“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, 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.


"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


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.