Thursday, May 19, 2011

Other things may change us, but we start and end with family

J called tonight, probably his last call before he gets on a plane to come home.

We exchanged how-are-yous, what-did-you-do-todays and all that.  He sounded relatively chipper.  He told me how the kids and I are getting custom-made Ugg boots (Josie's will be pink!), how he had a nice time seeing his sister, how the weather was good.

"And I got to spend some time with my dad."

"Well that's good.  How's he doing?"

"I went to the doctor with him yesterday.  He goes to the hospital for another treatment."


"Yeah, the doctors told me that this will most likely be the last time I see him before he dies."

He was so nonchalant about it.

I, on the other hand, burst into tears.

Apparently, his condition from this crazy-ass disease that only 60 people in the entire world are known to have, and only 3 adults, all of whom are on the verge of dying, is deteriorating.  He's developed lesions on his brain.  His mental acuity is getting worse.  His vision is worsening.  And all of these things have gotten much worse, quickly, in the last month.  The doctors only give him a slightly better than 50% chance of even surviving the treatment he's going through next week.

J said that he's sad, but that he's spent good time with his dad and has said everything he needs to say.  He's said good-bye.  He'll have no regrets about leaving anything unsaid.

But I feel so awful for him.  Awful not only at the prospect of losing a beloved parent, and at not having more time with him.  Awful because I can't even imagine what it must be like to go through this and then fly to the other side of the world, and not be there in the end.  It makes me feel guilty for pulling him away from his family, even though I know that I never forced him into anything -- he made his choice.

Still.  It just sucks so much.

Welcome to the world, baby girl

From the day she was born, Josie has been The Good Child.  The one who's mellow and easy and only fusses as a way of communicating hunger or tiredness.  She hasn't had tantrums or screaming fits.

Until now.

I know it's the age.  A combination of starting to assert independence and separation from others, and frustration with an inability to communicate as well as she wants to and feels she should be able to.  She is so, so close to truly functional, conversational speech.  But she's not there yet.  And it's pissing her off.

Over the past month or so, she has occasionally put herself into a strop over something she wanted but couldn't have.  I accommodate her wishes to the extent that is reasonable, but I'm not going to raise an asshole, so she doesn't get everything she wants.  And when that happens, she'll run and flop herself on the ground in front of me very dramatically, crying as if I had just run over her puppy.  I'll say something like, "I'm sorry you're upset, honey," and walk away.  So she'll get up, run over to me and flop herself on the ground in front of me again.

It's hard not to laugh.

Yesterday she had her first full-on tantrum at school.  Screaming, running around in circles and then throwing herself on the floor, throwing things, arching her back when people tried to console her or pick her up.  No one could figure out what was wrong and because it is so out of character for her, the teachers were very alarmed. 

I told them that once they had discerned that she wasn't hurt or in some kind of danger, to walk away and ignore her.

The time from birth to about 18 months, as hard as it is, is lovely in that you don't have to make any real efforts at discipline.  You establish schedules and limits and say "no" when you have to, but it's way too early for scoldings or time outs or any of that kind of thing -- the kids just don't have the cognitive or emotional capacity to understand or benefit from it.  Discipline is a pain in the ass -- it's no fun to fight with your kid or watch them be miserable while they're being punished.

But I fear the time has come for Miss Josephine.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Love given to you will evaporate like a puddle, unless you are open to absorb it.

The first week of Daddy being gone passed relatively smoothly.  I made a point of emphasizing to Zeke how I needed him to be a big boy and help me out with Josie and to generally be a good boy.  And the three of us seemed to be ever-vigilant about being patient and taking care of each other.

This week the bloom is off that rose and we're all just crabby.  I ask Zeke not to splash water out of the tub and he gives me a throat-fart* and a surly face.  Zeke tries to lean in to give Josie a kiss (and to be honest, he's got issues with personal space) and she pushes him away and says, "AWAY!"  Josie starts whining because she wants to watch Elmo, but I'm in the middle of cleaning toys off the floor and I snap, "oh, for God's sake, hold on!"

The weather has been weird.  It was warm for a couple of weeks, then last week a cold front moved in and it's been chilly and either raining or threatening rain.  When I went to pick up the kids from school, it looked like a storm was moving in, meaning we wouldn't be able to go to the park, so I just took them home.  We all had dinner, but then the bitchery ensued about who was going to get to watch Dora when the other wanted to watch Nemo, and then Josie ran towards the front door and started to cry when I wouldn't open it for her because I was in the middle of eating a plate of food.

I looked out the window, saw that the sun had poked out for a spell and said, "c'mon kids, put your clothes on [Zeke was naked, naturally], we're going to the park."

The elementary school down the road has a great playground that's open to the public.  Play areas with structures that increase in size and complexity, for different ages and levels of dexterity, surrounding a big open baseball field.  But the field was soaking wet from being watered.  Both kids immediately made a bee-line for it.

I started to yell, "watch out for the puddles! You'll get wet and make a mess!"  But then I stopped myself.  The kids were running back and forth in the puddles, soaking their shoes and their pants but giggling their little asses off and having a great time.

So their clothes got wet and dirty.  Really, who gives a shit?

I just sat and watched them have fun.  Zeke fell down in the mud at one point, but we all just laughed.  They ran around, they went on the slide, they played "chase."  And when it started getting colder and I told them it was time to head home and have a bath, they were happy to oblige.

There were no more fights the rest of the night.  Everyone was tired and happy.

Four more sleeps until Daddy gets home.

*A wordless, gutteral exclamation of irritation made from the back of the throat.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The distance is quite simply much too far for me to row, It seems farther than ever before

When I was a kid, we almost always lived overseas, so my grandparents (who lived in Michigan) were always far away from me.  We loved them and loved seeing them and they were a big part of our lives, but not because we got to see them often.  We visited them when we could and they visited us, but it wasn't a relationship built upon regular interaction.  The notion of parents and their grown children living in the same city was not the model that I was exposed to.

So when I grew up, I went where school and jobs and whimsy took me.  It never occurred to me to make a serious effort to stay physically close to my parents because I didn't see it as something that people did.  At least, not something that we did.  My brothers and I are as emotionally close as we could be to our parents, but none of us lives near them. 

When I was living on the East Coast and was making plenty of money and my folks were an hour and half away by plane, I didn't think much of it. 

But then we went to Hawaii and had a baby.  And Hawaii is so, so far away from the rest of my family.  And distance is made more so by young children, who are difficult and expensive to travel with.

Denver is so much closer.  But it's still far away.  And money is so much tighter, and two small children are such a pain in the ass to travel with.

It's making me sad.

My folks were in town this weekend to hang out and visit and also to help with the kids while J is gone.  It was so wonderful to have them here.  They're such amazing grandparents - totally engaged, fun, willing and able to go out and do things.  We went to the book store.  To Target.  To the park.  To the indoor pool.  They took Zeke to the science museum.  Hosted him at their hotel for sleepovers (two nights!). 

They left this morning, so they hung out at the house until late last night.  We ordered Thai food and watched baseball and my mom and Zeke played Angry Birds on her iPad. 

And then they had to leave.  Zeke was all ready to go with them to the hotel and was very upset to learn that he would have to sleep at home without Mimi and Papa.  And that Mimi and Papa were leaving and he wouldn't see them for a couple of months.

"Why do Mimi and Papa have to go away?  Why, Mama?"

Then a few minutes later, "where are they?  What are they doing right now??"

When he woke up this morning:  "Where are Mimi and Papa?  I want to see them."

I want my children to be able to see my parents whenever they want.  I want my parents to be able to see my children whenever they want.  I want to be able to see my parents whenever I want.

My heart feels heavy today.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Oh where have you been, my blue-eyed son, and where have you been, my darling young one?

I was having a bit of an existential crisis last night.  Looking at my life with a critical eye and wondering how I got to this point, miles from where I thought I would be at this age and this stage of my career, and not feeling particularly good about it. 

I started to cry and was sort of weepy throughout the night.  No doubt a combination of hormones and exhaustion and a little bit of loneliness, of feeling like the weight of keeping the family going is on my shoulders.  Wondering if I'm doing my children any good at all. 

Zeke saw that I was upset and said, "what's wrong, Mama?"  And I mumbled something about being a little sad and a little tired, all the while feeling more like an asshole for even subjecting the children to my moods in the first place.  They need me to be the solid, stable one.  It's not their responsibility to make me feel better.

Zeke's eyes were wide and concerned.  "It's OK, Mama.  Everything's going to be OK."  He rubbed my cheek and gave me a hug.

Later, after Josie had gone to bed, he and I were hanging out downstairs when a thunderstorm rolled in.  Super-loud thunder, crashing lightening and rain driven sideways by the wind.  Zeke was mesmerized.  When a particularly loud clap of thunder exploded, his jaw dropped and he said, "WOW!" in total wonderment.

"Let's go over to the window and watch it, Mama!"

So we went and sat by the front picture window that looks over the road.  "We need to wait for more thunder, Mama.  Sometimes it takes a little while.  But do you see the rain falling on the road there?  It's falling really hard!"

I looked down at him and marveled at how lucky I am to have this sweet, beautiful, sensitive boy in my life.  I put my arms around him and held him close.

"I love you, Mama."

"Oh, Zekey.  I love you, too.  So, so much.  You're the best boy in the world."

"Are you still sad?"

"No, honey, I'm OK.  You gave me great hugs and that made me feel better."

He patted my face and then turned to look outside again.  We sat like that in the dark living room, our arms wrapped around each other, looking out the window until the storm passed.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mission accomplished

The first few days of J being gone were tough.  Especially Sunday, which was Mother's Day. 

A few weeks ago, Jon Stewart did a piece mocking the media's reaction to a J. Crew catalog that featured a mom having a nice moment with her 5 year old son, who happened to have his toes painted pink.  In response to the outcry about confusing gender roles and other bullshit like that, Jon made an excellent point:  "Do you know how long a weekend is with children??  Everybody gets bored.  You will do anything to fill the time.  'You want to paint your toenails, honey?  Sure, let's do it.'"

Truer words were never spoken.

So Sunday we got up and it was a beautiful day, so we went to the zoo.  Which is fun, but it involves me either pulling the kids around in the wagon or chasing them around when they decide to climb out of the wagon and sprint off in different directions.  But I managed to keep them in my line of sight, and for 3 hours we walked around and looked at the lions and giraffes and tigers and fish and elephants and hippos and gorillas.  We even got to see the baby orangutan, who is insanely cute.  And we rode the train.  And the carousel.  And Zeke used the potty 3 times.  By noon they were tired and starting to melt down, so I had the pleasure of pulling two crying children through the zoo on my way back to the parking lot, absorbing the looks of pity and "Jesus, I'm glad those aren't my kids" that you tend to get when your kids are acting their age in public.

The afternoon was spent napping and watching Dora, then we went to the park for a couple of hours to play. The thing about taking both of them to the park when I'm the only one watching them is that I have to go back and forth between the two of them because they can't do the same things.  And because Zeke is older and more physically able to play safely on the gym equipment, I tend to stick with Josie more.  She has J's attitude towards physical challenges -- bring 'em on, and the consequences be damned.  Leading to me standing next to Josie as she climbs all over equipment made for kids 3 times her size while Zeke sprints off to the other side of the playground by himself.  Then I get the nervous glances from the other parents, who are saying with their eyes, "aren't you going to go get him?  Aren't you going to hover over him every moment of his life?  WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU???"

I just smile and yell, "Zekey, don't go too far off!"  And we managed to make it out of the playground and to the ice cream store without anyone dead or maimed.

We had ice cream.  We went home and watched Nemo for the 70 billionth time.  The kids had a bath and splashed water all over the place.  I painted Zeke's toenails blue.  We read some books and went to bed.

I didn't get breakfast in bed.  I didn't get to leave and get a massage.

But I filled the time.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Mental blocks

I am a relatively intelligent person and a relatively organized one, at least in my head (you wouldn't know it from looking at my desk).  I remember things, for the most part.  I've got my shit together.

And yet. 

There are certain things about which I have incurable mental blocks. 

Where I put my keys, for example.  Every single time I look for my keys, I always have a moment of panic.  "Shit.  Did I put them in my briefcase?  Are they on my desk?  In my pocket?"

And because I have trained myself to put them in the same place every day (I occasionally mess up, but I'm pretty good now), I always find them. 

I need to figure out something similar with my computer.

Our computers at work are laptops that click into a mechanism that essentially turns them into desktops.  It links the hard drive up with a monitor and connects it to the office server and there's a separate keyboard and mouse.  But if I have to work from home, I can just detach the laptop and take it with me.  Easy peasy.

Except that I always forget to bring it back to work the next day.  And when I say always, I am not exaggerating.  I am currently batting .000.  0-fer-5, I think.

I had my computer with me in Phoenix this week, for checking emails and getting some work done (but mostly for watching The Daily Show in my hotel room, because the Hyatt does not subscribe to Comedy Central).  I left it in its little computer bag in the trunk of my car, thinking that I would just grab it when I headed to the bus after dropping the kids at school.  I must have had at least 5 conversations with myself about it.  "Don't forget!"  "I won't, I won't."

At least this morning I was only half-way to work when I remembered that I had forgotten.  All the other times, I was all the way in the building when I had to turn back.  So today, I got off the bus at the next stop, walked across the street, caught the bus going the other way, went home, grabbed the computer, walked back across the street, caught the next bus and came to work.  I was only 20 minutes late.

I guess it's progress?

Monday, May 02, 2011

Pros and cons

I'm in Phoenix now for a special education law conference.  Downtown Phoenix is generic and relatively free of charm.  It is warm, though, which is a nice change because it's been ridiculously cold in Denver lately.  I got a text from J this morning:  "It's snowing here." 

Fuck that.

Other benefits are that I get to sleep in a comfortable bed by myself without anyone climbing on me, kicking me or peeing on me during the night (Zeke tends to soak through his pull-ups at night -- I'm not saying that J and I are into golden showers).  I don't have to clean up after anyone, including myself.  Phoenix is in the Pacific time zone, meaning that I can get up at my normal time to work out (5:15 a.m.) and still get an extra hour of sleep. 

Of course, there are downsides.  My children make me tired, but I love them and miss them.  And they're still so little and rely on me for so much, including looking to me as an emotional anchor.  When I'm not around, they're a bit adrift.  They even shunned me when I was saying goodbye to them yesterday at the airport.  Josie burst into tears and pushed me away and when I went to give Zeke a hug and a kiss, he turned away from me. 


So as I write this, I'm enjoying free wireless in an outdoor bar as I nurse a glass of oatmeal stout.  It's very pleasant.  But I'll be happy to get back to my messy, noisy life, with children clamoring for my attention and showering me with love and slobbery kisses again.