneel on the frozen ground and talk to a cold gray stone.

Maybe my head was clogged too.

“Sure, I haven’t been there in a while- let’s go together.”

The truth is, I don’t visit my grandmother’s grave very often, partly because I live almost 45 minutes from the cemetery and partly because I don’t believe you need to sit in front of a grave to feel connected to someone.

But mostly because it’s too damn hard.

It’s been 8 ½ years and I still can’t approach that stone without flashing back to where I was standing that day; where I placed the rose on her casket; where my shoes sunk into the ground because it was one of those rare cold, rainy days in May. I like to tell myself it was the joyful tears of her parents, brothers, and the husband she hadn’t embraced in 32 years, pouring down from Heaven onto us as they had their big, happy (most likely boisterous and involving mussels marinara and pinochle) reunion.

But no matter how much I tell myself that story, I still can’t stand on that spot without losing it. I can’t have a “nice” visit with my grandmother.

And now I was bringing a (sick, hungry) 6 year-old boy to “meet” her. This was a terrible idea. This was not the right time. This…was happening, because I had already pulled into the lot.

“Wow! Look at those thrones! They’re huge!”

“What thrones?”

“Those!”

“Oh, no, those are just very large gravestones- some are bigger than others.”

“STONES! I thought you said thrones.”

I smirked and giggled, which I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to do in a cemetery but I wasn’t struck down, so we moved along.

“So….where is everybody?”

“What do you mean?”

I knew what he meant.

“I mean, if their thrones-“

“Stones.”

“-stones, are here, where are….they?”

Shit.

“Well…they’re under the stones.”

“You buried your grandmother in the ground??!!”

“Well, yes. See, our bodies are just these things that we borrow when our spirits come down from Heaven….once the spirits go back up, they’re just an empty shell that doesn’t work anymore. So we…”

“Put it in the dirt.”

“Um… yes.”

“Oh….ok. That makes sense. Since no one is using it anymore.”

Maybe he could handle this after all.

Turns out he could- I couldn’t.

I parked, took his hand, led him over to the plot, and kneeled to pray, silently willing myself to keep my shit together so I didn’t scare the poor kid.

I was barely level with the “throne” before I felt the silent sobs wracking my body. I stared at her name and the pain shot through me like it did the day we buried her.

Well, I tried. I just wasn’t capable of having a “nice” visit with her.

And then…I felt his little hand wrap around my back, and his arm pull my head onto his shoulder.

“It’s ok, Mommy. It’s ok. We don’t have to do this. Let’s go back to the car.”

I looked up at this little old soul staring reassuringly at me, and I giggled again.

“What?”

“Oh Vince, she would have LOVED you.”

“You think so?”

“Oh my God, you guys would have been best friends! And I promise, she’s around- she sees and hears you. When you were in my belly she came to me in dreams and gave me advice. She told me you were going to be a gymnast during your birth but that I’d be ok, and that’s exactly what happened.”

“Oh yeah! I flipped over and climbed into your ribs while you were trying to push me out of your belly button!”

“Yup!”

Tell him anything other than belly button and I will ban you from this blog. All of you.

“And remember you told me there was an empty chair in the delivery room, and you thought she was there??”

“Oh she was SO there, buddy. She wouldn’t miss your grand entrance.”

“I’m really sad I never met her, Mommy. I wish she could have waited until I was born before she left.”

“You know what? I don’t think it could have happened that way.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m pretty sure she’s the one who sent you to us.”

“You mean she told God which baby to send?”

So I told him the story.

She wanted us to have a baby so badly, but we weren’t ready. And then she was gone. And then, when we started trying, it just wasn’t happening. We gave up and went to Ireland, because we figured if we couldn’t have a baby we could just travel and see cool stuff. And one day we were driving through this little town, and we pulled over to get a better look at this impossibly tiny church. The door was unlocked, and it was pouring outside, so I slipped in, looked around, and something just…came over me.

“So I got on my knees and started praying. I prayed to my grandma Gracie to find a soul that needed a Mommy, and to send it to me.”

“And she sent you me!”

“And she sent me you, because a few weeks later, I found out you were in my belly. She hand-picked you for me, Vinny. And do you know how I know?”

“How?”

“Because I see SO much of her in you.  The way you worry about everyone, the way you just burst into song, and how you’ll do anything to make people laugh…and your love of hot dogs and chicken on the bone, of course…and oh! The hugs! You hug with your entire body. She used to do that. She was the BEST hugger.”

“I hug like Grandma Gracie?!”

“Yup! Whenever you hug me I remember what it was like to get a Gracie hug. She’s still here, Vince. She’s in all of us, especially you.”

“Wow. So I guess I do know her.”

“You know her very, very well, my friend.”

“Thanks for bringing me to Grandma Gracie’s throne.”

“Stone.”

“Ugh, I keep doing that!”

I looked at my son, glowing and giggling, and once again couldn’t stop the tears from pouring out of me- but they weren’t the sad sobs I was used to when I came to this place.

This, for once, was a “nice” visit.

She always did have a way of showing me the good in everything.

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The Pangs

“Mommy?”

“Yeah, Bud, what’s up?”

“Um…I think I know the answer, and if it’s no I understand, but…do you think you might be able to come to my Halloween parade tomorrow?…..Maybe?”

“Bud, I’m really sorry but I can’t. I don’t have much sick time left at work so I can’t leave early. But we’ll be on vacation next week and we’ll spend a ton of time together!”

“Oh….yeah, ok. I understand. It’s just…you took a day off to go to Gracie’s field trip to the pumpkin picking place, so I hoped maybe you could do something with me too.”

Pang.

“Vince….I’m so sorry. But I did go to your walk-a-thon last year! And I collected all that money for your walk this year, and I’m selling those spice packets for your fundraiser…I’m doing everything I can, Bud.”

“I know, Mommy. And I love you so much, you’re the best Mommy. And I understand…I just wish you could be there.”

Pang.

“Well…we’re going to get your haircut tonight, maybe we can do something fun after that!”

Because grabbing a donut on the way home from a haircut is exactly the same as being there for his Halloween parade.

Lately I’ve been living in a constant state of pang.

Does anyone else go through this? I can’t be alone here.

But I was alone in the dining room while Vince was burning a hole through me with his sad blue eyes this morning. I had no one to swoop in and tell me what a great mom I am, that I’m doing the best I can, that it isn’t a tragedy to miss a 20-minute Halloween parade.

Nope, it was just me, staring into those huge pools of 6 year-old sorrow, feeling the pang.

You know the pang- I’m sure you’ve had it. That quick, aching feeling that tugs at your chest whenever your kids unwittingly break a tiny piece of your heart- that’s the pang.

I’ve been plagued by them lately.

Saturday, while I was lying in bed trying to recover from a particularly persistent bout of my adrenal disorder, and Vince, who hadn’t left my side for 3 hours, said, “I really hope you feel better soon, Mommy. I don’t like seeing you like this. Weekends are for family time and family adventures.”

Pang.

Last week, when I walked through the door after a workday so long that Pat had to pick both kids up from school, and Grace came flying into my arms squealing, “I missed you! You said you’d pick me up and we’d go for the special cupcakes because I didn’t have any potty accidents last night, but you never came to get me. I was so sad, Mommy.”

Pang.

When Vince learned about martial arts summer camp and was so excited that he could barely get the words out…and I had to gently explain that we won’t be able to afford it this year, and watch his eyes turn down as he said, “Oh, it’s too much dollars? Ok, I understand. I’ll go to the other camp that we have enough dollars for.”

Pang Pang Pang Pang PANG.

This morning, as the pangs were raging, I wanted to tell him that I’m doing so much that most days I feel like I’m going to collapse. That I lovingly set out outfits next to their favorite seats on the couch each night before I go to bed. That I leave their protein bars and applesauce pouches on the table in case they wake up before me. That I make sure to always put Grace’s milk in her favorite Minnie Mouse cup, and warm Vince’s while he’s getting dressed because, “Cold milk makes me feel so freezy in the mornings!”

I wanted to tell him that I gladly took out a pension loan to pay for a martial arts after-care program this year so he could work on his confidence and anxiety issues. That I worked late every night for a week just to make up some of the time I had to take to chaperone Grace’s field trip. That I’ve given up most of my time with my husband to sit in each of their beds, sing songs, hear about their days, check their closets for the Sanderson Sisters (Hocus Pocus was not a smart movie pick last weekend), and read their favorite books for almost an hour each night.

But I’m not great at focusing on the positive. I’m much more skilled at beating the hell out of myself (as my bonus-mom, Marion, often points out, right before she exclaims in frustration, “You’ve gotta stop doing that to yourself!”- but hey, what can I say? Self-doubt is one of a mom’s greatest talents).

So all I said was, “I really am doing the best I can, Vince. I’m sorry I can’t be there more.”

I really was sorry. Sorry that I took a largely dead-end job so I could be there for the kids, but all I do is work and sit in traffic, and I missed Field Day last year, and I can’t go to the Halloween parade, and we can’t afford martial arts summer camp, and I’m not doing enough, and what if they start to feel neglected and all they remember of their childhoods were all the things I didn’t do?

And then something happened (because you knew this had to turn eventually)

Both dogs were walked, fed and snuggled in their beds with their treats. Bags were packed; teeth were brushed; shoes were on (not on the right feet, but I’ve learned to pick my battles); lights were off; stove was checked 3 times because I’m slightly neurotic; and we were shuffling out the door in our usual morning parade of lunch boxes and coats and “Guys, please walk a little faster, we’re really late!”….when the kids spotted frost on the ground.

“GRACIE! Look! Frost! Jack Frost came last night! MOM, he IS real!!”

I watched my kids drop their bags, run down the stairs and begin crunching their shoes on the frozen front lawn, dancing around together and squealing, “Jack Frost was here! Jack Frost was here!”

I watched them run to my truck and examine the swirls of ice on the doors and windows, wearing looks of wonder so great it was as though Santa Claus himself was standing in front of them.

I remembered our movie night a few weeks ago- it was about how Jack Frost came to be. I remembered baking Halloween-themed desserts for them, and snuggling under throw blankets while we watched Jack discover his origins and save the world from the Boogie Man. I remembered Vince holding Grace tightly during the “scary” parts.

And I guess they remembered too.

And I felt the pang in my heart…but it was the best kind of pang.

You can’t be everywhere, or give them everything. None of us can (nor should we, for that matter).

So when they look at you with that deflated expression when you have to say no, don’t let it undo you.

Don’t let the pangs get you down.

Because inevitably, just one of the things you DID do will stick with them, and fill them up, and keep them going. Even though it doesn’t seem like it, they see what you’re doing. They feel how much you’re loving them. Somewhere under the sad eyes and the “all my friends have this/went there/did this…” is a very real, very deep gratitude for you that they quietly carry with them.

And just when you feel like you can’t give another little piece of yourself, they’ll hand you some of that gratitude.

And it will fill you up. And hopefully, give you the best kind of pang.

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A Nice, Full Night’s Sleep

This week, Moldy Monday was followed by Soggy Tuesday.

*Warning to Parents: The following passage may elicit strange feelings of déjà vu (mostly because this is likely every godddamn night in your house too).

9:30pm

“I’m going to bed early so I can get a nice, full night’s sleep!”

10:30pm

Jolted awake by a panic attack

11:30pm

Jolted awake by a dog having a panic attack (or choking on the piece of toilet paper roll she tried to eat at 7:30pm- the jury’s out).

12:30am

Jolted awake by footsteps. Footsteps inch closer and closer.  Eyes are squeezed  as tightly as possible to prevent the owner of said footsteps from knowing I’m awake.

12:31am

Footsteps cease. Sniffles commence. Sniffles graduate to quiet sobs. Eyes reluctantly open to find a forlorn, wild-haired, very soggy 3 year-old standing next to my side of the bed. Soggy child points to her pants repeatedly.

“Did you have an accident?”  Pointing continues.

“So you had an accident?” Pointing becomes increasingly more frantic.

“DID YOU PEE YOUR PANTS?”

“Yes! Why are you yelling at me?!”

12:45am

Pee-soaked child is washed; bed is stripped; new, dry pajamas are on; child formerly known as soggy is gleefully bouncing up the stairs to my bedroom.  Dry, gleeful child climbs directly into the warm burrow of blankets and sheets that I’ve carefully constructed over the past few hours.

Whatever. At least I can finally get some sleep.

1:30am

“Mommy, is it time to get up?”

“No.”

2:00am

“Mommy, can we watch tv?”

“No.”

2:30am

Child commences restless shuffling, sighing, and kicking. I am now perched precariously at the edge of the bed. My head is inches from the corner of the nightstand. This could end poorly.

Whatever. If I get knocked unconscious at least I can finally get some sleep.

3:30am

Husband exits the bed. Child follows.

“Grace, it’s not time to get up. I’m taking a shower and going to work.”

Child collapses into a sorrowful heap on the floor.

“Grace, stop, get back in bed with Mommy. This is ridiculous.”

Child gets up, walks towards bed, and swiftly throws herself back to the floor.

“Grace, get back in the bed! It’s 3:30 in the morning!”

Child commences hysterical, body-wracking sobs and throws herself into my arms.

Husband throws up his hands and exits bedroom.

Child flashes red, fiery eyes in my general direction. “Why does he DO that?! He ALWAYS DOES this to me!”

“Does what?”

“He GETS up and I WANT to go downstairs JUST to get a baba milk and THEN come RIGHT back to bed but he ALWAYS says no and tells me to get back in bed! It’s not nice! It’s not FAIR!”

“Grace, this is literally the first time that has ever happened.”

My comment has reignited the red eyes of fire. Child pushes herself off the bed, retreats to a corner, sits on the floor; begins pushing the bedroom door open and slamming it shut with her panda sock-clad toes of fury.

Again. And again. And again.

Whatever. Maybe the creak of the hinges will lull me to sleep.

4:30am

 Mommy.”

Apparently the child has now returned from her self-imposed solitary confinement.

“What?”

“I can’t sleep.”

I internally rage scream Oh How Sad For You!!!

“Why?”

“Because I can’t sleep because I need to apologize for acting like that.”

“Ok.”

“I’m sorry. I love you.”

“I love you too, Gracie Girl. Can we please get some sleep now?”

“Yes.”

Child burrows into my carefully-crafted blanket burrow AGAIN.

Whatever. I can still get 1.5 hours of sleep if I fall asleep right this second.

4:35am-5:59am

Constant shuffling, snoring, kicking and disgusting amounts of blanket stealing by now soundly-sleeping  child. I seriously consider just getting out of bed and cooking all of our dinners for the week.

6:00am

Alarm makes cheery sound. I resist the urge to hurl it across the room into the laundry basket.

“Gracie, it’s time to get up.”

Child begins crying that she needs more sleep.

I resist the urge to hurl myself across the room into the laundry basket.

End scene.

*A Warning to Young, Carefree Coworkers:  If you should come into contact with any slightly puffy-faced, droopy-eyed, or otherwise not quite right-looking parents on this fine, sunny day, this is likely why.

Do not make snarky comments. Should you choose to make a snarky comment, exit the vicinity immediately and do not ask these coworkers for anything for at least 3-4 hours. Or days. Or ever.

Do not claim to understand or commiserate with us because you “had to get up at 7am to hit the gym after staying up to Netflix binge.” We long for those days.

Our bingeing involves 1800 renditions of Baby Shark and Baby Finger and other Baby-related earworms. Our gym time is now running up and down stairs with children covered in pee, peanut butter or the occasional peppermint gum that they swiped from our purses and smeared all over themselves.

Do not approach without a small gesture of understanding.

Hand us coffee, or chocolate, or just take all the work off our desks and offer to do it for us.

Just a small gesture.

But don’t pity us- we’ll sleep tonight. Or tomorrow night. Or when the kids move out.

You know, whatever.

 

Just Another Moldy Monday

My cousin Antonio approached me at a birthday party last weekend and asked, “Why do you call your blog Scrambled Eggs?”

I started talking about chaos and comfort and the hectic but warm element of our lives…it was all very profound.

But nothing makes a point like a real-life example. So here you go, Tony. A nice big helping of Scrambled Eggs. Extra scrambled.

Let’s begin.

Mondays are often long and exhausting, especially if your team had an action-packed, up to the last second game against the Kansas City Chiefs the night before. Double especially if your daughter then decided that 1:30am was a good time crawl into your bed and discuss the mysteries of the Universe. Triple especially if, after maybe 2 solid hours of sleep, you worked overtime and drove through a rainy traffic mess while said daughter belted out “Baby Shark” all the way home.

So I just ask that you keep my lack of mental agility in mind when you imagine my reaction as I walked through the front door and found my son sitting on the couch….with something growing on his face.

“Hi Baby, how was your OHMYGOD what is on your face?!”

Vince stopped mid-hug-stance and raised an eyebrow.

I morphed into Nancy Drew mode and looked him over. His hair was damp and he didn’t smell like old gym socks, so he had definitely just showered. So whatever it was had appeared post-cleansing. There, running down his left cheekbone, was a splattering of greenish…dots.

“There’s something….on your face!”

“What?”

“It’s a bunch of green dots….have you been playing with anything?”

“No but…actually Mommy, there’s something on my leg too.”

He lifted his pants to reveal 3 more clusters of dots on his leg, foot, and toes.

Initial assessment completed, I flipped my panic switch to “On.”

“Come into the kitchen,” I screeched as calmly as I could manage.

Pat, hearing my signature “I’ve gone to the bad place” tone, rubbed his eyes and followed.

I studied him from the left.

I studied him from the right.

I studied him in varying shades of kitchen lighting.

I turned him around slowly like a confused ballerina in Ninjago pajama pants.

I sniffed his face.

I asked Pat if he had seen any of these little clusters of doom on our sweet, innocent child’s skin pre-bath; he rubbed his eyes again and shook his head.

Then there was no denying it.

He was moldy.

He had the mold.

My child was covered in clusters of green mold.

I tried to breathe evenly as I asked him again and again, “Are you sure you weren’t playing with markers or stamps?”

“No Mommy, they just showed up out of nowhere just now! Am I ok? Do I need a hospital?”

(Saying he’s my twin is an understatement.)

I turned on Pat.

“You didn’t SEE any of these when he was in the shower? Are you sure? Are you SURE?”

Eye rub, head shake. “No. They weren’t there before. But Cath, look at them. That one almost looks like a pizza, and that one looks like a happy face.”

Too late.

My Nancy Drew senses were on overdrive.

I knew this house was too good to be true.

I knew we couldn’t actually be happy.

I KNEW it would all fall apart.

There was clearly so much mold in the air in this godforsaken house that hadn’t seen an update since 1952 that just being wet after a shower caused the spores to cling to him….or….oh God…or he had candida in his system and it was coming out in his skin!

We had to get him to a doctor.

We had to call a remediation company.

We had to foreclose.

We had to move into a van down by the river.

We had to BURN THE MOLD HAVEN HOUSE TO THE GROUND.

“Mommy, am I ok?”

“Of course, yes….let’s get a damp cloth and wipe these off of you and we may need to just call the doctor,” I said, trying to appear as reassuring as a woman with the crazy sleep-deprived eyes can look.

I’m guessing it was more “Mommy Dearest” than “Mother Goose.”

Once the mold infestation was wiped from his skin, I power-walked into his bedroom (I imagine Nancy Drew was a power-walker) to get his jacket….and there, on his bed, was a balloon.

Let’s stop here to review a few seemingly unrelated but crucial facts.

  1. Vince loves balloons.
  2. I think everything is mold.
  3. Vince loves to decorate all of his favorite things with washable marker.
  4. I tend to be…..excitable.

Ok now that we’re all caught up….

I stared at the balloon.

It was green. It was lying on his bed haphazardly.

It was covered in washable marker designs a la Vincent.

There was a smiley face….and a pizza….

Oh Lord.

I picked up Suspect #1 and carried it into the living room.

“Vince, this is a great balloon! Did you just decorate it?”

“Oh, yeah, that’s my new balloon. I drew all those pictures on it with my markers, and then I pulled up my pajama pants legs and kicked it around, and then I bounced it with my face….oh! Mommy! I WAS playing with markers! And I think I know what was all over me!!!!”

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and strolled into the kitchen with the tiny inflated plaything that had almost given me a stroke.

“You were right,” I mumbled to Pat, who somehow maintained a straight face as he handed me a plate of pasta.

To be fair, he’s had time to practice his responses- there was the time Vince threw tiny pieces of black “space putty” onto his ceiling and I thought we had a mold problem….and the time Gracie had a few spiders on her ceiling and I thought it was black mold….and the time-

Ok, you get the point.

And as we stood there, intently studying a pizza design on Vince’s little green balloon, Grace called out, “Guys, I Ate All My Chicken Nuggets! I LOVE KETCHUP!”

And we laughed.

And exhaled.

And laughed some more.

“Why are you laughing so much?” asked Grace, pointing a ketchup-covered finger in our direction.

“Because,” I explained, squeezing Pat’s arm, “because Gracie, it’s always chaos in this house. But I wouldn’t trade it.”

So what do we take away from this?

  1. Get more than 2 hours of sleep whenever possible.
  2. Never decorate a balloon with washable marker.
  3. Not everything is mold.
  4. Marry someone who has endless patience with your anxiety.
  5. Children are completely unreliable in an investigation.

And so that, Tony, is why we call it Scrambled Eggs.

“Normal”

Let’s talk about “normal.”

My daughter loves pink and my son loves ninjas.

Sounds normal? Ok.

My daughter also loves wrestling and my son loves fluffy robes.

My daughter wants to be Batman for Halloween, and my son asked if he could try mascara the other day.

Still sound normal?

Hopefully you nodded, but I know far too many people who would be feverishly shaking their heads, or at least raising an eyebrow.

If I hear one more time, “She should be a little princess!” or “He’ll learn to toughen up,” my head may actually pop off my body in a Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots-esque fashion.

For the record, people who keep saying these things- my son is a gentle soul who feels his emotions with a depth I wish more adults could tap into. And my daughter is NOBODY’S princess.

Why am I ranting about something I’ve already addressed? (Please see, “Peacefully & Beautifully Fierce” for the original rant) Because based on current events (globally, nationally, and in my own house), the first rant wasn’t enough.

I had a conversation with a friend this morning about what makes society believe that certain things are “normal” for one gender or the other. What makes us decide that princesses are ok for Grace, but not for Vince? That Vince can play football but Grace shouldn’t?

I’ve read a fair amount of literature that identifies the roots of the problem as gender reveal parties and baby showers. Are we conditioning them from birth?

I honestly don’t know.

At Vince’s baby shower I was gifted shades of blue that I didn’t even know existed. I was given onesies with every sport, dinosaur and fun-looking monster imaginable plastered across the front. I received a bunch of things that said “Tough Guy” and “Fighter.” Fast-forward 6 ½ years and Vince loves The Avengers, dinosaurs, and giant trucks with giant wheels. He also loves mud masks, his new glow-in-the-dark Halloween manicure, and bubble baths because, as he explains, “It’s like relaxing in a cup of warm cocoa.”

We bit into a few cupcakes when I was 12 weeks pregnant and pink frosting came out. Fast-forward 3 ½ years and Grace loves pink, princesses and pedicures…and superheroes, heavy metal, and pulling UFC-style moves on her brother until we have to literally peel her off of him because he’s about to pass out.

We visited a construction-themed amusement park this summer because Grace is obsessed with construction vehicles. A few weeks later, Vince and I did our nails, put on some paper moisturizing masks, and giggled until we cried while watching The Big Bang Theory (I fast-forwarded the adult situations, don’t worry).

At least in my case, I don’t think the baby shower or the gender reveal damaged their perceptions of who they want to be.

So why is some of this “normal” and some of it “wrong?”

Why, in 2018, are we still debating this? (Seriously, my blood pressure is ticking upward just typing this)

In the words of my friend, why can’t people just let them be?

Well, here’s my humble take on the whole thing.

I don’t think pink or blue is the whole root of the problem (but dear God, retailers, vary your advertising- girls like trucks; boys like pink. Explore it.)

I think “normal” is the problem.

“Normal” should be an individual attribute, not a universal measuring stick against which everyone is judged.

For Grace, normal is watching Fancy Nancy while wearing pink unicorn pajamas. Normal is head-banging in the back seat and singing along to the new Bullet for My Valentine song (I bleep the bad words, don’t worry). Normal is wearing her brother’s Captain America shield and racing his trucks (until he finds her and an epic sibling battle erupts).

And that’s all ok, and we honor it.

For Vince, normal is enjoying a few episodes of Elena of Avalor because he thinks it’s a great show (I agree- the way she keeps taking down Shuriki is the kind of badass we all wish we were). Normal is wearing his favorite Pokemon shirt and swinging his light-up sword all over my living room (and narrowly missing all the glass things). Normal is also trying on my shoes, jewelry, and lip gloss because he likes “being fancy.”

And that’s all ok, and we honor it.

We remind our children that they are loved; they are perfect just as they are; and they are free to choose their own normal.

We remind our children that everyone they encounter in life should also be free to choose their own normal, and that they need to respect that, and honor it.

We also remind our children that when they are not respected or honored, they have the choice to gently educate the other person, or respectfully walk away.

Vince has had to do both several times- he handles himself with a gentle confidence that I’m not sure I even possess yet.

Grace, at the wee age of 3, handles ridicule by announcing, “You are NOT my best friend right now,” flipping her head around, putting her hands on her hips, and marching in the other direction. I also don’t have that kind of confidence, and that’s ok because I’m not sure I’d look as adorable if I tried that. But she owns it.

We are not extraordinary parents who have created a perfect home.

HAHAHAHAHAAAAA…..not even close.

We don’t dance around them all day singing, “You sneeze rainbows and you are perfect in every wayyyy!” On the contrary, we constantly remind them that what comes out when they sneeze should never be treated as a snack or pre-meal appetizer (and then mouth “that is so f***ing gross” to each other as we gag).

We just try to promote expression and douse any little flame of intolerance or ignorance that they may unwillingly spark.

If a situation arises, we explain why you don’t make fun of someone for cheering for a different football team, having a certain kind of backpack, celebrating different holidays, or having religious beliefs that may not line up 100% with what we discuss when we take out our Bible at night. We tell them that whatever other people’s normal is, it is to be respected.

And if someone is not tolerant of their normal, we assure them that the actions of others do not ever mean they have to abandon any part of who they are.

Then we send them into the world to hopefully do the same for others.

We also never watch the news in front of them, because all of those things I just said? It doesn’t really seem like many people in charge (on either side) have a solid understanding of any of it right now.

I really think that’s it- ok, maybe not all of it, but a large part of it- give them respect, and remind them to give it to others. And when they forget, remind them again and again and again…and again…until they get it.

It seems so simple.

It seems like something that should be so…dare I say…normal.

Hopefully someday, it will be everyone’s normal.

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Breathe

I wrote about “enjoying every moment” a few weeks ago; I went on and on (and on) about how important it is to really breathe in every experience, because that it is the essence of life and the joy of parenthood and….and I failed miserably at it yesterday.

Hell, I’m pretty sure I forgot to breathe at all yesterday.

That is, until the world’s oldest 6 year-old set me straight.

“Are you happy that I’m here?”

He said it very unassumingly while intently watching a few bugs stroll past his shoe.

I looked down at my son, sitting on a wooden bench, checking out some ants, gently tapping his sneaker in the dirt- so content and at peace with life.

I looked up at the sky, where he had gleefully pointed out every airplane and bird he saw soaring over us on our way to that bench.

I looked at the field of flowers in front of me, where he had remarked, “It’s so nice that they planted all these flowers for you! Do you walk this trail every day at lunch? That must be cool;” and at the gently lapping water behind me, where he had spent a few minutes scanning the surface for fish, hoping against hope that one might pop out like a swimmer coming up after a dive.

And I was pretty ashamed of myself.

We had been given an entire bonus day together, and one of us had wasted all of it focusing on trivial, stressful, adult bullshit.

Hint: It wasn’t him.

He had rifled through my desk, found my Halloween decorations and, after plastering them to his face, had organized them into little groups on my window, all while telling me a very detailed story about Mommy & Daddy Ghost, Brother and Sister Ghost, the Pumpkin Family, and the witch and her pet cat.

He had popped up next to me every time he heard the printer humming and asked, “Did you print something? May I get it for you?”

He had moved my garbage from across the room so that I didn’t have to “bend and twist yourself around and hurt your back” while I was going through sheet after sheet of mailing labels for a project. (Of course I thanked him and told him what a great helper he was- I wasn’t going full Mommy Dearest).

He had filled my entire day with stories about his best friends, pictures of his favorite lizards and spiders, and popsicle sticks covered in intricate, carefully-colored designs (his newest hobby).

And what had I done all day?

I had told him to walk, not run, down the hallway when he needed to use the bathroom.

I had snapped, “You were supposed to spend your day off with Grandma, but you begged to come to work with me- now please find something to do because I am VERY busy today,” when he announced that he was bored soon after we got to my office.

I had let out an exaggerated sigh and reminded him that I was working when he had asked if I could look up his favorite spider online, so he could show me that they can be both spotted and striped.

I had shushed him while we were walking through the hallways, and when he asked why we had to be so silent I had whispered urgently, “Because you’re not supposed to be at my job, and I need to keep my job, so you need to be super quiet.” Meanwhile, everyone we passed in that hallway had given him a huge smile and a wave; the mail guy had jokingly asked if he could join him on his route; one of my bosses had gone out to lunch with us; the other had helped him leave me a voicemail to surprise me; and one of our HR staff had called him into her office to offer him a lollipop.

Clearly they were all furious.

But the worst display of my “Mommy is really no fun today” attitude was what led us to the bench.

Vince had asked if we could take a walk through one of the trails on my property. It was late afternoon. The office was quiet. The weather was perfect. I could have used 30 minutes of vacation time, left early, and taken a nice stroll with my son.

Instead I replied, “Ok, 5 minutes, but then I have to get back to my desk.”

I took his hand and headed outside like I was on a mission to reach a bus before it pulled off the curb, rushing past plaques he wanted me to read and saying, “No, not now,” when he tried to bend and smell the flowers (I literally told my child NOT to stop and smell the roses).

We stood at the water’s edge for 2.5 seconds, checked out birds flying over us for 2.5 seconds, and stopped at a bench he wanted to sit on for…2.5 seconds. Until I heard those words.

“Are you happy that I’m here?”

“Vince…of course I’m happy. You make my days so much more interesting!” I replied honestly.

“Good, because coming to work with you is my absolute favorite thing to do, Mommy. I love spending the day with you.”

And then my heart broke and landed in the dirt next to the bugs.

I had spent my entire day rushing him, losing my patience with him and shushing him, so stressed that he was going to break something or mess something up or annoy someone and get me in trouble….but the only frazzled, broken, annoyed mess in my entire building was…ME.

And even with the tension that had been radiating off my body like steam off a bowl of chicken noodle soup, being there with me was his absolute favorite thing to do. Despite the fact that his mother was wound tighter than a Slinky and kind of acting like a jerk.

I took a deep breath and exhaled.

I pulled him into my arms, rested my cheek on the top of his bouncy orange curls, and squeezed him.  “Vince, you make me happier than I could ever tell you. I love having you here with me, and I’ll tell you what. Even though I can’t take a long walk right now, why don’t we come back on a weekend and we’ll do every trail, and read every plaque, and point to every bird and fish??”

“Really?! That would be great!”

“And thank you for reminding me to be happy.”

“You’re welcome, Mommy.”

We strolled back to my office at a pace that allowed me to actually bend my knees, smelling some flowers and reading a few plaques about eels, crabs and ducks along the way. We cleaned up my desk and his art projects while talking about our favorite colors. We raced each other to the bathroom. And on the way home, we talked about life and pointed out the weirdest shapes we could find in the clouds.

Sometimes you need to be reminded that it’s ok to just be happy.

I’m reminding you.

Maybe don’t leave your boss a ridiculous voicemail or race your coworker to the bathroom- I feel like HR will give you something other than a lollipop for that kind of behavior. But the other stuff, definitely do that- smell the flowers, sit down and check out the bugs instead of checking your work email for the 8,000th time, find a flying goat in the clouds- and remember it’s ok to not be frazzled.

It’s ok to breathe.

Beauty

I couldn’t move.

My mind was screaming to my body, but nothing was happening.

I could feel the hot ice/piercing/tingling sensation rushing up and down my arms and into my neck; I could sense my chest tightening and my head throbbing; I could hear my breaths coming shallowly in and out; but there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

This was every morning now- my new wakeup routine. Life threw us a curveball last month, and as a result, this nightmare was my new normal.

Now, when I say curveball, I don’t mean the pipe burst/car broke down/flight got delayed type of curveball.

No.

This was a curveball that tested my marriage, my faith in God and my will to live.

It forced me to summon a strength I never knew I had, make decisions I never thought I could, and feel pain I never thought I could survive.

It was a big one.

And so now, here I was, on a Tuesday in September, paralyzed in my bed by my daily 5:30am panic attack.

I tried breathing, wringing out my arms, praying- nothing.

I started wondering if this was the one that was going to do me in.

“Mommy?….oh Mooommmyyyy…I’m coming up, it’s time to cuddle….”

I heard Grace’s voice like it was coming through a tunnel, her footsteps growing louder as she clomped up the stairs to my bedroom. I heard the door creak open, felt a flurry of blankets, and then, she was throwing her little arms around my neck.

I could breathe.

I inhaled the scent of her freshly-washed hair as she whispered, “Good morning, Mommy, I missed you while we were sleeping.” I raised one hand to tousle the curls on her head and feel the warmth of her cheeks.

I could move.

I opened my eyes and gazed at her as she stared at me, nose to nose, giggling as she gave me butterfly kisses.

I focused on the beauty.

I focused HARD.

As I lay next to her, exchanging butterfly kisses and plans for the day, I heard more footsteps dancing into the room- in a moment Vince was wrapped around me like a vine, singing, “Good moooorning, Mommy!”

I was surrounded by these beautiful little beings that I had created; these perfect souls that adored me, gave me purpose, and…needed me.

They needed me.

I felt the ice leave my arms and the pounding in my head subside. It was over. It had passed.

For now.

For anyone who doesn’t suffer from anxiety or depression, this may seem a bit dramatic.

For anyone who does suffer from anxiety or depression…this may seem like just another day.

And to you I say this- Look for the beauty.

When the ice fills your arms and legs, focus on warmth.

When the panic fills your mind, focus on simplicity.

I admit that over the past month, I’ve struggled to find beauty in anything, but I never give up until it shows itself.

The morning dew on a rose leaning against my front porch; the way the dogs dance in circles when they see me lifting their leashes off the “All You Need is Love…And A Dog” plaque I found at Pier One the week before we closed on the house; the sight of the creamer mingling with my morning coffee right before I take the first sip.

It’s all proof that life goes on, and it’s worth going on with it.

The way the sunroom glows with the light of the $4 string lights I found at Target this morning, while looking for pants to replace the ones Marty tore in a fit of “I Love You Mom!” excitement last week.

The way my body instinctively relaxes when the last kid is tucked in and Pat is waiting on the couch with my favorite sweet chili tortilla chips and the DVR.

The fact that Marty has been quietly trying to steal the pillow from my lap the entire time I’ve been typing this blog, stopping to bat her eyes at me every so often to “throw me off.”

The tiniest things, the ones that most people overlook- that’s what makes up a life. That’s what refills you when you’re on empty.

That’s the beauty.

Find it, and focus on it.

It will drain the ice, dull the pain, and relax the muscles.

This curveball, we’ll overcome it. It will be a part of my story, but not my whole story. We’ll move forward and heal and move on.

But until then, I will find the beauty wherever and whenever I can, and I will focus on it.

I’ll focus on the smell of dinner in the oven, the softness of freshly-washed sheets, and the security of a little hand slipping into mine as we walk into daycare each morning.

I’ll focus HARD.

And it will get me through.

Don’t ever stop looking for the beauty- it’s there, waiting to be seen, waiting to warm you up, calm you down, and get you through.

Even the Bad Ones

It was just about 11:30 last night, and I was curled up on the couch in my comfiest sweatpants with Rocco on my lap, a mug of lemon ginger tea in my hands, Marty the Menace puppy sleeping at my feet, and Will & Grace entertaining me from my DVR. I was FINALLY alone, relaxed, and-

Wait, wait. No. Sorry. That had been the plan; but we all know how “planning” goes.

What I was ACTUALLY doing at 11:30 last night was standing in the almost-empty parking lot of a 24hr CVS pharmacy, leaning into the backseat of my Kia Sportage, reaching towards a very sleepy Grace with a syringe full of Augmentin.

“Is it yummy or yucky, Mommy?”

“Hmmm, let’s see…it smells like berries, so it’s probably ok. But even if it’s yucky, it’s going to make your ear feel so much better, so you should probably take it.”

“….Ok. I’ll take it…..oh, that was kinda yucky, Mommy.”

You know what else was yucky?

The fact that I was still stuck in the dress I had pulled over my head at 6am. The fact that I was hungry and thirsty but all I had in the car were mints and ½ a cup of lukewarm water. The fact that my strapless bra was cutting into my ribs after almost 18 hours of clinging to them.

It was all decidedly yucky.

When you have kids, someone will inevitably tell you to “enjoy every moment, even the bad ones.” They will most likely tell you this when you’re deeply entrenched in your “new parent” stupor, so it won’t fully register. And then somewhere down the line, during one of those bad moments- say, standing in a dark, empty CVS parking lot at 11:30pm in a short dress and sandals, calculating how fast you could throw an elbow, get your 3 year-old out of the car and run if someone leapt out of the shadows and attacked- bam, you’ll remember it.

“Enjoy every moment, even the bad ones.”

You’ll wipe your Augmentin-covered fingers  all over your dress (because those stupid syringes ALWAYS leak), and you’ll think about how you had to get up early to beat the back-to-college traffic on the way to work that morning. And you’ll count how many sibling arguments you broke up (“This song is MY jam, not yours!”) while sitting in the hour of traffic that you didn’t, in fact, avoid at all.

You’ll remember inhaling a plate of old pasta with a can of tuna tossed into it at your desk, and then using your lunch hour to run an errand, because your life is not your own once you pull into the daycare parking lot after work.

You’ll recall rushing through dinner (after an hour of traffic and sibling arguments on the way home); wrenching your back when one kid leaned away from you while you were rinsing her hair in the bath; cleaning pee off the bathroom floor when the other kid didn’t quite make it into the bowl; and then getting into an argument with your husband when he declares he gets “no help around here.”

You’ll think about how you absently opened the fridge mid-argument, bats flew out, and you stormed out of the house in tears to go food shopping at a Trader Joe’s 20 minutes away, even though ShopRite is 5 minutes away, because Trader Joe’s has the vegan, gluten free breakfast bars that everyone in the house can digest without very, very bad things happening.

You’ll think back to lugging 8 bags of groceries through the front door while 1 dog danced through your ankles and the other goosed you (I told you it was a pretty short dress).

You’ll fondly remember FINALLY taking off your shoes, stretching out on your son’s bed and beginning your journey into the world of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban…only to abruptly leave Daigon Alley and leap off the bed when an ear-splitting scream escaped from behind your daughter’s bedroom door.

And you’ll laugh to yourself, because in that moment, remembering all the moments leading up to it, it will be almost impossible to “enjoy” anything besides the thought of falling on your face- because 1. You’re so close to falling on your face at this point and 2. If you did, at least you’d be unconscious and not have to deal with all this shit.

And so that’s what I was doing around 11:30 last night.

And then I looked at Grace, and she smiled at me.

Exhausted, hungry, and afflicted with underwire-induced rib bruising though I was, I couldn’t help but stop and look at her- like REALLY look at her.

Her impossibly tiny lips and round nose. One perfect ringlet of hair flopped between her eyebrows. Her still-slightly-chubby toddler fingers, one grasping the handle of her lollipop, the other holding tightly to 4 Paw Patrol stickers- the rewards of sitting through a doctor’s appointment at 11 o’clock on a Tuesday night.

“Enjoy every moment, even the bad ones.”

There is a very obvious glow that surrounds the good moments- family vacations, holidays, birthday parties. But there is also a subtle beauty to the bad ones, if you really look for it.

And as I squinted in the dimly-lit CVS parking lot, I saw it.

Last night was, as Grace so honestly described it, yucky. But being with her was decidedly un-yucky.

As we drove along the quiet highways en route to our hastily-scheduled appointment, I had whispered, “Gracie Girl, it’s going to be alright. Mommy will make it better,” and I had peeked in the mirror to see a small smile through her tears.

In the waiting room, she had rested her tired head on my chest while I inhaled the scent of coconut shampoo lingering in her floppy little curls.

While we drove to the pharmacy we had chatted about our favorite Paw Patrol dogs, the best lollipop flavors, and how nice it was going to be to get into our pajamas and snuggle under our blankets when we got home.

She had chatted with me while I showered, and announced that we should bring her sleeping bag to my room because “sleeping with you will make me feel better.”

And as I leaned down to kiss her goodnight she had whispered, “I feel better, Mommy.”

“I told you I’d make it all better, didn’t I?”

“Yup…you’re the best of the mommies.”

Did I want to split my time last night between a sterile-smelling urgent care waiting room and a mugger’s paradise parking lot?

No.

Do I wish my poor kid didn’t suffer from these eardrum explosions?

Of course.

Did I look forward to getting 2 kids ready for summer camp and then going to work to attend a 30-person retirement lunch I’d been planning, all on less than 3 hours’ sleep?

I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer.

But even on a decidedly yucky night, there was…good.

So unfortunately, I have to tell you something that may piss you off at some future point in time- but just hear me out.

Enjoy every moment…even the bad ones.

Now Keep Going

In my experience, we “creative” types aren’t always the most confident people. Most of the people in my little circle are prone to bouts of, “I made this thing! I’m really proud of it! Do you want to….no wait, nevermind. It’s awful.  I’m sorry for taking up 37 seconds of your time.” And so, when someone like me decides they would like to possibly share their work with the world….it takes a VILLAGE to push that person over the threshold.

So I’ve told you about a few of the major players in my particular village.

My husband, who went from encouraging to begging to handing me a glass of red and standing over me sternly until I hit “Publish.”

My mother, also known as my editor- although she always insists “It’s perfect!”

My father, who is quite possibly the person I admire most in the world, and who is my first phone call whenever anything happens in my life.

My cousin Jacqi, who texted me once a week, “Haaaaave you started the blog?” until I actually did it.

My friends, who patiently sat through a photo journal about my dog for a couple of years while I was working on my writing style.

But have I told you about Uncle Tony?

No, I don’t believe I have.

So….let me tell you about my Uncle Tony.

Uncle Tony is a very successful professional. He has a long-standing reputation for being formidable on his job sites. No nonsense. No patience. No margin for error. No bullshit.

But when it comes to him and me, I’m the lucky winner of a completely different guy.

Uncle Tony has always been, and continues to be, the not-so-quiet voice in the back of my mind, telling me, “You’ve got this. Go for it.”

When I was a little girl, sitting atop his shoulders and having the time of my little life at the Meadowlands Fair, he never spoke to me like I was a four year old spitting cotton candy onto his head.  We were old friends; he listened to my stories and my thoughts on life with truly engaged interest and patience.

When I was a teenager, driving with him to his condo in Vermont late one Friday night, he told me all about his plans to build a loft and asked for my opinion on his design ideas. When that loft was finished he told everyone that I was an instrumental part in bringing it to completion. That was a little generous- I can barely build a toddler Lego set- but hey, I’ll take it.

When I started modeling after college, he told me he was expecting to see my first major ad campaign on the side of a NYC bus (I was an art model for a local sculpture class, but who doesn’t dream of having THAT Carrie Bradshaw moment??)

When my first poem was published, he offered to take time off (which was UNHEARD of) and fly us to Florida for the weekend so I could read my entry at a conference.

He introduced me to his coworkers at his 60th birthday party as, “My beautiful niece, Catherine Rose. She is incredibly smart and has a very successful marketing career.” I worked for a food redistribution company writing newsletters about French fries and frozen fish…but people need to eat, right?

When Pat and I closed on our house, he told us how impressed he was that we had done it on our own, and that we should be very proud that we are completely self-made. I currently have $146 in my checking account and close to $100k in student loans, so I’m not so sure about that one.

My point is, he amplifies things. Magnifies them. Makes you believe that you’re already THERE when you feel like you have miles to go.

Now imagine having someone who has THAT much confidence in you; someone who has ten times the assurance about your future than you ever will.

That’s one of the first people you call when you publish your first piece.

And that’s just what I did.

And do you know what Uncle Tony said? (I bet you do)

“Well it’s about time! You are going to be famous, my dear. You have such a gift- and you have a reader in me.”

The other thing about Uncle Tony?

He keeps his word.

He reads every blog. He tells other people to read it. I once excitedly told him, “Someone in the Philippines keeps checking out my writing! I have an international follower!”

“Oh yeah that’s my friend Rod, he used to work with me. I told him and his wife they would enjoy it.”

When I landed my first paid writing job, I called him from the car. I could barely contain my excitement, but he just assured me, calmly, “Catherine Rose, I knew you could do it. It’s happening for you. I’m looking forward to watching you continue to succeed. I’m so proud of you.”

I called him in tears while I was holding my first freelance check. Same response. “I’m so proud of you. I knew you could do it. Now keep going.”

Having someone so staunchly in my corner for 35 years, never wavering, never doubting me, even when I not only doubted but completely gave up on myself (which I did, for many, many years)….it’s a feeling I’ll never be able to fully explain.

I push forward hoping that one day I’ll amount to 20% of the person he tells me I already am.

And when I’m hit with one of my frequent bouts of “You can’t do this, you’re never going to amount to anything,” I force myself to hear his voice in my mind.

“Now keep going.”

And so I do.

So it would be remiss of me to not let everyone know that there’s someone else sitting quietly behind the curtain, gently pushing me forward when I think it might be time to turn around and run.

Thank you, Uncle Tony.

Thank you for boosting my confidence and keeping me focused.

Thank you for letting me steal all the cheese off the top of your French onion soup from 1986-1995ish.

Thank you for shamelessly promoting me to your coworkers around the globe, and always being up for shooting a couple dozen raw clams by the pool with me.

Thank you for being so convincing that you actually make me want to believe in myself.

You keep pushing, and I’ll keep going.