Half-Shell

I recently missed out on a chance to chaperone a school field trip for my Little Man, but talking about it with the other parents put me in a bit of a nostalgic mood that suddenly reminded me of one of my more memorable mommy moments.

My oldest son, The Dark Prince, was in first grade.  I had signed up to help chaperone a trip to the zoo, and this particular child of mine has always loved going to zoos, so I was very excited.  When we arrived, however, I noticed a  . . . sound.

At first, I thought it was construction equipment of some sort.  Then I thought that perhaps it was some sort of animal in pain, but I thought the noise was too rhythmic to be an animal.  It was somewhere between a groan and a grunt, and it was loud.  Very loud.  It was almost familiar, and yet . . . strange.

For the record, I’d like to mention the fact that I had never really put much thought into the reproductive habits of the Giant Tortoise before that day.  But I am here to tell you that they do it loudly.  And enthusiastically. And it takes them a long time to finish.

By the time I realized where the noise was coming from, my child and I were staring at two very happy, horny Tortoises humping away as if their lives depended upon it.  We were surrounded by other open-mouthed parents and children, gazing in horrified wonder but unable to look away.  One of the other parents finally ventured an opinion that perhaps the Tortoises were fighting and we should leave them to fight it out in private.  That theory spread quickly, and it seemed that the need for an emergency Sex-Ed course had been narrowly averted.

But nobody bargained on my son voicing an opinion.

“Mom,” he said slowly. “Mom, I don’t think those turtles are fighting, are they?”

What could I say?  The child had spent enough time around the cows at his grandmother’s place to understand a bit about baby animals and how they are made.  He was suspicious, and he expected me to tell him the truth.

“No, Honey, they’re not,” I told him.  “You know how sometimes Mommy and Daddy hold hands?  Or sometimes you walk into the room and catch us kissing? Well, that’s pretty much all that’s going on here.  Those big Tortoises are just cuddling in their own way, just showing each other how much they love each other.”

Not bad, right?  I was cheering inwardly, congratulating myself on being a great parent.  Outstanding, right?  I was so proud of the way I had handled the question with honesty in the most age-appropriate terms I could have used.

But as I said, nobody bargained on my son.

He understood what I said.  Understood it a little too well.  He turned to his friends and made an announcement at the top of his little lungs.  “My mom just told me what those turtles are doing!” he called out to everyone at the zoo (or so it seemed).  “I know exactly what they are doing right now, and it’s nothing to worry about.  My mom and dad do it all the time.”

I think we all know why I haven’t been asked back to chaperone in many, many years.

Three Words I Really Hate

You wanna know what really grinds my gears?

Having to admit that I was wrong.

Come on, let’s face it. I have a temper, I’m impulsive, and I’m a mom.  That’s a combination that just begs for a lot of mistakes and a lot of apologizing.  I leap into Mama Bear mode at the drop of a hat and then end up crawling back mumbling those most hated of words:  I was wrong.

But yesterday’s mistake was a biggie.  Huge. Yesterday’s mistake may go down in history as one of the biggest goofs ever made by a mom leaping into Mama Bear mode far too soon and much too enthusiastically.  And that’s saying a lot, considering the fact that I once told another mom I had a set of anal beads at home that hadn’t been as far up my ass as she was at that precise moment.

Let me give a little bit of setup here.  My oldest child, The Princess, is a self-assured, compassionate, socially skilled young woman.  My middle child, The Dark Prince, is the kind of kid who hides his warm heart and generous soul beneath an I-Don’t-Care/King Of Apathy exterior that fools very few people. But my youngest child, my Little Man, is my Sweet Baby.  He is a timid little soul who feels everything. He is led by his emotions, which means that his feelings are hurt very easily. And when he looks up with those big blue eyes and serious little face, he could bring out protective, maternal instincts in Attila the Hun.

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In short, I have no resistance to this child.

Monday night, my Little Man had a meltdown in my arms when he confessed to me that he had accidentally thrown away his gloves. He was devastated; he picked them out at the store with his Daddy, and they were his favorites.  According to his story, he had thrown away his trash after eating breakfast at school and only realized later that his gloves had gone into the garbage can with the trash.  Sad, but perfectly believable, right?  These little guys go directly to the cafeteria when they arrive in the morning, and anyone could make a mistake while trying to juggle coats, hats, gloves, backpacks, etc.

I’ll admit, my Mommy Radar started tingling. The story seemed pretty detailed, and I am a strong believer in the KISS rule (Keep It Simple, Stupid) that says the more detailed a story is, the higher the probability it’s a lie. Had it been The Princess telling me this story, she would have been covering up a genuine accidental loss of gloves.  The Dark Prince would have been lying to cover up the fact that he gave his gloves away to someone who needed them. But Little Man . . . well, he doesn’t usually cover anything up.  He just falls apart and blurts the truth, so I didn’t listen to the Mommy Radar.

My ex-husband dropped of an extra pair of gloves on his way to work the next morning, so all seemed right in our world.  Until I picked up my son after school and learned that the second pair of gloves had gone AWOL.  I had a long and serious one-on-one conversation with his teacher at that point, and we both agreed that something seemed fishy.  Someone was messing with my boy’s belongings, and that’s not okay.

Little Man headed off for school the next day with yet another pair of spare gloves from his father’s house (big sister’s purple gloves, which prompted a hearty “Oh, gawd, mother!” from him). When I picked him up at the end of the day, the teacher had her arm around him and he was crying.  The purple gloves, it seemed, had survived the day, but his prized Batman hat had not.  Worse, it turned out that another little boy had hit my baby near the end of the day.  The other boy swore it was an accident, but the elbow to the gut hurt enough to make Little Man cry.

sadboy

Two pair of gloves, a hat, and a blow to the tummy, all in one week?

Suffice it to say that I came unglued.

I made an absolute spectacle of myself, right there in the cafeteria.  The poor teacher was almost in tears herself, and this is a woman who has been teaching a long time. She’s no sensitive little novice who is easily intimidated by an angry Mama Bear, but I think I may have frightened her.  She assured me that the other boy’s parents had been contacted about the “incident” and that every single backpack, pocket, desk and cubby had been searched from top to bottom in search of the missing gloves and Batman hat.

“This ends now,” I fumed. “Something has got to take place here.”

“It will,” she promised.

I held my sobbing little boy and let him cry it out, right there in the cafeteria.  Then we went home and had a little treat, followed by a busy evening at the school science fair and his big brother’s band concert.  Throughout it all, my brave little soldier kept his chin up and didn’t shed another tear over the missing hat.  His dad and I were careful to give him lots of extra attention and praise all evening.

Finally, I tucked him into bed, turned out the light, and went out to pick up the living room a bit.  I put away toys, folded some laundry, picked up the afghans to drape them across the back of the couch where they belong.

And found the Batman hat.

He never wore it to school yesterday.

I am an ass.

So now, I have to apologize to the teacher and admit that I made a mistake.  I was wrong.  Sure, the two pairs of gloves are still gone, and he still got a pretty rough elbow to the tummy, but no one stole his Batman hat.  And if I hadn’t been so pissed-off about the missing gloves or the other boy hitting my Little Man, I would have remembered that he left the house without a hat that morning because it was school picture day and he didn’t want to mess up his hair.

ohno
“Mom, you screwed up!”

I’d love to just send the child to school in a different hat for the rest of the school year and pretend that my meltdown didn’t happen.  Believe me, I am tempted. But this is one of those “teachable moments” that I despise.  I’ve got to teach him that it’s never good to jump to conclusions and overreact to situations, and I’ve got to teach him the importance of being able to say those three god-awful words:  I was wrong.

Right now, there are three other words running through my brain:  Mama needs chocolate.

***

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “You wanna know what really grinds my gears…”  

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Perfection

Nine pounds of perfection

with Lake Michigan eyes on a hot August day

ten fingers, ten toes

and Hollywood lips.

She’s got her father’s dimples.

So you must be wrong

She’s all right.

If you remove the tubes and wires

turn off the blinking lights–

Let me hold her and you’ll see.

Once she’s in my arms

hearing my voice

her skin against mine

she’ll be fine.  Really.

You can’t know her like I do.

She’s a fighter.

We were one for nine months

I understand her.

She should be with me

not in your little plastic box

surrounded by masks and gloves.

She needs me.

My baby is just fine.

You’ll see.

Perfection.

Sweet Dreams

When the kids go to bed, I usually have a lot of big plans that involve my being organized, efficient, and basically in control of my household.  I’m going to pick up toys, whisk through the living room and kitchen, maybe even fold a load of laundry.  Then I plan on sitting down with a good book or perhaps some of my needlework.

That never happens.

First of all, my older kids are sixteen and seventeen.  They often stay up later than I do.  However, their staying up late usually involves homework done in the privacy of their own rooms, where they think I don’t know that they sometimes play videogames or text their friends.  Hey, as long as they keep their grades up and I don’t smell anything that brings back 1980’s flashbacks for me, I don’t bother them.

My youngest fights bedtime.  One more snack, one more drink, one more trip to the potty.  Another drink, another story.  Turn off the dolphin lamp so we can see the glow-in-the-dark stars on the walls and ceiling.  Turn the dolphin lamp back on because Little Man is scared of the dark.  One more story, followed by my stirring rendition of Casey at the Bat, and his eyes finally close just as I intone “mighty Casey has struck out.”

By that point, I am done.

Besides, I am a morning person.  That’s not to say that I wake up cheerful.  Oh, Lordy, no.  I’m awake and functioning, but not very happy about it until I’ve been moving for a half-hour or so.  Definitely not before I’ve downed at least a cup or two of coffee.

But if I’m going to accomplish anything at all during my day, it needs to be done in the morning.  Cheerful or not, I am just more productive during the first part of the day.  Regardless of how long my to-do list is, things that aren’t done before noon are most likely not going to be done at all.

It’s not that I’m lazy.  I just . . . run out of steam.  Not really tired, either.  I just lose the will to go the extra mile in anything.  Hell, I don’t even want to go the extra ten paces.

Don’t get me wrong.  I can come home from work and burn my way through a list of daily tasks like nobody’s business. Make the supper, clean it up, check the backpacks, play some board games with the Little Man, pretend that I’m smart enough to help the older two with their homework while they humor me by asking questions they already know the answers to.   Make sure Little Man does his homework (homework in first grade?!) and then toss him into the bathtub and hope he comes out remotely clean.

So by the time he’s finally asleep, I have no desire to do anything.  Unfortunately, that’s the point where I get stupid.

Guys, I have become my mother.

I might grab the baby quilt I’m working on, although the intended recipient is almost ready for pre-school.  At this rate, it will be finished in time for her to give it to her own babies.  Possibly her grandbabies.

Or I’ll grab a book.  Right now, I’m working my way through Lucky, by Alice Sebold.

I might even decide to watch a little TV, although I have to admit that I have almost no idea of what’s on any more.  I’m so used to watching Disney Channel with Little Man that I haven’t even figured out the channels here.  Okay, so we’ve lived here for six months; that should give a pretty good idea of just how rarely I get to choose what we’re going to watch.

And that, my friends, is when it happens.  That’s when Mom comes back and takes over.  Because I sit on the couch with my feet propped up, all wrapped up and cozy in my favorite afghan, and I slip quietly into my coma in a matter of minutes.   Every once in a while, one of the older kids will wander through the living room and give me a nudge.

“Wake up and go to bed, Mother,” they will say, their voices practically dripping with disgust.

I wake up just enough to apologize and mumble an excuse.  Somewhere in the back of my drowsy brain, I remember my mother doing the exact same thing every night, while my sisters and I would try to wake her.

“Wake up and go to bed, Mother,” we would say, our voices practically dripping with disgust.

I don’t know why I don’t just go to bed as soon as Little Man is down for the night.  After all, I’m usually asleep about ten minutes after he is.

Finally, after a couple of hours of uncomfortable, crick-in-the-neck-inducing sleep on the couch, I’ll lurch to my feet, check the locks and turn off the porch light.  I shuffle across the living room and into my room to collapse on my bed, dragging my afghan with me like some twisted female version of Linus and his blanket.  Then I snuggle in, warm and cozy in my big, soft, comfortable bed.

Wide awake.

***

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “When the kids go to bed, I…”  

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Trick or Treat

One Halloween, I felt like the worst mother in the world.

I was still a relatively new mom, and I was trying much too hard to be one of those over-achiever moms like my perfect sister with her perfect house and perfect children in their perfectly hand-made costumes.  I felt that it was my job – nay, my duty – to make perfect hand-made Halloween costumes, no matter what.

My daughter’s costumes always turned out well, but my oldest son was another story.  Something always seemed to go wrong.  He was a hand-me-down pumpkin on his first trick-or-treat outing because I didn’t finish his bear costume; he was terrified of the clown costume I made for his second, and I was faced with the choice of letting him writhe on the floor in abject terror or slapping a Little Tykes hard hat on his head and calling him Bob the Builder.

It was on his third Halloween that I came close to failing him completely.

Wal-Mart had an adorable pattern for a Pikachu costume, and the boy was all about Pokémon at that age.  I showed him the pictures, let him touch the fabric, pleaded with him, but to no avail.  He just didn’t want it.  He wanted Bob the Builder again.  I tried and tried to convince him that he needed to let his mother make him a costume, but he just had no interest in anything I had to offer.

Halloween Day arrived, and I hung his sister’s Snow White costume in the living room to show her before I drove her to pre-school.  There were no costumes allowed in school; it was called a “Fall Festival Day” rather than a Halloween party.

The Dark Prince and I walked the Princess into her school and then returned to my car for the drive home.    As I pulled out of the parking lot, I glanced in the rearview mirror– and I saw the biggest, bluest eyes I have ever seen, shedding huge silent tears.

I should say right here that the Dark Prince has never been my easy child.  He was colicky from Day 1, opinionated from his first word, and contrary from the day he figured out how to scowl.  He is still a gifted pessimist who can find the dark cloud surrounded by any silver lining.  Now, don’t get me wrong; he’s a tender-hearted and generous soul when he lets his guard down, but the boy has always had some serious walls.  He rarely asks for anything, so when he does ask, we know it’s important to him.

“Want . . . Pikachu,” he whimpered that day.

It was eight o’clock on Halloween morning, and my baby wanted to be Pikachu.  Really, now, what choice did I have?

I rushed him to Wal-Mart for the pattern, fabric, tulle, and trims.  I plopped him in front of the TV for a Pokémon marathon, and I sewed for all I was worth.  I cut and sewed and swore (and cried, I’m sure) and hated every single stitch I put into that costume, but it was finished by the time we went to pick up the Princess.

Pikapi?
Pikapi?

He was adorable in the costume.  He looked more like a small yellow cow than a tiny electric Pokémon, but he sure made an adorable yellow cow.

I felt redeemed by that stupid yellow cow costume.  I felt like it proved I was a good mom.  After all, I gave him the costume he wanted, didn’t I?  Sewed it with my own two hands.

But later that night, when Pikachu and Snow White shed their costumes in a heap on the living room floor and fought to share my lap, I changed my mind.  They both had upset tummies and smelled of stale chocolate, and both fell asleep in my arms while I cuddled them close and worried that I had let them eat too much candy.  I should have rationed it out, I told myself; I should have counted it and doled out a mere piece or two.  I should have given them baths and tucked them into their own beds in their own room.  I should have taken more pictures to show their father, who worked second shift and had to miss the fun.  There was an enormous list of all of the things I should have done.

I really beat myself up over not being perfect.  I wanted so much to be a good mom who did everything right.   Instead of enjoying those two not-so-perfect wonders on my lap, I worried and stressed and second-guessed my every move.

But there is nothing in this world as rewarding as holding a sleeping child, and holding two of them that night was truly what my Aunt Marian always called “one of life’s bonuses.”  I slumped on that couch for hours with one child over my shoulder and the other curled up against my belly, just watching them sleep, feeling their warmth seep into my body and my soul.

Sometimes . . . sometimes a mother’s heart gets so full that only a miracle keeps it from bursting.

The Dark Prince turned sixteen yesterday.  He is still dark and pessimistic at times, with an edgy and sarcastic sense of humor.  It has been years since he could sit on my lap; I barely reach his shoulder when he hugs me good-bye before leaving to spend the week at his father’s.  He is a Junior in high school, and all too soon it will be time to let him go.

He is so smart that I haven’t been able to help him with his homework since he was in fourth grade.  He is funny but quiet at school, although I defy anyone to try to shut him up when he gets going on his favorite subjects:  Nikolai Tesla, Teddy Roosevelt, and Anime.   I don’t think he’s had a girlfriend yet, but I could be wrong.  Telling his mother about a girlfriend isn’t something that falls within his comfort zone.

I worry about him, just like I worry about his brother and sister.  But I worry just a bit more about him because, of all my children, he is the least likely to ask for help or tell me about his problems.

I hope he never forgets that he’s got a mom who will drop everything to turn him into an adorable yellow cow if that is what he needs to make him happy.  And I hope I never forget that being a good mom has nothing to do with handmade costumes or being a “perfect” anything.  It’s all about holding them close, breaking the rules once in a while, and remembering how much I love them.

It’s as much about knowing when to hold them as it is about knowing when to let them go.

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “One Halloween, I…”  

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Quiet Saturdays

I remember waking up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons.  Back then, there was no Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon, and the single fuzzy PBS station was a little too kid-friendly in slightly creepy and condescending sort of way.  I still have nightmares about that crazy Romper Room lady who insisted she could see us all in her mirror, although I’m also a bit pissed off that I never once heard her say “I see Amy.”

Sunday morning TV was a wash.  We could watch Rocky and Bullwinkle and try to understand all the nudge-nudge-wink-wink humor that usually sailed over our heads, or we could try to sit through the awkward stop-action Davey & Goliath that always left me feeling vaguely uneasy.

I always wanted to be the first one awake on Saturdays so I could see shows like Clue Club and Speed Buggy before my older sisters took over the TV.  My middle sister and I especially liked the live action shows; we both crushed on the little blonde boy from Sigmund the Sea Monster, and we spent hours re-enacting scenes from Isis and Shazam!  We all three loved playing Bugaloos, but I always had to be the little fat firefly kid whose butt refused to light up.  I never got to be the pretty princess or even Witchipoo from H.R Puffnstuff.

No, I take that back.  I got to be the princess one time, and wore my favorite hand-me-down-dress with straps that tied on the shoulders.  The little neighbor boy came over to play, and I remember him staring at me with buggy eyes and crooning, “You look beautiful!  Will you go swimming with me?”

Ah, yes, my first date, at the ripe old age of five.

I could write volumes of blog posts about the lessons learned that day about beauty or male shallowness in the face of revealing summer clothes.  But I’ll take the high road here instead and go back to my Saturday mornings.

By the time I had kids, they had access to cartoons 24/7.  I always worked on Saturdays, so I usually didn’t see them until late in the afternoon on those days.  I only found out recently that my older kids used to tiptoe downstairs to watch Saturday morning shows after I left for work but before their father woke up for the day.  We had satellite TV, of course, but on Saturdays they turned off the satellite and watched the Saturday morning lineup on the same channels that I watched as a child.

They have the same kind of memories that I have:  wrapping up in an afghan on the couch, eating endless bowls of mushy cereal and watching TV with the volume turned down low to avoid waking their parents.  It didn’t matter that those same shows were available in a constant rotation on other channels during the week; Saturday morning TV has never been about the shows.  It’s about watching the shows, whatever shows they are.

Nutritionists and health experts are still bemoaning Saturday morning TV with as much vigor as they did in my era.  Of course kids are better off outside in the fresh air and sunshine.  Of course they shouldn’t eat multiple bowls of sugar-encrusted cereal in one sitting.  Everybody knows that.

But it creates a childhood memory, and isn’t that important, too?

Now, I am at my desk on a Saturday morning, catching up on my writing while I down my fourth cup of tepid coffee.  My teenagers are in their rooms upstairs, either sleeping in or playing on the internet with tablets and Galaxies and X-Boxes, oh my.  The Little Man spent last night with his cousin (and occasional partner in crime), and the house is shockingly, disturbingly quiet.  What I wouldn’t give to hear an annoying theme song right now; I don’t care if they’re singing  “Gotta catch ‘em all, gotta catch ‘em all!” or “Call me,  beep me, if you wanna reach me . . .”

My nest is getting empty, but never as empty as on this quiet Saturday morning.

And She Dances

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My first Monday morning in my own home.  The kids are sleeping.  I’ve got a cup of coffee with just the right amount of hazelnut flavoring, and the only sound is the cooing of the mourning doves outside my window.

Life is good.

Life is scary, too.  I still haven’t found a job.  I haven’t found a home for my two cats.  There are boxes everywhere that still need to be unpacked, and I have so many doubts about being able to make this all work.  I have so much to prove to the world.  And to myself.  I will keep this house clean, I will stay organized, I will stay current on all bills.

It has been an enormously emotional weekend, and not just because it was our first in the new house.

Saturday was my daughter’s dance recital.  She has been dancing since she was four years old, and we’ve learned over the years that recital weekend is a grueling, exhausting, expensive weekend.  It is a true joy to watch her and her friends dance on the stage, but I am always relieved when it is over for another year.

I always cry when my daughter dances.  It’s silly to keep doing that after all these years, but I can’t seem to stop.  There is something so graceful, so ethereal, so not-my-daughter about her when she is on stage.   She is illuminated from within, barely touching the ground, her gaze focused on something I will never be able to see.

When she dances, she is free in every sense of the word.  When she dances, she is utterly her own being, and I ache inside because she is not mine in those moments.  When she dances, she is dancing away from me and I don’t want to let her go.

Two of her teammates graduated this year.  I have watched these two young women grow up with my daughter, through awkward teen years and adolescent angst and even the occasional acne.  But these are not my daughters.  Their growing up shouldn’t hurt me.

When my daughter first made the competition team, I instructed her to follow one of the older, more responsible girls.  “Follow Lindsey,” I said.  I knew Lindsey was reliable and trustworthy, a born leader.  As long as my kid followed Lindsey, she would always be where she was supposed to be, when she was supposed to be there.  After my accident, there were competitions and performances that I couldn’t attend, when my daughter had to ride along with other families.  “Just follow Lindsey,” I repeated.  I knew Lindsey wouldn’t sneak off to break rules and get in trouble.  She would never lead my child astray.

Saturday, I watched Lindsey dance her final dance with the Alleykat team, and my heart cracked just a little.  I have no idea how or when that skinny little girl became such a beautiful adult, but she is all grown up and off to college and it takes my breath away to realize that my little girl is still following Lindsey; in one short year, my baby girl will dance her final Alleykat dance and head off to college too.

“Please,” I want to say to my child, “Don’t follow Lindsey.”

Emily is also heading off to college.  If Lindsey made my heart crack, Emily broke it wide open.

I know nothing about dance, but I know enough to know that she is good.  Really good.  She is a tiny girl, with huge eyes and a perpetually serious expression that almost hides her capacity for mischief.  There is something sprite-like about her on stage, an ability to defy gravity and make the impossible seem easy.  Over the years, I have loved watching Emily dance because she is always perfectly in control, precise in every way.

She wasn’t in control with her dance this year; her performance to Christina Perri’s “Human” was all about breaking free of control.   Maybe I misinterpreted her dance.  Maybe I got it all wrong and I have no idea what I am talking about.  She wore a silver mask and went back and forth between precision and wild abandon, symbolically fighting to be free of self-control and the expectations of others.  This song was her public declaration of who she is everything that she can be in life.

It was the first time a dancer other than my daughter has made me cry.  I am so proud of Emily, even though she is not mine to be proud of.

And my daughter . . . my beautiful, thoughtful daughter did a dance just for me.  She did a Pointe solo to “And She Dances” by Josh Groban, and she became one of those whirling ballerinas that pop up and spin in a child’s music box.  If Emily’s dance proved to the world that she is only human, my daughter’s dance reminded me that they all becomes something other than human once the music starts.

I was a wreck by the time it was over.  My niece, sister-in-law and mother-in-law were too.   I think even her father and future stepmother were moved to tears as well.

And now it’s Monday morning.  There are costumes to wash, thank-you notes to send out, dance tuition payments to make.  It’s a new week, a fresh start, and all of the raw emotions have been repackaged and put safely away for the time being.   Somewhere in the back of my mind, there is a tiny, nagging thought that next year’s recital will be the last one we have to attend.  That next year will be my daughter’s farewell dance.

Life is good, life is scary, and life goes on.  Day by day, year by year, dance by dance.

Mother’s Day

This week’s Finish the Sentence Friday is a rough one for me.  I wasn’t really sure about doing it, but I’ve missed the last couple of Fridays, so I don’t really have a choice.

This one might hurt a little.

 

Dear Mom:

I’m supposed to write a letter to you for Mother’s Day.  I think this is where I’m supposed to talk about how much I miss you, and lament the fact that you aren’t a part of your grandchildren’s lives.

Screw that.

You were a Drama Queen, and we both know it.  When your cancer came back that last time and we all had to face the fact that this was going to be your final battle, it was a given that you were going to leave us in the most memorable way and on the most symbolic day possible.  Since you were heavily into your religious phase at that point, we were all placing our bets on Easter.

It never crossed my mind that you’d die on Mother’s Day.  That was a little cruel, even for you.

Yes, I’m angry.  Twenty-seven years later, I am still pissed off at you for dying on Mother’ Day.  I mean, Mother’s Day was always going to be hard without you anyway, but to mourn the anniversary of your death and miss you on Mother’s Day on the same day is really a double-whammy I could have done without.  It’s not fair.

So I’m being selfish.  Damn it, I want my own Mother’s Day.  I want my Mom.  I want to know what it’s like to have an adult relationship with the woman who brought me into this world.  I want to have someone in my life that I can turn to when I have questions:  “Was I as stubborn as my daughter is?”  “Did I talk as much as my son does?”  “Do my kids look anything like I did at that age?”

Did you love me anywhere near as much as I love them?

Do you miss me, just a little?

I’m sure you are watching from above.  You have to be.  You’re up in Heaven, finally getting along with Dad and his sisters.  You’re reunited with your own little brother, and I know you find the time every day to wrap your arms around your niece Randee just to hear her call you “Aunt Kay.”  God, how you loved spoiling that little girl!

You have to be in Heaven, Mom.  If there’s no Heaven, then you are simply gone, and I can’t accept that.

I think you would have liked my husband.  You probably would have urged us to end the marriage sooner than we did, but you’d be here for me right now when I so desperately need you.  I don’t know how I’m going to survive this divorce without someone to lean on.  I don’t know how I can be a single mom without my own mom in my corner.

That corner is pretty damned lonely, Mom.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day.  Your grandkids will make me breakfast and we will have a good day, just the four of us.  I’ll probably tell a few funny stories about you, make them laugh.  We’ll call their other grandmother and wish her a happy Mother’s Day.  I think you would like her, by the way.   You probably wouldn’t get along very well because she is every bit as determined and strong-willed as you were.  But you’d like her.  Even more than that, I know you’d respect her.

She’s been the best mother-in-law I could have had.  I call her “Mom.”  I don’t do it to hurt you, and I hope you can forgive me for loving her as much as I do.  She’s been a great mom for the past eighteen years.

I’ve been blessed in my life to have two amazing mothers.  I’ve lost you both now; you to breast cancer and her to the divorce from her son.  I’ll have to call her “Jean” now, instead of “Mom,” just like I have had to start calling her son “Ken” instead of “Honey.”

Mom, I never appreciated how strong you were.  You were a single mom before it became fashionable.  You worked a dead-end job that you hated, and you had to know that your second husband was an asshole.  You knew what his son was too, I think; there was a reason why you kept convincing him to move out, wasn’t there?  I’m so sorry I doubted you.

I think of you all the time, not just on Mother’s Day.    I’m a single mom, just like you, and I am so afraid that I’m not going to do it as well as you did.  I wish you were here to tell me what to do and how to do it.  I don’t want to be the grown-up all the time.

I want my Mommy.

I want to spend Mother’s Day with my children, and I want to enjoy it for what it is:  my day.  Not yours.  Just once, I want Mother’s Day to be Mother’s Day, not The Day My Mother Died.

This year, can you give me that gift?  For just this one day, just this one time, stay out of my thoughts.  Let me have a Happy Mother’s Day.  For Once.

Funsuckers United

I am absolutely no fun at all.  Let’s just get that out of the way, right from the start.  My daughter likes to tell people that I am a funsucker because, as she puts it, I can “suck the fun out of anything.”

From where I stand, deep in the middle of something called a Polar Vortex, I would have to agree.  I want to have fun.  I want to play with my kids and enjoy these extra days of Christmas vacation from school.  I want this storm to be memorable in a good way.

But . . .  it’s cold out there, guys.  Really cold.  As in “you go outside, you die” cold.  As in “wind chill negative thirty-three degrees” cold.  As in “hell no, you are not going outside to play in this” cold.  As in “give me an afghan, some hot tea and a good book, and leave me alone” cold.

Too cold!  Get back inside!
Too cold! Get back inside!

There are times when I hate being The Mom.

I would love to bundle up my Little Man and send him out to play in the snow.  Hell, I played in the snow as a kid – without the thermal snow pants and protective gear that’s available today – and I survived. A pair of long johns, a couple pair of jeans, and a few layers of clothing under a hand-me-down coat, and I was good to go.  There were times my fingertips or toes burned and tingled for hours afterward with what was probably frostbite, but I didn’t care.  Sledding, Fox and Geese, King of the Mountain, snowball fights . . . there was just too much to do to waste time worrying about things like safety.

Come to think of it, I had my first kiss behind a snowdrift in the midst of a killer game of King of the Mountain under the streetlights.  What in the hell were we doing playing in the snow after dark?  Did we not have parents?

More to the point, what was that boy’s name and why didn’t we ever kiss again?

We had cold weather back then.  I’m sure we had temperatures just as low as we have now, but we didn’t have Polar Vortices.  We had cold snaps.  We were apparently too stupid and scientifically challenged in those days to realize just how dangerous the weather really was.

There was a week-long blizzard when I was in seventh grade, but there was no cable or satellite TV back then, no videogames.  So our choices were either playing outside or dying of boredom inside.   I specifically remember planning to step from the highest snowdrifts to the roof so I could jump off into the deepest part of the back yard, just to see how deep it really was.  If not for the minister next door calling my mother at the last minute to order me inside, I might have actually put that theory to the test.

Now that I am the mom, I have to be the sensible one.  And being sensible means that I am not letting my five year-old go outside to play when they are blasting out all kinds of warnings every time I turn on the TV. No.  It’s not happening.  I don’t want to have to take my baby to the ER for frostbitten cheeks or toes.  I may be sucking the fun out of his winter, but the boy is safe.

So near . . . And yet so far
So near . . . And yet so far

Unhappy, bored out of his mind, hating me, but safe.

See?  Total funsucker.

We have played Trouble and Candyland and Monopoly Junior and Sorry and Hungry Hungry Hippos until my brain has gone numb.  We have baked cookies and cakes and homemade bread until I can’t stand the smell of baked goods.  And we have watched basically every Disney Movie ever made.

I am not sure of the scientific theory behind it, but I believe that snow days do not have 24 hours like other days.  Snow days have at least 693 hours each.  Minimum.

In short, I am bored out of my mind.  I am even more bored than my five year-old.  If it gets up over ten degrees out there today, my boy and I are hitting the snow.  We can’t get into the barn to get his sled, but that’s okay; the snow is so deep and so soft that he would probably sink and be lost until spring anyway.

I think the shovels are in there.
I think the shovels are in there.

When my sisters and I were young, Mom used to tell us to “get outside and shake the stink off!”   Yup, that’s the plan.  I hate being cold, hate wading through snow that is deeper than mid-thigh, hate the fact that these frigid temperatures are sheer agony for every bone I have ever broken.  But the boy and I are shaking off our stink today and getting outside.

I’m just hoping one of my teenagers sends out a search party if we’re not back in a half hour. Because that’s the kind of thing funsuckers like me worry about.

Like Mother, Like Son

It’s the first official day of summer vacation.

I say “official” because my youngest child has already been on vacation for two weeks, and my older two have had half-days for most of this week.  So it was a nice gradual sliding-in start of the vacation.

My oldest is spending the day at the beach with friends.  I am crossing my fingers that she is a better fifteen-year old than I was, and trusting her when she says that she and her friends will not be drinking or diving off the pier.  Well, I’m trying to trust her.  I’m trying really, really hard.

I remember being fifteen.

I will probably only see her this summer when she returns for clean laundry and spending money.

My fourteen year-old has already retreated to his bedroom with video games and a salami sandwich.  I may not see him again until September unless I lure him out with occasional promises of homemade food.

And my youngest? Well, it’s not quite one o’clock, and so far today he and I have:

  • Baked Black-Bottom Banana Bar Cookies
  • Checked the chicken coop for eggs six times
  • Walked to the mailbox three times
  • Walked to the dam to throw rocks at the bluegills
  • Had a toy animal parade through the living room, laundry room, kitchen and bathroom
  • Practiced baseball with a big plastic bat and ball
  • Played three games of Sorry! and two of Monopoly Junior.

Through it all, one thing has remained constant:  the boy Has. Not. Stopped. Talking.  Not once.  Not for a moment.  Not to breathe or eat, or drink.   Talk, talk, talk.  Every third sentence out of his mouth begins with “Hey, Mom?”

I have not had a complete thought since 6:30 this morning.

Right now, I am pretty sure my mother is looking down from Heaven and laughing her ass off.

My kids look nothing like me.  They all three inherited their father’s beautiful blue eyes and long legs and even his shoulder-dimples.  They’ve all three got his natural grace and coordination.  Not one of them is short or clumsy or stocky like me.

But my oldest thrives on an audience, just like me.  My middle one is voracious reader, just like me.  And my youngest . . . well, he never shuts up.

It would seem that he is his mother’s son.  A wild imangination and a steady stream of great ideas chasing each other around in his mind.  And not enough hours in the day to say or do everything that occurs to him.

And the attention span of a hummingbird on crack.

Anybody hear that?  It’s the sound of my Elementary school teachers, babysitters, relatives and childhood friends having a big collective laugh over the fact that Karma is bitch-slapping me right now.