Living the Dream

20 Dec

So I’m doing it. I’m doing that thing that people say to do—living in the moment. Not thinking about the past, not thinking about the future. Thinking about now. Enjoying now and being happy for the gift of the present moment.

At least, this is my daily goal; achieving it is really, REALLY hard.

When you have a child, especially an only child, you can’t help but think a lot about what it was like when your only baby was, well, a baby. I think about Roberto as an infant, a sweet little toddler who never crawled but walked on his knees for 7 months, as an adorable 4 year old—and it’s so difficult for me to see him as turning 12 tomorrow! At times, I think I still need to dress him and offer him a bottle, a binky, and a blanket. I almost think he would take these things if I caught him in the right mood.

He is closer to driving than wearing diapers. He is closer to drinking his first illegal alcohol than having a bottle full of milk. But in my mind—at the speed at which my personal parenting gears turn—he’s still a little kid. So you see, living in the moment for me isn’t some lofty, pie-in-the-sky goal. It’s a survival mechanism. I need to train myself to live in the moment because my brain can’t keep up with how fast the time has gone by.

Speaking of time . . . where have I been for a year? Let’s see . . .

AT WORK
Working at a job that I have only recently decided is no longer running my life. Bravo to me! No longer checking my email or working after hours. This has made a HUGE difference in my stress level and my quality of life.

AT HOME
Taking care of a house that I swear has somehow grown exponentially in size over the past year because it is now almost never as clean as I like and it takes me three times as long to keep it looking as good as it does. How does this happen? WHY does this happen? There are still three of us and yet, it looks like five more people have moved in.

ON VACATION
Our usual summer vacation, in Hilton Head, was different this year. Rob’s family is usually there, and some of my family is usually there, which means lots of cousins for Roberto to play with. This year, for a variety of reasons none of which I can remember, we ended up on a two-week vacation with just a handful of adults and one 11-year old child. Can you say boring? I was kind of dreading this trip. Not for me, of course. I could go on a two-week trip alone (preferably) and not be bored for a single second as long as I had a stack of books and the ocean. But I was so worried about what we were going to do with Roberto and who he would interact with and whether he’d have any fun. Two weeks is a long time to be away with no friends and no cousins of a similar age. The first week was OK because of another only-child older cousin (age 21). But they had a great time and things were good. Then toward the end of the first week, just when I was thinking that we should pack it in and go home, Rob and Roberto were walking down the beach and heard someone call out to them. It turned out to be friends of ours from Pittsburgh, 750 miles away on the same stretch of beach, with a bunch of kids! They saved our vacation. I was so happy and so thankful they were there. Rob and I were able to relax and enjoy knowing that Roberto was having a good time on the beach. Two points with this story—this was the first time in a long time I had that nagging feeling of “I wish he wasn’t an only child.” I thought if he had a brother or sister to play with, I wouldn’t have been nearly as worried for him as I was. My other point is that as soon as he found friends to play with, I stopped feeling like I wished he had a sibling. So what I think I was feeling wasn’t that he had a sibling, just a friend. And that time, the wish was granted.

MANAGING MY WEIGHT
Yes, readers, this gets its own category because as a 5’3 Italian-Polish American, my weight/body image is like the fourth person in our family. I see other people watch what they eat, start exercising, and lose weight, as if by magic. I’m telling you, this does not work for me. There is no quantity of food small enough and no amount of exercise great enough for the scale to read any lower than the current number, which I shall not reveal to anyone, ever. I’ve been doing hot yoga four times a week for the past five months, which I love and will not stop doing under any circumstances even though my left pinky and ring fingers have gone numb. Yes—I have seen a huge improvement in muscle tone and definition—but the scale remains the same. Maybe it’s a sign. Maybe I should start playing my weight as a lottery number. ANYONE ELSE following my diet and exercise regimen would be so thin they’d have to be hospitalized, but me . . . . No way man. It’s like my body and the fat on it signed a contract with my blood to never, ever part. But speaking of yoga, I do love it and I can’t say enough about how it has helped me both physically and mentally. It is everything you need in a workout—it’s demanding, but you focus on the NOW and think about NOW and learn how to breathe.

RAISING ROBERTO
Saved the best for last! Roberto started sixth grade this year, which is mind blowing. His middle school is huge—well over a thousand kids—which of course, I was losing sleep over. Would he fit in . . . . Would he be bullied . . . Would he get lost . . . Would he get good grades . . . Would he hate it . . . Would he love it . . . Would he have enough friends . . . Would he have too many friends . . . Would he be OK if I home schooled him instead and never let him outside? Would . . . Would . . . . Would . . . .

Those were my concerns as he approached the first day. Roberto’s? What shirt to wear. We all had our opinions, of course. Rob wanted him to go more conservative, while I wanted him to really get out there right away and express the full scope of his personality. He settled on a “Grumpy Cat” t-shirt that read, “This IS my happy face.” The shirt opened to solid reviews and was seen by all parties as a success. The first day of school went well too. Things are still going well for him at the new school. I had heard mixed reviews about this school so I wasn’t sure what to expect but so far, so good. I do know that kids can be up in the polls one day and then come crashing down the next seemingly without reason, so for every day that’s good, I give thanks.

The homework is pretty intense and sometimes he comes home claiming to be stressed out and saying that he “wants to rage.” I find that hilarious. Saying that you “want to rage” means that you can’t really be filled with rage, right? I mean, the definition of raging is that you can’t control it. Not like “Watch out everyone! I’m going to rage now!” It’s just funny. I advise him to punch a pillow and then break out some pencils and get started. Life is work, child. If you think it sucks now, wait until you get to do it EVERY DAY UNTIL YOU DIE AND INSTEAD OF PLAYING XBOX AND SHOOTING ZOMBIES TO RELAX, YOU GET TO COOK AND CLEAN AND PAY BILLS. Talk about rage!

I’m going to post more regularly now. My next post will be more cohesive than this one! Just wanted to catch you up on where I’ve been since it’s been 12 months since I’ve last written! Below is a small collage of photos from 2013. Thanks for reading!

Nicole

To believe or not to believe, that is the question

21 Dec

Allow me to apologize right away for the cheeseball title of this post. I can’t think of another one–my brain is fried from four days in a row of 12-hour work days. No, I don’t work in a mine or a mill or on an assembly line. I work for a very large health care company as the Managing Editor and I have spent the last four days turning incomprehensible health plan policy documents into things that make sense. This is called being “health literate.”

The big one is the venti. It is love in a cup.

The big one is the venti. It is love in a cup.

Yes, this has been an epic task, and I’m only halfway finished. I’ve done about ONE HUNDRED PAGES so far. A reasonable time frame for this scope of work would have been a month. I had three days. I got to work at 6 a.m. yesterday, after working until 10 p.m. the night before, and stopped at the Starbucks on my way up to my office. I told them that my usual order is a Venti soy latte but that I need to infuse that drink with the most caffeine allowed by law. The four baristas exchanged glances, and then one hesitatingly said to me, quietly, “You know, you could order it as a quad . . . that’s with four shots of espresso. I did that once,” and then he looked out the large floor-to-ceiling window for  moment, as if remembering a trip he had taken.

 

I said yes . . . THAT’s what I need and I handed over my $5.36. I’ve got to tell you . . . it worked. I was a machine yesterday. Also sweaty, moody, unpredictable, hungry, and mean, but the work I got done!

The effects started to wear off around 3 . . . but I managed to do just a little more and left work at 4:30. Of course, with the rain comes the usual confusion over which is the gas pedal and which is the brake, so there were about 2,00o accidents to navigate around on my way home. Luckily I remained unscathed and was able to talk to my friend Nicole the whole way home.

It was important to get home because today is a BIG DAY in our house. It is Roberto’s 11th birthday.

Also potentially the destruction of the world, but I’m focusing on the positive.

My boy is 11 today. Instead of saying a bunch of stupid crap like, “I can’t believe it,” and “Time flies,” and “They’re so great at that age,” I will instead tell you that he still believes in Santa and ask you if that is weird.

I sort of think it is, but kind of love it too.exist-christmas-ecard-someecards

Rob and I have never been Santa pushers. We have always pushed what we believe is the meaning of Christmas–the birth of Jesus–and have focused on that and less about Santa. Of course, we never told him that Santa is just made up or anything . . . we sort of went about our business and let the chips fall where they may re the jolly guy in the red suit. I suppose the world did the rest.

A couple days ago, he came home from school and said to Rob that some kids were saying that Santa isn’t real. He asked Rob point blank if he was. Rob told him to think about the Polar Express, and that as long as you believe, then Santa is real.

That satisfied Roberto and he didn’t ask any other questions. He’s definitely smart enough to keep asking and definitely persistent enough to keep asking, so I’m going to say that deep down he knows there’s really no Santa, but he’s not ready to give up yet. That’s fine with us.

A little more worrisome to me than his lukewarm belief in Santa is his steadfast belief in the Tooth Fairy. I’m talking he’d lose a finger in a bet over the existence of the Tooth Fairy.

You might find it strange — I do — that in our house, where we have completely blown off the Easter Bunny, whom we all find to be lame and silly, that we have fostered an unwavering belief in a tiny, flying, iridescent woman.

Yes, Roberto, there is a Tooth Fairy.

Oh no you dit’ent just say I don’t exist.

Maybe it’s because Rob is a dentist. Maybe it’s because Roberto was so late in losing his first tooth–so late, in fact, that I was convinced he didn’t have any adult teeth at all and would go through life gumming his food. When Rob took x-rays to show me there were in fact, adult teeth, I still wanted to take him for a second opinion to another dentist. That was a fun night!

So when Roberto did finally lose his first tooth, it was an incredible day. We celebrated. Maaaannnn, we did it up big.

Roberto said that if Santa got cookies and the reindeer got carrots, theeeeeeeeennnnnn the Tooth Fairy should get something too. We agreed on a nice glass of cold water because you know, from all the flying she would get thirsty and have to rest and take a drink . . . and then when she stopped to drink, her beautiful wings would touch the water and turn it a different color.

When we told Roberto that’s what would happen, he could scarcely believe us.

“Nuh Uh!” he said.
“Uh Huh!” we said.

He went to sleep and when he woke up, the water he put out had turned a deep shade of blue. He was thrilled. We poured the water into a little glass bottle and put it on a shelf in his room.

Fairy wing-dipped water bottles in Roberto's room

Fairy wing-dipped water bottles in Roberto’s room

Fast forward about what . . . 6 years and 7 bottles? A month ago, he and his best friend were in his room and his friend says “Hey! What are all those bottles of colored water on your shelf?”

In my mind, time slowed and I ran into his room, like “Nooooooooooo, doooooonn”’tttttttttt, sssstttttooooopppppppppppppppppppppp.”

But before I could do that, Roberto had answered “Oh . . .those are from the Tooth Fairy.”

Silence.

“Uhhhhhh, what?”

“The Tooth Fairy! When she stops to get a drink, her wings touch the water and it turns a different color.”

Silence. Then …

“Dude.”

The whole time, I’m sitting downstairs, my hands on my head, cringing, dying, not knowing what to do. I can’t stop the “convo”; I can’t tell Roberto there’s no Tooth Fairy in front of his friend. All I can do is wait and see how it all plays out. Ahhhh, life!

His friend, whose stock has soared in our house, never said another word other than “Dude.” Neither did Roberto.

Rob and I have talked about how to handle the Tooth Fairy. We can’t risk another frontal assault with the colored water bottles. That’s a humiliation not many 11 year old boys could come back from.

I think the next time Roberto gets a wiggly tooth, we’ll tell him there’s no Tooth Fairy and then double up on the cash that we leave under his pillow . . . you know, to ease the pain of loss.

The Fourth Stocking

7 Dec

photoA long, long time ago, I bought three stockings: one for me, one for Rob, and one for Roberto. I really liked them and how they looked. Not too “matchy” but they went together really nicely. I was debating at the store whether to get a fourth. I didn’t.

photo2I came home and started decorating for Christmas and hung up the three stockings and thought how cute they looked hanging from the knobs on our family room bookcases.

But something wasn’t right. I needed that fourth stocking. I knew I would have another baby someday and then what would I do? He or she would have an unmatched stocking, and that simply doesn’t happen in my house. The stockings are coordinated.

So I got in my car and drove the very short distance to Pier One Imports and bought another stocking. I wrapped it in tissue paper and put it in the bin of Christmas decorations that I don’t use but can’t get rid of . . . the ceramic Christmas tree I painted and glazed when I was 10. Rob’s silly paper mache Christmas clowns. Things like that.

And there the stocking sat pretty much undisturbed for the next 7 years…until yesterday, when I opened the bin and took the stocking out so that I could take it to work. I decided to hang it outside my cubicle in the hopes that some nice person I work with will put a gift in it.

So, since we’re all like, confessing and stuff, here’s another one: early in my pregnancy, I went shopping with a good friend. I bought an adorable dress at Gap Baby for my baby, because obviously I didn’t know that he was a boy at that time. However, I DID know that I was due in December and that I was buying a 3-month size summer dress, but whatever. I never was good at math and it was on clearance and it was THE dress to end ALL dresses. Sleeveless, pink linen, ruffles on the bottom, and wait for it . . . DIFFERENT KINDS OF TINY RIBBONS sewn across the front of the dress. It was a dream come true of a dress. I could see myself in it.

Only smaller. Much, much, much, much smaller.

At first, the dress was upstairs, waiting. Then after my beautiful boy was born, it went in a bin for the next baby. And like the stocking . . . there it sat. This bin saw more action than the Christmas bin. This bin got moved from place to place and added to as I saved the books, toys, and clothes of Roberto’s that were too precious for me to give away as he outgrew them. That damn dress became a constant reminder that I needed someone to fill it! It didn’t even matter if the someone was a boy. I would have made HIM wear it.

Earlier this year, I was in one of my “cleaning fits” and I decided to clean out the crawl space and reorganize the contents of the now 10 plastic bins that are full of Roberto’s things too precious to get rid of. I came across that darling dress . . . and I threw it away. I don’t throw anything away; I give it all to the Salvation Army. But that dress was an exception. That was my dress and my dream and no one was going to wear it but my imagination.

Do these things make me sad? Yes. I had always imagined that the stocking would be another son’s or a daughter’s someday. That was certainly my intention when I bought it. I had no idea back in 2005 that it would wind up hanging from an ingenious binder clip/paper clip combo on the 25th floor of a giant office building. Did I imagine that that perfect dress would never be worn? Nope.photo1

But do these things make me horribly, crushingly sad, like listen to The Smiths sad and wonder why my life didn’t turn out how I wanted sad? No. They don’t.

There are things in all of our lives that are hard to accept. You probably don’t have to think for more than half a second to find more than one. At 42, if the hardest things I have to accept so far in my life are that I will always be 10 pounds overweight and that I have one of the world’s most adorable children to call my one and only, then I’m cool with that and I’m doing pretty darn good.

Are we obsessed?

29 Oct

A very close friend of mine, who also has an only child, sent me an email recently and was asking my opinion on whether she was “obsessed” with her son’s social life and was I similarly obsessed with Roberto’s?

Obsessed with thinking about things like does he have enough friends, will he have someone to trick or treat with, does he have a best friend, is he bored too often, is he lonely too often, is he thinking that he should be with another kid?

My friend’s boy is 6, and I know that when Roberto was that age, I worried about the things she worries about now constantly.

I was always thinking about who would make a good friend and where could I take him so that he’d be with other kids and when would he be getting together with his cousins again and who WOULD he go trick or treating with?

Similar to my friend’s situation, these were much more my concerns than either Rob’s or Roberto’s, just like they are much more hers than her husband’s or son’s.

So is she obsessed? Was I? Are you?

I don’t think my friend is obsessed. I don’t think I was obsessed. I think it’s a common thing that some parents of only children go through that parents of multiple children don’t think about or realize.

Until I realized there was nothing bad or unfair or cruel about Roberto being an only child, I projected my sadness and self-doubt onto many situations when he was alone. Not onto him . . . but onto the circumstances. I wondered if HE was sad because I felt sad. I saw him longing for a sibling when he wasn’t; it was my longing for another baby. I saw need for a bigger family when there was no need at all. I saw lack for something when I already had everything I could ever need, and so did my child.

Love the color of your grass. It’s the perfect shade of green. 

It took me a long time to finally get to the point where I saw how lucky I was and to fall in love with being the parent of an only child. I got to let go of all the worry, and it was tremendous and freeing. Now, if Roberto complains that he’s bored, I tell him to go get the vaccum cleaner and help me around the house, or I say “Good. You’re too busy all the time anyway. It’s about time you got bored.”

I talked to my mom about this issue, and another friend who has three boys. They both said the same thing: having siblings doesn’t necessarily mean built in playdates or fun. The older ones want to be with their friends and they probably don’t want anything to do with their younger brothers and sisters. Or, two siblings may get along, and the third might get left out and need to have a friend along—but what if there is no friend? Or there may be two older girls with a younger brother, or vice versa, and one is constantly left out.

The message here is that whether you have one, two, or 10 kids, no parenting gig is easier or better to manage than any other. Parenting any number of children has its ups and downs and blessings and challenges.

The key is to be satisfied with whatever you are fortunate enough to have, and to know that your child is and will be fine.

Couldn’t Have Said it Better Myself. Really.

10 Oct

In poking around on the Web for some resources for upcoming posts, I stumbled upon two articles about having an only child. One is below and one I will include in an upcoming post. The woman below gets it totally right, while the woman in the next post, you will see, gets it totally wrong.

Simcha’s writing and, more important, her message is truly beautiful and there is nothing that I could write to enhance it in any way. It brought tears to my eyes and I’m sure it will to yours, too. Her approach is what the world needs more of. LESS judging and “my way is the right way” attitude and more “my way is hard and I can see that yours is, too.” Why is that so hard for people to do? What is it that innately sucks about human beings that we all feel the need, or the majority of us anyway, to make our lot harder than everyone elses in order to feel ok? Alas, that is a post for another day.

Anyway, here is the post. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

To the Mother With Only One Child

by Simcha Fisher, Thursday, January 19, 2012, National Catholic Register

Dear Mother of Only One Child,

Don’t say it. Before the words can even pass your lips, let me beg you: don’t say, “Wow, you have nine kids? I thought it was hard with just my one!”

My dear, it is hard. You’re not being a wuss or a whiner when you feel like your life is hard. I know, because I remember having “only one child.” You may not even believe how many times I stop and reflect on how much easier my life is, now that I have nine children.

All right, so there is a lot more laundry. Keeping up with each child’s needs, and making sure they all get enough attention, is a constant worry. And a stomach bug is pretty much the end of the world, when nine digestive tracts are afflicted.

But I remember having only one child, and it was hard—so very hard. Some of the difficulties were just practical: I didn’t know what I was doing, had to learn everything. People pushed me around because I was young and inexperienced. But even worse were the emotional struggles of learning to be a mother.

When I had only one child, I truly suffered during those long, long, long days in our little apartment, no one but the two of us, baby and me, dealing with each other all day long. I invented errands and dawdled and took the long way home, but still had hours and hours to fill before I would hear my husband’s key in the door.

I cared so much what other people thought about her—they had to notice how beautiful she was, they had to be impressed at my natural mothering skills. I obsessed over childhood development charts, tense with fear that my mothering was lacking—that I hadn’t stimulated her enough, or maybe had just passed on the wrong kind of genes. I cringe when I remember how I pushed her—a little baby!—to achieve milestones she wasn’t ready for.

I lived in terror for her physical safety (I once brought her to Urgent Care, where the doctor somewhat irritably diagnosed a case of moderate sniffles) fearing every imaginable disease and injury. In my sleep-deprived state, I would have sudden insane hallucinations that her head had fallen off, her knees had suddenly broken themselves in the night, and so on.

My husband didn’t know how to help me. I didn’t know how to ask for help. My husband had become a father, and I adored him for it. My husband got to leave the house every day, and sleep every night. He got to go to the bathroom alone. I hated him for it.

When I had only one child, I told myself over and over that motherhood was fulfilling and sanctifying and was filling my heart to the brim with peace and satisfaction. And so I felt horribly guilty for being so bored, so resentful, so exhausted. This is a joyful time, dammit! I should enjoy being suddenly transformed into the Doyenne of Anything that Smells Bad.

I loved my baby, I loved pushing her on the swing, watching squirrels at the park together, introducing her to apple sauce, and watching her lips move in joyful dreams of milk. But it was hard, hard, hard. All this work: is this who I am now? I remember!

So now? Yes, the practical parts are a thousand times easier: I’m a virtuoso. I worry, but then I move along. Nobody pushes me around, and I have helpers galore. Someone fetches clean diapers and gets rid of the dirty ones. When the baby wakes up in the middle of the night for the ten thousandth time, I sigh and roll my eyes, maybe even cry a little bit for sheer tiredness—but I know it will pass, it will pass.

It’s becoming easier, and it will be easier still. They are passing me by.

I’m broken in. There’s no collision of worlds. We’re so darn busy that it’s a sheer delight to take some time to wash some small child’s small limbs in a quiet bath, or to read The Story of Ferdinand one more time. Taking care of them is easy. It’s tiring, it’s frustrating, but when I stop and take a breath, I see that it’s almost like a charade of work. All these things, the dishes, the diapers, the spills—they must be taken care of, but they don’t matter. They aren’t who I am.

To become a mother, I had to learn how to care about someone more than I did about myself, and that was terrible. But who I am now is something more terrible: the protector who can’t always protect; the one with arms that are designed to hold, always having to let go.

Dear mother of only one child, don’t blame yourself for thinking that your life is hard. You’re suffering now because you’re turning into a new woman, a woman who is never allowed to be alone. For what? Only so that you can become strong enough to be a woman who will be left.

When I had only one child, she was so heavy. Now I can see that children are as light as air. They float past you, nudging against you like balloons as they ascend.

Dear mother, don’t worry about enjoying your life. Your life is hard; your life will be hard. That doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong—it means you’re doing it right.

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