A Time Capsule Of Us

 

The other night I woke in a panic, with that unmistakable feeling I’d forgotten something. My eyes darted around the dark, taking stock of familiar surroundings, while my mind raced to retrieve what it was that sent me reeling.

Then I remembered. You. The one who made me a mom, my first baby. You are going to be in 5th grade. Not today, or even next month, but next year. If this year’s any indication, it’ll be here in the blink of an eye.

We’d just visited Open House, admiring the fruits of your 4th-grade year, which you eagerly showed your dad, brother, and me; proudly touring us around your classroom. For some reason, this year, the one on the heels of the 5th year you’ll spend as an elementary school-er, caught me off guard.

While you showed off your hand-drawn map of California and glazed, clay Grizzly Bear, I realized we’re standing smack-dab in the middle of your childhood. You are over halfway to “adult” and equidistant between training wheels and a driver’s license.

I thought there was more time, to do more together, that I always meant to do.

Like, read you more books. I didn’t know the clock was counting down minutes to the exact one (somewhere between Where the Red Fern Grows and A Wrinkle In Time) when you declared yourself too old to be read to. No hard feelings, but could I pleeeaase just let you read…alone?!

Tonight underscored what I already knew—you’re a big kid. I felt nostalgic for our time used up, and regretful for the time I’d wasted making you “hold on a second” until seconds piled into months and years that I’ve spent doing a bunch of who-knows-what, instead of what I meant to do with you.

I sat in the dark, wanting to climb the stairs to your room, crawl into your bed, and wrap my arms around your now-up-to-my-chin body (obviously I didn’t because you love sleep and um…boundaries!) Instead, I fed my Judgy-Inadequate-Mom-Demons moments of us— the good stuff—to keep them quiet; and prevent me from nosediving into the deep end of the mommy-guilt pool I’d been circling.

I did impossible math in my head, adding up milestones and memories until they equaled 10 years old; validation I had actually poured into you as much as I had left out.

I saw you, tiny and pink, wrapped in blue, polka-dot muslin, asleep in my arms while we rocked in the worn, sage-green chair that is now in your brother’s room, but was then brand new, our safe haven for discovering nursing and the pitch-black stillness of 3AM together; when we were just beginning.

I saw your first, wobbly, barefoot, pudgy-toed steps toward me, in our old house with warm bamboo floors and sunlight streaming in, making your new-tooth smile look like a washed-out home movie.

I saw your boppity-bouncy toddler gait evolve into steady, even strides running alongside me through busy streets to catch trains that took us to museums, swimming lessons, and afternoon tea in rainstorms, where we discussed dragons and pirates, and you wondered all your what-ifs to me out loud.

I saw the first time I broke us, by yelling louder than I meant to; but then how we were fixed with hugs, and apologies, and Candyland.

I saw euphoria overtake your small body as the singsongy arrival of the ice cream truck sent you darting out the door, knowing I’d follow. Sitting in the sun, on the curb, creamy drips falling from sticks, we soaked in the sweet laziness of summertime, and made our own schedule — before school, homework, and baseball practice.

I saw us planting our first garden. To your delight, we actually grew a watermelon, which you named Jr., and checked on daily until you pronounced “him” full grown and planned a party in his honor, including balloons and cake, because you were a kid who believed in everything (even garden fruit) with your whole self.

I saw us at the cafe we’ve frequented since you were a tiny lump, and I, an exhausted new mom in search of caffeine and signs of adult existence. Look at us now; me with a cappuccino and you across from me with tea (instead of strapped into a stroller with a sippy-cup). We discussed your science project and the political climate in our country—because you’re big now. We played hangman and tic-tac-toe, and ordered chocolate crepes with whipped cream—because you are little, too.

I saw us passing through time, until at last, we caught up and I found what I needed.

Closure.

You’re not the extension of me you once were, needing me always, my hand to hold, my arms to hug, my lap to snuggle into for bedtime stories.

But you still need me, and I still see us, even if we’re changing.

Like when we watched “Toy Story 3” “for your brother” but he lost interest somewhere around the opening credits. You stayed, sinking into me on the couch, while we laughed at Buzz Lightyear’s “Spanish Mode” and exchanged knowing glances when Andy gave away his childhood toys.

You do actually let me read to you…sometimes…if you’re tired, and the plot is darker than you’d care to read alone; though you’d never admit it.

And while we’re both reading, or writing, it’s not long before I look up and realize you’ve quietly settled nearby; reassurance I’m still a moon in your orbit.

We’ve outgrown this side of childhood. But thanks to insomnia and mommy-guilt, I’ve gathered up memories for safe keeping, and made a time capsule of us. You may be over halfway to adult, but we’re just beginning to discover who you’re becoming as you grow up, as we grow up together, like we’ve been doing all this time.

This post was featured on HuffPost and Red Tricycle.

 

This Cake Is Everything

 

I spent the better part of today making a cake for my 4-year-old’s birthday party. Not just a one pan and frosting kind of cake. Nope. A “rainbow cake” which, you guessed it—includes EVERY color of the rainbow.

I divided batter into six mixing bowls and carefully blended each into a colorful arch of the rainbow; with the enthusiastic help of a PJ-clad 4-year-old sous chef. (I’m not gonna lie, he isn’t the cleanest of assistants, so calling it “help” is a stretch.)

This project requires A LOT of bowls, and six layers means six pans. (Really, three pans twice… Because who has six round pans?) However you add it up, a lot of mess and clean up are involved in This. One. Cake.

In many ways it’s crazy-making considering how easily I could pick up some cupcakes or cookies; which would be so totally appropriate for a 4-year-old’s birthday…where, let’s face it, a bunch of keyed-up preschoolers will sit just long enough to shove maybe three bites of frosting into their mouths (getting most of it on their face and cute party outfits) before they start running around the room and bouncing off walls.

So why do it?

a) I crave praise.

b) I’m one of those “Pinterest Moms” and this is another notch in my crafty, gingham apron strings.

c) I’m a masochist (and a martyr) who takes on insurmountable obligations and projects in excess.

These theories aren’t completely baseless. At one point or another I’ve been one…or the other…or all three—at once.

But not today.

Today, I’m a mom who feels like so much is out of my control when it comes to the current task at hand: raising my kids.

Every day is unpredictable and I’m kept on my toes a lot. My balancing act leaves tons to be desired, and most days, I eek by with a C (on good days a solid B). I yell, lose my patience, and have even, on occasion…gasp!…resented my children.

I’ve wanted to run out the front door, leaving their always-in-need-of-something little bodies behind, while I assume the me of decades ago; hopping into my green convertible and driving off to get sangria and tapas with the man I was madly in love with (who, by the way is the same man I’m married to, even though sometimes, sadly, I forget).

But I really do love those needy little monsters; so I stay. (Occasionally seeking out closed-end-tasks for sanity’s sake.)

Like baking fancy birthday cakes.

Somewhere in this buttercream frosting and R-O-Y-G-B-I-V is another year of my kid’s life gone by, another year of me being a mom, and a million things that both did and didn’t go well.

Like the frosting on this cake, depending on where I stand, how the light hits, or the angle of my gaze—I can see it as perfect, or I can see all the flaws.

Just like parenting.

The amount of care taken in adding one more candle to the cake is overwhelming.

Fevers, ER visits, X-rays, tears shed, tantrums thrown, knees skinned, pets lost (OK, they were tiny frogs, but the amount of sadness expressed rivaled me watching “E.T.”, so our dogs better live at least another 65 years!) All of this…and So. Many. Band-Aids.

But it can be lovely…

Rainy-day-book-forts, nose kisses, lazy banana-pancake-mornings, bubble baths, bedtime cuddles, kites flown, puddles stomped, ice cream licked, fears conquered, the unbridled and euphoric laughter of childhood floating down hallways, and fresh pencil lines on doorjambs proclaiming a newer, taller version has replaced last year’s model.

So much life in a year.

The possibilities of how these little lives might shake out over time makes my head spin with equal parts hope and fear.

Bookmarked in my mind is an image of my older son, exuberant when we made his “rainbow cake” six years ago, before I’d met the indifference of 10…proof he’s in there somewhere (and that favoritecolorrainbow is genetic).

For a minute today we all overlapped, in front of the round pans and the pre-heated oven, like déjà vu.

In this frenetic life that so easily pulls me in a million different directions, I need to touch hands with these memories sometimes, as a reminder of the life I intended…before becoming so wildly distracted with the life I am actually living.

Parenting is hard. I don’t trust myself to keep it up as well as I want to, for as long as I need to. (If all goes as planned, there’s a long way to go.)

Maybe by making this cake, I can do other things I already did right once. If I keep that up, maybe we’ll somehow get through “growing up” intact; even when life is turned upside down, or we disagree and want to make a run for it.

If we allow ourselves to overlap with memories from time to time, maybe it will remind us that we are unconditional.

As a parent, it’s easy to remember the times we fall short. I need to remember the times I showed up, had patience, and dove in with my whole heart. When I read the extra bedtime story, hugged a little longer, and played Candyland 17 times in a row. I need to remember the days I was the best version of me: making magic out of cake mix. 

I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m a realist, so I’ll take stock of what is sure.

Another year is in the books, this memory is mine to keep come what may, and as we journey together toward one candle older, I will fold down the corner on this day to visit again.

A time when mixing birthday batter into rainbows, and the joyful face of a little boy who has his whole life ahead of him, is all I need.

And for reasons maybe only I understand…right now, this cake is everything.

This post was featured on The Huffington Post 

To My Childhood Icons: This Is Not Goodbye

 

Last week I took my son and nine of his friends to see “Rogue One” for his 10th birthday. As soon as he was old enough, my husband and I introduced him to the world of “Star Wars” and let him watch the movies one by one, in the same order we saw them as kids.

Partly, we wanted him to experience them the way we did, having to work backward to the beginnings of Anakin, and the dark and twisty path he took to become Darth Vader. But we also wanted him to meet our favorite characters first; the ones we idolized growing up. We actually couldn’t wait to introduce him to them, as though they were old friends: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia.

As parents, it is sometimes more exciting to relive our childhood memories through the eyes of our children, than to make them in the first place. Just for a moment we hop backward on an ever-moving timeline, that often leaves little time for nostalgia.

As I watched my son and his friends at “Rogue One,” statue-still and mesmerized, I remembered my first “Star Wars” movie. The slant gold font disappearing into a starry screen; a hint of the adventure that was about to unfold, in a galaxy far, far away.

I knew what was happening; they were making a memory.

This was one of those times as parents where we overlap. Like deja vu, we uncover our own memories as a result of making new ones for our kids.

When I was 7, my great grandmother made me a Princess Leia costume for Halloween. She took liberties and made it out of shiny, pink satin— because on Halloween you can be anything, even a pink Princess Leia.

When I put it on, I was transformed into a gutsy princess, who took orders from no one, and held her own among her (generally all male) counterparts. Covered head to toe in a cape of pink, with carefully wound braids above my ears, the world was mine to conquer; or so it seemed.

Now that I’m all grown up and a mother of two, I look forward to the day my kids reach an age where I can introduce them to the music, books, and movies that I loved as a kid.

This year, my generation suffered a whirlwind of loss in the childhood icon department. And though it can seem odd to be moved to tears when someone dies, that let’s face it―you didn’t even know; it still happens. We feel gutted and sad, as though we have lost something familiar, and that is because we have.

Our icons are part of us, woven into the fabric of time that shaped us, because they were there while we were making some of our most vital memories.

Early on, my family taught me that music held 1,000 stories, and even more emotions. By the age of 10, I knew exactly where to set the needle down on a vinyl record to cue Prince’s unmistakable guitar riff, signaling the start of “When Doves Cry.”

One of my first cassette tapes was “Purple Rain” and I played it until it fell apart. I bought it again on CD and the case is taped together and broken, but still a mainstay on our family playlist. My kids can belt out most of the tracks by heart; proof that some of me is sticking to them.

When I watch Gene Wilder brilliantly personify Willy Wonka, inviting my children into the unimaginable world that is edible wallpaper, chocolate waterfalls, and fizzy drinks that allow you to defy gravity; what they don’t see, perched on the edge of our couch, is a child-sized me, full of wonder and amazement at the magical world unfolding on the screen.

As Alan Rickman so delicately embodies the complexities of Severus Snape, or the loving but flawed husband in “Love Actually,” it reminds us that even those we love the most have shortcomings; and that to love wholly, is to love in spite of imperfections.

When David Bowie leads us to the middle of a labyrinth as the hypnotizing Goblin King, we learn that songs and book pages can sometimes be trapdoors to escape the realities of family life…and the often shifty dynamics of high school.

When we dance around as George Michael belts out “Freedom” in our living room, what my kids don’t know, is that a lanky, frizzy-haired, braces-wearing, junior high version of me is dancing around with us.

Our icons hold so many of our memories. Their characters, music, and invitation to be our unique selves, influenced and changed us. Losing them is personal because somewhere between birthday parties, graduations, first loves, careers, marriages, children, and the place we are now, we leaned on them and they lifted us up.

Parts of us are forever frozen in time with them.

Broken-hearted young adults, in tiny first apartments, listening to songs through muffled speakers of cheap boomboxes at 2AM.

Exuberant teenagers embarking on road trips, wielding handmade mix tapes, and blasting music through open windows of first cars.

Bold little girls on Halloween, who knew that a princess was more than crinoline dresses and high heels.

And now, as parents, we are able to pass along parts of ourselves to our kids simply by playing a song in the car, or taking them to a movie on their 10th birthday.

Our secret hope is that we teach our own children a little of what we have learned over the years:

That validation, comfort, and purpose can be found in the space between the lyrics of a song.

Sometimes “Little Red Corvettes,” “Purple Rain,” and a little “Faith” will pull you through.

A shimmering doe Patronus in the night sky teaches us all we need to know of bravery and unconditional love.

Jeff Buckley, Leonard Cohen, and “Hallelujah” can heal almost anything.

The journey to finding your true self may just lie with a Goblin King in the middle of a “Labyrinth.”

And in the moments we are lost, and our path feels uncertain; in a galaxy far, far away―There is always hope.

This post was featured on The Huffington Post 

Our Eyes Adjust

 

My 3-year old and I have this deal at bedtime—two stories on my lap, five minutes of cuddle time, and a big ‘double hug’ goodnight. Each time, as I flip the lights off after stories and make my way to his bed, I am stopped in my tracks. It’s always darker than black and I can’t see. Even though it happens every night, I am never any less surprised. Every time, I have to take a minute and let the ambient light filter in before I can navigate through the darkness to his bed, and snuggle in beside him. Once my eyes adjust.

Adjust. Adapt. Move forward. It’s in our DNA; we evolve. Our beds, once warm with same-sized bodies and newspapers strewn about on lazy, Sunday mornings are now filled with miniature, ever-wiggling versions of ourselves, tiny feet in our backs, alarm clocks that never give us enough time to meet the demands of our day-to-day, and exhausted partners desperate for sleep, who don’t kiss us goodnight anymore. We barely even remember where we started. Our eyes adjust.

Our tiny babies, once so miraculous and novel, who filled us with meaning as they smiled for the first time, just for us; become burdensome as we struggle for sleep and  time to ourselves. They grow into bigger, saltier versions of themselves, challenging us at every turn, pushing us away and daring us to love them anyway. Instead of their cribs, we pick them up from school. Barely meeting our gaze—we know not to ask about their day. We hardly recall when they were once perched in bulky carseats, filling the air with non-stop-words. Our eyes adjust.

We get so busy living, we actually forget the moments that once shaped and defined us as parents. I don’t remember the last time I sat in a rocking chair with my shirt pulled up to my neck and sleepily nursed a child. Or the last time I zipped up footie pjs or snapped a onesie. I don’t remember the last time my oldest child held my hand or kissed me goodbye at school drop off. And I can’t remember the very last time I set him down and never picked him up again. Our eyes adjust.

New firsts crowd out the lasts so fast we don’t even have time to notice. Our lives fill up with milestones. Tiny, pudgy hands, are now lean, capable fingers; effortlessly playing piano keys and guitar chords. Clumsy toddler steps become swift and sure, as they steal home plate or kick the winning goal. Our laps, once filled with lift-the-flap bedtime books are instead dinnertime discussions of heroes and wizards who face complex moral dilemmas. Four protective stroller wheels transform into sturdy two-wheel bikes; shiny helmets and independence gleaming in the sunlight as we watch them ride away. As accomplishments pile up, trophies and schoolbooks replace finger-painted pictures and carefully constructed clay figures on bedroom shelves. Our eyes adjust.

If we’re lucky, the mundane takes over and we sail through the middle of life. Because darkness can strike unexpectedly, as my friends and I have seen all too well. Divorce, illness, saying goodbye too soon—to parents, friends, or God forbid, a child. In a blackout, the best you can do is stop, breathe, and wait for the ambient light to come. And it does, eventually. Me too, I’m here, I’ll wait, When you’re ready, I’ll listen. It seems insurmountable, but the darkness will lift. Our eyes will adjust.

We move forward. We move on. Some days we are so shiny and new, the future is bursting with promise. Other days we are caught off guard. Maybe it’s an old photo in the junk drawer, the look on someone’s face, a familiar smell, a memory that catches our breath, or the love-worn item we discover under the seat of our car—now forgotten and obsolete, but once full of context. Or it’s the stranger from Craigslist in our garage, thumbing through our kid’s old sleep sacks and checking the tread on tires of a worn down stroller, miles of memories, asking, “How much?” For a minute we lock eyes with them and envy where they are, looking ahead at what we’ve left behind. We close our eyes and soak it all in.

But when our eyes open, we are right where we belong; buttering the toast, feeding the dog, filling our car with gas, picking up way-too-big-and-sweaty bodies from baseball practice, or loading our old memories into someone else’s trunk in exchange for $60.  We move on from the moments we are caught in the dark; stopped in our tracks. We wait. We breathe. We count. And before we know it, we can see again and move forward in the direction we were heading.

Across the dark bedroom floor, to the bed with the little, warm, squirmy, not-yet-grown-up body, waiting to wrap themselves around us. Once our eyes adjust.

This post was featured on Mamalode 

Dear Boss, Sorry, Not Sorry…I’m Taking A Sick Day

Dear Boss (AKA The Me Who Doesn’t Really Lounge Much and Forgets to Play With Her Kids):

I took a sick day today. In addition to the migraine that is trying to infiltrate my body—I just needed a day. If you want the truth, I think you did too. You can be really rigid with those to-do lists and schedules. Always rush. rush. rushing. You really did used to be a lot more fun before those tiny humans came along. Speaking of tiny people, you know who might have needed this day the most? Your youngest kid. (Sorry oldest kid, but you missed out, since you were off at school taking your responsibilities seriously. Clearly not a trait you get from me, as evident by the day your brother and I had.)

I got to spend a lot of time with Little-man today, just being. I didn’t feel 100%, but it wasn’t quite a sick-in-bed-and-can’t-move day, more like sick-enough-to-ignore-responsibilities-day, so we had some quality time to kick it together, completely guilt-free.

I didn’t want to do anything. The weather was gray and windy, perfect for shunting responsibility. There is A LOT I should have done today. I know you’ll get all anxious and edgy just thinking about this, but sometimes it’s best to face things head on; so here goes…

There are two full baskets of laundry that need folding, and another one in the dryer that may or may not be fully dry. (In fact, it’s quite possible that the whole load will need to be re-washed to avoid smelling like a car full of spilt milk on a hot day.)

I’ve also left you a sink-load of dishes that remain untouched…as in Not.Even.Rinsed.Off.

And you have a half-dozen emails and phone calls that need to be returned (some are actually time sensitive and important).

Instead of any of that, I did a lot of stuff I should probably do more of; that you should probably do more of.

Sorry, not sorry.

The day started with an extra long cuddle in bed after Little-man climbed in delighted that I wasn’t in a hurry to be anywhere else. He wasted no time getting in some “tummy touches”. (When he presses his belly into mine as much as he can while saying, Mommy, your belly is just. so. squooooshhhy! as though I’ve finally reached a long sought after and hard to achieve flabby-belly-status.)There were fuzzy covers and dogs everywhere. At one point there was a cat, but he took one look at us, flipped his tail and got on with his day; leaving us to our sloth-ing.

When we were ready, we moved our cuddle-fest to the couch. At this point your child was treated to a breakfast of champions: two cereal bars and a packet of fruit gummies. Hey, it’s not like I didn’t do anything. I had to retrieve a new box of bars from the pantry and open the d – – – things! Sometime during the “breakfast portion” of our day, I even heated up milk and put it in a “special cup” for your little cherub. And before you go all Judgy McJudgerson on me, he did not seem any worse for the wear.

Next, we parked ourselves on the couch for a good 90 minutes and watched a movie…yep, that’s right, an actual movie. Sure, it was animated, but it was also 90 minutes of nothing-doing. I know your almost-four-year-old is almost-never-still and has never actually watched a movie. (God knows you’ve tried.) Maybe his developmental readiness for cinema finally peaked, or…it could be that he was waiting for you to do what I did today:

Lie still (for more than 5 minutes), let him wrap his little legs around you under a cozy blanket (both of you in jammies) and watch…actually watch, the movie with him.

And that is what you did—no phone, no laptop, no getting up a million times to wash dishes, organize toys, or “check something”. Thanks to no caffeine and a dull headache that persuaded you to stay put, you just curled up on the couch with him, for the whole movie.

Today you were utterly free from distractions, and full of hugs.

After the movie, it was upstairs for a super-warm, extra-full bubble bath. (And I don’t mean to brag, but I was told it felt Juuust like a Hot Tub!) Instead of folding laundry, reading on your phone, or cleaning the toilet during said bath, like you usually do, I provided entertainment. There were intense submarine voyages where little knees and tiny toes were spotted underwater and tickled by “passengers” on the vessel. Giant whales in need of teeth brushing beached themselves on the edge of the tub and we both got to work scrubbing and singing along to Raffi…did I mention there was music? Yep, I pulled out all the stops on this one. And for the grand finale, not one…but two, hoodie towels were used, to keep in the warm.

Once he was in his coziest sweats, I read him his favorite book (the one he always wants you to read, that you have read a zillion times and usually hide under a pile of stuffed animals so you don’t have to ever read it again). Then, for old times’ sake, but mostly because I was too lazy to make the trek downstairs, I let him fall asleep on me in the rocking chair; all snug under a blanket. Since I had proclaimed myself task-free, I watched him for a while before laying him in his bed. I studied his little face as he breathed and watched his eyes twitch as he dreamed. I soaked him in and let the moments of our day sit with me, instead of rushing off to be somewhere else, do do something else…that can almost always wait.

Today I noticed that Little-man is not so little anymore. Did you know that in the bathtub, his long body stretches from end to end? And when he is wrapped in his superhero towel (the one that used to drag on the floor when he had the hood on), it barely hangs below his knees? And where the soft, pudgy, baby fat used to be, there are bony arms and legs everywhere? Did you know that his eyelashes are out of control? While we were drawing today, I noticed that when he looks down, they practically touch his cheek. Seriously, where did they come from, and can I have some?!

And since we are on the subject of faces; I discovered that lying nose to nose with a 3-year-old who is giggling is as restorative as soul-food, good music, and yoga combined.

I’ll just wrap up by saying, good for you, for giving me (us) this day to chill. You didn’t actually put up much of a fight, which makes me think there will likely be a lot more “sick days” in our future. I know it set us back a bit and we might all be wearing dirty clothes (or at least smelly) for a few days. But even if we are eating off of paper plates and playing catch up tomorrow, it was worth it. Little-man and I thank you for the time to reconnect and remember how lucky we are to be here, in this house, in this life…together; piles of laundry and all.

Oh, and tomorrow, when Little-man asks you to sit down and do a puzzle, or draw a picture, or hide under a blanket…from the dogs—do it. Not in a little bit, or later, or after you finish… Whatever it is; it can wait. (It waited today, and as far as I can tell, the world is still on its axis.) He is growing and changing so much, and you’ve already been missing it. When he asks you to play, say yes, enjoy him, be still with him. You’ll thank me later.

Sincerely,

Your On-the-Mend and Grateful Self

P.S. A few other things…Pajamas can totally double as day wear if you go with neutral tones; proving that “getting dressed” is both overrated and unnecessary. As proof, Little-man told me on more than one occasion (referring to my robe) that he loooved my beauuuutiful dress! Oh, and the dogs are pretty restless and in need of a walk. And don’t bother turning on the front porch lights tonight, the bulbs still need replacing. And if it rains before I get around to reprogramming the drip system, the neighbors…and the environment—are your problem.