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.

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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.

I Checked My Privilege…It’s Pretty Staggering

You and I have a lot in common, Tal Fortgang. My parents also belonged to the first generation of college graduates in their families. My father worked hard and from humble beginnings went on to become a wealthy man. I too worked hard in school and while I didn’t attend an Ivy, I did graduate from one of the Seven Sisters. Ok, so you have a penis and I (as my four year old son likes to say) have a vagina for a penis. And I’m nearly twice your age. But when I was 19 I would have agreed with your op-ed completely.

I’m pretty ashamed of that.

When I was 19 I was proud and humbled by my grandfather’s youth. He was the son of an Italian immigrant who came to this country legally. Because it was easy to come to this country legally at that time. And I’ll bet you a lot of dough he would have come whether it was legal or not. My grandfather left school and a terrible home at age 12. He rented a room and got a job. He worked hard in grocery stores for his entire career. It was my father who achieved the American dream of wealth through hard work. My grandfather performed the hard work part of that equation, he just never was lucky enough with the wealth part. As my dad likes to say, it’s better to be lucky than to be smart. And he is one of the smartest men I’ve ever met.

Your grandparents’ history is horrific. In no way do I wish to diminish their suffering. But the evil visited upon your family several generations ago does not somehow lessen your privilege as a while male at an Ivy League school today.

Your hard work and your privilege and your family history are three separate entities. Your privilege does not negate your hard work or family hardship just as your hard work and family hardship do not negate your privilege.

I don’t know anything about your particular circumstances, so I’ll share how my privilege positively influenced my life. I worked my ass off to get into an elite college. With my parent’s full support. I never had to get a job in high school. I was free to concentrate on academics and extra curricular activities that colleges so prize. I never had to worry about student loans or a job while in college. I got one so I could have some spending money, but I didn’t need one. If I had gotten an internship once I’d finished school instead of a job my parents would have continued to bankroll me as I would have been resume building for my career. Yes, I worked very hard. But I received priceless support along the way.

At some point during my college years I started to pay a little attention to the people around me. I attended the most expensive college in the country at that time. Many of the students were on financial aid and the amount of debt they were amassing was a constant worry. They had jobs to pay for their books. I had an account at the bookstore and didn’t even look at the prices. After my junior year I moved to Manhattan and commuted to school. I lived in a neighborhood filled with recent immigrants. It still feels obscene to compare my privilege to theirs.

One of my closest friends at college had been in foster care. His family lived paycheck to paycheck, one emergency away from disaster. I remember lamenting to him, in the kind of shameful and tone deaf way only a 20 year old can manage, about my guilt at how I’d been given so much in life. He told me to shut the fuck up. He was poor. It sucked. He would do anything for a rich dad and he’d enjoy the hell out of it.

It was one of the most important conversations I’ve ever had in my life. Complaining about my privilege was not a mistake I’d make again. Instead I would remember to be grateful and aware. I would never miss an opportunity to speak with my vote, supporting candidates who were concerned with income inequality and discrimination.

I’ve spent my life trying to be a decent contributing member of society. There have been good years and bad years. You are right, everyone has their own story. Mine is suffering from a pretty severe mental illness. My 20s were ugly. I like to think I’m a hard worker. I’m proud of a lot of what I’ve done. My husband is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever known. He is a college professor at an excellent private university. He is a fierce feminist and I could not be more proud of him. His research is heavy on community activism and engagement. He teaches in the design school and I’ll be honest, his paycheck is decidedly middle class. I’m currently a stay at home mom to our two sons, a choice my 19 year old self would have scoffed at. Turns out that living an affluent lifestyle isn’t that important to us.

Here’s the thing, though. Our privilege colors every choice we make. The financially responsible decision would be for me to get a job. But having a parent at home with our boys before they enter kindergarden is of the utmost importance to us. We are squeaking by, but the reality is we have a safety net the size of Texas. We will never be one emergency away from financial catastrophe. I get the feeling that you never will be either. I recognize how that reality influences my choices and give me freedom, how incredibly lucky I am, how few other people have the same luxury. And I am grateful. Because it would be disingenuous and frankly offensive not to be.

I’m also mad as hell that my circumstances are those of the few. That people who are every bit as smart and hardworking as I am are in much more precarious situations because they don’t have a wealthy parent. That safety net you and I have? It should extend to everyone.

Listen, your hard work should be lauded. Full stop. End of thought.

Let’s move on. Also? You should be grateful for your privilege.

You need to recognize the difference between the two. And when you do perhaps you can be part of the solution.

Sincerely,

Karen Cordano

 

Flu

Tuesday morning I went to the doctor’s hoping I had caught strep from the boys. Why was I hoping for strep? It is treatable. I’d be back on my feet pretty quickly. Nope, not strep. Not an ear infection. Not the common cod. She told me I had the flu and that I needed to go to bed for the week. She offered to write me a note for work. I laughed before I started crying. “I’m a stay at home Mom! Sick days aren’t part of the benefit package!”

“Oh, so you won’t need a note.” She was missing the point.

“I cannot stay in bed for a week.”

“You’ll just have to let them watch a lot of movies. How old are they?”

“Four and a half and two and a half.”

“Oh…..well…….good luck.”

Before you go feeling too sorry for me you should know that Z went into full-on Super Dad mode, getting the boys from school, putting C down for nap, all that jazz. We started to line up sitters for the rest of the week. And then my Parents called. Mom would arrive at 10:15pm that night.

I might have the flu, but I’m beyond lucky.

Yesterday I felt so much better. If I stayed still. The minute I started moving around the coughing that makes my lungs feel bruised and my head ache started. The fever and chills seemed more pronounced. The soreness that enveloped my skin returned. But my Mommy was here. Taking care of the boys, making dinner, checking on me.

The truth is I thought I’d wake up this morning feeling better still. How long could I really feel extremely bad? I was probably overreacting to this whole thing, after all overreacting is what I do best. Mom probably didn’t need to rush up here after all.

I feel awful.

Clearly the high of knowing I get to rest for several days has dissipated. I am not going to magically be better tomorrow. The flu sucks. Having C sidle up to me and tug on my blanket while saying, ” Mama! Cuddle me! Please!” sucks balls big time. Z sleeping on the sofa sucks and makes me feel lonely. I don’t want him to get this. And I’m glad that my wheezing and snoring and hacking is not keeping him awake. But I hate reaching out with my leg in the middle of the night only to connect with nothing rather than the reassuring bulk of my husband.

And yes. I did get the flu shoot. We all did.

And yes. I still think it was the right choice. Am I pissed I got the flu anyway? Sure. It impacts the whole family negatively and frankly it feels terrible. But I am not shocked. (Ok, I am feeling too shitty to verify at the moment, so this is from memory and I might get some stuff wrong-let me know in the comments and I apologize in advance for bad info) The flu vaccine varies in efficacy from year to year. This year’s shot was a pretty good match to the strains out there right now-think it was about 70%. Which means there is a 30% chance the recipient of the shot will catch the flu. Decent odds, but not fantastic.

Why am I not angry the vaccine didn’t protect me?

Who says it didn’t protect me? Who knows how many time I or a member of my family has been exposed to the flu this season and didn’t get sick? Also, having the vaccine might protect my family even though I am contagious. It might shorten the duration of the virus for me.

I’m sick. I’m pissed. I’m exhausted and need to wrap this thing up so I can rest. But the flu has not changed my mind about vaccinations. Z and I got educated before we got vaccinated. We understood the risks and benefits. I believe we made the right choice for our family.

someone found his halloween costume

T found his Halloween costume the other day. He’s been wearing it a lot.

love his sweet face

This kid’s sweet face melts me. So hard not to cuddle with him. Not touching my family is definitely the worst part of being contagious.

flu no filter

This is what the flu looks like. Scary. I know.

Boy In A Drawer

The boys ran up to T’s room and seemed to be occupying themselves without threat of imminent injury so Z and I took advantage, sipping our coffee and chatting in the family room. Z sat on the sofa, I crouched on a heating register that never quite gets hot enough to burn my butt. Not nearly as satisfying as the one next to the fireplace. Eventually Z hollered for the boys to come down for Super Hugs, part of our silly family routine when Z leaves for work. I quickly ran to the bathroom as Z gathered his things. T thundered down the stairs, but C did not. I heard him calling out and after finishing I ran upstairs to grab him. I threw open T’s bedroom door and saw this:

crazy c

“Help! Help! I’m stuck!” he cried. The huge grin on his face assured me he wasn’t in actual distress, so I yelled for Z to come upstairs-this was too good to miss-and I snapped a picture.

How did he even get in there? How did he not pull the whole dresser on top of himself? Why have we not attached every piece of furniture we own to the walls? How long is it before these wild boys actually give me a heart attack?

After Super Hugs were successfully executed and the goodbye wave happened at the window over the sofa (seriously, we are people of involved ritual) I called my parents to tell them the story. Since I’ve become a parent they are who I call nine times out of ten. I call when one of the boys has done something wonderful or hilarious or insane or awful, I call when I’m struggling, or when I’m worried I am a terrible Mother. I sincerely don’t know what I’d do without them. I get to laugh with them, they listen to me cry. And when I feel like I’m in over my head they believe in me. This different closeness with them is one of the biggest and best surprises of becoming a Mom.

Dad checked out the photo I’d posted on instagram on his phone as we chatted and he and Mom got a major chuckle from it. “There was a very tall dresser in my room when I was little.” Dad started. “It was about six feet. I would climb to the top of it and jump off onto my bed. My Mom told me that if I kept on doing it I would catch polio.”

“What?”

“She said I’d catch polio.”

“Um. Why didn’t she say that it could fall over and kill you?”

“Because polio was a really big deal then. There wasn’t a cure.”

“Dad. There isn’t a cure for death either.”

These little glimpses into my father’s childhood are another bonus of our evolving relationship. My Grandmother sounded like a real character. I never knew her. She died shortly after my parents got engaged. My Grandfather died when I was two, there are pictures of the two of us, but I don’t have any memories of him.

My Mom’s Mom will be 93 this June. She is one hell of a lady, my sister and I have always adored her. She is a great storyteller, and we eat those stories up. How she and her siblings used to stoke the stove though they promised not to when her parents went to church in the evening so they could make taffy. How the chickens and garden in their backyard kept the family from starving during the depression. How Grandpa saw her outside of church when they were teens and told his friends he would marry her, the ensuing secret courtship of an Irish Protestant girl and an Irish Catholic boy. These stories are part of my family’s DNA. We’ve heard them a million times and would happily listen to her tell them a million more.

Throughout our lives my sister and I have nagged our Dad for stories of his childhood. His parents and his upbringing are largely a mystery to us. But since I’ve had the boys I’ve noticed he lets stories like this one slip. Is it because we aren’t actively pestering him? He only had girls. Are his wild grandsons making him remember his own boyhood?

Who knows?

I simply am grateful. For the stories and for my parents.

doorway climber

He got up there himself. As Z was taking the picture T said, “Will you send it to Grandma?”

T first communion

Big T’s first communion. It is crazy how much the boys look like my Dad.

Fred and Helen Cordano

Fred and Helen Cordano. So many holes in our knowledge of them. We don’t know if my Grandfather’s given name was Alfredo or Frederico-one name was my Grandfather’s one was my Great-Grandfather’s both anglicized to Fred. The pictures give the date of their marriage as November 28th, but the year is missing. Sometime in the 1930s I believe.

Wednesday

Unplowed roads meant the boys didn’t go to school this morning.

They both have colds.

My throat started hurting by noon.

Walked over a mile in a snowstorm to school.

Classes were cancelled shortly thereafter, but we didn’t know that in our class so we stayed til the end.

I slipped and fell on the way home.

The plow came while I was gone and blocked our driveway so I shoveled it out so Z could pull in.

C had pooped during his nap and taken his diaper off. The sitter did a great job dealing with the mess, way above her pay grade. But I found crusted poop on the floor of his room and he simply smelled like feces.

I cleaned up the shit and gave him a bath.

T gagged on leftovers from two nights ago. Two nights ago when he cleaned his plate and told me I made good food.

This was not a fun day.

So I was really looking forward to the one cadbury creme egg  left on the counter after dinner.

I earned that damn egg.

Also, it would seem that I ate that damn egg yesterday.

Fuck. FUCK. FUUUUUUUCK.

I really wanted that creme egg.

stroll in the snow

After my delightful stroll in the snow.

star wars stickers

The boys playing with Star Wars stickers this morning. T is obviously Spider-Man.

Tender

C is napping. And I am sitting here with tears running down my face. I think I just nursed him for the last time.

My relationship with nursing has been deeply personal. Because I fell in love with nursing, because it was an “easy in” to the overwhelming business of becoming a mother for me does not mean that I think breastfeeding equals motherhood. Or that nursing mothers are better mothers. Or that breastfeeding is the only right choice.

Breastfeeding was the right choice for our family.

It was also a privilege. I am a stay at home Mother with a shit-ton of support. I got to see lactation consultants. When I needed to have a troublesome mole removed that was located next to my nipple my Mom bought me a hospital grade pump. I am beyond lucky, it is important to recognize that.

C just turned 26 months old a couple of days ago. I reached my goal of nursing him until he was two. It is time to let go.

But somehow nursing has become a crutch for me. In so many ways I feel like I’ve let C down as his Mother. I feel like if I was a better Mom I would have noticed during the exact moment he should have been learning to speak and done something about it back then. Parenting a two year old who cannot effectively communicate has been so frustrating for all of us. Nursing him feels like the only thing I’m doing right some days. Taking away that safety net, those few moments when I can hold him and do something tangible for him, terrifies me. I do not know how to be his mother without the boob. In the two short years C has been on this planet I have made an infinite number of mistakes with him. How can I give up the one thing I know I’m doing right?

Today marks one of the many days when I let go a little. Let my son grow up a tiny bit. Take a step into uncharted territory.

I know that he is going to be fine.

I still worry I’m not enough for him. I still worry I have no idea what I’m doing. The pain of parenting still takes my breath away. But jesus fucking christ, it is worth it.

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My sweet son reached up and held onto my face as we cuddled and watched the tube a few weeks ago.

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He woke from his nap a few minutes ago angry as hell, which is unusual. I held him close. “Mama!” he cried and he poked my chest. Which is how he asks to nurse. I’ve kept him to breastfeeding three time a day for the last month or so, no more nursing on demand. And he hasn’t asked to nurse after his nap in ages. Of course he would today. I started to sob. He sobbed alongside me. I told him no, that we weren’t going to nurse. I told him I loved him. I held him closer. “Help!” he wept as he continued to poke my chest, “Help! Help! Help!”

Are you fucking kidding me? I mean, I can’t make this shit up.

It was unbelievably wrenching. I sat on the stairs with him and we both shook with great wails and held each other. Eventually my wails turned to laughter. Because it was all so ridiculous. And then I asked him if he wanted ham or cheese or raisins or water. He finally took the bait with the water and now he is happily eating raisins while humming the Star Wars theme.

Yes, he has a few words now. Dada, Mama, help, ball, cat, more, arm. The speech therapy is working. In fact, we have a makeup session in a bit.

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C on the day he was born. I can see a glimpse of who he will become in this picture.