Acting Out

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I let my big people problems bull-doze over your little emotions.

I’m sorry I failed at the Mommy gig this morning.

I usually pride myself on being the Mary Poppins of the household.

When you’re sick I’m there with the “medicini fettucini,” hugs, kisses, and chapter after chapter of Harry Potter until my voice is hoarse.

When you’ve have a bad day I duck down to your level, look into your eyes, take two deep breaths with you (and let me tell you, Vince, that is a risk in itself- I refuse to believe you brush more than 3 teeth a day), and slowly, gently settle you from Hulk to Banner.

I’m the giggler and the singer; the grand master of the “cuddle-buggies” and expert of the blanket burrito; the messy baker and chef that dances around with the utensils; the one you cling to when you need the warmth, peace and joy of childhood.

But this morning I was less Te Fiti and more Te Ka (where are my Moana lovers??)

I saw that you were in “that” mood- the one where everything makes your eyes well up with tears- and I braced myself for a challenging morning.

I gave you ten extra minutes to get ready. I got your breakfast and your clothes for you. I packed your backpack.

I was handling this- I was sipping my coffee and loading the dishwasher and tossing apples into lunch bags and-

“Do I need a coat?”

“Yes.”

“But why?”

“Vince, it’s cold outside. Every day from now to April, please assume you need a coat unless I say otherwise.”

And there they were- the sniffles. And the tears. And the little scrunched up freckled nose.

“Vince, please get the coat and then give the dog a few cookies.”

“I can’t find it where is it I don’t know where it is!”

“Bottom cubby in your closet.”

“I can’t fit it…in my….backpack….it’s too big…” Tears streaming. Boogers threatening to pop.

“Wait…did you just…did YOU just give the dog her cookies?!”

“Yes, we need to go and you’re not ready-“

This is Tower to Cabin, we are cleared for meltdown. I repeat: we are cleared for meltdown.

“I was supposed to give them to her but because of this COAT I couldn’t!! I was supposed to! It was supposed to be my job!!!”

Deep breath. I’m Mary Poppins. I’m Mary Poppins. I’m Mary fucking Poppins.

“Vince, you can give her bedtime cookies. Please get in the car and strap yourself in.”

Deep breaths. Walk to the car, Ms. Poppins. You’ve got this. You’ve got this. You’ve….just walked outside to find your child leaning into the backseat like a drunken college student, sobbing over his backpack.

“Vince, what the hell-“

“It’s making my backpack too big and I can’t fit my backpack into the back seat! What am I supposed to do???!!!”

Mary Poppins has left the building.

I snapped. I couldn’t take another sniffle, another peek-a-boo booger, another exasperated sigh. I grabbed the backpack, tore the apparently toxic coat out of it, hurled it into the trunk, and slammed the door. I sat in the car, whirled around, and unleashed my Mom-Fail-Fury all over the place.

“There are things that matter, Vince, and things that don’t. Would you like to know what matters? There are children who are sleeping on the street with no coat, no shoes, and no blanket. There are people who are starving and scared. And here you are, living in a nice warm house, with your own room, with a huge bed with 17 blankets on it, plenty of food to eat, two parents and a sister who love you, and a dog, and a lizard, and friends and family, and what are you upset about? A COAT! You’re crying because your coat is too puffy?! There are things that matter, and THAT IS NOT ONE OF THEM! Do- You- Understand????”

I hated myself.

Even as the words were spewing out of me, I knew I was wrong. It did matter to you. That puffy coat and all the parts of your routine that it was ruining this morning- all of that mattered to you. Insignificant things rarely bother you without there being some deeper meaning. That puffy coat was the cover story for something bigger- something Mary Poppins would have patiently uncovered- but Awful Impatient Mom just bulldozed right over it.

You didn’t know that someone I love is very sick, and I was up all night praying for her. You didn’t know that I’ve been scared that my freelance gig- the one thing that gives me hope for a career that actually feeds my soul- might be lost to a stupid bill that some senator is trying to pass. You didn’t know that I’m battling a bladder infection, or that I can’t figure out how to afford everything that comes along with the holidays, or that I’m convinced if your father doesn’t start taking some time for himself he’s going to have a breakdown and I’m going to lose him.

You didn’t know any of it, but none of it is yours to know. It’s for me to hold, quietly, with one hand, while I hold your feelings and safety in the other.

And I took your feelings and hurled them into the trunk of my beat-up, suspiciously sticky, cereal-littered Kia.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I failed at the mom gig today.

I know you saw me hating myself. I know you heard my sniffles, saw the tears quietly burning my cheeks, and witnessed the remorse in my eyes when I pulled up to the school, turned around and timidly choked out, “I love you very much, Buddy, and I hope you have a good day.”

“Love you too,” you mumbled, not even looking at me, and it was like you took everything I hurled at you and hurled it right back at me.

And I deserved it.

But I need you to know this- even Mary Poppins can’t be Mary Poppins all the time. I carry so much more than she could ever fit into that magical bag of hers.

I carry memories, hopes, dreams, fear, guilt, grocery lists, and immense love in my bag. I carry worries that I’m not giving every one of my friends and family members the amount of time and attention that they deserve. I carry determination to make your dad smile more often and breathe more easily. I carry plans for our next dinner and movie date, and for the special treat I’ll surprise your sister with on the way home today.

But sometimes, Vince, that bag, it becomes so heavy that I drop it. And shit goes flying everywhere.

I’m sorry I dropped the bag this morning. I promise that tonight it will be neatly put back together. I’ll give you cuddle-buggies and ask about your day and watch intently as you show off your new karate moves.

Please understand that sometimes, being the keeper of the bag can be overwhelming. I’m not always going to be able to balance it all- from time to time, I’m going to drop the bag.

So when I do, please be patient. Take a few deep breaths with me, let me settle from Te Ka to Te Fiti, and remember that the bag is only so crazy heavy because it’s filled with a lot of love- and vegan pie recipes.

And wear your friggin coat tomorrow, will ya?

Slowing Down

I’ve watched my dad do a lot of things.

Many, many years ago, I watched him from the doorway, quiet as a mouse, as he repaired phones, toasters, furniture and even- I’m not kidding- socks, long after the rest of the house was asleep.

When I was a teenager, I watched him come home from work covered in the bodily fluids of the cars on which he had performed life-saving surgeries for 10 or 12 hours, eat dinner, and then happily go into the garage to begin his evening procedures on the beat-up old wrecks that my friends had asked him to revive.

I’ve watched him excel in his career but turn down lucrative job offers, one after another, because he refused to hold a job that included nights and weekends. “I need to be home for dinner. My family comes first.”

When I was in college I watched him handle my anxiety about my first psychology class by reading through the entire textbook while I was at work, and waiting up to chat with me about it.

When my now-husband and I briefly called it quits after high school, I watched my dad quietly soothe my torn up emotions day after day….and then I watched him coming home later than usual once a week or so, because he was also secretly mending my ex’s broken heart over coffee at the diner.

When we announced our engagement, I watched his face light up like Christmas as he grabbed us both into a bear hug. I watched him giggle with me as he walked me down the aisle, both of us complaining we had to pee. I watched him sob as we held each other tightly during our father-daughter dance.

I watched the tears streaming down his cheeks when I told him I was pregnant. Nine months later I watched in exhausted amusement as he swiped my brand new son out of the stunned nurse’s arms, sat down, and got to know him.

I watched him quietly settle into a chair in the delivery room at 3am, when my daughter was on her way. I watched him encourage us, and share our excitement, and get up to take a picture of Pat and me cradling my bump as we waited…I watched him do all of this less than 24 hours after undergoing his weekly chemo treatment.

He should have been in bed. But there he was, handling things for all of us.

I’ve watched him go to work after sleepless nights; during illnesses that would have anyone else hiding under the covers; and during the most painful, scary and grief-filled moments of his life.

Every morning, despite whatever was looming over him, I heard that 8-cylinder engine roar under the hood of that classic T-Bird; I smelled the coffee brewing; I heard him lacing up his work boots; and I listened as the front door quietly closed behind him.

Every year on June 1st, despite his knees betraying him, his breathing slowing down, or his cancer showing up, I watch him walk through my front door to give me my birthday hug.

For 36 years I have watched that man do so much, and handle so much, quietly and stoically, always with a smile in his eyes and a joke rolling off his tongue.

I’ve watched him battle cancer, COPD, and a body that, after years of hauling tires, turning wrenches and otherwise making metal monsters roar back to life day after day, is beginning to betray him.

You know what I’ve never seen him do?

Slow down.

I’ve never seen my father slow down.

Until today.

Today, my dad, the handler of all things, the fixer of all that is broken, and the most stubborn, bull-headed, “I will sleep when I’m dead” type of person I have ever met- that man retired.

The man who seemingly existed all these years solely to make sure everyone else was taken care of- is actually taking care of himself.

I’m stunned.

Fall-off-my-chair, pinch-myself-to-make-sure-I’m-not-dreaming, stunned.

But Dad, before you FINALLY start your long-overdue chapter of “Me First” relaxation, I need you to do one more thing for me.

I need you to read this.

Thank you. Thank you for always putting all of our needs before your own.

Thank you for getting up each morning before the sun was even a hint in the sky so that you could be at the dinner table every night, asking about our days, helping us with our homework, sewing our school play costumes and whipping up cookies for our holiday bake sales.

Thank you for never saying “No” when I needed you.

Thank you for breathing life into that awful Dodge Neon long after it should have been in a scrap heap.

And since we’re talking, thank you for insisting on accompanying me to that brain MRI when I was 24 years old. I said I was fine- I wasn’t. Thank you for knowing.

Thank you for showing up, so many times, before I had even asked.

Thank you for showing all of us, in words and actions, that the most important parts of your life are the people who are in it.

You’ve done your job. You’ve handled everything. We’re all good over here.

Now please, for the love of God, go watch Maury, resist the urge to fix things around the house, and call me if you need something, or if Mom starts driving you crazy.

I’ll handle it.

Timeout

My husband and I recently began seeing other people.

This wasn’t something we had really planned on sharing with anyone but I mean, you write a blog, you post happy pictures on Facebook, and people get this idea that you’re some kind of “perfect” couple. I’m not a fan of that veil- I want people to know the good and the bad.

So here it is.

When you spend 2 decades with the same person, you’re going to have some ups and downs. We have, in fact, had so many ups and downs that I fear we have both developed vertigo.

But you stick it out because you love each other, and because the ups make the downs worth digging yourself out of- most of the time.

Alas, our latest bout of marital strife was not a “most of the time” kind of thing.

It began….it started….how do I describe this? You know that line in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” when the narrator describes the Who villagers singing on Christmas morning? It starts as a barely audible blip and then suddenly he could hear it from the mountaintop?

“It started in low…then it started to grow.”

Bingo.

It started with a tiny disagreement here, a slight roll of the eyes there.

My job has been demanding…his job has been all-consuming.

The kids have been adding an extra sprinkle of tantrums to the stress sundae that is our daily life.

Suddenly we found ourselves disagreeing about everything from what to do on weekends to “How many towels IS one too many towels in the dryer??”

Then came the full-blown, hear-them-from-the-mountaintop arguments.

“What do you mean you accepted more weekend work?! I’m drowning here!”

“That’s right, walk away while I’m talking- no one cares what I have to say anyway!”

“I gave up my career so you could excel in yours and I have LITERALLY become invisible!”

“Well I might as well just get an apartment because I’m JUST A PAYCHECK to all of you!”

Oh you guys. It was ugly.

And then it got even uglier. The silence descended.

No “good morning;” no “goodnight;” no “How was your day?”

Just…existing.

So one might understand why we began to question whether it was time to pack up our 2 decades of memories and, well, pack it in.

I believe I vehemently spat out the phrases “ship has sailed” and “run its course” so many times during my last therapy session that my therapist was unsure of whether I was talking about filing for divorce or finding Captain Jack Sparrow and hunting for a chest of gold doubloons.

We had had it. We were tired, angry, and defeated. We started saying things like, “Maybe this is beyond saving,” and the fact that we were texting those words to each other because we couldn’t be in the same room without our conversation turning into a cage match seemed like a big red “just end it already” flag.

And then….we took a break.

It was a Saturday morning. We were doing our usual “talk to the kids, avoid each other at all costs” routine when I thought I spied the slightest of judgey head shakes from him in response to something I had said to our son.

Drawing a matchstick against a striker wouldn’t have produced a faster spark.

Suddenly we were in a cage match, hissing at each other like two snakes fighting over a mouse. Then Pat pulled the move that would change everything.

“F*ck it, I’m not going tonight. You can go by yourself.”

Two of our best friends were christening their child that day, and we had turned into such bickering childish fools that he was actually going to miss it.

I composed myself, took a deep breath, and said quietly, “Timeout.”

“What?”

“We need a timeout. This is ridiculous. First, we need to just say it. We don’t LIKE each other anymore. It’s probably best if we split up. And we can work out all the details of that, and go our separate ways, but not today. Today we need to put this aside and be there for our friends.”

That’s right. We called a truce on our marriage.

Hey, no one said love was easy. Or pretty. Or fair. But a commitment is a commitment and when you RSVP “yes” you go, damnit.

So we got all dressed up, my mom took our picture, and we headed to our friends’ joyous occasion clouded by the most uncomfortable silence that’s enveloped us in a very long time.

And then I blurted out, “I miss you bringing me flowers.”

I had no idea where it came from or why I chose that moment to share, but I was sure it was the most ridiculous thing I could have possibly-

“I like this band’s new album….have you heard it?”

And just like that we were on the most awkward first date ever.

I’m happy to report that it became a lot less awkward. We fumbled through our desperate attempt to get along in the car, parked, and headed into the cocktail hour. He asked if I wanted a drink…I told him he looked really handsome in his new suit (he did…if I wasn’t planning to divorce him I’d be swooning)…he made a joke about cheese….and slowly, slowly, ever-so-slowly, it wasn’t such an awkward first date anymore.

We laughed with our friends, shared our meals, and, much to my surprise, he held out his hand when the DJ began playing a sappy slow song. Every time I look at the photo that our friend snapped of us on the dance floor, I remember the genuine, all-encompassing joy we both felt to finally be in each other’s arms again.

In the end, it was decidedly less awkward than our first date 20 years ago…mostly because we were 16 and when we tried to kiss at the end of the night we banged our teeth into each other, and after 2 decades of practice we’ve become very adept at not doing that anymore.

Since that night, we’ve been dating pretty regularly. We get a sitter anytime we have the chance- we went out for lunch and football on a Sunday, and enjoyed sushi and cocktails last Friday. This second time around is great- we’re old enough to drink and we’ve replaced, “Wendy’s or Burger King?” with fun things like, “Sushi or Thai?”

We make sure there is plenty of “Good morning,” “Good night,” “How was your day?” and “You know what? I’ll throw the towels in the dryer.” We’re clear to the kids that they need to get to sleep at a decent time so we can have what we’ve dubbed “Mommy & Daddy time.” This consists of sharing snacks while binge-watching food shows, and yeah, it’s as hot as it sounds.

Last week, he bought me flowers.

So there it is. We’re seeing other people- the people we used to be. The people we want to be. The people we haven’t been in a while.

Love is ugly sometimes.  But we’ve decided to stay in timeout and see if we can clean up the mess we made a little bit at a time, instead of setting the whole thing on fire and walking away. 

And you know, sometimes the most awkward first dates produce the greatest love stories (once you get past the front teeth clanking).

 

The Comedy of Errors

“There’s a Wawa down the street- do you want some tea?”

“No…I need a bag please.”

I knew what was coming. I could feel the black bean and quinoa burger I had eaten for lunch threatening to make an appearance all over the dashboard of my truck (side note: bravo on the vegan menu options, Storybook Land!).

I was about to throw up all over our “perfect” family weekend.

It was just a weekend trip- an aquarium, a theme park and a Lego museum. It was maybe 2 hours from home. But we needed it.

Good LORD we needed a carefree, incident-free weekend.

The past few months have been a full plate (like, Thanksgiving-level full) of working late/getting stuck in hours of traffic/missing bedtime stories; random injuries and illnesses all around; kid and adult tantrums; and a side dish of “lost the dog we just rescued in a flourish of trauma, vomit and hysterical sobs.”

It was not a meal that anyone has enjoyed.

So yes, we NEEDED this weekend.

Our kids needed it. Our marriage needed it. Our very sanity needed it.

And I was sitting in the front seat of my truck on Day 2, hurling it all into a Wawa bag.

Awesome.

You’re waiting for the feel-good part, right?

Weeeeelllll, so was I.

Once I finally finished re-enacting that scene from Poltergeist, just in time to get to our new hotel, crawl into bed and lay there half-conscious while my kids watched a movie, I had some time for hazy, nauseated reflection.

And boy, did I reflect.

I reflected on waking up Thursday morning with four very swollen, sore, angry-looking welts on my leg, that could really only be explained by a family of tarantulas breaking and entering while we slept Wednesday night, and praying they wouldn’t turn into what things usually turn into with me- a whole “thing” (that’s the medical term, I swear).

I reflected on going to sleep in tears on Thursday night, after about an hour of out-of-control tantrums and threats of “We WILL cancel this trip!!”

I reflected on my husband getting called into work on Friday morning, when we were supposed to be leaving, while I headed to my father’s shop to reattach a remarkably large piece of the undercarriage of my truck, which had inexplicably fallen almost completely off the day before.

I reflected on us checking into our hotel on Friday night, only to find it was packed with people who were attending a convention, which led to my anxious son having a full-blown anxiety attack at the pool because “There are way too many people here and they’ll see that I still use swimmies and every one of them will laugh at me!”

I reflected on the hotel phone ringing at 1am, and the front desk employee informing me she had given us the wrong room, somehow deleted our reservation, gave a key to the person who was supposed to be in our room, and that person was now trying to get in while we slept (Confused? So were we.)

I reflected on having to pack up our things and find a new hotel at 7am Saturday because, let’s face it, who wants to stay in a place where they play musical chairs with guests’ room keys at 1am???

I reflected on that fateful moment at the amusement park later that day when I said, “Sure, I’ll go on the Tilt-A-Turtle with you, Grace!”, a moment that would ultimately lead to me lying in the car retching while my family rushed through my son’s birthday dinner; spending the rest of the weekend in a state of woozy, painful half-alertness; and being diagnosed with a concussion when we returned home.

That’s right. I LITERALLY got knocked out by a turtle.

I mean, come ON already.

Still waiting for the feel-good part?

Ok fine, you know I always deliver.

Despite all of the not-so-great stuff, it was a “perfect” weekend.

We just had ourselves a perfect comedy of errors.

I couldn’t sleep because of the welts on Thursday night, so hey, I got all the packing done!

I had to bring the car to the shop on Friday morning and it made-my-kids’-entire-day to see their grandpa in action. He even convinced my daughter that he and she share magical powers that opened and closed the bay doors (she’s still talking about it).

Before we were awoken by the would-be intruder at 1am, we enjoyed a goofy lunch, an afternoon at the aquarium, and a nice, calm family dinner, complete with flicking crayons across the table, a food fight, and a nice big bowl of ice cream with 4 spoons. I got a cuddle session with my son at the edge of the pool, before my husband gently convinced him to give swimming a try, even in front of “all the people.” And before bed, I watched my kids snuggle under blankets, make a birthday crown for my daughter, and pig out on leftover chicken fingers.

The hotel debacle got us a refund on our entire weekend and led us to a hotel where we really did have the pool all to ourselves! Who doesn’t like free stuff and a private pool?!

We got to run through the sweetest storybook-themed amusement park like 4 little kids for an entire day, before the children’s ride did me in…and did I mention the quinoa and black bean burger? Hey now.

And being stuck in the hotel instead of enjoying a fancy dessert at the fancy restaurant? That turned into my husband finding the world’s tiniest pie and a gigantic twirling, singing candle, almost setting off the hotel’s smoke alarm, causing a massive pillow fight, and making my son exclaim, “This is the best birthday ever! Even though Mommy puked.”

Sure, I was too sick to do everything I had planned for Day 3, but wandering through a wildflower field in perfect weather was not too shabby either (and my house smelled ah-mazing for days, courtesy of the 587 stems the kids picked).

Was it the carefree, incident-free weekend I had hoped for? Uh…not exactly. But is anything ever, really?

Not in this house.

But even if it’s not what we expected, it was exactly what we needed.

It was our perfect comedy of errors, head injury and all.

Sometimes you just need some re-reflection to put things into- dare I say it- clearer perspective. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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