The Light

I see it, both literally and figuratively. The light at the end of the seemingly never-ending tunnel of winter is visible and getting closer each day. The changing of the clocks (annoying as it might be) ushered in with it a changing of the weather. The sun has been shining on and off for the past three days. THIS is the part of winter when hope returns. The day has arrived when the end is in sight and you realize that we’ll get there eventually.

Yesterday I left the house with no hat, no gloves, and no boots! I wore sunglasses. I took the kids on their scooters around the neighborhood after school. The hideous black mountains have ben reduced to hills surrounded by puddles filled with cigarette butts that are rapidly being rinsed away by the store owner’s hoses each morning.

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I’m sure there will still be some bumps and potholes on the way out. This is probably not the end of hats and gloves quite yet. I’ve yet to see the first green tendrils pushing up through snow. But I’m hopeful that it’s coming soon.

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Children Are Human Too

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Ok, this is one that gets me all sorts of fired up so bear with me while I get my thoughts out. I am of the opinion that people under the age of say, 17, deserve to exist as a part of society. I think that they are valid human beings and as such I think they have a right to leave their homes and be a part of the world in places that are not playgrounds, schools, or chain family restaurants. I do NOT think they should be everywhere all the time. They should probably not play at factories, or at research libraries, or at upscale restaurants after 8pm. I am the first one to be annoyed when there is a screaming toddler at the next table when I’m out for a late-night, date night with my husband. Children are children and (for the most part) do not have the self-control that adults do and therefor cannot be expected to behave properly in all situations. That said, I get seriously pissed off when people act like the very presence of children, just out in the neighborhood, is not just an annoyance, but an affront to adults.

Living in New York, just walking a few blocks, we encounter countless people. More often than I expect, there are people who are appalled that a person who has not yet reached physical maturity is allowed to walk on the same sidewalk as them. Did you know that children are generally shorter than adults and that adults might *gasp* have to be aware of their surroundings in order to not bash into them as they hurry to wherever it is they’re going? It’s true.

I have encountered plenty of people who feel it is their duty to tell me that children don’t belong on the sidewalk. I hear a lot of “Hey, watch your kid!” and “Could you please control him?” as my children walk by my side. Sometimes they even have the audacity to bounce or skip which I’m sure it’s just to draw the ire of random strangers walking by. I usually quickly shout back that I am “so sorry that my child dared to exist!” or something else that it seems only serves to fuel their vitriol for the youth of the world. I’m not quite sure how we’re supposed to get anywhere or do anything. Maybe we’re supposed to just stay inside all day. Should there be designated lanes for us like there are for bikers, lest we accidentally get in the way of some adult in a hurry?

I treat my children like human beings under the assumption that, in fact, they are. I wonder how much contact these anti-child people have with actual children and I worry that the answer is anything other than “none.” I hear a lot of people say things like, “I don’t like kids.” Worse, I hear a lot of parents say things like, “I don’t like kids, except for my own.” I used to think that I didn’t enjoy children. I didn’t see very many of them. Then my friends started having babies. I found that children were often pleasant to be around and that they actually had things to offer to help me grow in my own humanity. I have found that kids (maybe aside from toddlers) are annoying in public about as often as adults are, although they may be louder. Unlike adults, children have the excuse of not having as much self-control, life experience, or knowledge of social norms.

Now, as a mother, I enjoy spending time with children. I like my kids’ friends. I look forward to being the chaperone on the field trips because I get to chat with the kids in the class. I’m the first to volunteer to help with an art project, because I am awed by what kids come up with when given minimal direction. The ideas that children have about the world are, in my opinion, invaluable. I honestly believe that most adults would benefit from a good discussion about why mountains exist with a 4-year-old or a conversation about the value of sharks with a 7-year-old.

I’m not saying that everyone has to “like kids” or even spend time with them. I am certainly not in any way advocating that everyone should have children of their own. I am saying that everyone has to tolerate and even respect them when they are out and about in public. I am saying that children deserve to be there just as much you or I. Overall, what I’m saying is, if you don’t like my kids, or any kids, being out in the world with you, will you kindly keep your damn mouth shut! Unless it comes to the demise of our species, they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Perhaps you long for the days when children were to be “seen and not heard.” Since I’m willing to bet that most people aren’t too keen to go back to the days when women stayed in the kitchen, men were the sole rule makers, and the sight of a bare ankle was scandalous, let’s go with the idea that children are real people and not property. If you’re on board with those things, then by all means, yell at me about my kids on the sidewalk…you probably need the outlet!

What Am I Giving Today?

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Not…one…fuck! Oh wait, did I just say “fuck” in a blog post without using an asterisk? Damn straight I did. Why? Well, obviously because I don’t give a fuck.

Last night Declan woke with a fever around 3:30. I was in and out of his room laying with him, taking his temp, and doling out tiny cups of children’s Tylenol. When I finally got him to sleep it was after 5 and I lay in bed worrying. What will I do with him all day at home? What if he’s still sick Saturday and he can’t go to the in-laws so the husband and I can actually talk to each other for once? What if we never get a time to go out? What if we get divorced? What if that pain near my bellybutton is appendicitis? What if I don’t realize it and it bursts and I die of sepsis?

So when we got up this morning and the husband took Brady to school so that Declan could sleep in and feel better, I made a decision. Today would be “don’t give a fuck” day. We would watch TV and use the iPad and do whatever makes D happy and lets me relax for a God damned minute. See, I’m always feeling as if I need to care more, and not just more, but ohsomuchmore. In reality I think it is imperative that I care less. Not ohsomuchless, but certainly less.

I often feel as if every problem I encounter is MY problem. I worry about things from the dump being built in our neighborhood to the overwhelming issue of climate change. I ponder how the class and race issues in this country can ever be solved. I worry about my mom and my sister and my nieces. I worry about my kids. I worry what the other moms at school think of my newly purple hair. While much of this is good and I know that it is good, I also cannot let these things consume me. I cannot solve all the problems of the world. Sometimes I cannot even solve the problems of my apartment. My worry is like an armor that I build around me to keep the bad things from happening. This does not work, but my brain tells me it will. It tells me that if I just know all the problems and worry about all the problems, things will be ok. This is a lie. Feeling these problems around me constantly helps no one and leaves me feeling crushed, drained, and useless.

So today, I am letting myself (and Declan, I guess) off the hook. I don’t have to stop the dump or save the preschool or make sure that the kids are being stimulated in a developmentally appropriate manner while eating organic vegetables from BPA-free, recyclable plates. I just need to keep us all alive and in decent order. We can eat pizza and watch a movie and (gasp!) not clean up immediately.

Today I am not giving a fuck and it feels FAN-TAB-ULOUS! That pain near my belly button has melted away and somehow I actually got a bunch of freelance work done. Many people, perhaps too many people, live this way day-to-day. I think the evidence of that is all around us. But I can’t make up for their lack of caring by caring extra. What I can do is give myself a little break. I can go back to my worries with a renewed spirit and a fresh perspective. Maybe I can manage to cut some of my concerns from the list and leave them to someone else. I can definitely give my kids, or my husband, or even (maybe) myself that extra minute, without feeling like I should be somewhere else, trying to do some other thing, at the exact same moment. And I can enjoy it. At least for today…

The Dairy Life, Yoga Withdrawal, and Writing Critiques

I’ve been on a deadline (per usual this time of year) so I haven’t been writing much. But today my next job is late so I am free…FREE I SAY! There are ton of things I’ve been wanting to put up here, but then time passed and I didn’t have time and blah, blah, anyway I’m putting it all right here in one little post so here ya go.

Declan can eat dairy! It’s such a bizarre concept. Monday morning at 9am my husband called me to say that the allergist’s office had called him and offered us a 10:00 appointment for Declan’s food challenge. Despite my begging my sitter to come when she wanted to cancel so that I could make my afternoon deadline, I said “Holy crap, I’ll be there!” I dropped everything, put some yogurt and milk in a cooler bag, grabbed the kid, and hopped in a cab to West Side.

Declan was seriously an angel and colored and played with his toys and barely even looked at the iPad for the nearly 3 hours we were at the office. He ate his yogurt and drank his milk with no argument. Halfway through his cheeks got red and we worried a bit, but some time in the waiting room where it was cooler solved the problem. He made it through the last waiting period and showed no reaction. I couldn’t believe it. The allergist said that if he tolerated a full serving of dairy the next morning, then he would be clear and have no restrictions. Declan is a dairy eater! I no longer have to worry about his grabbing Go-gurts or cheese puffs. He can have cheese sticks for a snack! I made chicken and dumplings this week because I hadn’t been able to make creamy soup in years. Other than a little tummy discomfort and his insisting for the first two days that he can only eat dairy, Declan’s been fine. It’s kind of amazing.

Playing so nicely.

Playing so nicely.

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Silly, dairy-eating boy.

Which brings me to yoga withdrawal. As of right now, I have not taken a yoga class in 13 days and it SUCKS. I do not do well without my yoga. My anxiety is left to fester and grow and take hold without my asana practice. It is not a good scene. But 13 days ago I took a very back-bendy class which left my lower back ridiculously tight. That night, like every night, Declan came into my room at 2am. I carried him back to his bed and as I lowered his 35lb body into the lower bunk, something really bad happened in my lower back. I could barely stand back up. I then endured several days of spasms and pain and stiffness and general awfulness and, of course, no yoga.

A week later it was finally feeling less painful and more mobile, but I wanted to give it time. The thought of doing a forward fold was kind of terrifying. Actually, it’s still pretty scary, but I’ll be in class tonight. It’s an instructor I know well and trust and I’ll be talking to her beforehand to make sure I don’t do anything to re-injure myself. Back pain is the WORST! I can honestly see how people with back problems get hooked on pain medication. You need your back for everything!

And the writing critiques. A few weeks ago I sent four of my poems to my husband’s aunt to read. She is pretty much one of my favorite people. She’s been a professional writer in many capacities and has also taught writing and she recently got her MFA in poetry. I respect her writing and her opinion so I asked her if she would read some of my stuff. I saw her at Thanksgiving and she told me she’d be sending me her thoughts and not to worry. But I worried.

A few days later I got her response and its’ several pages long. I read the first paragraph and realized I wouldn’t be able to finish. Due to the aforementioned deadline and back pain (and maybe just a tiny bit of fear), I wasn’t able to sit down to go through it. Today, I am free. I should read her thoughts. I should sit with my poems while I have the chance. But I am paralyzed. I am writing on my blog, but I am afraid to open that attachment and read her words. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve handed over my work to another writer and I don’t know if I’m ready. I get so married to my words that I find it hard to think about changing them. I have flashbacks to college writing workshops where I picked to pieces by vengeful English students. I am trying to get up the courage. It’s the next thing I’ll do…I swear.

What a Day!

Today was a doozy of a day. It started with it becoming arctic cold overnight, which I guess happened in most of the Northern Hemisphere since I kept reading that there were freezing temperatures in all 50 states. Here are some of the bad/annoying/irritating things that happened today:

– Declan’s slight, morning head-stuffiness morphed into an actual cold, no lie, en route to the allergist.

– We were sent home by the allergist with no food challenge and a hope of a cancellation in the near future.

– Despite not having the food challenge I still went all the way to the West Side in the freezing cold and spent $30 on cabs.

– Declan’s actual cold became a terrible cold.

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– TWO people walked right past me in the line at the grocery store as if I wasn’t there waiting too! (Cutting in line is my #1 pet peeve.)

– My two pairs of warm boots arrived from Zappos and NEITHER fit me and it promises to be just as cold again tomorrow.

– I had to drag my children into the cold and dark to volunteer for the last CSA shift to make my volunteer quota for the season.

– Declan created this masterpiece on the wall in the hallway.

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– I got my period. (Sorry for the TMI, but seriously, it’s the day that just won’t stop giving.)

But, all day my yogi-self kept telling me to step back and take a breath, to look at what was happening and see the positive. So, because of that, and because looking at the list above I seriously look like a whiny baby, I will oblige my yogi-self and see the positives.  So here are some of the good/nice/not annoying things that happened today:

– Declan and I stopped at the bookstore and it was story time and he LOVED it! That kids loves songs with hand gestures and being read stories.

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– Since Declan didn’t feel good he snuggled me all day. (I didn’t mind the snot that came with it too much.)

– I somehow got in some freelance work.

– Zappos has free shipping and returns.

– The other lovely people who were volunteering saw that I had my kids with me and that it was cold and let me sign in and go home! Yay for nice people! I did do a little restocking of veggies for good measure while we were there.

– Magic Eraser removes pencil on a wall like, well, magic.

– Declan fell immediately asleep and I got to snuggle with Brady a little. He told me about the stories he makes up while he’s falling asleep and it was incredible! It involves him making a legendary basketball shot, being sent to a special middle school in California to play basketball, coming back to New York for high school and leaving basketball to play football and perfecting the “rocket throw.” How cool is this kid?

How’s that for balance? I’m working on it. I really am.

The Food Challenge

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I’ve written here before about Declan’s dairy allergy. When he was 9 months old he pulled a cup of milk over onto himself and promptly broke out in hives everywhere it touched his skin–clearly a problem. Again, I’m thankful that I not only breastfed him, but that I was off dairy for my own reasons while I did it. Anyway, a trip to the allergist confirmed that he was allergic (not sensitive, not lactose intolerant, actually really allergic) to milk. We were told to try slowly introducing cooked milk products and see what happened and to come back for a skin test in six months. The allergist assured us that most kids outgrow this allergy by the age of two. She also told us that we would need to carry an EpiPen with us at all times. While the chance of him going into anaphylactic shock was very low, it was still there.

Subsequent skin tests, disappointingly, showed that he was still allergic. Each time that red welt appeared on his skin within seconds of the nurse scratching on the milk. At two, he was still allergic and we were to come back in a year. In the meantime, we should still try more cooked milk products. He was able to eat pizza and grilled cheese. This past August I took him back for a skin test before starting preschool, hoping to avoid the EpiPen paperwork and the worry that he would touch butter while baking in class.

Amazingly, no welt appeared on his arm! I was so relieved! But, the EpiPen paperwork would still have to be done. We still had to do a food challenge to be sure he could tolerate milk. I went to the front desk to schedule the appointment and was told it would be more than THREE MONTHS before we could do the challenge, during which Declan would eat small amounts of some raw dairy product while being closely monitored over the span of a few hours. I was deflated, but still hopeful.

The food challenge is tomorrow. I’ve been waiting and waiting for this day. I have yogurt and chocolate milk and cheese sticks–all foods that he wishes he could eat–in the fridge waiting. He is excited and even told his teachers that he gets to “go to a doctor appointment and eat dairy!” I got the confirmation text from the allergist’s office on Saturday afternoon. It mentioned that there should be “no signs of respiratory symptoms.” So, of course, Declan woke up with a cough on Sunday morning.

He seems ok, but I am FREAKED out! What if they turn us away? What if we have to wait another THREE MONTHS? I feel pretty sure I have a restless night ahead of me. His nose isn’t runny and his cough seems to only be in the morning, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. He’s a three-year-old and it’s November! Are there any three-year-olds who DON’T have respiratory symptoms in November. I’m aware that there’s a medical reason for this, but come on! Because I need him to have this test. I don’t care about what he can and can’t eat. It’s honestly not that difficult to avoid dairy. I just don’t want to worry anymore. I don’t want to worry that some kid will spill their Horizon milk box on him at the playground and he’ll break out in hives…or worse. I don’t want to have to worry that he’ll get frosting on his skin at a birthday party or grab his brother’s yogurt when he inevitably doesn’t throw it away. I don’t want to have to worry that I mixed up the cereal bowls because I was too tired and accidentally gave him the one with real milk.

I’m also thankful that there’s a possibility that he’s outgrown his allergy. It’s tough to avoid touching certain foods. I feel awful for the kids who have allergies they can’t outgrow and that they will take through adulthood. Good thoughts for us that all goes well tomorrow and Declan happily slurps up some yogurt with no adverse reactions.

Lucky Number Seven

This past Saturday we celebrated Brady’s seventh birthday. Seven whole years of his being on this planet. Seven years of my being a mother and my husband being a father–of us being a family. It also reminded me that I have now officially been freelancing longer than I was a staffer. A very odd concept.

I always thought that I would grow up and go to college and then go to more college and then maybe some more and then I would get a job and be “successful.” Never was it in my future plans to try to juggle mostly full-time full-on mothering along with part-time work. That moment, seven years ago, when they placed my baby in my arms was probably the most defining one of my entire life. It threw all of the descriptors I had of myself to the wind and left me grasping for new ones.

I think that in the last seven years I’ve done a fairly good job of both finding new ways to define myself and of letting go of definitions. It’s not easy and I don’t always succeed, but I have come to be have a more expansive self definition than I ever did before kids. I can see myself as  “mom, wife, editor, yogi, friend, sister, daughter, activist,” and many more. It’s difficult sometimes to accept that I am many things all in one, but motherhood, and age and experience, have helped me find myself more fully.

Ok, back to that seven-year-old boy. I have also loved growing my definition of my son and seeing him grow in his view of himself. Where once he played with shiny things and loved buttons, he has now decided that he likes the Seattle Seahawks and Pokemon and reading about boys having adventures and so many other things. He is no longer just my baby. He is a student, a friend, a son, a grandson, a helper, a martial artist, a soccer player. And who knows what the future holds.

In those struggling days of having a new baby and trying desperately to hold onto who I was, I never imagined having conversations with my son about the different dinosaurs and why they died out or what dark matter is or how shark lose their teeth and replace them all the time. I didn’t realize all that he would teach me, not just about myself, but about the world. It’s a great gift of parenthood. Children test your limits at every turn and surprise you when you least expect it.

Seven whole years of my life as mom and he’s grown and changed so much, and he has also changed me. Amazing.

Here’s to my astounding seven-year-old and to all that he is and will be.

Scars

On Friday afternoon I was enjoying some freedom. Both kids were in school and I was waiting on my next batch of work. I was out in the neighborhood. A nanny I’m friendly with and hadn’t seen in awhile stopped me to chat and we were catching up when my phone rang. The number was familiar. “Oh no,” I said to her as I hit answer, “I think this is school.”

On the phone was the school nurse. She told me that Brady had collided with another student in gym class and had “a fairly large laceration.” I heard “stitches” and “do you want me to call an ambulance?” and then said “I’ll be right there!” and started running toward school. Of course, this was the worst time for this to happen because Declan’s school day was about to end. I called his school and they brought him down to me as I passed by on my way to get Brady.

When I arrived at the office he was there waiting for me…with a HUGE bandage wrapped around his head and over his left eye. I hugged him and signed him out and spoke quickly to his teacher and the nurse, both of whom thanked me for being so calm. I’m glad I looked calm, because I didn’t really feel calm. I felt like I needed to do whatever needed to be done, but I did NOT feel calm. So off I went with Brady and Declan to the Urgent Care which is, thankfully, two blocks from school and right across the street from our building.

Somewhere in there I had called the husband and he arrived from work just as we got into the exam room. It was a good thing because when the doctor unravelled that bandage I was wholly unprepared for the wound hiding underneath. I’ll spare you the gory details, but it was basically a 1 inch by 1 inch hole in his forehead above his left eyebrow. I took in the sight of it and leaned back against the wall, keeping one hand firmly on Brady’s the whole time. I am not good with blood. Actually that is an understatement. I am HORRIBLE with blood. It is a good thing I never attempted to enter into the health profession. This kind of mangled flesh on my own child was just…wow. It was gross and painful and shocking and just pure awful. The doctor looked it over and called the husband into the hallway to tell him that we needed to call in a plastic surgeon for this one.

We had to wait for the surgeon. A friend came and got Declan for us, for which I am so very grateful. Brady was in good spirits in the waiting room, chatting and playing games on my phone. But once we were back in the room with the surgeon, he sort of freaked. The surgeon probed the cut, moving it from side-to-side as I tried to look Brady in the eye with a calm demeanor without looking at all at the blood. The worst part was to come…lidocaine. I, personally, HATE lidocaine with the fire of a thousand suns, which is approximately what it feels like when it’s injected into my body. I braced myself, but I wasn’t ready. When the doctor began injecting the wound, Brady flipped…the eff…out!

The husband and I laid over his body to keep him still as he screamed and tried to escape. I knew it hurt. I tried to look at him and be reassuring. He howled in pain and the needle slipped and we covered him. I felt nauseous and light headed. I knew my face was white. I kept my place until the injections were done and he was numb. Then I kept my arm across his legs and sat in the chair behind me before I lost it and found myself lying on the floor next to the table.

I was transported to a day at the beginning of my second grade year. To an exam room in a hospital where a doctor was putting x-ray films up on a lighted wall. I was amazed by the jutting bone I saw in the knee up there on the wall. I turned to my mother who was ghostly white and grasping for the chair behind her. In that second I knew exactly how she felt that day. That horrible realization that your child is injured. Like, really hurt, not a scrape or a cut or bump or bruise. That sick horrific feeling of not being able to do a single thing to make it go away and knowing you have to go through the painful process that will make it heal. It is a feeling one thousand times more awful than the sick you might feel when you yourself are injured.

I healed. I had two surgeries and have one heck of a scar on my knee to show for them. I spent 5 days in the hospital, missed 6 weeks of school, went to physical therapy. Brady’s healing process will be significantly less traumatic. He got several layers of stitches, for the several layers of flesh that were split open. He can’t participate in any sports or other physical stuff this week for fear of reopening the wound. He’ll have the non-dissolvable stitches out on Friday. He will have a scar, but it will be light and fine. We assure him it will be rock-star cool.

While he won’t have the complicated healing process I did when I was in second grade, I’m not sure the scar on my heart will be much lighter than the one my mother carries. I know she must see that x-ray each time she sees the line running down the side of my right knee as I’m sure I’ll see that needle when I look at the line on Brady’s forehead. Both my mother and I are lucky that these were injuries that heal. Some parents get a much tougher lot. But seeing your child’s body broken in any way is, just, traumatic. Kids get stitches. They break bones. They play and they fall and they break and then they heal. It is life. They accumulate scars just as we all do; reminders of falling off a bike, or running into someone in gym, or a door slammed shut at the wrong moment. Parents carry the scars as well; the scars of seeing open flesh and crooked wrists, of stemming the blood with a t-shirt and of rushing to the doctor. Sometimes, it feels as if my children are drifting away from me. That each day they take one more step from needing me. But as far as they walk on their own, they will always be a part of me. They left their scars on my body with their birth and scars on my heart with their lives. And I cherish them all.

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.