Our Family is a Circle…

My family and I returned Sunday night from a week-long vacation in the Outer Banks.  By “my family,” I mean everyone:  my mother, my three sisters and my cousin, our spouses and all our children, nineteen of us in total.  Kill Devil Hills, the quiet, beachy town where we stayed, offers little activities.  Having fun means making fun and that we did.  Whether it was laughing together on the beach, working on cheerleading stunts in the pool, or yelling and singing over a game of cards at night, we had our fun.

And while we were having it, I couldn’t help but think of the beach vacations I took growing up.  The vacations when my father was still here, when only two of my nieces were born, when I was only a child and my future with Anthony and Rosie was many years away.

The ’90s

For four or five years, we spent our summer vacations in the Hamptons.  My mother, father, sisters and I would stay in our own condo while my “Italian” cousins and their parents stayed in another.

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Each day we’d trek to the beach, slipping off our flip flops at the end of the dock and pressing our bare feet into the squishy sand.  I watched as the men–my father, uncle and brother-in-law–unfolded yellow striped lounge chairs and pushed umbrellas deep into the ground. Pack ‘n Plays were opened underneath where my sun-flushed baby nieces would drift off to sleep throughout the day.

I spent the day so many ways.  At times, I sat in a beach chair, a sketchbook on my lap swiping a pencil across the page to draw the swimsuited backs of my nieces as they stood along the shore.   My aunt sometimes peeked over my shoulder and shared pointers on perspective and shading.  Later on, I sat on the edge of a lounge chair along with my mother and the other girls and women. With a chair between us, we laid out our cards for May-I, catching them as fast as we could when the wind breezed itself across the beach.  Or I stood in the ocean with my sisters and brother-in-law bopping as the soft waves lifted us up, ducking under the bigger, rushing ones or riding them into shore.

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A large amount of my time, though, was spent with my sisters as we played with our nieces. The scratchy grains dug into my knees as we flipped buckets of wet sand into miniature castles and dug tiny moats around their edges. We took turns letting the girls bury us.  Lying face-up on the sand as they covered me with shovel-fulls, I wiggled my fingers and toes, feeling them escape into the open air as the little girls giggled around me.

Back in the house, once the sand had been washed from our skin, we pulled on our soft, long-sleeved tees from Breezin’ Up, pieced together puzzles, sang songs, and tickled the little ladies until they lost their breath.  In the morning, we began it all again.  Each day.  Every year.

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A New Millennium

Five years after our last Hamptons trip, so much had changed.  My sisters and I had become women, my first two nephews had joined the world (and a couple of years later, my new niece, Olivia) with their chubby cheeks and pudgy knees.

And my father was gone.

People say when someone dies there is a hole left behind. But the word hole doesn’t seem like enough. It’s more of a crater, a chasm.  One so deep, it seems to begin again and again before it ends.  But that’s not all that remains.  Debris remains too, a pile of fragments left behind.  And when you put your pieces back together, when you build it all back up brick by brick, it is nothing like it was.  It can’t be  But you have to build it, for that is the only way to carry on.

So we didn’t return to the Hamptons; we didn’t rent a condo at the Heritage as we always had.  But we did begin annual outings to L.B.I.  My nieces were older then but still little girls.  They’d spend hours in the ocean with their father; I’d watch them beg him to take them in again and again and again. Those days, I didn’t play with them as much in the sand honestly.  I was working on my tan.  In the pool, though, we played unending rounds of Goofy or simple games we made up for fun.  When the girls had had enough, I’d take a nephew on my hip and jump up and down or spin splashing the water around us.

And in the house, we just played and played.  We sang our own version of “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid, lifting the girls up in the air on the end notes.  We lined up along the couch and sang Father Abraham moving our heads up and down.  And then our arms and then our legs until we collapsed onto the sofa in fits of laughter.  Even the babies chuckled at our antics.

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We slapped down our cards on the coffee tables, claiming piles in Spit or hoping for the higher card in War.  My sisters and I would search for a low card among our decks to make sure the girls could win now and then.  We started teaching them to play May-I too, letting them sit on our laps and be on our teams, singing “You Can’t Throw That” and dancing to M. C. Hammer’s beat whenever someone threw an illegal card.  And each year I brought a craft to make with all the kids.  One year we colored white sneakers with fabric markers; the next, we made our own T-shirts with bright, shining paint.

When I remember these vacations, those of my childhood and my young adulthood, it is my nieces’ and nephews’ faces that I see.  When I remember the moments of laughter, the moments of joy, they are there all around me.

 

Today 

Now, eight years later, a entirely new generation has joined our family.  My sister’s daughters, five and three, and her ten-month-old son. And, of course, there is Rosie.

So there we were again. At the beach. In the pool.

I played with Rosie. I dug with her in the sand. I took her to the edge of the ocean and watched her freeze up as the cold water ran over her pale feet. I spun her around in the smooth pool water; I threw her up in the air and let the water swoop her down and push her back up.  I watched her laugh as Anthony swam around the pool with her. We made memories. And I enjoyed every moment.

But that’s not all I enjoyed.  I loved watching the full circle we’ve made.  I loved seeing how my older nieces and nephews are the big kids now while my daughter, my new nieces and youngest nephew are the babies.  I loved watching as the bigs sat around the kitchen table, helping the littles string wooden beads onto a necklace.  I loved hearing Rosie yell “Ready or not, here I come” as her older cousin hid under the kitchen table. The older kids held the hands of the younger ones in the pool, pulling them around the water and singing “Let It Go” over and over again.  They played Marco Polo and Goofy, guiding the babies along the length of the pool and cheering them on as they “raced” each other.   They lay on the beach and let Rosie and the others bury them with sand; they built sand castles and helped them collect shells on the shore.

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Isn’t life amazing?  Isn’t it incredible that what seems like only a few years ago, these tall, dark, beautiful young woman and were just little girls, laughing at my every joke. And these almost teenagers were only tiny babies, sitting on my hip in the pool, laughing at a game of Peek-a-boo. And, here they all are now, making my daughter laugh, laugh with her eyes closed and her mouth open.

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This is what family means after all.  This is family.  Family is this.

Moments and memories and change.  Change that doesn’t change what matters.  Falling apart and coming back together again.  Growing and moving and staying and loving. Forever.

 

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Memorial Day Weekend: Then & Now

Last weekend, we celebrated Memorial Day, the kickoff for the rest of the summer.  Before we know it, we’ll be watching fireworks burst in the night sky on the 4th of July and then summer will come to a close with Labor Day barbecues and pool parties.  Each of these holidays represents something so much more important than hamburgers on a grill and games of Marco Polo.  I respect the meaning of each of them and the significance of what they are meant to honor.

As each of them passes, though, I can’t help but reflect on my personal experience with these summer holidays.  I can’t help but laugh and shake my head at the enormous difference between the way I celebrate each of them today and the way I used to spend them before I met Anthony and settled down into our happy, little life.

Ten years ago, Memorial Day weekend was when my girlfriends and I moved into our shore house in Belmar.  The weekend was filled with backyard parties, Happy Hour, and nights spent in the dark, crowded space of D’Jais.

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Today, Memorial Day weekend is family time.  We had a barbecue every day of the weekend filled with swing sets, bouncy castles and baby pools.

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Oh, how times have changed.  Let’s take a look.


Memorial Day Weekend: Then & Now

Breaking Out the Summer Wardrobe:

Then:  I could not possibly be down the shore and want a pink shirt or denim skirt I had left at home.  Good God, no!  So what did I do?  I took my entire summer wardrobe from the storage crates, every pair of jeans from my closet, and all my tees and tanks from my drawers and packed them into my giant royal blue duffel bag with bright orange straps.  Remember, I can’t do heavy lifting.  So who had to carry this 40 lb. bag to and from the car or up the stairs to our loft?  My sister, my friends, my best friend’s boyfriend.  How very selfless of me.

Now:  With the crazy back and forth weather we had this spring, I had yet to remove any of Rosie’s winter clothes from her room when this weekend arrived.  Monday, when I finally switched them out for her summer wardrobe, I found her Christmas nightgown and Thanksgiving T-shirt squashed in the bottom of her drawers.  It took four hours but the satisfaction I feel looking into her organized closet, TOPS–BOTTOMS–DRESSES–ROMPERS, and at the piles of color-coded leggings in her drawer makes it all worth it.

Thrills & Spills

Then:  A regular occurrence.  With the amount of bodies in D’Jais and the amount of alcohol in those bodies, drinks were knocked over on a regular basis.   Some of those summers, my head was fuzzy with alcohol and during those that I didn’t drink, the fun in the air was enough to make me carefree.  So I was never bothered when a cold beer spilled onto my back or a Malibu baby breeze splashed onto my feet.  Not to mention, the floor in there was flooded with a dark liquid made of things far worse than liquor.  Our feet were always black when we left; a little spill was the least of our worries.

Now:  A regular occurrence.  On Saturday, Rosemarie spilled her milk on our drive to Long Island for my nephew’s birthday party.  It’s awesome when milk spills.  On upholstery.  In the summer.  At my friend’s barbecue on Saturday, she took a full cup of water from the water table and poured it over her head and down her dress.  And on Monday as she sat on my lap in my mother’s backyard eating dessert, sticky, cold rainbow ice regularly poured from her cup, her mouth, and her chin onto my bare thighs.  Like I said, a regular occurrence.

Kissy Kisses

Then:  Okay, there were kisses.  It was the shore! It was the summer! I was young and tan and blonde.  It was dark and crowded and steamy.  So, yeah, there were kisses.  Sometimes, they were fun.  Sometimes, when I opened my eyes after, I’d smile at my partner, his nice eyes or chiseled cheeks.  Sometimes, they were sloppy and I’d open my eyes horrified by the sight in front of me.  What can I say?  It happens to the best of us.

Now:  Is there anything better than a kiss from my daughter?  When she plants her mouth right on mine, grabs the back of my head and hums a long MUUAAHH onto my lips?  Nope, nothing better.

Countdowns

Then:  Yes, I counted down.  I waited for that weekend the way Ralphie waits for Christmas morning.  One year, a friend and I counted down together each day on IM.  Every morning, he’d send the update:  “T-minus 15 days.”  I’d respond with a Woohoo or an Oh yeah.  The day before Memorial Weekend began, I beat  him to the punch.  “T-minus 1 Day,” I typed and pressed Send with sheer glee.  The countdown was over.  The summer had arrived and all the fun that came with it.

Now:  Countdowns are a lot more negative nowadays.  Instead of ending in drinking and dancing, they end in timeout.  “Rosemarie, put those socks on your feet in 5–4–3.”  “You better be in that bathroom in 5–4–3–2–1 1/2.”  Yes, I resort to half counts and with the amount of time I let pass between each number, I am surely misleading her about the length of five seconds.

Cruising Down the Highway with the Radio on, Baby

Then:  It felt like half of my time during those summers was spent driving down the shore and back up and down again.  Alone for the ride, I’d slide CD after CD into the radio of my blue BMW yelling out my summer anthem by Bon Jovi:

“Till I’m six feet under
I won’t need a bed
Gonna live while I’m alive
I’ll sleep when I’m dead”

When I’d had enough of 80s rock, I’d bounce my knee to the club beat of “All This Time” and “I Like It,” pumping my shoulders and singing the lyrics.  Throw in a fist pump and an Italian flag and I was the female version of Pauly D.  So classy.

Now:  When Rosie became cranky on our drive down the L.I.E. on Saturday, my only salvation was the Disney station on Pandora.  I turned up the volume and she and I spent the rest of the ride belting out the lyrics to “Let It Go” and “Part of Your World.”  I even made her listen to a favorite from Mulan even though she’s never seen the movie:

“Let’s get down to business
To defeat the Huns.
Did they send me daughters
When I asked for sons?”

I even slapped my hand on the steering wheel on the cymbal sounds between each line.  Rosie wasn’t nearly as entertained as I was.

All-Nighters

Then:  Occasionally, there were nights when we just never made it to bed.  After leaving D’Jais, we’d find our way to a friend’s shore house and hang out in the yard or kitchen playing cards.  We’d listen to music and talk about nothing until the sunlight rose around us.  No worries.  A little catnap in the afternoon refreshed us for that night’s party.

Now:  Okay, I am lucky.  Rosie never actually stays up all night but as she does now and then, on Sunday night she woke up repeatedly, crying in her bed for no reason and calling “Mommy” over and over.  Each time, I pulled myself out of bed, sulked over to her room and soothed her back to sleep.  A lot less fun than shore all-nighters and, ten years later, a lot more draining.

The Time of My Life

Then:  This time spent down the shore with my girlfriends was another world.   We’d dance the hours away every night standing in a circle, yelling the lyrics to our favorite songs.  We’d pull our hair back into ponytails and ignore the aches in our feet until the lights came on at 2 am and “Summer Wind” played over our heads.  Then, we would sit at the food counter outside, split cheese fries and burgers and stroll home in the dark summer air climbing into our shared beds or futons and doze off.  The next morning, we’d wake up to laughter as we reviewed the antics of the night before.  During the day, we’d lounge in canvas beach chairs in our yard or on the beach with ice coffees making wet circles in the sand.

We seven girls had to share one shower, two mirrors and one A.C but we also shared makeup and clothes and laughs so long, they burned.  We became family on those hot, summer days and nights.  We had the time of our lives.

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Now:  But this is the time of my life too.  I wanted to be a mother since I was a little girl, but I never knew how much I would love it.  I didn’t know how happy it would make me to see my daughter’s face in the morning, her hair mushed around her head, her dolls in her little arms and her face smiling.  I didn’t know how the very sound of her footsteps throughout the house could melt my heart.  I didn’t know the way she sings “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” scrunches up her nose and tells me “Lambs don’t go to school” would make me laugh from the pit of my belly.  I didn’t know everything would make sense when she tells me she loves me, when she holds my hand, hugs my leg and tells me I’m her best friend.

No, it’s not the same kind of fun; it’s not a fun that is loud and bright and crazy.  But it is the kind of fun that makes me happy.  The kind of fun that makes each day one to remember.

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Bon Jovi.  “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.” Keep the Faith.  Mercury, 1993.
Osmond, Donnie. “Make a Man Out of You.” Mulan: An Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack. Walt Disney, 1998.


Someday You

A few weeks ago, we converted Rosemarie’s crib to a toddler bed.  It was pretty much the last of her baby items to go.  It started with the infant car seat, which we left behind a long time ago.  Some months later, we said goodbye to the bottle, diapers were discarded this past February and now the crib has been unscrewed and rearranged into a miniature bed.  In reality, it’s just a piece of furniture, a combination of wood and metal.  But in my mind it’s a watch, or better yet, an hourglass:  concrete, tangible proof that time is passing.

On one of the first nights Rosie slept in her bed, she actually let me choose the story we would read, a rare occurrence.  I pulled Someday by Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds from her closet; I had received the book as a gift from my cousin.

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The pages picture a mother and daughter; the former speaks to her child listing all the “somedays” she hopes her daughter will have as she grows.  Some are hopes for a childhood marked by magic, one in which the daughter will run so fast her lungs will burn and “swing so high, higher than [she] ever dared to swing.”

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As the pages turn, the daughter grows older in her mother’s imagination as the mother’s dreams mature as well:  “Someday you will look at this house and wonder how something that feels so big can look so small.”

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“Someday I will watch you brushing your child’s hair.”

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These authors’ words are so simply touching and reading them while seeing Rosemarie lay in her new toddler bed really struck me.  My big girl in her big girl bed.  She is only two and a half but I couldn’t resist the deep ache in my chest as I realized while she is only two, she is growing.  Every day.  Someday she won’t be a toddler.  Or a child.  Someday, she’ll be all grown up.

And I wondered:  what are the somedays I want for her?  I agree with every moment on McGhee and Reynolds’s list; I will not even try to say them better than they. 

And, of course, we all want the big things.  We all want our children to find love that warms their heart, perhaps work that makes them smile, children that complete them.

So what about some little things?  What are the little somedays I hope Rosemarie will have like swinging so high her stomach drops or running so fast her chest burns?  What are the moments I hope to be sprinkled throughout her life?

Well, Rosemarie, my big little girl, here are some wishes I have for you.  The first five items on a list I know will continue to grow.

  1. Someday you will laugh so hard your stomach aches – Not the kind of laughter that comes from a slapstick movie nor the antics of a stand-up comic. The kind that comes from real life.  From your best friend tripping and falling on the dance floor, from the joke that never ends one night. The kind of joke that makes a single word funny like pepper or elbow.

    The kind of laughter that won’t end, even when you beg your stomach to relax for the laughter just hurts too much. The kind that will make you laugh every time you remember it, days, weeks or years later.

  2. Someday you will win something (especially as an underdog) – No, winning isn’t everything but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel amazing.  I can say that I have been lucky enough to win as the favorite and as the underdog.  And nothing compares to winning when no one thought you could.  It is a feeling unique to itself.  To have worked so hard for something, to have wanted to give up only to keep going and to make it all worth it in the end.

    Enjoy the sport or the game or whatever it is you may do no matter the outcome, but someday I hope the outcome is what you fought for.  Someday, I hope you know how it feels to win.

  3. Someday you will give and receive an amazing gift – I don’t care if it’s worth $1 or $100.  I just want you to know how it feels to get a gift you truly love.  To pull off the wrapping paper, unsure of what’s inside. To lift the flimsy cardboard box top, unfold the crunchy tissue paper, and find your heart’s desire underneath. To genuinely squeal with glee.

    And just as gratifying, perhaps more, I hope you watch someone react this way to the gift you have given. I hope you feel the joy that only comes from knowing you made someone else’s day.

    It’s not about the gift. It’s not about the material. It’s just about the feeling.

  4. Someday you will hear your favorite song in a bar or club and dance to it:  Yes, the thought already makes me nervous.  You in a club, the loud music, the guys your age.  The other details I don’t even want to mention.

    Regardless, this setting is made for the perfect moment.  The moment you hear the beat of your favorite song, a song that hasn’t really begun yet but you know it’s coming.  Maybe you’ll bounce on your toes in excitement, maybe you’ll close your eyes and focus on the sound.  When the songs explodes, I hope you do too.  I hope you sing along and dance.  Maybe you’ll be the only one who loves that song.  And that’s fine.  Enjoy it anyway.

    But I do hope your friends love the song too. I hope you form a circle, yelling the words across to each other.  I hope you throw back your heads and close your eyes.  I hope you dance from the inside out.

  5. Someday you will have the perfect night’s sleep – One day, after you worked hard for many hours and you swap your binding jeans and painful shoes for worn in sweatpants and soft socks, may you climb into your bed that feels like a cloud.  May you lie down onto pillows that have taken the perfect shape to cradle your head. With a plush comforter pulled up to your chin, may you doze off easily.  And may you wake up hours later from a sleep so deep, you’re a little confused.  When you realize where you are, may you snuggle your knees to your chest and sigh in pure contentment.

None of these moments will change your life but moments like these can make your life worth living.  Enjoy them, my love.  Enjoy every last one.

 

Readers, what are other moments can you add to the list?  What are some perfect little things you want your children to experience?

 

 

McGhee, Alison and Peter H. Reyholds. Someday. New York: Atheneum, 2007. Print.

 

 


Nobody Likes a Tattletale But…

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It is one of the few moments I remember from kindergarten. I stood in the seafoam green hallway with the rest of my class as we gathered to attend an assembly.  Susie or Cindy or Mary curved her small hand around her mouth and whispered into my ear “Tell Mrs. Duane that John and Steve were talking during prayers”  I turned toward my teacher, her black hair curled around soft milky skin.

“John and Steve were talking during prayers,” I blurted.

She looked down at me, pink matte lipstick spread on her thin lips.

“Don’t be a tattletale,” she said.

I’m honestly embarrassed when I think of this memory.  Sure, it was all what’s-her-name’s idea but I was all too eager to oblige.

I’d like to think this was a rare occurrence, that the times I tattled as a child were few and far between. And I do think that is possible as I was always taught not to tattle by my parents.  I grew up knowing a tattletale was something I never wanted to be.  So much so that I’m still ashamed of five-year-old me ratting out little John and Steve.

I always assumed once I became a mother, I would pass on this aversion to tattling to my children.  So far, though, as a parent, I am finding tattling to be much more of a gray area than I thought.

Nix the Snitch

Let’s be honest. Nobody likes a tattletale.  Tattling done for the sake of tattling is simply unkind.  And on the list of qualities I hope to instill in my daughter, kindness resides at the top.  Why, therefore, would I ever teach her to do something I see as mean?  Why would I want her to tattle on her classmates just to get them in trouble as I did to John and Steve?  I wouldn’t.  I don’t.  I don’t want her to do something that hurts others just for the sake of doing it.

Tattling isn’t just a childhood act either.  As an adult, I have worked among tattletales.  I was once ratted out to my bosses by a man twenty years my senior.  And I assure you there was no reason for this tattling.  It did not help the situation.  I had not done anything malicious or unethical.  An honest mistake had been made. He believed it was mine; I believed it was his.  Either way, it could have been easily rectified between coworkers with no repercussions. Yet, this man felt the need to tell both our bosses.  It was tattling in its truest form and I thought it was reprehensible behavior.  I didn’t hold a grudge or treat him differently, but my opinion of him did change.  I just didn’t think he was very nice anymore.

I certainly do not want my daughter to be like him.  I don’t want her to find satisfaction in causing others trouble.  Isn’t that what tattletales do?

A Time to Tattle

No, I do not want Rosemarie to be a tattletale, but there are times when I think I would want her to tattle.

If a classmate repeatedly singles out Rosemarie, takes her toys or makes fun of her, wouldn’t I want her to tell the teacher?  As a former teacher myself, I know it is hard to see everything that goes on in a classroom.  I know it is quite possible that a student can be mistreated or even bullied without the teacher witnessing the behavior.  How else is the teacher sure to know, then, unless I tell Rosie it’s okay to tell her?

Beyond possible issues with her peers, there are other scenarios in which I would want Rosemarie to tattle.  We live in a scary world with dangers around our children that are simply unspeakable.  God forbid my daughter ever falls victim to a predator of any kind, I want her to know that not only may she tattle on this person but she must do so.

And there is also the issue that I do not want to discourage Rosemarie from sharing information with me, any information.  I want my daughter to feel comfortable talking to me.  I want her to know she can tell me things that are troubling her.  I want her to know no matter what she tells me, I will still love her.

And, yet, a few months ago after playing with her cousins, she ran up to me to tell me about something one of them had done.  Maybe her cousin took a toy; maybe she wouldn’t give her a turn on the iPad.  I don’t know what it was because when she began to speak to me and I heard her utter her cousin’s name, I quickly cut her off with “No tattling, Rosie.”

As she walked away from me, I was immediately guilty.  She had tried to tell me something and I didn’t listen.  She had tried to share something that was bothering her, and I shut her mouth instead of opening my ears.

I learned from this moment and I will not do the same again but, in essence, if I teach her tattling is wrong, aren’t I telling her it is wrong to tell me certain things? Aren’t I already teaching her that she cannot tell me anything, an idea that is the very opposite of that which I want her to believe?

A few weeks ago a friend posted a quote on Facebook that caught my eye:

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I can’t say it any better than that.   If I agree with Wallace, and I do, I need to listen to my daughter no matter what it is she wants to say.

 

 

As I said, for me, tattling has become a gray area and I am trying to find ways to address it that are appropriate.  When Rosemarie approaches me now to tell me that a friend hit or or pushed her, I start by asking if she is okay.  Once she says yes, I sometimes simply say “Good, I’m glad.”  Other times, I might mention that we need not tattle unless we need help.  I’m trying to simultaneously instill in her that she can tell me anything while also teaching her that tattling shouldn’t be done without a reason.  Maybe I’m just confusing her instead.  I’m not sure.

I try also to explain when tattling is necessary and when it isn’t.  I tell Rosemarie I need to know if someone’s hurting her or mistreating her or anyone else for that matter.  But I don’t need to know that Dina drew on her hand with a marker or that Michael ate one too many cookies.  In truth, Rosemarie is too young to tell the difference at this point, but maybe if I start now, she’ll get it by the time she is old enough.

I’m not sure if I’m doing it right just yet.  So much of parenting is trial and error after all and I suppose we shall see.  I do intend in some way to teach Rosie when it is right to “tattle” and when it is time to mind her business.  Learning to the tell the difference will be a valuable skill to have as she grows.

What about you?

What is your take on tattling?

How do you address the issue with your kids?

 


A Second Child: To Have or Have Not?

 

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I have written about this subject before, the question of whether or not Anthony and I should add another child to our family.  At the time, that question seemed to loom ahead in the future.   It felt distant and far away.  I said if I did have a second child, I wanted to wait until Rosemarie was somewhat self-sufficient:  potty trained, walking well on her own, and climbing into her car seat, before I had another baby to take care of.

It is clear now that that time is almost here.  It is no longer a decision to be made down the road.  One never knows how long it will take to bring a baby home, adopted or otherwise, and since I would want my children to be fairly close in age if I had another, the time to act is now.

And yet I can act.  I can’t move forward because I still don’t know the best answer.  I still don’t know whether or not I want a second child.

There are times that I do.

When my friend brings over her eleven-month-old little girl, and Rosie bends down to her face smiling ear to ear, calling her “baby”, tickling her and giggling all the while.

When frosty snow covers the ground and Rosemarie stands at the door ready to go out and play.  And guilt fills my heart that she will have to make snow angels all by her lonesome, that she won’t have a partner for a snowball fight.  Of course, I can play with her but let’s be honest.  The older she gets, the less fun it will be to have her mother as a playmate.

When I see my adult friends who are only children with sick parents and the weight of that burden, far too heavy for one person, rests solely on their shoulders.

When Rosemarie grabs my hand as I fold the laundry asking me in her sweet voice to come in the play room to build a tower.  While I’m tempted to finish folding the towels in front of me, I can’t refuse her, for all I see in my mind is her sitting all by herself on the chevron rug, placing the Legos on top of each other, yelling “tada” once she’s done to an empty room.

When we drive away from her cousins’ houses, and her cries fill my ears as she calls their names from her car seat long after we have left their homes behind.

When I realize almost all of the children around Rosemarie have siblings. And no matter now much they love her, no matter how much their parents instill in them that they must love Rosie and protect as if she is their sister, she isn’t.  Believe me, I am not speaking biologically here.  What I mean is they have siblings with whom they will grow every day, siblings with whom they will share bedrooms, parents, and the kind of memories you can only make when you live in the same home.   In this way, they all have sisters and brothers.  But Rosie only has them.

I know I sound dramatic.  I am not claiming Rosemarie spends all her days weeping from her loneliness.

Still, these are the moments when I want a second child.

But, alas, there I times when I don’t.

When I do enter that play room with Rosemarie.  I can sit on the floor and play with her because I have time to do so.  Because I do have to hold the house together and wash the dishes and cook dinner, but I can find the time for it all because there is only one child to tend to.  I don’t have to change someone else’s diaper or help someone else with homework.  I can give her the attention she needs and also give some attention to my house, my husband, and myself.

When I am around my sister (Love you, Kris) and her three children and I see how incredibly busy her day is. When I see how it just never ends.  Because when one child is settled, the other needs juice and when that child’s thirst is quenched, the baby needs a clean diaper.

When I see my own mother with her four grown children (Love you too, Mom) and I notice that sometimes she too is stretched across her daughters.  She babysits for me on Monday, helps Kristen plan a party on Tuesday, visits a college with my niece on Wednesday and cooks dinner for my nephew on Thursday.

And I’m not saying my mother or sister is unhappy with her life. I’m not saying anything for either of them. I’m simply saying maybe I don’t want the the same thing.

Maybe I want to have time.  Time to write.  Time to read.  Time to wrap every Christmas present with ribbon, tree branches and candy canes.  Time to decorate for Valentine’s Day.  Time to see my friends.  Time to just do.  No, I don’t have time to do everything I want to do.  Just yesterday, I got my nails done for the first time in three months, but I think I have more time than mothers with more than one child.

I know what you’re thinking. The list of reasons to have a second child far outweighs the list not to have another, right?  Plus, my reasons to have second are all in the interest of Rosemarie; most of my reasons not to have one are about me.  As mothers, isn’t it our job to put our children’s needs before our own?

When I consider this, two things come to mind.  First, I think of the other major reason I am unsure about a second baby:  my stamina.  I will not delve into this in depth again as it was discussed at length in my other post on this subject, but it’s a huge factor in my inability to decide.

Of course if we adopt another child, I will fall in love again.  All my fears of having not enough time, of feeling too chaotic will pale in comparison to the joy a son or another daughter will bring to my life.

But my stamina will not just magically increase.  My frequent need for a midday nap will not instantly disappear. There will still be times when I feel I can’t keep up as a mother of a toddler or a preschooler or a teenager.  And it’s possible having a second will only make matters worse.  It is possible Rosemarie and this other child will have a less attentive mother, a mother who needs rest more often and who will have less energy to give to her kids.

And what about this other child?  All of my reasons to have him or her are about Rosemarie.  Is that really fair? Is it right to have a second child just for the sake of your first?  Let’s remember.  This is a bit different when adoption is involved.  If I were to have a biological child, that child literally would not exist unless I decided to have him.  But with adoption, the adopted child will exist and will live whether or not Anthony and I adopt him.  Is it right to bring the child home, to make him ours, if I want him mostly because of the child I already have?  Is it right when another couple desperate for a first child or second or third could adopt him instead?

(Sidenote:   To my second child, if you do come into our lives, please know I love you with every bit of myself.  Please know that now that I have you, I can’t imagine life without you.  When I wrote this, I just hadn’t met you yet.)

Perhaps all of this means I am just thinking too much.  Perhaps not.  I know people who have had more children without every really knowing if it was what they wanted.  I also know people who have always wanted two or three or more.

What I don’t know is what I want.  What I don’t know is the best choice for my family.  And what I really don’t know is how I will ever decide!

Some couples leave such a question up to fate.  Some couples can just say “if it happens, it happens.” But others, like adoptive parents or those who need infertility treatments, have to definitively decide if this is what they want.  We must decide.  We must move forward.  I just don’t know how.

 

 


New Year’s Blues

Is it just me?  Am I the only one who doesn’t feel excited as New Year’s approaches? Am I alone in the fact that the hours spent before counting down those ten seconds until we enter a new year don’t fill me with joy but instead a sinking sense of sadness?

Granted, I do spend every New Year’s Eve watching at least twelve hours of The Twilight Zone, which isn’t exactly uplifting, but it must be more than that.

Because it wasn’t always this way.

Party All the Time

Growing up, New Year’s Eve was one of the most fun celebrations for my family.  Filling the long rectangle of my aunt and uncle’s dining room, we ate and laughed and sang and cheered.  My uncle always brought out his karaoke machine and we passed the black microphone around the table singing Frank Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, and Billy Joel.  I can still picture my little grandmother, the mic in her sweet, wrinkled hand as she sang “Where Or When”, her voice a little shaky, but still filled with the talent of her youth.

By the end of the night, the other children and I always performed some sort of musical number.  Our first ever was “Just a Gigolo”; my sister Kristen wore a plastic New Year’s hat to play the main role.  I was one of the girls on her arm.  But my favorite of all time was “Copacabana.” I can still remember the joy that filled my chest when I picked Lola’s name out of the hat and knew I would be the star of our little show.  A half hour later, I danced around the blue carpet of my aunt’s den trying to move as a showgirl would.  Kristen and Fannie fought over me as Ricky and Tony, poor Kristen falling dead after that fatal gunshot.  Our family exploded in applause.

New Year’s Eve was a blast then and well into my teenage years.

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The More Things Change

I know the change must have begun when my father died.  The first New Year’s after that, we simply pretended it wasn’t New Year’s at all.  We spent the night together but Dick Clark stayed off our televisions and no countdown was shouted out loud at midnight.  Of course we were sad that year.  We were distraught.  Our loss was only four months old.  We hadn’t even begun to grieve yet.

The next year, we celebrated mostly for the sake of the children.  At my aunt’s house, we laid bubble wrap along the floor.  When midnight hit, the kids jumped up and down in glee popping the bubbles with their tiny feet.

But the sadness was still there.  And midnight came with just as many tears as it did smiles.

I suppose every year it got a little bit easier.  As more babies were born, the more fun and joy returned to our New Year’s Eves.   And for the past several years, even though we could feel the void of my father’s presence, we had a good time.  My mother’s house was often crowded with family and friends.  Some years, we munched on fried rice and egg rolls.  Others, we snacked on spicy chicken wings and slathered ribs.  We drank and talked and laughed and cheered.

 photo 1-12

But no matter how much fun we had, that melancholy mood still lingered within me.  Each year, at some point in the night, I found my way to the couch in the den, curling up to watch some more of Rod Sterling’s chilling stories.

This year, I didn’t even make the effort to make sure we had any real plans for the Eve.  With Anthony working and most of our normal companions having other plans, we ended up with midnight bells of no more than five people.

I know it’s my fault.  I didn’t plan because I don’t really care about celebrating on New Year’s but I don’t believe my father’s death is the only reason for my aversion to the last night of the year.

Because for me, New Year’s is a unique holiday in this way.  I think of him on every holiday and every day of every year and there are moments when his death hits me all over again, but I am still able to feel the joy of special moments.  I was elated watching Rosemarie make the sign of the cross during Grace on Thanksgiving, seeing her press her small palms together as she said “Amen.”  I felt true joy on Christmas morning as she ripped the wrapping paper off her Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and yelled “Meeska, Mooska, Mickey Mouse!”

But New Year’s still brings that pit in my stomach, the kind you feel on a Sunday night as a child when school looms the next morning.

 

What is it about New Year’s then?  I know I am not the only one who feels this way.  I have friends who also admit to feeling down on December 31st every year.  And these friends don’t all have a loss they consider to be life-changing in their past that could be the reason for their melancholy.

Is it just the fear of getting older?  Is it the unavoidable pang of sadness we feel when we realize how quickly our children are growing?

 

Let’s Get This Party Started

Whatever the reason, I’ve decided it’s time to shake that sadness off and bring the joy back to New Year’s.  I don’t want Rosemarie growing up with a New Year’s celebration that’s tainted with her mother’s sulkiness.

Next New Year’s, I have to find a way to cheer myself up and jazz up our night.  Maybe I need to fill the night with more friends and family.  Maybe I need to plan activities ahead of time.  Maybe I just need to psyche myself up for that night.

The good news is that I have a whole year to figure out how I can make this change.   And there I have my first resolution for 2014.  Somehow, someway, I will give Rosemarie a New year’s Eve that’s filled with the fun and joy that I remember feeling as I danced around with yellow feathers in my hair, as I counted down with a sparkling sip of champagne in a plastic glass.  Rosemarie will have New Year’s celebrations to remember.  I resolve to make it happen.

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Ten Tiny Thanksgiving Thank Yous

In a week’s time, we will all sit in our dining rooms surrounded by our families, a steaming turkey in the center of the table, savory stuffing, fluffy mashed potatoes, and ruby red cranberry sauce scattered around its surface.   We will eat together and talk together.  We’ll laugh and giggle and probably yell a little too.

Before we eat, many of us will say grace and some families, like mine, will share those things they are most thankful for this year.  At my cousin Robby’s Connecticut Colonial, we will go around the table, one at a time, as we do every year.  Memorable mentions of the past include Robby’s returning health after his terrible but heroic battle with cancer, the arrival of Rosemarie, and my eight-year-old nephew’s words of gratitude for his “family and the soldiers.”

There are so many important things like these that I am thankful for this year.  The big things.  My wonderful family, a beautiful home, an excellent report at my most recent visit to the cardiologist.  I am grateful for all of these blessings.  And on Thanksgiving and every day, I thank God for them.

Of course, the big things are important.  Of course, these major aspects of our lives determine our happiness.  But, for me, the little things matter too.  Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the difference in our days.

So, this year for Thanksgiving, I’m not only going to thank God for the significant blessings in my life.  I’m also going to take the time to thank Him for the little ones as well.

Here are ten little things I’m thankful for this year:

  1. DVR – How lucky are we?  Remember the days when if you missed the spring dance on 90210, you simply couldn’t see Kelly and Brenda fight over the same dress? Or when you couldn’t be home for the series finale of Full House, so you set up the VCR before leaving only to realize you left it on channel 2 and the tape showed nothing but Poltergeist fuzz when you pressed Play? Oh, the horror!
  2. photo 3-5
    Thank you, DVR.  Thank you for allowing me to watch over fifteen shows regularly without ever missing an episode.  Thank you for letting me press record if I need to go out but catch only the start of a segment on Dr. Oz that interests me or if I just need to know if the cursing, yelling man is really the father on the latest debacle that is The Maury Show.

  3. Etsy – How did anyone plan a party before Etsy came along? Or decorate a house? Or celebrate the holiday season? I literally have instant access to a smorgasbord of artists all over the country. And not only do I get to reap the fruits of their talents, but I can personalize their work to my own specific needs.  If I don’t like the color of that shirt or the font of that invitation, I just message the seller and a week later, I have my customized “Worth the Wait” onesie for Rosie’s arrival in New York, the yellow pitcher-shaped invitations for her lemonade-themed birthday party, a handmade diaper bag in a fabric the seller ordered just for me.  It’s amazing.
  4. When I Can Unexpectedly Pull Forward Out of a Parking Spot  -  Gosh, that is just the best.  I park in a crowded lot but by the time I exit the store, the wonderful stranger who was parked in front of my car has already left.  And, now, I don’t have to back out of my spot straining my neck in the process.  Instead, I just put that baby in drive, and smoothly sail forward.  I.  Love.  These.  Moments.
  5. My LifeProof Case -  I can do anything to my phone!  Those that know me well know “anything” has many meanings.  After all, I am the person who dropped a drinking glass directly onto the front of my phone cracking the entire screen.  I am also the woman who slid her phone into her cup holder while driving only to later look down and see the phone bobbing in a cup of seltzer she had forgotten about.
  6. With the LifeProof case, I can do these things and more and the phone will be just fine.  I can let Rosie play games and view pictures on my phone without worry.  And best of all, on the rare occasion that I get to take a shower without Rosemarie in the bathroom pulling back the curtain and throwing squeezey toys into the tub, I can bring my phone right in the shower, lean it on Anthony’s 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner and watch Netflix while I exfoliate.  Just fantastic.

    photo 4-4

  7. Microsoft Excel - I never said I wasn’t a geek.  I love to be organized.  I love to-do lists and I love charts.  I can use Excel to organize just about anything.  A list of invitees for a party I’m throwing, my Christmas shopping list, our monthly bills.  Not only does Excel help to organize names and addresses or keep track of gifts and spending, but it helps keep my brain neat and tidy as well.  And that makes me very happy.
  8. Holiday-flavored Lattes  - It doesn’t matter if it’s Starbucks or Dunkin.  If it’s gingerbread or peppermint mocha.  The moment I take my first sweet sip of the season, I just get that feeling.  That cozy, nostalgic feeling that makes me think of Christmas Eves I spent with a knot of excitement in my stomach as I tried to fall asleep.  Of the tattered cover of the paperback Twas the Night Before Christmas we read growing up.  Of the Christmas night I lay under our tree staring up at the white lights, my brand new American Girl in my arms wearing her white nightgown with pink ribbon trim.

    And they’re delicious too of course.

    photo 1-11

  9. A Great Bargain on Just What I’m Looking For - It doesn’t matter how much money you have.  A great bargain just feels good.  And it doesn’t matter to me if I save 50 cents or $20.  But when the exact item I am looking for is on sale like the organic macaroni and cheese at Stop and Shop last week or when I find a coupon for 20% off plus free shipping for the website I just happen to be using, it just feels as though things are working out for me.  It makes me smile to know the universe is on my side even if it’s just for a minute and just for a few bucks.
  10. Remote Start in My Car -  When it’s freezing out and I not only have a diaper bag to lug but also three bags of returns as well as Rosemarie, my little turtle, walking beside me on our way to the car,  I am practically shivering by the time I put her in her seat and then climb into mine.  So when the car is warm and toasty including the seat I slide into, it is just a joy.

    And the reverse is true in the summer.  As I drag myself to the car, the sun beating on my back after two hours in the park, the cool air that soothes my skin the moment I enter the car is pure elation. 

    Thank you, inventor of the remote starter.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clear answer on your identity.  I’m sorry about that.  You should be a household name because of your genius work.

  11. A King-sized Bed – Anthony and I are always hot.  Our ceiling fan is on full speed twelve months of the year and our thermostat pretty much stays at 68º or under unless we have company.  We CANNOT sleep in close quarters. We love each other but we need our own space.  A lot of it.  And a king-sized bed offers just that.  I can stretch out my arms or bend my knees and still be inches away from him. 

    I kid you not, when he worked nights, I once woke up in the wee hours of the morning and called his cell phone to find out why he still wasn’t home.  I soon heard his phone ring on the other side of the room.

    He was home.  In the bed.  Next to me.  There is so much room that I had no idea he was there.

  12. The Goldbergs – ABC’s new show on Tuesday nights?  Just watch it.  You’ll be grateful too.
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No,  these aren’t the most important things in the world.  I could live without any one of them or even all of them really.  But I am so glad I don’t have to do so.

The truth is that the little things do matter.  Because sometimes the big things don’t work out.  Sometimes the big things become really hard.  We lose jobs.  We lose money and sometimes homes.  We lose our health.  We lose people we love.

And the only way to make it through the times when the important things are just falling apart is to find joy in the not-so-important things.  To let a BOGO sale, a delicious drink, or a good hair day make you smile.

Sometimes, the little things are what keep us from falling apart too.

So, this year I thank God for all the small but happy parts of my life.  All the frivolous, little things that keep me smiling.

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Mommy’s Bruised Ego – Dropcam Campaign

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may recognize the story below.  I posted it a little over a year ago, but I am sharing it again for a special reason.  I am participating in a campaign by Dropcam, “a cloud-based Wi-Fi video monitoring service with free live streaming, two-way talk and remote viewing.”

Dropcam is doing a campaign called Life’s Mysteries, which is about sharing the missed moments in life.  Moments that make you wonder how they happened and make you wish you could have seen them take place.  As I thought over my past two years as a mom, searching my memories for a missed moment, the Cascade Incident arrived front and center in my mind. 

So here it is.  One more time.  Feel free to read it again and laugh once more at my humiliation. 

Last October, only a couple of days after Hurricane Sandy hit our Staten Island community, I was cleaning up Rosie’s room, putting her books back in the their trunk and fixing the bedding in her crib while she played in the kitchen.  There is one drawer in which she was allowed to play; she would open it, remove the dish towels inside, and amuse herself by laying them over her head and piling them on top of each other.

I made my way into the kitchen to check on her and noticed she had just spit up a large amount.  Confused, I bent down to pick her up and that’s when my eyes met the Cascade packet.  Its massacred body lay sprawled on the kitchen floor, its blue powdered insides spread out on the creamy tile.  I looked down at Rosie and saw powder residue on her chin and clothing, and I knew what the packet’s fate had been:  Rosie had eaten it to death.

And the reason she was able to get to the packets is because I, her careless mother, failed to fully close the cabinet under the kitchen sink.  The baby-proof locks are useless if you don’t actually close the door.

I grabbed a washcloth, wet it, and washed out Rosie’s mouth as I called my husband Anthony who wisely suggested reading the Cascade container.  This is what I found:

 

Swell.  I ripped open the package of water we had bought for the hurricane and attempted to pour sips into her mouth.  I mostly succeeded in soaking her pajama top and onesie, which I then had to remove as I dialed Poison Control.

“If she threw up, you must take her to an emergency room.  Get there as quickly as you possibly can.”

Alrighty.  Remember, this was only two days after Sandy had hit.  I had not yet been on the roads, but I had heard Hylan Boulevard, the road I needed to take to the hospital, was moving like a parking lot.  My only option, then, was to call 911.

I wasn’t entirely comfortable doing this; I knew other people needed emergency service and I hated to take man power away from them, but what could I do?

Now, keep in mind that I have a heart condition and I sometimes need to call 911 for myself.  Usually, even though at these times I need to be seen in the ER immediately, I am not unconscious or anything of that nature.  At that time, we had lived on our block for two years, and I had probably called an ambulance on at least five occasions only to return home soon after looking perfectly healthy.

So, imagine you are one of my neighbors, who has repeatedly scene the red flashing lights stop in front of our paved driveway.  Now, two days after an unspeakable disaster has struck Staten Island, you see not only the ambulance arrive at my door, but also a giant, green and black camouflaged army tank, with two fully uniformed soldiers inside.

Then, my mother (who had arrived by then), walks outside holding a laughing baby only to be followed by me, rushing out to the street snugly holding a container of Cascade dishwasher packets.

Needless to say, I was humiliated.

Rosie was seen quite quickly when we arrived at the ER.  She slept on my lap as two doctors examined her and assured us that if she had been harmed by the soap she ingested, there would be some sort of symptoms telling us so.  They researched the ingredients of the Cascade to be sure, but since they didn’t find anything, she was soon discharged and we made our way back home.

My point of telling this long and embarrassing story is simply to say that I do make mistakes.  No matter how careful we are, all of us moms will mess up.  It doesn’t mean we’re not good mothers or don’t love our children.  So, if you are an expectant mom, a new mom, or even a seasoned one, remember that you’re not alone in this.  Just when you think you’re the worst mother in the world, you’ll hear about a mom who let her daughter eat dishwasher soap.

 

Check out Dropcam’s campaign here:  http://blog.dropcam.com/join-dropcams-lifes-mysteries-campaign/.


Nightmare on Grandview Street

It’s that time of year again.  Front windows, porches and lawns are adorned with glowing Jack-o-lanterns, crumbling tombstones, and airy white ghosts.  It is the season of fright, a time for horror movies that speed up your heart and send shivers through your skin.  Corpses that rise from their graves bloodthirsty and hungry for human flesh.  An escaped mental patient with a knife in his hand and a mask on his face who stalks a small town on Halloween night.  These are the makings of a scary story.

photo 2              photo 1

 

 

I have a Halloween tale, though, that is far more frightening.  A story that will terrify any child, teenager or adult who remembers growing up.  A story that is entirely true.

It took place many years ago on a cold October night.  The dull gray moon hung on the black of twilight while wisps of clouds drifted across the sky.  The crisp wind blew through the distorted branches of dark bare trees and sent shrill whistles through the air.

Okay, not really.  It did happen many years ago, twenty to be exact.  Replace the eerie moon and spooky branches with some scattered folding chairs and bottles of soda at a seventh grade party, and the stage is set.

Let me be a bit blunt and totally honest:  I was a pretty little girl.  Before I hit puberty, each part of my face just worked photo 3well together.  Sleek, arched eyebrows swept above big brown eyes.  A cute nub of a nose.  Pink, curvy lips.  I was pretty and boys liked me.  I dated the most popular boy in my class in first, fourth and (I think) sixth grade.  Our entire dating history only totaled about three weeks but still; it meant something.

Underneath it all, however, I was the epitome of uncool–a truly natural nerd.  A socially awkward first and second grader, I mostly kept my eyes down and my mouth closed.  Once third grade came, the other girls began to talk and giggle with the boys at recess, shop in Limited Too and listen to music I had never heard of.  I still preferred the corner of the schoolyard where my best friend Clarisse and I would play babysitter, shopping in a make-believe supermarket for strawberry-banana baby food.  I wore clothes from Kids R Us, wrote letters of aspiration to Bob Ross and still cried when my mother went away for the weekend.

I wasn’t cool and the cool kids scared me.  But I was pretty.  And in the social hierarchy of our elementary school, that put me right on the cusp.  So, from first to sixth grade I wasn’t exactly popular, but I wasn’t a reject either.

But, oh, the joys of puberty.  Just before I turned twelve years old, my small, round nose began to thicken and expand across my cheeks.  My other features must have been intimidated because they refused to follow suit.  My face now became the opposite of its original form with relatively small eyes, thin lips and a broad but flatly squashed nose sitting in the center.  To this day I swear one of my eyes got lazy for two years as it became smaller than the other.  My eyebrows grew darker and instead of spreading apart as they usually do when one’s face grows, they merged closer together, the inside end of one reaching away from the rest of the hairs to create a miniature Asian fan in the middle of my brow bone.  And, of course, I needed braces.  I opted for clear ceramic brackets, which turned a horrid yellowish beige in six months’ time.  It was at this age as well that I apparently forgot blow dryers had been invented.  After cutting my excessively thick, mousey brown hair to my chin, I washed it each night, slept without tending to it and simply threw in a headband every morning, ignoring the tumultuous curls, waves and indentations all over my over-sized head.

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Now in seventh grade, other girls my age were beginning to wear bras and hip huggers.  Unfortunately, I had nothing to hold up and nothing to hug.  My legs were literal sticks with bowling balls for knees; my arms were long, skinny, and dangerous due to my markedly pointy elbows.  My feet and hands were both way too big for the rest of my body while my ankles, hips and chest were too small.

photo 5

Blunt and honest:  I was ugly.  And as my reflection grew more and more ghastly, my link to the popular crowd began to slip further and further away from me.

In the early months of seventh grade, though, I held onto the very last shred as tightly as I could.  In October, I was invited to the first big party of the year at Jenny Pheifer’s* house.  Jenny Pheifer was popular.  She was tall, dark, and beautiful.  She had a muscular, hot older brother who threw keg parties and a mother who let her wax her legs.  Her party would be THE coolest.  The eighth graders, the popular eighth graders, were invited–and they were coming.

The only question left was what I would wear to this big bash of coolness.  Jenny told Clarisse that some people would be wearing costumes; others would not.  In my wonderful little mind of immaturity, I thought, “Yay! A costume party!

Of course, on Halloween day I wouldn’t be running around the streets spraying shaving cream on friends like other kids my age.  No, I’d be going door to door gathering candy from my neighbors as usual, so I already had a costume all set:  Cleopatra.

At 8:00 on the night of the party, Clarisse rang my doorbell.  When I opened the door, I saw that her costume was hardly a costume at all.  One quarter Indian herself, she was dressed as an Indian woman.  Wearing her black Raiders Starter jacket over her sari, she could have been wearing jeans and a t-shirt underneath and no one would know the difference.  Her hair was pulled back into a neat bun and she wore a red dot the size of a match head in the center of her forehead.

She, however, saw a very different sight standing in my front doorway.  I wore a shimmering eggshell kaftan that bloused bountifully around my waist, which was cinched by a lustrous gold belt.  A short gold lamé cape rested on my shoulders while a chunky gold necklace inlaid with deep red jewels hung around my neck.  A jet black triangular wig concealed my light brown hair and extended four inches past each side of my head.  As if the cape, necklace, and wig were not sufficient enough, a gleaming golden crown sat atop my head with a snake that protruded out of my forehead, gazing at all standing near me with emerald green rhinestone eyes.  My own eyes were surrounded in thick black eyeliner with half-inch cattails on the outer corners, my cheeks were streaked with crimson blush and my lips were painted Coca-Cola red.

I tried to ignore the funny look Clarisse gave me as we descended the stairs on the way to her mother’s blue station wagon.  I tried to ignore the intense fear that was building up inside my chest as we rode to the party, exited the car, and walked up to the back door of the Pheifer house.

And then we entered.  The party stood before me; the room, longer than it was wide, was lined on either side with guests.   Silent guests (or at least it felt that way).  No one seemed to be talking; there wasn’t any mingling or laughing or dancing.  It seemed as if the party had frozen the moment I walked in.  Guys and girls stood there.  Looking.  Staring.

And EVERY LAST ONE of them wore the regular ol’ clothes of 90s tweens:  jeans, plaid flannels, and Abercrombie T-shirts.

My under eyes filled with tears.  In one swift motion I reached up, pulled my wig and crown off my head and slipped into the folding chair against the wall to my right.  There I remained for most of the night.

This was true humiliation.  This has become my definition of humiliation.  The rest of the party is a complete blur.  I don’t know when I finally got off that chair.  I don’t remember talking to any boys and certainly not any eigth graders.  But I do remember the way the heat filled my face in that one moment when we stepped through the door.  I remember the fear, sadness, and embarrassment all rolled into those ten short seconds.

It was absolutely horrifying.  The scariest Halloween story I have to tell.

Sigh.

At least, unlike most horror movies that simply teach us to get the heck out of the house rather than investigate scary noises on our own, I can gain something from this experience and just maybe I can use that something to be a better mother.

For one, I will never EVER allow my daughter to attend a Halloween party dressed as anything but herself without getting complete confirmation that said party is a costume party.  While I will also never allow her to wear the types of costumes I see on many a young girl today complete with Daisy Dukes and thigh-highs, I will do my absolute best to have her dressed in a costume that does not make her look like a second grader attending her big sister’s party.

More importantly, this will be a great story to tell when she has her own utterly mortifying social debacle.  I can tell her this story.  I can make her laugh through her tears at her nerdy, old mom.  And I can prove to her that no matter how humiliated she may feel, she will be okay.  She will get over it and life will go on.

Because, sure, I still cringe whenever I remember that moment.  I close my eyes and shake my head when it is brought up by my sisters, husband, and friends.  But I certainly didn’t let it ruin my love for Halloween or my fascination with dressing up.  I’ll wear it all:  clothes, makeup, wigs.  Whatever it takes.  I’ve been Lois Griffin and Tina Turner.  Carmela Soprano and Daphne of Scooby Doo fame.  And my personal favorite of all time, Bill alongside my husband’s Ted.

Embarrassing things will happen.  Sometimes, life stinks.  But what can you do except “party on, dudes”?

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*Name has been changed.

 


Hello, Love

Like many young girls, I liked playing with dolls from a very young age.  I adored my Cabbage Patch Dolls, especially the tiny preemie my mother bought for me on a trip to Toys ‘R Us, just the two of us.  I loved to dress my dolls, wheel them in strollers around the house, and give them a bottle when I thought they might be hungry.

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My American Girl, Samantha, was my favorite toy of all time.  To me, she was my child.  I dressed her each day and fed her meals.  I fixed her hair and chose special dresses on holidays, days on which she came to church and sat beside me, her glazed brown eyes staring straight ahead.

I just loved my dolls.

And when my sister Kristen, best friend Fannie and I would play house, we’d pretend to carry these dolls in our bellies.  With a pillow stuffed under our shirts, we’d waddle around with our tiny hands on our aching backs and give birth on Fannie’s four post bed after “nine months” had passed.

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As a young child, I never thought my path to motherhood would be any different than the one we created in our imaginations.

It was of course.

Instead of my hips, it was the word that spread as we publicized our hope to adopt as much as possible.  Instead of nine months of terrible pain throughout my body, my heart ached through fourteen months of waiting.  I did not grab my hospital bag and rush to the hospital to endure five, ten or twenty hours of grueling labor; instead, I quickly packed a suitcase and endured hours of traveling to be followed by days of waiting.

Yes, my road to motherhood was quite different than what I expected.

It seems that some people outside of adoption assume we adoptive parents would change that path if we could, that we would switch our unique journey with theirs if we had the chance.

That question is a complicated one.  We adoptive mothers often begin our journey with a number of losses, a number of things we have to give up or let go.  But that is only the beginning.

Bye-bye, Baby Belly 

It’s the most natural a beautiful thing a woman can do, the most gratifying physical experience of the female body, a spiritually fulfilling miracle.

That is how pregnancy is often described and I’m sure every word is true.

So was I upset when I realized I couldn’t carry my baby in my womb, nurturing her for nine months while she grew inside me?

Of course I was.

I was deeply saddened.  I was envious of the women around me and their bulbous and beautiful bellies.  I would stand in the shower, push out my stomach, and slowly rub it with my palm, pretending there was a baby inside.

Bye-bye, Bio Baby

After accepting that I would not carry my child, we attempted surrogacy.  Six months later when the surrogacy failed, I realized I would also not experience having a biological child.

Was I upset when it was clear I would never see the child created by me and the man I loved?

Of course I was.

Like any other woman who longs to be a mother, I had imagined the child I would have with Anthony since the day we were married.

I usually pictured a boy.  A dark-haired stocky baby boy with carnation pink lips between two chubby cheeks.

He was adorable.

But one day I learned he would never be.  I would never know if my imagination was right.  I would never learn whose features he would hold onto, whose eyes I would see in his, if his voice would be deep from childhood like his father’s.

And it hurt. It was a loss. A loss that I grieved like any other.

But That Was Then 

And Rosie is now.

Yes, I was heartbroken by these losses. My heart seemed to miss these things that I couldn’t touch or see, things I never had at all.

But then I met Rosie.

Then I held Rosie.

Then I felt her crying body settle the moment I placed her on my shoulder.

Then I heard her softly breathe as she slept.

Then she began to laugh, a crinkle in her nose like a backslash.

Then she called me “Mommy.”

Then she held my hand as we walked down the street.

Then she crawled in my bed in the morning, pressing her side to mine as she shared my pillow.

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Do I still wish I could have carried a child in my womb? Am I still sad that I do not have biological children?

Of course I’m not.

Because I love my daughter and, just like any mother, I wouldn’t trade her for anything, not the miracle of pregnancy nor the plump, brunette baby I dreamed up in my mind.

Because to have experienced bearing a baby or to have met my biological child, I would have to give up the little girl with whom I am completely in love.  I would have to give up things like her toothy smile that she gives even when I’m being stern, the softness of her voice as she sings the ABCs, the way her tiny hand strokes my skin while she’s laying on my chest.

The things I couldn’t live without.

So, no, I would not trade my unique journey to motherhood with anyone else’s.  I wouldn’t change a single thing.

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