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.

Collage 2017-04-28 23_03_00

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.

20170907_171810.jpg

Not Today

I’m not blogging today.

I had a heartwarming story about my grandmother all ready to go, mentally written while in the shower last night (alas, the memes are true- the shower really is the only quiet place for parents); but I won’t be posting it today.

It’s all your fault.

Before I had you I used to become so perplexed when I heard parents lamenting the fact that their kids were growing and changing.

“Stop growing up!”

“Stop getting so smart!”

These pleas would thoroughly confuse me. Honestly, what was the alternative? What were these parents wishing upon their poor offspring?

Then I met you and in an instant it all made sense.

Fast-forward five years and one month since our initial meeting, to me mentally editing my sweet grandma blog as I bounced down the steps of your preschool.  I stopped at the front window, saw your little face smiling down at me, and realized that this would be the last time I ever saw that face from that window.

You broke my heart, kid.

I remember dropping you off in the infant room on your first day, four years and one month ago, and sobbing so uncontrollably that I’m pretty sure I scared your nanny.

I remember your first day of Toddler Room- you wore your “Ruff Boys Construction” shirt and gave me your best “big brave boy” face as I waved goodbye. I wore my best “big brave girl” face until I got to the car and started sobbing again (but hey, at least I didn’t scare the nanny that year).

And now here we are- your last day of Preschool.

Your teddy bear diploma hangs in the frame collage I proudly hung on your bedroom wall, nestled next to a picture of you beaming with Dad, Gracie and me (just before we got in the car, where I cried, and drove to the pizza place to celebrate, where I cried again, as you like to frequently remind me).

All of the photos of your chocolate-making field trip are displayed on our fridge; your arts and crafts masterpieces from preschool summer camp have overtaken our sunroom.

Your shiny new kindergarten sneakers are waiting neatly in the corner of your closet, just underneath the “really cool” dinosaur jacket you picked out all by yourself.  You tease me each night as we cross off one more day on the countdown I drew on your bedroom wall- “You’re going to cry, Mommy. It’s ok. I know.”

But you don’t know.

You won’t. Not until you have a little kid looking at you from the second floor window of their preschool for the very last time.

You’ll look at their face and wonder why time is flying by at a pace so frightening that it literally makes you feel lightheaded (alternately, you may have inherited my adrenal problems, so you’ll want to rule that out. But I digress).

You’ll remember placing them gently in their crib on their first day of daycare, a pit settling in your stomach as you berated yourself for never winning the lottery and therefore having to entrust the care of your perfect, beautiful baby to a stranger.

You’ll laugh as you think about how that sweet little baby morphed into a sweaty, booger-caked toddler who happily slammed into you and wrapped your legs in a bear hug every afternoon at pick-up time.

You’ll remember the mornings when that kid was dancing so cheerfully on your last nerve that you practically tossed them at their teacher and ran out screaming “FREEDOM!!”…I mean, that never happened with you. Almost never. Ok, occasionally (once a week).

You’ll remember that little kid’s first kiss, and first “love,” and first argument, and the days when “all the kids wanted to play with MY show & tell today!” and the days when “no one wanted to be my friend today, Mommy…”

I remember all of it. Every tear and every triumph.  Every mopey morning when I couldn’t get you out of bed; every rainy afternoon when we sloshed into the car soaking wet because we had just finished a puddle-splashing contest in the parking lot.

And during all of this, there was always that little voice in the back of my mind, whispering, “Please slow down. Please don’t grow up so fast. Please stay little for me.”

This morning, looking up at the window, I could hear that little voice getting a bit louder.

We did the routine we had done dozens of times before- wave with one hand, then the other, then both; blow kisses; stick our tongues out and wiggle back and forth (right in front of the infant room window- if we’re being honest I think I’ve been scaring the nannies at this place the entire time you’ve been enrolled).

Finally, you wave one last time and walk towards your classmates as I walk to my car. But today, as I turned to go, I heard a tap on the window and looked up to find you still standing there, blowing one more kiss, waving one last wave.

That was it. The last time we’d ever do that. Sure, I’ll be dropping you off at school every morning, but I have a feeling Kindergarten Vince is going to be a lot less “let’s wiggle and blow kisses like fools in front of all my friends!” and a lot more “Ok, Mom, you can go now…”

And I get it, believe me. Time passes; babies become toddlers; toddlers become kids who are really embarrassed by their parents. I used to beg my dad to drop me off at the back of the school so no one would see his 1979 Thunderbird (I regret that now…that car was so much more badass than all those 90’s minivans).

And you’re right, I will cry on your first day of kindergarten.  And I’ll probably cry on your first day of first grade…and the first time you ride your bike with no training wheels…and the first time you write a poem, or hit a home run, or bake a pie- cut me a break, kid, you’re my first go-round at this whole parenting thing.

I promise I’m not one tissue away from dehydration because I want you to stop becoming the amazing little human that you’re becoming. It’s just that- how do I explain this- every new chapter you begin brings me right back to the first page of our story. The very first time I looked into your squishy face, I wondered who you were going to be. And with every step you take- every new chapter you begin- you’re showing me.

So you see? The tears that welled up in my eyes as I sat in my car this morning were mostly happy tears (until I turned on the radio and “I Hope You Dance” came blaring out at me. Really, Universe- Really??).

So I’m sorry but I’m not blogging today.

It’s all your fault- but please, don’t slow down for me. I’ll put on my “big brave girl” face and try to keep up, I promise.