Eight

Dear Michael,

I’ve been having flashbacks to my labor with you, which isn’t fun. Labor was never my jam, and yours was quite fraught.

It also doesn’t seem quite fair to you, my little boy, my last baby. You are truly the sweetest child. You hug everyone, you spontaneously kiss me, you are thoughtful, and empathetic, and funny.

You do not understand the cruelty of the world, and that worries me a little bit. I don’t want to see you get ground down by how mean people can be. At the same time, I am reluctant to tell you to toughen up, advise you to protect yourself.

Because, frankly, I’d rather you be empathetic and try to help than be tough and look out for yourself. Maybe I’m being selfish.

In any case today is your birthday, and I can’t believe it’s been eight years since you were a wee peanut. At six pounds, ten ounces, you were actually my biggest baby. I loved the time I got with you as an infant.

Now, we have things just for us, mostly reading books together. You enjoy reading the Dogman books to me; I enjoy reading A Series of Unfortunate Events to you; and we especially love reading Elephant and Piggie books together, out loud, emoting our hearts out.

We also enjoy the farmers market when it’s open. Your sisters would rather spend Saturday mornings being lazy, but you get up early (7:30), and say bye to your dad as he goes off to work. Then we head to the farmers market around 9 or 10, where it’s coffee, pastry, and veggie shopping for me, and popcorn, lemonade, and honey sticks for you. And you always pick honey sticks for your sisters, too. 

You are mostly a pleasant and cooperative child. You work hard in school. You hate getting yelled at (it happens). You like riding bikes, going on walks, Marvel movies, playing video games, and family movie night. You are looking forward to basketball season and guitar lessons.

I am hard pressed to think of something you don’t like. Homework, I guess, and waiting. Just like every other child in the world.

Today, we are heading to the Children’s Museum, and then having some family and friends over. I asked if you wanted to have a classroom party, but you chose a small gathering instead, naming your four local boy cousins and our friends you wanted there by name.

You seem to be on a good path. I hope your dad and I can help you stay on it. Your sisters help too (maybe a little too much; Kate tends to be a mother hen).

Stay open, my sweet son. Keep your eyes facing forward, and let your light shine.

I love you.

Mommy

Dad

Lessons my dad taught me:

1. Hard work is more important than natural talent. The first D I ever earned was in my senior year of high school. It was in calculus. I had signed up for AP calculus and applied to get college credit for my grade. I needed to earn a B+ or better.

I didn’t understand a whit of calculus. 

I went home, and told my dad I got a D. “Well,” he said. “Guess you better work harder if you’re going to get those college credits.”

I studied calculus like I had never studied any subject before. I got my B+ and my college credit.

2. A marriage is a hell of a lot more than staying faithful to one person. Not 10 minutes after Dan had asked my parents for their blessing for us to get married, my father said, “Marriage isn’t 50-50. It’s 100-100.”

My mom and dad were partners in all things. They shared household, parenting, and business decisions and work. My dad obviously and clearly treated my mom as his equal (if not, in some cases, as his better). He wasn’t a cook (ask me about the time he tried to cook rice), but he cleaned up after meals, and taught us children to do the same. Although he wasn’t handy around the house, he helped when he could, and when he couldn’t he called a professional. 
3. Keeping the faith will sustain you. My father is a man of faith, through and through. He brought us to church, he made Cursillo (a retreat for Catholics), he was active in his faith community. And through every challenge he faced as a man, husband, and father, he prayed.

When I was at the lowest point of my life, I walked into a church. I didn’t know if God still believed in me. I had not been a good daughter. But I knelt down, and I said, “I don’t know if you want to hear from me, but I need the strength to do some hard stuff. You are the only One I know who can give it to me.” And God did. Without the example my parents had provided, I don’t know where I would’ve turned.

4. Love is worth the wait. My father and I danced to “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong at my wedding. I don’t remember all of what we talked about, but I do remember saying, “I finally found someone who loves me like you loved mom. Like I deserve to be loved. Thank you for showing me what that looks like.”

5. Being a grandparent makes all the shit your children put you through worth it. I have never seen a man who enjoys being a grandfather — a Pap-pap — more than my dad. The care, love, and respect he shows my children, as well as my nieces and nephews, is invaluable to his children as parents and his grandchildren. He lights up with true and genuine joy around those children, and it is a delight to witness.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you. Thank you for everything you do and have done for me. And I hope you got to play some golf. 
Love,

Daddy’s (first) little girl

15

Flora is the protector. To my knowledge, she has taken on three bullies (one of Kate’s, two of Michael’s). My children do not get bullied.

It’s not a physical thing; she doesn’t get in fights. She just lets the bully know: hey, if I hear about you bothering my siblings, I’m going to come after you.

I guess it’s a threat of violence. She’s never been tested.

And as always — always, always and forever, amen — I think “if you were here.”

If you were here, you would be the protector, the big brother that no one would mess with. If you would here, you’d go ahead of Flora, and take that burden, pave the way. Maybe she’d be different as a second child, rather than a rainbow baby.

We’ll never know. These are unhelpful rabbit holes, but we go down them nevertheless. We’ve been going down them for fifteen years.

We are, simultaneously, a whole family, and a family with a hole in it. This will never change. And, like Flora, we will protect ourselves, stand up, draw together.

I think you would like us. And I think you are protecting us, interceding for us. Our angel. 

Still missed, still loved. Thanks for looking over us. Maybe I’ll let flora know she can relax a little bit.

Yoga

About two years ago, I discovered Yoga with Adriene and her 30-day yoga practices. I finally found my way into the practice of yoga, and I’m very glad I did. It has benefited me in so many ways.

Now, I’ll also be totally upfront here: I haven’t set foot in a yoga studio to date, and I don’t have any plans to do so anytime soon. I do a home (or work gym) practice for the following reasons:

1. It fits into my schedule. It’s just a lot easier for me to decide when I’m going to do yoga, rather than find out when classes are, and then see if I can get there.

2. It’s free! Der.

3. I don’t have to be self-conscious about my yoga poses. Not that I would be necessarily, but a home practice is super low pressure.

4. I can take off my glasses. My glasses were not made for yoga. 

Although yoga has many physical benefits, it is not the primary reason I’ve added it to my fitness routine. Increased flexibility is merely one of the side effects I’ve enjoyed.

Yoga helps me decrease anxiety and increase focus. I have learned to relax and, as Adriene says, “connect to my breath.” One of the problems I used to have with the idea of deep breathing for yoga and/or meditation was that I would actually get tenser. Through practice, I have figured out how to drop my shoulders, and truly breathe out tension and distraction.

The other thing I like about Yoga with Adriene are the mantras she brings to each day of the 30-day practice. The one I did recently was Self-Love, and she simply asked that we think of one thing we love about ourselves that day.

Yesterday, my answer was that I am a good parent, which kind of surprised me when it came into my head. But I had had a good experience at the doctor’s with Kate earlier this week. She is struggling with a few things, and in talking with the pediatrician, issues were raised. The PA we were talking with said, to Kate, “You obviously have a good relationship with your mom, and you can talk to her about this. That’s really good.”

That made me feel good. This parenting gig has many challenges, and they evolve from the physical and logistical into the emotional. The care and keeping of tweens and teens is not something to take for granted. My current strategy is to listen more than I talk, to make them feel safe, to lead by example (another way yoga and exercise in general is important; my children see me taking care of myself), to answer questions, and to give them the tools they need to be confident.

Yoga reminded me that, in this instance with Kate, I am actually doing a pretty good job. 

Copyright for featured image: tatom / 123RF Stock Photo

Metaphor

On January 2, the children’s first day back at school, my car had a flat tire.

via GIPHY

Fortunately, we have a portable air compressor, so we just filled the tire back up. We filled it up three more days that week before Dan could get it to the mechanic.

In the meantime, the children had delays and cancellations due to frigid temperatures and even colder wind chill factors.

via GIPHY

And then the pipes at home froze. Then they thawed, and I accidentally flooded the kitchen. The thermostat at Dan’s office stopped working.

And my brakes went bad. (Not catastrophically while I was driving, fortunately.)

So far, 2018 has got me like:

via GIPHY

I just want a normal day. No sudden need to work from home (although, thank goodness I can usually work from home if I need to). No more delays; I’m sure the children feel differently. No more house problems or car problems.

I get up and go to work. They children get up and go to school. Dan goes to his office. Weekends are for rolling skating and errand running, not problem solving. And all is well.

It seems like that is a lot to ask so far in 2018. And don’t even get me started on Mr. “Fire and Fury” president and Oprah in 2020. What did quiet news days used to look like? What did functioning government and world respect used to feel like? I want to go back to those days, when class and calm competence was the order of the day in the White House. Even when Congress was obstructing order, at least it wasn’t colluding with corruption and incompetence.

Oh, America of 2015, how I miss you.

HOW’S YOUR 2018 GOING? TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD.

Kate, Still Great, Now Also 11

Oh. My. Gosh.

My dear girl, my dear Kate,

A few words to describe you: sweet, fierce, loyal, thoughtful and loving. 

On the downside, you can lose your temper and take offense pretty darn quickly. We have to work on your tendency to put words into other people’s mouths, or assume that someone is out to hurt your feelings.

When you are in a good mood, you share it. You love making people laugh. You are still my cuddly girl. You are goofy and fun. 

You work hard in school, and it is paying off. You have a close circle of friends. I am happy you decided to join the drama club. It’s the perfect outlet for your energy and creative nature.

And as a final positive note on your birthday, you are a great gecko mom. You simply love Baby. You take good care of him, keep his cage clean, and make sure he has crickets and water. You are such a good pet mom you keep asking for another pet. You want either a bird or a tarantula. I am not ready to commit to the former, and it’s a hard no on the latter.

I love you. Keep working hard. Keep making people laugh.

Happy birthday, baby girl.

Love,

Mom

Seven Things: Update from a Long Weekend

1. Dan started three home projects over the long weekend, and finished two. First, at my request, he cleaned out and reorganized our pantry.

2. At his own whim, we went shopping for an entertainment center. He put it together, with Flora, and put it in place. 

3. I should have taken some “before” photos, because we had a lot of work on our hands with toy purges and the like. Monday I worked for three hours on sorting through toys. We are donating all the Littlest Pet Shop toys. And I straight up threw away two bags of accumulated junk.

4. Dan also started to install the microwave he bought as a house gift for Christmas. Unfortunately, he was unable to finish this project. Not only do we not yet have a working microwave, but now we have a bit of a hole in one of the kitchen walls.

5. I have lost my phone calling mojo. I apologize, citizens. I have letters in the works, primarily about impeachment. One month, and it’s been horrible. 

6. I wish I could say it was a great three-day weekend. Certainly, the weather was excellent. I went for a walk (after fighting with Michael about his desire to carry a chair). I took Flora and Michael to the park (Kate went to the zoo with a friend). The house got more organized. But by Monday, I was suffering from my own lack of plans and structure, and everyone was irritable. The children and I bickered all Monday afternoon, leading to a re-tightening of tablet boundaries. 

7. The book, working title Lone Wolf, is with two beta readers. They have already provided me with valuable feedback. Once all their comments are in, I will do a third draft. Then I will start shopping it to agents and small publishers. My plan is to do that for at least one year.

Do you buy house gifts at Christmas?

Seven Things: A Quick Update

1. School started! Flora and Kate have re-acclimated quickly, for which I am entirely grateful.

Flora in car.
This is the best picture I got on Flora’s first day of school.
K and M, day 2.
A very blurry picture from Dan of these two on their second day of school.

2. Flora is definitely becoming more mature and responsible. She comes home and does her homework. She helps Michael if he has homework. She seldom complains about cleaning the kitchen. She remembers to empty the dishwasher more often than not.

3. Kate is not on the same page as Flora — and as I am often reminded, she is two years younger. She is one of the reasons I have adopted my mother-in-law’s phrase, “Do it right or do it twice.” Let’s just say that Kate’s strengths are elsewhere (making friends, primarily; also, doing handstands). She is very sweet. She asks Dan and me almost every day how our days were, and she really listens to our answers. She values interaction over just doing stuff.

4. Michael… *sigh*. Michael has already lost a backpack and a lunch box. We are already dealing with another boy who is bullying him on the bus (OH NO, HONEY. THAT WILL NOT STAND.) If asked directly about school, it’s “boring,” but if given space, he’ll cheerfully chatter away about his day. He tells me about Go Noodle, computer games (that are sneakily teaching him the location of letters on the keyboard), and other little events about his day. So, a little uneven.

5. Taking the tablets away was definitely the right move. It forces them to focus on what needs to be done; it sparks their creativity in play. Now if I could get them to *read books* I would feel even better. Kate and Michael will play together sometimes; they will also do gymnastics in my living room, which isn’t awesome. Flora will draw. And draw. And draw. She wrote a short story recently (I haven’t read it yet), so maybe I can encourage more of that.

How do I encourage them to read actual novel-like books? The girls, I mean. M and I do his sight words every now and again; I could get better at doing this. But the girls seldom crack a book at home.

6. (I am an actual paid blogger. My job is going gangbusters. You can check out some of my stuff here.) (I’m whispering because I don’t want to jinx anything.)

7. Dan and I need date nights. Like, not just social nights out as a couple. We did a lot of seeing people over the summer, attending events and get-togethers. But we stopped spending time together as just a couple. The dinner date thing isn’t really doing it for us either. I’m trying to find other stuff for us to do, not too expensive. I’m thinking one month (or even every six weeks) he’ll pick and plan our date, and the next time, I will. For the record, I am thinking this may be fun. We like exercise, booze, and music, basically.

What’s going on with YOU? Oh, and if you have ideas about getting my girls to read, that would be great.

Copyright for image: markusgann / 123RF Stock Photo

Why I Take Selfies

I missed National Selfie Day (yes, it’s actually a thing), and I’m a little disappointed.

In my cursory research for this post, I learned that taking selfies is good for teens and tweens. But moms should absolutely not take selfies, especially if their children are in them. (Go ahead, google “moms taking selfies.” NSFW, in case you couldn’t figure it out.)

I take selfies.

I take selfies with friends.

selfie with friends
With OC (original cast) members of Pittsburgh’s LTYM show, taken at this year’s show.

I take selfies with Dan.

Dan and I selfie
Me and my boo.

I take selfies with the children.

Golf cart selfie with Kate.
Golf cart selfie with Kate.
Michael selfie
Michael and I on his “graduation” day.

And they are some of my favorite pictures. Of me, of me and Dan, of me and the children.

The selfie serves another purpose, as well.

If you haven’t yet, look through a portfolio of victims from the Orlando shooting.

Notice how many of those pictures are selfies.

God forbid I am ever the victim of a violent crime that ends up on the national news (or any violent crime). I pray every day that my husband and children return to me safely.

But if they don’t, I have this.

Arts Fest Selfie
Arts Fest selfie.
I have us smiling and laughing and being silly.

I have us loving one another.

Cook Forest kitchen selfie.
Cook Forest kitchen selfie.

I could be next. Any of us could be.

How will the world remember you?

The Girl Who Loved Stephen King, Part II

Stephen King, who talked about his books as his children, was asked if he had any books out there that he would take back. He said there were three works that he had less than happy feelings about. Two novels — Tommyknockers and Dreamcatcher — were written when he was stoned out of his gourd. He’s not exactly proud of those puppies (Tommyknockers was written in the middle of a cocaine binge, and Dreamcatcher was created when he was on painkillers are his near-fatal accident).

The third work he talked about was a slim little book called Rage. He wrote a first draft of Rage in high school in 1965; later as a successful novelist, he rewrote it, and submitted it to his publisher under the name Richard Bachmann. In 1997, he asked his publisher to pull the book. It had been found in the possession of a number of school shooters. He says he feels it was the right thing to do, while still admitting to having mixed feelings.

In a small essay (available on Amazon), Guns, King writes the following:

“My book did not break Cox, Pierce, Carneal, or Loukaitis [the four high school shooters found to have read Rage], or turn them into killers; they found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken. Yet I did see Rage as a possible accelerant, which is why I pulled it from sale. You don’t leave a can of gasoline where a boy with firebug tendencies can lay hands on it.”

The essay is worth a read: measured, funny in parts, serious in others. King articulates a not-uncommon perspective in America: that of a responsible gun owner, who disavows the NRA, and advocates for common-sense gun control laws. He outlines a few proposals at the end of the essay that we could see enacted pretty soon — because of the horror show in Orlando, and because a Democratic filibuster that took place to force a vote on said proposals. He’ll need another prologue.

Someday, anyway. One day.