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May 22

Grief

Grief is an odd thing, for me.  I’ve had limited experience with it, thank God, but there are really only two losses that still have the ability to sneak up on me.  I’ll be bopping along, and suddenly I’m teary-eyed and have to go away somewhere where I can be alone to mourn.

One is the miscarriage I had before I got pregnant with Jessica, and the other one is my grandfather.

He died on a summer day not unlike today.  It was six years ago, he died when Julie was an infant, so I’ve always got a reminder of exactly how long it’s been.  But at the Memorial Day concert today at Jessie’s school (she plays the flute), the focus was on our veterans, and Memorial Day.  The speaker asked that our WWII veterans stand for a round of applause, and three or four older men stood up.

It wasn’t that they looked like my grandfather, I couldn’t even really see much more than the back of their heads (I had gotten there late and was in the back of the auditorium).  But it hit me suddenly that my grandfather was gone, my veteran wasn’t there, and all at once I missed him so much I started crying and had to leave.

I don’t think that I deal with grief all that well.  Or at least, I recognize that probably not a healthy way of handling it.  I don’t actually acknowledge that he’s dead all that often.  I think of him as traveling, over in Europe perhaps. Somewhere far away, where he’s happy and loving it, with my grandmother.  But sometimes I have to face the face that he’s gone, he’s not traveling, looking for adventure and sending back postcards.  Sometimes, like today, I realize all over again that he’s gone, and I miss him so much.

May 20

The last time

Julianna wakes up every morning and comes to curl up on my lap.  She’s groggy and unsure of everything, and seems to require a little snuggle before she can face her day.

My older two used to do this too. Every morning, from the time they were old enough to walk, they’d wake up, realize that I wasn’t there, and come find me.  True to form, I’d be on the couch with a book or writing, news on in the background, drinking my coffee.  I’d snuggle and rub their backs, ask about their dreams and talk about the day ahead.  I remember making room for one or the other, because they’d both do it.

Somewhere along the line, without me noticing it, they stopped.  Both kids get up now, and start their stuff.  Sam flips on the television or minecraft, grabs himself some cereal (and when he remembers, he’ll turn on the coffee maker for me).  Jessie sleeps and sleeps, and gets up only when I wake her (and never on the first try).  They don’t wake up independently and come find me anymore.

I don’t remember when it stopped.

They aren’t like normal milestones – I can remember each kids first step, first first word.  First day at school, first time doing homework.  First time on stage in the school concert, first lunch box, etc.  But remembering the last time they needed me to help them climb up the stairs, the last time they asked me to push the swing, the last time I had to button the snap on their jeans… those don’t get any recognition.

I’ve got kids who are outgrowing me faster and faster.  Each one, in their own way, they master new things and find new challenges and tackle them independently.  And that’s perfect – exactly as it should be.  But I still miss it, a little bit.  And I’m extra grateful each morning, when my sleepy-eyed little girl, with the long tangle of hair and nightgowns that reach down to her ankles, staggers out of the bedroom and into my arms.  Because I don’t know when it’ll be the last time.  I know it’s coming, but until then, I’m going to try and treasure every morning.

May 06

And then she was five

My living room is littered with dollhouses, magnet dolls, and a DocMobile.  The soundtrack to my morning is the clicking of the keyboard as I write, the sound of Doc McStuffins (because that’s the only show she likes to watch), and the chattering of an entranced Julie.  This is her favorite, I think.  When the older kids are gone, and she can set up her fantasy world with her princesses, Docs, stuffed toys and then do whatever she wants.

She loves her siblings, of course.  Her best friend is still, always, her brother, but she and Jessie can lose themselves for hours playing this same game.  She’s independent and confident, especially when she’s alone.  In social settings, she’s still more likely than not to hide behind my legs, and glare at people who try to talk to her.  But when she’s at home, or when she forgets where she is, she’ll talk and talk.  Explaining seriously about everything to anyone.

Five is a milestone age, in a way that the other ages weren’t.  Five means kindergarten, five means independence and the moving into a much, much bigger world.   She’s ready for it, I can see it in how easily she separates at preschool, how confidently she approaches the world and how she begs me to read to her, to explain addition and subtraction.

I wish I was as ready.  I wish I was as confident in what the future holds for me.   Or at least, as eager to get there as she is.

I loved having my babies at home with me.  I loved it when I had just my baby Jessie, then when I had my right hand man Sammy, and then when I just had my Julianna Ruth.  I loved baking with them, grocery shopping, going for long walks, folding laundry and pushing them on the swings.  This has been such a magical stage of life for me – and it feels like it’s ending now that she’s five.

I find myself reminding myself that it’s not over. Certainly not.  My kids are still young, there are still a lot of milestones yet to master.  Jessie isn’t even a teenager, Sam hasn’t started nightly homework yet.  Julie still has her first day ahead of her.  It’s just a new stage, a different one.  I’ll be the parent without a toddler at these events.  I’ll be able to volunteer during the day in their classrooms.  My house will reach new heights of cleanliness (at least one hopes….) now that they’ll all be out of the house during the day.  I could become a high-powered executive, now that I’ve got all this free time.

But to bring it back down to what I started with – my baby is five.  My last little love, my angel girl baby, the pregnancy that made me miserable, the child who entered the world when I was laughing – she’s five years old now.  Her favorite place is still right beside me, curled up (and when did I master typing with one arm completely immobile because her head is braced against it?).   She’s five, and I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have her.

 

May 01

Reasons You Shouldn’t Invite My Five Kids to Dinner on Friday

We normally do Shabbat dinner at my house.  It’s not always done WELL.  Some Fridays, it’s haphazard and chaotic, and I don’t manage to light the candles until late at night after I’ve managed to wrestle everyone into bed.  But there are a lot of Fridays when the table is set beautifully, the challah is baked, and the chicken is served in a pretty bowl.

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Periodically, often, we have guests for dinner. Sam usually has a friend over, and we invite people over to join us.  A few weeks a month, we have my in-laws over.  It’s still chaotic and crazy, but when we have dinner at home, it’s somehow easier.  Part of it is that we get the kids earlier, we pick up my stepdaughters about an hour before dinner, and part of it is that we just have more space – so if a kid is hormonal and can’t stop sobbing, she can disappear into her bedroom without too much drama.  If a kid is maniacally obsessed with minecraft, he can slip off into his bedroom to play that without an issue.  And if two kids want to brawl – well, we can generally send them outside to handle it.

My poor in-laws decided to take us out to dinner tonight.   Which was lovely, and a wonderful, generous idea – but wow – we learned again that you just shouldn’t EVER try and take my five kids out for dinner on a Friday night.  After being stuck in school all week, not seeing each other since the previous weekend – there’s just no way that they can hold it together to have a civilized meal.

Although, they did hold it together, mostly.  Dinner was… okay.  A little teary, for reasons that made no real sense, but a couple of girls had some issues.  Sam hyperventilated waiting for the pizza to come.  But the meal itself was mostly okay.  It was in the parking lot that everything went bat crap crazy, and it continued well into the night.

We have two cars, and normally, we split up into the “quiet car” and the “psychotic car.” But for reasons that escape me tonight, all five of them wanted to ride together, except for two of them, who wanted to ride alone.  So all five of them jumped into the car, out of the car, in the car, back out of the car.  There were cups of water thrown, puddles created, laughing hysterically, sobbing uncontrollably – and it took about ten minutes before we managed to get everyone INTO a car and get home.

My kids range in age between 16 and 5.  And logically, I have to assume that this is they way that they’ll be forever.  I can completely see where, twenty years from now, they aren’t going to be any less likely to need a day or two of decompression before going out in public together.  They need time to yell and scream and laugh and squabble and get it all out before they can behave like normal people.

And they’re awesome.  Healthy, and happy and completely, utterly connected.  These five kids, these five completely different personalities somehow manage to merge into a unit that’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.  They transcend normal birth order, because we’ve got two oldest (Lilli and Jessie), three youngest (Sarah is the youngest of Lilli and Sarah, Jessie is the youngest of the three girls, and Julie is the youngest of all five).  Sam is the only boy, and Jessie slips into the middle child role like she owns it.  They aren’t a traditional band of siblings – but they are a unit.  And anyone who happened to be in the Papa Gino’s parking lot tonight in Webster Square around eight can attest to it.

 

May 01

Aging Gracefully

I don’t think I want to.

I’ve got to think about birth control.  My baby is five, which means that birth control I’ve been using for the past five years needs to be addressed.

Thinking of that just reminds me that I actually haven’t had a physical in about ten years, maybe longer.  I don’t think I’ve been to see a doctor in the past five years.  Three years, maybe.  I’m healthy, I hear myself whispering.  I’m a healthy girl.  Other than the headaches – which I’ve been prone to since I was a teenager, I don’t get sick.

But I’m not a girl anymore.  I’m a woman, who may or may not even need birth control anymore.  I’m forty one.  My chances of getting pregnant diminish every month, and my eggs are probably crap at this point anyway.  Which raises the question of even if I did get pregnant, could I stay pregnant and would the baby be healthy?  And do I even want to get pregnant?  But do I want to use hormonal birth control?

I don’t want to be here, in this space.  I don’t want to be wondering if I should be avoiding hormones, so that I can go thru the process of menopause naturally.  I don’t want to wonder if my eggs would produce sick babies, or hurt babies, or even be able to make a baby.  I don’t want to get old.

I don’t want another baby, I’m almost certain of it.   I think about it sometimes, imagine Sammy with a little brother or picture Jessie babysitting for her infant sister.  Imagine bringing a baby into Julianna’s class, the way I brought Julie into Jessie’s the spring she was in first grade.  I look at tiny onesies and gorgeous baby carriers and smile enviously at pregnant women – but then I remember the itching.  The vomiting, the lack of sleep.  I think about preeclampsia and high blood pressure, and remember how much easier it is now – they all are potty trained, and can buckle themselves into the car.  Everyone sleeps thru the night, everyone will be in school in September.  Do I really want to start again?  The truth is that I could easily be convinced either way, and since there are good and compelling reasons not to (I’m OLD, we don’t have any extra space, yada yada..), I’m coming down on the side of not having another baby.  At least not now – and I say that knowing that the longer I postpone that decision, the less likely it is that I’ll be able to do it again.

I have two white hairs on my head.  They taunt me every morning.  I could start coloring my hair, and going thru menopause and getting old and creaky and cranky.  But I’d rather not.

I keep feeling as though something is ending.  I know it’s normal, a part of me does recognize that with Julianna going off to school this year, I am graduating to a whole new stage in my life.   A stage that I’ve been in for more than a decade, and one that I’ve loved.

Building my family – it’s been wonderful.  And I’m not LOSING my family – I’m just transitioning from building a family into raising one.  My job as mama isn’t over, I know that.  Julie is just barely five, I’ve got at least another thirteen years to go with her.  That’s longer than I’ve been a mother.  Jessie is just on the cusp of such a huge transition, from girl to woman, and Sam’s right in the middle of his childhood – I’m not DONE with parenting.

I think I need another ice cream cone.

 

Apr 27

A Good Dad

On Saturday, we were at services at the Beth Israel all morning.  On the way out of the synagogue, Sam was walking backwards.  We were all going to the car, so it was easy enough for him do it.  I reminded him to step DOWN off the curb (because he couldn’t see it), and Marc guided him to the car by telling him to veer slightly to the left, or head right.  One would think that one of us would have pointed out the problem in walking backwards is that YOU CAN’T SEE WHERE YOU ARE GOING.  But neither of us did, and Sam successfully made it to the car.

We were in the house for just a few minutes, changing, and the kids got ready first and headed back outside.   We were on our way up to Green Hill Park for the kite flying festival.  By the time I made it out to the car, Sam had already learned the hard way why walking backwards was a colossally bad idea.  We started driving, and Sam mentioned, in passing, that he had scraped his leg.  I glanced back, and yeah, he had scraped his whole shin up.

Sam is oddly stoic and completely anxious.  So he wasn’t at all bothered by the scrape, or the pain of having fallen into a stone wall.  No, he didn’t lose it until it started bleeding – at which point, he lost his mind.  Sobbing and freaking out – THERE WAS BLOOD!.  He went from totally relaxed “yeah, I scraped my leg” to hyperventilating.  If I based my reactions on his – I would have assumed that his leg had been cut off, because he was that freaked out.

Learning how to deal with an anxious kid isn’t easy – because what seems helpful isn’t.  You have to walk a fine line between validating the feelings and also letting him know that it’s not as hard as he thinks it is.  There is no point in jumping in with him, if I freaked out about the blood and the injury (which was a huge scrape – nothing that required stitches or even really needed a band aid, but was about four inches wide, and three inches long, it took up most of his shin, and probably did hurt like hell), it would only have made it worse.  But hollering at him to pull it together and snap out of it wasn’t going to work either.

It’s not something that comes naturally to either of us, Marc or I.  But the way to handle it was exactly what we did – which was to get some gauze and ointment, and a little tape and bandage up the scrape so that he couldn’t see it, and then distract him with something else.  Just at the point where I was started to overanalyze and worry about what this meant for Sam’s future – is he always going to lose his mind when he gets hurt?  What can I do to make him stronger and better able to handle the inevitable injuries that go along with being an active kid?, Marc glanced back at his little tearstained face and calmly told Sammy that when Daddy was his age, he was the exact same way.  Bleeding made him really tense and anxious too, and it was okay to be a little freaked out.

It was just such a perfect way to handle it.   I’m so grateful, because Marc understands Sam on a level that I don’t.  He was able to fix my little boy, his little boy, with some gauze and tape, and some understanding and assurance that it won’t always be this hard for him.  Because the anxiety is going to be a part of his life all the time, but it gets easier.  He gets stronger and better able to understand what he’s feeling and why, and be able to rationalize it in his mind.  The more he gets scraped and learns that it’s just a little blood, and it won’t last long, the quicker he learns that he can survive that too.

Marc teaches him that it’s okay for him to be exactly who he is.  And that even what seems to be scary and horrible isn’t really that bad, and it’ll get better as he gets bigger.  And it worked – once the scrape was hidden, Sam was fine, and we spent the afternoon flying kites.  It was perfect.

 

Apr 24

Another April Vacation

I love April vacation.  Of the three, December, February, and April, I think February is the most challenging, December is the one less about vacation and more about just decompressing after the stress of the holiday drama that inevitably takes over that month.  April is just fun.  The weather is wonderful, the kids are ready to be outside looking for adventure, and we’re so close to summer that I can smell the sunscreen.

This April vacation has been everything I hoped, and possibly more than I expected.  Jessie’s best friend Glennys came down from North Conway on Friday afternoon and we kicked off the week with a big Shabbat dinner with my stepdaughters.  Saturday morning, we spent the day at our synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, and it was perfect.  It was Sisterhood Shabbat, and as Sisterhood President, I was in charge of planning the big lunch after services.  I had been stressing out all week about it, shopping and planning and panicking.  Everything was wonderful (although I learned a valuable lesson about buying Mylar balloons for decorating because they stay up longer).  We visited friends Saturday night, and it was so beautiful outside.  The kids (we had my three, plus two stepdaughters and Glennys, and my friend’s twins) were all outside, Marc was in the kitchen cooking with our friend David, and I was able to sit on the couch and have one of those long, luxurious conversations with my best friend that you never seen to be pull off when the kids are inside with you.

Sunday, we went to the Old North Bridge and the Louisa May Alcott House in Concord, hit Erikson’s ice cream on the way home and finished up with chinese food with friends.  Monday was movie day (because it was pouring), and then Tuesday, we stopped at my mother’s house in Clinton and went to four different playgrounds on the way home.  Wednesday, we drove up to North Conway to bring Glenny home, and spent the afternoon ogling mountains and exploring North Conway center.  Yesterday, we did errands and bought everyone new shoes, then rearranged bedrooms, and tonight, I’m making a big Shabbat dinner for everyone.

Every vacation is different, and I’m not sure what it is about this one that made it so perfect.  The weather helped, but I also think that the kids are at a perfect age.  My three are 12, 8, and almost five, and they’re all old enough to play together well, independent enough to keep themselves happy solo.

It wasn’t all hearts and sunshine – there were battles and brawls, but they weren’t overwhelming.  I’m never ever going to catch up on the dishes or laundry (especially because the kids clean their rooms by just tossing all the clothes that collect on the floor into the dirty clothes basket), and there are crayons, barbie dolls, and plastic guns all over the house (and the yard, now that I think about it).  But it’s been a wonderful vacation, and while I’m ready to get back to our regular routine, I’m not ready for vacation week to end.

Apr 21

April Vacation 2015

One thing I’m grateful for is that I really did make a point of recognizing that you only get one April vacation a year.  Which is to say that while I’ve done April vacation every year since Jessica started school seven years ago, each one was specific and distinct from the others.  This is the last vacation I’ll have when Julie isn’t old enough to go to school yet.  The only one with a 12 year old, an 8 year old, and a 4 year old.

I feel, sometimes, like I’m getting so much older.  My kids are getting so much older.  I have two grey hairs on my head, and I see them every night.  I haven’t pulled them out yet, and haven’t decided if I should rush out and get my hair colored or not.  I dream of being pregnant – literally.  Last night, I dreamt that I pregnant and going for the prenatal testing to see if the baby is okay.   I can’t decide if that means that I want to get pregnant, should get pregnant, or am just remembering fondly that I once was pregnant.

I’m in this really weird time in my life, everything is in transition, and I don’t know which end is up.  At the same time, everything is settled and predictable and easier than it’s ever been.  Marc is finally working a regular job, with control over his schedule and we’re financially able to pull off everything we need to be able to get done.  Jessie is thriving in middle school, Sam is in that easy-peasy stage of childhood where he’s styling, and Julianna is just about to bop off to kindergarten.

Do I get a job in September, go off birth control and throw myself into starting over again, or launch myself full steam ahead into a career of free-lance writing?  Should I become a teacher?  Get certified to teach preschool or infant care?  Could I get pregnant if I wanted to?  Do I want to?  Would a baby fit into my family now?  Where would I put a baby?  Is this just the last dying gasps of my fertility, making a desperate attempt to turn back the clock?  I’ll be 42, I think, on my next birthday (and the fact that I typed “I think”  because without pausing to think back, I really can’t remember if I’m 40 or 41 doesn’t say much about my cognitive ability to handle another child).  I probably couldn’t even get pregnant.  That’s mostly okay – I think I’m content with my three, especially because my three are also a part of Marc’s two, so I’ve really got FIVE, and that’s a lot of kids.

So there’s all that going on, at the same time that I’m doing my best to enjoy my April vacation with my three.  We’ve got Glennys down for the beginning of the week, and we’re probably going up to North Conway tomorrow to bring her home.    The weather was wonderful over the weekend, and rainy all day yesterday.  Today is rainy, but rumors of sunshine persist for the afternoon.  I’m going to take the kids down to my mother’s house, and then we’ll do playgrounds.

While it may be true that there is now the time and luxury to ponder and wonder and over-analyze about what my next steps might be, there is also the immediate now.  I worry about Sam’s school performance, Jessie’s Hebrew studies and whether Julie will mimic Sam’s panic over starting kindergarten.  I love watching Sam with his friends, and talking about politics with Jessie and encouraging Julie and Marc to wrestle and talk before bed.  There is still so much happening with my kids, with my husband… right now is busy enough, I don’t really need to spend all this time panicking over what’s going to happen in five months when Julie goes off to school.  But the deadline is there – just waiting for me to figure out the next step.

Apr 15

She’s too big for this

I know that.

My almost five year old would still rather be on my hip than not.  She likes to be picked up and carried, and I indulge her.

I didn’t do this with the others.  Not really.  Of course, with the others, I had another baby coming along when they were three or four years old.  They naturally outgrew being held, because there was another baby.  They weren’t the baby anymore – they were the “big kid.”  I remember Sam used like to be carried up the stairs, and I was too pregnant to do it anymore.  I’d make him start up a few steps and then I’d scoop him up with one arm and lug him the rest of the way up like a sack of potatoes.   Eventually, it occurred to him that it was more fun to step up the stairs on his own.

Julie isn’t being pushed out of my arms.  She’s still my baby.

But I’m wondering, now, if I’m doing her a disservice by not pushing her.  Is she too babied?  I hate saying “you’re too big to do X” but the reality is that she is getting too big.   She’s too big for me to comfortably hold her for very long.

Part of is the kindergarten deadline looming.  As I hoisted her up on my hip tonight at Jessie’s school function, I found myself thinking that her peers probably aren’t getting carried around.   I took her out into the lobby during the school play earlier, because she was getting restless and impatient – is that appropriate for a five year old?  I legitimately don’t know.  I know I did it with Sam and Jessie when they were that age – but they always had a younger sibling that was definitely not ready to sit quietly and pay attention.

The reality is that my older two kids were pushed to grow up because they had a sibling come after them.  They couldn’t be the “baby” anymore because there was literally another infant that took over that role.  I like to think that I timed it right – the next baby came along when they were ready for that transition, and truly, neither one of them really struggled with any jealousy or misery around getting a new baby brother or sister.

Julianna is missing out on that.  Someone had to miss out on the experience of being an older sibling – I couldn’t keep having babies forever.  (Rationally, I totally know that – but there’s a tiny part of me that thinks that really doesn’t sound that bad)

Am I making her younger by not expecting her to be bigger?  Does that make sense?  She’s still so little to me – she still needs to be reminded to go to the bathroom and wash her hands, she still likes me to buckle her into her car seat and zip her coat up before we go anywhere.  And I don’t question it (at least I didn’t question it…) because I just DO this stuff.  I’ve been buckling and zipping and reminding for so long – it never occurred to me that she might not need it anymore. She might be just doing it all out of habit, just like I am.  If I never point out that she could buckle herself, or zip her own coat – I just keep doing it automatically – will she ever outgrow it?

Does she have too?  Because wow – I don’t know if I’m ready for my baby to not be my baby anymore.  But we’re a few weeks away from her fifth birthday, and I think I need to get with the program here.  She’s growing up, and I need to admit it, to accept it, and then make sure she knows it too.

Apr 13

Strong in a crisis

We all think we’ll be tough.  We’ll be strong, when we need to be.  If the chips are down, we’ll stand up to the challenge.  At least, I did.

But the truth is that I completely crumbled.

Marc was working from home today, and so I roped him into kid pick up.  It’s a two hour process, and whenever possible, I like to make him do it.  So I stayed home with Julianna and Maxwell (a friend’s little boy that I’ve been keeping an eye for a few weeks).  Marc picked up Sam at school and delivered him home, and then drove up the street to get Jessica.

Jessie goes to the middle school that’s less than a mile away.  Certainly close enough to walk, but because we’re usually running from one activity to another after school, it’s just as easy for me to pick up every day.  I pick up Sam, then we go pick up Jessie, then we go pick up Harrison, and then we drop off wherever and finally end up at home.  Because I was here, Marc was able to drop Sam off here (usually I keep him with me, and we do homework while waiting for Jessie).  Long story short, Marc is waiting outside of the school, in his car, and Jessie never showed up.

He called me, and I sent him into the school to get her.  He called me again, and told me that nobody could find her.  Where did I drop her off this morning?  Did I know for sure that she made it into school?  His cell phone service was spotty, so we kept getting cut off, but I did get that nobody knew where my daughter was, and possibly hadn’t known for hours.

At this point, Harrison was waiting to get picked up, so I tossed everyone in the car to go get him.  Desperately trying to not cry, to not panic.  To not picture all of the worst case scenarios that were running thru my brain.  Did she actually make it into the building?  I had dropped her off at the front door, and I knew damn well that my daughter wasn’t the kind of kid to skip – but maybe someone had grabbed her.  It’s a middle school, with bigger, tougher kids, and she’s Jewish, maybe there was something going on there – was she being tormented and bullied?  Was she lost, alone and scared, wondering if we’d find her?

Then Marc called, and she was fine.  He had her, it was okay.  She had come out of school, hadn’t seen the van, and didn’t think to look for Marc.  She started walking home, and then one of her friends drove by and told her that her dad was back at the school, so she started walking back to school.  She’s got blisters on her feet, and an overactive imagination – so she freaked herself out thinking that something awful had happened to prevent me to from getting her, but no lasting damage was done.

Except that I think I’m probably never going to be able to forget that ten or fifteen minutes.  When I knew that, without her, I would completely fall apart.  There would be no illusion that I’d be stoic and strong, I was a heartbeat away from screaming at the idea that she had been taken.  It’s two hours later, and I’m still feeling like I survived some sort of trauma.

 

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