Drop Off

“So remember, I’m not going help…”

He cut me off. “I know, I know, Mom. I am going to put my stuff in my cubby myself. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy!”

Easy-peasy lemon squeezy is something his most excellent kindergarten teacher says.

T has changed so much in the short time he has been in kindergarten. He is growing into his own person. It is messy and exciting and wonderful and sort of heartbreaking. I looked over at him this morning while I was strapping his brother into the car seat. His hair was swept up under his winter hat which was framing his face. I saw the baby, the hilarious and bald baby, that he used to be. Man, I miss that baby. I looked at his face and start to laugh. He looked back at me and laughed himself.

“What?”

I smiled. And sighed. And suddenly was blinking back tears. “Nothing. I love you.”

We looked at each other and started laughing again.

I’m pretty much the definition of over-sharer. I know, understatement of the year. But many of the moments involving T that crack me up, or teach me something, or drive me up the wall are starting to seem like his stories. He should get to choose to share them or not. He isn’t going to disappear from the blog altogether, but I’m going to do something very hard for me and try to have some actual discretion when it comes to him.

At the beginning of November I told T we would work towards me dropping him off at school in the morning rather than coming in with him to get him settled. His teacher said he was ready. He panicked.

We decided we would take the month to slowly get used to the big step and have him ready by December. December came and I was no closer to dropping him off. Even though it meant C was late to school every day. Even though T’s teacher said he was ready. Even though I knew deep down that T was ready. Because it turns out I was not ready. I like walking him into the building and having the opportunity to check in with his teacher. I like feeling involved with his school life. I don’t want to let my boy go. When I think of dropping him off outside…it is another 10 minutes of his day that I’ve lost. I feel left behind.

I feel left behind. And when I realized that it became very clear that it was time to make the drop off happen. I can’t keep him close because it hurts me too much to let him go. It would be a different story if he needed me for a while longer, but he doesn’t. I’m holding him back. My job is to let him go. It is the best job I’ll ever have. And the hardest. I cannot tie my happiness to him. It isn’t fair to either of us.

It might seem early to start worrying about letting him go, but if I don’t start now it will be impossible when he is grown. If the idea of letting the kid walk to the door of his school, without crossing a street, with me watching him the whole time is tearing my heart out how is going to feel when he is ready to go to college? I need to get used to him growing up and away and into himself. Because it will happen in a million tiny steps between now and when he is a man.

So we started the work on Tuesday. I told him he needed to get his stuff settled without me, but I’d stand nearby. It didn’t work. He told me he couldn’t do it and begged for help. We talked more about it Tuesday night. He did better on Wednesday. I thought we would struggle for a few more weeks, but this morning he was all “easy-peasy lemon squeezy”!

He didn’t struggle this morning. I did.

skinny jeans

I mean, look at him! He is an honest to god kid!

floris hoodie

Hamming it up in a hoodie I wore to kindergarten at Floris Elementary a million years ago.

inside the lego table

Brothers in the lego table. Not allowed anymore. Because it is now falling apart, probably because the boys were sitting it in….

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Try Hard

T was sitting alone on the side of the tennis court, legs and arms pretzeled together to make himself as small as possible. I walked onto the court with C’s balance bike and passed Z. “He just said he failed,” Z muttered to me. “Seriously?” my heart stuttered. I walked on a few steps towards C. “He said that exact word?” I called back over my shoulder. “Yes.”

Z and I decided, oh ok….I decided that T wasn’t allowed to ride his balance bike anymore. He had to practice with the two wheeler or not ride at all. Trying new things is hard for him. He wants to get everything right the first time.

When he gets frustrated I remind him of the three things he needs to do in this life in order to make us proud. Three things. That is it. He must be kind. He must try hard. He must treat girls the same way he treats boys. He does those things and we will be proud of him no matter what.

I approached him. He turned his back. “I need some alone time.” “Ok. You can have some alone time. Then we need to talk.”

A few minutes later I led him off of the court. He chose to crawl under a towering pine, the lowest branches were high enough to form a private hideout as the boughs draped to the ground. “T. Look at me. You did not fail. Did you try?” He looked everywhere but at me. “Yes,” he sighed in exasperation. “Listen, what will make your father and I proud? What three things?” He folded his arms and looked away and I repeated the three items. “You did it. You tried. So you didn’t ride the bike on your own. So what? You aren’t going to magically do it. Everything takes practice. It is because you tried that you didn’t fail.” He started to roll his eyes and caught himself. “Before we go home you have to try one more time. You can’t leave here thinking you failed. Because the only way to fail is to not try.” He stared at me. “I’ll tell you what. You try again and I’ll give you a marshmallow before lunch.” He perked up. “How about five marshmallows? Because I’m five.” “How about one marshmallow….and five mini M&Ms.” “Yes.”

He did try. He didn’t learn to ride a two wheeler today, but he tried. And Z and I were proud of him.

He’s off to kindergarten tomorrow, which colored the whole bike conversation.

He’s off to kindergarten and I will not be there to talk to him in the shade of a grand pine tree. I will not be able to encourage him and support him in the moments when he feels like he has failed. Or when he is scared. Or when he is hurt. Tomorrow is one of the many small separations that will continue until he is his own man. That trajectory is right, it is what we all want for our children. But the selfish part of me is mourning. It doesn’t want to let him go. Or expose him to the cruelty of the world.

I’ve been wallowing today. Head bent, I wept in the car before pulling myself together to head into Wegman’s. This afternoon my heaving sobs drew Z to the kitchen as I swept the floor. In a sabotaging act of indulgence I’ve been listening to This Woman’s Work by Kate Bush. Hell, I’ve even been watching the damn scene in She’s Having a Baby where it is used.

He needs to grow up. I need to grow up. My heart is breaking.

This evening we talked about failing again. I changed tactics. “It’s ok to fail, you know.” I told him after he brushed his teeth before bed. “I fail all the time.” “Really?” he asked doubtfully. “You fail?” I laughed. And appreciated his confidence in me. “Oh baby, I fail every day. I fail many times every day.” “How?” “Well, every time I get mad at you and yell. Daddy fails too, when he gets mad and yells.” He looked thoughtful. “You know what? Nothing new is created without failure. People fail and fail until they get it right. Nothing good happens without putting yourself out there and failing.”

So I was giving him the opposite message that I did in the morning. Well, I failed during that conversation and was trying to get it right.

“A couple of years ago we got Daddy’s car. Do you know it is different from Mommy’s car and I didn’t know how to drive it? I had to learn. And I failed and I failed. Do you know how long it took me to learn?” “No.” “More than a year! Can you believe it?” “How is it different?”

Ok. Maybe he didn’t get the message tonight. But Z and I will continue to have the conversation with him.

Tomorrow is a day T and I let go of each other a little. It is also a day of excitement and adventure. I am proud of my small man. He is trying to figure out his place in this tricky world. I am trying to figure out how to be there to catch him when he stumbles while also giving him room to grow.

I just pray I make it back to the car after dropping him off before my tears come.

bike learning

His first try on two wheels.

k and t parking lot

My boy and me.

crazy t

He is going to rock kindergarten. In that exact outfit. Just realized that is what I laid out for him…

Thank You, Mr. Rome

When I was in high school a million years ago I was a drama kid. By which I mean I was a huge dork. But our theater program was so incredible that I didn’t give a single fuck that the popular kids made fun of me and my friends. I really do not mean to be unkind, but they seemed boring to me. And often really mean. I’m sorry popular kids at Robinson in the early 90s, but I watched you be pretty awful to the others and it grossed me out.

The theater dorks, or the drama fags as we were so charmingly called, were not perfect. We did not escape petty behavior or meanness or heartbreak. I think back to some of the hurtful and stupid shit I did back then and I squirm with regret. But mostly we watched out for each other. We loved each other and tried to help each other through the mess of high school and growing up.

Our fearless leader was Mr. Rome.

We spent a crazy amount of time with Mr. Rome. He taught a bunch of misfits everything about the theater. He arranged an annual series of field trips to Arena Stage in DC. We saw four shows a year for $10 each. What we really saw was what we were trying to do in high school happening in real life.

Mr. Rome wasn’t without fault, no teacher is. He had favorites, kids he didn’t get along with so well. But overall I think he did an overwhelming amount of good. He taught us discipline. He was there for us when we were struggling personally. He had vision and put on terrific shows. He made us feel like we were part of something. He took a ragtag group and gave up purpose. He helped us create. We made magic. We made lifelong friends. We worked hard. We cared. A group of snot nosed teenagers cared deeply.

Some of us have pursued careers in theater. Most of us haven’t. But what he taught us was so much more than drama. We learned teamwork. We made time for play while we worked our asses off. We learned how to be small cogs in something much bigger than ourselves.

A lot of us actually lettered in drama through ITS membership. Seriously. I still have mine. Never had the balls to get a letterman jacket, but the letter itself cracked me up and made me proud at the same time.

Tomorrow night there is a retirement party for Mr. Rome at our old school. It just so happens that my family is headed home to Syracuse tomorrow. So Z is going to drop me off along I81 in Virginia and our friend K will pick me up. K and I will head up to Robinson to attend the party.

Our friend K. The guy I met when I was a 14 year old freshman. He and I were pretty good friends in high school. He was 2 years older and cool (well, cool for drama) but he didn’t know it. He was talented and eccentric in a very authentic way. Hell, he is still eccentric in a very authentic way today. He and a guy named Zeke were college freshman together at North Carolina School of the Arts. After graduation they were struggling set designers and roommates in Brooklyn. And on June 14th, 1998 I met K’s roommate. Married him September 3rd, 2000. K was the best man. He is still our best man.

So tomorrow K and I will go thank Mr. Rome for everything he did for us. I can’t speak for what K will say. Hell, I don’t even know if Mr. Rome will remember me (although I like to think I am the only ITS president he worked with who actually bankrupted our little chapter which surely made a lasting impression). But even if he has no idea who I am I will thank him. For teaching me teamwork and hard work and setting crazy goals and meeting them. For helping me to meet a friend so close he is my family more than 20 years later. For being a big part of the reason I was lucky enough to love high school. For touch the lives of so many kids just like me.

Happy retirement, Mr. Rome. Mazel tov.

Karen and Mr. Rome

1994. Fall of my senior year. Working on Stage Door. Pretty sure I was assistant director on this one.

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.

walking away from preschool

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.

 

Mother’s Day

Special occasions delight me. I love celebrating. I relish picking out the perfect present for a loved one, love making an elaborate cake for the birthdays of people in my life, and let’s be honest–I love getting presents myself.

Mother’s Day is difficult for many people and for many reasons. Like all holidays in our society of excess it is shoved down our throats, placing demands on us rather than fostering sincere appreciation.

If we avoided celebrating everything that caused sadness and hurt in others there would be nothing left to celebrate. I feel for my friends and family who dread this holiday. I want to be able to take their pain away. But I’ve decided not to feel guilty about enjoying it myself.

On this day I’m not looking for flowers and jewelry and a meal at a fancy restaurant. If that stuff is your jam, I hope you got it! To each his own.

But Mother’s Day reminds me to think about my own Mom. My appreciation for her has exploded since I’ve become a Mom myself. I understand her so much better. She has been more than I could have imagined as a Grandma. I love watching her with my boys. Mother’s Day reminds me to look at my big boy who will be headed to kindergarten in the fall and remember the tiny peanut he was, how he gave me the gift of motherhood, one of the most extraordinary gifts I will ever receive. Mother’s Day reminds me that Z decided he wanted to have kids with me, even after it became clear that I was a crazy person. Mother’s Day reminds me of the joy mothering a second baby because you know you can do it. My love for C has a confidence in it because I’ve been to this rodeo before. Mother’s Day reminds me of the twins I miscarried, they will always be a part of me and they will always be loved. It isn’t that I don’t think about those things all the time, but a day set aside to really give them attention is a gift.

Let’s get real, Z also makes sure I get to sleep in.

This year Z asked what I wanted to do with the day and I told him the only thing I really wanted to do was get a long run in.

The other thing I do on all holidays is reflect on the last year. I think about how different we all were just 365 days ago. And on last Mother’s Day if you told me that I’d ask for the time to complete a 5 mile run in exactly one year I would have said, “You. Are. Fucking. Insane.”

And yet, here we are.

Today’s run was a mess. I haven’t done 5 miles for a few months. I haven’t made it out 5 times a week for about that long. The winter was so frigid and snowy, I got a sinus infection and the flu, schoolwork was overwhelming. These are simply excuses, but they are the truth. This week I did 4 runs and really listened to my body. Ramping up milage too fast can cause injury and I do not want to mess up and get hurt before the half marathon this October. I was sore and hurting so on the 5th day I did yoga. Today marks the start of a new week and I’d had two days of rest. I was doing 5 miles, damn it.

I did them. The slowest 5 I’ve ever done. It was sunny and in the 60s and I didn’t bring water. The new shorts with the built in bicycle pant thingies road up and I got fierce chafe on my thigh chub. I wanted to walk half way into the second mile. But I told myself I’d fix those problems next time. I told myself to keep on going. I told myself I can do hard things. And I did them.

The fact that they were ugly miles made them even more valuable to me. Because they perfectly illustrate what I’ve learned this year. I’ve learned I actually can to hard things. I’ve learned endurance. I’ve learned I’m stronger than I thought. I’ve learned to make impossible goals. And then figure out how to reach them.

Next Sunday T and I are going to do a 1/2 mile fun run at a local park. I’m proud that he is interested in running and excited we can do it together.

I couldn’t have run 1/2 a mile last mothers day. This year I can do it with ease. Day to day it is hard to see the changes we make in our lives. But what a difference a year makes.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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A shaky, dehydrated mess. But a PROUD shaky, dehydrated mess.

mother day presents

My Mother’s Day presents. By which I mean T & C’s Mother’s Day presents.  Now I know why T was so excited to give them to me.

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My Mama loving her girls on the boardwalk down the shore.

Back in the Saddle

If you’ve been kind enough to read here for a long time you’ve basically read this before. If you are my friend you have heard this before. I’m bored with this subject even before I begin writing…

The anxiety is really bad.

I’m having a hard time.

I hate myself.

I’m ashamed that I need drugs to function as a human being.

I feel like a bad example for my boys.

I feel guilty for occupying space in this world.

Someone as privileged as I am does not deserve to have a mental illness.

I’m trying a new drug.

Are you yawning yet?

I’m not doing very well. But the flipside is I’m kind of fine.

I’m taking care of the boys. I’m keeping up with my schoolwork. I make dinner. We host gatherings at our place regularly. When Z was part of a demonstration with Kronos Quartet I went and then went out to dinner with them all. I sat next to David Harrington and made small talk. I went to a fucking conference at the UN. I spent an evening with one of my best friends in the world and laughed and talked and felt….happy. Ok, so the jogging hasn’t been going well for about a month and a half. Last week I was only out once and this week twice. But god fucking damn it is March 23rd and right now it is 21 degrees with a biting wind. There was an inch of fresh snow on the roads this morning. And twice this week I took my kids to the doc’s (strep) instead of going for my jog. Life happens. And this weather is…well come on.

It would be easy to just wallow in how awful this disorder makes me feel without giving myself credit for progress. But I’m a Mom now, I cannot afford to be that self indulgent. I have worked hard and I am fighting back. It would be easy to stay in the place where I just hate myself and berate myself. Self loathing is one of the most comfortable states of being for me. I believe it with my whole heart, I’ve had years of practice.

This anxiety disorder isn’t something that I can fix or cure. It’s as much a part of me as my brown hair and freakishly pale and moley skin. That doesn’t mean I give up. In fact, I don’t give up anymore. I am in a really bad place, but I am fucking getting shit done. Do I cry a twenty times a day? Yup. Do I go to Z and tell him I can’t I can’t I can’t do it? Yup. Do I spend evenings after Z comes home in bed sure that I have strep myself, or a stomach bug, or cancer? All the time.

Do I finish my readings for class? I do. Do I turn in work late? I do not. Do I pay our bills? Mostly on time even! Do I make sure my boys feel loved and cared for? You bet your ass I do.

Things are not great. Z has to bear the brunt of it and I feel awful, guilty, ashamed. But I am also getting shit done.

The anxiety disorder didn’t just happened to me one day. It’s something that has always been. T has recently learned to say “Excuse me” after he burps or farts. I remember learning the same thing when I was his age. I also remember feeling terrible guilt and dread about all the times I burped and farted before I knew about the excuse me thing. After my parents tucked me in at night I would whisper “Excuse me” over and over and over to make up for those times I didn’t. I thought something terrible would happen unless I made up for my unknowing rudeness.

So it is a chronic condition. It kicks my ass over and over and over. It’s been kicking my ass since I was a little girl. And now I’m kicking ass right back.

The drug thing is the hardest part right now. Historically trying new drugs increases my anxiety. Ironic, huh? SSRIs, the class of drug most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression list increased anxiety as a common side effect. That’s how crazy people meds work. It is a guessing game and what is supposed to help you can make you much much worse. Abilify might have augmented the SSRI you were taking beautifully. It made me think I was losing my mind.

I was supposed to try a new drug after last winter’s experiment didn’t work. There was excuse after excuse-C wasn’t weaned, we were traveling, the fall is a really stressful time, the winter is a really stressful time, the spring is a really stressful time. Well, I put my big girl pants back on. New class of drugs, increased anxiety not a common side effect. In scary side effect world there just might be a rash that lands me in the hospital. I know one person who has taken this drug. After a couple of months that person’s hair started to fall out in clumps. But if this one works bald and crazy might be better than a nutjob with a full head of hair. And my Mom told me she’d buy me a wig.

The drug crapshoot began three days ago. If it doesn’t work we will figure something else out. Because even though I’m not doing alright I’m doing alright.

cheese

This little stinker. When he saw me grab my phone he shouted, “Cheese!”

hiding

My poor guy was hiding in the closet because he didn’t want to take his medicine after we got home from the doc’s office. I feel him. That violently pink “bubble gum” stuff smells disgusting.

boys better

Enough meds in both boys so they are no longer contagious or in pain. Strep sucks.

un pass

My UN pass!