Happy Happy Birthday

My baby turned two today.

I wasn’t sure I wanted kids. I had no confidence in my ability to parent. Much of my 20s were lost to mental illness and a marriage that was imploding. Then things turned around. Z and I managed to find our way back to each other. He thrived at grad school I thrived working for Whole Foods. Our 30s were suddenly an excellent time. It felt new and particularly precarious. I didn’t want a kid to fuck up the balance we’d achieved. And then I accidentally got pregnant.

I was wrong. I was wrong when I thought my life would be over after having T. I was stupid and immature and selfish and wrong. T was hard work, but he brought so much love into our home. He managed to make Z and me love each other more and the love we felt for him-I am not trying to be a smug, superior parent here. I am not. But clichés exist for a reason you simply cannot comprehend the love you have for your child until you experience it. I’m not saying it is better than any other kind of love. I’m not saying I didn’t know what love was before T (I hate when parents say that-What? Folks without kids don’t know how to love? That is bullshit. Particularly ignorant and insulting bullshit). I’m not saying I love him and C more than anyone on earth. Honestly, I love Z just as much. Becoming a parent increased my capacity to love. I was hungry for another one. And it worked. When we had C my capacity increased yet again! These kids, they are like a feel good drug. I finally understand families that have a million kids.

I went from not wanting kids, to just wanting the one, to really wanting a second, to thinking we could handle a third. We cannot, it turns out, handle a third. Not financially, not lifestyle-wise, and frankly my uterus has been pretty damn undependable postpartum. There were complications with both boys and with the miscarriage.

Now C is two. We are really and truly done with the baby years. I will be weaning him this fall. My doc wants me to try some different meds and I can’t be nursing while taking them. It is the right thing for my mental health, which means it is the right thing for our family. I wanted to nurse him for two years and as of today I’ve met that goal.

But when I wean him I am done. Forever. I say goodbye to the phase of my life when I’m the mom of babies. The anxiety makes any kind of life change difficult. Hell, the anxiety makes it difficult when the body lotion I’ve used for years is discontinued. I’m scared to move on.

C and my nursing relationship has been idyllic. Do you hear that Jeff? IDYLLIC! His latch was great from the beginning and he’s never been a biter. I think we both feel emotionally recharged from the small breaks we have a couple times a day when we get to cuddle and just be together. He has always been much more physically affectionate than his big brother. When Z or I yell at him and he starts to cry his first impulse is to reach out to us so we can comfort him. Even though we are the ones yelling!

Right after T was born we got close to a family with a four year old son. That fall I remember looking at the boy and being astounded by how big and grown up he was. I simply couldn’t imagine T ever getting that old. And here T is, just a second later I swear. He is 4 and big and grown up. Shit, he’ll be going to kindergarten in a year.

A couple of weeks ago Z and I were out on a date for dinner. There was a family sitting to my left who had a boy who was about 7. I stared at him, couldn’t help it. I watched him interact with his family and I could not imagine my boys at his age. My eyes filled with tears when I realized I am going to blink and T will be that kid.

On the same night I told Z I’d donated some money we really didn’t have to a fundraiser for a boy in between the ages of our boys who was starting chemo. He is the kid of a friend of friends. I’d heard his father’s name thrown around by a group we were tight with for years. If he hadn’t moved away from Brooklyn when he did we would have known him. He was just like us. And his kid was sick.

A few days later we found out a classmate of a kid in our extended family was terminally ill. Nothing could be done for him. We were with family when we found out and someone commented, “At least all our kids are healthy.” “Yeah,” I said. “But the families of kids who get sick think their kid is healthy, too. Right up until they find out he isn’t.”

C turned 2 today and I don’t want this to turn into a post about sick kids. As of this moment we do have two healthy kids who are growing. Right now chances are good I’m going lose track of time for a moment and discover they are in high school. Them getting older? As much as it hurts it is the only outcome I desire.

I am heartbroken to leave this stage of their lives and my life behind. But you know what? In a couple of years they won’t be getting up at 5:58am every goddamn morning. And that, oh boy, that is a beautiful thing.

c and mommy celebrate

T and Z are traveling this weekend. We celebrated C’s day on Thursday. But C and I still went out and got a slice of cake today.

messy cake c

He really got into it.

2 years old

First picture taken after he officially turned two.

biter in trouble

Oh, the sulking! He tried to bite me and he was super pissed I didn’t let him.

To C, you crazy kid you, we cannot imagine our lives without you. You are fearless and brave and loving. You are frustrated and frustrating and an inconsistent sharer during the best of times. We love you, all of you. We cannot imagine life without you. Thank you for being the chronological caboose in our family train.

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“I was not expecting her to be putting her butt that close to my son.”

In the past I’ve made the cowardly admission that I’m relieved not to be the Mother of girls. Why? Because it is so much easier to raise men that respect women than it is to raise women who respect themselves. Not to say it is easy to raise men to respect women, not by a long shot. 

I wasn’t interested in writing about the Miley Cyrus VMA performance. I had my opinions-about a wealthy white young woman appropriating the physical representations of “ratchet culture”, about the painfulness of a young woman trying desperately to break away from the perception of who she was as an adolescent, about living in the public eye, about assuming that her endgame was to be seen as sexual and yet personally finding nothing sexy about her performance, about the body shaming surrounding the unflattering still photographs of Cyrus’s ass mid dance, about the Blurred Lines song and video being breathtakingly misogynistic.  All that stuff has been thoroughly covered in online media and I didn’t feel like I had much to add.

This morning as I partook of my ritual of scrolling through Dirtbag on Jezebel while drinking my coffee (I’m not even going to get all defensive–yes, I read shitty gossip and yes, I read Jezebel.) I came across a link to video of Robin Thicke’s Mom reacting to the VMA performance.

I was not expecting her to be putting her butt that close to my son.”

“Him? Loved it. I loved that suit.”

“I don’t understand what Miley Cyrus is trying to do.”

Suddenly I was furious. Listen, I try really hard not to be unkind or judgmental of other’s parenting. Parenting is so hard, we never know the whole story, we should try to be supportive of one another. I am sure that Gloria Loring is a decent human being and obviously she loves her son very much. But love isn’t enough-she failed her son as a Mother in this video. She failed her son, and she failed all women.

One of my biggest fears as a Mother is that my overwhelming love for my boys will cloud any ability to see them clearly and hold them responsible for their actions. The love I have for my boys, it chokes me sometimes. I can barely breath I am so full of the desire to protect and care for them. Loving a child is frightening and exhilarating and personally it has been one of the best parts of my entire life. But it is blinding.

Gloria Loring is blind to the role her son had in his performance. He’s 36 years old with a wife and a son. He is my age. Miley Cyrus isn’t old enough to buy a beer. He is a grown man who had a much clearer sense of what he was getting himself into with the performance that Cyrus probably did. Her costume was reminiscent of what the women wore in his unrated video for the same song-nude underwear and sneakers, surely that detail was decided upon by both camps.He did not flinch when she ground her ass into him or touched his dick. He was an equal participant in the performance.

He must be included in any critique of her performance. To absolve him of responsibility perpetuates the lack of equality women experience in this country. It sets up the Madonna/whore dichotomy-that is all Cyrus has the chance to be. Sadly, it would appear that she believes those are her only options. But the idea that Cyrus’ performance happened in a bubble and isn’t a reflection on him is ludicrous and lazy.

Robin Thicke has been let off the hook by the media and by his own Mother. The same media and woman who have no problem raking Cyrus over the coals for her actions. I call bullshit. For the sake of my nieces and the girls that my friends are raising. For the sake of my sons and nephews and all children being raised right now.

When men participate in sexualized behavior they are just being guys. When women do it they are behaving shamefully. In 2013. In America. What the fuck? We need to expect more from our sons. We need to have one set of values for men and women. We need to not let our love for our kids get in the way of holding them responsible for their actions.

And those of you doing the imperative work of raising the next generation of women? I admire the hell out of you. I want the very best for those girls. I want them to own their sexuality. I want them to understand with every fiber of their being that they are equal to men. I want them to love themselves. And you guys are making that happen. You are the fucking rockstars.

t runs ellie photo

Photos by Ellie Leonardsmith, photographer and kick ass Mom.

beautiful C ellie photo

And these boys? They will respect women, or help me god, I will die trying.

August in Pictures

charlie tattoos z

We started the month with a trip to Baltimore so Z could get his 40th birthday tattoo.

Z finished the boat treehouse. It’s pretty damn awesome.

fondant transformers

T turned 4 on August 13th. He asked for a Transformers cake.

chowing down

Chowing down.

kate visit

A dear friend visited. T couldn’t get enough of her.

best tshirt ever

She brought me the coolest shirt in the history of the universe.

brunswick stew

Z decided we had to make Brunswick stew over a fire in the backyard.

backyard party

The boys had a joint birthday party on a perfect late summer day.

transformer pinata

The Transformer piñata was a hit.

cupcakes harry potter ninja turtel

So were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Harry Potter cupcakes.

petting cow

We make it to the New York State Fair where the boys got to touch a beautiful cow.

T first roller coaster

T rode his first roller coaster.

ice cream at the fair

C indulged in some ice cream.

first day of school 2013

And yesterday Z had his first day of school.

I meant to write about all this stuff. This month has been filled with crazy and fun events, and it isn’t over yet. I have my first day of school today and C turns two on the 31st.

It has also been incredibly overwhelming. So my anxiety has gotten worse.

I meant to write about Baltimore, but I had an ugly anxiety episode at the hotel. I wanted to write about T’s birthday, his well visit at the pediatrician’s where he was such a grown up kid, I was proud of him. But I tormented myself over the damn fondant transformers. They kept falling apart, the proportions were wrong. I had to swallow my pride at making edible decorations and use toothpicks and superglue to get them to work. I wanted to write about our friend’s visit, our adventure with outdoor cooking. I went to bed early every night she was here. After getting the stew going I took meds and slept for several hours in the afternoon to escape the anxiety attack that was happening. And the boys party! I wanted to write about that. Evidently C said a sentence while Z and I were inside trying to calm T who had been stung by a bee. He was hysterical for an hour. Finally, as he cuddled on the sofa with Z, he said, “I’m just so embarrassed.” That child breaks my heart and cracks me up at the same time. But I spent much of the party inside, sure people weren’t having a good time, feeling paralyzed and dumb. At the state fair we walked by an exhibition of high school wrestlers. T was transfixed. He turned to me and said, “That is going to be me someday.” Oh man, I wanted to write about that. Last year at the fair I had a severe anxiety attack in front of the butter sculpture. It was awful, also admittedly really funny. I wasn’t sure I was going go this year until the last second-returning to the scene of an anxiety attack basically guarantees I’ll have another. I medicated before and during. I had some uncomfortable moments, but made it through.

That’s the thing. I made it through this month. And had some pretty damn terrific times as well. It isn’t all good or all bad. Last week I told my therapist that my rather naive hope had been that as I engaged more in life the anxiety would start to recede. That isn’t the case, she sits right next to me all the time. I understand now that she is never going to go away. I have to live with her. My therapist agreed. She pointed out that all the stuff I’d talked about doing for several years-taking a class, traveling with Z, doing more with the boys- it was all finally happening. I can avoid life and have an anxiety disorder and it will be painful and difficult. Or I can live life and have an anxiety disorder and it will be painful and difficult. But it will also be wonderful and fulfilling. The best I can do is choose to live. To take pictures of the good moments that might also be filled with doubt and fear and self loathing. To accept that it is complicated, that I have a husband who understands and will support me, that I have two terrific kids, that the anxiety disorder is never going away. But that doesn’t mean she wins.

Waiting For the Next Step

We know of a kid in a faraway town (no it isn’t your kid, I’m talking friend of a friend situation, someone who doesn’t know I blog) who has a certain developmental delay. Rather than simply focusing on securing help for their child, kid’s parents took him/her to doctors all over creation until they found one that would say s/he didn’t have THAT delay. Kid still needed services, but there was a whole different, special and less stigmatizing explanation for it. Yet the intervention was the same damn thing.

When this was all going down I was very judgey. Who the fuck cares what the label is? Help. Your. Child.

Yeah, feeling quite a bit less judgemental right now.

Last Friday C’s new teacher did a home visit with him in preparation for the new year. For privacy purposes I’ll call her Teach. Also, because that is what my sister and our friend Jenny called whoever was teacher when we played school in our unfinished basement c.1985. We were very cool. T started in Teach’s classroom when C was a week old. During her home visit two summers ago C wasn’t yet born. So Teach might not have a close relationship with C yet, but she is certainly familiar with him. And we trust her completely. She agrees that his lack of speech is an issue and suggested we not wait until the school year begins, rather she felt we should have him evaluated to see if he qualifies for early intervention services now.

I called the program that afternoon. A caseworker contacted me on Tuesday, and our first home visit was today. Every person I’ve talked to who is involved with the program has been compassionate and informative. The process is moving much faster than I thought it would. It is absolutely the most pleasant interaction I’ve ever had with a bureaucratic agency.

C will be officially evaluated at our home on September 3rd. Kind of a loaded day for me. It is the third anniversary of finding out I miscarried. On a happier note, it is the 13th anniversary of our marriage. By the end of the evaluation we will know if he qualifies for services and if he does we will have the first session scheduled before his case worker leaves the house.

The case worker asked tons of questions about his history. She told us our story sounded much like her own with her two sons. Firstborn early developer, second child often ill with ear infections and delayed with speech. Her son didn’t start talking until he was two and a half. After a pause I said, “And now is when you tell us that your youngest is just fine.” “He is starting college.” she replied, “On scholarship.”

Big exhale.

We have identified a problem. We’ve talked to people we trust. We are following their advice. We are aggressively going after this thing. We are going to help our little man.

I’ve been trying to write this all day. And I just can’t focus. Been doing a lot of crying. I understand he had tons of ear infections. I understand they made it sound like he was hearing underwater. I understand he had multiple illnesses and hospital visits on top of that. But I can’t help but feel like I failed him.

There was that moment in time when he was supposed to be learning to talk and it just slipped by us. I was too busy dealing with the kid that could talk to us, or trying to get C well, or worrying about my own stuff. He is my job and I failed him. I feel like I’ve gotten a shitty performance review at work. I think back to the first two years of T’s life, of the attention we showered on him, the books we read him, the talking we did to him. Of course he was an early talker. C gets his bedtime stories, but I don’t stop and read to him in the middle of the day nearly as much as I did with T. I try and have conversations with C, ask him questions, tell him about things. T doesn’t get it. He is right there with an answer, insinuating himself into every situation. He’s four, that’s what four year olds do, and he thinks he is being helpful. He knows that C can’t answer.

I don’t want C to need early intervention. I don’t need him to be the best or the fastest. But I want him to be on track. Mostly for him, but the shitty and selfish part of me needs him to be “normal” in every way. This isn’t about me, though. It is about doing what is right for him. And making this in any way about my job performance or my expectations from my kids is truly terrible. This must be about providing my son with the resources he needs to learn to talk. End of lesson.

Jesus fucking christ, this parenting gig is hard.

Dude grabbed a set of mystery keys we gave to the boys as a toy and bolted out of the house. He could not understand why he couldn’t unlock the car with them.

stealing dads hat at the zoo

He stole his Daddy’s hat at the zoo last week.

putting it back on

And kindly returned it. He is a wonderful human. And now I’m crying again. I just want to do right by him. I want him to be ok.

tbt first k z pic

And now to end on a happy note. A little #tbt for your viewing pleasure. The first picture ever taken of Z and me. Summer of 1998. Think my sister snapped the shot. We were dropping her off at the airport-it was either LaGuardia or Kennedy, can’t remember which. Back when you could go right to the gate.

Why the Government Shouldn’t Get Out Of Our Boobs

Last week my awesome friend Kelly did a little blog matchmaking and hooked me up with Le Clown of A Clown On Fire. He created The Outlier Collective with blogger Madame Weebles. They choose a topic weekly and ask two bloggers to write away. It will come as a big shock to learn my topic is breastfeeding……

treehouse breastfeeding

I have now breastfed in a treehouse. Shaped like a boat. Which has nothing to do with the post, but it was a fun part of the weekend.

Idyllic

A friend from high school jokingly called my little family idyllic during a comment exchange on FB this past winter. It’s kind of become a running gag between the two of us. But it also has been fodder for my overactive and anxious mind.

Listen, though I fear retribution from those mighty gods I don’t even believe in, I’m pretty happy in life right now. That isn’t to say that life is perfect. Or my marriage is perfect. Or my kids are perfect. Or that I am perfect. Yeah, I was laughing so hard as I typed the last sentence I almost fell off my chair. Happy means something different to me now than it did 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago. It has nothing to do with perfection. The edges of my expectations have softened, become less fanciful. There can be room for happy even though life also includes mental illness, and IBS, and being broke, and not enough time, and fights with Z, and kids who behave like wild animals.

Happy isn’t a constant state. It isn’t the fairy tale ending. It’s moments here and there. It’s looking across the room and being so attracted to Z that I feel tingly and lightheaded. It’s brushing T’s hair after his bath and smelling his little boy smell and loving him so hard tears spring to my eyes. It’s looking at the delight and surprise in C’s face when he manages to pee in the potty before bathtime. It’s having a group of friends over for a cookout and feeling full and content and a little buzzed as we laze around in the backyard while night falls.

But my family isn’t idyllic. I’m not trying to sell perfection here. Those moments of intense happiness happen a couple of times a day. The rest of the time we are just trying to make it through the muck of life.

Yesterday T called me stupid for the first time. Right after he accidentally smacked my face and knocked off my glasses because he was being wild. Between meals and prep for our little cook-out last night I cleaned our kitchen 5 times before 5pm. Z was annoyed that I got home a few minutes late from a pedicure (The day before I tried to paint my toes. My feet looked like a bloodbath. The poor woman had to scrub the deep crimson color from the skin around the nails before applying the polish even though I’d used tons of remover myself. I am 36 years old and I cannot apply nail polish.). I was annoyed he got home a few minutes late from taking a piano apart (Yes. That is the kind of stuff he does for fun.). Much of the day was far from idyllic.

Life isn’t all GREAT or AWFUL. While Z was on his errand T rested on the sofa (by which I mean he watched youtube videos about toy transformers-we are amazing parents.) C napped and I cooked. Cooking is soothing and fun for me. While Z mowed the lawn yesterday the boys and I were out front where we saw friends and neighbors as they walked by. We even got to talk to a woman whose grandparents had build the house next door to us. Her dad had been born in the house in the 1920s. How cool is that? That stuff was enjoyable, but also not quite idyllic.

When I was a kid…wait, if I’m being honest I need to admit when I was also an adult I thought happiness was a constant-like I live in the city of Syracuse and also in the warm fuzzy glow of happiness. So my definition of happiness has changed, but maybe I’ve also grown up a little. Happiness is dumb luck. It can also be the byproduct of a shit ton of work. That is certainly the case when it comes to my marriage. Same with raising the boys. We fuck up a lot, Z and I. With each other, with ourselves, with T and C. We get angry, we get frustrated, sometimes we give up for a little while. Then we dust ourselves off and try again.

The fear of sliding  back deep into mental illness is always with me. I have tools and help around me, but I will not be able to prevent another depressive episode. Hell, this time of year I worry about fall and winter. The anxiety is always worse when the sun goes away. And we don’t have sun from November to March in Syracuse. I know I’ll have weeks where I forget what happy is. When I’ll feel like the air is thick and heavy and it bruises my skin just to move through the day. I know we can work really hard and still find happiness elusive. Or that life can happen, tragedy can steal happiness away. But even during my miscarriage, one of the most terrible times of my life, I remember nursing T and feeling something other than horror and sadness, even if it was just for a few moments at a time. I know that next spring will come. The sun will return And I’m not being all flowery and metaphorical-having the sunlight really does help chase my mental illness away.

I’m happy. Tentatively. But I hope I am not self-satisfied. I don’t think happiness is something we deserve or we’ve earned. It is nebulous and can disappear in a moment. Still, I take it when it comes. I work for it. I don’t trust it to be there. I’m kind of scared of it. Happiness does not look like I thought it would when I was a 23 year old bride. But my life doesn’t look like I thought it would either. And that is just fine.

And idyllic? Oh Jeff, if my family was idyllic I wouldn’t have called my Mom yesterday to tell her that I have been fantasizing about getting a minor and non-life threatening illness that required 48 hours of hospitalization. I told her I certainly didn’t want to bring upon anything terrible with my flights of fancy, but I just wanted 48 hours to myself. In a bed. With someone else providing the meals. I asked her if she ever thought about something like that. She told me she fantasized about 48 hour solo hotel stays…because that was more comfortable. “Oh, I’m keeping it realistic.” I told her. “There is no way in hell I could go to a hotel alone for two days. But the hospital thing is totally within the realm of possibility.”

boat with sides

The building of the boat treehouse continues.

inside boat treehouse

My first trip inside. Z has starting laying the flooring. The boys are going to have a lot of fun up here.

beautiful boy T

This kid. He is beautiful.

early morning reading

Enjoying the Great American Novel, Quiet LOUD, very early on a Sunday morning. Only enriching and exceptional literature in our idyllic house.

Lost and Found

Our indoor cat got outside today. After we became parents we turned into dreadful cat owners. Momma May still doesn’t understand what the hell happened to her cushy situation. On the other hand, her daughter Gertrude has been scared of her own shadow since we found Momma and her three surviving kittens in the basement of an abandoned brownstone in Brooklyn more than a decade ago. So the only change to her life since T arrived is she hates everything even more.

Momma was only gone for a few hours, at dinner time she came right home. I might complain about her, but I was a mess. I do love her very much.

She’s incredibly maternal, our gal. We thought she was a kitten when we found her begging for food on a street corner. A neighbor told us she had a litter. Z had been adamantly anti-cat up until then, but he insisted we track down the kittens and take them all home.  We found homes for two of the littles and kept Momma and Gert. The veterinarian we took them to told us that starving cats either abandon their litters or nurse until they die. Momma was almost dead. And she nursed Gert until G was bigger than she was. It was kind of awkward. But that is Momma. She takes care of those who belong to her.

The boys have ruined her life. But she has the patience of a saint with them. They torment her. I try to prevent it. I tell them if I’m not around and she bites or scratches them I will have zero sympathy. Even so she wants to protect them. From the time they were new she would come running if they cried. For example:

Please let me assure you that T was recently fed, changed, and cuddled. He was three months old and freaking out because he was bored. Momma was trying her best to calm him. Do you see the derision in her eyes as she looks at me? She is telling me that she thinks I am the shittiest Mom on the planet.

C and Momma May

She lets them love her. She is pretty amazing.

Last week when my niece was visiting I held her in our living room as she wept. She is only 6 months old, she had been traveling for a week, her Mom needed to run upstairs. She came to the hard time she was having very honestly. Momma May was in the room as well. And she did not give one flying fuck that G was crying. She just hopped up into the basket in our changing table that is her favorite hiding place of late and curled up in a ball.

I was astounded. I kind of thought she was maternal towards all little creatures. She took care of her babies so well. She continues to take care of my babies. But evidently she doesn’t have the warm fuzzies for every baby on the planet. She knows who her family is. Smart lady. Clearly I don’t give her enough credit.

Momma is home

Here’s my little gray lady tonight. I’m glad she’s home.

So listen, one more little thing. And I feel like an asshole for doing this, but there you go. Self promotion is part of this whole blog thing. Are you on facebook? Do you like this blog? If you want to, and seriously no pressure. I mean, obviously. How could I pressure you? But if you have a sec and you don’t mind would you please like my newly created page? Hey thanks. You rock.