The Water Company

My younger (single, childless, and well-rested) coworkers like to tease me about having kids- “The stories you tell us…you’re not painting a real great picture of why we should have any!”

Flooded basements. That’s why.

Picture it- my living room, 7:35am.

I’ve just dragged one dog away from his bathroom garbage q-tip feast, pulled the other dog’s head out of a bowl in the kitchen sink, yelled at my 3 year-old for eating toothpaste (AGAIN), and begged my 6 year-old for the 4th time to “Just pick a pair of socks! ANY PAIR OF SOCKS!”

Suddenly, I hear a noise. It’s a familiar noise. It’s a loud, clunky, whooshing sort of noise.

It’s a noise that never signals anything good.

The sump pump is draining.

Why is it draining?

Well, my faithful blog-reading friends, that would be because the basement is flooded.

And so, down the stairs I run, landing in a puddle at the bottom; I watch the water creeping slowly behind me towards our luggage, and menacing slowly in front of me, underneath the washer and dryer.

The brand new washer and dryer.

The CADILLAC of washers and dryers.

The ones we furtively glanced at (like the appliance nerds that we are) every time we went to the store, from the day we closed on our charmingly drippy old house.

The ones we were forced to buy when our other, wheezing set died, in true Romeo and Juliet fashion, one right after the other, the day after Thanksgiving.

The ones that were purchased with Home Depot’s nifty 18-month financing. One month ago.

Soooo I run back up the stairs, through the house (tracking water behind me- Sorry, Husband….), and into the garage to get the shop vac, cursing the entire way, “Why the f*ck isn’t it in the basement in the first place?!”

Fast-forward about 10 minutes- my kids timidly peek into the basement to see their dear, sweet mother, sweating, crying into the phone, and cursing while fighting with the unwieldy water-sucking machine.

“Get away from the washer and dryer! I still have 17 f*cking payments left! No! Pat, no matter how much I drain, twice as much flows in! Oh my GOD more is BUBBLING in from a crack in the floor! I’m watching it bubble!…I’m leaving. I can’t stay here and watch everything get destroyed- this is ridiculous- I can’t believe this- and HOW did the downspout even rip itself off the gutter?!”

I’m the epitome of the calm, cool, collected home owner.

“Mommy?”

I hang up the phone, blow the stray wisps of hair out of my face and turn to see Vince and Grace standing at the bottom of the stairs with every bath towel we own.

“Mommy, what happened?”

“The basement flooded…I’m trying to keep the water away from the expensive, important stuff but it’s not working,” I explain, as calmly as possible but probably still looking like a soggy, swollen-eyed lunatic.

“Oh….”

Silence.

Grace runs back up the stairs (I’m assuming because she’s terrified of me).

Vince approaches me thoughtfully and holds out a pile of towels.

“I can fix this.”

“Oh? You can?”

“Yes. My friend Alex, his mom works for the water company. When I get to school I’m going to have him call her and tell her that she sent us WAY too much water.”

I turn off the shop vac and stare at him for a few seconds.

“Because then…then she’ll send someone to come get all this extra. ”

“Vince, that is the smartest, sweetest- “ I begin, but, as so often happens, I’m interrupted.

“Aaaaaaand I AM FANCYYY!!!”

We both turn to see Grace standing at the top of the stairs wearing kitty cat boots, two coats and 1 Spiderman glove.

I completely abandon the shop vac and start laughing, because what the hell else am I supposed to do??

Grace pumps her Spiderman fist triumphantly in the air and squeals, “Yayyyy!! I made you happy!”

And that, coworkers, is why you have kids.

Because they know how to fix things.

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Enough

“My friend wanted to be my other friend’s best friend and she was like, “Be my best friend,” but she just stared at her. So she was like “Oh My God, why are you just staring at me?” So then she was like “Wait I do want to be your best friend!” But then she was like, “No I don’t want to be your best friend anymore because you were just like staring at me!” So then she started crying. So my teacher said she can’t come to the magic show today if she doesn’t be a good girl. But she was like Oh My God and kept crying. So she probably can’t come to the magic show. I was a good listener though so I can go. I wasn’t a good listener the other day. But I was yesterday. Oh hey guess what???….I Love You! You’re my best friend.”

Getting all the preK-3 gossip from my daughter is one of the highlights of my morning commute, and not just because watching a 3-year old flip her hands around and shake her head for effect is the cutest thing ever.

The animation that exudes from her while she’s filling me in on her latest saga reminds me of something- what I have, what we have, is enough.

Not following?

Ok buckle up and sit tight, I’m going somewhere.

I’m often attacked by the passive-aggressive “oh that’s all?” people.

“You married your high school sweetheart? That’s so nice! They say those marriages don’t usually work out though. Hope it’s different for you guys….”

After 2 decades I think we’re good, random salesperson, but thanks!

“You’re going back to work? Yeah my wife left her career because we realized that it was too damaging to let someone else raise our child.”

No worries, Optimum Online installer, I’m already saving up for their eventual therapy sessions.

“You rent? Wouldn’t you rather have something to call your own?”

Sure, I’d love to have something of my own, person whose parents paid for college and gave you the down payment for your house…but I hear you need to pay for one of those bad boys and I don’t have anyone handing me any spare money at the moment.

“You bought a house where your bedroom is upstairs and the kids’ are downstairs?! Ohhhh. I guess that’s ok. I’d definitely NEVER do that, but I guess it’s fine. I mean, I guess they’ll be fine.”

I actually adopted another dog after having that one drilled into my brain by SO many concerned citizens.

“You went to Portland! Oregon?….Ohhh, Maine. Well, I hear Maine is very nice too.”

I think it’s lovely.

“You commute over an hour?! That can’t be good for your daughter, in the car with you all that time. I would never do that.”

Yeah, she seems traumatized while we’re singing along with the radio and passing snacks back and forth to each other.

And my absolute FAVORITE, and most recent, “helpful” tidbit:

“You took the kids to Disneyland?”

“Yes! It was amazing- I mean, I never thought I could afford Disney, and I actually cried watching them walk through the gate with their tickets….it really was magical, you know?”

“Disney World is better. A lot better. You should have gone there instead.”

So, let’s review.

I married too young; I rented for too long and then bought the wrong kind of house; New England is not an acceptable vacation destination; I have ruined both of my children by 1. working and 2. enduring a long commute; and, finally, I took them to the wrong Disney. Yes, you heard me- the wrong Disney.

I am the WORST.

And as much as I’m rolling my eyes and smirking as I type this, I fully admit that when these people try to school me, I do feel like the worst. Like nothing I do is quite right, or quite….enough.

I’m sure you’ve all been attacked by the “oh that’s all?” monster. It’s how our society works, unfortunately.

Another perfect example of the “oh that’s all?” is the big B.

Babies!!!

If you have none you should have one! If you have one you should have two! If you have two…well, you get my point.

Let’s say we have a mom of two, just hanging out at a crisp autumn barbecue, perusing the appetizers, when someone innocently asks “Going for three?”

The quick answer -“No.”

That should be it. End of conversation. Finito! Next topic.

But more often than not, it becomes “Why not? Babies are great! Little A & B could really use another sibling! One more is nothing!”

Now poor Mom of 2 is stuck there, awkwardly holding her plate of chips and guac, being reminded that she wants another baby but can’t afford to expand her family; or that she can’t safely carry another child; or feeling guilty for not wanting another one.

Or reliving the Wednesday morning in August when, during a meeting with her boss, she sat in her chair plastering a smile on her face so that no one would sense her pain as Baby #3 silently and swiftly left her body.

Does the “oh that’s all?” set think about any of this?

Probably not.

So I’m here to tell you that when you’re accosted by these people, it’s ok to smile, flip them the mental bird and walk away.

Because they’re wrong.

You rent? That’s great! You have someone to call when something breaks!

You own? That’s great! It’s all yours! (in 15-30 years)

Your bedroom is upstairs/downstairs/in the basement/on the roof? Awesome!

You fly to Europe 4 times a year? That’s amazing! Nothing like exploring other cultures, I always say.

You get one week of vacation and use it to drive to the Jersey Shore? Fantastic! Nothing like the sand between your toes and a good book, I always say.

You work? Good for you, balancing a career with all the mom-ing!

You stay home? You’re a warrior, raising the little ones and maintaining a house and your sanity!

How many kids do you have? Want any more? Yes? No? Good answer! Hey, someone pass the chips please- so, how about those ::insert team name here::, am I right?

So how does my daughter’s toddler version of Melrose Place bring me to all of this?

Because- she has friends. She’s happy. She’s fulfilled. She’s excited about life.

It’s enough.

When my son snuggles up closer and asks, “Can we read one more chapter? I love this part” of the adventures of Mona the Mouse at the Heartwood Hotel, and I see the joy on his face, I know.

It’s enough.

When I come home from work and my husband has lit both Christmas trees and a few candles because he knows they calm me and make me happy, I know.

It’s enough.

If you feel like it’s enough- well, then it probably is.

I wouldn’t change a second of my life or redo a single decision- I made wonderful memories in all 6 apartments; I’ve enjoyed every day of every vacation we’ve taken, whether it was 2 weeks in Ireland or 5 days in Florida or an overnight in Pennsylvania.

My point is- you do you, and love every minute of it. Because it’s YOUR story- you’re writing a novel that’s all your own. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.

So screw the “oh that’s all” set. They don’t get to tell you what’s enough.

Your heart tells you that.

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Gifts

I am not a Grinch, I swear.

I LOVE the holidays- decorating, baking, lights, movies, hot chocolate in reindeer mugs- I’m all about it. But gifts? Eh.

Hear me out- we’re just not “stuff” people.

My husband and I have long given up on exchanging gifts. We buy what we need as we need it, so the idea of “buying just to buy” is uncomfortable for us. Plus, we like to randomly gift things to each other- the element of surprise is nice. Nothing says “I love you” like a really good bottle of bourbon or new fuzzy socks on a random Tuesday in February (fuzzy socks are a close second to food on the pathway to my heart).

And the stress that I see on other people’s faces as they’re trying to figure out “what to buy” and “how to afford it all” just seems…kinda silly to me. I thought the whole point was just to be with loved ones, not to foreclose on your mortgage to stuff as much as possible under the tree.

Yes, we make sure the kids have plenty of shiny boxes to open on Christmas morning (although they like to point out that  there are a disproportionate amount of books and educational toys in there), but we also repeat (until our voices are hoarse) that this season is about giving, not about getting a bunch of shiny new things. And before those shiny new things find their way into the kids’ bedrooms, they have to hand over their no-longer-used toys for donation.  Vince is totally on-board with this…Grace is a bit of a kicking, screaming work in progress.

And sometimes I think they get it. Like the other day, when I suggested going to the local zoo to see a Christmas light display and Vince, using his very-wise-and-adult tone, reminded me, “It would be nice to go, but let’s remember that the whole point of Christmas is being together and giving love, not flashy lights and cocoa with marshmallows.”

“Yeah but we can still have cocoa and smashmallows, right?!?!”  <— Grace, lover of all things “smashmallow”

Listen, I said to cut back on the materialism- no one said anything about taking away smashmallows. That’s just crazy.

Anyway…then there are the times I’m convinced they don’t get it at all- like last week, when Vince asked for a skateboard that shoots sparks. I said, “You already gave me your list.”

“I know, but add that. I want that and all the other stuff.”

Sigh, palm to forehead.

“Vinny, you remember that it’s just a list of things you’d like, and you’re not getting all of them, right?”

His mouth grumbled, “Yeah,” but his face said, “Eff you lady, I want it all and I want it now!” I had mental flashes of Veruca Salt dancing on the EggDicator.

And then there are times like last night, when I realize that maybe I’m the one who isn’t getting it.

Pat and I were doing the “bath-pajamas-book” routine when I peeked into Vince’s room and found him lying on his bed, his face buried in his hands.

“Bud, what’s wrong?”

“Your Christmas morning is going to be ruined and it’s all my fault.” <— Vince, lover of the dramatic delivery

“What? Why?”

“I bought you a gift at the holiday shop at school today.”

“I know, the earrings- I love them!”

He was too excited to wait for Christmas, so we all got our gifts the moment we walked through the door last night.

Also, please don’t tell him that I don’t have pierced ears.

“No….I bought you something else. It was a flower. And I can’t find it.”

“Oh! Well, it has to be somewhere, let’s look together.”

Spoiler Alert: It was nowhere.

More sulking ensued.

I tried to reason with him. “Vince, you gave me a great gift, and I got it early which is really cool. I don’t need another one.”

“Yes you do!” he replied, suddenly in tears.

“Bud, what’s going on?”

“Mommy, there’s never anything under the tree for you and Daddy.”

“Well….no, but we have enough fun watching you guys open your stuff.”

“But that’s not fair! You’re the best Mommy ever, and you do everything for us, and on Christmas morning you make sure we have so many gifts to open, and you give a bunch of food and stuff to other people who don’t have anything. And you don’t get anything. It’s not fair. You deserve presents. It was a really pretty rose, and it was incidented (I’m guessing scented?? Jury’s out). It was going to be under the tree so you’d have something to open on Christmas morning. So you’d finally have a gift under the tree.”

Oh kid. Please don’t make me cry in the middle of the bath-pajamas-book routine. It’s timed very specifically, and any incidence of sobbing just throws it all off.

“Vince, thank you SO much. Thank you for thinking of me, and for planning that really nice surprise. I’m so sorry it got lost, but I have some good news.”

“What?”

“This, what you just told me- that’s the best gift ever.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is. And when you and Gracie snuggle in bed with me after Daddy leaves for work. And when you ask if you can set the table or load the dishwasher. And when you share your blanket when we watch a movie. And…hmmm…when we sing together in the car! Dance parties…and when I’m sick and you hang out with me and teach me about Pokemon. Vince, you and Gracie are huge, huge gifts for me. Having these two little people that I made, who want to love me with all of their hearts- Dude, there’s nothing better than that. Nothing.”

“Really?”

“Definitely.”

“Ok…but we still have a problem. I bought Daddy an extra gift so he’d have something to open too. So now he has one and you don’t.”

“Ok, how much was the rose?”

“$6.”

“Ok, Daddy will take you out this weekend to buy me another surprise. As long as you promise you understand that there’s no better gift than you guys –deal?”

“Deal!”

I left his room marveling at how I had managed to create a little person whose heart was bigger than his whole body; someone who understood that Christmas gifts aren’t always about “buying just to buy,” but rather about small tokens that show love and give joy.

And then I smugly informed Pat that he had to take Vince to buy me a gift that was a beautiful, heartfelt representation of the sacrifice, love and care that I, as a mother, pour into our children’s lives….for $5.99 or under.

“I like cookies,” I added.

“Done.”

Hey, I may not be a stuff person, but I’ll never turn down comfort food (in case you’re wondering what to buy me this year).

Visiting

“What are all those things?”

“What things?”

“The big rocks over there in that park.”

We were driving past a cemetery. This was going to be a load of fun.

“Those are called gravestones. We put them there to visit people who go to Heaven.”

“So you talk to the rock?”

“Yes, but…like, my grandma Gracie, I go and sit at her stone and tell her about my life, and about you guys, even though, I mean, I don’t HAVE to be there for her to know stuff. She can see us and she knows what’s going on.”

“Because she’s in our house? Floating around? Like a spirit?”

“Well, yes and no- I don’t think she floats around our house like Casper-“

::Hysterical laughter from the back seat::

“-but I do smell her perfume sometimes. Like she’s…around…you know?”

This was going so well. So very, very well.

“Ok how about…would you like to come see my grandma with me?”

“Now?”

He was battling a sinus infection, it was 28 degrees outside, it was noon and neither of us had eaten, and my logical next step was to bring him to kneel on the frozen ground and talk to a cold gray stone.

Maybe my head was clogged too.

“Sure, I haven’t been there in a while- let’s go together.”

The truth is, I don’t visit my grandmother’s grave very often, partly because I live almost 45 minutes from the cemetery and partly because I don’t believe you need to sit in front of a grave to feel connected to someone.

But mostly because it’s too damn hard.

It’s been 8 ½ years and I still can’t approach that stone without flashing back to where I was standing that day; where I placed the rose on her casket; where my shoes sunk into the ground because it was one of those rare cold, rainy days in May. I like to tell myself it was the joyful tears of her parents, brothers, and the husband she hadn’t embraced in 32 years, pouring down from Heaven onto us as they had their big, happy (most likely boisterous and involving mussels marinara and pinochle) reunion.

But no matter how much I tell myself that story, I still can’t stand on that spot without losing it. I can’t have a “nice” visit with my grandmother.

And now I was bringing a (sick, hungry) 6 year-old boy to “meet” her. This was a terrible idea. This was not the right time. This…was happening, because I had already pulled into the lot.

“Wow! Look at those thrones! They’re huge!”

“What thrones?”

“Those!”

“Oh, no, those are just very large gravestones- some are bigger than others.”

“STONES! I thought you said thrones.”

I smirked and giggled, which I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to do in a cemetery but I wasn’t struck down, so we moved along.

“So….where is everybody?”

“What do you mean?”

I knew what he meant.

“I mean, if their thrones-“

“Stones.”

“-stones, are here, where are….they?”

Shit.

“Well…they’re under the stones.”

“You buried your grandmother in the ground??!!”

“Well, yes. See, our bodies are just these things that we borrow when our spirits come down from Heaven….once the spirits go back up, they’re just an empty shell that doesn’t work anymore. So we…”

“Put it in the dirt.”

“Um… yes.”

“Oh….ok. That makes sense. Since no one is using it anymore.”

Maybe he could handle this after all.

Turns out he could- I couldn’t.

I parked, took his hand, led him over to the plot, and kneeled to pray, silently willing myself to keep my shit together so I didn’t scare the poor kid.

I was barely level with the “throne” before I felt the silent sobs wracking my body. I stared at her name and the pain shot through me like it did the day we buried her.

Well, I tried. I just wasn’t capable of having a “nice” visit with her.

And then…I felt his little hand wrap around my back, and his arm pull my head onto his shoulder.

“It’s ok, Mommy. It’s ok. We don’t have to do this. Let’s go back to the car.”

I looked up at this little old soul staring reassuringly at me, and I giggled again.

“What?”

“Oh Vince, she would have LOVED you.”

“You think so?”

“Oh my God, you guys would have been best friends! And I promise, she’s around- she sees and hears you. When you were in my belly she came to me in dreams and gave me advice. She told me you were going to be a gymnast during your birth but that I’d be ok, and that’s exactly what happened.”

“Oh yeah! I flipped over and climbed into your ribs while you were trying to push me out of your belly button!”

“Yup!”

Tell him anything other than belly button and I will ban you from this blog. All of you.

“And remember you told me there was an empty chair in the delivery room, and you thought she was there??”

“Oh she was SO there, buddy. She wouldn’t miss your grand entrance.”

“I’m really sad I never met her, Mommy. I wish she could have waited until I was born before she left.”

“You know what? I don’t think it could have happened that way.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m pretty sure she’s the one who sent you to us.”

“You mean she told God which baby to send?”

So I told him the story.

She wanted us to have a baby so badly, but we weren’t ready. And then she was gone. And then, when we started trying, it just wasn’t happening. We gave up and went to Ireland, because we figured if we couldn’t have a baby we could just travel and see cool stuff. And one day we were driving through this little town, and we pulled over to get a better look at this impossibly tiny church. The door was unlocked, and it was pouring outside, so I slipped in, looked around, and something just…came over me.

“So I got on my knees and started praying. I prayed to my grandma Gracie to find a soul that needed a Mommy, and to send it to me.”

“And she sent you me!”

“And she sent me you, because a few weeks later, I found out you were in my belly. She hand-picked you for me, Vinny. And do you know how I know?”

“How?”

“Because I see SO much of her in you.  The way you worry about everyone, the way you just burst into song, and how you’ll do anything to make people laugh…and your love of hot dogs and chicken on the bone, of course…and oh! The hugs! You hug with your entire body. She used to do that. She was the BEST hugger.”

“I hug like Grandma Gracie?!”

“Yup! Whenever you hug me I remember what it was like to get a Gracie hug. She’s still here, Vince. She’s in all of us, especially you.”

“Wow. So I guess I do know her.”

“You know her very, very well, my friend.”

“Thanks for bringing me to Grandma Gracie’s throne.”

“Stone.”

“Ugh, I keep doing that!”

I looked at my son, glowing and giggling, and once again couldn’t stop the tears from pouring out of me- but they weren’t the sad sobs I was used to when I came to this place.

This, for once, was a “nice” visit.

She always did have a way of showing me the good in everything.

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