Marty

I’m not really one of those “let life happen” people. I currently have my bill payment dates set through March. I make dinner menus two weeks in advance. I begin mentally planning the appetizers for my Christmas party in August. The most wild behavior I ever exhibit is when I put anything full-price in my cart at Target.

And then I met Sandy.

I strolled into Petco on that fateful Sunday afternoon full of holiday cheer, jalapeno turkey burger and garlic rosemary fries. Everyone had enjoyed our yearly pilgrimage to the Christmas Ice Caverns to see little animatronic elves dancing around with polar bears. Both kids had been not only well-behaved but, dare I say, downright delightful at the restaurant (when you have small children, Smashburger counts as a restaurant). Thanksgiving was just a few days away. Life was good.

But my heart still hurt.

Exactly three weeks prior, I had failed tremendously. I had given back a rescue.

I promise I had done all of my homework. Lined up my ducks so very neatly. Spent weeks before we met him having conversations with Ricky’s owner to help ease the transition for both him and our little old man, Rocco.

And yet, over the month that Ricky lived with us, his odd behavior worsened with each passing day.  Lengthy conversations with three different trainers produced mixed results. And then, early one Friday evening, the dog that I had agreed to take in; the dog that we had prepared so meticulously for; the dog that was coming into my home to help ease some of my son’s worsening anxieties…bared his teeth and lunged at Vince’s unsuspecting and stunned face.

Luckily, there was no physical damage. It had been a “warning,” for what we’ll never know. Apparently watching Vince put on a sock was a trigger of some sort for this poor soul. An evaluation revealed that the dog whose previous owner assured me was 6 years old, gentle, and an absolutely perfect addition to a family with a jittery little boy, turned out to be 9 years old, consumed by a canine equivalent of PTSD, and had no place being anywhere near a child.

So, needless to say, my heart dropped into my stomach when my eyes caught a local animal rescue’s banner hanging at the entrance of the pet store.

“I’ll just grab some Christmas tree cookies for Rocco and be on my way. These rescues only ever bring cats to their adoption events anyway,” I told myself, just before a little black puddle of fluff came out from behind a display and collapsed in a pile of wiggles at my feet.

And that’s how I met Sandy.

Now, it’s very hard to resist a puppy.  Now imagine a homeless puppy. Now imagine a homeless puppy who is doing her best to fit into your daughter’s lap or your son’s coat pocket. Now imagine a homeless puppy who somehow makes your ridiculously stoic husband drop to his knees, eyes all aglow, and practically coo, “Who is thiiis?”

Are you imagining all of this? Do you see what I was up against?

I still said no.

I explained to the rescue that we had  waited years to adopt another dog, and we had been rejected by 5 rescues because of our older dog, Rocco, and our private adoption imploded, and we had done our research and we can’t have a puppy because we work too far away to take it out every 2 hours, and a black lab/hound mix would be far too energetic for our dachshund, and, and…I concluded my rambling monologue by sincerely wishing them the best in finding wonderful homes for both Sandy and her 10 brothers and sisters- but we definitely could not be one of them.

An hour later, my husband handed me a glass of wine and said, “Fill out the application.”

I did, partly because it was white wine and white wine goes straight to my head. Then I let it go. This would be rejection #6 and then we could move on with our lives.

Marty Maraschino, Sandy’s twin sister, arrived at my doorstep 3 days later.

Marty is a 35-lb tornado.

She has peed on every hardwood and carpeted surface in my house. She licks the toilet tank and runs around with the bowl brush in her teeth. She tries to hurl herself into the bathtub with the kids. She puts her head on my lap when I’m trying to pee.

She has learned to clear a gate like a championship show horse. She bit off the corner of one of my kitchen tiles. She’s under the impression that our water dispenser is, in fact, her water bowl. She thinks the mat in front of my sink is a claw sharpener.

She gleefully pounces all over the vicinity of my 127 year-old dachshund.

She has so little control over her limbs that in the past two days alone she has crash-landed into my china cabinet, knocked over my mail table (it was literally raining bills in my living room- my worst nightmare), and slammed into a door so forcefully that I was afraid her head was going to go through it and get stuck in my linen closet.

She has a wicker basket stuffed with toys- and chooses to eat the wicker basket.

She thinks the 5ft lighted snowman on my front lawn is someone to play with and engage in conversation.

She requires constant supervision, and is no longer allowed in either of my kids’ rooms after the crayon-eating incident, and what she did to that poor stuffed pink bunny (we do not discuss it).

And yet…I knew the moment she waltzed into my driveway that we couldn’t live without her.

She would permanently attach herself to Pat if she could. She noses her way into Grace’s room each morning to lick her face through the crib bars. She flings herself to the ground so Vince can gently scratch her belly while he watches television; she sits next to him so he can scratch her head while he does homework. She brings her blanket and sprawls at my feet when I’m on the couch, and naps behind me while I’m cooking.

She even tries to pre-clean all the dishes for us when we’re filling the dishwasher!

So Marty was unplanned. The ducks were not in a row this time- they were drunkenly swinging from the ceiling. But in the two weeks that she’s been destroying- I mean living in- our house, she’s managed to calm my son’s fears, give my hopelessly stern husband a reason to smile, and- added bonus!- heal that tiny gap in my heart that I thought only Baby #3 could fill (“All part of my plan,” said Pat with an evil grin).

So I guess there’s something to be said for flying by the seat of your pants every now and then.

Welcome to the family, Marty Maraschino.

The A-Ha Moment

A friend of mine recently asked if she could interview me for a research project involving breastfeeding. She needed someone who is currently breastfeeding, someone who successfully breastfed, and someone who…well…failed.

Guess which one I am??

I can do many things. I can make a mean crockpot soup; I can dress one child with one hand, change the other one’s diaper with the other hand, and use my foot to keep the dog away from the breakfast bars that they’ve abandoned on the living room floor; I can drink my coffee while cleaning mystery liquids from various household surfaces and not even gag! (and that’s kind of a big deal when you have 2 kids and a dog- there’s a lot of stuff coming out of ALL of them)

But I can’t breastfeed.

Trust me, I tried. Twice. These girls just don’t work.

Does that mean it doesn’t come back and smack me in the face every now and then? Of course not. Any opportunity to doubt myself is met with roaring fanfare by my brain. So as I sat at my computer reading through the interview questions (on my LUNCH hour, if you’re reading this, person from HR), I came across one that struck a chord.

“Tell me about a time you felt re-affirmed about your decision to stop breastfeeding.”

Was it even a decision? It felt like more of an “if you don’t buy some formula your kid is going to starve” type scenario.

Nonetheless, there is one “a-ha” moment that I clearly remember. I’m pretty sure all moms have it. That moment when you realize it’s over. It’s time to move on. The boob ship has sailed. Ok, you get it.

I think it was mid-afternoon, less than a month after Vince was born. I was sitting on the couch, carefully arching my back to keep the pumps in place while I let go for just a second to drink another few ounces of water, which, according to Lactation Consultant #2 and the breastfeeding book I was re-reading, would increase my milk flow. It hadn’t worked so far, but I was pretty certain that between the water, the lactation tea, the special diet, the yoga, the breathing exercises, the duct massages and the perfectly-timed frequency of pumping sessions, my boobs were soon going to wake up from their lazy slumber and turn into a milk factory. I might even be able to store extra milk! Or donate it!

I looked down at the bottles- ½ ounce in the left, 2oz in the right. I had been pumping for 30 minutes.

But it was ok. Any day now, I was going to be a milk…machine? A cow. I was going to be a cow!

I heard a squeak. Then a little whine. Then full-on screaming. Vince was awake, and he wanted to be held. But…I couldn’t. Not yet, anyway. It had only been 30 minutes and I needed to pump for a solid hour to get enough for his next two feedings. The books, the magazines, the social media posts- they were clear. Breast is Best. Breastmilk is THE way to bond with your baby. I couldn’t just take the pumps off now- I only had 2.5oz! That was crazy- I couldn’t stunt his cognitive development like that. We needed to BOND. And the best way to do that was with breastmilk, according to the article I had just read in that mom group on Facebook.

In an attempt to calm him, I started singing to him from across the room. I made up a song about how Mommy was making him a meal to make him big and strong and healthy and happy….and he began screaming louder. He was hysterical. And suddenly, so was I.

I took stock of my life in that moment. What the hell was I doing? I was sitting on the couch, back arched, 2 largely ineffective pumps attached to my chest, reading a book I had read 3 times already, crossing my legs to prevent myself from having an accident after drinking ridiculous amounts of water. I did this every 3 hours, 24 hours per day, all in the name of bonding with and nurturing my son.

But you know what I wasn’t doing?

Bonding with or nurturing my son.

I turned off the pumps; I tossed the book on the floor; and I picked up my baby. I held him against me for what seemed like forever, and we sobbed together (he stopped long before I did). Maybe breast was best, but not if it took me away from my baby and my sanity. I knew what I needed to do.

I’d like to say that was the moment I switched to formula, but it wasn’t. I spent another 4 grueling weeks dealing with 2 bouts of mastitis, pumping to no avail, and assuring my midwife, who was practically begging me to give up, that “It’s going to happen. Any day now.”

It never happened.

My midwife explained that for a very small percentage of women, breastfeeding just isn’t successful. I refused to believe that my 32G’s were in that group. How could they NOT have milk? What the hell was in there? Helium?!

But after 8 weeks, 2 infections, about 1 hour of sleep per night, and little to no results, I accepted it the best way I could- by driving to Whole Foods, grabbing a can of organic formula, and crying my eyes out in the baby aisle.

Once that formula was in my cabinet, I spent every hour of every day convinced that I had failed my son. I hadn’t tried hard enough. I hadn’t waited long enough. I hadn’t spoken to enough people. I hadn’t gagged down enough tea.

So clearly that moment on the couch wasn’t my a-ha moment. My a-ha moment came a few months later.

It was midnight, which, oddly enough, had become my favorite time of day. Vince was pressed against me, his little fingers curled up in my robe, chugging his bottle like he’d never seen milk before. He drooled a little bit and giggled as I wiped his chin. Then he gazed up at me and smiled, settled into my chest, and fell fast asleep. I rocked gently in the glider, bending down every few moments to take in his baby scent, and marveled, as new moms do, about how incredible this whole new mom thing was.

Then I remembered that afternoon in the living room.

I remembered the pain of the pumps, the pain of the mastitis, the pain in my back, and the pain of my dangerously over-full bladder. But mostly I remembered the pain of berating myself into thinking that sitting on that couch and squeezing out one more ounce was the best thing for my brand new, skinny little son who was hungry for milk and cuddles and the warmth of his mama.

Then I looked down at him, my now chubby, pink-cheeked, contented little potato, happy and sleepy and safe in my arms. THIS was bonding. THIS was nurturing. I hadn’t failed him at all. I was finally doing it right.

Do I wish I could have breastfed? Of course! Breastmilk is amazing, and I applaud- no, I bow down to- any woman who has successfully breastfed her children for even a week. It is no easy task for anyone.

But for some of us- even the 32G’s of the world- it’s just not there.  And we need to stop berating ourselves.

You know your child. You know your body. You know your heart.

Listen to them.

Cavities

Today, we will go over the Anxious Mother’s Guide to Preparing for a Routine Pediatric Dental Procedure. Feel free to take notes or just print this entire article for reference.
All set? OK, here we go. Now, you may of course move these around as works best for you, but this is the general order of the steps:
Listen to the dentist tell you your son has 8 cavities. Yes, EIGHT.
Hope some of them are in teeth that are about to fall out.
Listen to the dentist tell you every one of those little bastards are between molars, in awkward locations, and of course it will take several sessions and be challenging. Because why wouldn’t it be?!
Make first appointment.
Mentally agonize over the details of his organic, low sugar, candy-and-all-fun-foods-free, frequent brushing lifestyle and wonder what the hell you’re doing wrong.
Remember his visit to the pediatric ophthalmologist last month where you learned he might have a lazy eye. Wonder if you should just put him in a bubble now and get it over with.
Take him to the diner and let him eat a stack of giant pancakes dripping in syrup because hey, clearly your organic, low sugar neuroses have gotten him NOWHERE and all of his teeth are falling out and he’s going blind so f*ck it.
Put in for a sick day in case he doesn’t handle the anesthesia well.
Pack snacks in case he’s hungry when he wakes up.
Pack an extra shirt in case he vomits when he wakes up.
Pack extra pants, underwear and shoes in case he vomits a lot.
Pack towels in case he projectile vomits.
Go to the store and buy his favorite foods for after the procedure.
Go back to the store and buy soup in case he has trouble chewing.
Resist the urge to Google “routine pediatric dental procedures gone wrong.”
Get mom to come with you, to help in case, you know, he doesn’t handle…you get it.
Buckle under the stress and Google “routine pediatric dental procedures gone wrong.”
Panic.
Wonder which hospital is the best option in case his routine dental procedure goes wrong.
Snap at your husband for being too hard on him for not finishing his dinner.
Mapquest the best route from the dentist’s office to the hospital you’ve chosen because you are now convinced his routine dental procedure will, without a doubt, go horribly awry.
Snap at your husband every time he even looks at your son in a stern manner.
Let him stay awake late watching his favorite Netflix cartoon while you marvel over how much you love him.
Write a blog in an attempt to give a humorous slant to your insanity.
OK! You’re all set for your routine pediatric dental procedure! Any questions??2017-11-07 20.32.15

The Ache

It hit me around 7am as I was walking into Vince’s room to separate the two kids because “She’s wrecking my Lego Village!!!” and “He won’t let me playyyyy!!!!!”

Legos strewn everywhere; applesauce pouches tossed aside in the melee; the dog dodging and weaving to see if anything that’s been launched from their hands is edible…and the feeling was still there in my chest.

It wasn’t a phase.

I want another one.

Every time the weird sensation has begun dancing around inside me over the past few months, I push it away like that last bit of stuffing on Thanksgiving that looks great, but that you know damn well will wreak havoc on you. I’ve ignored it, denied it, even laughed it off when someone suggests we have another baby.

I swiftly blink away my frequent visions of a chubby blonde-haired boy crawling after Rocco, learning to slurp spaghetti from Vince, getting rocked to sleep by Gracie. I tell myself it’s my hormones; it’s the fried egg I ate for dinner; it’s just nonsense.

But standing there, watching Legos soar through the air amid the ear-splitting shrieks of my 2-year old daughter, I realized it’s not just a weird sensation or a passing daydream- it’s an ache.

As I stepped in to break up the royal rumble, I remembered a conversation I had many years ago with my grandmother.

“Every few years, the baby wouldn’t be a baby anymore. Suddenly I had a kid who was ready to go to school. I missed having a baby in my arms. I’d start to feel an ache for another child. So I’d talk to your grandfather and tell him we needed another one. And that’s how I ended up with four kids!”

Of course, that was a much different time, a fact that I repeat to myself every time the ache starts to creep up on me.  It’s become a mental pep-talk. “Those were different times,” I think to myself in my best old lady voice.

Actually, I’ve been giving myself quite a few very gentle, very loving pep-talks these days.

“Stop being ridiculous. You can’t handle three kids- you failed at having 2 dogs for Christ’s sake.” Actually, dog #2 turned out to have severe emotional issues and lunged at Vince, teeth bared and growling, so I don’t know if our decision to give him back really counts as not being able to handle 2 dogs as much as making sure my kids don’t get eaten.

“Remember the heartburn? The bed rest? Sliding down the wall and onto the floor of the bathroom every few hours like you were made of rubber? Losing your meals to every sink and garbage can in the house, and sometimes your purse, for 9 months? That time you spit up blood? You ready for that again? Huh?”

“How was that year of post-partum depression? Did you like that? You really want to go THERE again?”

“You have no right to mope around for another baby. There are women who struggle for years and never get to experience motherhood. You have a boy and a girl, and they are healthy, happy, smart, loving- you have everything you’ve ever wanted. Pull yourself together.”

“Two words. College Tuition.”

“Do you hate sleep? Do you not want to ever sleep again? Is that what this is about?”

“Vasectomies aren’t easily reversed.”

“You’re mere MONTHS away from never having to buy another diaper- ever again! Don’t ruin it.”

“Remember all those neat trips that your friends are taking? The places you daydream about one day seeing? If you can’t afford them now, you can really kiss them goodbye if you have another mouth to feed.”

“You’d need a bigger truck. You still have 3 ½ years left before you pay this one off. Where would you put this additional baby- the trunk???”

“Your ass gets bigger with every pregnancy. If you have one more you might be mistaken for a Kardashian.”

This was my entire commute this morning- listening to my daughter sing along to the radio while mentally admonishing myself into oblivion.

It didn’t work- the ache is still there.

And where does my husband stand in all of this? In a puddle of my often-unannounced and freely-flowing tears, basically. He disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a jar of peanut butter and a bag of kettle corn when I dissolved into silent sobs during the birthing scene on This is Us. He held my hand as I tearfully recounted the number of people I know who are pregnant, about to give birth, or who have just posted adorable pictures of newborns on their Facebook feeds. He gives me quick, supportive glances every time our friends discuss expanding their families.

But he’s done.

There will never be any reason that my husband will entertain the idea of a third child in our home. And he’s not faulting me for having this ache for another child, so I can’t very well blame him for not having the ache. Sometimes I want to….but I don’t. I promise.

And I don’t think for a moment that I’m alone, or that my ache is the worst ache of them all. Not by FAR.

I know countless people who have the ache- it might be for a baby, or a home of their own, or a different career, or a different spouse, or a different life entirely. I guess we all have the ache at some point in our lives. Sometimes you achieve the goal, realize the dream, find “the one”- and you can finally silence the ache, almost like blowing out a candle.

Or, the ache becomes a part of you, burning sometimes brightly, sometimes dimly…but always burning. It’s kind of like that one bit of hair on your head that never cooperates with the rest of them. Sometimes you can smooth it away; other times you need a hat. But you make it work.

So where do I go from here? Well, I guess I just remain endlessly grateful for the family I have, stop ignoring my ache, and learn to live with it.

And adopt a puppy. Definitely adopting a puppy.

The Tuesdayest Tuesday

“My ear, Mommy, ouch my eeeaaar!”

Now, let me explain the magnitude of this statement.

Very little strikes fear in the heart of a parent quite like the phrases, “Ouch, my ear!” or “My eye itches!” (except maybe the dreaded “I have to pee/poop/puke” from the back seat on a rest-stop free highway).

You see, squirting drops into a toddler’s ears or eyes is shockingly similar to playing that game on the boardwalk where you have to shoot water into the clown’s mouth to fill the balloon over its head. If the gun was really 2 inches long and the water came out of a pinhole. Oh, and if the clown was bouncing around the booth like a ping-pong ball, kicking your hand, and screaming “NooOOOOOO!”

So, obviously, “ouch my ear” is precisely what every parent longs to hear at 1:32 in the morning, the day after they have successfully squirted 5 drops into their child’s ear, twice a day for 7 days…oh yes, for the fourth time in the six months since tubes were inserted into those ears, to prevent infections. Money well-spent, I’d say.

A close second to that beautiful parenting moment is rushing your other child to school 5 ½ hours later, seeing the conglomeration of photo equipment in the gym, and realizing three very important things.

  1. Today is picture day
  2. Today was the wrong day to give in and let my son leave the house in an old Captain America t-shirt and sweatpants that are too short, and that have “THWAP!” and “POW!” scrawled across the legs.
  3. Spending 15 minutes of precious commute time to go home, frantically pull a button-down shirt and jeans out of the closet, and return to school was a colossal waste of time, as my son melted into a puddle of sobs upon seeing me, retreated to a corner, and began exclaiming, “Those are the itchy clothes!! I Can’t Do This!” in front of both the school staff and the photographers.

A friend of mine posted on Facebook yesterday that she was having the Mondayest Monday that ever Mondayed.

By the time I got back to my car and took one look at the red-lined mess on my GPS, I decided was having the Tuesdayest Tuesday that ever Tuesdayed.

Shifting in my seat and blinking at a sea of bright red tail-lights, I went over the adventures of 1:32am-7:38am and couldn’t find the right emotion to go along with all of it. Anger? Frustration? Giggly delirium?

I decided to go with detached acceptance, since that was better than full-on sobbing in stand-still traffic.

But while I was playing with the radio to find a song that matched my mood (because if you’re going to pretend you’re in one of those melodramatic movie scenes where the character peers out of the raindrop-covered car window poignantly, re-evaluating all of the choices that led her to this point in her life, you need an appropriate soundtrack), my eyes wandered over to the shoulder of the highway, where a woman in an “I have somewhere to be this morning” kind of suit was talking on her phone and pacing in front of her demolished car.

Life is great at smacking you in the face when you really need it.

I thought about the night I totaled my first car in an ice storm, and how my 19-year old self would probably laugh in my face if I started whining to her about my current problems. Yes, my morning was miserable. I didn’t plan on everything falling apart around me before I had even eaten my breakfast. But that poor woman on the shoulder of Rt 80 certainly didn’t plan on standing in the rain at 8am on a Tuesday, explaining how her car came to look like a crushed soda can.

My daughter suffers from chronic ear infections. She takes drops and is usually 90% better in 2 days. She will outgrow them. She is a happy, otherwise healthy, hilarious little person who takes great enjoyment in everything from food to fuzzy slippers to singing the “Pumpkins on the Gate” song for the 37th time on the way home from school every day.

My son might take his kindergarten picture in an old t-shirt and loud, ill-fitting sweatpants. He might not take a picture at all. It’s just a shame that I don’t have 5,372 other pictures of him from practically every day of his 5-year old life (said no mother with a smartphone ever).

I was late to work. I’ll work late. I’ll get home late. My husband will cook dinner, and finish the laundry, and we’ll all stay up a little late to have our time together. The world will keep turning (unless those flat Earth people are actually on to something).

I’m slowly learning that the best way to deal with the shitty days is to remember that you’ve had worse ones, and you’ll have better ones.

Also, always answer the phone, even in your worst mood, because it might be your mother calling while you’re writing your blog to tell you that, after 10 minutes of wondering why her oatmeal tasted so funny this morning, she realized she had sprinkled paprika over it instead of cinnamon.

That pretty much turned my whole morning around. (Sorry, Mom, it’s too good not to share).

So what are we going to do today? We’re going to be positive! Grateful! Thankful!  Soulful! And very, very careful when reaching into our spice cabinets!

Happy Tuesdayish Tuesday, everyone.

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The Birthday Song

“I just wish I could sing the birthday song to him.”

I could hear the slight crack in my mother’s voice as the words traveled through the phone, and I understood completely.

Today is a wonderful day- it’s the day my nephew was born. It’s the day that my little sister became a mommy. It’s the day that I began my inevitable journey to “favorite, unbelievably cool aunt” status.

Eight years ago today, I held a tiny little bean of a person for the first time, he squinted up at me with all 4lbs of his strength, and we connected on that “I will love you forever” level.

Eight years ago today, a person that practically fit in my hand changed all of our lives forever.

So as you can see, today’s a pretty big deal.

Unfortunately, my nephew does not agree.

This morning when my mother exclaimed, “Guess what today is, Donnie???” He replied, “It’s Picture Day!!!”

Donnie is not a fan of birthdays.

My nephew loves balloons. He loves gifts. He loves dancing. He loves cake. He loves games. He loves all those birthday-ish things that come with a birthday.

Donnie is also on the Autism spectrum, and does not like loud noises or being stuck in the middle of a group of people singing at him and trying to suffocate him with birthday hugs.

So, birthdays are largely “just another day” for Donnie, a truth that is sometimes difficult to swallow for all of us who ache to celebrate him (especially my family, who basically exist to sing, dance, shout and make total fools of ourselves).

But this tradition of the quiet, unsung birthday is undoubtedly the hardest on my sister, who, despite her unbelievable strength, cracks just the tiniest bit, every year, on this day.

There is one year in particular, Donnie’s 6th Birthday, that stands out in my memory.  While we attempted to whisper the Happy Birthday song, he very purposefully left the dining room and wandered upstairs to his bedroom. Vince, who was only 3, was completely confused by this. Before any of us could think of what to do to get Donnie back downstairs, my son quietly took 2 plates of cake and 2 plastic forks and walked up the stairs. From our seats at the dining room table we heard him gently explain, “Here, Donnie, this is yours. It’s your birthday today. Let’s eat cake.”

I waited a moment, then crept up the stairs and found the two boys sitting in the hallway outside Donnie’s bedroom door, happily eating birthday cake in companionable silence.

So do you know what I think?

I think Donnie has the right idea.

Would we love to decorate the house, fill a table with presents and the living room with family and friends, light up a cake with a million colorful candles, sing our poorly-tuned hearts out while he beams at us, and take turns giving him big hugs and kisses all afternoon? Of course.

But Donnie doesn’t want one day full of commotion, hot wax melting on his cake, and a bunch of people squishing him and making his ears hurt with their over-zealous rendition of “how old are you NOOOOOW?????” Donnie doesn’t need that, because he knows how to celebrate his life every second of every day.

Have you ever gotten that “oh my GOD life is good” feeling when your cocoa is just right, or when your blanket is placed just perfectly? Do you take the time to really appreciate those things?

Donnie does.

Have you ever gotten so excited about a brand new pair of shoes or a fresh haircut that you have to dance around?

Donnie does.

Do you giggle when someone walks through the door with a box of your absolute favorite cookies in the world?

Donnie does (but only for Oreos).

Do you appreciate the way the water sloshes along the side of an inflatable pool on a hot, sunny day in August? Do you marvel at how the chill in the air makes the leaves rustle on an October afternoon? Do you become filled with the joy that comes along with putting on a soft new pair of Christmas Eve pajamas?

Donnie does.

So often we become entangled in this idea of the way things “should” be. We need a bigger house. We need a fancier car. The kids need flashier clothes and more shoes and bigger toys. We have to rent a wedding hall for a 6 year-old’s birthday party (ok, I don’t actually know anyone who’s done that, but if you have, I’m not judging. Just making a point here).

But Donnie…he’s not burdened by any of that insignificant stuff. He knows that the way to live is to experience life, and all of its incredible highs and lows, without holding back. He knows what truly matters. He couldn’t care less about a $100 pair of sneakers, but give him some cheddar crackers and his favorite stuffed animal, Puppy, and his day is made.

Honestly, my nephew has a far deeper understanding of the world than anyone I have ever met. Every single time I see him, he teaches me about what is important. He teaches me to enjoy every sip of lemonade; he teaches me to laugh as loudly as I want to, whenever I want to; he teaches me to really pay attention to the bird’s song in the morning and the cricket’s serenade at night.

Who wouldn’t want to live with such honesty, such purity, such strength of spirit and unabashed display of character?

I wish we could all be as brave, as kind, as sweet, and as REAL as Donnie.

Donnie is a lot of things- he’s brilliant, he’s funny, he’s adorable (he gets that from his mother), he’s curious, he’s determined, he’s stubborn (he also gets that from his mother), he’s loyal….but mostly, he’s himself. Unapologetically and whole-heartedly himself. I can’t think of any better way to be.

So we will not be singing the Happy Birthday song tonight, or this coming weekend, or bombarding him with a roomful of noisy people and pizza/cupcake/present mayhem. But I will be celebrating.  Maybe I’ll celebrate by dancing around my living room with the windows open, or wearing my most comfy pajamas, or enjoying the perfect cup of hot cocoa with Vince as we put the finishing touches on our haunted gingerbread house.  But no matter how, you bet I’ll be celebrating the day my nephew Donnie was born.  Because the day he came into our lives is the day we began to learn how to really live.

Happy 8th Birthday, my wonderful, sweet nephew.

Peacefully & Beautifully Fierce

The other night, in the middle of my crusade to find every dirty dish in the house (there’s always that one that finds its way into the sink 37 seconds after you push the “start” button on the dishwasher, making you wonder if it would be acceptable to just throw it away- or through the damn window…), I heard, “What do you think? Do I look fancy??”

I turned to see two little arms held out to me, adorned with colorful bracelets and whimsical rings. The fingers, shining with dark pink polish, wiggled and waved gracefully for effect.

I smiled, gasped and exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, I LOVE that look, Vince!” and tousled his wild orange hair as he beamed proudly and bounced away to get my husband’s opinion.

My son loves jewelry. He curls up under his favorite “super soft” blanket on our couch, watches my friend’s Paparazzi Jewelry parties on Facebook, and delights in picking out pieces to add to his collection, which he keeps carefully displayed in his bedroom.

He’s been asking me to paint his nails since he was two years old- I took him for his first real manicure a few months ago and he practically glowed with happiness while they gave his tiny fingers a hot towel massage and pretended to push his cuticles.

He enjoys sword fights, dinosaur facts, ice cream that’s been slightly warmed, cuddling during cartoons, pretending to be a monster while demolishing his Lego creations, and wobbling around in my heels while singing, “I am fabulooouuus!”

His little sister, Grace, has decided to be SpiderMan for Halloween- I barely got the Minnie Mouse dress over her head before she flat-out rejected it. Her favorite way to amuse herself is to chug her milk and then burp as loudly as she possibly can. She thinks “playing” with her big brother involves wrapping her legs around his neck and flipping him over like a pint-sized MMA fighter in a Doc McStuffins Pull-Up.

I once joked to a friend that my house is where stereotypes go to die. This is why.

But beyond the occasional joke, none of this fazes us. We don’t really think about it. And why should we, really? Our kids follow their hearts and do what makes them happy. They’re well-rounded. End of story.

But it’s not really the end of the story, is it? Not for me, at least.

Regardless of how “live and let live” the atmosphere is in our home, I know the world can be a much less accepting place. And it scares the Hell out of me.

I can remember about a dozen times that I’ve heard, “Are his nails painted?” “You let him paint his nails?” “You aren’t worried what that might lead to?” “Do you think you might be confusing him?” “Do you think he’ll outgrow it?”

Just to pre-emptively answer all those well-meant queries for anyone who has been planning to ask:

Yes, his nails are painted.

No, of course I don’t let him do it! He doesn’t have the precision yet- I do it for him.

I was worried that it might lead to him having nicer nails than me. But I’ve accepted it.

He’s not confused. He knows what he likes. Telling him it’s somehow wrong for him to engage in an innocent pastime that makes him smile- that might confuse him, no?

He might paint his nails until he’s 8. He might be coming with me for a mani/pedi, sushi and cocktails when he’s 28. My only request is that he uses the non-toxic polish- it’s healthier.

I’m subjected to far fewer “well-meaning” comments about Gracie, mostly because we are moving in a direction in which strong-willed, independent women are being encouraged instead of bopped on the head and told to get back in the kitchen and bake some muffins. As an aside, I’d love to be a fly on the wall if anyone ever tries to say that to my daughter. I’m pretty sure they’ll end up crying in a corner, covered in muffin mix.

But this isn’t a political rant- I swear. It’s just….just, why?? Why can’t kids just be happy? Why can’t they just express themselves however they see fit? I just…I just don’t get it.

I lie awake at night every time Vince picks the hot pink polish for our at-home manicures. What if another kid makes fun of him? What if he takes it to heart? What if he gets teased so much that he eventually suppresses major parts of his personality that he’s being told aren’t “tough” enough?

When Gracie asks me, “Am I beautiful?” I make sure to answer, “Of course! And you are fierce and strong, my love. Fierce, strong, and beautiful!” Because when she’s inevitably subjected to “beauty” according to social media, I want her to remember that there are other vital components to a woman’s personality. I want her to know that the way in which she articulates an argument or persists through a trying time are infinitely more important that fitting in a size 2 skirt.

One might say I’m over-reacting. And my response would be, “Hi, I’m Cathy! Worrying is my Super Power!” I’d be the Michael Phelps of the “What If” Olympics. But honestly, I’d rather give them more strength and support than they’ll ever need, than find out years from now that I didn’t give them enough.

I’m not so Mary Poppins that I think my love will be enough to buoy them forever.  No matter how much of a shield I help them build against ignorance, it will sometimes find its way in.  And I don’t know how they’ll react when that happens. But I do know that last month as I walked through the door of Vince’s school, I saw this:

Friend- “Your nails are painted pink? Only girls paint their nails! Are you a GIRL???”

Vince- “Well then, I guess I’m a girl!!”

Then he smiled and giggled at his friend, slipped his beautifully-manicured hand in mine, and strolled to the car with all the carefree confidence I wish I could possess at 34 years old.

I hope they will both always be that peacefully and beautifully fierce; I pray they will always know who they truly are.

If I have anything to say about it….they will.

Facing the Fear

“I have to go bathroom.”

Trying to speak without actually waking up, I mumbled, “Ok, so go.”

Cue the whining.

“I caaaaan’t. I’m afraaaaaid of the bathroom by myseeeeelf, I want-“

“Vincent, you can’t spend your whole life being afraid of everything!!!!”

Maybe it was the way I flew up off my pillow. Or my bedhead. Or maybe it was my wide, blood-shot eyes.  Regardless, based on his terror-stricken face, he must have thought he was staring at Cruella DeVille.

Great job, Mom of the Year.

In my defense, this wasn’t just about a ½ finished 2nd floor bathroom (which is creepy-looking, but when you have to go, you have to go), or the fact that I’d only gotten 4 hours of sleep. This is everyday life. My poor kid inherited two things from his mama- unruly red hair and soul-sucking, ever-present anxiety.

That anxiety was definitely present yesterday, when the YMCA camp that promised to be 8 hours of fun turned into a disaster. Vince stood frozen with eyes as wide as saucers, tears running down his cheeks, and his fists clenched around his little backpack as I guiltily backed out of the gym. I spent all day praying that their promise of “he’ll be fine in 10 minutes!” would come to fruition.  Alas, at dinner I was served the unedited version of the horrors to which he was subjected.

The pool was too cold; he preferred swimmies but they only had life jackets; and there were too many kids splashing around.  So he sat on a bench and watched everyone swim.

His chair in the classroom was too close to the wall, and they had run out of the pumpkin coloring page that he wanted to color, so he sat quietly with his arms and legs folded up in front of him.

The playground equipment he wanted to use was for “big kids,” and the swings he wanted to swing on were broken, so he didn’t enjoy the playground.

What I heard, loud and clear, between all these words, was “Mommy, it was an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people, and I was terrified.”

This has been an ongoing struggle for us. Swim lessons looked very promising for the first 12 minutes, until his whole body tensed up and he started to hyperventilate. Birthday parties always go smoothly until the party organizer announces that it’s time for all the kids to huddle up- that’s his cue to hide behind my husband until the horror of the group picture has passed. Even family gatherings occasionally require a 20-minute warm-up before he’s comfortable enough to make eye contact.

We were hoping that all the new people and experiences that came along with Kindergarten might excite him. We also held that hope for prek4 and prek3…and prek2…but here we were, sitting on my bed at 6:30 in the morning, holding hands as I begged him to please just try to pee by himself.

As he was still a little shaken by my half-asleep, full-on crazy outburst, I took a deep breath and decided honesty was probably my best bet here.

“Vince, here’s the thing. You’re afraid of the upstairs bathroom; you’re afraid of the YMCA pool; you’re afraid to ride your bike. I want you to learn lots of things, and see lots of places, and one day fall in love, the way Daddy and I did, and do lots of cool stuff, and be happy. But we can’t get to all of those things until we get rid of all these fears. And do you know how we do that?”

“How?”

“We face them.”

“But the bathroom up here is scary!”

Wait. Fall in love like Daddy and I did….let’s try that angle.

“Let me tell you a story. When Daddy and I were in high school he really wanted me to be his girlfriend, but he was too scared to ask me. So one day he came to my house with 3 pink and white roses and a little card that said “Would you go out with me?” He was still too scared to ask me, but he walked up to my door, held out those roses and waited. And I said yes. And you know what?”

“What?” He was squirming with all the urgency of a 5-year old with a bladder on red alert, but I was already about a mile into Memory Lane.

“If Daddy hadn’t faced his fear, we never would have become boyfriend and girlfriend. We never would have gotten married and had adventures together. We never would have rescued Rocco, and you and Gracie wouldn’t even exist! We wouldn’t have taken all the cool surprise trips we’ve taken, and we wouldn’t have bought this house…ALL of that happened because Daddy faced his fear. And here we are!”

Vince’s bright blue eyes lit up with this realization, and I remembered staring into another set of blue eyes almost 18 years ago. I remembered Pat staring first at me and then at the floor, waiting for my response. I remembered him steadying my hands in his exactly 6 years later as we recited our vows. I remembered his easy laugh after I ordered a ½ pint of Guinness at a Dublin pub. “Who orders a ½ pint in Ireland?!”

I remembered his soft kiss on my forehead as the nurse placed Vince in my arms. I remembered the pure awe in his expression when he took that first look at Gracie and informed me that she was the mirror image of her namesake, my grandmother.

I wished I could go back and tell my 16 year-old self that as soon as she pulled that card out of those flowers, she was going to blink and suddenly be 34 years old, using her life story as an incentive to get her son to pee in a scary toilet.

I squeezed Vince’s hands and said, “Vince, we have this beautiful, amazing life, don’t we?”

“We do, Mommy.”

“Well, that’s all because someone faced his fear. And here we are.”

“Ok….I’ll do it. I’ll go to YMCA today. But first I really gotta pee.”

And so we went.

During most of the 20-minute ride, I heard him softly whispering the mantra I gave him- “I am brave, I am strong….I am brave, I am strong…”

Before we opened the gym door, I looked intently at him and whispered, “What are you, Vincent?”

“I am brave, and I am strong. I’m going to be ok,” he answered proudly.

Unfortunately, the first thing we saw as we walked in was a little boy sobbing into his mother’s shirt as she stood there helplessly.

“I was there yesterday,” I said to her gently. Then I sat next to the little boy and said, “This is my son, Vincent. He was so scared yesterday because he didn’t have anyone to talk to- maybe you guys can help each other out today? I noticed you have a Spiderman shirt- Vince loves Spiderman too!”

The boy turned to Vince and his mother smiled hopefully.  I mentally prepared myself to see Vince begin sobbing right along with him, but instead, he reached into his pocket, slowly pulled out his Spiderman sunglasses, and held them out to the boy with a shy smile. My heart grew 3 sizes.

He faced his fear.

And here we are.

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Our Mess

Do you ever feel like you’re having one of those days where you are the most unorganized, unkempt person on the planet?

I find that since having children, I am in an endless cycle of them.

Let’s take today, for example.

This morning, as I often do, I smiled at Facebook posts featuring perfectly-dressed children beaming in the arms of their perfectly styled, relaxed-looking mothers. These posts always impress me to no end. Everyone is neat; everyone’s outfits are unruffled. They leave me in almost as much awe as the snapshots of children sitting in their car seats- in CLEAN cars! How does this happen? What is this wild magic?

These posts make me wonder if there’s a secret I don’t know, or perhaps an extra hour in the day of which I’m not taking advantage? I want to ask these gorgeous ladies how the hell they do it, because as much as I want to be that picture, I’m more like…like…you know those “wine and paint” nights that are really popular these days? I’m that one (because there’s always one) painting that looks as though the painter had a little too much shiraz before she put the brush to the canvas.

I pondered this as I drove to work with an Elmo toothbrush balanced on my lap, in the hopes that TODAY WAS THE DAY that Gracie would actually unlock her jaws of steel and let me scrub her teeth.

I pondered it some more as I dropped Vince off at school and realized he had a blob of dried toothpaste on his t-shirt (at least he brushed), granola bar bits glued to his face, and his shoes on the wrong feet.

I pondered it yet again when I got to daycare, wrestled Gracie out of the pajama shirt that I was too tired to wrestle her out of at home, convinced her to wear both of her shoes (at least they were on the right feet), and tossed the toothbrush into my purse in defeat (as usual).

Those cute little posts popped into my head when I was walking into my office and someone asked me if I knew my dress was unzipped; and again as I reached into my purse and realized I had lost my wallet; and again when I picked up my lunch bag and spilled Thai green curry all over my right leg; aaaaand one more time during the hour-long trek home to frantically search for that lost wallet and clean the curry off my right shoe.

How do some moms find the time to stay so radiant? (If you are one of these moms, please email me with step-by-step instructions).  My nails haven’t seen a cuticle pusher in months; my hair is more often than not reminiscent of a palm tree in a wind storm; and I have this permanent “I could probably fall asleep right this second” glaze over my eyes.

And the kids…Good Lord.

I’ve never seen two people get so sticky from just drinking a glass of milk. Out of a straw!

I’m yet to find a pair of shoes that lasts more than a week before they’re covered in dirt and bite marks. Yes, I said bite marks, people.

The day I see them NOT using their shirts as wet wipes I may actually have a heart attack.

But I suppose there is a sweet side to our sticky, frizzy, leftovers-from-last-night-scented life.

I like the way Gracie twirls her fingers in the mess of crazy waves on my head while we’re watching a movie.

I like walking into Vince’s room and finding the colorful pile of books that we read the night before strewn along the side of his bed.

I like the way they both smell like mango shampoo and chocolate granola when they kiss me goodbye each morning.

I like the way Vince clasps his hands together and very honestly says, “Oh Mommy you look BEAUTIFUL!” when I walk into the living room in my ¾-zipped dress and half-heartedly applied eyeliner and Trader Joe’s mint-flavored lip balm.

I like how Grace puts her pants on backwards and her shirt on upside down and declares proudly, “I did it by myself, Mommy!”

I like the way my husband sighs and smiles when the kids sit like statues on the couch while I give them matching mani/pedis.

I even like the fact that their messy eating habits ensure that if I’m stuck in traffic and feeling hungry, there are enough chips, goldfish crackers and pretzels on the floor of my backseat to make a meal the size of the feast Snoopy put together on the Peanuts Thanksgiving Special.

I guess I like our mess. Maybe we’re not meant to be put-together, and maybe radiant isn’t in the cards for me.

You might be wondering where I’m going with this.

I have no idea- haven’t you been reading the post?!

No, but seriously, if you never pour your lunch on your lap; if you have a magical cosmetic solution to looking well-rested; and/or if you know how to get 2 kids ready for school and style your hair AND file your nails; please, for the love of God, email me. I want in.

I’ll be waiting patiently and scrubbing my shoe.

Small Talk

We begin our inquisition as soon as I’ve pulled out of the elementary school parking lot.

“Mommy?”

“Yes?”

“Spider in garbage?”

“Yup, the spider’s all gone.”

“Batteries out?”

“Yup, we took the batteries out and threw that silly spider away.”

“Spider” is the giant, furry, motion-activated headache that Vince insisted on buying and hanging in his bedroom. The spider that I explained was just a toy as I showed Grace the batteries that made it work. The spider that she promised didn’t scare her. The spider that fell towards her as she snuck into Vince’s room to steal his Play-Doh. The spider that caused her to fly out of his bedroom, eyes bulging, shakily yelling, “Take the batteries out! Take the batteries OUT!! Spider goes in garbage! Put the SPIDER IN THE GARBAGE!” (It’s in a closet- sorry, kid, but I’m not throwing $15 in the garbage).

“Yay!…Vacuum in basement?”

I don’t need much convincing to not vacuum after a 12-hour day, so I can honestly answer that question.

“Yup, we’re not vacuuming today, Honey.”

“Daddy no vacuum today?”

“Nope.”

“Ok!”

The personal questions begin, right on cue, as I head towards the highway.

“Mommy tired?”

“Oh yes, how about you?”

“Gracie tired too!…Mommy ok?”

“Yup, I’m fine, baby girl. How about you?”

“Yes, Gracie ok!”

Now it’s my turn to fill the silence.

“Gosh, there’s a lot of traffic…”

“Yes! Cars and trucks…move cars! Move it!…ummm, sing songs?”

“Sure! Let’s see what’s on the radio…”

And so it goes. Our hour-long daily commute, sans her big brother, has suddenly become a slightly awkward first date.

If you regularly follow my blog you know how my daughter feels about me. (If you don’t regularly follow my blog it’s totally fine, I won’t take it personally…::sniffle::…)

Books? She tosses them at me.

Lullabies? She puts her hand over my mouth.

Any type of interaction besides a milk or snack transaction? No thanks, where’s Daddy?

Taking all of this into consideration, I was certain that the start of kindergarten was going to be catastrophic. I expected her to perfect so many variations of “I don’t want this car seat; I don’t like-a-this-juice; I want VINCENT!”  that I would be able to cancel my SiriusXM subscription. I expected to be pelted with tiny sandals and Minnie Mouse sippy cups while navigating through traffic.  I thought about investing in a bike helmet.

But what I got instead was…an effort?  Yes, that’s what I’d call it. She’s making an effort.

Not given the opportunity to toss me aside for a better option, my daughter is actually attempting to, dare I say it, interact with me! The small talk is a bit repetitive, but I’m ok with giving spider status updates and discussing my sleep patterns.  It breaks the ice and helps us transition to a lively discussion about how the cow actually says “Moo,” not “Meow,” (I always assure her that there’s no need to be embarrassed, it’s a common mistake).

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we were so at ease with each other this morning that we- ready?- sang together.

I know, I know! Crazy Town. But it’s true. We did so many renditions of “Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun,” that I’m probably going to hear it in my sleep tonight.

And the car isn’t the only place I’m catching these “I’m testing you out as a friend” incidents. The other day she brought me a book. Not to throw at me in frustration because I made her wear pants (I’m awful). But to READ to her. Two years, one month, and one week later, and she finally let me read her a book. I wanted to dance a jig, and I don’t even know exactly what a jig is.

She asks if I like the pigtails in her hair when I pick her up from school.

She asks if my dinner is too hot or too spicy.

She blurts out “Mommy, I loooove you!” randomly. That one always causes me to walk into a piece of furniture.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but if this continues I may take her for smoothies. Or out to dinner! Maybe even a place with menus, not just a neon-lit board and an order counter. Well, we can start with smoothies and see how it goes. I’ll have to strengthen my small talk game and learn some new animal facts before I attempt a full meal in a public setting.  For now we’ll slowly nurture this new friendship, giggling and singing and learning to trust each other a little bit more as we inch along in a sea of cars.

It’s funny how things happen. Less than a week ago I was sitting on Vince’s bed reassuring him that change is for the best; starting kindergarten might be scary, but it would also allow him to make new, wonderful friends. Little did I know that I was about to learn the same lesson.

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