Monday, December 14, 2015

December 14th. Unspeakable still.

This year, I am foregoing my usual birthday blog for Noah, posting it the day after his actual birthday, and acknowledging what this day actually means to me and to so many people.

I have a little boy, now one day into his seventh year of life. He is in first grade. He is still innocent in many ways, but he has great intuition about people and knows to never trust the weather in New England. He loves his school and his friends and gym class and art class and Bumpy, his classroom tortoise. He pays such close attention to his teacher that when he tells me about a lesson he learned in class, he unknowingly mimics her mannerisms, her expressions, the cadence of her speech. He worries mostly about his sister Grace knocking down his castles and Lego structures, and the number of sentences he needs to write in his homework answers to make them complete, and getting to school in enough time to play a little with his friends before school starts. He is a passionate little guy, though he's recently he's been able to channel his energy into words and drawings and stories he tells rather than tearful frustrations.

I will always tell the story of Noah's wide eyes, the second he was born. Little globes, unblinking, enveloping, his eyes so earnest to see as much as infancy would allow, as curious a 5 minute old as one could ever imagine. He matched, quite beautifully, the impression the doctor had given me of him days before his birth in a routine appointment. While checking my dilation and effacement, she had let out a yelp. "He just moved his head around when he felt my hand! I've not had that happen before... like he was saying, 'Hey, who's there? Who is that up there?" She was startled, laughing, and I was proud. We all have our sacred memories, our stories we tell with nostalgia or delight and often both, and fortunately, there is no person who ever has the power to remove those memories, framed firmly in time. We have now made six years and one day or memories with Noah, and I cannot believe how damn lucky we are to have him.

Three years ago today, on December 14, 2012, twenty first graders and six educators went to school in Sandy Hook, CT and we all know what happened after that. There was a Noah in one of the classrooms. Noah Pozner - he was 6, described as having a huge heart and being so much fun and full of spirit. There was a Grace too. And a Charlotte. And then there was Jack, Olivia, Dylan, Avielle, Jesse, Catherine, Jessica, James, Caroline, Josephine, Benjamin, Chase, Ana, Daniel, Emilie, Madeleine, and Allison. I think about these kids every single day. Every day. Most of these kids were 6 years old, a few had turned 7. I drop my little boy off every morning and I watch him walk away and into that school and I tell myself he is okay, he will be safe, that this tiny risk is a better choice than wrapping a bullet proof bubble around him, allowing fear to keep him from exploring.

Noah had just turned four when Sandy Hook took place. He turned four on Thursday and the next day Sandy Hook happened and the day after that was a Saturday, the day his birthday party was scheduled. Like 9-11, I imagine we all remember where we were when we heard. I was on the way to get treats for his party, with him in the back seat. As I reacted in terrified silence, he peeled his ears to the radio, gathering something terrible had happened, my discerning boy. I turned off the radio, but not in time, and, heartache stuffed into my stomach, I continued on the day, blank and detached and nauseous as hell. I debated and debated over whether to have that party or not. I was destroyed. We were all destroyed. To cancel the party, though, that felt selfish, and though neither choice felt right, we kept the birthday plans and all of us grown-ups acted as if life was as normal on this day as it was two days before.

Unspeakable. December 14, 2012 (written three years ago)

Yesterday Noah made it to an age that most of those first graders never got to see. I am so damn grateful and somewhat guilty and actually highly paranoid that I am jinxing myself because who the hell knows what can happen on any given normal day anymore? And I am sorry to talk about this, to dredge up the horrifying past; I understand the person who closes this post down without reading another word. But turning it off won't make it go away, won't somehow erase that it happened and that it happens... at an alarming rate, pretty much weekly now, which makes it harder and harder to ignore and to pretend between shootings that everything is fine. Over 1000 mass shootings since Sandy Hook in the United States. Seriously?! I was naive then to think that would somehow shake some sense into Congress. Instead, mass shootings now seem frighteningly commonplace. I do not want to go on a rant about political stagnancy and gun control. I know who my readers are. We've all read it and heard it and thought a great deal about it and frankly it would be absurd for me to me to think I'm making some sort of point that hasn't been made a million times already.

(But since I have your attention (possibly): wouldn't it be something if we could omit the names of the shooters from the media because I think some desperate people will do this sort of thing for their moment. ("This is the only time I'll ever be in the news. I'm so insignificant," read an apparent post by the would-be Oregon gunman, October 1, 2015). I wish we poured way more money and time and effort into mental health so we could intervene early for the torn apart people so shrouded in shame and pain that these acts somehow become their horrific final voice. Do not confuse these words with sympathy. I have none. But our inaction along the way is not doing anybody any good.)

My daughter Grace, now 4, the age Noah turned three years ago, attends the same preschool that Noah did when he was 4. This year, our major fundraising efforts are going towards a giant set of security doors that will separate our school from the rest of the building (the church) where our little school resides. We're right in the middle of a close-knit village community, a tiny preschool in a congregational church, and installing a set of security doors to keep the potential bad guys out seems perfectly reasonable and truly feels like the best thing we can do with our money right now.

What is this all about? Why so somberly steal my son's birthday blog thunder to bring our attention back to truly one of the saddest days in our nation's history? Because how can I not? Honestly, seriously, how the hell can I not? It's in the shadows of our joys now, this day, where it left us, the little we have done about it, the many victims who came before and have come since. Here is the day that welcomes my little boy into his next year of life every single year. Every year since this day three years ago, I've said to myself, "Thank you, my God, I still have my boy" and I try so damn hard to appreciate each precious or aggravating or exhausting moment for the enormity of what it is. I feel guilty and afraid and paralyzed and I feel more than anything like we owe it to those left behind to get our shit together and finally, finally, do something about it.

Guns by the numbers petition for action

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Grace Face, Birthday Babe


Angel and Tiger. That is my Gracie. She can claw my heart into a million pieces and then fix me up entirely with just one sweet touch. She will tear her way into the day, grab it by her teeth, shake it up, and then collapse sweetly into my arms, gently grabbing my face, and covering me with her version of passionate kisses. She will throw her whole defiant body at us when we say no, lunge herself at our legs, but she wants to marry one of us, John or me, when we get younger.

"Mummy, mommy, MOM, mommy!" She yells from the top of the stairs, my non-immediate response inevitably triggering a heightened urgency and another, faster round of "momMY'S!" from her tiny but powerful voice. "Mommy, mommy, come here, mommy, come!"

"Hold me?!" She says as I approach the bottom of the stairs.

She won't walk down the stairs by herself in the morning. I scoop her up, press her heated little body to my own and just as I did the morning before and the morning before that, I say without thinking, "I missed you last night!" Her Minnie Mouse nightgown falls right below her knees, leaving her strong little legs free to wiggle away from me once we get to the bottom of the stairs. Into the kitchen she tears, giddy to see her brother. Her hair, which she finally has, sticks straight out in every direction she slept on the night before. She doesn't know to care about it and I am more than fine with. Often, I let her leave the house looking just the way she woke up, but with different clothes.

Every day a dress; she has her favorites. There's a silky one with butterflies, a mint green lacy number that she calls her "wedding dress", an even fancier prom-type dress that she wore to the daddy-daughter dance -- and every week since -- that is purple all over, with several layers of tulle and sequins. It goes to her ankles. She can't get enough of it. There's her sailor dress, now covered in paint, and last year's Christmas dress, which she adorned the week before Halloween this year. I recently bought her a sparkly silver dress that was a little over the top but just her speed and when I brought it home to present to her, she said, "My teacher is going to think that's a-diculous."


But it is not a-diculous at all, mind you, when she wears her Elsa dress to the grocery store, her prom dress to school, and her Brave dress out to play in the snow. 

She loves her princesses and ponies and dress up clothes, but she also loves bugs, maybe even more than all of the above. She just loves them. Bugs, spiders, sometimes even snakes. She notices the teeniest spiders, the spiders that never get noticed, the ones that look a little like dust with legs. And she sets out leaves, at least 40 times their tiny size, for them to eat. She collects ants, too, puts them in her princess lunch box, sticks a couple pieces of grass inside for them to chew on, and checks on them throughout the day. Often, sadly, she holds her tiny little friends too tight, and they fall lifeless to the ground.

Grace, holding a tiny bug
She talks about her school, her class, her friends (and the snacks they bring in and who hit who today) all the time. She is the youngest in the class and to me still sometimes looks like a tall baby, but to her, she is right where she belongs, a not quite four year old living the full and exciting life of a typical five year old kid. She loves to sit at the dinner table and name her friends from school, often with not much of a story, just a rambling of names, telling us in her way about her people, her new and very important world.

First day of school
First day of school - with attitude

She started dance a few months ago; she seems a bit more conflicted about what she thinks of dance, though you'd never know it, not if you stood there watching her in class, not if you watched her around the house. She loves putting on a spontaneous show for her family, but she has decided, before ever setting foot on a stage, that she has stage fright. She got that idea from Berenstein Bears: Stage Fright. And now, she refuses to be in any show and I'm just glad she'll perform at home.

She is outspoken and quick with a comeback, and not afraid to throw a tantrum, no matter who is around her; she is silly and loud and hilarious and completely opinionated, but she, like the rest of us, has endless layers. She is often shy and can get so close to me in these moments that I don't know where she begins and I end. Her heart belongs almost entirely to her brother and when he is hurting about something, she aches alongside him, tries to make it better, does everything in her power. She watched a video of Noah as a baby and we explained to her who she was looking at. "I love that little boy," she said, "that's my Noah."

She takes care of me in moments when I least expect it. Two weeks ago, for instance, I was racing around the house and town all day, preparing to leave for the weekend. In the middle of the chaos, she quietly said, "I need to fix your hair. It is a mess." And she did. She found a brush and fixed me up (as best she could). The night before my own birthday this past year, she came up to me, nearly out of breath, holding onto her giant red piggy bank. She shook it, gathered its contents and handed me 76 cents. My present. I told her she does not need to give me her money. "It's not mine anymore, Mommy," she said, "It's yours now."

Baby Samantha with Gracie's binks
This is also the year Grace gave up her binkies. If you knew Grace before age 3 1/2, you also know of the passion she had for her pacifiers. She would hide them around the house, sneak upstairs to have a suck whenever she could get away, wake up every time they fell out of her mouth, refuse to go to sleep without them. And then, one day, she decided another baby needed her binkies. And Samantha, one of our dearest baby friends, happened to be visiting, and we presented her with a bag of Grace's two favorite binkies. And she decided that day that Samantha was her baby. And she hasn't forgotten that. When we shop for Grace, she always asks about Samantha and what we should get for her.

Grace with the baby she had that morning (jk)

She doesn't love dolls, she loves babies. This happened one morning about five months ago:

Grace: I am getting bigger. I can feel it. I 'm going to be a mommy this morning.
Me: You are?
Grace: And you are getting littler.
John: How did the baby get in there?
Grace: It just popped in.
Noah: Will it be a boy or a girl?
Grace: A girl.

When she says "girl," she curls her "i" into a "u" and hardly pronounces the "r". I hope she always says it that way. She removes the "r", Boston style, from a variety of other words you would not expect to come out of such a small person's mouth, such as "whatever" (teenage style) and "sure! sure!" (mommy style). She also says "totally" and "ohmyGod" and when I hear these things, I think "huh... what do I do with this?"(and then I let it go). Also, she once told Noah, "Noah, I love you, but sometimes I need privacy." I can't pretend I don't love it.

She exhausts me, but I could stare at her all day long, her every motion and emotion, and be perfectly happy. Perhaps this is the definition of narcissism, an obsession with my (our) creation, but I made a person who is able to bring out every type of emotion in me every day, almost at the same time. She was a tiny little sleeping being not very long ago and now she is running our household. She is my dream girl, the Belle to my Beast, the snappy, sassy sweetheart I hardly dared to hope for. My Grace Face. Happy Fourth Birthday, Angel.

Me (Beast) and Grace (Beauty)


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I'm Goin' Home, Bome, Bome, Bome-Bome-Bome

Before we moved to our current town, we lived about seven miles east of here. It was a much smaller house, but with a bigger back yard and more previous owners and a lot more history than our current house. We couldn't fit more than one and a half couches in the living room, the windows were very drafty, and Grace slept in a closet until we moved, but we loved that little house. It was a safe little neighborhood for the most part, although Noah, then 2, and I spent a good amount of time staring out our front window at police activity that often took place at the house across the street. A couple weeks before we moved, for example, we watched as several cops stood, hands sturdily on hips, on the lawn of our neighbors as they hastily moved out of the home where their landlord still lived, but now with a brand new restraining order against her (old) tenants, our soon to be former neighbors.

There were actually several nights - and afternoons - when I'd be walking through our tiny living room and happen to look up and see blue lights, sometimes even a fire truck, in front of their house. Always, my response was, "NOAH NOAH COME QUICK, POLICE! BRING YOUR SNACK IN HERE!" "Goodie!" We'd say and hunker down, heads low, pressed against the window, gleefully watching the blue lights and cops screaming at our neighbors, who never just stood quietly and listened. It felt a tiny bit wrong to consider this activity one of our best sources of entertainment. But even in retrospect, if I'm being honest, it doesn't feel entirely awful that we did that. It was a familiar albeit strange comfort of our home - and, also, our neighbors always came back.

It should be mentioned that I really liked those across the street neighbors; they were perfectly nice and often helpful, thoughtful people. They'd push my windshield wipers into the air when it was snowing, so they wouldn't freeze. They offered us old stuff they didn't want anymore. They offered to fix our stereo system if we ever needed it fixed. I don't know... I am not suggesting the police had it entirely wrong about that couple, but if I'd ever been asked to be a character witness or something for the defense, I could have easily done that. This was home. We saw the good and the bad but hung onto the good, out of choice or necessity I can't be sure.

We met a few definitively wonderful people on that street and we haven't seen each other since and I wish that weren't the case, but at the very least, they have etched their faces into the collection of characters that comprise my memories, which are never left behind.

We have a new home now. We love it in just about every way. I need to not start on this topic or I won't stop. This post is actually not about me.

My dad officially moved last week. He has a new home and so our old home, the one I grew up in, the one on 9 Bear Meadow Rd, is no longer ours (his). He was alone in that house and had seen so many of our old neighbors move away. He kept it up nicely after my mother passed, but I found it hard to visit and felt relief, more than anything, when he told me he was selling.

My dad, with his unique ability to make meaningful connections with nearly everyone who crosses his path, has already met the new family, having dropped welcome flowers off at the house the day after they moved in. And he's learned some about them, the second family to ever inhabit my childhood home.

My old room, which I spent a few days this past summer dismantling, tearing down all of my second and fifth place ribbons from field days (never third or fourth... or first) and un-dusting the dolls and diaries of my childhood, now belongs to twin six year old girls... who LOVE my (okay, *their*) room.  One of the little girls even took my dad's hand and lead him in to show him around their (my) room.

I love that there is life in that room again. I wonder if the girls will turn the room into a "store" that looks exactly like a little girl's room, as I once did, or if they'll use their mini kitchen to make "dinner" for their stuffed animals, and then for their parents, and then use it to hold discarded notebooks and jewelry, and then one day decide to vandalize the hell out of that strawberry shortcake kitchen set by writing in giant permanent letters the names of bands like Def Leppard and Bon Jovi just to establish some level of preadolescent control in that room. They won't do that. Who does that? In the next room over is the older boy's bedroom, where my brother once lived, with the secret hall that leads to his room and guards him from direct contact with the main hall that connects to the stairs and all the bedrooms. I imagine a great deal of Lego building and model airplane assembly and homework procrastination and other secret things will happen in there once again; I hope so. But I'll never really know. It's not my home anymore, and I'm actually fine with that.

Me and my house - age 6
Me and my house - age 7

I was ready for this long ago, for my dad to be out of the house, to start somewhere new, to leave Bear Meadow and all its associations behind. I don't know what is a healthy attitude - this probably isn't. But aside from seeing my dad, I experienced minimal joy when I visited over the past four plus years. Too much space and quiet, not enough peace. There were sections of the house that still smelled exactly like my mother and I would debate about whether I should go towards those spaces, just to be closer to her, or stay far away, to keep my wits about me, to keep my nostalgia in check. I suppose if I had made a real effort to make a new home out of that old home of ours, to redefine its place in our family and our lives, I may have gotten there. I may have been able to walk into the front door with the same burgeoning excitement I used to feel when I entered, catching waves of baking cranberry bread and The Rolling Stones as I dumped overnight bags at the bottom of the stairs. But I never got there. It hasn't been home since the day we brought the hospice bed into the living room.

Old living room, old me - age 13?
HS Graduation, Mom, Me - age 18

But now... dare I say it? Now, Dad has a new home and I think he may even really grow to like it.  Same town, same stuff, new location. He has a new giant basement that lit up Noah's face when we saw it for the first time. A bike-riding sized basement, a mini soccer game sized basement. And there are boxes covering every inch of that basement floor, but they are bursting open, longing to learn where they'll be placed in their new home, if they get picked to stay there, having (at least) made the first cut.

My mother's clothes all made the cut. All of them. She's been gone for over four years now and we are still looking for where they'll go next. For now, her clothes are resting safely in Dad's gigantic closet. He now has the largest closet I have ever seen in real life (let it also be noted that this is not an overly large house - it's a small condo, in fact - but it has a disproportionately large closet and basement. Grace could still sleep in this closet, easily, with friends.) I spent a couple days going through the relics of my past this summer, throwing most of it out while I attempted to commit it to memory, but Dad spend every last day of his summer doing this. It is a damn hard thing to dispose of any item whose memory or existence brings happiness. My parents' house was full of these items and my father had to go through all of them this summer, decision upon decision, attachments to his lifeline, the memory of my mother, kept, thrown, donated, recycled. My God, Dad, you did it.

My mother's dying wish was that we clean out the attic and we've finally done it plus more, with many thanks to a couple key family members and a group of unbelievable friends who have helped carry my Dad through this moment and other, much harder ones.

Here, in his new place, he has new neighbors who wave every time he walks or drives by. He's been to a couple parties already. He has dear lifelong friends who live right across the street from him. He has a sunroom which pours in warmth and leads to a porch and a yard and trees and neighbors.

His furniture is splayed all over the place, his china cabinet sprawls across an entire wall, but it is empty with all its intended contents still boxed up, along with his books and many of his clothes and everything else he owns. There was not nearly enough food in his fridge last I looked and there was a brief moment when it occurred to me that there was a very real possibility that this was going to become a bona fide bachelor pad, my dad's bachpad. But that was fleeting, of course -- and don't you know I'm going to say there is much more to it. My dad is the man who finds meaning wherever he goes. And he is slowly finding home again, forcing nothing, moving forward, steady, sometimes stalling his pace. This is more than a new house. He is the man who helped teach me what home really is, that it is an experience, created over time. It is our safest place, but it may take awhile to get there. What is startling at first soon becomes a reliable comfort or simple white noise. What seems overwhelming and unfamiliar asks you to stay awhile, accept a new situation in your own time. Open the boxes, fill the refrigerator, find space in the closet for your things, Dad. Home is who you are with, I know, but if you can't be with her, create your comfort, and take a good long look out your window; the sun is pouring in.

 (All of this to say, Dad, I love you. I'm proud of you. You did it.)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

This Little Light

Have you seen this? If you do nothing else for the rest of the day, please give this its four well-deserved minutes.

I don't even really know where to begin with this. I first heard Alastair Moock on NPR talking about his album Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World's Bravest Kids, which had recently been nominated for a 2014 Grammy. Here was this Dad talking about his five year old baby girl, who had a healthy twin sister, and years of chemotherapy, and he was elegant and smart and completely touching. I couldn't get him out of my head. I came home and googled him and watched this video over and over. Those are his daughters and his band in that video. It is brilliant and moving and one of the strongest, most constructive responses to cancer I've ever seen.

Here is the thing. Making music seems like it's an incredibly difficult thing to do. Dealing with cancer IS, as a fact, a nearly impossible thing to do. Dealing with the cancer of your child? The only reason I know it is even possible is because I have seen that people do it. But writing and making music about your daughter and her fellow cancer patients while she is going through treatment? I am just as blown away by it today as I was two years ago when I heard Mr. Moock's interview. Look what he does, for her, for these kids, for families of these kids. For all of us.

Some of the best moments in this video (though every moment is the best) are those between he and his daughter who is sick. Her body is entirely swollen, cheeks puffed, from steroids, I assume, but nothing can disguise the look in her eye, which says "oh my Daddy is the greatest" which his eyes match, over and again, with their own adoration. The joy in these moments, the silliness, the laughter, and within the white space, set in the background, the reason they are here, in this barber shop, is ever present and indescribably powerful.

Strangely, a couple days after I heard this interview and watched this video, I spotted Mr. Moock and his family at a race my husband had just completed. And then, entirely against my nature, I went up to him and started talking, compelled to make this connection, convinced there was some reason they were there and I was there and I had just heard this story that I couldn't shake from my mind.

"Excuse me? Uh... hi...yeah...excuse me? Did I, um... hear you on All Things Considered the other day?" Did I somehow make that sound like a horrible pick-up line? This poor guy.

Clearly tired after his run and wanting to just sit on a little hill under a tree after his 3 mile run, he still went ahead and humored me. "Yes, that was me. I always like meeting people who listen to NPR," he said. I had so much to say. I wanted to talk about his daughters and 'back of head Fred' and ask him if he was actually going to the Grammy's and then follow that up with all these other brilliant questions. I was overwhelmed with things I wanted to express, but I was unprepared to communicate them, and frankly, we were in the middle of a post-race beer fest and so I just settled on smiling a lot and some lighthearted conversation which I'm sure he could have done without. While standing there, it also occurred to me that perhaps I was coming off as more paparazzi than fellow NPR listener. And I looked at his girls whose eyes were sort of saying, "Uh, can we have our Dad back now?"

When I watched the Grammy's not too long afterwards, I can't deny that I felt like I was rooting for a friend, for the good guy. And when he didn't win, I was dumbfounded by it.

Because, what can be better than what he has done here? Families dealing with cancer, he's saying, I've made this album for you; I've even made it upbeat. You are entirely not alone. Cancer is horrific, but we're just doing this because there is no other choice but to do this. My daughter is doing it. And my other daughter. And my wife. And we're not doing it, as in talking about what we once went through, we are in this, in the thick of it. And I'm making it just a tiny bit more manageable with music. You are entirely not alone.

I Am the Light
Alastair Moock

C is for cancer, that's growing in me.
A is for able, that what I will be--
Able to bend like a tree in the wind;
My branches are strong even though they are thin.
N is for nothing can make me afraid.
For I am the kid who leads the parade.
I march down the street and I wave as I go
And people wave back and they smile. Even though
My hair may be gone they can see me for me
For I am the light and the light is in me.
Then C once again, this time is for comfort
The people who love me will give me when I hurt,
Which I will now and then and I know they will too
But we'll huddle together and the storm will pass through.
And then E, we'll emerge, and we'll smile and dry
Ourselves in the sun that's now bright in the sky.
And R, I will rest and get ready again
For the struggle that's waiting around the next bend.

As one of those parents desperately trying to get it right, I try to take tidbits from people and behaviors and decisions I see and admire. So, here we have highly accessible and beautiful messages from this father, musician, husband, writer, runner (sorry, it's weird for me to note that). Primarily, I think, he is saying, let's put it on the table here. This is a crappy ass situation we're dealing with, but let's just face it head on. Let's put words to it, let's talk about it, let's pour ourselves into getting through it and feeling what we need to feel as we do it.

Also, I believe he is also letting us know that wallowing is okay, but when you get tired of that, if you are able, there are other ways to get through this. Music is one of them. Togetherness. Sharing the experience, as awful as it is.

Whether we think of this man as a celebrity who's not afraid to show his face around town or a local guy who just writes good, smart, powerful music, the message does not change.

Last week, I went to live music night at our local farm and Alastair Moock was performing. I might have been reading into it too much, but I swear I saw an extra hop in his step. He sang many silly songs and some traditional favorites and he taught the kids some new moves and a couple times he talked about a time when his daughter had been really sick. I wondered how she was.

And then, later, he asked Clio and Elsa, his daughters, to come up and sing with him. They popped up to the microphone, one at a time, looking vibrant and joyful, and entirely healthy, each one of them. Clio had a head full of hair, like her sister, but entirely her own. I looked at her from my seat way high up on the hill (800 people showed up to the event that usually hosts about an eighth of that crowd) and thought about that amazing little face from the video, the most beautiful face I'd ever seen, and now here she was, steroid-free, chemo free, full of fire and life. They sang their little hearts out, alongside their Dad. And for those of us watching? Some of us there knew their story and some of us did not. Some of us were running around freely, twirling and falling, laughing loudly. Some were young and bald, sitting close to their parents. Some danced, some sang along, some sat there quietly, in their own heads. And whether we recognized it or not, we were in the presence of a brilliant sort of warmth that you just don't see every day.

This little light of mine (they sang)
I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine
Let it shine
Let it shine

Hide it under a bushel? NO!
I'm gonna let it shine
Hide it under a bushel? NO!
I'm gonna let it shine
Hide it under a bushel? NO!
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine
Let it shine
Let it shine

*Dear Mr. Moock, if you are reading this, which I know you are not, I apologize for any misinterpretations or misinformation I've given. If I blew it, I'm sorry. Don't worry, I only have about 4 readers.

Friday, May 22, 2015

All We Ever Really Need To Know

Here it is, already May, and the first year of school for my six year old Noah is about to come to a screeching halt. Kindergarten is almost over. Mother of God, he's not going to be the littlest one anymore. I'll skip the cliche about how quickly the time has passed, but not because I'm not thinking it. And as I sit and reflect on the year my guy has had and who he is becoming, I cannot help but consider whether, in fact, he has learned all the things he really needs to know in Kindergarten. On orientation night this year, the Kindergarten teachers took some time to read the parents a passage from Robert Fulghum's classic, "All I Ever Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten," which of course prompted me to look for our copy, which I couldn't find, and so I bought another. We've probably all heard the memorable lines of this book. There's a beautiful, poignant little list he's put together and you can't help but love it and see the truth in it.

But it was also written in 1988.

I have included his list below, but I've also made a few modest modifications. To be clear, I have no right to touch this list. And no, it was never intended to be taken as literally as I have taken it. BUT, in all honestly, I do feel like my modernized version really works for me, as a parent and as a person who is trying to get it at least partially right. If the day happens to come when I panic and forget everything I know about how to live life, I believe I can turn to this and still make things work for a good long time.

So, given this revised list of lessons to learn in Kindergarten, I think it is worthwhile to go through it and assess how exactly we're doing so far. And by "we" I mean Noah, who is just about to finish Kindergarten, and me, who graduated from Kindergarten 30 years ago.

Please note: My additions are probably obvious, but if they are for some reason not obvious, I have used strikethroughs and italics.

Share everything, except the things that you truly truly love more than anything else. Those can be yours, but don't show them off.

Well, sharing is a tough one, and it's not a natural instinct in our primitive little people.

Yes, for the most part, the idea of sharing is a great one, of course. But to share every single thing is actually not a reasonable thing to ask of a person.

Share your crayons? Share your blocks? Share your thoughts? YES! YES.

But... share your favorite lovey, share the Lego that took you all weekend to make... ?

Share your recipe and your advice? YES, of course! But share your husband? Do NOT share everything.

In conclusion, we are both very good at not sharing everything.

(And yes, he's definitely well on his way to sharing most things. Unless with his sister, with whom he shares a few tiny things.)

Play fair

If "play fair" means Noah wins every time and if he doesn't happen to win, it's because someone else cheated or didn't understand the rules correctly, then we are NAILING IT.

Don't hit hurt people

In karate class, Noah's sensei has started to ask the kids to, I don't know, kind of karate kick each other, in the controlled way that karate kids do this sort of thing. He doesn't appear to be that into it and tends to favor more of a light-arm-chop-and-then-back-up-quickly approach.

Toddlers love to wrestle him because he allows it and doesn't hit back and he purposefully cushions their falls, but he is a lot bigger than them, so he still seems super tough. Noah does not hit. That's really never been a problem.

But does he hurt people? Has he? Will he? My boy is a very sweet boy, but I am also not naive. Is he perfectly capable of causing somebody pain with his words? He is, just as any of us are. If I fail to teach him empathy, I cannot help but feel that I will have failed at something huge.

I'd so much rather be hit than hurt. I got slapped one time at a sleepover party by another girl at the sleepover party when I was a kid. I wouldn't have cared so much about the slap except that she also told me to shut up, which was really the crappiest thing to hear from a friend.

I try to not make people feel crappy, and when I do, I am tortured. I can only hope my son learns to feel the same agonizing self-loathing.

Put things back where you found them

Uh... pass.

Don't take things that aren't yours

Yes, doing it. Done. One down.

When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together

Yes, another big yes! Yes to sticking together on the walks and in the big wide world and yes to grabbing tightly onto his sister and forcing her to stay put on the sidewalk when he sees a car is in the way far off distance.

Yes for now, anyway. But isn't this something rather easily learned and, over time, followed less and less? Sometime, I suppose, I will have to let go of his hand because that's what parents do when their kids are 14 years old (wait... is it younger?) and that's what we have to do. But what then?

I have done my own exploring, though it's possible that I watched for traffic too carefully at times. The feeling of my mother's hand folded over mine never did go away. In high school, in Europe as I travelled alone, and then in real-world life (when nothing really protected me but my own wits), her hand was always there. It still is, even though she's gone.

I don't quite know how I'll ever let go of his hand, but I do hope he always feels it there, perhaps on his back, maybe guiding him or just supporting him, but at the very least, warming him in some intangible way.

Wash your hands before you eat

This happens 40-50 percent of the time, but ALWAYS after we've been playing in the sewer. (Just kidding...maybe).

Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody if that's what you really meanBut always try and make the person feel better somehow. They need it and so do you.

Noah is not quick to say he is sorry because I have not taught him to say sorry when he hurts somebody (don't give up on me; please keep reading). I've asked him to figure out how to make the situation better, how to try and fix it. Sorry can be a gratingly meaningless word that is thrown around to smooth things over quickly.

Generic scenario I have difficulty with:

Grown up: "You just threw sand at that girl! Say your sorry! Say 'sorry'!"

Kid: "Sorry..."

Grown up: "OK good. Go play now!"


The older I get, the less sorry means, unless delivered in a letter, a sincere look, or through some level of genuine emotion.

We need to feel it and want to make it better. Maybe that's a lot to ask of a Kindergartener, but I'm still asking it.

Flush as necessary

But if it's yellow -- and you're at home -- and you don't have guests over -- let it mellow, man... especially these days, when our environment is fighting a losing battle.

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you sometimes. Getting outside is always good for you.

Frankly, most of us eat way too many cookies. Usually to make ourselves feel better. It works for about 30 seconds. I try not to resolve our issues with cookies too often. I hired a sitter who I later found out fixed Noah's tantrums with cookies and ice cream. Besides the fact that those types of fixes should be saved for parents feeling truly desperate, I will also note that she was Noah's least favorite sitter of all time (don't worry, she's definitely not reading this). The cookies did work... but, as I said, for 30 seconds, which left 3 hours, 59 minutes and 30 seconds more time to fill. If she tried the outside option, I feel things would have been different.

Here are some common phrases uttered in our home when we've reached that point in the day when we don't really know what to do with ourselves.

"Mommy, Grace keeps trying to look at the iPad and I'm playing on it and I can't FOCUS."

"Mama, Grace doesn't understand that the couch is BASE and I was on BASE when she got me, so I'm NOT IT!"

"Mama, I'm hungry again."

"Mommy, why can't I throw this ball in the house?"

"Mommy, get off your iPhone and play with me."

Can I fix these things with cookies? No. With my words and wisdom? Mmmm... maybe about 7% of the time.

On my finer days, it occurs to me that outside is an option; if I manage to follow through with the thought and finesse the party out the door, the fix happens almost immediately, always. Unless freezing rain pelts us in the face. Then we go back inside and continue where we left off.

Live a balanced life-- learn some and think some and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some

This is the line that sums it all up. It's the lesson that comes easily to kids but is often forgotten later on. When we let go of these things, we lose. We see ourselves as "grown ups" in the worst possible sense of the world. It's not a luxury to play and dance and learn every day; it's a necessity. Not for the sake of our kids but for ourselves.

Do we have dance parties in our kitchen on a weekly basis? Yes. Do we play chase before bed when we should be calming down? We do. But we should play more. The house is by no means clean, but it should be less so because I spend too much damn time tidying and not enough time building blanket forts. I spend too much time on the g-damn iPhone and not nearly enough time with our dusty collection of board games.

We went to a party a couple weeks ago that felt like a college party. We loved it. We all loved the college party. We need to play more and dance more and sing more. It's okay to get a responsible sitter and a responsible driver and revisit our inner college kid once in awhile.

Gosh, I think it's just important for our kids - and ourselves - to be assured that joy and personal growth does not equate to youth, but to actually living. So, more forts, board games, and beer pong. Or at least a date night every once in awhile.

Take a nap every afternoon unless that's a completely unreasonable option, in which case, just make sure you take a break everyday.

Did Fulghum ever actually meet a Kindergartener? A NAP? I once heard of a Kindergartener who napped. One Kindergartner.

Here's where I confess, with minimal guilt, that the iPad comes in handy almost every day in my Kindergartener's day for probably about an hour (or sometimes more). It is not because I think Minecraft is a brilliant tool to creativity (maybe it is, but that's not what I'm doing on my break, so I wouldn't know). It's because he needs a break and I need a break and Grace needs a break and the house needs a break. A nap is not happening, but I am more than happy to enforce this rule using other methods.

Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Not a thing I've ever had to teach him, but I sure as hell hope I can nurture it. He won't always wonder whether dragons are real or why I can't rattle off the names of the first 5 living organisms ever to exist on earth (yes, he asked me this and yes, I failed), but I hope he is learning that asking questions is the key to all of it.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup -- they all die. So do we.

Unless, of course, you've already watched somebody in your life die, in which case, it doesn't seem necessary to drill this lesson in with a goldfish or a hamster. Yeah, he gets it.

And then remember the Dick and Jane and Bob and Fly Guy books and the first word you learned -- the biggest word of all -- LOOK."

He sees the bird nest in the tree when everyone else has walked by it. He finds the white in my hair and the Lego piece that has been ever so slightly moved by a curious sister. He has no problem with looking and seeing.

Listen. Really listen.

Yes, Noah, continue to listen to instructions and listen to rules. And keep listening to lyrics and listening to stories and listening to the birds that sing and the squirrels that chatter and listen, listen, listen when somebody is trying to reach you, even if they're speaking no words at all.

Tell me, Noah, am I listening to you?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

We are all snowmen

I can't not write about this, the endless feet and sheets of deep freeze and snow. It's permeating our thoughts, our skin, our hair, our roofs. And it's subtly seeping into who we are, drip drip drip, ice damns forming under our skin. We respond to the coldness, the sog and ice of this corner of the world that is our world, in our own desperate ways.

Some people are just angrier, about most everything. I see this at the grocery store mostly, in the parking lot and the checkout line. I laugh a little when I see people losing their minds about grocery carts or other people in their way, until they lose their minds at me, and then it's less funny (but still funny).

Other people are teetering on the edge of hysteria, not at all in the funny sense, but in the completely distraught and hanging on by a thread sense. We commonly call it "stir crazy" and "cabin fever" but in some cases, it actually means, "There is a tornado around me that keeps squeezing me tighter and tighter. I can't force it away because the tornado is actually my own brain. I am literally being swallowed up by my own head." No big deal, just actual human implosions happening all throughout homes in New England.

Then, on a much lighter note, there are the people who have rapidly soared to the deserved level of snow superheroes in these past few weeks. These super snow saviors have appeared, more than once, in our driveway, out of nowhere, and scooped layers of our stone cold, fluffy white misery away. With one foggy exchange of glances, they say, "Oh, you got six feet of snow spread across your entire driveway... ? Step aside, sister. I got this here bobcat and I'll take your sorrows away in five minutes" (and in exchange, sir, I will offer you a kneeling bow in praise). As with all superheroes, they are unrecognizable in their superhero gear. I may or may not know them in everyday life (and I never will know if I do).  In the half-hallucinating daydreams I have these days, these snow heroes just materialize with a blinding glow out of a mountain of snow. They roar a victorious roar and float over to me, a dash of color in all the grey of this world. They grab my shovel, break it over their knee, and any snow in a 4 ft radius evaporates under their presence. My fantasies these days are about snow removal. And I feel pretty confident I'm not alone in that.

But fantasies are just that and you can't function on fantasies alone... or really at all. And I don't... but then, I don't feel like I am fully functioning these days. And that is my response to the mounds of snow sucking us inward. I can't really... function. I am a little depleted. I think we all are. I wrote down seven pretty manageable goals at the beginning of this year and am falling short on every one of them. To clarify, I am dramatically falling short on every one of them. Exercise THREE times a week (not five, not six, not four). Get the kids outside every day (but fuck, it's so fucking cold!). No computer two nights a week (but then what would I doooo? Something productive? Read? Write? Be thoughtful? HA! No, instead, I will just sink deeper down into my couch).

And I DO blame the weather (and I do blame myself). I cannot find that energy that generally carries me through days and I am having trouble connecting that line between idea and action. I am dulled down in so many ways, duller even than usual. Normally I make lists for the day... but these days, what happens is, I have the idea to make a list and then I lose the idea... and then I make no list. I had about 49 snow days straight to make the most beautiful, frilly, colorful, stamped and sparkly Valentines with my kids. But we managed to only get one done before the actual day itself. (It was from Grace and it was to: "Elsa and Santa and Anna and Kristoff and NOT Hans".) And this blog post, inspired only by my own desperation to reconnect with myself, and with you, with my head, to bring meaning to all this, and to hopefully diminish the role I've convinced myself the weather has been playing in my life.

We've become little moving snowmen, each one of us, walking around at a normal pace for a snowman, but much more of a crawling pace for our people-selves. We're just sort of standing here with a pipe in our frozen mouths and lifeless eyes of coal (I'm not being dramatic at all). We're pale as snow and rounder than we usually are (we have to store our fat and our weather-induced depression somewhere). Sometimes our heads even roll off our bodies and, God willing, we have somebody willing to pack it back into a nicely formed head and plop it back on our necks. We do have moments each day, bursts of our old, pre-snow energy, where we put on our magic hats and dance around a little bit and scream things like "Happy Birthday!" and we feel great - and then the wind takes our hat away and we are frozen still again. Luckily, the sun, which will come out again (I am almost positive about this), will melt away a vast majority of these problems of ours.

And I guess that's the thing we need to keep in mind. Most of these problems will melt away. Things are really bad around here right now, but we're going to recover from it, I'm sure of that. We are not dealing with Ebola. This is not Ebola. We are not terrified to touch another human being, to hug them tightly or hold their hand or wipe tears away or clean up boo-boos on the neighborhood children who we've welcomed into our homes for a change of space. And we are not isolated inside our homes because we fear for our lives if we go outside. We don't have all the resources we need right now, but we have enough, in most cases, to get through this. Things are not great, but it's probably pretty easy to find some perspective, depending on who you are and what you care about. We are imploding... but I'm also exaggerating. We have turned to ice, but we're going to thaw out here, fellow snowmen. Soon enough (Spring begins in exactly one month), our extra pounds of winter sorrow will melt into the mud puddles of the season of hope.