Monday, December 3, 2012

A New Day

“Dear God…thank you for the food in our bellies, and our warm house to sleep in.  And please, God, hold my hand while I sleep and not make me have any nightmares.  And please help me to have a good day at school tomorrow.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

Every night.  Every single night these are the words that Ben sends up to God.   Okay maybe a few small additions here and there depending on his mood…but for the most part, his big concerns weighing on his sweet little heart at night are (1) uninterrupted sleep and (2) a good day in school.  And for him they are big, big worries. 

Ben with his little monkey circus of snuggle buddies.
I’ve spent so many evenings kneeling at his bedside, convincing him that he will get through the night peacefully.  That his magic blanket and God holding his soft little hand will keep him protected and asleep until morning.  I know how frightened he is each night.  I too suffered through frequent nightmares.  I taught him a few years ago, what was passed down to me by my grandma…if you pray to God and ask him to hold your hand while you sleep you will dream peacefully.  It worked on me so I had to try with my Ben.  It worked.  Sometimes.  Adding the weighted blanket to bedtime also helped tremendously.  The two together have given him something to believe in and have lead to much more restful nights than in the past.   He hands that worry over to God and that warm brown blanket every blessed evening.   That improved rest is truly a gift and is aiding him in his second most important quest…to have a good day at school. 

They did a writing project where they shared what they are scared and brave about: "i am Brave uve the Darck."
Ben has been through quite a bit in recent years.  He is now in his second year in this elementary school, which is the longest he has been in one building since he was a toddler.   He has been through assessments, evaluations, observations, medications, various teachers, aids and specialists.  Sadly (or maybe not) he is just accustomed to it.  He’s been in and out of psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist, school principal’s offices more times than he can likely count.  Although, now that I think about it he probably could give me a fairly accurate tally.  It’s his world.  It’s been his world.  Why?  All in a quest to get an answer.  To get a label.  To get help.  God, we needed that label.  To guide us.  To validate my gut feeling…to make me feel sane.  Today we learned that due to a significant change to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), there no longer IS an Asperger’s diagnosis.   There goes the label.  The label we just worked so hard to determine.  There is some hubbub around this change.  Some fearful.  Some thankful.  Some identify so strongly with the label and have taken it on as a part of their being.  God, I get that.  Part of me feels like I should be more concerned with this change.  Maybe once I know more.  But for now, I go back to the reason for getting that label to begin with: help. 

This fall we finally had Ben’s first IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting.  After having heard and read multiple horror stories, I won’t lie…I went in with guns a blazin’.  Ready to fight for Ben.  Not a bad thing, I suppose.  Turns out, after all, we got pretty lucky.  Our school psychologist is a phenomenal caring and very thorough woman.  His teacher is bright, observant and very flexible.  His speech therapist is fabulous as well.  In first grade there aren’t many academic accommodations necessary but they’re now doing social language therapy with him.  They have purchased a weighted blanket for his classroom.  His teacher has made adjustments to her timed tests for Ben.  They want to see him succeed too.  It was quickly apparent how fond they all were of my baby.  He makes them smile.  He makes them proud.  They look forward to engaging with their “little old man”.   I know for certain not all families can say they’ve been blessed with such resources.   I’m grateful.  Completely.  Truly.

So for some, it’s the label.  For me, it’s access to resources.  For Ben…well for him, simply put, it’s about having a good day.   He doesn’t know what Asperger’s is.  Whether the label exists or not he DOES know when kids aren’t nice to him.  He knows when they don’t want to play what HE wants to play.   He knows when his teacher is frustrated with him.  He knows when he just wants to barricade himself in a corner and can’t.  He knows he wants to bring home a good citizenship grade every day.   More often than not, he doesn’t.  He typically spends our ride home explaining what his warnings were for.  I work so hard to reassure him that the grade he gets each day for his behavior doesn’t equal his worth.  He spends his afternoon decompressing, reading, playing video games just to forget the chaos of the classroom.  He often goes to bed begging me not to make him go to school the next day.  And I smile, and kiss his sweet face and tell him tomorrow is a new day.  A new day with a new chance.  A new chance to make friends…to finish the math test…to not put his hands on his friends…to not get upset about eraser marks on his spelling test…to not cut in line.  It’s worth getting up every single day to get that chance again, isn’t it? 

Decompressing with some Angry Birds after a rough day at school.
This is one of many shots I've captured of him
running up the school steps in the morning.
He thinks so.  Despite his frustration and fear each night at bedtime, that boy rises with determination.  Not always with a smile…typically, he’s actually quite exasperated from dealing with me by 8am and ready to get the day started.  And THAT day, EVERY day, starts with this boy bounding, dare I say sprinting, down the sidewalk and up the steps to his school doors.   And every day it gets me…with that damn lump in the throat.   Despite his daily difficulty and never-ending struggles just to get from 9am to 3pm he attacks the day with such fervor that I find myself sitting in my car…watching with tears.  Admiring his enthusiasm.  Ignoring the impatient drivers behind me creeping closer to my bumper.  Asking myself each time…”why don’t I do that?”  Why when I get up and move myself to prepare for the day do I not have that same resolve?  To face my anticipated struggles head on…determined to take advantage of new chances and a fresh start?   Some days watching his determined, stinky little self race his brother to the top of the steps really makes me want to do better.  To be better.   To run toward MY day.   And I am grateful for every new day…every fresh start. 

Do you run toward YOUR day?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Spirit vs. Santa

Last weekend marked the annual Christmas season kick-off in our household. Unlike last year, I’ve found myself surprisingly eager to dive into the holly and tinsel. Something nostalgic has struck me and I’ve felt some of my fonder childhood memories sneak upon me without notice. I won’t complain…after my last Christmas season teetering between complete apathy and borderline contempt I’ll take the almost-giddy that this year brings. Maybe it’s the meds…God knows they’ve helped. Maybe it’s the trip to Jamaica that awaits the gentleman and me on December 26th. Or maybe it’s witnessing my own babies grow and mature…learning what the true spirit of Christmas means to them.

Of course, to me the true spirit extends beyond Santa. This year Ben is the only child remaining who believes in the jolly old elf. It broke my heart last year to learn that Timmy was the next to go down. Libby had taken it upon herself to enlighten him. She is my realist, after all. I’m not lying when I say I’ve threatened her with creepy-and-potentially-haunted-basement seclusion if she chooses to ruin the Santa fantasy for my Ben. I’ve got to get a few more years of mystical wonder and sleepless Christmas Eves out of that one.

In our years as a family we’ve begun to build a very special Thanksgiving weekend tradition. The day after our turkey indulgence we dig all of our holiday decorations from hiding, dust off our mantle, clear a space for our tree and turn this house into a warm, glowing Christmas wonderland. As the holiday draws near I start to do that wondrous Clark Griswold thing. You’ve been there right? Where you build expectations for events up in your mind that no one can possibly live up to? Yeah. That’s me. Every year. It never fails that I imagine the children nicely dressed in their finest jeans and tidy holiday sweaters, bustling about the house, stowing away toys and clutter without gripe, assisting with tree decoration with the precision of an engineer, complete with smiles and amicable mood. “Yes ma’am” and “I love you, momma” dripping from their mouths.

Cue condescending laughter.

I know I know. It never turns out the way I imagine. The jeans and sweater, well that’s just silly. Hell I spent the whole day in my dang hoody and yoga pants. So you can bet your sweet ass that these babies were running around in their undies and old grimy t-shirts. Fine. I can accept that.

The amicable mood and eagerness to put their toys away and make room for the tree that, let’s face it, I’ll end up decorating FOR them? Yeah. Not so much. An instant and never-ending fight, particularly with the girl. LORD where did she get her bull-headed-ness? Probably the gentleman.

On Friday, after getting our live tree set in our living room it was time to set up a tree for the kids in our attic, aka their Wii/LEGO/play room. The girl had been asked the day before to please clean up the attic before our Thanksgiving dinner guests arrived. She had assured us that it had in fact been done. Upon further inspection the next day it appeared as though said cleaning actually meant all loose objects in the attic were stowed in the nearby coat closet. Crafty, that girl. I know that trick though. Been there, been busted for that.

After a lengthy argument, complete with threat of grounding and the like, the girl stomped to her room in tears, insisting that she NOT have to clean the attic any further. Now…I took a few moments to myself after this argument to ponder this first-world issue of hers. I mean really…why SHOULD she have to clean (and by clean I mean straighten and organize an already sanitized space) the THIRD floor of our home, where she gets to play all of the Wii games she can imagine, tinker on the computer, play games on her cell phone and record silly videos on our tablet? How wicked of me to have such an expectation. Does she realize how good she has it? Does she know that most kids aren’t as lucky? That neither her dad nor I grew up with such things? That many of her classmates may never have these luxuries? I want her to realize that. Don’t I?

It’s a balance isn’t it? We raise our babies with the deepest desire of fulfilling their needs and hoping they never go without necessities. Sometimes going a little overboard, living out our own childhood fantasies through our children. Giving them what we never had. But do we do it to a fault? I do want her to know that there are children who are hard-pressed to have one Christmas tree, much less three. We are blessed beyond belief.

I soon found myself obsessing over my failure as a parent to ensure that my kids don’t become indignant sloths, expecting blessings to be handed to them on their tarnished silver platter. Granted, there are kids much more spoiled than mine, who live in a world far more indulgent and blind to the needs of society’s vulnerable. We participate in Angel Tree gift giving each year and take the kids with us to buy presents for our “angels” so that they understand the importance of such programs and realize how lucky they are. But maybe…clearly…we need to do more.

The next day we had made plans to take the kids to a show in the city, followed by dinner and a nighttime stroll around our Circle of Lights. Although the outings I remember as a kid didn’t necessarily involve a show and dinner, I DO remember the wonder of walking downtown and seeing the intricately decorated store windows and the giant, vibrant tree of lights in our beautiful city’s epicenter. I want OUR kids to have these memories too. The afternoon started with a live presentation of “A Christmas Carol”…the first our kids have attended. It was exciting to watch them experience the show. We gathered in the lobby afterward, and listened to the kids recap what they found funny, interesting and even a little scary. They giggled as they saw some of the funny characters make their way out to the crowd to greet and take pictures.

The kids’ laughter began to trail off as their stomachs began to rumble, indicating it was time to make our way through the crowd and out to dinner. Before we got to the door, I saw a few women with buckets, collecting money for a local charity. I smiled and nodded as we passed by, wishing them a Merry Christmas. As the cool evening air greeted my face, I soon realized Libby was no longer beside me. As I turned from side to side, I quickly spotted Libby behind me standing next to one of the women. Lib fumbled through her purse, quickly producing a couple of dollars to contribute to the young lady’s collection.

Huh. I wasn’t expecting that.

I squared my shoulders and took Libby’s hand as we navigated through the masses down the sidewalk. I felt quite proud of my girl at that moment and I told her as much.

"Well, Mom, I just decided this morning that I was going to bring all of the money I had in my room, downtown with us today. Because every time I’m down here I always see people on the sidewalk that probably don’t have a home or food. And I wanted to help. Like that guy we passed when we came out of the parking garage. Did you see him, Mom? Did you??”

I shook my head. I hadn’t noticed him.

“His jacket was SO thin and I just KNOW he had to be cold. It’s SO cold today! I mean…I know my dollar won’t buy him a warm coat but at least it’s something, right, Mom?”

“So you handed him some money? I mean, Libby you have to be careful when you do that down here...were you careful? I’ve had friends mugged for pulling wallets out to give money, Libby.”

“Yes, Mom…Dad was right there…he knew what I was doing and he kept an eye on me.”

I was speechless. My daughter was teaching ME about kindness. And giving. And caring for each other. And she gets that even when you can’t give a lot, every dollar adds up. She has it in her heart, that girl.

I didn’t say much at dinner. I just watched. I watched my kids laugh, and try new food, and share funny stories. I witnessed them making those memories I remember from MY childhood. I did my best to capture some pictures of them as we walked around the Circle, taking in the hustle and bustle of Christmas in the city. It’s without a doubt one of my very favorite places to be.

As the kids grew tired and the gentleman began to grow icicles from his nose, we chose to head back to the car. We came to the door of the parking garage and I quickly heard the jingle of the Salvation Army bell. Without hesitation, Lib reached into her purse for her last couple of dollars, smiled at the lady with the bright red smock, wished her a Merry Christmas and slipped the crisp folded bills into the bucket. I smiled and gave my sweet daughter a hug as we dodged cars lining up to exit. And as I slid into the front seat of our car, I couldn’t hold back the warm tears forming under my eyes.

All I want is for my children to equate the Christmas season with family and laughter and light and giving…not with new iPods or the coolest new jeans or gym shoes. Money comes and goes. We may have it next year. Or we may not. But rich or poor, family time and generosity remains. And by God, I think she gets it. Maybe I’m not failing after all.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Godspeed, Little Man

I will never forget the moment I met the sweetest boy in my world.   His coal black corn silk hair and scrunched red chubby face won my heart and took my labored breath away the moment he was draped across my chest.  As his eyes began adjusting to the clinical lights and lungs to the crisp, cool air, I fell in love.  Hard. 

 This wasn’t my first rodeo…my vibrant, rambunctious 18 month old Libby Lou was anxiously awaiting her new brother from afar.   Amazingly enough, I found that the rumors were true…that I COULD love two babies equally and just as much if not more than I imagined. 

I’m not sure that I could have given birth to three less identical children.  Not necessarily in looks…the oldest and youngest are quite similar in that regard.  But in personality…whew!   God broke the mold when he made each one of them.   I’ve shared with you about my Lib…she is bold and witty and snarky and smart as a whip.  Ben…well he’s my little old man, my little professor.  He’s serious and exasperated and irritated and charming and can make me crack a smile at the least opportune moment. 

But my Timothy…true enough, I’ve not shared much about him.  You see, he tends to hide amongst the chaos.  He is the chameleon in our home of strong personalities.  He chooses his battles and is comfy cozy and quiet in the back seat when the bottom falls out in our world.  He’s a watcher, a listener, a learner…from way back.  He takes the heat when need be but rarely gets any glory.  Sad to say, as his mother, I’ve unfortunately allowed him to play that role entirely too long. 

 As my forever-content and satiated child, I rarely see an agitated drive or determination rise up in him.  While I’m quite the opposite, I’ve let Timmy be who he is.  There is a lot of merit in living a life you are simply happy with…able to find the pleasure and satisfaction in what is already amongst you.  God, I love and downright envy him for that.

But guess what.  He found that drive.   The desire.  The inspiration.   And I got to witness this in him…to see him grow and find himself.  (As much as a 9 year old can)  I thank the Lord every day that I am fortunate enough to have been chosen and placed on this earth as his momma.  What a lucky girl I am. 

When we moved to our current home, our new town, Timmy was only six and finishing first grade at his old school.  We were looking for ways to integrate these kids into our new community.  Knowing what a small town this is and how “local-yocal-politics” and favoritism can unfortunately impact a child’s experience in said town’s small school system, we thought it best to get them involved early.    Right about that time we discovered the school offered a junior football league.  Perfect.  Right??  Maybe.  I mean…we had attempted soccer which for all intents and purposes was a joke.  He learned more about picking daisies and watching planes than he did about the game itself.   We discovered early that he hasn’t an aggressive or competitive bone in his sweet little brown-bear body.   So why WOULDN’T we opt for football, right?  RIGHT??

Worth a shot. 

To my surprise he was actually quite excited about the prospect of donning pads and a helmet and GOD love those cute little fat-butt football pants.  GAH.  My ovaries were doing cartwheels just thinking about how cute his fat head would be out on that field.  I was…at that moment…becoming a football mom.  I truly believe I was born to be such…just hadn’t yet experienced the revelation. 

 He spent his second grade season learning the basics of the game.  Skipped around to various positions, not quite finding the perfect fit but still….learning.  We knew early on we wouldn’t  likely hear his name announced at games for gaining yards or sacking QBs.  But again…he was learning.  That’s what is important right?  His first year…this is to be expected.  A few questioning glances between the gentleman and I at his last couple of games left us wondering if this was really the right fit.  But damn if that boy didn’t run off the field as excited as day one, eagerly sharing that the league also had an all-star team that would begin after regular season.  And you guessed it…he was SO hoping to be picked.  Can I tell you how difficult it is to encourage a child yet keep his feet on the ground all at the same time?

As I suspected there was no request for Timmy to join all-stars in second grade.  Was he crushed?  Devastated.  Completely.  He pouted for a few days…but one morning he awoke with this new determination.  Something I’ve not seen out of him before.  It may have only been September but he sure as hell had a game plan for the following July when he joined the third grade team.  Surely then…then he could play well enough to get chosen for all-stars.  He got his own football and practiced every chance he could.  With the gentleman…with friends…even with his stinky little brother. 

And by God, he was ready and fired up when the 3rd grade junior league registration rolled around.  “Pumped” would certainly be an understatement.  He was to be a Raven…received his vibrant violet jersey and his helmet.  He was ready to prove himself.  Well…

 We saw some improvement.  The coach that year was pushing him harder, expecting more from him, putting him in tougher circumstances on the field.  And while he seemed a little more proficient, he still lacked the gumption, the get-up-and-go, the UMPH.  God love that kid, it was as though he perpetually had poop creeping out of his ass every single time he attempted to run.   Bent over, thighs together, limp wrists…<hangs head in utter resignation>.   The poor boy, despite getting a more defined role on defense spent the entire offensive game on the bench…sipping, no…gulping Gatorade, eventually doing the infamous Timmy-bear pee-pee dance just waiting for his turn back out on the field.   Although his performance left something to be desired, his Ravens took it to the “superbowl” and he got to experience what it was like to be on a winning team.  And you guessed it…all-star selection came.  And it went.  And no invitation for my Timmy.  Again with the obliterated ego.  Ugh. 

But you know what he had?  He had a brand new love.  The Baltimore Ravens.  He never missed a single game.  He learned the players, the plays, all of it.  Before I knew it he was a pro on all things Baltimore.  And I’m not exaggerating when I say I do believe Timmy now knows more about the NFL than the gentleman.  Hand to God.

 Beyond watching the NFL, that boy spent the next 6-8 months studying.  He went to the library every other week through the spring and summer…checked out grown-up books on football strategy, history and the Hall of Fame pros that made it big.  He practiced a LOT.  Every day at recess Timmy could ONLY be found in the field QB-ing his playground group in a daily game of football.  He got gloves and a kicking tee for Christmas…and he used them. 

Where DID this boy come from?   I saw the 4th grade registration fast approaching and the fear in my gut told me I would have yet another opportunity to rub his back, ease his sorrow, tell him once again that he just needs to keep trying and work harder and making all-stars is BOUND to happen for him someday.  He made it through summer football camp and so came the “combine”.  I watched as he ran through all of the drills in an attempt to score high enough for a first, or hell, even a fifth round pick.  He caught a glimpse of others’ scorecards and found that he wasn’t measuring up….again.  Crushed as he was, we got through the combine.  We got our coach, our team, and we started our weekly regimen of practice practice practice. 

(Side note:  if you haven’t yet caught on that this is a HUGE football town….well it is.  So…there is that.)

Much to my surprise, Timmy wasn’t one of the worst on his team.  Dare I say, he was actually one of the better players.  Wha??  My Timmy?  This of course was all hearsay from the gentleman…so I naturally had to check this out for myself.   So I went to practice. 

Let me paint a picture for you:

Timmy is lining up on defense…linebacker…the offense snaps the ball, hands off to the running back just as Timmy does his little tippy-toe-prancing-in-place move (this was no surprise, see “limp wrists” above)…and BAM!!!!!!!!!!   Out of NO where, I see Timmy fly through the line, literally through the air, grab the ball carrier by the waist in the backfield, swinging around him and bringing him DOWN-FUCKING-TOWN.  (Excuse my French…at that moment this was in fact what I was saying in my head.)  My jaw literally hit the grass below my feet.  The gentleman to this day is remorseful that he missed my one and only speechless moment…ever.  When the hell did my child become Troy-freaking-Polamalu???  Naturally my first thought was “would it be inappropriate to drop to my knees in front of coaches and parents and thank God RIGHT NOW for this?  For him??”  I refrained.  But you bet your ass I offered to go to more practices!

Each game brought more kudos for Timmy:  “Ball carrier brought down by #15, Timothy Kasper!”  Over.  And over.  And over again…he was suddenly leading in tackles almost every game!   He was reveling in it.  Hell, I was reveling in it!   While I tried my best to simply enjoy the season for what it was, I couldn’t help anticipate the scale of Timmy’s hopes for all-stars again this year.  After ALL of his hard work…and I mean this boy played his HEART out…I could not take another disappointed boy.  He started asking when I thought all-stars would be chosen this year.  He hinted again at his aspiration to make the team.  We talked a few times about how proud I am of him and that I too hope he gets his wish…but that it’s not the most important thing.  That more than anything he can say that he made a difference this year because he TRIED…because he did the WORK…because he EDUCATED himself.  That, right there…THAT is more than so many adults can say for themselves. 

So we waited.   And we kept going.

Monday evening I chose to take him to practice and discovered ever-so-quietly (so as not to enlighten Timmy) that the all-star coach had in fact reached out to Timmy’s coach for our contact information.  I was then encouraged NOT to get my hopes up or say anything to Timmy because nothing was certain at this point.  I smiled and thanked him for that potentially exciting tidbit but inside I was thinking:
ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  At this point I’ve become as excited about the prospect of Timmy becoming an all-star that I was fit to be tied.   When is he gonna call?  Is he gonna call?  Did he make it?  He’s asking more questions.  He has his hopes up once again.  I swear to the sweet Lord above, if they crush him after all of this hard work, they will have to answer to this football momma right here.   Don’t mess with my baby’s emotions…with his heart.  This boy is ALL heart. 

Naturally, by Tuesday evening I was THIS close to losing my shit and doing all I could to keep myself busy.  I cleaned the shower, did the dishes, more laundry, dusted, made beds…and just as I began to pull the comforter from Ben’s bed I heard it.  The voicemail alert pinged from the cell phone in my pocket and I was frozen.  My shaky hand pulled the phone from jeans and an unknown number was displayed on my screen.  With a voicemail.  A VOICEMAIL.  I sat on Ben’s bed and hit the little green triangle…

“Hey this is Doug, the fourth grade all-star coach…uh…just calling because we’d like to know if Tim would be interested in joining our team.  We’d love to have him…just give me a call…”

Yeah, I didn’t hear the rest.  My eyes were welling with tears as I ran down the stairs to my office, closed the door, calmed my voice and made the call back.  All I could picture during our conversation was Timmy’s sweet face upon hearing the news.  I captured the essentials: new jersey is $35, practice Sunday, blah blah blah.  They want him.  He sacked this coach’s quarterback this season.  He was impressed.  It worked.  His determination paid off.  His lesson is learned.  My advice was validated.  It’s true.  If you work hard, and push yourself, you will be rewarded.  There are no guarantees as to when…or how…but there is a payoff for that kind of perseverance.  And GOD I’m so proud that he found that in himself.

Time for the moment of truth.

I motioned to the gentleman to join me upstairs.  He looked quizzically at me, not realizing I had spoken with the coach, but followed me nonetheless.  I shouted for Timmy to come down from the attic…standing at the bottom of the steps I asked him one last time if he would still be interested in joining the all-star team.  His sweet, exhausted eyes gave me a curious look as he muttered out a very quiet yet questioning “yes”.  My eyes again filled with tears and my voice cracked as I choked out “you’re in…you made it!”

I wish I had taken a picture of his face.  But I couldn’t very well snap the picture and catch him as he stumbled down the last two steps into my arms.   His lip quivered, and the corners of his mouth downturned…his eyes in complete disbelief.  As if I wasn’t weeping enough…gah!!  This boy!!  He cried.  I cried.   We hugged and he wiped his face, eventually giving way to the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.   He was shaking as he asked again if I was serious…if this was real.  After a few more reassuring hugs I do believe it began to sink in.  He did it.  And he knew it.  He finally got his little bit of glory.  And he earned it. 


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dear Libby...

Last weekend, my daughter and I had some special bonding time.  I chose to bring her along on a trip to stay with a good friend of mine and her two daughters.   Four hours of driving each way provided a wonderful opportunity to chat about a lot of things…some random, some funny and thankfully some quite poignant. 

As we hit the road, Libby began asking questions about our destination and hosts.

“So…how did you meet them?”

We met online…through Facebook and blogging.

“Hmmm.  How long have you guys been friends???”

Uh…hmmm…let’s see…maybe, like five or six months??  I’m not sure.  I do know that I talk to these ladies literally every day…I know them well.   And I trust them wholeheartedly.

“And…THIS…is the first time you’re going to meet them? “

You betcha. 

Yes…strange as it may seem, this would be our very first time meeting face to face.  So how do I explain the sudden and genuine friendship strong enough to pull me four hours from home, with trust enough to bring one of my children?  I know my initial answer was vague and didn’t likely scratch the surface of her curiosity.  “Let’s just enjoy our trip…have a great time…and you’ll see what I mean when we get there.”

Despite my lack of sufficient response, her questions certainly got me thinking.  I once again began inventorying every female relationship I’ve had over the years…familial, professional, academic…all the same struggle for me.   As I’ve said before, I find difficulty trusting women.  Could be mommy issues…could be bad experiences as a kid.  Who knows, really.  Truth is, it doesn’t matter what molded me.  I’m responsible for myself and how I relate with others…men OR women…today and going forward.  And my responsibility extends to my daughter.  I’M the one molding HER.  In ten years do I want her to have this same struggle?  Hell no.  Ensuring that doesn’t occur begins with my relationship with HER.  And IN that relationship I need her to know it’s important to be clear on what is expected of her and what SHE should expect of others in the context of a friendship.  I don’t know that anyone ever taught me these things.  There IS no “How to…” in relating to other girls or women for that matter…or if there is I’ve not stumbled upon it.  For me…trial and error, baby. 

From the moment we arrived, the smiles were abound and the chit-chat and laughter endless.  (That is, until about 2:00am when we realized…HA…we’re old, we need sleep.)  We talked about everything…you name it: Kids, parents, siblings, spouses, and friends…the good, bad and the ugly on friendships of the past AND present.    What have we found welcoming in friendships?  What is off-putting?  What is enjoyable?  What is downright exhausting?   As I sat there in great conversation with these women, feeling the positivity seeping from their words, the genuine desire to know more of each other, the lack of judgment or competition…I began to mentally draft a list of all things necessary in a true friendship.  I began to recall times when I did not provide these things to other friends of mine…and vice versa.  It became clear why some friendships failed and others flourished.  And I realized….THIS…this is what my daughter needs to know. 
So I wrote her a letter:

Elizabeth Rose,

I love you more than life itself and want nothing more than for you to be happy and healthy…in life, in love, and career.   You and I will always have a special bond and I would like to think that very thing will help BOTH of us get through this life with light and love.  Beyond our relationship you will also have connections with friends, other girls, women, ladies who you are sure to find steadfast, reliable and a critical part of your life as you grow old.  My hope is that you find a few great women to be those rocks for you and you for them over the years. 

Making and keeping those dear companions is not always an easy thing.  I’ve not always been as supportive or selfless as I could be.  I’ve allowed my inability to trust get in the way.  I’ve lost myself in friendships, watching my own interests, goals, and successes dissipate over time.  But I’ve learned much.  As I’ve aged I’ve determined there are a few simple yet necessary aspects to friendship that I believe will guide you toward longevity, “genuity”, and continued trust.

Reach out to your friends…see how they’re doing.  If you know they’re struggling or worrying about something in particular, be that one person who is always the first to ask.  Don’t worry about bugging them…if they don’t have time or feel like chatting, they’ll tell you.  But it will make them feel good knowing that you care.  Likewise, be quick to congratulate and help celebrate successes.

When you talk with your friends…engage.   Shut out the outside world and really listen.  We all know what it’s like to be in the middle of a conversation with someone who feigns active listening when they’re merely awaiting their opportunity to speak.   And expect the same in return.  If you’re a good friend to others and listen when they need a shoulder, it’s reasonable to expect to be able to do the same when you are in need. 

Know this…the amount of time you’ve known a friend does not determine the quality of the friendship.   You will find that over several years time you may grow apart from friends you once found dear.  You will encounter tough times in life that will truly test the elasticity and tenacity of your friendships.  THIS is where you learn what your girlfriends are made of.  You may find friends that unexpectedly come into your life with whom you form an instant and unbreakable bond.   In the face of adversity it truly does not take long to determine who is a true friend and who is not.   When you find them, hold those girls near and nourish those relationships.

ALWAYS remember to check your competitive nature at the door.  I love that you enjoy a challenge and that you don’t hesitate to step up to the table.  But your game face is for basketball or academic competitions or a card game for that matter.  NOT when you’re relating to your girlfriends.   If a friend is sharing a struggle or a victory, don’t turn it into a match.  Just. Be. There.  Be happy when things are going well and empathize when things are not.   Vice versa, do not allow friends to make you feel bad for being smart, or doing well on a test.  Nor should you feel as though you’re not measuring up to THEIR performance in any given event.  It doesn’t matter whose clothes are trendier, who has the better cell phone, who has more friends on Facebook, who gets married first, who has children, who chooses to breastfeed verses bottle feed…just know the competition will NEVER end if you allow it within your friendship.  You are you, and that is all you should ever be.  And that…is wonderful. 

And finally, and most importantly, know when to say when.  You’ll find that over time, your convictions will draw you closer and further from other women.  Don’t change those beliefs for the sake of salvaging an old friendship or creating a new one for that matter.  Know who you are.  Know what you believe in.  If a friendship, cannot withstand the test of differing values don’t compromise yourself, but know when to respectfully walk away.  Know what you deserve.  If you’re not treated respectfully, be honest about it.  Likewise, when you know you’ve wronged a friend, apologize.  Genuinely.   Be supportive of your girlfriends but understand the difference between empathizing and enabling.  There are toxic relationships out there that are good for neither involved.  It’s important to make friends a priority but never compromise your safety or sanity.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means.  As I said, I’m still learning how to build a successful friendship…I’m a work in progress.   My hope is that this will at least provide the building blocks for you to create and maintain a lasting, healthy support system.  Boys will come and go…but your girlfriends will always be your rock.  Even in marriage, you will need your girls.  As an outlet, an escape, a laugh with someone who understands, a reality check from someone who gets you…someone who will always have your back.  And someday…if and when you have a daughter, you’ll be the best role model a girl could ask for.   In some ways you’ve been mine too. 

I love you, my Libby Lou…


***This one is for all of my true girlfriends…you know exactly who you are.  Some new, some not so new.  I would never have gotten where I am without you. There are days I’m positive I would land in the fetal position under my desk if not for your ability to make me laugh. I know for a fact I’ve not told you often enough, but I love you and am so very thankful.***


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Back to School - Part II

By now the glow of the kids’ first day back to school is slowly wearing off.  It was indeed a good day.  The kids came home exhausted yet happy.  SMILING.  Even Ben.  Binders and backpacks are sprawled across my dining room table, while they chatter about teachers and classmates and first-day homework.  They’re eagerly completing the get-to-know-you questionnaires and explaining to us what to look for in their folders each night.  (Funny how quickly this optimism fades.)  So begins the balance of a full day of school and evening football and basketball practice…a season I excitedly anticipate yet am always so thrilled to see end by the time October rolls around.   

Full steam ahead. 

I say that I’m ready for them to head back to school…and while that is true, it is somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  It’s bittersweet, really.  When they are home my house is an absolute wreck, as I adequately explained in Part I.  They’re loud.  They fight.  They eat SO damn much.  They hog the television.  They need even more physical outlet at night and in the evenings from being cooped up during the day. 

Having said that…

It’s not all bad.  You see, this whole dynamic…me working from home…is quite new.  For me…for all of us.  When Libby and Timmy were little, I was a stay at home momma…until they were about 3yrs and 18 months old.  It was time.  I realized soon that staying at home was not my strength.  In my heart I was certain I would be a better mother if I could get back out there in the workforce during the day and be able to focus and appreciate my time with them more in the evenings and on the weekends.  It’s what was best for all involved at the time.  I spent nearly seven years leaving my children with a sitter or at a preschool while I drove into downtown for work every day.  I enjoyed it…but I won’t lie.  It wasn’t all butterflies and rainbows. 

When you’re a working mom, oftentimes sick babies completely consume your paid time off.  If you don’t face corrective action or termination for unplanned absences, that is.  There were many years when not a single day was taken off for anything other than croup, pukes, ear infections and the like.  No complaints, as I was thankful just to get the time…not all mommies are that lucky and I realize that whole-heartedly.  Having children in sports or any after-school activities for that matter always makes commuting a challenge.  “If I work a shift starting at 7am, I could JUST get home in time to get Timmy to practice by 5pm.  Of course that means you (the Gentleman) will need to get all three kids to school by yourself every single morning.”  And you know what…there were several years where he did that very thing.  I couldn’t have made it through those years of commuting for work without the Gentleman. 

Two years ago I worked for a utility company that operated on a 24/7 basis in times of weather crises.  When the power goes out because of a storm, we open our call center in the middle of the night if necessary.  And sometimes…it was necessary.  To this day I still cringe when I hear a clap of thunder.  I endured an ice storm that required me to remain downtown overnight, with the threat of a second night.  I realize there are people who work in industries that require this kind of work on a regular basis…but what I quickly learned was that I missed my family.  I was missing out on doctor appointments and sports practices and games.  I was missing out on homework and knowing what they were eating for lunch every day.  And with all of that came the overload on the Gentleman.  For a long time he picked up the slack I was unable to carry at home.  Until…I just couldn’t do it anymore. 

A year ago I took a job with an entirely different company.  One that has the flexibility to allow me to put more focus on my family and encourages me to do so.  One that values autonomous work.  One that allows me to now work from my home.  Every day.  For a year I’ve been waking up, logging on to work, taking breaks long enough to get the kids to school and back.  Logging out in plenty of time to fix dinner and get the kiddos to their after-school activities without concern.   I am undoubtedly one lucky momma.  Opportunities like this don’t come around every day nor for everyone.  I realize that…and because of the last decade of commuting I am ridiculously grateful.  Even in…the summer.

While it’s challenging to conduct meetings via conference call while Ben barges through my office door just to cut the top off of his Pop-Ice…or Timmy screams through the door that Ben has once again stolen is favorite Beyblade…or Libby needs me RIGHT THIS SECOND because of a cramp…when it’s all said and done, I’m thankful to be here for these babies.   That’s what the “mute” button is for…right? 

I left you with the images of my wrecked home in Part I…because I knew you’d get it.  I knew many of you were feeling my pain on getting these kids back in a routine, away from the TV and out of the refrigerator.  But I gotta say…despite my gratitude for the first day of school, I couldn’t help but wonder:

Does Libby like her new teacher?

How many people did Timmy make laugh today? 

Dear God, did Ben make ANY friends?  Please at least one?  (okay crying now)

Did they get enough time to finish their lunch?

Will they remember they are walkers by the end of the day? 

I should email the teachers to see how they’re doing. 

Were they too hot at recess?

And then…I thought about all of the things that I loved about having them home this summer.  And I had to share these just as I shared my wrecked home.  THESE sweet babies of mine may have done some mild damage and created extra work…but look what I got to see on a regular basis:

We took lunch-break trips to the park.

I caught a little sun-room dancin' when he didn't know anyone was watching.

I actually witnessed some sibling cooperation, dare I say FRIENDSHIP, from time to time.

And then there were the Gameboy breaks in Mommy's office.

I was able to witness creations in progress.  Those LEGOs aren't ALL bad.

A little water play on a hot day. (Don't get your panties in a wad...this was pre-drought.)

Stealing sweet defenseless kisses during impromptu naps.

The best part about my summer with the kids?  Getting to use my time off for an ACTUAL vacation.  Priceless. 

Until next June...

Back to School - Part I

Today...they go back...and I thank the sweet Lord above for knowing where my sanity ends.  Don't get me wrong, I love my children, but this being the first summer I've worked at home while they are HERE.  EVERY.  DAY...has been a challenge to say the least.  (And this goes for the Gentleman too...his messy ass goes back NEXT week.  No worries...a party shall occur then as well.)

I realize completely that those of you who are home with your children everyday see this as nothing more than the routine you endure on a daily basis and have so for years.  It's been AWHILE since I've been there so bear with me.  Humor me.

There are no words to express the need for these children to get the hell out of my house.  And I mean that...with ALL the love in my heart.  I figured I would let the pictures speak for themselves:

I now have every kid-friendly TV show theme song committed to memory and could recite at the drop of a hat. Unfortunately.

I don't even know what to say about this. They have daily chores which always include cleaning their room. And yet...we have this. Every. God. Bless-ed. Night. 

I can't keep up with this. All day. Every day. I straighten the couches and fold blankets, whispering obsenities, and pleading with the children to keep their stink-infested shoes in the closet and toys UPSTAIRS (in the aforementioned pit of a bedroom).

Um...anyone seen any LEGOs around here? I can't seem to find any. And guys...this is just a quarter of the LEGOs. The rest are in boxes. LOTS and lots of boxes. Because we NEED that many teeny tiny plastic foot-killing building blocks. 

THIS. This right here. Is numero uno. I have gone through more dish soap and detergent than should be allowed for any one household in a summer. I didn't know you needed a plate to eat a piece of cheese. Did you? Nor did I realize there is some unwritten rule out there stating you must get a new cup for every drink refill. This is NOT Old Country Buffet, my friends! There will be no more claiming ignorance where loading the dishwasher is concerned. If I ever needed a kick in the ass to train this family right...I've gotten it now. 

Bye kiddos!!  Love you!!!  Have a great day at SCHOOL!!!!!