Snow Day

I like my family.

I know that seems obvious – but I love that we can get trapped in the house, no way out, and there’s no place I’d rather be.  There’s two parents here, so if the kids start to get crazy, we can divide and conquer.  The kids are, in and of themselves, old enough to amuse themselves independently so that Marc can chill out and read his economics articles, I can read a novel or two, I made a huge chicken soup that Marc and Jessie both loved.

I don’t take this for granted – the idea that the five of us are a family.  We missed having Lilli and Sarah here, and it would have been just as good, but different if they were here.  But the five of us click together, in a way that I’ve never really experienced before and I love it.  It’s just peaceful and relaxed and lovely.

 

 

Sisters

Why don’t they get along?

I don’t remember fighting with my sister.  I just don’t.  What I do distinctly remember is my mother saying that she never fought with her siblings the way that my siblings and I fought – and hating it.  So I won’t say that to my girls.

But I will admit that the constant and unending sibling rivalry between these two girls – who are basically mirror images of each other – physically, emotionally and spiritually, separated by seven years – is exhausting.  They both feel like they are the victim, that I favor the other one, that they are completely innocent and the other one is totally wrong, all the live long day.

And then it’ll flip, and they’ll remember that they like each other, and Jessie will do something so sweet for Julie, or Julie will do something adorable for Jessie – and it’ll be blissful.  For five minutes.

Sam stays mostly out of the loop.  In part because he spends a lot of time in his bedroom, and in part because he doesn’t really compete with them.  He’s the boy – he’s grubby and usually in his underwear, he doesn’t share toys or watch the same shows, or like the same things..  He doesn’t always get along with them, but mostly he just ignores them.  Or they ignore him.  He’s close with both of them, in some ways.  Jessie tends to go in and hang out on his bed, while he’s at his desk, and Julie still idolizes him… but there’s more of a distance there now.

 

 

End of an Era – February Vacation Edition

This is the last February vacation with Lilli at home.  Next year, Sarah and Glennys will have their licenses.   Jessie will be in high school.

And can I confess, I’m kind of excited?

I’ve had a lot of February vacations like this – Jessie’s in eighth grade this year, which means this is my ninth February vacation with this group of girls, and my Sam and my Julie.  My February vacations have revolved around these girls, and Sam and Julie have been along for the ride.  There was a critical mass of girls – and the two little ones were happy to go along for the ride.

But now… I’m sensing the end of it all.  Next year, Lilli won’t be around.  Even if she comes home for every vacation and devotes hours to hanging out at our house… mid-February won’t be when she’s at home.  Sarah and Glennys will be driving.  They won’t need me to bring them to playgrounds and out for ice cream cones.   It’ll be a whole new world.

 

Relief

While there is so much about Sam’s life that is BETTER now – he’s not in any pain.  Right off the bat – that is the biggest and most amazing improvement since the accident.  Nothing hurts now.  But there are two lingering after-affects of the accident, and they aren’t going away.

The first is obviously his vision.  He’s legally blind, and it impacts him in a lot of different ways. He’s adjusted to it so well, so well that it’s hard sometimes to remember that he can’t see that much in front of him.  But the reality is that he is still seriously visually impaired, and while I think it’s improving, slowly, slowly, slowly – you could make compelling argument that it isn’t improving, it’s just that he’s getting better at handling it, and adjusting to the disability.

The other problem is his sense of taste.  He was on a really strong medication, diamox, immediately after the diagnosis, and the bitter irony is that it didn’t appear to work at all at what we needed it to do.  It was supposed to reduce the pressure, and it didn’t.  Which is what led to the possibly permanent damage to his optic nerves.  What it did was kill his sense of taste.  It got worse and worse, until eventually he went eleven days without eating any solid food.

We were able to take him off the meds post-surgery, and his neurologist confirmed that his taste buds were essentially destroyed by the medicine.  They’ll regenerate – but she predicted that it would be better within six to eight weeks.  We’re going on on six to eight months now, and food is still an enormous issue for him.  There’s psychological trauma we’re dealing with – on several fronts.  Academically, because he was already dealing with some massive anxiety and school based phobia prior to the accident, and then the accident happened, which led to a whole other level of trauma and medical fears.  Added onto that, dealing with a disability and losing the ability to eat…

Suffice it to say – he’s got a lot to work through.  The food is the most immediate and most obvious – and in some ways the most challenging.  He’s so much better – it’s moved from him eating nothing at all, to him being my pickiest eater.  There are a LOT of things that he’ll eat now, but he doesn’t LOVE to eat the way that he used to.  And what he does is find one thing that he likes, and eats that, only that, every day for three weeks or so.  Then there’s this panic for an afternoon or a full day, where he’s sick of whatever that food is, and has no idea what he’ll eat next.

That’s what today was… and it was hard.  He wasn’t furious or raging, he was just sad and scared.  We got thru it, and he agreed to try a bowl of cheerios.  He loved it, and had two more bowls after that, so we’re safe for another couple of weeks.  He can eat a wider variety of things, and I just have to keep reminding him, and reassuring him that he’s okay, there is a whole list of things that he can eat and enjoy.

But for today – he’ll eat cheerios.  And life is good.

This is fourteen

It’s not quite adult.  Not quite.

But it’s closer than it’s ever been before and you know it’s right around the corner.  She still trusts me for everything, she still thinks that my opinion is the one that counts and I’m still her first call.  I hope it stays that way – I hope that her world broadens and brightens and that she still comes back to me.

Jessica Mary is my first child, and in some ways, she’s different from the other two.  Of course, they’re all different – there are ways in which Sam is different and ways in which Julie is different, and while I love all three of them more than I can express, I have a different and intimate relationship with each one.

Jessie is the baby that turned me into Mama.  She fundamentally changed everything about the way I looked at life the way I approached decisions, the way I thought about the future and the way I looked at the past.  She’s my baby girl, my right arm, and one of the best and brightest parts of my life.  At fourteen, she’s beautiful and smart, and one of the funniest people I know.  She’s infuriating and dramatic, and there’s nobody who can make me madder faster than my daughter.

We’re entering into a new stage in our lives, with Lilli graduating high school this year.  Now, we’re going to start subtracting kids, instead of adding them.  Our Shabbat dinner table will get a little smaller, and I feel the clock ticking on the rest of them now.  In a way that I didn’t before this year.  Fourteen years is only four years away from eighteen.

She’s still my baby.  I know now that it doesn’t change.  She’s always going to be my baby.  She’s always going to fit in my arms, perfectly, and she’s always going to make me laugh harder than anyone, and frustrate me and fight me.  She’s never going to do anything the easy way, she’s going to question everything.  She’s got goals and dreams and can waste an entire weekend on instagram and pinterest.

Happy birthday, my baby.  Happy birthday, my big tall girl who’s so much smarter and prettier than she realizes.  Happy birthday to one of the best parts of my life.

This is what fifteen years looks like

I don’t know that I ever thought being married for fifteen years was a possibility.  I think it was something I thought other people did – get married and stay that way forever.

But here we are.  Five kids (or three, depending on who’s counting).  A fat little epileptic dog, a teenager researching the North Korean/China relationship, a ten year old building creations on minecraft, and six year old who just graduated to chapter books yesterday.  A trip out for coffee and grocery shopping as the celebration – because between blizzards and a new job, there’s no time for anything else.

A lot has changed in fifteen years.  I think when we first got together, nobody, including us, thought it would last.  He was newly divorced, I was almost immediately pregnant.  He was five years older, Jewish, and even though we grew up less than an hour away from each other, neither of us had ever been to the other’s hometown.

But from the very beginning, I’ve never wanted anything other than him.  We’ve never not shared that same vision – of what our life could be, of what really matters, and what we were willing to sacrifice to get there.  It’s not just the five kids, the ones that he brought to the marriage and the ones we created together.  It’s not just the Shabbat dinners every week, the books read out loud, the family day trips and the days when we’re snowed in and can’t leave the house.  It’s not just the coffee that he makes every night and pours for me every morning.  It’s not the laundry or the Patriots games I suffer through every fall and winter.  It’s not the science projects, the D&D games with our son.  It’s not the nights in the hospital, the times we held our son down for medical treatment and cried in each other’s arms afterwards.

It’s not the flowers he brings me once or twice a year, or the way he cleans off my car after a storm.  It’s not the way that he cleans the vomit, or solves Jessie’s math homework when I gave up three years ago.

It’s all of that.

Marriage isn’t easy.  Everyone says that, and mostly, I agree. But on a really core level, it’s not about easy or hard – it’s the foundation for everything else.  It’s what my life is built on, the dreams for the future, the backbone of the memories and the undercurrent of my present day.  It’s how I survive the hard things, and why the fun stuff is so much more fun.  I work at our marriage, and so does he – but mostly, we do take it for granted.  We can, because it’s such an unquestioned and absolute reality of our lives.  Our kids don’t wonder about our marriage, their reality is that Daddy loves Mama and vice versa.  I never wonder if he wants me to call or check in during the day, because of course he does.

Fifteen years looks… the truth is that I had no idea what fifteen years of marriage would look like.  But my life, this life, with this man, and these kids, looks like everything I dreamed of having, and never really believed would be possible.

 

Always a new mom

You know the new mom?  The inexperienced one, the one who has that scared-I-don’t-really-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-here look on her face?  I’m that mom.  All the time.

Yes, I’m 43 years old, and I’ve been a big sister for 41 of those years.  I started babysitting at ten, and by the time I was sixteen, I was watching kids overnight by myself.  I had six nieces and nephews before I had my Jessie.  I knew how to do the basics – I had the diapers, the burping, the napping down pat.

But I still don’t know what I’m doing.  I still feel totally, totally unprepared for this.  Not with Sam and Julie.  Even when I have completely new experiences with them – like the accident, for example. I had no experience with a seriously injured child, no experience with hospital stays and how to get a kid to take tons of medicine.  But I was still an experienced mom to that child.  I knew my son.  I knew who he was and how to communicate with him.  I had been a mom to a nine year old before.

With Jessie – I’m always a new mom.  Always.  I never really know what I’m doing – I’m just feeling my way thru it.  I make mistakes all the time and I’m always a little shocked when the next milestone pops up.

She’s almost in high school.  High school.  Let’s take a minute and sit with that.

This baby girl – the one who made me a mom, the one who changed my whole world around, the one who I can still picture as a tiny little girl who fit in my arms like she was born to be there (because she was) – that tiny little thing is old enough to walk into high school.  Where she’ll be taking AP classes, and the expectation is that she can dual enroll in college.  She’s there.  She’s ready for it.

And I’m sitting there, in the dark auditorium, watching her 8th grade chorus performing with the high school one, and thinking to myself that I’m not ready for this.  I’m not prepared.  It was two seconds ago that I was sitting in a similar chair, watching her preschool graduation.  She was voted “Most Kind.”  That memory made me cry tonight. I watched her, standing up there, surrounded by a whole bunch of kids I didn’t recognize, and she was so grown up. I can’t… I struggle to figure out what I’m feeling and how I can process the fact that this little baby girl, the one who fit in my hands, is on the cusp of adulthood and I still feel just as baffled, as swept away and overwhelmed with love and pride and confusion and oh-my-God-I-hope-I-don’t-screw-this-up feeling as I did almost fourteen years ago.

Part of it is that she’s almost fourteen.  I’m less than a week away – and birthdays in general make me emotional.  I get weepy every February, July, and April.  I cry at every performance – every parent’s day observation at dance class, every time I watch a concert or a Model UN conference.  There’s something amazing to me, to see your child out  in the world that she’s created, with people I don’t know and doing things I didn’t teach her.

High school.  I’m not ready for this.  She is, but I’m not.

Notes from a snowy weekend

Friday night, we have Shabbat dinner.  Every Friday.  We almost always have Lilli and Sarah with us, but this Friday, they were with my in-laws.  It’s hard, to try and make Friday special when the girls aren’t here, and I had gift cards from Christmas… so Marc and I took the three kids to Applebees.

Sam’s a mess when it comes to restaurants – and it’s always hit or miss if he’ll be able to find anything he likes or if he’ll panic and need to leave.  We don’t go out to restaurants, really.  In part because it’s cheaper to eat at home, but mostly because he’s really not able to do restaurants.  We took two cars, so if it got ugly, I could just slip out without disrupting everyone.  He was nervous, and tried to back out – but I’ve gotten pretty good at anticipating, reacting with a minimum of fuss, and being as subtle and reassuring as possible.  He got in the car, hesitated about going in, hesitated about going in, and then was a little anxious about waiting for the table.  But thank goodness Applebees has the little video game thing at the table, and he tried (and LOVED) the mozzarella sticks – so Friday night counted as a win.

Saturday, I went into work, Marc brought Julie to the synagogue and Jessie and Sam stayed home.  I got home just as the snow was starting to fall, and Marc got home soon afterwards.  We got close to six inches and snuggled in all afternoon.  We watched movies, knitted and crocheted, played board games, and took naps.  The older kids split off into their bedrooms, and Julie usually hangs out with us, or in her play area in the dining room.  She’s got half the dining room as her own little space, with baby doll beds, dollhouses and doctor kits all carefully arranged.

Sunday morning, it was still icy and Julie was coughing a lot, so we stayed in.  Confession time – I’ve never taken my kids sledding.  I don’t like the cold.  And last year – I felt guilty enough to buy them all sleds… just in time for the mildest winter in forever.  So we didn’t go last year – and then on Sunday, nobody much wanted to head out.  Jessie went to the synagogue for a USY thing, and Marc went grocery shopping and took Sam to Toys R Us to spend a Christmas gift card – but other than that, it was another quiet, snuggly sort of day.

 

Resolutions for the New Year

I feel like I’m starting over.  Or starting back.  My life is no longer in trauma.  This is the anniversary of the time when things started to get really dark for Sam last year.  It was the beginning of January that he stopped going to school.  And while I’ve got little desire to look back, I do know that my body is aware of the anniversary.  I feel the tension, the awareness of what I was doing, what he was doing, at this time last year.

All that being said – we’re back to a place that I recognize.  Where the kids are all well (we define “well” a little differently now for Sam), the husband is good, my life is mine again.  I wake up happy.  So, in light of moving on, of starting to embrace the life I’ve built… here are some New Year’s Resolutions for 2017.

1 – Get back to the things that matter.  I used to be more involved with volunteering, at the schools, at the synagogue.   I pulled away from all of it last year, and I don’t regret it.  But I also think that (to quote my favorite fictional President Jeb Bartlett) decisions are made by those who show up.  So I’m showing up.  I went to my first PTG meeting in a long time last night, and may have possibly agreed to co-chair the spring dance, and represent the school at monthly city-wide meetings.  I’m working on setting reasonable limits, like suggesting that we assemble a sub-committee to plan to dance, and get a list of parents to rotate attending meetings.  But I’m getting involved again, and I’m happy about it.

2 – Step back from the immediacy of parenting, and try and think about what I’ll wish I had done.  Does that make sense?  Putting Julie to bed is one example.  I snuggle her to bed, we curl up together, watch something on netflix and then I lay next to her and read facebook while she goes to sleep.  And sometimes – it takes forever and I get impatient.  I’m trying to remember that it won’t last forever.  Not only won’t it last forever – I have no idea how long I’ll have with her like this.  Things change, in an instant, and I won’t get this time back again.  I rub her back and tell her how much I love her, and stories about what she was like when she was little.  I kiss her hair and squeeze her a little extra, because life is too damn short not to do it when you can.

3 – Remember, always, that educating Sam is a long and winding road.  That he’s a brilliant child, and one of my jobs is to make sure that he’s challenged and engaged, and that he knows how to learn.  We’re not on anyone else’s schedule, and he’s been thru an enormous amount of trauma in the last year.  What I need to do now is focus on repairing and rebuilding his desire to learn, his confidence in himself, and feed that insatiable appetite he has for new information.

4 – Jessie’s entering into some of the most exciting years of her life.  Decisions she makes over the next four years will impact almost everything about her future.  She’s laying the groundwork now for the life she wants, and I want to give her all the support and structure and freedom, as well as limits, to do that.  She’s so thoughtful about it, so aware of what she wants and who she is and where she wants to go.  I need to nurture that, to remember to get out of her way when that’s what’s right, and when to step in and wrestle control back when she needs that.  Raising Jessie will always be somewhat scary and new to me, I’ve never done this before.  But I’m in awe of who she is, of what she’s accomplished and the way she walks in the world, and I want to really pay attention to that.

5 – Walk that little dog more.  Lucky is lazy – there’s no denying it.  He’d always rather curl up in the sunshine and nap, but he needs more.  Sam needs more too – so my goal is to walk both of them a lot more.  Once it’s warmer, though – because nobody wins when I have to be outside in the cold.

6 – Pay attention to Marc.  He gets lost sometimes – because the other needs are so immediate.  But it’s too easy sometimes to live these parallel lives, where he does his thing, and I do mine, and sometimes we have coffee in the mornings together.  I don’t want to look back at the end of twenty four years of raising children together (the birth of Jessie and Julie’s 18th birthday) and see a stranger.  We’re going on fifteen years of marriage (!!!) this year, and he’s still the best and brightest part of my life.  I don’t always take the time to think about that.

 

No 2016 Retrospective

Because really, the thought of going back through the year and picking out my favorite blog posts from each month is too much.  This was a hard year.  It’s still hard.  I can’t look back.  There’s too much pain there, and I can’t revisit it.

There were major bright spots.  We got Lucky, and that’s been an unqualified positive.   This dog is the sweetest, most passive and laid back, cuddliest little creature I’ve ever seen.  Getting a dog was such a brilliant idea, and I’m forever grateful for having him, and what’s he’s meant for all three of my kids.  And for me – I love this dog.

Each one of my kids grew up a lot this year.  Jessie grew up, a lot.  She assumed more responsibility than I ever wanted for her, and is the most empathetic, loving and aware teenager I know.  She’s grown into this amazing, funny, smart person – and it’s not an exaggeration to say that she’s one of my closest allies.  Julianna finished up kindergarten, and bopped into first grade like it was nothing, and has thrived, absolutely thrived in that environment. She lost her brother, on a real level, this year, and is slowly, slowly getting him back.  She’s learned more than I ever wanted to about how to support someone you love when their world is crumbling, and I’m so proud of her.

My Sammy – I don’t have words to describe what he’s been thru this year.  He’s lost almost everything, and been thru unimaginable trauma and fear.  Even now, seven months later, his life is incredibly different from it was before.  He’s staggered me, over and over again, with how strong and brave and resilient he is.  He handles it – whatever it is.  Whether it’s the loss of vision, not being able to see the board games, or the television or the computer games he used to love, the loss of his taste buds, not being able to just grab some cereal or enjoy Halloween candy or his chocolate advent calendar my mother gets every year, or the very real loss of the ability to walk thru the doors of his school – he’s found a way to take the incredibly difficult and make it okay.

Marc has struggled beside me all year long.  He’s been my other half – I’d maybe have been able to get thru it without him, but I can’t imagine how.  He’s what made it possible for me to do what I did this year, to raise these kids, to get them through the most challenging year of their lives… he never wavered, he was never not exactly what I needed at any point.  I’ve never not loved him, I’ve never not wanted him at my side – but this year – this was the year when I knew beyond any doubt that our marriage was the foundation for everything.  Everything we do is possible because of that.

So no retrospective this year.  I won’t look back, but just forward.  2016 is a year I’ll never forget, and one that I’m incredibly happy to say is over.  The rewards were huge, but the price was way, way too high.