Archive for category Parenting

Health Update and Request for Ripple Reviews

Hello friends. I hope the sun is shining on your Saturday with as much light and brilliance as it is shining on mine. It’s been an overwhelming week for me and for my family. We spent the greater part of the week in specialists’ offices and holding my son tight as we search for answers. While we still don’t have a diagnosis for what’s causing our son’s high blood pressure, our hopes our high and our faith is firm. We will find a cause and then a cure. In the meantime, I thank God every morning for another day, for me, for him, for all of us.

Your prayers and kind thoughts mean more to me than I can adequately express here. Please keep lifting my family up, and please know just how much we appreciate it. Truly, we are so grateful for your love and support.

As you may or may not know, Ripple’s planned release date is Monday, 1/21. I thought about delaying it, but right now, working is keeping me sane and helping me get my mind off my worries. With my family behind me, I’m going ahead and releasing Ripple on time. It’s true to my nature and true to what the characters in this novel would do were they in my shoes. No matter the circumstances, life must be lived, rather than set aside. And in living, and working, we can find relief from our difficulties.

Front and Back Cover

To those of you who were kind enough to advance read Ripple, I would be so very grateful if you could write an honest review on Amazon and/orGoodreads. And I do mean honest, with the gentle caveat that the more stars you give it, the more likely it is to end up in the hands of other readers.

I’d also like to send out a huge thank-you to Renée Schuls-Jacobson, who sent me a note late last night and single-handedly turned my Amazon blurb into a much better end product. My name may be on the title, but the writing of this first novel has been one I could not have done alone.

Here are the links to Amazon and Goodreads.

Amazon

Goodreads

And finally, to buy an autographed copy of Ripple, I think you can click on this link: Buy Autographed Copy of Ripple

And again, thank you all so very much for your support, and especially for your prayers and kind thoughts concerning my son.

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My Son: Holding Tight, Not Letting Go

He fidgets. We wait. He jumps up, runs over to the machine and looks all herky-jerky, happy, just wanting to play with one of those toys they give to kids. You know the toys, right? They’re packed into this glass case, and a kid deposits a fake coins into the dispenser after he gets done with the pediatrician.  In the old days, we got lollipops for our troubles, but modern kids, they’re all obese, or heading that way, so they get these cheap toys. Or so they say.

I look in the mirror and I see a fat woman and for the life of me, she won’t seem to go away. Stop, El. This isn’t thinking. It’s abuse, another form of it, and deep down, you don’t want that anymore.

 •••

  “Mom! I want this one! The jelly-wiggle!” He grins, all dimples and elbows, and dances around, in a circle, each hand raised with index fingers wagging toward the ceiling. When he dances like this, his face breaks into sharp angles that accentuate his Eastern-European chin dimple, which is, I just learned, caused by some strange genetic malformation of the chin bones. My husband has it. So did Kirk Douglas, and so does his son. The funny thing about this chin dimple is it makes a man look incredibly handsome.

It’s funny, isn’t it? The things that are malformed, not right, a little off, unique, can be the things that make a man, a boy, most loved. I always was taken with a chin dimple, and the fact that it’s a mistake, a genetic error, makes me even fonder of it.

“Shh,” we whisper. “Calm down, love.” He runs back and sits next to my husband, who wears a dark gray suit. Before I can count to ten, he jumps back up again, and stares, intense, eyes narrowed, at the jelly wiggler toy.

•••

She leaned over and scribbled something on his chart. I squinted. 160/102. No. The muscles around her eyes flexed and then she let go, and as her eye muscles retracted, she undid the blood pressure cuff, all the while speaking to my son. Rip, it went, and it sounded so loud in that coffin-quiet office with the pictures of our aging doctor and her three sons on the walls, and I leaned over and shut the office door.

“160/100,” I whispered to my husband, who was watching Dr. M while I held onto my tiny creature, not so tiny now, but in my mind’s eye, I see him as a baby.

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“Mama, was I this big?” He asks, holding his arms about a foot apart.

            I grin.

            He grins, and the grin is as big as his face. “The size of a football?”

            “Yeah,” I nod.

            “I could fit inside a football?” The light dances inside his eyes.

            “Yep.” Now I smile back at him. “That big. No bigger.”

She ripped off the elastic that makes the cuff grip his right arm so tight, and wheeled around, writing something down in his chart. It’s a thick chart for a six-year old. After all, we always joke, he’s our medical scare baby. When I was pregnant with Maddie, I got laser surgery on my eyes, and with those surgically-repaired eyes squinting, I could read her handwriting. 160/100.

It passed quickly. The appointment, I mean. But how fast will this pass? How fast will he pass?

Just a few days ago, he stood in front of the fridge in a Cambray button down shirt and baggy khakis, all serious and tiny, and in my mind’s eye, with both eyes fixed on all fifty-two pounds of him, I saw him as a fifteen or sixteen year old. He was tall and lanky and searching for a glass of water. For some reason, I often see him projected, his tiny form onto his future form, older, taller, a vision, a future ghost of the man he is becoming. It always makes me smile, he always makes me smile, this little boy of mine, this unique, quirky, challenging imperfect child, this sunshine, my sunshine, and I know I can hold on only for so long.

I never wondered if God was giving me this vision to comfort me, to let me know what this youngest son could have been, because he was no longer to be. But it’s weird, because I never see my other two children as older versions of their little selves. Just the baby of the family, my baby, this dimpled man-child of mine. Is God sending him to me, this future man, as a message, as a reminder, a letter of love and comfort and a promise that he will make it through this okay? Or is God reminding me to hold tight, so tight, because his time here is fast fading, fading?

 

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When You’re Trapped Between Work and Family: A Writer’s Doubts

This morning, I really, really wanted to chew a head off, or at a minimum, a hand. This is the absolute bane of all small business owners, particularly artists and writers: setting up a new business. Yeah, yeah, it’s exciting and I’m grateful and, well, yada, yada. But when three children are yowling, busting heads and basically working through their Ophelia, Hamlet and Polonius routine and the man is conducting scientific experiments in the kitchen, the whole process of arranging a freaking PayPal button on WordPress becomes more a bloodletting experience than anything else.

Unsex me now, I’m screaming inside . . . aw crap. I’m mixing up Macbeth and Hamlet. Did I mention that my fourth grader has chosen the latter as her topic for a book report? And somehow, in this vast library of ours, we’ve lost all five copies of said Hamlet? Right. It’s completely disconnected to my efforts to install a freaking PayPal button on WordPress (for autographed, pre-release copies of Ripple), except that while glaring at JavaScript and Text Edit and related noxious, horrifying thingies on the Mac, the fourth-grader mentioned that maybe we could go to the library.

And no decent mom refuses to take a child to the library, right? Right, but only after I get my new page set up on WordPress: this one. But right now, I gotta confess something: I’m not feeling like a decent mom. I’m trying, but I’m also working as hard as I used to work when I practiced law. Don’t get me wrong: this time around, I love my job, but I’m getting too obsessed with line edits, double spaces after periods (damn my eyes, I’m switching to single spaces), proof copies, mailing advance reviewer copies, and a plethora of other small details.

Front and Back Cover

You see, even though I’m self-publishing, I refuse to compromise quality. I’m rolling the dice on my own name and reputation, and it’s not like I can blame a secretary or intern or junior associate or asshole client if anything gets messed up. This book must look as good as anything that is traditionally published.

And you know what’s getting sacrificed right now? Sigh. Yep. My family. Or as Helen realizes in Ripple:

 Excellence may not be about making beds and cooking brownies, but excellence was about more than rising to the top of your profession. She’d fucked up. She hadn’t meant to. She really hadn’t meant to hurt her daughter, but she had. Her own excellence had been achieved by sacrificing her family and now she was paying the price for it. No, now Phoebe was paying the price for it, she realized, and she winced.

 Sometimes fiction mirrors life; other times, life mirrors fiction. All I know is that I need to find a balance, somehow. It doesn’t mean that I should give up trying to create the best product I can, but I need to try harder here on the home front. These twelve and fourteen hour days, after all, are nothing to be proud of—not when those hours take too much time away from my children.

How do you all do it, your working moms and dads? Do you feel trapped between work and home? As if you constantly fail work or family at the expense of the other?

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What Makes a Good Mom?

My daughter with light sabre.

When I opened my daughter’s door to tuck her in for bed, I caught a glimpse of a 9-year old flashing a toy light sabre at incoming storm troopers. Naturally I grabbed the other light sabre and joined her in her valiant fight. We were victorious.

I’ve written as of late about some serious topics, including my daughter’s bullying at school. We received news from the school that leaves me feeling cautiously optimistic, and I wanted to pass that optimism along to you, dear readers.

But this isn’t a post about that. It’s about my kids and me, or my daughter and me. And it’s about the kind of parent I try to be. I don’t try for “best in class” because it’s not about that. Good parenting is not about competing with other mothers or about trying to fulfill anyone else’s notion of what constitutes a good mother.

Speaking of “notions of what constitutes a good mother,” I don’t bake lemon bars, knit fancy scarves, volunteer at school, or in any way fulfill the traditional 1950’s-era definition of what makes a mother. Nothing against moms who do, but I don’t wear dainty skirts, keep a particularly neat house or even get the bills paid on time.  Christmas decorations may or may not come down after the first of January, beds may or may not be made up each day (and never with those super-neat “hospital corners”) and we may or may not arrive at soccer practice on time.

But.

Children receive hugs, often and pretty much on demand. Homework is always checked, and reading lists are assigned. Questions, even hard, icky ones, like “what does incest mean, Mom?” get answered. Balls are thrown, sometimes over the roof and into the backyard and back again.  God is spoken of every day, with or without the exact scripture referenced, but always with reverence and love.  And miles are walked, run and swam together, side by side, hand in hand, with a finish line that stretches ever onward.

At approximately 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, Thanksgiving morning, my daughter and I will reach an actual finish line.  We’re running a 10K Turkey Trot race together. It will be her first of no doubt many 10K races, and the fourth or fifth race we will have run together. She and I will feel the glow of achievement and a small glimpse of glory. We’ll eat our bananas and don our medals and grin at one another, speaking of the next race, the next finish line, beckoning from some distant horizon.  And together we will head, over one finish line, ever onward, always moving forward, with gratitude for this and every second, minute and finish line we pass.

Dear Readers . . . I don’t usually ask questions at the end of my posts, but I’m wondering–what do you do well as a mother or father?

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The Mendacity of a Zero Tolerance Bullying Policy

Here is what’s going down in my daughter’s life . . . to protect the privacy of all participants, I’m using initials instead of names, and in some cases have switched initials up.

Dear School Board Rep. MM:

Re: bullying of MEF

I am attaching the e-mail I sent to the principal at TCES. My daughter, MEF, a 4th grader in Ms. GB’s class, has been subjected to bullying all year, which has now culminated in assault. We are considering contacting the police and we certainly will do the same if another hand is laid on my daughter. One of the children involved in the assault has been harassing MEF since second grade. At that point, Ms. Principal S switched my daughter into a different class. In this case, that will not be a satisfactory resolution.

TCES has a so-called zero tolerance bullying policy, which as far as I can tell simply protects the strong from serious repercussions. Given the increase of teenage and even pre teenager suicide that results from bullying, I am very concerned that the school isn’t doing more. While my daughter is not as of yet demonstrating signs of depression, she is showing an increasing desperation and sense of isolation. To date, she has tried to stand up to the children who have been hurting her, and somehow this has led her teacher to argue that MEF gives out almost as well as she gets. I find this more frightening than laughable.

Regards,

ELF___________

 From: ELF
Subject: bullying
Date: November 15, 2012 4:04:51 PM EST
CC. Principal S

Hello GB:

As we mentioned during our Parent-Teacher Conference earlier this month, we are concerned about KZ’s bullying of MEF. This has been occurring all year and today, it culminated with my daughter racing off the bus in tears. Apparently at recess, MEF was sitting alone and playing a game. Three boys (AK L, DG and KZ) marched over and spat at her (which they also did yesterday). One of them ran up and called her a “Guana [sic] Pig” and “Ninja Pig” and when two girls tried to intervene, KZ pushed MEF, causing her to fall down. AK kept calling MEF these nasty names; then DG shoved and pushed MEF into playground equipment. MEF tried to chase them away, and they screamed, “Leave foul beast.” At some point, AK said, “I hope your little ‘sister’ dies” (referring sarcastically to my son TJF, who tried to stand up for his sister during recess yesterday). At some point during this, MEF called KZ a “stupid idiot.”

At the end of this, KZ told MEF that she’d better not tell on him, or else he would tell on her and say that she was bullying him. This, of all the things I’ve heard from MEF, disgusts me the most. She admits to calling KZ a “stupid idiot” only after she was shoved, pushed, called epithets, struck, made fun of and basically tortured.

I do not want to hear what I heard earlier this year: that “boys will be boys.” No. You have a zero tolerance bullying policy. Let’s go ahead and see that policy in force.

Let me be clear: this is a clear pattern of bullying. We have spoken with you regarding DG, Ms. Principal S. In second grade, we switched MEF to a different class after he sexually harassed her. I don’t want him to ever lay a hand on my daughter again and I don’t know how else to make this clear. And Ms. GB, this is at least the fourth time I’ve raised the issue of bullying, either in writing or in person, this year. MEF loves being in Ms. GB’s class. At this point, if anyone is moved, it must be the perpetrators and not the victim.

I would appreciate if this e-mail is forwarded to the parents of all involved children. And Husband and I request an action plan.

Regards,

ELF
___________________

Mr. Vice Principal PBJ:

Thank you for calling me earlier. I’ve received the rest of the story.

MEF just got home from school and told me she was afraid to answer your question about pushing. To your “leading question” of, “Do you think it’s okay that you pushed the boys,” she didn’t answer what she was really thinking. At that point, she’d given up. It isn’t polite to argue with adults, mom.  What she said to me was, “I was trying to protect myself from them. I wouldn’t survive if I didn’t fight back. Especially when they’re spitting at me and calling me bad words. But I didn’t bother telling Mr. PBJ that because he didn’t want to hear it. They don’t really care. Why can’t you just transfer me to a different school, anyway?”

At school today, Ms. GB caught AK and KZ (I think) while they were spitting at MEF. (to MEF’s tremendous relief, Ms. GB gave them a serious rebuke). AK was also bragging that he’d lied and told you that MEF had hit AK (which is nonsense). AK thinks it’s hilarious that he’s pulled one over on you and has somehow convinced you that MEF has bullied THEM. I refer, as exhibit 1, to MEF’s near-perfect behavior record. Seriously. Go ask all her prior teachers.

Oh, and one other thing MEF did not tell you: she has tried to defend herself physically in the past. One day she hit KZ, in the stomach, at recess when he was bullying her. He laughed at her and called her a “weakling.” I fear that she will try to protect herself and will suffer harm at the hands of these boys, who are much bigger, stronger and heavier than her.

What’s happening here is a small, sweet kid is trying, really, really hard to take matters into her own hands. She is trying to create a safe space for herself. When she tried to do that and enjoy some peace, the boys invaded her space (a situation that seemed laughable to you because it involved a make-believe “command center”), spat at her, called her a PIG . . . and then she’s in trouble for pushing them? This is nonsense. Unlike some of the kids in her class, she is not a violent kid, but she’s trying to do her best “to survive,” as she put it. If you don’t act soon, someone is going to get hurt. Please work with me to keep my child safe. I am not satisfied with your response.

Regards,

ELF

On Nov 16, 2012, at 4:54 PM, PBJ wrote:

Good Afternoon ELF,

I am sorry that MEF has the perception that we do not care about what she said because we do.  As I said on the phone, our goal is to make TCES an inviting, safe space for all of our children.   We have begun taking steps to address the concerns we uncovered today and will continue to do so.   I would be happy talk with you further about this either on the phone, or, if you prefer, we can meet next week.  Please let me know how you would like to proceed.  I expect I will be here for at least another thirty minutes, if you would like me to call you tonight please let me know.

PBJ

We won’t stop.

ELF      Date:   November 16, 2012 5:01:24 PM EST

To:       PBJ

I’m far too upset–in tears– to speak to anyone more tonight.

____________

I wasn’t exaggerating. Before I’d typed this, I’d asked all three children to go outside for 15 minutes.  So I could cry.  I needed to break down, feel weak, feel this, for just 15 minutes.  Then I got my shit together, which really only happened when my husband walked across the threshold.

After I took a run, I calmed down and got back on the computer.  A friend of mine sent me a note last night.  She told me a pretty haunting story about a bully named KZ (the same KZ) who tortured one of her son’s friends so badly last year that the child transferred to another school. Yep.  The victim transferred to another school.  My friend added that she heaved a sigh of relief when finding that KZ was not in her child’s class this year. “My son is happy again.”

KZ has chosen another victim: my daughter. His parents don’t or won’t intervene. Meanwhile, the school has erected a smattering of anti-bullying signs around the hallways—the same hallways KZ prowls, searching for victims. 

He preys on the sweet kids. The ones who wear glasses, or are a little bit unique, or aren’t surrounded by a posse at all times. And he’ll keep on hunting until the school stops him. You know what sort of thing happens when the school bureaucrats don’t act?  Kids take their own lives, or they bring a gun into school and . . . well.  Columbine.

What do we do?  I’ve prayed on this a lot.  I’ve prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill me; I’ve asked Him for peace and love and I’m still praying, and pretty damn confused.  I know one thing for sure.  I will not go along with the blanket of secrecy that the school uses to shroud the misdeeds of out of control students.  I will fight, and I will not stop until my daughter is safe. So help me God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Hail Mary Pass Thrown into Swirling Gust of Wind: Medicating AD/HD

I paced back and forth in front of my son’s first grade classroom, waiting for his teacher to finish talking to another child’s parents.  My husband tries to come to as many parent-teacher conferences as work permits, but I’d scheduled this one for 10 A.M. on Election Day, so I was going into the breach solo.  And while I didn’t want to feel scared and worried and a little sick to my stomach, I did.

Too often, these conferences hadn’t gone well in the past.  At the very first one, when Ben was still in preschool, his teacher glared at me with this serious, disapproving look.  “You know, you’d better get a handle on this sooner than later, when there’s still time.  Otherwise, he’s going to end up in jail.”

I glanced at my husband in shock.  “Jail?”  I gasped.

“Jail,” she repeated.  “At this rate, with this much oppositional behavior, this much anger, jail.”

In case you’re wondering, we switched preschools after that.

Things got worse before they got better.  When Ben was in kindergarten, I would jump when the phone rang.  If it wasn’t the school calling, I breathed a sigh of relief.  When I visited Ben at school for lunch, his classmates told me that my dear son was “bad.”  As I have written here, this hurt like hell.  I felt powerless and not a little clueless.  The last thing I wanted to turn to was the medicine cabinet.

But we did it anyway, both for our son’s sake, and for our own.  The payoff was not immediate because we had him on too low of a dose: 10 mg of Metadate, which is a generic form of Ritalin.  But once we got the dosage right (20 mg), the turnaround was immediate.

And yet, as I stood in front of Mrs. X, I wasn’t sure.  It had been about three weeks since we’d increased Ben’s dose, and we hadn’t heard from her except for one phone call, which I received the day after we increased Ben’s dose.  It had been a really weird call.  Mrs. X called for the sole reason of telling me that Ben had behaved well all day.  Was this an anomaly, or a new beginning for our troubled six-year old?

Before I even sat down in front of Mrs. X, I knew the answer was the latter: Ben had gotten a fresh start.  A redo, a do-over.  “You know, I’ve been looking forward to this meeting,” beamed Mrs. X.  “It’s been like night and day, like a sun rising, ever since you made the brave step of getting him the help he needed.”

“Really?”  I couldn’t breathe so I tried to sit down without smashing my knees into the tiny table in front of me.  I’m clumsy like that.

“Yes.  Really.  The transformation has been the biggest one I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of AD/HD kids.  Sometimes the meds help a little.  Sometimes a lot.  In his case, he’s gone from . . .”  Mrs. X paused to find a tactful way to say it.  “Well, from struggling, to being helpful, and attentive, and funny and . . . oh so kind.  I mean, he was always sweet and affectionate, but my gosh.  Now he gives me flowers, tells me how much he loves me—“

—“He’s always been so affectionate and sweet,” I murmured, my heart hurting.

She nodded.  “The great thing is that you made this change for him early in the year.  So his classmates won’t always remember him getting in trouble.  I mean, they all struggled to figure out the rules in the beginning, so he didn’t stick out as much in their minds.  And now he’s getting along with his classmates.  He’s funny and well-liked and . . .”  Her voice trailed off and she smiled at me.

Some decisions, when viewed from hindsight, seem obvious.  Other ones seem divinely inspired, like small miracles.  But the decision to medicate our son was more like a Hail-Mary pass thrown into a swirling gust of wind: a combination of savvy quarterbacking, divine guidance and a tad of blind luck all in one.

 

 

 

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4 Soccer Games, 17 Library Books, 6 Donuts, 4 Slurpees . . .

Three kids, four soccer games, seventeen library books, six donuts, four Slurpees . . . such is the first equation that best describes the math of our Autumn Saturday.

Between soccer games, we all ended up in the kitchen.  With a bottle of water in one hand, I leaned against the countertop, watching as my husband ate a “Muffeletta” sandwich we’d bought yesterday from The Italian Store in Arlington, Virginia.

Our middle child, Travis James Farris, Jr., or “Jim,” sat facing my husband.  “Dad, when I write ‘Junior’ after my name, it makes me proud to have your name.”  Jim’s voice, still high pitched, echoed against the red walls in our kitchen, and I smiled.

Before I could say anything, my husband set his Muffeletta down and wiped his hands on his paper towel.  “Well, son, I’m very proud to share my name with such a great kid. I don’t think I’ve told you today just how awesome you are.”

I glanced at Travis, who was once again grasping his “manwich,” and nodded at the clock.  He sighed; I sighed; and we started to check shin pads, cleats, water bottles and soccer balls.  Fifteen arguments, three Facebook status updates, four missed calls and an entire box of obliterated Munchkin donuts later, I sat in my husband’s big, striped fabric chair in the kitchen, typing up some research notes about angels on my silver Macbook Pro.  My youngest child whizzed around me, and we played our “I love you game.”

I started.  “I love you more than all the leaves in the backyard.”

Ben’e eyes lit up as I spoke.  Before I finished, he danced in front of me.  “I love you more than all the trees in America.”

“Sun, moon, stars.”

He grinned, all dimples showing, and yelled, “Mom I love you more than anything, even God.”

I smiled back at him, and put a hand on his shoulder.  “Not more than God.  You must love Him most.”  I paused mid-negotiation long enough to mix a smile into my sober response.  “How about except God?”

“Oh, okay, except God.”  He hopped around again.  “And I won’t let anyone hurt you.”  My six-year old, 48-pound boy grinned at me while he sipped his Slurpee. “And if anyone tries to hurt you, I will protect you.  If someone comes at you with a knife, I will hit them, or cut their head off!”

“Um . . .”

Ben jumped up and added, “Look at the picture I drew for you, Mom!  It has pink hearts on it, and me, and you.”

I glanced over at the drawing of two blue-colored people holding hands on a scrap of wrinkled white paper.  Admittedly, I was a little relieved to see that there were no weapons mixed in with the pink hearts that circled the blue-colored sketch of mother and son.  I knew, just as my husband knew–just as my entire family knows–what it means to feel loved, and my soul rang out with laughter and with light.

 

 

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Sleepless in Virginia

I can’t sleep tonight.  My husband, a Den Leader for my son’s Cub Scout Troop, is out at Burke Lake on a campout with our two sons.  My daughter is asleep and I am approximately 393,234 sheep from sleep.  Here are a list of things keeping me from sleeping tonight:

1. Is the new air mattress comfortable?

2. Are the boys too cold?

3. Did Travis take his meds?  Did I?

4. Will Ben’s scar go away soon?  Damn.  We forgot to put on the scar-reducing lotion.  I need to buy some Vitamin E from Freshfields.

5. Did I really shut the garage door? Would it be neurotic to check it for the third time?  If I went and checked it, I could get the clothes out of the dryer but I can’t find the brown laundry basket and the white one is full of clean laundry.

Ben’s scar

6. Will my headache ever go away?  I think I gave myself a mild concussion when I knocked the contents of the top shelf of Ben’s bookcase on my head.  I cradled my head in my hands, sunk to the floor, and called for a medic, or the chief medical officer of our household.  That’s the Cup Scout leader of course.  I’m so grateful it was only a passing head wound.  I lay there on the floor thinking about all the doctors and nurses who have taken care of me in the past.  They comforted me each time and promised me I’d be okay, and I was.  I could tell from their faces that they’d seen far worse injuries than mine.

7. Is lip balm addictive? What if it is found to cause cancer, like saccharine?  Oh crap.  How many bottles of diet coke have I had over the years? How about regular soda?  Coke is usually too sweet, but I love Slurpees, especially with Coke mixed with Cherry and that blue stuff. How many calories does a regular sized Slurpee have?  And why do they have to make them with Aspartame in the lemon-lime flavor?

8. What if the anti-diarrheal tablets are expired and I get diarrhea? That makes me giggle.

9. It’s so quiet I can hear my heartbeat.  My resting heart rate should be 60 BPM or lower but I’m not resting.  I should check it right now but if it’s above 60 BPM, I’ll stay up all night wondering if I’m going to get a panic attack.  If I get a panic attack, I’ll have to call Travis on his cell phone and what if his cell phone is out of batteries?  Will that mean he doesn’t love me enough to keep batteries operational?  Crap.  Did he replace the batteries in the black flashlight?

10. Did the boys brush their teeth?

11. It’s too quiet.  Why are the frogs gone?  I miss the frogs and they won’t be back until spring.  In spring, the pollen returns and Maddie is allergic to pollen.  Remember when she had to take Xopenex 3-4 times a day for months at a time?  Or the time she had to stay on the Nebulizer for the entire winter after I took the kids out in the rain in December and all three of them got pneumonia . . . man was I scared.  And I was secretly convinced thay it was my fault they all caught pneumonia.  That had to have been my fault, right?

12. How far away is Florida from Seattle?  Baltimore is what, 2,700 miles from Seattle?  Remember when they showed the flight plan in Harry Met Sally?  And can men and women really not be” just” friends?  What’s my friend Sam doing right now?  I should text her.  It’s only 9:30 in Seattle.

13. The Marine Corps Marathon is in seven days and seven hours. This time next week I’ll really be freaking out.  Damn.  My heart just sped up.

I should stop at 13.  Wait.  I’m supposed to write out “thirteen.”  Speaking of number thirteen, I refuse to believe in silly superstitions.  So does my Maddie.  Obdurate and strong, she wears the number thirteen.  That is one of the many things I like about her.

She and I watched A League of Their Own Tonight.  It’s the first time she’s seen it, and the fourth time I’ve seen it.  I still cried at the end, and after it was over, we talked about it.  She wanted to know my story.

I grew up as a serious ballplayer . . . but tonight was the first time I could really explain it to my daughter.  We talked some, and then she hugged me and gasped, “Wow–so that’s the sport you grew up playing?

“Yep.  I won championships.  I was a pitcher, like Kit.”

Madeline stared at me, a little breathless.  “You were?”

I grinned.  “Come on Maddie.  How many moms throw like I do?”

With her arms wrapped around my neck, she replied, “None. You throw like Dottie.”

I nodded.  “And I can teach you how to throw like that too.”

Goodnight friends.  It’s one a.m. here in Northern Virginia.  I’m not going to bed yet.  But I hope you are sleeping in the arms of the person you love most.

And if you’re in the mood to chat, please tell me some of the things that keep you up at night.

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Running and Mom Guilt

One kid, then a second, and then a third jumped-tumbled off the high bus steps and gang-tackled me.  After hugging them back, I walked behind the boys with my daughter, who chattered about her day.

“I have something I want to ask you about,” I began, my arm resting on her shoulder.  “All of you.”

She squinted up at me through the afternoon sunlight.  “Why?  What?”

I started to explain what was bothering me as we kicked our shoes off by the steps to the laundry room.  Standing there, with my fingers wrapped around the door frame, I felt off-balance.  One time, years ago, I had shut the door on my son’s little fingers when he used the frame to maintain his balance, and since then, I’d been afraid of sticking my fingers in the space between the door’s edge and the door frame.  And yet for some reason, I still did it every day anyway.  Once I got my purple and bright yellow running shoes off my feet, I breathed a sigh of relief that my fingers were intact, and slammed the thick white laundry room door behind me.

I removed lunchboxes from backpacks, stacked the three backpacks in the space between the china cabinet and the dining room wall and set snacks in front of the kids.  For a few minutes, everyone talked at once about their day, three overlapping voices forming the ever-shifting mosaic of our life as a family.

 I leaned against the kitchen counter top, which is where I usually stand when I’m in the kitchen.  Since the accident, I almost never sit down at the table.  It’s become my new normal and no one thinks anything of it.  When my husband isn’t around, sometimes I jump up and sit on top of the counter, right near the spice drawer, which is where I used to sit as a child.  This annoys my husband.  He thinks it’s going to break the counter, so it’s one of my many guilty pleasures, I guess.

“So, guys, I need to ask you something.  I have this race tomorrow, but I’m thinking it’s going to take me away too long from you.  That’s making me feel really bad.  It seems unfair.”

“Yeah, Mom, you are gone a lot on the weekends.  Why do you have to work so much?”

I sighed and looked at Maddie.  “I’m writing a novel, hun.  And it’s important.”  I took a deep breath.  Was I really gone that much?  “Anyway, I would be gone, like, the entire day, from before breakfast to dinner.  And so I wanted to let you decide.  And whatever you decide is fine with me.  I’ll honor it.  If you want me home, I’ll not go to the race.”

Jim’s eyes brightened.  He didn’t need to speak.  I had his answer.

Then Maddie did one of her smile-shrug-hair flips, with a dozen other facial expressions thrown in for emphasis.  She’s able to convey more without speaking than any other little girl I’ve met.  With her voice rising to a higher pitch as she spoke, she spoke.  “I want for you to do what makes you happy, Mom.”

I sighed.  “No, I’m asking you what makes you happy.”

She twirled her hair.  “Well, it will make you happy to run the race, won’t it?  You’ve trained for it.  You’d be disappointed if you didn’t run it, wouldn’t you?”

I felt like Hell.  She cared about me—that was obvious.  She wanted me to be happy—that was also obvious.  But did she just not want me around?  I tried to pull it together.  “I don’t want you to miss me while I’m doing something that will make only me happy.  What you want is very important to me.”

She shrugged.  Her faces twisted in concentration.  “You are gone a lot on the weekends.  But we’re okay with Dad.”

“So you want me to be gone then?”  It was a stupid thing to say, but before I could right the ship, Ben, with a bored look on his face, swung around in his chair and exclaimed, “I want you to go run it.  We’ll hang out with Dad.”

That stung.  I tried to inspect him, to understand his words, to find the hidden resentment, but I think he was just speaking without filter, saying what he really was thinking, which he usually does anyway.   Tears were rising, but I pushed that back down.

“Am I really gone that much?”

Maddie wince-smiled, and I tried to read everything she was thinking, just as she was trying to read me.

“Okay.  Maddie.  Please.  What do you want me to do?  I want to be here and I want you to be happy.  That’s job one.  Be a good mom.  Take care of y’all.  That’s my job.  What you need to concentrate on is not what makes me happy.  I want to know what makes you happy, okay?”

She nodded.  I could almost see the gears moving in her head.

“So, do you want me to stay home tomorrow?  You have the deciding vote.  And it’s perfectly okay.”

She smile-shrugged again, and twirled her hair.  “It would be nice to have you around.  But what about all of your training?”

I breathed.  Finally.  “The training is fine.  There will be other races.”

“Are you sure?  It’s okay if you want to run it.”

I crossed the room and opened the fridge door.  As I pivoted, slamming the door shut behind me, I thought real fast.  This was absurd.  I was being absurd.  This wasn’t really their decision.  It was my decision, all the way.  Even if it hurt me that Ben didn’t seem to want me home, I wasn’t going to run from my responsibility.  Even if staying home meant admitting I’d been gone too much, I wasn’t going to run from this.  Even if it meant facing my guilt, I could do that.  I could even face my guilt for being away too much and being too busy and too absorbed in my work without turning it into a shame-making session with my past, present and future ghosts haunting me.

Because, you see, I thought to myself, I can control how the future works out with me and my children by slamming the door shut on this race, and this disengaged parenting, right here, right now.  They won’t remember the Saturdays I disappeared, or at least won’t be haunted by them, if I change–if I manage to be here going-forward, most Saturdays and Sundays.  I’m in charge of how our family turns out, and all I got to do is be here, and when here, actually be present.  I can do all of that without sacrificing my work, and my happiness.

After guzzling half a liter of ice-cold water, I rubbed my mouth on my sleeve and then nuzzled my daughter’s head.  “I’m sorry I’ve been gone so much.  I’ll try harder.”

It took a few more passes for us to reassure one another that all was well, and then I changed the subject back to the contents of their day.  And as they unpacked their day like a woman unloads the contents of her purse, I tried to sort through my feelings.  Feeling guilty paralyzed me, and so I had to try to set that aside and think things through.  Had I been gone too much?  Maybe; maybe not.  Children can be self-absorbed.  So can I.  I never really grew up.  In some ways, I’m still a life coming into being, rather than a finished product.  And the thing is, I was profoundly unhappy when I was just a stay at home mom.  No offense to SAHMs (Hell, moms that don’t work get their own acronym just like some neighborhoods garner their own zip codes, so they must be doing something with all of their time, right?), but I lost my sense of self when I stopped working. 

I love being a mom.  But I didn’t love being just a mom.  I’m not much good at most things domestic, and I never felt comfortable with the other SAHMs.  I felt like the ugly swan around them, and deep down, I knew I didn’t belong.  As the days revolved and became years, I felt constrained and trapped and overwhelmed with the unchanging routine of it all.  I wasn’t very good at running a household and I never wanted to be.

Which is not to say I didn’t love being home with my children.  I did.  And they knew I loved them.  Maybe that’s why they didn’t mind when I disappeared for hours on my long runs—because when I got home, I brought my grinning self to the threshold and bestowed hugs and laughs and well-timed winks.  Running made happy, and being happy made me a better mom.   Within limits, running made me a better mom.

I guess it’s all about balance.  I’d never quite found it.  Every day I reached out and tried to hold onto something stable to find it, because I was always moving so damn fast.  But as a mom, I had to be my own doorframe.  I had to provide the ballast to keep the ship afloat, and to do that, I had to stand still, if only for a few moments at a time, or else I was going to run my family aground.  And ships, like families, get pretty messed up when that happens.

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Guest Post: With God’s Love I’ll Be Okay

Most mornings start like this morning: I wake from dreams where I’m stuck in the past. In these dreams, I’m trying to run, talk, plead or beg my way out of a remembered time or place, real or symbolic, from childhood.  My childhood, as captured in my dreams, is a prison my mind, my past, and my family once put me in.  I try everything to escape, but the only way out of that hell is by turning my eyes to the morning light  . . .

To read the rest of today’s blog post, please go visit me at The Monster in Your Closet, where I’m guest posting for my dear friend Deb Bryan.
By the way, I’m really, really excited to be over at Deb’s virtual home. She’s like a sister to me. So really, please click HERE to read today’s blog post.

 

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