“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, April 30, 2012

I Have the Power

For the first time in...possibly a year, I went out for the evening without my husband and children. I'm not kidding. It's been a REALLY long time. Add that to the fact that Joe's job took him to Pittsburgh from August to March, and you'll start to see that my children have become more than accustomed to having me around. Always. Beck and call. Dependent. Reliant. Expectant.

I was so excited to leave today!

It was just coffee with my sister, but not from Tim Hortons and not in my family room. We went to a real place, a favorite of mine actually in South Buffalo called Caz Coffee, because it's charming and cozy and has a little bookstore in back that features local authors. I had an almond coconut mocha and it was amazing.

When I came home, it wasn't much past the boys' bedtime, and as usual, Noah was singing over the monitor. Joe was lying on the couch. I took in this picture of him and asked cautiously, "Did everything go okay?"

He looked at me, eyebrows raised and said firmly, "No."


"It was terrible. They were extremely offended by your absence." I opened my mouth to speak, but Joe put both hands in the air. "I understand that this is the sort of thing I might say as a joke. Let me clarify. I'm not kidding."

"What happened?" I ventured.

Joe let out a miffed exhale that sounded something like, "Kuh!" He continued with, "It's the MOMMY MAGIC. They couldn't understand why you weren't here with your Mommy Magic!" If Joe hadn't been so clearly upset, I would have laughed. As it was, he gave me no room for comment. "Joey called me up twice. Twice! And Noah? Something about dreams? I don't even know. I mean, I already knew they always want YOU to tuck them in, because apparently you're 'the best tucker inner,' but Noah tried to insist that I CALL YOU about the magic. Tell you to come home. He wanted me to call you from his ROOM!"

I really did laugh then, because it was pretty absurd. You're probably wondering what this Mommy Magic business is all about. It started three years ago, shortly after Joey began having nightmares--the really serious kind that made him sweaty and shaky and afraid of the dark. I wrote a whole blog about this the other night but then didn't post it--I do that sometimes--but the bottom line, he's a creative kid with a hugely overactive imagination and it all tends to run out of control at bedtime. Especially after a really busy day.

So he's really into superheroes, right? Like he actually believes my older brother is the REAL Superman. So doesn't it make sense that Superman's sister got a few powers of her own? At the time, Joey was three and wouldn't be convinced that his room or his house were truly safe, or that I could know it for sure. I had to calm him down, so I told him that mommies have magical powers. That we have the ability to keep our children safe. Only mommies have these powers, and all of us have different kinds of powers. Just like Superman is different from Green Lantern who is different from Captain America. They're all heroes, but their powers vary.

The cool thing is, I kind of believe it myself. It's always been said that mothers have that extra sense, that innate ability to "just know" when their children need them, or when something is wrong. Stories are told of women who hear their children crying in their minds, or the age-old tale of the mother who lifted the car off her child. You can go ahead and science it all away with talk of adrenaline and endorphins, or even point out the uncanniness of coincidence, but really...there is a magical truth to it. And most importantly, I truly do everything in my power to protect Joey and Noah.

Joey bought into this right away, but of course with time and periodic recurrent nightmares, the magic morphed into something much larger than a mother's sixth sense, something larger than me. I now have X-ray vision, eyes in the back of my head (because I'm a teacher, Noah says), and various magic spells that ward off everything from Voldemort to bad dreams.

It sounds like a huge pain, but of all the parts of our bedtime routine, the magic is the part I mind the least. It seems to provide both boys with an otherwise unattainable peace of mind. It also allows for the most important means to the end of the battle: it gives them the opportunity to communicate to me what is bothering them and to believe that I can fix it. I can't possibly be in Joey's subconscious to control his dreams, but I can listen to what he is afraid of and verbally will the bad thoughts away. And just that, on its own, helps him think good enough thoughts to sleep peacefully.

And of course, since I've been here to do this every night in the recent past, neither boy could fathom I might be absent THIS night. Especially for something so trivial as coffee with my sister.

"I actually dug out Joey's Harry Potter wand from Halloween," Joe said, disbelieving of such a length. "I took it in Noah's room and told him you gave me special permission to use it. And he knew--even in the DARK--that it was a fake. He yelled at me! He said, 'That's just JOEY'S WAND!'"

Just then, Noah called out from upstairs that he needed to use the bathroom. I went upstairs and opened his door. When I poked my head in, his face relaxed into a relieved smile and he said, "Momma. I'm so glad. I've been wanting some of your magic."

There are a lot of things that the boys want only their father for. They love science, doing experiments, visiting museums, and exploring answers to questions in books or online. And they will only do that with their dad. If I even offer to help, they wave me away dismissively and say, "That's okay. I'll just wait for Dad to get home." When it comes to playing superheroes, Dad knows every name, every ability, and all the background information about each one. If I offer to play, too, they say, "You can be Batgirl. She doesn't do much." And one night, despite all my Mommy Magic, Joey admitted sadly, "You probably couldn't punch out a bad guy, Mom. You're not very tough."

And recently, I came into the family room to spend time with my three favorite people, and found that they were intensely involved with some sort of wizardy/sci-fi/batte-rific video game that I definitely did not "get" or care to "get," and I was completely ignored. I thought to myself, "This will only get worse." I'm the only female in a house full of boys who want to do "boy things," and as time goes on I will fit into that picture less and less.

But at least I have this one thing. I can't punch anybody out, but somehow, I make them feel safe. :)

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Rough Wakeup

When I wake up in the morning, I hate EVERYTHING. I hate the sky, I hate the floor, I hate the light, I hate the dark, and I hate humanity. It's all because of the simple fact that I HAD BEEN sleeping and I'm not anymore, and that makes me SUPER ANGRY. You might think this just stems from the last seven years since embarking on motherhood, but no. I've always been this way. It's even in my baby book. "Mary Pat is very crabby in the morning, especially at breakfast." My mom. Putting it all diplomatically. I could take the head off a puppy in the morning.

At four o'clock this morning, Noah decided to start his day. This is better than the three a.m. or the two a.m. he sometimes chooses, so when I heard Justin Bieber songs coming over the monitor, I rolled over, turned it down to an ignorable hum, and stumbled back into bed. I can do this, by the way, without actually waking up. That's a learned talent since the late night feedings back in the newborn days. Pure survival. (Also, if you're wondering, I really can't turn off the monitor completely all night--it has happened that the boys really needed me and I couldn't hear them at all, sooo.)

But then Noah started wailing, "MAAAAAAAAAAAWM!" and that's when I actually do have to go upstairs, because otherwise he wakes Joey, and then Joey calls me, and then Big Joe actually stirs, and then everyone is awake at four o'clock in the morning.

I tumbled up the stairs at a half-crawl, half-walk, and peeked in Noah's room. "Yes?" I don't use a happy, loving voice with Noah in the middle of the night because if I do, he thinks it's a party and wants to hang out. I resort to a dismissive monotone.

"Maaaawm!" he cried. He was standing up in his bed, one hand on the sloped ceiling above his head for balance. He looked gigantic and very awake. "Mac is on the floor!"

I blinked into the darkness, expecting a deranged person or possibly a ghost to be looking back at me.

"Who's Mac?"

"Mawwwm. He's ON THE FLOOR! You HAVE TO SAVE HIM!" He was now pointing dramatically at the far side of the room. I sighed, entered the room, and found a stuffed dog had been thrown--not dropped--into the corner.

"Is this Mac?" I asked.

"Yes. Thank you. Now, could you give me a little snuggle? I'm feeling, you know, sad."

I picked up the dog, placed it in Noah's bed, and gave him a quick hug.

"Good night, Noah," I said. "Go to sleep."

"Of COURSE," he said.

I exited the room, took the stairs down to my room as carefully as possible without falling (always a risk, even when I'm fully awake), and collapsed back into bed. I shoved my shoulder under my pillow and pulled my favorite sweater blanket up around my neck, and closed my eyes luxuriously when I heard:


above my head. Joey was awake and using the bathroom. He weighs five ounces and walks like an elephant.

Then I heard, "Ooooooooooh noooooooooooooo! Mommy, something terrible happened! I somehow missed the toilet, and..."

I didn't listen to the rest. I kicked the covers off, fell out of bed, ran up the stairs this time, because, really, what the heck, and I found Joey at the top of the stairs, pantless, the bathroom light casting a miraculous glow around him like some half-naked angel.

"I'm so sorry," he said sadly, gesturing widely at the yellow ocean on the floor. The grout was all dark with absorption. "My penis just went out of control. I don't even know--it's never happened before!"

"Are you all done?" I asked.

"I--" he paused, having had his lament interrupted. "Well, yes."

"Go back to bed."

"Oh? Okay."

I looked blankly around the bathroom, momentarily confused until I recognized what my brain was buzzing at me. "CLEAN IT UP." I couldn't quite comprehend HOW, so I grabbed a towel and began soaking up the mess. This seemed wrong, but I couldn't quite comprehend why. Then I got some Lysol--it was now four-thirty in the morning, and began to disinfect. Afterward, I wrapped up the pee towel in another towel, which also seemed wrong but better than leaving a pee towel just laying there on the freshly cleaned floor, and went into Joey's room. He was sitting up in bed, looking bewildered and bereft.

I leaned down and hugged him. "It's okay," I said. "It happens. Go back to sleep."

And because I gave him the okay, he did.

Meanwhile, Noah was singing louder than ever.

I returned to bed, where my husband was now awake and upset about it. Awww. Poor thing. Really.

I rolled into my pillow as Joe let out a noisy exhale of morning breath right up my nose. Trying not to growl, I flopped over.

By the time real morning came and we were having breakfast, I was feeling a little like a disrguntled grizzly bear. I set plates and cups down with more force than necessary and responded snappishly to all who tried to make requests of me.

Joey looked up and said timidly, "Um, Mommy? When will you be able to have coffee again?"

"Not for a few more days," I said. I had surgery Tuesday, and the doctor wants me to wait until I finish one more round of medication.

Then, more to the air than to anyone else, Joey announced, "Someone needs to get this girl a mocha."

Just then, Joe entered the kitchen and sat down.

"Dad," Joey said gravely, "whatever you do today, make sure you help out Mom. She can't do it all, you know."

Joe sounded a mite prickly as he responded. "What do you think I should do?"

Joey put up what can only be described as jazz hands, a wide-eyed look of frustration of his face. "It doesn't matter. Do SOMETHING, will you?!"

I love that kid.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Just Too Good To Be True

It was McDonald's for dinner tonight, Noah's birthday pick. He got his favorite: a hamburger Happy Meal with extra pickles, chocolate milk, French fries, and apples dippers. My boys don't know there is dip with the apples. I don't know why anyone would hand a small child a tub of gooey caramel and expect that to go well.

Noah is four years old today. Every day, every year, I love him more than I ever did, and I find out that, if possible, he is even greater than I ever knew. Tonight when I tucked him into bed, I told him, "I am so, so glad I get to be your mom."

I'd considered telling him his birth story, but he's heard it a million times. I tell him about how he was jumping around so much in my belly I had to tell the doctor, "I can't wait anymore! This baby wants to come OUT!" and how the doctor told me to go to the hospital in the morning.

I've said before that I never planned for Noah to be a C-section, or an emergency (I guess "unexpected" does usually go with "emergency"). I will never forget being rushed into the operating room with nurses, my beloved doctor, and my worried husband running alongside me. I was really, really ticked. When I'd had Joey, the delivery had been a disaster because I was a total wimp. All through my pregnancy with Noah I'd researched and planned and been determined to be super tough and impressive. And I HAD been--up until we realized something was wrong. It's weird, but even though it couldn't possibly be true, I felt like it meant there had to be something wrong with me. I felt like I'd failed at something that comes easily to millions of women every day. It didn't occur to me that easy isn't a word most women would use to describe their childbirth experiences, even if it went more smoothly than this was going. I could only think that I'd already messed up.

In the OR, the anesthesiologist was a real tool and kept yelling at Joe and me to settle down and look away from the procedure. I didn't want to see, anyway, but stupid Joe kept leaping out of the stool and saying, "Is he out yet?" and the anesthesiologist would shove him back down and say, "Sir, I TOLD you to sit down!" And I was thinking, "DUDE! Our baby's being born! Shut the hell up!"

And then my doctor, my super wonderful doctor who saved both me and my baby, was holding up this angry, angry child. His tiny face screamed into mine and I fell back, shocked because he looked absolutely nothing like his older brother. The whole time I was pregnant, I was all calm and sure of myself while Joe would lay awake at night saying, "I just can't picture anyone but Joey. I can't imagine loving anyone more than him," and I would sagely reply, "He'll look like his own person. It would be silly to think he'd be the same as Joey. And of course we'll love him just as much." And yet when Angry Baby was there in front of me, and Joe was gasping, "My God he's so beautiful! I love him so much already!" I was feeling all incredulous that he looked different from Joey.

I wasn't able to hold him right then. I don't know why. Lots of people I know who have C-sections are able to hold their babies right away. Noah wasn't in distress or anything, but they still whisked him away to be cleaned, measured, and weighed. And I had to wait.

Joe held him first, which also made me mad. This happened when we'd had Joey, and I remember feeling like, "Whoa! I just did all that freaking work while he just STOOD there, and he gets to hold the baby first?" But because of the circumstances, the nurses finished cleaning Noah and just handed him straight to Joe. And from several feet away, I heard him say, "He's perfect! And Mary, he looks like you."

It wasn't until I was out of the OR that I finally got to hold him. My mom and dad, terrified that I'd been about to die, were waiting anxiously in my room for me. They were really excited to be there, especially my dad since he'd never been there in those precious newborn moments for any of his grandchildren. He'd always visited my sister and then me the next day, when things were hunky-dory in the private room on the other side of the maternity wing. They hovered over me as I pulled the hospital blanket back from Noah's smooth, round cheek. Joey had been a bit of a cone-head at first since he'd refused to be born for thirty-six hours, but Noah was perfect. His skin was golden and he had tufty blond hair that parted on the side--a detail I fell in love with immediately. He did look like me, his tiny nose bunched up like mine was in all my baby pictures, but he had his Daddy's ears. The left one was folded up from the way he'd been pressed against my belly, and I smoothed it carefully with my little finger. He bunched up his big full lips, frowned for a moment, and then leaned into me for a more thorough snuggle.

"His fingers are so blue," my dad whispered, but with a happy smile. "I haven't been around a baby this new since you." He squeezed my shoulder.

Joe leaned over us, kissing Noah's fuzzy hair and then my forehead. "You did great, you know," he said. "He's perfect."

I kissed Noah's full cheek, loving him so much I felt it like a scream inside me that was going to explode. I sang to him, "You're just too good to be true, can't take my eyes off of you. You feel like heaven to touch, I want to hold you so much. At long last you have arrived, and I thank God you're alive. You're just too good to be true, can't take my eyes off of you."

Those moments before he was born, when I'd been afraid and felt like I'd failed somehow as a mother--I wish I could bottle those along with the amazing feeling of total perfection that came when I finally held him. I'd label the bottle: Dealing With Noah Forever--because that part of him never seems to change. He is my daily challenge--the thing that shoves me to the end of my rope and leaves me dangling there all desperate and crazed and thinking, "Why can't I handle this kid?" But it's always, always followed by a moment where everything just clicks. Because for all his faults, Noah is wonderful--he's amazing in so many ways. He always manages to quickly make up for whatever he's done, and to remind me, "You are an awesome mom, Mom." (Addressing people is a big thing with him.) "And you're so beautiful." (So is complimenting.) "And I don't want anyone else but you." (Total sincerity.)

And Noah, I promise you'll always have me. Always. My perfect little baby boy. Happy Birthday.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Tonight at dinner I said to Joey, "Hey, Joey maybe after dinner we can read some Harry Potter." We're on Book 3, and have been for awhile since we only read at bedtime, and also because we took a hiatus for about six months while Joey debated whether the dementors would give him nightmares or not. I think they might still, and I think he agrees, but he's just so hooked on the story that he recently decided it was worth the risk.

"Okay!" he said enthusiastically. "Should we have dessert in my room?"

I closed my eyes to hide my smile, a rather stupid attempt since closing my eyes does not hide my mouth from anybody. Still, I think it gives me more self-control. "Joey, we don't eat in our bedrooms. We can read the book downstairs after dessert."

Joey blinked as he thought this over, and at first I thought he was completely blown away by the idea of reading a bedtime book outside of his room. But then he said, "Will you go up and get the book with me?"

Ugh. This is a rather irritating request both Joey and Noah have been in the habit of making. For some reason, their bedrooms are safe and cozy enough to sleep in at night, but when it comes to fetching anything, even things they really want (like Noah's guitar necklace or Brown Elephant), they stand at the bottom of the stairs, clutching the railing, heads thrown back, moaning, "Maaawwwwm! You have to go upstairs WITH me! I can't go ALONE!" And really, why not?

So I said, "Joey, I think it's pretty lame that you're afraid of your own bedroom."

He looked thoroughly disgruntled. "I am not. It's just..." and here he rolled his eyes dramatically, "I knew you were going to say I had to go get the book." He sighed loudly. "And I totally do EVERYTHING around here! I'm just sick of it!"

I had to swallow a loud guffaw at this, a difficult feat. I mean really, my shock was laughable. What the heck was he thinking? He complains daily that I'm always too busy to play video games with him or sit and watch Phineas and Ferb, but...?

"I'm so sorry, Joey," I said calmly. It really was something that I didn't fall out of my chair laughing, or even chuckle at all. "I had no idea you felt that way. Maybe you should remind me of all the things you do?"

He threw his hands in the air, Grandma Judy style. "Everything! As soon as I come into the room, it's, 'Joey, go get this!' and 'Joey, throw this out!' and 'Joey, help Noah!' I swear, I do EVERYTHING for EVERYBODY!"

Here I did laugh, just a little, but quickly softened it into a fond smile. "Joey, honey, you're forgetting something important."

He sighed again. "What?"

"Families are about everyone pitching in to do their part, so the whole house can work properly. Daddy goes to work every day to make money so we can have everything we do. Mommy takes care of the cleaning and the laundry and the running up and down the stairs five million times for two little boys." He grinned sheepishly at this. "And you are our little Gopher."

"Gopher?" he repeated.

"Yup. You run around and get things for us. 'Go for a bottle of water. Go for Noah, he needs you. Go for a hoodie, it's cold.' That's how you help out your family."

Joey absorbed this for a long moment, chewing the last of his meatball thoughtfully. Then he frowned, a thorough, dark, brow-furrowing face.

"Well what I want to know is," and he thrust his thumb at Noah, sitting innocently beside him, "what does HE do?!"

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Little Ray of Sunshine

It's been a pretty loaded April for us. The month began with my umpteenth kidney stone surgery--rock on, kidney stones (get it??? rock/stone??).  This surgery did not end well. It ended with the promise of more surgery, which never gives a good sense of closure, you know? Then we missed out on Easter (almost altogether, though the Bunny was generous) because the boys had a nasty flu. We've canceled Noah's birthday party twice, first because of the flu and then because of vacationers (wtf, vacationers!), which was really okay because his birthday isn't until late in the month, anyway. But still. How many times can you promise a little boy there's going to be a party for him and then let him down? So the party is happening Sunday, come hell or high water.

Yesterday I had a meeting, if you will, with my urologist, who has lately become my least favorite person. There are a lot of reasons for this, my general hatred of kidney stones notwithstanding, but I think the biggest is that he has a bit of a God complex. I've had a lot of doctors in my life, seriously. The number of problems I've had, counted with the number of problems I've feared having, adds up to a large sum of doctors. And none of them have ever been as bad as this group of urologists. And it seems to be that they have some sort of urological monopoly going on in the area, because I can't find a new one who isn't affiliated with the old one. I play along in the meantime, pretending to the face of Dr. X that all is well and I'm having a great time (because we all know kidney stones are a real barrel of fun), but really, this man gives me nightmares. I actually had one last night where he was conducting my surgery in an old, old house with lots of rooms, and every time it was time for my surgery I couldn't find him. Then when I did, he was all angry and bothered and yelled at me. It didn't help matters that Joey and Noah were in the dream, too, plugging up toilets and wreaking other types of havoc in the old, old house.

But just as with everything, there have been a few rays of sunshine poking through at us. Two are just the smiling faces of my boys because they are more awesome than any other children anywhere. One is that my son Joey is reading fluently at what I can only guess is a college level. He's really magnificent, and Noah isn't far behind him. Noah is already identifying sight words and spelling simple things like "toys" and "hop on pop" and "Bielecki."  As an English teacher, my literary cup runneth over. As a mom, I say, well...it's all to be expected. I mean, have you met my husband and me? We are so, so wonderful.

The greatest high point of all, however, came at the ironic moment that I arrived home from my evil urologist's office yesterday. I could see from a mile away my children playing in the driveway with my husband, our house lit up on a little sunny hill in the distance. That picture alone could fill anyone's heart, but as I came closer, I saw with shock what was REALLY going on.

Joey was riding a bike with no training wheels.


I pulled carefully into the driveway, stopped the car, and hurled myself from it to attack him with hugs and kisses and obnoxious teeny-boppy-worthy squeals. The scene almost seemed Photoshopped, but for the fact that it was happening before my eyes. My little boy was just pedaling along, free and loose, taking curves and turns like a champ. Well, until he crashed headfirst into Daddy's car, which was mildly hilarious. (Daddy didn't think so.) I know he's six and half, and that's late to learn to ride a bike by some standards, but I didn't learn until I was eleven and have completely defied the law of "It's like riding a bike! You never forget how!" So to me, this was a feat akin to moving mountains. I stood back, watching my children doing small things that somehow seemed like miracles, and I looked at my husband, who had been there to make it happen, and I thought...Things aren't so bad. I have an awful lot of good.

And I kept on thinking that, right up until I went to bed and had that nightmare about Dr. X. Curse you, kidney stones!!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Janie and the Phantom

I don't consider myself a grudge holder. There are a few things, however, I canNOT let go of and, I suppose, some people would consider them to be along grudge-y lines. One of the big ones is that my husband Joe did NOT take me to his senior prom. There's a whole big story to that, but I'm not telling it. I won't give him the satisfaction. Plus, he does have the decency to now regret that mistake.

Another one I'd nearly forgotten. This almost disqualifies it from being a grudge at all, except that I remembered toDAY. It happened when I sat at my mother's kitchen table at dinnertime. My husband Joe was beside me, my sister Jane was across from me, my mother was next to her. My father sat at the head of the table on the far side of the room. This is HIS seat. There is no other he will ever sit in. Ever. No one else should bother taking this spot, even if he is not around, because he will arrive and demand that you move. Even if you are heartily involved in solving a Sudoku.

This story is not about my father and his seat, though. It is about how my mother turned to Jane and said conversationally, "Want to go out shopping tonight?" and Jane said, "I can't," and the subject was closed. There wasn't even an UNCOMFORTABLE silence that followed. It was companionable. No one realized anything was amiss.

I gave out a noisy, "A-HEM."

Joe slapped me on the back and said, "Okay, there, Mar?"

I did not even glance his way. This was not his battlefield. Again, I choked out, "AAAA-HHHHEM."

My mother looked at me, blinked, and said, "What?"

Jane hooted into gales of laughter.

I said nothing, but stretched my face into an exaggerated look of pointedness my mother could not miss. She bent forward, slapped her knee, and exploded in a half-wheezing, half-silent laugh.

"You know what?" I said, flinging both my hands in the air. "STORY OF MY LIFE!"

"What do you mean?" asked my mom, though she was still laughing and she had a glint in her eye that said, "I know exactly what you mean."

Not only did my mother and sister frequently escape on magical bonding shopping trips throughout my entire--not childhood, not youth, but entire--LIFE, but when I was in seventh grade, Jane arranged through her school that she and my mom would travel to Toronto, stay in a hotel, and see Phantom of the Opera together. To say I wanted to be included would a gross understatement. I was devastated. My parents had never, ever taken us to stay in a hotel before (and never would, by the by), and Jane's school was calling it a "Mother/Daughter Excursion." Well what the hell did that make me?!

Even my father remarked at the time that he didn't completely understand why I was left out.

And don't even get me started on the Celine Dion concert.

So when my mother said, "What do you mean?" all innocent-like, I gave her a glare worthy of the devil himself and spat, "Phantom. Of. The. Opera."

Jane's laugh trailed away with a, "Haa, haaa, haaaaa. hooo," she wiped at her eyes, and said snootily, "Well what would have done with YOU there, anyway?"

"Uh, Jane?" my dad spoke up. "Best to let this one go."

INDEED. So glad I could be reminded of one my very few grudges this evening, and also, be left psychoanalyzing how this has completely impacted the very core of who I am for years.

I'm so...forgotten. Feel sorry for me.

P.S.--I tried to post a picture of the three of us together, but there are NONE. Who's surprised?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Memory Lane: Twenty Seconds

A few nights ago when I was just recovering from surgery and not on full-out Insane Germophobic Overprotective Mom Mode (which ends up with raw hands from cleaning and a LOT of laundry, among other things), I begged Joe to rent We Bought a Zoo. I don't know why, but this one caught me from the first trailer I ever saw. I don't even like Matt Damon all that much, and I'm not a big Scarlett fan, but I think there is a big part of me who is still a shiny-eyed, dreamy seventeen-year-old girl who believes buying a zoo would be magical. So I wanted to watch it.

It was a pretty good movie. I cried, but we'll blame that on the meds that hadn't yet worn off. There was one line I loved, where the father says to the son, "You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it." 

I loved the line, of course, and I loved where it took the movie. I sat there wondering, What have I ever done with twenty seconds of insane bravery? I've definitely done a lot of really stupid, unthinking things in even less than twenty seconds. They are the kind of moments that keep me awake at night, cringing at my own idiocy. But that is not the same thing. 

And then I remembered. 

Everyone knows that I met Joe and became his friend when we were only fourteen. Everyone knows that I loved him a blind, all-consuming, not-so-secret secret way. That we had dozens of tiny moments that all seemed to be leading us somewhere. That's our magical story, of course.

But of course, there was a time when I, being a pretty strong-minded, independent, and halfway intelligent person, got fed up. We had started college together, at the same college, and I saw Joe every day. We met for lunch often, hung out and watched movies in his dorm, and, one weird random time, went out for Chinese food. He paid, only adding to the bizarre ambiguity of our friendship. Our knuckles brushed when we both reached for the white rice at the same time. Crazy stuff like that. And then, one night, our friendship ended. Just like that. And I met someone else.

The most uncomfortable part was that Joe and I still saw each other all through college. Sometimes I would spot him coming down the long wide hall in Old Main, his eyes shiny and his keys a'janglin'. And I would duck into the ladies' room, waiting until I was sure he passed. Other times, he would deliberately seek me out in my favorite corners, like the basement of the library, all the way at the very last table in the back where no one ever went. I used to go there to read and write really bad poetry because I thought I was deep. Really, I was probably hiding from things far more meaningful than my poetry. Either way, sometimes I'd look up and Joe would be standing over me, a small smile on his face as he leaned in for an awkward hug and said, "Well, hey there, beautiful."

I hated the hugs and the endearment, at the same time as feeling some sense of relief that someone had found me there. He'd sit on the edge of my table, shaking his keys around, for as long as I'd let him. It was never long, because I was always too afraid of why he'd really come. Of having to be his friend again, and feeling that old familiar ache return every time he smiled into my eyes. I'd met someone else, and it wasn't okay to ache for Joe. It never really had been. You shouldn't spend time aching for people who only confuse you. Ugh.

But then, four years later, I needed Joe.

There's really no other way to say it. I had gotten myself into quite an extraordinary life mess. At least, it seemed like one to everyone who knew me. My mom, my sister, my dad...even my brother were at their wits' end trying to help. Help was good. But I also really, really missed my friend. A person who had known me well, loved me anyway, and had tried, against all my willpower, to stay my friend when I'd given up on him. So just when I'd almost given up on myself, I called Joe.

That's not the twenty seconds of bravery. It wasn't really that hard. I knew he'd talk to me.

The twenty seconds came later, on a cold winter night. We'd been outside, and our noses were still cold. Joe walked me to my apartment door to make sure I was safe. It's the sort of thing he does. I pulled my keys from my pocket and leaned up to hug him tightly. It had become a routine.

"You know," he said quietly into my hair, "I really am so glad you called me." I knew what he meant. Not only that we had reconnected, but that when I needed someone, it had been him I'd chosen as my person.

"Me, too," I said.

"I wish things were different right now," he said then, looking intensely at my face. But he always looked at me intensely. The old frustrations filled me. What did it mean?

But I wasn't seventeen anymore, and I was tired of wondering. So I asked.

"Why do you do that?" I said.

"What?" he asked, blinking, completely losing his moment of passionate/friendly intensity.

"Why do you look at me like that?" I swallowed, and forced myself to say it. "You look like you're going to kiss me."

"I don't," he said unconvincingly. 

"You do, too," I said. "I think you've always wanted to." His cheeks turned pink, but I was on a roll. "I think that deep down you always wanted to, and you were too scared to do it."

"Well," he began, and then hesitated. Clearly though, I wasn't letting him off the hook. "I did," he said finally. "I do. But I don't think this is the right time."

And that's when I had my my twenty seconds of bravery.

I didn't think. I didn't breathe. I reached for Joe Bielecki's great, big head, pulled him right up to my face, and said, "I. Don't. Care." And I kissed him with everything I had. Which after so many years, was a lot.

Twenty seconds of bravery, and all my dreams came true.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Rock Star Easter

I have delayed this post because it is my 100th. Usually when things are the one hundredth, there is cause for celebration. On Joey's 100th day of school, he wrote a small narrative about if he could wish for one hundred of anything, he'd wish for one hundred days to see his dad. Shortly after that, Joe came home to Buffalo for good. My heart fills for such a wish to come true.

But alas, I didn't have anything commemorative to write about. Isn't that always the way? You save up, or build up, to one big thing, and then it's time, and you're like...eh.

So I will write about all my big plans for Easter! Last year, it became a new thing to celebrate Easter at my house. I never believed I could host a whole holiday by myself, but it was Noah's third birthday, and everyone promised to help. Then, typical of me, I insisted on doing everything myself because I'm always pretty sure if I let others help me, they'll say behind my back, "She can't do anything by herself." I suppose it's because for a super long time, that was totally true.

Anyway, this year Noah's birthday does NOT fall on Easter, but I decided to celebrate them together, anyway. April 25 isn't terribly far away, and what kid wouldn't love to have an early birthday party? Last year was Buzz Lightyear themed (have YOU ever had a Buzz Lightyear Easter?), and the colors conveniently lent themselves to the season. Pastel green and purple...who knew? This year, there was pretty much no way around it being Noah's official debut as a rock star.

He has five guitars.

I'm not kidding you. What almost four-year-old has five guitars? Only one is a real guitar. Two are PaperJams (his favorites, and he sings along with his eyes closed and a spirit in his voice that words can't do justice), and two are electric guitars for kids, where buttons make loud and irritating swerve-y noises I don't much like. But I do love his spirit, and so I faithfully replace batteries and never smash volume buttons with a hammer. Because that would be wrong. And it would also break his heart.

For Christmas, Joey picked out PaperJam drums to give as a gift to Noah. Not such a hit. Noah wants the real thing. And somehow, with his big blue eyes and insanely cute voice, he convinced my sister, his "godmudder," to buy him a set. Again, I walk into this fully aware of the insanity of it, of the complete UNLIKE-ME-NESS of it, and yet I cannot deny this child his chance to be a musician. What can I say? He has talent.

While all this has been in progress, I went online to all party supply retailers and searched for the perfect rock star party accessories. I was disappointed. No one supplier offered a satisfying collection of everything I needed. So I had to get serious and spread myself out. Oriental Trading provided the favors: Glowsticks, guitar necklaces, rocker bracelets, and rock-and-roll tattoos. (Apologies to my sister, who is probably reading this and cringing in anticipation since her kids will be the recipients of said favors.) Amazon.com was the only way to go on the pinata--which is BLUE, Noah's favorite color. Party City and Birthday Express provided napkins, cups, and balloons, from one random, strange site I got a huge two feet by five feet marquis poster that announces: ONE NIGHT ONLY, NOAH BIELECKI'S ROCK STAR BIRTHDAY PARTY, APRIL 8, 2012.

Freaking awesome.

It turns out, rock star stuff doesn't color-coordinate with Easter as well as Buzz, but I just gave up caring. The morning is for church and baskets and appreciating the holiday, but the afternoon is all about Noah. God made him who he is. He gets it.


...then I had a kidney stone attack. Surgery was Tuesday, and I've been left with a stent. It's a tube running out of my kidney and extending down my right side. It's awful.

But the party could still go on. I can withstand pain. I've had two children. I get migraines. I've had kidney stones lots of times before. BRING IT ON.


...then my boys got sick. Really sick. The kind of sick you hear people say is "going around" and your skin crawls and your stomach lurches and you think, "Please, God, not us." At least that's what I do.

And with that, the party cannot go on. Not until my little rockstar is ready to go.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Holding On

Sometimes I see motherhood, or at least my own version of motherhood, with an objective clarity that is frightening. I think that I love my children too much, too fiercely, for anyone's own good. Is it healthy to love this much? To worry every second, to obsess over every tiny detail of their lives, from the moment they open their eyes in the morning and then even while they sleep at night? The answer, when it comes in my crystal moments, is easy: probably not. But then, what can I do about it? With a love so big, not very much.

One thing I do know is that the reciprocation of this is short-lived. I am a middle school teacher; I know what will happen in a few years. I will no longer know all the right answers. I will no longer be cool or the most fun and funny person in their lives. I will be a nag, a pest, and at times, and perhaps most heart-wrenching of all, an embarrassment. And so at least right now I am aware enough to appreciate what I have, though there are days I feel it's almost gone with my older son, Joey.

He is only six and half, but the moment he was born I finally understood that the term "old soul" is not always corny, misused, and a bunch of nonsense. Joey looked up at me from my arms with knowing eyes, a deep set frowned creasing his tiny newborn brow. He has also certainly been a child in many ways with his silliness and his weird affinity for bathroom humor. But I notice lately that he is more aware of his friends and peers, their parents, and is even affected by what he reads and sees on TV. Sometimes, his voice catches with an attitude I recognize immediately from my classroom, and my heart clenches as I realize, "It's coming."

Today, my growing boy finished reading a novel. It's not his first, but it is still a new phenomenon that he has become such a Reader. He could not put the book down, even once he'd finished. He sat, scanning and rescanning the front and back covers, even the About the Author page. There was also a page at the end of the book that listed other titles by the same author, and these he read over and over to me, saying which sounded like the next book he wanted to read.

"Would you like me to get one of those books for you on my Kindle?" I offered. He quickly declined at first.

"It would be the same book," I said. "The same as what you'd get at your school library, it just wouldn't have the cover."

"The very same?" he asked tentatively. I think he imagined that with a different cover, or no cover at all, the words inside swirled and morphed into something entirely new and somehow wrong.

"Haven't you ever heard, 'Don't judge a book by its cover'?" I asked.


"Well, what do you think it means?"

"I don't know. The cover is very important to me."

I tried not to laugh as I explained. "Well, you aren't supposed to judge a book by what it looks like on the outside. It's the words inside that make the story special. And sometimes, publishers change the cover of a book, the very same book, just to make it look more interesting. But the inside is still the same story. They don't change that."

Joey thought about this, and agreed to check out what Kindle had to offer. Unfortunately, his top picks were not available.

"Would you like to go to the bookstore with me and pick out a book?" I offered then. It was a big offer.  I haven't been feeling well and am supposed to be resting. But he just looked so lost with that finished book in his hands.

"Really, Mom?" His whole face lit up. "Really? Can we?"

"Sure," I said, getting out of bed. "But you'll have to let me put makeup on first."

"Sure, Mom!" he said, his voice growing louder with each word. "Sure! DAD!  DAD! MOM IS TAKING ME TO BUY A NEW BOOK!" I heard his footsteps thunder across the house.

In the car on the way to Barnes and Noble, Joey spoke up out of an unusual momentary silence. He said,  "Mom? We haven't gone anywhere just us in a long time."

"I know, honey," I said, feeling a little sad. Everywhere I go, Noah insists on being with me. And if my husband ever offers to take both boys, it's like a vacation. Still, this means Joey and I haven't bonded in awhile.

"Dad always takes me to fun places," he went on thoughtfully."Which is really fun, I like going with Dad. But I don't like it when you're not with me."

I felt myself blink in surprise, still focusing on the road in front of me, but sneaking a peek at him in the rearview mirror. "What do you mean?" I asked.

"Nothing," he said. "Just...I like it when you're with me."