Thirteen

Let’s just start this off by saying this is not entirely a birthday post. Because, come on, what 13 year old wants his mother talking about him publicly?

This is more of a peek back at what looks like another life. I was re-reading the blog post from the first time I wrote about one of my kids’ birthdays (the now-13-year-old was turning four), and it was like opening some crazy time capsule. Our 2011 lives are unrecognizable in a lot of respects — a four year-old and an almost two year-old (and no third child yet), new to the suburbs, navigating toddler years, spending hours baking elaborately themed yet horribly executed cakes. It was light years ago.

Here we are, an additional kid, nine years and a pandemic later, staring down the teenage era of parenthood.

As part of our current stay-at-home lives, we recently spent an entire day finally tackling a project whose incompletion I have been cursing for about a year — cleaning out our basement. It required focus, dedication and, apparently, stiff mimosas (hold the orange juice). Always know your motivating factors.

I emptied out entire bins of old toys, mismatched parts, and orphaned Lego pieces. I was in purge mode, and nobody was going to stop me from the diligence of donating all of these things that had gone unused and unloved for so long. My kids, groaning about the injustice of participating in this clean-out, contributed very little to the effort as I re-lived some key phases of their childhoods.

After getting the cold shoulder of indifference from my ten year-old daughter about the bin of Frozen accessories — the same kid who sang Let It Go on a repeat loop while switching from Anna and Elsa’s gowns intermittently all day, every day — I could see that maybe my nostalgia would not be shared. I reminded her wistfully how she always preferred Anna, and she responded by telling me she had a Zoom call to join soon.

And then I found the cars and trains.

It could have been the champagne going to my head. Or the build up of the pandemic emotions. But when my two boys passed over the Lightning McQueens and Thomas trains with complete non-chalance, it was my undoing.

I pointed out the many, many variations of McQueen they had accumulated and treasured. My six year-old, who legitimately thinks he’s a fully formed adult, shrugged me off. I could not believe my eyes. He was a borderline McQueen stalker in his Cars prime.

And there was Mater. How we all loved Mater.

No response from my sons — except to ask how much longer this would all take.

Do not even get me started on Thomas, Percy, and their franchise-dominant and morally questionable co-inhabitors of Sodor. Not even a blink from the two boys who, each from the ages of two through four, were unable to walk from one room to another without carrying fistfuls of trains at all times. Because of their age difference, these characters held a very prominent place in my home for nearly a decade.

As I boxed them all up and prepared to give them away, my oldest picked up on the Toy Story-esque moment I was having by myself.

His acknowledgement was understated — almost imperceptible, even — and came with an age-appropriate mumble and nod in my direction, while his eyes never left his phone.

“Yeah, that’s the OG McQueen, that one there with the yellow flame on the paint job.”

He remembered. But it hit me hard that time fucking flies.

If you had told me on that fourth birthday, as I prepared that awful dinosaur-resembles-an-armadillo cake, that we would celebrate his 13th birthday under a stay-at-home-order, avoiding grocery stores, wearing face masks in rare public outings, wondering where my purse and car keys are and if I’ll ever need them again, sharing memes about distance learning, hoping we can score more toilet paper, and watching the world basically come to a standstill to avoid the spread of a global deadly virus — I would have, to put it mildly, considered it dystopian fiction.

But here we are. And today we will watch a video montage of birthday greetings we’ve gathered, wonder if the Amazon Prime gifts will arrive sometime this week, and eat ice cream for dinner that we can pick up curbside with our masks and gloves in place. It will be memorable, but not in any of the ways he expected.

This 13 year-old with his encyclopedia-like retention of facts reminds me that we’re living through history, his very favorite subject that he wants to incorporate into a career someday. He has a lot to say about the pandemic and how it compares to plagues of the past, and what it means for health care. As he hits 13, he also has a soft spot for dogs of all kinds, a well executed meme, and injustice on any level, as well as the conviction to tell you his position on any topic at all times. There is no lack of opinion, no middle ground (we’re working on it — also: see genetics).

And I as I’ve come to the slow yet jarring realization that we’ve somehow surpassed most of the little kids phase of parenting, I think this will be the last of the birthday posts about him — this tenth one — because the rest of his story belongs more to him than to me. So much remains to unfold, to be told, and I think the trajectory will surprise us all.

Instead of writing about it for him, I can’t wait for the family historian himself to document it for all of us in his own way.

And with that, a mini-parenting era closes. Happy 13th birthday to the boy who teaches me more about humanity on most days than I could possibly impart to him.

 

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Canceled

It’s hard for me to believe I used to crank out a few posts a week.

Now, they sneak up on me, after months of being pent up, until I eventually grab a keyboard and alleviate the guilt of not writing. I had a post simmering for the last two months — and it kept changing, because life kept changing — until I was finally ready to type it up two weeks ago and let it live somewhere other than in my head. It was about chairs, but you know not really about just chairs. But also not deep at all. You’ll see —  I’ll bring it back someday.

Because as I was ready to get it typed up, all of this happened.

And so that post is canceled.

Like most everything else.

It’s all canceled.

Normalcy and sanity are canceled, my friends.

I can’t even begin to imagine what we’re going to think when we someday look back on this period of our lives defined by flattening the curve, stay home hashtags, instructional graphics about social distancing, and daily counts of the infected in the era of COVID-19. Will we even remember how fast it all got so weird, and then how much faster it all sort of became the new normal? I wonder. A little over two weeks ago, we were hugging people and shaking hands, talking with neighbors from a normal distance and looking with a cautious eye at how this was all going to evolve. It literally feels like months ago that I was not Cloroxing doorknobs with regularity.

How are you processing all of this? I can’t even identify how I feel from day to day, but if you’ll allow me to show my crazy, here’s where I’m at. It’s not neat and pretty. I didn’t do multiple passes at editing this piece. But hell, I’m lucky I could even remember the log in to access my blog at this point. My WordPress account is like 48 updates delinquent, so let’s roll the dice and see how this comes out.

 

The social introvert in me does not hate the stay at home order.

I’ll be very honest. For me, there is something freeing about not only having nowhere to be, but being expressly forbidden from going anywhere. I am very happy, on the whole, to be forced to stay at home with an empty calendar free of carpools, activities and obligations that are often overlapping or attempting to defy the space/time continuum at the expense of my sanity. All of that is gone — literally gone — and I can’t help but think it’s some giant call for a reset, drawing us back to our homes and our people. Again, not trying to go deep here. The reality is that part of me will, in fact, be sad to resume the insanity of our overscheduled lives when that time comes.

 

I feel like I should be achieving something. What better time to take on those long-neglected projects, right?

You know, those projects that have forever resided on your long-term to do list — the ones that never get done because there is no time. Nope, no time at all. The basement that desperately needs to be cleared out. The pile of kids’ projects and artwork to be sorted/secretly discarded in the dead of night, hidden under produce scraps in the trash. Creating some sense of order around my tens of thousands of digital photos. Reorganizing our home office. The time is surely now.

I see you hyper-organized sorters out there. You motivated purgers. You people posting shelfies of your books sorted by color and size. I see you and my envy is palpable. Because I cannot find the energy, the wherewithal, the mental bandwidth — somehow, here, stuck at home — to do any of this. When we come out of this on the other side and none of my big projects got done, I think it’s safe to say I can wave the white flag of defeat on them in perpetuity.

 

In the absence of taking on these once in a lifetime projects, I feel like I should be — how do the online influencers describe it? — making the most of this gift of time.

I think we’re supposed to be going on long nature walks and playing family board games, or maybe taking up composting and whatnot. Shouldn’t that, at the very least, be happening? It feels like I’m supposed to glean some big meaning out of the very little being asked of me, or make this a very special time for my kids. I have a feeling from the mindfulness set that maybe I’m not doing this right. So thanks for that.

 

But, here’s the deal. We are doing everything we can to just make the bare minimum happen, all day, every day.

Like many families, we have two demanding jobs, which of course are now being performed from home. Are we lucky to have these jobs? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a complete domestic circus. Add in three kids with three distinct distance learning programs occurring around a dining room table that resembles where organization goes to die. I wear my seventh grader’s gaming headset at my work laptop in the middle of the kitchen, so that I can hear the hours and hours of COVID-19 conference calls over the ambient sound of children arguing, while hand signaling what may or may not be available for lunch and asking through lip reading if everyone has finished their virtual science project or pre-algebra Zoom conference. My husband and I each have a mother fresh out of hospitalization stints just before COVID-19 busted wide open; both of them still need medical procedures and treatment in the near future, and nobody really knows how or when that might happen. And we cannot see them anytime soon. We consume too much news, and it feels a lot like drinking out of a fire hose — but of course not one that has been within six feet of anyone else.

So, the baseline feels, shall we say, strained.

 

How do we save ourselves in the absence of an endpoint to this madness? 

Oh, hi, Zoom and FaceTime. Like most people, I find we are now catching up more with friends and family. It’s nice, if not pandemic-surreal to interact with people only in small video cubes. But that is where the comfort lies for me — with the people I know, the ones who get me, and frankly are willing to go a little dark with me when we think about this entire situation and scream into the abyss about the jackasses who continue to gather and dismiss all social distancing guidelines. I am glad to be home, glad to be tucked away from having to show up in all manners of things.

You know who else is going to save us, besides doctors and nurses and first responders? The funny people. I see you and your memes out there, and you are giving us life right now, I swear to God. The crafters of witty tweets and videos keep us patently unqualified homeschoolers alive while working, inventing recipes from unlikely pantry bedfellows, and wondering when we can see our parents. The hint of a laugh feels so foreign and misplaced sometimes, but so richly deserved.

 

I need that Venn diagram.

It seems insane to complain about anyfuckingthing at all right now. We have it easy, relatively speaking. Hats off to everyone who is still an essential worker, showing up every day amidst this insanity. Huge applause for the teachers out there. The single parents. The people waiting for medical treatment. The Coronavirus-infected people and their loved ones. I cannot imagine. But I saw a homemade Venn diagram somewhere on Instagram today and it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. It essentially drew one circle about being fortunate on one side, and one circle about this situation being hard on the other, with the science-y overlap in the middle. That. That’s what I feel. I, like many, am lucky — but we’re still allowed to say that this is hard without taking anything for granted.

I try to help in the ways that I’m able — but let’s be clear: I have the luxury of not putting my life or that of my husband on the line as a first responder or medical professional. I am just being asked to sit here while members of our family run nursing units and oversee police departments. None of that is lost on me for a second.

 

OMG, the kids. Are we messing up our kids?

It fills me with anxiety to read about how our kids could be affected by all of this. Of course they are. And how much are we failing them by not making the most of this gift of time, or modeling better reactions to the situation at hand? The makeshift schedules to keep the normalcy going — that’s what we’re supposed to do, right? I let my kids sleep in. They do distance learning in pajamas if they want. And then there’s the embarrassment of free online riches available for them to experience — live streamed koala sanctuaries, banjo lessons, cartooning sessions, junior meditative journeys, Slovakian tutorials. We need a virtual cruise director to sort all of it out because, oh my God. I cannot. It’s overwhelming, so I have instead shut down and added Disney Plus as our new family member, with a daily side of the panda exhibit at the Atlanta Zoo. Nobody here is picking up a new language or hobby right now.

What will my kids think when it’s all said and done? When the COVID-19 history chapters are written and they think back on their personal narratives, what will stick with them? Will they look back on their high strung mother wearing the fucking gaming headset in the kitchen with her laptop, while trying to whisper-yell that they need to wash their hands again and bring me the damn learning log to sign? Will they be pissed I didn’t take this once in a lifetime opportunity to expose them to virtual aerial yoga or live streamed origami sessions? Will they wish we had gone on more walks or reorganized their book cases? Will they resent that we did not build fairy habitats in the woods or read an entire book series aloud together around the fire?

I don’t think they will. At least I’d like to tell myself that.

Because, really, who the hell knows? And that’s sort of the entire hashtag/mentality/big issue here. The uncertainty and the unknown of what normal will look like when this is over, whenever that may be.

Who the hell knows.

So let’s give ourselves a break, shall we? We don’t have to make the most of this gift of time.

We don’t have to accomplish anything huge — I kind of think we already are.

 

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The Last Sixth Birthday

I could do a whole post for my youngest in the “You might be the third child when….” theme. You know the ones with the long lists that induce familiar nods across the parenting spectrum. I could cite all the examples of how ha-ha-ha these various incidents showed that we have the stereotypical third kid challenges. Almost no photographic existence of him in the house (or anywhere off of my phone). No baby book in sight.

Or, maybe, when you didn’t know your third kid lost his first tooth until you saw him throw it in the trash, not knowing it was even loose. Why did he throw it in the garbage? Oh, because he didn’t even know about the Tooth Fairy.

In my defense, he lost this tooth like almost two years earlier than my older two ever did and there was no disgusting-dangling-tooth drama. It just happened one day. Also, yes, I went into the white trash bag and found the equivalent of a needle in a haystack so he could have his Tooth Fairy moment and I could feel less like a dumpster fire (no pun intended) of a parent.

So now it doesn’t sound quite so bad that it has taken me almost four weeks to get around to writing this birthday post.

Shhhhhhhhhh.

Anyway, I’m here now, at my keyboard, feeling terrible about this lapse. You know what didn’t help? This, last night, at bedtime:

“Mom, you’re my favorite person in the world.”

I’m not even kidding. This kid is either the absolute sweetest person I’ve ever known, or the greatest emotional manipulator in the history of children.

I’m going with the former.

Aidan KF 2

While not without the moods and impatience that come with his age, he is the child who asks me to lie down in his bed with him most nights as he wraps his arms around my neck, who reaches out for hugs multiple times a day, who declares his love for me unprompted and randomly.

Add this to the stark contrast of two tweens who alternate eye rolling and sighing at me, and this youngest child just makes me smile.

Six seems so old for him. Past any clothing sizes with a letter T after them, past pre-school traditions, past needing everything done for him.

This is the kid who is dressed and ready, discussing the day’s plans, and basically reprimanding his siblings for not being equally prepared each morning. He calls his brother and sister — six and almost four years his senior, respectively — “the kids,” as if to remind everyone who is basically in charge.

“Mom, I called the kids to come up for dinner but they’re not listening.” <insert exasperated shrug>

“Mom, I’m not sure, but I think the kids are watching something inappropriate on YouTube.” <pronounced sigh>

“Mom, I’m ready to go but the kids literally can’t find their shoes. Unbelievable.” <raises hands in the air in disbelief>

 

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This last year was a big shift for all of us when I went back to work for the first time in eight years. I have to remind myself that while the change felt seismic to me in many ways, it had to be odd for my kids too. In some respects, they seem to like having our routine changed up with a babysitter sometimes, but there are other times when my youngest in particular wants to know why I can’t be home with him, or why he has to go to after care at school until I’m finished working.

And that’s hard. But change is good, right? Seeing a parent do something to improve herself is important. Wait, I’m talking to myself here. You get the idea. I appreciate your silent agreement and support from the other side of the monitor.

My six year-old has a mind of his own. There’s no wavering, no looking around the room to see what other people think, no hesitation. He’s in or he’s out, and good luck getting him to change his stance. He wants to be seen, be heard, and be counted in the plan.

 

Aidan skating

Aidan ice pop

He will start Kindergarten in September, and I am torn between not believing it at all and knowing this is exactly where he should be. He loves to be with friends, create intricate stories, and side-eye anyone who’s not following the rules.

Aidan school JK

He loves being around his siblings and their friends, and craves being in on their jokes and interests, although ideally he’d really just like to convince them to play Bey Blades instead while making up stories about ocean animals. Recently, he has been saying that he wants to share a room with his 12 year-old brother, which is a negotiation whose terms may require a UN-level ambassador. As much as I love the idea of them being close, I don’t know that a six year-old should be hearing about the Ancient Roman testudo battle formation, recaps of middle school group chats, or jokes from The Office with any regularity.

It’s in those moments that he does, in fact, still seem so small as my older kids veer towards adolescence and all that comes with it.

Aidan Green Bay

Aidan beach Turks

This kid. He has my whole heart, even if he couldn’t get a birthday post remotely close to on time. He doesn’t care. He just wants to give out hugs and charm the hell out of all of us.

Happy (extremely belated in writing) birthday to my sweet, sweet boy.

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Aidan bowtie

Aidan KF

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Twelve

When your first child is born, you worry so much about how to handle a baby. Is the child getting enough to eat? Gaining enough weight? How do you get him to sleep? How will you know why he is crying? How do you soothe him? Will I ever sleep again and why don’t the books answer all of my questions?

Turns out that’s all the least of it. As my oldest reminded me over breakfast today, on his 12th birthday, “What are you going to do with an almost-teenager in the house?”

Great question, kid.

Although I worry very little these days about him getting enough food and sleep (just try and stop him), we’re on the edge of a whole new world here with this tween.

Thankfully, there’s no shortage of online resources to completely freak out every parent about what challenges await us in this stage of raising kids. Screen time, social media, bullying, vaping, and more. The question from 12 years ago still stands: Will I ever sleep again?

To be clear, we’re not pushing the envelope on any of these dicey issues yet. I mean, yes, we have multiple daily arguments about screen time, but that’s sort of standard life on Earth now. He’s not on social media yet and thankfully shows no interest in it. He is not focused on who is hanging out with whom and what the popularity hierarchy entails — sort of like a social honey badger. I often vacillate between thinking this is great and worrying that he doesn’t pay enough attention to the world around him. But I’ll say this: I envy his confidence and his willingness to overlook what can be utter bullshit.

At this time last year, my husband and I were in the throes of making a decision about middle school. We live in a town with a very strong school system, but it’s really large. We found another school that we knew would be a great fit for our son, but had reservations about removing him from his friends here and starting over somewhere else. There was no wrong decision here, but it weighed heavily on us to figure out which was the better choice.

So, in September, off he went on a bus to the new school where he knew exactly zero other kids. Conjuring up memories of my 11 year-old self and how I would have felt in that situation, it took everything in me not to breathe in and out of a paper bag in front of him. But no need — he was calm and cool. Whenever I come across the photo I took of him that morning, I can instantly recall my fear for him, but also my pride in how he handled everything.

Turns out it was a great decision. Is he happy and learning? Yes. Is it the right place for him? Yes. Do we still argue about homework? Also yes.

Recently, his entire grade started participating in the World Peace Game — a long-term, role-playing/problem-solving game that entails being assigned to a fictitious country with specific traits and scenarios to achieve world peace while working with your classmates. There was a lot of build-up to the sixth graders starting this game, and my son anticipated it for weeks.

When he came home after the first day of play, I was eager to hear about how it went, but he hesitated to tell me for a moment. Finally, he sat back, propped his feet up on the table and put his hands behind his head.

“Well, Mom, unfortunately I had to stage a coup.”

“Wait, what? A coup? It’s a peace game — is that even allowed?”

“All’s fair in war. Plus, I really wasn’t happy with the direction my country’s leaders were taking. So I traded some weapons with another country, recruited some rebels and overthrew the prime minister.”

He seemed pleased with himself and, although I admired his strategic thinking, I knew there was a bigger lesson at hand here about cooperation, compromise and flexibility.

(Also, peace.)

I spoke to my mini military strategist and encouraged him to work things out with his countrymen. It took him a few weeks, but he got up the nerve to apologize to the ousted prime minister, work out a deal and reinstate her leadership — while promoting himself to head of the military and annexing some additional territory from the vulnerable neighboring nation.

And with that, you now know nearly everything there is to know about this child.

He is a lover of history, past and present. His convictions are strong and his compromising skills under development. He rarely wavers, stubbornly pursues his ideas, yet is secretly sweet and empathetic to others. He has a soft spot for puppies and babies, and will interview any parent of a small dog or child to get their essential details and promptly file them to his vast memory. He knows the value of wit and appreciates well-placed sarcasm.

With a few exceptions, he rejects sports and all of the team loyalty trappings that come with them. You can find him with a fencing sabre or — this year, for the first time, and at the expense of years off my life — on the wrestling mat. It’s not always easy to be a pre-teen boy who wants to talk about history instead of hockey. To be the kid who’d rather watch a mini-series about the Roman Empire than the Super Bowl. He does not seem to mind one bit, and a huge part of my goals in parenting him is to make sure he is always comfortable with who he is, despite what other people may expect. Many days, I think he will teach me more about this than I can impart to him.

So, yes — as of today, it’s the last year he’s not a teenager. And, no, I don’t understand how we got here so fast if I’m still 30. But regardless, my firstborn child will always stretch my heart to its very limits.

Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet boy.

CPF battleship

 

CPF lightning thief

CPF beach

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So Many Somethings

I have rushes of thoughts — intermittent, compelling, and yet often fleeting — that I’ve tried to sort out and produce into written sentences over the last few months. The beckoning of a blank screen, a deserted blog, and a head full of phrases blink like bright lights.

But instead of having one coherent thing to say, I have so many somethings instead.

I have something to say about this blog.

This blog is almost nine years old — a lifetime ago in online years. Since then, things have changed substantially. We’ve moved from an era of comments, responses and shares among a kindred blog community to the collective reduced attention span of viral memes. Online profiles are measured by the ha ha emoji count on a single sentence captured in a frame and re-shared. And that’s fine — but it’s also not really me (just try to contain me to one sentence). And so where does this go, this online vault I’ve accumulated over these years of my kids’ childhoods and a time capsule that I hold dear but don’t maintain regularly anymore? Do I rebrand it? Collect funny memes and call it a day? Keep it as is, if only for myself? Or walk away?

I don’t know. I’m not ready to shut it down, yet, but its future weighs on me.

I have something to say about the shifts within my house this year.

This was the year when we saw our oldest go to middle school and squarely land us in the unenviable dynamic of Three Kids in Three Different Schools (with no school buses in this town). Whose school is texting about a delayed opening? Which one of you has the Monday after Easter off? How are your spring breaks a full month apart from each other? Why does my iCalendar look like it’s weeping? Who needs to be picked up when, where, and WHO NEEDS A LUNCH PACKED TODAY? There is one constant, though — we are all late and just get in the fucking car already. This tri-school dynamic has made things here crazier than usual, which is probably why I can’t even summon up a single sentence meme now and then — I’m endlessly distracted by a calendar alarm telling me where I was supposed to be somewhere between 18 minutes and three days ago.

I have something to say about re-entering the work force. The fact that I’m only able to articulate this a full ten months after starting my job speaks to my level of organization.

After a protracted focus on domestic ship-steering for eight years, I had been thinking about going back to work for a while, but was conflicted about what I wanted to do (and not do), exactly. My husband laughed at my requirements: a job in my field (PR/communications), but not full time, not corporate, and not far from home. Perhaps I was being unrealistic, but I also had not started searching in earnest. Then, last year, without actually looking for it, I happened to see a job posting that was basically an exact list of everything I’d ever done in my professional past. And it was part time. And not corporate. And literally down the road from my house. And so my entire goal was to just land an interview — just the chance to get in the room and prove to myself that I still had some professional acumen. So, when I was called in for such an interview, I was thrilled and ready to check that box as merely a warm up exercise for eventually going back to work.

Then they called me back to come in again. And again. And again. And then they offered me a job. It’s a job that has put my skills to good use, and a job that has taught me a lot about people, their instincts, local politics, and community.

I love my job. I love the projects I work on and the co-workers around me. I love seeing people in action who make a difference and devote their energy to the town where I’m raising my kids. People are amazing.

Mostly.

But I have something to say about the death of civility, the toxicity of keyboard warriors and the way people treat each other online — about the deep divide in which we live and the partisan nature of our interactions. It’s obvious on a macro level but what amazes me is how much this same dynamic plays out locally. It’s one thing when you see that unhinged extended family member (and we all have one [or more], right?) go off the Facebook reservation, but to watch it happen among neighbors is really something. Part of my job involves social media in our community, and it’s astounding to me that some folks I see at school pick up or at my kids’ activities have no compunction about arming themselves with a fraction of the facts, a will to divide, and generous dose of speculation and conspiracy theory in order to spread misinformation. I can’t decide if they completely lack self-awareness or just don’t care. Both explanations are equally galling.

I have something to say about our national political climate (don’t worry, I’m not going partisan). Like many, I have strong political opinions, none of which I ever discuss here. Plenty of people share my point of view — and plenty do not. That used to work out nicely and exist on some “let’s not discuss it” realm of cordiality. That doesn’t seem to hold up anymore as two sides drift further and further apart from each other — and I really have to wonder where this leaves us sometimes. It feels exhausting. I would love (LOVE) to join Team I Don’t Care and just bury my head in the sand — I think I’d live a lot longer. Alas, no can do.

I have something to say about the passage of time, about the role of a child blending with that of a caregiver. My mom has had some health issues lately — and she’s going to be OK. But it’s hard to watch someone you love so much in such a vulnerable spot, in such a state of uncertainty. All I want is for someone to promise her the worst is behind her.

I have something to say about things that resemble medical miracles, regardless of how much or little stock you put into such a categorization. My dear friend Rebecca, who has battled stage four breast cancer for nearly four years, recently received the most amazing news. I will let her words speak for themselves, because they are worth reading and holding dear and taking with you when you need something uplifting and awe-inspiring.

I have something to say about my oldest turning 12 next week, about how proud I am of him going off to a new school this year where he didn’t know a soul, because it would be a better fit for him. To see that risky decision — one that we really struggled with — play out so well and benefit him so greatly is something for which I am grateful every single day.

I have something to say about springtime and its insanity, its beckoning of summer and the season of closure that it brings as it signals the end of the school year in sight. But first I have to find the softball medical clearance form, schedule three physical exams, pick up the dance recital costumes, see who has sandals that still fit, and pay the balance for summer camps. Wait, what was I saying?

All of these somethings — so many somethings — I’m not sure what they bear, if not a peak inside the lid of a brain brimming over and perhaps collapsing from overload.

But they are, for me, precisely what words are for, and what brings me back to this keyboard once in a blue moon to fill the intimidating blank screen for however long I decide to keep at it.

There, I feel better now.

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Solstice

I see some of you online with your back to school photos, shiny new kids’ backpacks and giant parental grins. I am watching from the sidelines, deliberately keeping my distance from the mentality of transitioning out of summer and back into productivity mode. And while of course my kids can easily fray my last nerve sometimes as the end of the season approaches, the truth is that I have never once wished to have school start earlier.

This last week of August to me is special, sad, and a little glorious all at once. I’ve been at the beach all week in a house where 13 members of my family are all staying together. There are a few decisions to make each day: Beach or pool? Hamburgers or chicken? Red or white? There is simultaneously a tremendous amount of activity and a gorgeous lull of laziness hanging in the thick humidity of the ocean air.

I know that, in a matter of days, my kids will go back to school. And the madness of schedules will return. Yes, we could use some structure and consistency for sure, but I’m not ready yet to give them back to alarm clocks and homework and the building crescendo of “Get in the car, get in the car, get in the car, WE ARE LATE GET IN THE CAR.”

It will be a big year of change for us. My kids will be in three different schools, and my oldest will be starting middle school, with its own set of distinct challenges. I recently went back to work after eight years (more on that another time), which has required all of us to adjust on several levels. And to boot, space and time refuse to slow down, despite my repeated requests. Processing change on any level is really not my strong suit, and this year feels like seismic shifts in a lot of ways. It’s hanging out there like a big leap I have to make, and soon.

And so this week, which has turned out to be steamy and even more late August-y than usual, has brought my extended family together in this house from three countries and three states. It’s rare that we are all together, and so to have this time to catch up and laugh without anyone having any kind of schedule is beyond special to me – even if a little bit like a reality show — and the perfect pinnacle to this summer.

It is my summer solstice.

I’m not good with science or being on time, and so yes, I know the solstice was really in June if you want to be technical. But, for me, in thinking about the longest days of summer, they are here with me now – without camp or work or laundry or a lot of rules. They are walks by the beach every morning before the sun gets too strong, with an iced coffee on the way back. They are a group mimosa most mornings, with some laughs about the night before, and maybe talk of a loose plan for the day. They are hours in the pool or the ocean while listening to Motown over cocktails and depleting the pallets of sunscreen. These are the days of ocean air, ice cream taste tests, and denial of what another looming school year will bring as my kids are somehow another year older.

These are the longest days not because the calendar says so, but because I have willed them to stretch beyond what is physically possible, capturing them in photos and in my memory. My solstice is borne of nostalgia and a lifelong habit of poorly transitioning between seasons, both of life and of the year. I know the days will shorten soon, and rapidly, once we pack up this beach house and all go our separate ways back to reality. And so, for now, it is peak summer, if only in my mind.

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She’s Nine

When my son turned nine two years ago, I remember being incredulous that he was halfway to adulthood at that point. This morning, when my daughter got up early to announce she didn’t want to miss a minute of her ninth birthday, I realized that I have been thinking she’s halfway to adulthood since she could form words.

When she began to crawl, we immediately called her The Bullet because of her relentless speed. She is the same way today, bouncing from room to room, from one activity to another, never still for a moment. She is game for anything and her only two settings are 1,000% or fast asleep. There are impromptu daily choreographed dance performances in our family room. There are nightly bedtime rituals with her 12 Beanie Boos, lining them up and often assigning them roles in her next story. There are self-imposed sous chef duties to ensure her favorite foods make their way to the table. In this respect, she is so many things that I never was – self-assured, open-minded, ready for anything. And I love all of this about her, even if the rest of us can barely keep up.

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Leading up to her ninth birthday, our conversations can best be summarized by a few key, ongoing exchanges:

Can I have a phone? (No)

Can I have my own YouTube channel? (Definitely no)

Can you change the station to Kidz Bop? (ugggggggh, OK, but can we talk about classic rock or my beloved U2 for just a minute?)

Where is my shirt with the flip sequins? (In the laundry, since you wore it just yesterday)

Can I make more slime? (Yes, but only in the basement, and how are we related?)

Can I host a Slime Camp this summer? <sound of audible blinking>

She is all about sparkles, unicorns and rainbows – so many things that keep her a little girl. And then there is the constant pull with technology, as more and more friends have phones and social media accounts – and she has a mother who is in the firm Team No camp for now on those items. There is also the onset of friend drama, which I can’t even believe some days, and I’m sure will only get much worse in the years to come. I hope she is as kind and inclusive in those situations outside of my reach as she seems when she is home with us.

 

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When not pretending to host a You Tube channel, she is always planning. For today, for tomorrow, for summer sleepovers, for dinners we should prepare and slimes she should make, for next year’s first day of school outfit, for December’s Christmas list, for decorating her own bedroom when we (finally) separate her and her older brother, for family vacations she thinks we should take when her younger brother is old enough. It’s like living with some hybrid of a cruise director, project manager and fashion blogger all at once.

 

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She wants to know everything, do everything. She has endless questions but also likes to provide answers. She has *almost* resigned herself to not getting a younger sister (sorry, but no), and sways between relishing and eye-rolling about her destiny as the only female child in this family.

She is simultaneously the easiest child on earth and incredibly challenging, both because of her fierce independence. My wish is to never, ever slow her down, while also providing her with some yield signs along the way. The truth is that, most days, she teaches me far more than she could ever know.

Her heart is boundless and fiercely loyal. I cannot wait to see what she will do in the world, because I’ve known for nine years now that it’s hers for the taking.

Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet girl.

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The Last 5th Birthday

There are two camps of parents: Those who love the baby phase, and those who don’t. I am a card-carrying member of Camp Baby, and always have been.

Oh, but they’re better when they’re older and they can interact.

They are so much easier when they aren’t so small.

Yeah, I know. I’ve heard the finer points of debate. But still. Babies.

NO, I’m not here to say that I’m adding another to our mix. But today my youngest turned five, and although I’m aware he hasn’t been a baby for quite some time, this birthday stings more than a little. I feel like he turned a corner into the Bigger Kids Club with some kind of express pass that happened in the blink of an eye.

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With his newfound almost-tweendom, one of the most interesting things to watch is how this child continues to establish and assert his role in our family. For so long, he was “the baby,” the one who wasn’t big enough or old enough to do everything his siblings did. No more, his every move says. I am here and I’m coming with you.

When his sister wants to go play with the girls down the street? Uh, yeah, he’s coming too. Gone are the days of staying behind and hanging out with Mom. Who cares if they’re making jewelry and crafts? His mission is to bring along his beloved Hot Wheels and convince them to incorporate cars into their crafts in any way imaginable. He is currently experiencing mixed success at best on this front.

His brother and sister are playing a game? Listen, he wants a role in it too. And he’s not going to hear otherwise. So if you were wondering how Minecraft, fairies and Hot Wheels all join forces into an imaginary scenario, look no further than my family room and behold three strong personalities trying to work this out into a cohesive playtime narrative. I think Wes Anderson would be proud.

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Bottom line, according to this kid: I’m in the mix now. I have a voice. I see what I’ve been missing out on, and I want in. Oh, and everything in which I participate much involve at least four and as many as 19 Hot Wheels cars located in my hands, pockets, bed, Mom’s bag, and car seat at all times. Why have you not learned all of their names? Have I taught you people nothing?

Yeah, sorry Lightning McQueen. I didn’t think I’d see the day when you were decidedly replaced by a 50-year old toy franchise, but you can take your racing wheels and find another kid’s house. It’s Hot Wheels City here, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re 1/30th of the cost. Take Mater with you. (OK, you can stay and we’ll just store you somewhere in our basement in perpetuity because I have a soft spot for your entire franchise.)

For a long time, my youngest would not go to bed until we sat in his glider together and I sang him silly songs that I made up for him years ago. Recently, his long limbs have gotten too big for both of us to sit there together comfortably for more than a few minutes. We moved the good-night routine over to his bed, where we chat before he goes to sleep with his stuffed dog under his arm every night. I will hesitantly admit that the glider has reached the end of its useful residency in my house, after eleven years and thousands of hours spent in it with three kids. It is a hideous and bulky piece of furniture, but it has remained a constant, if not final, reminder of the baby era in our family.

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While in his bed chatting last week, I asked him if we can give the glider to another family for their kids. In the past, he has steadfastly resisted and cried about getting rid of it. This time, he shrugged and said, “Sure. I’m not a baby.”

<sob>

<me, not him>

He knows he’s getting big and wants to increasingly do things for himself, but — like many of the youngest kids in the birth order of a family — he also knows when to capitalize on his littleness. Yeah, that was me carrying a 45 pounder in my arms today at elementary school pick-up. Yes, he can come into my bed every morning. And yes, he can usually secure one or twelve additional hugs to stall his bedtime. He is a mush of affection just as my older two are starting to become, shall we say, hesitant about public displays of parental love.

Well played, my boy. Well played.

He is a born conversationalist, which anyone who has spent two minutes with him would know — from closest family members, to strangers in public places. Remember when we were in the same check-out line at Target, never having met before? And now you know the most minute details of our family, complete with an invitation for dinner? That’s because my youngest child was put on this Earth to tell you allllll the things you need to know about him, his family, his toys, the weather and various top of mind grievances — complete with highly exaggerated hand gestures and the inflection of an exasperated 75 year-old.

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And so, this expressive, opinionated, affectionate and endlessly curious boy turns five today. I can’t pretend that I’m shocked by this milestone, but it feels like a big one as I’m keenly aware of and mournful for the baby years slipping away. Yes, there is so much fun in this phase and yes, life gets easier in many respects without strollers and cribs and gear and whendidilastsleepallnight fogs. Turning that corner is both tough and exciting.

In the meantime, we have Hot Wheels tracks to build and racing times to compare before deciding which cars will advance to the Ultimate Birthday Championship Round. And there will be ice cream and five candles for the child who made our family complete.

Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet boy.

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The Very Best Dog

At some point in my 20s, I became fixated on pugs. I was single, living in Manhattan, and working about a million hours a week. I had no business getting a dog.

But on a spring day in 2003, I went to see a litter of pugs that had just been born. Of the eight dogs who were there, most were shy — except for the one who ran right up and chose me. It was as easy as that. I named him Señor, and a short time later he moved into my cartoonish-ly tiny fourth-floor walk-up. When I think about that day — when my sister and my mother came with me to bring him home — it simultaneously seems like yesterday and a million light years ago.

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Last week, I said good bye to Señor, and it was hard. Really hard. Even though he was 15 with declining health, I still found myself shell shocked that I had to make the decision to let him go.

I write about a lot of trivial and everyday things here. And it only seemed right, to me, to use this space to honor one of the very big things in my life. One of the very best things. So you’ll have to indulge my inner Crazy Pet Lady for today.

It turns out that a very spoiled dog requires some adjustment to sharing his spotlight. About a year after Señor arrived, I decided to move in with my then-boyfriend (now husband — we look like babies in this photo!), and the dog had to get used to not just some new city digs that consisted of more than one total room, but also another human in his space.

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And, eventually, another.

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And another.

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And another.

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You know those photos and videos on the Internet of dogs who love their new human siblings so much that it goes viral while melting millions of hearts? Yeah, that didn’t happen with us.

Señor never loved having a baby in the house, but he begrudgingly tolerated the adjustment of sharing his turf with a growing family. Not once, but three times. We always joked that he loved me a little less with each new baby I brought home, and my husband increasingly became his favorite person. This dog would never have, in a million years, shown an ounce of aggression, but I swear he would’ve loved the ability to roll his eyes and flip me off at times. I respected his inner curmudgeon.

When our family ultimately outgrew our Manhattan apartment and our suburbanization was complete in 2010, I always got the sense that Señor, like me, still tended to prefer the city, despite gaining more room in the burbs to co-exist inside together, and a yard to claim as his own outdoor domain. In the city he had been a fixture in our neighborhood — at the local wine shop, the doggie day care place, his little piece of Central Park. In the suburbs, sure, there was wide open space for him. But there were also the indignities of canine Halloween costumes. He had a little something to say about it here.

We allowed him to retire from holiday costuming after this family-themed swan song a few years ago. I think we can all agree that he earned it.

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He excelled at relaxation. Perhaps I was always drawn to pugs because of their like-minded affinity for laziness and weight gain. He was a stalker of food and a snorer extraordinaire. He loved hedgehog toys, neck massages, treats of all flavors, high fives and sleeping — on our shoes, in spare boxes, in the sunshine, in the coat closet. Or in any bag, anywhere.

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Any bag.

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Really — no bag left behind.

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Even though he hadn’t been particularly active recently, our house without him now has a stillness and quiet that it didn’t have before. Even with three kids here and all of their noise and activity. I don’t feel the motion of the dog under my feet when I’m making food in the kitchen — where he always was, at the ready, waiting for the inevitable scrap. I don’t hear him with the one ear I keep open overnight, when he used to shuffle around at all hours going to and from his water bowl. I don’t hear him pacing the family room while I watch TV in the evenings, waiting for him to find a comfortable napping place and beginning to snore. I don’t see him sleeping on the pile of shoes by our front door when I come and go during the day. It’s just different.

I lived with him longer than I lived with my husband. He was here for every day of my kids’ lives. I look at the photos and I see the different phases of my adult life — single, engaged, married, motherhood times three — and there he was, a fixture of what I’ve defined as family over the last 15 years.

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If you have a pet, you understand. You know that the love for a pet is so deep and so fierce — and the hardest part of that love is that their lives are always too short. When he sharply declined on Mother’s Day, it was fitting that my mom and my sister were both here — the same two people who helped me bring him home to that tiny apartment a virtual lifetime ago.

 

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And so, before I said goodbye, I thanked him for choosing me all those years ago. I was so lucky to call him mine.

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Eleven

I’m here tonight to accept my award for Best Slacker in a Blogging Role. I’d like to start by thanking space and time for conspiring against me to write at even minimal intervals at this point. It really takes special forces to make me stop doing one of the few things I’m okay-ish at. I’d also like to give a shout out to laziness, daily chaos and the black hole of laundry for allowing me to achieve this distinction. Really, I couldn’t have done it without you. Also, huge thanks to my short-term memory for briefly forgetting my own blog’s password; without you and your sidekicks, anxiety and panic, this truly wouldn’t be possible.

Who am I wearing? Oh, my leggings are by Gap, circa 2015.

Now that we’ve dispensed of the formalities, let’s discuss what finally brought me back here. My oldest child went ahead and turned eleven on me today. Eleven.

It’s only appropriate that, as I spend the day reflecting back on his birth, I am bombarded with media images of Duchess Kate presenting her newest addition to the world. The similarities between us, after all, are striking — the class, confidence, fashion, fresh hair and make up upon exiting the hospital. If. Only. I’ll refrain from adding yet another meme on this subject to the Internet, but I’ll just say that my seven-hours-post-partum style could be best described as Don’t Tell Me How Many Stitches I Have meets I Plan to Shower Sometime Before This Child’s First Birthday.

But somehow I pulled it all together, eventually, and raised a small human. The first time I wrote a birthday entry here for him was when he turned four, in my early blogging days. I made him a stegosaurus cake that resembled an armadillo doubling as a cautionary tale for diabetes. He schooled me on its anatomical inaccuracies, rocked his pre-school party and handed out Thomas-themed favors. It was the best I could do — I hadn’t yet been ruined by the domestic pressure cooker and fault-identifier known as Pinterest. Those were simpler baking and party planning times.

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Fast forward seven years. This weekend, I’m taking a group of boys to see the new Avengers movie and then to grab some food, which I expect they’ll consume in metric tons while telling fart jokes and comparing YouTubers. Happily, Pinterest has no place in the life of an eleven year-old boy’s party.

And these boys — his closest friends over the last few years — will finish elementary school with him in June.

I was in pretty firm denial about this, until I sat through parent orientation for middle school one night last week. It was all very informative and well-presented, even in the mystifying absence of paper bags for hyperventilation. I mean, middle school? What fresh hell is this going to bring? (Working on my optimism).

It’s hard to believe that this child will leave behind the place where he has attended school since 2013. Hard for me, anyway. I can admit that familiarity is my jam, and that I’m not remotely great when it comes to accepting major changes. Instead, I totally excel at worrying disproportionately about things over which I have no control, so fearing this whole upcoming transition is firmly in my wheelhouse. I’ve been training for years to do this.

It will be fiiiiiiiiiine. This is my mantra.

(It’s the only one I’ve got and so I’m sticking with it.)

I should note here that my son is completely and authentically non-mantra fine with all of it. Mostly because he knows there will be an actual cafeteria in middle school (see ya, packed lunches). And because he has grown tired of the non-fiction section of his current school library.

Yes, my Historian in Residence is still at it. While WWII remains his favorite period, there has been some broad diversification lately. What would breakfast be without a tutorial on the Roman Empire’s testudo battle formation? And a simple Spring Break meal in EPCOT’s Mexico pavilion wouldn’t be complete without shaming one’s parents for not knowing the difference between and Aztec and Mayan temple.

{Mr. Ruyzam, I know you never thought I’d say this, but I’m so deeply sorry for not paying attention in AP History in 1988. I can see now that I was wrong and that maybe truancy should not have, in fact, served as my greatest achievement of junior year. Had I known I would raise a budding historian and spend time researching which battle re-enactments we can attend this summer, I would have worked harder. A little. Ok, I probably would’ve at least attended class.}

Where books and facts are my son’s everything, he is navigating a world in which sports reign supreme as the social currency of boys his age. While his peers play in about 3,384 travel leagues, he’s happy wielding a sabre at fencing lessons or playing his tuba (although it nearly outweighs him — perhaps a more athletic pursuit than we all realized). He wants to talk about the news and understand the world around him. His imagination is vast, and his curiosity deep. What opportunities all of these traits will present to him remains to be seen, but he has confidence in what he knows and what holds his interest — which is more than I could say about myself at his age.

As with everything, he will be the first of my kids to show me what this next stage of parenting entails. We’ll cut our teeth on it together and he will both benefit and suffer from my inevitable mistakes, some of which I’m sure will be the butt of ongoing jokes for years of family dinners to come. It will be his journey and his experiences that shape what comes next. Even though he is becoming more independent in so many ways, he is still young enough to need us in a million more.

When he was born, I set up an email address for him in his name (I did the same for all three kids — and none of them know about it yet). A few times a year, I forward family photos with notes from me. And I always send an electronic copy of the newspaper on his birthday. It felt like this curated time capsule for the last decade, and soon I have to think about handing it over to him. It always seemed so far away to think it would be his to open, use and shape with his own notes and interests and contacts and identity, but like everything when it comes to our kids — it snuck right up on me.

And so, eleven is here. For him, eleven is more sneakers than fashion. More indoors than outdoors. More funny than exasperated. More evening than morning. More questions than answers.

And equal amounts of push and pull. As it should be.

This child is unique and compassionate. Strong willed and confident. A puzzle and a delight. And a distinct privilege to call mine and to show me the way. As always, he teaches me more than he can possibly imagine.

Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet boy.

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