The Ugly Truth

This morning, as I was crawling along the wood floors, spraying and wiping the poop I didn’t know Marty had stepped in during her morning walk, trying not to gag from the smell and yelling, “Guys, I’m not asking again, brush your TEETH!” I was reminded of a conversation I had a few days ago.

“I don’t know how you do it all. Two jobs, the commute, two kids, two dogs, and you still make time for everything!”

I started laughing thinking about what that person would say if she saw me now, sliding along the entire first floor of my house in a dress, blowing my frizzy hair out of my face, and spraying Mrs. Meyer’s mint cleanser every few inches in an attempt to clean all of the crap my dog was (still) gleefully stamping all over the house.

It’s not the first time someone has said it to me. I get a fair amount of “I don’t know how you keep it all together,” and “How do you find the time to do all these special weekends and themed nights with your kids?!” I also get the occasional “You’re such an incredible mom- they’re so lucky they have you as an example of a strong, confident woman.” That one really makes me roll on the floor.

So here’s how I keep it all together.

Here’s the ugly truth.

Most mornings, I blink back tears at least once and curse myself for not doing lunch prep the night before as one dog runs into the water cooler again, the other dog craps on my floor, and two kids refuse to put their shoes on or throw their pajamas in the hamper.

Most nights, I curse myself for not having time to fold the laundry, read one more chapter of Harry Potter to Vince, or sing one more song to Grace as I drag my feet up the stairs and into bed.

At some point during most of our “surprise weekends” or “themed nights” I’m stressing myself trying to find the “next adventure” and wondering if they’ll ever remember any of it anyway.

I see a chiropractor for the chronic back pain caused by the commute, and a therapist for the anxiety and depression that nag me almost daily.

I drink a glass of wine, stand in the kitchen eating crunchy peanut butter out of the jar, or listen to metal bands to calm my nerves.

As much as I try to celebrate my mom body, I often frown when I look in the mirror because all I can see is a floppy mess; I absently stick my fingers into my stretch marks or gently tug at the kangaroo pouch that I have to tuck into my jeans every morning; and when my husband wraps me in his arms at night and whispers in my ear that my body has never looked so beautiful, I’m firmly convinced he’s full of shit.

When my children have pushed every button and trampled on every last nerve and I reach the end of my rope and raise my voice, I immediately feel guilty and slightly nervous that my neighbors are going to call child services and report that a raving lunatic is living next door. Although so far they just keep inviting me over to have a beer on their porch, so I think they can see right through my kids’ angelic facades and are trying to rescue me.

When I see pictures of my friends’ beautiful vacations, clean, neat homes, and brightly smiling children I wonder how they keep it all together, admire their amazing lives, and bite my lip as I wonder if I’m quietly known as the “failure” of the group. I also wonder if they’ll share the magic of how they get their kids to brush their hair, wash their faces and wear both shirts AND pants. I’m really in awe of that.

So that’s the ugly truth. I don’t do it all. I certainly do not keep it all together. I barely have time to breathe. And most days, I am far less than incredible and hope that my children don’t turn out anything at all like their twitchy, nervous, self-doubting mother.

But here’s the not-so-ugly part of it; I never quit. When life hands me a morning of poop-streaked hardwood floors, I get on my hands and knees, scrub them, wash my hands, and move along. When I’m so exhausted from reading and singing that all I have left to give are cuddles, I cuddle the hell outta those kids. When the anxiety of not doing enough or being enough plagues me, I remember that when I walk through the door every night their eyes light up and they trip over themselves to wrap themselves up in my arms and tell me all about their days. I remember that when my husband is doubting himself, the first person he turns to is me.

I might be a mess, but damnit if I’m not a loyal, dedicated one.

I sometimes wonder what I did to deserve any of the incredible miracles that exist around me- a husband who greets me each night with a kiss on the forehead and dinner on the table; two adorable, albeit always somehow very muddy and/or chocolate-covered children who are growing into sweet, compassionate, hilarious little human beings; two dogs who fill the house with love, goofy antics and the faint smell of wet fur (and sometimes poop); friends who stick by me through my best and worst moments…all of them, even the dogs, know that I’m usually not “all together” and yet, they continue to love me so fiercely that they keep me going even on my messiest days.

So why am I sharing all of this? Why am I letting you into the “one flick of a tile away from toppling all the dominoes” situation in my brain? Because I’m fairly certain this is all of us. We’re all a mess. None of us are “together.” None of us “do it all.” We just fumble through each day, determined and driven by all the blessings around us that keep recharging our batteries.

And that’s okay.

Kids are tough. Jobs are tough. Pets are tough, and smelly. Marriage is tough. Who could handle all of that alone? Text your friends; tell them when you’re having a day and let them recharge you. Recharge them when you know they need it. Leave the laundry for tomorrow, eat the peanut butter out of the jar, and find someone to cuddle. Cry if you have to. Hide in the bathroom and play Snoopy Pop- if you can’t do anything else productive at least you can say you freed a few Woodstocks from colored bubbles.

Just don’t quit.

And when someone marvels at how you do it all, just smile. Because some days you may not think you’re that incredible, but let me tell you something.

You are.

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The Secret

Thirty-seven years.

Thirty-seven years of the same person, day after day, night after night, moment after moment.

When I look back at my childhood, I often wonder how you guys lasted thirty-seven years. I’ve tried to discover the magical secret that kept you together when anyone else would have tossed the rings and the commitments out the window.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize this is your secret (and I’m about to share it with everyone, sorry):

You took 37 years, and you lived them moment by moment.

Thirty-seven years of incredible, wonderful, horrifying, frightening, peaceful, blissful moments- you took them as they came. One at a time.

Like the moment you walked into a shopping mall to buy curtains for your very first apartment, saw a puppy in a pet store window, and went home as a family of three (a curtainless family of three).

The moment you found out the baby you’d been praying for was growing inside you; the moment, 10 years later, that you watched her tired eyes light up when, after months of wasting away to nothing, she saw her doctor walk into her hospital room and say “We know what’s wrong, and we can fix it;” the moment, 11 years after that, she walked through the door and told you she was starting her own lifetime of moments with someone.

The moment you met your second little girl and Dad walked around the hospital room sobbing, thanking the entire staff, and exclaiming, “I have another daughter!” The moment, many years later, that you saw the lump on that little girl’s back and knew your life was about to be turned upside down; the moment, 5 years after that, that she told you in a few short months, you’d have a new title: grandparents.

The moment you arrived at my apartment to see pictures from our trip to Ireland and instead saw a cake on the table that read, “We’re having a baby;” the moment, 4 years later, that you walked into my hospital room at 3am to wish me luck delivering that baby’s little sister; and of course, the moment Mom held my hand as that little girl made her big entrance into the world.

The moments you were promoted at work and the future suddenly looked brighter; the moments you were laid off and that future was suddenly dark and uncertain.

The moment the doctor looked at Dad and said, “I’m sorry, it’s cancer,” and the moment he said “Congratulations, you’re cancer-free!”

The moment the doctor looked at Mom and said, “You need open-heart surgery,” and the moment he said, “She made it through.”

The moments that money was “ok”; the moments there was no money at all.

The moments when the new landlord would hand you the key and say, “Welcome to your new home!” and the moments the landlord would say, “I’m sorry, I’m selling the house.”

The moments we ran around the beach, gathering shells, building castles and holding your hands as you saved us from the biggest waves….and the moments the two of you adjusted to vacations being just the two of you.

The quiet moments, early in the morning, sipping coffee on the porch of Uncle Tony’s condo in Vermont while your two little girls sleepily watched cartoons and waved to you from the living room.

The crazy moments spent getting those little girls ready for their proms, their graduations, and their weddings.

Of course, we can’t forget the moment that started it all- the moment that Mom, you pulled into that gas station 38 years ago, rolled down your window, looked up, locked eyes with Dad, and suddenly couldn’t remember what you were supposed to say.

The moment Dad, you handed Mom that little plastic robot full of candy, and she opened it to find a ring.

The moment you stood in a church in front of everyone you love, and promised that no matter what moments were ahead of you, you’d face them together.

And you have.

You’ve taken a moment here….and a moment there…and used them to build this vibrant, full, infinitely strong life together.

You’ve used the best moments to show us how life is meant to be lived; you’ve used the worst moments to teach us how to handle ourselves when life refuses to cooperate.

And through every moment I’ve been lucky enough to share with you through the years- the good, the bad, the frighteningly ugly and the devastatingly beautiful- I’ve noticed one constant.

As each moment washes over you, your hands instinctively reach for each other, your eyes lock for a just a second, and you live that moment together.

So that’s it. The secret’s out.

Happy 37th Anniversary, Mom and Dad. May you have many, many more moments ahead of you, and may your hands be firmly entwined as you walk through each of them, one at a time.674096_0349

Rocco

Rocco had an “episode” a few weeks ago.

I saw it coming, slowly, for a few days, but I refused to see it at first. I always do.

“He’s just tired. He probably slept in an awkward position. He’s shaking because he’s cold; maybe I should turn up the heat.”

But eventually, I come to terms with it.

This time the “come to terms with it” moment happened when I held a treat out to him and he couldn’t take it.

He tried. He pushed it around with his nose and angled himself this way and that…but his jaw wouldn’t work for him.

He tried to look up and give me the “Mommy, we have a problem” look, but his neck betrayed him.

That’s when I came to terms with it.

I calmly picked up the treat and returned it to his cookie jar. I got down on the floor with a spoonful of peanut butter and held him in my arms at just the right angle for him to lap it up. When he was done I carried him to the couch, wrapped him up in a blanket, and let him rest.

Then I sat on the kitchen floor and sobbed.

I’m not sure why I continuously refuse to see it.

I was warned when we rescued him at 4 months old, and the vet rattled off the long list of ailments that befall miniature dachshunds.

I was warned when he went into acute liver failure at 2 years old and spent 5 days in the hospital, defying every odd, beating every prognosis, and making every staff member fall in love with his goofy, bobble-headed antics.

I was warned when, despite the twice-yearly dental appointments and twice-daily tooth scrubbings, he developed gum disease and needed surgery at 9 years old.

I was warned when, at 10 years old, he let out an ear-splitting howl and collapsed on the living room floor the night after Christmas, and I spent 5 hours in an emergency vet waiting room, praying that this wasn’t how we were going to say goodbye. They showed me the x-rays, talked to me about severe spinal arthritis of the neck, and told me that they couldn’t believe he hadn’t become paralyzed years ago. They praised me for his steady diet of whole foods, regular dosages of glucosamine and chondroitin, msm, fish oil, pei mussels, nightly back massages and leg rotations, and everything else we’d been doing since he was a puppy to stave off what was happening anyway. They told me if it wasn’t for that type of care, he’d already be gone. I left feeling like we’d somehow failed him anyway.

That was the night we sat up until the morning, talking about our options, holding him, scratching his ears, telling him how much we loved him…and promising him that if he told us it was time, we’d listen.

They had told me to keep doing what we were doing. They told me that we’d know when it was time.

When I saw him pushing that tiny treat around the floor- my dog, who used to eat an entire chicken breast in one breath and threaten to take down your hand if you didn’t get it out of the way fast enough- I prayed. I prayed HARD.

“Not yet. PLEASE don’t let it be time.”

For 2 days we held him. We watched him. Pat scrambled eggs for him. I held spoons with peanut butter while he happily, carefully navigated his way around them. I wiped him down, wrapped him up, and snuggled in bed with him at 2am after I found him lying in a puddle he’d made, most likely because he hadn’t been able to bend his back legs when we took him outside at bedtime. I whispered in his floppy little ear, “If you’re ready, it’s ok. I understand. If it’s time, I’ll be brave for you.”

I stayed up all night, preparing myself to make the phone call. I stopped praying for a miracle.

But I got one.

The next day, our pain-riddled old man bounced out of his bed and ate an entire bowl of food. He trotted outside, charged around the yard, and tugged on his leash to take a stroll up the street. He came inside and ate his treat, then ran over to our 50lb lab, Marty, grabbed her treat out of her mouth, and tore off into the living room while she tried to figure out what had just happened.

Before Marty or I could pick our jaws up from the floor, my spunky, goofy, stubborn, energetic little friend was staring up at me, tail wagging, feet hopping, looking toward his cookie jar. I looked at him and saw my 4 month-old puppy again.

We had made it through. Again. He had told me, loudly and clearly, that it wasn’t time.

I know it will be time, eventually. I know it when he can’t quite make out who is standing in front of him. I know it when he can’t hear me calling him until I tap him on the back. I knew it a few days ago when, for a few hours, his jaw failed him again. I know it on rainy nights when I have to hold him close and rub the ache out of his legs and neck.

I know.

But for some reason, when I see him, he’s not 13 years old. He’s not gray. His eyes aren’t cloudy and his walk isn’t shaky.

All I see is my spunky, goofy, stubborn, energetic little friend.

I see him posing proudly in his Halloween costumes (my favorites were Pirate, Frog, and Bumble Bee). I see him floating across the pool in an inflatable canoe, eyes closed and tail wagging gently in the sun. I see him peeing a circle around my feet and then staring at me vindictively from the doorway, after I yelled at him for jumping off the couch. I see him chasing a stink bug around the bedroom of our apartment and then shrieking and hiding behind me when it stopped running away and started creeping towards him.

I see him pressed against my chest catching my tears every time the little stick didn’t show the 2 lines I’d been praying for, and lying across my belly for nine months when it finally did. I see him standing protectively in front of the infant swing, chest puffed out, with a “State Your Business” expression on his face when anyone came to meet “his” new babies.

I see him dancing around the refrigerator at 5pm each night; bouncing at my feet as I finished Sunday morning eggs, turkey bacon and pancakes because he knew he was getting his very own bowlful; and getting his head stuck in an empty container of dairy-free ice cream that somehow made its way out of the recycling bin.

I see the silent keeper of my secrets, the giver of endless cuddles, and the only member of the house who wants to lie in bed with me and get sneezed on when I’m sick.

I know that one day I’ll have to come to terms with it. One day will be “that” day.

But it wasn’t a few weeks ago, and it’s not today.

So today, I don’t want to see it.

Today, I’ll just look down and see my spunky little friend staring up at me. And I’ll thank my lucky stars for small miracles.