“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Monday, December 15, 2014

Moments I Fell In Love With My Husband All Over Again

Most people know that I've loved my husband Joe since the moment I first saw him twenty years ago, and there are some terrific constants that make him easy to keep on loving. He's honest and loving and over-the-top ridiculous about a lot things, which include shutting off light switches while I'm still in the room, but also include making a big deal out of loving me. I really enjoy people who make a big deal out of me because, well, I'm kind of a big deal.

But aside from all of that, my favorite thing about being married to Joe is that over time, there are little moments that make me fall in love with him all over again, right then and there, and the fluttery feeling in my chest, the one that makes me giggle and cover my face like I did when I was fourteen, strikes me almost unexpectedly. In honor of the fact that one of those moments occurred recently, I decided to share a few here.

1. A few anniversaries ago, he bought a leather-bound journal. In it, he will periodically write me love letters and then leave the journal on my nightstand or pillow to read. He doesn't do it all the time, but here and there so that down the road I will have a book filled with all the reasons he loves me.

2. I love to psychoanalyze. One of my favorite questions to consider lately is, "What is your favorite font and why?" I asked Joe. "Oh," he said, thinking. "I'm not sure what it's called. It starts with a G. Garamond." I almost fell over. "That's my favorite!" I exclaimed. His face filled with teasing as he winked and said, "And that's why we're so in love." (*giggle*)

3. He once caught my vomit in his hands. I was seven months pregnant with Joey and in the hospital with kidney stones. Overwhelmed by the pain and the fear that something was wrong with Joey (I didn't know at first what was wrong), I shouted, "I'm going to be sick!" We'd been left waiting too long and there was nothing in the room for me to use and I couldn't get up. Joe dove in front of me, fingers laced together and said, "Just do it. I've got you."

4. We were at JC Penney's buying lamps. The ones I wanted--really beautiful ones with Victorian shades and wrought iron roses up the bases--were labeled as buy one, get one for a dollar. At the register, the cashier tried to tell us the sale had ended the day before. Joe leaned one elbow on the counter, looked her square in the eye and said very calmly and with not a little bit of charisma, "Now, I used to work in retail. So I know you have to honor that sign that's still posted over there." The woman all but melted, and so did I. In that moment I wished I worked in retail, too, so I could tell him something was on sale.

5. The time Joey asked him to read out loud to the class instead of me, and he did it with voices and expression and every little face in the classroom was open-mouthed and awestruck with the magic of my husband the storyteller.

6. The day he taught Noah to read. Noah was two.

7. When Max was a newborn and I found out I couldn't breastfeed, I lay in bed in hours and cried. And not a lovely, delicate, "Oh, my, boo-hoo," but a gross-nasty, snot-covered, choking orchestra of sobs. Joe finally came into the room and pressed his forehead to mine, put his arms around me, snot and all, and said nothing. It didn't erase the pain, but it made me able to breathe again. It made the crying stop.

8. When he wears the Dr. Seuss pajama pants that Noah picked out.

9. When, after a parent-teacher conference, I was all set to talk shop, and I began with, "I didn't like that at all!" and he responded with, "I know! Why are her teeth so small?!"

10. Once, I was in a terrible mood in the middle of a date night, which I realize is a bad time to be in a terrible mood, and so Joe began echoing all my negativity by expressing hatred over everything we passed. "Look at that stop light! Why is it so red? That's stupid," and "What's up with that building? It's too ugly to exist," and concluding with, "What's with that guy walking? Get a car, moron!" These are not things he'd typically say; his goal was to make me laugh, and he succeeded.

11. When he didn't like a new rule at our sons' school which really was a bit of nonsense, he turned to me and said firmly, "I reject that policy." 

12. When I bought Divergent to watch with my nieces, Joe downloaded it to his tablet and read the whole series. He also read Twilight, just so we could talk about it.

13. He has a firm belief that pajama pants should not be worn in public, not even to Wegmans.

14. Once he came home from work, and where his dress shirt was open at the neck, I spied writing on his undershirt. I realized he'd worn a Metallica t-shirt to work under his dress clothes.

15. The first time I bought him clothes, they included a few shirts of a brand I noticed he wore a lot. "Brandini." When he opened them up, he smiled, held them up the shoulders and said, "I love them! They're my favorite 'brandini.'"

16. When he folds my clothes while doing laundry, he handles them like they're all super delicate. "I don't know what to do with them," he said once. "They're so small, like doll clothes!"

17. Every once in awhile, I turn around to find myself looking at a small, foiled wrapped grape jelly. And it's still just as exciting as it ever was.

Nobody's perfect. I'm not perfect, and I can tell you that my husband is not perfect. But life isn't about perfection. It's about perfect moments and how much they count. I love you, Joe.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Tribute To My Child's Eyes

The twenty-mile ride to the school where I work usually takes me thirteen minutes, which I think is impressive. It's mostly Thruway driving, but just the same, I go ahead and rock that drive every day. I have reasons for having perfected it, not least of which is that every single day I'm in a big hurry to get home and see my annoying, stinky, yucky boys. They are my everything.

This morning my twenty-mile ride took me forty-five minutes. Fifty-five if you count the ten minutes I needed to pump gas. They've been predicting snow all week ("they" being the weather experts), down to the hour it would begin. This blows my mind, because you'd think the snow plows would be prepared. You'd think that with us being Buffalo, the snow plows would be prepared. You'd think with us being Buffalo, and having missing two consecutive weeks of school due to a massive snow storm, the snow plows would be prepared.

As of seven o'clock this morning, nothing had been plowed.

This made for a glorious drive for school, in which I muttered over and over to myself in the deafening silence that can only be created by snow, "I don't want my children to live without their mother." I kept my hands at ten and two and said a lot of prayers as the wheels of my four-wheel-drive SUV caught in the two ruts over the highway, dragging me this way and that way through wind and walls of snow. Tractor trailers blew boldly past me, only to be seen jack-knifed in ravines along the side of the road miles later. My windshield wipers kept clogging up with clumpy snow and then freezing, dragging smears of slush across my windshield. Off the Thruway, I had to pray hard as I approached green lights. "Please don't change, please don't change, I can't stop, I can't stop." This is winter driving in Western New York. Basically, a wing and a prayer.

I thought I was through the worst part of my day by lunch, and that things had cleared up by the time I was ready to head home after work. It had stopped snowing, and while the roads weren't totally clear they were drivable, patches of pavement visible here and there. I waited for my windshield to thaw out and began my twenty-mile trek.

Halfway there, my cell phone rang. This is usually a fluke. No one, I mean no one, ever calls my cell phone. Anyone who knows me well is aware I never answer it (I rarely know where it is except at work, where I can't answer it), and anyone else has dialed the wrong number. My dashboard lit up with alerts, the car began speaking to me (this is a design flaw, I think), and the number on my radio flashed to the number of my children's school bus garage.

Alerting me of a snow day to come, I could only assume.

"Hello?" I asked, ready for good news. I was expecting a robot voice, signature of the automatic call system that alerts us to emergency days off and other such nonsense. Once, to let us know the school district's phone systems were down. (Then how are you calling me, creepy robo-caller??)

"Mrs. Bielecki?" a very non-robotic voice said back. 

My heart dropped to my stomach. "Yes?"

"I'm the head of transportation in your children's school district. Your son Noah was injured on the bus. It seems he fell and hit his head on glass. He has a bad enough gash and is bleeding badly enough that we needed to alert emergency services and have them check him out."

Breathing has stopped. Heart is frozen. Knees are gone.

"I'm sorry. You called 911?"

"Yes, ma'am. The police are on their way, as well as an ambulance. Are you...can you get to him?" And he went on to tell me the specific location of the bus, just miles from where I was on the Thruway, but in that snow, in that moment, it felt like the other side of the world.

"I'm on the Thruway," I said helplessly, though I may have been yelling. Not at the transportation guy, but from sheer lack of control. And yet I knew, the driving was bad enough that if I didn't maintain control I'd get in an accident and be even further from reaching Noah.

"How far?"

"Ten minutes."

"Okay, ma'am, I'll have them wait. Can I give the police this phone number to reach you?"

After hanging up, I immediately called my mother. When your world turns upside down, who else is there? I swallowed, realizing that this was what Noah was thinking, as I scrambled through the "easy to use" touch screen to find my mom's number. 

"Stop yelling at me," she said, confirming my earlier suspicions.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm sorry."

"No, don't be sorry. I'll go right now."

By the time I arrived, I saw I had been preceded by two police cars, an ambulance, the fire department, the school principal, and my mother, all parked surrounding the confused-looking school bus, parked askew in a department store parking lot. I flew out of the car, trying not to slip on the slush-coated ice, and was halted by a fireman.

"I don't want you to be startled," he said without preamble. "We did our best, but there was so much blood, we had to bandage him up pretty good. We had to cover the eye that was cut, and we're calling him a pirate. I think he likes that." I began to walk on, but the guy stopped me. "Ma'am? He's a really great kid there. He's been real brave and hasn't cried once."

I moved to the bus door, from which my mom was emerging. She reached out and grabbed my arm. "He's fine," she said. "He's really fine. He needs to go to the ER, but he's fine. Probably just stitches." I nodded, and sort of felt myself passed along between the police officers, propelled up the bus steps. The driver stood to one side, looking like this might be the most surprising thing that had ever happened to him, and a policeman was kneeling in front of a heavily bandaged little boy, an EMT beside him. 

The little boy turned his head so his one eye could see me. The visible part of his face was coated in splotches of now crusty blood.

"Mommy?" His little voice. Small. Tiny. 

I was aware of the police and the EMT continuing to talk to me, of a clipboard being thrust in front of me and papers I needed to sign. But the only thing I really could see or understand was my little boy's one good eye.

Noah's eyes are so beautiful. They are my favorite part of his face. I love his eyes.

It was decided we did not need an ambulance, my mom took Joey in her car with the plan to meet me after our visit to the emergency room. "Everything will be okay," she kept saying. I only believed it because it was her saying it. Anyone else and I might have lost it.

Once in the car, Noah kind of perked up. "They asked me all kinds of questions! My name--they asked me that like a hundred times--and your name, and Joey's name, and where I live, and what my school is....isn't that silly? I mean, we all go to the same school!"

His newly adopted cheer prompted me to ask the really key question in all of this. "Honey, how did this happen?"

"Well, I don't know. The police wanted to know that, too. I was just sitting on the bus, when suddenly it went over a bump--or something--and it shook me so I fell into the wall and bumped my head on the window."

"Just the window?" I asked. "Was it cracked or something?"

"No, the metal part at the edge."

Rather than the hospital or one of the local hospital satellites, I opted for an Immediate Care as it was closest. I drove into an empty lot, and peered into the windows as I unbuckled Noah and helped him out of the car. No one was in the waiting room either. The receptionist leapt from her chair as we approached the doors and greeted us as they glided open.

"Oh, my," she said, eyes widening at Noah's horrific appearance.

We had a zero second wait. The nurses and doctor were wonderful. The gauze bandage that encircled Noah's head was removed to reveal his forehead totally coated in blood, but a completely clotted gash above his eyelash line. I swallowed hard when I saw it. Already clotted. Lucky. Right above his eyelash line. Lucky. Very, very close to his eye, but not his actual eye. Lucky, lucky, lucky. I had to remind myself what it meant to let air into my lungs.

And my little boy? So brave. Impressive, even. Not once did he cry. They tried continuing with the pirate theme. "I don't like pirates," he finally announced. "But I am brave." Yes, Noah. Very, very brave.

As if we weren't already praying our thanks, it was determined that he wouldn't even need stitches. The cut, big and deep as it was, could be glued. Just like that. Like this was Madam Pomfrey and we were at Hogwarts, not Immediate Care, and any second Dumbledore would enter with lemon drops. 

Just as the doctor was finishing up, my mother burst into the exam room. "Joey's at home with the sitter," she said. She glided to the bed upon which Noah lay and rubbed his leg. His uniform had blood all over it and he was wearing his big winter boots. He looked so small and silly.

"When I saw you there, Grandma, I knew everything would be okay."

And I knew exactly what he meant as my mother squeezed my arm, leaned in, and said, "You want to scream, don't you."

I did, Mom, until you came.

I am thankful that Noah is okay. I hope I never have to live through that--the not knowing, the scary phone call, all those emergency vehicles, that powerlessness. I am thankful that, in the end, it was a cut. A cut. My God. It's Christmas, and people suffer all over the world, and my kid has a cut. Thankful is not enough of a word.

But there's more. A feeling just as huge. I am hopeful that Noah will know I love him the way my mother loves me, and trust that I will be there the way my mom is always there. No matter what. No matter what.

And now, a few of the better pictures of my son's beautiful eyes.






 I love you, Noah Michael.






Monday, December 1, 2014

Is Old-Fashioned Research Valuable At All Anymore?

In the wake of a newsworthy snowstorm, I spent the last two weeks re-learning the ropes of Stay-At-Home Mom-dom. It was kind of crazy, readjusting to every waking minute with my three boys, trying to find that mental control in every particular moment and every particular situation that comes more from practice than any natural instincts.

I think I had the knack down by yesterday.

It was not easy, then, to have to return to my teacher self and put on the dress pants and shirt that may or may not make me look fat (and the only ones who care are me and the middle schoolers who examine me instead of paying attention to the life of Poe and how to effectively annotate his biography). But I did it. I woke up, I put the makeup on, put the dress pants on, and somehow made it out the door on time.

The walk up the stairs to my classroom was very hard. Many, many stairs. The halls smelled like school cleaner and I was greeted by the custodians repairing the radiator in my classroom, which had caused a small flood along the back wall while we were off last week. I realized I hadn't finished my coffee at home and my eyelids felt like they weighed a hundred pounds.

That's when I had my terrific brainstorm.

I would turn the timeline of Poe's life into a BOARD game! Who wouldn't want to play that game? Man! Almost as fun as Pin-the-Apostrophe-on-IT S, I knew, and I got started straight away. The playing cards would each be a year from Poe's life, detailing significant events that would have influenced his life as a writer. Or would they? I'm so tricky, I began throwing in other odd facts, too, like the birth of Florence Nightingale and the invention of Heinz ketchup (which didn't even occur until twenty years after Poe died! Bwahaha! You wish you had my job!). Pull those cards, and your game piece would be moving back one space, oh yeah!

So, clearly I was excited about the new development of the day's lesson. I decided that the class would be broken into teams, and within each team, every student would be assigned a job. Because I'm weird, some students were the dice rollers and some were the card readers, but one job I was pretty psyched about was the Fact Checker. I loved this because it would allow the teachable moment of, "Hey, this is actually a job in real life!" and "Isn't research fun?" The only problem I foresaw was that there was no computer for the kids to go to for quick searches, and I couldn't bring myself to invite their smartphones into the classroom. I'm just not there yet. So, instead, I brilliantly assured myself, "No problem, I have that old set of encyclopedias in the back. Since this was all during the life of Poe, all these events should totes be in the encyclopedias." Totes. And they were. No problem, right?

Wrong.

My first clue that something wasn't quite right was when the birth of Florence Nightingale card was pulled during my third class of the day. The group was huddled up, feverishly discussing how old Flo may have affected the life of my good friend Edgar, but their brows were furrowed. Their hissy hushed voices took on accusing and indignant tones. Finally, the Fact Checker was shoved out of his chair and he headed to the back of the room, where, during prior Rule Explaining, I had directed them to go for encyclopedia use.

The Fact Checker stood helplessly in front of the shelves (and might I add, they are very pretty, well-stocked shelves). He first reached for a textbook, but his hand was slapped away by a student in another group. "That is not an encyclopedia!" she scolded. (Middle schoolers are a helpful people.) Finally, the Fact Checker seemed to spot the correct books. Randomly, he grabbed one and flipped it open in confusion. It was the 'G' volume. Because everyone knows 'G' is for Florence Nightingale.

At this point, the group's time had run out.

The class turned to me, looking bewildered. "Uh, do they get to move ahead?" someone asked.

"Well, no," I said. "They can't tell me who Florence Nightingale is, so they definitely can't explain whether she influenced the life or works of Poe." (The answer was NO, no she probably didn't, as he was nine when she was born in Italy and their paths never crossed in any way worth mentioning.)

At this point, however, the class ended and the packing up commenced and the next class spilled into the room.

The card that spurred the job of Fact Checker in this class was the one that included the names "Dostoyevsky" and "Baudelaire." I began to feel evil as the Card Reader stumbled over the difficult spellings and then tossed it at the completely daunted Fact Checker. I waited with interest as he (oddly, it was always boys who were assigned this job by the groups) made his way to the back of the room and stared blankly at the bookshelves. After another painful turn, the Florence Nightingale card was pulled by the next team, and the poor Fact Checking boy from that group stood forlornly by the green bound books.

What the?

As the group scrambled to prepare some sort of answer, I moved to the back of the room myself.

"Do you know what an encyclopedia is?" I asked the class in general. Imagine my shock when thirty heads shook. No. The boy stepped away in relief.

I sighed. "Have you ever heard of Wikipedia?"

Further relief flooded their faces, like Yay! She's speaking our language now.

"We know what that is, but we aren't allowed to use it."

"It's all fake and made up!" shouted a helpful Hermione type.

"Yes, well." I picked up the encyclopedia volume labeled 'N.' "Wikipedia is a similar idea to an encyclopedia. You type a keyword into a search box, like--" I paused emphatically, "FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE, and then a whole bunch of information comes up, all about...Florence Nightingale."

"Yeah, but it's totally fake," interrupted another charming student.

"But it is helpful if you're looking for a quick gist," I pointed out. "If you're just wondering really quick, 'Who is this person?' Wikipedia is a good starting point for you to start figuring it out." I flipped open the 'N' volume and started fluttering through the pages. "Back in the olden days, after we climbed out of horse and buggy outside the ol' library, we used encyclopedias to do that same job. Only we didn't have a computer and we didn't have a search box. Instead, we asked ourselves, 'What is the first letter of the thing I want information about? I know! N for Nightingale! Then we found the 'N' volume of the encyclopedia. Do you hear how it kind of even sounds like 'Wikipedia?' Then we had to flip the pages to find the topic. The 'N' volume is filled with all the topics that start with 'N'. See how they're all in bold? And helpfully, they're all in alphabetical order, too. So I know 'Nightingale' starts with 'Ni-' so I'm just going to skip past the beginning here and...."

And then something sort of clicked in my head. This was absurd. These children were watching me like I was a lunatic. The Internet literally does all of what I was demonstrating for them. Why was I even bothering? But the book in my hand, tattered and faded and shredded along its binding, felt so solid. I looked down at it, remembering countless trips to the library in high school and college, using the card catalogue, returning to a glass top table and my arms laden with heavy books, which may or may not contain any useful information. My God. Research is a totally different thing now. And my students had absolutely no idea what went into it, because ninety percent of the steps have been taken out of the whole process. To them, it's "I just want to know real quick," and the idea of taking any time at all to lift a book was blowing their minds. And I'm not going to lie. It was kind of blowing mine, too.

So in the end, I guess the question is, was I asking my students to do something ridiculous, or is there still some value in knowing how to use reference books the old-fashioned way? I have no idea, but I do know that for now, all I have is those encyclopedias, and tomorrow, all those Fact Checkers have their work cut out for them.

Poor guys.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Thankful Prayer

I'm sitting in the middle of a snowstorm. I have been housebound since Monday night, as storm watches and warnings that I didn't really believe swirled around the news. I'm from Buffalo, and I've grown up with a "take it as it comes" attitude, with a side order of, "I'll believe it when I see it."

The snow is now covering our first story windows. In the street in front of my house, cars are abandoned and mostly buried. I've seen plows and policemen get stuck, I've seen neighbors plug their way through six foot drifts to help them. I saw a person, bundled up on a stretcher, carried down the street by six men. I distracted my children from this. To them, this is an adventure. It should be.

Facebook is flooded with photos and statuses detailing everyone's own personal storm. Many are without power or heat. Most of us have not been able to leave our driveway for days and aren't sure when it will be possible. Most are going stir crazy. They worry about back to work and back to school and groceries and all the things we all worry about even when there isn't a storm keeping us away.

But I think...I'm not just in the middle of a snowstorm. I'm in the middle of my family room bundled under two blankets, one of which is my sacred sweater blanket, the gift I requested and received from Joe the fall he spent working in Pittsburgh while the boys and I stayed behind missing him. My baby is napping, and from the next room I hear the sound of boys giggling together.

I don't want this storm to end. Easy to say, I guess, because I have power and food right now. Maybe I'll change my tune tomorrow or the next day. Probably. But I don't want to be at work, and I don't want to think about tests and quizzes and vocab, given or received (since I'm an ELA teacher). I want to not do anything. I want to not be going anywhere. I want to be, and have wanted since I went back to work in September, right here where I am. I'm not going to wish that away.

Baby Max and I were in my bedroom this morning, me in the rocking chair and him giggling at my feet. Suddenly, he reached for me. "Up!" he demanded. He's delightfully imperious. Imperiousness is only special at this age, of course. It gets a bit tiresome as they grow (evidenced by Noah). I obliged, and he leaned against my arm, smiling with eyes and mouth, the best kind.

I flashed back instantly to a year ago. Where was I then? Trapped at home again, though in a very different way. Max was just a few weeks old, and I was recovering from a very painful C-section and hernia repair. Max was not eating. I can't remember the exact day it was decided he would not be a breastfeeder, but it was somewhere around this date. And I was devastated. Of course I wanted him to grow. He had to start growing. But I had failed. At least, in my eyes. And I hadn't failed through any fault or choice of my own (despite what the midwives told me, but curse them, anyway). I had failed by my very nature, my makeup. I couldn't physically do what God had intended.

I will probably never fully heal from that.

My mother has always sworn that the first year of your baby's life is the hardest. She insists that it's that way for everybody, though I haven't seen much proof of it. Mostly people share the good things. The firsts, the milestones, the heart-to-bursting joy that only comes from being a parent. Some will share a crisis or two, but just enough to scare the hell out of you and then move on. I really want my mother to be right--she is about most things--because I don't want to be the only person who has struggled with things that I always imagined would come naturally.

I'm surprised by the number of people who have noticed the sharp decline in my blogging, more surprised still by those who bother to mention it. I'm flattered. I expected Max's first year to be filled with inspiration for me as a writer, but it has proven to be the exact opposite. Babies are exhausting, and so are nine-year-old boys and Noahs. (Noah, I have tiredly but lovingly determined, will wipe me out any time anywhere any age, just because.) I doubt very much that most people want to hear "I'm so tired" three-hundred-sixty-five days in a row; I can assure you, Joe is rather sick of it.

Returning to work this fall filled me with dread, and yet, there are days I guiltily consider it a reprieve from my real life. I drink hot coffee in the quiet solitude of my early morning classroom. There is no silence quite as lovely as a school without children; it nearly reminds me of a church before Mass. The trouble is, every second that I am at school my heart is aching to be somewhere else. I feel almost outside of myself for missing the life I lived for the last few years. It wasn't very eventful. It wasn't touching a hundred lives at a time through literature and writing (because I'm TOTALLY changing the world right now, making ALL the children love the written word). It wasn't glamorous at all--yoga pants and messy buns and cleaning grout. But it was hugs and kisses any time I wanted. It was arriving early to doctors' appointments and being there, ready to go, when everybody woke up in the morning. It was thankless, I can tell you. But it was heroic and life-changing to me. I loved it.

So. Snowbound with my boys and no hope of leaving? Thank you, God. You forever remind me of your goodness and all that I have. Please watch over those less fortunate than us during this crazy storm you have thrown at the one city I know can and will handle it.

Outside my house:

Inside my house:


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Happy Birthday, Baby

364 days ago, I had to sleep in a recliner.

I could not see my feet.

I had eaten all of the candy bars my children were supposed to sell for school.

Walking up the stairs seemed like the worst thing someone could ask me to do.

No. Asking me to sit on the floor and play and then get up seemed like the worst thing someone could ask me to do.

I was 39 weeks pregnant and this little monster squirmed inside me. All. The. Time.

364 days ago, I knew that he would be a fighter. People would ask, hesitant but endearingly eager, "Is he kicking?" And if he was snoozing in my belly, all I had to do was press my hand down, and boy, did that baby get mad. He would kick my hand away, like, "Hey! Encroaching on my space, here!" On sonogram days, and there were many, the second that magic wand was pressed against my stomach, Little Man would knock it away. "Whoa!" was what the radiologist would say. I couldn't help but smile. My baby was fierce, and there would be no messing with him.

It's hard for me to write about Max. He is unexpectedly different from his brothers, but similar in nuance-y ways. He'll do something that will remind me of one of them, but it's just a hint, just a breeze of their different personalities. He takes everything and makes it completely his own, including his face, despite the never-ending moment-to-moment narration by extended family of who he most looks like. (He looks like himself.)

So. For the sake of simplicity, here are the highlights of what I have loved most about being Max's mom in this first year of his life:

1. Holding him. Even though he's by far the heaviest of my babies, he's all round and delicious and fuzzy, especially at bedtime.

2. Kissing his cheeks. Have you seen them?


3. Squeezing his thighs. For the first two months of his life his legs were like spaghetti. I was terrified that he would never catch up and be in a percentile. But he did catch up. My goodness, he did.


4. His silly faces. 

5. The fact that he tries really hard not to laugh, but sometimes they slip out, and then he's all mad at himself over such an emotional display.

6. He is, for the most part, a very content baby. Very chill compared to Noah. (Though the Incredible Hulk is chill compared to Noah.)

7. His cankles.

8. Feeding him anything. 

9. The way he has always been very decided about being done or over something. He closes his eyes, turns his head dramatically, and shoves whatever it is away. I love someone who knows what he wants. Or doesn't want.

10. Bath time.

11. Finding out that if I could go back and do it all differently, I won't actually do it differently. At least as far as mothering infants is concerned. Joey and Noah are nine and six, and memories of their babyhood were growing fuzzy and rose-colored. When people remarked about how anxious and, frankly, crazy I was with them as babies, I shrugged, thinking of how far I'd come as a mom and how much I'd learned. Then along came Max, and it turns out, no, I didn't learn anything. I worry about all of my children in equally irrational and insane ways regardless of all logic and lessons learned. Soon after Max was born, I was sitting criss-cross applesauce in front of him on the floor, worrying. Joe said, "What are you doing?" and I said, "Worrying," and Joe said, "Huh. Most people mellow out after they've had three kids, but not you. You just...sure love them a lot." So diplomatic.

12. His ear lobes.

13. His chubby wrists.

14. Honest to God--changing diapers. Nothing keeps you vibrant quite like a wild diaper change filled with the unexpected.

15. Waiting and being rewarded. First because it was my most miserable pregnancy. Then, all the milestones. They felt like they took forever--smiling, laughing, sitting up, crawling--and in some ways Max definitely took his time. But I didn't feel the rush so much this time. I loved him being squishy and round and all the things he is. When all the milestones finally happened, it was just more of an excuse to squeeze him and love him. (As opposed to how we were with Joey, who probably will find all kinds of Ivy League brochures in his baby books when he grows up because not only was he early with all milestones but achieved them with real panache. Apparently.)

16. His eyelashes.

17. He said "Mama" first but now prefers to fling "Dada" in the faces of all loved ones. "Dada" and, weirdly, "Poo." He says it like a little pigeon.

18. He loves music. He's instantly calmed by it and loves to dance around with his mama.

19. He loves his brothers. He (quite mistakenly) puts all his faith and trust in them.

20. He is all the good of all of us rolled into one little person. He is Joey's sound sleep, Noah's earnestness, Joe's silliness, my amazing charm and wit.

It was easy a year ago to know that each life in our family would change with Max's arrival. It's easy to say that they did. It just isn't easy to explain how. One small person, filled with so many smiles and so many poops, made us disorganized, out of control, confused, and crazier than we ever were. He changed all of our roles in this house in a huge way and we won't ever be the same. 

We'll forever be better, and happier, and more full of love because of Max.

(above photo taken by Natalie Komosinski)



Saturday, October 4, 2014

Only Boys

I've been rather shy about boldly declaring: THIS is what it's like to be the mother of boys, definitively. In the past, if I point out, ugh, driving them to sports, or ugh, they play so rough, I'm inevitably confronted by the indignant mother of a girl who's all, "My girl is just as athletic/rough/mouthy/physical/messy/etc as any boy." And I get it. I went to an all-girls high school, where they were great at empowering us and making us all well aware that we could do anything THEY could do better. THEY being the boys.

So, yeah.

But here is one thing I'm pretty sure is unique to being the mother of all boys.

The gross bathroom.

I'm going to start by saying that when they reach a point where I think it would work out well for me, I'm making them do all the cleaning. Right now, I don't think asking that of them would be beneficial to me. It isn't worth the fight and the re-do.

I consider myself a very clean person, and I also think I'm a pretty good mother. Those things combined should equal some tidy, fastidious children, but, shockingly, it doesn't seem to follow in that way. Joey and Noah understand that having a clean bathroom is the ideal. They are quite reasonable when I point out the situation behind the toilet. Day after day. Hour after hour.

"Boys, do you understand that you have to aim into the toilet?"

"Boys, do you see how there's a hole in the bottom of the toilet? Can you point the pee that way?"

"Boys, you know it's never a good idea to pee in the same toilet at the same time, right?"

"Yes, Mom."

"Sure, Mom."

"OF COURSE, MOM." (Bold and italics here because it's my favorite response and they know it, but forever use it against me, like telling me I'm pretty.)

And yet, every time I go in the bathroom, the grout around the toilet is just a shade too dark. There's a funk in the air I don't care to describe to you. There's the issue of the baseboards behind the toilet, also not worth sharing in detail. And all I'm left with is the bewildered, "What the hell?"

I said to our babysitter the other day, "It's very important to me that you know I clean that bathroom every single day, multiple times a day." And I do. Bleach. Spray bottle. Scrub, scrub, scrub. You can't mop it, you know. It's all hands and knees and cheek pressed to the toilet bowl as I reach around with a rag or even a paper towel, pressing the bleach into the porous grout, soaking up you don't want to know what but can probably guess. So, yes, please world, acknowledge my efforts.

You know what the babysitter said? "Okay." Like, all condescending. Like, yeah right, Mary Pat. That bathroom looks like ogres had a pee party for a week without quitting and you just let it slide.

And how about the fact that Noah announced he was heading in to take a shower, and I saw him shed his clothes (he's the sort of fellow who leaves a trail behind him in case he might lose his way and need to retrace his steps) and I heard the shower door close, and then....nothing. No water running. No fumbling with a shampoo bottle. Total. Silence.

"Noah?" I called, entering the bathroom. "Are you okay?" I asked, opening the shower door to check on my second-born.

Only to find him standing there, free and loose, peeing all every which and where (because don't underestimate the power of projectile and trajectory and all the other jects that were going on), and looking like he was quite enjoying the freedom to just Let it go, let it goooo, because apparently he just couldn't hold it back anymore.

Never mind that the toilet is a mere twenty-four inches from the shower, and looks to me like it's far more accessible in a hurry.

"What are you doing?" I cried in horror. Because, like I said, I'm a pretty clean person. I'm also reasonable. If you're going to pee in the shower, at least let the water run and wash it down the drain. And once that thought came into my head, I was further horrified that it's come to that, where I'd have a condition where it would be okay to pee in the shower.

"I'm going to the bathroom," he said, looking from side to side like, Isn't it obvious, you idiot?

"You can't do this!" I said. "You can't! It's not okay! Animals do this, not people! Not Bieleckis!" Like somehow our surname, our family line, our heritage, might preclude us from such base behavior.

"Mom," he said calmly. "Animals don't take showers."

"But you can't do this!" I said again. "Aren't you ashamed of doing this very bad thing?"

"Well, I'm ashamed that you saw me do it."

Later, after he'd gone to bed and I was spraying down the shower, scrubbing the grout, pressing into the pores of the tile, I thought, "Yeah. Find me a girl who ever did this."

Monday, September 29, 2014

Grandma

The hardest thing about it, I think, is the way my brain continues to be surprised. Each time I expect to see the strong person I have known my whole life, and instead I see someone exhausted and frail. Her mind is as sharp as ever, and my heart hurts knowing that she is acutely aware of everything that is happening to her.

My grandmother ran races and marathons until she was eighty-one years old. She worked out. And I mean, aside from running, she lifted weights. My friends' grandparents did not run or lift weights. She once asked me to polka with her. We were at my uncle's wedding and she wanted to polka. "I don't know how," I'd said helplessly. "That's okay," she'd replied, and she lifted me up off the ground in her strong arms and carried me around that dance floor, polka style. I was seventeen years old.

When I reach for her now, I am aware that she cannot lift me up to polka, but I am still surprised that her hugs are like a whisper. "I love you," they say, and I am grateful.

But I miss her fierceness. I miss seeing her at the dinner table, her elbows propped up, her hands clasped to the side of her face, joining in the conversation. She argued, she laughed, she drank wine with dinner and coffee at dessert. She passed the pasta and she declined the dessert placed in front of her, only to sneak a bite here and there when she thought no one was looking.

I have her eyes. She has always told me that. "Green eyes like Grandma." When I was young and foolish and knew everything and nothing, I'd roll my eyes and wish for blue eyes like my father or brown eyes like the Van Morrison song. But it is her eyes that still hold her spirit. They still have her spark, her lightness. She looks at me with her bright eyes and says what she has always said, "How's my Mary?"

If I close my eyes, I can still see her strong. Her broad shoulders, held straight and proud. I can picture a thousand different times she has found me in a crowded room with her green eyes to say, "How's my Mary?" When I was sick. On every birthday. Christmas night, after she'd finish the dishes and find me sitting at her piano. At Sunday dinner. In the hospital after all three of my children were born. When she held my hand and stared at me hard and said, "You cannot be a writer until you sit down and write."

She is eighty-four years old. She has cancer. And still she fights. She does not run anymore, but for her, the race is not over.

Please pray for my grandma. She is wonderful.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Going Back To Work

An important chapter in my life comes to a close tonight. It has been my greatest joy to be home with my children for three full years. I did it all, or at least, everything that I thought mattered to them: field trips, packed lunches, brought in forgotten homework assignments or gym clothes, picked them up from school when they were sick, attended class parties. I held Noah's hand every day that he walked into preschool. I was at every concert, every performance, and every event a parent was invited to. Except lunch periods. I never volunteered to be a lunch mom. It was too close to my old job, and I know how gross it is.

It wasn't just about their events, either. It was learning to build their world exactly how I wanted it. Sit-down meals and fresh fruit in the fridge. Clean, folded clothes and neatly arranged throw pillows. I redecorated their playroom to accommodate them, creating a homework area and a learning center because they just keep getting older. I learned how to clean grout in my kitchen floors. I learned that having all boys means bleaching around the bottom of the toilet at least three times a day, but really every time they use it. I wiped poop off the bathroom walls. I have clean baseboards. I have dishpan hands. I know how to get armpit stains out of my husband's shirts and I make sock balls. With matching socks. If you know me at all, you will find the fact that I match socks to be astonishing.

Much of this would have gotten done regardless, and for many of you it's combined with the hectic-ness I am about re-embark on. The beauty of it, for me, was that I was able to dedicate myself to it. It's kind of old-fashioned, but I was given the opportunity to be just one thing for awhile, to pick one thing and just give it all my energy. I chose my family, and I will never regret it, and after tonight, I will never stop missing that.

And, of course...my Max. My last born, my surprise. Tomorrow I will miss feeding him breakfast. I will miss his smelly morning diaper and his big round tummy as I change his clothes for the day. I will miss his silly toothy smile and the way he crawls like a little robot. There is a good chance I won't see his first steps (although any good babysitter would knock him down until I got home, for crying out loud). Every minute of the day, I will wonder if he wonders where I am. I will worry about the corner of the coffee table where always almost hits his head. I will wonder if he is crying or laughing. I will want, with all my heart, for him to miss me, and I will hope just as much that he doesn't even notice I'm gone.

I will love the long quiet rides to and from work. I will love adult conversation with my friends, people I've missed a lot. I will love hanging posters about verbs and theme and quarterly grades. I will love using my scented Mr. Sketch markers and making activities with index cards because frankly, index cards rock.

But I will miss the (considerable) weight of my baby in my arms. I will miss seeing my boys get off the bus every day. I will miss the feeling of exhaustion at the end of the day that came from giving everything I had to people who mean everything to me. I'll be fine, and they will be fine, I know that. We'll be better than fine, probably. Everything will get done and we will all adjust. But deep in my heart will be a sad place, and right next to it will be a glimmery patch that hope-hope-hopes I made some small, good difference in my children's lives by being there for them.

It certainly changed me.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Making It Great

Today was set up to be another ordinary day. Noah had a checkup at the pediatrician, which meant I had to fly through the house to find sports forms and school forms and what-have-you, of which I had none, so I had to then fly through the house to hook up to the printer and find printer paper and then print said forms, and then Noah had a meltdown about...something, I have no idea what, and was declaring to the universe that TODAY was going to be a VERY BAD DAY.

I didn't disagree.

Further, in the in-between of it all, there's Joey leaping out of cardboard boxes, as though I'm in the mood for such shenanigans while printing forms and dealing with insane-o-crazy Noah, and Max is doing this shrieky-whine thing he does that reminds me uncannily of a dentist drill, and Joe is appearing from the next room with a dress shirt held out in front of him, saying, "Can you get this grease stain out?" and I'm all...Calgon take me away!

So, yeah. An ordinary day.

I did appreciate the fact that I had a babysitter to stay with Joey and Max during Noah's doctor appointment, however, since I really feel like it's best to only focus on the one with the doctor. I once brought a second child along on a routine visit and found that I'd left my brain at home and amidst the "don't touch thats" and "please sit downs" and "Mommy's talking," it was really best to never repeat the whole ordeal that way.

So off Noah and I went, him sniffling in the backseat, still very certain that today was a bad day, and me wishing hard that he could realize the whole day was in front of him and maybe we could, as I often tell him, choose to make it a great day.

I was so hung up on this that when the doctor came in and asked me whether I had any concerns, I shared that Noah was having a hard time understanding that he has the personal power to turn things around for himself.

She said, "Noah, how many times have you seen Frozen?" What a great question.

"A million?" he said with a grin.

"Me, too! Do you think that when bad things happen you can work on trying to, 'Let it go! Let it gooooo!'"

I kind of have a crush on our pediatrician.

Anyway.

She went on to discuss all the merits of modeling the superpower of making spirits bright, and I cringed a little inside knowing, well, I probably don't always do that. But I vowed I would try harder, since that's all I can do.

After the doctor, we went for a haircut. The haircut place was full, and we were told our wait would be long. I optimistically sat down, and Noah asked to play on my phone. I am completely a parent who lets her child play on her phone in support of good behavior in public for limited amounts of time.

But while the clock ticked by, I took note of the person snuffling beside me. Snuffling is different than sniffing. Sniffing is like...glorified smelling. Or a side effect of sadness. Snuffling indicates a person has an under-the-weather need to blow their nose. Then there was a cougher. A phlegmy one. A persistent phlegmy cougher.

And still the time ticked on and it was not Noah's turn. Upset, I decided the wait was too long, not worth it, and we left. I was annoyed. I was worried about the airborne germs that probably still clung to our auras as we climbed into the car. Noah had really needed that haircut, and now we'd have to wait who knew how long to come back another day? And what about lunch? I was starving, but almost too crabby to go for my original plan, which was to surprise Noah by taking him out.

As I drove, focusing on all of these things and more, Noah said, "I hope you remember what the doctor said, Mom. We can still turn this day around!"

I can't even begin to tell you what an idiot I felt like. Immediately. And it was hard to let everything go. But in my mind, I heard my hero pediatrician's voice telling me to emulate good behavior. In the rearview mirror, Noah's eyes were sparkling in a knowing way. He knew he'd caught me. And beyond that, I was incredibly proud of him for paying attention at the doctor's office and regurgitating exactly what I'd hoped he'd learn. (Although I rather hoped it'd be more self-directed, if you know what I mean.) So, I changed lanes, heading in a new direction. We went to a different hair place. Noah's optimism paid off. They took him right away, no wait, and he smiled adorably through his entire haircut. We went out for lunch, Noah's pick (Red Robin), and I had a delicious strawberry lemonade with a free refill! And then, the ultimate moment of adventure: we went to Wegmans.

What did we buy?

A dozen roses.

For whom?

Inspired, we decided that they would be for Noah to give out, one at a time, to anyone who might need one. And here is how that went.

First up, a little girl with her brother. Noah was feeling shy, and definitely wanted to start with someone his own age. The girl accepted the flower, and ran to her mother all smiles. "Thank you!" her mother said, beaming. 
Next was a woman in the food court at the mall, eating alone. "This is for you!" said Noah, a little less shy. "Have a nice day!" You can see that she was at first surprised, and then couldn't help smiling.



Then there was this guy. We passed by an Auntie Anne's pretzel booth, and Noah stopped, turned around, and waved me down to his level. "That guy looks pretty sad to me. Or maybe a bit bored."
"Should we give him a flower?" I asked.
"Yes." And he went back to the booth, around to the side, and presented this pretzel fella with a rose. "Have a great day!" The guy clearly had never received a flower from a six-year-old boy before. It took him a minute to get over being stunned, and then he gave a nice smile and a shy but enthused, "Thanks, buddy!"

These mannequin butts have little to do with Noah's mission, except that they made him laugh hysterically.

Noah searching high and low for just the right recipient. It was very important to him to make someone smile. A lot of people spotted him on his mission and said in a pushy voice, "I SURE LOVE YELLOW ROSES!" Noah was unmoved by such behavior and simply walked on.


This gal, working at Customer Service, looked like she was just waiting for five o'clock to roll around. Noah, as you can see here, was too small to see over the counter, so he shouted, "Excuse me! This is for you!" and slid the rose over the top of the counter.

 This little lady, the one in sunglasses and a tiara, was getting her ears pierced. Noah said, "Be brave!" and handed her the rose.




Noah spotted this girl on crutches from across the mall. Don't let her fool you; she was quick! Noah caught up to her, though, and made sure she got her rose.



Next were these two special ladies, doing a little mall walking and perhaps some shopping. I particularly like the look of the one on the left. The brunette, as shown below, was a bit confused at first. Maybe she thought he was a bandit, aiming to grab her purse and run. "What is it for?" she asked skeptically. "Just for you," he said.


Moving back through the mall, we passed our little ear piercee, who began gesturing wildly at her forlorn and flowerless younger sister. Noah gladly stopped to balance things out.

You can see the ladies at the jewelry shop appreciated the gesture. The girl shown here said, "Can I give you a hug? You made my day!" But Noah wanted no thanks. He just kept turning back to me and saying, "Did you get that smile with your camera, Mom?" 



And last, but certainly not least, Noah saved one flower for one of his favorite babysitters in the world. Thanks for making it all possible, Amanda!


From the bottom of my heart, I wish you a great day. And Noah will tell you that the fastest way to help that along is by doing something nice for someone else. 
"Mom...I don't get it, but when they smiled, it made me feel happy for some reason!"

Monday, June 23, 2014

Changed

My days are long, but they are full. My boys are crazy, but they are wonderful. And that has been my life in recent memory.

I was able to go to Joey's awards ceremony at school today, thanks to the complete selflessness and generosity of my husband who offered to work from home for a few hours so Max could nap and I could enjoy the peace of being at a school event by myself. I sat in the back, clapping at the various achievements of other people's children, and then felt the now-familiar sting of happy tears each time I heard my boy's name called.

I was proud of him for working hard and doing well, but prouder still because I know how this year has gone for him. It wasn't an easy road for a little guy. I keep thinking of that quote I see all over Facebook and Pinterest for book lovers, something about how when you finish an amazing book, you put it down and you're shocked that no one realizes your world has just changed forever. Everyone is just going along like nothing happened. That's how I feel about our year: our whole world changed, but if I even begin to try and explain this to people, it sounds pretty lame. And I know in the scheme of things, us having a baby is pretty run-of-the-mill, but as I watched Joey gripping that certificate, his face awash with everything that comes with hard work paying off, I decided to bask just a little more in how well we've come through our personal mountain climb.

My sister had warned me that third grade can be a tough year. It's the first year of number grades, the first year of really studying (flash cards are the best; buy your index cards in bulk!), the first year of really starting the journey to becoming an independent student down the road. At first, Joey dealt with his mom being at work for the first time in two years. Then, he dealt with his mom having just had a baby. A baby who, in the beginning, wasn't easy. Joey had to learn that homework time was going to be filled with baby bottles and burps and spitting up. Studying would have to happen regardless of newborn cries and kindergarten woes (because Noah was no picnic in the whole change-of-life scenario, either). He had so many questions, and every time he had to ask the best answer he got was, "Not now," or, "Try it on your own until I'm done with this other thing."

In a lot of ways, it made Joey better. My little pleaser, always wanting to check in with a grownup to hear praise and be reassured, had to step out on his own and feel his way along to figure things out. And in that way, I bet it made him feel even better to be holding those certificates today. But then...I saw his face when he pulled the papers out his backpack earlier in the year, the papers with red markings that weren't what he wanted or expected. That he sometimes didn't even understand. Those moments were hard for all of us, but I think in the end, they did make us all even more determined to get the whole picture right. And I think we are. Getting it right, I mean. Or starting to.

Tonight, after Max was in bed, I was holding Noah. As I mentioned, his struggle with going from baby to middle child was no small matter. One of his favorite things to do is count his woes, no matter how hard I try to get him to do the opposite. So as I held him tonight, I started a little game. He'd said, "I'm the saddest boy in the whole world." And you should hear his voice as he says this. He'd win an Academy Award. For real. Best Male Actor in a Drama, except for him, the drama is his life.

"Sure," I'd said, "except for, you know, the boys and girls in, I don't know, Africa, who have no parents, or clothes, or food. And they're sick and they just want someone to take care of them. They might--might--be sadder than you."

"Yeah," he said, turning his mouth sideways. "Except that I really am saddest of all."

"Noah Michael is lucky, though," I said, thinking of Joey at school. "Noah is lucky because he has a mom and a dad who love him. Noah is lucky because he has a baby brother who thinks he's the greatest."

"Yeah, but I have a big brother who doesn't love me at all." (Are you picturing Eeyore? Because that's who he sounds like.)

Ignoring that last remark, I said, "Noah Michael is lucky because his Mom buys him cool clothes. Nice clothes. And Noah Michael is lucky because he has a room full of toys. And a house to live in with his whole family."

"Yeah. And my room is pretty cool. That's kind of lucky."

"That's very lucky."

We went on with our list for a few more minutes, until I could sense that Noah's heart was big and full and his Eeyore voice was gone. Then we began a game that involved blowing a piece of paper across the coffee table at each other, which he thought was the funniest thing ever. Noah Michael is lucky because he finds humor in small things.

I tucked him in to bed after a bit and came down the stairs. Joey was at baseball, his dad with him, so the house was quiet. I pictured my big boy with his proud face. I picture my middle boy, with his Eeyore frown turning to his sunshine smile. And...I lifted my shirt from my chest to my nose and smelled my baby, who slept soundly like a little angel just steps away. Who curls against me at bedtime,  eyes closed, drinking his bottle, while I rock him slowly in the chair I didn't think I'd use again. Whose soft fuzzy hair feels like heaven in that space of my neck just under my chin, where he fits perfectly.

I am lucky because my days are long, but full. I am lucky because my boys are crazy, but wonderful. I am lucky because this has been my life in recent memory.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Kindergarten Graduate

Today I stood with a camera in hand as my six-year-old son accepted his kindergarten diploma. He turned around to face the world, laminated certificate in hand, and his smile nearly broke me.

An hour earlier, I had dropped him off at school, late. We walked into school together, him carrying a card for his teacher which he'd signed in "fancy writing," and me toting a dripping flower pot filled with, well, I don't know what they were. Pretty flowers. Plants are not my thing. The teacher greeted me at the classroom door, bringing Noah in for a tight hug as he puffed up and presented her with his card.

"Thank you," she said in her kind, soft voice when I handed her the flowers.

"No," I said, horrified by the severe earnestness in my voice. But I couldn't keep myself from rushing on. "Thank you. So much. For everything." I was further embarrassed by my clipped sentence fragments. I swallowed, realizing my nose was burning and my eyes had filled. I had to get out of there before I caused a scene. "We appreciate it all more than you could know."

Luckily, I think she understood what I meant. I think that, despite my ridiculously earnest remark to the contrary, she did know. The thing was, my sudden onset of overpowering emotion was something I myself had not expected. In that moment, I found the whole school year flying through my mind, a whizzing reel of events and trials and so much learning and love, and I was overcome.

I turned then and walked briskly down the hall and out to my car, being a bit too early for the actual graduation ceremony. I climbed in, feeling the hot sun beating in through the windshield, flicked on the air conditioner, and gripped the steering wheel.

Noah is not my baby anymore. Probably, we all look at our graduating kindergarteners and feel some onslaught of emotion about that. But...Noah was my baby, and then also, Noah was what I believed to be my last baby. If anything in my life had gone according to plan, this would have been my last kindergarten graduation. But because God saw fit to give me something else, something more, yet another wonderful little boy, I'll get one more kindergartener. That should be a relief, right? But when I look at Noah, it just makes me want to hang on to him even harder. Make today last and last so none of them will get any older.

And then, too, there has always been something about Noah that has made him seem so much more a baby to me than Joey, my oldest, ever did. With Joey, it was all about the next thing. Learning to sit up, then to crawl, then walking and talking and singing and dancing and doing science and...it's always been something. With Joey, he hasn't even had his birthday yet and I already tell people he's nine. With Noah, I still sometimes slip up and say he's five, even though his birthday came and went at Easter time. Why is that? I often wonder.

But more than any of that, I sat in my car today, not quite ready to push it into Drive, and realized that Noah is also aware of all of this. His whole entire life, he knew with certainty his role in our family, and in my life. He was my baby. He was our littlest one. When I told stories (tragic trauma-filled ones) about being the youngest in my own family growing up, it was for him to learn from and relate to. And while he loves, adores, is thrilled with (and really, I'm not even being the slightest bit facetious) his new baby brother, this year has been a very, very hard adjustment for him. And that was why I had to overtly thank his teacher, and why a lump filled my throat when I had to do it. Because she, too, saw the struggle Noah went through. Frustration when things got just a little too hard, a few too many times. Confusion when his mom forgot to check his homework folder. Again. Anger when something went awry with a classmate.

At bedtime, Noah huddles under a blanket on the couch while I put the baby to bed. While I clean up Cheerios and Gerber Puffs off the floor, while I grab everyone's pajamas and rush Joey into the shower and rinse out bottles. All the while, he's waiting. For his moment. For his turn. For his chance. And when it comes, when I finally set my eyes on him and reach out my hand for him to come along to start our routine, it doesn't matter what else happened that day--and it's always something. Getting too wild and falling over something. Crash. It breaks. Boom, he's hurt. Thud, he's wailing. "Oh, NOAH!" I always groan. But in that moment when I reach my hand out to him, all at once the blanket slides from his head and his eyes shine and he smiles his great big smile, the one that has earned him the title of Sunshine in our house, and says, "I love you, Mama." Not Mom, like when he's trying to be as big as Joey. Not MAWM, like when he's rolling his eyes at what a marvelous idiot I am. Not mother, like when he's declaring he needs a new one. "Mama."

I finally was able to get my car moving and go meet my husband and while away the time until the graduation began. My heart was heavy and I wondered if I could possibly put what I was feeling into words that anyone could understand. My baby, who isn't my baby anymore, is growing up, but...he is still my baby. My Noah. My boy who, though he'd be damned to admit it, needs his Mama.

And I do so love my unexpected little angel. Having Max is magical. It's another beginning, but it's a heart-clenching collection of endings, too. To have to pack away infant clothes for the last time, again, is awfully hard. But to prop up a chubby, slippery body in the bathtub while gently rinsing suds from tufty baby hair, my husband beside me and both of us with wet, soapy elbows and big excited smiles, it's wonderful. It's a gift.

But that's the odd thing about having children. Each one is so different, I never expected to appreciate them so individually. I thought it would be a collective thing: I love my children. But it isn't like that at all. I love Joey. I love Noah. I love Max. And for each one I feel like I have to be a totally different mother, a totally different kind of person. There's no formula, no one right way that I can carry from person to person. It's exhausting.

But one look at this smile today...

...and I know that even though I'm very, very tired, I also have a fat, full heart. And I am crazy lucky.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Real

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you when a child loves you for a long, long time. By the time you are Real, you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

This morning I woke up to my face being kissed by two little boys. Before I could open my eyes, I felt my bed shift as little bodies climbed in to be near me. Small voices whispered, "I love you, Mommy! Today is your day!" The deeper voice of my husband hissed and hushed as he arranged our children around me, including our six-month-old son who he held in his arms as he perched by my feet.

Last night was my oldest son's First Communion. Completely ignoring the fact that I have a child that old, I will describe to you that by the time the evening was over my feet felt broken because it was the first time I'd worn high heels in probably eight years, as many as said son has been alive. My hair, beautifully straightened for the occasion, was falling frizzily loose and lopsided from the high ponytail I'd slept in. The mascara I thought I'd washed off the night before darkened the circles under my eyes, puffy from the last several months of sleeplessness, the mark of a momma with a small baby. I'd been drooling in my sleep and had pillow prints on my cheek.

"You're the prettiest mom in the whole world," Noah whispered, stroking my hair. I opened my eyes to see him smiling down at me.

I heard Max's coo, and turned my eyes to find my baby. When our gazes met, his face broke into a wide, chubby smile and he flapped his arms.

Joey stood by my side holding a package, which he placed carefully into my hands.

I've always been struck by how well people think they know my mother. She is one of those people that if you spend five minutes with her, she'll make you feel like you're her best friend. It's a wonderful quality, but I've lived with her. I've lived with her for thirty-four years and I really am her best friend (well, my sister and I both). That means I know what it's like when she doesn't care if you feel like her best friend or not. I know what she's like when garage doors break, and when handymen quit in the middle of a big job. When older brothers are assholes and grandchildren leave poop in the toilet. I know what she's like when she's been lied to, when she's been left in a lurch. When she's really, truly happy, and when she wants to kill someone but won't say a word about it.

When people say they really know my mom, I think, "Yeah, sure you do."

Nobody watches you like your own children. Nobody sees you for who you are like they do.

The other night, Joey was thinking something over. He was deep in thought. He pressed his index fingers together and brought them to his chin, his brow furrowed. I nearly fell out of my seat.

"You're making Dad's thinking face!" I pointed out, amazed by such an honest and uninfluenced similarity. He'd done it unthinkingly.

Then we began talking. What is Noah's thinking face? What do our teachers do? Our friends?

"What's my thinking face?" I asked. I wish I hadn't.

Joey growled and blew out a huge, forceful breath. "And," he added a second afterward, "you make people feel like you're going to punch them."

"What?!"

"Yeah. Seriously. You're an angry woman."

No one will tell you the truth like your children.

A couple of months after I had Max, Joey said, "Phew. Your stomach's almost back to normal. I was starting to worry."

Noah had added, "Yeah, you're starting to look like your normal self again."

But I will take this honesty. I will swallow it, and hold onto it, and cherish it. Because when they drop their Legos and run to me, when they look up from an ice cream sundae and stretch their faces into smiles a mile wide, when I tuck them into bed at night and they reach up their skinny arms around my neck and say, "Stay a minute longer, Mommy," I know it's real. When Noah picks up my makeup brush and breathes it in with his eyes closed and whispers, "It smells so good, just like you, Mommy," my heart stops.

When they say, "I love your face. You're the prettiest mom in the whole world," I believe them. They're not comparing me to anyone else they've ever seen, and they never will. To them, I could never be ugly. And to me, nothing has ever felt more real.

Happy Mother's Day.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Little Ninja


I leaned into Noah's ear and whispered, "You know what I think? You can be anything you want. Because you. Have. It. All."

He said, "No, I don't. I don't have brown eyes or red hair."

I said, "No. I mean that to have a job, you need certain special things about you. Skills. And you have them all. You're very smart. You also have a great personality, which means that you could work well with people since they like you a lot. You're very creative, so you come up with new ideas that people think are interesting. And you're so handsome. Which means, you know. You could be a movie star. If you wanted."

He smiled and nodded knowingly.

"Oh! And you also have these careful little fingers!" I added, remembering that the other day, I showed him how to tie his shoes just once and he was instantly able to copy the task.

"Yes," he agreed. "I am good at everything. But I'm really just hoping to be a ninja."

Happy birthday, Noah. I already love you being six.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Someone In My House

I make really delicious ham. I feel like I can say that with confidence, because I've done it twice and both times, it turned out delicious. So. Good job, me. But that's not even the wonderful part. The wonderful part is that when anyone in our family cooks a ham, my sister takes the leftovers and creates the most magnificent pea soup in the whole wide world.

I made ham for Easter and was eager for Jane to take the ham leftovers yesterday, but she didn't come to my house to pick it up until exactly the time I was putting Max in for a nap. With his white noise machine. While he was crying. So I missed that, to both my and my sister's annoyances. She was annoyed about banging away on my door, probably, and I was annoyed that I had to wait even longer for my pea soup.

Today was the day the stars aligned. The ham was procured, the soup was created. I was on absolute pins and needles, I tell you. But when to get it? So much was happening. Report cards came home with my older boys today--the excitement was barely contained because I am and ever shall be a huge dork--I made a delicious dinner that my children actually ate, Max took amazing naps, and, also, and this may not seem like much to you, but I'm reading a really good book. It's hard for me to follow what's happening in the real world when I'm reading a really good book, and once you throw in report card day, I'm not ashamed to admit it's all too much.

Anyway.

Joey had baseball tonight, which meant that I set Noah up watching his favorite TV show (Ninjago, which I'd never even heard of until a few weeks ago) while I gave baby Max his bath upstairs. Max was exceptionally cute tonight, waving his naked arms all about and blowing raspberries and making all kinds of declarations in a new and bold way. I took a little longer than usual, then, because I couldn't resist kissing his big round cheekies and giving him raspberries right back. (Last night, as a complete off-topic share, I tried giving him a "big boy bath" in the big tub. He wasn't a fan.) Anyway, after he was all clean and smelling delicious, I bundled him up in his towel, a "baby burrito," I call it, and took him to his room for his pajamas. As I was dressing him, Noah appeared.

"Do you need something?" I asked, but I might as well have not spoken at all. Noah walked right on by, into his own room, and began searching. And I mean really looking for something, ducking down to look under his bed and peeking around the corners made by furniture.

"Noah?"

"I'm looking for Janie," he called, but he didn't turn around. I could tell by his voice he was perplexed, though definitely not as perplexed as I was.

"Janie my sister?" I clarified.

"Yes. I'm sure I saw her pass by. She's got to be here somewhere."

Not knowing what else to do, I looked out the door of Max's room, side to side, understanding it was ridiculous but wondering if perhaps my sister was in my house without my knowing it.

"Noah, why do think Jane is here?"

"Because. I'm sure I saw her."

Now he came into Max's room, marched right past me, and flung open the drapes to see if her car was in the driveway.

"Well, that's weird," he said, his eyebrows furrowed. "Where's her car?"

"Noah, I don't think she's here."

"Huh. I mean, I guess I could have been wrong."

"Well, I'll have to call her and see what happened."

"Oh! Good idea! And have her come back with the cousins so I have someone to play with!"

"Noah, it's a school night. Jane is not bringing your cousins over."

"Oh. She should have brought them the last time she was here."

Right. During her fictitious visit to my house. The whole scene made me start to giggle, and in my head I couldn't wait to get my sister on the phone to tell her this story. I hoped my husband would be back from Joey's baseball practice so he could hear me tell the story and I wouldn't have to do it twice. It's always best the first time.

After I tucked Max into bed, it was Noah's turn. The whole Janie thing forgotten, I helped him into his jammies and read him the next chapter in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, and then tucked him into bed. It wasn't long after that that Joey returned from baseball. Once he was all showered and bejammied, I tucked him in (are you feeling the exhaustion of all the tucking? goodness!) and finally, blessedly, came downstairs to the quiet of my house at night. Grownup Time.

Excited to see my husband, I began crossing through the kitchen to the family room, when something stopped me in my tracks. A large Tupperware container on my counter. Not mine. Not one I'd placed there. And it was fancy Tupperware, which could only mean one thing. It was Jane's.

"Joe!" I hissed. "Joe! Where did this Tupperware come from?" Before he could answer, I lifted the lid. Sure enough, it was filled to the brim with tantalizing pea soup. "Jane brought the soup!"

"Oh," said Joe, distractedly reading something on his laptop.

"Was Jane at baseball?" I asked, frustrated that he wasn't paying attention to me. I'm always frustrated when people in my life don't pay me enough attention.

"Yes."

"Did she give you the soup?"

"What? The soup. Yeah."

I started laughing, looking around for the phone. "This is a funny story," I called to him, already dialing Jane's number. "You have to hear it."

When Jane got on the phone, I laughed hysterically while relaying the whole story.

Jane, however, was only politely laughing. Like, humoring me.

"But I was there," she said. "Noah is the one who let me in."

"WHAT?!" I said. "But...he was so confused while looking for you! And then I figured Joe must have brought the soup home from baseball..."

I shook my head. Joey had brought home this little beauty from art today:
So I thought maybe Noah had just drunk from the same water bottle. I mean, how could he not realize he'd got up from watching his favorite show, unlocked our door, and let a person enter the house? Especially his favorite visitor in the world.

But THEN. 

Jane said, "The weirdest thing is that he helped let me in. He unlocked the door and everything."

"Noah did?"

"No, Joe did."

"WHAT?!!" I whirled around, the phone still pressed to my ear. I shouted at my husband, twelve inches away, "Did YOU let Jane in the house??"

"Of course," he said calmly. "I thought you knew that. Now I see why you're confused."

Now Jane was laughing real, genuine laughter while I sputtered at both of them. At the whole situation.

"Ugh!" I shouted. "Nobody ever knows what's going on! Nobody gives good information around here!" And then, over Jane's giggles, I blurted the real truth: "I hate living with boys!!!!!" 

I hate it so much, I end up with pictures like this: