A Whole Fucking Decade

My baby is ten.

Let me repeat that. My baby, my first-born, my little chubby-cheeked, sassy-pants little girl is TEN.

Fucking double digits. Ten. A decade.

No longer very chubby-cheeked. More beautiful and grown up than I could imagine. Definitely still sassy, but also moving into puberty-fueled moodiness with spontaneous ups and downs.

I have been a parent for an entire decade. Which, I realize to all of the parents out there who have been-there-doing-that for much longer than I have probably scoff and think to themselves that ten ain’t nothing. But for me, it’s definitely a big deal. As so many people my age are just having babies now or have toddlers, having a child tiptoeing the precipice to teenage-hood is remarkable, and marvelous, and fucking terrifying, and rewarding. It seems like this past year, more than any other, she has morphed into someone so like us and so apart from us. And I realize I likely say this every year, so please allow me this redundancy. Because I got to see her each day before my eyes, all day, growing, changing, learning. I got to see her unraveling this puzzle that is her place in life. It has been nothing short of spectacular, and I’m so thankful to be there with her so closely to guide her and just be there for her when her emotions were just too much for her. I hadn’t gotten such a front row seat since she was a baby.

And honestly, that time is so far gone now that I only really have bits and pieces of those memories still in an easily accessible place in my brain.

Time is so damn cruel, how it takes what it wants and leaves whatever it pleases. Like, even ten years later, I can still remember feeling anticipation of her being born. I used to sit in her room, rock in the rocking chair we’d bought, rub my belly, tight and smooth from stretching, and just look at her baby clothes and diapers so neatly folded and stacked. And I would just think about holding her. How it would be to finally have her out of me and in the world. I swear, I can feel her rolling around in me even now. I can close my eyes, and I can be back there. So acutely, so otherworldly. But I can’t remember all of the little things she’d say funny as she was learning to speak. And I can’t remember what her favorite dinner was when she was 5. And I can’t remember what made her scared or automatically giggle when she was 3. I can’t remember it all.

I can remember what her face looked like when she slept. She looks exactly the same even now. The way she stretches and pouts out her lips and squinches her eyes shut. It’s uncanny how she looks like she’s 1 again.

I can remember what she smelled like when I rocked her to sleep when she was 3, having to guess what animal she was every night before she’d let me put her in her bed. I don’t know if there’s something scientific behind it, but I think every person has a distinctive scent because her head still smells the same.

I can remember how her whole self loved me more than anything. How she would sweet talk her way into making me stay in her room with her while she fell asleep. Or how she would convince me to let her out of bed to have a snack and a snuggle just because she wanted to be near me.

And I’m thankful that I can remember those things because there have been many moments in the last year when I swore my daughter couldn’t stand to be near me. When she’d get so mad at me that she couldn’t even look at me. When it would break my heart to send her to her room or take away privileges. And she would look at me with such contempt. And I had to tap into those memories until she would calm down, and then snuggle up to me like nothing had ever happened.

Yes, I know there’s so much more of this (and worse) to come. Please, spare this mom that reminder. I’m already struggling enough to get through this acceptance of her no longer being a little kid. My eyes are spilling over with tears enough while writing this.

But don’t you write these every year? Yes.

And don’t you cry every year? Yes.

I cry because I’m naturally very sentimental and sensitive. But this year I’m crying because I realize just how important these reflections have become to me. I started out writing them for my kids. So that when they’re adults, they can see snapshots of who they were as kids, and how much they were adored. But now I realize that they’re becoming time capsules for me. Because I can’t always hold on to every little memory on my own. My brain has no choice but to file some things in the back where they’re not easy to get to. But when I read these reflections, it’s almost like I can go back in time and be there at any of their ages.

And now that Lily is 10, and spending less time snuggling up to me and more time doing her own thing, I really need these reminders that underneath it all, she’s still my little girl.

And don’t get me wrong, I love how she’s growing up and don’t want to stifle her. I love how she’s taken her illustrations from the paper to art apps on the IPad all on her own. She draws and writes her own comic books. She is clever and witty, and can hold her own when coming up with puns and jokes. She’s become much more aware of her self-image, loving accessories and playing with makeup and trying to look like a little lady. All awhile still loving to be goofy, using Snapchat to make her face into a bee or using the IPad to make her face distorted with the fish eye lens.

She’s still such a kid. She still plays with her Beanie Boos, sometimes recording them and splicing the videos together, adding sound effects and transitions. She plays in our giant sandbox, creating prisons and adventures for Ollie’s G.I. Joes. She snuggles her stuffed animals at night; needs to sniff her pink blanket sometimes; doesn’t want to do chores; hates taking a shower and needs to be reminded to wear deodorant or comb her hair (other kids do need those reminders too, right?). She’s obsessed with Pokemon, Star Wars, and Pusheen cats. She’ll yell at her brother and tell him to leave her alone one minute, and then be on the couch snuggled up with him watching Netflix the next. You know, average kid stuff.

Which I think balances out all of the times when she has conversations with me about topics that should be beyond her age, like politics or human rights. Or when she so astutely observes adults being hypocrites. Or when she calls me or Josh out on something, effectively putting us in our places. Because while she may only be ten, she’s already ten. She’s silly, and talkative, while still being mature and pensive. And that girl reads like nobody’s business. So when she asks to read our National Geographic magazines and then wants to talk about gender roles or female genital mutilation, and she does so in such a respectful, wise-beyond-her-years ways, I sit in awe of her. Because my daughter, who has been on this earth just a fraction of the time as some, can see without any doubt or hesitation, things that others still fight against or refuse to acknowledge. And that makes me so fucking proud to be her “mom-mom”.

So, ultimately, I guess we’re really a part of two worlds with her now. One in which she still comes to my room to get me if she has a bad dream (or if she’s sleepwalking and wants to tell me something weird while still unconscious), and the other in which she chooses her own clothes and is only 4 inches shorter than me. And though she’s almost as tall as me, that crazy girl still tries to get me to pick her up and hold her at least once a day. I told you, she’s silly. 🙂

So, Lily-Boo, a very happy and momentous double-digit birthday to you. I am so proud of who you’ve become, and honestly look forward to each coming day straddling these two worlds with you, even the bad ones when you can’t stand to be in the same room as me. Because even when you’re mad, your pouty face reminds me of your toddler years when I thought those fights were bad. And no matter how mad we may get at each other, there is love there that nothing can break. You’re who made me a mother and who continues to challenge me into being a better mother, and I’m eternally grateful for you in my life. Because without you, I wouldn’t be constantly striving to be a better, more patient, and considerate human. You mean so much more to me than you can possibly realize.

Happy birthday, Pookie. I hope it’s everything you’ve been counting down on your calendar for and more. You’re an amazing, unique, beautiful soul, and you deserve the world. I love you.

You do you, my boy

Looking back at my birthday reflection from last year, my words now feel so ironic. I remarked on how Ollie was an ever-steady personality, that change hadn’t come much over the last year. And now I think about his year 5-6 and see how it was THE year of change for him. Beautiful, hard, deeply important change. He had some major battles, and his success was hard-fought and deservedly won, and I couldn’t be prouder of him for who he has become.

As was evident in his last birthday essay, Ollie struggled a bit with leaving me at school for some of the year while in Pre-K. He worried I wouldn’t come back or that he would be left alone forever. By early spring, I thought that issue had nipped itself in the bud; but, almost right after his 5th birthday, his anxiety came rushing back unexpectedly and with a fierce vengeance.

It seemed so startling at first because it was almost like over night he went from being reluctantly happy to see me go, to him being completely distraught all over again. Everyone in his life wracked their brains trying to figure out what was eating at him, but no one could pinpoint one single thing. Was it the first death in our family that made him ask me what would happen if I died? Was it his body finally realizing it couldn’t keep up with the pace of school and causing him to become overly sensitive? Was it something he’d seen on tv, something someone said, something we couldn’t imagine? Was it none of the above?

It was emotionally exhausting trying to figure out why he was suddenly clinging to me and sobbing when I tried to go anywhere without him, whether it be to school or just to the grocery store while he stayed home with grandma. It was so unlike him and it worried me to no end.

Finally, I took him to the doctor who suggested he see a psychologist. And after waiting almost a month to get him in, that he did. We spent our summer seeing his psychologist about once every 10 days. And eventually it began to make a difference. He started becoming less and less fearful, better and better with leaving me. And as tiresome as it was to maintain unflinching patience with him when I just needed to go to the store for 30 minutes, I think it ultimately helped a bit.

Until it didn’t anymore.

Until one day out of the blue he began again to act as though I would leave him forever. With no provocation, other than our push for him to be more independent. We saw he could and so we encouraged him to continue to do so. But he pushed back. And I feared he’d never get better.

Until he did.

And not because he saw the psychologist more often or because we tried more therapies. Because in truth, I was so tired of going to the psychologist about once every week just to see him show the same behaviors day in and day out that I finally made the decision to stop taking him. And maybe it’s not the type of thing that’s recommended because we didn’t phase him out, we just stopped. But it’s what we ultimately decided to do.

But you know what, after we just stopped, and told him we stopped because we saw he had gotten so much better and thought he didn’t need to go anymore, he really did get even better. It was almost as if he needed to believe that he had it in him to do whatever he needed to do. That it wasn’t that someone had to be there telling him how to manage himself, he could do it all on his own.

And I really think this was a turning point for him. This  was back in September, almost halfway through his year 5, and only a few weeks into our new homeschooling lifestyle that this happened. But after that point, instead of him assuming he needed to be taught everything or shown  or assisted in doing everything, he suddenly began believing he could do anything. And he began creating his own learning experiences and his own projects. And it felt, to me at least, that he was suddenly on his way. Just like it seemed that overnight he curled into himself and began feeling afraid and insecure, overnight he sprang from that mindset and went back to being his true self again.

And because I overthink everything, I’ve been trying to figure out what it was exactly that allowed this to happen. And the more I think and the more I read and the more I embrace this new way of living we’ve chosen, the more I realize that what it was that changed him was simply time. Time to simply grow up.

Now what I’m about to say may not be an opinion that sits well with everyone. And I mean this in no way to be judgmental. But it’s something I’ve come to believe very deeply over the last year since I began researching homeschooling. And now that I’ve seen my own children benefit from this way of life, I absolutely believe it to be truth. At the very least, our truth.

Kids are little for such a precious short time. And we in America seem to value achievement and competition so much that we impose these things on our youngest people and in a way that can , and often does, create irrevocable harm to them. We push them into schools, for many of them, not long after they’ve become potty-trained. We’ve traded daycare for preschool. School. For babies. We take away their time to play, experiment, discover, be free and push them to “learn”, to read, to write, to achieve more and more, outdo their peers. We take away nap time and story time and time to be messy and fall and hurt themselves for the “safety” of a room with tiny chairs and tables that they’re asked to spend most of their day at, sitting, doing as their told. And then we wonder why children act out or “fall behind” or any of the myriad other complaints we have about our children in schools these days. We impose unnatural circumstances and behaviors on our children and then fail to see why they don’t thrive.

And trust me, I’m no better than anyone else who has put their child into schools. I too pushed for them to read better and more when I saw they naturally could sooner than most. I felt pride when their teachers told me they were well-behaved or had good grades. Because that is what I was conditioned to believe.

But now, getting off my soapbox. I can see so damn clearly now that what Ollie needed more than anything else this past year was just time to mature. Time to be 5, to be barely more than a baby. Time to grow at his pace and at his comfort level. Time for him to take his own risks when he chose. To learn more about himself and his world when he was ready. When HE was ready.

And now he is ready. Now he’s back to being his silly, joyful, curious little self. It was heartbreaking seeing my usually happy, confident little boy reduced to fear, sadness, uncertainty, and involuntary tics, and thinking there was nothing we could do. And it feels so amazing now to know that the only thing he really needed was nothing. Nothing but us to be there, to love him, to believe in him, and to let him do what he needed to do when he needed to do it.

And now he’s ever the more not my baby boy. He’s grown so tall, and seemingly over night grown into a little man’s body with no more chubs hanging around his tummy or thighs. He’s strong, and sharp, and beautiful. He’s still got his smile that warms your soul, and a penetrating, knowing look, like his father, that bores into your core.

And he still has a sense of adventure, and to be honest, recklessness. He can’t quite decide if he wants to drive submarines when he grows up, or be an astronaut. He wants to build rockets, and discover new species of fish deep in the ocean. Of course, he might also like to be a veterinarian or a locksmith like his dad. And he wants to have kids someday but only if he doesn’t have to get married. And he still doesn’t care if Barbies are “for girls” or not. He loves Linda, his Barbie, and he’ll be damned if you try to make him feel otherwise.

And I’ll be damned if anyone, including myself, ever tries to make him feel, or act, or do anything he doesn’t feel ready for ever again. He trusts me with every ounce of his being to be the person who knows him the best and has nothing but his best interest at heart. And I will never let him down again.

And so, my Bubba-Boy, my heart, my love., a very happy 6th birthday to you. Even though I can’t quite wrap my head around you being 6 already, I will not wallow in sadness over 6 years gone because I know you have so many more to go. And I plan on seeing you though all of them as your biggest fan and greatest support. You continue to build your towers and then crash them down. You peg off your Beanie Boos with your nerf guns and then dress Linda up in her finest. You continue to feel the pride you deserve in reading aloud to us those silly adventures of Elephant and Piggie. You continue to run amok with your friends (real, honest to goodness friends), and challenge yourself to be your most authentic you. You are a beautiful force to be reckoned with, with a spirit and soul to rival no other.

Get your fill of Cheez-its and whatever other junk food your heart desires today because it’s your day. I love you, little buddy. Here’s to another year of you.

The Last of the Single-Digits

As Lily enters her last year of being of a single-digit age, I can’t help but think this is an enormous turning-point for her. Her physical development is starting to catch up with her precocious nature. And it’s readily apparent to anyone who sees her that this little girl is becoming a young woman. Already. How is that even possible?

I’ll admit, my memories of being a child are a bit fuzzy. I have general time frames at which certain things happened, and have some recollections of things I did and people I did them with. So I may be looking at Lily’s development through a very skewed perception when I wonder how in the hell a 9-year-old can already be becoming a woman. To me, she’s still a baby. I mean, 9, in the grand scheme of things, is really quite new to the world. But then I look at this long-legged beauty, and listen to the clever, witty things that comes out of her mouth, and get slapped with realty. A baby she most certainly is not anymore.

Then again, I don’t want to encourage her to grow up too fast. Meaningful, careful change takes time. I want her to have all the time she needs.

This first occurred to me when, one day this spring, she had her two good girlfriends over to play—both of whom are one year older than she is. The three girls were all outside taking advantage of the mild spring weather. I just sat and watched them. They were all wearing training bras, all in different stages of needing them. They were all wearing some sort of accessory or had nails painted. They all had cute, sassy little outfits on. They all looked very much like they were becoming little ladies. And one might assume by just looking at them without hearing their conversations that they might be gossiping about boys or talking about situations with other friends at school. But they weren’t. They were playing house. Well, a strange combination of house and Minecraft, but house nonetheless. Like with baby dolls and each girl playing a different role: mom, dad, little sister. They were making pretend food from garden materials, and playing with Lily’s tea set and toy dishes that she got when she was 2. And it was so sweet.

It was at this moment that I really came to understand the term “tween” (even though I still think it sounds ridiculous). Here was my girl in a training bra, with hoop earrings in her ears, and temporary metallic tattoos on her arms, playing house and tea party. Not quite ready to move on, and not quite ready to let everything go. A little bit like a child, and a little bit like a teen, and nothing all the way. She’s kind of stuck in this middle-ground trying to slowly traverse her way from one stage to the next. And though I’m a little bit sad at how quickly childhood goes by, it’s sort of endearing as well. I do have many memories of that time in my life, with my girlfriends, and it was some of the best times of my childhood. I’m really glad she’s able to experience it as well.

In continuing with Lily’s transition from girlhood to womanhood, I also noticed that she’s become much more aware of how other females act, dress, and present themselves. I see her looking at older girls, studying them. What are they wearing? How are they talking? Who are they with? It’s almost as if she’s trying to figure out how she fits into the womanhood equation. And when she comments about seeing other girls maybe acting in a way she doesn’t agree with, I can see that she’s sizing up their choices in relation to what I’ve given her as a perspective on what it means to be a woman. Of course I’m going to always be, perhaps, a most influential example. But I do try to explain that there really is no one definition of what it means to be a woman, and I think she’s really trying to piece out all the choices available to her.

It’s a puzzling time, I think, making this transition. She needs to figure out what her values are, and how they compare to what we’ve tried to instill in her, and what might be uniquely her own. She needs to figure out what she likes about herself and others. She needs to figure out what her strengths and weaknesses are. All awhile taking into account what she feels others see in her. And I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to be there to play a more active role in her life this past year. Not having to dedicate so much of my time and energy to my job and someone else’s children, but rather my own, has been a true blessing. Especially given Lily’s nature.

One of my favorite stories to tell about Lily, and one I think I’ve already included in a birthday reflection, is from when she was about 10 months old. She had a very favorite book that we read approximately 1 million times a day. And one day, she picked it up and held it out to me. I asked her if she wanted me to read it, and she grunted and clapped her hands. And when I jokingly said, “But what if I don’t want to?”, she stiffened her arms out to her sides, balled up her fists, and yelled. I still think that memory is both hilarious and telling of her. Lily wants what she wants. And God help you all If you make her angry.

And even though she has definitely come to realize she can’t have everything she wants, she’s still just as fiery and quick to anger. But now she will pout, stomp upstairs to her room, and shut out the world. I understand that sometimes she just needs some time alone. But luckily I also have the time, energy, and patience to be there for her. Because every time (I’m not exaggerating), every time she gets into one of these moods, if I come to her room to see if she wants to talk after she’s had time to calm down, she always does. She wants me to hold her hand or snuggle her, and just listen to her. She wants to cry and yell, and be heard. And I’m forever grateful that she lets me do that. That I can be present for her. Because I know so many children who never had that, and how it made them grow distant, angry, self-critical, and even harmful to themselves and others. And I’m grateful that Lily loves and trusts me enough to know that no matter if she’s angry with me or someone/something else, or if she knows I’m angry with her, I’m still going to come into her room, sit on her bed, and ask her if she wants to talk about it. And I hope this will help her through whatever challenges this next year will bring.

And I expect there to be many challenges ahead of us. With homeschooling on the horizon, it could be a recipe for trouble even though it will also most probably bring us closer. What I hope is that Lily will continue to see how much I believe in her, and transfer those beliefs to herself. I hope she will go back to loving school, as much as she loves learning (which are, of course, not one in the same). I hope she continues to grow as an artist now that she will have ample time on a daily basis to experiment with new ideas, mediums, and techniques. I just hope that every hurdle we come upon, we will jump over together. Whether she is giving me a boost or the other way around.

Because as I love my children equally but different, I love my firstborn in a way a parent has to love the person who brought them the greatest gift of parenthood. I see so much in her, and I would do anything for her. She was my first sidekick, my first baby, my only girl, and hopefully my future best friend.

And so, Miss Lily-Girl, I wish you more happiness than you can ever know. I love everything about you, even the things you yourself don’t seem to appreciate. Because you know what, Pookie, everything inside of you makes a whole you. And without them, you wouldn’t be the girl I know so well. Embrace all your quirks, interests, shortcomings, fears, hopes, and dreams because every bit of those things make you the funniest, cleverest, pun and joke-making, intelligent, talented, beautiful little sassy-pants that you are.

I saw a story online that told of a mother who always told her daughter, “I wish you enough.” And it resonated with me. Yes, I wish you the world, but only so far as the world brings you that which fulfills you. I wish you enough from life to make you happy. Because no matter how much you have of toys, clothes, books, travels, whatever, as long as it makes you truly happy in your soul, it will be enough to sustain you. And that is what I wish for you, my dear girl. I wish you enough.

I love you, Pookie. I hope you have a most marvelous last single-digit birthday. Thank you for being my baby.

To My Kiddos

This morning I read a news article explaining that the original founders of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, were arrested in the Capitol for protesting ‘big money’ in politics. Knowing a bit about the two, and knowing that they regularly speak up for and out against issues that they find important, I wasn’t really surprised by this information. But maybe because it’s the primary election day; or, maybe because we’re in the midst of a political movement that has been a long time coming and needed, and the likes of which we haven’t ever seen; or, maybe it’s my own growing desire to do something of similar meaning and importance; or, maybe it’s a firestorm of all of those things; whatever the reason, I felt compelled to seize this feeling, and make this an opportunity to hopefully teach my kids a little something someday. Thus, this letter is born.

 

Dear Lily and Ollie—

As your parent, I want so very many things for you. The normal stuff—love, friendship, health, opportunities, and of course happiness. But I also want some pretty complicated things too. I want you both to understand things about life that took me far too long to figure out, or at the very least, accept. But these things I want for you aren’t things I can give you. No, these things are far too valuable, and which you must earn on your own. And I worry each day about you missing out on them, and feeling like I could be failing you if you do. Please understand that it’s not that I don’t want to give you these things. If I could, I’d open your skulls, and crack open your ribs and shove these things deep into your brains and hearts. But like most things that are worth anything at all, these things will only be worth it if you go out and get them yourselves, and define what each means to you as individuals.

I can hear you now, Lily, “Ok, Mom, stop being so damn vague. Get to the point.” Or, at least that’s what I imagine you’ll sound like someday when you’re old enough to read and appreciate this. Ollie, tell your sister to calm down. I’m getting to it. So impatient she is. 😊

What I want so badly for you is something I was not able to give myself until recently. I want you both to feel safe enough to always be brave, and fierce, and radical. To do what’s right, not what’s popular or expected of you. To believe in something so deeply you’re willing to risk everything for it. To put yourself out there and try. And to put yourself on the line sometimes. You know, “fight the good fight”.

I want these things for you because no one ever achieved anything great by sitting on the sidelines. And what I want for you is greatness. Not necessarily in the sense that you need to be President or someone rich and famous. But greatness in the sense that though you may question yourself or doubt your choices, you’ll never regret them because you’ll have earned a life that makes you genuinely and wholeheartedly happy. I mean happiness that seeps into every cell of your being. Happiness that cannot be permanently erased by a slipup or momentary hard time. Happiness that is so inherently a part of who you are that no one can take it away. But the only one who can give you that is you.

And so you need to live each day with the intention of doing all you can to better your life. To find that place of deepest contentment. But not be afraid to shake things up to get there. You need to go to sleep every night knowing that you truly did all you could that day to be the best you, work toward the best world, and that what you’ve done could have enacted change or goodness for others, and lead you to your greatest happiness. If you cannot do that, you mustn’t be too hard on yourself, but promise yourself to do so tomorrow. But don’t sell yourselves empty promises. Believe me, that’s only a temporary soothing. It’s a Band-Aid where you need stiches. Use your words, and use your heart, and act. Take a plunge, knowing you could, and likely will at some time, fall hard. Then get yourself back up again, brush off those bits of gravel from your pants, and climb up and jump again.

Of course, don’t be foolish. Your dad and I have hopefully raised you better than that. Do your research. Think. Inspect. Ask around. See for yourself. Experiment. And listen to others. Don’t always take what they say and adopt it. But listen. Always be listening. And choose wisely. There are so many chances to take. And there are so many battles in this world. You can’t fight them all. It took me until my 30’s to realize that. You must be more like Atticus and less like Scout. (Surely, you’ve both read To Kill a Mockingbird by now! What kind of mother would I be otherwise??) As long as you are helping others, and not harming yourself or anyone else, know that we will support your choices.

And just remember that everyone is someone. We all have thoughts, hopes, dreams, fears, mistakes, etc. If you can look into the eyes of every person you meet, and see them as a person, an individual, regardless of their actions, behaviors, or choices, and see what is universal in us all, I think you will never really make a terrible mistake. We’ve tried to raise you with empathy, and with consideration for others in hopes that when you see a wrong being committed, you’ll act to stop it. And when you see a need being unfulfilled, you do what you can toward filling it. Everything we have done and continue to do is for you two. For your greater good and so that you will become amazing adults. And we hope you can use our examples as a springboard for doing so much more. Losing my job for speaking out against poor education practices is small peanuts really. But I have the hope that it was one of the first examples of you seeing your parents standing up for what they believe in, even though it had a somewhat unfortunate outcome. Follow us, kiddos, but eventually pass us. Forge those trails on your own. Look back and we’ll be waving. We will always be here; we will always support you. So don’t be afraid to be yourselves and do what’s in your heart. Because if you do, you’ll never want for a thing. And what more could we hope for you both?

Love you with all my heart and soul,

Mom

Halfway to double digits!

I usually begin my yearly birthday posts by going back to the post from the previous year to see what highlights I picked out then, and to see in what ways my babies have changed.  In the past, there have been numerous changes. New abilities. New interests. New hobbies. New character traits. But this year I was quite surprised to see just how much Ollie is still the same. And at first I wondered how this could be. He seems to have grown so much. But yet, at his core, he’s still very much the same person.

Initially I wondered if his constancy was a good thing. Did it indicate a lack of progress? Was he not developing as he should? Was he content to be stagnant? But the more I thought about it, the more I really believe that it’s a unique and wonderful thing. How many people can you honestly say aren’t affected by what is around them—popular culture, others’ interests or behaviors, music and/or tv, etc.—and merely stay who they are no matter what? I know that I’ve personally been affected by others many, many times. I know that I’ve tried to change who I am to fit some mold or role or expectation of who I was to be. But not Bubba. He just keeps on rolling as before. It really makes me so proud that he’s so content with who he is that he doesn’t seem to feel the need to change.

That’s not to say that he doesn’t find new things he’s interested in or want to join Lily in whatever she’s obsessed with at any given moment. Over the last year he has become a huge fan of Beanie Boos, Pokemon, Star Wars, and Minecraft because his sister was into them first. But I attribute that more to his adoration of his big sister. That boy wants nothing more than for his sister to want him around as much as he wants to be around her. Some days he gets lucky in this area, and somedays not so much. But he never stops trying to make himself her best friend. It doesn’t matter how many times she yells at him, or makes him cry, or pushes him away, he always comes back. Not that he’s a walking punching bag. He just seems to be able to know that underneath the sibling squabbling lies the coolest person in his life. And though she may huff and puff and roll her eyes when I tell her he just loves her so much, even she can’t resist his smile.

Ah, that little smile of his. Those full cheeks, and big, blue eyes, and dimpled, pointy chin combine into a perfect storm of cuteness that I dare anyone to resist. Bet you can’t. I know at least I can’t. And I’m pretty sure he knows this too, much to his benefit. Lily was always so damn clever and manipulative at his age, that I would give in sometimes just out of sheer amazement at her negotiation skills. I had to give her credit for her hard work, after all. But Ollie needn’t even go that far. He just needs to flash one of his smiles or sad, pleading looks, and I’m hard-pressed to say no. Of course I do say no sometimes, but it takes all my willpower not to give that little cutie everything he asks for and more.

Thankfully he doesn’t usually want much. He’s like any kid who wants a new toy anytime we enter Target, but he takes “no” fairly well when that’s the final answer. He’s an easy-going, easily pleased little guy. If he gets upset or angry, he’s usually over it within a few minutes, and then he’s back to whatever he was doing beforehand. He may still be very sensitive and easy to bruise emotionally, but at least he’s quick to forgive and forget. I’m thankful for that too because if he held a grudge every time he got upset, he’d be a perpetual grey cloud. But him, a grey cloud? Nope. No way. Thunder sometimes when he’s off-the-wall crazy and rambunctious. But never the rain on anyone’s parade. Always the rainbow.

And with this past year came the addition of school into his life. And with school, so many new people with so many different personalities. And also with school came less Mommy. And boy was it a task to get used to this at first—well, at least the Mommy part. He adjusted so well to meeting new kids. Kids who looked different than him, talked different than him, behaved different than him. And not once was this ever a problem for him. Bless his little heart, he never once asked me why most of his new friends had dark skin, or why some of them didn’t speak much English, or why some of them yelled or pouted, or talked back to the teachers. As long as they wanted to play Legos with him or build with Magnatiles (His FAVORITE things to do!), they were perfectly ok in his book. And if another student was disruptive or trying to get him to act out, he would just continue doing whatever he was doing, completely nonplussed and unconcerned with anyone else. Sometimes he’s just so damn good-natured, he’d let his friends squeeze the hell out of him with love or wrestle him to the ground with playing. And he’d just sit back and absorb it, and move on. Nothing seems to faze him.

Maybe he’s so good with his classmates because he knows what it is to feel something so strongly and to love so fiercely. He still showers me with hugs and kisses, and “I love You”s . It took him until about November before he would stop crying when I left his classroom each morning. He still makes me give him about a dozen hugs and kisses (no, seriously, I’m not exaggerating), but at least he lets me walk out looking at his smiling face instead of sobbing face. And I’m more than happy to oblige him in his need for affection because I think every child should have absolutely no doubt in their mind that they are the single most important thing in their parents’ lives. He certainly knows it, as does his sister.

And I suppose in a very selfish way, I’m also glad to know he still needs me as much as he once did, even if the need is different now. This is something that has taken me almost nine years of parenting to figure out. No matter how independent your children get, and how much they will do on their own and not ask your help with, they always need you. Always. They will never stop needing your love, attention, support, appreciation, lessons, structure, advice, interest, information, affection, worry, presence, communication, honesty, etc. And I saw this very clearly this year sending Ollie off to school. Sure, I’d pick him up and he’d be all smiles from having so much fun in school that day. But he always told me he was glad to see me, glad that I came back. And at first it struck me as odd and somewhat sad that he’d think otherwise, but I guess being in a new situation like that can bring out one’s fears in that way. But the fact that I kept coming back for him eventually led him to not worry so much anymore and to enjoy being with others. So even though he doesn’t need to hang on to me as much anymore, I think he needs my being there, and knowing I always will be. And that’s certainly something I can easily give him.  Every day. For eternity.

And so I look forward to watching him over this next year. Watching him grow even more into a little man. Losing his baby soft roundness and cutesy voice. Watching him continue to not give two shits what anyone might think about his nail polish or pink stuffed animals. To continue coming up with crazy stories or building newer and more inventive towers, buildings, and worlds. To watching him make more and more sense of written words on paper, and to write stories of his own. To watching him run, and climb, and crash, and fall, and get back up again, and smile all awhile. And to be there to be his wrestling partner or to chase him up the stairs squealing as I tickle him to death. I look forward to watching any changes that may take place, but more so to watching him continue to be the sweet, self-assured, kind, easy-going little love bug he’s always been.

So, my Bubba, I wish you a most wonderful 5th birthday full of what you love best: smiles; practical jokes; Cheez-Its; annoying your sister; hugs and kisses; high-pitched squeals; big belly laughs; funny, made up songs; and lots of sweets. I love you, my little man, more than I have the ability to express. I hope you feel every day just how loved you are, and how much more wonderful our lives are because of you in it. We are so very lucky to be your family. And I wake each day thankful I’m your mom.

 

Anniversary Musings

Yesterday the Hubs and I went on a much-needed anniversary date. Usually we’ll either go out for a simple dinner or stay home with the kids and cook something nice. But this year we decided to take it up a notch and go to dinner, out for drinks in a swanky bar/restaurant, and then out to see live music.

It was honestly one of the best nights I’ve had in a very long time.

I was overcome with so many feelings, sensations, observations, vodkas, and knew I had to get something down in writing. So here are my Friday evening, out-on-the-town musings.

1. Some of the greatest pleasures are so simple. Life is busy. There is logically only so much time in one’s day to do all the myriad things that “need” to get done. I think we often believe we’re being selfless and honorable by sacrificing things that bring us pleasure and happiness in order to maintain family function and calm. But I really think we’re being incredibly stupid. Denying yourself that which makes you happy is not living to a higher standard. It’s not making you a better person. It’s not getting you closer to whatever deity you may revere. It’s killing you. Anyone who routinely puts others’ needs over their own time and again without consideration for what they’re taking away from themselves is slowly making their life miserable.

Hear me out. I’m not saying that we all need to be selfish pricks who only consider their own desires. But to always think that what you want is less important than what others want or need is in fact harmful. Because even if we don’t want to admit it even to ourselves, there is a little voice in the back of your head asking, “When is it our turn?” Listen to that voice. Give it what it wants every now and then. Want that $5 bar of chocolate and to not share it with anyone? Buy it, hide it. You want to enjoy a nice meal without distraction? Find someone to watch the kids, or the dog, or do whatever it is that would keep you from quiet and peace.

Whatever it is that gives you pleasure in life, whether it is a fancy meal that costs more than my day’s salary; or, simply five minutes to belt out your favorite song in the shower or car without shame; whatever it is, do it.

Last night we didn’t worry about money. We ordered what we wanted. Had an amazing, delicious, sensuous meal. Worth it. Went and had several $10 cocktails. The drinks were delicious, the presentation and concocting of said drinks by the bartenders was a show in itself. Fucking worth it. And then we sang and moved to the music amongst many others doing the same in a small, dingy club. So. Worth. It.  My hangover right now? Totally worth it.

2. Speaking of those bartenders who put on a good show… Maybe it was the sake I’d already consumed. Maybe it was the jitters of excitement from being in a nice place and without worry of getting home on time; but, once I walked into that drinkery, I was moved. Everything about that place radiated excitement and sexiness. It felt like bygone times. It felt like you stepped out of wherever you were before you walked through the doors, and found yourself in another world. Soft lighting; vibrant artwork; sleek, simple decor; sultry woods; and the best aroma: man. That probably sounds gross, but for me it was perfect.

As I looked around and took everything in, I said to Hubs that this place feels like a return to a time when men weren’t afraid to groom themselves. All the bartenders had nice kept beards. Their hair was styled. They had on dress shirts underneath their smooth leather aprons. They had chosen pieces of jewelry. They smelled like cologne or aftershave or both. Nothing that overwhelmed your sense of smell. Just enough to remind you that they were there. As I watched them swell their biceps shaking those cocktail shakers, I thought, “This is a man. And men are fucking amazing.” And then I looked next to me and saw exactly the same thing. And I thought about how lucky I am that I have the exact type of man I find most irresistible. Had he gone around the bar and started mixing cocktails too, I might have had to take advantage of him right then and there.

I know I’m just as bad as most when it comes to being lazy about my appearance. I love yoga pants. There are my fair share of weekend days when no makeup touches my face. But I do have a deep appreciation for a time in our history when you wouldn’t step out in public in pajama pants and Uggs. Men would be ashamed of themselves for having their pants anywhere below their hips, let alone showing off their underwear. I appreciate that time period, and am happy to see it still thriving in some contexts. Because there’s really nothing sexier, to me at least, as a big, reasonably muscular man with facial hair and a good scent. Go to Vera Pizzeria if you are like me and want to instantly swoon.

3. Sexy underwear are an essential, so treat yourself. Partly see #1 above. For the longest time I have worn bras and underwear that were essentially utilitarian. I don’t have an easy body frame to dress. My ass is of epic proportions, my shoulders and thighs are wide, my waist cinches in to make finding jeans nearly impossible, and my boobs have decided to maintain their inflated child-birthing size. So I’ve been choosing undergarments that can fit my ass comfortably without giving me an all-day wedgie. And it’s incredibly difficult to find sexy, reasonably priced bras in DD size. But yesterday I went on a mission. Even though Josh claims my grannie panties are sexy, and he would likely have sex with me no matter what I was wearing, I thought some nicer negligee would be a sweet treat for him. I hadn’t anticipated how much of a treat it would be for me.

I’ve had two fucking enormous kids on my 5’2″, short torsoed frame. My stomach will likely never be what it was before. There is some extra skin. There are some light stretch marks. Such is life. My hips have widened and are marked with what look like claw marks of deep stretch marks. My thighs definitely jiggle and could use some squats. But you know what, when I put on those new lacy underthings, I didn’t see any of that. I saw that despite not having a svelte physique, I was still fucking sexy. I’ve got curves and contours, and not as much jiggly disgusting bits as I thought. My ass looked amazing even though half of it was peeking out from the bottom. My tits, though huge, are at least standing at attention. You’d have to be crazy to not want to fuck me.

That right there set off my mood for the whole night. It’s amazing what a little confidence and reassurance can do for you. And it didn’t bother me that I felt like a had a permanent wedgie. Because I knew what was under my clothes and what it would do to Josh later. Genius.

4. So as if staring at Josh’s lovely bearded face at Vera wasn’t enough, off we went to see a 90’s rock cover band. 90’s rock is the soundtrack to my falling in love with Josh. It’s the music of my youth, my teenagehood. And this show made my year. No matter what awesome stuff happens this year, this show will seriously still be a highlight.

Firstly, this music brought me back to my adolescence. Of course when you’re in the middle of all the confusion, it’s hard to see the bright side. But all these years later, I totally get it. And I couldn’t help having so much fun. Even though I’m normally pretty reserved in public, I felt compelled to sing along and, at the very least, bop around to the tunes. The crowd was going nuts during each song, but there were definite times when you could notice this collective movement. Everyone anticipated certain notes, rhythms, and lyrics, and responded in exactly the same way. There were songs when everyone was singing their hearts out. Not just in the sense of singing loudly, but to sing their hearts out to the world, to share their hearts, to share their vulnerability.

You could tell that we all had this bond, even though most of us were strangers to each other. We had this bond because we came together to celebrate our youth. To feel once again what it was like to be one of those teens. To feel the pain, anger, elation, and everything being a teenager in the 90’s meant. And it didn’t matter what we are all individually doing in our lives right now, we were all the same last night. We were all back there, in our wide-legged jeans, flannel shirts, chain wallets, jewel-hued hairs, rocking out to songs of rage and silliness and love and yearning and everything in between. Rocking out to our anthems.

How could these songs not immediately take us back there? I’m deeply affected by music and scents. A certain song or a particular waft of something will instantly take me back to an event or moment or feeling that occurred when that song was in my playlist or when that scent was something that was with me a lot. And so it was last night.

Holding Josh’s hand as he guided me through the crowds, hearing Weezer play loud enough to reverberate through my bones, it made me 15 again. It made me so grateful for that time and how it affected me, how it grew me into who I am now. It made me have a deeper appreciation for what I had and have now. It made me feel hopeful again. Like anything was possible.

Just watching the singer belt out these tunes remarkably well, and knowing that this man–who is now a professional musician with another very successful band–was once an English teacher, but chose to follow his dream instead, gives me pause. If he can do it, if anyone can do it, why can’t I? Why be trapped in a life that doesn’t feel genuine? Why just move through the motions when it’s so possible to do what you really love? You can have it all if you want to.

Maybe it was the vodka. Maybe it was the music. Maybe it was the smell of cheap, spilled beer and the feel of a sticky floor. Maybe it was the old memories coming back. Maybe it was his face. Maybe it was his tight grip on my hand moving through the crowd. Maybe it was him kissing me in the middle of the crowds. Maybe it was looking into his eyes without looking away or moving on. Maybe it was finally losing inhibitions. Maybe it was all of this and so much more.

Whatever it was, I think I fell in love with my husband all over again last night.