“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

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Tonight I went to the grocery store to replace a bottle brush that had fallen into the gummy, questionable depths of my kitchen sink drain. It had been a long day: Max's christening followed by a party I didn't want to have. I never want to have parties. I love my family, both our families, but I hate entertaining. Everyone wears shoes on my rugs and rummages in my kitchen. These are things a germophobic control freak simply can't abide.


I realized about halfway through Wegmans that my face felt stiff and starchy, and I realized it was still streaked with tears and mascara from an episode Noah, my second born and beloved five-year-old, had had earlier. It should not surprise anyone if they see me with a tear-stained face. I had a baby seven and a half weeks ago and my emotions and hormones are still a mess. But add my Noah into the mix, and, well, you just can't imagine.

Seven and a half weeks ago, my Noah went from being a second-born to being a middle child. You think that doesn't matter? Well, I've got news for you. It definitely does. I knew it would, but I had no idea just how much.

How many times a day do I shout SHHH! The baby's sleeping!  or, Watch out! The baby's right there! How many times a day does Noah hear me say No!  or Oh, Noah! Maybe I always spoke sharply to him. I think I did. But now, it carries an entirely different message to him. Now, it says, "Somebody else is more important." It doesn't matter that it isn't true. It matters that it's what he feels. And, yes, he is five, but his feelings do matter. At least, they do to me.

This weekend, knowing it was Max's big weekend, I arranged for a special "Noah and Godmother Day" with my sister. It turned into a sleepover, which Noah was absolutely thrilled about. What we didn't bank on is that he decided at some point it was not just a sleepover, but a life swap. He wanted to trade families altogether and move in with my sister as his new mother.

I can't say this didn't hurt.

It exploded at the christening, during which he must have leaned over and whispered to me several hundred times to double check whether I might let him go through with the swap. To deter him, I kept hissing things like, "Shhh, we'll talk later." This was a major mistake, apparently, because "we'll talk later" translated to Noah as, "We'll pack your things later." I had no idea what I was in for.

As the party progressed, I found out just what was going on with my most tempestuous little boy. Realizing that no one was taking his plan seriously, he began urgently seeking out anyone who would listen, insisting they help him gather his things and wondering why no one else was on board. Finally, I pulled him to the side and gave him the truth as gently as I could. "Noah," I said, "you can't go and live with Janie. You have to stay here with me."

Noah has the biggest roundest eyes I've ever seen on a little boy. The other day, he said, "I can make my eyes ginormous, wanna see?" In this moment, they were soaked with tears that spilled over his long eyelashes, and his chin puckered as he said words I don't ever, ever want to hear again: "But I don't want to live with you."

I'm a smart enough, pragmatic enough person to know that he is a child, and that he had no concept of what he was truly asking. However, any mother knows that those words hurt, no matter how empty or fleeting they may be.

It was a long haul from there. Jane spoke to him, my mom spoke to him, Joe spoke to him. No one could get through. It wasn't much helped by the fact that his cousins seemed to think the whole thing was a grand idea and kind of encouraged it. Finally, the guests left the house and I was left with a crying middle child in my arms. A little boy who knows he has a big brother who gets everything first and a baby brother who has more important needs than anyone and two parents who just can't seem to give him what he needs, apparently.

He cried in my arms that my sister wouldn't take him, and that he didn't want me.

I looked at Joe and said, "Let me take him alone." Joe, for once, realized the importance of this and took Max to another part of the house. Joey set himself up with video games, and I brought Noah to my bedroom and closed the door. While he whimpered and waited, I reached into the bottom of one of my drawers and pulled out a book that I've had since he was born. I always meant for him to have it when he was grown up. Maybe when I died. (Do you do that? Imagine what you will leave for your family when you die? I'm kind of obsessed with it.) The book is called The Mommy Journal: Letters To Your Child and was created by Tracy Broy, but it's written by me. It's a journal with blank pages so that a mother can write to her child short little epistles over the course of his (or in some cases, her) life. I have one for each of my boys, and tonight I showed Noah his.

We sat on the floor together. I opened to the inside cover, where I'd begun five and a half years ago by etching an inscription.

"'To Noah,'" I read aloud, "'I never knew how much love I had to give until I had you. Love, Mom.'"

This is when I began to cry, too. When Noah's face turned to mine, he was aghast.

"But you're crying," he whispered.

"Yes," I said. "Now just listen."

I turned to the first letter.

"I wrote this one in May," I told him, and began to read.

Dear Noah,

You are two weeks old. Last summer I asked God for a baby. I immediately knew you were a boy, and that your name should be Noah. Dad disagreed, but my "mother's instinct" won him over. While you lived in my tummy, you moved constantly--especially when I tried to sleep. You desperately wanted to come out and be part of the world--proven when labor didn't move fast enough and you had to be a c-section. After the moment you were born, they placed you, shivering, in my arms. They bundled us up in three blankets so you could stay with me longer, because they knew we had bonded instantly. Now, you are an angel. Golden blond hair and deep blue eyes. I loved you immediately, so much more than I thought possible. You are snuggly and sweet, so alert and smart already. You coo and cry so cutely, with a quivery lower lip. They say you look like me. I gave you a bath tonight, after which you promptly spit up and pooped. I love you. Welcome. 

Love, Mom

I was shaking with sobs as I finished this letter. Not because I love Noah so much now, which I do, but because of how true every word already was even then. His stubbornness, his strength. His insistence and impetuousness. Everything that made him Noah even as an infant. He looked up at me, crying, too, and said, "You wrote that when I was a baby?" His chin pulled up and he swallowed. I nodded, and put my arm around him, reading on. I read him four more letters before he reached out, closed the book, and pulled away.

"You don't want to read anymore?" I asked, my nose covered in snot now and my voice heavy with crying.

He shook his head. He looked at me. He said with some confusion, "You're making me cry even more."

I took the book from his hands and set it aside. "I know things are hard right now," I said. "They're hard for all of us because we're learning. But I want you to know, you are the one boy I asked God for. Joey and Max were surprises, and I love them very much. But I asked for you. You are everything I've ever wanted."

He nodded, closing his eyes and more tears spilled out. "You're making me cry more!" he said again.

"There's no one else like you in the world," I said, still thinking in amazement over all the personality traits he'd shown even in his first months as a baby. "You are the only Noah, and I would never ever want to live without you. I love being your Mom."

He look into my eyes and said, "And I love being your Noah."

Maybe I should have been embarrassed as I walked through Wegmans all tear-stained and starchy, but I wasn't. I just felt lucky.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Nobody Told Me

When you have a baby, the first thing people like to ask is, "Is he a good baby?"

I have no idea what to make of that, and it's probably because I don't think I've ever had a "good" or "bad" baby. My babies cry a lot and they poop a lot. Joey was colicky and had some wild reflux, while Noah never slept. And Max seems to be somewhere in the middle right now--who knows how that will turn out?

The other question people have been asking this time around is how everyone is adjusting. That's more valid, and as I love to talk about my family, I have a much easier time answering this one. Basically, our world has been turned upside-down. I knew it was coming. It's sort of like watching a storm blow in. You see it out there on the horizon, and you think, "Wow, it's so beautiful. It's awesome," but that isn't necessarily what you're thinking when you're right there in it. 

The other day, Max was having a much-needed snooze in his swing. The boys were watching TV and Joe and I were in the next room. The whole thing was this freak moment of serenity and all I wanted was to have it last a little longer.

That's when I heard Noah.

The sounds coming from the next room could only be Noah, unless there was a rabid jaguar loose in my house. Sounds of  "RAWR! RAAAAAAAAWRRRRRRRR! SNAP! SNAP! I'LL EAT YOU UP! RAWRRR!" reverberated through the house. 

It was one of those moments where you think, "Nah," but your heart is already racing.

"You don't think he's...bothering the baby, do you, Joe?" I asked, my voice carefully controlled.

Joe didn't look up. "I can't say I don't think that."

I stepped around the corner and found Noah shaking THIS Halloween mask:

and making scary noises at a sleeping Max. 

"NO!" I cried. I ignored the fact that Max was snoozing right on through this ridiculous display and zeroed in on the real problem. "We NEVER EVER bother a sleeping baby! And you should NEVER growl and shake scary masks at them!!!"

Noah turned around. Slowly, calmly--like I'd just asked him to consider the meaning of life or the history of time. His face morphed into something of annoyance and then he glared at me.

He said, "Well, sorry, but nobody told me not to."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Every Little Thing

Since the dawn of my own motherhood, my life has been ruled by one large, overriding fear: Something bad will happen to my children and it will be my fault.

I mean, it's the only way, right? I take my job as protector to an extreme, which I'm fine with, but that means that I'm acutely aware of the fact that it means when something does go wrong, I have failed. I know what you're thinking--My God, Mary Pat, that's not really true at all! Thank you. But no matter what you say--and I highly doubt I'm alone in not thinking it, but feeling it--this is what keeps me awake at night.

Well, okay. I had a baby three weeks ago, so right now, technically speaking, he is what keeps me awake at night. But generally, and even when baby is asleep and I should be, too, I find myself wide-eyed and staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out one of my more haunting fears: If an attacker is making his way upstairs, how will I keep all three boys safe?

The thing about life, however, is that it just keeps teaching me how wrong I was about whatever I firmly believed. Seriously. I think the thing that is hitting me hardest right now is the fact that Joey is eight, and that he was born when I was twenty-five. I really can't get over what an idiot I was at twenty-five. At how little I knew about anything. At the fact that my fears were silly because I was so completely unaware of the bigger things I had to fear. I really can't believe the hospital handed me a baby and trusted me with him, even if he was legally and biologically mine.

I worried, for example, that I would ever have to leave him to cry. In the hospital, I pulled the emergency buzzer in the bathroom because when I'd had to put Joey down to go to the bathroom, he'd started to cry. The nurses came flying in (like, with their hair blowing back) and they must have thought I was insane. Looking back, I think I was insane.

However, the whole crying thing was something I continued to take really seriously. "I'll never let my baby cry it out," I'd proclaimed repeatedly, and I'm not going to lie. In my head I was snidely criticizing the nameless people who did it any other way.

And then came Noah.

Noah was a miserable complainer for the first year of his life. Pretty much until he could talk and communicate clearly, he was crabby. And at night? He really believed, and believes to this day, that night sleep is optional and, furthermore, not for him. As a baby, he cried every night at two a.m., until the doctor looked at me, a frazzled, frizzled, circles-under-her-eyes, hands-shaking mother and said gently, "He's too old to be crying in the middle of the night. He's not hungry, and he's clearly healthy, so you need to just let him cry. He will be okay."


And guess what. Noah is Noah. It was even worse than I could have imagined. Noah doesn't "cry it out." He cries until you cry it out. Because he's that stubborn. I will never forget sitting on the edge of my bed at six o'clock in the morning, staring in disbelief at the brightly lit monitor as my baby continued to wail, as he had been doing since, you guessed it, two a.m.. Joe rolled over and said, "What's wrong with him?" and I had said, in a sleep-deprived, zombie-like voice, "He's crying it out." Joe's reply: "I don't think it's working." Yeah, thanks.

And now, five years post-Noah, we have baby number three. Max. With an eight-year-old who was never left alone, and a five-year-old who is just that stubborn, well, sometimes Max just has to cry. Sometimes Joey needs help with math homework, or Noah whacks his head on something because he's an idiot, or someone threw up, or someone had a nightmare, or someone...something. That's what it comes down to--there's always something. And my official life rule is nobody is more important than anybody else. We have to let the uniqueness of every situation guide us, and that means sometimes I have to put Max down in a safe place and take care of his big brothers. And sometimes he cries. Sometimes he holds his breath. Sometimes he loses his binky. Sometimes we don't even know where the binky is. And he cries.

Is it easy to squash the memory of my twenty-five-year-old judge-y self? Not really. A large part of me still jumps immediately to the F word--FAIL--and worries about all kinds of completely unfounded fears, like he will grow up to be an angry axe-murderer or is plotting against me. Or that he won't read as well as Joey did in first grade because on November 12th he cried too long in the car while somebody ran back into school to get the homework page he forgot.

But the real answer? Life is just teaching me another lesson. It goes back to something my mom used to sing to me often when I was a little girl, and I'm only now just realizing that sometimes moms sing for themselves as much as their children. But for myself, and any moms out there who ever feel like I do, just remember: Every little thing is gonna be alright.

And in the meantime, here's to remembering to enjoy it all along the way, every little thing:

(photo by Natalie Komosinski)

Monday, October 21, 2013

I love ya, tomorrow!

Somehow, I have made it nine months through a third pregnancy. I can't imagine how long this has seemed to Joey and Noah--probably like an eternity--because to me, it's felt like I'd never be anything but pregnant again.

We have taken the last couple of weeks and slowly made our house into what it inevitably becomes when a baby arrives: a circus center of chairs and baby holders that are meant to soothe and charm and sleepify baby. Drawers are filled with the tiniest clothes in the world, clothes so small that when I hold them up I can't imagine my two big boys could ever have been that size. And, I must say, when I hold those teeny-tiny onesies up to my belly, they do feel unfairly disproportionate.

My biggest fears have remained the same, and can all be boiled down into the same question. What is our family going to become now? I still can't believe that the Universe has blessed us in this way, because (and I can't say this enough), it really isn't what we expected. I look down at my huge belly and I just shake my head in disbelief. How can this be? But it is. No matter how idiotically surprised I might be, it's happening. It's a thing. It's a-go. It's real.

I pray every day that Max will be healthy. People have loved teasing us about having a third boy, and I really can't emphasize enough how annoying that is. Boy or girl, he's a person. And I truly do not care what gender he is as much as I care that he will grow up strong and healthy like his brothers.

The other night when I was tucking Joey and Noah in, Joey grabbed my wrist just as I was moving to leave.

"Mom," he said, "I have something I want to tell you." This is a new thing he does, and I love it. I mean, sometimes it's some ridiculous had-to-be-there scene from school or a completely inane fact about, I don't know, bubble gum, but I'm so pleased that he feels that he can tell me anything, I'll take it all.

"Okay," I said, sitting back down.

His brows furrowed and his forehead creased as he searched for his words. I leaned forward a bit because the air purifier was blowing and Noah was over in the next bed singing.

"Mom, I don't want our family to change." He hurried on before I could respond. "I love us the way we are, and I just--I don't want anything to change us."

I brushed his fuzzy hair backward off his forehead, something I've done since he was an infant in his crib. In fact, when I do it, if I look at him just right, I can still see him being that small again, arms thrown backward and legs sprawled out, completely comfortable and unafraid of the world.

"What are you worried will happen to change us?" I asked, not wanting to address the wrong issue or possibly plant a new one in his mind.

He frowned even more deeply. "I don't want you to die. Or Daddy! Or Noah! I love us all so much. And I don't want anyone to be sick...or to have anything...wrong."


I'm sorry to admit that I didn't have a ready answer. Mostly because these are all my own fears, the ones that nest deep down inside me and keep me awake in the middle of the night. And not even because I'm pregnant, but all the time, even before I had an idea that Max could be a real thing. I love my life so much, and I would never want anything bad to happen to any of us.

So I responded feebly, "When I go into the hospital, Joey, everything will be okay. All the doctors know exactly what they're doing, and they've been watching me closely for nine months. Doing tests and sonograms--you know that. All of that is so that they could know ahead of time if anything looked wrong. We would know by now if we had anything to worry about." And again, this all came from the things I have become used to telling myself. And I could see, unfortunately, that it did very little to assure my big boy.

Still, like me, it was enough to get him to sleep that night. And then yesterday happened.

Again, it was bedtime, although this time both boys were just pulling their socks on their feet to finish off their pajama sets. They were sprawled like crabs on the floor with me, tugging and yanking at their socks to get the heels and toes exactly where they like them.

"Just two more days until we meet our brother!" I told them in a voice usually reserved for Big Deals, like Christmas and vacations.

Again, Joey frowned. "I'm still a little worried that things will be different." The way he said it, "different," made it sound like an apocalypse was coming.

To my surprise, Noah spoke up. "I'm very excited," he said. He was still looking down at his socks, but glanced up almost shyly through his giantly long blond eyelashes. "This is the first baby I get to have who is smaller than me. And in our family. Our house. And I'll be his big brother."

I won't beat around the bush. I almost started to cry it was so cute. And this time, I'd had time to think about Joey's concerns, and what was right and true. "Don't be afraid," I said, leaning closer toward both boys. I smiled, really feeling the excitement of what I wanted to tell them. "This isn't scary--it's an adventure! It's the first day of the rest of our lives! Once Max comes, we will become the family we're meant to be."

Noah grinned, and Joey looked up at me thoughtfully. Acceptingly. My two sensitive little boys. Mad that I'm not having a girl? How silly that sounds when I think of what their faces looked like last night, so filled with hope and trust and, at last, readiness.

We are ready for our next adventure.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Born Third

Dear Max,

Today I went to the store and bought you diapers. I've decided that makes it official: we're ready for you. And I think, little boy, that you are just about ready for the world.

You are busy moving all the time, and I know that things are getting to be pretty cramped quarters in there. I feel your pain...since I share it.

I have spent a good deal of time trying to figure you out, your personality, your quirks, even what you might look like. Don't worry. I'm not foolish enough to commit to any preconceived notions just yet. I knew that your big brother Noah would be nothing like your big brother Joey, and I was right. I also know that while I can't imagine a third personality in the mix, that you'll come out and surprise us all by being just completely you.

Being born third is a big deal, I think. I was third in my family, and, like you, I was born much later than my older siblings. This can be hard, little boy, because there are going to be times you'll feel left out, lonely, and even forgotten. I've learned over time that that last is never true: nobody forgets you. They keep right on loving you, even when you don't realize it. Especially in our family.

There will come a time when your big brothers will seem impossibly grown up. It might even be right away, because Joey is eight and when you're very small, eight is a big deal. You are going to feel like you will never catch up to them. I hope you won't try, little boy. You are a blessing to all of us, to slow us down and help us hang on to a magic that was almost lost to us. You will be the sparkles in the air around us when we all want is to be hard and cynical and mature. That's an important job, and don't forget it.

There will come a time when your big brothers really will be all grown up, and you will feel so far from adulthood that it will be like having four parents and no siblings at all. It's the time when the third-born feels like an only child. I understand this all too well, and guess what? If you play your cards right, it's pretty great. You get all the benefits of having a big family that loves you, but of being the complete center of attention. It can get annoying, true, with everyone focusing on all your mistakes and overloading you with unsolicited advice, but love it up while you can. Because before you blink you'll be a grownup, too. That's not something I even want to think about.

And don't forget that while you're still small and your brothers are big, you'll quietly witness all of their mistakes. You'll watch them fail and struggle and make good choices and bad choices. The best thing to do, buddy, is just hang back and absorb it all. They'll never want to hear what you think, no, no--you'll be young and inconsequential during their moments of spectacular failure (a thing you shouldn't feel bad about, since they are struggling and don't want to imagine their baby brother might know better than they do). But do listen. Do pay attention. And by all means, do remember. Because your tracks will cross all those same paths, Max, and when they do, you'll be prepared. You'll have seen it all before, sometimes twice, and you'll already know what works and what doesn't. And you'll have spent so much time admiring your brothers, and sometimes hating them, that you'll get to pick and choose which things about them you'd like to keep for yourself and which things simply don't work. You'll see Noah's unending stubbornness and know when to use it and when to let it go. You'll see Joey's heart of gold and know when it's time to put up a protective armor to keep yourself safe.

You, my darling boy, will be the very best of us all.

Because that is what being born third, late, and last means. And in the meantime, we are waiting to meet you. We are excited! We love you so much already, whoever and whatever you will be. That's how our family works, Max. No matter what, and always.



Tuesday, September 17, 2013

First Words

Since I've been pregnant, bedtime has gone from a military sort of affair to a chaotic one. The larger I grow, the harder it is for me to crouch down with Noah or keep up with Joey. For the most part, I think both boys mean to be considerate and helpful, but let's face it. They're two little boys who have a thousand, no, make that a million times more energy and agility than I do right now. I'm pretty sure they look at me and see the lamest, most stick-in-the-mud mom ever. And poor Joey. When I'm stuck on the floor like a turtle on its back, he's usually the one who has to help shove me up in the air. UNPLEASANT, I'm sure.

But sometimes things do go just right, like the other night while Joey showered and Noah, all fresh and clean and smelling delicious, snuggled up to my side in my bed, leaned against me, and said, "Momma?  Can we do stories tonight?"

I love when he calls me Momma, because it's become rare. It's usually Mom, with an occasional Mommy. I also love "doing stories," though it's something my husband started and that he is more likely to get to do. Noah assumes we all have our roles, and he doesn't much like us to be outside of them. So if Daddy came up with "doing stories," it's Daddy who must be the one to do them. But every once in awhile, I get lucky.

"Sure," I said. "Should it be a 'Once upon a time?'"

Noah thought about this. "No," he said. His face turned up to mine with a huge glowing smile. "I like the one about how you met Daddy."

Noah is my little romantic. When watching Disney movies, he makes everyone be quiet for the "love part."

I smiled at him. "Okay," I said. "Should I start, or do you want to?"

"You tell it."

"Okay. A long, long time ago, when Mommy was just a young girl, only fourteen years old, she went to a dance at a school called Canisius High School."

"Mommy?" Noah interrupted.


"Can we skip this part?"

"Well, what part do you want to hear?"

"What's the first thing Dad ever said to you?"

And somehow, the way his voice became all mystified and whispery, I knew Joe had never actually included that in his own telling of our story. In fact, I realized it was something I hadn't thought about in quite a long time. So long that I didn't immediately remember the answer.

What was the first thing Joe Bielecki ever said to me? And then, it hit me. As the memory flooded into my mind, I found myself grinning as my eyes watered.

I looked down at our little boy, so like us both.

"The first thing Daddy ever said to me was, 'You're short.'"

Noah's eyes widened as this sank in. And then, he opened his mouth wide with a hoot of laughter, flopping over backwards into the pillows and clutching his tiny belly.

"He said that?" he gasped out. "'You're short!'" And then exploded into more giggles.

Yup. Sometimes it doesn't take much to fill your heart with joy and love.

Monday, September 2, 2013

New Beginnings

Well, this is it. Tonight is it. It is the final hour of my stint as a Super Awesome Stay At Home Mom. Everyone keeps asking me, "How do you feel?" It's a question with fifty meanings of course, because I'm eight months pregnant and it's hot out and tomorrow I'm leaving my children and returning to work after two years of not working. Not that being home with Joey and Noah hasn't been work. It's just that doing something you love every day, and wearing whatever you want when you do it, and having a bathroom at your immediate disposal, doesn't feel as much like work as...well, work.

I am excited. It's an adventure to go back and have a room filled with faces who are waiting to hear me speak. I'm not their mother, so listening to me isn't being nagged as much as it's about getting good grades and establishing a positive reputation. They laugh at all my jokes. Middle schoolers think I'm really funny. I do know basing my self-worth on the opinion of a seventh grader isn't ideal, but there are days where it really makes a positive difference in my life. I love when people laugh at my jokes, and it's a very small, select circle of people who do. Middle schoolers just happen to fall into that circle.

I'm also excited to read poetry and write essays and talk about the crafts of reading and writing. I love when students walk into my classroom for the first time, a place I like to call "Bielecki Land" (which comes complete with its own queen--ME--and laws I can make up as I go). Their faces are so expectant and open. They have no idea what I'll be like (I'm told I'm very loud) or what they'll learn, and even the very worst ones have a light, an optimistic spark, on the first day.

It's just that in my heart, I can't stop repeating an old favorite movie quote again and again: "Well, I'm gonna get out of bed every morning...breathe in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won't have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out...and, then after a while, I won't have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while." (It's from Sleepless in Seattle. A little melodramatic, but par for the course if you know me).

What I remind myself of is this: No matter how hard it is to go back to work--and this is the really important part--it's temporary. Temporary is a concept I struggle with. When Joey was born and went through his colicky phase, everyone kept promising me, "It's only temporary," and I felt like punching them all in the face. "Temporary?" I wanted to scream. "Screw you! He screams for hours for no reason!" But what I've learned is...everything is temporary. Life is all ups and downs and lots of changes. Even the things that last manage to evolve so much over time that at the end of a journey, you can't believe what it was when it began.

So I'm telling myself: If I can do this thing, a thing that in great scope of life is small and quick, if I can get through it, it will be that much sooner that I hold my brand new baby boy in my arms. I will introduce him to his brothers and cuddle him for those amazing first few weeks. I will get this incredible chance that I didn't think I would have again. And that will be temporary, too, but if there is anything I have learned in being a Super Amazing Stay At Home Mom, it's that loving and raising a child is the most super amazing thing I'll ever get to do.

Here's to new beginnings.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bob Marley & Me

I'm listening to Bob Marley just because, and it occurs to me that Bob Marley will forever remind me of the time when I was 6, had the chicken pox, and my parents chose THAT day to go out and buy Slip'N'Slide. They set it up in the backyard while my brother and sister ran upstairs and gleefully changed into their swimming suits. I stood by forlornly as they dashed past me, towels over their arms, and ran out the back door.

I started off staring out the back window, my heart in my throat, but decided I wouldn't be a victim. I had a child-sized folding chair, which I dragged into the family room and opened up. I got my own towel and spread it out over the chair. I taped a paper sun over the lamp that hung over the computer table, and brought two bunches of bananas from the kitchen counter and set them on the coffee and end tables. As a finishing touch, I popped my parents' Bob Marley cassette into the tape deck and prepared to relax.

I don't even think five minutes went by before my mom discovered me. "What's this!" she cried, abruptly hitting the stop button on the music. "Bananas do not belong in here! We'll get bugs! And THIS!" She tore my beautiful paper sun off the lamp. "A fire hazard! You better be glad I found this and not your father! What were you thinking?"

I clearly remember being six years old, in my pajamas, pathetically covered in my pox, and hearing the joyous screams of my siblings, just outside the window, loving up the Slip'N'Slide.

And people wonder why I am the way I am.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Rookie Mistakes

I get a lot of judge-y looks when I say this, but if you've ever seen me or a picture of me holding a small baby, you can see for yourself that I'm super uncomfortable. Babies make me really nervous.

Therefore, as I approach the nesting period of my pregnancy, I'm determined to use my past experience and avoid all rookie error. I have an especially great opportunity here, because I hadn't planned for a third child and rid my house of all things baby. I can actually start all over again and try to only acquire things that I know I will use and that make sense. Here are some of the things I'm focusing on:

1) Clothes without snaps. I don't know if it's a boy thing or a "my offspring" thing, but I've had especially kicky babies. Changing time was always a wrestling match that I only ever won by a hair, and it usually involved a lot of self-encouraging statements on my part like, "You are the mom. You can do this. You will not be defeated by the insanely strong arms and legs of your eight pound infant child." Every time, every time, I finished dressing my child in clothes with snap buttons they ended up so mismatched that the poor kid couldn't even fully straighten one leg (while the other one stretched out luxuriously in miles of extra leg room).

2) Clothes with built-in footie covers. I don't know if anyone else has had this problem, but I find that baby socks are a ridiculous inconvenience. They don't stay on. Period. Whether it's from wild activity or poor design, those cute little booties are always dangling off a toe, or else leaving trails behind us through the house. And you never discover one is missing until a cold, clammy little foot brushes against your skin, and then it's, "Gah! You lost your sock! Let's go find it!" Of course, if you're anything like me, you eventually just throw a blanket over it and hope nobody notices.

3) Hats. I've heard a lot of complaining about baby hats: They never keep them on, they fall off of their own accord, they're silly. I've had exceptionally bald babies, so I want their little heads covered. I want a variety of little hats.

4) Avoid bags/gowns. I've owned exactly one baby "bag" that I loved. It had a drawstring bottom so that I could tie their little feet in. And that's just the issue. When you put a baby in a gown, yes, it's convenient for diapering, but quite honestly, the rest of the time there is a major ride-up issue. Those scrawny little legs keep slooping out the bottom, the whole thing gets bunched up around the tummy/chest region, and, if you recall point number 2, they create a need for socks. I think I'll be boycotting the whole situation.

5) Avoid white ANYTHING. I seem to produce only refluxers, so every beautiful cream or white article of clothing we've owned has inevitably ended up with a yellowish/brownish stain down the front. With Joey, whose reflux was particularly rough, there was also a starchiness to those stains that never quite went away.

6) Really good swaddle blankets. I'm a terrible swaddler. I don't know what happened from the time I was a small child who enthusiastically wrapped up her dolls in cozy blankets, but it's a definite ability I now lack. Again, my children were very active, so perhaps they'd break out of anybody's swaddle, but I did find that I had three swaddle blankets that were the right amount of soft and stretchy and did the job better than any other. (I also had a large variety of flannel/fuzzy/starchy ones that grew little faces every time they untucked themselves and smirked at me as if to say, "You suck at swaddling.") And as for those "Swaddle Me" things, Noah had one, but it didn't swaddle his legs. I'll have to see if that issue has been corrected in the last five years. Or, glorious wonder, have they decided that swaddling should be done away with altogether? Someone let me know!

7) No mobiles or hanging devices in the nursery. I've had Noah. I'm not going to create any sort of situation that, down the line, lends itself to catapulting, ziplining, Tarzan swinging, or general destruction. No matter how lovely it is.

8) Clothes that speak so I don't have to. I'm thinking something along the lines of jammies that read, "My mommy is a germophobe and if you touch me she will take you down."

9) I should probably make posters to hang all over my house that say, "Don't forget to have fun with this!"

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Happy Anniversary: I Choose You

There are a lot of different ways my life could have gone. I think about that a lot--I know you're not supposed to, that it's considered, I don't know, ungrateful somehow to give time and energy to wondering how life could be different if you'd just turned left, instead of right, at that one fork in the road that one time.

I've come to a lot of forks. Knives and spoons, too, honestly. And sometimes I like to sit and wonder what I might be like, what anything would be like, if I'd made different choices. I just do.

I wouldn't have been a teacher. I know that for a fact. I don't know that I regret being one, because it's something that I love and that I'm good at, but it has never really felt like a place I actually belong. I've always felt a little bit like a kid playing school in the basement, with my mom's teacher manuals and an old half-used spiral notebook as my official grade book. More times than I can count, I've thought to myself, "I can't believe these kids are actually writing down what I tell them."

Joe and I got married when we were twenty-four years old. Nine years ago today. It was a beautiful wedding, really like a fairytale. At the reception, when the DJ announced us to our guests, "Mr. and Mrs. Joseph...Bielecki!" we descended from a mezzanine on a winding staircase to the theme song from Disney's Beauty and the Beast. I mean, it doesn't get any more fairytale than that. But when I look around at twenty-four-year-olds I know now, I think...Oh my God. I didn't know anything. We didn't know anything! What did we know, except that we'd already loved each other a very long time, and wanted to spend the rest of our lives feeling like we did on that magical day?

If you're thinking this is going to be all about what makes our marriage perfect and what makes one work, I'm sorry to disappoint you, because I really don't know. We are far from perfect. I really don't know how Joe and I have survived real life, and forks in the road, and really, growing up together. And not just for the nine years we've been married, or the ten years we've been together, but since we were kids. I've been calling the same person for nineteen years with my problems. And if you know me, that means Joe has received a LOT of phone calls, everything from "I'm in the ER" to "I accidentally splashed the juice of a Clorox wipe in my eye, do you think I'll go blind?" Everything from, "My heart is broken," to "My parents are going out for dinner without me!" Everything.

I can't speak for all people, especially in a world where most of them don't stay married, but maybe that's what has worked for us. The everything. Because when I look back on my life, every fork, knife, and spoon, there is one constant. One person who ended up beside me no matter what choice I made...and only half the time on purpose. I think that's pretty remarkable. I've made some pretty bad choices, if you want to know. I've made choices that deliberately put me in the opposite direction from Joe, and then turned around just to see him still right by my side. He's not always happy to be there, and I'm not always glad to discover him there. But in the end, the Universe has been pretty clear: it's where we belong.

When I was in college, my family had two dogs, Sam and Morgan. Sam was awesome and Morgan had issues. Anyway, I came home one afternoon to a house empty of everyone except Sam and Morgan, so it was my job to take them outside. We always had to take our dogs out on leashes back then since we didn't have a fenced yard. I hooked them both up, pushed open the screen door, and went to rest my foot on the top step leading down to the patio so the dogs could run past me and I could hold open the door.

The only thing was, I had completely forgotten that my parents were having the patio redone, and that the back steps which had been there my entire life were simply...gone. And not yet replaced. When I went to lean on that top step to let the dogs go by, I found myself falling out the back door, down, down, down, completely unable to stop the fall in any way, until I crashed on the concrete below, the dogs landed on top of me, and the door slammed shut above my head. (The dogs, bless their hearts, dashed madly away because doing their business was of greater importance than my well-being.)

They call it falling in love because it's just like that...it's unexpected, it's out of control. It's unbelievable! When it's happening, you think, "Oh my God! There's nothing to catch me!" but you can't help it. When Joe and I were first dating, he sent me these song lyrics: "we didn't know, we didn't even try...one minute there was road beneath us, the next just sky." 

Our lives have not continued on in that way, because just like that day with my dogs, eventually every fall ends. You land. And, if you're like me, you land on concrete and everything else lands on top of you. In the great scope of my life, it wasn't two dogs, but two children (and another one coming!). I think a lot of people hit the pavement and look around and say, "This doesn't feel as good as the falling part," and that's when they get up and walk away. It's probably never that simple, but in the end, I think the reason why I'm still married to Joe, who hasn't sent me meaningful song lyrics in years, is not because of the falling, but because of the choices. Because I choose him, and will continue to choose him. After nineteen years, I'm no longer surprised to look up and see that he's still there beside me, even when I've followed a path I thought was mine alone. Now, I expect him to be there, because it wouldn't feel right without him.

I have loved Joe through high school, when he broke my heart more than once. I have loved Joe through buying houses, and decorating them, which no one ever told me would cause arguing and disagreement, but it did. I have loved him through new jobs, and old jobs, and no jobs, and living in different cities. He has loved me through kidney stones and thirty-six hour labor and emergency c-sections. I love him every time he tries to surprise me, even though I hate surprises. He loves me despite who I am in the morning, which is something not quite human and feeds on despair and anger.

I think that, as we enter our tenth year of marriage, a milestone, a trophy of sorts, it makes perfect sense that our lives are about to change, AGAIN. And is it like this for everybody, where it can never just be a small change? I'm returning to work after two years off, and we're having a surprise baby after deciding we were out of our baby years. This is so not how I saw things working out...a phrase that makes me laugh because it reminds me of nearly every important thing that's ever happened to me, including the very night I met Joe for the first time. I had smoothed back my hair, put on my swagger, and gone to put the moves on him, Mary Pat style, when he abruptly turned to my friend and started dancing with her.

Maybe that's why I never mind spending time thinking about how different my life could have turned out. Maybe I'd be a professional writer. Maybe I'd live in England. Maybe I wouldn't be germophobic, or so quick to say no to everybody. But I also know that no matter what my life's choices are, they always seem to keep me with Joe.

Happy Anniversary, Joe Bielecki. I chose you all those years ago, and for every moment of every day, past and future, I'll choose you again. You are, in every way, my soul mate.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Boy Crazy

I grew up with just one brother, but I had plenty of boy cousins. And I babysat my next-door neighbors for some time, who had six--yes, six!--children, three of them boys. So I always thought that, despite the fact that I envisioned myself with a house full of girls (the sort of thing that would inspire people to chuckle and say, "Oh, poor Joe, with all those girls!"), I would be just fine raising boys.

It's just that there are certain things they do, collectively, that make me second-guess myself or, sometimes, want to faint. Especially now that they are big enough to play together. You might even say they're "in cahoots."

Once, I was at the house of a friend with little boys who were older than mine. Above our heads came the steady sound of thumping and possible wreckage. She sat beside me, serenely sipping coffee, smiling and not noticing my unshakable panic that perhaps someone should check on the upstairs situation. Maybe yelling was even in order. Not only did my friend do absolutely nothing, but she seemed to not notice anything was amiss.

"I'll never be like that," I declared to myself in my head.

But you see, now I have all these boys in my house. I suppose it's not so many. My uncle has six boys out of eight children, and my grandmother had four. I used to be appalled when stories were told of my grandmother's sometimes rather harsh methods of household management (opening the door and letting their beloved dogs run away, for example), but now, I'm shocked to say, I actually kind of understand.

What I do NOT understand, I've come to see, is little boys.

Here are some things I confidently know. The bathroom is a private place. Showers and baths are for bodily cleanup. Underpants are meant for covering things that need covering. Walking is a lovely thing to do. There is a difference between an inside voice and an outside voice. You can look with your eyes, but not with your hands. It is possible to discuss that someone might be wrong in a polite and calm way without any physical contact at all. In fact, physical contact is unnecessary in a lot of every day scenarios.

And yet, while I know things as well as I've know anything, my children do not seem to be catching on to any of it.

In our house, we have a playroom. It's downstairs. When we moved in, my husband suggested that we have the downstairs bedroom be a nursery for the baby and make the upstairs bedroom the playroom. "Wouldn't that be easier for you?" he'd asked. 

"No, no!" I'd said, amused by his foolishness. I mean, did he honestly think he should even bother coming up with ideas on the subject? Clearly I knew everything there was to know about raising our children. 

I don't think I was necessarily wrong on the matter, because it was my thought that sending children upstairs to a space of their own, out of sight and out of reach of adults, was just plain asking for trouble. "They'll never need to be in their rooms, except for sleeping," I'd announced. Really, it is sound logic, isn't it? 

It's just that today, I found myself on the couch with a book. Such a rare thing, you know. Dishwasher running, washing machine going, floors vacuumed. Total down time. And then it happened. From up above came the sound of thumping. Shrieks. Deep voices filled with bluster, which I can only imagine were meant to be warrior-like. And do you know what I did? Nothing. I did nothing!

I am shocked by my own lack of concern. I'm also shocked that somehow, it has happened that my children now have two play spaces: downstairs and upstairs. How did this come to pass? At what point did I look the other way, enough that it became just something they do? Because it certainly has. The pounding above me sounded like the devil himself would emerge through my ceiling. "My God," I said to myself. "I've become my friend, from all that time ago." And I'm not even ashamed.

The thing I've learned about having little boys is that it doesn't seem to matter how nurturing and good I am with them. They're going to think that poop and farts are hilarious (even in fancy restaurants). Last night, they spent ten minutes in their beds laughing breathlessly over the fact that Noah could snort. They flopped over backwards, barely missing banging their heads on the wall, clutching their bellies and trying to breathe, and just when they composed themselves, Noah let out yet another sound worthy of the biggest, fattest pig you ever saw and the whole thing would start all over again. I'll tell you what, there was nothing I could do but finally leave them to it. Sure, I could have stood front and center with my hands on my hips and a scary expression on my face, used my wicked witch voice and put the fear of God in them, but in the end...why?

Sometimes, in these moments, I close my eyes and imagine pink bedrooms filled with ruffles and twinkle lights and fairytale magic. I would have been fantastic with girls. I know this, and I think the Universe knows it, too. But for whatever reason, I've got all these boys. My mom says it's punishment for what a bad girl I was when I was young. I never did drugs, never drank, and really never lied to her, but somehow it happened (often) that I was grounded for being, and I quote, "Wild, out of control, and a very bad girl." I did fall in love for the first time in kindergarten, with a boy named Danny who refused to come into our classroom for three whole weeks. And then again in first grade, and second grade, and every grade thereafter until one day one of those boys was foolish enough to drop down on one knee and say, "I don't know how long I've loved you, I think I always have, and I know I always will." Thank God for that boy. Not only was he true to his word, but he also has this uncanny knack for understand little boys that, now that I've learned to listen, has saved me more than once.

 And more than that, my boys are friends. Best friends. They argue and misbehave and put their hands down their pants for no reason at all, but I've seen Joey throw himself in front of Noah to protect him from harm. I've seen Noah wordlessly squish onto the couch beside Joey, where before there had been no space at all but Joey squishes into the back cushions to make room. And they sit like that, their blond heads pressed together, breathing in sync, without speaking, with full understanding that one belongs with the other and that's just the way it is. I don't think I'll ever stop worrying about them...that thumping and shrieking is enough to give any normal person a heart attack, but I definitely love them for what they are. The Universe knew better than I did, because I don't think there is anything better on this whole earth than the little boys in my life. 

Even with their snorts and farts.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Stay Gold

Today is my oldest child's eighth birthday. Like any mother, I remember the day he was born with perfect clarity. I can attribute each aspect of how his birth went to some part of his personality, and recall the very instant I felt that first rush of love when he was placed in my arms.

Around the time that Joey turned two, I was enjoying all the cool new things he was doing and, especially, saying. Joey was an early talker, and by the time we hit the tremendous twos (he didn't become terrible until he was three and had a baby brother), everything out of his mouth was hilarious and clever and wonderful, of course. I frequently shared "Joey Stories" at work, so much so that when I run into former students out in the world, they say things like, "I don't remember your name, but I remember you had a son named Joey."

One particular time, a colleague was listening with appropriate interest, smiling, chuckling, and nodding at all the right moments (FYI, if you don't like my Joey stories, don't feed me with feigned interest like that). When I finished the story, he shared some of the wisdom he'd gained from raising his own children, grown already by that point. He said, "This is the time that's really the best. From two to about eight."

It was meant to be light-hearted advice, I know, but it stuck in my head ever since. That number, that age, "Eight," like a looming threshold to doom or something. I've loved Joey through each milestone, always marveling, again, like any mother, at how special and unique and amazing my child is. I do like to bolster my opinion with little bits of what seems like sound proof to me, like I'm a teacher and have been exposed to hundreds of kids in my career. Or that I babysat a lot growing up, or that I'm just so naturally right about most things. But in the end, it comes to down to this. Joey is my first experience with all things mom. Even now that I have Noah and baby Max on the way, everything that happens as Joey grows is unchartered territory. And now we are venturing into what I've imagined to be scary, stormy waters until, I'm told, he's pretty much a grownup.

Now that I've arrived here at the Big 8, I find it's like most things I've approached with dread. Childbirth, kidney surgery, failure...the thing about it all is that once it's happening, you're just sort of thrust into it without any other option, so...you just do it. It's not even like failing is an option, it's more just this inherent push to move ahead and get through it. So you do. And with Joey being this child who's leaving behind his babyhood completely, entering this phase in his life where he's become too old for a lot of the things in the toy aisle but too young for much else...I find that more than anything, he's still, well, himself. And that plastering an age or a number on that doesn't really change the person I've known for a small lifetime.

There are things. There is an awkwardness to him that never existed when he was "too little to know better." Things that were once funny or cute aren't anymore. Things that Noah gets attention for don't work for Joey, and he struggles with how to fit into various situations. I think that's keenest difference: the appearance of struggle in his life. And perhaps this is what my friend meant all those years ago. Not that turning eight marked a period that would render my life as a horror film, but that this is where life's real challenges will begin to show themselves.

School will become more about studying, preparation, and work. Friends will start making choices that are unfathomable, or merely different, to Joey. He will have to make choices that will have consequences. Not big ones like he'll have as an adult, but things that will definitely impact him tomorrow, or in a week.

Every day when he leaves for school, I tell him the same thing. "Try your hardest and be nice to everyone." It sounds generic, but it's come down to what I myself value the most in other people. Do you strive to make things a little better every day? Do you give every situation your best effort? And, to me, the most important thing of all, do you treat others, regardless of their situation, with the utmost kindness and respect? That is what I want for my children. To work at success, because it's not a gift, and to be kind, loving people.

There have already been days where Joey has met small challenges with these things, which seem so straightforward and easy. He comes home and says, "But Mom, I did say all the right things, I was nice, but so-and-so still...." and then he shakily recounts an event that occurred outside our script for how other people should be and act based on our own choices.

I can't tell Joey, or my other kids for that matter, that these moments hurt me, too. That the advice that I give them, the things that I teach them, won't always work and that it kills me when some little shit on the baseball team or on the bus messes with the system, with the business of just being nice. Because kids are kids, and that means that for a percentage of time (some greater than others), they really are little shits. It makes me, as a mother, want to pummel them, but I can't. Even if it were morally acceptable and not illegal, it still wouldn't be okay.

Because by this time, it's no longer my job to fight all their battles.

I can't save the day every time. I can't make it better with Band-Aids or popsicles or a hug and a kiss. I'm not the only opinion, the only person who matters to them anymore. I may be able to help. I may able to remind Joey that sometimes the world sucks, but he'll always have one crazy, overzealous fan in his corner, cheering her head off and chanting his name. Even when he messes up. Even when no one else gets it.

But it won't always be enough. I think that's what my friend meant about turning eight. And it doesn't even happen over night...it's slow. It's unexpected. There'll be one bad day, and then things will be fine for awhile. But it will always come up again, and as he grows up, it will be harder and more complicated, because that's what life is. I can only hope that the things I do and say on the sidelines will be enough to help him figure it all out, and hopefully, if I'm any good at it, with a little less pain than I had when I went through it. Because that's another thing we mothers want. We want to just keep that pain as far from our children as we can, and every tiny victory matters, no matter the outcome of the previous or the next situation.

When I look at Joey now, I'm reminded of a book I've always loved teaching to my eighth grade classes. In SE Hinton's The Outsiders, we see kids with problems and issues and interactions we all pray our own children will never encounter, but they probably will, on some or every level. At the end of the story, without giving too much away (because if you haven't read it, you should), one character, Johnny, has met repeated challenges and now faces the world with the eyes of someone a little too broken by it all. His friend Ponyboy cites a Robert Frost poem, quoting the line, "Nothing gold can stay." But Johnny sees Ponyboy as a person who still believes there is good, a person who is still a little bit shiny despite the muck and mire of the world. Johnny urges him, "Stay gold, Ponyboy."

This, in the end, is what I want for Joey. For despite his weirdness, his craziness, his faults...his heart is so unfailingly good. I don't think we can say that about many people, not even all children. So to Joey, on his eighth birthday, I say, I love you, my baby. And stay gold. Always, no matter what...I want you to just stay gold.

No matter how big you grow, you will always look like this to me. <3 p="">

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Panic Room

When you're married, there are days when you run out of fingers to count the ways the other person annoys you. There are also times, however, when a heavenly light shines down on him from above and opera music sings in your ears because you realize you're just that lucky to have found the right person for you.

This morning I woke in a panic because of a terrible dream I'd had. I won't get into too many details, but it was one of those vivid ones that feels like it's lasted for hours. I will say that in it, myself and my fictional dream family were being stalked and attacked by a vicious man and woman team who hoped to ultimately bury us alive.

Some people dream about rainbows and unicorns, I think.

Anyway, when I woke up, I ran up the stairs to check on my children.

"What's wrong?" Noah asked. He was already awake, but thoroughly confused by my sudden onslaught of tight hugs and hundreds of kisses.

"I just had a bad dream," I said. "I just wanted to see you."

He didn't look reassured or pleased. He looked completely bothered.

Anyway, it was too early for anyone to be out of bed, so I went back downstairs where I found my husband awake. Apparently, my antics had awakened the whole house.

"I had a bad dream," I said, pulling the covers back up to my chin, and from there I proceeded to relate each terrifying second of the story that had played out in my subconscious.

"That sounds really cool," he commented. "You should write that down."

Ugh. That's not the moment where angels sang. No heavenly lights yet.

"The thing is," I went on, "I've decided we should have a panic room."


I never expected him to agree so quickly. I really thought the costs of such a project would be an immediate deterrent. What does it even involve? Lots of steel, I imagine. Locks that work even in the event of a power outage.

Still, Joe's fast support was a big deal. Buoyed, my plan began to take shape in my mind. "We could build it upstairs off the baby's room."

"How would it get air?"

"I don't know," I said. "Maybe a window? Or a vent?"

"Seems flawed. A point of weakness."

I ignored him. "But then if it's upstairs, and there's a nuclear bomb, the whole thing would be wiped out. Maybe it should be in the basement."


"With a secret trapdoor from our bedroom down into the room."

"Don't stop there!" he said, his face becoming animated. I could tell my excitement for safety had become contagious. "We should install a fire pole from the boys' room all the way down into the panic room. No time wasted!"

"Oh, no!" I cried. "How would we get the baby down? I'm already down here! I'd have to run upstairs and somehow manage to slide down the pole with the baby?"

Joe waved this away. "Nobody gets to use the panic room unless they can slide down the pole themselves."

I whirled to look at him in horror. Before I could speak, he gave me a pointed look and said, "Right. Because that's where the conversation got ridiculous."

Cue angels.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Because My Dad Can Dance

My father came from a family of four boys and one girl. His sister is the youngest, and in my current situation, I can see how it was that my grandmother ended up with five children, the very last one in pigtails and bows.

I didn't know my grandmother long, in the scheme of things. She died when I was ten, and though it was monumental in my life for a long time--my first experience with loss and death--it has now faded to something fuzzy, surrounded by the haze of an old memory. I can tell you she made the best turkey sandwiches ever, and equally good chicken wings. She smoked, and rocked in a rocking chair with her eyes closed while singing. The chair always creaked. Creaking rocking chairs are a haunting sound for me, because in those days when the memory of Grandma was monumental, I believed she was haunting me, too.

Another thing I know is that she made my father, and presumably his brothers though it's my understanding that Grandma wasn't always necessarily known for fairness, take ballroom dancing lessons. I think this is pretty much the greatest thing I've ever heard. I've always meant to do this with my own boys--still plan to, in fact--because there's a loud, undeniable truth about men. The ones who can dance are really cool. Playing an instrument is pretty great, too.

My dad played the accordion.

Anyway, the other day my mom and I were chatting on the phone and happened to come to this exact topic. "Grandma made Dad take dancing lessons," my mother told me, as if this was news I hadn't been told a thousand times over the course of my life, each and every time the word "dancing" was mentioned in my father's presence.

"Yeah, Ma, I know," I said. Then I smiled. "I think it's cool. I think boys should know how to dance. And you know what? At all the Father-Daughter dances, my dad was always the best dancer."

"What?" my mom asked. "Dad?"

"Yeah! He twirled me and threw me in the air. He had all the moves." And in my memory, though it's probably made up, I brought up the image of crowds forming around us, clapping to the beat of the music, while I matched my dad step for step.

"Wow," was my mom's response. "You really love him."

I made a face in surprise. It was such an odd thing to say for a lot of reasons. First of all, why wasn't she wholeheartedly agreeing that Dad is groovy? Secondly, it was sort of a "duh" moment. Of course I really love my dad.

I mean, there's the fact that he gets a sort of scary shade of angry when he's yelling, where this one particular vein pops out of his forehead and you find yourself mentally reciting every prayer you were ever taught. There's the fact that when I had to work for him as a teenager, first as his "cleaning" girl (because I really just "cleaned"--I never actually did anything effective, to Dad's everlasting dismay) and then later as a night-time secretary, he fired me every single day. Every day. I'm not kidding. I'm not going to say I wasn't a royal pain, but who fires his own daughter? Especially his favorite daughter? My dad, that's who.

And don't even get me started on how unreasonably strict he was about going out with my friends in high school. One night a weekend. No exceptions. The other night was dedicated to "family time." I usually spent this night in my room with the door closed since all my dad ever watched on TV was the history and discovery channels and who wants to watch animals mating with their father on Saturday night? Call me immature all you want. It was UNcomfortable.

But there are so many things, bigger things, that will never get hazy in my memory, and that matter so much more. They make those other, more annoying things the funny stories we tell around the table after dinner, sitting with this guy who loves to laugh. He taught me to tie my shoes (two loops, not one), how to swim, how to waterski, and how to drive. He took me to bookstores every weekend and let me pick as many books as I wanted and never, ever said no. "I'll never mind spending money on books for you," he said once after I'd thanked him. "I just love to see you read." It is a moment among thousands that is branded inside me, one that has not only made me the person I am but the mother I am, too. Because I say the same thing to Joey, too. He flies through books like I did, done before the day is over, already eager for the next story. And I tell him, like my dad did to me, "Of course you can have another book." And we don't like to lend them out or give them away. We keep them all, even once we've run out of room. Not because we're being selfish, but because each and every one matters.

My children believe, like I did, that the sun hisses when it touches Lake Erie on cricket-filled summer nights when the sand is cool and the lake is quiet. Because of my dad. They think I'm the coolest because I can throw, catch, and hit a baseball. That I like the sound of a car's engine when it accelerates. That rain smells clean. And that sometimes, the very best thing is to just be still and let the world go on around you in all of its magic and wonder.

Because that's my dad. He's the magic.

There are things that I get from my mom. Undeniably, I am most like her. But I find that most of those things are part of my nature, and that so much of what I've had to learn, what I've had to change, what I've come to expect from others...it's all based on things my dad has taught me.

So, I guess my mom is right. I do really love him.

Happy Father's Day to all the wonderful dads out there.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Too Manly For Mom

Since Joey has a summer birthday, it's right around this time of June that I get a nice little note from his teacher suggesting when he can celebrate his day in school before vacation starts. I'll never forget kindergarten, when birthday after birthday of his friends passed, and one day he came home all morose and dejected and said, "I guess I just don't get to have a birthday at school."

Personally, I think summer birthdays are the greatest. There are so many options for celebrating. So many nice, outdoor options. But I do remember that excited feeling I used to have to bring in my shirt box filled with cupcakes each October, to hear the whole class sing my name, to receive a birthday bookmark from my teacher. And maybe a Now-and-Later. (Remember those?)

(Although, my mom always did what my sister and I have come to call "Judying It Up" when it came to school birthdays. That is to say, she always tried to find the simpler way. Rather than just make cupcakes, she tried to buy something that seemed way cooler to save herself any work. In second grade she sent a big, sloppy, melty cake from the grocery store, and as my teacher attempted to cut and serve it to the class--with a spoon, as I recall, because someone failed to send appropriate plastic cutlery--she glared at me and said, "Please tell your mother to NEVER do this again." In third grade, for a limited time, Oreo made these giant version of their cookies. Each one was like six inches in diameter. My mom sent in three boxes for my class of 28, thinking that they were packaged in tens. They were packaged in eights, and it became an embarrassing and pathetic plight to encourage any student to surrender their cookie for the sake of someone else, which no one wanted to do. Plus I didn't get to go on an excursion through the school offering my treats to administrators and past teachers. Thanks, Mom, for building my character like that.)

Today, Joey presented me with his teacher note, suggesting which days might work to celebrate Joey's birthday.

"Which day would you prefer?" I asked him.

He shrugged. "Friday. Friday's my favorite day."

"Okay,"I said. "Do you want cupcakes, cookies, or what?"

"Cookies!" he said excitedly.

I smiled at him, just excited for his excitement. I can't believe that he's turning eight years old. I can't believe that I've been a mom for eight years. It's crazy to think about. It's crazy to think that eight years ago, God actually believed I could handle the responsibility of an infant. But alas. Before me sat a beautiful almost-third grader, hair already turning crispy blond for the summer, green eyes aglow with something special that has not been hurt by the world yet. I love this child.

"Joey," I said suddenly. "Is this one of those events where the parents come in? Do you want me to be there for the big par-tay?"

Joey whirled around to look at me in horror. "NO! No, parents don't come!"

What now? It wasn't the words. It was the immediateness of the answer. It was the tone. What's up, beautiful, unaffected eight-year-old? Are you...perhaps...a little affected after all?

"Uh, Joey? It sounds a little like you don't want me to come in. Are you, like, too cool for your mom? Do you think I might embarrass you? Are you too manly for my presence?"

No pause. "Basically." I felt a distinct, unspoken Thanks for understanding.

I'll tell you what. Eight years of being a mom hasn't made me an idiot.

"Okay," I said, trying to keep my voice casual. "It's just that, you know, for Noah's birthday I came in and read a story to the class and brought in an album of all his baby pictures for everyone to look at, so--"


Monday, June 3, 2013

Red Gatorade

One of my larger personality flaws is that I have a terrible intolerance for being made to feel like I'm somehow less than others. This has a broad range of situations it can affect, and while you may generously tell me, "Oh, everyone has that issue!" I'm quite sure I take it to a whole new level. For example, when I was registering for my baby shower eight years ago, I asked the salesman at the baby-stuff store whether they had a stroller with an adjustable handle. They make these now, but they didn't then. I was terribly troubled by the idea that when my baby was in the stroller, he wouldn't be able to see me.

"OH," said the salesman, as if he was about to tell me the most unfortunate news. "We do have one, but it's VERY expensive."

So there I was, having my own personal Pretty Woman moment. I could feel my heart start to race and my face get all hot and hands all sweaty as I prepared to shout, "I'll take FIVE!"

Luckily, I was with my sister who knows all the signs of such disasters, and she firmly grasped my shoulders to steer me away, all the while listening to my huffy rage over the nerve of that salesman. I mean, really! How does he know I'm not Mrs. Moneybags, ready to dole out whatever it takes to be sure my baby can see me from the walks I probably wouldn't take him on?

Anyway. Today I had another one of those moments while I was on the phone with my sister and Noah appeared before me with a drenched polo shirt. "Mommy," he said, "I spilled my drink."

Normally, I don't get very upset about spills because of all the things that can happen, they really are among the most harmless. But this was red Gatorade.

"Did it spill on to the rug, or just you?"

"Oh," he said casually, "I don't know."

I tucked the phone between my ear and shoulder as I grabbed towels and carpet stain remover and dashed into the family room.

"Oh! It really is everywhere!" I relayed to my sister.

"Is it red Gatorade?" she asked. "Why would you buy red Gatorade?"

It's a fair enough question, and the answer starts off simple. Because Noah has a lot of upset-stomach problems and Gatorade makes it better and he best likes the fruit punch flavor. But what irked me was my sister's tone. The question that began with the words, "Why would you..."

Not only was I gritting my teeth in preparation for what was surely going to be a know-it-all lecture from my know-it-all big sister, but I was also recalling a recent ruffling of my feathers at Wegmans. It was a rare shopping trip where I had to bring both of my children, which means I was trying to make it last the least amount of time possible. (If you're wondering, the fabulous Wegmans grocery stores do offer a convenient little childcare service which I promptly walk right past because that's entirely too germy for my crazy.)

As I was placing some Gatorade in my cart, a random man stopped me and said, "Excuse me, ma'am. That's awfully sugary for your children." Whoa now. Stepping on the Mommy Toes. He continued, "These kinds over here don't have sugar."

Once again, my face grew hot and my hands were sweaty and my heart began to race as I said calmly, "Actually, those drinks have artificial sweeteners, which is a chemical I'd prefer to not give my children. But thank you."

When we walked away, I remember Joey commenting, "Wow, Mom, you were really nice to that guy!" I love his moral support.

This means, though, that when my sister was seeming like she might go criticizing my Gatorade choices, I became a little sensitive.

Instead becoming critical, however, she said, "Because they actually make clear Gatorade."

What??? Out loud, I said, "What???"

I have to be honest, though. The real reason I was so annoyed is because a few days ago, Noah said, "Mom, can I have some Gatorade while I watch TV?" and I'd said, "Sure!" and filled a cup and brought it into him.

He'd frowned at the cup and then at me. "Mom, this doesn't have a top. I'd like my cup to have a top because I don't want to spill."

My response? My cheerful response? "Oh, honey, I'm sure you won't spill!"

Then yesterday, Joe caught me bringing both boys Gatorade in the family room with lidless cups.

"Mar," he'd said to me, "are you sure it's a good idea to give them red Gatorade with no tops?"

And I'd said confidently, "Of course! I do this all the time!" I was more than confident, too. I was also offended that he was questioning my choice.

Because, you see, I couldn't possibly be wrong.

And then, well, today happened. So mostly, I wasn't mad at my sister, or at the guy from my Wegmans, or Joe, or Noah. I was mad at me. Two notes to self: 1) Lids on cups are a good idea. 2) Buy the clear Gatorade.

And if that guy was trying to be helpful, why didn't he point me in the direction of the colorless beverages?? Jerk. Actually, you know what? I am mad at the Wegmans guy. All that meddling and he didn't even tell me the useful information. I blame him.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

IT'S A...

There's really nothing more to say here.

Thanks a million, Maximilian! 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

One More Day

Tomorrow. Is. The. Day.

Since February 16, when I found out I was having my third (FINAL...and I mean it) child, my emotions have gone back and forth. A lot of that is just pregnancy. I was testing myself this morning, wondering which I'd prefer: nine months of pregnancy or nine months with a stent and kidney stones. I don't mean kidney stones in lieu of the end result where I have a little ball of snuggle. I just mean, condition-wise, which is worse to deal with on a daily basis. It's a toss-up.

I don't know why I seem to be the only woman in the universe who does not enjoy being pregnant. When people tell me I just should, I wonder what it is they expect me to do. I've tried. I closed my eyes real tight, thought happy thoughts, filled my heart with my life's greatest moments, and even produced a Patronus, but in the end, after all that work, I still feel like a ginormous cow whose underpants will never fit again. I feel achy-ness in my everywheres and my face looks like someone attached it to a helium pump and I'm more aware of my insides than a hypochondriac should be. And don't get me started on morning sickness, carbo-hunger, and the fear of eating the wrong thing. Top that all off with the judge-y looks from the experts--which is apparently everybody, including men, did you know?--and the liberal touching (can I grab your stomach?), and you've just pushed me over the edge.

But there is a flip side. I'm open and willing to accept that the Universe knows something I don't here, and that I was meant to have this baby whether I was ready to or not. And the time is now. Not much I can do about that. It's exciting, you know? To find out that you're going to get something you never thought you'd have. And it's not like it's a puppy or a million dollars. It's a whole person. Someone who will bring something brand new into our unit. Because that's how I think of us. We're not a family. We're not a group of people living in the same house. We're a unit. We function separately. We are our own persons, but we also exist together. For each other. We were a pizza of four slices. Now we'll have  a whole extra slice. How will we fit into the box? Who will be the cheesiest? (If you're thinking me, you're wrong; it's probably Joe.) Who will be our spice? Who will be the bacon? Who will Baby be?

Which begs the question that has been nagging at me more and more each passing week: What will Baby be?

In the beginning, because the pregnancy was such a surprise, I was overwhelmed by the fear that something would be wrong. But so far, all tests, sonograms, and appointments have shown I need not worry. So then I started to focus on the more trivial things. Names. Decor. Is it a girl.

On the one hand, another boy will fit right in. We have all the right toys. We have all the right movies. We have princess movies, too, but nobody watches them. We'll keep saying, "Where are the boys?" when we refer to our collective children. I'll continue to be the only one complaining about gross-nasty bathrooms.

You get the idea.

Plus, I'm stubborn and difficult and dramatic and a lot of fire all rolled into one person. I can't imagine producing another one of me and us living together peaceably.

But then...wouldn't I love someone to watch a princess movie with me, and not out of pity? Wouldn't it be special to see my boys have a little sister to be protective of as she grows? To have them scare all the boys she brings home when she's a teenager?

Wouldn't Joe love to have a little girl stand on his feet while they dance around the living room? To dance with his daughter at her wedding?

Little boys love their mamas in a way no girl can. I don't care who wants to argue that because I know in my heart it's true. Growing up, I hated, HATED, when my mother said she didn't love my brother more, she just loved him different. EQUALITY! I demanded. I can do anything he can do better! But now I know. Now I get it. It is different. And if you have a boy, you have true love forever.

But a little girl could grow to be my very best friend, like I did for my mom. (She totally loves me--can't live without me, actually...you should hear her beg me to come over so she can cook dinner for me and my kids every day.) Or a little girl could hate me. What if she hates me? Girls are nasty people sometimes, aren't they? What if I have a nasty girl? What if she's all, "I'm a Barbie queen, and I'm mean and backstabby and I'm going to be a teenage nightmare!" What if she repeats all my mistakes and...doesn't take my advice? That would be terrible. Awful! I give great advice. What a waste.

What if she lies to me?

Wait. What if Joey and Noah lie to me? Well, Noah actually does already. I say, "Who broke this?" and he shouts, "Daddy!" and runs the other way, which is really worse than lying because it's lying and falsely accusing an innocent person.

But I mean, what if they lie to me in a big way? I know what you're thinking. All three of my kids are probably going to lie to me, aren't they. And I have a confession to make. A secret to reveal. A shameful truth. I'm super, super gullible.

Boys or girls, I'm doomed, aren't I?

Oh, well. One day at a time, right? At least it's only one more day until tomorrow, when I'll finally know. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Think of the Good Things

My Sicilian mother taught me that if you have a dream that someone dies, someone (not necessarily the same person) is going to have a baby. She also said the reverse is true, if you dream someone has a baby, someone else will die.

I have never found this to be true.

Oddly enough, however, every time I am pregnant, a lot of people I know pass away. I am not saying I have any sort of power over this. I know that I don't, I just find it to be an odd coincidence, especially in light of my mom's old superstition. Right around the time I learned I was pregnant with Joey, my great uncle passed away. "It's going to be a boy," my mother declared. Despite the fact that I called him my little Isabella until the sonogram, my mother was right. During that pregnancy, a number of other close relatives passed away, as well.

When I found out I was pregnant with Noah for sure (the only baby who was not a surprise in our house, despite what nosy, know-it-all onlookers may believe), my husband Joe was so excited he dashed out to tell the whole world. I was so annoyed! To me, pregnancy kind of "belongs" to the mother and he totally stole my thunder. I guess that seems unfair to a lot of people (namely men), but that's just how I see it. But it ended up being a wonderful thing that Joe did, because he was able to share the news with his grandfather, a very beloved member of our family, before he passed away just days later. And during the next nine months, though something wonderful and exciting was happening for us in our house, we lost several other people who we knew and loved.

Just a couple of months ago my sister invited me to help her paint some rooms in her house. She helps me with a lot of things (like...a LOT), so I agreed. On our way to buy the paint, I brought up Mom's old  superstition, and then shared my own experiences.

"That's weird," she said.

It happened that day that we had just lost our uncle. It was sudden, and he is our closest relative in our family we have ever had to say that kind of good-bye to. Jane, especially, was affected--I'm not sure if it's because she is the oldest, more sensitive than the rest of us, or just saw him often. For me, it was a shock. I'm not sure I'm even over it, or able to talk about it much. My dad's family is a huge part of who I am and choices I've made. Losing part of them is strange, especially since we didn't see it coming.

"Yeah," I responded to my sister after a moment. "Because I'm pregnant."

I'm pretty sure she almost drove off the road.

This week alone I've found out that two people I've known have passed away. I don't know if I'm seeing this because it's merely part of getting older and growing up--I'm sure my elders would assure me it is--or if it's my emotional state due to being pregnant. I can't imagine it's actually true that more people I know die when I'm pregnant, and yet as I feel myself growing excited about my something new and different, I am surrounded by a grief that doesn't seem to have a chance to lift.

I remember once when I was teaching, I asked my students what they noticed while they were reading. It's an innocent enough question with lots of room for right answers, but nobody raised their hands. (Typical little jerks.) So I prompted. I prodded. I threw out leading questions. They gave me plot summary, rather than the unusual and special little details authors leave in stories, like footprints to the ending.

"No!" I shouted. They all leaned away, as students in my class are wont to do because I'm told that I'm scary. "No! Don't you want to be noticers? How many of you can tell me what the poster above the drinking fountain says?"

None of them responded. (Typical little jerks.)

"It says 'Character is who you are when no one is looking.'"

One kid shouted out, "I knew that, I was just afraid to say it!"

Yeah, right. Like that person who watches Jeopardy! and always knows the answer right after the contestant or Alex revealed it.

Anyway, it led us into a huge discussion about how in life, it's really important to not just float along, taking things as they come, but to also notice things. People, though we might not often think about it, do act in a purposeful way. Signs are hung for a reason. Rules are there for a reason. Usually, there's a great story behind them. But if we try harder to notice the things that everyone does on purpose, and to even notice the patterns in things that aren't deliberate, we might become fuller and more compassionate people ourselves.

"Be a noticer!" I shouted with enthusiasm.

They rolled their eyes. Some yawned.

I learned this from my parents in very different ways. My mother always reminded me that people are always watching us when we don't know it. They're noticing me when maybe I'm acting like a jerk. "That's what they'll remember," she always said. "Not the good things you do to be noticed, but the things you do that show who you really are." She was always right about that.

My father, on the other hand, was more the type to pay attention to the small things. On warm summer nights, he could always be found lost in thought on the front or back patio, peacefully watching everything around him. It was these times when I loved to go and sit beside him, because he was likely to share a neat little story from when he was young. His life was fascinating to me. One night watching the sunset on the beach, he revealed to me that when he was a little boy, he'd sneak away from his family to come and sit just as we were. When I asked why, he chuckled and said, "Usually to sneak a smoke." He was seven in that story, by the way.

A lot of the time, we forget to slow down in our busy lives to be noticers. When I learned that a high school classmate of mine passed away suddenly, and my heart crumbled inside of me, I realized how much about her I could remember, though I haven't seen her in fifteen years. I remember the exact shade of her hair, the way she laughed at everybody's jokes in class. I realized she was in most of my classes all four years of high school, and while we weren't close friends, she was present in many of my high school memories, all of which have become a part of who I am now. Realizing all that I noticed, and all that we were both a part of, is both jarring and reassuring to me as I deal with how unfair it is that she is gone. Because while she is gone, she is still present in many, many people. She is a part of us.

The last thing I want to say incorporates two more things I've learned along the way. (Sorry if this is preachy...is it preachy? I'm sorry.) One comes from a friend and colleague of mine, a person who is crazily different from me, so much so, we end up believing a lot of the same things. (That's not the lesson.) Something she always says rings so true for me right now, as I feel all the the things pregnant ladies feel. She says, "It's amazing how weather is so often a metaphor for what's going on in life." After I dropped Noah off at school today, I was driving down one of the older streets in our town and enjoying the canopy created by the full, old trees lining the road. Noah calls them "summer trees" since they only have leaves in summertime. While I drove, I did something I do every year. I thought about all of the things that will happen while these leaves, these in particular, are in bloom. Everything that will happen before they fall for another winter.

When spring came in 2005, I thought about how those leaves would see my first baby. I would spend a whole summer learning what it meant to be a mother. In 2008, the buds on the trees meant my second baby would arrive at any minute, and the leaves would see Joey become a big brother and Joe and I struggle to learn how to do all the things we'd learned...with two.

This year, these leaves will be falling as our third child arrives. Before, having children seemed like new beginnings to me. And in a way, that's what autumn is. But to me, it's more about change. I am so excited for a last chance to do it all, for tiny clothes and tiny fingers and little hats and first steps. But this time, it will mean change for more than just me. It will be a change for all of us, who have grown into a routine we did not expect to be altered in this way. Noah, our baby, will surrender his throne to become a middle child. Joey will give up having his own room. And Joe and I will find out what it means to not have an even parent-to-child ratio. What it will mean to have an eighth-grader and a kindergartener, a college student and an elementary student. It is something new, it is something scary. It is something different.

But that brings me to my last lesson. Noah turned to me today in the middle of my morning grumpiness and said, "Mommy, mornings are okay. Just think about everything good. Don't think about anything bad. Then you can feel good again."

I realized--I noticed--that it has become a habit to me to always prepare for the bad days. The tough days, the ones when you don't catch a break. With kids, I find they come much more often than they did before. But I think I've become so used to preparing for these days that they have filled my head a little too much. Amidst the grief and the sadness around me, it will be okay if I follow Noah's advice. There are wonderful things, too. And as I fill my heart with prayers for the families and friends who need them, I think I will also fill myself up thinking about the dream I had last night, where I held a tiny baby girl in my arms and felt her soft fuzzy hair on my chin.

Disclaimer: I have not had THE sonogram yet. I have no idea if I'm really having a girl. It was just a dream.