Even the Bad Ones

It was just about 11:30 last night, and I was curled up on the couch in my comfiest sweatpants with Rocco on my lap, a mug of lemon ginger tea in my hands, Marty the Menace puppy sleeping at my feet, and Will & Grace entertaining me from my DVR. I was FINALLY alone, relaxed, and-

Wait, wait. No. Sorry. That had been the plan; but we all know how “planning” goes.

What I was ACTUALLY doing at 11:30 last night was standing in the almost-empty parking lot of a 24hr CVS pharmacy, leaning into the backseat of my Kia Sportage, reaching towards a very sleepy Grace with a syringe full of Augmentin.

“Is it yummy or yucky, Mommy?”

“Hmmm, let’s see…it smells like berries, so it’s probably ok. But even if it’s yucky, it’s going to make your ear feel so much better, so you should probably take it.”

“….Ok. I’ll take it…..oh, that was kinda yucky, Mommy.”

You know what else was yucky?

The fact that I was still stuck in the dress I had pulled over my head at 6am. The fact that I was hungry and thirsty but all I had in the car were mints and ½ a cup of lukewarm water. The fact that my strapless bra was cutting into my ribs after almost 18 hours of clinging to them.

It was all decidedly yucky.

When you have kids, someone will inevitably tell you to “enjoy every moment, even the bad ones.” They will most likely tell you this when you’re deeply entrenched in your “new parent” stupor, so it won’t fully register. And then somewhere down the line, during one of those bad moments- say, standing in a dark, empty CVS parking lot at 11:30pm in a short dress and sandals, calculating how fast you could throw an elbow, get your 3 year-old out of the car and run if someone leapt out of the shadows and attacked- bam, you’ll remember it.

“Enjoy every moment, even the bad ones.”

You’ll wipe your Augmentin-covered fingers  all over your dress (because those stupid syringes ALWAYS leak), and you’ll think about how you had to get up early to beat the back-to-college traffic on the way to work that morning. And you’ll count how many sibling arguments you broke up (“This song is MY jam, not yours!”) while sitting in the hour of traffic that you didn’t, in fact, avoid at all.

You’ll remember inhaling a plate of old pasta with a can of tuna tossed into it at your desk, and then using your lunch hour to run an errand, because your life is not your own once you pull into the daycare parking lot after work.

You’ll recall rushing through dinner (after an hour of traffic and sibling arguments on the way home); wrenching your back when one kid leaned away from you while you were rinsing her hair in the bath; cleaning pee off the bathroom floor when the other kid didn’t quite make it into the bowl; and then getting into an argument with your husband when he declares he gets “no help around here.”

You’ll think about how you absently opened the fridge mid-argument, bats flew out, and you stormed out of the house in tears to go food shopping at a Trader Joe’s 20 minutes away, even though ShopRite is 5 minutes away, because Trader Joe’s has the vegan, gluten free breakfast bars that everyone in the house can digest without very, very bad things happening.

You’ll think back to lugging 8 bags of groceries through the front door while 1 dog danced through your ankles and the other goosed you (I told you it was a pretty short dress).

You’ll fondly remember FINALLY taking off your shoes, stretching out on your son’s bed and beginning your journey into the world of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban…only to abruptly leave Daigon Alley and leap off the bed when an ear-splitting scream escaped from behind your daughter’s bedroom door.

And you’ll laugh to yourself, because in that moment, remembering all the moments leading up to it, it will be almost impossible to “enjoy” anything besides the thought of falling on your face- because 1. You’re so close to falling on your face at this point and 2. If you did, at least you’d be unconscious and not have to deal with all this shit.

And so that’s what I was doing around 11:30 last night.

And then I looked at Grace, and she smiled at me.

Exhausted, hungry, and afflicted with underwire-induced rib bruising though I was, I couldn’t help but stop and look at her- like REALLY look at her.

Her impossibly tiny lips and round nose. One perfect ringlet of hair flopped between her eyebrows. Her still-slightly-chubby toddler fingers, one grasping the handle of her lollipop, the other holding tightly to 4 Paw Patrol stickers- the rewards of sitting through a doctor’s appointment at 11 o’clock on a Tuesday night.

“Enjoy every moment, even the bad ones.”

There is a very obvious glow that surrounds the good moments- family vacations, holidays, birthday parties. But there is also a subtle beauty to the bad ones, if you really look for it.

And as I squinted in the dimly-lit CVS parking lot, I saw it.

Last night was, as Grace so honestly described it, yucky. But being with her was decidedly un-yucky.

As we drove along the quiet highways en route to our hastily-scheduled appointment, I had whispered, “Gracie Girl, it’s going to be alright. Mommy will make it better,” and I had peeked in the mirror to see a small smile through her tears.

In the waiting room, she had rested her tired head on my chest while I inhaled the scent of coconut shampoo lingering in her floppy little curls.

While we drove to the pharmacy we had chatted about our favorite Paw Patrol dogs, the best lollipop flavors, and how nice it was going to be to get into our pajamas and snuggle under our blankets when we got home.

She had chatted with me while I showered, and announced that we should bring her sleeping bag to my room because “sleeping with you will make me feel better.”

And as I leaned down to kiss her goodnight she had whispered, “I feel better, Mommy.”

“I told you I’d make it all better, didn’t I?”

“Yup…you’re the best of the mommies.”

Did I want to split my time last night between a sterile-smelling urgent care waiting room and a mugger’s paradise parking lot?

No.

Do I wish my poor kid didn’t suffer from these eardrum explosions?

Of course.

Did I look forward to getting 2 kids ready for summer camp and then going to work to attend a 30-person retirement lunch I’d been planning, all on less than 3 hours’ sleep?

I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer.

But even on a decidedly yucky night, there was…good.

So unfortunately, I have to tell you something that may piss you off at some future point in time- but just hear me out.

Enjoy every moment…even the bad ones.

Now Keep Going

In my experience, we “creative” types aren’t always the most confident people. Most of the people in my little circle are prone to bouts of, “I made this thing! I’m really proud of it! Do you want to….no wait, nevermind. It’s awful.  I’m sorry for taking up 37 seconds of your time.” And so, when someone like me decides they would like to possibly share their work with the world….it takes a VILLAGE to push that person over the threshold.

So I’ve told you about a few of the major players in my particular village.

My husband, who went from encouraging to begging to handing me a glass of red and standing over me sternly until I hit “Publish.”

My mother, also known as my editor- although she always insists “It’s perfect!”

My father, who is quite possibly the person I admire most in the world, and who is my first phone call whenever anything happens in my life.

My cousin Jacqi, who texted me once a week, “Haaaaave you started the blog?” until I actually did it.

My friends, who patiently sat through a photo journal about my dog for a couple of years while I was working on my writing style.

But have I told you about Uncle Tony?

No, I don’t believe I have.

So….let me tell you about my Uncle Tony.

Uncle Tony is a very successful professional. He has a long-standing reputation for being formidable on his job sites. No nonsense. No patience. No margin for error. No bullshit.

But when it comes to him and me, I’m the lucky winner of a completely different guy.

Uncle Tony has always been, and continues to be, the not-so-quiet voice in the back of my mind, telling me, “You’ve got this. Go for it.”

When I was a little girl, sitting atop his shoulders and having the time of my little life at the Meadowlands Fair, he never spoke to me like I was a four year old spitting cotton candy onto his head.  We were old friends; he listened to my stories and my thoughts on life with truly engaged interest and patience.

When I was a teenager, driving with him to his condo in Vermont late one Friday night, he told me all about his plans to build a loft and asked for my opinion on his design ideas. When that loft was finished he told everyone that I was an instrumental part in bringing it to completion. That was a little generous- I can barely build a toddler Lego set- but hey, I’ll take it.

When I started modeling after college, he told me he was expecting to see my first major ad campaign on the side of a NYC bus (I was an art model for a local sculpture class, but who doesn’t dream of having THAT Carrie Bradshaw moment??)

When my first poem was published, he offered to take time off (which was UNHEARD of) and fly us to Florida for the weekend so I could read my entry at a conference.

He introduced me to his coworkers at his 60th birthday party as, “My beautiful niece, Catherine Rose. She is incredibly smart and has a very successful marketing career.” I worked for a food redistribution company writing newsletters about French fries and frozen fish…but people need to eat, right?

When Pat and I closed on our house, he told us how impressed he was that we had done it on our own, and that we should be very proud that we are completely self-made. I currently have $146 in my checking account and close to $100k in student loans, so I’m not so sure about that one.

My point is, he amplifies things. Magnifies them. Makes you believe that you’re already THERE when you feel like you have miles to go.

Now imagine having someone who has THAT much confidence in you; someone who has ten times the assurance about your future than you ever will.

That’s one of the first people you call when you publish your first piece.

And that’s just what I did.

And do you know what Uncle Tony said? (I bet you do)

“Well it’s about time! You are going to be famous, my dear. You have such a gift- and you have a reader in me.”

The other thing about Uncle Tony?

He keeps his word.

He reads every blog. He tells other people to read it. I once excitedly told him, “Someone in the Philippines keeps checking out my writing! I have an international follower!”

“Oh yeah that’s my friend Rod, he used to work with me. I told him and his wife they would enjoy it.”

When I landed my first paid writing job, I called him from the car. I could barely contain my excitement, but he just assured me, calmly, “Catherine Rose, I knew you could do it. It’s happening for you. I’m looking forward to watching you continue to succeed. I’m so proud of you.”

I called him in tears while I was holding my first freelance check. Same response. “I’m so proud of you. I knew you could do it. Now keep going.”

Having someone so staunchly in my corner for 35 years, never wavering, never doubting me, even when I not only doubted but completely gave up on myself (which I did, for many, many years)….it’s a feeling I’ll never be able to fully explain.

I push forward hoping that one day I’ll amount to 20% of the person he tells me I already am.

And when I’m hit with one of my frequent bouts of “You can’t do this, you’re never going to amount to anything,” I force myself to hear his voice in my mind.

“Now keep going.”

And so I do.

So it would be remiss of me to not let everyone know that there’s someone else sitting quietly behind the curtain, gently pushing me forward when I think it might be time to turn around and run.

Thank you, Uncle Tony.

Thank you for boosting my confidence and keeping me focused.

Thank you for letting me steal all the cheese off the top of your French onion soup from 1986-1995ish.

Thank you for shamelessly promoting me to your coworkers around the globe, and always being up for shooting a couple dozen raw clams by the pool with me.

Thank you for being so convincing that you actually make me want to believe in myself.

You keep pushing, and I’ll keep going.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Different Kind of Love

I remember chatting with my friend Christie one afternoon while I was puking my way through my second pregnancy.

“Don’t worry about not having enough love in your heart for both of them. It’s so weird; you think you couldn’t possibly love any child as much as the first, right? Trust me, when you see that little face it’s like a whole new space that you didn’t even know you had, opens up in your heart. They’ll each have their own dedicated space, totally equal.”

I’ve never forgotten that conversation, especially on mornings like the one I just had.

Oh, you didn’t think I was just writing to check in, did you?

HA!

So this morning- this glorious, serene morning of mine.

About 10 minutes into our commute I realized that I was only hearing Vince’s chirpy, chatty voice from the back seat. Glancing in the mirror, I saw Grace’s “this is my angry face” expression burning a hole in her window.

“Are you mad at me?” I asked.

“Yes.”

She was mad. The one who had refused to use the toilet and instead defiantly peed in her diaper while standing in front of me (potty-training is going SUPER well, in case you’re wondering). The one who wouldn’t let me change that wet diaper before we got in the car. The one who started wrestling with me and folding herself in half to keep me from reaching said diaper. The one who had, as soon as I gave up and took a step back, flung herself backwards against a wall and then yelled, “Why did you hurt me?!” loudly enough for my neighbors to hear through the most sound-proof of windows.

SHE was mad.

Want to hear the funniest part? As I peeked at her through the mirror- lip slightly extended, arms crossed, lids lowered just slightly, brows furrowed- my heart fluttered a little bit and I had to bite my lip to stop myself from smiling.

She saw my contorted face in the mirror and giggled.

“You have any flamingo (mango) mints??” she asked nonchalantly, uncrossing her arms and flopping her foot onto Vince’s leg.

And just like that, she was over it.

Look up “Spitfire” in the dictionary and you’ll find a picture of my daughter- see also “Stubborn” and “Determined to have things her way.” The tenacity that she exhibits at this age is more than I’ve managed to harness in my 35 years.

And I love it.

So I may love both of my children equally, but the love is definitely…different.

Vince is my comfy, safe space kind of love. He can’t wait to share all of his triumphs with me. He seeks me out for comfort when he experiences hurt or failure. He jumps into my bed every morning and asks if we have time for “a cuddle buddle,” then wraps his arms around me like a vine and falls peacefully back to sleep.

Vince is my steady love. I know when I have a bad day he’ll be on his best behavior to make it a little bit easier.  I know he’ll always want to dance with me, laugh at my ridiculous jokes and share his car snacks. I know when I walk into the room wearing so much as a new t-shirt he’ll gasp and say, “Wow, Mommy, did you just get that? You look beautiful!” and actually mean it.

Vince is my nurturing love. He’s the first one to ask if I need a hug when I look even the slightest bit upset. If I decide to recline my seat on the couch (on the rare occasion that I get to sit on the couch), he bolts out of the living room and returns with his biggest, fluffiest pillow “so you can rest your head and still see the tv.” He praises every meal I put on the table- not to brag, but I have been told I am the best peanut butter and jelly maker In The World.

When I look at Vince, I’m filled with a pleasant, warm, fuzzy feeling. He’s my old soul, my constant friend and the one who makes me feel like I must be doing something right to have a kid like him.

And Grace?

When I look at Grace, I’m consumed with a jittery, expectant feeling. She’s my firecracker, the one that keeps me on my toes and makes me strive to be a more spontaneous, think-outside-the-box kind of mama.

Grace is my anticipation kind of love. Will she run over and fling her arms around me at daycare pickup, or stick her tongue out, tell me, “I’m not READY!” and run away? Will she lie in my arms and ask for “just one more book?” at bedtime, or take her sippy cup and her blanket and tuck herself in? When I hear Vince squealing, is it because she’s tickling him or kicking him in the face? (I’ve walked in on both…)

Grace is my sneaky love. Just when she’s thrown all the tantrums my blood pressure can handle; just when the tears start to streak down my face as I hide in the bathroom; just as I start angrily rolling meatballs in the kitchen and take a silent over/under on the chances I’ll survive her teenage years; she pops up behind me, throws her arms around my leg, yells, “I just love you, Mommy!” and bounces out of the room.

Grace is my exciting love.  Watching her face light up when I buy her a dress, flip flops or blue nail polish that resembles one of mine “so we can be twinnies Mommy!” makes my entire day. I giggle right alongside her when she jumps up and performs an impromptu “Hop, hop, hop like a penguin” dance for everyone in the room. I can’t help but crack up when she crawls onto my lap, rests her head next to mine and sweetly whispers, “I’m farting on you right now.”

So yes, I definitely love them an equal amount. Neither of them has a bigger piece of my heart, I can promise you that. But I never knew that “love” could mean so many different things until I met the two of them. Because of them I get to experience every emotion on the spectrum, every color of the rainbow and every stage of heartburn imaginable. I get to enjoy warm, cuddly love and unpredictable, exciting love. I’m surrounded by sweet smiles and mischievous smirks; soft, long hugs and firm drive-by squeezes; “I love you so much, Mommy,” whispered in my ear and “You know you love me Mommy!” shouted from the next room.

I may have told Christie that I believed her that day, but I admit I was still a little nervous about figuring out how to share myself once I became a mom of two. Little did I know that not only did I have enough love to go around, but that it comes in more varieties than Ben & Jerry’s has flavors.

So here’s to safe, comfy love; crazy, impulsive love; and the little humans who open all the nooks and crannies of our hearts that we never knew existed, just by loving us.

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