Living

I really don’t know what to do with myself lately.

I see recipe posts on Facebook and think, “How can people have an appetite?”

I get notifications about Broadway productions and comedy shows and think, “How can people laugh?”

Last weekend, as I browsed the remote control cars at the Disney Store with my son, he asked if he could let go of my hand and just walk next to me. I had to explain that no, he needed a good grip on my hand so that if someone tried to steal him, I could pull him away. I remembered my mother having that same conversation with me almost 3 decades ago. I suddenly felt the same gut-punching feeling I’m guessing she had when she explained it to me as she squeezed my tiny toddler hand in hers.

My Valentine’s Day gifts from my husband were a phenomenal vegan dinner, homemade chocolate cake, and concert tickets. I plastered a smile on my face as I chewed chickpeas, swirled sweet potato wedges through hummus sauce, and internally panicked about who would remember to read “On the Night You Were Born” to my children each year on their birthdays if something happened at the concert and I didn’t make it out.

Yesterday I started planning our summer vacation; as I was looking up attractions between Cleveland and Chicago, it popped into my head before I could block it- “Please let us all make it to summer vacation.”

When did we reach this point?

When did everyday tasks like dropping the kids off at school or entering a crowded theater become the catalysts for breaking out in a cold sweat?

When did we get to this crossroads of “I want to experience life” and “I think it’s best for me to reside under my bed for the rest of my days…?”

How do we navigate through this reality of fear, anxiety and helplessness?

Needless to say, I’ve been in a bit of a dark place. “Hey, I should blog today!” has been relegated to the depths of my mind, somewhere between “I should get up at 5:30am to exercise” and “I should give up wine for Lent.” Who the hell cares about a blog right now?

Yes, I follow current events. Yes, I vote. Yes, I take the time to educate my children about the correct way to function in society, to respect everyone with whom they come into contact, to express themselves in a healthy manner, to let us know if anything ever seems “off” to them. Well, moreso my son- for now, if my daughter keeps her pants off her head, eats the banana but not the peel, and doesn’t spit on anyone, I call it a good day. But we’ll get there with her, I promise.

But I still feel so…useless. How is anything I’m doing the least bit effective at changing an entire society?

Well, today I saw it.

As I was power-walking to the diaper aisle of the grocery store during lunch, I almost skidded into another shopper who, I noticed while trying not to plow into her, had the most stunning, unique hair color. Before I could stop myself I blurted out, “Wow. I love your hair. It’s so different and bright, it’s gorgeous!”

She stopped in her tracks and stared at me.

I stood there awkwardly balancing 2 boxes of applesauce and package of chicken sausage, very aware of how borderline creepy I must seem….but I didn’t get the weird, uncomfortable response I was expecting.

Beautiful, vibrant, kick-ass hair girl lit up with a beautiful, vibrant, kick-ass smile. “Thank you so much!” she replied. She was still smiling as we walked away from each other and continued our respective Supermarket Sweep-style grocery store runs.

I had made someone happy- I had brightened someone’s day. And all I did was almost hit them with a box of sausage and yell out a weird compliment.

On my way out I stopped at the coffee counter, ordered a latte and started chatting with the barista (I’m a talker- I don’t leave a restaurant without knowing my waiter’s entire life story and wishing his grandmother luck with her upcoming medical procedure). I said something about my kids and- boom- her face lit up as she started talking to me about her grandchildren. We shared a few laughs and wished each other a wonderful day, and she smiled warmly as I strolled out of the store with my diapers, my applesauce, my sausage, and my iced decaf coconut milk latte (I have ALL the allergies).

In the span of about 5 minutes, I had brightened two people’s days. It took zero effort.

On my way back to the office, I remembered something one of my college professors had told me in the wake of 9-11: “No matter what is happening in the world, life continues along the shores.”

Life continues.

So I guess I might as well start participating in it again.

Maybe the best treatment for this constant fear of the ugliest parts of this world is to spend our days pointing out the beauty in it. Maybe while we’re advocating for change on the highest levels, we can start by changing the way we interact on every level.

Because maybe when you give someone an unexpected bit of happiness, it turns their day around. Maybe it leads to them turning someone else’s day around. Maybe a chain of unexpectedly pleasant days makes people’s heads clearer. Maybe we stop thinking with fear, and start acting with reason and purpose. Maybe we start to see change on a higher level. Maybe.

Maybe I sound ridiculous and naïve.

But maybe not.

Maybe my efforts will make no difference. But I’m still going to keep lifting people up whenever I see an opportunity. I’m going to plan my summer vacation. I’m going to that concert. I’m going to keep donating to every GoFundMe that’s sent my way, and complimenting every cool hairdo I see. I’m going to keep offering to reach the highest shelf for people in the pasta aisle. I’m going to keep sharing my little life on this blog because hey, maybe it’s making someone’s day better. I’m going to keep taking my kids to donate clothes and toys so they understand that civilization depends on kindness and altruism. I’m going to keep leading them by example (although, no matter how many pairs of pants I DON’T put on my head, my daughter isn’t catching on yet)…

I guess at the end of the day, the best way to change the world is to be a part of it.

I guess improving something by being present is better than improving nothing by hiding in a corner.

I guess it’s time to start living.

The One I Couldn’t Write

As the music poured through the car speakers and the tears streamed down my face, I thought to myself, “This is it. I’m finally ready to write about her.”

And yet, here I am, seven hours later, still unable to put two sentences together without punching the “delete” key in utter frustration.

How do you write about the woman who both shaped and was an integral part of every facet of your being for 27 years? How do you squish all that into a neatly-worded blip on a blog?

Apparently you don’t.

So I’m going to try something else- I’m just going to tell you about my morning. We’ll start there and see how it goes.

Actually, wait. Let’s start with last Tuesday.

There I was, absent-mindedly rifling through the wreath section at Kohls, when I heard my phone beep.

My mind went right to the most-likely scenarios. Either Vince was puking on the playground or Grace was burning up and clutching her “bad” ear. It couldn’t possibly be anything else at 1pm on a Tuesday.

It couldn’t be my husband- it was way too early for the “what should I start for dinner?” text.

It couldn’t be my mother- we had literally just ended our daily lunchtime conversation.

It couldn’t be a job offer.

Wait. Wait…back up to that last one.

It was, in fact, a job offer.  Well, sort of.

I read the text, blinked, read it again, blinked…you get the idea.

The marketing director at my friend’s company wanted to hire a freelance writer. He wanted to talk to me.

He wanted to talk to me?!

“Sure!” I replied casually, dancing around the wreaths like I was doing some sort of sacred ritual and also had an uncontrollable urge to pee.

Fast-forward to later that afternoon, when the marketing director interviewed me over the phone and told me he had read my blog and really enjoyed my writing style.

“Oh, you’ve seen the blog? I’m so glad you enjoy it!” I replied casually, doing another sacred ritual/pee dance around my office.

Over the next few days, there was a lot of “Someone read my blog!” followed by “Someone wants to PAY me to WRITE!”- both of which were inevitably rounded out by the ritual/pee dance.

So now that you’re caught up, we can go back to this morning.  The morning of my in-person interview with the marketing director and the president of the company.

Oh, did I forget to mention that?

As you can imagine, I was a pillar of Zen.

So I was driving to work in my Zen-like state- and definitely not mentally rehearsing various disastrous scenarios that involved me walking into the conference room door, tripping over my boots, or choking on my gum- and she popped into my head.

She’s always there in some capacity, but she tends to float to the forefront whenever something big is happening in my life.

She, of course, is my grandmother. The original Gracie. The woman who took a piece of my heart with her when she left us almost 8 years ago.

She was my second mother. She was the woman who gently brushed my hair at night when my actual mother couldn’t get through my tangled mop. She was the woman who fed me fudge pops on her brand new couch while I waited for my parents to bring home my brand new baby sister.

She was the woman who smiled at me when I showed up at her door with my pillow once a week, invited me in, whipped up a ham and cheese on raisin bread (don’t you judge me), gave me her whole bed (“a queen-sized bed for the queen!” ) and let me stay up all night watching infomercials.

She was the woman who taught me how to make “bucking-egg toast” without the egg spilling over the side of the bread.

She was the first reader of my 1988 novel, a 1-page drama entitled, “The Chicken Who Couldn’t Lay Her Egg,” complete with illustrations.

She was the editor-in-chief of every 15-20 page paper I wrote throughout college; she hung my college diploma on her wall because, as I told her, “we did it together.”

She was my most devoted cheerleader, my strongest support system, and the best at keeping me in check (“Come over here so I can hop you in the ass!”)

She was everything to me.  She was always there when I needed her, even if it was just to give me one of her hugs- the ones that, even in the end when she was little and frail, were still so all-encompassing; and a kiss on the cheek; and a quick but heartfelt “Who loves you, Baby?”

And I needed her this morning. I needed her to tell me I could do this. I needed her to tell me I wouldn’t screw it up.

But she was gone.

So I did the only sane thing one could do- crawling through the morning traffic, I chatted with her.

“Gracie, please be here today. I know there’s no way you can let me know you’re hearing this, but please be here.”

And then, like something out of a Hallmark Christmas movie, I heard the first chords of a once-familiar song streaming through my speakers.

It’s a song called “Fiction” by a band she never would have listened to, Avenged Sevenfold (she was more of a Patsy Cline fan).  Right after her passing, it was part of a playlist I blasted through my earphones on repeat while I ran.

Once she was gone, all I could do was run. Run from the empty feeling in my chest. Run from the ache of losing her. Run from the realization that she was forever out of my reach.

So that’s what I did.

I ran every day, sometimes for hours. I ran until I could feel nothing but pain and my lungs were about to burst. I remember my friend Athena calling to check on me and reminding me, “It’s ok to do this as long as you’re not hurting yourself.” I assured her that I would never do that. But I suppose that’s exactly what I was doing- running so that a different type of pain would take over.

And as I ran, the lyrics spurred me on.

“Gave you all I had to give, found a place for me to rest my head.”

“While I may be hard to find, heard there’s peace just on the other side.”

“Left this life to set me free; took a piece of you inside of me.”

“I know you’ll find your own way when I’m not with you.”

I hadn’t heard that song in years, and suddenly those lines were pouring from my speakers. But this time, I didn’t have any urge to take off in a sprint (not that I could, unless I wanted to go viral on YouTube as “Crazy woman running through traffic on Rt 46 this morning!”). Instead, I sat very still, allowed the tears to flow, and let the words wash over me.

She was right there. How she rigged up my radio is beyond me, but if you knew Gracie, you’d know it was possible.

So that was my morning.

And later, when I walked into that conference room (after getting rid of my gum and making sure my boots weren’t going to get stuck in any thresholds) I was actually pretty Zen-like. How could I not be?  I had the comfort of knowing that I will never have to do this alone.

The Squad

“I need a day.” Louis Litt

“I need a month.” Me

After the events of the past few weeks, I feel like I could spend a month in Bora Bora and still be wound tighter than a spring. Of course, after the events of the past few weeks, my getaway budget is less “one month in Bora Bora” and more “one hour alone in ShopRite.”

We all have a breaking point, and I hit mine at top speed around 9 o’clock this morning.

My endlessly patient husband was willing to bear the brunt of my panic-fueled, 31-text explosion from 9:15-10:15 (God. Bless. That. Man.) But even after that volcanic meltdown, I still couldn’t stop spinning. I settled into the realization that I’d be accompanied by my anxiety for the rest of the day, and began busying myself enough to take it from a head-splitting roar to a low hum.

And then…I got this.

“You know if you need me I’ll drop everything.”

Remember that scene from Frozen where Elsa stands there in that fabulous ice dress, raises her hands, turns a Winter Blizzard into Spring, and Olaf gets all excited? That was pretty much me reading that text message (just to be clear, I’m definitely Olaf…in any scenario. I could never pull off that dress, and my nose is pretty pronounced).

That’s all it took- one little sentence- and my world stopped spinning.

So who is this magical person with the power to halt a 2-hour, head-pounding, vision-blurring panic episode with one little sentence?

My friend. 🙂

She didn’t know how trying the last few weeks have been- nor did she have any idea that I was in the middle of what I like to call “an episode” (makes it sound fancy, no?) We were just texting about going to brunch, and she knew something wasn’t right. So she raised her arms, waved her hands, and stopped the blizzard swirling around in my head. I’m not sure if she was wearing a fabulous ice dress; it might have been a fabulous pants suit.

Pretty powerful, right?

Sometimes you need a month in Bora Bora, but more often than not, you just need a friend.

I believe we call them our squad? I prefer “circle of badass bitches,” but that’s just me. Whatever term you prefer (try mine, I think it’s really going to catch on), you may find yourself reaching out to them quite often once adulthood really sets in.

*Side Note- You might be one of those magical unicorn people who can handle any of life’s twists and turns with poise and grace, completely on your own. However, if you’re a high-maintenance, unconfident, needy little mess like myself, feel free to read on.*

You may need the friend who can sit on your couch on a Saturday night and help you fold laundry, and somehow make it fun; who gave your baby his very first nickname (I still call him “Cenzie” every now and then); who you can talk to about everything from hopes and dreams to favorite cupcake flavors to bowel movements in one conversation; and who can tell through a text message that life has you on a ledge, and know exactly what to say to pull you back.

You may need the friend who has been with you from the see-saw in 1st grade, to checking each other’s teeth for “gook” at the lunch table in 7th grade, to waiting at a Chili’s down the road to save each other from a first date if needed (it wasn’t needed- he’s awesome, she married him, they make stunningly adorable babies), to offering to watch your son when you go into labor- 1 month after having her own baby.

You may need the friend who grew up around the corner; who knew you when you had 1 very furry, caterpillar-like eyebrow, and never made fun of said eyebrow; who knows everything about your political views, your marital problems, your sex life, your career goals, and everything else that you’ve blurted out to them at all hours of the day; and who will always make time to listen.

You may need the ones who technically aren’t related to you, but who would definitely get custody of you in the event of a divorce; who can have lively conversations with you about dogs, Disney cartoons, and diet changes; who drive 30 minutes to have a 40-minute lunch with you, just so you can see each other; who sit in Long Island traffic after working all day just to hold your brand new baby; and who trek almost an hour, two weeks in a row, just to be at your dining room table for both of your children’s birthdays.

You may need the mom friends that you hardly ever see, but who know pretty much everything about you, because you’ve blurted out your life stories to one another while fighting the epic battle to get toddlers into carseats in the daycare parking lot. You will carry out very real relationships with these women via text messages and Facebook, and they will get you through some very trying times (and answer all of your homework questions when you have to deal with Common Core math).

You may need the work wives who show up at your door with bags of food and pantry staples, before you’ve even moved in; who gladly stop by your office to swap stories about whose family is loonier on any given day; and who have seen you speed-eat 4 tacos and a plate of chips and salsa during lunch and never judged you.

If you can find any of these types of people you’ll be unimaginably blessed. They will be your Elsas. They will form your circle. They will be there, many times, before you even realize you need them.

And when your time comes to be any of these people, don’t shy away from it. You may just know the one little sentence that will stop their world from spinning.

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The Devil You Know

My husband and I were in the middle of a very dramatic, very intricate argument this morning when he sent me this text:

“Sorry to interrupt, but the school just called to say that after-school programs are cancelled because of the snow. Does that include YMCA? If it does, I’ll leave work early and get Vince.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. He actually paused our argument to offer to pick up our son from school. After 18 years together, we’ve become that versatile. Neither of us could ever have imagined just how much of a well-oiled machine this marriage would be when I said yes to a 20 year-old kid kneeling on his bad knee in front of a park bench (in the pouring rain- cue movie music) in 2003.

So what would I tell 22 year-old Cathy & Pat before she walked down that aisle, whispering with her father about how they both had to pee?

Probably something along these lines.

Marriage takes more than lust and heat and giggling over dessert at a candlelit table. Everyone knows that. But what those vows don’t really lay out is just how much work it requires, every single day (some days, every single goddamn hour).

Spoiler Alert- you won’t always like your spouse! You may, at times, even want to throw a salad plate at their stupid face. Please refrain from doing so, of course, but don’t feel like a terrible person for fantasizing about shredded carrots landing in their hair. It happens.

Marriage takes so much more than honoring, cherishing, and committing to another person. It takes LIVING with them without one of you ever actually being committed to an institution. It takes dealing with snoring, belching, coughing, sniffling…you have no IDEA how many variations of a sniffle there are until someone is lying next to you at 2am, trying them all out.

Marriage takes the patience to listen, with a smile on your face, to every aspect of their day- right down to the fact that they put too much dressing on their salad at lunch- because you know they’re so stressed that they need to let it all out (even the dressing disaster).

Marriage takes the flexibility to get to know all of the new things they’re falling in love with, and hopefully fall in love with them too (or at least know enough to follow along). Do you think Pat will really get as excited as you do when you perfect a new vegan cheese sauce? No. But will he declare with a straight face that he can really tell you added one more pinch of garlic, and that’s what made all the difference? Yes he will. Because he supports your vegan cheese sauce obsession, as any good spouse would.

Marriage takes the strength to look at the other person during the throes of an argument, acknowledge that in that moment you are seriously questioning what you ever saw in them, and decide to stay and hash it out anyway.

Marriage takes the resolve to not just stand by someone who is suffering from depression or an anxiety disorder, but to willingly hurl yourself into the line of fire, over and over again, because you know the only way to help them navigate the episode is to really hold onto them…and that means getting pummeled a little bit harder the closer you get.

Marriage takes the emotional fortitude to shower your spouse with affection and kindness at the exact moment they’re using all of their energy to convince you that 1.) They’re not worthy of companionship and 2.) You should pack a bag and never look back (and believe me, sometimes you will want to).

Marriage takes the kind of selective memory needed to watch your spouse expel a human, and several bodily fluids, while sweating buckets and growling like a dog, and still want to be intimate with her.

Marriage takes the kind of equally selective memory needed to hear your spouse, in the heat of battle, expel a single seething sentence that brings you to your knees…and still decide to get up, brush off those knees, and spend the rest of your life with him.

Marriage requires a well-rehearsed game face and non-confrontational, supportive tone for any situation, including but not limited to:

  1. You look GREAT in that…but you know, I really love you in this other one…
  2. I love this! Is that ginger and peanut butter, together? It’s such a great, unique combo. I never would have thought of it.
  3. Of course I can take the kids to the ::insert event here:: by myself! Go ahead and take the overtime…we could really use it. (Cathy, you will never be good at delivering this line)
  4. I prefer you just like this- you were way too thin before. (You will both say it and, honestly, you’ll mean it)
  5. No, I didn’t want the last taco. Ugh, I’m so full. It’s all you.

It’s not all struggle- if it is, you may actually want to pack that bag and run (still don’t throw the salad plate…really. Deep breaths). No, on the contrary, it’s, dare I say, pretty awesome. Because on the other side of all the patience, emotional (and intestinal) fortitude, and forgiveness it requires- you get all of this:

  1. Someone who will at some point catch you picking your nose, and still want to kiss you.
  2. Someone who will be able to sense your pain and exhaustion through a quickly texted “I’m fine…,” and who will be waiting at the door with a glass of wine, a brownie, and a bath towel that was just warmed in the dryer.
  3. Someone who will see you naked when you feel like a Victoria’s Secret model and when you feel like Chris Farley in that scene with the little coat…and will desire you just as much both times.
  4. Someone who will know exactly how much milk you want in your cereal, and your preferred ratio of veggies to mashed potatoes. These things are paramount- trust me.
  5. Someone who will know instinctively when you need a hug- every damn time. It’s remarkable.
  6. Someone who will share a bed with you when you’re snorting with congestion, doubled over in pain because you ate cheese sauce that wasn’t vegan, or throwing up in a bucket because the kids brought home ANOTHER stomach bug.
  7. Someone who will, in a drunken haze, look at you with the gratitude of a puppy saved from a ditch when you wipe his face with a cool washcloth, kiss his forehead, and tell him that you’ll sleep on the floor with him until the room stops spinning. (this one typically stops after kids come into the picture…after that the room is spinning enough when you’re sober).
  8. Someone who you know damn well has wanted to throw a salad plate at your head…but never has.

Sure, it’s not all candy and roses. Honestly, 34 year-old Pat is prone to dental issues and Cathy prefers the $5 bouquets from Trader Joe’s. But you’re getting someone who will always give you the “good” seat on the couch, hold you when you insist you don’t need to be held, and always, ALWAYS, give you an equal number of tater tots.

That, my friends, is worth the “work.”

Resolutions

“Mommy, there’s poop…on my foot. There is poop…on…my foot. Mommy, there’s poop-“

“It looks like Rocco poop, Mommy. It’s small like Rocco poop- it’s kind of dry but she stepped on it and it got smushy. It’s very small…it’s definitely Rocco poop. Marty poop is a lot bigger. Can you bring some wipes in here? Grace has poop-“

“Yeah it’s on my foot! It’s small, Mommy. Rocco poop. It’s brown. We need the wipes, Mommy. I have the poop.”

“Grace, stand still! I’ll be there as soon as I finish cleaning Marty’s pee off the dining room rug!”

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, and this is why.

I usually don’t have the wherewithal to set specific plans to create a new and improved version of my life when I spend most of my time just trying to survive the current version.

I’m certainly not saying that I don’t like the current version- it’s an adventure I wouldn’t step away from for anything.

I’m also not saying that I don’t want to grow and evolve- I just don’t necessarily agree with the whole “Ok, it’s January 1st. BOOM! New Me! New Life! Right Now!”

Especially since I’m so preoccupied with scrubbing the digestive habits of 2 dogs from my carpets and, occasionally (gag) my daughter’s left foot.  That’s all the room I have in my “right now!” list of things to do these days.

But for whatever reason, I got swept up in Resolution Madness this year- I had some pretty ambitious ones, if I do say so myself. This was the gist of my mental pep-talk on New Year’s Eve:

“In 2018, I’m going to write my first book! I’m going to go back to a mostly vegan, low sugar diet! I’m not wasting any more money on soy lattes! I’m going to get up at 5:30am and do a 20-minute yoga routine, and another one each night before bed! I’m going to lose 10lbs! I’m going to cut out alcohol and tortilla chips! Wait, not that last one, let’s not go crazy.”

But the thing about resolutions (which is, once again, why I don’t normally make any) is that you have to somehow accomplish them while walking this little tightrope called LIFE.

Let’s illustrate a few examples, shall we?

For example…when a Lincoln Towncar consummated its relationship with my back bumper during the evening rush last Wednesday night, I needed to wait for the police report. I needed to get to my chiropractor, because smacking your face into your steering wheel makes your neck do all sorts of fun, twisty things. I didn’t get home until 8:30 at night; so the PM workout wasn’t happening.

When Marty tore a hole in my last pair of pajamas doing her “Good Morning Mommy!” flash dance on Friday, I had to go out after work in 10-degree weather searching for clearance-priced, dog-proof sweatpants. It was late. I was cold. There was a Starbucks…ok, I bought a soy latte. And a cake pop…

When Grace threw up 4 times from 1:30-4:30am on Sunday, I was NOT getting up at 5:30am to do 20 minutes of yoga. I got up at 7am and walked into a wall.

When I strolled into the basement last night and found the washing machine making a noise that sounded strangely like my chain-smoking great-uncles trying to clear their throats, I had to shelve my plans to transform my sunroom into a reflective space for literature and poetry. Instead, I read the washer/dryer combo descriptions on HomeDepot.com and reflected on what my monthly payments would be for the front-loaders.

See what I mean? Life takes a lot of adjustment. That’s why they made a whole board game about it.

I think a better idea than a hard and fast resolution is this- understand that life will happen. Steer it in the right direction and take new paths whenever possible. But if you get stuck on one monotonous road for a while, enjoy that ride too.

In the past week, I have purchased 2 lattes. I have eaten 6 Trader Joe’s sea salt brownie bites, 1 cake pop, and 2 dark chocolate truffles. I have enjoyed my homemade, very non-vegan turkey casserole 3 times. I’ve skipped a couple of workouts. I have lost 0 pounds (actually, I gained 3…). My sunroom is still just a sunroom, not an epic writing retreat.

So I have some news for you, 2018 Resolutions.

  1. Running up the stairs after I coaxed the washer back to life, screaming, “We are draining and spinning, people! We are Draining and Spinning!!!” and dancing my out-of-shape butt off with Gracie in the kitchen was, in fact, a pre-bed workout.
  2. I like soy lattes. They are off the list.
  3. I will get up to do yoga if and only if both children sleep for a continuous 5 hours the previous night.
  4. Grace and I had a very competitive “who can crunch like a bunny” contest with carrots and hummus while the police checked out my cracked bumper. I ate potato and leek soup for dinner last night. I am having quinoa salad for lunch. But if I want one of Vince’s chicken nuggets tonight, it-is-on.
  5. This body is strong. This body is active. This body is healthy. This body is currently having some issues fitting into jeans. This body jiggles when I stir soup. This body crackles in various places when I ease into downward dog. Ok we’re going in the wrong direction. The point is- I will try my best. Maybe this is the year I’ll go back to looking like I did when I was 22. But if not, I will crackle and jiggle proudly into next year- in a bikini! So THERE.
  6. I may not write a book this year. But I will write. I’ll write when I’m happy and when I’m sad. I’ll write in the sunroom and on the living room floor. I’ll write at the dining room table while the tornado of children and dogs swirls around me. I’ll write when I’m hiding in the bathroom pretending to pee.

So if you, like me, have had a bit of a backfire to start your year, try this Resolution- change what you want, if you can, when it’s right. But no matter what, love what you have.  Poop and all.

Relaxation

“This is ridiculous. I have so much to do at home. Vince needs to do his 30 minutes of reading; Grace needs a bath. I could be using this $100 to pay the electric bill, for Christ’s sake.”

That right there? That’s the sweet sound of me relaxing.

As you can see, I’m very, very good at it.

I’ve heard it’s a woman thing, or a mom thing- this inability to shut out the world and shut off the mind. I personally think it’s just an adult thing- although I’m still baffled by the way my husband can fall asleep while sitting at the dinner table.

Anyway, this particular episode of “relaxation” was during my last massage appointment.  Picture it- dim lights, soothing music, scented oils, warm lotion…and me:

“Ok, time to stretch out and rela- oh! Oh my God I almost kicked him. Do I say something? No. Don’t say anything. Just be still. Relax. Be still. Relax…I kind of have to pee. But I just peed…maybe I have a nervous bladder. A bladder that’s afraid of massages. That could be a cartoon.”

“I can’t believe I’m wasting so much money on this. I bought this stupid membership for Pat. I should’ve known he wouldn’t use it- I’m cancelling it. On my way out, I’m cancelling it. I’ll be firm. I won’t let them talk me into staying! Hehehe…it’s like that episode of Friends where Ross tries to quit the gym…”

“Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. I said Swedish, not deep tissuuuueeeouch!….hurts so good…..come on massage guy make it hurt-so-good…sometimes my neck don’t feel like it should….oh for the love of God.”

“I wonder why he massaged my feet so quickly…maybe he has a thing against chipped polish. Or maybe he hates feet. No. You can’t be a masseuse if you hate feet. Masseuse? Masseur? Massage person?”

“The kids were both healthy for Erin’s housewarming party, and Christmas Eve, AND Christmas Day. What a perfect Christmas…snow outside, Muppet Family Christmas on the TV, the kids opening their gifts with the dogs at their feet, Pat and I drinking our coffee out of our snowman mugs…that’s too perfect. They’re definitely going to be sick for New Year’s. I should just cancel dinner with my parents now and buy soup and ginger ale. We’ll all be puking this weekend. Puking with fevers…oh my GOD why can’t I shut off?! Massage. Massage. FOCUS on the MASSAGE. Everything is going to be alright….hmm, hmm, don’t worry…lalala…about a thing…’cause every little ting…every little ting? Every little thing. Ting?…Every little thing, gonna be alright…hmm hmmm…”

“I’m like a living Mrs. Dalloway. All stream of consciousness. I can’t shut it off. Oh well…I bet me and Virginia Wolfe would have gotten along. She would have liked that little walk-in closet I turned into a “Room of One’s Own” in high school…yeah, I was a dork. I am a dork. God, I’m a dork. I’m ok with it though.”

“Ok, turning over, turning over, careful the boobs don’t fall out to the siiiidessss…..yes! Both boobs are successfully smashed under me…are my underwear even? Ugh. I have ½ a muffin top going on.”

“Why are my shoulders crunching? Should shoulders sound like cornflakes??? Ok. Ok, you’re here to RELAX, Cathy. Shut up already and breathe…breathe….ooohhh the crunching is going to make me vomit….”

“Oh ok so I guess we’re just going for the glutes there, Mister. Don’t clench your butt cheeks. Don’t clench your butt cheeks.”

“Mmmmm….ok this is nice…I could totally fall asleep right-“

“Ok, that concludes our session.”

Sonofabitch.

I cancelled the membership this morning. Honestly, all that relaxation is too damn stressful.

Showing Up

We had our annual ChristmaHanukkah party this past Saturday (someone said a word, it stuck, now that’s its official title…)

I have this “thing” about getting people together and feeding them- my grandmother instilled it in me. So every year I get all choked up as I look around and see everyone filling their plates, telling stories, mixing cocktails…it makes me happy.  Depending on how strong the cocktails are (I’m looking at you, Jon), it makes me happy and slightly sleepy.

But this year isn’t just any year- this is THE year. I knew I was going to be struggling to keep myself together (you read that right- I’m such an emotional person that I actually ANTICIPATE my level of emotion at future times…I’m a big ball of fun, people). This is the year Pat and I have dreamt about since we signed the lease on our basement apartment- that beautifully damp, moldy gem of a dwelling. This is our first Christmas in our own house!

Buying a home is an expected, natural step for many people- we’re not those people. We lived in 6 apartments before we excitedly signed the next 30 years of our paychecks away, giddily slid the key into the lock and bounced into our dream home (a cape cod with plumbing from 1952 and a hallway ceiling light so high and awkward that it can’t ever be changed without risking “certain death,” according to the previous owner- but it’s all ours!!!). So on Saturday, as I straightened the boughs in the doorways and fluffed the homemade snow in my Christmas village (oh yes, I am THAT person), I prepared to completely lose my cool before the appetizers were even ½ eaten.

But I didn’t lose it.

As the last few guests hugged us and headed home, I realized I hadn’t made my usual “thank you all for coming/we love you guys so much” speech. I hadn’t gotten choked up watching my friends share stories, parenting tips and laughs at my dining room table. I hadn’t even sighed like a Little House on the Prairie character as everyone gathered around the tree to open their gifts. Why hadn’t the magnitude of this year turned me into a weepy mess? Was my “over-react” button malfunctioning??

Then I realized something.

This was our first year in our home… but not really.

Our friends have been there when we lived in a smelly basement and we could only afford a $5-$10 grab bag gift.

They’ve been there when we could comfortably fit 30 people in the dining room of one apartment, and when I had to squish 12 people into the dining room of another apartment.  They used my washer and dryer and my coffee table as a dining room when we didn’t have one.

They’ve been there when we lived 20 minutes away and when we lived 90 minutes away.

They’ve been there for everything from turkey dinners to pumpkin lasagna to burrito pies to Thai curry to taco bars to sandwich platters.

They’ve been there when ChristmaHanukkah was eating, drinking and acting ridiculous until 2am, and they’ve been there when it was an early dinner, sippy cups for the kids, and talking quietly after my toddlers’ bedtimes.

They’ve been there when we were so broke that we had to ask everyone to bring food with them.

They helped me take everything out of the oven when I was newly pregnant and too sick to look at the food I had just cooked. They stayed late to help us clean up when I realized that being newly pregnant made me pretty damn tired.

They showed up with more love than I ever thought any one person could handle when I had to face my first Christmas without my grandmother.

They’ve shown up for birthday parties in the backyard where the bees we didn’t know were residing in the siding of Rental #5, decided to join us in the tents.

They showed up to and never complained about last year’s party in Rental #6, where they had to run up and down the stairs because our dining room was on the first floor and our living room was in the basement.

They’ve shown up to and played along with every surprise birthday party I’ve ever planned for my husband, even though it’s ridiculous of me to plan a surprise party every year as though he doesn’t remember he has a birthday, or that his wife has the mentality of an 11 year-old and needs to make a big deal out of everything.

They’ve come to Christmas parties, football parties, ugly sweater parties, New Year’s Eve parties, birthday parties for our dog, countless barbecues, and most recently, a Beerfest that ended up having awful catering.

They’ve shown up with appetizers, desserts, wine, champagne, beer, bourbon, hostess gifts, and presents for our children, and the most sincere hugs and smiles I’ve ever gotten from anyone.

So many of them have shown up at the hospital with food and presents after each baby was born, that I got scolded by a nurse (she was a charmer, that one).

They’ve come back to the hospital and endured having cafeteria macaroni and cheese hurled at their faces by an agitated, feverish toddler so that I could take a shower.

They’ve shown up when they had other places to be; they’ve shown up when they weren’t feeling 100%; they’ve shown up when the weather wasn’t so great and we lived in the middle of nowhere; they’ve shown up when they had to fight for parking and walk a block and a half to get to our door.

This is technically our first year in our house. But it’s not our first year in our home.

They- these friends that long ago became our family- they have made every place- the basement, the 2-floor apartment, the bee house from 1876- into a home.

So, since I forgot the speech that you all so patiently sit through every single year:

Thank you for always showing up. Thank you for coming during any season of the year, in all kinds of weather, and eating whatever food we put on the table. Thank you for always filling our rooms with laughter, a few drink stains, and memories that carry us through the best and worst of times.

Thank you for always turning our house into a home.

(…you thought you escaped the speech this year- HA!)

Marty

I’m not really one of those “let life happen” people. I currently have my bill payment dates set through March. I make dinner menus two weeks in advance. I begin mentally planning the appetizers for my Christmas party in August. The most wild behavior I ever exhibit is when I put anything full-price in my cart at Target.

And then I met Sandy.

I strolled into Petco on that fateful Sunday afternoon full of holiday cheer, jalapeno turkey burger and garlic rosemary fries. Everyone had enjoyed our yearly pilgrimage to the Christmas Ice Caverns to see little animatronic elves dancing around with polar bears. Both kids had been not only well-behaved but, dare I say, downright delightful at the restaurant (when you have small children, Smashburger counts as a restaurant). Thanksgiving was just a few days away. Life was good.

But my heart still hurt.

Exactly three weeks prior, I had failed tremendously. I had given back a rescue.

I promise I had done all of my homework. Lined up my ducks so very neatly. Spent weeks before we met him having conversations with Ricky’s owner to help ease the transition for both him and our little old man, Rocco.

And yet, over the month that Ricky lived with us, his odd behavior worsened with each passing day.  Lengthy conversations with three different trainers produced mixed results. And then, early one Friday evening, the dog that I had agreed to take in; the dog that we had prepared so meticulously for; the dog that was coming into my home to help ease some of my son’s worsening anxieties…bared his teeth and lunged at Vince’s unsuspecting and stunned face.

Luckily, there was no physical damage. It had been a “warning,” for what we’ll never know. Apparently watching Vince put on a sock was a trigger of some sort for this poor soul. An evaluation revealed that the dog whose previous owner assured me was 6 years old, gentle, and an absolutely perfect addition to a family with a jittery little boy, turned out to be 9 years old, consumed by a canine equivalent of PTSD, and had no place being anywhere near a child.

So, needless to say, my heart dropped into my stomach when my eyes caught a local animal rescue’s banner hanging at the entrance of the pet store.

“I’ll just grab some Christmas tree cookies for Rocco and be on my way. These rescues only ever bring cats to their adoption events anyway,” I told myself, just before a little black puddle of fluff came out from behind a display and collapsed in a pile of wiggles at my feet.

And that’s how I met Sandy.

Now, it’s very hard to resist a puppy.  Now imagine a homeless puppy. Now imagine a homeless puppy who is doing her best to fit into your daughter’s lap or your son’s coat pocket. Now imagine a homeless puppy who somehow makes your ridiculously stoic husband drop to his knees, eyes all aglow, and practically coo, “Who is thiiis?”

Are you imagining all of this? Do you see what I was up against?

I still said no.

I explained to the rescue that we had  waited years to adopt another dog, and we had been rejected by 5 rescues because of our older dog, Rocco, and our private adoption imploded, and we had done our research and we can’t have a puppy because we work too far away to take it out every 2 hours, and a black lab/hound mix would be far too energetic for our dachshund, and, and…I concluded my rambling monologue by sincerely wishing them the best in finding wonderful homes for both Sandy and her 10 brothers and sisters- but we definitely could not be one of them.

An hour later, my husband handed me a glass of wine and said, “Fill out the application.”

I did, partly because it was white wine and white wine goes straight to my head. Then I let it go. This would be rejection #6 and then we could move on with our lives.

Marty Maraschino, Sandy’s twin sister, arrived at my doorstep 3 days later.

Marty is a 35-lb tornado.

She has peed on every hardwood and carpeted surface in my house. She licks the toilet tank and runs around with the bowl brush in her teeth. She tries to hurl herself into the bathtub with the kids. She puts her head on my lap when I’m trying to pee.

She has learned to clear a gate like a championship show horse. She bit off the corner of one of my kitchen tiles. She’s under the impression that our water dispenser is, in fact, her water bowl. She thinks the mat in front of my sink is a claw sharpener.

She gleefully pounces all over the vicinity of my 127 year-old dachshund.

She has so little control over her limbs that in the past two days alone she has crash-landed into my china cabinet, knocked over my mail table (it was literally raining bills in my living room- my worst nightmare), and slammed into a door so forcefully that I was afraid her head was going to go through it and get stuck in my linen closet.

She has a wicker basket stuffed with toys- and chooses to eat the wicker basket.

She thinks the 5ft lighted snowman on my front lawn is someone to play with and engage in conversation.

She requires constant supervision, and is no longer allowed in either of my kids’ rooms after the crayon-eating incident, and what she did to that poor stuffed pink bunny (we do not discuss it).

And yet…I knew the moment she waltzed into my driveway that we couldn’t live without her.

She would permanently attach herself to Pat if she could. She noses her way into Grace’s room each morning to lick her face through the crib bars. She flings herself to the ground so Vince can gently scratch her belly while he watches television; she sits next to him so he can scratch her head while he does homework. She brings her blanket and sprawls at my feet when I’m on the couch, and naps behind me while I’m cooking.

She even tries to pre-clean all the dishes for us when we’re filling the dishwasher!

So Marty was unplanned. The ducks were not in a row this time- they were drunkenly swinging from the ceiling. But in the two weeks that she’s been destroying- I mean living in- our house, she’s managed to calm my son’s fears, give my hopelessly stern husband a reason to smile, and- added bonus!- heal that tiny gap in my heart that I thought only Baby #3 could fill (“All part of my plan,” said Pat with an evil grin).

So I guess there’s something to be said for flying by the seat of your pants every now and then.

Welcome to the family, Marty Maraschino.

The A-Ha Moment

A friend of mine recently asked if she could interview me for a research project involving breastfeeding. She needed someone who is currently breastfeeding, someone who successfully breastfed, and someone who…well…failed.

Guess which one I am??

I can do many things. I can make a mean crockpot soup; I can dress one child with one hand, change the other one’s diaper with the other hand, and use my foot to keep the dog away from the breakfast bars that they’ve abandoned on the living room floor; I can drink my coffee while cleaning mystery liquids from various household surfaces and not even gag! (and that’s kind of a big deal when you have 2 kids and a dog- there’s a lot of stuff coming out of ALL of them)

But I can’t breastfeed.

Trust me, I tried. Twice. These girls just don’t work.

Does that mean it doesn’t come back and smack me in the face every now and then? Of course not. Any opportunity to doubt myself is met with roaring fanfare by my brain. So as I sat at my computer reading through the interview questions (on my LUNCH hour, if you’re reading this, person from HR), I came across one that struck a chord.

“Tell me about a time you felt re-affirmed about your decision to stop breastfeeding.”

Was it even a decision? It felt like more of an “if you don’t buy some formula your kid is going to starve” type scenario.

Nonetheless, there is one “a-ha” moment that I clearly remember. I’m pretty sure all moms have it. That moment when you realize it’s over. It’s time to move on. The boob ship has sailed. Ok, you get it.

I think it was mid-afternoon, less than a month after Vince was born. I was sitting on the couch, carefully arching my back to keep the pumps in place while I let go for just a second to drink another few ounces of water, which, according to Lactation Consultant #2 and the breastfeeding book I was re-reading, would increase my milk flow. It hadn’t worked so far, but I was pretty certain that between the water, the lactation tea, the special diet, the yoga, the breathing exercises, the duct massages and the perfectly-timed frequency of pumping sessions, my boobs were soon going to wake up from their lazy slumber and turn into a milk factory. I might even be able to store extra milk! Or donate it!

I looked down at the bottles- ½ ounce in the left, 2oz in the right. I had been pumping for 30 minutes.

But it was ok. Any day now, I was going to be a milk…machine? A cow. I was going to be a cow!

I heard a squeak. Then a little whine. Then full-on screaming. Vince was awake, and he wanted to be held. But…I couldn’t. Not yet, anyway. It had only been 30 minutes and I needed to pump for a solid hour to get enough for his next two feedings. The books, the magazines, the social media posts- they were clear. Breast is Best. Breastmilk is THE way to bond with your baby. I couldn’t just take the pumps off now- I only had 2.5oz! That was crazy- I couldn’t stunt his cognitive development like that. We needed to BOND. And the best way to do that was with breastmilk, according to the article I had just read in that mom group on Facebook.

In an attempt to calm him, I started singing to him from across the room. I made up a song about how Mommy was making him a meal to make him big and strong and healthy and happy….and he began screaming louder. He was hysterical. And suddenly, so was I.

I took stock of my life in that moment. What the hell was I doing? I was sitting on the couch, back arched, 2 largely ineffective pumps attached to my chest, reading a book I had read 3 times already, crossing my legs to prevent myself from having an accident after drinking ridiculous amounts of water. I did this every 3 hours, 24 hours per day, all in the name of bonding with and nurturing my son.

But you know what I wasn’t doing?

Bonding with or nurturing my son.

I turned off the pumps; I tossed the book on the floor; and I picked up my baby. I held him against me for what seemed like forever, and we sobbed together (he stopped long before I did). Maybe breast was best, but not if it took me away from my baby and my sanity. I knew what I needed to do.

I’d like to say that was the moment I switched to formula, but it wasn’t. I spent another 4 grueling weeks dealing with 2 bouts of mastitis, pumping to no avail, and assuring my midwife, who was practically begging me to give up, that “It’s going to happen. Any day now.”

It never happened.

My midwife explained that for a very small percentage of women, breastfeeding just isn’t successful. I refused to believe that my 32G’s were in that group. How could they NOT have milk? What the hell was in there? Helium?!

But after 8 weeks, 2 infections, about 1 hour of sleep per night, and little to no results, I accepted it the best way I could- by driving to Whole Foods, grabbing a can of organic formula, and crying my eyes out in the baby aisle.

Once that formula was in my cabinet, I spent every hour of every day convinced that I had failed my son. I hadn’t tried hard enough. I hadn’t waited long enough. I hadn’t spoken to enough people. I hadn’t gagged down enough tea.

So clearly that moment on the couch wasn’t my a-ha moment. My a-ha moment came a few months later.

It was midnight, which, oddly enough, had become my favorite time of day. Vince was pressed against me, his little fingers curled up in my robe, chugging his bottle like he’d never seen milk before. He drooled a little bit and giggled as I wiped his chin. Then he gazed up at me and smiled, settled into my chest, and fell fast asleep. I rocked gently in the glider, bending down every few moments to take in his baby scent, and marveled, as new moms do, about how incredible this whole new mom thing was.

Then I remembered that afternoon in the living room.

I remembered the pain of the pumps, the pain of the mastitis, the pain in my back, and the pain of my dangerously over-full bladder. But mostly I remembered the pain of berating myself into thinking that sitting on that couch and squeezing out one more ounce was the best thing for my brand new, skinny little son who was hungry for milk and cuddles and the warmth of his mama.

Then I looked down at him, my now chubby, pink-cheeked, contented little potato, happy and sleepy and safe in my arms. THIS was bonding. THIS was nurturing. I hadn’t failed him at all. I was finally doing it right.

Do I wish I could have breastfed? Of course! Breastmilk is amazing, and I applaud- no, I bow down to- any woman who has successfully breastfed her children for even a week. It is no easy task for anyone.

But for some of us- even the 32G’s of the world- it’s just not there.  And we need to stop berating ourselves.

You know your child. You know your body. You know your heart.

Listen to them.

Cavities

Today, we will go over the Anxious Mother’s Guide to Preparing for a Routine Pediatric Dental Procedure. Feel free to take notes or just print this entire article for reference.
All set? OK, here we go. Now, you may of course move these around as works best for you, but this is the general order of the steps:
Listen to the dentist tell you your son has 8 cavities. Yes, EIGHT.
Hope some of them are in teeth that are about to fall out.
Listen to the dentist tell you every one of those little bastards are between molars, in awkward locations, and of course it will take several sessions and be challenging. Because why wouldn’t it be?!
Make first appointment.
Mentally agonize over the details of his organic, low sugar, candy-and-all-fun-foods-free, frequent brushing lifestyle and wonder what the hell you’re doing wrong.
Remember his visit to the pediatric ophthalmologist last month where you learned he might have a lazy eye. Wonder if you should just put him in a bubble now and get it over with.
Take him to the diner and let him eat a stack of giant pancakes dripping in syrup because hey, clearly your organic, low sugar neuroses have gotten him NOWHERE and all of his teeth are falling out and he’s going blind so f*ck it.
Put in for a sick day in case he doesn’t handle the anesthesia well.
Pack snacks in case he’s hungry when he wakes up.
Pack an extra shirt in case he vomits when he wakes up.
Pack extra pants, underwear and shoes in case he vomits a lot.
Pack towels in case he projectile vomits.
Go to the store and buy his favorite foods for after the procedure.
Go back to the store and buy soup in case he has trouble chewing.
Resist the urge to Google “routine pediatric dental procedures gone wrong.”
Get mom to come with you, to help in case, you know, he doesn’t handle…you get it.
Buckle under the stress and Google “routine pediatric dental procedures gone wrong.”
Panic.
Wonder which hospital is the best option in case his routine dental procedure goes wrong.
Snap at your husband for being too hard on him for not finishing his dinner.
Mapquest the best route from the dentist’s office to the hospital you’ve chosen because you are now convinced his routine dental procedure will, without a doubt, go horribly awry.
Snap at your husband every time he even looks at your son in a stern manner.
Let him stay awake late watching his favorite Netflix cartoon while you marvel over how much you love him.
Write a blog in an attempt to give a humorous slant to your insanity.
OK! You’re all set for your routine pediatric dental procedure! Any questions??2017-11-07 20.32.15