“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

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Little Writer

When I was in third grade, I had an amazing teacher who made Writers' Workshop the center of the classroom atmosphere. When you finished your work, or needed something to do, it was just a given: you wrote something. I remember the back of the classroom had shelves of all different kinds of paper, because the different stages of writing were color-coded. Drafting was on yellow lined paper. Final copies were on crisp white paper with turquoise lines. And totally awesome? That special paper that had space for a drawing on the top and lines underneath for the story.

But the absolute best was that this teacher capitalized on the self-publishing industry before it was even a societal Thing. If she read your work and thought it was worthy, she offered you the chance to be "published." This meant using super expensive heavy paper, penciling in light lines so all your sentences were straight, and drafting illustrations that she, the teacher, had to approve ahead of time. You had to design a cover, have a snappy title, and then she'd laminate the whole thing and bind it with these plastic clippy things that resembled a spiral-bound notebook.

But the absolute best, best, BEST? It wasn't the twirly book rack off to the side of the room, over by the window, where all the published books were displayed, although that was really cool. It wasn't that your classmates would peruse this collection and casually pick yours out and then READ it (always followed up with a super enthusiastic, "Oh my gosh! This is SOOOOO good!" (Quick aside: I hope all people have a) grown out of believing people when they make remarks like that and b) have stopped making them themselves.)

No. The best part was that on the cover of a shiny, laminated book on a twirly rack off to the side of a classroom had, "by Mary Pat Michalek" on it.

I started writing as soon as I could sound out words. I started telling stories even before that, even if it was only to myself at bedtime because I couldn't fall asleep. As often as I could imagine myself as a teacher, I could imagine a shelf, maybe shelves, of books in my vague, sketchy future house that all said, "by Mary Pat Michalek" or some other last name that simply indicated that I was not just a teacher and writer, but also some lucky man's wife.

And yet, the real drive, the vision, the dream all started in third grade when I wrote and published, "My Family," for the classroom library. It was a braggy nonfiction account of one particularly self-involved girl's home life, that no one could ever relate to because much of it was--I don't want to say lies, but, well, I am also the girl who told her entire first grade class that her family owned and acted in the circus. See what I mean? A story-teller from the get-go.

I'm not sure why I've decided to share this now, but for the facts that the memory sort of just came to me, and because I haven't written anything in awhile. Either way, it is a special memory to me and I felt like sharing.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is having a lovely holiday!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Noah's Gifts

"Mom, can I play Angry Birds on your phone?"

"No, honey, I don't like you playing on my phone. It's not really for games."

"But Daddy lets me do it..."

Yes. In fact, and this may sound kind of weird, but Noah and his Daddy have formed some sort of giant bond over Angry Birds. I don't pretend to understand it, but I will say that it's pretty adorable to see Noah all cozied up in the crook of Joe's arm, tapping away at the touch-screen game and having them both groan, "Awwww!" when they don't get the score they want. Or the pig. Or really...I just don't know.

I'm pretty sure that I've mothered both of my children in the same ways, fostering the same sort of things, hoping that they grow up to be strong, intelligent contributors to society and to our family. I want them to know I love them, and that they can count on me, but that being a jerk won't get you anywhere. Being nice gets you a lot further.

But it doesn't really matter in the end, because children are not generic beings that we can mold like Play-Doh. They're people, just like you and me, and a lot of times, they're going to do things and be things you aren't ready for and you don't understand.

One thing I don't understand, though I don't mind it really, is that Noah and his dad are kind of a unit. They are drawn together, understand each other, and just, I don't know, gravitate to one another. In much the same ways, Joey and I are a unit. Noah loves me and needs me, and Joey adores his dad, but nevertheless there is this pattern that continues to repeat itself.

Which brings me to yesterday morning, when I was standing in Target while both boys were at school. On the shelf, under a lovely signed marked, "SALE," were not one but TWO Angry Birds games. I called Joe quickly on my cell and asked, "Did you get Noah any of those Angry Birds games?" Joe's voice was excited when he said, "No, but I'd love to. Can you grab it?"

"There's two," I said. "Which one?"

He hesitated. "Can you get both?" he asked, and I had to smile. We're definitely trying to be careful with spending this Christmas, what with it being my second year off from work and all, but I knew this particular thing was tugging at Joe's heart, causing him to be a bigger pushover than usual.

"Sure," I said, grabbing both boxes and tossing them into the cart.

Later, I picked Noah up from preschool. We came home, we ate lunch, and then I offered him a rare opportunity.

"Noah," I said, "would you like to skip your nap today and go shopping with me?"

Noah, who has never been a big fan of the apparently evil nap, responded gleefully, "YESSSSS! What are we shopping for?"

"Well," I said, "I thought you might like to buy Daddy and Joey Christmas gifts. You know, for them just from you. What do you think?"

"I think YESSSS!" he said. And, quite unusual for him, he gobbled up every last bite of his lunch without argument and announced, "Ready!"

We piled ourselves into the car, got buckled, and began our trek to what seemed like the logical starting place: Target. On the way, Noah began listing everything he was quite sure would cost ten dollars. Ten dollars is a big deal to him, because his entire piggy-bank savings totals just that amount.

"Video games, board games, a tie, a new guitar..." he rattled off from the back seat. "All these things cost ten dollars."

"Well..." I said slowly, not really knowing how to break it to him that some of those things, though lovely gift ideas, didn't quite fit his budget.

"No, Mom," he interrupted. "They do. I know it. They cost ten dollars. But you know what I think I should get Daddy and Joey?"

"What?" I said, my heart sinking. It wasn't that I didn't feel willing to spot the kid some money if he needed it, it was more that I feared just how much that could add up to. I meant for this to all be a lesson in the spirit of Christmas, the joy of giving to those we love. But how to explain to a four-year-old that generosity is about thought and heart, not quantity and bells and whistles? I knew the abstract--albeit TRUE--concept of the lame grownup mantra "That's too expensive."

"Video games," he said decidedly. I cringed. So many complications in this choice, I didn't know where to begin. It's not like I could say, "Actually Noah, I know for a FACT that Santa has already lined up a few for you, but I have no idea what they are because they've been hidden in boxes and grocery bags in the basement for a few weeks now..." Not to mention, video games totally bust the aforementioned ten dollar limit.

"You know why, Mom?" he went on, oblivious to my turmoil. "Because Daddy and Joey love playing video games, and they're really nice about letting me play, too. I'm not very good at them, but they both let me have lots of turns and teach me things to help me get better. I think it would be really nice to give them a new video game to play."

Love this kid.

But unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) fate was not on Noah's side. As I approached the Target parking lot, I saw that it was filled. Past capacity. A long, unmoving line of cars snaked through the aisles and up along the doors.

"Noah, I don't think Target is going to work," I said. "We don't have enough time to fight these big crowds, because Joey will be home from school in a little while. We'll have to try some other places."

Noah wasn't happy, but I managed to convince him to try some less frequented places to see what they could offer us. We tried three different plazas, none of which had even one thing that Noah thought would work.

"How about buying them ornaments?" I suggested, pulling away from option number three.

"No!" he cried, outraged. "They already HAVE ornaments. That's so lame."

For the purposes of simplified story-telling, let's just pretend I'm wonderful and have infinite patience.

Finally, I could see that time was running out. Joey's bus would be arriving home soon. But when I broke this news to Noah, who knew it meant we'd have to go home empty-handed, he was devastated.

"I have no presents to give my dad or my brother!" he wailed. "We HAVE to try somewhere else, Mom! We HAVE TO!"

As a last resort, I pulled into one last place. It's a department store in a plaza close to home, and I figured, if nothing else, I could convince Noah to just settle for some of the more traditional gift ideas. And perhaps less ostentatious ones than what he had in mind.

The first thing we tried were novelty t-shirts for Joey. "Something Skylanders for Joey would be cool," Noah said. But they didn't have Joey's size. Hurray for holiday shopping.

Next, we tried pajamas. "But pajamas are dumb!" Noah declared. So much for holiday spirit.

Just when I thought we'd have to give up for real, we rounded a corner and discovered a completely random, and somewhat bizarre, collection of toys for sale.

"THIS IS WHERE WE'LL FIND IT!" Noah yelled, letting go of my hand and running forth.

At first it seemed like it was mostly Barbies and make-your-own tornado kits (I told you, very weird). But then, Noah stepped up to a small display of....

Angry Birds games.

In fact, they were the exact same games I had just thrown into my cart that very morning.

"Mom!" he gasped, his hands clasped together in disbelief. "It's the perfect thing! I HAVE to get this for my dad! I have to! He'll LOVE it!"

I began to stammer, to stumble my way through half-hearted, "I don't think sos" and "Let's look over heres," but Noah would have none of my excuses now. He turned to me, eyes huge and tear-filled, and said, "I want to give this to my dad. It would make him so happy."

I appreciate all the people who read my blog faithfully, and all the ones who stumble upon it, or manage to read a complete post here and there. I hope you don't mind how often I am amazed by the hearts of my children, or how much I go on and on about how wonderful they are.

But I am amazed by them, and they are wonderful. And as I try my best to help them understand what Christmas can mean, I also want to remember that it is a time to count your blessings. I don't know what I ever did to deserve all that I have, but I know that, as a way of showing my gratitude, I want to write down and remember all the moments where my heart feels too big for my body. All the moments that I'd never get to have it weren't for Joey and Noah. Swollen heart moments.









Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Never Ready

I'm sitting here in an awesome hotel room in an awesome city on the night before I'm supposed to go home, and all I can think is, "I'm not ready."

And then it occurs to me: that's like a major theme for my life. This blog shouldn't be called "One Day At a Time," it should be called, "I'm not ready."

I look back over everything important that's ever happened to me, ever shaped who I am, and I think, "the thing about that time, is that I had no clue what I was doing." It's ridiculous, because my life has been pretty run-of-the-mill. I didn't push myself to become an astronaut, I haven't tried to change the world, I haven't even saved small communities from any sort of doom. The most notable things I can say I've done--and I'll be honest, I do think I'm amazing at them and that they are important in MY small world--is have two really awesome children. Every day I look at them and I say, "Kudos, Mary Pat. You've done well." That may sound egotistical, but I'm not terribly ashamed. For one thing, I recognize that Joey and Noah are these individual human beings completely independent of anything I want or expect them to be. For another, I recognize that each and every time they function within my kingdom, I've helped shape them into who they will become. And so far, they rock.

But seriously: milestone moments of my life. Starting high school: I totally thought I was stepping into some sort of real life episode of Grease. I considered myself in the role of Sandy, and honestly still lament that my new friends and classmates never, not even once, spontaneously broke into meaningful song and dance routines. Starting college? Ugh. Almost as bad as starting high school. I don't even know what I expected college to be, other than a super fun and interesting stepping stone to getting married.

It does make me think about how long I've known Joe. I always tell the story of how I met Joe when I was fourteen years old--FOURTEEN FREAKING YEARS OLD--and that I knew that very night I was going to marry him. I don't even know why I tell that story. It makes me cringe inside that I was so stupid. And then how year after year, month after month, I continued to wonder why he was always my good, devoted friend but never my boyfriend. Why, for the love of God, could he not just love me back? Well, for starters, I was still waiting for that Grease routine to happen.

No, really, though. I've always been this firm believer that everything happens for a reason, but now I look around at all the people I know, and all the people they know, and I'm not so sure. There's just too much unnecessary bad in this world. But I do think that there are certain things that are not coincidences, certain things that happen to us for own good. For me, the fact that Joe waited ten years to fall in love with and marry me is one of them. Should we have waited longer? Probably, but I was already feeling the heartbreak of no Grease routines--this was in the days before flash mobs, mind you--and I was pretty insistent that pushing things past ten years was just unreasonable. Unlivable, actually, since I was fairly certain at the time that Joe and I were so much more madly in love than any two people had ever been before and, while no one could possibly understand--we probably just needed to be married. You know. ASAP. Honestly, I still think that.

The night Joey was born and they placed him in my arms? I kept waiting for them to snatch him back and say, "Ksh. You are NOT ready to be a mom." Because I wasn't. I also wasn't prepared for Noah, or for the fact that Noah would never, ever sleep when normal people do. No, Noah was destined to spend the wee hours of the night singing Bryan Adams and One Direction and, God help me, Justin Bieber, and really, even if someone told you that was going to happen, nothing really readies you for five years of not sleeping. I have wrinkles, and I don't think I would if I had been sleeping through the night all this time.

But I wouldn't trade him, or any of it. I ended up loving high school. I ended up loving college, because being an English major is one of the best choices I ever made (even though my parents always screwed up their faces at me and said, "But what are you going to do with that?"). Based on statistics and studies and, I don't know, common sense, if I had started dating Joe when I was fourteen, what would have happened?

You know, I don't really need to know. I know that, though a lot of things in life are messy and confusing and all what-the-hell, it's okay that it always surprises me. It's okay that my husband's super power is farting, that Noah is committed to being a middle-of-the-night rock star, that Joey can't hear the word "but" (or "butt") without giggling hysterically. It's okay that I'm germophobic and that even hearing the word "vomit" makes my body clench up and my brain go temporarily wonky. It's okay that I can't cook meatloaf or sing well (and as for the dancing, I can't even do the Electric Slide) or walk in a straight line in the middle of a Tuesday when the weather's fine and all I've had to drink is four giant bottles of water because I'm prone to kidney stones. It's all okay.

You just have to take it one day at a time, you know? And every day, I have to remind myself I'm pretty damn lucky. Here's to getting ready for tomorrow.

Me, not ready for the gust of wind that blew from behind me as the pic was taken.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Impossible to Outsmart

I feel like everything happens all at once at my house. It's actually one those things where it's probably that way for everyone, but I think it only happens that way for me because, well, I'm just that kind of person. So, if your life is like that, too, well, I feel your pain.

Anyway, Noah has been impressively misbehaved lately. He'll do something really reprehensible--like yesterday when he didn't like that Joey was winning at a Wii game, and so he poked Joey in the chest with the Wii remote--and then be SOO sorry when he gets in trouble for it. But you know what? He's never sorry enough. To me, true contrition is a conscious choice to avoid repeating the hurtful behavior. Noah, on the other hand, seems to feel that the word "sorry" on its own is a magical blanket that covers all crimes. Wouldn't that just be a lovely world to live in?

Yesterday morning, I asked him several times to stop running through the house. Each time, he was genuinely shocked by the fact that I KNEW he was running. Apparently, HE doesn't hear the thunder beneath his feet, or notice the house shaking, or the dishes rattling in the China cabinets. Must be all that distracting fun he's having. Finally, I said, "Noah, you better stop running or you will be in MAJOR trouble."

"I wasn't running," he said, and had I been stupid, or even stupidER, or, even still, just not his mother, his innocent voice might have convinced me. But guess what? I am not stupid, and I am his mother. And, of course, I heard the noise.

"Noah..." I prompted in my most warning teacher voice.

"I'm not lying," he insisted.

"Okay," I said, deciding to play it down. "That's fine. If you're lying, if you're not lying, that's okay. Because God knows. And Santa knows. And Happy the elf knows. And on Christmas morning, if you don't have any presents, then I'll know, too."

Noah froze. He thought for a long, serious moment. Then he said, "Okay. I'm sorry for lying," and scampered off to play a nice, quiet, still game. (For about ten minutes.)

But THEN...

I caught him causing yet more trouble later on, and then today! I mean, this kid just doesn't take a hint. It was time to clean up the playroom (the New and Improved Playroom, score a million points for this Super Awesome Stay-at-Home Mom), and Joey was--gasp--working alone.

"Noah," I said, "it is NOT fair that Joey is doing all the work and you are coloring."

"No, it's okay," he assured me calmly, not looking up from his coloring book. "'Cause see, I don't want to clean. It makes me tired. And it could hurt my knees." Now he looked up. "It could. Really."

I rolled my eyes, and ordered, "Come with me. We're having a talk."

Noah knows what this means, and he dragged his feet and made thirty naughty faces at once as he followed me from the playroom.

Once out of earshot of Joey (the Tattle Tale King; the self-satisfied, self-righteous older child), I knelt down in front on Noah. Right away he started to complain. Loudly.

"Listen to me," I said. "I'd like to tell you a little story."

Noah quieted down instantly, deciding this might not be so bad.

"Once upon a time," I began, "Santa stood in his workshop all alone. It was the night before Christmas, and there was only one present left in the workshop. But on Santa's list, there were TWO little boys. Do you know what that means?"

Noah's eyes widened. "One boy doesn't get a present."

"That's right. So Santa thought about this for a long time. He checked his files on each boy. One of the little boys was a very good little boy, but he made lots of mistakes. He was always sorry later, but he just kept on making bad choices."

I waited for that to sink in, and then went on. "The other little boy on the list was also a very good boy, but do you know what?"

Noah was really hooked now. He barely moved as he said, "What?"

"That second little boy was really good ALL THE TIME. He thought about others before himself. He did what his mommy asked him the FIRST time she asked. He never, ever said mean things. He didn't NEED to say he was sorry."

Noah's face went from mesmerized to extremely, and let's face it, intelligently suspicious.

"So, Noah," I said, knowing my moment, "which boy did Santa choose to give the present?"

Noah was completely silent for about ten seconds. Then, as if in slow motion, his mouth fell open, and out of it came the longest, loudest wail of all time.

"I'm not getting ANY PRESENTS!!!!!!!" he cried.

"Well, Noah," I said, copying his innocent voice from earlier, "I didn't say that. This is just a story. Just a little story about Santa. I didn't say this was actually going to happen."

Noah's sobs choked him up for a moment. Then he swallowed, glared at me through big, fat tears, and shouted accusingly, "But I KNOW what you MEANT!"

 Too busy to help.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When Stubborn Loves Stubborn

Some days, I think I just can't function until I talk to someone, you know? I mean, really, there are days where I feel like even the girl at the Tim Hortons drive-thru window looks like a particularly good and understanding listener. It's only because of my good upbringing ("Mary Pat, quit acting like a weirdo, no one will like you") that I don't unload right there, from car to coffee chain, all my problems while an angry line forms behind me.

Today was one of those days. It started because of Noah, of course, and a hoodie. Well, actually, now that I'm calm enough to consider it, it probably started because Noah overslept. If you aren't aware, Noah is the world's worst sleeper. He himself will tell you that he hates sleeping, that the night is too long, sleeping is boring, etc, etc, etc. From the time he was two months old and I moved him from my bedroom to his crib upstairs, he has only rarely slept through the night. When he was an infant and a toddler, he would cry, babble, call out, "Mama!" all the night long. Now, he's just up at 2 am, singing Bryan Adams and Justin Bieber and One Direction or whatever else is current in his repertoire, until whenever he finally conks out from simple necessity.

The pediatrician told me early on, "Don't go in when he calls you." Simple enough advice, as old as time and motherhood itself. But Noah never really gives up. I could never do "Cry it out," because Noah is never cried out. He will cry and scream and yell indefinitely. For once, I'm not exaggerating. I can clearly recall sitting on the edge of my bed in the darkness, the monitor blazing red with his screams, watching the digital numbers on the clock tick by. I remember thinking, "Twenty minutes," and then, "One hour," and then, "Ninety minutes." Ultimately, it became about survival. And also, my personal belief that my children should be able to count on me when they feel they need me. Noah believes he needs me. No, that's not quite accurate. It was Joe, my husband, who once said, "No, honey, Noah doesn't need you. Joey needs you. Noah just...wants you." He shrugged, shook his head, and said, "For whatever reason. He doesn't want me. He wants you. It's kind of a gift."

It's taken me a long time to see that Joe is right about this, because dealing with Noah's stubbornness is so painful at times I'm not sure I'm going to be mentally intact by the end of any given day. Which brings me to today, a day when I felt like I was about to unload my emotional burdens to anyone who happened to step in my path.

Noah, like I said, had overslept. When he realized what he'd done, he was angry at himself. He came down the stairs, one at a time, his overgrown hair a mess and a frown pushing at his eyebrows. "The night was too short," he grumbled. "I closed my eyes, and I opened them, and it was awake time."

"Yes, honey," I said, reaching to pull him off the third step and into my arms. To me, Noah oversleeping is a Christmastime miracle. "When you sleep, night goes very fast. It only takes long when you're awake."

This was absolutely the wrong thing to say to Noah, who scowled at me, pushed me away, and went to the kitchen for his breakfast. I sighed, and the morning wore on. The big altercation didn't come until it was time to get ready for school. This has happened before, it will unfortunately probably happen again, but it doesn't make it any easier to get through while it's actually happening. Noah didn't like the outfit I picked out for him.

The jeans were okay, the shirt was okay. It was the hoodie I wanted him to wear. He grabbed it from my hand and hurled it to the floor. "I'm not wearing THAT," he said.

I don't feel like getting into the nitty gritty of what ultimately became a painful battle of wills. Unfortunately for Noah, he gets his extreme stubbornness from me. Doubly unfortunate is that his father is also stubborn (and his grandmother, and both grandfathers, and his uncle, and...), so he's pretty much just doomed in that regard. But really, it's that extreme push, a drive to actually win, that he gets from me. So when he steps foot on that path to begin that journey, I'm already one step ahead of him. Yes, it's because I know him well, but more, it's because I've already tread that path into the ground for all eternity before him.

But a battle of wills between parent and child is doomed from the beginning, isn't it? On principle alone, the child can't win.

Noah does know this, but he doesn't like it, and that only makes it worse. More heart-wrenching and painful, especially in the end, when, almost from exhaustion, he collapses into my arms and apologizes a hundred times and tells me I'm wonderful and how much he loves me. 

I finally got him into the car, five minutes past time, to go to school. He was wearing the hoodie, but had fat tears resting on his cheeks as I buckled him in. He continued to loudly protest in the backseat until I turned up the radio (Bruce Springsteen) above his voice. The whole way to his school, I battled within myself. I was so angry, and so, well, hurt, really by the episode. And then I was angry with myself for feeling hurt. I'm the mother, I'm the parent. I'm not supposed to have my feelings hurt when my child misbehaves and says nasty things. That's what children do. If they were born with good manners and making good choices, they wouldn't need parents. But I must be weaker than everybody else, because when my little boy looks at me with anger in his eyes and says things that mean he wants to hurt me, it works. 

I considered how I would leave him at school. My own stubborn streak told me I should just tell him I'm still mad and then leave him at school. My more superstitious streak, as well as my heart, told me otherwise. As I navigated the slippery morning roads, I imagined myself leaving him at school, getting in an accident, and dying, and having my son grow up knowing that the last thing his mother said to him was that she was still mad. 

Ultimately, it comes down to explaining. When I taught English and my students wrote poorly elaborated points in their essays, my motto was, "Explain to the point of pain." It works for parenting, too, I guess. I know my kids gets tired of hearing my explanations, but if I don't tell them, they won't know. Or remember it next time. Or, most of all, understand why this thing happened in the first place.

When I unloaded Noah from the car, but before I took him inside the school, I held him tight in my arms. He kind of smirked, and I didn't miss it. He was thinking I'd tell him I love him, and he'd win. He wasn't entirely wrong.

"Noah," I said, "I love you always, no matter what you do. But that doesn't change that I'm the boss, and you have to do what I say." He frowned at that, but I pushed on. "When Mommy says you have to do something, like wear a hoodie, you have to do it. AND you have to be nice about it."

"But you'll love me always?" he asked in a small voice.

"Always."

"I love you always, too, Mommy," he whispered. "And I'm sorry for being so bad."

Why did I want to cry? There's no reasonable explanation. I delivered him into school, where he held on a moment longer than usual, desperately seeking eye contact. He held my gaze, and I knew what he was saying. He really was sorry.

I drove home feeling sad and unsure of myself. Why did my parents have to make parenting look so easy? It's not at all. I never know what I'm doing, and I'm pretty sure I never will. Kids just keep growing and morphing and entering new phases, and whatever you figured out last week is never enough to help you with the new thing this week. I imagined myself pulling over on the side of the road for a good cry, and then imagined someone knocking on my window and being mortified at my ridiculous display over something equally ridiculous.

So what did I need? I needed to talk. Against every impulse, I skipped the Tim Hortons drive-thru and went home and called my mom instead.

"Sometimes it just hurts," she said. "It just does. Maybe it's emotional, or hormonal--I don't really know. All I know is, it does. But you did the right thing, and you have to move on. Because it will happen again, and again, and in the end, it's okay. It has to be."

It wasn't advice, really, and it also wasn't earth-shattering, but it made me feel better. My mom went on to point out a few our real doozies--times I was just absolutely awful and had said anything I could to let my mother know just what I thought of her and whatever she was doing. I felt my heart constrict, remembering the same stories in a very different way than she did, and then sat down to write this blog. I'm glad to know that the person who made parenting look easy felt the same way I do sometimes. I was glad to hear her, above anyone else, tell me I'd done the right thing. But mostly, I felt comforted by the reminder that when you love someone with everything you've got, sometimes it hurts. And that's okay.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pizza and A Christmas Story

It's funny how things work out. I've been planning a big, meaningful Thanksgiving post, sort of noncommittally, in my head for awhile. You know, tossing around ideas, throwing together lovely phrases. To be completely honest, this is just how my mind thinks. In written language, if that makes any sense. When people speak, my mind displays happily punctuated sentences with quotation marks and commas. It's rather embarrassing when I mistakenly tag on, out loud, "he said ominously," to the end of someone's sentence. They always look so appalled. That's how I figured out that I'm weird.

Anyway, I had been thinking out some possible blogs for the big holiday. Possibly about how every year for as long as I can remember, my family stays home on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, eats pizza, and watches A Christmas Story. For some reason, my dad always insisted that part of the tradition was to also watch Jeremiah Johnson. No one was on board with this, and I'm pretty sure it never happened. But the rest of it we were faithful to. I can't remember when it started, but I do know that my brother invented it. He lived for fast food opportunities: KFC, McDonald's, and, above all else, pizza. He also believed, like many others though for a long time I thought it was just him, that Thanksgiving signaled the beginning of Christmas, hence the movie choice. My brother loves Christmas. As I look back, a lot of the magic came from how excited my generally surly older sibling became around the holidays.

But we've all grown up now. We've gotten married, had our own children. Anyone who reads this blog regularly or knows me at all knows that my family is still extremely close, but somehow, getting all of us together at once is not easy anymore. It's sort of miserably hectic. Still, we try. It's just that I can't remember a Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving in the last five years that has actually worked out. I might be wrong. I might just be remembering the stress of planning it. Would anyone be sick? Who had a cold? Was somebody working late? Out of town? Maybe everyone did show up, but all I can think of was the back-and-forth phone calls: Is Pauly coming? Are you coming? So-and-so's got a bad cough. You get the idea.

 And then last week, before any planning could ensue, Noah got this weird cold. My husband caught it, but then it morphed into something gross and worse. On Monday, I fainted in the middle of a preschool Thanksgiving Feast. It wasn't even my own child's feast. And I did, I mean it, I really fainted. Stars to darkness to eyes opening in a preschool bathroom. I was sitting on a tiny chair looking at a tiny toilet.

Based on the other symptoms that sprang up quickly, we thought it was kidney stones, but no, not stones, just an infection. Aren't I lucky? I spent two days in bed, shivering with chills and a fever and feeling more horrible than I have in quite awhile.

Today was the first day I was feeling better. Joe has been home helping me with the boys all week, convenient for recovering from his icky cold, and Joey got out of school early. We were all kind of lounging when my mom called. She said, "Are you coming for pizza?"

I'd totally forgotten. I don't know how. It's been ingrained in me for years. Even back before we had kids and the Thing To Do was go out and party on the night before Thanksgiving, it was always a given that we'd at least have pizza at Mom's first. But in the middle of, well, just regular life, I forgot.

Everyone arrived at my mom's house within minutes of each other, including my mom carrying the several boxes of food. My sister Jane has a cold and I suspect my brother does, too, though I don't think he'd ever tell me because he thinks I'm weird about germs (I am, but here's a secret: he was the first germophobe, I swear!). Everyone looked a little worn out, but do you know what? We also looked really happy. Pauly and I joked and rolled our eyes all night at how my dad turns every phrase into a song. Joe was like, "That's a weird song your dad is singing," and I said, "No, that's just a thing he does. He's singing that because someone said those words from that song." And Pauly said, "She's tells you that like it's normal." But to us, it is.

Our kids raced back and forth through the kitchen while we sat around the table. Jane and I reminisced about a phase she went through where she L. OVED. cinnamon ice cream, but the only place to find it was at this restaurant down the road where the waiter was in love with her. Oddly, he thought she loved him, too. He had a horse. And once, he climbed into the booth with my sister's friend, somehow commandeered her spoon, and swirled the ice cream around in the bowl while talking about the horse. Jane's friend, if you're wondering, had NOT been done eating yet.

I've been kind of sad thinking about Thanksgiving this year, honestly, because it's a year I have to spend away from my parents. We alternate back and forth, one year at my parents' and one year at Joe's. This is a Joe's family year. We love them and it will be a nice holiday, but, well, when you grow up in a close family, you know that it's just never quite the same. For us, it's almost like our minds are slightly out of step, our hearts lose a rhythm. When we all come together again, everything lines up right. I bet if my sister is reading this, she is rolling her eyes, but she knows it's true. It's how we were raised. It's what we are all about. We've grown up. We have our lives: jobs, families, homes of our own, friends of our own. But no matter where we are or what we do, we are always a part of this thing that is just ours.

So all my planning has gone out the window. Because I was surprised tonight by everything aligning just right without any effort. I was with all the people in the world I love the most, smiling and laughing. Even though I was sick all week and miserable, they made me happy, and even better, they made me feel like myself again.

Whatever your family, your friends, or your celebration, be thankful for the way things work out when you least expect them. I know I have so much to thank God for this year and every day. Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Why I'm Breaking Up With Home Depot

I really should be painting the playroom right now. I've made impressive progress in there since I actually started working on it, but this is just too insane not to share.

This morning I woke up early and decided that maybe I would take my shower sooner rather than later. Normally, I get up and take care of the dog and breakfast and the boys while Joe takes a forty-five minute shower (because he might be part girl). Then, after everyone ELSE is ready for the day, I get a two second shower before I throw on whatever clothes I can find and race off to take Noah to school. Fabulous though that system is, today I decided that since I was up early, I would take a luxurious TEN minute shower before everyone else began their day.

As I went to put my makeup on afterward, I was saddened by my reflection in the mirror. I know women everywhere must feel the same as me: where there was once a perky face with bounce-back skin and exciting hair, now there's just same old me, with circles under my eyes and forehead wrinkles and, well, maybe this one is just me, but one eyelid that droops a little more than the other. The eyelid is all my fault, because my angry face involves one eyebrow up and one eyebrow down, and as my children have informed me, I'm just angry so much. And then once I put my makeup on and pulled my hair back into  a ponytail and reexamined myself, just to see if there really was any improvement or if I was kidding myself with all these extra steps, I realized what I look like. It's not all bad. It's just...I look like a mom. Not a sexy, hip mom like Jessica Alba or my sister, just frumpy, penny-loafer/comfy-clothes-wearing, mom.

So, yeah. It was one of those mornings where I was feeling all of that, and I thought, "I sure could use a pick-me-up." And then while I was out sitting at the breakfast counter staring (something I have to do for at least five minutes before I can talk to other humans in the morning), Joe came out of the bedroom, leaned down, kissed my cheek, and said, "Well, hey, pretty."

Isn't that nice? It should have been my pick-me-up. But I thought, "Ugh, of course YOU say that." It's really almost as obligatory as when my mom says it. Are you thinking I'm rotten? Good. You should. I am. But don't worry. God got me back. He always does, you know.

After I dropped Noah off at school today, I had to go to Home Depot to pick up a few more painting supplies before I could get back into the swing of things (which I still haven't done, obviously, as I'm writing this instead). I went a couple of days ago, and the trip resulted in, among other things, me telling my husband matter-of-factly: "YOU will be in charge of going to Home Depot forevermore. I should not go to Home Depot." And he had responded enthusiastically, "Yay! I love Home Depot!" Which is why it was a good deal.

Except that I NEEDED things today, and Joe has that crazy thing called a day job, so I HAD to go. I gave myself a pep talk on the way there to build my confidence. I told my things like, "If you act like you belong, people will think you belong," and, "Now you KNOW where the paint supplies are, so there's no reason to feel foolish," and, really, the most important one, "Moms like you go to Home Depot all the time, and all this nonsense about you looking ridiculous is just in your head."

I repeated these happy little messages to myself as I parked the car (nearly running over a clear Home Depot "regular" in a CarHart jacket which scored me an unnecessarily dirty look), as I walked into the store, and went to find the things I needed. As I entered the paintbrush aisle, a wide-eyed, excited employee seemingly jumped out from behind the shelves and shouted, "Can I help you with anything?!" I was startled, but held my own. "No," I said confidently. "I'm all set." And I was! I found the replacement sponges for the paint edger and a spare drop cloth, just like I planned, and even grabbed an extra paint tray.

I was feeling so good about the whole thing, I decided it couldn't hurt to check out light fixtures. I've been thinking that the new look of the playroom (one that keeps prompting everyone to say, "Really? That's what you're doing? I don't think..." so I'm feeling a little cross about the whole thing) might require a new, but very affordable of course, light fixture, and, as I told myself in my head, it's perfectly reasonable to go and browse while I'm in a store that sells them.

This where it all went wrong. This is where I should have said, "Mission accomplished. Go home," and I didn't. I didn't say that. I went to check out light fixtures instead.

First, as I located the light fixture department and headed over, a giant tractor/fork-lift thing came careening out of nowhere and chased me through the store, beeping at me. I don't mean the regular caution beeping that the machine already emits while being operated. I mean the man driving it had a horn, not unlike a car, and he was BEEPING at Me. As I dove out of the way, I knew I wasn't mistaken because I was the only person who had been anywhere around.

Still, I straightened my The Gap peacoat, patted my ponytail, and told myself, "Well, that could have happened to anybody," and continued on to the flush-mount ceiling lights.

I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a little overwhelming. I can't help but wonder who thought it was a good idea to make hundred foot ceilings in that store, and to fill all the air space with the stuff they're selling. I had to tip my head way back to examine the lights, and then squint through my old lady eyes to see the prices. As I was doing this, I heard someone suddenly yell, "Hi, there!"

Again, I was pretty sure I was the only one around, so after I jumped out of my skin, I looked over my shoulder to see who the shouter was this time. Standing at the end of the aisle, just staring at me, were two shaggy looking fellows (in CarHart jackets, which must be a thing for Home Depot "regulars"). One, who was wearing a green plastic baseball hat that had seen better days, grinned.

I know I'm one of those people who can't hide her emotions. I could never, EVER get away with committing crimes or even telling any sort of substantial lie (or even an insubstantial one, like, "No, no, your hair is fine," when I don't mean it). Sometimes, in awkward group situations, my friends or family check out my facial expression to see if it is adequately expressing the horror everyone is feeling. I rarely let them down. Even when I think I'm expressionless, that seems to be such a rare thing that it expresses something, anyway.

So when I said an uncomfortable, "Hello," back to the weird men, which I can't help but wonder WHY I even did, other than years and years of good manners and my mother once telling me that if you don't say hello back to people they will think there's something wrong with you, I hoped they got a good dose of what I was feeling as they grinned even more and then walked away. I didn't want this to affect my productive perusal of the lights, however, so even though I kind of felt done looking, I forced myself to stay longer and look more. It could also have been, of course, that I was giving the weird men enough time to find the other side of the store so I could leave without bumping into them again.

No such luck.

As people at Home Depot seem wont to do, they apparently hid out in another aisle waiting for me to walk by. Gripping my little paint tray of supplies, I walked quickly up to the self-checkout line, saying prayers of thanksgiving each time I saw a nice, respectable employee who looked like he was capable of competitive wrestling or effective tackling. But every once in awhile, I heard them behind me saying, "There's the girl!" and I quickened my pace.

I was infuriated by the fact that my face felt so hot. I didn't want them to think I was FLATTERED by their creepy display. I wasn't at all, if you're wondering. I thought about how I haven't been hit on, well, looking back, maybe EVER (though there were plenty of moments where I THOUGHT I was and was embarrassingly corrected by an overly polite fellow who had been looking at the person NEXT to me), but definitely not in recent years and do you know why? Because I look like a MOM. And there's, like, an unspoken code about hitting on ladies like me (not a GIRL, thank you very much) who EXUDE mommyness and sport wedding rings and have sticky syrup smeared across one pant leg. And also, sometimes I pee my pants. And I get REALLY excited about finishing laundry and painting playrooms. So I am categorically NOT a person that creepy construction workers should be looking at while shopping at 8:45 on a weekday morning at Home Depot.

But then it occurred to me. The dark circles under my eyes. The one droopy eyelid. The ponytail. Actually, two things occurred to me. One was that they DID seem a little drunk, and so probably couldn't see me clearly. But second: THIS is the sort of guy who'd hit on me if my life went down the toilet. So I grabbed my receipt from the self-checkout, clutched my bag of paint supplies to my chest, and prayed fiercely the whole way home in thanks to God for the man who came out to the kitchen this morning in polka-dot boxer shorts and a t-shirt and kissed my cheek and said, "Well, hey, pretty," and who will most assuredly be in charge of ALL Home Depot trips in the future.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

IN WHICH I PROCRASTINATE

I've spent a few blog posts praising myself for being fantastically princess-y. Saying I know that some people view that as a bad thing, but that I really don't. Because for the most part, I feel quite lucky that I've been able to live a life so full of gifts and people who love me so much, they do everything for me.

But then, there are times when I curse it all. I say, "Damn you, princess life! You've left me unprepared for important realities, such as taking out the garbage on my own or doing DIY projects around the house!" This is one of those times.

It's become inevitable that I must re-do our playroom. I picked this house because it fit my wish list in nearly every way, including the fact that it has a fourth bedroom on the first floor that acts as the perfect playroom. (It does NOT have a mudroom, which I think of ruefully each time I enter the mountain of shoes that entrenches our main door, but I digress.) However, five years have passed and my two children have grown out of the myriad baby and toddler toys that have taken over their play space. Along with those toys, we have acquired mountains of things the boys DO love, like three thousand superheroes and buckets of Hot Wheels, but which they can't ever reach because of all the STUFF surrounding them, and it's just really become a disaster I can't put into words, so here:


It started innocently enough, I swear. Just a few toys, a table for coloring, and the noble idea of hanging the boys' artwork for display. But nothing could have prepared me for the gifts that continued to roll in, even when it was nothing we needed or could have known to hope for. For the piles and piles of arts and crafts that come home from school almost daily. Or for...swallow, gulp, the stuffed animals. In fact, if I recall correctly (and I admit, recall is not my strongest skill), I think I actually said when I was pregnant with Joey, "I don't really want stuffed animals at all."

No matter. The time has come for an overhaul, and since I'm the only one who seems to care (that's life with men for you), I've taken on the job.

Before I go on, I want you to know that I successfully completed THREE impressive DIY projects prior to this undertaking:

TWO Roman shades that look and work beautifully:



(it's crooked because I'm just bad at raising and lowering in general, not because of a structural issue)

AND Joey's amazing Batman bedroom:



HOWEVER. This doesn't mean I relish the idea of starting again, or that I am any better at handling the nitty gritty details of actually DOING the project. Hence my writing this blog entry ABOUT the project rather than actually starting it.

I already have the materials, at least. Yesterday I visited the paint store where my favorite one-armed paint salesman helped me through the process of choosing colors and amounts of product. That wasn't so bad--although I DID leave the paint in the car overnight when I realized I forgot to buy brushes and rollers and had to wait until today to buy them. Because I don't want to take Noah to Home Depot. So I am a little afraid the paint is frozen, in which case, well, what would I do about that? And then today I did go to Home Depot, and that's one of those experiences that calls to mind the same feelings as elementary school gym class. More specifically, those times when two team captains were chosen, and the rest of the class sat on the floor while each captain took turns choosing the best athletes for their teams. I knew then, and I know now, that it was no my fault of mine that gym classes and Home Depots are not my elements, but I can't really help that it hurts, if only a little, when the people involved put their hands over their mouths, turn away an inadequate bit, and snicker. At me.

I'm sure the Home Depot people see me coming just as loudly and clearly as the team captains did all those years ago. Instead of tidily laced Keds and adorable stone-washed jeans shorts, of course, it's my The Gap peacoat and overall cuteness that does me in now. It's how certainly small I look (and feel) walking through those mile-high orange aisles, how it takes me fifteen minutes--FIFTEEN MINUTES--to find the sandpaper after the snarky salesgirl pointed me in the proper direction. I was too embarrassed to go back and ask her to actually walk me over to the sandpaper, and I was right to be. Once I realized it was the giant, fifty-foot, sky-high display of packages labeled, "SANDPAPER," I felt as stupid as I'm sure the Home Depot girl was whispering that I was. 

Ironically, I'm going for a more rough and manly feel in the playroom, so much of what I need to buy is  at Home Depot. However, I 'd really, really like it if my wonderful, amazing, super-handsome, manly, and did I say wonderful? husband could possibly go back and do all the rest for me. After the sandpaper and, also, a nightmarish self-checkout episode, I'd really rather avoid the Depot for as long as humanly possible.

I'm aware that this reverts me instantly to pathetic princess status. But let's be truthful: it's not often you hear people running around saying how much they want to re-live those elementary school gym class days. Not to mention, I DID take out the garbage yesterday. So he kind of owes me.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Really IS...

I know there are people who LOVE Halloween. LOVE as in, they say the L and then the rest of the word, the "ove" part, comes out silently. I feel that way about summer. And French fries and sushi and red wine. But I don't feel that way about Halloween.

This all started when I was seven years old, the exact age of my oldest son right now. It had to do with a cheerleader costume, a puffy coat, and my mother's less than considerate sense of humor. That, for the record, was the last time I trick-or-treated as a child. My mom, who HATES (only pronounce the H and then silently mouth the "ates" part) Halloween, had finally won. "But you were only seven!" you might cry. Yes, that's true, but my sister was thirteen. My mother had been battling the holiday for six years before the cheerleader incident, so we can give her some credit.

I was bitter and angry for many years following second grade, convinced that Halloween always could have been fun if it hadn't been so heartlessly ruined for me. But then I became a middle school teacher. Middle schoolers have a rather obnoxious sense of humor as it is, you know, probably made worse by the fact that they always seem to find themselves so original. Yes, seventh grade boy, you really must be the first one who ever got a running start and then jumped up to tap the top of the door frame. Surely no one ever thought of that before you did.

Some teachers really get into the holiday, and I salute them. I really do. But being the poop I apparently am, I could never really get past the fact that the tween girls wanted to be slutty and the tween boys were frankly stupid, and everyone seemed to think it was all a big excuse to make poor choices and act like they were five. And you know, the point of middle school is to sort of train them out of making poor choices and acting like they're five. So Halloween seemed, to me, to be a little counterproductive.

Then I had Joey.

Joey brought back the magic for me, I can tell you. His first Halloween, he was an adorable, cuddly monkey who slept through the whole ordeal but still managed to score his parents candy based on cuteness alone. His second Halloween, he was Roo from Winnie the Pooh. The best part of that costume was the little tail in the back. I also enjoyed the fact that his name is Joey, which is also another word for a baby kangaroo, but most people didn't appreciate that. Or even know it. "Oh, really?" they'd say, and look at me blankly for a long uncomfortable second before turning away to find someone more interesting.

Joey's third Halloween is actually one of my favorite nights of my life. It was the first year he chose his own costume, and the first year we let him stay up late and actually trick-or-treat. He was so excited in his little pirate costume (deemed by everyone who saw him the cutest pirate ever; even by the parents of other little pirates, which I found terribly satisfying). I was actually pregnant with Noah that year, and had had some complications just before Halloween, but I still insisted on walking house to house with Joey. The weather was mild, the stars were shining, and my little boy, I felt sure, had the brightest and best "TRICK OR TREAT!" I'd ever heard.

But then everybody started school. You want to know what can really kill the Halloween magic? Classrooms full of costume-bedecked children. Counting paper cups. Spilled Hawaiian punch (dude, lose the red dye, PLEASE). And...wait for it...TREAT BAGS. Oh, lord, the treat bags! I never even knew that treat bags were a Thing until I showed up AFTER Joey's first party in pre-K and all the super tidy, organized, experienced moms were self-righteously handing out these amazing little bags, themed for the holiday, containing darling little candies and stupid plastic toys. Like spider rings and bouncing eyeballs. Do you know, children shouldn't even have to GO trick-or-treating after they've been to their school party? There's certainly no need if the interest is in candy gain. After the parties alone I think I could supply a small third-world country with desserts for the rest of time. Not that small third-world countries need a lifetime supply of desserts. They'd probably rather have...chicken. Or money. Anyway.

I don't want you getting the idea that I hate Halloween like my mother did. No, that would be wrong. I would never, for example, follow my trick-or-treaters in the car, roll down the window after EACH house, and call out, "Are you done? Can we go home now? Aren't you cold?" I would also never stuff my pretty little girl into a puffy coat and then her cheerleading costume and follow her to each house and shout to whoever answered the door, "ISN'T IT FUNNY? SHE'S A FAT CHEERLEADER! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!" But today, as I packed Joey's change of clothes for school, had him practice getting in and out of the costume without ripping it, and wrote him a note to pick him up because who KNOWS what would happen on the bus (hear me moan: Oh, God, the bus, I hate the bus!), and then dressed Noah in his costume, tucked him into the car, and loaded up with napkins packs, jugs of Hawaiian punch (seriously though, why dye it red?--it's just as tasty and fun without being red!), treat bags, and, cruelly, an additional gift bag for a child whose birthday party we missed, I thought...do people actually find this fun? Because, and I hesitate only a second before making such a declaration but, it's NOT. It's a total pain in the @$$.

I felt guilty for even thinking this way as I drove through the morning traffic to drop Noah off at pre-K. After all, I do tend to stress over ordinary things more than ordinary people, and I'm self-aware enough to recognize that as a flaw worth working on. And I do. Work on it, that is. But then, as I walked into my children's school carrying oh-so-many bags, my insanely happy little Ben 10 alien skipping alongside me, I looked around. First I noticed dozens of other insanely happy little children, all dressed as robustly as my own child: Ariels and witches and Jessie cowgirls and Batmen. But two or three steps behind each child? A huffing, puffing, game-faced parent laden down with as many bags and cupcake boxes and Hawaiian punch jugs as I was carrying.

I delivered my child and the exorbitant amount of goodies and walked back to my car, smiling to myself at my newfound knowledge: It's not just me. Halloween, for all its magic and good points, really is a pain in the @$$.


A shot of our pumpkin. It's sideways. I don't care.

Happy Halloween!



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Crossing the Streams

I know I go on a bit about how different it must be to have little girls than it is to have little boys. I must admit, though, that I feel hesitant every time I send such decrees out into the vast blankness I imagine Internetland to be. After all, I have three nieces who I love desperately and spend a great deal of time with. They are not simple, easy people and I know it, and I think my sister and sister-in-law (as well as my own mother who has to put up with me) are brave, strong, and amazing people to have to deal with some of the things that come with raising strong-minded, strong-willed, completely independent little ladies.

HOWEVER.

I will say that what I overheard in the bathroom during a recent enactment of our bedtime routine would probably never happen with little girls. I was gathering up pajamas and socks while my boys, who I have been figuring are now big and old enough to do so, were getting out of their clothes and, well, "going to the bathroom," before their bath. As I was leaning deep into Joey's armoire to find a pair of socks, I heard him say, "Yikes! I have to go really bad!"

This is something that annoys me, because I know both my boys have a tendency to "hold it" too long. It was a habit I had for years, priding myself on my superior strong bladder, until one day I woke up with kidney stones and have never been able to look back. Now I cringe in shame at my inferior weak bladder.

Imagine my irritation, then, when I heard a bit of shoving and heard Noah's reply, "No! I have to go really bad!"

Irritation gave way to horror when Joey said, "Let's just both go. Let's see if we can cross our streams!"

"NO," came Noah's emphatic voice. "Mommy says we're not shupposed to. She says it's messy."

"But it's so cool!" Joey insisted.

At this point, I could definitely hear one stream, and continued shoving. I dropped all socks and pajamas and hurried into the bathroom. Noah was just taking aim as Joey's pee thundered away. That's another thing. Why do boys pee so loudly? Is it a distance thing? The farther you are from the toilet, then...?

"Boys!" I said, panicked. "Never, ever do that!" In my haste to reach the bathroom in time, my tidy bun had slipped from the top of my head down one side, and I was standing with my hands up in the air, "Vogue" style. No matter. The necessity of bathroom cleanliness trumps personal appearance any day.

Both boys snapped around to look at me. But do you know what happens when boys are going to the bathroom and turn around to look at something other than the toilet? A far bigger mess than that caused by crossing streams.

"No!" I cried. "Watch what you're doing!"

But it was too late. A mess was everywhere. On the back of the toilet, all over the rim, and on the floor. Somehow, both boys were dry. And completely unbothered.

Noah shrugged one shoulder and made for the bath, which by this time was full and cheerfully bubbly, as if to mock me and the mess I now had to clean.

"Sorry, Mom," he said, swinging one leg into the water. "But you know. Accidents happen."

"Mom doesn't understand, Noah," Joey said, climbing in after his brother. "She's a girl."



Monday, October 8, 2012

Joey and The Half-Blood Prince

As I may have mentioned before, my seven-year-old son is reading the Harry Potter series. We began when he was in kindergarten, innocently enough reading Chapter One of The Sorcerer's Stone: The Boy Who Lived. How heavy was a boy who lived in the cupboard under the stairs? I never anticipated that by the end of first grade, Joey would have already completed book three, or that he would have done it independent of me. I'm an eighth grade English teacher, but I haven't seen many readers like Joey.

I was prepared for him to watch the first movie, and the second movie. My rule is that you must read the book before you see the movie. It is not exclusive to Harry Potter, but it is not all-encompassing, either. There are, I'm sure, plenty of movies we've seen that began as books and we just never knew. But some things, some stories, are Important.

Joey finished the fourth book somewhere in August. I don't want to spoil the series for anyone who does not know it, but I will say that it is in the fourth book that things become dramatically heavier for the hero of the stories. Joey, however, handled it well. He asked questions where he should have, and was able to explain to us important themes and concepts. I had my husband watch the movie with him, though. I admit that I was too afraid of how emotional it might be for Joey to watch these events play out in front of him. His father has a way of making him feel safe even in such moments (where I break down and sob myself and probably scare the hell out of children everywhere), and so I knew it was the better choice.

He finished the fifth book by the end of September. I watched the movie with him while he was home sick. I think the hardest thing for him to watch was Harry's first kiss. Joey can handle fighting and drama and loss, but he hates kissing.

I was surprised in the car today when we were driving around to look for "Halloween Houses" (something we started doing when Joey was about three, and has resulted in me hearing a tiny voice chant, "Halloween Hooooooouuuuuuuse" every time I see a pumpkin or mesh ghost) and Joey asked, "Mom, have you ever been to a funeral?"

It was seemingly out of the blue. I actually connected the question more with the plastic Frankensteins and streaming ghost decorations than with any thought of Joey reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It was not until bedtime tonight when Joey handed the book to me, earmarked at the last chapter, and pointed to the paragraph where he'd left off earlier this afternoon.

I'd thought it odd when he'd brought the book downstairs this morning to continue reading after the wake-up hour. Normally, he reads by flashlight until dawn, and is then allowed to come down and start his day. But not today. Today he kept reading.

Today, for the first time in six books, he also accidentally tore a page.

He was devastated. He brought the book to me apologetically, his head hung low, the book thrust out from his chest as though he couldn't bear to look at it. "I'm so sorry I wrecked your book," he'd said.

"It's just a page," I'd said. "It happens."

I couldn't understand how he could be this upset over something so easily fixed. All the little details added up all day, and I didn't put them together until bedtime, when he handed me that earmarked page and asked me to read it to him.

Again, I refuse to be a series spoiler. I will only say this: it was in this scene that the merpeople sang in grief, the centaurs shot a tribute of arrows into a weeping sky, and Harry would never be the same again. And if you have read the series, and you are a fan, you will never be the same again, either.

Side by side, Joey and I read, my voice filling the air with the sad words of the book in front of us. My voice became thick and my cheeks were wet. I have learned not to be embarrassed by my emotions in front of Joey; he completely understands (both the emotionalness of a moment and of his crazy mom). I read as long as I could, and then set the book down. I looked at Joey.

Unlike me, his eyes were dry. I asked, "Joey, does it make you sad?"

He said, "Yes...."

"But?"

"But it doesn't make me cry."

I understood this immediately. After reading chapter one of The Sorcerer's Stone, and later, a chapter called "The Mirror of Erised," Joey had cried late into the night, calling me to his room several times. It was in these chapters, early in the series, that Joey had been tortured by the idea of a little boy losing his  mother and father. That he had empathized with--because he most values the love of his family. But while he is able to comprehend the later story, he cannot relate to such grief.

I said, "No, Joey. But it makes me feel good. It means nothing truly terrible has happened in your life, and so you can't really feel how much things like this can hurt."

Joey knew what I meant right away. He climbed into his bed, shifting his bottom down so his head could rest on his pillow. I pulled his Batman comforter up to his chin and straightened it on one side so it covered him evenly.

"What would happen if they asked me at school to name the worst thing that ever happened to me?" he asked, a bit of worry in his voice. "I wouldn't be able to. The worst thing ever is when you're mad at me."

My heart hurt a bit at this, and then I grimaced, imagining that if he said that out loud at school, adults who didn't know me might think me being mad at Joey was something far worse than what it actually is: a little boy who has not known anything bad in his life.

But more than that, I felt grateful. Every parent wants to protect a child from the bad things in the world, and so far I have been quite lucky. So I kissed his forehead firmly and said, "No one would ever ask you to do that at school. And it is much more important to be a person who spends time thinking about good things than a person who wastes time thinking of bad things."

Joey smiled then. "That would be a hard question to answer, too," he said. "I could never pick the best thing that ever happened to me. There's just too many good things."


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Water Bottles

This is my second and last year off of work. And it IS my last year off of work, unless I miraculously come upon a million dollars in the next ten months. Last year, my year off seemed like this amazing blessing because Joe's job was in Pittsburgh and I was in and out of the hospital with those stupid kidney stones (SKS, as I've come to think of them), and it was like, Oh my God, what if I had had to be teaching, too?? I seriously can't imagine what it would have been like to have that kidney stone pain AND walk into a classroom full of middle schoolers AND come home and be a "single" mom.

THIS year, Joe's job is back in Buffalo AND my kidney stones, as of July third, are silent and invisible (I just can't believe they're all gone, since I've had these problems pretty much my whole life). Therefore, I am doing all the cool and amazing things I meant to be doing last year. Like taking Noah to the zoo just because, and learning how to bake a whole chicken and make perfect mashed potatoes, and making everyone wholesome breakfasts and packed lunches. And I have a dog, which I'm mostly excited about (except when I'm not, and then it kind of stinks).

Today, Joey forgot his water bottle when he left for school. Water bottles are all the rage these days, aren't they? Remember when we were kids and went to school and were just thirsty a lot of the time? Sometimes we'd ask if we could go get a drink from the drinking fountain, but unless I was choking my teachers always said NO. Now children are permitted, nay, encouraged, to bring water bottles to school lest they be too parched to learn.

As a germophobe, I must admit I'm a fan of the water bottle because I think drinking fountains are gross and horrible harborers of plague and disease. Noah came home after his first day of school and announced, "I used a DRINKING FOUNTAIN!" and I nearly fell out of my chair. "No, no, no," I told him with fervor, "we don't use the drinking fountain. They are germy." Noah thought about this for a minute and then said, "No, I don't think so." Like he's such an authority on what's germy. Like he's been to medical school recently and might know more than me.

Or maybe like he lacks my super control freak germophobic paranoid insanity.

Anyway.

When I looked on the kitchen counter today and realized that Joey didn't have his water bottle, and considered that he does actually have a cough, I decided that I would bring him the water bottle at school. Noah gets dropped off at 8:30, so I was going to be there anyway, and I could just tuck the bottle into his backpack. I've seen other moms do this before, and it seems to be pretty standard. Kid forgets something, mom brings it and tucks it into the backpack. (Backpacks and coats are hung on hooks in the hall. Very convenient.)

When Noah and I arrived at school, he joined his class's line, already formed in the foyer. His teacher greeted me warmly. She already knows me because I have visited the class twice this year so far: once to read Where the Wild Things Are and once to help chaperone a field trip to the firehouse. She glanced down at the water bottle and said, "Did Joey forget something?" and I said, "Yes, I thought I'd bring it to him." She gestured toward his classroom, just down the hall and said, "You might just catch him before they head to church."

I trotted down the hall to Joey's classroom, beautifully adorned by construction paper leaves and pictures of the children at work--gotta love the digital age--and saw the children lining up at the door. Joey's class knows me from his birthday parties and from seeing me wait in the driveway as he gets off the bus. They called out, "Joey, your mom's here!" Once, I might have worried this would irritate the teacher--that a mom showed up mid-day for something as absurd as a forgotten water bottle--but that isn't the mentality of this school. Instead, I was met with smiles all around, and Joey rushed to the door, grabbed his water bottle, and said gratefully, "Thanks for remembering, Mom!"

I walked out of the building with conflicting feelings. I love that I was able to do that--see both my boys in the middle of the day, and be a part of their school life as well as their home life. That it was as natural as anything for me to walk into school for something as small as a forgotten water bottle. Most of all, that I could do it. Because two years ago, and next year, that was and will be an impossibility. A forgotten water bottle will be a regular occurrence, and a thing to put up with, because no one will do anything about it. I've already acknowledged that I think water bottles are a luxury kids can survive without, but I also love that I have this chance, this one year, to just bring in the stupid water bottle. For my kids to know, "Hey, my mom can be there for me if I need her to be."

As I pulled out of the parking lot and headed home for a precious two hours alone (which I spend doing laundry and cleaning and occasionally writing this blog), I felt the good feelings float away. I was thinking of myself next year, and of all the moms out there who do not have the luxury that I have to be at home. I was remembering what it felt like to say goodbye to teary-eyed children as I rushed out the door in the morning, to see a kid get off the bus with the wrong coat, or with no coat, because I didn't have a chance to check the weather report that morning. To be in the middle of teaching about the difference between their, there, and they're (because they ARE different and it matters, damn it) and have the phone ring and hear Joey's school say, "Joey threw up and needs to go home," and have total panic strike my heart as I think, "My God, I'm twenty miles away and I'm talking about homophones and my own kid needs me and how the hell am I going to take care of this?" I remembered what it felt like to arrive home every day, mentally drained from the homophones and middle schoolers, and have my kids say, "Mom, you're finally home! Can you get us a snack? Can we go to Target? Can you do a puzzle? Can you help me with my homework? What's for dinner? Mom, today was 'Wear Red' day and you forgot--I was the only kid who wasn't wearing red."

Or the one that hurt the most: "All the moms came to school today, except mine. Will you ever be able to come?"

Once, while I was still teaching, I read an article written by a stay-at-home mom. She was all outraged by working moms who said they two full-time jobs: working AND being a mom. She said, "Don't call yourself a full-time mom until you've actually done it full-time," or something to that effect.

Well, I'm going to tell you the truth. Moms who go to work every day ARE working two full-time jobs.  You don't ever get to stop being a mom. I didn't get to stop thinking about Joey and Noah when twenty-five twelve-year-olds were sitting in front of me asking me, "Why do we even HAVE English class, because we already, like know how to speak English?" You're expected to do two completely different things as well as the people who are only expected to do ONE thing in the same amount of time. Your own children still have to be cleaned, fed, and performing beautifully at whatever. They have to be involved in fifty activities and arrive smiling and on time and prepared. At your job, YOU have to be on time and smiling and prepared (preferably fed and cleaned) and performing beautifully. Every day is a mountain climb, and every day you feel the stress of that climb. Not every day do you feel like you've made it to the top, or are going to make it.

So this blog entry is about me saying: Yes, I love my life right now. This has been an opportunity, and a privilege, and a huge financial sacrifice I will never, ever regret. But KUDOS and SALUTES and a TON of credit goes to the ranks of moms I will join next year. You are unbelievable. You are amazing. You are doing more than other people can possibly comprehend. And the reason they can't comprehend it is because you ARE so good at it, you make it look normal and easy.

And in the meantime, I'm going to continue to enjoy water bottles and beautifully packed lunches while I can. It isn't easy--I'm not saying it's easy--but it's certainly nice to be able to give one thing my all.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Little MAWNster

Noah and Joey, like their mom, have quite a love for storytelling. Both boys can be found, on any given day, bent over a pile of papers with a pen gripped in one hand, completely lost in a world that they have created in the deep mystical clouds of their minds.

Joey prefers typing, and Noah, who cannot yet spell very well, prefers pictures. Once his pictures are complete and in the order that makes sense to him, he calls me over to write his words. It's always a big deal to include on the cover: by Noah Bielecki, the author (who has a girlfriend).

Tonight the boys teamed up to brainstorm some pretty terrific stories about Halloween and monsters. Joey abandoned it to begin writing a story right away, while Noah wanted to continue coming up with ideas. This is where he enlisted my help, climbing into my lap with his wrinkled paper and bleeding pen.

"I'll give you CLUES about my ideas," he said. "And you try and guess. They will all be monsters." When he says "monsters," it sounds like, "MAWNsters."

"Okay," I said. "You start."

"Okay," he agreed. "This one has a large head shaped like a rectangle."

"What?!" asked Joey, looking up from his paper. Noah was annoyed. Since Joey had excused himself from the activity, Noah did not want his input.

"A head," Noah said again, glaring at Joey, "shaped like a rectangle."

"Frankenstein?" I guessed.

"YES!" Noah said excitedly. "Now you help me read it." He poised his pen to the paper, which creased slightly under his awkward lefty grip.

"You mean spell it," I said.

"Yes," he said. "That's what I said."

It took ten minutes for us to get "Frankenstein" on the paper.

"Next," Noah said, "is something made from toilet paper."

"A mummy?"

"Very good!" he exclaimed. Together, we wrote, "Mummy."

"What's next?" I asked.

"This one is like toothpaste."

I blanked. "Toothpaste?" I repeated.

He didn't hesitate. "Yes," he insisted. "It's like toothpaste. Buh, buh."

I swallowed a laugh.

"Buh, buh," he repeated. "That's the starting sound. I don't want to say the whole thing. You guess it."

"But I really don't have a guess on this one," I told him, wishing I could keep from smiling because it was clearly offending him. I tried again, "What color toothpaste?"

He made a face. "Pink," he said, shrugging and waving a hand.

"Pink toothpaste?" I wasn't teasing; I really didn't have any idea.

"Pink! Like a blob!" He snapped his hand in the air and slapped it down on the table. He shouted, "And now I said it! I didn't want to say it." He scowled at me over his shoulder. "The word is 'blob,' okay? Now...now...just spell it for me, will you?!"

I'm not really sure when I became so stupid, but as far as Noah's concerned, I'm beyond help.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Back To High School

Tonight I had the very flattering opportunity to take my beautiful niece, now in seventh grade, to an Open House at the high school I went to. Before I go on and make this all about me, let's take a look at my beautiful godchild. This is her, last Christmas with Noah. Doesn't she look JUST like me? Except with glasses and red hair.


Oops. I kind of made it about me there, didn't I?

Anyway. My sister (my niece's mom) asked my mom and me to go to the Open House at Mount Mercy Academy (in South Buffalo, if anyone wants to check out how amazing it is) with them. At first, I admit, I was kind of like, ehhhh. I loved my high school experience, as in, I'd go back and do it again--which I think might be unusual--but I don't have a daughter. I've always sort of mentally surrendered the idea of revisiting my all-girls high school as kind of a waste of time. Good memories, but all in the past. I will say that as a public school middle teacher, I do keep my eyes peeled year after year for any girl who looks like maybe she'd be interested, but even then, there's so many conditions. Would she even be interested? Would her parents bite my head off for suggesting private school? A lot of people, I know, are not remotely interested in sending their daughters to Mount Mercy. Although, I say, take one look at ME and think again.

No, really.

But then Jane (my sister) asked me to just check it out. She's been struggling with knowing that the other area girls' schools are excellent, and I think we both wanted to see if Mercy had the same impressive feel. I personally feel that Western New York has really excellent schools, public and private, and that if you're looking to go to any of the Catholic schools, they all fall into a generally positive category. It's just a matter, in any case, of choosing the school that feels right for one child and their family.

Okay, so now that I've said that, I want to say that pulling down Red Jacket Parkway in South Buffalo made my heart clench. That walking up the front steps, being greeted by Mercy girls, who weren't even wearing the same uniform I used to wear, made me giddy. I was greeted by a smiling face who said, "My goodness! It's so good to see you again!" It was like coming home after being away a long, long time. Since I grew up and only moved across the street from my mom, you can imagine that "coming home" isn't a feeling I've ever really experienced.

The library/media specialist is also a graduate, and we worked together as teachers for two years at my current school, so we had a great time chatting and making dinner plans for some night soon. My history teacher pointed out the exact desk I sat in. My old art teacher greeted me with a huge warm hug.

The walls had been painted. I think the lockers had been replaced, though I knew the exact spot where mine had been my senior year. I walked through the halls smiling so broadly that a lot of teachers probably had no idea who I was, but could tell my overly enthusiastic expression that I was one excited alumna. Either way, they all said, "Welcome back!" like I belonged.

Joe always goes on about how I'm psychosomatic. I develop almost physical attachments to places and things and people, and I physically ache for them when I miss them for too long. I hadn't realized I had such a connection to this building, to this place I haven't visited in years. Unlike so many things from when I was young, I did not find it too changed or much smaller. There were a lot of impressive improvements, of course, times having changed and all that.  Yet it just was, in so many ways, exactly as it had been. I think it was all the important things that stayed the same through the years.

I'm sure I sound crazy and/or sentimental to most people. I hope people can see past that, though. I wish more people could understand the special value of an all-girls high school, of everything empowering and strengthening that comes with it. I have always said I would never have become half the person I am today if my parents hadn't made me go. Are you kidding? Boy crazy me? Could you imagine how insane I would have been if I had gone to school with boys? And sure, plenty of people might think there is something majorly lacking a single-gendered school. There's a lot I could say to that (with an eye roll and a scoff, no less), but all I'll tell you is: I met my husband when I was just a Mercy girl, and that worked out pretty well for me.

A couple of memories that I'd forgotten:
1. Cleaning my paintbrushes in the art room.
2. Hanging out in the Learning Lab to do my math homework.
3. Escaping to the library during study hall to read magazines, talk about boys, and pay a nickel to use the computer (was that real, or did I make that up?).
4. Taco salad.
5. Setting a bag of popcorn on fire in the school cafeteria's new microwave.
6. RACING from the top of the freshman building, down the stairs to the cafeteria, up the stairs of the main building to the top floor for Global Studies as a freshman. (Mrs. Howard totally remembered me fondly, by the way--I could tell.)
7. Running away from my Latin teacher during her cafeteria study hall, where I'd camped out under a table to talk to my friend Alice. It wasn't actually my study hall, so the teacher threatened to give me my one and only detention ever. She didn't, and I never did get one.
8. Wearing a name tag.
9. Getting wall mail.
10. Being SURE I was going be poisoned during chemistry lab.
11. That ALL--really, all of them--my teachers really cared about me as a person.

Everybody experiences school differently. I'm a teacher, I get that. But I will say...I do think I had such a good time in high school because of where I was. If not entirely, then at least quite a bit more than I've realized.






Wednesday, September 26, 2012

First Chicken

When Joey was in preschool, he brought home this memory book at Christmastime. I'd been so busy, I hadn't even remembered they were making it. It was unfortunate, too, since each child made an entry in the book that was supposed to have been worked on together with their family. It seemed that since I had missed this, the teachers had gone ahead and asked Joey the question themselves: What is a very special thing you do with your family to get ready for Christmas?

Joey's answer, as recorded in the book for all the preschool families, forevermore: "First my mom takes the package out of the fridge. Then she opens the package, breaks apart the dough, and puts it in the oven. And that's how we make Christmas cookies."

I don't think I've had a more embarrassing Mommy moment.

Knowing this should make it no surprise that when I pulled a roasting pan out of my cupboard today, I realized I've never used it in the eight years I've had it. But today, my mother taught me how to roast a chicken, so I needed the pan. Chicken and mashed potatoes is my kids' favorite dinner at my mom's house and she had decided it was time I leave the nest and...cook the bird. That metaphor seems wrong here. Just the same, I'm leaving it.

I'm actually pretty excited about doing this, especially since my kids generally hate my cooking and make it well known. I was so excited, that as I drove Noah home from school today, I told him about it. I said, "Mommy's cooking a chicken!"

He said, "You already made the chickens? Won't they be cold when I get home?"

I realized when he said "chickens," he thought I meant "chicken nuggets.

"No, no," I said, "Mommy's making a whole chicken. Like Grandma Judy."

"The whole thing?" he asked happily. "Even with LEGS?"

"Yes," and I couldn't help smiling at how I'd made his day. Ten points for Super Awesome Stay-at-Home Mom!

"Did you cut it yet?" he asked next.

"Well, no," I said, confused. "Not yet."

"So you left it just FLYING AROUND THE HOUSE?!" he gasped.

What? "It's not alive, Noah--"

"But you didn't cut its head off! How--"

"Honey, I don't have to kill the chicken. It was already dead when I bought it."

"It's DEAD?" he cried. "DEAD?! The poor chicken!"

Okay. So maybe I should have learned to cook sooner.






Sunday, September 23, 2012

Anymore

More and more lately I look at Joey and Noah and think, "They're so not babies anymore." To most people it's obvious; they're four and seven and they haven't actually been babies for a long time. But for me, time with them seems to move more slowly, like we're in a warp. There have been so many days where I wished for them to be a little bit older, to understand just a little bit more. I wish I didn't let myself do that, but I know why I do. It goes along with the whole concept of, "God made babies cute for a reason."

I have been singing the same song to Joey at bedtime since he was an infant. He was a really fussy baby, and discovering the miracle of the bedtime routine was possibly literally lifesaving. In his darkened bedroom at our first house, he'd nestle his fuzzy blond head against my chest. I'd rub his back with one hand and have my other arm under his round diaper bottom. I always think of him in the fleece footie pajamas, so cozy and warm in our drafty old house. I hope I never forget that feeling of his weighty little body in my arms as I sang to him "Close To You" by the Carpenters.

I remember one night I laid him in his crib and placed his favorite striped blanket beside him (just like I did tonight), and he smiled up at me through the dim light. It was one of those huge, loving, open-mouthed baby smiles, and I was struck by the two little teeth poking through his bottom gums. I felt a sharp pull on my heart. "He's lost his newborn smile," I thought. "He'll never be my brand new baby again."

Flash forward seven years (I can't believe it's actually taken so long, or that it's already been seven years), a little boy comes home from the dentist proudly wiggling all his lower teeth with his tongue. "They're all loose and I didn't even KNOW!" he announced proudly to everyone who would listen. I'm pretty sure he's the last one in his class to lose his first tooth. He's sat idly by while all his friends have shared reports of dollar bills and five dollar bills and, of course, teeth tied to slamming doorknobs, just waiting for his turn. His big chance.

One tooth was wigglier than any other. The bottom right tooth. I've watched him play with it now (to my germophobic horror, I might add) for two weeks. At one point, he handed me a paper towel and said bravely, "Just yank it out, Mom. I can handle it." He could handle it, maybe, but I couldn't. I gingerly pressed my thumb and forefinger, braced by the paper towel, on either side of that tiny tooth and, well, I tried to pull, but, in the end, I just couldn't do it.

"Don't feel bad," he said, so typical of himself. "It'll come out when it comes out. It will happen on its own."

Sure enough, I came home from shopping today to a gap-toothed smile. He'd done it himself, pushing himself to pull the tooth as far forward as he could handle, until it came free in his hand. He was so proud of himself. It meant so many things to him: being a big boy, finally matching his friends, showing me his bravery, handling a hard situation on his own. I know a lot of experienced moms out there will roll their eyes at me (and probably do often), but when I stared down into that little hole in his mouth, it meant a lot of things to me, too.

The hardest part of all was tucking him in to bed tonight. Pushing that fuzzy blond hair off his forehead as he pressed back on his Batman pillowcase, trying to see if he could feel the tooth beneath the pillow. "Try it out, Mom," he said. "I'll roll over and pretend to sleep, and you be the Tooth Fairy. I want to see if she'll wake me up."

There is a longstanding story that when my big brother was a little boy and lost his first tooth, my mom tucked him into bed that night with promises of a magical fairy who would bring him a prize to trade for his tooth. Legend has it that my brother frowned deeply, reached beneath his pillow for the tooth, and thrust it back at my mother. "You take it," he said. "I don't want any fairies in MY room."

I honestly think that it might have been easier for me if Joey had done that. As I described the mysterious ways of yet another mythical hero (in line with Santa, the Easter Bunny, and Superman), I felt yet another pang. It may sound weird, but I hate lying to him. I hate imagining yet another milestone moment down the road; the one where he looks at me with hurt, tear-filled eyes, and gasps, "You lied to me?"

Just the same, I'll never forget those magical moments from my own childhood (though my mom slipped up a lot more than I do; I was third and she only cared half as much as she had with my brother and sister, a fact she admits freely and without shame). As I fielded his questions in the best ways I knew how, I was plotting in my head just how, how, I would sneak into his room later, get my hand under his pillow, and make the big trade.

I was sweating it all evening, I'll tell you that. I know he's generally a good, heavy sleeper, but the evil voice in my head had other ideas. What if he rolled over and my hand got stuck? What if he bolted upright and asked what I was doing, waving a five dollar bill in one hand while the other was pressed beneath his pillow? I've never been very good at getting caught. I abandon the lies instantly and confess every last detail. I highly doubted I could hold onto my reign of Best Mom Ever if I fell prey to my own tendencies.

But how many years have moms and dads been doing this? I don't know. I don't want to know, either. I don't have the energy to Wikipedia it tonight. Not after I just crept up the stairs to Joey's room, waving a five dollar bill in one hand. Not after I approached his bed where he lay spread out like a little golden angel, his new mouth slightly agape with precious sleep, and slid my hand beneath his pillow to find the rather gross first gained and first lost tooth. Of course it was way farther in than I remembered and I had to dig several heart-pounding seconds longer than I wanted, but he didn't budge. He lay there so trusting, so angelic, visions of me singing "Close To You" dancing in his sweet little head.

I committed the lie and dashed madly out of his room, down the stairs, and stood breathlessly in front of my husband. I gestured wildly for him to pause the TV.

"I did it," I proclaimed. "It's done."

"Great," he said. "Can I unpause now?"

How deflating! After I placed the tooth in a Ziploc bag and tucked it into my sock drawer with Noah's first baby hat and Joey's last binky, I lay down in my bed and remembered that chubby little baby from seven years ago.

He's most certainly not that baby anymore.