“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

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. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Things My Mother Taught Me

Happy Mother's Day!

I've been sitting here in front of my laptop for about twenty long minutes, a blank screen glaring at me all accusingly. The thing is, I know I want to write about my mother today, but the thing is, I have no idea where to begin.

The thing is, she's complicated.

I considered making this a tribute to how beautiful she is. No matter what else she's ever been--strict, overbearing, unreasonable, insane--she was always the prettiest mom. I look nothing like her, unfortunately. To my blond curly hair, hers is black and poker-straight. To my light green eyes, hers are, well, she'd tell you brown, but they're really black. In fact, when she's angry, they're a little on the satanic side. Especially since she wears such bold eye makeup. Dark black eyeliner and thick mascara, and then she'd look at you with her eyes all wide and perfectly round like saucers, and this black outlining the crisp whites, all around the coal black centers, and...man. When she looked that way, I saw my life flash before my eyes, I'm telling you. And, weirdly, she was always cooking, so there'd usually be some sort of weapon in her hands. Like a meat mallet or a wooden spoon. It's totally true that she chased my brother, sister, and me through the house with the spoon. She never caught us, though. We'd lock ourselves in the bathroom and she'd stand on the other side saying loving, coaxing things like, "YOU KIDS ARE GONNA KILL ME, DO YOU HEAR ME?" Well, actually, Mom, the whole state of New York hears you. "I'M GONNA CALL YOUR FATHER AND DO YOU KNOW WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN THEN? HE'S GONNA KILL YOU!" The important things to note here are: A) She put the fear of God in us and B) she always let us get away. I can say now as an adult: God, that's good mothering. I always try to do the same for my kids.

I considered discussing what made my mom different from other moms, aside from her beauty. But there are just too many things. Quite honestly, I'm so much like her, I think I'd just end up tooting my own horn, anyway. (Which I do enough in other posts.) So instead, I've decided to create a list of the best advice she's ever given me.

1) Make it garlicky, and make it sweet. When in doubt, add parmesan. (This is for cooking, but can be a life metaphor if you wish.)

2) Hair: the bigger, the better, baby.

3) Be bold. Stand straight. People are watching.

4) No matter how bad someone is to you, smile and be nice. Have a good time. No--have the best time.

5) Smiling makes you a thousand times more beautiful.

6) Isn't it just easier to be nice? (The answer is no, it's way easier to be a bitch, but nice pays better.)

7) Shopping makes everything better.

8) Giving to the people you love is the best feeling.

9) Always cook enough for 700 people.

10) Always answer the door and the phone.

11) Words our men don't like: No, Wrong, Don't.

12) Words our men like: Yes, You're Right, and What can I do for you, dear?

13) It's okay to have the loudest, most ridiculous laugh in the room.

14) ADD/being scatterbrained are hereditary. There's no hope for me, but I'm still awesome.

15) No matter how far you've come, how publicly or loudly you've committed, you can always change your mind and do the right thing. 

16) Family comes first.

17) Family love is unconditional.

18) Never upset the woman holding a meat mallet or large knife.

19) Never tell Judy bad news when she's driving.

20) If someone has just had eye surgery and says, "No, it's okay, I can drive," it's not true.

21) Act in a way that no one has anything bad to say about you.

22) It's never okay to fart.

23) When Dad gets really mad, it's kind of funny. But if he sees you laughing, he gets more mad.

24) When Mom gets really mad, it's not funny. Hug her and kiss her and tell her she's beautiful.

25) Don't make mistakes.

26) You can never go wrong with a Polo dress.

27) Nobody wants to talk to you when you're on the phone with somebody else. And turn off your ringer in public.

28) A woman is not just her husband and children. She is much, much more, and should have and do things that remind her of that daily.

29) When you are feeling angry and venomous, shut your mouth and walk away.

30) Those times when it seems like only you notice that a person is awful, don't be the one to continually point it out. If you're right, they will "dig their own grave." (That's a Judy-ism.)

31) Children need and want their mothers no matter how old they are. Children need and want their mothers no matter what they say. Children need and want their mothers, even when they think they don't.

There are a lot of things I can describe concisely and well. Big Macs. Paintings. Middle schoolers. But my mother? I don't think there is any one word for her. And it's not enough to say she's everything, either. She's more like...everything, lit on fire, rolling down a dry, grassy hill. She's also the person who knows me best, knows my thoughts and feelings before I even know they're there, gives me my words when I can't find them.

Dear Mom, you have been the lighthouse in my storm, every time. I love you.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Yellow Shorts

As can sometimes happen in large families, I have a cousin who is the same age as my son Noah. We were all at a party last weekend and while there, my little cousin was wearing bright yellow shorts. He looked really cute, like a little safety reflector running all over the yard.

It turned out that with the sudden turn to nice weather, both my boys were in need of new pairs of shorts. I waited until they were both at school yesterday, and then went off to buy some. Of course, the bright picture in my mind was of those cute little yellow shorts. "Wouldn't my boys look so cute in them?" I cooed to myself.

I was thrilled to find that the store carried not just yellow, but a whole variety of brightly colored summer attire. I chose a pair of melon/salmon shorts for Joey, because he'd seen his uncle wearing them all last summer, and the yellow for Noah. I bought them matching shirts, and as I walked out to the car with my giant bags of success, I imagined them stealing the show on Mother's Day or at some other summer-ish event.

Joey normally has to wear a uniform to school, but he told me this morning that today was an out-of-uniform day. "Score!" I thought to myself. "We can try out the new shorts!"

I had left the bag near the door, and went to retrieve it. Joey was watching television, still in his pajamas.

"Joey!" I called, swinging the bag up high to build expectation. "I got you some new shorts. Guess what? They're just like...Uncle Mike's." I pulled them from the bag for a big reveal.

Joey closed his eyes a moment and whispered, "Yesss." Out loud he said, "They are just like Uncle Mike's! Thanks, Mom!"

Then I turned to Noah. "And Noah, I got you a pair of cool shorts, too. Only instead of the color Joey has, I got you--" I let the bag drop so the darling yellow shorts showed--"YELLOW!"

Noah's whole face changed. It contorted into a terrible scowl. "Give those to some kid else!" he shouted. "I will never, EVER wear yellow clothes!" He said the word yellow the way I might have said the word germy.

"But Noah! These are the same cool shorts that your cousin was wearing at the party. Lots of people are wearing yellow."

"I don't care! Yellow is NOT my thing. Throw them in the garbage."

I looked at this with two hands. On the first one, there's the thought that my child should be a little more grateful. But on the other one, I'm a firm believer that kids should be entitled to their own opinions and tastes in harmless matters. To me, clothes are generally a harmless matter. (For now. If he someday wants to wear a slashed-up t-shirt that has "Death to Mom" scrawled on it in blood, I'll object.) So I relented.

"Okay," I said. "I'll take these shorts back and see if they have something better. You can wear your old shorts today."

However, I could not let the first hand, the one about being nicer and more grateful, just drop. I decided that after Noah was done with school, two things would happen. He would have to accompany me to return the clothes (because what kid wants to go clothes shopping?) and also, he'd be subjected to a discussion on the value of Opinion. Both his and those of other people.

In the car, driving to the store, I began to sing a little.

"Mom! That song is horrible!"

Perfect opening.

"Actually, Noah," I said, "the song might be horrible to you, but that doesn't make it horrible to everyone. When it comes to thoughts and feelings, those types of things are called OPINIONS. It means you're allowed to think one way about something, but another person could feel completely different."

"But Mom, the song IS--"

"Some things are FACTS," I went on. "Like if I say the sky is blue today, that's a fact. Nobody can come along and tell me it's not blue. But if I say I like sushi, well, does Joey like sushi?"

"I like sushi."

"But does Joey like sushi?"


"That's right. And that's okay, because his opinion is that sushi isn't very good. My opinion and your opinion is that sushi is delicious."

"Subs are delicious, too."

"Yes, we do all like subs." I waited a long moment. "So what's the word we learned today?"


"O-pin-YUN," I corrected.

"That's what I said. Opinsun."



"Like onion, Noah, but it's oPINion."

"Opinion!" he said, pleased to finally get it right.

"Yes, and so, you know, it might be your OPINION that yellow shorts aren't cool, but some people think they are." I decided to do some name-dropping. It had served me so well with Joey this morning. "I'm sure Uncle Mike really likes yellow shorts."

"No, Mom. That's NOT an opinion. Nobody should wear yellow shorts. Ever."

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Kindergarten Screening

It came to my attention this week that Noah's preschool class is being screened for kindergarten. I love that Noah is already at his big kid school. When Joey was in preschool, he went to a different place, and I had to take a day off of work and bring him in at an appointed time to be tested. Since I didn't know anybody yet, I sat on a chair outside the door, feeling afraid that he'd freeze up and somehow, they wouldn't know that he is special and smart and wonderful. I kept envisioning them swinging the door open wide, irate, screaming, "How could you think this child is suitable for our kindergarten program?" and poor, sweet Joey would be standing there, a new nightmarish memory burned in his brain forever.

That didn't happen, since it's a lovely, cheerful place where everyone is quite nice.

Anyway, none of these fears this time, right? Because Noah's been at this school all year and has already made his mark. At his Christmas concert, it's been said that he "stole the show" because he infused his own, creative big finish to the song his class sang--he swung his arms out wide and carried that last note at least twenty seconds longer than any other kid. At the very least, his preschool teacher would have mentioned to me by now if she thought he wasn't ready for the kindergarten program with which she is quite familiar.

So, yesterday, Noah and I were enjoying the beautiful Buffalo spring weather by having a picnic lunch in the front yard, when I casually asked, "Hey, Noah, did you happen to talk to the kindergarten teacher yesterday or today?"

Noah didn't even look up from his turkey sandwich. "Oh, yeah. Today."

This is my second preschooler, so I'm used to having to prod for more info. "What did you talk about?"

"Oh, Mom." He waved a hand dismissively. "We did some projects. She asked me some questions. It was all smart kid stuff."

This could either mean I'm too stupid to understand, or how could I be so stupid as to have to ask. It was probably a bit of both. Still, I needed more answers.

"What kind of projects? What kinds of questions?"

Noah rolled his eyes and huffed. I was clearly ruining the picnic. "I built with blocks, drew some pictures, wrote my name, and talked about shapes. I told you: smart kid stuff."

"Did she ask you Daddy's name?" I pressed.

"It's Joseph," he said. "Joseph Bielecki, like my brother."

"Yes. And his job? Do you know Daddy's job?"

He frowned a moment. "He counts numbers all day and makes money." When he says this, he doesn't mean that Daddy is the bread-winner. He believes that Joe literally makes money--the green paper stuff that ends up in banks and wallets. I figured this was satisfactory enough, that maybe it was even better than the word "accountant" which I'd filled out on the preliminary forms, since it was his own interpretive definition.

"And did they ask you about Mommy?"

"I know your name is Mary Pat. I also know you used to work, but now you don't, so that's a little confusing."

My heart beat a little faster. "But you do remember what Mommy's job is, right?"

He blanked. "Not really."

"Noah! It's your thing! You tell everyone I have eyes in the back of my head because of my job! Why do I need eyes in the back of my head?"

"Because you're secretly a superhero?"

WHAT???? Now I really started to panic. "Noah, what did you tell your teacher when she asked you all these questions?"

"Oh, that," he said, once again becoming dismissive. "Well, the thing is, Mom, she already knows us because she had Joey. So I figured, she already knew the answers and didn't really need me to tell her."

So. All my calm and cool about the kindergarten screening this time around? Right out the window. Once again, I'll be the nervous parent who raises her hand half-way to get the teacher's attention, and I'll have to ask in my squeaky timid voice, "Did he do okay?" because this time, I have real cause for concern. That little punk!