Dining Out

Last night my parents took us out to a very nice restaurant for dinner. Going out to a fast food joint with the boys makes me anxious. So as much as I was looking forward to a really delicious meal, I was a wee bit worried (by which I mean my stomach was clenched in fear) about the behavior of the two young men in my life.

Sometimes those boys surprise me. Ok, so Z took C for a quick walk outside before the meal came, and Z and I tag teamed the two mid-meal trips to the bathroom. But other than that it was smooth sailing. Star Wars stickers worked their magic yet again.

Near the end of the meal a friend of my parent’s walked by the table. She has young grandchildren, so she bent down to chat with T. He is a bit of a rambler when he gets going and dude was on a tear. “Do you know what? Well, tomorrow is going to be me and Charlie’s birthday. But, but, but…tomorrow isn’t really me and Charlie’s birthday. But we get our birthday with Grandma and Grandpa tomorrow. And we are, um, we are, uhhh, we are going to have presents. And a cake. I want a….Star Wars Angry Bird cake. And we are getting presents! I want Star Wars legos. I want a Chewbacca figure. I saw it at the Lego store. The Chewbacca figure, well, it has a slot, not a put on head. Like the Gamorrean guard. They are the only two with a slot, not a put on head. But we already have the Gamorrean guard. And I want a big Star Wars Angry Birds play set. A big one.”

This lovely woman was a total sport. She just let him talk and murmured little hmmms and yeses at all the right places.

T paused for a second, took a deep breath, and looked her square in the face.

“I just farted.”

He is totally my child.

T in the pool

Loving the pool with Daddy. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith Photography.

popsicle love at floyd fest

T and Z went to Floyd Fest. First music festival for T.

playing at Floyd fest

He had a really good time.

Who Is the Real Butthead?

“I offered him a Hershey’s Kiss and he said he couldn’t have one because he lost his treat.” my friend J told me.

“Man, I love that T is incapable of lying.”

“I asked him why he lost his treat and he told me he called you a fool.”

“Yup. Last night when I was putting him to bed. He was mad at Z. I don’t think he understood exactly what it meant. Or that he would be in so much trouble.”

This conversation happened moments before J’s husband discovered that C was evacuating his bladder and bowels hidden by my car’s driver side door.

While we were chatting I could smell myself. I didn’t get the chance to shower today and my year-old flip flops reek with an odor that can only be described as evil.

It has not been a banner day.

Z’s sister E and our niece G left this morning. We had a great visit with them, and the good news is we will see them again next month. But the thing about sharing a living space with guests is you start to see how you and your kids are acting with fresh eyes.

My fresh eyes are pretty embarrassed by what they saw. All I do is yell at the boys. All they do is give me the metaphorical finger. Thank god they haven’t learned how to give me the literal finger yet, but I’m sure it is coming.

Back when I was a fantastic mother (you know, before I actually had children) I knew I would not stand for disrespect from my kids. Man, I knew so much back then, so very much. I was so self righteous, so smart, so incredibly full of shit.

At nearly five and nearly three my boys are raging buttheads.

Nearly five years into parenting there are still days when I don’t get around to bathing.

For the life of my I cannot figure out how to potty train my nearly three year old. Today included one pee in the potty, two pees on the floor, countless trips to the bathroom in which nothing happened, and as mentioned, my friend C finding him leaning against my car with one hand as he pissed, a gigantic turd dangling between his legs like a tail. Thankfully grown up C convinced three year old C to squat on the ground until the poop broke away and fell to the driveway where it was immediately swarmed by flies. But then T ran behind the car and stepped right in the shit.

Some days parenting feels like I’ve crested the top of a roller coaster, like my stomach has fallen through my feet as the tiny car that holds me plummets back to the ground. But I never level out, I just keep falling and falling while feeling more and more out of control.

My boys are not quite five and three. If they are buttheads it isn’t their fault. Which leads me to some pretty uncomfortable conclusions about my job performance.

T and turbo

See this adorable photo? Taken moments after T kissed the damn snail and hours before he’d call me a fool.

t pic of c pic of t

See this adorable photo? Taken by T of C taking a photo of T. Very meta. Taken moments before an epic physical altercation between the boys over who got to play with the playmobil dude wearing the black outfit.

leonard cousins goodbye

See this adorable photo? Cousins saying goodbye? In the next photo I snapped it looked like T was trying to pull off a chunk of C’s flesh.

Last Days of School

A year ago I watched the mother of one of T’s classmates struggle with the reality that her child was leaving the comfort of our extraordinary preschool and moving on to kindergarten. The transition proved painful for both mother and child. I sympathized with my friend, but I did not understand her sadness. In fact, I told her it simply wouldn’t be a big deal for T and me. She had the grace not to tell me I was full of shit.

Five years into this parenting gig and I still feel a twinge of annoyance when a more experienced parent tells me how my family will feel or act during an upcoming phase of development. “We are different” I think, “They don’t know us. We are special.” At the same time I cannot resist breaking it down for parents with kids younger than mine. I hear myself explaining what is coming and I hate myself for being that person. Especially as I see the look on the face of whatever friend I’m speaking to. I can see what is running through their head, “We are different. She doesn’t know us. We are special.”

At the beginning of last week I dropped the boys off at school and on my way out found this in T’s mailbox:

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Last fall we were asked to fill the paper with words that described who we hoped T would be as an adult.

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That hair. I miss that crazy hair so much.

Friday was the final day of school. During the week laminated photos that decorated the boys’ classrooms trickled home with them. But the little poster of our hopes for T was the first. I lifted it out of the mailbox and suddenly my throat was burning and tears flooded my eyes. I made it to the car before the ugly crying began.

That friend of mine? I emailed her and confessed I was wrong last year. Both T and I were struggling with his upcoming transition to kindergarten. I asked for advice on how she got through it.

A year ago I was so excited for the following fall I couldn’t see straight. T would have the same teachers that he adored. C would be going to school as well. He threw a fit every single day of spring semester when we dropped T off because he wanted to stay. And the fact that I was going to have a couple of hours a day to myself helped tremendously. Our small transition included the loved and familiar for T, exactly what C needed developmentally, and a fucking break for me. Life was great. Transitions were great. Why would kindergarten be any different?

Oh, pompous, naive, foolish Karen. When will you get over yourself and start actually listening to the more experienced parents?

The unknown is hard for both T and me. Watching his anxiety rise as he realized he wouldn’t be able to bring his much loved teachers with him to elementary school was heartbreaking. His fear is real and I ache for him. I’m also kind of furious that he is growing up. His delicious little boy body is getting harder and harder to lift. His limbs dangle everywhere when he crawls into my lap. The last five years have been the fastest of my life and I know time will only continue to fly by with more speed. Even if I didn’t believe it the first time a well meaning, experienced parent told me.

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T walking away from preschool for the last time on Friday. Again, I was able to save the ugly crying for the car. Victory.

preschool T

The boys attend (Um, I mean C attends and T attended…sniffle) a laboratory school on the SU campus. Undergrads and grad students work with the children each semester. The assignments include these lovely bound books made for each child that tracks development over the semester. Here are the covers of T’s 6 books.

toddler room C

And C’s first two.

Four Years and Ten Months

Four years and ten months ago we moved to Syracuse. Our sweet little house just became the dwelling I have lived in longer than any other in my life.

Before I left home for college I lived in 9 places. I attended 8 schools before graduating from high school. I did live in the NYC area from 95-06. In 99 I moved to Brooklyn and we stayed, albeit in 3 apartments, for 7 years. Over three stints from 1981-1995, I lived in Farifax County, VA for a little more than 8 years cumulatively.

But Syracuse now holds my personal record for longest stretch at one address.

The funny thing is it feels like we moved here just last year. It also feels like we’ve been here forever. There are so many firsts tied to this place. We closed on our house a week before T was born. Z truly loved his job for the first time here. I became a stay at home mom. We weathered a heartbreaking miscarriage. I got pregnant with C and we welcomed him into our family. T started preschool. C started preschool. We navigated early intervention and speech therapy. I started taking graduate classes. I started running. In a few short months T will go to kindergarten.

Syracuse was supposed to be a pit stop of sorts, a resume builder as we looked for teaching opportunities for Z closer to family.  At some point along the way it has become home.

We love it here. We are happy. We have a wonderful circle of friends. We imagine our boys growing up with this built in peer group. The kids they hang with have become important to us, we really care about them and love watching them grow.

There is so much to do in the summer that we can’t make it to every event we want to attend. Z plays music in three bands. He makes amazing stringed instruments from cigar boxes or cans or pie plates or salvaged wood from old pianos. He loves teaching. He’s involved with community outreach. He is too busy and always behind on projects and that is exactly how he is happiest.

This is not some perfect life. We struggle to pay the bills. C is entering the evil 3s and T is anxious about his transition to kindergarten. My anxiety colors everything, often rearing her ugly head to interrupt plans. The winters are brutal, there isn’t any way around it, they suck. And we do hate being so far from family. That is the hardest part. We miss our parents and our siblings.

But we have made a life here. More than that, we have made a home. One with continuity and comfort.

My upbringing was unusual and it provided me with fantastic opportunities to see so much of America and the world. I wouldn’t change it for anything. Hell, I became a teenager while we were in Phuket, Thailand. We spent New Year’s Eve of ’99 into ’00 in Doha, Qatar. I learned to ski on the South Island of New Zealand. Between all the exotic stuff I went to suburban public schools outside DC and Boston and St. Louis. My sister and I are lucky as hell, beyond privileged to have had such an odd and interesting childhood.

But it turns out that the life Z and I are intentionally building for our family is in a small city in Central New York. It turns out we love being part of a community. We love relaxing in our backyard with a bunch of friends and a pork shoulder that hung out in the smoker for a long time. Also margaritas. If you come visit us request Z’s deadly margaritas. You won’t remember the evening, you’ll feel it the next morning, but you’ll have a really good time.

Who knows what will happen or where we will be in another 4 years and 10 months from now. My hope is that we will be here. Hanging out with the same folks. The kids playing in the backyard. The margaritas flowing.

our family

Here we are putting down roots.

t runs to base

T running to first base during his last T-Ball game of the season.

c wants to play

C was ready to play. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he needs to wait two more years.

rockers

It seems to be the summer of salvaged broken rockers for our backyard. Because we are classy like that.

backyard piano

Our life involves having a trailer with a piano take up residence in our driveway. Z is making a bunch of instruments out of it in collaboration with local artists. They will create graphics to silkscreen on the face of the instruments Z builds.

summer in syracuse

Our crew of kids living it up at the Funky Flea this morning.

z at the funky flea

Z making music at the Funky Flea.

 

A Horror Story

Friends, I cannot sugar coat this. Just need to come out and say it. C took a dump on my pillow this evening.

While I’m sure he was just looking for a soft place for his shit to land, I can’t help but take it a little personally.

C spends much of his time naked from the waist down these days. We are potty training. Or he is potty training. He doesn’t really want Z and me involved. He pees on the floor. Panics. Cries. Runs to the bathroom. When he is wearing a pull up he pees. Shouts, “I poop! I poop!” while standing there bow-legged. Cries. Takes off his pants and pull ups and runs to the bathroom. We have hardwood floors throughout the entire house. Peeing on them isn’t a huge deal to clean up. It is part of potty training. We are cool with it.

Bottom line: progress is being made. He has only actually peed on the pot a handful of times, but he willingly goes to the bathroom himself about a dozen times a day. He sits there. Shouts, “I peed!” Wipes his balls with a square of toilet paper (yeah, not sure what that is about). Flushes the toilet. Except for the fact that we are wasting a horrifying amount of water, and he is completely delusional about actually peeing, things are going well.

Cut to tonight. The fam got home from a stroll to our friends’ house to drop off a food container. C ran inside. I started weeding. T and Z collected helicopter seeds from our maple tree into Z’s hat and took turns climbing into the treehouse and throwing them on each other’s heads.

C really likes to do his own thing. T ran towards the house and told us C was watching TV. Not ideal while the rest of us were enjoying being outside, but whatever.

And here is why you never “whatever” when a two and a half year old is involved. We came inside and the TV was off. C wasn’t on the first floor. Ominously his pull up and pants were on the floor of the downstairs bathroom. We headed upstairs as C sauntered out of Z and my bedroom. “I pooped!” he crowed.

Being he confuses poop and pee on the regular I wasn’t alarmed. Just annoyed that I’d be cleaning pee in my bedroom. Z was ahead of me and I heard, “Oh man. Charlie! Oh no.” I picked up the pace. Two turds. Two. Glistening on my pillowcase. C with some unnecessary bravado, “I pooped!”

After bathing the boys I noticed some shit on my pants and on my hands. Still not sure where and when the point of transfer was. Just washed my hands throughly, threw the jeans in the washing machine, and felt thoroughly defeated by life. And by poop.

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This is the face of a woman who has spent too much time cleaning poop.

tiny hiney

Moments later he peed all over the porch.

happy t

One of his teachers sent this to Z. He was proud of the magnet bundle he made. I’m proud because he didn’t poop on any of my belongings today.

 

Who You Are

“So how do you feel?”

“Better. Good. I mean, I still cry a half dozen times a day…”

“What makes you cry?”

“Oh, you know. News stories. Stuff I read on the web. Every single time I watch Frozen.”

“But that is just who you are.”

It was a throwaway comment on the part of my therapist. At the moment I didn’t realize how much it would affect me. “That is just who you are.” The new medication is going well. And yet I am still who I am. What a tremendous relief.

One of the reasons the mentally ill are loathe to try drugs is because they don’t want to become someone else. They don’t avoid drugs because they think that their crazy defines them, or makes them unique, or gets them attention which are the reasons a lot of people assume are behind drug reticence. It is because they don’t want to lose who they have been at their core for their entire lives. I don’t want to lose who I am. It’s not like I’m so fabulous. But I’ve been me for 37 years. I’m used to myself.

With the right drug/s (and yes, finding the right drug/s can be a mighty struggle) you are still yourself. Just a functioning version of yourself.

Yesterday this post about a mother’s internal struggle with medicating her 10 year old who needed help showed up in my facebook feed. My heart ached for the anonymous author and for her son. As someone who needs drugs to function and sometimes to survive, as someone who worries I have passed my anxiety along to one of my sweet sons, I viscerally empathize with her.

At the same time I felt sick to my stomach by the time I finished the piece. I felt embarrassed and defensive and angry and hurt.

How do you give your child a controlled substance, addictive drugs, and act like it’s a normal thing to do?” she asks. She writes with brutal honesty about her struggle and I admire the hell out of her for it. But that question made me feel small and broken. I take an addictive controlled substance. I have every day for over a year. It is normal for me. I mean, what the fuck is normal anyway?

This mother. She is thoughtful, she is doing whatever needs to be done. “But on the other hand, how do you not try everything in your power to help your child who struggles every day of his life with demons you cannot beat down through sheer force of will and all the therapy money can buy?

Part of what hurts so deeply about the piece is she nailed it. All of it. How frightening and awful mental disorders can be. The fact that resorting to drugs makes you feel like a failure.

Psychotropic medication is a land mine of a topic. Controversy surrounding the over medication and diagnosis of kids with ADHD or adults with depression is well documented. And anecdotally who among those of us who went to college in the 90s or 00s didn’t know a dozen people who were given prozac at health services? The issue is real and a concern, but that isn’t what I’m talking about here.

I have mild asthma. When I occasionally have an asthma attack I use my inhaler and my attack stops. Every night I take a pill for my asthma/allergies. It effectively prevents attacks from happening the vast majority of the time. In fact, it is so effective that I started to believe I was taking it unnecessarily and let my prescription lapse. Two nights later I woke gasping for breath in the middle of an attack.

Brain drugs don’t work that way. Each brain responds differently to the type of drug, the amount, the time of day taken. And many drugs are prescribed off label, which means not for the use they were approved for originally. We just don’t know as much about the brain as we know about asthma.

Beyond the clusterfuck of finding the right drug is the fact that even if you have struggled with mental illness for years you have the nagging thought that you aren’t really unwell. You are just lazy and a coward. Progress is being made, but the idea that you should pull yourself up by your bootstraps and simply stop being sad or anxious or manic is prevalent in our society. Self loathing goes right along with many mental illnesses and it is hard not to buy into that, hard not to believe that you are making it all up.

And then there is the “what did I do wrong?” or “this is my fault” component.

During my lifetime I hope we get to the point where being treated with drugs for a mental illness is destigmatized and perceived as “normal” as using an inhaler for asthma. I hope it for the mother who wrote about her son, I hope it for that boy who is struggling, I hope it for myself.

mothers day

My sweet T and me on Mother’s Day.

c cow

Z took the boys to a big truck event at a local park yesterday.

t truck

T looks like a different kid with his short hair.

2 and 4

Two and Four for a little while longer. 2 wouldn’t look at the camera and 4 is doing all sorts of poses for the camera these days.

 

When Motherhood Can Bite Me

C is nearing 3. The age when T actually grew horns. T’s 4th year has been so great it has sort of erased some of the horror of his 3rd year from our memory. But the fog is lifting and we are starting to remember how rough T was. Um, yeah, we actually decided that we weren’t going to have a third kid when T was three.

The whole terrible twos thing is a joke. At least for our kids. Three is a fucking beast of an age. I get it that sucks for the kid as well. Three year olds are desperately trying to assert their independence while scrabbling for a modicum of control over their lives. They are told no all day long. They are expected to start behaving themselves at preschool and in public. So they rebel.

C was exhausted after school. So he refused to nap. Therefore he was an absolute delight at Wegmans. By which I mean he was a raging asshole to the woman who checked us out and was trying really hard to be nice to him. T had a T-ball game tonight. Z is in Baltimore overnight so I was flying solo. Naturally I got us lost on the way to the game. Naturally C screamed, “NO! NO! NO!” every time I asked him to do something or tried to prevent him from doing stuff he shouldn’t have been doing. Let me tell you, that kid can scream. If I picked him up he’d scratch at my face or hit me.

We are doing a fantastic job raising our little gentlemen.

Actually, it’s pretty humiliating. I feel like everyone must think I’m the shittiest mom in the world when he throws tantrums in public. Sometimes I am scared to take him places he is such a loose cannon.

The game mercifully ended and we headed home. C was drinking a juice box, his newest fascination. T doesn’t like juice boxes so we don’t have them hanging around. Now, let’s be real. I shouldn’t have trusted him to have the box in the car. Sure enough and with T’s encouragement I caught him spraying juice everywhere.

Finally we were back home, the juice got cleaned up, I called Z so he could say goodnight to the boys. I sank into the sofa, not really paying attention to what C was doing.

I felt an explosion of pain on the side of my face.

C climbed on the arm of the sofa, turned around, and basically trust falled the back of his skull into my cheekbone.

So here is what I learned about motherhood today. Sometimes you are so mad at your kid you have trouble looking them in the face. Sometimes you are embarrassed because you know tomorrow morning you are going to have a prominent shiner that you will have to explain to the world. Sometimes you are fed up and exhausted and want to scream, “FUCK YOU CHILDREN! FUCK YOU! PUT YOURSELVES TO BED GOD DAMN IT! I’M GOING TO THE BAR FOR A DRINK OR SIX!”

And I’m a little ashamed to admit how hard this was for me. With difficulty I didn’t scream at him. Instead I bathed him, read to him, sang to him, and cuddled with him. I wanted to just dump C in his room and walk away. But I explained why I was upset that he hurt me (and I understand he was not actively trying to bust up my face, he probably thought he’d fall in my lap). Then we did stories and songs and cuddles like usual. Did I have to fake it? Um, yes. Did I want to be vindictive and deny him his routine? Um, yes. My face really hurt and the day was really shitty.

What I learned tonight is when you are alone with the kids it doesn’t matter what happens. You have to keep it together and be a mom. Now, you wise folks probably figured that out ages ago. I’m slow. And selfish. But I did it tonight. I didn’t do it gracefully. There might have been some serious muttering under my breath.

But I did it. Maybe I don’t get a gold star today. At least I didn’t fail.

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My cheekbone doesn’t usually look like you could use it to cut glass.

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This is what T was doing in Baltimore. Pretty fucking amazing.

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Process shot. And Pain shot. I’d never have enough courage to do ribs. My dude is hard core.