Why I’ll Never Complain About Turning Another Year Older

 

 

I just had a birthday, and at this point in my life, the celebration is mostly for my kids. They gleefully plunge candles into frosting, and enthusiastically help me blow them out. (We don’t put the actual amount because that might be a fire hazard.)

The real truth is I don’t keep track of candles anymore. (Honest, just ask my friend who one year calculated my age as we drank wine on my couch, astutely pointing out that I was, in fact, one year younger than I thought!)

My lack of age awareness isn’t a sneaky way to avoid acknowledging that the years have continued to creep up. Mostly, it’s laziness. If I’m completely honest, my brain is so busy with calendar dates, vet visits, field trips, hot lunch orders, and the ever-present needs of my children, that keeping track of how old I am is not high on the list.

But the biggest reason I don’t keep track is that I’m unconcerned with the number of candles on my cake, as long as I get to keep adding more.

Growing up, I saw firsthand the fleeting nature of life. I lost several family members to cancer, including my mother. She turned 30 in the hospital after accepting a terminal diagnosis for which there was no treatment.

In my 20’s I was terrified I’d be dealt a similar fate due to genetics and superstitious foregone conclusions. So sure was I of my impending death, that for much of my life, I lived in fear of my 30th birthday, looming over me like the End of Days.

To my relief, I turned 30 without incident and am genuinely grateful for each year since. Over time I’ve seen friends face their mortality, lose parents to cancer, and struggle with the unimaginable ache of watching their children become chronically ill.

Months after having my first baby, I watched my husband nearly die in front of me. He was just 33 when he almost left this life for good, without ever knowing our newly born son.

Now, we are lucky to be raising two boys, who together have provided us with more than our fair share of trips to the ER, sometimes propelled by heart-thumping, gut-wrenching, please-let-my-kid-be-ok, fear.

At the risk of oversimplifying and sounding trite (which unavoidably, I do). I’ve come to realize that this life we are living is a gift.

Each time life has flaunted its impermanence in front of me, I’ve thrown out all my hopes into the universe and asked for more. More hugs, more laughter, more time, more years. I want as much time as possible with the ones I love, which inevitably means growing older.

We can look at aging as something that is happening to us, beyond our control. Or we can view it as a badge of honor, and the awesome privilege it is. Whether we focus on the destination or the journey is up to us.

The wear and tear of aging is evidence of all the living we’ve done; marking our bodies with keepsakes, reminding us of where we’ve been.

My scars are reminders of the times I tested personal limits, pushed boundaries, and learned about caution, risk, and judgment.

My freckles mark the carefree, sun-filled summers and mid-day hikes of my 20’s, tanning my skin and taking me to the tops of mountains and the shores of lakes when time stretched wide open, and there was nowhere I needed to be.

My once toned legs have been softened over the years by fewer gym visits and more giggling bodies piled onto my lap for bedtime stories, or late night starry-skied cuddles.

My tummy, at one time lean and flat, found its purpose as a safe-haven for two little humans to evolve from tiny bundles of cells into babies, my babies, ready to enter this world. Now squishy and round, it serves as a soft landing for tickle fights and frequently a pillow for my wildly-coiffed boys, while they watch clouds shift in the sky on lazy-park-Saturdays.

The lines on my face tell the story of my experience. Happiness, gratitude, sadness, fear — and everything in between — are the rivers of emotion that, over time, formed grooves around my eyes and mouth, leaving a map of how this life has shaped me.

It’s tempting to pine for a re-do of the years behind us. Given the chance, would we push pause? Preventing distance from forming between our youth and our inevitable end game— when we won’t have the luxury of lamenting another candle on our birthday cake.

I continue to welcome the candles and embrace the privilege of age. Each birthday is another year I get to be here, living this life, surrounded by friends who support me, a husband who accepts me unequivocally, and my children who have taught me more than I ever knew about unconditional love.

If I’m lucky, I’m somewhere near the middle of this journey.

So bring on the wrinkles, belly jiggles, and gray hair. Each has brought me wisdom, peace of mind, and the unmatched comfort I’ve found in my own skin, age spots and all.

When I blew out the candles this year (wedged between squealing children) my wish was the same as always — to take another trip around the sun and add more candles to my cake.

This post was featured on HuffPost 

Things I Say to My Kids That Really Mean “I Love You”

Here is a picture of my kids 🙂

And a link to my latest post on Popsugar about all the sneaky ways I tell my kids I love them! 

Warning: Contains Sarcasm and Potty Humor

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 

Thoughts on Phantom, Snape, and Sad Endings

dreamstime_s_20542150I took my 9 year-old to see The Phantom of the Opera, and I’m still recovering…in the good way. It was my 3rd time seeing it. Once, through the eyes of a teenager full of angst. Once as a young adult falling in love with her future husband. And now, as a mother, watching her child experience something for the first time. Each time, I am moved by the story, affected by the music, and saddened by the ending. I wasn’t sure my son would understand it enough to love it, or even like it, but I figured the experience couldn’t hurt. Besides, fancy drinks and concession stand goodies, late on a school night, are the stuff memories are made of.

He was engaged from the start, never taking his eyes off the stage. I’d done some pre-loading to prepare him for the jarring sounds and visuals, which he got through emotionally intact. No surprise, he connected with the music. His love for all things instrumental has been present pretty much since birth. (This is the same kid who asked for a harp from Santa on his 3rd Christmas!)  At intermission, he was full of words. He could barely get them out fast enough. And OMG the fire! The gunshots! The chandelier!!  As soon as the lights flickered telling us to take our seats, he was off. Down the corridor, warm chocolate chip cookie in hand, C’mon Mom!

From the first verse of Masquerade, he was transfixed. As the second half of the story unfolded, I realized I had not remembered the intensity. He seemed ok, but whispered a few questions to me as we saw the Phantom’s backstory explained through shadowy images, projected on a wall. The shadows revealed that some characters had met their demise at the hands of the Phantom’s anger. In the last scenes, the Phantom’s face is revealed to be disfigured— a startling visual for a 9 year-old. I could see my son’s expression turn to concern. I wasn’t sure if he was reacting to the stage make-up, the change in mood when Christine Daae is being held captive, the intensity of the music, or just the overall tension that filled the auditorium.

As the curtain came down for the last time, he clapped enthusiastically, glancing sideways to check it was really the end (I think hopeful, that maybe it wasn’t). As soon as the applause ended and we could talk, he said, I didn’t like the ending. Not expecting this, I wanted to know why. I don’t like that the Phantom couldn’t be happy. Out of the mouths of babes. I understood wholeheartedly how he felt. We are conditioned to want a happy ending.

Our discussion continued in the car… and as he was getting his pajamas on…long after bedtime. Why couldn’t they make it so he was at least a little bit happy? Why did he have to be so alone?  And the clincher, with tears in his eyes, Are there really people who have that sad of a life?  Boy, this parenting stuff sure can deliver a sucker punch. My motto is to be honest if I can, and yes, people do have that sad of a life. But, maybe we don’t need to go there, at 10:30 on a school night?

My son is a major reader, so I grasped for characters to use as examples for explanation; hoping to insert a fictional buffer into our conversation. Real life hardships faced by kids all over the world: abuse, neglect, poverty, bullying, would have to wait for an earlier time of day, preferably on a weekend, or when my husband wasn’t out of town.

He’s obsessed with all things Harry Potter, so I tried Voldemort.

No Mom, Voldemort had a hard childhood, but he was bad from the beginning, he didn’t even try to be good. The Phantom was born with a different face and was put in a circus and put in a cage…anyone would have turned bad who was treated like that! 

Ok, good point. And man this kid really paid attention to the plot!

Are people really treated like that in real life?

(Ok, hello 11:00 PM, we are having this conversation now, school night or not.) 

Enter brutal truth. Yes. There are children who never get a fair start; who are born into much different environments than you and your brother. There are kids who are bullied their whole lives, and it changes them, and sometimes they make really bad choices out of anger or fear. And we can’t do much about it. The only thing we can control is how we treat others. We have to remember that everyone has a backstory, even those who act in ways we don’t understand.

Yes, mom, like Snape! Everyone thought he was bad, but he was so good.

Ok, we’re back to fiction, phew! Yes, like Snape.

He is actually the hero. He loved Lilly the most. And James isn’t what Harry thought, I bet Harry is ashamed of James. 

Oh boy, we are digging deep here, and it’s not getting any earlier. Well, yes, in some ways. But people aren’t perfect, even those we love the most. But we have to accept all of them, even the parts we don’t like. And yes, even the ‘good guys’ can be complicated.

Mom, James is a bully! And Snape loves Lilly so much that he protects Harry, even though he reminds him of James, who bullied him. And when his patronus is a doe, it’s sooo saaad!

And Mom, The Phantom was bullied too and treated terribly and the only way he could escape was to fight and to hurt the people hurting him. And no one ever loved him. It’s just. sooo. saaad. 

Why couldn’t I have just taken him to see Storks?! I had to get us out of this somehow.  He hates mushy stuff and kissing, but we had to go there. Because school. We needed to put a period on this conversation and go to bed! It was time to talk about the ending that started this conversation…so.long.ago. So we talked about the kissingewww!

Our discussion in a nutshell: Christine Daae kisses the Phantom at the end to show him he was worth loving, he was worth something, and not a monster. And in turn, he lets her go, because he loved her. To my surprise, there was no cringing. No, Gross, Mom! Just a question.

Mom, Do you think he ever found a friend or anyone who was nice to him, or was he alone forever?

Continuing with the truth telling thing we had going I said, I don’t know.

And finally…quiet. That was enough, for now.

He climbed into bed (taking a dog with him to cuddle) and said more to himself than to me— But it was just a story

Yes, a sad story. And he will learn as he goes, what I already know.

The sad ones stick. The sad ones move you. The sad ones are often the stories of the underdog. Sometimes they are the most important to tell because they are the voice for those who were never going to get a happy ending; but who’s story is still worth telling.

I’m glad my kid is sensitive. (But we never use the S word since I have heard it enough for both of us.) I tell him he feels things deeply. He does, he always has, which makes him complicated. I know how he feels, because he gets it from me. It’s a blessing and a curse. And just like James Potter, and Snape, and The Phantom, it’s what makes us imperfect and vulnerable, and sometimes taxing on the ones who love us. But it’s part of our story, and it’s the only one we know how to tell.

I Never Knew About The Worry

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There are a million things I didn’t know about motherhood; probably more. Above all else, looming atop the pile of all things parent I did not expect: worry.

For me it started before I technically even became a mother. During my first pregnancy there was cause for concern. At 20 weeks, our scan revealed some rare, never-heard-of condition– which may or may not be a big deal.

We’d have to wait and see.  

And that is what we did, every four weeks, between ultrasounds. Other mothers in my Birth-Prep class eagerly awaited any opportunity for ultrasounds; comparing experiences, euphoric and giddy. Sharing 3-D images they actually paid out of pocket to get.

My heart began to race just listening to them. Our monthly trips to the hospital were anxiety provoking and tense. Every time we arrived, we’d be greeted by our doctor and several more trailing in behind– who tried, but really couldn’t contain their excitement to marvel at our rare condition. Delighted with my defunct umbilical cord, they watched closely as a technician measured limbs and inspected organs.

Meanwhile, we waited in a state of panic to hear the words we found comfort in time and time again, until at last my son was born without incident or impairment 20 weeks later.

Everything is OK.

And it was, Ok. Elated, we brought our new baby home. My husband began the life lessons immediately, pointing out the “dos and don’ts” of future decisions on the drive home. Do go to Stanford (it was on the way, might as well plug it early). Do get coffee at Starbucks instead of Peet’s (this one was to bug me since I hardily feel the opposite). Don’t get a job waving a sign* not for real estate (like the guy waving an arrow on the corner to our left) or pizza (like the eight foot tall foam guy in ancient roman garb to the right). *Referring to the aforementioned Do go to Stanford will prevent this as a necessary career choice. 

We drove home worry-free, even laughing—until the middle of the night…that night…a mere 7 hours later.

Our baby made noises.

Noises we had not heard before. No one, no book, no DVD had told us about these noises. Really? Do all babies sound like this? We lie awake, wondering if something was wrong as we likened our new, precious infant to a Gremlin; who during daylight hours had been Gizmo, the fluffy, cute Mogwai. Now grunting and snarling in his co-sleeper, we feared the worst: would he stop breathing? We looked at each other and realized we had no idea what we were doing.

It was at that very moment that our timeline split in two: the us before children, and the us after.

Along with the noises that no one warned us about, the worry and the unknown became a present and familiar part of our day to day. As much as we love the family we’ve built, we both remember a time more carefree, more spontaneous, with much less responsibility.

Isn’t that really what sets apart now from then?  Now, we are indelibly on duty. We have taken on the insurmountable task of caring for something that by definition is impermanent.

Just when we have one thing down: swaddling, diapers, folding up the stroller in 27 steps or less…the dreaded car-seat install, just when we have it down, it changes again. 

Determined, we persist, with no instruction manual and no prior experience. Enter:worry. Are we doing this right? Are we providing our child with all we are supposed to? Nutrition, social skills, art, language, music, academics, the list goes on and on.

We are all at once teachers, students and parents. Meanwhile, the parts of us that existed prior to parenthood: careers, interests, hobbies, are feebly hanging on by a limb-trying to survive.

It is no wonder that everywhere we go, there are parents in all modes of themselves at once. They can be heard quizzing kids for beginning sounds of words in the back seat of Danny the Dragon at Happy Hollow-when all their kid wants to do is admire the simulated castle with Rapunzel and Snow White smiling at them from the window. One dreaming of Princeton, one dreaming of princesses; the juxtaposition of parent and child has begun. 

Others point out the dangers of the climbing structure and shout out warnings at every turn. Some are finding historical and mathematical significance in all the sandbox has to offer; gently explaining the physics behind every falling grain of sand before their child gleefully stomps down the castle. 

I have been all of the above. We are always multi-tasking. And it comes from a place of love. We worry about what we are teaching our children and what we are not; how to protect them, and how to prepare them. At the crux of our duplicity might be that we have lost something we were not prepared to lose: the ability to make decisions free of fear. 

In parenthood, nothing is black and white. We read everything we can get our hands on and concur with scientific reason, only to turn our back on it in a whim of emotion. Because as parents, we are often overcome with the weight of our love for our children. In trying to do the best for our kids, we often live in the grey area wondering if we are doing it right.

As parents, we are always waiting for the green light, the thumbs up. Then it sneaks up on us— a small body wrapped around our leg, a no-occasion handcrafted card, a proud Look-At-Me! glance from atop the climbing structure, a tiny, perfect hand in ours…telling us Everything is OK.