Resolute

Having trouble with your New Year’s resolutions? I always have..,.

We are not even through January, and I am already on my way to breaking a couple of New Year’s resolutions, while the lawyer in me is deftly attempting to explain that I simply did not get the wording quite right when drawing up this mental contract in the first place. You didn’t really mean you were going to bike EVERY morning… What you actually MEANT was every morning that the temperature is above 60, provided it follows a full night of uninterrupted sleep… when you feel like it… maybe. It has me wondering if next year’s resolution should involve some kind of notarized contract… or a resolution about being more resolute.

Maybe I just need to take baby steps and start with resolutions like reading more books, or traveling more: things that I really want to do anyway and have been tending toward, but for which I perhaps just need a little extra push to work on logistics. Though, that kind of feels like cheating… you know, like if Little Man gave up eating broccoli for Lent or follows through on his actual resolution this year to “catch more lizards”. (Here, the lawyer in me is giving her two cents again and informing me that this kind of resolution would give good cover for doing these activities instead of maybe washing the clothes or working on editing that story I’ve been neglecting for way to long. You HAVE to read this book! It’s a resolution for Pete’s sake! Drop that laundry basket!)

If it is not yet obvious, I am bad at New Year’s resolutions. I SUCK at New Year’s resolutions and always have. When I was younger, I would proudly announce my intentions along with my friends and family, only to be completely distracted away from them within the first few weeks of the year, to then remember them around December 31st when coming up with resolutions for the next year (What was last year’s resolution again? Oh… yeah… well…). And… now that I think about it, it is not that I am not resolute. Just ask Little Man: I once spent 4 hours sitting at a table with him trying to get him to eat ONE piece of cooked bowtie pasta. There are two morals to that story, by the way: 1. once you pick your battle, you need to stick with it if at all possible (in the end he did eat the pasta, nonchalantly said it “wasn’t too bad”, then wandered off to bed as I sat tapping my forehead against the table) AND 2. for the love of sanity, be selective in picking your battles.

I have decided it has less to do with being resolute and more to do with balance and fitting one’s resolutions to one’s personality. So, this year I am officially voiding my New Year’s Eve resolutions (YES, Lawyer Me, I CAN do that. A contract between two parties… or in this case 3: me, myself, and I… may be rendered null and void if both… or all… parties consent to do so, which, in this case, they… we… are more than happy to do!) and opting for a solution that better fits me. My new resolution is to NOT make a New Year’s resolution, but to instead wake up each morning and to try to tackle the things I resolve to tackle that day. In this way, I will avoid that feeling of utter defeat which inevitably awaits me at the end of each year and attempt to, instead, confine my shortcomings and triumphs to one day at a time… Wait…did I just make a resolution to make 365 resolutions?

The Santa Conundrum

I have always found that the best way to get me to do something, is to tell me not to do it. And yes, the opposite also applies: tell me that I absolutely must do something, and chances are the first thought to pop into my head will be to throw on the brakes…and not the car emergency brake, which still allows me to drive around town like a champ, wondering why the car is being so hesitant. I mean a full-out stomp on the floor pedal. I consider myself to be a fairly self-aware individual and will readily admit to this flaw, though I hesitate to call it a flaw…especially since I have read that it absolutely is a flaw… Let’s just agree to call it a quirk (one that I am currently paying for in the form of genetic transference… Touché DNA, touché).

Anyhow, this is why I try to avoid any kind of article or piece that pretends to know who I am and what I must or must not do to be a good person (so I may as well turn off the computer, the television, and the phone nowadays, right?). Don’t get me wrong: I readily listen to and evaluate advice, and when politely asked to do something, I try my very best. My qualm is with the THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE DOING WRONG AND WHY YOU ARE RUINING EVERYONE’S LIFE articles and the IF YOU ARE NOT DOING THIS, YOUR ARE A HORRIBLE MOTHER…AND PERSON…AND WHY ARE YOU EVEN STILL BREATHING? pieces that fill up cyber space like those packing peanuts we jam around the important things we ship.

So…when I read one of the latest pieces on what I am doing wrong and what I ABSOLUTELY NEED TO DO about the whole Santa conundrum in order to be a good parent (ok…sometimes they are disguised as fun, happy articles and by the time I realize what I am reading, I am already starting to reevaluate my life choices. Damn you, internet), I thought to myself, really? Is it really so black and white? Am I really the only one sitting here in the gray zone and thinking that every kid is different and that no matter how hard we try, we only control our little part of a world equation that our kids will encounter?    Heck! I may want my kid to believe in Santa until he is 20 years old, but nothing is going to stop that little five-year-old punk from walking up to him in Kindergarten and jamming a shiv into his holiday bubble. My only option after that is damage control.

I distinctly remember my own revelation about the big, jolly, bearded guy. I was in the fourth grade and had asked for the Breyer Arabian Horse family. It was really the only thing I desired and would therefore blurt out to any Santa I encountered. Of course, I had heard rumblings about Father Christmas being less than real, but I had chosen to push them out of my mind. Well, a certain brother, who will remain anonymous (I only have two…so it’s a 50/50 guess for anyone who does not actually know my brothers), convinced me to help him look for our presents while my parents were not home. There they were…that happy equine family…staring up at me through the cellophane window of their box, deep in my parents’ closet. I was hit by some pretty deep emotions for a nine-year-old. Had I just single-handedly ruined my own Christmas? I was still so very happy to play with them on Christmas morning, yet at the same time crushed to read that they were a gift from Santa. One thing I did not feel was any of that anger I read about kids feeling because their parents lied to them all those years… I was angry, but I was angry at myself. After that I chose to believe and to then become a part of the magic for those younger than myself.

I now find myself with two teenaged girls and a nine-year-old. We are a Santa family. I know that the girls are old enough to know what’s going on and that Little Man is teetering… desperately trying to hold on to the magic. The kid pasted pictures and descriptions of all the…what My Sun likes to lovingly call “nerd toys”… that he would love to see under the tree into a notebook that he then brought with him to show Santa (as I nervously glanced at the line of kids behind us…and suggested that maybe he leave it next to the cookies on Christmas Eve). I don’t know how other families choose to do it and it really is not my business, even when it means that they might tell my kids something I would rather they not hear. Of course, it is annoying…maddening even…when it happens, but I know that I am not raising my children in a bubble and that they will have to grow some thick skin to survive out in the real world. It is all a part of growing up, and there will be much bigger challenges than this in their futures. As long as they understand that if they ever do that to some other kid, they’ll be looking at a dump truck full of coal.

I am comfortable with my own choices for my own kids. We have a simple saying in my house: He who does not believe, does not receive. In other words, you can choose to continue the magic and get gifts from Santa (which may or may not be a set of towels this year for those teenaged girls who keep getting make-up stains all over mine…) or opt out. Santa only brings one gift per child at our place, anyway (and some stocking stuffers…mainly the ones that I forget, or am too knackered to label on Christmas Eve), so it would not make a huge difference. Anyhow, I know that My Moon and My Sun mostly choose to believe for the sake of Little Man, which makes my heart smile.

So…if you started reading this hoping to find some sort of solution to the Santa Conundrum, I am sorry to disappoint. I have no answers. My only advice would be to raise your children to be respectful of other families’ beliefs and to teach them that there is more than one way to do things. Follow your heart. You know your children much better than I do…

A Spit and Glue Christmas

We have all had at least one of those Christmases… We are surrounded…nay bombarded… by images of perfect holiday bliss and cheer, but in our own spheres can barely lift our heads in the morning thinking of everything that just is not going the way we planned and trying to come up with ways to salvage the season while juggling all the other balls we have in the air (not to insult the fine graceful art of juggling…in reality this looks more like someone just desperately snatching and throwing balls up in the air, trying not to let too many hit the ground. (Wait, some of these balls might not even be mine!) With our recent move and other happenings, this is definitely one of those Christmases for us…held together with spit and glue.

A couple of weekends ago, I noticed that Little Man seemed a bit down. When I asked him what was up, he told me it didn’t feel like Christmas this year. When I asked him why, he mentioned that fact that we did not have a tree. FRICK! The tree. How does one forget the tree? Where do they sell trees around here? Where the heck are we going to even put a tree? There are still boxes of kitchen all over the house! Found a place that still had trees, loaded up the family in the car…and now we have a mostly decorated tree in the office. 

…maybe they will help decorate…

In my ongoing quest for the Mother-of-the-Year award, I totally forgot to make monkey bread for my Moon’s class party (I was supposed to make cookies, but am in the middle of a huge kitchen renovation and we compromised). The kicker is that I did remember to make it for her sister’s class a few days earlier (way to spur on that sibling rivalry, Mom). In my defense, between those two events, the dog sliced his paw pad open and ran through the house “decorating” the floors in Christmas red, and we once again loss the use of some appliances due to just one more hiccup in the renovation (it is not a good sign when your contractor dubs yours the “dark cloud house”). Still, I felt horrible about it…so I threw together some reindeer candy canes for her to take to her teacher and for the kids to give out to friends, because it isn’t really Christmas until Mamma burns her fingers with the glue gun (“that was the only day we were supposed to bring snacks, Mamma.” “Just take the freaking candy cane reindeer…please.”)

It just isn’t Christmas until Mamma burns her fingers with the glue gun.

After a trip to Zoo Lights and out to the mall to shop, my Sun mentioned that it still did not really feel like Christmas this year. “Is it the warmer weather?” I asked. The answer was “I guess…kinda…and the Christmas village isn’t even up.” FRICK! The Christmas village! I know where that box is… I think. And…voilà:

“Yes, I can see that it is wrinkled…we are going with an ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Christmas theme. That is too a thing! Well, it’s a thing now.”

This is definitely a Spit and Glue Christmas. The cards are nowhere near being all sent out (I was soooo doing them early this year so people would have our new address…ha…ha…ha), I can’t make our traditional Lebkuchen cookies until I have a functioning kitchen (though the dough is ready to go), the kids are still figuring out their new schools and are missing their friends (me, too, guys), the packages are all stacked in the hall waiting to be sent but I can’t leave the injured, grumpy dog in the house to go to the post office while people are working in the kitchen (well, I could in theory…but I rather enjoy having a bedroom door and furniture without gnaw marks). We are trying to get some festive activities in here and there, and it is nice to get to walk on the beach in weather that feels more like spring than winter, but I agree with the kids…it doesn’t feel like Christmas in some ways.

This morning, while the girls and I were gathered around the kitchen island getting breakfast and moving everything out of the path of the drywall that would be coming down later in the day, I asked about favorite Christmas memories. My Moon immediately chimed in, recalling the year that her hamster, Leafy,  magically appeared in her room. I remember that Christmas! It was my Sun’s first Christmas…the one when she got pink eye and spread it, like holiday cheer, all through the household. That was the year of the kidney stones, gallstones, and mono. Oh boy do I remember that spit and glue Christmas.

My Sun mentioned something about a Christmas when she spent the day dressing up in costumes and putting on little plays: the year she woke to a cute little wardrobe for her costumes (not the most pleasant thing to put together). I remember that Christmas, too! We were living in that house we were renting because we couldn’t sell the one in the state from which we had moved. It was back during the housing crash. Between trips out to make sure the house (which was 7 hours away by car) was ok and the ups and downs of showing…and then not selling, we had done our best to piece together a festive little family Christmas. My grandmother had also passed away earlier that year so we had made the 15 hour road trip to my parents’ house to attend her memorial service and then turned around to make the drive home on Christmas Eve so that my husband could be back at work after a Christmas Day on call. I remember it as a difficult Christmas… definitely one held together by spit and glue.

So, you see, in the end the kids most likely don’t remember the spit and glue Christmases as being anything but… Christmas. Heck, mine remember two of our hardest as being the best of all! Thinking back to my favorite Christmases growing up, I am sure that my parents have a whole different memory of them and the crazy things going on at the time, while they tried to paste together the family holiday (I seem to recall a story about the dog eating all the edible presents in the car while we were traveling to or from relatives, and the tree being tied up with a rope so that it wouldn’t tip all the way over). 

Anyway, I have to sign off now. The cat is in the Christmas village, Little Man is home from his last day of school before vacation with a fever, and the dog somehow slipped out of the cone of shame. This Christmas is definitely going to need more glue…

Happy Holidays to All from The Moon, The Sun, and Little Man… and from me!

A Different Kind of Thanks for a Different Kind of Thanksgiving

As I knelt over the sunken bathtub in our new home this Thanksgiving morning, washing dishes while the espresso machine above me pumped out some life juice, and the convection toaster oven in the family room tried its very best to cook the pecan pie that I always make for Thanksgiving (my grandmother’s recipe), so that we would not be going to the neighbors’ house for Friendsgiving empty-handed, I got to thinking about how drastically things have changed in a year.

A tear formed at the corner of my eye, not because of the intense cramp in my right thigh, or the drywall dust floating up from the white paw prints that lead from the partially renovated kitchen up to the dog with the powder-dipped nose, standing beside me (though some tears did follow after I caught a glimpse of what had been a freshly mopped kitchen floor mere moments before), but at the thought that Thanksgiving would be so different this year.

Our fall colors have gone from pumpkins, and gorgeous turning trees of yellow, orange, and fiery red… to butterflies,  shimmering emerald green waters, white sands, and bright colorful flowers; our sounds from the wind rattling through browning corn stalks, the rush of fallen leaves, and the crackling of flames against the wood in the fire pit…  to songbirds, tree frogs and the crashing of waves against the shore; our attire from sweaters and mittens… to short sleeves and sunglasses. Instead of laughing at inside jokes with family and familiar faces, we would be introducing ourselves and hoping to make a good impression. It just felt different, and that feeling of being a stranger in a strange land had once again snuck up on me.

And so, this year as I establish myself in a new town in a new state and even a new climate, I would like to say that I am thankful for all of the people out there in so many different places, whose collective knowledge of me and whose pieces of shared stories… all knit together form a comforting shawl, in which I can wrap myself mentally when I am feeling displaced. You all know who you are… keepers of stories both funny and embarrassing… and somber and melancholy…

I am thankful for those who teased me about the many times they saw me running down the street desperately chasing after the school bus. I am thankful for the very few who remember the time we accidentally flipped off the police officer in that patrol car that was tailgating us that night… I am thankful for the friends who protected me that time I nearly passed out on the floor of the tennis club bar and absolutely DID NOT need an iv… I am thankful for the friends who remember the time I got flipped over the front of a car while crossing the street and who hosted me that night and made sure I was ok the next morning.

I am thankful for all of you…even (especially) those who hold the very most embarrassing secrets about me (no need to mention any of those in the comments, Folks), and honored to be the holder of secrets in turn. And most of all, this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the fact that your numbers are ever increasing.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

The Late Riser Blues: My Moon and the Rhythm of School

This is not technically a part of my “move series”, however, because the move put this more into perspective in our lives…I am including it as a part of the move…

I was asking my Moon, my Sun, and Little Man about what their favorite things were about our new home, and after hearing about every kind of lizard, snake, frog, and insect thus far captured (and thankfully then released) by Little Man, my Moon mentioned not the beach…not the warm weather…but the later start time for school…

Having actually done some research on this years back when I first began to wonder why it took three alarm clocks (including one that literally shook the freaking bed) and a personal visit…complete with sheet removal and the partial dragging of at least one foot to the side of the bed, to get my Moon out of bed in time for her to catch the bus to school…and often times not in time for her to catch the bus…, I decided to revisit the topic.

I began researching from the point of view of someone whose kid has ADHD…and who is keenly aware of the fact that attempting to get said kid’s brain to shut down for sleep time is like trying to power down a nuclear power plant in emergency meltdown mode. It’s not as easy as simply limiting screen time before bed (check), not having electronics accessible in the room (check), camomile tea (check), lavender scented everything (check) … and this time around I ended up learning a whole lot about puberty and circadian rhythms, and “social jet lag”, and… wait… what? The American Academy of Pediatrics issued recommendations that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later? They did this in 2014?! That would have been before my Moon even started high school…

Cue the folks yelling, “those lazy teens need to get their butts out of bed like I did when I was younger!” And, though I have always held a special place in my heart for people who like to watch others suffer simply because they did, I really don’t see this as valid, given that humans are (most of the time I would like to think…er…hope) progressing as a species through the help of scientific research and experiences. In other words, when we discover something new that may help to improve something in our (or in this case our children’s) lives, we can apply the information to improve things from that moment on… letting the waters of our miserable early rising high school years flow peacefully under the bridge and off to oblivion (cue credits).

Now I would like to welcome the folks out there screaming, “Those lazy teens need to get their butts out of bed early! It builds character! They’ll have to get their lazy butts out of bed when they have a real job, anyway!” (and I always imagine some kind of ‘harrumph’ at the end). Good news, angry screaming people! When they are adults and have “real jobs” their circadian rhythms will be shifting to favor earlier wake-ups anyway. They may still hate getting their lazy butts out of bed early…but at least they’ll have biology on their side.

One article that I was browsing (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161103130300.htm) put things in a way that truly drove the point home for me. It equated the usual early school start wake-up time for adolescents with a 3 a.m. wake-up time for adults. Ha! I HAVE KIDS! I TOTALLY REMEMBER ALL THE 3 A.M. WAKE-UP TIMES AS AN ADULT! This hits home much more clearly than all those charts about circadian rhythm-a-giggies! Remember those 3 a.m. feeding… or fever… or vomiting… or monster-under-the-freaking-bed wake-up calls? Now, try to imagine sitting down to learn how to find the derivatives of logarithmic functions after dragging yourself out of bed at that time. It was hard enough to find the boppy pillow, or bottle, or thermometer (and read it), or puke basin, or to come up with a totally made-up but convincing way to kill the freaking monster under the bed at that hour! I get it! …and now, as usual, I feel like I have let my kid down…cue parental guilt…

And I totally get that some teens (a definite minority) love to wake up at the crack of dawn and are 100% ready to learn and succeed before the roosters even start to crow. One of the articles that I was reading from the Boston Globe (Students find more awareness with later starts, written by James Vaznis) described a group of teens that wished school would start earlier… so much so that they actually showed up early at the school most mornings, drank coffee and listen to music while they waited for classes to begin… I guess as a kind of protest? To this I say: they may not like starting school later, but it does not in any way harm them or their academic success, the way that the opposite has been shown to do to later risers. Heck! Crack a book open and do some homework while you are waiting for school to start!

The main reasons for those holding on to or wishing to change back to the early start times seem to have to do with sports, other extra-curricular activities and after school jobs. Trust me. I get it! I totally agree that it is important for kids to be involved in activities outside of studying… for them to get exercise… for them to study music (and here I could rant on about public schools severely cutting funds for music and the arts in general… but I will hold my tongue…for now)… learn responsibility through a job. That said, I think it all comes down to the question of goals.

The job of our school system is to offer our children an education. Therefore, the goal of the institution should be to set things up in such a way as to maximize the successful deliverance and reception of said education for as many students as possible. It seems pretty simple to me. Schools that have pushed their start times later have reported fewer tardies and absences, better student engagement during class, and… most importantly… better grades. Besides, in the Boston Globe article I cited, a school that was trying the later start times reported that the impact on sports was less significant than they had feared it might be. Other school systems scheduled games to accommodate their new schedule (duh! if they want to compete against you, they will find a time that works) and several of their athletes said that getting to sleep later on school mornings outweighed the later practices.

I know, I know. There’s a lot of information out there and a myriad of opinions (this one included). And, let’s face it, change is never easy. All I can tell you is that I have seen a miraculous transformation in my own child. At her new high school the bus comes at 8:20 instead of 6:50. That is a change of an hour and a half… a change that has brought with it happier mornings with less conflict, less missed homework assignments, and higher grades. She wakes herself up in the morning and therefore is truly awake…no longer the unpleasant zombie I used to face and with whom I used to have to try to communicate. Oh, don’t get me wrong: mornings can still be hectic (as mornings tend to be) and The Sisters still bicker about who “borrowed” what from whose room, but it is much less frequent, much easier to diffuse, and when it happens, Little Man, my elementary school child who is up at the crack of dawn rain or shine… Monday or (sadly) Saturday, is already happily on his bus and on his way to school.

Packing up the Family and Walking on the Moon: a continuation of the moving saga

Initially, I thought it would be ideal to write about the move as it was happening… ‘Get all those feelings down while they are raw’, I told myself. That was my intention…and now, here I am sitting in our new home…two weeks after school has started (and, heck, we even went to the zoo once!), finally getting down some thoughts.

Two facts in my defense: 1. as I look around at the boxes here and there (and everywhere in the kids’ rooms), the cat chewing bubble wrap, and the packing paper currently hanging from the dog’s mouth (I’ll be right back), I can honestly say that the move is definitely not over yet, despite some recent signs of normalcy and “settling”; and 2. it is hard to write while riding a roller coaster, juggling, and hitting gaps of both gravity and oxygen…which is exactly how I have felt through much of the process… Never mind the fact that one needs hands to type and mine have either been packing, driving, unpacking, fending off jets of water shooting out of a badly attached washing machine, or filling out some kind of form or another for much of the past month.

I like to be in control…and more specifically in control of my sphere. I have no illusions of having any kind of control outside my sphere (and any time I have, life has done me the express favor of open-handed smacking me back to reality) …but damn, I like to have a handle on what is happening on the inside! This is probably why, in my more-than-35-less-than-50 years of life (ok, ok…48), I have never been intoxicated (something I can now safely say, at this age, without people thinking it is a condition they need to help me cure). I have a need to know what is going on and to feel like I have some sort of control over…or at least influence on… my sphere.

Moving the sphere upsets the balance that I have so painstakingly tried to establish (picture a waiter walking with a tray balanced upon his hand and suddenly changing direction). Moving the sphere with teenagers in it tends to be a bit more dramatic (picture a waiter walking with a tray balanced upon his hand and suddenly changing direction..and then, as he steadies himself and his charge, a teenager reaches out and flips the tray over).

This move…with teenagers in tow…has definitely been more difficult than the many moves we did when the kids were much younger. Not that anyone in their right mind would profess to have anything resembling control over their toddler, but I definitely had a lot more say about what was going on in their lives when they were little. Oh, it was still hard to see them dealing with being the new kid on the block or at the playground, but I could exercise some influence over their spheres by setting up play dates or signing them up for some activities so as to get the ball rolling. This isn’t to say that I don’t still give a little behind the scenes nudge where I can…when one is needed, but I can only imagine the 360 degree eye roll that would occur if I tried to set up a “play date” for my Moon or my Sun nowadays…and rightfully so. As teenagers…and high schoolers…they are wandering out and creating their own spheres, separate from mine, and it is as heartbreaking to have to stay back and watch them struggle to find their footing as it is elating to hear about their triumphs. It is a bona fide roller coaster and adding a move to that process simply upgrades it from a Disney coaster to one of those twisty, flippy, spinny coasters that you leave with your stomach firmly anchored to the roof of your mouth.

I also feel it is no longer my place to just run in, unpack their boxes and to set their rooms up the way I see fit (as much as a part of me really really wants to do this). They need to establish their own balance and to have an environment in which they feel comfortable (preferably one that does not involve the need for professional gymnastic abilities in order to simply cross the room). That said… I am not above opening said boxes and dumping them onto their beds…you know…to gently nudge them into unpacking… They do, after all, still have a foot in my sphere.

Little Man has been a different story. I was extremely concerned about how he would take the move. He has always been a creature of habit. Asking him to try something new has generally brought forth a wave of anxiety that you could surf all the way to the distant shores of Australia. At the beginning of each new school year, he has faced a wall of fear stacked high with “what-ifs” that we have had to chip through together day by day, block by block. I can count the foods he will eat on my fingers…and for four years sent the very same lunch into school with him, with only a slight adjustment of the menu in the third grade. Whenever we talked about the move, he would go over all the things that would be different and all the things that would not be in his new home and school. When I talked about the new house having a pool, he would say he was afraid of swimming. When I mentioned the beach, he would bring up all the dangerous species of ocean dwellers…

…and yet…he has thrived during this move! I almost feel like I may have packed the wrong child and that one of these days, the people who bought our house are going to open a closet and, voilà, Little Man! Not once has he asked me to pack him a lunch, preferring instead to buy at the school and he has become an absolute fish in the swimming pool. To what do I owe this unbelievable transformation, you may ask? Well, I can sum it up for you in one word: creatures. We moved to a place that is chock-full of creatures and the boy LOVES creatures.

He still starts to go into a bit of a panic when faced with something new…especially in the homework department, where, in his mind, every new assignment will be way too difficult and will take days…nay months…to complete, but slap a gecko down in front of him and he is up to the challenge! Is the math assignment getting him a bit worked up? How about a tree frog break to set things right? And when he starts to miss his friends…sending them a pic of his latest terrarium guests makes him feel better. My favorite part of the deal is that he follows a strict catch and release policy…so the actual amount of time that any given creature is residing in my home is quite limited (we are still working on limiting the locations of the creatures, however…There is something about having a lizard cock its head at me as I prepare dinner that I find a little unnerving.).

…and then there is me. Why “Walking on the Moon”? Because, though I have obviously never walked on the moon, sometimes I feel like I must be. Sometimes, despite the temperature here being quite warm…I feel a cold. Sometimes, despite having met some truly kind, funny, and wonderful people…I feel alone. As I look ahead to new experiences, I can feel a part of me once again revisiting the past and mourning everything I have left behind…a view that stretches back decades. And no matter how fleeting the feelings may be, and though I know that, as always, they will fade with time and the acknowledgement that the things I have left behind have actually become a part of who I am, they can still sneak up on me and steal the air from my lungs from time to time.

Their is a current tendency to only air happiness and to try to conceal pain or difficulties. Part of it may be that we are trying to convince others…or even ourselves…of our constant happiness and success. However, if we only acknowledge our happiness and conquests, we are not embracing the entirety of our stories. The power of our emotions stems from the range that they span. What moves me when I am sitting at the beach gazing out at the ocean is not just the beauty of it all, but the solemn hints of solitude and the insignificance of my sphere in comparison. Besides…how can I stay sad for too long, when there is a tree frog peeking out at me from behind a leaf…on my kitchen table…

Roots

When I was growing up, I used to be jealous of the kids around me who had lived in one place their whole lives and whose families had lived there back through generations. They were tied to the area through roots that stretched back through unimaginable spans of time. It fascinated me. They had aunts, uncles and cousins everywhere; streets and shops that bore their names. They were a part of the land… Such was my sensation, that I was thrilled when my mother told me we had a cousin of a cousin through marriage (once or twice removed?) in the area, whose kids were in our school system…even though we never hung out with them and one of the brothers liked to torment a friend of mine. It was still an invisible line I could link to, to feel like a part of the group.

Now, I am the mother of three children…each one of them born in a different state, just like me and my own siblings, and after the longest stint yet living in any one place, we are once again preparing to move.

Moving is not easy…and I am not talking about the buying and selling of the home, complete with inspection reports that can make even the nicest house toured seem like not much more than a pile of corroded, leaky, defective sticks (it looked so perfect when we walked through…geez…what are they going to say about our house?); nor am I referring to the notices of each showing of our own place with all the cleaning and rearranging so that the house looks its absolute best, despite being home to not one…but two… of that notoriously sloppy and elusive creature known as the teenager, and inevitably followed by the herding of all inhabitants, two-legged and four, into the car for a nice drive about town while perfect strangers browse through our home, judging each beloved scratch or ding (Sweetie, [insert nostalgic tone] remember when you pushed your sister’s buttons so incessantly that she threw that plastic rhinoceros at you and dented the wall?) so that they can then come up with statements about being turned off by the fact that the carpet has some wear to it. (I apologize: we were walking on it as a family of five for the past 6 years, when, as I now realize, we should have been hovering about like Casper and his uncles…). It is hard in all these ways, too, but I am referring to that feeling of foreboding and uncertainty…the almost audible pulling of roots from the ground…the sensation of loss…

It really doesn’t matter where we are going. We could be moving into Cinderella’s castle (the one from the movie…not the one right smack in the middle of one of the most crowded theme parks on Earth) or our own private tropical island with candy-bearing trees and streams of coffee. It is still a move from the known (with its comfortable routine and familiar faces) to the unknown. Sadly , somewhere along the way through life’s inevitable bumps and bruises, which seem to cement themselves into our memories so much more readily than do the times of ease and enjoyment… perhaps in our brain’s effort at self preservation… we tend to shift from the expectation we often have as children, of finding a Narnia deep in every closet, to a more “adult” attitude of there may be an axe murderer behind each door.

Roots make us feel secure. I can almost feel them extending down through the soles of my feet, and probing the earth around me, looking for a way to seep into the ground to anchor me each time we set up in a new home. More and more, however, I have had the opportunity to observe how the roots that extend out and around those we love are the ones that truly stabilize us. We are not trees, after all, whose only hope of standing against the wind is a strong, stationary network into the land. Our connection to each other…to those around us can stabilize us even while we move from place to place, and life (not the wind) mercilessly throws debris at us.

The more we tend to these horizontal roots, the more they will help to sustain us when we are hit unexpectedly by life’s inevitable curve balls… When, for example, we are scrambling to prepare the house for the market, and our loving family Newfoundland who we first met as a two-week-old pup…who saved Little Man when he was an even littler man… suddenly takes a turn for the worse…and we lose him the very next day; when not even a week later, our talented seventeen-year-old daughter…my Moon… comes downstairs short of breath and is rushed to the ER where we discover that her lung has partially collapsed; when things have not improved enough for that same talented young lady to attend the art and design camp she has been looking forward to from the very moment she was accepted, and we are instead planning out a myriad of tests to discover why this happened…

When we think we cannot weather one more storm, or even the slightest puff of wind, it is not the roots we have to the land currently occupied that sustain us, but those that web out and around our family and friends near and far… spanning unimaginable distances, over mountains even, and across oceans… that help us to bear what can seem impossible to shoulder.

I am still fascinated by those families that have ties to the land they live on spanning back generations. Heck, I even married one…though he ended up being the black sheep who wandered away from the family pasture, preferring instead to explore the world. I am still fascinated, but I am no longer jealous. I know that the horizontal roots that I have established for myself and my family will nourish and sustain my children in every way that they require and that they will, in turn, expand those roots out even further during their own life adventures and travels, whether they choose to live near or far.

Moving The Moon, The Sun, and Little Man

We have lived in our present location for almost nine years. That, my friends, is the longest we have lived anywhere as a family…and even the longest that I have lived in any one place since moving out of my parents’ home. Well, actually, we have only lived in this house for six years: we moved about a mile down the road into our current home after renting one for three years. Though I would definitely say that every move has had its challenges, that in-town move was our least traumatic to date. We did not have to juggle buying and selling a home and when we had a little time, we could drive things from one home to the other right up until our very last day of rent. Not only did the kids not change schools…they did not even have to change school buses!

I suppose, if I were to try to give you a fun description of the degrees of difficulty of our various moves, I would say the in-town move was kind of like stepping off of a carousel onto terra firma and continuing on ones way. There was a bit of a jolt, but no need to steady ourselves afterwards.

Following this same upbeat carnivalesque spirit, I would say that our out-of-state moves thus far have felt more like stepping off of a moving carousel onto another moving carousel…with the carousels moving slightly faster at the addition of each child. Not only was the actual, physical move more complicated to arrange (I absolutely despise haggling with movers. SURE you can move me for half the price…but I kind of want my stuff to come, too…preferably in the same number of pieces it started in…) but there were the children’s records to gather (both medical and school records), registrations to figure out, old friends to leave and new friends to find. Our last big move involved elementary school registration (during which my Sun was out of her freaking mind and TOUCHED EVERYTHING that it was possible to touch in a 700+ student building…spurring the principal to mention that “not all children are ready for full-time kindergarten”. He likes to remind me of how far she has come…) and emergency, oh-crap-I-have-a-kidneystone-and-we-don’t-know-anyone daycare registration.

This time, our move will involve juggling the selling and buying of homes several states away from each other (we have thus far moved from rental to owning…or vice versa), and… TEENAGERS, which makes the whole elementary school thing seem like a cake walk AND makes the entire moving process feel more like stepping off of a moving carousel (at full speed) and onto a moving Ferris wheel! …or, perhaps, one of these:

Don’t get me wrong. I love an adventure and am totally up for the challenge…I think… (which happens to involve the happy abandoning of the snow shovels and rock salt for salty beaches…ahhh), but I also know that the next few months are going to be an emotional roller coaster (and thus we complete our tour of the carnival). So…as we try to successfully move The Moon, The Sun, and Little Man…along with our huge furry dog, our supposed to be 50 lb. but actually 80 lb. dog, and two cats named after Italian alcohol (and NO the pond bullfrogs cannot come), I will attempt to hang onto my sanity with the tenacious grip (if not the grace) of a blindfolded trapeze artist in full swing toward the unknown…

To Laugh or To Cry…that is the question this Mother’s Day.

 

I cried yesterday. It wasn’t when I smashed my finger on the banister as I rushed out of the house because I was late picking one kid up and needed to drop another one off (or maybe I was late with the drop off and on time for the pick-up…anyway…no time to think!) and trying to get Little Man moving to come with me upon realizing that I was about to remove my remaining “in-house” sitter and would not yet have the other in place (can a dog be considered a sitter..?). It wasn’t while I was listening to the emotionally charged songs that I had recorded the girls singing at their respective concerts the night before (though I did tear up)…or when I was in Little Man’s school volunteering and heard so many kind words about how far he has come and how well he has been helping his class to present their arguments in their crusade against disposable plastic straws (also teared up). The crying came after that…when everything was calm and quiet in the house…and I was alone and thinking about events that may be on our horizon. Suddenly a tsunami of awareness washed over me and opened what seemed like an endless stream of warm, salty tears.

I think that in the rush of being a mom…of trying to navigate all the stuff that life throws at us…all the twists and turns… I don’t often take time to think about the big picture. I feel like I am busy playing wack-a-mole…like I am the greyhound forever running after the rabbit… So, in those rare moments when all is still and I do not have to clean-up, prepare, or fix something or rush somewhere, the enormity of it all can sneak up on me. I briefly emerge from the trees and get a good, hard, scary look at the forest…after which, I want to hightail it back into the trees! It is a frightening thing to ponder all those things that we cannot control.

I have always preferred the comfort of a poker face (ever since seeing the movie Paper Moons as a small girl), so when I was able to get the waterworks under control enough to once again be able to focus my eyes, I decided to do a little research about crying. Is crying even helpful? We all know that laughing makes us feel better…but how is it that crying can have a similar effect? Isn’t crying a sign of sadness? Well, I looked around at different sources: from Webmd to Psychologytoday and several university websites in between, and I read about the different kinds of tears and about how tears of sadness and of stress can help to cleans us of toxins, like stress hormones… Not only did this make me feel a little better about what felt like a total lack of control on my part (I really do not like to feel like I am losing control), but it made me feel that I had actually been doing something useful…even helpful when I was bawling my way through that box of tissues.

Then, because Mother’s Day is upon us, I got to thinking about all the “mom moment” instances when pretty much all I could do was either laugh or cry and seemingly had no control over which option my brain would ultimately choose.

What do you do when you have been trying to simultaneously unpack and tear down wall-paper in a new home after a long distance move while trying to keep up with a six and three-year-old AND you walk into the living room to discover that the three-year-old has decided to decorate the wood floors…with the ashes from the fireplace? Hey…maniacal, hysterical laughing still counts as laughing, as scary as it may sound to passersby! And it somehow recharged me just enough to clean up the mess.

How about when you are frantically trying to move once again…this time in town, while also getting your 5th grader prepared to sing in her school musical, helping to keep costumes sorted, and desperately searching for the remote controls to the televisions in any box that seems reasonable (the box with the dog bed? Really?) and you walk by a bedroom to hear your three children conspiring to all sleep in the same room if they are afraid the first few nights in the new house? If you are me, you sneak away to find a place to bawl, while you tell yourself that they will adjust.

This list could go on quite a while…about 17 years, to be exact. Little plastic googly eye lodged up the nose of your three-year-old…just a mere week after fishing a dried pasta noodle out of the same crevice: hysterical, gut-busting laughter (AFTER the safe removal of said object); retrieving your toddler from the arms of a rather annoyed looking airport security officer after he has pursued and captured her on her way down an airplane gate ramp to a plane going who-knows-where: tears of guilt and frustration, as well as of relief (also because laughter would most likely anger the already peeved airport security guard); seeing the hurt in your little guy’s eyes when a group of his peers openly shuns him and rolls their eyes when he says hello to them at a school function: intense personal restraint of the Mamma Bear, followed by tears later on that night when recalling his confusion and pain.

In our struggle to try to have some control over the direction of our lives and to help our kids to avoid certain pitfalls so that we can try to lead them down a healthy, happy, path that they can then continue to forge on their own, we sometimes forget (maybe, at times, as a self-defense mechanism) the sheer number of variables in our lives and theirs over which we have absolutely no control. When we are faced with the utter reality of this lack of control, what better than the therapeutic flow of laughter or of tears to rebalance us and to ready us once again for our mission?

So, this Mother’s Day I don’t need flowers or candy or cake (actually, as I type from my place of temporary banishment in the bedroom, I can smell the cake). All I want this Mother’s Day is a healthy, gut-wrenching cry in honor of all those horses I have lead to water who have then refused to drink, despite my best efforts (and I have been told that I CANNOT use a plastic disposable straw as a part of my efforts). I want to try my best to forgive myself for the things that I cannot control, yet somehow blame on some lack of effort on my part. I want to cry all those negative stress hormones right out, so that I can then pull myself together, refocus, and go and laugh out the rest of the day with my family.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

The Moon, The Sun, Little Man, and the Friendly Skies…

Perhaps my first born, my Moon, was such a pro at flying when she was little because she got a few trips under her belt before even making her grand entrance into the world. My husband was an internal medicine resident looking around for a fellowship while I was pregnant… and then really pregnant… with her. So, her plane travel began quite early and continued shortly after birth up until we settled on a program, sealed the deal, and then flew back to look for a place to live when she was around one year old. She was such an easy baby on airplanes (easy enough to deceive me into thinking that I somehow knew what I was doing…a delusion that was remedied shortly after the birth of my second child, my Sun…). My firstborn would fall asleep when the plane took off…and wake up after it landed. Things went so well on trips that we felt secure enough to attempt an overseas flight with her while she was in her terrible twos! I admit that when the day finally arrived, I was a bit nervous and had jam packed a bag full of every possible distraction that I thought could calm her if necessary. I was then terrified to discover that my husband’s seat for the duration of the flight would be an unreachable 5 rows up from ours. The man sitting in the seat next to ours had flat out refused to switch seats even though he was flying alone…so there was a small part of me that was hoping my daughter would pitch a fit just to annoy him, but she was an angel the entire time and my bag of distractions ended up being lent to the desperate woman on the other side of me who was flying alone with her colicky, teething daughter and having an entirely different experience. I kept waiting for the spell to break, but my Moon was either sleeping, eating, or people watching the whole time. I even got to sleep! It was almost too easy…

Ah, yes. I had mastered traveling, first with a baby, AND THEN with a toddler! The gods were definitely smiling down upon me. Little did I know that their smiles would quickly transform into mischievous belly laughs after my second child, my Sun, was born. Contrary to what we had grown accustomed to with her older sister, her modus operandi was to wake-up as the plane took off and to fall asleep right after landing. As clearly as I remember each enchanting moment flying the friendly skies with angelic child number one…my experiences the second time around are a bit of a panicked blur even now. There was one very peaceful flight with her in the beginning, which just so happens to have corresponded to my Moon’s first transatlantic trip…but she was confined to the inside of my belly then, and still a good six months from bursting into the world in her own dramatic fashion (a story for another time…preferably when I am holding a nice full glass of wine), so it doesn’t really count. After that, all bets were off and traveling by plane became a whole new ballgame: one involving hours of lap bouncing, kilometers of aisle walking, and herculean efforts to keep her occupied. She did not cry much, per say…but she was a constant motion kind of kid (one who rarely, if ever, napped). If you didn’t have an acceptable activity to keep her busy…she would come up with her own exciting (if not always…or rarely ever…acceptable) idea. Add in the fact that her sister was a mere few years older and not only a bit jealous of the younger arrival and vying for some attention of her own, but also fascinated by her antics and more than willing to cheer her on… I remember the first time I fitted my Sun with the much criticized harness and leash. It was shortly after the time she suddenly decided to take-off running, darted through security, and began to head down a ramp to a plane going who knows where (security frowns on that, in case you were wondering), and I recall shooting a meek and embarrassed smile at the woman who glared at me when her older sister reached for the leash and asked if she could “take her for a walk”. Then there was the time when she was three years old and I needed to fly alone with the girls for the first time. Her pediatrician had suggested Benadryl…but had failed to mention that a small percentage of children, aka MY CHILD, have the opposite reaction to the medication and, instead of peacefully dozing, become whirling beings of pure energy comparable to Bugs Bunny’s friend, the Tasmanian devil, after even the smallest of doses… We ended up waiting until she was safely out of her toddler years before attempting an overseas flight this time around.

By the time Little Man was born, a new dynamic was at play. The girls, 7 and 4 years old, (who would later be dubbed “The Sisters” by their younger sibling) had begun to entertain themselves while traveling and when (surprise) baby number three hit the scene, they were eager (most of the time) to help keep him happy. It was amazing, and once again we began to feel pretty confident about tackling longer trips. This is not to insinuate that the sailing was always smooth…because it wasn’t. I remember a stand-off with a flight attendant who was convinced that the carseat I had him in was not safe. It was an FAA approved carseat that turned into a stroller and since she had never seen one before, she was not convinced and wanted me to hold him during take-off, instead of having him secured into his seat. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring along the pamphlet for the seat which stated that it was FAA approved (never again)…but I did NOT want to be holding him during take-off. She told me that she would not let the plane depart until I complied because she did not want my baby “to die”. I assured her that I had that very same goal and she stormed off to get the pilot. “Wow…that was a bit harsh,” noted a young man in our row. Fortunately, the pilot agreed that the seat was safe (maybe he had seen one before or maybe he just didn’t want to deal with it?) and we were cleared to fly. Then there was the time when I hurriedly changed him in the tiny airplane bathroom and failed to properly enclose one of the most important parts in the diaper… Ah yes, and there was the stretch of time when Little Man’s legs were just short enough to have to stick straight out when seated on the plane…and just long enough to reach the back of the seat in front of him. Not only did he thoroughly enjoy kicking the seat in front of him, but he also loved a brilliant new game which involved unlatching the tray with his foot. My husband and I promptly regrouped and came up with a new seating strategy involving a two-three formation: one of us (almost always me) seated beside him and desperately attempting to keep his feet down, and the other three seated in front of us. That way the person who had to endure any shenanigans was family.

Now the kids are older (16, 13, and 9) and I feel like I can safely say that we have survived the most difficult years of flying as a family. Looking back, I would have to say that the things that most helped us to get through it all (apart from a healthy sense of humor) were: 1. always buying a separate seat on the plane for the baby/toddler; 2. a carry-on full of distractions (because they frown on you bringing a flask); and 3. learning not to give two hoots about any glares that followed when I pulled out the harness and leash or one of the kids made a noise…because I was trying my damnedest.

And so, with the flying part under control (aside from the occasional sibling spats over who is leaning on whom and who gets the window seat), we just need to work on Little Man…and airport security. This because there are some grown men with actual badges who feel the need to argue with an eight-year-old about his nickname versus his name (and by the way, he has one of those handy nicknames that is actually A PART OF his name…something I was gently trying to point out when I was asked to stay silent)…and because I would rather not get arrested and charged with kidnapping.