“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Saturday, May 12, 2018

What Makes Her Beautiful

In preparation of Mother's Day, I asked my boys today what they liked best about my mother. Without hesitating, they all answered, "Her cooking." Okay...lame and obvious. I asked what they loved to do with her.

"We love when she tells us stories about you and how crazy you were."

Okay, before anything else, let the record show that I was not crazy. If anything, crazy well-behaved. But that's it. I was a freaking angel.

Anyway.

It's funny because that's my favorite thing about my mom, too. I love the stories she tells about her life. First because the life she's had from beginning to end is unique and fascinating, but also because I love imagining how she saw herself when she was young and comparing it to who she is now.

I know she was beautiful. I think she was fearless. I know that she snuck cigarettes in the high school bathroom. She liked high ponytails. But when I see pictures of her from when she was young, I notice something else, too.

She is stunning, isn't she? But...she didn't smile much. At least not in pictures. Her face here is perfect, at least to me, her daughter. I did not inherit such a face, or her sleek black hair. And still, the first time I ever saw this picture, she snatched it right up and said, "Wasn't I gorgeous?" (She's funny like that.)

I don't know where I got this from, but I'm a blurter. As in, I have to be really careful to control the stop sign that's supposed to be between my brain and my mouth, and I'm not always good at it. So in that moment, I blurted, "You look like a bitch."

She wasn't offended. She laughed out loud and said, "Well, that's because I was!"

Well okay then.

Tonight is the eve of a Mother's Day where her baby girl is thirty-eight. There are many, many more pictures of my mom now, and though she is older and smarter and, as my children can attest, a marvelous cook, I know she does not like that she has grown older. 

I've tried to argue with her, but she usually changes the subject abruptly or gets sad. So mostly I steer clear of the topic altogether. I mean, I'm thirty-eight and I miss being a teenager who used to pretend she was only borrowing the car to go to library and then picked up her best friend and went cruising through South Buffalo with the windows rolled down, looking for boys. I get it. It's just that when I look at my mother, I see something very different than she does.

I see her sitting alone in the morning when it was still dark, a cup of coffee next to her on the table, enjoying the rare silence that mothers crave. I see her standing at the front of a checkout line with her scary eyes demanding that a cashier give her the sale price. Coming into my room when I was younger and upset about some silly thing, trying not to smirk, always able to make me laugh. Always able to make the problem feel small and make my heart feel big. I remember my cousin John Conor being upset about something once, and my mom jumped up just as his chin bunched up to cry, and she took his hand and said, in her trademark matter-of-fact voice, "Come on, let's go see if I have some candy somewhere." When she talks like that, people don't argue. They don't question. It's like a magic spell. They're momentarily confused, probably thinking, "Wait...candy? But...I'm upset. Or am I?" and they follow this woman who confidently leads the way. And within minutes, the only thing any of us ever think is, "God, I love her."

It doesn't matter that she is forgetful and scatterbrained and probably suffering from ADD at some sort of exponential level. When things go wrong, she is the person I want. And I pray with all my heart that in thirty years, that is how my boys feel. And...not just that they will want me. That they know I will always be here for them. I will never say no. Because that's how my mother is for me.



When she looks in the mirror, I know she wishes she saw that sixteen-year-old version of herself, poised in white gloves beside a fireplace and refusing to look at the camera. But look at her now. Do you see the difference? All these years, all these Mother's Days--and birthdays and Christmases and Thanksgivings and grandchildren--and yes, her face has changed. It radiates with happiness. It is the embodiment of love, the real, raw kind that holds on to you and swears it won't let you fall. 

I don't think I have ever seen anyone more beautiful.

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Summer Girl

I measure years by summers. It began with being young and in school, and was perpetuated by becoming a teacher and a mom. When I say this year or next year, I'm speaking in terms of time span that runs from September through June, with July and August existing in a magical limbo that is disconnected from everything else.

I wrote once, long ago, of blossoming trees. As the leaves come out and fill the skyline with green, I think of all those leaves will see in their short lifetime. They live during magical limbo, and drift off when the new year begins. When they begin to fall, my heart hurts for the ending of my favorite time of year.

Today the brand new leaves saw my four-year-old son take on the world wearing khakis, a button-down shirt, and his Phantom of the Opera mask. One of the things I've learned as a teacher is to let kids be comfortable being as weird as they are. I will not squash his Phantom love out of him. Sometimes he wears the cape. Sometimes he wears the whole tux, and I'm not kidding. The leaves of this summer will see my littlest boy embracing his weirdness.

They will see my oldest embrace his newfound independence. Riding his bike through the neighborhood, going to movies sans parents in groups that include--gulp--GIRLS. What I love most about the way I've raised him is that every day since kindergarten I've sent him off with the message, "Try your best and be kind to everyone." I see the fruit of that now. It didn't always feel like he was listening; it still doesn't. But then I see the way he reaches out to friends, and to people who aren't his friends. He tries to understand everyone's backstory so their attitudes, often different from his own, don't bother him. "Be everyone's friend," I tell him. "Don't get involved with the negative stuff. Just be neutral. Just be kind."

The leaves will see my middle boy struggle as he always does. I say the same things to him that I do to his brothers, but his response is different because he is different. And that's okay. I like my little middle. The leaves will watch him take his confusing world and mold it into what works for him, and I love that.

Dear Summer Leaves,

I pray that you will whisper with soft warm breezes and bless us with a kind of pixie dust that makes us strong and healthy, quick to smile, slow to anger. Bring us moments that will stay in our hearts like photos in an album. Bring us chances to rise up and make our lives special, even when it is daunting to do so. Help us to spread goodness where it is needed, and to make the world as magical as you are.

Love,

A Summer Girl


Saturday, May 5, 2018

Slice of Life

This is going to be poorly written, but if I don't do it now I won't remember it. And it so perfectly sums up the chaos that is my life.

Where do I start.

Joe and I have an event to attend tonight, which means we need a babysitter. That means, at least to me, that I have to do a run through the house with bleach and Pledge and make sure it at least looks good enough for me to say, "Oh, my, excuse our mess! Tee hee!" instead of "Please don't call CPS."

So I'm running around, scrubbing the toilets and wiping the mirrors behind every sink, because boys are gross and for some reason when they spit out water they need it to be like putting a thumb over the hose nozzle.

When it looked decent (and it doesn't; I left two full baskets of laundry downstairs by the entry of all places...I hope remember to move that), I was like, "Okay. Shower." Get the older brother to watch the younger brother. Warnings and threats about behavior because these two are oil and vinegar. Or really, vinegar and vinegar. Or like...machete and machete. I don't know. Dangerous combo. So, yeah. Warnings and threats.

Dash up the stairs (of which I'm terrified because I almost died falling down them four weeks or so ago), fling off my clothes, and hop into what will most assuredly be a half-assed shower.

Through the steam, I see my four-year-old son run into the bathroom. I can see he is wearing one gardening glove and is brandishing scissors. The wrong way. They're safety scissors, but I've always found that ascription to be a bit of an oxymoron.

"NO SCISSORS!!!!" I screamed.

Even through the steam, I can see he is annoyed. Like, "Guh. Mom is so stupid, thinking I'd hurt myself with scissors."

Whatever. He put them down.

Then, I hop out of the shower, and I'm wrapped in a towel running around (is this too much information? apologies, but really, it's life, right?) and I see Max in the hallway in his underpants and bright orange socks, yanking on his Thomas the Tank bathing suit.

"Max!"

He put a hand up, like a crossing guard about to let children cross the road. "I have a cold. I'm very sick and I need a shower." He was so matter-of-fact (and also lying), I was momentarily stunned into speechlessness, before I said, "Just take your socks off first."

I mean, really. I just can't.

Right now he's lying on his belly on the floor of my shower waving his arms and legs around like he's swimming, and he has a plastic dinosaur next to him. The safety scissors are on my counter and the gardening gloves lays in the wait on the floor.

He's singing Phantom of the Opera songs louder than a Broadway diva. I gotta get outta here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Middle Child

When I turned ten, my older brother said to me, "That's it. You'll have double digits for your age for the rest of your life."

This gave me a complex that lasted at least three years. I was the baby in our family. It was my Role. Having left behind my single-digit era, I found myself in an identity crisis of Wendy Darling proportions. Except she was an oldest...so even that failed to serve as comfort. (Poor me.)

This is far from being the only complex inspired by my older brother. Scarred by his dethronement as youngest by my unexpected existence, I was subject to all sorts of twisted tomfoolery. I was backup to his lead in our pretend band. I was placed in precarious situations (like dangling from our second floor bannister) so that he could play the part of Superman and rescue me. And of course, I was forever subject to playing the part of the younger brother he never got to have. I played GI Joes (but never the cool guys; I always had to be the unwanted character), He-Man (same situation), and a gamut of sports that has left me with many physical scars, including a permanent lump on the left side of my head. I was never going to be an athlete due to lack of talent, but being forced to pretend in order to fill the part of the missing opponent may have sealed any possibility of attempt.

Even so, I love my brother heaps and we've grown past these silly sibling issues (mostly). But what always strikes me is the irony of how he has been reincarnated (while still being alive) in the body of my own middle child. Mr. Noah.

There are a few words that can best describe Noah. They may not immediately make sense to an outsider, but it's more about putting them together to paint a bigger picture. Ready? Emergency. Fireball. Black hole. Maniacal laugh. Compassionate. Bursting. Disgruntled. Senior citizen.

Day after day for the last ten years, walking hand-in-hand with this child has been like trying to pull a wagon that has blocks for wheels up a hill riddled with potholes and stubborn thorny bushes. But, imagine if you will, the feeling of great satisfaction that fills the heart when you get that wagon to the top of the hill, square wheels and all?

That is what it's like to have a good day with Noah.

He's not easily swayed by much. By pure coincidence, my sister and I both bought him a copy of A Wrinkle In Time this Christmas. When he unwrapped the one I'd bought him Christmas morning, he'd made a face like it was a pair of socks or underwear and then wordlessly cast it aside. My English teacher's heart broke.

Imagine my reaction when he opened the same thing from my sister later that day and expressed...joy? Excitement!

What a little jerk.

Anyway. He read the book cover to cover in less than a week. And then, because he's Noah, he had the frustrating audacity to sidle up to me for a snuggle and say in a googly, lovey voice: "You were so right, Mom. It was the best book. I loved it." Right. But only because Aunt Jane recommended it. (For the record, I totally watched to see which physical copy he chose to read from; mine gathered dust beneath the Christmas tree.)

But Aunt Jane wasn't the person he invited to see the movie. That very special privilege went to me. Just me. Daddy and the brothers went to see something else with gnomes or something. Noah and I went to the concessions counter, picked out snacks, and took seats in a near-empty theatre together.

He sits on his feet. His eyes are so big, particularly his pupils, so the reflection of the movie was in them the whole time. He held my hand (until it became, as he loud-whispered apologetically, "too warm"). True to his personality, he teared up at certain parts, but when the credits began to roll he shouted (because he only knows how to be loud), "That was terrible! The book was so much better!" (A Band-Aid on my English teacher's previously broken heart.)

And then, "The best part was the Tesseract. That was cool."

*Sigh*

Today is his tenth birthday. The spirit of birthdays is, of course, celebrating the birth and existence of a person we admire and appreciate. Happy Birthday! I like to follow it up with, "I'm glad you were born!" And if I can, I like to find the exactly right gift to let the person feel inside what their existence makes me feel.

I scoured Amazon for about two hours after seeing this movie. And then I found the perfect birthday gift for this amazing boy entering into double-digits. See, when my oldest turned ten (or thereabouts), I bought him a light-up globe. "I'm giving you the world," I'd said. Hard to compete with, and sort of lame if copied with the next child.

But after A Wrinkle In Time, it was easy enough.


amazon.com

My gift to Noah this year was a Tesseract. I didn't give him the world. I gave him the Universe.


Dear Noah,

When it becomes hard to not be oldest and not be youngest, when life seems impossible, when you feel like a wagon with square wheels, remember that my heart is always with you. No matter what else, you have my love. You may not always see it, but remember: Not gone. Just folded. 

Love,

Mom



Friday, April 13, 2018

Boymom 101 - Enjoy!

Noah is twelve days shy of his tenth birthday. This kid has driven me crazy since he was in the womb. Before he turned two, I was convinced he was plotting my death like Stewie from The Family Guy.

Awhile back, I instituted Family Meetings as part of our household structure. The children hated them, Joe was enthusiastic to the point of weirdness, and Max repeatedly left the table. But, in the end, it really didn't matter because I got to ring a bell every time I made a point. Nothing can really get me down when I get to ring a bell.

Family Meetings led to chores as Law. Among other things, Joey and Noah now do the dishes. When I say they "do the dishes," I mean I make them clear the table. They rinse the plates. Load the dishwasher. And they do all of these things so half-assed that every morning after they've left for school I have to re-do the whole damn job. It's fine. I love doing it! I embrace it!

No I don't. I'm being sarcastic. I effing hate re-doing the work for them. But whose fault is that? I know it; I own it.

Tonight Joey is having a friend sleep over. It's Friday the 13th and they've begun a tradition of watching horror movies on said date. It went swimmingly at the last event; this time the tradition morphed into six seventh grade boys sleeping in my basement. That's fine. I don't really mind, but you can bet your cottontail that I'm going to make him earn it. This morning when I opened the dishwasher, nothing was even placed properly. All pots, bowls, and plates were flung in haphazard heaps with no attempt at organization. I pulled a coffee mug out and it was crusty inside. Unacceptable! I calmly put the mug back in the dishwasher, closed it, and walked away.

Sleepover is set for 8 pm. I made Joey clean the entire basement, including the bathroom (except the toilets, which is Noah's job BECAUSE...you don't want to know why, I promise). And then, just as the boys settled in to while away the rest of the hours by watching Spaceballs, I sang out, "Oh, boys! Let's talk about the dishes."

Boom.

Parenting is power, and I am wild with it.

You can imagine they were beyond disgruntled, right? I tried not to show my amusement as they grumbled and shoved at each other trying to complete the task they had carelessly believed was done. (Chumps!)

And then it happened.

"For Chrissakes, Joey, get outta my way!"

WHAT.

I almost peed my pants. I'm not even kidding. About seventy percent of my instincts wanted me to laugh, but the other thirty percent had to rein in that stampede of hysteria with maturity.

"NOAH."

He'd forgotten I was there. You should have seen him freeze up. He didn't even turn around, but his voice grew a bit squeaky on the one word..."Sorry?"

"NO WAY. GET OVER HERE."

It's not enough to have a scary "serious" voice, you know. You need to perfect the crazy eyes. I learned it from my mom, she'd be proud to know.

Noah's face went from white to a rosy blush as he walked over to me, his mouth open just a little.

I pointed at the floor. "TWENTY-FIVE PUSHUPS. NOW."

Let it be known that my father-in-law was a big fan of pushups as consequence, and since Joe's brother was only fourteen when we started dating, I saw with amazement the incredible results of this genius. It's not just character building. It's exercise, too. WIN-WIN!

Joe taught each boy how to do pushups around the time they started climbing on furniture. As tots they found it enjoyable and loved impressing their father. Fantastic. Positive preparation.

But that means that in that moment when I pointed at Noah, I was SO READY.

He got down and started the process. He huffed and he puffed to his third pushup, and then dramatically whispered with strain, "TWELVE..."

"No way, buddy. That was THREE."

He looked up, a small smirk starting on his lips. My scary eyes washed it away within seconds.

At fifteen, he asked for a break.

"I'm getting your father."

"Nooooooo!"

Yeah, right. I was escaping so he wouldn't see me laugh. I ran up the stairs to where Joe was getting Max ready for bed and whispered the whole thing in his ear, and he, too, got the giggles. But for good measure, he yelled, "Don't make me come down there!"

Listen. If you're judging us right now, I don't even care. These boys are disgusting! You can't even imagine the crusty bathrooms. The junkyard they call their closets. The toothpaste on the mirror because spitting after brushing teeth apparently means turning into a power washer of epic proportions. The farting. The fart JOKES. The pranks! Joey once pretended he broke his neck by crunching a plastic water bottle in his armpit. He abruptly collapsed to the floor like a limp noodle. I screamed and started to cry. He began rolling on the floor, laughing so hard he couldn't breathe. They run me ragged and then cover me with hugs and kisses and apologies and compliments of such sincerity I start to cry all over again. They talk about their poop. Sometimes they call me into the bathroom to show it to me! I'm not kidding! They are exponentially disorganized, and it's literally in their hormones to be so. And oh my goodness, the blood. There's always blood on one of them. And then it's on their clothes with the grass stains and food stains and exploded pens that they keep in their pockets because they must want to one day be sterile!

Read my words: THEY MAKE ME CRAZY!!!!

So, yeah. Given the opportunity to build character, encourage exercise, and return the crazy, you bet your boots I'm taking FULL ADVANTAGE.

And that's called BEING A BOYMOM.

Feel free to share your crazy parenting moments in the comments below. I love it, and believe me, it feels amazing to vent!!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

No Apologies

When I marched up to the gate at the airport the other day, my family rolled their eyes. Here she goes again, their expressions announced. And I mean...my whole family. I haven't been on a plane with my brother and sister since I was fourteen. Their spouses and children all watched me march right up to the gate attendant and announce my injury.

I boarded the plane ahead of everyone, cheerfully claiming my seat. Asking my husband sweetly, "Could you help me?" and reminding him, "I have a broken arm."

I'm annoying everyone and I'm totally fine with it.

A week ago, I was getting ready to board a different plane. Different trip, different flight. It was 3:30 AM, and I didn't want to wake my kids. My middle son Noah had crawled into bed with me at some point, so I had to be really quiet, because I knew if I woke him the resulting whines and tears would cause me strife.

Instead, I dressed for my flight as quietly as I could. To avoid excess noise, I lifted my suitcase up and hobbled to our stairs. And because I'm me, my socked foot slid on the first step and I bounded down eight stairs with the suitcase on top of me.

At the landing, I was crumpled in a daze. The noise of my fall on hollow wood in our echoey house woke everyone. The dog sat worriedly at the bottom of the stairs, Noah rushed down to me, my husband crowded in.

Later Joe told me, "You never made a sound. The fall did, but you didn't."

I did not ask for help. I did not say I was hurt. I didn't say anything. My life is not mine. It belongs to my family. My heart is not mine. It's theirs, too. The only thing in my mind was, "I am getting on that plane." I was going to New York City with my book. The one thing in the world that is one-hundred percent all mine.

I blacked out. Twice. I threw up. Once.

When I couldn't lift my arm at airport security, they offered me first aid. I had no choice but to refuse it when they told me I couldn't fly if my arm was broken.

That's when I knew. Of course it was broken.

"I'm okay," I insisted.

I waited my turn to board the plane. I held up the line of boarding passengers while a nice middle-aged man helped me lift my suitcase into the overhead compartment. In my seat awaiting takeoff, I held my seizing left arm with my right hand and did Lamaze. As the plane picked up speed on the runway, I was sweating, but I felt amazing.

Nothing could take this from me.

I was getting to New York City. I would attend the New York Pitch Conference. I would meet with editors from the best publishers. I would pitch them the book that has consumed my life for too long.

And three of them would say "Send me your work."

The first day I was there, I had no time to worry about a broken arm. I barely made it to the conference. I downed ibuprofen and sat in my chair, avoided movement on my left side, balanced my laptop on my knees, and tried to absorb everything that was said to me. That night, once the conference had finished for the day, I made my way to a creepy city urgent care. My Uber got lost. "Ubers don't get lost," Joe said. "They use Google."

Mine got lost.

The X-ray at urgent care confirmed that my left elbow was fractured. They gave me a sling and advised me to see a specialist as soon as I could.

"Monday," I said. It was Thursday. They looked disapproving, but what could they do, really?

Days one and two of the conference, I was the first of our group to pitch. In front of eighteen people I'd never met before, I had to talk about my book. I had to summarize a story that has become part of me. I had to sell it. Without anyone else to show me how, or to mess up for me to see what not to do, I got up and followed one my life rules: Act confident and no one will know you're not.

When they found out my arm was broken, someone said, "My God. Are you okay?" and I laughed. I told them, "I've waited too long to get here. This won't stop me."

And it didn't.

Day four, I was last to pitch. A new friend (of which there were several, and I'm so grateful) laughed because I had seated my temporarily handicapped self right beside the door and waited and waited for the end of the line to come.

She said, "You're first in line but last to go!"

I burst out laughing much harder than I think she expected. Except...she had just encapsulated my entire life in eight words.

Always first in line. But somehow always last.

A few days later with my arm in a sling, I had my three sons, their respective backpacks, two stray hoodies, and a purse laden with hand sanitizer, gum, snacks, a bottle of water, and somebody else's headphones.

"MO-OM! Joey's not letting me use the tablet!"

"MOM! Tell Noah to stop touching my stuff!"

"Mommy? I have to pee SO BAD!!!!!"

"Mar? Do you have room in your bag for this?"

"I WANTED TO SIT THERE! MOM, TELL HIM I CAN SIT THERE!"

"NO! MOM, TELL HIM I WAS THERE FIRST!"

"Mommy? Is our dog going to die while we're gone?"

Yes. I got on the plane first.

Yes, I asked for help.

But. As you can see, I was first in line, but still last. I'm not complaining.

But I'm not apologizing, either.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

March 14 Student Walkout

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

Almost one month ago, one young person massacred a high school. In the weeks since, stormy debate has overtaken the media over how to best handle this going forward.

I'm not going to talk about that.

I want to shout from rooftops at all the students I ever taught who questioned me when I told them WORDS ARE POWER. I teach seventh grade. It's an age where humans are at a developmental stage  that makes them question everything, even things we know they once knew, like "Why do I have to respect the teacher?" and "What is noun?" and "Why should I be nice to everybody?"

So of course, when I'm jumping around my classroom shouting, "Reading is what the cool kids do! Words are the greatest gift we have!" they're going to call me out.

And good on them.

For real.

First, I don't mind explaining. I could talk endlessly about words (and individual letters, for that matter).

Second, let's raise humans who question the way of things. Let's raise them to examine circumstances and information and to STOP and THINK about WHY. To question:

Is there a better way for the greater good?

That is what the world needs now, and if I may be so bold, our survival always has and always will depend on it.

I was thrilled when I heard about the scheduled National School Walkout scheduled for tomorrow, March 14. All this because a wounded mass of teenagers in Parkland, Florida stepped out of the wreckage and used their words. It wasn't enough that five years ago kindergarteners were killed. That for five years, parents who should have taught their children to swim, taken their little son or daughter to Disney World, or read them Harry Potter have lived every day since December of 2012 living with the aching awareness that they were robbed of those opportunities.

The teenagers of Parkland have emerged from their tragedy strong. They have done research. They have found the right things to say, the best words, and the right things to DO to make a change. They took this on the grandest scale they could: NATIONAL. As a country, they said, let us all show each other that we are not going to allow this anymore. As a country, as our nation's students, let us walk out on the current institution and shout from the rooftops that the status quo is NOT OKAY.

It's beautiful.

Except...

More than once in the time from this plan's inception I've been told of "how each individual school is going to handle that." Um, what?

"Our school is just going to take seventeen minutes of silence so as not to disrupt learning."

"Our school will gather in the gym."

"Our school won't be participating."

*chuckle, chuckle* You're joking, right?

Okay. So, hey teenagers. America's youth. Are you out there? Can you hear me? I want you to do me a favor. Google "walkout." Google "taking a stand." You don't need to tell me what you find out. I guarantee that you're smart enough to process it and realize what I'm saying.

You are our future. Don't let the message of Parkland's survivors be muffled by adults and administrations who can't be bothered, or...what? Are afraid? I don't even know.

Teenagers of America: if you believe in Parkland's message, stand with them. Get up out of your chair, walk out of the classroom. Go down the stairs and out the door.

Stand together.

Use your actions. Use your words. THAT IS HOW IT'S DONE.

Any school, any administration, that employs punitive action against students who participate in the walkout is wrong. Stand together in the largest group you can gather.

Stand up. Walk out. Lives have been lost. Change the future.

Sincerely,

Mary Pat Bielecki,
former teenager
former student
mother
teacher for almost 18 years
believer in words
believer in YOU

P.S.-- Can you spot the shooter in this video?

P.P.S.--Sandy Hook Promise