Careful what you keep

It is the quietest part of my day.

I have tucked in every child, for better or for worse. The living room has been picked up, homework has been pulled out, fought over, stuffed back into backpacks, tonight’s dinner dishes have marched their way from the table to the dishwasher, and the remnants of Judah’s bath time have been put back in order. For all intents and purposes, today is done. Some days, just making it to the finish line is enough for me to declare V for Victory (with hand signs and all), call it good, and sleep the sleep of the hard-fought win.

When I still have a brain cell left or a nerve not frayed to splitting, I sometimes take stock of the day, to determine whether or not I was actually successful (more on that in a minute). So I will sit on the couch, or perhaps, stand in the shower, and make my two mental columns of ‘Good Job!’ or ‘You Suck!’, and at the end, I’ll tally them up, deciding whether or not the day was, indeed, a good day.

Most of the time the columns fill up like this:


The Good stuff consists of things that bolster my self esteem, self care, taking care of the children. The You Suck column is often inconsequential, but this negative side fills up with ease. I don’t have to grope blindly in the dark to come up with something to make me feel badly about myself the way I have to cast about for something to put in the ‘You are succeeding as a human being’ column. When I weigh the columns in my head, it is always easier to dismiss the positive column.

It’s a mean voice in our heads that works to hurt our sense of accomplishment, isn’t it? Some days it wakes before me, and goes to sleep after me. There is never a moment that it isn’t there, waiting to undermine or demean my hardest efforts. Some days it convinces me to flush the entire left side column of my list and I do. Then I lift up all those things that have made me feel guilty, or less than, throughout the day and I keep them. Protective over them, nurturing their pessimistic tendencies because it’s easier to accept that ‘You Suck’ than to fight hard to just tread water. After all, the mean voice insists that it’s not so triumphant to get a shower, or to be punctual, or to keep a house clean. But how could I forget those library books, or feed my precious child popcorn, for breakfast!, and how can someone possibly yell within thirty minutes of getting up, and then a lot, (a lot) more times throughout the day.

In time, the weight of all those kept guilts, those categorized and numbered complaints begin to drown me. Instead of just shrugging off the silly accomplishments, I begin to decline pride for the big things too. Talking Sam down from what was surely to be a huge meltdown due to homework? Big deal. Teaching Marilyn how to successfully decipher those tough new words in the book she brought home? Whatever. That epic Jake and the Neverland Pirate dance party Judah and I participated in, in the living room, at 9:30am? Who cares. Everything feels separated from me by a million layers of saran wrap. I can see my impacts on people, I can tell that I am still participating, but I can’t quite feel it.

Then, like a well timed bolt of lightning, today Sam and I were discussing how great he has been doing in school.

Me: Sam, I am really, so proud of you. You work so hard, and it shows.
Sam: I know.
Me: Are you proud too? Doesn’t it feel good?
Sam: Yeah. But I always do good.
Me: Well remember in first grade when it was really hard?
Sam: Nope.
Me: Really?
Sam: I only like to remember what makes me feel happy.

Light bulb moment.

Now I am not saying we should immediately and systematically go through our memories purging every recollection that makes us feel less than stellar, but, I think we should be mindful of what we keep in the forefront of our brain real estate. I want my voice to be the loudest in my head and I want to be shouting my frivolous successes and my personal triumphs because they feel good, because they earned their spots. It is precious space up there, and if that front line of snapshots is what is going to make up the basis for whether or not I was successful today, I want it to be the stuff that matters.

That’s what I want. However, if you see me looking doubtful, looking like maybe my ‘You Suck’ list is winning the property war inside my brain, tell me I can still win the good fight, that every day is only a sum of its many parts, and it doesn’t all hinge on one spilled glass of milk. I promise to do the same, for you.


It doesn’t end with the funeral.

This morning Sam was especially quiet on the way to school. This is normally something I would welcome, being that he rarely ceases to talk, but looking at him from the rearview mirror, something seemed amiss.

“What’s up Bubs?” I asked him.
“I was just thinking. What’s that special bed they have?”

I have no idea what he is talking about, but that’s Sam for you. His favorite thing to do (it seems) is to start a story smack in the middle and then get frustrated with you because you have to play 20 questions in order to get caught up to where his thought process is at.

“What is what special bed that who has?”
“The special bed that you lay in when you die.” he said sadly.

“Oh.” I choke out. Why is it that I am always alone for these conversations? It was Joe’s mom who died, Joe who worked tirelessly to ensure a strong relationship was formed between the kids and my mother-in-law because she and I could barely make civil small talk let alone cultivate something as precious as a child’s view on a person. So why was it always me handling the wreckage of their feelings? While my mother-in-law lay ill in the hospital, or recovering at the nursing home, or like this last time, dying. Joe was ever the good son, bedside or available to his parents, which left me at home to answer the torturously honest and beseeching questions five and eight year olds ask with regularity.

“It’s called a coffin” I told Sam. “What were you thinking about the coffin?”
Sam sighed. “I was thinking, that we used to call Amma before school everyday that Daddy drove us in. But we can’t now, because she’s lying in a coffin. I miss her.” he concluded.

“I know” I told him, even though I didn’t, not really. Everyone’s grief is distinct, the kind of innocent sadness he lugs around with him from time to time is far from the wretched and regretful feelings I have. Mine is the kind of sad that I can pick up and examine, then put back down, knowing it will still be there later, exactly as black and unresolved as it was when I left it. His is the kind he must hold tight to, or else it will change entirely.

One moment he is asking about the coffin, and in the next, lamenting Hanukkah without her, which turns into a discussion of all the ridiculous gifts she’d ever purchased for him, and without pause, to teasing about how she would not like Minecraft or the new Hockey video game where you can punch people out and then zoom in on their bruises.

Before I release them from the car for school, he is satisfied with this remembrance, and happy to think of her again, instead of just sad.

There will be his first Hanukkah without her, and his first New Years, his birthday, and Passover and the first summer where she doesn’t buy him his camp clothes and drive him bananas picking out things he doesn’t like. There will be more questions like this one, and the more pleading ones about why people have to die at all; the ones I have no answers to, like why G-d would create a place where everyone we love eventually goes, but that we cannot get to ourselves.

It doesn’t end with the funeral, although I wish it did.

Two is quite enough.

My youngest Wildling turned two the other day.

Judah turns 2

Thems the breaks right?

One minute you are 20 years old, kissing the groom and dashing off to play the game of Life and then you are nearly a decade older, three kids poorer and The Baby has the nerve to turn two.

I planned on mostly ignoring the change in age. I would buy him a cake, give him a few gifts, and then pretend he was still one, or better yet, swaddle him up and imagine he was still an infant. It wasn’t enough for him to just turn Two though, the older Wildlings needed to make a scene of it and demand it become a Party.

Me: Absolutely not. He’s still one.
Wildlings: No he’s not. Tomorrow is December 4th. He was born on December 4th. So he is two. He needs a party.
Me: He will have cake and presents. See? It’s a party.
Marilyn: And a banner?
Me: No.
Sam: And decorations from the ceiling?
Me: No.
Me: No.
Wildlings: He will be so sad! He needs to have a party! You have to make him a party!
Me: I give up. (and inside my head “I pretty much hate you both”.)
Marilyn: YAY! Balloons!

The next morning I found myself at (Chorus of Angels) Target.

Came home and put Judah (who, here and forevermore will be referred to as) The Baby down for a nap and then did this:


and this


and this too


You know what Judah thought of it?

He loved it. He sat in his high chair and pointed at the decorations, talking to them all night long. I bought noise makers and sparkler candles, birthday hats and harmonicas, balloons that lit up! Banners and plates, napkins and confetti, spiraling ceiling things that took a whole roll of tape to stay adhered to the ceiling!

Guess what The older Wildlings had to say? Those hellions who had bullied me into this all in the first place. Goose eggs. Nothing. Not a single mention of The Party or a Thank You for my efforts. Sometimes when you seek to please someone, your efforts don’t get the recognition they might deserve, and that’s the risk you take. In this case, Judah picked up their slack ten fold, I’m honestly wondering if my husband would object to keeping the party going through January, that’s how happy it makes The Baby.

Judah might not remember turning two, but the big kids will remember that I threw him a smasher, and if they lie, I’ve got pictures as proof.

(Also, he’s never turning 3. Someone get started on that time machine. Twosies forever).

In which we win, and then we get full of ourselves.

The other day I talked about how sometimes a lesson is learned in the moments where we are losing it. I told you about how Marilyn misplaced/lost Luna the beloved stuffed animal while we were at Target, on a day when all I wanted to do was be at home in sweatpants. (I’d link you to that blog post, but I suck at this whole thing, so just go back a few entries and pretend I linked you, okay?)

But it all ended up okay, right? Marilyn sobbed and heaved and snotted and sniffled, I had a light bulb moment about a temporary replacement and all the world seemed a little more sunshiny because of our positive spin on a crappy turn of events. End scene.

Except I couldn’t let it go.

I am that person who after you say ‘I just can’t find it! I looked everywhere!’ will say ‘Did you look in the car?’ and you’ll give me the death stare and snap out ‘of course I looked in the car.’ and then I’ll reply ‘Okay’, and go look in the car myself. I am the person who will stare at the salad dressing aisle for ten minutes because I am certain that if I just look Hard Enough the specific brand and type I want will appear, even though it’s obvious by the hole where they Should be, that they are out of stock. That’s just me. (I’d call it tenacious, my husband calls it relentless, I’m going to say they are the same thing).

So it’s 10pm now and Marilyn is asleep with her rat-mouse thing that she seems to love. She’s told me about how she’s going to bring it to school the next day, what it likes to eat, where it’s going to sleep in her bed, on and on and on and on (and on and on and on). I swipe open my phone and call Target.

Me: Yes Hi. I was in your store this afternoon with my daughter, and she lost her hamster stuffed animal. Has anyone turned it in?
Customer Service: Hold on while I check.
Me: (Waits long enough that it becomes apparent Customer Service Person has kindly gone to look in the lost and found of a Target in Siberia.)
Customer Service: No I’m sorry. Nothing.
Me: (Dramatic Sigh, flings self over balcony.) Okay Thanks!

The next day Marilyn goes to school. She stomps through the rain with the rat-mouse thing and comes home with pictures drawn of ‘Ratty’ and her holding hands. She asks me if I’ve found Luna, and when I sadly say ‘Not yet’, her chin wobbles. I’ve gone to Target and asked them to look for Luna again. No dice. I thud down the toy aisles a second time, hoping maybe someone found Luna and put her back on a shelf. Nothing. I stare in turn, at each aisle the way I glare at the salad dressings, daring the aisle to not produce Luna. I am certain if I just stand there long enough, we can put this whole ridiculous affair behind us, and I can be the hero. Certainly Marilyn’s world is crashing down around her.

The day after this I decide to make one last go of it. Once more I park in the Target lot. I’m armed with a stock photo of Luna, friends who have prayed to St. Anthony for her return, and pure stubbornness. I am prepared to pitch a tent and hand out leaflets when from the heaven’s a ray of light bears down in the form of a girl with brown hair behind the customer service desk. She has found Luna.

I’m pretty sure I am hysterical at this point. I want to scale the counter and hug her.

Me: Oh my God! That’s it! That’s her! You found her!
Angel from Heaven: Oh I’m glad!
Me: You don’t understand! My daughter, she’s five, she’s going to be so happy! She was so upset! Thank you!
Angel from Heaven: You’re welcome.
Me: Thank you so much! (frantically stuffing Luna into my pocket and buttoning it up. No escape!)
Angel from Heaven: Yep. (looking over my shoulder at the customer behind me)
Me: Really! Thank you! Thank you!
(I’m pretty sure if I had thanked her again she was going to have security escort me to my car.)

Back at home I am clutching Luna. How should I present her to Marilyn? Should I just nonchalantly place Luna on the counter for Marilyn to find? Should I make a big production? Should I tell Marilyn I didn’t find her and then whip her out of my pocket in a great feat of magic? I decide to put her on the counter and let Marilyn find her upon her arrival home. Two hours from then. I start ticking down the minutes so great is my excitement to be the hero to Marilyn.

At 3:50pm Marilyn waltzes in the door and I whisper-shriek at her to come into the kitchen. She takes a step in and spots Luna.

Marilyn: Luna!
Marilyn: I am so happy! I missed her.
Marilyn: Luna, you need to meet Ratty.

And that’s it. Literally. Ten minutes later she was on the couch watching My Little Pony, Luna and Ratty forgotten on the table and quickly thereafter scooped up by Judah and probably flung down into the basement where I later had to retrieve them for bedtime. All the guilt and worry, the over the top effort to be the champion, the Luna-finder, for five seconds of lukewarm praise.

The Luna recovery is a good example of how resilient kids are. Seventy-two hours after the waterworks of misplacing Luna and the heavy remorse I felt for being so sharp with Marilyn, and not only was all forgiven, it was 97% forgotten too. So the next time I worry about my kids being upset over something I did that day, instead of lugging it bowling-ball-style around with me all day I am going to remember how quickly she forgot about her grief over the seemingly irrecoverable and beloved Hamster-Guinea Pig hybrid and give myself a freaking break.

Lesson Learned.

The intentions of a Saint with the temper of a fool

He who created patience, accidentally forgot to give me any.

I wake up every morning with the good intentions to love effortlessly and to act gracefully in my encounters with The Wildlings, but by bedtime, I find myself herding feral cats into their cages beds, and begging for them to have some mercy on me. How often do I say ‘hurry up’ and ‘if I have to tell you one more time.. ‘ in the desperate race to After Bedtime where I might find some sense of peace.

(Peace seems to be something you give up in trade for kid dimples, and little kid laughter. Also on the list of trade-ins are Sanity, ever being ahead on the laundry, space for your shampoo in the shower, and eating or drinking anything before it is room temperature).

I once read a blog about a mom who was keeping count of how many days it had been since she last yelled at her children. I am sure if that were me, I’d have a continual “It has been ZERO days since this mother last yelled” poster up. It’s just not in me to keep my volume control below deafening. However, it’s one thing to be loud, and quite another to constantly feel frustrated and angry at the situation.

So how am I dealing with The Wildlings and their innate ability to push me over the edge?
Self care, and humor, and on bad nights, lots of wine.

Some days I pat myself on the back for a job well done and some days I send myself to time out for sucking the joy out of the evening, but I’m not giving up. Here are a few things I have found that work to keep me tethered to the reality that ‘this too shall pass’.

Self care: I try to get my house work done in the morning so that during nap time I can pretend that I am actually alone ad no Little Wildling is sweetly sleeping upstairs. Some days I eat lunch while sitting on the couch reading a book, some days I tackle a project that might give me a sense of accomplishment, and other days I do nothing. But I decide what I do during nap time.

Communication: I clearly communicate to my husband that I need a break. (Sure, sometimes it is done while yelling, or perhaps crouched in a corner with a spatula pointed at The Children to ‘Keep Away’ but the need is communicated nonetheless.)

Hobbies: For a while after each of my children were born I forgot that I was also a person who deserved not only time (see: Self Care) but also satisfaction in time. My choice of hobby is something that I can do in spurts and mostly solo so that I don’t feel obligated to anyone else. Things like needlepoint and blogging are two solo activities, and a book club filled with other moms (so they get it) is another.

Center: My center is becoming my Temple, but it’s hard to get me through the door. I feel guilty for not being more involved, not attending more regularly, not being more learned, but I always feel better when I leave. I know, religion isn’t for everyone and that’s fine. Find what centers you, be it yoga, Church, shopping, whatever- just put it on your calendar, Communicate your Self Care need and go. Consider it a self-date and don’t be a jerk and stand yourself up.

Humor: On days when these other things fail me, you can probably find me behind the pantry door, out of sight of my kids and flipping them off. Or, just as likely, silently mimicking their ridiculous fights while mock jousting with Joe.

When trying to be practical about things doesn’t lead to the result you want, sometimes absurd humor will.

It’s a work in progress, believe me, but I’m trying, and if that’s what I tell my kids I want from them, then I should accept that from myself, right?

& there we go bonding (over death).

In the weeks since my mother-in-law has passed away, people have come up to me and asked ‘Are you alright?’, ‘How is Joe doing?’, ‘Are things beginning to settle down?’ and my knee-jerk reaction is to smile reassuringly at them and say that yes. Of course. I am holding down the fort while my family slogs through this. Everything is going to be alright.

I have answered this question dozens of times in the last two weeks, and then immediately second guessed myself. Should I have said something different? Should I have said ‘actually, no, the whole universe feels like bizarro world, and more so, why are my relationships with other people who have nothing to do with this at all, feel like they are changing?’ or perhaps ‘I’m okay, but my father in law wants to sell his house, the apartment in Florida, plus close down Linda’s office downtown and sell her van…I think he wants it all done by 6pm tonight, meanwhile my husband is slowly building up a list of things that are important to him from their house… I’ve measured the square footage of our house… and I’m pretty sure we are going to have to sleep in the backyard from now on.’

The truth is, I don’t know how to talk about grieving, or pretty much anything other than pleasantries. Perhaps it’s a side effect of being a stay at home parent and only having toddlers and young children to talk to for the last 8.5 years. But it’s so awkward, right? (No? Just me then?) The whole idea of figuring out if the person asking ‘how you are’ is really asking or if they will be ten steps past you before ‘I’m good’ has even tumbled from your lips. Finding the words that will sum up the entirety of the loop in your head about any given difficult situation and then narrating it in such a way that wont make the other party back away very slowly is hard!

But not for kids.

Kids get it. They aren’t born with empathy, but somewhere along the way they pick it up and run with it. When was the last time your co-worker returned from having a cold and you sing-songed her name while dancing circles around her? Or did your friend forget her snack so you let her have your stuffed animal at rest time, just to make her happy? At what point do we lose the ability to comfort and touch the people around us without restriction or gracelessness?

Yesterday at Marilyn’s school she was sitting at a table with another child when he said ‘So your grandma is dead, right?’ to which Marilyn replied ‘Yeah, but her name was Amma. She died. She’s in heaven now, but we cannot visit.’

Him: ‘Are you sad?’
Marilyn: ‘Yeah. I have a stuffed animal she gave me though. He’s a leopard.’
Him: ‘My grandma died too.’
Marilyn: ‘That’s sad. Did she give you a stuffed animal?’
Him: ‘She gave me a lot of books.’
Marilyn: ‘Do you want this orange crayon?’
Him: ‘Yep. Thanks’

Two five year old kids able to identify a common sadness, share sorrow, and then move on. That’s pretty neat. Or this conversation Sam had with me one evening after Shiva.

Sam: I just feel so sad.
Me: I know. But this is a sad thing, so that’s okay. Even though it doesn’t feel good.
Sam: Do you think Amma knew she was going to die?
Me: I’m not sure Sam. But I know she wasn’t scared, Daddy stayed with her the entire time.
Sam: I am going to need a lot of hugs.

There are times when nothing feels as good as a hug. A lot of hugs. For many days or weeks. Why don’t we, as adults, simply ask for what we need? Why is the craving to be comforted seen as weakness?

The Monday following my mother-in-laws passing, I sent the kids to school, worrying that they might cry, or become upset, and that maybe their peers would not know how to react to them, or they would feel embarrassed by their tears.

Sam, being older, held himself together for most of the day, seeking out a few trusted teachers to share his heart with. Marilyn spent the day alternating between being okay, and being full of tears. Marilyn’s peers showered her in affection, at one point, a full class group hug happened. At another, mysterious drawings full of sunshine and hearts, ‘I love yous’ and ‘feel betters’ ended up in her cubby. The next day, friends were bringing in toys from home for her, so great was their desire to make their friend feel better.

These stories, were the most healing and enlightening part of the past few weeks. To see my children encircled protectively by their friends and drawn close to be loved. I didn’t need to worry about how my kids would handle feeling sad. Feeling your feelings seems to be something we lose touch with in adulthood, but for kids, everything is a Big Feeling, all experiences, sad or happy are chances to bond with their fellow humans.

Lucky them, lesson learned.

In which we lose before we win.

It has been a long, long weekend. The entire month of November has served only as a reminder that not every month tries its hardest to beat me into the ground( even if this one did), but now it is December, and I am determined to find my center. Except not today.

I over slept today, and forgot about Judah’s speech therapy appointment. Joe and I gift shopped for the kids, but I left feeling like I had just spent a bunch of money on things I was going to yell at them to put away, or end up donating in six months time when they had forgotten they existed.

The kids were pummeling my very last nerve from ‘Go’, but I still tried to take them to Phipps Conservatory to salvage the afternoon, and then rushed Sam to his occupational therapy appointment. It was 5:30pm when he told me definitively “I do not want to go to Target with you.” and because I was as close to home as I was to the store, I drove home, and swapped kids.

Sam stayed home and Marilyn came to Target with me, assaulting me with approximately 45 questions before the sliding door of the minivan had closed.

Inside Target (did you hear the Angels chorusing just now? They love when I come in. Dollar signs replace the pupils of their eyes.) we did our regular loop. Inspect the dollar bins, bypass the juniors, women’s and men’s sections and head straight for the good stuff. Toys, home décor, kids clothes. We are somewhere down our 4500th aisle when Marilyn looks up horror-struck and asks me the dreaded question.

Mommy? Where is Luna?

Luna is her stuffed hamster who she calls a guinea pig, and she has carried her around 24/7 since she received her several weeks ago. Luna is the prized possession that causes outrage when Judah lays his hands on her. Luna has starred in nearly every photo of Marilyn since she was gifted to her, who sleeps in her bed at night, who waits patiently on her pillow for her return from school. In short, Luna is pretty damn important around these parts lately. And losing her was a big deal.

I wish I had been empathetic when this question was hyperventilated past my ears, but I wasn’t. I snapped “Are you kidding me? Why can’t you be responsible for your things? Luna is your responsibility Marilyn! Someone probably picked her up! She is probably long gone!” and even the rush of tears to Marilyn’s eyes could not stop my stupid mouth from admonishing her.

All I wanted to do was run to Target and get creamer for my coffee, plates for Judah’s birthday and maybe stare stupidly at the candles and try to remember when last I had filled a shopping cart of things purely for my pleasure instead of someone else’s.

Instead I spent forty minutes. Forty. Minutes. Re-tracing our steps. Cart area, dollar bins, customer service, kids clothing section, every aisle of the toy area, to where the groceries were, to the art section, birthday gift wrap, nothing. Back to the customer service section where we left our number, checked the lost and found, and retraced our steps again.

All the while I am telling Marilyn that it is her responsibility to look after her things and getting more and more angry. Why is it that I can’t just look hard enough to find Luna? If I just loop one more time, surely she will be there lying on the floor of one of the aisles. But she isn’t.

I check out, Marilyn has her head down, and I know she is crying.

“She’s gone.” I say. “I don’t know what to tell you.”
“You could tell me that you aren’t mad at me….” she sniffles. “Because you know it was an accident.”

It was then that I realized she was crying as much because of my reaction as she was because Luna was lost.

“I am not mad at you Marilyn, and I do know it was an accident. I’m sorry I lost my temper.” We walked to the car while my frustration at not finding Luna evolved into frustration with myself.

“You know, Marilyn, sometimes I just want to fix what is wrong, so that you are happy, because it makes me sad to see you sad. But I am not mad at you, I am mad that we couldn’t find Luna.”

I buckled her into her carseat, still hoping that maybe she had left the stuffed animal in the car, but that was not the case. I started to drive home and then pulled into Bakery Square, to the Learning Express. We walked in, and I said to her;

“Look! Here is a mouse! Maybe he can keep you company until Luna finds her way home.”

Marilyn was ecstatic.

“I always wanted a mouse!” she exclaimed. “I will call him Luna 2. And I promise I will not lose him. I will never, ever, ever lose him.” and then after thinking for a while she said “But if I do lose him, maybe next time you will replace him with a rabbit? A real rabbit? With a pink bow whose nails I can paint?”

Because for Marilyn, nothing is bad for long, and I still have the ability to shift the world back into its proper orbit. I have that power for myself, also. A parenting fail is only a fail so long as I mark it in that column. Not every lesson needs to shatter the Earth, sometimes a deep breath, (a load of inside-my-head-curse-words), and a really ugly-cute stuffed mouse can turn a L into a W. Sometimes feeling better is just enough to be enough.