Near-Misses

“Something is going to happen to him today.”

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

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

“Something is going to happen to him today.”

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

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

Something wasn’t right.

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

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

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

Damnit! I should have listened to the ZAP moment!

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

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

Should have listened to the ZAP…

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

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

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

He had been lucky…again.

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

Well, let’s see.

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

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

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

“Take his temperature.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But these moments, they are always right on target.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who signed up for that?!

I most certainly did not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life & Words- Part III

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

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

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

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

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

I deserve to fight for myself.

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

I deserve to fight for myself.

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

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

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

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

So in case you need to hear it…

You Deserve To Fight For Yourself.

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

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

 

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

Life & Words- Part II

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

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

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

I gave up.

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

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

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

“Yes…I remember.”

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

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

Then he cracked through the shell, shattered it.

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

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

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

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

It was my decision to give up.

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

I needed to turn my dreams into necessities.

So I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life & Words: Part I

Sixty-three.

That’s the number of pieces I’ve put out into the Scrambled Eggs world.

All sixty-three times, I’ve been queasy as I forced myself to hit “Publish.”

Probably another 75 times, I’ve been so queasy that I hit “delete” instead.

I was discussing this with a friend at a bbq last summer- we mused about how strange it is that people are so afraid to do what they love. We pondered at why people freeze at the mere mention of sharing their creativity with anyone besides maybe their mom and their dog. We talked, we laughed, we ate vegan bbq.

And then, because this friend is also a life coach and a writer, we got all geeky and interviewed each other.

And now, without further ado, here is our 3-part blog series, which we titled “Life and Words” but really should have titled, “Get the F*ck Out of Your Own Head and Just Do It Already.” Or maybe something less severe…you get my point.

Anyway, here’s Part I- hope you enjoy!

 

What’s the thing that ALWAYS derails us?

Cathy: I can say it’s the day-to-day.  I can say that I have 2 young kids who love to be inexplicably covered in peanut butter and boogers whenever we need to leave the house; a full-time job that comes with a bonus 90-minute commute; an elderly dog who needs extra care and a 70lb puppy that needs constant attention, lest she completely destroy my house; and a husband who wants to spend time alone with me, like we did before we created this circus. I can say that I’m so exhausted by the time I step through the front door each night that it takes all of my energy reserves just to give my family a few hours of my attention before I collapse.

I can say all of this, and it’s absolutely true. But it’s only 98% of what ALWAYS derails me. It’s the very comfortable, very socially-acceptable mask for the other 2%: self-doubt. I always let my day-to-day take the blame, when it’s really the crippling fear of failure that stops me.

Angela: My feelings. They are the biggest blocks in my life. I don’t feel like calling people, I don’t feel like making people uncomfortable, I don’t feel like putting myself out there. So I distract myself with other things like substitute teaching, youtube videos, and podcasts.

 What’s comfortable about letting life get in the way? What are the pros and the cons of that?

Cathy: Life is crazy for everyone. If you read my blog, you get a glimpse into my own particular brand of crazy- there’s never a dull moment. Hell, there’s never a moment at all. And that’s something that becomes very cozy, in a weird way. “I can’t write today, I need to make lunches/call my mom/wrestle that toilet paper roll out of the dog’s mouth/clean up that mess/help Vince find his lost Lego ninja (spoiler alert: the dog ate it)/convince Grace that 2 tortilla chips dipped in ketchup aren’t an acceptable dinner.” And all of that is true- except that last one. If 2 tortilla chips dipped in ketchup is what they’ll eat, then 2 tortilla chips dipped in ketchup it is.

My point is, it’s so nice to hide behind all of that, instead of saying, “I have all this stuff to do, but I’m still going to carve out 30 minutes of writing time on my lunch hour, or once they’re all asleep, or while I’m hiding in the bathroom (I never do that…ok I hardly ever do that).” Saying, “I am going to make time” and actually doing it…well, that means you’ve committed. And once you’ve committed there’s no turning back. Then you meet your fate- do you succeed or do you fail? You don’t know if you don’t even try- and that’s why it’s more comfortable to not try. “Life just got in the way,” is a lot more palatable than “I tried and the whole thing tanked.” So we let life take the fall.

Angela: Blaming life is easy. Victimhood is easy. It’s far more challenging to admit to ourselves that we actually take ownership and responsibility for how our lives go. Because at that point, it’s just you and who you CHOOSE to be in the face of circumstances. I think comfort breeds ignorance and ignorance is bliss until someone smacks you in the face with the fact that you created your life and when you say so, things will go differently.

We know about the pros.

The con is that, at best, you live a 7/10 life. Life is neither terrible nor amazing. You live your life in the land of fine, knowing that deeply, you’re not where you want to be and you’re not living the life you know would be most fulfilling to you. You end up wondering What if? And that kinda sorta royally sucks.

 

That’s all for today, girls and boys. Stay tuned for Part II, where we discuss how to overcome the crazy “I’m going to fail” fear. And maybe throw out some bbq recipes.

The Deal

We had a deal.

You broke it.

The fine print CLEARLY stated that you had to live forever- or at least until your 14th birthday, because I was planning an epic peanut butter and banana cake (your favorite).

You reneged.

I reminded you of this as I stood in the shower with you yesterday morning, swaying and singing to you in an attempt to ease the latest attack of spinal arthritis that was tearing through your body.

I reminded you again as I washed, massaged, and fluffed your little silver and black fur until you smelled like cactus water and coconut instead of the mess in which you had once again woken up.

I reminded you again last night as you lay in my arms in the emergency room, shaking as though you were freezing even though your forehead was burning up.

I told you we needed you to cheer with us through one more Superbowl; to cuddle with us through one more This Is Us; to hop under the table during one more meal, waiting for me to “accidentally” drop food in front of your little nose.

I told you I couldn’t get through sad movies without you in my arms; cold nights without you curled against my stomach; or showers without you relaxing on the bath mat.

But as I told you, I saw your eyes searching through mine. I saw those eyes plead with me to let you out of your contract.

So as much as it killed me (I’m a rule follower- you know that, Rocco)…I did.

I kissed your nose, nuzzled your ears, and stroked your paws, and I whispered, “It’s ok. You can break the deal.”

I thanked you- thanked you for getting us through almost 14 years of life; for protecting me during 2 pregnancies; for becoming my children’s first friend; and for consoling me during the greatest losses of my life (until this).

I told you that you’d be taking a nap, and you’d awake to a nice, leash-free life, bouncing from cloud to cloud, enjoying unlimited treats and walks. No more pain, no more shaking, no more goobies in your eyes (you always hated when I cleaned them), and best of all, no more nail clipping- ever. You seemed to like that one, because as soon as I said it, you, who never kissed, happily licked my face.

While I gently told you about your new life, you rested your head on my shoulder and gazed at me.

While the doctor approached, I lifted your tiny bearded chin and whispered, “Ok, you know what to do. As soon as you get there, look for my grandmother- she has the meatballs. I love you.”

And then your head was back on my chest.

And then you were gone.

And then I changed my mind.

I wasn’t ready- you were clearly ready, but I wasn’t, and that’s just not fair, Rocco.

I wasn’t ready to smell your soft, French toast-scented ears (I have no idea why, they just were) one last time.

I wasn’t ready to kiss your nose and run my hands along your just-bathed fur one last time.

I wasn’t ready to look back at your peaceful body one last time as Pat gently led me out of the room.

And you know what, Rocco? There’s a lot of other stuff I wasn’t ready for either- you didn’t consider any of it!

You didn’t consider that I’d wake up and wait to see your head pop up out of your bed, and instead find the space where your bed used to be.

You didn’t consider that I’d get up and start to say, out of habit, “Morning my little moo, give Mommy 2 minutes to get dressed and we’ll go downstairs,” only to stop as I choked on my tears.

You didn’t consider that I’d reach for your leash to take you on your morning stroll; or that I’d save ½ a scoop of Marty’s breakfast to put in your bowl; or that I’d walk around the kitchen like I was learning to ballroom dance because I was so used to you always being underfoot.

You didn’t consider that I’d cry til 2am, fall asleep, and wake up at 7am ALREADY in tears. Or that I’d cry all the way to Vince’s school, and all the way to Grace’s school, and all the way to my job, where I’d stumble in an hour late, looking like I’d been punched in both eyes or stung by a really angry bee.

You didn’t consider any of that last night when you begged me to let you break the deal- did you?!

But you know what? I can’t blame you for not considering any of that. If we’re being honest, there’s a ton of stuff I didn’t consider either.

I didn’t consider the fact that my phone would light up like a Christmas tree with messages of love, support, and shared sorrow; that my sister would cry with me until 2am; or that my friends, who all have hectic lives and should have been asleep, would graciously let me grief-vomit all over them until well past midnight- and then check in with me again this morning.

I didn’t consider that everyone would have a favorite memory of you- the way you ran laps around that first basement apartment and startled Pete, who probably thought you were an over-sized rat. The way you danced around for those salmon burgers I used to grill for you- Jacquie got a kick out of that. The way you always melted into Sasha’s lap before she could even get comfy on our old red couch.

I didn’t consider that I’d be sitting here, trying to type this through a flood of tears, and I’d receive messages from friends I haven’t heard from in years, sincerely expressing how much they loved you.

I didn’t consider how much of an impact such a tiny little puppy could make.

I didn’t consider that anyone could love you as much as I loved you.

I guess you knew what you were doing. You weren’t breaking the contract at all.

You’ll live forever, because you put a tiny piece of yourself in everyone you met.

I hope you know that the moment you left me for that leash-free meatball party in the clouds, you took a piece of me with you.

And I hope you know that I will honor my half of the deal- I will rescue another lonely soul; I will love it with everything I have; and I will bake that peanut butter and banana cake, and on your 14th birthday, I will eat a big slice in your memory- but I’ll be sure to drop just the tiniest bit at my feet, for old time’s sake.

Rest peacefully, my sweet boy.

Coffee

I don’t have a fabulous, witty opening for this post- I just really wanted to share it.

My son made me coffee this morning.

My 6 year-old son, who still can’t quite reach the INSIDE of the hamper with his dirty underwear; who cries very real tears when Pat asks him to make his bed; and who repeatedly asks why he needs to brush his teeth twice in the same day-

That same kid got up early and made me a cup of coffee.

The scene I walked into at 7am has become a familiar one- two protein bars, two applesauce pouches, and two cups of milk set neatly in the cup holders of the couch; 1 Pokemon cartoon playing on Netflix; and 1 kid wrapped in his favorite blanket, smiling at me.

Vince decided last week that he wants to ease the chaos of our morning routine, and I have to say, watching it all unfold has been both hilarious and heartwarming.

First was the Hulu passcode- he asked me to recite it “slowly please while I write it down.” When I peeked into his sketchbook I saw him carefully drawing the entire remote, adding numbers, and then practicing punching them with his thumb.

The next morning I walked into the living room and found him sitting on the couch, proudly smiling and gesturing to his accomplishments like Vanna White.

TV on, two protein bars …and for Grace, a 32oz thermos of the unsweetened almond milk that I use for cooking.  I thanked him profusely, switched it out for milk she wouldn’t spit at the television, and gently explained that we might want to give Grace a slightly smaller cup, so that it didn’t start coming out of her ears.

Morning #2 dawned to Netflix, two protein bars, two applesauce pouches (which he swore he didn’t climb the counters to reach, so I suppose his arms are secretly made of putty…), and a 32oz thermos of the correct milk for Grace.

It was an improvement.

Morning #3, I wandered into the living room to find him fully dressed, breakfast set up, Grace’s milk in a slightly smaller cup…and a cup of coffee on the table.

He was so proud- SO proud.

“Mommy, I made you coffee!”

“Whoa! Thank you so much! How did you make it? You knew how to fill the k-cup?? That’s crazy!”

“Well, no, I just turned on the machine, and climbed on the count- I mean I used a chair to get your green Moose mug because I know that one makes you happy, and I put it under the machine, and pushed the biggest button like you and Daddy do, and it started putting way too much coffee in so I shut the whole thing off and poured some in the sink, but it’s still really good!”

I smiled, hugged him, and took a nice big sip of what I knew were Pat’s used coffee grinds.

Fast-forward a few days and I’ve woken up to several cups of almost-coffee. No matter how many times I’ve insisted that I could make it myself….every day I wake up to used coffee grinds in a green moose mug. Every day I smile, hug him, tousle his hair affectionately… quietly pour it down the sink, re-brew it, and sip it in front of him while raving about his coffee brewing prowess as he glows.

But this morning was the one. I walked sleepily down the stairs, heard the familiar sounds of Pokemon drifting from the living room, and turned the corner to see a smile so wide I was afraid it might get stuck on his little face.

“I did it, Mommy. This time, I really did it! I made you coffee!”

Of course he did- because THIS time, we rigged it.

Before Pat left for work, he filled a k-cup with new grinds and left it in the coffee pot. Haha….we were so clever. We were so sneaky.

We were so over-confident.

I lifted the mug to my lips while Vince buzzed around me like a proud little bee.

“Today I finally figured it out! I took the green cup thing out of the machine, and I dumped all the grinds out into the sink, like Daddy does. Then I filled it with your punkin pie coffee, from the bag with the little pie on it. Then I put it back in the machine and got your green moose mug. Then I pushed the biggest button. Then I went into the fridge and found your special coffee milk, and I used 3 little dabs, just like you do. You use 3 little dabs, right?”

It took everything in me not to laugh.

“Why yes, I do use 3 little dabs!”

I took a big sip- which, to my surprise, actually tasted pretty decent, besides the fact that my teeth were aching and I’d like to know what his idea of “3 little dabs” of creamer really is. Then I wandered over to the sink and found all of the unused coffee grinds we had planted in the Keurig.

Biting my lip, I turned to my still-buzzing bee and thanked him.

“Vince, you don’t need to do all of this, but it’s such a huge help.”

“Mommy, you do a lot, I want to help.”

Swoon.

I guess they aren’t kidding when they tell you, “Your kids are watching.”

He watches which brew size we select on the coffee maker each morning.

He watches how many “dabs” of creamer I put in my mug.

He watches my husband tap the k-cup against the sink and dump the grinds down the drain (as I glare at him with my best, “I guess you want to clog the pipes!” face).

But more importantly, he watches us.

He watches me set up the coffee for Pat before we go to bed, so he has one less thing to do at 3:30am.

He watches Pat research recipes and measure out spices so that I come home to a hot, amazing (no seriously, the man can COOK) meal every night.

He watches us offer each other the “best” seat on the couch, and give each other a quick backrub as we walk past each other.

He watches us hug, and tease each other, and wink at each other across the room.

He watches Pat kiss Grace’s “boo-boos” and he watches me read “just one more page” to help him fall asleep each night.

He watches Pat gently cuddle Rocco when his arthritis is acting up, and he watches me drag myself out in all kinds of weather when Marty needs to burn some energy.

He watches us take care of each other.

And after all that watching, he wants to be a caretaker too.

What a concept. What a damn miracle.

Even if you’re sure they’re not paying any attention to you, I’m telling you, it’s getting through. Somewhere between, “What do you mean you have homework?! It’s 10pm!” and “What do you want for dinner….what do you want for dinner….hello….hello???!!!!”  It’s getting through to them.

They’re watching.

I know.

Because my son made me coffee this morning. 🙂

Cozy & Close

I was just starting to give in to the urge to pass out on the couch when the dance began.

She started with the back leg shuffle. When that didn’t rouse me quickly enough she moved to the full body shimmy. By the time she launched into her “Watch me knock over the mail table with my taaaaail!” grand finale, I was reluctantly heading for my shoes.

Once the mail table goes clattering to the ground, I know I don’t have any time to waste- Marty needs to go, and it has to be NOW. So I had to deal with the fact that I was about to walk through my neighborhood wearing red sweatpants, an old blue t-shirt, polka-dot rain boots, and….wait for it….no bra.

So there I was, being dragged into the street so Marty the Menace could channel her puppy energy, and I found myself thinking 2 things: 1. I hope to God that every one of my neighbors is asleep, and 2. If she sprints any faster I may accidentally whip myself in the face with one of my unruly, post-children C-cups.

And then I found myself thinking something else. This was kind of…nice. The air was crisp and cold, Christmas lights were still twinkling on a few houses, and it felt like Marty and I had the whole world to ourselves.

So of course I used this opportunity for quiet to…overthink.

As we strolled past house after house I marveled at the diversity on my street. There were the few small, lovingly maintained homes towards the bottom; then there was the moldy foreclosure that a very enthusiastic contractor recently decided to give a second chance at life (but I swear I can still smell it from across the street). A little further up were the two that I always assumed were abandoned (I was wrong). Then a few more, slightly larger, “two cars in the driveway and a white fence” suburban homes…and of course the house on the corner that saw its owners disappear late one night and never return. Maybe foreclosure guy will tackle that one next…

And then Marty turned and began trotting around the corner to what Vince always calls his “most favorite part” of Marty’s daytime walks. The cul-de-sac with the “huge houses.”

It’s such a strange sight, really- 5 houses, all tucked away on their own little side street, all unique and gorgeous and beautifully-landscaped. All meticulously maintained.

All silent.

I always find myself studying these marvels of architecture as we pass them, admiring the split-rail fences, the neatly-arranged stones around each mailbox, the beautiful picture windows and long, curved driveways…

But I can never help but notice that those beautiful picture windows are always dark, the curtains drawn across them. And those long, curved driveways are, more often than not, completely empty (and with the way I looked at that moment, I was endlessly grateful for that).

These 5 beautiful houses with a street all to themselves are certainly a sight to see- but they don’t really seem like….homes.

(Disclaimer for people with large homes, before I get any eggs thrown at my front door- I’ve been in houses both gumdrop-sized and gigantic that were delightful- but these 5…not so much.)

As I glanced from one set of darkened windows to the next I remembered Vince’s awe the first time he set his eyes on them.

“Wow! These houses are huge! I really wish we could have bought one of these instead. Our house is nice but it’s so much smaller- these are so big and fancy!”

“These are amazing, but I kind of wanted a small house.”

“Why??”

“When I was a kid we lived in a small house- 6 people and one bathroom. We had to schedule our showers….and when one person was cooking, suddenly the other 5 needed to be in the kitchen. We would all be squished in there like sardines, but we didn’t mind. Our house didn’t have a lot of room, but you were never lonely. The windows were always open, and you could hear laughter, or crazy conversations- or sometimes yelling- if you walked by. When Daddy and I moved into our first apartment I couldn’t sleep for weeks because I couldn’t hear my dad in the living room watching tv. That 1-bedroom apartment seemed huge! I didn’t like all the empty space; I was so used to the noise and the closeness. And that’s what I want for you and your sister- but with 2 bathrooms.”

“That sounds like our house now!” Vince exclaimed.

“Exactly. When we pulled up to our house I said ‘Oh my gosh it’s like a gingerbread cottage!’ I knew right away it was the one. I know these are beautiful- and believe me, I wouldn’t say no if someone wanted to hand me the keys to one of them- but I’m a big fan of being cozy and close. You make so many nice memories that way.”

I kept replaying that conversation as Marty dragged me up the hill. I wasn’t sure if Vince would ever “get” it- why his mother wanted everyone banging into walls and bumping elbows.

I can’t help it. It’s what I’ve always known and grown to love- being cozy and close.

I love watching Vince and Pat chasing each other from the bedroom to the living room with the Nerf guns he got for Christmas, knocking into furniture and picture frames along the way.

I love that I can hear either of my kids crying without a baby monitor, and I can be in their bedrooms cuddling their bad dreams away as soon as they wake from them.

I love Sunday afternoons, when I cook and bake while doing a delicate dance around 2 kids sitting on the counters and 2 dogs lying at my feet in a 6×8 kitchen. (I’m proud to report I have never clunked anyone in the head with a pot, pan, or baking sheet! Yet!)

I love that I can hear Gracie giggling in her bedroom while I sip my morning coffee in the dining room.

I even love how, even though we have two bathrooms, I usually have one kid sitting on the toilet chatting with me while I shower.

Maybe it would be nice to have a little more elbow room…but I wouldn’t trade any of it for the biggest house on the block (well, maybe the gorgeous blue one with the fence – ok fine not even that one).

After Marty had done her fair share of prancing, sniffing and clumsily banging into shrubbery, we trotted down the hill and back home. Through the opened blinds I could see our warmly-lit Christmas tree, the quirky antique dining room ceiling lamp, a red-headed child staring at me-

Wait.

“Why are you awake?!” I whisper-yelled as I got to the door.

“It’s 10:15- I tucked you in a half hour ago!”

“I missed you.”

“I was only up the street, Vince.”

“I know, but I got lonely knowing you weren’t right in the next room. Now that you’re back I can fall asleep. Can you tuck me in so I’m warm and cozy, Mommy?”

A smile slowly spread across my frozen cheeks.

He gets it.

The Water Company

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

Flooded basements. That’s why.

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

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

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

It’s a noise that never signals anything good.

The sump pump is draining.

Why is it draining?

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

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

The brand new washer and dryer.

The CADILLAC of washers and dryers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mommy?”

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

“Mommy, what happened?”

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

“Oh….”

Silence.

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

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

“I can fix this.”

“Oh? You can?”

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

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

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

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

“Aaaaaaand I AM FANCYYY!!!”

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

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

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

And that, coworkers, is why you have kids.

Because they know how to fix things.

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Enough

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

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

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

Not following?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think it’s lovely.

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

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

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

“You took the kids to Disneyland?”

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

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

So, let’s review.

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

I am the WORST.

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

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

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

Babies!!!

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

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

The quick answer -“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

Probably not.

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

Because they’re wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s enough.

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

It’s enough.

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

It’s enough.

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

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

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

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

Your heart tells you that.

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Gifts

I am not a Grinch, I swear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh, palm to forehead.

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

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

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

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

“Bud, what’s wrong?”

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

“What? Why?”

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

“I know, the earrings- I love them!”

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

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

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

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

Spoiler Alert: It was nowhere.

More sulking ensued.

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

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

“Bud, what’s going on?”

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

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

“No it’s not.”

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

“Really?”

“Definitely.”

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

“Ok, how much was the rose?”

“$6.”

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

“Deal!”

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

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

“I like cookies,” I added.

“Done.”

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