“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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Who They Really Are

Lately I've been marveling over how nothing is ever the way you plan it. I'm not deliberately repeating a cliche, I actually mean it. Which is where cliches come from, but still.

I'm a bit (a tiny bit) of a control freak, so having things not go the way I plan them is insanely frustrating. Being a stay-at-home mom last year was supposed to be Super Amazing. But then Joe had to work in Pittsburgh, and I got kidney stones (twice), and my kids got the stomach flu TWICE (both at major holidays), and, the greatest surprise at all, I don't like going into another teacher's classroom to help out. Even if it is my child's classroom. It makes me really uncomfortable, and I think Joey knew it every time.

More than anything lately, I wonder at how much my children manage to surprise me. I believe I know them better than anyone as their mother, and I'm almost definitely correct (as I often am), but still they manage to find unpredictable ways of demonstrating to me who they are, what they stand for (or in Noah's case, won't stand for), and who they will be. These are the every day moments that make me question my control, my effectiveness/success at motherhood, my choice to stay home. I mean, how much difference am I truly making in their lives by being there? There's really no way to know that. I have to only trust that I've done the right thing. But in the end, when my children surprise me, I have to look at how their qualities--the ones that make me INSANE in the moment--will some day make them amazing adults.

When Noah refuses to back down about...whatever it may be...I can't even come up with an example right now, which is probably why I'd never make it as a real writer, but that isn't the point anyway. It's that moment when he is standing in front of me, eyebrows furrowed, mouth turned down at the corners, fire coming out of his nostrils (and he does actually pant when he's angry), everything about his stance screaming, "NEVER, EVER GIVE IN!" I can picture him in front of a rally of people doing something important to change the bad things in the world. Because that's what Noah is really about: standing up for what he wants, for what he feels is unfair and unjust, passionately angry that something is as it absolutely should not be. Unfortunately for him right now, his beliefs are a little skewed by being four years old and wanting ridiculous things ("No, you may not have cookies for breakfast," "Yes, apologizing IS important"--he really hates apologizing more than anything). But some day, channeled into the right places, Noah really will change the world.

And Joey. Where Noah is the brick wall I run into head first a hundred times a day, Joey is the soft spot on my heart. I hope that doesn't sound like I favor one over the other. I don't. I'm actually equally hard on both of them, and equally in love. But Joey is this floating feather, gliding along on a breeze, and when he finally lands, he seems so lost to me. That isn't really fair to him, because he has a lot of strength. But it is the magic inside him that makes him who is. He is well-liked in his class by everyone not because he is cool or athletic, but because he is kind. Every parent and every teacher I've met has said the same thing, "Joey is everyone's friend. He is nice to everyone, no matter the situation." In preschool, when a little girl was being picked on relentlessly day after day and finally started to cry, it was Joey who stepped up beside her and put his arm around her, despite where the majority had gathered on the issue.

I remember when Joey was an infant, and Noah, too, for that matter, and how nervous I was when I visited the pediatrician's office. It felt like a test every time, not about my kids but about how good a mother I was. Everywhere I went with my babies, people would remark about how big they were, and whether or not they seemed tall or strong. This always bothered me because I didn't, and still don't, care if my boys are tall or strong. I think moms of girls probably feel the same way about people always saying how pretty their girls are. Or maybe not; I guess I can't know! But at the doctor's office, it always felt like more of the same. I know that all the weighing and measuring was for health checks, but it was always followed by, "How much is he eating? How well is he sleeping?" And at the end, always concluded with a, "And what are YOU doing about..." question. The very first time, it was, "And what are YOU doing to exercise him and give him social interaction?" He wasn't even two months old. I felt so blindsided by the question, because I hadn't been doing anything. Just cuddling him and telling him how wonderful he was. And after a few weeks, throwing in a few "talls" and "strongs" because I didn't want other people's opinions getting the better of him, even when he was so small.

Even now that they are older and more independent and I am a calmer mother (relatively), I still leave the doctor's office feeling short-changed and lacking. I don't want to hear about whether my kid is healthy. I can tell that for myself. I want to talk about how kind he is, and how every mom and every kid in his class knows it. I want to talk about how when I left him at golf lessons for the first time, all by himself with a group of kids, I felt like I forgot part of myself as I drove away. And how the next time, I gave him an extra kiss goodbye and he pushed me away in embarrassment. And how he has read the Hobbit and the first five Harry Potter books by himself this summer alone, and that when people grow snide and try to trip him up on his comprehension, because they don't believe he could REALLY be reading it and "getting it," he launches into literary discussions about how he feels about Percy Weasley  and Draco Malfoy and how if he ever had to live without his mother like Harry does, it would be terrible.

Once, at Joey's fifteen-month checkup, they handed me a form to fill out. Could he indentify his eyes and nose and mouth? Could he run and gallop? Could he stand on one foot? (a question at which I thought, "Why would I ask him to?") At the question, "Do you feel he talks as well as other children his age?" I circled NO. On the line next to the word "EXPLAIN," I wrote, "He talks BETTER than other children." When the doctor read it, she chuckled merrily and moved on. I had been dismissed, and so had Joey. Or so I felt.

I haven't learned, either. I still celebrate why my kids are wonderful far more than I know I need to, or maybe should. I know my sister is reading this now and rolling her eyes, and that my mom probably stopped reading somewhere after the first paragraph (in fact, I suspect she only reads the first and last paragraphs and pretends to have liked the whole thing; I'm an English teacher--I know that trick). But the fact is, the other day, I sat in the exam room with Joey's pediatrician and waited for her to say, "And how is he reading?" so I could tell her he is beyond brilliant, beyond wonderful. Astounding. I was going to wait for her to offer me a recommended list of colleges that accept seven-year-olds. In fact, while we were waiting for her to come in, I kept having him read the medical posters aloud so they might hear, come in to investigate, and cheer for him.

None of that happened. They didn't even ask about him reading. Or being kind, or generous, or loving. Or a feather who might land and not know what to do. They just said, "Well, he's growing at the same pace he always has. That's good. Now let's get him checked out."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

About Joey, Summer, And Dog Poop

On Friday night, Joe and I introduced our lives to something new. A dog.

She is a sweet and lovely one-year-old dachshund/chihuahua mix, a "chiweenie." Noah and Joey named her Bree, after a character in one of their favorite Disney shows (Joey swears it isn't so, but I think he has a crush on her). She is calm and cuddly, but fun and playful with the boys. So far, two full days in, things are going well.

Noah is incredibly excited about having Bree. He calls her, "our girl" and, "my dog." When he came downstairs from his "nap" today, he said exuberantly, "Hi, Mom! Where's our girl?" He loves running with her, playing ball with her, having her sit beside him while he swings on his playground, and, most of all, snuggling up with her while watching TV. I could never say this out loud, but I think Noah has bonded with Bree more than anyone else in the house. She absolutely loves him back.

Joey has a harder time understanding that dogs are living, thinking beings who are not going to fit the mold set by TV, movies, and books. He keeps trying to randomly "train" her. Out in the yard when she's supposed to be "all-business," Joey will suddenly leap in front of her and say loudly, "SIT, Bree. I said SIT," and she just looks at him like he has forty heads. I don't blame her.

Joey had an especially difficult day today. I've heard tell that late summer is rough for parents, because the long days of having the children home begin to kind of drone on. They feel restless, we feel restless...it's all true. I hate school. I hated it most of all as a student, but I continue to have a problem with it now as a mom. Germs, homework, learning...it all stinks. I don't say this out loud to Joey...hardly ever, but it's almost always what I'm thinking. Especially about the germs. Actually, I talk about that pretty often.

Anyway, Joey is totally in the late summer humdrums, and it seems to be pushing some previously unknown buttons inside him. Nothing I can really put my finger on, just a lot of poor judgment, I guess.  He has NO common sense at all. People say that about me, I think, but I'm like this old, scatterbrained MOM and he's just a kid. It can't possibly be the same. Yesterday, for example, we were all sitting together in the family room watching a movie, our new dog Bree nestled between her two enthralled human brothers, when suddenly Joey produced--I seriously don't know where he found it or how it just appeared in his hand--this long necklace with a plastic guitar on the end. I'm sure if our babysitters are reading this they're saying, "Oh, yes, I know that necklace," because it does seem to repeatedly appear. So Joey pulled out the necklace and started swinging it around one finger, so the plastic guitar was hooshing through the air, whizzing dangerously close to a) the coffee table, b) Noah, and c) Bree. Not to mention Joey's own face. How can you not watch out for your own face? Big Joe said, "Joey! Don't swing that around!" and Joey stopped. Not five minutes later, he started swinging the necklace again. "Joey! Daddy said stop," I said. He stopped. Three minutes passed. AGAIN he started swinging the necklace. "Joey!" Big Joe said firmly (actually, he kind of barked it; he's noisy). "Put that necklace on top of the fireplace and don't touch it again." Joey did as he was told.

Ten minutes later, the necklace was in his hand, and he was swinging it again.

I don't think he's Harry Potter. I don't think he accioed the necklace. I don't think he used the Force, or that his super powerful brain just subconsciously willed the necklace to him, as he seemed to believe happened when we said, "Joey, why did you take that necklace again?!" This, by the way, is a stupid thing parents do in response to stupid things kids do. We ask them why they did it. He didn't know why. There IS no why. Kids are wonderful. They are sweet and giving and make life worth living. But, man. Sometimes they are really, really stupid. Don't get all judge-y on me. You know it's true. Those what the hell moments happen to everybody. My mom told me.

So this is the kind of weekend Joey's been having. And then, today, when I left him in charge of Bree so I could take care of a cut on Noah's foot, it seemed that she had "done her duty" for him. I thought, "Well, that's something. He can take the dog out for me." I said, "Great! What did she do?"

Joey said, "Well, she kind of squatted down like this," and he demonstrated.

"Uh, I guess that must have been pee?" I guessed, though his squatting didn't really look like anything but weirdness to me. "Did you see a poop?" Gross, I know, but it's an obvious and important question.

"Nah," he said, handing the leash to me. "I don't think so."


What? He didn't "think" so? What does that even mean? Either there's a poop or there isn't, right? So I said, "Joey, do you remember where Bree went?"

"Oh, sure, Mom," he said confidently, striding over to The Place. He stomped his bare foot down (because he always argues about whether he needs shoes and is apparently too cool for them) in the grass at the suspected area. "Right here. See? It's even wet. It couldn't have been...hey! What is this stuck to my foot? It's...GAH! AUGH! ARGH! EWWWW!" He lost his balance, and ended smearing Bree's "just pee" across his whole other shin, which made him start gagging noisily. In between gags, he coughed out, "Ew! Igh! It's on me! It's on me! MOOOOOOOOM!"

I hope you don't think I'm too insensitive that I started laughing, because I did. And as I set Noah up in a chair with Bree's leash and prepared to go inside and get cleanup materials, and Joey shouted, "OH MY GOD! THERE ARE BEES ON ME EATING IT!!!!!!" I thought I might cry from laughter. Really cry. Because it was all so ridiculous, and truly funny, and...truly Joey.

I love him. More than my life, more than air, more than French fries. More than wine and cheese. More than I could ever imagine loving anyone or thing. And he is wonderful. But boy...he's just so...Joey.

I felt badly later, though, especially because the poor kid has heard so many, "No!" and, "Don't do that!" remarks in the last couple of days that I thought maybe he could use a little extra positive. So I said, "Joey, I want you to know, you are--"

"Foolish?" he interrupted.

I felt terrible. "No," I said gently. "I was going to say sweet. And kind, and smart, and funny, and so many good things. And I want you to know that everyone does foolish things. Even Mommy. Even Daddy."

"You do?"

"Yes," I said. "Everyone has bad days."

"That's cool, I guess," he said. He was silent a second and then said, "But I didn't have a bad day. Why are you telling me this?"

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dr. Joey Says...

Each of my children has a "magic lamp" in his room: a lamp plugged into a timer. In the morning at "Awake Time," the lamp turns on. They believe the lamp is powered by my mind and will. Well, Joey did until he found the timer behind his dresser. That was a sad and disappointing day in our house. A little prelude to the Santa Fiasco that is right around the corner.

Anyway, when the magic lamps turn on, the boys meet in the hall outside their rooms and come downstairs together. Beautifully, they go right by my room and just start playing together. I don't know what wonderful angel watches over me and arranged this, but I fully appreciate it. It also gives me ample opportunity to overhear entertaining conversations that can really only happen between two children.

Yesterday morning, I heard the simultaneous THUMPS from their rooms as their feet hit the floor. Over the monitor that I still use (don't judge, I'll explain that some other time), I could hear them, "Hey, Joey!" "Hey, Noah!"

And then, Noah said (remember, no Ls or Rs), "Ugh, Joey. I had the WORST dream last night."

Joey, his voice dripping in sympathy, replied, "Oh, man. Why don't you tell me about it?"

Noah: "Well, I was in our house, and all the sudden everywhere I looked, everything was pink! It was all I could see, pink everywhere!

I happen to know that the afternoon before, they had watched the Dennis the Menace movie, and in that movie was a scene where Dennis loads a shop vac with cotton candy mixture, and it explodes all over the Mitchell yard. Or maybe Mr. Wilson's yard. No matter. The point is, there was pink everywhere and there's a good chance Noah didn't even dream this, he just remembered that part of the movie and wanted to talk about it.

But then there was Joey. Joey's voice became deep and grave with his response, "Oh, Noah, that's terrible. Don't panic. I think this means you have pinkeye."

Noah wailed. "PINKEYE? What's that??"

Joey: "I think it's when everything you see is pink."

Noah: "But I don't want pinkeye!"

Joey: "Well, I think you have it. You better not touch me at all."


Monday, August 13, 2012

Blue Dawn/White Vinegar

I'm about the most undomestic stay-at-home mother who ever lived. Seriously. My own mother was a FANTASTIC role model, but as odd as it may seem, she never overtly taught me any of her secrets. She was a huge fan of "If you want something done right, do it yourself." Unfortunately, that means that when I became a grownup, I had no idea how to do a LOT of important things. Like...clean. Or...cook. Or...wash my clothes.

Some things came naturally. Some things I had seen my mother do so many times, I did it straight from memory, action for action. A good example of that is the Sunday sauce. I can make it just like she does, from the sizzling sauteed herbs to the end result. But other things...well. I'd like to say there's no excuse, but I just gave you one, so. Yeah.


I've come a long way from those early days of domestic disaster. And one of my FAVORITE discoveries is the Blue Dawn/White Vinegar magic. Again, NOT domestic. Also, NOT a fan of getting my hands dirty or...scrubbing. Enter Blue Dawn/White Vinegar.

I found it on Pinterest. It claimed that it could take away soap scum. Clean "ring around the collar" and armpit stains. You may find this hard to believe because we're so perfect, but people in my house DO get armpit stains.

Not only did the mixture work on the soap scum (spray it on, leave it for an hour, wipe away--yes, that easy), but it TOTALLY worked on all Joe's work shirt stains. I moved forward and used it to clean my kitchen sink (which was already clean) and was pleased with the lovely shine that resulted.

But here's the REAL test.

Event A: Red wine on khaki shorts, about an hour old. Spray on Dawn/Vin mix. Leave for 1 hour. Wash in WARM water (yes, warm, not cold, because I'm an idiot and forgot to switch it). Result: STAIN COMPLETELY REMOVED.

Event B: Prepare to be amazed. Cranberry juice on pale pink pants and white--WHITE--sweater. Lazy me, I left it on top of the washing machine for 48 hours UNTOUCHED. When I realized what I'd done , or didn't do, I was upset. Distraught, I spread them out on the tile floor and gazed sadly upon the deep pink stains in what was a brand new sweater and a favorite pair of pants. But I couldn't bring myself to throw them away, or donate them. I wanted them to be better! As a last resort, I sprayed them generously with the Dawn/Vin, left them for two hours (during which time Joe stumbled upon them and exclaimed, "My GOD! What happened to your clothes? Who spills that much??"). This time I remembered to set the washing machine on cold. I also set it to soak for thirty minutes before washing. End result? STAINS COMPLETELY REMOVED.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I GIVE YOU BLUE DAWN AND VINEGAR. Go forth and make the world clean.

1 durable spray bottle
2 parts white vinegar
1 part Blue Dawn

Shake, spray, enjoy!

*PS--Do you love my super technical measurements? That's something my mom taught me. :p

Friday, August 10, 2012

Top 10 Reasons To Start Running

My sister was once getting hit on by this guy. I won't say where or when, because I don't want to start a--you know--THING, but I do remember him asking her what she liked to do for fun. (Correct Answer: Read in Total Solitude) After a bit of chatting, he asked, "Do you run?" Jane and I must have had that Hair-Blown-Back-From-the-Wind look, because he instantly put both hands up in front of himself and said, "Whoa. I see I've said the 'R' word."

I'm not proud of the fact that I don't like exercising, or that running is the R-word, but, like my sister, I would pretty much always rather be lounging somewhere cozy reading a book. However, it occurred to me this morning that being a mom has prompted me to run more than anything else ever has. I don't mean this in a cute, "I'm chasing after two small children" way, I mean there are certain situations that will make me jump, or even fall, off my chair and go sprinting from point A to point B:

1. One child saying to another, "Want to electrocute something?" (It happened this morning, prompting this blog post.)

2. Hearing, at any point in time, the words, "So THAT'S where Mom hid our light sabre/sword/toy gun!"

3. Actually, hearing them saying, "So THAT'S where Mom hid our..." anything. If I've hidden it, it's for good reason.

4. Joey's choking sob. His other cries are too easily thrown around. (Also, a choking sob is different from a breath-holding sob.) Actually, I'll be a good mom here and saying ANY kind of choking will send me running.

5. Noah's long, loud wailing cry, with intermittent breath-holding. Unlike his brother, he rarely uses this one.

6. A THUD or the sound of shattering. Crashes and bangs are pretty normal, though.

7. The phrases, "Uh-oh" or, "Shhh! Mom is going to KILL us."

8. Maniacal giggling (this doesn't indicate danger, but something inappropriate nobody wants their kid doing).

9. A long, loud, "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeew."

10. Any lasting, uninterrupted silences. Silence is possibly the greatest indicator of danger. If not for them, then for someone.

I guess I'm pretty lucky that, for now, exercising is just part of the Mommy Package, whether I like it or not.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Memory Lane: Happy Anniversary

One unseasonably warm night in April, my friend invited everyone we knew over for a campfire. Her family had one of those outdoor fireplaces. Unlike the fancy, stylish ones people build now, amidst lovely stamped concrete and Pottery Barn sectionals, this was an old-world, stone fireplace with a tall chimney. We gathered up blankets and pop and settled in the damp grass around the thing, heads bent together with giggles and gossip, all the things that make being seventeen years old great.

I was on an old flannel blanket that already smelled like outside, seated beside my good friend Carolyn. Because she was loyal and good, Carolyn was willing to spend more than her fair share of the night hatching a plan with me to make sure that one certain boy, one boy alone, was in my car that night on the ride home. I think you can guess who he was.

When he approached the blanket, flopping down on his side next to me, Carolyn, being loyal and good, excused herself with a fantastically lame reason for leaving. Probably something like, "Oh, I see something shiny over there!" Because this is what good friends--best friends--do. They find fantastically lame excuses to leave you alone with the boy you've loved not-so-secretly for two and half years. So you can make sure he needs you, and you alone, to drive him home.

Which is exactly what happened. A simply agreement, an easy question: Hey do you need a ride home? And his answer: Yeah, I think I do. And since it was April, it was a sure thing that the night would grow chillier. When this boy asked me to move closer to the fire, to sit closer to him, and would I mind if he put his arm around me so we could both stay warmer? I had to say yes, of course that would be fine, because it was purely survival against potential hypothermia. It wasn't because his arm around me gave me chills that had nothing to do with the weather, or because when he leaned down to talk to me in my ear his breath felt like butterfly kisses against my cheek.

When ashes and sparks exploded from the fire because teenage boys will be teenage boys who throw too much lighter fluid and too many logs into the flames too often, and the smell of smoke and earth and spring night swirled around me, and he leaned down and whispered, "You are so pretty tonight," all I could think was, I am so glad to be me.

It was time to go home too soon, and I almost laughed out loud when he said, "What happened to Carolyn, isn't she coming in your car, too?" just as she ran by calling out manically, "Alice is taking me home, I'll call you tomorrow!" He couldn't know what "I'll call you tomorrow" meant, how full of promise that was, because it meant there was something we had to talk about.

The ride home was dark, and because we were cold the car heater was blasting against our feet and our cheeks. I turned the radio low, but it seemed to be a loud overriding soundtrack against the hissing of the heater and the car engine, and when Elvis Presley began singing "Can't Help Falling In Love," I knew I would never, ever forget this night. And I also felt...because it was April and because we could not help but be falling in love right now tonight this minute, I was going to get asked to a prom. Finally. Declarations of love, possible kissing, but definitely the prom. Most certainly.

The car drove around the bend toward his house in his quiet neighborhood. Some houses were still lit, but his was dark, save for the porch light. I pulled into his driveway with a bump, bump, as my front and then back wheels went over the curb. Unwillingly, I turned down the radio, our song, so he could speak. He had turned toward me in the car, unhooking his seatbelt to do so.

"I want to ask you something," he said, in a voice small but strong in that dark, dark car.

"Okay," I said, feigning a nonchalance I would never, ever feel.

"Do you think...do you think I should ask Kelly to my prom?"

Kelly? Kelly. Kelly? Kelly was my friend, my good friend. Not Carolyn, not Alice, but another very good and loyal friend. And I sat there...the radio nearly off now and the air filled with the sound of our breathing in my overly heated car and...I felt sharp pangs in my heart as I thought, No, No, No, you have it all wrong.

But I said, "Of course, I think that would be great," because what else was I really going to say? I couldn't say, "Pick me, please, please just choose me." For good measure, I added, "I will call her tomorrow and make sure she says yes. She'd be stupid not to."

And this is how memories are made and how grudges are formed. The only grudge I will ever hang on to, that my future husband once chose the wrong girl and broke my heart.

And maybe I'm a good enough writer that you can feel that pang in your heart right now, because we all know how high school felt and how miserable those moments of grievous disappointment were.

Or maybe I'm not that good, and you just know that, in the end, it simply doesn't matter.

Because one fine day, six years later, Joe Bielecki would be sitting in a dark, dark car beside me, Bon Jovi playing on the radio (who is far, far better than one Elvis song, let's all agree), and saying, "Why didn't you tell me not to? Why didn't you just ask me to choose you?" and when we laughed softly together in the dark, dark car, he would add the conclusion to our funny little story (though I'll never stop holding the grudge) by saying, "I love you, Mary Pat. You are so right for me."

He calls me a firecracker because of my bad, bad temper. He gets all tight-lipped and twitchy-jawed when I lose my cellphone and my keys AGAIN, and when I forget to pick up his drycleaning the day before a big meeting with his boss, and why don't I just do the ironing, anyway? And he takes off his shoes in our house because I am germophobic, and he tiptoes and whispers after seven pm because I don't want to wake our children, and he wakes up feeling like he is on fire in the middle of the night NOT because I am so sexy but because when I sleep I turn into some sort of wild human furnace and bake our bed to about 700 degrees. He calls my mother when he absolutely doesn't know what to do with me, and I listen to his side of the conversation, consisting of many I knows and I tried thats and thank yous. He brings me flowers and he does something that is very rare for him...he apologizes when he sees that, well, I'm just always so right. And perfect.

I am not perfect, and he is not perfect, and our life is not perfect. But eight years ago, my God, eight years--he managed to reverse the evil of asking Kelly to prom (which didn't go well, if you were wondering). Eight years ago, the front doors to the church were thrown open, and at the end of what seemed like the whole world he stood, his twinkly blue eyes lit up with everything I love about him: hope, goodness, and love. For me.

Falling in love is easy, I think. And commonplace. But staying in love, that is quite different. Staying in love is one of the hardest things two people will ever have to do. It is work, and it is hard, and it has to withstand the crazy of both people. And sometimes death threats.

And staying in love with your best friend? Well...that's just about the most wonderful thing there is, don't you think? I do.

Happy Anniversary, Joe Bielecki. You finally picked the right girl.