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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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