To My Big Kid

“I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not…damnit!” I silently berated myself as I tried not to let on that there was a sobfest about to happen in the front seat while you played some weird monster matching game on your tablet in the back.

I must have sniffled because your gaze was abruptly drawn away from monster matches, and I caught you smiling understandingly at the teary gleam in my eyes through the rearview mirror (you and I seem to always understand each other).

It was just a normal Thursday morning. We were on our way to your last day of first grade. I was singing along with the radio. Normal Thursday-on-the-way-to-school stuff. I wasn’t even singing that Sarah McLaughlin pet commercial song, so really, no reason to cry.

But with me, there’s ALWAYS a reason to cry.

The song- that damn song. It was the song that came on the radio the morning I found out, after being told I might never be a mom, that I was pregnant.

It was the first song that I heard after learning that you, in all your determination, had actually happened.

It was the song I sang to my belly every day (I sang a little bit more determinedly on the 2 days we almost lost you).

It was the song that I whispered to you at least once a day as I swayed and rocked and watched your sleepy baby eyes slowly drift off to dreamland.

I’ve hummed it to you to calm countless anxiety episodes, and to boost your confidence when you just couldn’t walk through the doors on your first day of kindergarten.

And now, as the universe and some heartless DJ who didn’t care about the fate of my eyeliner would have it, it was streaming through my car speakers right then, at that moment.

The only difference was, you didn’t need me to sing it this time.

Alas, because you “get” me, you knew damn well that I needed to sing it, and that I needed you to ask for a few extra hugs at drop-off, and you gladly obliged.

And as you tapped me on the back and held out your arms one last time, it hit me. My little kid, who was so afraid to even dip a toe into the world, had jumped into the deep end.

My little kid who outright refused to do any sort of after-school activity, was afraid of summer camp, and was mortified that I would even have the audacity to SUGGEST attending a meeting of the Junior Lego Builders club at the library- he wasn’t the kid I dropped off today.

Today I dropped off my big kid.

My confident martial arts enthusiast who showed me not once, but twice during breakfast this morning, how he stood tall and sat “like a black belt” for his beloved Joshu during his last lesson.

My self-assured son- the once-soggy, clingy mess who I had gently begged to walk through the front door of the school- who now bounces out of the car in the drop-off line, sometimes forgets to even wave goodbye, and strolls up the steps chatting with whichever friend he meets along his way.

My intuitive, empathetic human who was once afraid to approach anyone new, but can now sense a stranger in need of compassion 20 miles away, and sets out to give it to them.

You know, my father warned me not to blink when you were a baby, and, as usual, he was right.

I had a bubbly baby; then I blinked and found a slightly timid toddler standing in front of me. I blinked one more time and was suddenly faced with a child who was so afraid to even walk into school that I had seriously explored homeschooling.

And then I blinked back my tears this morning and saw someone completely new. A big kid. A smiley, happy-go-lucky, confident kid.

The obstacles you’ve overcome, the fears you’ve battled, and the self-doubt that has finally melted off of you this past year, have left you so much taller, stronger and lighter in so many ways.

I’m so proud of the self-confident little person that you’ve blossomed into, in such a short time, right before my eyes. I’m so honored that you trusted me to help you navigate the most uncertain parts of your journey through the labyrinth that is anxiety (luckily for you, I’ve been navigating the labyrinth for 33 years- I could be a tour guide). And I’m so blessed that, even though you don’t need me to, you still ask me to hold you in my arms, sing to you, and watch you slowly close your big kid eyes and drift off to dreamland each night.

So, enjoy your last day as a first grader, my big kid. The world has so much waiting for you; I look forward to watching you continue to reach out and grab all of it.

Oh, one more thing (you know there’s always one more thing with me)- as you explore with your newfound confidence, just remember that if this new big kid-ness of yours ever gets shaky, I’ll be here to understand you, and to softly sing it back into place.

The Tribe

I’ve seen about 8 million posts about “finding your tribe,” so I swore I wouldn’t delve into that topic.

And then, my dog vomited poop into my baseboard.

Yeah you heard me. Vomited. Poop. Into my non-removable, painted-to-the-wall, 70+ years-old cast iron baseboard heater.

Apparently scrambled eggs do not agree with my newest rescue, Elmo the Meatball.

And apparently the way he informs me of any dietary dislike is by having an intestinal meltdown, trying to hide the evidence by, well, consuming it, and then spraying it all over the corner of my son’s bedroom. INTO the baseboard.

I can’t stress that part enough. The baseboard. The non-removable baseboard.

The baseboard.

Anyway…about 45 minutes into carefully removing everything I could see with my phone’s flashlight, a stack of qtips, paper towels, and 1/2 of our bath towels, I was done.

Done with this futile effort (if you have cast-iron baseboards you know the absolute hell I’m going through); done with these catastrophes ALWAYS happening when my husband is called in for an overnight (Vince and I found the disaster area 10 minutes after he left for work); and basically just done with always having to be “on.”

Kids are having a tantrum? Activate soothing mom voice.

Husband needs a boost? Activate cheerleader-mode.

Finances a bit tight? Activate dollar-stetcher superpower.

Dog pukes poo into the heater? Activate- nope. Magical “fix-it-all” toolbelt empty.

Done.

I was thinking about just how done I was as I tucked my son into his temporary bed on the couch, as we await the death-like odor to vacate his room and his sheets to boil in the washing machine.

I was thinking about just how done I am as I stood under the boiling water of my “why is this my life” shower, tea tree soap in one hand and a glass of red wine staring at me reassuringly from the window ledge.

I was thinking about how done I was with having to deal with these things on my own; having to be strong on my own; having to deal with scheduling and financial and LITERAL shit without anyone to pat me on the head and say “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”

I would have to scrub my forehead for a week to remove the memory of it pressed against the ground, searching for anything that could be cleansed with Method All-Purpose Cleaner-soaked cotton swabs. I would have to hire someone to remove and replace the baseboard. I would have to find a new room for my son.

I would have to sell the house.

But just as I was stepping out of the shower and about to descend into a fit of sobs…my phone beeped.

It was Michele, my cousin and, for all intents and purposes, the supreme leader of my tribe.

Do we see each other often? No. Are we successful at making plans? HELL no.

But does she have a weird sixth sense about sending me a chocolate marshmallow pie recipe when I’m about to completely lose my sanity?

Yep.

I sat there looking at the pie recipe and had to laugh. I immediately unleashed my entire ordeal to her. I sent her a picture of the poo vomit crime scene. She told me I needed wine. I sent her a picture of me wearing nothing but a bath towel, sipping wine and afraid to leave the bathroom.

She didn’t miss a beat.

She told me stories of her own disasters. We talked about our kids, our husbands, and our stressful but oh-so-worth it lives.

We talked about our wrinkles and our sex lives and what wine gives us a migraine.

We set up a playdate.

By the time our conversation was settling down I didn’t even remember that my entire house smells like dog poo puke. (I’m actually working with Yankee Candle on a wax melt. Stay tuned!)

So I guess I’ll delve.

Find your tribe. Love them. Value them. Thank God or the universe for them. Because they are the only ones who will understand when you send them a picture of yourself naked, sipping wine and hiding in a bathroom.

They are the only ones who will talk to you until almost midnight on a Sunday because they know you’re about to lose your mind.

They’re the only ones who will say things like, “Did you get the poop smell out of your nose yet?”

They are your “nothing-is-out-of-bounds” people. And you need them. And they need you.

So find your tribe. And let them know how much you love them.

To my tribe- I’d be nowhere without you.

The Grand Plan

I want to chat with you about my kids.

Weird, right? So unlike me.

More specifically, I would like to discuss the fact that my husband is convinced they don’t love him as much as they love me.

To be fair, I am the more obvious choice for cuddles, sing-songy bedtime instructions, over-the-top Harry Potter and Fancy Nancy character voices, and wordy, flowery speeches about how beautiful, amazing and unique they are.

So if they want those things, then yes, me.

But when they fall down and scrape a knee, or an ear starts throbbing, or a fever spikes, or a heart breaks, you know who they make a beeline for? That’s right. Daddy.

My husband is a man of few words. He’s the strict one, the rule enforcer. While I’m in the kitchen dancing around with the produce and using a wooden spoon as a microphone, he’s enforcing away. No elbows on the table. No talking while chewing. No squirming in your chair or sitting on the arm of the couch. No interrupting. No farting during dinner (I wholeheartedly support that one).

But you know what’s beautiful about that? He’s quiet, stable, and safe. I’m fun, sure. I mean, I’m a load of fun if we’re being honest. But if they need a rock? A strong, steady hand to hold a warm compress over the ear that’s throbbing, or to gently spray the antibacterial stuff on the knee that’s bleeding? A larger-than-life, comfortably silent presence to hold them securely when their hearts are aching?

That’s Pat.

I just wish he saw it. I wish he heard them talking to their friends and teachers and anyone else who will listen about how “smart and great” their dad is, and how they both want to be “engineers just like him,” or “engineer-o’s,” according Gracie.

I wish he had seen what I saw yesterday morning.

I wish he had watched the determination in Vince’s face and the steadily building excitement in Gracie’s eyes as they carefully described their grand plan for Father’s Day.

“So we’ve been thinking about this, Mommy, we’ve been talking about it together in my room,” Vince began, like he was pitching a marketing plan to a CEO.

“Well, I was thinking maybe we could take Daddy to Mystic, Connecticut for a few days, to the aquarium,” I suggested excitedly.

I was met with two very unenthusiastic faces.

“Or…he wants to take you guys to a minor league baseball game. Maybe I can get tickets?”

They turned towards each other, lowered their sippy cups of milk, and gave each other the sibling “look” that they’ve perfected over the past few years. Then Vince returned his gaze to me and replied, “Yes, we think that’s a better idea. Daddy really enjoys baseball, so that would be more for him than an aquarium. Good idea, Mommy.”

Oh good! I wasn’t getting kicked off the committee yet.

“Ok so a baseball game on Saturday night, and dinner- a nice dinner, at a restaurant,” he continued.

Ok then. Ballpark cuisine wasn’t good enough for Daddy. Oh no. Definitely not.

“And then, we were thinking we could do some unique kind of breakfast on Sunday, we’ll come up with something different and I’ll make it, and then, well, Daddy said we shouldn’t do this part for Mother’s Day but tell me what you think.”

Oh boy.

“I was thinking I could put the breakfast, a coffee, and a wine on a tray and bring it to him in bed. Late, so he can sleep late. What do you think?”

“Um…well, I mean, I love all of it except the wine part.”

“Yeah, but you and Daddy LOVE wine!”

“You LOVE it!” piped in Vince’s assistant.

“Well, sure, but not at 9am.”

Vince solemnly relented.

“Yeah….that’s what he said too. Ok, just coffee then.”

“Ok, that’s sounds like a great day, guys!”

“Wait that’s not it.”

This meeting was cutting into my coffee break.

“After breakfast we let Daddy rest and relax all day, then we take him to dinner. You know, a nice dinner, at a restaurant.”

Another one of those, huh?

“And then we come home and you know, relax and digest, because it’s important to digest. And then we take him out for ice cream!”

“Yeah! And Theeeeeen, we do games!”

My daughter was so excited for her part of the meeting that she was practically falling off the couch.

“Games?”

“Yes.” Oh, now she was wearing her business face. I was going to hear her out on this or get kicked out.

“When we were at ShopRite buying things for you for Mommy’s Day, I saw games. And I think Daddy would like them, so we are going to take all of Vince’s money and put it in a bag, and you can bring us to ShopRite and we’ll open Vince’s money bag to pay for the games. Then after ice cream we can play them with Daddy.”

Vince nodded in agreement.

“Yes, we talked about this last night. I am going to put all of my coins in a bag, and you can take us to ShopRite and Grace can pick out the games she wants for Daddy, and we’ll use my money bag so you don’t have to use all your dollars.”

Well, that was a relief, since it appears all of my dollars would be going towards baseball tickets, unique breakfast ingredients, a bottle of wine, four ice cream sundaes, and two “nice” dinners at Zagat-rated establishments.

“Guys….that is the nicest Father’s Day weekend I could possibly imagine. He’s going to love it.”

“We think so too! We love Daddy SO much and we want to give him the BEST Father’s Day!”

I’m pretty sure when I show him this blog (while he’s enjoying his unique breakfast and coffee in bed), that will be the best Father’s Day gift of all.

The ice cream will be a close second, of course.

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What If

I got “that” call this morning.

The one that makes your entire body freeze and your breath catch in your throat.

“This call is to inform parents of a lock-down situation…”

That’s all you need to hear. The rest slides off your eardrums in a fog- “students are safe…” “lockdown has ended…” “more details will be provided…”

And of course you’re endlessly grateful to hear all those things, but all you can really hear, pounding like a drum against your forehead, is “What if.”

What if it had been his school?

What if it had been real?

What if the last time I saw him was the last time that I saw him?

What if what if what if.

I hate living in the What If Era- I hate that our children have to normalize monthly drills during which they practice hiding in closets and standing on toilets silently “so the attacker can’t see us, Mommy.”

I hate that my son considered never again wearing his beloved light-up sneakers because, “If it happens and we’re all hiding in the closet and he sees my sneakers I’ll put everyone in danger.”

I hate that he was five years old when he made that mental connection.

FIVE YEARS OLD.

When I was five years old my gravest concern was whether or not my bffs Alyse and Kristen would get to the teeter-totter as soon as recess started so we could reserve it for ourselves.

When I was five years old my biggest worry about anything getting into my classroom was having a stray bird poop on one of my papers, because my school had no air conditioning and we had to crank those old creaky windows open as far as they would go on the hot spring days that preceded our much-anticipated summer break.

My children are now 3 and 6 and have to worry about being shot and killed during circle time.

Do I sound dramatic? Well good, because this is dramatic.

This is so over-the-top disgusting and frightening that I often can’t even comprehend that we’re easing into an acceptance of it.

Last night I read about a school shooting in Colorado, one that I had no knowledge of until about 10 hours after it occurred because it wasn’t even deemed urgent enough to be “Breaking News” online.

This morning I brought my son to school and watched him smile, wave and walk away, and then prayed silently, as I do every morning, that I’d see him again tonight.

And then, while I was sitting at my desk trying to focus on a project but really wondering how early I could eat lunch without it being weird, my phone rang.

I saw the automated number for the town and knew it was a recorded message- probably a notice of a meeting or a school event reminder.

But no, it was “that” call. The one that stops you in your tracks.

Thank God it wasn’t “THAT” call- but it was still “that” call.

I hung up the phone and it immediately beeped- now I had to read an email about the “incident.”

Then I had to text my husband, who was just as shaken as I was.

Then I had to torture myself.

What was the last thing I had said to him? Was it “I love you” or “have a great day” or “see you tonight?”

What if I hadn’t gone in for that 3rd hug he requested as he was walking through the door?

What if I had yelled at him in the car this morning for taunting his sister, like I had done yesterday?

What if I had come home tonight, walked over to his place at the dining room table, and saw that never-ending book of world records he had excitedly checked out of the library on Monday, and was looking forward to reading with me every night this week, but I couldn’t read it to him?

What if that last picture I took with both of them, the second time around on that cheesy little carousel in the museum lobby that they HAD to ride until I felt like I was the one spinning- what if that had been the last picture I had with both of them?

What if the threat to the other school was a ruse and they were really targeting his school?!

That’s when you have to get a grip on the What If’s and force them back down into your throat before you completely lose your mind. So that’s what I did.

Glancing at the clock, I realized my seemingly-unending internal meltdown had only lasted 2 minutes. I took a deep breath, reminded myself that my kid was safe and secure, and I needed to go back to my project.  It hadn’t been a real event; it hadn’t even been his school; nothing happened. He was fine.

He was fine.

I am not.

None of us are.

And none of us should be.

We should not have reached a place where we get these emails, take a deep breath, and go about our business.

We should not watch the entire world burning on the television every night and have no answers for any of it.

We should be outraged- we should be DOING something.

But what? What solves this? What makes it go away?

Do you have a clear answer? I certainly don’t.

So for now we live in the What If Era. We’ve settled in and we’ve accepted that “that” call is part of our world. As long as it’s not “THAT” call, we take a deep breath and minimize how insanely ridiculous this all is, and we go back to work.

I pray that one day we can get out of the What If Era- but until we do, I, like many of you, will say my silent prayer every morning as I watch my children walk away from me. I will hug them as hard as I can for as long as I can, as many times as they ask me to. I will make sure the last thing I say is always, “I love you.” And every time I get “that” call, I will torture myself with What If’s until I get them back into my arms again.

And you bet your ass that tonight I am reading about as many world records from that never-ending book as that kid wants to hear.  Because I know just how damn lucky I am that tonight, I get to read it to him.

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Wiping Up Puddles

There was always plastic in the bathtub.

For as long as I can remember, my dad fought a battle with the bathroom tiles that made the father vs. the furnace in A Christmas Story look like child’s play. There was always something dripping into the basement- always a bucket of grout, a tarp, and the blue waterproof tape at the ready.

It drove me CRAZY. I hated seeing the boxy blue eyesore of taped off tiles every time I stepped into the bathroom. I loathed brushing up against the wet, slimy tarp while I was trying to shampoo.

I made sure the shower curtain was closed before I had friends over, and had nightmares about one of them asking to use the shower (because teenagers always randomly ask to use each other’s showers while hanging out after school).

Why couldn’t he just fix it?!

And then….we bought a house.

And it started….leaking.

I walked into the basement a few months ago and saw the tiniest, cutest little puddle directly under the bathroom. My chest tightened. I had flashbacks of soap scum-streaked plastic getting stuck to my legs and a bucket of grout claiming its own place at the dining room table. I saw tiles falling and blue tape fraying at the edges….

Nope. I was not going to be that person. I went out the next day and bought a bucket of grout, tools, tape and plastic. I watched youtube videos. I was going to fix this the RIGHT way, the FIRST time.

I was NOT going to live in the house with the plastic all over the tub.

And damnit, I didn’t!

Do anything, that is. I didn’t do anything about it.

Sure, I wiped up the puddle every few days, stared at the cracked grout in that one little line of tiles and gave it my best, “Oh I’m gonna fix you, alright. I’m gonna fix you GOOD,” stare.

And then I continued to do nothing.

Well that’s not entirely true.

I got the kids up every morning, got them dressed, fed them, put toothpaste on their toothbrushes, walked the dogs, loaded the dishwasher, folded the laundry, got everyone in the car, went back into the house for all the stuff we forgot, got back in the car, and drove over an hour to work every day.

I brought the kids to their dr/dentist/hair appointments, cleaned bedrooms, read bedtime stories, picked up dog poop from the yard, set the table, cleared the table, folded more laundry, reloaded the dishwasher, pulled toys out of one dog’s mouth and got the other dog unstuck from inside our water cooler stand.

I worked on my freelance writing, listened to stories about everyone’s days, bandaged boo-boos, shoveled snow, put air in that one tire that keeps leaking to 22psi, picked play doh out from the white carpet under the dining room table (not my smartest purchase), and  tweezed my eyebrows whenever I had the chance.

And after all of that was done, all I had left was enough energy to wipe up the puddle, glare at the tiles, and call it a day.

And that, I suppose, is why my father couldn’t “just fix it” all those years.

That was why I tangoed with the plastic every time I stepped into the shower.

Because he was too busy focusing his attention where it was needed- to us.

So last night, as I trudged wearily to the basement fridge with today’s packed lunchboxes, and my foot stepped on something wet…I knew.

It was time.

I walked into the bathroom, dried the wall, let out a few choice words, and asked Gracie to hold the plastic still. And I taped it.

That’s right, I taped the tiles, because I don’t have the time to re-grout them.

SO THERE.

I am that house.

And I’m ok with that.

I’m tired of trying to be something I’m not, ok?

I’m tired of turning down Coheed & Cambria as I drive up to my house so I don’t seem off-putting to the new, young couple across the street.

I’m tired of pretending it wasn’t me who screamed, “Keep it down, PEOPLE ARE SLEEPING!” at 7:25am a few weeks ago when the kids were playing in the yard instead of getting in the damn car.

I’m tired of moving laundry baskets out of the camera frame when I’m capturing moments.

I’m tired of putting on a bra to walk the dogs so I don’t scare anyone! (Ok, that one might still be necessary).

And I’m tired of cleaning puddles in the basement, so I taped the shower.

That’s right, this is me! I’m raising my “I’m a mess flag” and I’m flying it!

I only pick up the dog poop once a week; I yell at my kids because their ears seem to be missing the sensors that enable people to hear a normal octave; my house is overrun with laundry and smells like wet dog; I never make my bed (because, as I often argue to my husband, we’re just going to get back into it); I ate an entire family-size bag of popcorn while watching Mrs. Maisel the other night; and I have plastic taped onto my bathroom wall.

You know what I don’t have?

A puddle on my basement floor.

And so, my friends, fly those disheveled flags. Fly them high and fly them proud.

We are all keeping the clothes clean, getting the kids where they need to be, and wiping up the puddles.

That’s it. That’s all we can do.

Oh, and thank you, Dad, for teaching me what needs my attention…and what can wait.

Mr. Freddie

“Let’s see…paperwork for our Optimum installation in 2012…definitely need that. An empty box- very useful.  A back scratcher….a jar of pennies! I’m rich! I’m f*@king rich!”

I was afraid I might get kicked out of Harmon for laughing so loudly. My mother can make anything funny- even clearing out my father’s old junk.

They moved into their house almost a year ago, but, in true My Dad fashion, he still has two boxes to unpack.  She decided that today is the day of reckoning for those poor, neglected boxes.

“I’m just sick of seeing them.  Every night I put the extra pillows from the bed on them. He never even looks at them. I just want the bedroom to look neater.”

All of those things are true, of course. But there’s also the ever-present elephant in the room that drives all of our seemingly mundane tasks these days.

Dad is a lot of things.

He’s just as funny as Mom. He’s a mechanical whiz. He’s got the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met. He loves to save old junk.

He’s also sick.

The cancer has been in remission for a while, but the COPD is quietly progressing; the knees are starting to buckle; and the mind, from time to time, gets a bit frazzled.

It knocked me completely off my feet at first. All these diagnoses being rapid-fired at my ears within a few months of each other. All these words you never want to believe you’ll have to associate with someone you love- chemo, oxygen stats, brain scans…these are not words you put anywhere NEAR my father. He, for 30 years of my life, was the strongest man in the world. The one who could fix anything,  do anything, be anything you needed him to be.

Then one day someone started saying all these words- these seemingly disjointed, unrealistic words- and I looked at him and saw someone else staring back at me.

I suddenly recognized the fatigue in his eyes, saw the pain in his movements, heard the strain of his breath.

Then it hit me (like a ton of bricks wrapped in steel rods).

The world’s strongest man was going to leave me one day.

And so, I’ve put myself on automatic. We all have. It’s our new normal. Dad is sick, but he’s still here. Dad is in pain, but he’s still working. He’s still walking. He’s still breathing without an oxygen tank. So he’s ok. He must be ok then.

We talk about things like a will and where Mom will live as casually as most people talk about the weather. He decided on his “arrangements” and then asked us to never bring it up again. So we don’t. Over the last few years I’ve watched him quietly part with the 1977 Thunderbird he had lovingly rebuilt a few times over its 400,000 mile-lifetime. I watched him give away the Kawasaki  he built from the ground up- the one that morphed from blue to emerald green, the freshly-painted pieces dangling like little wind chimes from hangers in the garage. The one he used to race every Sunday, with me cheering him on from the Pit. Not to brag, but I was the ONLY 9 year-old Pit Crew Chief at Island Dragway.

He jokes, “Guys, I’m still HERE, I’m not going anywhere!” and we reply, “You’d better not! You’ll live till you’re 90, you’ll see!”

And maybe he’ll live for years and years- you never know. But so many parts of the “him” that I knew are already gone. I don’t get phone calls instructing me to “Be careful, Baby” because it’s drizzling- and light rain always brings up the oils in the road, you know. I don’t get random, ridiculous, hilarious voicemails.  He doesn’t have the energy to jet down to the Jersey Shore, just the two of us, for some Skiball and pizza on a Friday night.

And he doesn’t remember Mr. Freddie.

Dad walked through the front door with Mr. Freddie on Valentine’s Day in 1987, and it was love at first sight. He came in a little plastic “wicker” basket (long-gone) and had the cutest little bumpy black nose (also long gone). I slept with him when I was sick; cried into him when I was sad; and chatted with him when I still believed that stuffed animals were magical.

Now I’m a 35-year old mother of two, so he no longer sleeps in my bed. He sleeps in my bedside table- obviously- and I pull him out and give him a good squeeze whenever life becomes too overwhelming. And, for the record, he is magical.

He has soothed Vince after nightmares. He has lulled Gracie to sleep when she was raging through her anti-nap phase. He has been a dad stand-in for calming my “adult life is hard” anxiety at 1am…and 2am…and 3am…and I’m fairly certain my dad appreciates that I hug the stuffed dog instead of showing up at his house. That would have been a LOT of middle-of-the-night visits over the years (because adult life is HARD).

But when I mentioned Mr. Freddie to him a few weeks ago, he just shrugged and said, “Sorry, Honey, I don’t remember him.”

Not gonna lie- I slept with Mr. Freddie squeezed in my arms so tightly that night that even as a stuffed animal he must have been having trouble breathing.

So this is part of the new normal. The old jokes are gone; the old songs that were once “our” songs, he may or may not remember them; and Mr. Freddie- well, he’s only magical to one of us now.

So, back to the old boxes. My mother was delighting me with one useless junk box item after another (anyone need a box of outdoor light roof clips? A bill from 2001?) when I heard, “The Mold Is Broken.”

Wait. I knew that. What was that???

“Before I was born, I asked God to help me find the perfect dad. I was having a hard time finding one by myself, and I knew I wanted one that was really special….”

It was the story I wrote for Father’s Day many, many years ago. The story about how God found me a dad that was perfect in every way, and then sent me to Earth, to his arms.

He had saved it.

It was in the box, under the back scratcher and the roof clips that had lost all their clipping power.

My book.

This of course elicited all the emotions that you really don’t want to feel while standing on a checkout line clutching shaving cream for your husband and a box of protein bars.

I had completely forgotten it existed, but he hadn’t.

I’m not going to say it made me feel better- there’s really not much “better” about coming to terms with the fact that your parents aren’t wizards who will somehow defy the odds of mortality.  My apologies if I’m the first one telling you this, but trust me, you’d rather hear it from me than a Urologist holding a picture of the weird Avatar-like flower-looking thing growing in your dad’s bladder.

So, ok, it didn’t make me feel much better- but it did make me feel. You know, you put yourself on automatic and you forget sometimes that they’re still HERE. All my memories are just that- memories- but that doesn’t mean we can’t try like hell to make as many new ones as possible.

Maybe I’ll even write him another little book about how he broke the mold as a dad. How I know I’m the luckiest girl in the world because I was born to the guy that ran around the delivery room sobbing, hugging all of the nurses and doctors, and exclaiming, “I have a DAUGHTER!”  How every second I’ve gotten to spend with him has taught me something that I’ll carry with me forever, and how I hope I have enough seconds left to learn a million more.

Or maybe I’ll write him a blog, go home, let myself feel all of the things this crappy, punch-in-the-gut reality wants me to feel, and then give Mr. Freddie a squeeze.

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The Pile-Up

Traffic was awful this morning.

Traffic from the house to the school; traffic from school to the highway; traffic from one highway to the next; traffic from my brain to the tightness in my chest.

Awful, all of it.

Even Grace noticed it. “Mommy, that’s a lot of cars! They’re behind us and in front of us. No one is moving! How are we going to get to my school and see my Emily friend?? Ugh, we are never getting out of this carrrrrrrr-Mommy, what’s wrong? Are you crying?”

Whoops.

On the rare occasion that I have myself a good car cry (I usually prefer the shower), I’m careful to be discreet about it, lest I become a tear-stained, booger-filled meme on social media after getting caught by a fellow driver. But I guess I got sloppy this morning and let out a lone sniffle.

One little sniffle- and my 3 year-old hawk was on top of me.

“What’s wrong?!”

What’s wrong. What’s wrong….sometimes that’s a loaded question, my dear.

Sometimes you can do everything right- cross all your T’s, dot all your I’s, and shit still goes sideways.

You can be the most empathetic, patient, open-minded parent on the planet, and encourage your children to express themselves (obviously, if you’re crying freely while shampooing your hair and during the merge onto Rt 80, you encourage self-expression)- but you can still find out that your child has made a decision about a very fundamental part of himself, and refuses to let anyone know because he’s terrified of a lack of acceptance for who he is.

You can work on a marriage, and bend and twist yourselves into unrecognizable shapes to make time for each other, but every so often it still goes a little bit off the rails.

You can love the hell out of your parents, beg them to put down the cheeseburger and pick up a piece of broccoli once in a damn while, and dangle your kids in front of them as incentives to hang around- but eventually they’re going to start fading on you.

You can be a good friend, be present and supportive, and maybe even stretch yourself so thin that you almost snap like a twig being trampled by a pit bull- but sometimes, some of those friends are going to decide that your storyline no longer fits in their book (which is weird because I’m a writer, but whatever).

You can exclusively shop from the Target clearance rack, stop buying the expensive mac and cheese, insist that weekend car trips are “vacations,” and spend so much quality time balancing your checkbook that it could probably walk a tightrope- but sometimes, you’ll still need to look for a second job because the ends just aren’t meeting.

You can relentlessly chase your passions, and write your heart out every day, and start so many projects that you very narrowly avoid posting a story about toddler boogers on your vegan food blog- but sometimes, the posts will fall flat, the writing collaborations will stall, and the freelance work will all but dry up.

You can be as careful as possible, but eventually you’re going to forget that you’re wearing your super-cute but slightly dangerous Christmas-themed socks, slip on the landing, and go flying down a flight of stairs with one arm flailing awkwardly behind your neck.

And you deal with these things, because hey, that’s life. You don’t sit there, cry over them and let them ruin your day.

Unless of course they all dance into your head at once like glittery, demented stress-fairies while you’re sitting in a gazillion-car pile-up.

So in that case, yes, you cry. You sit in your car, and you rub the arm that’s still sore from your thrill ride down the hallway stairs last weekend (and wish you could rub the butt cheek that took the brunt of each step…ooof), and you decide that you’re going to let all that crap ruin your day.

Because that’s just too much, isn’t it? That’s too much at once. It’s like standing in front of an oak tree with a broken rake and watching every leaf swan-dive to the ground at once, each giving you the finger as they flutter past your face. When that happens, you do the logical, adult thing.

You throw the rake down, you scream, “OH, COME ON!” and you storm off in search of something dipped in chocolate.

So I threw down my rake, and, being that it was 8:30 in the morning and I had no chocolate, I cried. Silently, of course, until that one lone sniffle escaped and Toddler CIA discovered me from the back seat.

“What’s wrong?!”

I mustered up my “Mommy’s being silly” voice.

“Nothing, Gracie girl. We’re just having kind of a crazy morning, right? Geezie Louisie!”

I actually say things like that- I’m often surprised my kids don’t throw tomatoes at me.

“You got this, girl.”

“I…what?”

“You got this.”

I wiped my eyes, turned around and locked eyes with a little girl who was wearing granola bar crumbs on her lips, a dab of applesauce on her nose, and an “Oh, shit, did I just say a bad word?” expression across her face.

“You, my dear, are right. I’ve got this.”

And Applesauce Crumb Couture broke into a huge, proud grin that made my heart skip a beat.

You can juggle it all, and juggle it well, but even the Cat in the Hat dropped all that crap he was dancing around with eventually.

There will be mornings when you calmly remind yourself, 87 times, “I need to take the garbage out before I leave for work,” and you’ll still pull out of the driveway, get to the corner of your street, and blurt out, “THE GARBABE!” so suddenly that your son throws the book he was reading at the ceiling.

There will be late nights when you make lunches so lovingly and creatively that you float upstairs to bed daydreaming about the adoration and accolades your children will bestow upon you the next afternoon…and you’ll forget to put those lunches in the fridge, have to toss them in the trash the next morning, and send two very disappointed children to school with soy cheese sandwiches and suspiciously over-ripe bananas.

Hey, it happens.

Sometimes shit goes sideways. All of it. All at once.

So do the adult thing. Scream, cry, find something dipped in chocolate- but then pick up the rake, and tackle one leaf at a time if that’s all you can handle.

Remind yourself that eventually the pile-up with clear and you’ll be sailing again.

And remember the lesson that was revealed to me by a very wise, snack-covered little yogi long ago (ok 3 hours ago)-

You’ve Got This.

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Near-Misses

“Something is going to happen to him today.”

The thought flashed through my mind so quickly that I let out a tiny gasp.

I was pulling out of the before-care parking lot, he was walking with his teacher toward the bus stop, we locked eyes as I waved to him, and ZAP- there it was.

“Something is going to happen to him today.”

In a moment of panic I thought about scooping him up, putting him back into the car and bringing him to work with me. Then I realized how absolutely insane that call would be- “My son won’t be in today because I had a weird feeling”- and I reluctantly continued driving.

I pulled onto the highway and listened to my daughter belt out Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer a few times; I asked her for her famous renditions of The Wheels on the Bus and 5 Little Ducks to keep myself occupied…but I couldn’t shake it.

Something wasn’t right.

And then, right in the middle of “The Mommies on the Bus go SHH SHH SHH” there it was- the school’s phone number on my cell phone.

So I SHH SHH SHH’ed my one-woman show in the backseat and braced myself.

“This is the school nurse. Vince had an accident as he was getting on the bus. He has a gash on his eyelid, it’s bleeding a lot…”

Damnit! I should have listened to the ZAP moment!

“I’m on my way; it might take me about an hour to get there, I have to turn around in rush hour traffic…”

“What’s wrong with my Vincie? Don’t bring me to school, he needs me! I want to go to the hospital!!!!!”

Should have listened to the ZAP…

Three hours, one ER visit, and a few repetitions of “Mommy, there was blood everywhere! And all my friends were like OOOOHHHH!” later, Vince (with both eyes intact) was happily settling into Grandma’s lap and I was on my way to work for the second time this morning.

So now that I had calmly handled everything and made sure everyone was settled, I had a 45-minute car-ride to relive the whole thing in full-on Mommy panic mode.

He had been lucky that he hadn’t fallen into that bus window latch any harder, or at a slightly different angle, or the gash on his eyelid could have been a gash on his eyeball.

He had been lucky…again.

How many times had we gone through this? These near-misses? How many times had I had the ZAP moment?

Well, let’s see.

There was that afternoon in November of 2013…Vince was napping off a daycare bug in his crib; I was folding laundry and watching Lincoln. Somewhere in the middle of the movie I felt it- the urge to get upstairs to him RIGHT NOW. I ran to his nursery, freaking out just enough to be willing to wake a sleeping baby- and I could feel the heat pouring off his tiny body before I even touched him.

That was the beginning of the 6-day, 106-degree mystery fever, 2-hospital tour.

Then there was that night in May of 2014…he was playing in the backyard, happy as a clam (from what I hear they’re pretty happy), and I felt that unmistakable piercing feeling in my gut.

“Take his temperature.”

That was the beginning of the 5-month, nighttime-only fever.

We saw 13 specialists. We visited the blood lab so many times that he, at 21 months old, would just stroll in, get in the seat, and put his arm out for the techs. We heard so many possible diagnoses that I wanted to vomit every time the doctor called.

I remember one afternoon in particular when I was sitting at my desk and felt the zap.

“They’re going to say it might be cancer.”

On cue, my phone rang. It was the pediatrician.

“Cathy, I’ve consulted with 2 pediatric oncologists…”

Then of course there was later that day when “If I Die Young” came on the radio and I almost had to pull the car over because I was sobbing so heavily. That wasn’t a zap moment- it was more of an “I’m going to lose my goddamn mind” moment.

Good news- fever disappeared, I didn’t lose my mind, and we’ve somehow made it to today (and so did both his eyes).

But these moments, they are always right on target.

I sit up in bed in the middle of the night, seconds before he randomly vomits.

I run into his bedroom seconds before he flips off the bed.

I throw my hand out to pull him back when we’re in a store, seconds before someone comes flying around a corner with a shopping cart that would have knocked him to the ground.

No one told me that this whole parenting gig came with psychic abilities! And why are they only creepy, sad, foreboding ones? Why can’t I zap lottery numbers?

Why did parenthood make me the Knower of All The Bad That Is About To Happen?

Why don’t I ever sit bolt upright at 3am and think, “He’s about to have a really great dream,” or stop in the middle of a meeting and declare, “He’s going to finally like broccoli tonight!!!!”

Why don’t I ever get a ZAP moment that sings, “In 20 years he’ll be a veterinarian and pay off your mooooortgaaaaaaage…..”

Ugh, it’s such a heavy load to carry around. This is why I keep so much chocolate in my desk.

So basically, whoever said that “your child is just a piece of your heart walking around outside your body” wasn’t 100% right.

Your child walks around with sizable chunks of every part of you, and they’re all apparently connected to you by some invisible string that tugs on your subconscious and yells, “DANGER!” every time something is about to go sideways.

Who signed up for that?!

I most certainly did not.

But I did sign up for the big, sticky, lemon scone-flavored kiss I got when I dropped him off by Grandma.

I signed up for the picture he drew for me while he was waiting in the nurse’s office.

I signed up for the uncontrollable giggles he dissolved into when I said, “Geez, Vince, if you wanted a day off you could have just asked- you didn’t have to throw yourself into a window. Dramatic much?”

I signed up for the way my heart jumps a little bit every night when I walk through the door and he comes careening through the house like a puppy to greet me.

So I guess you take the good with the bad, thank Whoever is up there for all the near-misses, and, in my case, come to terms with the fact that, like his mother, my child has very little coordination and I should be prepared for many, many more phone calls from the school nurse.

And now if you’ll excuse me….chocolate.

Life & Words- Part III

This question of Angela’s was my favorite- just answering it forced me to recite that mantra so many times that I couldn’t get it out of my head the rest of the day.

What did you need to learn or unlearn to overcome the circumstances that life throws at you? 

Cathy: This one is easy to answer because I’m only now beginning to let it in- I deserve to fight for myself. I spend the majority of my time making sure that everyone I love is given plenty of food, warmth, love, happiness, hugs, bedtime stories, and new shoes every 2 months because their feet grow freakishly quickly. I worry about my husband remembering to bring sunscreen to the job site in the summer and a warm enough hat in the winter. I worry about my coworkers. I check in with my friends once a week so that they know they are loved. I check in and worry and make sure everything is just right for everyone else….and it leaves me completely empty.

My friend, who is also a therapist (and who took on the task of being my therapist, poor girl…) looked at me a few weeks ago and said, “You deserve to fight for yourself.”

I sat and stared at her for a second because this thought, in the 35 ½ years I’ve been here, has NEVER occurred to me. Not once.

I deserve to fight for myself.

I played it over and over in my head, during the appointment, as I was driving back to work, that night while I was getting the kids ready for bed.

I deserve to fight for myself.

I told my husband about it and he gave me the, “You’ve got to be kidding me, I’ve been telling you this for years,” look.

No one makes me do all these things- my husband is a partner in every sense of the word. He cooks, cleans, does the laundry, loads the dishwasher, bathes the kids, does the homework….and he constantly insists that he should take on more so that I can devote more time to writing. I always laugh and dismiss him. I am a mother and a wife and I can’t be selfish.

But….is wanting fulfillment for yourself selfish? Is wanting to show that husband that his encouragement and support aren’t falling on deaf ears, and giving him the opportunity to cheer your success like you’ve cheered his, selfish? Is wanting to show those kids that living a satisfied life is an obtainable goal, selfish?

Sounds crazy, right? But I’m betting that a number of you (if not most of you) are reading this and thinking, “You know, I never thought of it that way…”

So in case you need to hear it…

You Deserve To Fight For Yourself.

Angela: This sounds corny but it’s all about compassion and self-love for me. Being coached, I was able to distinguish that what I wanted to bring to the world was compassion and interestingly enough, it’s the thing that I rarely give to myself. I hold space for people and what I bring to people is this sense that however they show up, I’ve got them. And I don’t do that for myself. In my head, it’s all harsh criticism. It’s doubt about my ability to make a difference.

What I am in the process of learning is that I genuinely have everything I need. I don’t NEED to go add a bunch of letters to my name to make a difference. I don’t need to be 20 years older. I don’t need to have all the answers. I’ve got the training, I’ve got the burning desire to light a fire under people’s asses, I’ve got the desire to learn and grow. It’s all I need. And I’ve already made a massive impact. If I just loved myself and accepted myself as I am, there wouldn’t be a cap on it.

 

That’s it, the big secret- you deserve to chase your dreams; you deserve to be a priority; and you already have the tools you need to take the first step. I hope you enjoyed this little experiment as much as we did- we’ll see what we can come up with this summer at our next chips/guac/veggies/beer committee meeting.

Life & Words- Part II

Ok so we left off with “Ahh, I can’t do it!” Today we’ll discuss how we kick ourselves in the ass to get rid of that mentality.

How life has gotten in the way and what my experience has been either succumbing to it or breaking up the usual pattern?

Cathy: A few years ago I began watching my life as a spectator. It didn’t happen consciously- it just kind of…happened. I altered my plans a little bit here, a little bit there. I left a decade-long career to be more present for my newborn son. I dropped out of graduate school when my husband graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering and almost $100,000 in debt. I left the tiny country town we had moved to with the determination to build a life….and unpacked in the very place I’d sworn never to return to, because it was closer to the dead-end job I had accepted. I took the first apartment I saw and gave up my dream of owning a home. I gave up writing short stories and letters to my kids. I gave up dreaming about publishing a book.

I gave up.

I remember the breaking of the pattern so clearly- mostly because it was so painful. It’s never easy breaking through a shell that you’ve built, especially when it’s become so thick the light can no longer get in.

“Do you remember when you decided to give up your career, and I said I didn’t think it was what you were meant to do anyway? And when you dropped out of grad school so we could stop the bleeding with our debt? And I promised that one day, when it was your turn, I would do the same for you?”

I was lying in bed watching sirens whizzing past our apartment, as often happened at all hours, wondering if everyone was ok, if it would wake the kids, if I would get any sleep that night. My husband’s voice broke into my thoughts and I turned slowly to look at him.

“Yes…I remember.”

“Ok…it’s time. It’s your turn. You’ve let your whole life go, and that’s not fair, and it’s hurting you and me and our kids. We need you back- we need you to relight that fire that used to be in there. I’m here, and I’ll do whatever I can to support you and cheer you on- but you need to come back. Stop putting yourself aside. You can do this and you will.”

“No. I’m done. This is my life. I clean up messes and fax things and read bedtime stories. You’re the success. I’m just…this.”

Then he cracked through the shell, shattered it.

“I need you to go talk to someone. I need you to get yourself back. And I need you to do it now. Please.”

I was angry- furious, actually. I had given up my whole life for him, and my kids, and now he was pissed off because I wasn’t thrilled about it?!

But for whatever reason, I went. I saw someone. And I learned something.

I gave up everything because I decided it was best for us. It was my decision to put the necessities in front of my dreams.

It was my decision to give up.

And you know what? I needed to break that cycle.

I needed to turn my dreams into necessities.

So I did.

I forced myself to write every day. I pushed for more challenging work at the dead-end job. I stopped dismissing the house listings that my husband emailed to me. I dug deep, and when I started to falter I looked at my kids learning from every move I made. And I looked at my husband cheering me on like I had always done for him. And I dug deeper.

Breaking a pattern is such a powerful action- I never DREAMED that setting my energy on a more positive, determined path would yield so much in such a short time.

We found our dream house. A few months later, I sat in our dining room and pushed “publish” on my first blog post while my husband sat next to me, holding my hand and cheering me on.

I had completely given up on happiness. But a little bit here, a little bit there…and the pattern was broken.

Sometimes you can do it yourself; other times you need someone to help you crack the shell.

Angela: This is a very interesting question to answer from a 24 year old perspective. I can’t really say that there is much life to get in my way. I don’t have kids, I work as a substitute teacher where I pick and choose my assignments, I don’t pay any bills, I live with my parents. And actually, that’s what is PERFECT. Because I don’t have life to blame, I can see the root of what gets in the way of what I want…myself. It is one hundred percent fear and self-doubt for me that gets in the way. When I graduated college, I decided that I was going to make life work without getting a Master’s degree. I was pretty spent after over a decade of schooling and was relieved to be out. Then I found that getting anywhere that I truly wanted to go wasn’t quite possible without a Master’s. Then I found coaching.

It gave my access to making an impact for people in the way that I wanted to and the training was unlike any school experience…or any experience for the matter, that I’ve had before. The conversations were uncommon and cut through all the bullshit. It was INCREDIBLY uncomfortable to be seen in that way. I now understand that whatever the first thing is that we say is getting in the way, the real answer is always several degrees deeper.

So the question for me is how have I gotten in the way and how have I overcome that?

I’ve gotten in the way by hiding. I get really stingy about the impact that I make. I play small and I don’t speak about the work that I do and I don’t invite people to sample sessions and I don’t ask for referrals because I get to avoid heartbreak. The heartbreak of someone saying no to the life they want, the heartbreak of seeing something for someone that they aren’t seeing, the heartbreak of not being able to do the work that I love.

I adopt the belief that I’m not ___ enough to attain the life and level of success that I want. I’m not old enough, I’m not experienced enough, I’m not good enough at business, I’m not ballsy enough to say the thing that would likely get me fired but that I know will make the most difference.

I buy into the belief that everything is hard. Basically, I just trust my feelings more than I trust my brilliance.

Have I overcome that? Hmm, I’m in the thick of it. As you can see, I am blatantly aware of what is holding me back. I have a coach that points it out once a week for an hour and my clients mirror it all back to me. The simple answer is that I’m choosing to practice something different so that I can adopt different beliefs, so that I can create different results in my life. Literally, doing ANYTHING differently can be the catalyst to breaking the cycle.

Through coaching, I’ve been introduced to acknowledgement. Basically, people acknowledge you for what you bring to the world by just existing (Joy, Generosity, Power, Spirit)…outside of achievements and the doing.

I now ask for it, I now welcome it and I acknowledge others. It’s a way for me to disrupt the story that I don’t bring value. I ASK for support, something that made me highly uncomfortable previously. I also just speak more. Being seen and heard breaks up my pattern quit nicely and it’s super simple. Simple is good for a person like me who overcomplicates as a way to self sabotage. Ahhh, I love inner work.

Hopefully we’re reaching someone who needs a kick in the ass themselves- and if not, we’re having fun together so it’s a win either way. See you Monday!