Hold Tight

There are days when being a mother leaves me breathless.  Days when the crying and the fighting and the constant requests make me wish I could go temporarily deaf.  Days when I think if I hear the words “Mommy I want…” “Mommy, I need some more…” “Mommy get me some…” again I will lose whatever sanity I have left.  Days when each and every tiny task is a challenge, a negotiation, a debate and all that gets me through is the thought of 8:30 when they will be asleep and I can curl up on the couch with a beer and a bullshit reality show.

And then there are days when the unthinkable shakes you to your core.

I was in the parking lot of Starbucks on Friday when my phone screen lit up with a news update: Shooting at Connecticut elementary school. Unknown number of fatalities. Most of the victims believed to be children.  I scooped Benni up from his car seat as I wiped the tears from my face.  Most of them children. I muttered my order to the barista and asked to pay for the coffee of the young man behind me who held the door for me as I entered, suddenly overwhelmed by the kindness of his gesture.  A stranger held the door for me, and across the country parents were wondering whether their children were alive.

When confronted with the worst of humanity, the little things come into focus.

Since Friday, along with a sorrow which only seems to grow for all that was so viciously taken that day, I feel a deep gratitude for all those little things.  Because I am one of the lucky who is still able to hold her children in her arms and feel the weight of their bodies as they slip into sleep.   I am still able to pour them milk, build them a fort out of blankets, and wash the dirt from their hair.  I am still able to call my children’s names and have them answer.I am lucky.

I left Starbucks that day and headed to my son’s school.  Though it was well before dismissal time I needed him with me.  I found him seated with a few other kids on the floor watching Polar Express in the back of the classroom, their soft faces lit by the glow of the television.  As I watched him I closed my eyes and gave thanks to the universe for blessing me with two healthy, beautiful children.  “Mom!” David shouted when he noticed me standing there, “you’re here! You came back for me!”

“Mommy always comes back for you,” I said as I returned his tight squeeze.  “I’ll always come back.”

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Dear Universe

Dear Universe,

We have had our ups and downs, you and I, throughout the years.  Sometimes you have given me more good fortune than I deserved, (remember that time I found $200 in the bottom of the dirty clothes hamper when I was working at the dry cleaners? That was pretty awesome.) and sometimes you have seemed singularly focused on effing up my day (like that time my hoopty Cadillac windows stopped rolling down at the exact moment the radiator started spewing rotten fish stink into the car while I was on my way to work.).  And sometimes it seems like you, dear Universe, have stacked the cosmic deck with more bad luck than one person can bear.  This is one of those times.

Yeah, I’m talking to you
photo courtesy of
discoverystudentadventures.blogspot.com

It began when the car we purchased last year started to shift hard. I took it to AAMCO for a “free” diagnostics check, and agreed to the $3000 repair, just wanting the car to be safe for my children.  “You’ll have it back by the end of the week.” I sort of knew that was a lie when the manager said it, but I hoped for the best.  This was FOUR WEEKS AGO. Four weeks.  Now Universe, I don’t know if it is fair to blame you for the mechanics incompetence, but that is what he wants me to believe.  He said the parts he used were defective, and then the new parts were also defective. Then he said the wrongs parts were sent to him.  Then it wasn’t the transmission but the computer causing the problem.  And he received the wrong computer. Twice. See? All of the explanations for the never-ending car repair seem to be your fault.

But the car is only the tip of the shit-that’s-gone-wrong iceberg.  The sofa is broken.  It’s actually the third sofa to break.  Each time it breaks, the store we bought it from refuses to refund our money, and instead gives us a new version of the same over-priced crap couch, which then, within two months, caves in on itself and gives anyone who sits on it the sensation of sinking into quicksand.  And the microwave died.  Just died in the middle of cooking dinner.  It was also the fan to the oven, so now every time I cook I also get to play amateur fire marshal, waving a kitchen towel frantically in front of the smoke alarm before it wakes my sleeping husband and thus ruining the sentiment of a home-cooked breakfast.  The temperature in the fridge varies between 36-49 degrees for no apparent reason.  My solution has been to move the thermometer waaaaay in the back where I can’t see it and pretend to enjoy lukewarm orange juice.  The printer says it’s jammed and no amount of unjamming, hitting, unplugging, or threatening will convince it otherwise.  The knobs keep falling off the kitchen cabinets and I keep putting them away until we have time to put them back on, but now I can’t remember where I put them.  The Apple TV refuses to stream Netflix, meaning I am instead left watching Jersey Shore and endless episodes of Cupcake Wars (okay, I admit, this doesn’t actually bother me too much).

I was trying to take all these mishaps in stride, but then I woke up this morning to find that Benjamin has a horrible case of thrush in his mouth. And so do I, except mine isn’t in my mouth.  I have tried to be patient, tried to see the humor in these set backs, but let me tell you, there is nothing funny about blotchy red nipples that itch like I gave them a poison oak rub down.  So Universe, all I have left to say to you is WTF is your problem? Seriously, what have I done  to make you so cranky? Me and my family are good people; we pay our taxes, love and care for our children, and I always leave way more pennies than I take from the little tray at the gas station.  What gives?

See, I give to charity.
photo courtesy of dearjournalentries.blogspot.com

Oh wait, is this one of those times where you are trying to teach me a lesson? Like that time you gave me stomach flu on my birthday after I pretended to be sick to get out of a geometry test? Okay wait, let me think…everything we own is breaking and we don’t have enough money to replace even half of it….are you trying to tell us to convert to Buddism? Yeah, so when we get to the part where we have to give up all our worldly possessions we can be all “no biggie, all our shit is broken anyway.”

I’m going to have to practice this hand-candle thing.
Photo courtesy of religionfacts.com

But wait, first all our stuff broke and then me and Benni got sick…oh….wait…I get it. Were you trying to teach me a lesson about how material things don’t matter as long as you and those you love are healthy and happy, and then I kept on bitching about how everything sucks, so then you decided to give me a reminder of how shit can always get worse so I  better be appreciative of all the good things in my life even when things get tough?

Ummm yeah, this is embarrassing. Sorry about that Universe. Could you do me a favor and just disregard the above letter please?

Respectfully Yours,

Jamie

Living Life Out of Order

As I sit here, seven-and-a-half months pregnant and struggling to balance my all too limited time between finishing my last semester of college while caring for a very active four-year-old, trying to keep the house from becoming completely engulfed in miscellaneous piles of crap,and attempting to be something to my husband other than a grumbling, moaning weeble-wobble, I am wondering why I have never followed the traditional path through life. There is an order in which you are expected to do things–go to college, get a career, get married, have kids–and I am quickly realizing that the reason for the traditional order is that it is the easiest way to make it through life, a way to accomplish as much as possible with the least amount of struggle.  And as of right now, I am struggling.  The timing of my pregnancy will put me at 39 weeks along during finals, and the physical demands of the third trimester are kicking in. Big time. All I want to do is eat carbs and nap but instead I am conjugating irregular verbs in Spanish, developing a creative project the encompasses all of early British literature, writing unanswered emails to disgruntled pre-K teachers, packing lunches, washing clothes, dishes and dogs, and using every last bit of energy I have to keep everything from falling to shambles.  I can’t help but think, as I sit and take stock of all the things still left undone, if I have done myself a disservice by living my life out of order.

But then I wonder if I would value my education as much if I hadn’t spent years working too hard at shit jobs for too little money.  Instead of taking my parents up on their offer to let me live at home rent-free while I attended junior college, I decided to move into my own apartment and support myself. The decision seems silly and unnecessarily rebellious now, but at the time I wanted to prove to myself and everyone else that I was capable of taking care of myself.  Without the struggle of living on my own on a minimum wage salary, would I understand what a privilege a higher education is?  Would I appreciate the opportunities I will now have with a degree if I hadn’t spent a year of my life working at a gift store, sorting through disembodied hermit crab limbs in search of survivors?  Would I have chosen to follow my passion for writing if I hadn’t discovered, through years of forcing insincere smiles onto an alarmingly hostile public while making up back-stories to explain their foul dispositions, that I would be happiest working alone writing down the stories I told to myself?  Would I have learned as much if I had gone to college in my early twenties when I was convinced that I already knew everything anyway and my point of view was the only correct one?   I don’t think so.

I also wonder if I would have been able to appreciate the ease of my relationship with Casey if I hadn’t spent years of my life struggling to make someone fit.  Fully believing in the American view that true love is a something you fight for, something precarious, something you clung to when found, I spent years fighting for the wrong men. I pined over guys who didn’t call or care, always wondering what was wrong with me.  Now I know that it wasn’t me, but them, or just the combination of us together that didn’t work. But I struggled anyway because that’s what I believed you were supposed to do. Isn’t everyone always saying that relationships are work?  When I met Casey, the struggling stopped.  I met a man who did what he said he would do, always. I never had to question his feelings for me because I knew if he didn’t want to be with me, he wouldn’t.  I wonder if I hadn’t been so thoroughly sick of men falling short of my expectations if I would have been so smitten with a man who met every one.  The love I have with Casey isn’t something they would write a romance novel about. It’s subtle and comfortable. A friendship and deep respect for one another keeps us from ever drifting too far apart.  After years of  working to make wrong relationships right, I can fully appreciate a man who never makes me work for his affections.

And then of course there is the beautiful, amazing David; the person who finally gave me a period to put at the end of all my questions. He is the answer, the purpose for my life, the child I was meant to have. Being David’s mother has transformed me in ways that are beyond explanation.  He has made me a kinder, more empathetic and compassionate person.   He has redefined love for me from an emotion that nurtured my own insecurities to an emotion that eclipses my own wants and needs in the pursuit of his well-being.  There is nothing I wouldn’t do for him, nor a day that I wish things were different.  Which is why it makes me laugh when I think of the self-assured twenty-five-year-old who confidently told the man who would become my husband that I was never having children. Casey looked at me then, and said with just as much confidence “yes you will. You’re going to be a great mom.” Back then I remember thinking “who the hell does this guy think he’s talking to? He doesn’t even know me” but Casey has always been able to see things in my that I am blind to.

My position on having children wasn’t because I didn’t like them, but because I felt I would never be able to put a child’s needs before my own. I also knew that parenting was a two person job (at least) and in my world, men didn’t stay with the women they made babies with. I saw the way my single-mother friends had to struggle and I knew I wasn’t as strong as them.  Parenting wasn’t something I was capable of doing on my own and so I decided it wasn’t for me.  Had I waited to have David until I felt prepared, until I was emotionally mature enough, financial stable enough, and secure enough in my relationship with Casey, then I would probably still be waiting. Sometimes life steps in and makes decisions for you, and that’s what happened with David.  What I didn’t know, had no way to know, is that parenthood is something that you just do, there is no preparing for it really. There are daily sacrifices that I make and I make them with no sense of martyrdom because the pay-off is so much more than anything I have given up. With another life on the way, I am not apprehensive but excited to be able to experience it all over again with the confidence I have built over the last four years.

Maybe my way wasn’t the most direct or efficient, but it was the path I was meant to take. There is something to taking the hard way, you learn more about yourself and you are instilled with a gratitude which puts the smaller struggles you face into proper perspective.  I know my out of order life isn’t  for everyone, but  I don’t regret a second of the struggle.

Freeze Frame

I wish I could stop time, freeze life in this moment, hold on to it forever and have everything stay just as it is.  I watch as he runs up the hill, the thick grass scratching the soles of his bare feet, in an endless pursuit to capture and then release the ball.  He laughs as gravity gets hold of the ball and pulls it down, the blue and green pattern becoming a blur as  momentum builds.  Suddenly, he turns his attention to the sky and to the thick white clouds he has just now noticed.  He points and looks, amazed by what he sees.  I look up too and what I see fills me with a new appreciation for the everyday wonders that are forgotten and dismissed in adulthood.  He points again and looks at me, waiting for me to explain the world.  “Cloud” I say and he laughs.  Is it the word or that such a thing exists that causes him such elation?

He laughs again as he throws his ball up the hill, running after it without hesitation.  The sound of his laugh touches   me, how it rings with the  delight only a child can express.  There is no doubt, no hesitation, no holding back.  His happiness bursts out of him, radiates from inside and blesses everything around him with its purity.  He knows nothing of the world except joy, comfort and wonder.  Life hasn’t left its mark on him yet, hasn’t sullied him with its disappointments and cruelty.  He knows nothing of these things.  He is innocent.

And so let me  stay here in this moment with him. This day will soon become memory, fade and disappear  as if it never happened.  So much happiness  forgotten and lost to time.  Let’s linger here in the waning sunlight and discover the world all over again.   The rest of life can wait, let’s linger here.