The Funny Little Old Couple

So here’s the current state of affairs in our house.

“Gracie, no! That’s not how you brush your teeth. Look, look at me- no! You can’t just suck the toothbrush! Mommy, come in here please, she’s sucking the toothbrush and you need to tell her!”

“Vinny, she’s 2 years old. She’s doing her best. Leave her alone.”

“No, Mommy. No. She needs to learn the right way, and what she is doing is incorrect. We can’t just leave her alone and not teach her, she’ll get cavities, and they hurt, and she’ll need fillings…”

That was 7:30 this morning.

Last night…

“I’m all done with dinner!”

“Me too, I all done with dinner too!”

“Gracie, you are not all done, there is still ½ a meatball in your bowl.”

“I’m DONE!”

“Vince, honey, she’s just trying to be like you, let it go.”

“But Mommy I can’t. It’s not right. We can’t just let her say things if they’re not true, it’s not right.”

And here’s a little gem from Sunday morning:

“Gracie, please give that to me.”

“NO!”

“Gracie, you heard Mommy say no markers on the dining room table, only crayons. Now please give it to Vinny.”

“NO! It’s my marker and I use it because I wanna use it! Let GO!”

“Gracie, no! If you get marker on the table, it will stain. And if it stains we’ll have to find a way to clean it up. This is Mommy’s grandma’s table and we don’t want to make her sad. Now give me-“

“NOOOOO!”

“Gracie this is not nice! Mommy, she needs a timeout until she calms down.”

In summary, I’ve observed three things over the past few months.

  1. Vince is in fact an identical miniature of his father.
  2. My 5 year-old son has decided that he is my 2 year-old daughter’s primary parent.
  3. I may or may not be raising Sheldon Cooper.

I admit that I don’t often intervene unless things get ugly or someone is bleeding. There is something to be said for letting someone else take the reins for a minute so you can take 7 sips of coffee while it’s hot (yes, you can take 7 relaxed sips in a minute- anymore and you’re just rushing it. Not that I’ve counted.) Also, it’s not such a bad thing to have a mini-enforcer who is on the level of the child that is, well, a bit…headstrong and completely unwilling to listen to her actual parents. Yes, that sums it up nicely.

Besides, they’re not always butting heads. Oh, no, on the contrary. When they aren’t doing battle, they enjoy sitting hip to hip and watching Netflix; opening each other’s snacks; washing each other’s hair in the bath; having dance parties; cooking together in their play kitchen; and gently play-wrestling until Grace gets a little too real, starts throwing fists and launching arm bars, and we have to declare a timeout.

We like to refer to them as our funny little old couple. They exist on a fair amount of bickering backed by a foundation of unconditional love. We think it’s adorable.

But I’ve recently begun to wonder if my kids are perhaps too close to one another.

I find myself saying, pretty often, “Vince, you’re not her dad. You can’t tell her what to do.” “Vince, you can’t scold her like that; she’s not your daughter, she’s your sister.” “Vince, you can’t give her a timeout! You’re NOT her parent!” “Grace, will you please stop sitting on your brother’s neck?! And- hey, don’t spit on him!”

Ok that last one, that’s just something that disturbs me and I needed to vent. Anyway.

I mean, I’m so glad that they love each other so much. I’m so grateful that they truly enjoy each other’s company. But I’ve started to wonder if maybe it’s damaging them in some way to be so…well…in each other’s business all the time.

As though it heard my question, the Universe came through and gave my daughter the meltdown of all meltdowns.

At 7:45 this morning.

In my driveway.

Right next to my neighbor’s window (my neighbor who, I should add, texted me to say she hoped my day got better- THAT’S how loud it was).

Apparently, when I said, “Sure you can carry Mommy’s lunch bag to the car!” what Grace interpreted was, “Sure you can carry Mommy’s lunch bag to the car, bring it into the back seat, open it and eat everything in it!” When she found out that wasn’t the case…let’s just say it’s a good thing Mommy has catlike reflexes, because she hurled her head towards the gravel faster than Marty the Puppy dives into her bowl at breakfast.

Oh, but the mayhem didn’t end there. No, no, no. After flinging my lunch bag at me, the Tornado Formerly Known as Gracie demanded I hand over my phone so she could “watch a video while you drive.”

The response I wanted to give: “AAAAhhahahahaahahahahahahaa!!!”

The response I actually gave: “No, Grace, we do not get things when we behave like this.”

This, as you can imagine, did not sit well.

So here’s where the Universe pulled the bait and switch and gave me my answer.

As I pulled out of the driveway and headed towards our first drop-off, the screams died down and I suddenly heard the tiniest, quietest of exchanges going on in my back seat. I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Vince leaning his hand to Grace’s, who sniffled and reached out to hold it.

“Are you ok, Gracie girl?” I heard him whisper.

Sniffle. “I’m ok, Vincent.”

“It’s going to be ok, don’t you worry. Love you.”

“Ok, Vincent. Love you.”

Are you melting right now? I definitely was. Ugh, kids and the emotional rollercoaster they strap you into.

By the time I pulled into the school parking lot, all was quiet behind me.  I turned to let Vince know he could open the door…and saw him sitting on Gracie’s side of the car, whispering to her. She was staring into his eyes, nodding, and smiling. Then he kissed her forehead and I melted into a puddle on the floor of my car.

As I walked him to the door (3 feet from the car, people, don’t freak out. I didn’t give Grace the keys and tell her to take a spin around the lot while I dropped him off), I asked, “So, what were you talking to Grace about?”

“Well, I just wanted to make sure she was ok, and I told her if she just took a deep breath and calmed down, things would get better. I told her when I’m having a tantrum and start getting crazy, you tell me to sit on my bed until I can calm down. And once I do, everything is ok. So I was just letting her know, to help her.”

There was my answer.

Standing next to me, his tiny hand in mine, his curly orange mohawk glinting in the Sun, was one half of the best funny little old couple I ever could have asked for.

They’re ok.

I love that they love each other. I love watching them cuddle under a blanket and choose a movie together. I love hearing Gracie call, “Where’s my Vinny? I missed you!” after school, and watching Vince come running, calling back, “There’s my Gracie! How was your day?”

I love their silly arguments and their undying loyalty to one another. I love that he wants to guide her and protect her. I love that he’s the first person she runs to when she needs boo boo ice or someone to twist open her applesauce pouch.

As long as they’re not still washing each other’s hair in the bath in 5 years…I think they’re going to be ok.

What About Me?

Dear Gracie,

You say a lot of things. Most of them are hilarious; some are a bit shocking; and almost all of them bring a smile to my face (even if I have to hide that smile because I’m in the middle of explaining why you shouldn’t say some of them…)

But a few weeks ago you said something that turned my head in a different way. It stayed with me long after I had given you your goodnight kiss, and it was still there the next morning as I sipped my coffee and watched you excitedly hunting for plastic Easter eggs in the living room.

It’s been bouncing around in my head every time you smile at me.

It’s been driving me crazy, to be honest.

So let’s start from the beginning. It was the night before Easter, and your grandparents had stopped by to visit. In the whir of cleaning dinner off the table and setting up our egg-dying extravaganza, my mother suggested running out for coffee and munchkins. While I poured vinegar into egg cups, I absently said, “Sure- Vince can go with you if he wants.”

“What about me?”

I stopped plopping color tablets into plastic cups and turned to see you staring up at me.

All 3 feet, 30 pounds of you, staring up at me resolutely with your huge hazel eyes.

“Um…sure, you can go, Gracie. Go get your shoes.”

Your face lit up as you scrambled to your bedroom, running past my mother and declaring, “Grandma I’m getting my shoesies, I’m coming for munchkins!!!”

To anyone else in the room, that was it. You went. You came back. You ate munchkins. You dyed eggs.

I’m still not over it.

The question has plagued me from the moment you pushed your feet into your pink Converse sneakers, slipped your hand into my mother’s, and bounced out the front door on your way to the “munchkin store.”

What about you?

I automatically thought of your older brother. I automatically ask him if he wants to come along to run errands, to grab coffee, to go on “adventures.”

Not that I haven’t tried, believe me. We tried the zoo- you attempted to run into one of the animal cages and stomped all over a flower garden. We tried going out to dinner. You tossed your meal across the table, put your coat on backwards and started running around to other tables. I’ve tried taking you when I run errands. It usually results in me leaving the store with nothing besides a screaming, wriggling 2 year-old girl after about 20 minutes. You’re a bit of a firecracker- you’re beautiful, bright, and (whenever something doesn’t go your way), you let out a boom that shakes the house.

So it’s not that I haven’t tried. But what bothered me the most about that moment, and your eyes boring into mine, was that at some point, I gave up. I stopped trying.

I fell into the trap of what was easy. Your brother clings to me like a barnacle to a boat- he has since the moment he was born. He wants to be cuddled, read to, sung to, soothed. He wants to be helpful, included, a part of everything I do.

You want none of that.

You want to put yourself to sleep, brush your own teeth, and “read” your books alone in your bedroom. You want me to be there, not too far away, but not too close. You don’t want to be smothered in kisses or cuddles. You want to be seen, heard, and understood. But under no circumstances do you want to cling. You want your space.  And so, reluctantly, I’ve learned to give you that space.

But in that moment, looking at your expectant little face, I realized that it was time to try again.

So I have.

We had our first girls’ night last week.  We went shopping. We rode one of those over-sized mechanical stuffed animals through the mall. We went to dinner. We stopped at Whole Foods, picked out a few cookies, and shared them while we played with your new Elsa and Moana dolls.

It was our first “adventure.”

When we got home you ran to your dad and brother, told them all about our “date,” and asked me, “Mommy, can we go again soon?” When I said, “Of course, my little best friend,” you replied, “You’re my best friend, too, Mommy.”

I thought my heart might fly out of my chest.

Since then, I’m happy to report that we’ve successfully navigated ShopRite, Target, a diner, and a coffee shop.  I have my sights set pretty high now- I’m thinking lunch and a movie- on the same day! Our new friendship knows no limits.

I hear a lot of “Oh my gosh, she’s sassy,” and “She’s going to give you a run for your money!” from people when they see your goofy, spunky personality firsthand. And they’re right. You’re a fiery little spirit with wild hair and strong opinions. You are sassy. You do give me a run for my money (and my sanity).

But do you know what else you do? You balance me.

Your ferocity and lack of inhibition inspire me. Your independence leaves me in awe. I often wonder how you came out of me- meek, nervous, uncertain, clingy little me. I made a warrior. I somehow grew a future boss of a woman. Me. I can’t even send back coffee when the barista forgets to make it decaf.

I will continue to give you all the space and independence I can (within reason- let’s not forget that you’re still in diapers and harbor a very real fear of “draining down” with the bath water). But I promise to pay attention to this new side of you that wants, every now and then, to buy a pair of shoes, help me shop for granola bars and dish detergent, or grab a burger and tater tots after school.  I promise to keep trying until we can get through the entire zoo.

What about you?

Well, you can just focus on giving me a run for my money. I’ll survive it- I happen to have this fiery little woman in my life who’s setting a good example for me.

Letting Go

“Vinny, sometimes you need to just take a deep breath and let it go.”

I heard the words escaping my lips, saw my son staring at me solemnly and intently…and almost burst into hysterical laughter.

I was giving a pep talk to my 5 year-old son because his blanket had dog spit on it.

Dog spit.

Vince was melting into a sorrowful little heap because our dachshund, Rocco, had spent the evening lounging on his bed, cleaning his paws, and drooling all over his favorite blanket, and the thought of sleeping with a different blanket for one night was sending my son into mental mayhem.

But, despite the “I’m so overtired this is hysterical” delirium of it all, that’s not why I was biting my tongue to keep from laughing.

I was telling Vince to let go.

Vince, who still has a paper hat that he made in PreK 3 because he just can’t part with it.

Vince, who tears up at the end of every vacation because he can’t bear the fact that our special family adventure is coming to an end.

Vince, who continued to attempt lifelong friendship with Liam, the boy in his PreK 4 class who spent almost every day spitting on him and pushing him to the ground, long after I begged him to find another “best friend.”

I was telling Vince to let something go.

But that still wasn’t why I was laughing.

Do you ever say something so simple, so innocent, to your child, and it somehow tosses you down a rabbit hole of hard realizations about your entire life?

Yeah, me neither.

Well tonight it did. It tossed me in headfirst and flailing.

I was telling someone to let go.

Me.

I’m probably as qualified to preach about walking away as I am to sell cars or build 747’s.

I am no Queen Elsa (except for the part where she’s convinced everything is her fault- that’s kind of me).

I am the WORST at letting go.

Jobs, clothes, relationships- I’m a lingerer.

I’ve held onto socks because I remember what a great day I was having when I bought them 4 years ago.

I held onto a job even after the head of HR gleefully informed me that he was looking up ways to fire me while I was out on maternity leave, because my pregnancy was inconvenient.

I’ve held onto friendships long after everyone from my other friends to my husband to my mother have told me to walk away. Even though I was clearly the only one making any effort. Even though I had confronted the other person and nothing changed.

I’ve held onto relationships with family members even after they came into my home, sat at my table, and said some very unkind things about me, not realizing that I was standing directly behind them. Even after they read and ignored every text, every Facebook message, every attempt I made to have them be a part of mine and my children’s lives.

I’ve held onto people whose constant negativity nearly drained all the life out of me, but who insisted they needed me in their lives. I convinced myself that if I just changed this, tweaked that, or toned down those few things about myself, I could make them happy. I could fix them. Even though nothing I ever did, ever made them happy. Even though being with them added so much weight to my being that I could barely hold myself up.

Why did I linger so much? Was I that desperate to keep people and worn out striped socks in my life?

No- I have plenty of wonderful people and warm, cushy socks. I have friends who remember to wish my kids a happy birthday even when they’re at a wedding in Spain (that actually happened). I have friends who check in to see how Vince’s extra reading help is going at school, or to ask how long it’s been since Gracie’s been ear infection-free.

I have family members who come to my house with little gifts, compliment the silly $3 artwork that I’ve hung in my bathroom, and reach out to me asking if they can have my son or daughter over to spend some quality time with them.

I have relationships that are so full of love, positivity and encouragement that they completely recharge my batteries and fill me with a sense of self-worth.

I have socks that are so warm that I could probably wear them as shoes. I also have socks with reindeer on them, which is pretty awesome in itself.

So why am I such a lingerer?

I think it’s because I was raised to see the best in people. Because those absent friends promised to make an effort, and I wanted to believe it would happen. Because those family members played with my kids and laughed at one of my jokes at a holiday dinner, and I thought maybe it was a sign that we meant something to them. Because those negative relationships did have their occasional happy times, and I prayed that those would start to outweigh all the other times that were dragging me into the abyss.

But I guess as much as we want to see the best…we also need to see the truth.

Sometimes you have to let go.

Sometimes you have no other choice.

I looked at Vince, who was waiting patiently for me to finish my speech, and said, “Sometimes, even though you’re used to one blanket, you need to put it aside and try out another one. You might find that you like the new one even better- it keeps you warmer and you don’t have to deal with dog spit.”

I’m not sure if I was talking to him or to myself, but he grabbed another blanket so at least one of us is going to take my advice.

As for me?

Well…as I was having my mental crisis, I got this from my cousin: “I’m tired, my kids are still up, and I’m drinking wine on a child’s toilet bowl while my son enjoys his warm bubble bath.”

I mean really, why waste time chasing unwilling people when you have anyone who gets you on such a level that she senses, from 30 miles away, that you’re having a moment and could use the mental image of her sipping cabernet on a racecar potty?

I guess sometimes you just need a little dog spit to bring your priorities into focus.

Or something profound like that.

20180405_224411[2111]