For T, As He Turns Five

T,

Wow, five years old. FIVE years old. No more baby. No more toddler. No more preschooler, even. You are a kid now, a little boy. You have been for awhile, but this makes it official. You are five years old. 

Even on the day you were born, as I held you in my arms and marveled at your perfect little features and inhaled your baby smell, I knew – our time together is short. "You will think the world revolves around me for a little while, and then you won't. But I will have you to myself, little one, until you are at least five," I thought.

So here we are. And these are the things I know, after five years of being your mama – 

  • I could not have held you any more than I did. I didn't miss one moment, not one milestone. I was there, and so was your dad, for every single thing. And it was a huge deal – every single thing you did was a huge deal. It still is.
  • You were an easy baby. I know this because of your little sister, who was not.
  • You were the one who made us a family. People get married; sometimes they get divorced. We will not, but still – you are the tie that binds your dad and I forever
  • You are sweet and thoughtful in a way I didn't think a little boy could be. You are also full of energy, more than I ever dreamed a little boy could be.
  • You are so, so smart. I will continue to be amazed by what you know and what you can do. Always. At the same time, I will believe you are capable of anything. Always.

My timing was off, five year old boy. You know the world is out there, beyond my arms, but you still like me an awful lot. You still cry for mama when you are really hurt, and you don't mind when I hold your hand or kiss you goodbye at school. You tell me you don't want to go to college because you don't want to stay overnight anywhere but here. I get to keep you to myself for a little longer.

Thank you, T, for being the most patient child while your dad and I figured out how to be your parents. We already knew how to love you, and the rest came pretty naturally after that. But still – it was our first time around, and you were so, so good to us. 

I hope you always want to take things apart to figure out how they work and get down on their level for a better look. I hope you are always sweet to your sister (even if only when you think no one is looking). I hope you never get too old to like us or to need us. And I hope you always remember, no matter what, that we love you to the moon and back. We will always remember that perfect baby, that five year old boy, and every age between and beyond who made our lives truly worth living. For some things there are no more words, so just know – we more than love you, T.

xoxo, Mom

What-If : Getting Control of Anxiety

I have always been an anxious person. As I child I was most afraid – in no particular order – of bridges, heights, my parents dying in a car crash and nuclear war. As I grew into my teenaged years and early 20's, I was less anxious and afraid but certainly not fearless.

Then I became a mom. And my old friend anxiety came back and hit me like a Mack truck. Because here's the thing, the thing no one tells you before you decide to have a child – being a mom will make you a little bit (or a lot) crazy. Some people liken it to walking around with your heart outside your body. I think it's more like walking around with an extremely painful open wound that someone constantly pours salt into. Too much? Maybe to you. But not to me; not when I'm struggling so much with getting control of anxiety.

I've become the queen of the "what ifs." This has been building for awhile. "What if it had been my kid who went missing? What if this plane crashes and my children are orphaned? What if a creepy weirdo shoots up this movie theater?" 

But over the past few weeks, I have hit a new low. I have been strangely sick, and I am never sick. And googling my multitude of symptoms – such a nasty habit, googling medical symptoms – continued to feed one great big what if. 

"What if there is something so wrong with me that it cannot be fixed? What if I die?"

I couldn't stop it, the downward spiral toward my hypothetical terminal diagnosis. Even though I knew it was unlikely, I could not let it go. I could not get control of my anxiety. Every second, in some part of my brain, I was working out what I would do and how I would tell people and what I would ask them to do for me and how I could leave the tiny humans behind and whether Ryan would meet someone right away. Every second. 

Until this morning, when a very big test came back normal. And I am breathing again. I am smiling, and laughing, and living my life. I am not playing the "what if" game. Not tonight. 

Meanwhile, I wasted six weeks of my life. I worried away the holidays, not entirely present because my mind was too busy wondering "what if this is the last one I get?" It means that it is past time to focus on getting control of my anxiety. Because one of these days will be the last one. And I don't want to be looking back, knowing how many days I wasted waiting for the last one to show up. 

2013 is the year I work on getting control of the anxiety. Because, again, "your children will become who you are. So be who you want them to be." I want these tiny humans to grow up to be fearless and go on every adventure that I was too scared for. I do not want them to be this version of me. 

What It Feels Like In Here…In My Head

The anxiety. Again. Why do I feel like this? Oh, right.

Breathe. Breathe. You aren't breathing again. You have to breathe. 

I can't breathe in here. All those babies…all those mommas…all those families…

STOP. You have to stop. It didn't happen to us.

No, it didn't happen to us, per se. But out of such a senseless act comes fear and anxiety and grief. Grief for those children, grief for those families, grief for that place. And although it didn't happen here, it will change things here. It will change things everywhere.

But for today, I am going to try to remember to breathe. I will not read accounts of those children's final moments or debate gun control laws via social media or try to understand what makes one person changes so many lives in such a horrible way. I will unplug from all of it, eternally grateful that I can. That for today, within these four walls, I can keep things the same and keep the world out. 

In the coming days and months, I hope there will be opportunities to help and enact change. But for today, while things are still so new and so scary, I'm going to shut it all out. I implore you, if you can, to do the same. We are infinitely lucky, those of us who have a choice.

 

‘Tis the Season for Charitable Giving

It is finally December. Around here, we've been in holiday mode since the day after Thanksgiving. But for some people, Christmastime doesn't begin until December. Either way – it is here. "The most wonderful time of the year." 

For me, it often also turns into the "most emotional time of the year." More love, more laughing, more fun but also more stress, more anxiety and more sadness. Most commercials make me cry and the voice inside my head is louder than usual, shouting at me to "do something for someone else. Now." 

We are very fortunate but we try to keep Christmas on the small side. Partially because these tiny humans do not need anything and partially because their birthdays happen so soon after Christmas. But still – they are spoiled, by us and our families. They get new things that they have asked for, and they always get more than they need. Don't we all, in this family?

Each time I pick up a little something for my kids, a nagging voice in the back of my head wonders "what if I couldn't afford this? What if we couldn't afford anything for the children at all? What if instead of this being "the most wonderful time of the year", it felt like the worst because I didn't have enough money for food for a holiday dinner or heat during the winter months, nevermind enough left over to put presents under the tree?"

Luckily, each year around this time, everything begins blowing up with charitable giving opportunities. We try to help, to do what we can, but there is always more that can be done. Especially now that the kids are at an age where they are more aware of the world around them, I want to focus on teaching the kids to give back. At the holidays, especially, but all the time. 

Some of the things we have done in the past around holiday charitable giving include:

  • Salvation Army: Such a simple one, but I try to make sure to carry cash at this time of year so that the kids can drop money into the red bucket. It doesn't have to be much – I know they appreciate every bit, and it reinforces the messages about charitable giving and teaching the kids to give back in a way they can actually see.
  • Supporting a Family: Every year since I was pregnant with T, we get the gender and ages of all the members of a particular family through DHS who could use a little help. It is the most fun when the kids are of ages that my kids can identify with because then I let them choose the gifts. 
  • Donating Gently Used Items: We usually do this in the fall – we go through our toys, books and clothes and round up things that another child would enjoy more than the kids are enjoying it. 
  • Gift Card Exchange: Last year a couple of my favorite blogs set up holiday charitable giving programs based solely on the honor system. If you needed help, you asked. If you could help, you said so. And these mommy bloggers worked day and night through the whole month pairing the "need help"s with the "can help"s. 

It is important to me that our tiny humans realize how lucky they are that there is food on the table at every meal (and what seems like every hour in between as well) and that they have a home to live in that is safe and warm. Not to mention the overabundance with which they live every day. It seems like the best way to teach the kids to give back is to practice charitable giving throughout the year but especially around the holidays. What we can afford to give may not be a lot, but I hope it feels like something to whoever receives it.

Now I have some "can help" emails to send.

 

Past Please and Thank You

R and I were talking the other night about how, because of how "connected" we are as a society, we are losing touch with certain things. Like handwritten thank you notes and holiday cards. So maybe we aren't more connected at all; we are more plugged in but probably more disconnected as humans. 

I have been thinking about this in lots of ways – how people communicate via Facebook, how many more of us would rather send a text than make a phone call, how most of us connect with our people via technology rather than face to face – the old fashioned way. I think important things are getting lost.

When my in-laws were dating, my father-in-law wrote letters to my mother-in-law in this amazing script penmanship. (Do they even teach cursive in schools anymore?) She still has them, tucked away in an album somewhere. When R and I began dating, we emailed and texted but we talked on the phone more than anything. The first time he told me he loved me he wrote it in a greeting card (which got lost in the mail, then ultimately returned to him which created a bit of an awkward situation) that I have tucked away in an album somewhere.

I wonder what the kids are going to have to tuck in their own albums some day. A text transcript that they emailed to themselves and printed out? Not if I have anything to say about it. I mean, I did just have Theo help me send out dozens of holiday cards and we talked about each person as we addressed them and how we know them. And this year they will be sending out their own thank you notes after their birthdays instead of me writing them. The handwritten kind. 

Because I want them to have old-school manners. Beyond saying please and thank you. Teaching good manners feels really important, especially as we are raising a son. I want him to be the guy that impresses his date's parents, the one who is "so polite", who opens doors and pulls out chairs and picks up tabs and gives up his seat on the subway. And I want Ana to look at that and to know that she deserves a guy who acts like that. I want to raise a girl who expects to be treated well. 

I read something today that said "Your children will become who you are. So be who you want them to be." It is a lot of pressure, being responsible for someone else and helping making them into contributing members of society. But I don't want my kids to become who I am – I want them to become better than I am. 

 

Being Here (Gratitude, Final Days)

Thanksgiving has come and gone. I took a break from writing. It was unintentional, at first, then I realized that any time I took over the weekend to write the blog would be taking time away from something that I wanted to do more. So I didn't write; instead I focused on being here. Not just physically being present but really being here with the kids. Less iPhone and iPad time, less tv, more playing and laughing and talking and being. Okay, and a little online holiday shopping. Because I am still me.

Holiday Traditions

Now that we are past Thanksgiving, we are well into "the holidays." Some years I love this time, others I find it stressful and can't wait for it to be over already. This year I am loving it. 90% of my holiday shopping is done, the tree is up, the house is decorated, and I feel like for the next few weeks I can just sit back with the kids and focus on being here with them. 

T is closer to five than four now, and this age is the most fun we have seen for the holidays. He is really starting to "get" stuff like the Elf on the Shelf and other holiday traditions. For the first time ever, he sat with me while I addressed all of our holiday cards. We cranked up the Michael Buble holiday station on Pandora and T stamped and stickered every card while I addressed and return addressed them. It was like a holiday assembly line. And even though he was tired, T stuck it out and stamped and stickered every single card. We were both so proud of his handiwork. 

So for my final gratitude post, I am grateful for all the writing in did in November. I think it got me back on track. I look forward to writing more in the coming weeks, but not feeling like I have to write every day. I bet the next posts will be more genuine and representative of my real voice.

I am also grateful for the coming weeks and all the things we have to look foward to with our holiday traditions. Hopefully I can remind myself to focus on being here, creating holiday traditions for our little family and letting the other stuff go. 

 

Veterans Day (Gratitude: Days Eleven and Twelve)

Double gratitude today. On the one hand because I didn't get to post this yesterday, the actual Veterans Day holiday. On the other hand, because it is something that deserves, at the very least, double gratitude. 

For those of you who have wondered "when is Veterans Day" or "what is Veterans Day" or even "is today a holiday", I feel like you should know. Veterans Day is every November 11, but is often observed on the preceding or following business day if it falls on a weekend. It is a day dedicated to honoring Veterans – those invaluable individuals who have served our country, past or present, in the armed forces. 

To me, Veterans Day is a reminder of my grandfathers and of a simpler time. While I know people of my generation who have served in the military, I don't associate them as veterans as readily as I do "the greatest generation." Not because they are any less selfless or I am unappreciative of their service; this is a different time. These wars are a different kind. 

I don't know whether the military feels supported the same way now as they did back then, in the first and second world wars. During a time when men were lining up to enlist not only because it was what was expected but also because it was right – and those things were not mutually exclusive.

Things seem a lot more gray now. I know people who enlisted in the military in peace time and ended up in Iraq or Afghanistan. People who went, and served, and returned but were never the same again. People who never intended to go to war.

Meanwhile, domestically, many people were questioning the war and who we were really fighting and why it was costing so much and taking so long. Why we kept sending troops and why men and women kept getting killed by things like friendly fire. 

I do not know much about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I do know that since becoming a mother, I'm leaning left toward being liberal and pacifistic. But whether I support a foreign war or not, I will ALWAYS support the men and women of our armed forces. They are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our country – on behalf of me and my family, to keep us safe.

For some things, there are no words. For families who have been forever separated by war, for spouses and children who live each day trying not to think about the "what-ifs", for anyone whose life has been irrevocably altered by their service or a loved one's – I am so, so grateful. There are few people who are so selfless and willing to make this type of sacrifice. It is not unnoticed and it is not unappreciated. You are, collectively, my hero. You deserve so much more than one Veterans Day per year and a few words on a blog page. 

Proud to Be An American (Gratitude – Day Seven)

Sometimes, there are no words to express what I am feeling. Except, today, for these –

Proud of you, Maine. Proud of you, USA.

Today (and hopefully every day for the next four years at least), I am grateful for the election results.

 

Maine Marriage Equality Vote (Gratitude – Day Six)

Hang in there on this one – I'll get around to the "gratitude," I promise.

I remember when I was growing up, I thought it was incredibly odd that my parents remembered segregation and the civil rights movement of the 60's. I was all, "dude, you guys are super old. That was, like, ages ago." Except that to them, it really wasn't. And in the grand scheme of American history, it really wasn't. Now, in 2012, on a day where I cast my vote in favor of a second term for our first African-American president, I want the same for my kids.

Here's what I mean. By the time my kids are in grade school, I want them to think marriage equality is a given. I want them to make snarky comments about how archaic and antiquated the thought process by which you tell Americans who they are and are not allowed to marry is. I want that so badly it hurts.

I generally do not talk politics socially – I do not think it is polite, and I am not particularly passionate or well informed about many political issues. But this marriage equality thing doesn't feel political – it feels like a human rights issue. So I hijacked my Facebook status and published it for all 344 of my "friends" to read, and this is what I said:

"No one is going to 'forget' to vote today. Some will make a choice not to, because 'it doesn't matter anyway.' I am not interested in debating the electoral college or how the election process is irrevocably broken. I am interested in telling you, if you are a Mainer, YOUR VOTE WILL COUNT IN THIS ELECTION. Please, please, please, even if you skip every other question on the ballot, VOTE YES ON 1. To me, it doesn't feel like a political issue; it feels like a human rights issue. Please help me make my job as a mom a little bit easier by ensuring I never have to explain to my babies why two people who love each other aren't allowed to get married because they happen to be the same sex."

I haven't lost a "friend" (yet), and I think that status has garnered more likes than my reporting that I was incubating a human being (both times). That makes me feel hopeful – for our state and bringing my children up here. So today I am grateful for the opportunity to vote on the single most important issue I have ever voted for. Do the right thing, Maine. I am begging.

Marriage Equality Maine

Once You Know, You Can’t Un-Know

My husband told me once that every movie we see, every book we read, every everything ever becomes a part of our consciousness. And we are never, ever the same. His point, at the time, was that we should stop watching horrifically violent films – not that we ever really did that much – for entertainment.

The point now is that I can't let things go, I can't un-see them, and I can't un-know them – even if I want to. I take things on, and they become part of me, and they haunt me.

This hurricane stuff is nasty. I am heartsick for those people – the ones who lost their homes, their memories, their loved ones – who are affected by this tragedy. I am haunted by the mother in Staten Island whose children – the same ages as mine – were literally ripped from her arms by this horrific storm.

And there is part of me – this ugly, small, selfish part of me – who doesn't want to know. Because now I can't un-know. So I fall asleep at night haunted by this stranger, and the unimaginable place she is in and the crippling grief she must be feeling. And I wonder about her babies, and where they are and what they thought and whether they suffered. Not normal. I know.

I hope it has a point. I hope that the other things my husband thinks about consciousness are true, too. Like that there is such a thing as "collective consciousness" and the thoughts and things we put out in the universe become something. So maybe, just maybe, my sorrow and heartsickness goes out as empathy to the people who need it and makes them feel, even if they don't know why, like they aren't alone.