Broken Hearts

“Wanna hear something funny?”

“Of course.”

“Donnie just walked out of Mom’s bedroom with one of her chocolate bars.”

“Oh my God! Nicky, I just pulled her wallet out of her purse and guess what was stuck to it? A wad of tissues.”

My sister and I laughed like two tipsy friends at happy hour, but it was a thin veil for the fear that was coursing through us.

It was déjà vu all over again.

The last 10 years of my grandmother’s life were largely spent in and out of emergency departments and specialists’ offices- waiting for test results; waiting for new diagnoses; waiting for medication adjustments; waiting to hear we had more time; just…waiting.

When she passed, tucked underneath the 6 months of almost insurmountable depression that covered me like a heavy wool blanket, was a tiny, almost imperceptible feeling of relief.

She was free, and we could breathe.

No more 2am trips to the ER; no more frantic phone calls; no more watching her fade in and out and bargaining with God to bring her back to us.

Fast-forward 8 years, and there I was on Saturday afternoon, white-knuckling the steering wheel as I followed the ambulance to the hospital.

Three episodes in 2 hours. Chest pain, jaw pain, shoulder pain, dizziness…that horrible wince on her face and the faint whine that escaped her lips as the squeezing caused her to double over in pain. And it washed over me. The day my grandmother had experienced 3 episodes in a few hours….had called 911 as a precaution…and had a massive heart attack in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

I watched the techs take vitals, chart symptoms, and assure my mother that no, she wasn’t wasting their time and yes, she did the right thing by calling 911, because all of her symptoms pointed to a heart attack.

I closed my eyes and there was my grandmother, arguing that she was fine- it was just indigestion- and she was ready to go home.

I unstuck my legs from the vinyl bench to get up and adjust the height of her bed; as I searched for a button I was suddenly back in Grandma’s rehab center, laughing like a little kid as I pushed all the buttons, making her bed dance, and she warned, “You rotten kid, when I can get out of this bed I’m gonna hop you in the ass!” while she laughed alongside me.

I listened to one doctor after another.

“You should think about getting a stationary bike to get your heart muscle going, maybe just put it in the living room…”

I closed my eyes and saw my grandmother’s exercise bike, sitting in the living room, draped with clean laundry.

I watched the monitor reading off blood pressure, oxygen levels and heart rate, the numbers blurring together the more I stared at it, expecting it to give me some sort of answer.

I pulled open a tiny cranberry juice container and bobbed a tea bag into a Styrofoam cup of lukewarm water because my mother wasn’t allowed to exert herself too much until they were sure she was stable.

“I’m not touching that broccoli…you think they could have spared a little more pasta?….ugh, this tea is cold….I do like this fruit cup though.”

I shuddered.

Déjà vu all over again.

When my mother had been admitted- and she had promised me she wasn’t going to try to make a break for it- I decided it was safe to go home. I kissed her goodbye and she smiled at me, and once again, it washed over me.

The afternoon that my grandmother had kissed me goodbye, assured me she was fine…and then had 2 massive heart attacks in her hospital bed as I was pulling out of the parking lot.

I got in my car and stared at my phone. It stared back at me.

And suddenly…I couldn’t breathe.

The next day we waited for more doctors to chime in. I sat on another vinyl bench seat and watched my mother’s emotions range from nonchalance to anger to fear. I listened to her complain about the consistency of the cream of wheat and opt for the French toast. I saw her joke with the nurses and tell me about all the alarms she heard going off in the other rooms overnight.

“I’ve been praying for Room 9 all morning….2 code blues, Cathy. That’s not good at all.”

I searched the hallways for the water machine and we laughed about how I pushed the button too hard and an avalanche of ice came pouring down on me.

They released her with no real answers and instructions to, in the nurse’s words “call 911 and get your butt right back here if you feel ANY pain at ALL.”

And the entire time, the feeling was washing over me like a frigid waterfall, trying its best to drown me.

Here we were again.

Waiting.

Would this become my new normal…again? Juggling schedules and doctor visits with my sister, as I had watched my grandmother’s children do for all those years? Scolding my mother for eating Chinese food because “How many times do we have to tell you it’s loaded with salt! You have a heart condition!” and watching her face dim slightly because she didn’t appreciate being treated like a child?

How many more times would my son climb into my bed at 6:30am, asking, “Where did you go yesterday, Mommy? You said you were just going out for a minute and then we would go to Francine & Ryan’s barbecue and I could play with all the other kids…but you never came back.”

How could I effectively explain that as I drove past my parents’ house on my way to the liquor store, something had tugged on me to turn around? That I didn’t have time to come home and tell him anything before I grabbed my mother’s purse and followed the flashing lights onto the highway? That I had snuck into his room when I returned from the hospital, hugged him as he slept, and wondered if he’d ever have that same intuition and find me sitting on my couch, wincing and looking into his eyes with the fear of not knowing why my body was betraying me?

I didn’t tell him in that moment. But I’ve decided that eventually, I will.

I’m going to tell him that if this ever becomes his “new normal,” he needs to laugh.

He needs to laugh when he finds hidden chocolate bars in my bedside table (because we all know I’m going to be the old lady who hides chocolate). Laugh when I blurt out “What is this cold brown water?! Get money out of my purse and get me a real damn coffee.” Laugh when he pulls my wallet out of my purse and 17 tissues fall out.

Laugh when I ask him to raise my head a bit, he accidentally pushes the wrong button and my feet go flying into the air instead. Laugh when the ice comes pouring out of the machine and he’s frantically putting cup after cup under it and looking around to make sure no one is watching this fiasco.

I’ll tell him. He should know, just in case. Because if there’s one thing that the wild ride with my grandmother taught me, it’s that laughter is the only effective way to numb the pain of a broken heart.

One To Two

I work with a lot of lovely people, but one of my favorites is Donna. Two things you need to know about Donna- she has 4 kids, and she gives very good, very no-bullshit advice. So it stands to reason that if Donna gives you advice about parenting, it’s going to be pretty solid.

Which brings me to my story.

When I was watermelon-sized and knee-deep in panic about keeping two tiny humans alive, Donna dispensed this little jewel:

“The transition from 0 to 1 is hard, but 1 to 2 is definitely the worst. After that, 2 to 3 is a piece of cake, and 3 to 4? Forget it, it’s nothing. But 1 to 2 is definitely the worst. But you’ll get the hang of it.”

Grace will be 3 years old next week.

I’m still waiting to get the hang of it.

But in any case, Donna couldn’t have been more right.

I think the most challenging parts of going from 1 to 2 kids are the milestones. You get it done with kid #1 and think, “Easy peasy lemon squeezy!” Then kid #2 gets there and cuts up a lemon and squirts it into your eyes.

For instance, the crib to bed scenario.

2015:

“Vince, you’re 2 ½ years old now, and in a few months your little sister will be here and she needs a crib, so we think it’s time for you to sleep in a big boy bed.”

“A big boy bed?”

“Yup, so we bought you this Mickey Mouse bed!!”

“Mickey Mouse Craphouse?!” (he hadn’t quite mastered the “L” in2015)

“Yup! Why don’t we put it together and then you can take a nap in it.”

“Ok!”

BOOM.

Never mentioned the crib again. Never got out of the bed when he wasn’t supposed to. Never looked back.

2017 (April):

“You know, Grace, we just bought this house with a big girl room for you, and you’re going to be 2 years old, so we bought you this cool big girl bed!”

“No.”

2017 (May, June, July, August, September, October):

“You know, Grace, we could just put your crib mattress in this big girl bed-“

“I like my big girl CRIB.”

2018 (November):

“Santa might bring you cool, big girl toys if he sees you sleeping in a cool, big girl bed!”

“I want baby toys.”

2017 (December):

“We’re just going to put this big girl bed in the basement.”

“Bye bed.”

2018 (July):

“You’re going to be 3 years old in a few weeks. You’re a big girl. You need to start doing big girl things. Pick one- sleep in the big girl bed or ditch the diapers because I am NOT bringing a pack-n-play and diapers on vacation. I will bring ONE of those things so CHOOSE.”

::Massive eye roll:: “I’ll sleep in the bed.”

2018 (Still July):

“Gracie, it’s 2am, you need to go back to your bed.”

“I want to sleep in your bed.”

“No, you need to learn-“

“I want to sleep in your bed.”

“No, you have a bed.”

“I miss my crib. You took my crib away. You BROKE it. Now it’s GONE. I want to be a BABY. I want my CRIB back-“

“Ok just get in here and go to sleep….”

Which brings me to our next saga….Potty. Training.

2015: I potty-trained Vince during the first 3 days of my maternity leave.

2016: I introduced Grace to the potty.

2017: I introduced Grace to the potty.

2018: I introduced Grace to the potty. Grace agreed to use the potty. Grace was almost completely potty-trained….aaaaand then we somehow landed on “Go To Diapers. Do Not Pass Pull-Ups. Do Not Collect the $100/Month you’d be saving on diapers, wipes, and various butt creams.”

So here we are, one week from her 3rd birthday, and she is so against potty training that she pulls off her underwear, craps on the floor, pulls up her underwear, and goes on her merry way.

She pees in a diaper and refuses to let me change it because, “I LIKE wearing dirty diapers!”

She peed on a dining room chair and insisted, “It’s fine. I went to the bathroom like a big girl…on this chair.”

Needless to say, this is not how I remember this milestone going the first time around.

Now, let me stop here to say a few things:

  1. I know that all children are different and develop at their own pace
  2. I have been patient, positive and gentle throughout this process, until the “nonchalantly crapping on the floor” incident

BUT- my seams are starting to come apart here.

And so, I did something I never, ever would have done with kid #1- I bribed her with sugar.

We were 45 minutes into our commute home yesterday when I heard, “Mommy, I have to potty.”

“Ok, Baby, we’re about 20 minutes from home so just go in your diaper. It’s ok.”

“I don’t have one.”

“What?!”

“I’m wearing my big girl underwear.”

“WHAT?!”

Daycare had sent her home in underwear. We are SO far away from that point. So. Very. Far.

The panic set in pretty quickly.

“Ok, um, there are no bathrooms near here, Honey, can you…. cross your leggies???”

I imagined rivers of pee flowing from her carseat onto the backseat, down to the floor, under the front seat and onto my feet.

When this kid goes, she GOES.

“Ok Mommy. But I really have to poop too.”

Oh for the love of ALL that’s Holy.

So I said something I NEVER would have said to my raised-on-nothing-but-organic-greens first child.

“If you keep your big girl undies dry until we get home, I will give you 2 lollipops for dinner.”

I was too frantic to feel guilty. I was too busy navigating my way through traffic, rain, and a cop I was sure was going to pull me over for looking unhinged, inevitably causing my daughter to unleash a flood worthy of a Bible story.

You’ll never guess what happened.

She stayed dry.

I ran that girl into my house like we were being chased by a wild turkey, plopped her on the toilet, and….she used the potty!

I squealed, cheered and hugged her as she beamed with pride. I told her how proud I was, and she said, “Oh, Mommy, I’m so proud of me too!”

We did a victory dance to the kitchen, she giddily claimed her 2 lollipops, took a few licks of each, and then ate an entire, healthy, well-balanced dinner.

She did it. WE did it.

This was not at all how I remember it going with kid #1- any of it, really, but especially this stuff.

I did everything I swore I’d never do- lost my patience, gave up, resorted to bribery and ultimatums…so I’m not perfect. I was better the first time around.

Like Donna said, one to two is the WORST.

But you know what else it is?

It’s pretty damn rewarding.

When the milestones are easy, they’re exciting. But when they’re damn near impossible, and you somehow pull them off? Oh my God the elation. I cried and hugged the poor girl while she was still peeing.

So yes, one to two is tough. It makes you rethink everything you know as a parent. It makes you reinvent and rearrange and reconsider running away.

But it also makes you realize a few things.

  1. It may not happen easily, but it’ll happen.
  2. Sometimes lollipops are a pre-meal appetizer and that’s ok.20180725_185540.jpg

Romance

I had just dragged myself through the front door after a 12-hour day. I was lamenting the fact that it was somehow only Tuesday when I was enthusiastically greeted by a dachshund who got tangled between my legs and a Labrador puppy who pile-drove me back into the front door.

My kids were sitting inches away from all this commotion. Did I get any help? Maybe a “Hey there, Mommy, you look a little tired. May we take one of your 6 bags?”

Nope. Not a peep. Not so much as a GLANCE.

As I shuffled past them, I noticed something. Something refreshing and sweet. Mango. Mango…body wash. Children’s mango bodywash.

They were clean!

Two clean children, in their pajamas, watching television. A sweeter sight I’ve never seen.

At least until I walked into the kitchen.

There it was, the most beautiful, romantic…I can’t even talk about it, I might get choked up.

A pile of chicken nuggets.

There was a neat little pile of baked chicken nuggets cooling on a dish on the counter, right next to a fragrant, hearty-looking stir-fry. Next to that was my sink- completely empty and scrubbed clean. The dishwasher swished happily beside it, full of all the dishes I didn’t have to wash.

On top of the dishwasher? All of the water bottles and sippy cups that the kids would need for school the next day, lined up neatly, lids (matching lids!) resting on top. The straws were even- I hope you’re sitting- the straws were already MacGyvered into the little lid holes.

As I stood there swooning, I heard footsteps coming up the basement stairs. The door creaked open and in strolled Pat, clad in an old t-shirt, covered in sweat, carting a large cardboard box.

“So,” he panted, “a few things.”  “First, the new agitator came today, it’s in. I just finished. Look how bad this old one was!” he exclaimed, holding up the old, broken washing machine part triumphantly.

“Second, did you go in the freezer before bed last night? It was open this morning- like really open, probably about this much (a quick demonstration ensued).  But don’t worry, I checked everything. The chicken sausage was still completely frozen- (looking at the worry on my face)- No, I checked it, don’t worry.”

“Anyway,” he continued, wiping sweat from his brow, “your dinner is on the stove. I browned the turkey and just threw a bunch of shit in it (adorable laugh), it smells pretty good though, right? I added taco seasoning, and I threw a little cinnamon in there since it worked so well with the bean chili. I just figured I’d give it another try. Let me know what you think.”

I followed my personal chef/handyman as he headed for the sunroom with the grimy old washing machine part. “I ran an empty load to check- I used like half the bottle of this Mrs. Meyers mint spray in it, I know you really like that one. So the instructions (wiping more sweat), I’m reading them and they’re like, ‘There’s this one bolt that has to come out, but to get to it you have to rig up this thing with a string and a tool, and really pull, but you still might not be able to get it out, it’s practically impossible unless you’re Hercules (adorable laugh). Cath, I just pulled- I mean, it took a few tries and I had to work it a little, but the thing came right out. Hercules…who even starts an instruction video like that? (adorable laugh, brow wipe) It looks like it’s working pretty well…”

In that moment, in that sun room, all I wanted to do was grab the box out of his hands and throw him right on the couch.

It’s funny how what sweeps you off your feet changes a little bit (ok, a lot) as time passes.

When we were teenagers, he used to sketch roses and fairies and leave them in my backpack or my locker. Once a week he’d visit me at my part-time job at a florist and bring me chicken salad sandwiches from Mr. Bruno’s, my favorite Italian place across the street.

In college he once left a little stuffed animal under the windshield wiper of my car. How he spotted my car in the cavernous mall parking garage STILL confuses me, but he did.

When we moved in together I would occasionally find those “Between You and Me” cards on my pillow when we were working opposite shifts. You know them. The tall cards with the long, ornate poems scrawled on 3 sides- he would always sign them “I always seem to find the ones that could have been written just about us.”

I mean, come on.

But time passes…and things change.

Engagement turned into marriage, and surprise flowers showed up at my office a little less often. But after working a double or an overnight, he would always walk wearily through the door with “your favorite sandwich from Natoli’s by my job site,” or a bagel with vegan vegetable cream cheese because, “I stopped for coffee and saw it on the menu, I couldn’t believe it! I hope it’s good for what I paid for it.”

And then…two turned into three, and three turned into four.

Children…they have a way of changing things.

Long, romantic, expensive dinners turned into grabbing a quick bite at the place down the street while my mother-in-law watched a sick child that we’d been home with for 5 days straight.

Spontaneous 3-day weekends turned into day trips to the zoo, planned around a nap schedule.

Marathon, hours-long sessions of…cuddling…turned into “Wait, let me check on them real quick and lock the door. Don’t fall asleep while I’m gone!”

And now I was standing in my kitchen at 7:45 on a Tuesday night, staring at my sweaty, disheveled, husband, who was so happy and animated as he talked about chicken sausage and washing machine agitators and botanical mint spray.

And I have never wanted him more.

Romance is nice- it’s lovely, really. We still go away once a year, just for a night, without kids or dogs, eat at an expensive restaurant, stay in a B&B, and stroll along a tiny main street with antique shops and cafes.

The other 364 nights?

We laugh a lot, over ridiculous things.

One of us waits in the kitchen with a glass of wine or a cupcake when the other texts “on my way, awful day.”

He sets my favorite mug under the Keurig before he leaves at 5 in the morning; on weekends I let him sleep late and push the “brew” button just as I hear him heading down the stairs.

We grab each other’s butts while we’re cooking and cleaning. This is a staple of any healthy marriage and I highly recommend it.

We’re there for each other.

In a household with 2 small humans, 2 destructive dogs, and so many loads of laundry that I’m surprised we’re not buried in socks (no wonder the poor washer keeled over), just being there for each other is a far greater expression of love than all the long-stemmed roses in the world (they’re over-priced anyway. I know- I worked in a florist.)

So romance…it’s all in how you look at it. Sometimes it’s Godiva chocolate and massages in a candle-lit room. Sometimes it’s a tired guy standing in front of you with a broken piece of plastic and a smile, and a pile of chicken nuggets on the counter.

I’ll take that second one every day of the week.

 

The End of an Era

I wish I was more like my husband.

I watched him calmly, methodically taking apart his half of the crib as I struggled to operate my Allen wrench through the ridiculous fountain of tears streaming down my face, and I just kept thinking, “Why can’t I be as solid as this man? Nothing rattles him. I’m dismantling an old, bitten, scratched up crib and I may cry so hard I need to sit down.”

(Spoiler Alert: I did cry so hard, and I did need to sit down.)

“Can you believe we’ve had this crib for 6 years? And just like that, we’re taking it apart.”

Pat replied with his signature smirk, “And this is the LAST time we’ll ever take it apart.”

He was referring to our 3 moves in 5 years, not our years-long debate about having a third baby (well, I had done most of the debating…he sat and listened and adamantly shook his head). But as he glanced up to smile at me he saw the blotchy mess that was my face and heard my feeble attempt at a chuckle, and it clicked.

“It’s just…so final, you know? For six years this crib has been a constant in every one of our apartments…it’s kept two babies safe and secure, and now it’s just…going on the curb, you know? It’s just so…it’s the end of an entire era in our lives, you know?”

He knew.

“You want to hear something funny?” He was attempting funny. “This is the most expensive piece of furniture we owned for all those years. Isn’t that funny? We sat on that cheap Ikea couch, but the crib…and it really held up! All those moves, taking it apart, putting it back together. And it stayed in great shape every time. A crib was our most expensive….pretty funny, right?”

I laughed- partly because he was right, but mostly because after all of our years together he knows exactly what I need. He knew he had to redirect before I crumbled like a stale cookie (much like the ones that are in various states of mummification underneath the car seats in my truck).

He knew I was going to run my fingers over every little dent and baby-tooth bite mark on its smooth surface, and remember tickling their chins and saying, “If you’re hungry you need to tell Mommy; don’t go eating the good furniture!”

He knew that as I turned the Allen wrench I’d reminisce about the day we excitedly took it out of the box and started putting it together, even though I was only 5 months into a high-risk pregnancy that had already almost ended twice…“Remember? It was in our little one-bedroom apartment in Garfield. And Jacqi and Alex walked in and I was sitting on the floor working on my half, and Jacqi said ‘Wow! You finally popped! Look at that belly, you finally look pregnant!’ Remember that?”

He knew I’d stare furtively at it through the window after we had placed it on the curb, and that I’d wonder how it was suddenly over. An entire chapter of our lives- a chapter I wasn’t ready to see being taken away by a garbage truck.

He knew that no matter how diligently my common sense (and our bank accounts) tried to convince me that we couldn’t expand our family, my heart twisted and turned with yearning for one more little face that would stare up at me from that crib, reaching out for a bottle or a blanket or a 2 a.m. cuddle session.

He knew.

So as we walked back into the house after leaving 6 years of our lives up against the sidewalk, he turned around, placed his hands gently on my shoulders, looked at me with that steady, calm gaze of his, and said, “I do remember putting that crib together in our little one-bedroom apartment. And now look at where we are. Look where these six years have taken us. How far we’ve come. It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?”

I hate when he’s right.

HATE it.

I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t anymore.

I had to smile as Gracie bounced around excitedly while we re-arranged her furniture. I had to laugh when she ran into her bedroom and exclaimed, “It’s my new magical big-girl room! It’s so cute! I just LOVE it!!” I had to smirk a little bit while she perused the area rugs at Target an hour later and declared, “Yes, that one. Fuzzy pink. I would like that one please. For my magical big-girl room.”

It was an ending, yes. It was an ending I knew was coming. It was an ending that I knew was going to wrench my emotions into a knot that landed somewhere in the pit of my stomach.

But it was also a beginning.

We had survived painful, high-risk, frightening pregnancies. We had survived sleepless nights and mystery infant illnesses and first boo-boos and pureed sweet potato crusted all over the walls (and the dog). We had survived 2 a.m. feedings and the horrors of teething and the torture of breast pumps and the wincing of my credit card every time I ordered another case of formula.

And as much as I wasn’t ready to leave all of that behind me (because believe it or not, you do miss it ALL when it’s over), I started to realize that I have so much more in front of me.

There will (barring divine intervention or a failed vasectomy) never be another crib in my house. But there is a full-size bed with Spider-Man sheets that’s perfect for cuddling with Vince while reading Harry Potter and exploring the ever-confusing world of Pokemon.

There will never be another newborn cry summoning me into a bedroom at 2 a.m…but almost daily I hear a 5:30 a.m. giggle as Gracie, enjoying her new crib-less freedom, pops into my bedroom, hops into my bed, and snuggles against me.

There will never be another bout of morning sickness or a frantic run to Shop-Rite at 11:30 at night because all I can hold down are lemons dipped in chocolate pudding…well, actually, I’m okay with not revisiting that.

So I’m not exactly the poster-child for “Don’t cry because it’s over- smile because it happened!”

No.

I’m more of an, “It’s over and I’m going to hide in the bathroom for five minutes and sob my damn head off until I can’t breathe, and you can’t stop me!” kinda girl.

But I guess it’s time to wipe my eyes, blow my nose and move forward.

One might say it’s the beginning of an era. And from where I’m standing, it’s looking pretty good.