Romance

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

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

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

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

They were clean!

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

At least until I walked into the kitchen.

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

A pile of chicken nuggets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean, come on.

But time passes…and things change.

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

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

Children…they have a way of changing things.

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

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

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

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

And I have never wanted him more.

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

The other 364 nights?

We laugh a lot, over ridiculous things.

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

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

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

We’re there for each other.

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

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

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

 

The End of an Era

I wish I was more like my husband.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He knew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He knew.

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

I hate when he’s right.

HATE it.

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

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

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

But it was also a beginning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

Cheez-Its

“So then I said, ‘Cheese it, it’s the cops!’”

My poor mother’s face was so full of confusion as the laugh rose from the pit of my stomach and exploded out of me so forcefully that tears started streaming down my cheeks.

“What?! Cathy. That’s just what we SAID back then.”

“I’ve never….I’ve never heard….all I can think of is a giant Cheez-It in a police hat chasing you down…”

That was the end of my mother’s story about the night her cousin Johnny set off fireworks during a house party and she had to cover for him.

I pulled the car over and held my stomach as the laughter poured out and the tears flowed, and I couldn’t help but notice how nice it felt to laugh until it hurt. To cry until my nose started to run.

It was almost….cleansing.

I’ve been sorely in need of a good, hard, purifying laugh lately- we both have.

We’ve been too busy for this. Too busy researching symptoms and discussing our expert “I read this on the Mayo Clinic’s website” diagnoses. Too busy discussing how unfair life and death and illness are. Too busy telling each other that no matter what happens, we’ll get through it together. Too busy crying and wringing our hands and biting our lips when no one is watching. Too busy being terrified that someone we love, someone who completes us and is an integral part of us, might be leaving us well before we are ready to say goodbye.

We’ve been too busy to laugh.

But in that car, in that moment, in that Bonefish Grill parking lot, bellies full of lobster and filet mignon and sautéed veggies, we laughed.

Oh my God did we laugh.

And as my body shook with this pure, uncontrollable wave of happiness, I took a break from being terrified. I took a break from feeling sad and angry and helpless and in pain. And I thanked God or the Universe or my lucky stars or whatever you choose to believe in, that I had this moment, in the middle of this weekend, to refuel my resolve.

I looked over at my mother, who was giggle-crying as she shook her head and declared, “You’re such an idiot, Cathy Rose…” and I knew, somehow, that it was going to be ok. I watched her letting herself get swept away in our ridiculous moment and marveled at this whole other woman that I was suddenly getting to know.

I saw a woman who had decided that we were going away for a 3-day weekend to celebrate my birthday- the same woman who hasn’t been away from her husband for more than a night in 38 years.

I saw a woman who had sipped wine at not one, but TWO wineries earlier that day- the same woman who gives my sister and me worried glances every time we pour 2oz of sangria into a glass at a party.

I saw a woman who had spent hours relaxing in the indoor pool and jacuzzi at our hotel in the middle of the countryside- the same woman who has often declared she only likes “beach motels and outdoor pools- I just don’t do the whole “country” thing.”

I saw a woman who had climbed 7 flights-SEVEN FLIGHTS- of stairs while excitedly touring a castle earlier that afternoon- the same woman who sometimes struggles to get up the 3 steps from my porch to my front door.

I saw a woman who had jumped out of the car at every stop on the self-guided driving tour at Valley Forge the day before, telling me, “Who cares if it’s raining, let’s go see the huts! I love this stuff!” as I grumbled and shivered through the rain and wet grass.

I saw a woman who had spent the past 2 days telling me story after story about her childhood, her early days with my dad, her marriage, her career, her relationships with her family members, her regrets, her hopes, her dreams, her fears…all while we meandered through the peaceful, winding roads of Pennsylvania, on our way to this place or that, not really caring when we got there.

I saw a woman who was stronger than she gave herself credit for- maybe stronger than any of us knew.

I saw a woman who could stand on her own- a woman who LIKED standing on her own.

I saw a woman whose company I wished I hadn’t missed for so many years while we were busy being too stubborn to get through a long lunch, let alone a long weekend.

I saw a woman who I was so grateful to call my mom.

I saw a woman that I was so endlessly proud to call my friend.

I saw a woman who was going to be just fine.

We eventually pulled ourselves together enough to get back to our hotel, throw on our bathing suits and unwind in the jacuzzi. We looked like two women on a fun, spur-of-the-moment trip together, two friends who had been this close forever- two people without a care in the world.

The other people in that pool had no idea that we’d almost cancelled our trip because we both felt too heavy to celebrate anything. They didn’t know we had stopped at a chapel on the way to the hotel, lit candles, kneeled in a pew, prayed our asses off, and given each other a reassuring embrace in the middle of the aisle when no one was looking.

They didn’t know that 5 or 10 years ago we both would have laughed in the face of anyone who suggested we take any kind of trip together.

They didn’t know how grateful I was to be making these memories with someone with whom I had prayed I would one day share any kind of relationship.

They also didn’t know that this trip had told me everything I needed to know about the kind of woman my mother is, and the pillar of strength she will be when the time comes for her to hold herself up.

So we haven’t had much time to relax lately. We’ve been quite busy worrying ourselves into the abyss over something that may or may not be happening to someone we love (in my family, we have honed the art of patching together the worst-case scenario and then wearing it like a coat).

But in that brief moment- imagining a hat-wearing, badge-flashing cheese cracker ringing the doorbell of my parents’ first apartment- we shrugged off the coat, and we laughed.

And I know now, without a doubt, that no matter what happens, I’ll have one hell of a strong woman in my corner.

I also know that I’ll be bringing Cheez-It’s to every family function for the rest of my life.

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The Ugly Truth

This morning, as I was crawling along the wood floors, spraying and wiping the poop I didn’t know Marty had stepped in during her morning walk, trying not to gag from the smell and yelling, “Guys, I’m not asking again, brush your TEETH!” I was reminded of a conversation I had a few days ago.

“I don’t know how you do it all. Two jobs, the commute, two kids, two dogs, and you still make time for everything!”

I started laughing thinking about what that person would say if she saw me now, sliding along the entire first floor of my house in a dress, blowing my frizzy hair out of my face, and spraying Mrs. Meyer’s mint cleanser every few inches in an attempt to clean all of the crap my dog was (still) gleefully stamping all over the house.

It’s not the first time someone has said it to me. I get a fair amount of “I don’t know how you keep it all together,” and “How do you find the time to do all these special weekends and themed nights with your kids?!” I also get the occasional “You’re such an incredible mom- they’re so lucky they have you as an example of a strong, confident woman.” That one really makes me roll on the floor.

So here’s how I keep it all together.

Here’s the ugly truth.

Most mornings, I blink back tears at least once and curse myself for not doing lunch prep the night before as one dog runs into the water cooler again, the other dog craps on my floor, and two kids refuse to put their shoes on or throw their pajamas in the hamper.

Most nights, I curse myself for not having time to fold the laundry, read one more chapter of Harry Potter to Vince, or sing one more song to Grace as I drag my feet up the stairs and into bed.

At some point during most of our “surprise weekends” or “themed nights” I’m stressing myself trying to find the “next adventure” and wondering if they’ll ever remember any of it anyway.

I see a chiropractor for the chronic back pain caused by the commute, and a therapist for the anxiety and depression that nag me almost daily.

I drink a glass of wine, stand in the kitchen eating crunchy peanut butter out of the jar, or listen to metal bands to calm my nerves.

As much as I try to celebrate my mom body, I often frown when I look in the mirror because all I can see is a floppy mess; I absently stick my fingers into my stretch marks or gently tug at the kangaroo pouch that I have to tuck into my jeans every morning; and when my husband wraps me in his arms at night and whispers in my ear that my body has never looked so beautiful, I’m firmly convinced he’s full of shit.

When my children have pushed every button and trampled on every last nerve and I reach the end of my rope and raise my voice, I immediately feel guilty and slightly nervous that my neighbors are going to call child services and report that a raving lunatic is living next door. Although so far they just keep inviting me over to have a beer on their porch, so I think they can see right through my kids’ angelic facades and are trying to rescue me.

When I see pictures of my friends’ beautiful vacations, clean, neat homes, and brightly smiling children I wonder how they keep it all together, admire their amazing lives, and bite my lip as I wonder if I’m quietly known as the “failure” of the group. I also wonder if they’ll share the magic of how they get their kids to brush their hair, wash their faces and wear both shirts AND pants. I’m really in awe of that.

So that’s the ugly truth. I don’t do it all. I certainly do not keep it all together. I barely have time to breathe. And most days, I am far less than incredible and hope that my children don’t turn out anything at all like their twitchy, nervous, self-doubting mother.

But here’s the not-so-ugly part of it; I never quit. When life hands me a morning of poop-streaked hardwood floors, I get on my hands and knees, scrub them, wash my hands, and move along. When I’m so exhausted from reading and singing that all I have left to give are cuddles, I cuddle the hell outta those kids. When the anxiety of not doing enough or being enough plagues me, I remember that when I walk through the door every night their eyes light up and they trip over themselves to wrap themselves up in my arms and tell me all about their days. I remember that when my husband is doubting himself, the first person he turns to is me.

I might be a mess, but damnit if I’m not a loyal, dedicated one.

I sometimes wonder what I did to deserve any of the incredible miracles that exist around me- a husband who greets me each night with a kiss on the forehead and dinner on the table; two adorable, albeit always somehow very muddy and/or chocolate-covered children who are growing into sweet, compassionate, hilarious little human beings; two dogs who fill the house with love, goofy antics and the faint smell of wet fur (and sometimes poop); friends who stick by me through my best and worst moments…all of them, even the dogs, know that I’m usually not “all together” and yet, they continue to love me so fiercely that they keep me going even on my messiest days.

So why am I sharing all of this? Why am I letting you into the “one flick of a tile away from toppling all the dominoes” situation in my brain? Because I’m fairly certain this is all of us. We’re all a mess. None of us are “together.” None of us “do it all.” We just fumble through each day, determined and driven by all the blessings around us that keep recharging our batteries.

And that’s okay.

Kids are tough. Jobs are tough. Pets are tough, and smelly. Marriage is tough. Who could handle all of that alone? Text your friends; tell them when you’re having a day and let them recharge you. Recharge them when you know they need it. Leave the laundry for tomorrow, eat the peanut butter out of the jar, and find someone to cuddle. Cry if you have to. Hide in the bathroom and play Snoopy Pop- if you can’t do anything else productive at least you can say you freed a few Woodstocks from colored bubbles.

Just don’t quit.

And when someone marvels at how you do it all, just smile. Because some days you may not think you’re that incredible, but let me tell you something.

You are.

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The Secret

Thirty-seven years.

Thirty-seven years of the same person, day after day, night after night, moment after moment.

When I look back at my childhood, I often wonder how you guys lasted thirty-seven years. I’ve tried to discover the magical secret that kept you together when anyone else would have tossed the rings and the commitments out the window.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize this is your secret (and I’m about to share it with everyone, sorry):

You took 37 years, and you lived them moment by moment.

Thirty-seven years of incredible, wonderful, horrifying, frightening, peaceful, blissful moments- you took them as they came. One at a time.

Like the moment you walked into a shopping mall to buy curtains for your very first apartment, saw a puppy in a pet store window, and went home as a family of three (a curtainless family of three).

The moment you found out the baby you’d been praying for was growing inside you; the moment, 10 years later, that you watched her tired eyes light up when, after months of wasting away to nothing, she saw her doctor walk into her hospital room and say “We know what’s wrong, and we can fix it;” the moment, 11 years after that, she walked through the door and told you she was starting her own lifetime of moments with someone.

The moment you met your second little girl and Dad walked around the hospital room sobbing, thanking the entire staff, and exclaiming, “I have another daughter!” The moment, many years later, that you saw the lump on that little girl’s back and knew your life was about to be turned upside down; the moment, 5 years after that, that she told you in a few short months, you’d have a new title: grandparents.

The moment you arrived at my apartment to see pictures from our trip to Ireland and instead saw a cake on the table that read, “We’re having a baby;” the moment, 4 years later, that you walked into my hospital room at 3am to wish me luck delivering that baby’s little sister; and of course, the moment Mom held my hand as that little girl made her big entrance into the world.

The moments you were promoted at work and the future suddenly looked brighter; the moments you were laid off and that future was suddenly dark and uncertain.

The moment the doctor looked at Dad and said, “I’m sorry, it’s cancer,” and the moment he said “Congratulations, you’re cancer-free!”

The moment the doctor looked at Mom and said, “You need open-heart surgery,” and the moment he said, “She made it through.”

The moments that money was “ok”; the moments there was no money at all.

The moments when the new landlord would hand you the key and say, “Welcome to your new home!” and the moments the landlord would say, “I’m sorry, I’m selling the house.”

The moments we ran around the beach, gathering shells, building castles and holding your hands as you saved us from the biggest waves….and the moments the two of you adjusted to vacations being just the two of you.

The quiet moments, early in the morning, sipping coffee on the porch of Uncle Tony’s condo in Vermont while your two little girls sleepily watched cartoons and waved to you from the living room.

The crazy moments spent getting those little girls ready for their proms, their graduations, and their weddings.

Of course, we can’t forget the moment that started it all- the moment that Mom, you pulled into that gas station 38 years ago, rolled down your window, looked up, locked eyes with Dad, and suddenly couldn’t remember what you were supposed to say.

The moment Dad, you handed Mom that little plastic robot full of candy, and she opened it to find a ring.

The moment you stood in a church in front of everyone you love, and promised that no matter what moments were ahead of you, you’d face them together.

And you have.

You’ve taken a moment here….and a moment there…and used them to build this vibrant, full, infinitely strong life together.

You’ve used the best moments to show us how life is meant to be lived; you’ve used the worst moments to teach us how to handle ourselves when life refuses to cooperate.

And through every moment I’ve been lucky enough to share with you through the years- the good, the bad, the frighteningly ugly and the devastatingly beautiful- I’ve noticed one constant.

As each moment washes over you, your hands instinctively reach for each other, your eyes lock for a just a second, and you live that moment together.

So that’s it. The secret’s out.

Happy 37th Anniversary, Mom and Dad. May you have many, many more moments ahead of you, and may your hands be firmly entwined as you walk through each of them, one at a time.674096_0349

Rocco

Rocco had an “episode” a few weeks ago.

I saw it coming, slowly, for a few days, but I refused to see it at first. I always do.

“He’s just tired. He probably slept in an awkward position. He’s shaking because he’s cold; maybe I should turn up the heat.”

But eventually, I come to terms with it.

This time the “come to terms with it” moment happened when I held a treat out to him and he couldn’t take it.

He tried. He pushed it around with his nose and angled himself this way and that…but his jaw wouldn’t work for him.

He tried to look up and give me the “Mommy, we have a problem” look, but his neck betrayed him.

That’s when I came to terms with it.

I calmly picked up the treat and returned it to his cookie jar. I got down on the floor with a spoonful of peanut butter and held him in my arms at just the right angle for him to lap it up. When he was done I carried him to the couch, wrapped him up in a blanket, and let him rest.

Then I sat on the kitchen floor and sobbed.

I’m not sure why I continuously refuse to see it.

I was warned when we rescued him at 4 months old, and the vet rattled off the long list of ailments that befall miniature dachshunds.

I was warned when he went into acute liver failure at 2 years old and spent 5 days in the hospital, defying every odd, beating every prognosis, and making every staff member fall in love with his goofy, bobble-headed antics.

I was warned when, despite the twice-yearly dental appointments and twice-daily tooth scrubbings, he developed gum disease and needed surgery at 9 years old.

I was warned when, at 10 years old, he let out an ear-splitting howl and collapsed on the living room floor the night after Christmas, and I spent 5 hours in an emergency vet waiting room, praying that this wasn’t how we were going to say goodbye. They showed me the x-rays, talked to me about severe spinal arthritis of the neck, and told me that they couldn’t believe he hadn’t become paralyzed years ago. They praised me for his steady diet of whole foods, regular dosages of glucosamine and chondroitin, msm, fish oil, pei mussels, nightly back massages and leg rotations, and everything else we’d been doing since he was a puppy to stave off what was happening anyway. They told me if it wasn’t for that type of care, he’d already be gone. I left feeling like we’d somehow failed him anyway.

That was the night we sat up until the morning, talking about our options, holding him, scratching his ears, telling him how much we loved him…and promising him that if he told us it was time, we’d listen.

They had told me to keep doing what we were doing. They told me that we’d know when it was time.

When I saw him pushing that tiny treat around the floor- my dog, who used to eat an entire chicken breast in one breath and threaten to take down your hand if you didn’t get it out of the way fast enough- I prayed. I prayed HARD.

“Not yet. PLEASE don’t let it be time.”

For 2 days we held him. We watched him. Pat scrambled eggs for him. I held spoons with peanut butter while he happily, carefully navigated his way around them. I wiped him down, wrapped him up, and snuggled in bed with him at 2am after I found him lying in a puddle he’d made, most likely because he hadn’t been able to bend his back legs when we took him outside at bedtime. I whispered in his floppy little ear, “If you’re ready, it’s ok. I understand. If it’s time, I’ll be brave for you.”

I stayed up all night, preparing myself to make the phone call. I stopped praying for a miracle.

But I got one.

The next day, our pain-riddled old man bounced out of his bed and ate an entire bowl of food. He trotted outside, charged around the yard, and tugged on his leash to take a stroll up the street. He came inside and ate his treat, then ran over to our 50lb lab, Marty, grabbed her treat out of her mouth, and tore off into the living room while she tried to figure out what had just happened.

Before Marty or I could pick our jaws up from the floor, my spunky, goofy, stubborn, energetic little friend was staring up at me, tail wagging, feet hopping, looking toward his cookie jar. I looked at him and saw my 4 month-old puppy again.

We had made it through. Again. He had told me, loudly and clearly, that it wasn’t time.

I know it will be time, eventually. I know it when he can’t quite make out who is standing in front of him. I know it when he can’t hear me calling him until I tap him on the back. I knew it a few days ago when, for a few hours, his jaw failed him again. I know it on rainy nights when I have to hold him close and rub the ache out of his legs and neck.

I know.

But for some reason, when I see him, he’s not 13 years old. He’s not gray. His eyes aren’t cloudy and his walk isn’t shaky.

All I see is my spunky, goofy, stubborn, energetic little friend.

I see him posing proudly in his Halloween costumes (my favorites were Pirate, Frog, and Bumble Bee). I see him floating across the pool in an inflatable canoe, eyes closed and tail wagging gently in the sun. I see him peeing a circle around my feet and then staring at me vindictively from the doorway, after I yelled at him for jumping off the couch. I see him chasing a stink bug around the bedroom of our apartment and then shrieking and hiding behind me when it stopped running away and started creeping towards him.

I see him pressed against my chest catching my tears every time the little stick didn’t show the 2 lines I’d been praying for, and lying across my belly for nine months when it finally did. I see him standing protectively in front of the infant swing, chest puffed out, with a “State Your Business” expression on his face when anyone came to meet “his” new babies.

I see him dancing around the refrigerator at 5pm each night; bouncing at my feet as I finished Sunday morning eggs, turkey bacon and pancakes because he knew he was getting his very own bowlful; and getting his head stuck in an empty container of dairy-free ice cream that somehow made its way out of the recycling bin.

I see the silent keeper of my secrets, the giver of endless cuddles, and the only member of the house who wants to lie in bed with me and get sneezed on when I’m sick.

I know that one day I’ll have to come to terms with it. One day will be “that” day.

But it wasn’t a few weeks ago, and it’s not today.

So today, I don’t want to see it.

Today, I’ll just look down and see my spunky little friend staring up at me. And I’ll thank my lucky stars for small miracles.

The Funny Little Old Couple

So here’s the current state of affairs in our house.

“Gracie, no! That’s not how you brush your teeth. Look, look at me- no! You can’t just suck the toothbrush! Mommy, come in here please, she’s sucking the toothbrush and you need to tell her!”

“Vinny, she’s 2 years old. She’s doing her best. Leave her alone.”

“No, Mommy. No. She needs to learn the right way, and what she is doing is incorrect. We can’t just leave her alone and not teach her, she’ll get cavities, and they hurt, and she’ll need fillings…”

That was 7:30 this morning.

Last night…

“I’m all done with dinner!”

“Me too, I all done with dinner too!”

“Gracie, you are not all done, there is still ½ a meatball in your bowl.”

“I’m DONE!”

“Vince, honey, she’s just trying to be like you, let it go.”

“But Mommy I can’t. It’s not right. We can’t just let her say things if they’re not true, it’s not right.”

And here’s a little gem from Sunday morning:

“Gracie, please give that to me.”

“NO!”

“Gracie, you heard Mommy say no markers on the dining room table, only crayons. Now please give it to Vinny.”

“NO! It’s my marker and I use it because I wanna use it! Let GO!”

“Gracie, no! If you get marker on the table, it will stain. And if it stains we’ll have to find a way to clean it up. This is Mommy’s grandma’s table and we don’t want to make her sad. Now give me-“

“NOOOOO!”

“Gracie this is not nice! Mommy, she needs a timeout until she calms down.”

In summary, I’ve observed three things over the past few months.

  1. Vince is in fact an identical miniature of his father.
  2. My 5 year-old son has decided that he is my 2 year-old daughter’s primary parent.
  3. I may or may not be raising Sheldon Cooper.

I admit that I don’t often intervene unless things get ugly or someone is bleeding. There is something to be said for letting someone else take the reins for a minute so you can take 7 sips of coffee while it’s hot (yes, you can take 7 relaxed sips in a minute- anymore and you’re just rushing it. Not that I’ve counted.) Also, it’s not such a bad thing to have a mini-enforcer who is on the level of the child that is, well, a bit…headstrong and completely unwilling to listen to her actual parents. Yes, that sums it up nicely.

Besides, they’re not always butting heads. Oh, no, on the contrary. When they aren’t doing battle, they enjoy sitting hip to hip and watching Netflix; opening each other’s snacks; washing each other’s hair in the bath; having dance parties; cooking together in their play kitchen; and gently play-wrestling until Grace gets a little too real, starts throwing fists and launching arm bars, and we have to declare a timeout.

We like to refer to them as our funny little old couple. They exist on a fair amount of bickering backed by a foundation of unconditional love. We think it’s adorable.

But I’ve recently begun to wonder if my kids are perhaps too close to one another.

I find myself saying, pretty often, “Vince, you’re not her dad. You can’t tell her what to do.” “Vince, you can’t scold her like that; she’s not your daughter, she’s your sister.” “Vince, you can’t give her a timeout! You’re NOT her parent!” “Grace, will you please stop sitting on your brother’s neck?! And- hey, don’t spit on him!”

Ok that last one, that’s just something that disturbs me and I needed to vent. Anyway.

I mean, I’m so glad that they love each other so much. I’m so grateful that they truly enjoy each other’s company. But I’ve started to wonder if maybe it’s damaging them in some way to be so…well…in each other’s business all the time.

As though it heard my question, the Universe came through and gave my daughter the meltdown of all meltdowns.

At 7:45 this morning.

In my driveway.

Right next to my neighbor’s window (my neighbor who, I should add, texted me to say she hoped my day got better- THAT’S how loud it was).

Apparently, when I said, “Sure you can carry Mommy’s lunch bag to the car!” what Grace interpreted was, “Sure you can carry Mommy’s lunch bag to the car, bring it into the back seat, open it and eat everything in it!” When she found out that wasn’t the case…let’s just say it’s a good thing Mommy has catlike reflexes, because she hurled her head towards the gravel faster than Marty the Puppy dives into her bowl at breakfast.

Oh, but the mayhem didn’t end there. No, no, no. After flinging my lunch bag at me, the Tornado Formerly Known as Gracie demanded I hand over my phone so she could “watch a video while you drive.”

The response I wanted to give: “AAAAhhahahahaahahahahahahaa!!!”

The response I actually gave: “No, Grace, we do not get things when we behave like this.”

This, as you can imagine, did not sit well.

So here’s where the Universe pulled the bait and switch and gave me my answer.

As I pulled out of the driveway and headed towards our first drop-off, the screams died down and I suddenly heard the tiniest, quietest of exchanges going on in my back seat. I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Vince leaning his hand to Grace’s, who sniffled and reached out to hold it.

“Are you ok, Gracie girl?” I heard him whisper.

Sniffle. “I’m ok, Vincent.”

“It’s going to be ok, don’t you worry. Love you.”

“Ok, Vincent. Love you.”

Are you melting right now? I definitely was. Ugh, kids and the emotional rollercoaster they strap you into.

By the time I pulled into the school parking lot, all was quiet behind me.  I turned to let Vince know he could open the door…and saw him sitting on Gracie’s side of the car, whispering to her. She was staring into his eyes, nodding, and smiling. Then he kissed her forehead and I melted into a puddle on the floor of my car.

As I walked him to the door (3 feet from the car, people, don’t freak out. I didn’t give Grace the keys and tell her to take a spin around the lot while I dropped him off), I asked, “So, what were you talking to Grace about?”

“Well, I just wanted to make sure she was ok, and I told her if she just took a deep breath and calmed down, things would get better. I told her when I’m having a tantrum and start getting crazy, you tell me to sit on my bed until I can calm down. And once I do, everything is ok. So I was just letting her know, to help her.”

There was my answer.

Standing next to me, his tiny hand in mine, his curly orange mohawk glinting in the Sun, was one half of the best funny little old couple I ever could have asked for.

They’re ok.

I love that they love each other. I love watching them cuddle under a blanket and choose a movie together. I love hearing Gracie call, “Where’s my Vinny? I missed you!” after school, and watching Vince come running, calling back, “There’s my Gracie! How was your day?”

I love their silly arguments and their undying loyalty to one another. I love that he wants to guide her and protect her. I love that he’s the first person she runs to when she needs boo boo ice or someone to twist open her applesauce pouch.

As long as they’re not still washing each other’s hair in the bath in 5 years…I think they’re going to be ok.

What About Me?

Dear Gracie,

You say a lot of things. Most of them are hilarious; some are a bit shocking; and almost all of them bring a smile to my face (even if I have to hide that smile because I’m in the middle of explaining why you shouldn’t say some of them…)

But a few weeks ago you said something that turned my head in a different way. It stayed with me long after I had given you your goodnight kiss, and it was still there the next morning as I sipped my coffee and watched you excitedly hunting for plastic Easter eggs in the living room.

It’s been bouncing around in my head every time you smile at me.

It’s been driving me crazy, to be honest.

So let’s start from the beginning. It was the night before Easter, and your grandparents had stopped by to visit. In the whir of cleaning dinner off the table and setting up our egg-dying extravaganza, my mother suggested running out for coffee and munchkins. While I poured vinegar into egg cups, I absently said, “Sure- Vince can go with you if he wants.”

“What about me?”

I stopped plopping color tablets into plastic cups and turned to see you staring up at me.

All 3 feet, 30 pounds of you, staring up at me resolutely with your huge hazel eyes.

“Um…sure, you can go, Gracie. Go get your shoes.”

Your face lit up as you scrambled to your bedroom, running past my mother and declaring, “Grandma I’m getting my shoesies, I’m coming for munchkins!!!”

To anyone else in the room, that was it. You went. You came back. You ate munchkins. You dyed eggs.

I’m still not over it.

The question has plagued me from the moment you pushed your feet into your pink Converse sneakers, slipped your hand into my mother’s, and bounced out the front door on your way to the “munchkin store.”

What about you?

I automatically thought of your older brother. I automatically ask him if he wants to come along to run errands, to grab coffee, to go on “adventures.”

Not that I haven’t tried, believe me. We tried the zoo- you attempted to run into one of the animal cages and stomped all over a flower garden. We tried going out to dinner. You tossed your meal across the table, put your coat on backwards and started running around to other tables. I’ve tried taking you when I run errands. It usually results in me leaving the store with nothing besides a screaming, wriggling 2 year-old girl after about 20 minutes. You’re a bit of a firecracker- you’re beautiful, bright, and (whenever something doesn’t go your way), you let out a boom that shakes the house.

So it’s not that I haven’t tried. But what bothered me the most about that moment, and your eyes boring into mine, was that at some point, I gave up. I stopped trying.

I fell into the trap of what was easy. Your brother clings to me like a barnacle to a boat- he has since the moment he was born. He wants to be cuddled, read to, sung to, soothed. He wants to be helpful, included, a part of everything I do.

You want none of that.

You want to put yourself to sleep, brush your own teeth, and “read” your books alone in your bedroom. You want me to be there, not too far away, but not too close. You don’t want to be smothered in kisses or cuddles. You want to be seen, heard, and understood. But under no circumstances do you want to cling. You want your space.  And so, reluctantly, I’ve learned to give you that space.

But in that moment, looking at your expectant little face, I realized that it was time to try again.

So I have.

We had our first girls’ night last week.  We went shopping. We rode one of those over-sized mechanical stuffed animals through the mall. We went to dinner. We stopped at Whole Foods, picked out a few cookies, and shared them while we played with your new Elsa and Moana dolls.

It was our first “adventure.”

When we got home you ran to your dad and brother, told them all about our “date,” and asked me, “Mommy, can we go again soon?” When I said, “Of course, my little best friend,” you replied, “You’re my best friend, too, Mommy.”

I thought my heart might fly out of my chest.

Since then, I’m happy to report that we’ve successfully navigated ShopRite, Target, a diner, and a coffee shop.  I have my sights set pretty high now- I’m thinking lunch and a movie- on the same day! Our new friendship knows no limits.

I hear a lot of “Oh my gosh, she’s sassy,” and “She’s going to give you a run for your money!” from people when they see your goofy, spunky personality firsthand. And they’re right. You’re a fiery little spirit with wild hair and strong opinions. You are sassy. You do give me a run for my money (and my sanity).

But do you know what else you do? You balance me.

Your ferocity and lack of inhibition inspire me. Your independence leaves me in awe. I often wonder how you came out of me- meek, nervous, uncertain, clingy little me. I made a warrior. I somehow grew a future boss of a woman. Me. I can’t even send back coffee when the barista forgets to make it decaf.

I will continue to give you all the space and independence I can (within reason- let’s not forget that you’re still in diapers and harbor a very real fear of “draining down” with the bath water). But I promise to pay attention to this new side of you that wants, every now and then, to buy a pair of shoes, help me shop for granola bars and dish detergent, or grab a burger and tater tots after school.  I promise to keep trying until we can get through the entire zoo.

What about you?

Well, you can just focus on giving me a run for my money. I’ll survive it- I happen to have this fiery little woman in my life who’s setting a good example for me.

Letting Go

“Vinny, sometimes you need to just take a deep breath and let it go.”

I heard the words escaping my lips, saw my son staring at me solemnly and intently…and almost burst into hysterical laughter.

I was giving a pep talk to my 5 year-old son because his blanket had dog spit on it.

Dog spit.

Vince was melting into a sorrowful little heap because our dachshund, Rocco, had spent the evening lounging on his bed, cleaning his paws, and drooling all over his favorite blanket, and the thought of sleeping with a different blanket for one night was sending my son into mental mayhem.

But, despite the “I’m so overtired this is hysterical” delirium of it all, that’s not why I was biting my tongue to keep from laughing.

I was telling Vince to let go.

Vince, who still has a paper hat that he made in PreK 3 because he just can’t part with it.

Vince, who tears up at the end of every vacation because he can’t bear the fact that our special family adventure is coming to an end.

Vince, who continued to attempt lifelong friendship with Liam, the boy in his PreK 4 class who spent almost every day spitting on him and pushing him to the ground, long after I begged him to find another “best friend.”

I was telling Vince to let something go.

But that still wasn’t why I was laughing.

Do you ever say something so simple, so innocent, to your child, and it somehow tosses you down a rabbit hole of hard realizations about your entire life?

Yeah, me neither.

Well tonight it did. It tossed me in headfirst and flailing.

I was telling someone to let go.

Me.

I’m probably as qualified to preach about walking away as I am to sell cars or build 747’s.

I am no Queen Elsa (except for the part where she’s convinced everything is her fault- that’s kind of me).

I am the WORST at letting go.

Jobs, clothes, relationships- I’m a lingerer.

I’ve held onto socks because I remember what a great day I was having when I bought them 4 years ago.

I held onto a job even after the head of HR gleefully informed me that he was looking up ways to fire me while I was out on maternity leave, because my pregnancy was inconvenient.

I’ve held onto friendships long after everyone from my other friends to my husband to my mother have told me to walk away. Even though I was clearly the only one making any effort. Even though I had confronted the other person and nothing changed.

I’ve held onto relationships with family members even after they came into my home, sat at my table, and said some very unkind things about me, not realizing that I was standing directly behind them. Even after they read and ignored every text, every Facebook message, every attempt I made to have them be a part of mine and my children’s lives.

I’ve held onto people whose constant negativity nearly drained all the life out of me, but who insisted they needed me in their lives. I convinced myself that if I just changed this, tweaked that, or toned down those few things about myself, I could make them happy. I could fix them. Even though nothing I ever did, ever made them happy. Even though being with them added so much weight to my being that I could barely hold myself up.

Why did I linger so much? Was I that desperate to keep people and worn out striped socks in my life?

No- I have plenty of wonderful people and warm, cushy socks. I have friends who remember to wish my kids a happy birthday even when they’re at a wedding in Spain (that actually happened). I have friends who check in to see how Vince’s extra reading help is going at school, or to ask how long it’s been since Gracie’s been ear infection-free.

I have family members who come to my house with little gifts, compliment the silly $3 artwork that I’ve hung in my bathroom, and reach out to me asking if they can have my son or daughter over to spend some quality time with them.

I have relationships that are so full of love, positivity and encouragement that they completely recharge my batteries and fill me with a sense of self-worth.

I have socks that are so warm that I could probably wear them as shoes. I also have socks with reindeer on them, which is pretty awesome in itself.

So why am I such a lingerer?

I think it’s because I was raised to see the best in people. Because those absent friends promised to make an effort, and I wanted to believe it would happen. Because those family members played with my kids and laughed at one of my jokes at a holiday dinner, and I thought maybe it was a sign that we meant something to them. Because those negative relationships did have their occasional happy times, and I prayed that those would start to outweigh all the other times that were dragging me into the abyss.

But I guess as much as we want to see the best…we also need to see the truth.

Sometimes you have to let go.

Sometimes you have no other choice.

I looked at Vince, who was waiting patiently for me to finish my speech, and said, “Sometimes, even though you’re used to one blanket, you need to put it aside and try out another one. You might find that you like the new one even better- it keeps you warmer and you don’t have to deal with dog spit.”

I’m not sure if I was talking to him or to myself, but he grabbed another blanket so at least one of us is going to take my advice.

As for me?

Well…as I was having my mental crisis, I got this from my cousin: “I’m tired, my kids are still up, and I’m drinking wine on a child’s toilet bowl while my son enjoys his warm bubble bath.”

I mean really, why waste time chasing unwilling people when you have anyone who gets you on such a level that she senses, from 30 miles away, that you’re having a moment and could use the mental image of her sipping cabernet on a racecar potty?

I guess sometimes you just need a little dog spit to bring your priorities into focus.

Or something profound like that.

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Night Terrors

Long before we gave birth to our two spunky, lively little humans; long before we were married; long before we could even legally order a beer with dinner, my high school sweetheart broke the news to me.

“I don’t know if I can have children.”

Sure, it sounds like a funny thing for a 17 year-old boy to bring up during a date…but we both had a feeling that this was “it” very early in our relationship, and he was well-aware of my “I want so many children we may have to live in a shoe” dreams.

After the shock wore off, I assured him that whatever medical thing was going on, we could deal with it when it was time, or we could adopt, or we could hire a surrogate, or we could finish our dinner at TGI Fridays and talk about it in ten years…

“No, I just don’t….I don’t know if I’m really cut out to be anyone’s dad. I don’t think I would be a very good father. I don’t…think it’s a good idea. I just needed you to know that, so there aren’t any surprises later, and you can end this and find someone who can give you what you need.”

The heaviness of his gaze met mine and the lightbulb finally flashed in my mind. Of course he didn’t think he could be anyone’s father. His childhood had been full of more pain and hardship than even an adult should have to endure. The only example of fatherhood presented to him was something out of a worst-case scenario manual.

I gave him the “I understand” smile and we finished our cheesy chicken skillets and moved on with our night. But I’ve never forgotten that conversation. I’ve never forgotten the handful of similar conversations he’s initiated over the next several years.

And they all come back to me, loud and clear, on nights like last night.

It was some ungodly hour and we were in Round 3 of the dreaded night terrors. Screaming, wide eyes, hyperventilating- if you’ve never experienced them, I highly recommend it. They’re a hoot.

My singing, cradling, cooing, and kissing were met with nothing but louder screams- until Daddy walked in. I stood by helplessly as Grace reached out and curled herself around his chest.  I saw her little fingers press into his arms and her head drop peacefully onto his shoulder. I watched her take a deep breath, wiggle her toes, and settle into a completely peaceful state as Pat wrapped his arms around her, began to sway, and whispered “You’re ok, my Gracie. You’re ok, Gracie girl. I’m here. It’s ok.”

And a memory popped into my tired, frazzled head: “I don’t think I would be a very good father.”

I left him to do his magic and wandered groggily back to our bedroom, where our 13-year old dachshund, Rocco, was expecting a damn good reason for his 3rd unwanted wake-up call.

Looking at his old, gray face, I thought about a night many years ago- long before we knew what a night terror was- when it was a ruthless stomach bug keeping us up.

I remembered stumbling from the bathroom to the bedroom for the 913th time and finding a sight so strange that I thought I was hallucinating. There was my husband, lying on a sheet on the floor, with our new puppy cradled in his arms.

Pat had looked at me and whispered- so as not to wake the dog- “He threw up on all of his beds and a bunch of sheets, and he was scared and cold, so I’m sleeping on the floor with him so he feels safe.”

……“I don’t know if I’m really cut out to be anyone’s dad.”…..

Long after Pat got back into bed last night, Rocco had settled back into sleep, and they were both snoring gently, I stared at the ceiling and let more memories swirl through my head.

The morning that Vince was too afraid to walk into his school because there were too many “big” kids, so Pat sat on the curb with him for 10 minutes, discussing his feelings and his fears and giving him the courage to walk through the door.

……”I don’t think I have the patience for it.”……

The night Marty came home from her spay surgery, sedated and aching, and Pat put her head on his lap, fed her one piece of food at a time and rubbed her back.

…..”I’m not sure I’d be very good at taking care of a child.”……

The day Rocco went into acute liver failure and Pat climbed down from the bridge he was inspecting, drove an hour to the emergency vet, cradled our almost-lifeless, drooling, bleeding puppy in his arms and assured him that “It’s going to be ok, Buddy, you’re going to make it,” handed him to the vet staff…and walked to the car and sobbed.

…..”I’m not one of those people who shows a ton of emotion.”…..

The night Vince was admitted to the hospital with an unrelenting 106-degree fever and Pat climbed into the hospital bed with him and played the same episode of Mickey Mouse on his phone until the battery died.

The weekend we drove to Brooklyn to visit Pat while he was away for work, and he found someone to cover his night shift so he could fall asleep with his son, his wife and her growing baby bump in his arms.

…..”I’m not great at huge displays of affection.”….

The afternoon that I heard him scolding Vince for throwing a tantrum by saying, “You know, you have no right to yell at us…actually, we have no right to yell at you either. No one should be yelling- sometimes we do because we’re frustrated, but I’ll tell you what. If you can work on your yelling, we’ll work on ours too.”

You know what? You’re right, Pat. You were right all those years ago and you’re still right today. Your patience runs out too quickly sometimes. You have so many rules. You expect a lot. You don’t always know what to say to calm them down. Your dry sense of humor is often lost on them.

You aren’t a very good father. You weren’t cut out for this.

You’re a phenomenal father.

You were MADE for this.

Learning from the best is natural. Figuring it out on your own despite being stuck with arguably the worst of situations? That’s damn near miraculous.

Naturally, all this deep reflection caused me to sleep through my alarm and rush around like a maniac this morning. But in the middle of my frantic apple-washing and sippy-cup filling, I caught a glimpse of Vince zipping up Grace’s favorite “kitty-cat” boots and reminding her, “Keep your mouth open so I can brush your back teeth too, Gracie Girl.” I stood still, forgot about my sleep deprivation, and smiled. Because a thought had just popped into my head.

Our son? Someday, he’s going to be a great father.

He’s learning from the best.