the strong but silent type

I don’t remember your cries at birth. I think I was too tired from being in labor for longer than I wanted, which sounds absurd because no woman wants to be in labor for any period of time. But when your brother was born, the nurses told me his birth was so easy my second baby would pop out with a sneeze. Fast forward two and a half years, those three bouts of preterm labor led me to believe you were eager to make your arrival. But oh no, once the real labor finally started, you weren’t quite comfortable with the idea of a whole new world. Until you were comfortable, that is, when you loosened your grip and took us from two centimeters to birth in 20 minutes.

This zero-to-sixty pattern continues to define you. You’re taciturn until suddenly you’re ready to entertain with a story. You resist change, but then on a dime advocate for it fiercely. Some days you barely eat, until without warning I can’t get enough food in your body.

I worried about your reaction to my recent accident. Sensitive at the core, but either unwilling or unable to always show it, I suspected seeing me in a hospital bed would bother you. And I was right. You didn’t cry or ask what happened. In fact, you sat ramrod straight in the chair. You could barely look me in the eye. You asked about safe topics like whether I had any snacks. You hugged me cautiously. But I could read the worry in your eyes.

I feel compelled to constantly reassure you I’m fine.

Until I broke my ankle, I still tucked you and your brother in at night, every night, without fail. It pains my heart that in my current condition I can’t get upstairs for our bedtime ritual. The other night, the thought that you wouldn’t want or need it anymore tugged mercilessly at my heart. As if you heard my anguish, after the lights were out, you came downstairs to tuck me in.

Inside that skinny preteen body a strong, sensitive man is brewing. I love watching your new layers and complexities emerge.

Happy birthday to my baby.

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the son of all fears

My younger son had a panic attack last week. I wasn’t with him; he was on spring break with his dad and brother, exploring a cave outside Austin, Texas. I talked to him on the phone after the incident and he sounded fine, but I know how my little guy gets once he decides he’s scared of something.

“Mom, I figured out in the cave that I have claustrophobia,” he declared last night.

“Hey,” I tried to reassure him. “Anyone can feel uncomfortable in a dark cave. It doesn’t mean you have claustrophobia.”

“Do you have any phobias?” he asked.

“Nope,” I replied, trying to keep it light.

“Do you have any fears?” he pressed.

Do I have fears? I know he meant of the dark (yes), heights (no), or spiders (sometimes) but my mind went elsewhere. This child collects fears. Through therapy, in his young life we’ve already had to address his fear of candles, knives (even the butter slathering variety) and holly berry bushes. (“What if I accidentally eat a berry?”) He grows anxious if a passenger stands too close to the ledge on the metro and admitted recently he is apprehensive of flying. If I have a fear, it’s his letting fear stand in the way of enjoying life.

I knelt down beside him.

“You know buddy, I do have fears. It’s totally normal to be frightened, especially of the unknown. I probably would have felt the same way you did in the cave, but we can’t live our lives being scared or we’d never try new things.”

He nodded and looked to the ground. I squeezed his shoulders and reminded him he hasn’t met a pillow fort he didn’t want to live in forever. Only time (and a pillow fort in my living room) will tell how deeply seeded his claustrophobia is. And in the meantime, I will try not to let fear of his fears morph into my own phobia.

the mother of the teen

Last night I went to bed as regular old me and this morning I woke up the mother of a teenage son.
It’s hard to believe that the little baby who cried his way into the world 13 years ago, the baby whose every move I fascinated over, chronicled, and photographed is now old enough to, well, pout alone in his room and know absolutely everything there is to know.
When Jack was an infant, I checked and double-checked Dr. Spock to see what skills, milestones, immunizations to expect. Then at some point, I stopped looking and just enjoyed each stage of his life for what it was.
Now is when I kind of want a manual. (When) will he get moody? (When) will he despise my presence? (When) will he argue with me just for the sake of having a different perspective? Acne? Body hair? Growth spurt? The voice change? Physical changes I can see and register but as he stretches his wings into adulthood, I have no basis for what to expect other than what I’ve heard from parents who have endured the same.
I guess he’s in that crazy stage of development where anything can happen at any time. For now I will relish every moment he doesn’t sulk at the dinner table, talk back or get embarrassed by being out in public with me. I mean really, the kid still has a few baby teeth, so hopefully we have time; he’s such an enjoyable kid. Funny, thoughtful, engaging, curious. And my challenge as a parent is to make sure he retains all those wonderful qualities for the period of time I have left to influence him. And of course to do that without his noticing.

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motherhood is…

Fielding approximately 278 questions a day (more if you have daughters). Maintaining a healthy supply of band aids and Neosporin because even accidents that don’t draw blood require bandaging. Making tacos every week because sometimes you need to hear someone yell ” yippee!” when dinner is announced. Doing laundry. Stepping on small Lego pieces that leave you cursing and hopping in pain. Officiating over homework that gets increasingly hard to figure out.

Seeing pictures of your children and noting how much they’ve grown, even if the photo was taken yesterday. Hearing their conversations when they don’t know you’re listening and realizing you’ve taught them well. Watching them struggle but also thrive. Hoping beyond hope that just once your kid will get a hit instead of walking or striking out. Discussing a book you’ve both read.

Nurturing. Forgiving. Loving. Aching. Creating small humans who blossom into smart, funny, loving and caring beings, part you but fully themselves.

happy birthday, little man

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Nine years ago, at 1:55pm, you stormed your way into my world.

And since then, you’ve turned it upside down. You have a wickedly funny sense of humor. You’re an expert cuddler. The rare nights you crawl into bed with me, you know that the very best way to do so is to be such a stealthy and expert spooner that I won’t notice you’re there. And I don’t. Until I do. And then I savor each moment. I know they are numbered.

Every morning, you hold the screen door open for me, my arms full of bags as I fumble with the keys. (By way of contrast, your brother lets it slam behind him, right onto my shoulder.) I know you want to ride shotgun all the time. But in spite of what you think, while it’s true I worked in the Senate, I don’t make the laws. At least, I didn’t make the laws that dictate what age you have to be to ride in the front seat.

You’re messy. But you’re sweet. Sometimes sticky. Quiet and loud at the same time. (How do you do that?) You have not met a piece of trash you don’t think is beautiful. (Please don’t become a hoarder.) You are the only one in the immediate family who can carry a tune, and for that reason I apologize on my and Jack’s behalf for our bad car singing.

Speaking of, I could live the rest of my life not hearing Eye of the Tiger again and be fine, but it makes you happy. So we listen to it. On repeat.

You are our cat whisperer, the only one who can pick them up and cradle them in one arm without them twisting down and running away. You’re growing up so fast and are almost as tall as your brother. But you still cover your eyes when a kissing scene appears in a movie. I’ve tried to tell you that kissing is fun, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to the day that you decide to take my word for it.

The idea of loving someone so much it hurts was definitely conceived by a mother. There are days I look at you and I never want to let you outside where you will face life’s cruelties. But then I want you to be part of the world’s adventures, so I let you out the door in the morning.

The door you hold open for me. In so many ways.

ten lessons I have learned in my first ten years of being a mother

https://i1.wp.com/adoptivedads.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Band-Aid.jpgLet me get one thing straight: I have learned more than ten parenting lessons.  But on today, the day that marks ten years of my being a mother, a day when my friend Angie is likely to give birth to her first child (I hope I didn’t just jinx the pace of your labor, Angie) I offer these lessons as a good cross-section of those things that the books don’t teach you.

In no particular order:

1. Band-aids are required for booboos that do not necessarily involve bleeding. As a parent, you just have to accept that you’re going to blow through a box of band-aids in a week, whereas when I was single the same box would linger in my medicine cabinet for over a year. A bruise, a bump, it doesn’t matter. Band-aids are accessories.

2. Sleep begets sleep. Early on as a parent, you may think to yourself one night, “we are having fun, drinking good wine, having conversation. Let’s let the kids stay up later, then they will sleep later and we can sleep in.” It doesn’t work that way. Kids who stay up later wake up at the same time in the morning, but are sleep-deprived, or in other words, cranky. But by some miracle, kids who go to bed early (and/or have a good nap) will sleep until their usual wake up time — or sometimes later.

3. On a related note… no amount of fun the night before is worth the pain the next morning. Now that my kids are of an age that they don’t wake me up in the morning, it doesn’t matter quite as much, but back when they were younger, I would have loved to hire someone for the morning after even more than being able to have the evening out.

4. If your child gets him or herself dressed, you look the other way if it doesn’t match. For several months, Jack’s “go to” outfit was a pair of bright red athletic pants and a kelly green tee-shirt. It hurt my eyes to look at him. But as long as that outfit was clean, I didn’t have to pick out his clothes or get him dressed. Then one morning, he was in said outfit at the table having breakfast, looked down at himself, and exclaimed, “I look like Christmas! I have to change.” In other words, he eventually figured it out.

5. Kids tell the same jokes and play the same annoying games we did as kids. You have to pretend you haven’t heard the banana/orange knock-knock joke a gazillion times. You suddenly understand why your parents wanted to leave you at a roadside stop after two hours of you and your sibling playing the copying game where they say what the other just said. Where they say what the other just said. Mom, he’s copying me. Mom, he’s copying me.

6. If there is anything worth crying over, it’s spilled milk. I forgot about this one until the other day when Nancy’s daughter spilled a whole pint of strawberry milk in her car. Neither of my boys really drink milk anymore, but back in the day, a cup of spilled milk seemed like it took longer to clean up than the oil spill in the Gulf. In other words, it’s no laughing matter.

7. Kids always know how much money they have in their wallets. So if you have to borrow some (like when you have to call the emergency locksmith because you grabbed the wrong set of keys while simultaneously closing the locked door behind you and you don’t have the required cash to get him to then leave your house once he has broken you back in) you must replace their money immediately (before you forget) and in the same denominations you took. You should also try to crinkle the bills up like they have been in the grasp of a sweaty hand.

8. Reverse psychology was invented to be used on kids. You want them to do something? Pretend you think it’s too dangerous or complicated or that they aren’t old enough, and before you know it they will be fighting over who gets to do it.

9. Kids cannot keep secrets. Ever. Not even small ones like, “don’t tell your brother I let you ride shotgun (watch TV, lick the bowl, stay up late).” And the bigger deal you make of the secret, the faster they will reveal it.

10. When you are having a bad day, your kids will inevitably make it worse. After a long day, coming home to cook a dinner that they won’t eat (even if it’s their favorite) and argue with them about bathing (“but I’m clean!”), teeth-brushing (“why?”), reading (“one more chapter?”) and bedtime (“I’m not tired!”), just when you are at your wits end, one will say something to make the day better. My favorite is this:

Child: “Mommy?”

Me: “Yes?”

Child: “I love you.”

And suddenly all the drama is worth it.