15 years later

I almost forgot the date. But then I stepped outside into a bright sunny day and in a flash, my mind rewound to another blue-skied morning. Why do we universally remember the remarkable sky on that dark day?

I took a moment to reflect and went on with my to do list. Helped shuttle kids for my older son’s 15th birthday outing. Watched Wallace and Gromit with my younger. Edited my latest manuscript. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Plans to show (for the first time)  9-11 footage to the boy born four days after tragedy struck were postponed due to his homework load. “Hmmm. I’m not going to cry today,” I thought.

But it only takes one story of loss to unleash the tears. And now they flow unimpeded. And I’m reminded—

I was scared out of my mind on September 11, 2001. Scared for my safety. Scared for the unborn Jack. Scared for my city, my family, my friends, and my country. But I was also grateful. For a secure place with loved ones and strangers alike to watch horror and sadness unfold. For those who provided comfort, not just to me but all around. And mostly, for the heroes of the day, some whose courageous acts we didn’t yet comprehend.

As a heavy layer of dust settled over us literally and figuratively, I wondered how the world my child grew up in would differ from the world I experienced in my youth. And suddenly the answer is clear. Today, the threats may be different, but our humanity remains intact.

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.

like sands through the hourglass

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I am officially mother to a fourteen-year old. While the age thirteen sounds whimsy and sixteen, scary, I’m not sure what to say about fourteen. I barely remember myself at that age.

I turned fourteen in 1983. Like my son, I was in 8th grade. Unlike my son, I had a perm, bad feathered bangs and wore bright purple eye makeup. I’d never been kissed. Return of the Jedi came out that year, but I only know that because I googled 1983 cultural occurrences. Apparently my mom was paying a buck-thirty-five for a gallon of milk and a dime less for gas.

But back to Jack. I asked this sprouting teenager over breakfast what responsibility he’d like to be granted in honor of his 14th year.

“The right to do everything I want,” he said, foam of a homemade latte on his lip.

“Doing everything is overrated,” I replied. “Really, what do you wish you had the freedom to do?”

We talked about his taking the metro alone or going to the movies with friends. Maybe a solo metro ride to the movies with friends. Otherwise, I was at a loss for suggestions, and Jack didn’t have any ideas either. Moms of fourteen-year olds, I’m open to your thoughts. Essentially, I want to give him space to grow, but within the bounds of what’s safe. A doable challenge that will make him feel good about himself. And then I want to help him build on the added responsibility rather than force him to drink from the firehose of adulthood. I don’t have many more years left to shape this soon-to-be young adult. I want to get it right.

I’m not one to miss the years gone by, but tonight we will look at his baby book, sing happy birthday and celebrate the funny, thoughtful, witty, guy he’s growing to be.

eleven years (and a day) ago…

When you’re the second child, not only do you not have a baby book, but your mom posts your birthday tribute a day late.

Eleven years (and a day) ago, I was so very pregnant and ready to kick you out of my body. You teased me, sending me into labor in the middle of the night and then cooling your heels. But your hurry up and wait approach to birth gave time for Jaxon’s mom to drive down from Philadelphia to video your arrival, secret footage you may never want to watch.

I’m not sure how it came to be that eleven years (and a day) passed with the blink of an eye. I wish I had rocked you more and spent more time breathing in your baby scent. I wish I hadn’t been in such a working mom hurry for you to get “easier” to raise by joining your brother in meeting all the major milestones: eating solid foods, sleeping through the night, using the bathroom, playing by yourself, etc. etc. etc. I never considered that every age you’ve been was the last time I got to experience that age as a parent.

I was under the impression parenting got easier as your children grew older, but nothing could be farther from the truth. No, you can’t have a Twitter account. (Though I’m curious to read what you’d post, I’ll let you date before I grant you permission to get on social media, and that includes Instagram.) No, I can’t help with your math homework because they changed the math rules between the time I learned math and now. And I’m sorry, but the big kids get to sit in the back of the bus even if you get there first. It’s not fair now but it will be when you’re their age.

The good news is I won’t always make up the rules. When you have your own house, you can stock your shelves with Oreos, Lucky Charms, Cheetos and apple cider, which you can drink any time you want, day or night. You can stay up late and have sleepovers whenever your heart desires. I just fear that day will be upon us too fast. And before I know it, I’ll be sitting on the porch in my rocking chair, gin and tonic in hand, watching the video of your birth and wondering how that tiny, smart, funny, thoughtful baby grew up so very fast into the big, smart, funny, thoughtful man I know you’re going to be.

on being polite

Spurred by my experience at the soccer game the other day, I got to thinking about what it means to be polite.

When the now infamous swinger soccer dad took our conversation down a particular path, I should have stopped him short: “Excuse me, sir, but I’m trying to focus on my son’s game.” I could have achieved the same result by relocating my seat. I could have told him to shut the fuck up. But I didn’t do any of those things, because I didn’t want to cause a scene.

Nor did I follow my instincts last month when a particular situation made me uncomfortable; I didn’t want to offend my friend and/or her significant other by changing course. And I’ve regretted that decision.

What does all this say about my disposition? I’m not a pushover, but I don’t like to create waves. In fact, I loathe confrontation. I like to keep the peace. And I’ve been doing just that my entire life, starting with my divorced parents, continuing with feuding roommates, and still now when the moment calls for diplomacy.

But there’s a balance to be struck. We teach our kids manners. We tell them to let us know when they seen an injustice being committed. But what if calling out that injustice requires us to temporarily shelve those manners? Frankly, being polite isn’t always the best, or safest, approach. It’s not impolite to protect yourself, be it from jerks sitting in the bleachers or worse.

Does anyone think Creepy Dad is sitting at home thinking, “gosh, I was really impolite to that soccer mom the other day.” Hell, no. He’s probably charting a new course of action to try out at the next game. And I will be prepared with a strongly worded response. If he thinks I’m being rude, then so be it.

 

 

jack on jack

My kid is rather perfect, whether he’s displaying a moment of creative flair or getting on his preteen angst.

Today he turns 12. As we celebrate his loud arrival into the world, instead of my usual birthday gushing, I share with you the words Jack chose to describe himself as part of a recent art project. Frankly, I couldn’t have captured his essence better myself.

Short. Thoughtful. Energetic. Daring. Keen. Good. Curious. Witty. Messy. Leader. Smart. Happy. Excited. Proud. Busy. Patriotic. Successful. Funny. Humorous. Self-confident. Imaginative. Bright. Creative. Pleasing. Tireless. Thrilling. Brave. Inventive. Unselfish. Helpful. Tenacious. Honest. Joyful. Expert. Confident. Artistic. Adventurous. Friendly. Light. Cheerful. Fighter.

As a parent, you want your children to be self-aware, to know how truly amazing they are. With Jack’s self portrait, I know that he sees in himself the same qualities I see him. And I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Happy birthday, Jack Rabbit!

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goodbye Lola Jane

Today we say goodbye to Lola Jane Maxwell Henderson, the first cat I owned in my own right and did not just lay claim to via family rights and roommate situations.

The first time I laid eyes this tiny fur ball, I knew she’d be mine, even though my “now ex, then future” husband proclaimed to be allergic.

I figured, there are drugs he can take for that.

I adopted her from a woman who saved her from the wild. She was about 4 weeks old when we first met and being bottle fed. While I didn’t bring her home until she was 8 weeks, I saw her almost everyday during that time. (My EPW friends might remember this period in my life when I had a “kitty in a box” in my office.)

In the last 13 years, in addition to providing us joy, purrs, and more than a few scratches, Lola has defied death twice.

First, after her spay, she chewed the narcotic “pain patch” off her torso and ingested it, sending her into a drug overdose and us to the Betty Ford Clinic for Cats in the wee hours of the morning. (There is never a good time for the off-hours Animal ER.)

The second time, she was diagnosed with a recurring form of bladder stones that would require repeated operations to remove. We had just given birth to Colin and were in the process of trying to buy a house, thus thousands of dollars in vet bills were not affordable. We begged for alternatives. Meds. Food. The vet said nothing else would work but surgery. Until we scheduled her euthanasia, of course, at which point the vet gave Lola prescription food which she ate for a month, the stone dissolved, and she never had a recurrence.

We don’t go to that vet anymore.

She survived the birth of two little boys. She tolerated their toddler years then eventually adopted them as her own. She routinely sleeps on Colin’s bed. She was pissed off at first when we brought Fang and Fluffy home but grew to accept them and even gave Fluffy the cat equivalent of a fist bump upon her return from the wild. (We’ve had quite the Cat Spring.)

But the vet says there are no more miracles for Lola. A tumor on her heart the size of a grape and additional tumors on her lungs make breathing labored, and while she hasn’t stopped purring, she’s in great discomfort.

In a selfish way, I want to keep her until the natural end, but I know this isn’t the right thing to do. This morning, a mobile vet will come over and help ease her out of her misery.

As Jack said this morning when he found me sobbing, “it’s her time, Mommy.”

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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.

the truth about Santa

Last year, I had a very serious conversation with Jack about Santa. If you go back and reread it, you will see what I said versus what I wish I had said.

Let’s just say, the other night I got my wish.

Once again, it didn’t happen as expected. In fact, I precipitated the conversation in a very unfortunate way. After a frustrating moment with a naughty kitty, I muttered something under my breath about her needing to stop her bad behavior or I was going to find her a new home, Jack started crying. (For the record, he was not supposed to hear such crazed mommy mutterings.) I tried to calm him down and explain that I didn’t mean it, I was just frustrated. Out of nowhere he proclaimed, “I know exactly what I’m going to ask Santa for this Christmas. I’m going to ask him to bring back all the pets I know who have died in the last year. Jack Dog, Roxy, Squee. I want them all back.”

Oh shit.

Me: “Baby, you know Santa can’t do that, right?” I whispered softly into the top of his head.

Jack: “But Santa is magic, and he can do anything!” Jack practically wailed.

Me: “Kids, we need to have a talk about Santa.”

I told them about Saint Nicholas. I talked about the spirit of giving. I assured them that believing in the magic of the season keeps the holiday vibrant. I don’t want them to lose that magical feeling just because there isn’t a white-haired man in a flying sleigh who distributes presents to each kid around the world. I used reason. I used passion. Jack initially bawled, but then seemed soothed by the idea that he can personally have a role in perpetuating the spirit of the holidays.

Me: “Do you guys understand?”

Jack: “Yes. It’s better to give than receive. And I can make the holidays bright by giving to those I love.”

Me: “That’s right! Colin?”

Colin: “Yeah, just one question, mom. What about the reindeer? Are they real?”

At least there weren’t any questions about the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. One burst bubble at a time.

strengths and weaknesses

We all have talents.

When it comes to holidays, I totally excel at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving is a no-brainer for me. I love food. I love wine. I love big dinners with my closest friends and family. Of course my favorite holiday is the one where you are supposed to eat and drink all day with your nearest and dearest. And be thankful for all your have in life, of course.

I do Christmas well too. I painstakingly decorate my tree with hand strung popcorn and cranberries. I have amassed an amazing collection of ornaments over the years. We bake an obscene number of cookies. Filling the children’s stockings (not with socks and flashlights, thank you) gives me great joy. I make the contents funny and meaningful, and enjoy the stocking ritual more than I do the unwrapping of presents.

Sadly, I’m kind of sucky at Halloween.

There’s no reason why. Halloween means fall. It’s the holiday for my favorite color, orange. I love how happy Halloween makes the kids. Carving pumpkins is fun, especially now that the boys are old enough to help, and I don’t have to do all the work. I don’t even really have to decorate the house by myself anymore because the kids take care of it, although this year, Halloween snuck up on us. We didn’t have the usual countdown of days and we never got our fake cobwebs on the bushes or any of our other decorations out of the storage bin except two strands of skeleton garland.

So where does the angst originate? For me, it’s the costuming. I might be able to put together an outfit, but visualizing a costume is a different story. I sometimes get paralyzed over this process, especially when the kids give vague orders like they did this year: “just order us vampire teeth and claws and we’ll figure out the rest.” I know I have to let go and just trust that their vision is fulfillable once we put it to the test tonight. Maybe I’m a tiny bit scarred by Halloween four years ago when Jack was going to be a zombie but decided at the last minute that he wanted to be an “army man” and threw on a camo t-shirt and grabbed a neon nerf gun as a prop. He looked like he did any other day outside playing with his friends.

Whatever the naissance of my panicky Halloween state, I sit at my desk today not consumed by the election or superstorm coverage, but by the internal debate as to whether I should buy werewolf hair (Jack says they don’t need it) in case whatever they have planned doesn’t work accordingly. Or maybe I can just let go of the worry and grab another piece of candy.