On My Youngest Son’s First Day of Preschool

It is 10:45 on a Friday morning and I’m in the kitchen cutting a peach into slices. Tears slip down my cheeks and I take a deep breath. A few minutes earlier I heard a play conversation from the other room where my newly 3-year-old is playing with Lego guys.

“I really love you. I do!”

“Thanks! You’re the best!”

“You’re the best too!”

This mimics an exchange that we have countless times each day and I can’t help but feel smiley and gooey as he plays it out in his Lego family, which is comprised of several ninja. As I head to the kitchen I hear him make one of his guys ask “What are we doing today?” To which another replies, “We’re going to school!” followed by an excited gasp.

And so, as I cut the peach’s white and rosey flesh into an orange plastic bowl, tears well up in my eyes and brim over. They are tears of sadness and happiness; of confusion and uncertainty; of excitement and regret. In an hour and a half I will take my very last baby to his first day of preschool. He will stay for one hour and fifteen minutes, if he even lets me leave the room. It is barely a dent in our day, but it is an enormous event. While he will always, always be my baby, he is NOT a baby any longer. He has a place to go where I don’t belong. I am torn between anticipation for this next part of life and mourning for the life that will no longer exist.

Today I take my son to his first day of school and a bridge will be crossed that we can never go back over. Today we embark on an adventure that will have us each taking solo steps. It will be hard and it will be fun and it will change us. I worry that he is not ready, but more than that, as I tear up again, I’m trying to tell myself that I’m ready.

Finding the Good in the Morning Grind

Now that school is back in session my mornings have gone from sleeping until 8 and then waking up to drink my coffee and peruse Facebook to rushing around like a freaking lunatic starting at 6:45 in an attempt to make sure that everyone, including myself, is fed, clean, dressed, and has everything needed for the day in time for the walk to school. This rush usually leads to arguments, which lead to a frustrated mommy, which leads to yelling–all of which do NOT make for a wonderful start to the day.

Given my description it’s not difficult to see that I hate pretty much everything about morning. From opening my eyes to shoving shoes onto little feet and pushing them out the door, morning just seems awful. But morning also holds one of my favorite parts of the day–one of my favorite parts of parenting to be honest–waking my kids.

Yep, I LOVE waking my kids up and , no, not in an “I love to torture them” kind of way. In general, on school mornings, I have to wake both boys up. I’m up earlier than they have to be to get lunches ready and breakfast prepped. Then, about five minutes before Brady needs to be up, I climb up to the top bunk and gently shake him awake. Then I tell him he has five minutes and ask if he wants to snuggle. He usually responds by rolling over and pulling my arm around him. It’s warm and cozy and since I really don’t want to have gotten out of bed yet anyway, I close my eyes and pretend I haven’t. We lie there like that for 3 or 4 minutes and then I tell him it’s time to get out of bed and we climb down.

I then give him breakfast and set him up with whatever he wants to do (we allow TV in the morning). Then it’s back for round two. I lie down next to Declan and whisper in his ear, “Morning. Do you want to snuggle.” This is usually met by a stretch and some sort of groan or lip smack and we snuggle together in his bed for a few minutes before I have to force him to get up by offering to let him watch Peppa Pig in my room.

From there on out, all bets are off. I feel like I go from shoving food down their throats to forcibly brushing their teeth to struggling to pull socks onto their unwilling feet. Well, Brady does most of that on his own, so instead I’m following him around telling him 15 times to do each thing before he actually does it. But at least I get my peaceful moment of lovey warmth each morning. Because, like so many things about raising children, morning is all about finding that good thing that makes it all worth it.

Changes

As you can see, there’s a new look around here. I’m still playing with it, so there may be more tweaks to come. What prompted this change? The stroller, the green Bugaboo that carried my babies for 7 years and had the place of honor in my blog header, is no longer with us. Yesterday we cleaned it out and chucked it out.

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We hadn’t used it in months. Clearly the cat got a lot of enjoyment out of it during that time, as evidenced by the two-inch thick layer of cat hair on the seat. With Declan walking more often, it got to be unwieldy bringing such a big stroller everywhere. We’re not yet stroller-free–we’ve just switched to the lighter, smaller, MacLaren Triumph. But honestly, that will probably only last another year, if that. So the kids said goodbye to their trusty ride, I held back tears, and we gained a whole heck of a lot of closet space.

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In memorium, here are some adorable shots of my babes in the trusty green monster.

From serving as Brady’s first bed to bringing entire birthday parties to the park to hauling two kids at once, this sucker served us well and will be missed. It lived a wonderful, long stroller life. Brady is now in second grade and Declan starts preschool this week. The baby part of our lives is behind us and we’ve got to enjoy the kid part that is unfolding before us.

 

Back To School Blues

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Tomorrow is the last day of summer. Brady is back to school the next day. My baby Declan starts preschool next Friday. Soon I will take a new freelance job and be back to work myself. It is the end of sleeping late and sipping coffee as the kids watch TV. While moms the Internet over rejoice in their children getting back to the books, I find myself sad. We spent a lot of time traveling this summer and it was nice and it was fun and it was also stressful. But the last two weeks the boys and I have been having a easy time on our own. We can do what we want when we want to. I’ve been very, um, liberal with screen time and so I’ve had some time to read and keep the apartment neat and not feel like I’m the perpetual hamster wheel.

As a mom, the school year feels much more difficult than the summer. Life becomes so much more complicated. There’s school dropoff and pickup and after-school activities and then getting dinner onto the table while helping with homework and hopefully still having time for a bath before bed sometimes. This year, in an attempt to make things easier, I’ve shifted a lot of the extras to the weekend, which means we can’t just take off as family on a Saturday afternoon.

The beginning of the school year makes me itchy with anxiety, picturing the coming days filled with obligations. The change in routine throws me. Plus, my kids will be away from me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want them all day everyday. They need to learn and explore on their own and be a part of things away from me. But while Declan is home with me, I’m his sole source of outside entertainment a lot of the time. With him used to having a constant playmate that role becomes difficult to fill. Plus he’ll be in school three half-days a week. I’m so excited for him and for me. But it’s also a reminder that my baby is no longer my baby. When Brady went to preschool I was trying to get pregnant. I soon knew I’d have a new baby. This time there will be no more babies.

I’m trying to psych myself up for leaves and sweaters and football, but when it’s 93 degrees and unbearably humid, it’s kind of hard to picture. Tomorrow we’ll try to seize the last day of freedom. I’m hoping Brady’s excitement for school and for change will rub off on me. But tonight I’m mourning the end of lazy days.

How do you feel when the kids head back to school? Do you love fall? Remind me why.

 

Beach Time

Our last trip of the summer was last week. We went on our annual trip to Cape May and this time my sister and her husband and daughter, my mom, and my sister’s father-in-law joined us. We all stayed in a big house and spent a lot of time at the beach. Brady is a wave junkie and Declan prefers the sand. They both had so much fun with their cousin – and so did I. Overall, we all had a wonderful time. I’m going to do my usual photo mural to sum up the trip.

What Can I Say About Suicide?

When I think of all of the things I want to say about suicide, I often feel as if my brain gets bunched up and I can’t really put my thoughts into words. But still, I feel as if I have to somehow address, not the death of Robin Williams itself, but rather the intense response it has garnered through both traditional and social media. I feel a need to address the effect this must be having on his loved ones and, in fact, on anyone who is a survivor of a loved one’s suicide. I feel a need to address the effect it is having on me.

I wrote about the media coverage of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death because I felt for his family and thought I understood, maybe a bit, what they might feel. Robin Williams’ death hits far closer to home for me. My father was 59 when he died, in the same time of life as Williams. My sister and I were in our early-to-mid twenties, as Williams’ children are now. And, of course, he died by suicide. 

Unlike me, his loved ones have to hear the opinions of a myriad of people who did not even know him. They are getting hateful messages on Instagram and Twitter. Everyone, including me, is writing about his life and his death. Not only do people feel a need now to share their thoughts on suicide, but they feel the need to vehemently defend their stance. They, apparently, feel confident in facts and answers that I do not. For the survivors, both his and those of everyone who has died this way, it opens wounds. Each statement that “people who commit suicide are X,” or “people who commit suicide because Y,” is like a commentary on that person we lost. It causes us to retreat once again into hiding, not wanting those who will judge to know the truth.

Which brings me to my title. What can I say? What can I really say that makes any difference? I can tell you what I know. Death by suicide is painful for everyone it touches. It leaves questions that will never be answered. When you feel like you have closed a box on how you feel about it, something happens that reopens it and makes you doubt everything again. It is difficult not to blame the person who died. It is difficult not to feel guilty yourself. Dealing with the stigma and the taboo can be overwhelming. When you are yourself grappling with feeling of anger, blame, and guilt, it can be so difficult to hear someone else piling more on top by characterizing the person you’ve lost by their last desperate act. In some ways, it takes away the ability to fondly remember a person whom you dearly loved.

I have found it difficult to stay away from articles about Robin Williams. In some ways I think I’m hoping I’ll find those answers I’ve been searching for for 10 years. Maybe someone out there really does have some insight I haven’t yet come across. Perhaps I think I’ll find others who feel the way I do, and I have. But as I read the articles posted on my Facebook feed and the subsequent comments, although there are some that are supportive and insightful, overall I have found myself disappointed. It seems there is still a strong stigma surrounding suicide and I honestly believe that that cannot be helpful to anyone–not to those contemplating suicide, to those who have attempted, or to those who have lost people to it.

It is only human to try to distance oneself from death. We all do it. We read an article about someone who died skydiving and think, “I would never take a risk like that.” We hear about someone who died of lung cancer and think, “It couldn’t happen to me, I don’t smoke.” It is self preservation. A lot of how people feel about those who kill themselves is this distancing. “I would never kill myself. I’m strong.” “That wouldn’t happen to me. I would choose life.” “I would be different.” 

Unfortunately, many of these rationalizations are just not realistic. Clearly, a person who commits suicide is not working in a normal mindset. They are not at a place where they can choose to be strong or see the good things that life offers. Rational thoughts are not the thoughts that lead a person to take their own life. Saying that depression is not a disease, that if a person can just choose life, that it is selfish–these are not helpful statements–whether or not you feel that they are true. Everyone gets their opinion and can share. But I’m here to tell you that it’s not constructive.

Suicide is a subject that is murky and twisted. It is wrought with emotion and even the experts do not understand it entirely. No one has all the answers about suicide. Not everyone who commits suicide is suffering in the same way, has the same background, the same mental illness. And, as illustrated by Williams, not everyone who kills themselves looks depressed to others. Simplifying it down to a ‘choice’ or a ‘weakness’ or even the result of a ‘disease’ doesn’t begin to explain the complicated and malfunctioning processes that bring a person to that point. We cannot really find out the why, because those who commit this act are no longer available to ask.

What I really want to say is that while you are entitled to your opinion and you have the right to share it, that does not mean that what you say doesn’t hurt people. Preventing suicide is a daunting and sadly, sometimes impossible, task. Yet, for those who feel passionately about it, it is an important goal. Commenting negatively on those who cannot change the horrible thing they’ve done only hurts those left behind and pushes those who might still be able to ask for help to shrink away from it for fear of being judged in the same way. I firmly believe that lifting the stigma, this idea that only weak people selfishly make this deliberate choice, can only help. It can help those left behind to heal and it can hopefully help those on the brink to find their way to treatment. Open discussion, an end to the blaming and categorizing, and a commitment to better understanding, better research on, and better treatment of mental illness is imperative if this fight is one to be fought.

I want to send my sympathy and understanding to Robin Williams’ family and friends. They have a long and difficult road to walk and, unlike me, they don’t get to choose who will know the truth. I wish them peace and comfort although I know that it will be hard to find.

As I do with every post I write on the subject I’m adding some links here. If you need help, please reach out.

Crisis Text Line

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

This time I’m adding a link to the Out of the Darkness Walks as well. I am planning to walk in my father’s name at the NYC walk in October.

 

Burn Baby

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Burn Baby

The fire that sparked with his birth
Burned for months,
Its flames fanned by his midnight screaming,
Turning the forest of me to ash
And covering me in a shroud of thick smoke.

Those days of smothering heat are blurred,
In my memory,
Punctuated by both of our sobs
And moments of surrender,
That kept us alive.

When the fire burned out and the smoke
Cleared at last,
The bright blue of morning was waiting
Shining sunlight on what remained
And nourishing new life.

The fire took a lot, leaving
Only the oldest trees.
But I know now that it was necessary,
Lovely even,
How that destruction ushered in

Something better.

Summer Boy

Three years ago the day was hot, even hotter than today, reaching into the nineties for the umpteenth time that year. I waddled around to camp dropoff and pickup and even the playground, sweating and cursing as my contractions became stronger, and that night Declan became a part of our lives.

Being a winter baby myself, I was always jealous of the people whose birthdays never got snowed out and who could celebrate with picnics and pool parties. After having a late fall baby, I envied those with summer babies even more, not always having to worry about reserving a ridiculously expensive space in order to invite enough friends. When my second was born in August it seemed perfect. He could have the birthdays I always wanted. And having a baby in summer is definitely preferable in more Northern climates–not having to worry about coats and blankets and snow and rain in those early days was blissful. Yet, somehow, I overlooked the effect that the perpetual emptiness of Manhattan in August would have on a summer baby.

Declan’s first birthday was wonderful–a picnic party in the park like I had dreamed of, surrounded by friends. But once his peers grew older their families also fled the city, as we do ourselves, for much of the summer. This year I’m cobbling together family parties here and there with some playdates thrown in. We celebrated today with just y husband’s family.

While I may get a bit down about it, summer is a part of this boy. He is sunshine and light and it shows. He was perfectly happy to celebrate today with whoever was here. There were decorations and presents and cake and he was utterly content. Before he came along, our family was comprised of three first-borns, all cold-weather babies. Declan brought the summer to our lives and reminds us to smile when things aren’t perfect, to just go where life takes us sometimes, and to soak up the sun while we can. We needed a summer boy and we’re so lucky to have him.

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