Monday, November 21, 2016

Still with Her

"Listen. Be Kind. Do Your Best." The simple motto quietly conveys the spirit of Gracie's cooperative nursery school, a lovely, loving community set right up on the hill in the bottom floor of the congregational church in our town center. Here is a place I couldn't have loved more over these past five years, where Noah attended two years before starting Kindergarten and Gracie is currently spending the last of her three preschool years. The school's ability to continually exemplify, stand by, and teach their message has never faltered to my knowledge, and while it is an active effort to practice these principles each day, this philosophy -- Listen, Be Kind, Do Your Best -- keeps our place humming and our hands clapping and our joy pure and present. It is not a challenge to jump from home to school to home because the priorities remain the same, in whichever place we are.

Open your mind, welcome all into the circle, be your best you (effort required, some days more than others). Kindness surrounding.

And then, I dare to look up from my tiny world.

A simple message grows so complicated.

I had Gracie's birthday blog all planned out over a month ago. The year she turned five would be the year our country was graced with the first woman president, but even better, a president who expressed, over and over ('…over a year… and in and out of weeks… and through a day…') the values we represent, the people we want to be and have our children become. So, to me, to so many of us, November 8th was to be the day that kindness prevailed and the momentum of tolerance continued, with perhaps a stronger wave than ever.

Posting because COME ON!
Look at him!

In my mind, it would be not dissimilar to 2008-09, when Noah was born into this world and I cried with pride as I stood in my living room with my one month old baby and watched Barack Hussein Obama become our president. This would be like that, but perhaps even better.

My kids, my little boy at least, has reached the point, I think -- I thought -- where we could talk more practically about what being a president signifies, and perhaps more importantly, what a real leader encompasses.

Noah and I (and at times Gracie) discussed the plain and crazy truth that it has always been men who have held the highest position in our nation. And that President Obama was our first black president ever. We talked, perhaps too openly, of the facets of the other side of the campaign. That even though close to all of us are immigrants in some form, the other major political party selected a candidate who wants to deport the immigrants who are trying to start their lives here now, right where our ancestors started theirs (and therefore, ours) not so long ago (at all). I made it clear that this absurd person (who I never thought would be our president) consistently opposed the idea of people marrying the person they love because of their gender (though he has since "accepted" the supreme court's decision). My children are of the belief that if they fall in love with their best friend - whether boy or girl - and their best friend loves them back (unless their best friend is a cousin, mind you), then heck yeah, that is just a marriage made in heaven.

My kids do not know this same person also mocks disabled people. It is beneath us to even discuss this.

We talk about equality in our house, not because we are exposed to a whole lot of diversity in our lives, but perhaps in place of the fact that we lack many of the surroundings that would naturally teach these lessons. I will not deny we are living in a heavily glassed-in snow globe up here in our small and elite New England town.

Above all the cruel and bigoted and vacant messages that were sent by Mr. Trump, I think I felt the worst about how he raised himself and his followers up by disparaging those who are different. I am sick about so many things about this terrifying new world (the sun will rise, but for how much longer?), but people being told they are unwanted and unwelcome and going to be added to a list - a LIST, for chrissakes - that is what kills me the most. That we are moving backwards, so rapidly and brazenly, when all this time I thought we were going to take leaps and bounds forward.

I mean, it is not a stretch to say that as parents, whether we are bringing our kids up in the north, south, mid, or west, we do not hesitate to preach the aforementioned messages of kindness to our children, right? Listen. Be Kind. Do Your Best. We want that for our kids because these are the pillars of a good person, a successful person, a person that people want to be around and teach and learn from and connect to and respect.

At what point does that message go haywire? When do priorities switch and a life that shuns difference in order to elevate one's self worth becomes more valued? At what point does kindness become white noise while efforts are instead directed at stomping on people who are smaller in order to win? I am talking about you, Donald Trump, a hell of a lot more than I am about the people who voted for you. Because you fed on desperation and targeted people who are vulnerable and weakened, diminutizing those who are trying to assimilate into lives they deserve to lead, and pretending that you care even the slightest about people who need work and actual opportunities for education.

Oh my gosh, I just found this! I mean,
I am apparently not the first one to
make this comparison, ha! 
You are not a leader, but a manipulator and caricature of a storybook villain who tries to dupe everyone into believing you should be the person with the most power. You are Gaston, chasing around the girls who would rather be reading anything at all, thinking your charm will win us over. You don't give a shit about unity or binding the wounds of division. If you cared about our nation and our necessary, dissipated unity, would you not do more than say a dispassionate "Stop it!" on 60 Minutes one night while your wife, who by the way is an immigrant, sits silently next to you?

Yes, I am still angry, but that doesn't get my anywhere. And if I haven't been clear (I haven't been), it is this man and the uber-wealthy, ultra-conservative pricks who praise him that I do not comprehend. Because, why?? There are plenty of people who voted for him - by far, most of the people who voted for him - because they genuinely felt they had no other choice, not because they are racists or misogynists. But some just want white male power flaunted and secured. I fear these people and I fear for these people, but now I fear for all of us.

In the last few weeks, my mind has opened up ten-fold to rediscover my own privileged life, my ability to prioritize what I choose (because I can) and to be surrounded by like-minded people who want to rise up and make a difference for the better.

A family member who teaches in a more rural part of New York told me that in her school district, nobody is talking about the election. Most are pleased with the results. But she has twelve immigrants in her classroom. At parent-teacher conferences the day after the election, none of the parents of her immigrant students dared bring it up, none dared express their distress and fear, assuming they would not be supported. Instead they seemed to shrink into themselves that next day, as if they did not want to be noticed. Indeed, their children have since been harassed by other students, telling them to go back where they came from. And the parents of these bullies? Some of them have expressed pride and agreement. Again, when did human kindness just get flagrantly tossed aside? This is what fear looks like. Desperation.

Truth be told, this blog was supposed to be about our birthday girl Gracie, even after the election happened. I thought I could just write about Gracie because I love to write about her and there is so much to celebrate about her. She turned five last week and I didn't mean to dump Trump on her and you like this, but it is tangled up. It didn't happen, but I wanted all the pieces to fall into place on November 8th. Tolerance and grace! Tolerance and Grace.

Have you watched this yet?

Listen.  To the people who fear their voices have been lost. To those who have left their families behind so that they can work and send them money to survive. And to the other brave people who have brought their families to our country to possibly give them a better life, some hope. Listen to the young man who is trying to accept who he is and who he loves. To the young woman who has knows she was never meant to be a woman. To the Muslims who worry about contempt and deportation. To the parents who have lost their children to gun violence. To the scientists who show us our earth is slipping away from us because of US. US. Because of our shit.

But listen also, listen very carefully to the anger, shame, fear, and desperation that has put us in this position. It is real and it is out there and it is the motivating factor for why we are here now. People are poorer than they can handle being and angrier than they can manage on their own and desperate to be respected and too burdened with shame to see past it all. This is real and we need to start listening. Not just to ourselves talking about how to make our already wonderful communities better. But a dialogue with those who have something to teach us about the way they are living and how they feel like they are dying. Because we are a nation divided any way you fucking cut it. And we're not getting anywhere if we don't drop the angry rants (see above, apologies) and start listening, perhaps trying to understand, moving forward with a new awareness, another perspective, a fuller view of this picture.

Be Kind.  If I learned anything in college, it was Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In just about every psych class I took, the prof found some way of incorporating it. I can't help but think of it now, the idea being that there are five levels of needs that motivate us as people, with the first, most basic and necessary, being survival at the very the bottom of the pyramid. Do I have food, shelter, warmth, the ability to rest? If these needs are met, we can move onto worrying about our safety, and if we are lucky enough to feel we can survive and be safe, we can enjoy the true privilege of belonging and love. With a secure sense of belonging, we can work towards self-esteem, with the top of the pyramid being self-actualization, the golden goal which, in a utopian society, we are all chipping away towards.

My children - and yours, too, I have to assume - have been taught love in its deepest, more secure sense. They do not carry the burden of hunger or being too cold to think or to frightened to function. This is an indulgence that we should not overlook. We get to watch love take shape in its truest form.

Pick three friends for the first activity," says Gracie's teacher on her special parent help day at school. "I….can't… I don't know who to choose." She waves her hand loosely over the crowd of friends and says "them".
"What are the names of the friends you want to choose?" But she is quiet and unwilling to pick 3 out of the crowd of 11.
She turns to me, "You choose, mommy!"

Our kids - the kids of the folks who are reading this - start with belonging from the get-go, don't they? Not all children do, not at all. Some people never get past survival and perhaps all they have the capacity to worry about is themselves.

Do Your Best.  Perhaps the only way to know what our actual best is these days is by taking steps that are larger than we're accustomed to taking. Love is not passive and cannot be spread to strangers in silence. I am attempting to step out of my comfort zone, getting more political than I have ever (ever) been, and  joining in groups for positive change that represent the values on which I am trying to build my family in a country I actually do still love. I don't know. We should do this kind of thing in a big way, all of us, really. Now. If not that, ask questions. Actually listen to the answers. Reach across the aisle if only for a quick exchange at first. At some point we have to stop shouting at each other or shouting about each other or we are all going to crumble. I need to start thinking outside my tiny little world while still living in my tiny little world.

We started "daily acts of kindness" today in our house. I thought about doing it all through December, but then thought, why wait until December?

If none of the above works for your family or your particular style, consider this incredible website my dear friend found and sent to me today:

Click and find:
  • Picture books about bullying
  • Picture books to inspire gratitude
  • Picture books to celebrate diversity
  • Picture books that inspire kids to heal the earth
  • Picture books to celebrate love
  • Picture books about every day acts of kindness
  • Picture books to nurture emotional awareness
  • Picture books that celebrate seniors and aging
  • Picture books about conversation starters

My friend's email came with perhaps the best suggestion I've heard in an extremely long time.

Step 1: Read these to our own kids.
Step 2: Package them up and send them to lots of local libraries in red states.

I would suggest sending all of them to Mr. Trump, but he doesn't read stuff. Not a reader. He can read, mind you, he just doesn't.

So many times, these days, I've begun to lose faith in our humanity, but the depth of this turmoil is so much further than this privileged eye can see. And so I go back to the principles that for the past five years - and the years before that without being said in so succinctly and simply - have always kept me grounded, empathic, and even hopeful - Listen. Be Kind. Do Your Best. So, I guess, let's brush ourselves off - it's been a blow - but now, it seems, all we can really do is collect ourselves and start making connections in whatever ways we know how.

two cuties at Veterans Day parade

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Lying frozen at midnight: Summer's end

Dear Noah,

So tomorrow you start second grade. SECOND grade. I've been practicing saying so all summer, in my head, sometimes out loud, "Yes, my son will be in second grade." My voice is not used to saying this, not at all, and it feels a bit foreign once it's in the air, and I try to process it, and I know this sounds melodramatic, but boy, this is not easy for your mama.

It was about five minutes ago that you were staring up at me with eyes as big as moons while sucking steadily on your bottle and occasionally reaching your tiny hand to my face. Now…NOW… you are in the middle of elementary school. You are almost eight (well, it's months away, really), and you love me to tell stories of the days when you were just one month old or not even out of my belly yet. You laugh and laugh and ask for more. You imitate yourself as an infant, puking up a belly full of milk all over me, drenching me; you've seen me do it so many times. You ask me to tell about the moment you came into the world and stared and stared, never the sleepy newborn, curious from the get-go, immediately connected to the world. I comply, happy to bring us back there, and look right at you, right into your bright eyes, so ready to laugh. I make my own eyes grow large, larger, and then I circle them around the room, looking left and right, making my eyes wider and wider still; I throw in a tiny infant cry every so often for effect. I am watching you watching me remember you.

You love infant Noah, in part, I think, because you have no memory of him and yet you were him - and you are him - but he is so inaccessible that only the stories connect you to him. It must be strange for you to not remember; you are used to remembering and your memory is reliable. I can now say for certain, however, that you have entered, without any doubt, years that you will remember sometimes with great clarity (and other times with a frustrating fuzziness or an inaccuracy that cannot possibly be untrue…). We will still tell stories of Noah in second grade back and forth, but you are the keeper of most of them, and some I know you'll never tell.

You will read about our summer here and while much of it will be familiar, you will have your own perspectives on this time; you drifted off to sleep tonight with your unique thoughts about summer or school or who knows what on earth else… and tomorrow you begin to collect more memories, more moments that will make you *you* and I will only ever know a fraction of them.

I loved our summer together because we shared almost every single moment. Someday soon you'll want more camps and alone time and playdates, but for this summer, anyway, you were all mine (and Gracie's) and we wandered rather aimlessly into and out of summer together, and most of our moments were shared; that was an absolute joy and privilege.

I will admit, sweet Noah, that I was a little terrified for summer. There were so many days ahead of us and I had very few plans for those days. And, though you might not have felt this, it took awhile to find our groove. But we got there and now, unbelievably, I'll be setting that damned alarm clock once again. We've gotten used to sleeping in; you get up to see Daddy off before 7 and then go back to sleep, collapsing into your bed or mine.  I reach over, pull you in,
drift off again.

I've been staying up past midnight, reading my books, listening to my podcasts, thinking, thinking. And you've been up, sneaking in a few last pages of your books or adding a couple new features to your Ninjago castle. But you have your limits, you've found. The other night, we were at a gathering around a bonfire, time ticking away faster than we thought, and you excused yourself from the kids at 9, and half stumbled towards us, saying, "I need to go to bed, Mama." You are still our little, precious child who needs all kinds of sleep. You are so tiny and so big at the very same time.

Our days started slowly, and sometimes stayed that way, but sometimes accelerated quickly. This summer, you started riding your bike with friends (aka "the biker gang") around the block, no grown-ups in sight). You passed the deep end test at the pool, which means that you can tread water for two minutes straight and swim for a really long ways.

You discovered google and when you really, really wanted screen time and knew I would say no, you knew your best bet was asking if you could google something if you spelled all the words yourself and didn't just ask Siri or allow for autofill. You texted Daddy when you missed saying goodbye to him, apologizing for not waking up in time. You played Legos to your heart's content. You drew pictures of oceans and its creatures and ninja battles, mainly, and you built castles with secret rooms and trap doors. You are the essence of childhood right now, Noah, and it's hard for me to fully wrap my head around the fact that this moment, this very moment in my life, is what I believe and have always believed it is all about. Everything, here, now. It's almost too much to handle and yes, I'm terrified of losing it.

You started "Choose your own adventure" books and initially, they confused the living hell out of you. "What if you don't like how it ended and wish you had chosen differently but don't really know where you should have chosen differently?" you asked Daddy, in a number of different ways, a number of times. But you're getting it now. And speaking of Daddy, have I mentioned you have the most giant Daddy crush right now? He is your person. You switch your seat to sit next to him or save a seat, protecting it with your life, for him at dinner time. If he will be driving one car and I the other, there is no question whose you will choose. You look at me with momentarily apologetic eyes and say, "I love you so much, Mommy. I'd like to go with you too, but I'll go with Daddy this time." I appreciate your empathic efforts and I know I don't always hide jealousy well, but honestly, who better to adore than that daddy of yours?
First time on a horse

I've never seen you happier
This summer you started noticing how babies and other children who are younger than you are really cute. You point it out to me as I used to do to my mom all the time, as in Mom, you CANNOT miss this one…this one is so cute, I guarantee she's going to make your day.

I switch from telling you that you are cute and then handsome and then not saying anything about it for awhile because, of course, I know I shouldn't point out the physical things because importance shouldn't be placed on that and I get that, I do. But sometimes, really, all I want to do is say, "OH MY GOD, HOOOOOOOOOW DID *WE* MAKE BEAUTIFUL, HANDSOME, GORGEOUS, BLUE-EYED YOU?" It's obnoxious and I don't say it (but apparently I have no problem writing it). Someday you'll read this and that will probably be at a time when you have a pretty good sense of self (you will care less about this blog for at least a decade). So, future (current) Noah, I'm sorry to make a thing of it at all. It has never mattered that you are cute and handsome, but it does matter that you are beautiful - warm and thoughtful and kind. I hope you practice all of those attributes every single day in the second grade.

When we went away on our annual college friends summer trip this year, you got to go off with the dads to play frisbee golf. You told me you tied Daddy for second. Daddy smiled and said, "huh" when I mentioned what you told me. But speaking of golf, Grandpa just bought you two clubs and a golf bag and you carry that thing around as if you've been doing so for years. You have quickly developed mad mini golf skills and you seem entirely at ease on the green, my love. You place your feet just so and figure out your angle and frankly, we got rid of the -1 rule on each hole as soon as we saw who we were working with.

Self imposed ice bucket challenge

Kid Olympics 2016, collector of medals

You will (you do) remind me you are not perfect. Do not worry, I am well aware. Remember, I have just spent an entire summer with you. You are kind and sincere, but really terrible at sharing… still. Your sense of fairness is strong, but mostly when it is you who has been wronged. You adore your sister but seem to lack the ability to demonstrate it at several (numerous, really) points throughout the day, each day, every day. Here is where you can start mentally inserting all of the many flaws you have catalogued about me throughout the years.

Okay, that's enough! At least you can never say I didn't love you more than life.

But now it is very late and I've set that blessed alarm to jolt me awake at 7 and I suppose I need to shut this post down. Oh, a few hours from now and my heart will sink, I know it. I will pull you into bed for a nostalgic and quick cuddle, but refuse the temptation for our usual semi-conscious slumber.

I try and remind myself all the time that this is good - and yes, I do wish for nothing else than my children progressing through their lives, year by year, as they naturally should. To wish for time to freeze, as a very wise and dear friend reminded me once, is not in fact the thing we really want to wish for. What I need to want is what is happening here, now. I've got it in writing here, all the things I'm thinking, so when my memory fails me, I will at least have this, a bittersweet moment when you were 7 and I, 37, now crystallized. You will remember your moments about tomorrow - maybe the moment you realize which one your teacher is or what it feels like to go to the gym rather than the cafeteria (as you did in K and 1st grade) before the first bell. You will likely remember where you are seated and what you miss about the year before and what you miss about your mornings and days with Grace and me and your nights (remember how we started our every night evening walks this summer?) with all of us.

But tomorrow is 20 minutes away now and before I know it, we're going to be in the middle of it. We will struggle over our decision of a decent-enough first day of school outfit. I will watch you move your cereal around your bowl because who can eat with the nerves? I get that. You'll start yelling at Gracie not to make you late while I push you towards the stairs reminding you to brush your teeth. On will go your backpack, same one as last year just a little less big on you now, and we won't be thinking about it, but as we go, we'll be fighting through our sadness, and embracing it at the same time.

All my love,



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

On the Flip Side #NFBNBD

"They're thinking of making a Facebook group for all the people who live in my condo complex," said my dad, over the fourth of July weekend, as we all gathered at our little cottage-house way up in northern NH. It's a place where there is very little cell service, no computers, and no cable, situated on the outskirts of a town with a total of two stores, lots of woods, farms, tractors, some bears, nice air to breathe, and a chance to recover from real life if even just a bit.

My response was automatic. "Great! Great way to connect," while my brother said, "Why can't they just email?" and my sister in law said, "Oh, but you're all right there, right? Right on those couple of roads? Why not just go outside and talk to each other?" She wasn't being snarky. She was genuinely curious about this. Why not go outside and talk to each other. Huh.

My sister in law is a person who grew up in a log cabin without electricity or running water or any of the amenities, really, that make certain parts of life as easy as they are. And I can't help but note that she's the most creative, quick-thinking, well-read, perceptive, strongly woven woman I know. She is not on Facebook, or Twitter, or Insta, or Snapchat. She does not need Pinterest in her life. She is the human form of Pinterest. She has a flip phone which is mostly never on. When she does use her phone, it's usually to talk. To talk!! Her question was a valid one, a great one.

"You just don't really see people outside that much," my dad responded.

"Huh? What are they doing instead?" we all asked, or wondered. I figured many go away a lot, but also couldn't help but picture these baby boomer neighbors sitting at their computers, tucked away in a corner of their home. It wasn't that hard to picture it because I've been that person many times before.

Like so many, I've created a chaotic little cyber world for myself. It's relatively contained; I'm only on Facebook. And I'm relatively tame about it as well, I think (I hope). I tried instagram for awhile, but when I couldn't figure out how to delete Lena Dunham, who posts every 3 seconds, out of my feed, I gave up on it. I mean, I deleted her, and then she reappeared. And then I deleted again and she returned yet again. Addiction evaded.

Admittedly, however, I have a difficult time switching off, turning away from the updates on the very significant and rather mundane goings-on of all the people in (and those who are not really not all that in) my life. People, whether you really know them, think you know them, or don't know a thing about them, are just damn fascinating. I've come to view Facebook as a reality show with people you know or used to know or have only recently met (or never met for some, I guess). Some friends have filters and some have none at all. Some of them are seen only seldom and some fill the screen with tales of bad relationships or unbelievably amazing vacations or what they had for dinner or who has just died. It is all over the place. Nine years (?) after joining it, I still find it nearly impossible to really look away. I give a shit about almost all of it (except the dinner part. I honestly, truly, in no way now or ever, will ever give one flying hoot about what anyone else had for dinner or lunch. Maybe breakfast, though. Maybe I'd care about that because breakfast is awesome).

We all have our own reasons for staying on this Godforsaken site that has taken months, maybe years of potential learning opportunities and good book reading hours completely out of my life (and probably yours. If you're reading this, you are most likely on fb because, hell, that's the only way anyone on earth would ever even consider clicking on my silly posts. But, seriously, thank you for that, Facebook).

Most of the time we fb post, we are, in fact, presenting the best parts of our days and weeks, our prouder moments and our photos with the best lighting, the awards we've won, the children we've made, the moments that amused us and, we hope, you as well. I can speak to no other medium but Facebook, but what I have found is a communal place to boast or rant or ask for (or provide) congratulations or sympathy or, in the most pragmatic of posts, gather information, maybe spread it as well. Birthdays are better with Facebook, especially for grown-ups who don't get to go to school with a tupperware container full of homemade cupcakes that instantly remind our friends that HELL YEAH IT'S MY BIRTHDAY TODAY! (But who am I kidding… kids can basically only bring in like a box of unsharpened pencil to pass out to friends nowadays).

I have used Facebook for all of these things, not consciously or categorically, but it would be callous to assume any more or less of myself. Facebook allows us to connect in whatever way we may want - or need - to be connected. I have to assume we're all kind of on the same page about this because we keep going back to it and sharing more and getting something out of the whole inane cyber universe in which we are enveloped.

I see the benefits and have consistently let those outweigh the costs. Primarily, this forum really does provide an accessible framework for the maintenance and at times rejuvenation of personal connections. We all have examples. My favorite is my West Virginia cousins and uncle, whom I know so more about now than I ever did before -- or ever would have -- without our long ago "friending" on Facebook. We were never going to talk on the phone or write letters, so now, in the place of our potential mutual silence is a (semi)real understanding of who we are growing up to be. I love seeing friends from high school who I once worried about, now thriving; it allows for profound perspective on the different directions your life can take, no matter where you came from, who you once were, or who you are now.

But I struggle, for obvious reasons.

It can be endless, the knowledge you seek and find about people.

And the problem is, there are other people around us who are asking for us now. Our focus, our energy, our warmth, our genuine attention. And I'm not always present; I try, but I'm not.

We become wrapped up in our contained, virtual world, but life still proceeds. And when we're looking down, we're missing everything above our hunched over shoulders. We are missing moments. Smiles pointed towards us, not a photo to later by displayed. And smiles that are real, not tiny yellow circular faces used to somehow express our less than simple emotions. You know all of this. We all know it. We're still doing it.

A friend shared this video on Facebook, which just so elegantly captures our current state, in such a perfectly heartbreaking way.

Removed - Earthables

It seems like an exaggeration but it's not. The wedding day one; would that happen? Of course it would. Can't you picture it? #thisgarderisootightonmythigh #hubbylooksHOT #Abouttoconsummatethis

I wrote most of this the day before I learned about Pokemon Go, which happened when my husband came home one day and excitedly asked if we'd heard about Pokemon Go and I said 'huh?' as he grabbed both kids and started walking them around the neighborhood.

"But! What???"

"It's exercise!" He yelled over his shoulder as the three of them stared at his phone looking for a cartoon character hanging out in the neighbors' yards.

"Great… now we're just going to have people walking around staring at their phones all the time!" I thought. But within seconds, I dropped the righteousness. Because come on. That's exactly what we've been doing for years.

I make no secret that I am torn about social media and the myriad ways in which we can and do access it - wherever we are, whatever we are doing. I think there's a good amount of us who might feel the same. I have this underlying guilt and self-reproach that clicks on whenever I …. click on.

My children, whom these days I am with all day, every day, are as observant as ever. During a diplomatic conversation we had a week ago, after a day of block throwing and Lego diamond stealing (a continuous battle in our house. WHY is there only one pink diamond (which Grace MUST HAVE) among Noah's 5 billion Legos?) and painful whining on all our parts, we made some new rules, wrote them down, said them out loud, to ourselves, to each other. And then I said, "OK, you know the behavior I want you to change. Now, it's your turn. What can Mommy do differently that would make you happier?"
Selfie "you want to take away my waaa?"

I knew the answer before he said it.

"The phone, Mama. Less phone. That's it."

That's it. A small step that embarrassingly feels nearly insurmountable. Just no Facebook. On my phone. No Facebook on my phone. No Facebook on my phone!!! (but laptop still a go).

Extra challenge: I am doing this as we are in the midst of summer when days seem… especially long at times.

Selfie "A'ight. It's cool. I'm cool. No fb,
 no big deal."
It cannot hurt to be reminded what life was like with a flip phone, when I was just a little less connected. I will have to find other ways to channel my boredom or curb my curiosity, or cope with my shyness (phones serve their purpose in uncomfortable settings. You know what I'm talking about).

One app to remove; I'll try it for a month. This is good, I think. I can't have my kids become white noise as I finish clicking through the list of 13 Celebs who were A$$holes in High School (yes, I clicked). I want to be better than that. God, I really do.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

Pre-Run, Present Birthday… Post

Last year, Dad says, was probably the hardest marathon yet. It was really cold and pouring buckets and the head wind was raging. If you stopped for a moment, for a rest or some water, you froze. So really, you didn't even have that rest to look forward to because when you stood still, you just got colder and sorer. And then, there was the first year, five marathons ago, when it was something like 95 degrees in mid April - just for that one day - when I couldn't even stand there *watching* these people for longer than 10 minutes before needing an inside break. And then, of course, there was that year when bombs went off at the finish line and thousands of runners (Dad included) could not finish their final victory mile. There was one year in there, 2014, where there was no real defining characteristic except that we were all still reeling from the year before, cautious in our steps, feeling brave but tentative, unsettled but proud, trying to replace memories from the year before.

I hope this year's race is defined by nothing more than the simple victory of our runners finishing without incident. Dad says this is his last year to run it; he plans to run alongside a couple teammates, one of whom is the Chief of Pediatric Oncology at MGH and the man who founded the marathon team, who will be running his 25th and final marathon this year. Please check him out. There are really people like this.

(The course is just riddled with these kinds of people, who are saint-like in their daily life and God-like in their athletic ability. Also, have you ever seen the people who are like 1000 miles into the run and then raise their arms to the stationary crowd, asking them to cheer? Have you ever felt like more like a sloth than in one of these moments? No offense, real-life sloths.) 

Dad and I used to joke about running the marathon someday. It was a hilarious joke for us ("Can you even imagine??" we'd say. Not even on a bike!! The .1 extra in the 5k is .1 too much for me!"). Not a joke anymore. This team became his response to my mother's death, and it carried him through dark, dark days. He could have been sleeping until noon everyday, shades drawn, cocooned inside his sadness. But he figured out a way to get up before dawn on most weekends, put one foot in front of the other and then spread out his stride, and, ultimately, to run for a purpose beyond himself. I think it's possible that my Dad started training for the marathon all those years ago to run away from something, but his direction has now changed entirely.


His patient partner is now two years in remission. So, holy wow, MGH, thank you.

Today, April 17th, the day before my Dad runs his last marathon, is my mother's birthday. She would have been 69 today. She never wanted him to run a marathon, thought it was just plain insanity, but given what it's done for him, I have to think she'd be okay with it now. My mother herself was never a runner, but she was also never a slouch. She was in such good shape, in fact, that the hospice doctors and nurses stopped giving us estimates on how much longer she had because her body was so strong it was refusing to shut down, defying any sort of medical norms or reasonable predictions.

She exuded energy in life. She danced from age 3 on into her 60s - ballet, tap, casual kitchen dancing, center of the wedding dance floor dancing, talking on the cordless phone dancing, breaking it down with the grandkids dancing. She took core and yoga classes in her 50s, climbed mountains while going through chemo, and walked every single day after her diagnosis.

She had so much to do in life and she had all the energy in the world to get it done. I'd talk to her every day on the phone, and when I'd ask her what she'd done that day, her answer frequently sounded something like, "Well… I did four loads of laundry, washed all the bathrooms, drove to Concord to see Grandpa, made two lemon breads and now I'm doing some ironing." She was a mover and a doer and, at times, impossible to keep up with. Vacations were for lacing up your walking shoes and making sure you saw every damn thing that city had to offer. She was the only person, I felt, who could actually be in two places at once, but when I needed her to be a mom, to focus on me alone, the rest of her world paused and it was only me.

I played approximately 5 billion soccer games in my life and ran in about 7 trillion track meets and, until college, she attended every one. And always, her voice rose above all others, her vibrant voice, earnest, filled with hope and unfaltering support for her kid who was sometimes out in front and sometimes rather far behind. I think I always ran out of steam before she did. Happy Birthday, sweet mama. My God, how I miss you. Your energy keeps us rolling along.

And so I'm led, once again, into Boston's big day of running. Tonight, I attended what will likely be my final pre-Marathon pasta dinner with the MGH runners and pediatric oncology patients and families. It is impossible to look around at this event and not see the larger picture, the largest and most important picture there is. We are all trying to achieve something here. A life that is normal again, a treatment that works, a flat-out cure, a connection to something that is meaningful. At the MGH "base" where I will standing tomorrow with my two children, there will be the parents thinking about the money that has been raised so far, wondering how it will benefit their child, whether enough was made to make a difference and what that difference will be. The runners may be thinking similar thoughts, along with understandable feelings of desperation, exhaustion and bewilderment concerning how the hell they ended up here. They will be surrounded by others running for their own causes or for their personal best or for the simple satisfaction of crossing the finish line. They will be surrounded by officers trying to keep the day safe and EMTs trying to keep them healthy and alive, and folks trying to catch a glimpse and a photo of their loved ones running. Tomorrow is a day filled with hope and a little fear and a hell of a lot of pride.

And as I sit here on my arse, the day that my mom, a woman who had 100 years left of life in here until the day she died, would have turned a year older, and the day that my father, just shy of 70 years old, prepares to load the early morning bus to Hopkinton this final time, I can't help but consider how I'll fit into this complex and goal-driven picture that will be once again created tomorrow. And it seems obvious what I have to do. I think I'll take channel my energy, loudly and obnoxiously, shouting the names I read on shirts and screaming my holy lungs out for as long as I can, with effort, with gusto, no half-heartedness from this lazy out of shape body. So many of these people are running for others who cannot - and who need hope and funds and a voice. The least I can do is grant that a "hear hear!" I do not want to see a runner with his arms out and his palms raised, asking us lemonade sipping, popsicle licking spectators to get pumped for the athletes who have just tackled 20 miles. We all have the advantage of being here now. We might as well do something with it, even if it's from the sidelines.

We love you, Dad/Grandpa!

We love you, Mom/Grammy!

We do so love you, MGH

With you in spirit though not on the course: Go Dad, Jen, Nicky, Derek, Sarah, Melissa, Robbie, Frank, and Howard.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Scent of a little boy

It occurs to me that I probably only have a little bit more time to post about Noah before I can't do it any longer. He is reading now - and though he doesn't and probably won't (for a very long time) read blogs, I can't be certain his friends won't… and just what he needs is some punk coming up to him in school saying, "Dude, I read your mom's lame blog… you still sleep with 15 stuffed animals at night?" (Whatever, hypothetical bully - we all know you sleep with the light on! In your mom's room! With a diaper!). It's unfair to post freely about another person's developing world, which he believes to actually be private. So I will tread carefully. It is with all of this in mind - along with the fact that his birthday blog got bulldozed over by my post about Newtown this past December - that I am going to dare write about my Noah, my sweet and complicated little boy.

A few weeks ago, I washed his favorite lovey, his little snuggy dog named Butter. Butter, I will tell you, has been with Noah from the beginning, alongside Lamby, who is very close to equally loved as Butter, a very close second, but just not quite Butter. Butter has been in the crib and the big boy bed and the bigger boy bed. He's been thrown up on and drooled on and cried on. He's been to New York, New Hampshire, California, and Florida. He's gotten lost in the sheets - or the drawers or the closet - in Florida and stayed longer than the rest of us, finally rescued by a housekeeper, packaged up, and flown back home to his Noah. Last month, I washed Butter. Butter was looking bedraggled and, frankly, every little creature should be washed at least once every few years. So I washed him and told Noah, who was happy about it. Until he grabbed him, still warm from the dryer, and held him close to his face and then burst into tears. "He doesn't smell right! He doesn't smell like himself!"

"Noah," I said. "Just keep snuggling him. His smell will return. His smell is you, silly boy."

That smell. That smell of stale sweat, under bathed, dirt-caked, breath stank, and oh-so delicious little boy. No time to brush his teeth for more than one spit-through, no interest in getting his hair combed at any point in the day, week, or year. He's agreed to a bath once a week. He hardly glances at the clothes I hand him in the morning to put on. Sometimes he grabs his own shirt and then blindly pulls out pants to go with it.

He comes outside after school and drops his coat and his backpack where I stand and sprints to the playground. Pouts, sometimes roars, when I say we have to leave to get his sister.

He stands in karate class with one leg of his Gi pants falling underneath his foot, the other half slipping down his shin; the sensei doesn't even pause but rolls them up again as she instructs the class and then reties his belt.

Green belt Ninja
To the extent possible, this is kind of how I envisioned it. All of this, with the uniform too large and playground time always too short, and the passionate protests against the requests of Mom; I pictured all of that for my little boy. He is, right now, in myriad ways, the essence of little boy.

A long (long) time ago, shortly after I had emerged from adolescence, I saw this story about kids in Fiji (maybe on 20/20? anyone?). The piece focused on teenagers, actually, and the simple premise that kids stay kids in Fiji for a heck of a lot longer than we do. Fifteen year olds play - not video games. They really play. They dive in the water, and run around, and stay outside, and spend their days creating their own fun… and the footage they showed was of tall, lanky, teenaged kids, just playing. Youth is preserved, prioritized.

I was in between my own childhood and that of my future children when I saw this, and so I just held onto the message, tucked it away for another day in the distant future. And now here we are and I'm pining for a Fiji future for our kids. But I know it won't happen, even if we moved to 15 years ago Fiji. We are all distracted by things that are less simple and even though we are aware of it, I think we often feel powerless - all of us, parents, educators, and especially kids.

My little boy still has his innocence, but already I discern new layers, now beginning to blanket that flawless, untouched skin he was born into. He sees already that there is too much order to things. He believes he is too young for all of this already. He wants to play chase with his Dad and Ninjago with his friends (he is Kai! Ninja of Fire!), and castles with his sister. But there is less and less time for that. There are curriculum standards and homework requirements. And he says, "I can't STAND homework! I just want to play! Nothing is fair!!" And he understands the fact that this is just the beginning, the start of years and years and years of this sort of thing, which will take him away from his Lego scenes and his wooden block building and his Magnatile bases and his games of tag. His meltdowns are more crushing now because they express a general frustration of unfairness - that life is so much larger than he is, that this moment isn't fair, and moreover that none of this is fair and it's just going to keep happening in various, unrelenting ways.

I try to give him perspective about his life. I show him photos of Syrian refugees (I actually do, that's probably weird). But that's another world to him, to all of us, really. And for a recently turned seven year old, who, like all kids (and people) is still living in a me-centered reality, this does not truly help his current dilemma. How to play more, be a kid longer, stave off the inevitable transition into grown-up-hood for as long as damn possible.

Here is a child who wants to know everything - what the planets are made of, who all the ocean animals are, what the Big Bang sounded like, how long it takes to become a Ninja, what Palm Sunday means, what's another example - besides ants and caterpillars - of a symbiotic relationship in nature.

But these nights, my tiny first grader slumps over his homework, tears blurring the number models in front of him; he clenches his pencil until his knuckles lose color, and his interest in learning anything at all drains out of him too.

"I hate that Grace just sits there playing and doesn't have to do ANY HOMEWORK AT ALL!"

"She's just a little kid," we say. "You're just a little kid," we think.

I do not enjoy watching this little boy throwing himself into spinjitzu level tantrums like we haven't seen since he was three. He enjoys it even less. It transforms him and he hardly recognizes himself. When it is finally over each night, the regular hum returns to the house.


He's blessed with a teacher who understands him, engages him, enriches him, keeps him curious and thoughtful. He's blessed with a school that emphasizes kindness and respect and acceptance above everything else. And yet, I know he worries that this is the easiest it will ever be for him, that work just gets harder and heavier and play disappears a little more each year. He has become just shy of innocent.

There is this new pop song he loves. It's called Stressed Out (and it's by Twenty one pilots):

Wish we could turn back time, to the good ol’ days,
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.

Sometimes a certain smell will take me back to when I was young,
How come I’m never able to identify where it’s coming from,
I’d make a candle out of it if I ever found it,
Try to sell it, never sell out of it, I’d probably only sell one,

It’d be to my brother, ‘cause we have the same nose,
Same clothes homegrown a stone’s throw from a creek we used to roam,
But it would remind us of when nothing really mattered,
Out of student loans and treehouse homes we all would take the latter.

When he sings along, I wonder what he's thinking. (Have the good old days already happened in Noah's mind? That can't be.) So I asked him. "What do you think about when you think of those words?" I said. "Oh, like I guess when I was one. The good old days, when I was one, and when Gracie was in your belly." I will not over-think this one, but it's fair to say I want the candle of his childhood to consist of the smells of those years "when he was one" and, more importantly, these current years and many many more years to come. His Fiji years.

There is also so much I don't know.  I'll think I know and then a small child I've never seen or heard of will run up to him at school and give him a giant hug and I'll realize how much of his own person he is becoming, with me merely in the background for most of it. But I love these moments, or at least very much appreciate them. He drops the word "Sick!" in the same way we used to say "Sweet!" (or, before that, "Swell!") more than once a day now. Last week, he came into my bedroom with his sweatpants rolled to mid-shin and his socks pulled up entirely. "Oh, honey! Come here, I'll fix you up," I said, unwittingly, reaching for his socks. "No keep it," he mumbled and I interrupted my own pause with an "OK, great."

He'll go to school some days with a sick stack of Pokemon cards that he doesn't fully understand how to use (play? trade? I will never ever never ever ever understand Pokemon). He sprints into school without looking back at me every day and begs to get there early to be with his buddies. But he also came home from a field trip not long ago with not one stuffed animal wolf that he had picked out with his field trip money, but two - a mommy and a baby. I could have cried (I cried).

He is not fond of Scooby Doo (too scary) but is passionate about Harry Potter. And yes, we know it is dark, but he's entered a world that he craves to reach back into every day and it doesn't feel right to deny him that or keep such a magical world from a boy who still imagines. Oh, the happiness he feels when Gryffindor wins a Quidditch match. And how horrified he is at Malfoy and that slithering Snape. And the urgency to pick up the next book when another has been completed. Yes, we know it is dark and that we are doing our equal part in contaminating that beautiful brain of his. But it just sort of feels right, so we're going with it.

My sweet little boy, who does in fact sleep with 15 stuffed animals at night, and who wants to be everywhere his daddy is, and who cries when he loses dessert and loves to be tickled and can't yet tie his shoes; yes, he is still the baby boy I've always known. And yet, there is more behind that wild hair and those giant circular, curious eyes and there are experiences behind those widely spaced big boy teeth and those ever so slightly freckled (the kind only a mother can see) pink cheeks. Oh my boy, who recognizes but cannot help frustration getting the better of him, who celebrates the rare school night when he just gets to play and eat and read, who dreams of a Hogwarts kind of life while sleeping securely in his cozy little bed, next to the Butter that smells of his childhood.

Magical ride on a peregrine falcon