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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Yesterday, Today, Thirteen Years Ago

On a perfect late summer afternoon the boys raced around the playground. My friend and I relaxed on the grass a short distance away. I watched my two kids lazily, and gossiped with my pal. Our friends who are brand new parents strolled over with their son and joined us. It was a lovely time even if I did have to get up every few minutes in order to force my children to apologize to whomever it was that they just hit.

A small firetruck sped down the street, sirens wailing, causing the kids to stop what they were doing and watch. It turned the corner down the long side of the park and pulled next to the basketball court. An ambulance followed along with another small firetruck. In the next few minutes six police cars joined them. By then our kids had crowded around us and started asking questions.

My friend noticed a person performing chest compressions on someone before the first rescue vehicle reached them. The teens playing basketball crowed around. Paramedics took over. But after many minutes they stopped. Put the person receiving the compressions on a gurney and into the ambulance. The doors closed. The ambulance sat. And sat. And sat. Eventually the teenagers wandered away and got back to their game. The cops milled around. No one seemed to be in the ambulance with the person.

The younger kids didn’t understand, but the pair of five year old boys in our group had so many questions. We explained how all the rescue personnel were there to help someone who had an accident. We did not explain that it was clear the person had died.

Forty-five minutes earlier the kids were playing on the playground. I was lounging on the ground, chatting with good friends. A person was walking around the perimeter of the park. And then that person wasn’t walking anymore. We were in a park with forty or so other humans, most of whom we will never know. We were all there together for a moment, hearts beating, living life, people coming and going. And then one of us was gone while the rest of us watched awkwardly from a distance.

The boys ran off and started to play again, our chitchat resumed although our eyes were on the ambulance. We left the park, went home, cooked dinner, told our spouses about it, checked local news sources to see if it was mentioned, but mostly got on with our lives.

But the people who loved the person in the park? September 10, 2014 will be a day they never forget. Their lives changed yesterday. I thought about those people last night. And somehow the thought of them got tied up in the thoughts about today.

Thirteen years later and it would be fair to say that I haven’t come to terms with September 11th. Every anniversary I feel closer and further away from what happened. I feel angrier. More lost.

When the subway I was riding on that day pulled into the Fulton Street station both planes had already hit the towers. But the majority of the people who would die there were still alive. They were alive as the subway left Fulton Street and made the short trip to the World Trade Center stop. They were alive when we arrived in the Village at the West 4th Street station. They were alive as I climbed the stairs from underground on 86th Street on the Upper West Side. They were alive when I took money out of the ATM and bought a pack of Camel Lights. They were alive while I rushed into the tiny studio apartment that served as an office. As I desperately tried to reach my boss. As I turned on the tiny TV. As I tried to comprehend that a land line in New York City did not have a dial tone. And then suddenly they were dead.

It has been thirteen years and I still don’t understand. I was so close to what happened geographically. And I was unscathed.

I was so close geographically, but I lost neither my life, nor the life of a loved one. Sometimes location means nothing. Grief doesn’t permeate my life every single day the way it does for those who lost family that day. Most of the time I can easily block out the memories. Today I can’t. The morning thirteen years ago replays over and over in my mind as I walk through life pretending that all is well.

But isn’t that how most Americans experience September 11th? Loss can take your breath away even when you don’t know the person in the park or the people on the planes, in the towers, or the government building.

I haven’t come to terms with what happened that day. But it sure as hell has shown me what poison hate and extremism are. Directed at us or by us.

photo (46)

Sometime between ’99 and ’01. A boozy night on our roof with K and a disposable camera.

Moments of Engagement

When I find out a couple is splitting up I panic. Being married is like being in a club. Marriage can be awesome, but it is also constant work and sometimes it really sucks. When someone else’s marriage ends, even if that person is a stranger or a celebrity it is frightening. If that person can’t make it, how will Z and I? Marriage is the hardest and the best thing I’ve ever done. But there is strength in numbers. Because the knowledge that it could suddenly go south looms large.

When someone loses their battle with mental illness it feels the same way. When a talented, beloved, financially secure, success loses his battle with mental illness it is debilitating. A week and a half later and he is still in my thoughts for much of the day.The pain that his wife and children and close friends are in is so overwhelming it nauseates me. I mourn him. He was a  stranger, but I also welcomed into my home regularly through the television. He never knew me. I mistakenly thought I knew him.

I didn’t know him, but I know his disease intimately. I understand the hopelessness that led to his decision. The fog so dense it physically weighs you down, the agony of moving through another day, the feeling of utter uselessness, knowing with clarity that your loved ones would be infinitely better off without you as a weight around their neck.

The chance for another episode of severe depression is greater for me compared to the general population because of my history. I look at my sons, my reasons for working so hard to be well, and I know if I became depressed again there wouldn’t be a damn thing I could do to prevent it. Manage it, yes. I am lucky enough to have a deep support system. But I cannot control my mental illness. I cannot will it away with sheer force or moxie or by pulling myself up by those bootstraps. More than 20 years with an anxiety disorder has taught me that much.

I am not depressed right now, but this news has settled over me like a heavy blanket, making it harder to take a deep breath, or engage in the word that feels fuzzy and just out of my reach. My constant companion, my anxiety has been more present. I worry. I worry about him, about where he is now, about if our souls go on, about what, if anything, comes after life. I worry about me, about my friends who suffer from mental illness, about my family who puts up with so much to help guide me through this life, about my still innocent sons who don’t understand mental illness, who shouldn’t have to understand it for a long time, but who will become very familiar with because of me. I feel guilt for the burden I am.

There have been moments of engagement over the last week and a half. I am holding on tightly to them. They aren’t always what I expect will snap me out of the darkness I feel.

Saturday morning I was dressing when C started screaming and crying downstairs. I knew he was probably ok, but the small part of me that imagined blood and destruction won out. I pelted down the stairs naked from the waist down and as I ran past the front door with the windows along its side I felt pretty damn sure no one would be ringing the bell at 10:30 on a Saturday morning. C was fine. Pissed at his brother, but fine. As I walked away from the boys the doorbell rang. The utter absurdity of the situation shook me out of my stupor.

The adrenaline rush of being stung by a bee just as I was finishing a particularly good run strangely made me feel joy.

The panic surrounding C when he pooped in his underwear while we were at friends’ for a cook out frustrated the hell out of me, but engaged me fully.

Reading the first chapter of the first Harry Potter book to T and watching his delight as he used his imagination to see what I was reading filled me with pure happiness.

My sweet, wonderful, hard working, speech delayed C looked up at me this morning as he said, “You go run?” His talking is enough to help me shake off the cloud of unease, but his recognition that running is part of who I am (after a life on non-exercise) made me proud.

So I hold on to those moments. I will mourn an extraordinary life lost as long as I need to. My lack of faith in religion will not stop me from hypocritically praying that the depression will never reoccur in my life. I get up every morning for my boys. I dress them and feed them and sometime even manage to take them to the zoo. They need me. And they motivate me to fight against the anxiety and the threat of depression. By needing me they have given me a priceless gift. The reason to live my life instead of hiding from it.

leonard men beach 2012

These three guys. I want to be my best for each one of them.

ice cream mess

A moment of delight from several weeks ago. He even managed to get ice cream in his eye. What a nut.

t jumps off diving board

One of the best moments of our vacation. It was so hard for my guy, who is anxious himself, to screw up the courage to jump.

The One That Got Away

New York doesn’t have a heart. She will forget you the minute you leave her. Turns out you loved her more than she ever loved you. She immediately traded you in for a younger model, one without a family. Or a model who has made it financially in a way you never will. Or a model who is just more fucking tenacious than you are, a model who won’t give up and leave just because living with her is hard.

I have had two great loves in my life. Z and New York. For years I was married to both of them, but Z grew to despise the third wheel in our marriage. Hell, he and I grew to despise each other as well. My love for the city was the only constant in our lives. It would have made sense to give up on our marriage. It was a shambles. But somehow we decided to choose each other. Which meant there was no longer room for the city. I passionately loved her, but she wasn’t good for me anymore.

We moved away 8 years ago. My husband has a heart. He loves me back. He doesn’t seem interested in trading me in for a younger model. I made the right choice.

That doesn’t mean I don’t mourn my other love. Or wonder what might have been.

I was in New York for a few days to attend a conference at the UN. Thursday night I splurged on a cab to Brooklyn. The drive down Atlantic Avenue felt like a slap in the face. For every veterinary clinic sign that greeted me like an old friend there was a new clothing store, or real estate office, or yoga place that I didn’t recognize. Hank’s Saloon was still there, placating me a little. But then the behemoth that is the Barclays Center loomed over the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic, completely disorienting me.  This was no longer my city. I am not a New Yorker anymore.

If we had stayed the changes would have felt organic, unnoticeable. On the way back to Brooklyn yesterday afternoon I stopped at Nha Trang, a Vietnamese hole in the wall in Chinatown. Z took me there for the first time in the summer of 1998. You want cheap, fast, delicious food? It’s your place. The wait staff was mainly the same as it was 16 summers ago, and 12 summers ago, and 8 summers ago.  I felt a goofy grin take over my face when the elder statesman of the waiters came to take my order. But the grin faltered when I realized one side of his face was a little slack. He must have had a stroke. He didn’t remember me, but he was delighted that I knew how to eat the spring rolls properly, wrapped in half of a lettuce leaf with a cucumber slice and a mint leaf tucked inside. He might have been the one that showed me and Z how do to it back in the 90s. I wanted to hug him when I left. Of course I ignored that impulse and swallowed back tears as I hustled to the subway.

Me heart was pulled in new directions. As I road the 5 train downtown I didn’t try to catch or avoid the eye of the cute guy in the same car. Anyone who has lived in the city knows exactly what I’m talking about. I swear the subway system runs on hormones and the flirtations of strangers. But the cute guy didn’t hold my attention. The three year old boy seated next to me did. He absentmindedly leaned into me and hooked his little leg around my own. His small but solid bulk comforted me. When the train pulled into Union Square I didn’t want to get off. I could have sat next to him for hours.

I missed my boys. The piercing pain of being away from them took my breath away. Don’t I always beg for a break? Isn’t getting away for a few days good for me and them? Of course, but Z and I were away for 5 days in January. I guess I need time off less frequently than I assumed.

I missed my boys, all three of them. But something magical happens to me in the city. My anxiety might have been in the stratosphere leading up to the trip, but once I stepped into the city I relaxed. There is nowhere in the world where I feel more at ease. Since the first time I visited the city as a high-schooler it felt like the center of the world and exactly where I wanted to be. If we moved back she would be mine again in a matter of months. And part of me is hers, part of me will always be hers.

nha trang

The place setting hasn’t changed at Nha Trang since I’ve been going there.

gwb

Amtraking it home. Riding under the GWB.

Hudson

An icy Hudson River.

A big thank you to my dear friends A and M for opening their home to me. Do you know what was even better than being in New York? Having a night to laugh with A. I miss the hell out of her. But she is the kind of friend that is simply too good to let slip away. I’ll be calling her for advice decades from now. M ain’t so bad himself.

Hair Cut

While we were away T told me he didn’t like it that people thought he was a girl all the time. I told him people weren’t trying to be mean. Humans look lots of different ways and make different choices, but it would be fair to say that the majority of girls have longer hair and the majority of boys have shorter hair. So people get confused. I told him I loved his hair, loved long hair on boys. But it was his hair and his decision. He told me he didn’t like that people thought he was a girl, but he still wanted long hair. It didn’t bother him so much.

My heart ached. He was navigating some tricky waters. And I wondered if the day was coming when he would ask to have it cut off.

After his bath tonight I announced I would be trimming a couple of inches from his hair. The split ends were out of control, it was a snarled mess. I showed him my handiwork in the mirror after I was done. He grabbed a curl off of the towel he was standing on.

“Can you cut it short?”

My breath caught in my throat. I was having a hard time dealing with the two inches on the bathroom floor. We went to talk to his Daddy who was reading stories to C. And we agreed that it was T’s choice.

I cut his hair short.

As soon as he saw it he said he wanted to grow it back. I told him he could do what he wanted-it was his hair. But later he said he liked it and didn’t want it long again.

I’m glad Z and I had no idea this would be the day of the big cut. It was like pulling a bandaid off fast. There was no time to mourn the loss of those crazy long curls that were such a big part of his persona.

As we cuddled at bedtime T confided he was worried that his teacher wouldn’t like his hair. I told him he was just the same with long hair or short hair. What mattered was his heart. And he has a good heart. His teacher likes him for who he is inside, not what he looks like.

I hope he heard me.

We are keeping the curls. Z took the paint off an old altiods tin and they will live inside it. Z’s eyes welled with tears as he showed me the tin. Mine did when I looked at the towel covered with curls.

T needs to assert his independence. He needs ownership over how he presents himself to the world.

Z and I need to let go a little. Let him make his choices.

It’s a little thing, his hair. It’s a little thing. In this moment it is hard to remember that-hard to not let it be everything. Hard to not imagine him growing into a man, asserting his independence more and more. Hard to not imagine the pain of every little thing as Z and I learn to let go more and more.

We love him so much. He is ours for such a short time. He is only 4, barely a kid at all. But he is his own person. And that is right.

Sometimes the stuff that is most right is also the most difficult.

goodbye crazy haired boy

Before.

short hair t

After.

curls on the floor

Scene of the crime.

Overwrought Metaphor

Yesterday morning I managed to do this:

photo (30)

Cobalt Blue Fiestaware, I still love you after all this time.

We’ve had the sugar bowl for thirteen years. It was on our wedding gift registry back in the olden days. The first bunch of years of our marriage we got coffee from whatever corner deli that was down the block from our apartment. We didn’t even keep coffee in the house. We got a cup to sip on the train on the way to work each day. On the weekends we would stumble down to the corner and stand mutely in line until the nice guy behind the counter would pass us our drinks. We loved being regulars, loved the feeling of belonging, loved not having to talk to anyone, even to order, until the first sip of coffee removed some of the cobwebs from our brains. Ugh, I’m getting homesick for Brooklyn.

After we relocated to Providence in 2006 the sugar bowl did become a regular part of our lives, I mean beyond sitting on the counter and looking pretty. For 13 years I’ve looked at it almost everyday. For seven years I’ve used it almost everyday. It would be fair to say I’ve taken it for granted. Thought it would always be there, serving its function forever.

Z is going to glue it back together this weekend. We’ll still keep using it. In the scheme of things it isn’t a big deal.

So why have I felt sick to my stomach since it happened?

The sugar bowl is tied to our wedding in my mind. Of course breaking it makes me wonder if I could break our marriage as well. An obvious, armchair psychology, eye roll worthy thought. Also pretty damn morbid, and it isn’t like our relationship is on thin ice or anything. But the idea that it could break scares the living shit out of me. Thinking about the precariousness of, oh, everything in this life keeps me honest, reminds me that I do take Z for granted. That I shouldn’t. That he deserves better from me.

Breaking the lid makes me feel uneasy. It reminds me how much I have and how little attention I give it. As Z pointed out the sugar bowl can be fixed. Broken things don’t have to be thrown away. And why am I so scared of breaking our marriage? It was broken once. Shattered, really. And we managed to pick up all the tiny shards and glue them back together again. It wasn’t the same marriage as before, but we weren’t the same people. I don’t want the same marriage I had when I was 23 or 24 or 25. I sure as hell don’t want to be the person I was back then.

All the breaks and patches and scars our Frankenstein of a marriage has weathered have made it more interesting, more beautiful, and somehow stronger. Yes, it could break for good. But as long as we pay attention to it and each other I hope that we will keep on trucking along.

Not sure why my knickers are in a twist over this. It’s not like we aren’t on our 4th butter dish of the marriage. All broken by me. I really am the klutziest resident of the Northeast. If I’m at your house, for the love of god don’t trust me with your favorite coffee mug.

c and z sleep

C and T snoozing last week.

T and K goofing off

T and me watching some Harry Potter post anxiety attack (for me) last weekend.

Pacifier

This is my fault. I still think of C as a baby and it is a major disservice to him. He will always be my baby, T will also always be my baby. But C is the youngest, the last one. Accepting that he is growing up means accepting it is time to start letting go tiny bit by tiny bit, a torturous process I’m guessing I’ll wrestle with for the rest of my life.

His delayed speech has made it easier for the baby charade to continue. It’s been an excuse for so much. How can we transition him to a big boy bed if we can’t have a conversation with him? How can we potty train him? How can I wean him when he is so comforted by breastfeeding? How will he understand when we take the pacifier away? The truth is he understands language. I simply do not give him enough credit. It isn’t fair to him.

Last January we explained to him that he could only have the pacifier at night. Sometime over the spring he started taking two pacifiers to bed-one in his mouth, one to hold. And he’d switch back and forth between the two as he settled. Sometimes he’d lose them overnight and cry until we got them for him, but it was occasional-a small price to pay for a good night’s sleep. A couple of weeks ago he started losing the pacifiers more often. And more often. And more often. Suddenly Z and I have found ourselves up half a dozen times a night. We are at our wits’ end.

I need to be on a daily maintenance med for anxiety. Not only for my mental health, but for the health of the entire family. It isn’t fair to Z and the boys that the anxiety has been so acute lately. It puts a strain on everyone. I need to wean him in order to start the drugs. I’m still struggling with the letting go.

Parenting is triage so much of the time. It is easier to get up in the middle of the night every once in a while to pop a pacifier into his mouth than it is to deal with the struggle of taking the pacifier away. Until the day you wake up and realize you are getting up six times a night. A monster exists. And you created it by taking the path of least resistance.

So the time has come for us to do the hard work. Yesterday when C got up we asked if he was a big boy. He nodded. We told him big boys don’t need pacifiers. We suggested that we give all his pacifiers to our friend who is expecting a baby soon. We talked about it on and off all morning. I put him down for nap without one. It was terrible. He wept. I cried because when he hurts I hurt.

And then he slept for three and a half hours.

Last night it was another struggle, but he went down without a pacifier again. He did wake at 4am. And dude was up for the day. So this is going to take some work, this no pacifier deal, but we are facing it. We are back to making choices rather than letting the whims of a two year old dictate our behavior. He needs us to parent a hell of a lot more than he needs us to fetch his pacifier.

And in a few weeks I will wean him. The goal is for him to be done with the boob by the time we embark on our annual winter sojourn down south to see family. A friend was kind enough to come by yesterday to talk to me about how she weaned her daughter. She had great advice. And she listened, really listened to me. Which was a huge kindness. The talk made me feel armed with information. It reminded me that weaning him isn’t going to ruin his life. Kind of embarrassing that I needed that reminder, but I’ve gotten myself ridiculously spun up over this.

In other news, C’s speech therapy is going swimmingly. He has picked up a few words after about a month of sessions and both he and T love his therapist. He is working hard to overcome the communication issue. Z and I are working hard on letting him become a big boy.

bumblebee c

My littlest man rocking his brother’s Bumblebee costume.

family cuddles

The fam. Last night we cuddled on the sofa and watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

still running

The only social media my Dad follows is Instagram. He digs the pictures my sister and I post of our kiddos. Yesterday we were chatting and he asked me if I was still jogging. “Five days a week.” I told him. He wanted to know why I wasn’t posting pictures anymore. I told him I thought they were boring. And he told me it was the way he knew I was still doing it. He and my Mom have been wonderful cheerleaders during my foray into exercising. He asked for another picture. Guess he needs evidence. I’m in love with the top I’m wearing, by the by. Super comfortable and great for chilly days with the high neck and thumb slits so it goes over the hands.