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.