Tag Archives: Me Before Kids

They Coulda’ Been Great: July 2013

Another month has passed and exactly 0 blog posts have been written. Some good Facebook activity of course! So here are the “coulda’ been’s” (no idea what I’m talking about? Explanation HERE.)

July 1

3:30 p.m.

Earlier at the pediatrician, Eleanor suggested that doctors look in your ears so they could see your brain. I explained that they wanted to see your eardrums and the other parts that helped you hear. George enthusiastically agreed, “yeah – that’s why they’re called HEARdrums, because they help you HEAR!” then he asked me when they would take us to the teleportation room. What?!

July 3

9:00 a.m.

For everyone who asked about what I got at Zoe Boutique yesterday… Alice & Trixie top (on sale!) and Red Engine boot cut jeans. Necklace and earrings from my own “collection” (i.e. junk).

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July 3

6:50 p.m.

Diane Cooper Gould just explained the difference between pole dancer outfits and stripper outfits to me.

Uh huh.


July 4

9:10 a.m.

Eleanor on her fear of fireworks: “I wish there was a different way to celebrate the earth!”

She thinks the Fourth of July is Earth Day. Another nail in the coffin of my homeschooling potential…

5:32 p.m.

Inconvenient? Yes. Frustrating? Totally. Yet. There is something very freeing about the camera battery dying.


July 6

3:50 p.m.

First French braid! Obviously by a mother who doesn’t “do hair…”

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8:10 p.m.

Did you know that in “Swimbabwe” Africa, there are giant spiders? This is true. George told me.


July 7

4:40 p.m.

Me: No running! You can run in the gym, but not in the hallway.

Eleanor: Can we skip?

I love kids.


July 8

8:25 a.m.

Poor Oliver starts summer school today. We’re calling it “camp school.” He’s not buying what we’re selling…

3:20 p.m.

If your daughter gets a bloody nose in the car, and you don’t have any tissues, napkins or any other forms of paper products, what do you hand her as an emergency substitute? A tampon. Obviously.

10:10 p.m.

Reading the first book of Game of Thrones and it makes me feel like I’m a teenager who has hours to lie on my stomach on my bed, ankles crossed, until I feel like rolling onto my back and reaching for a chocolate chip cookie. To think that I used to consider that time, “being bored.” I miss 14.


July 9

7:30 p.m.

My kids just got their first official chain letter in the mail. I know – the mail?! Who the hell communicates via U.S. Postal Service anymore (other than lawyers and grandma of course)? Well if the chain letter involves mailing stickers to friends, then snail mail it is! And if I was thinking of possibly stashing the letter in in the trash before the kids had a chance to see it…here is the last line: “Please take the time for this quick project. It is worth it to see the smile on your child’s face when they open their mail.” Thanks for the emotional black[chain]mail [letter] Lita! Enjoy neighbors!

7:43 p.m.

Also – I had to explain chain mail that doesn’t happen via e-mail to my 21 year old babysitter. Feeling old…


July 11

9:55 a.m.

Just caught a vicious mosquito in my bare hand. Torn between revulsion and triumph.


July 14

4:45 p.m.

Nothing like listening to your six year old daughter singing Daft Punk in the back seat: “We’re up all night to get lucky…”

8:45 p.m.

Oliver: I’m going upstairs to play with my string.

Did I mention my son is a kitty cat?


July 16

7:57 p.m.

“Just keep on doing it! Then you’ll did it!”

Wise words from George.


July 17

8:22 p.m.

It just occurred to me that Danny, Uncle Jessie and Uncle Joey in season one of Full House are probably a full decade younger than I am now.

That’s depressing…


July 21

8:02 a.m.

Went to the Simply Om launch party last night and have now picked out birthday presents for the next 10 years. Wonder if Kiran does registries…

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simply om necklace

11:19 a.m.

Woods walk with a friend. And jazz hands…

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2:43 p.m.

Just hurt my back vacuuming. Officially old.


July 23

9:17 a.m.

On the walk to camp this morning…

George: This used to be England right?

Me: No – England “claimed” this land but this was never actually England.

George: OH right – so the English guys had a war and then they won and then they had freedom.

Me: Hmmm. That’s mixing a few things up… But you know who was here first?

George: Who?

Me: The Indians. Remember? England “discovered” this land and claimed it, but there were already people living here and THEY thought it was THEIR land. And in all honesty, they were right.

Eleanor: But that was a long time ago – so it’s not our fault. We can’t do anything about it now.

Me: Nope. We just have to live with the aftermath.

George: And the CURSE.

Where does he get this stuff?! Though he’s probably right…


July 24

9:51 a.m.

Just heard a Cranberries song on the radio and thought, “wow it’s been almost 10 years since that came out.” THEN I thought, “no – wait…it’s been almost TWENTY years since that came out.”

Feeling ancient.

And I don’t want to even talk about the Tracy Chapman song that’s on now…

8:13 p.m.

As I sat on the front steps “furminating” Alice:

George: Look at all of the mosquitoes!

Me: You’re right – can you run inside and get the bug spray for me? It’s in the pool bag.

George: Okay – I’ll get it right now!

[five minutes later...]

George: Mom! I can’t find the bug spray! It’s not in the pool bag!

Me: [resigned to a night of itching] That’s okay – I’ll live.

George: Yeah! You’ll live! Because you’ve got millions of blood!

Epilogue: I lived. But just barely.


July 25

6:29 p.m.

George: Mom! In Minecraft – when zombies eat the villager babies…

Me: WAIT! You play a game where zombies eat villager babies?

George: Yeah. In Minecraft. And when the zombies eat the villager babies…

Well – no one ever called me a Helicopter Mom.


July 27

3:57 p.m.

DON’T eat things off the floor! It’s like a grocery store RULE.

I can’t believe I actually have to say these things.


July 28

9:30 p.m.

The last two times we’ve grilled, Oliver has “helped” Chris by lighting the match. And now he LOVES lighting matches.

So I’ll basically never sleep again.

Dads.


July 29

8:36 a.m.

George: There are a lot of dead bugs in the world.

Eleanor: Especially at the pool.

Morning observations.


July 30

8:18 p.m.

The kids are watching Full House.

Chris: I wonder how much they drank on that set… Especially THAT one (Uncle Joey).


July 31

8:19 p.m.

Again – the kids are watching Full House. Some young intern at Danny’s TV station guessed that he “must be 27 or 28.”

Eleanor looks at me and says, “he’s younger than you.”

So I clarified, “he’s not really 28. He’s in his thirties.”

Eleanor: But you’re in your forties. So you’re still older.

Me: Yes – thank you for pointing that out.

Eleanor: But…the thirties are NEXT TO the forties…so I guess it’s not that bad.

Me: We can stop talking about this now.

Saying Grace

I’m not a particularly religious person. We stopped going to church when I was very little, and while I was baptized, I can’t even tell you the exact denomination. Protestant? Episcopalian? Something like that.

Then when we moved to DC, my parents made the incongruous decision to enroll my brother and me in private Catholic school. Though as a parent myself now, I think it’s safe to assume this was less random whimsy than the result of research involving tuition, academic ranking and proximity to our new home.

Nevertheless, at age eight I had to learn the Lord’s Prayer, which was recited each morning right after the Pledge of Allegiance. My mother, a lapsed Catholic, anticipated that we might have trouble understanding the exact words of the prayer with its lack of colloquial phrasing. So she made sure to explain that we were to say, “our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name,” not “Harold be thy name.” Apparently, this caused much confusion in her own childhood.

Outside of school, I spent quite a bit of time in the homes of friends where religious attitudes ranged from well-meaning to strictly devout. Almost all, unlike my own family, bowed their heads to say grace at the dinner table. This is where I learned how to recite another prayer that began, “bless us, oh Lord, for these thy gifts,” and even pop off a nonchalant sign of the cross finale move.

All were rote words and actions for me. I knew that saying grace was a form of giving thanks and asking for continued guidance in the whole “being a good Christian” thing… But I never gave the ritual any serious thought. I chalked it up to one of the many inexplicable have to’s that plagued any given family.

Grace was a nebulous concept for me. In school it was used in religious terminology. In the novels I read, it alluded to fluidity of movement or an innate sense of peacefully navigating the world. Perhaps it was this lack of definition commitment that put grace in the category of words that didn’t hold much power in my life. Too formal or lofty in its religious use and too precious and feminine in everyday conversation – it just didn’t resonate with me.

And quite honestly, it’s not a word that seemed to resonate with the people around me either. Sixteen year old Catholic school girls don’t talk about grace; they talk about boys and clothes and favorite books. I never once heard one of my college friends refer to grace while we were studying for exams or ordering pitchers of beer at the local dive bar. And in our twenties, my Catholic friends were still lying to their parents about going to church every Sunday.

It was almost inappropriate to refer to religion out of context. As if using words like faith or grace would push you into the territory of proselytizing bible thumpers. It just wasn’t done.

Grace, faith, church…just a bunch of have to’s that no one chose to discuss let alone prioritize.

Now at age 41, I can talk about pretty much anything with anyone. And I have a far more diverse assortment of friends and acquaintances. Some of my friends like me, don’t attend church. Others have grown more devout over the years. And no, they’re not all Catholic.

I have friends who feel comfortable referring to God in casual conversation. And that’s fine with me. Because I understand that they consider their faith to be one of the best and most beautiful things in their lives. So if they want to tell me that Jesus was there for them in a time of need, I don’t feel mildly embarrassed and unsure of how to respond. I just accept the words in the spirit they are given – with the best of intentions. By sharing these thoughts with me, they are showing me the best of themselves. They are giving me the best of themselves. How could that be inappropriate?

So it was completely natural for me to sit with a grieving friend and listen to her thoughts about God’s plan in her life. And in the midst of this heartbreaking conversation, she said something that changed everything for me.

She was talking about her feelings of responsibility. How she believed things would have happened differently if her husband had been there to change the course of events. And how grateful she was for the grace he showed her by not looking for someone to blame. She speculated that she may not have been strong enough to do the same.

After a moment of incredulity that she would think blame had any place in such a tragic accident, this one simple word – grace – filled the room. If you think about it, everyone makes this choice on any number of levels, every day. And for a while now, I’ve been giving considerable thought to what I choose. I just never had a name for it. Suddenly, I did, and I could say without hesitation that if put in the same position as her husband, I would choose to show grace.

Not because I’m such a fantastic person of course, but because I’m hopelessly flawed and so often in need of the forgiveness and understanding of others. Aren’t we all… How can she be so selfish? How can he be so cruel? WHY would anyone say something so insensitive? Every day there is a reason to be hurt or insulted or outraged by the words and actions of others. But the concept of other people is subjective. And I remind myself that I have often been the one unintentionally hurting, insulting and causing outrage. Who am I to assume intentions? Why not offer others the benefit of the doubt instead?

Now I don’t have to run through the complicated reasoning behind choosing to forgive or understand or assume good intentions. I just say “grace.” Maybe not with my outside voice…but that one word is a definitive reminder. A declaration. An incantation.

We put up with a lot of have to’s in life and I know that this concept is very much in that category for some. Turn the other cheek…take the high road…give it up to God. There are unlimited personal versions of what is largely considered a trite platitude. But giving it a name and seeing it as a choice has put it in a new context for me. What was once a sigh inducing “have to” is what I now consider to be the best part of me. The best I can give anyone. I can show them grace.

Sure, I get mad or feel offended sometimes. I lash out in anger. I even place blame. But it’s momentary, because at the end of the day, I don’t like feeling that way. I hate the idea of someone carrying the weight of guilt on their shoulders. Life is hard enough – why not cut each other a little slack?

Initial perceptions don’t always match true intentions. And people usually have good intentions. That should count for something, right? Destination notwithstanding, they do make excellent paving stones…. And maybe my choice to see things this way – my grace – can help to reroute that descending road. I’d rather believe the angel on one shoulder than the devil on the other. What the hell – it helps me sleep at night.

One of my favorite movie quotes is in The Big Lebowski. The Dude says, “You’re not wrong Walter. You’re just an asshole.” Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in ideas and principle, that we forget about people. We forget that it’s so easy to stumble over that line we’re so quick to draw in the sand. So easy to say the wrong thing – to do something so incredibly stupid. And to not even be aware of it. Why is it so hard to forgive or understand or just assume that no harm was meant?

Why not be more mindful of this choice? Why not choose to not be an asshole? Give the benefit of the doubt and assume good intentions. Choose kindness over principle and forgiveness over justice. Let people give you the best of themselves, regardless of your personal beliefs or habits. Consider the perspective of others. Consider the fact that to everyone else, you are “other people.”

I’ve always been a bit of a late bloomer, but I don’t think it’s too late to choose happiness. For me, being happy doesn’t come easily. I fight for it. I choose to look for the best in others. I stumble and fall short sometimes, but I choose to get up and try again. I choose to let go of the past. To give second chances. To keep moving forward. To see possibility in the future. To say that today was a good day.

I choose to accept that sometimes I will be an asshole. And to not judge others who make the same mistakes. I choose to say I’m sorry or I forgive you. To say that it’s okayI’ve been there. I understand.

To say that just meaning well still counts. That just being here is a miracle.

To say that I couldn’t do any of this without other people. To say thank you.

To say grace.

The Good in Goodbye

I went to a funeral last Friday.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about it over the past week. About all funerals, really.

What is it that they say about funerals? That they’re for the living? It makes sense. Only the living would really need a funeral. Because it offers a means of saying goodbye.

This public acknowledgement of – this bearing witness to – an ending is sometimes the only thing that allows us to move on. Forward. Possibly, to even see that as an option. A funeral honors this ending/beginning, and gives us permission to grieve, hope and continue to live.

At age 40, I’ve been to many funerals. And as far as religious rituals and rites go, I wouldn’t say that I personally need them. I don’t need a ceremony to say goodbye. I don’t need to commune with black garbed strangers I’ll probably never see again. I don’t need a gathering.

But I could never say that I don’t need people.

Which is an ironic statement coming from me since I love having time to myself. I actually like being alone. I could spend an entire week without seeing another person and never feel lonely. But this is exactly why I need people. Because for me, being alone is easy. And there is nothing to be learned from an easy life.

I need to feel the press of humanity around me. To bump into their sharp edges and feel a little uncomfortable. I need to be jostled and forced to participate. To stay awake. And alive.

Funerals are taxing for an introvert. All of those people…

And ultimately – I think that’s all a funeral is. Just people bumping into each other. Taking what they need and giving what they can. From family and friends supporting each other to strangers sharing a moment of companionship. It’s just a bunch of people standing around, feeling.

We are surrounded by people every day. On the bus…standing in line at the grocery store…sitting in a movie theater. So many experiences we remember are actually moments in time shared with strangers. But how often do we acknowledge that? That indirect togetherness?

Ceremony aside, a funeral is an ideal occasion to recognize how connected we all are. Saying goodbye is a terrible thing to have in common – but it makes us actually look at each other.

The blond woman who puts her head on the shoulder of the man next to her. So tender. They must be close. I wonder if they are part of the family…maybe work friends.

The two women walking down the aisle. Mother and daughter? The older one looks very sad. The younger one holds her elbow. The small smiles they give me as they pass don’t reach their eyes.

A toddler in the front row wails and is quickly whisked to the back of the church. Her boots are spangled with sequins. A granddaughter?

As far as people watching goes, it’s not all that different from an afternoon at Whole Foods. Everyone has a story. Most of us are here alone. Alone in a crowd that’s only different in its singular purpose of saying goodbye.

But the goodbyes that truly bring us all together come from the people in the front row. Especially those who stand up to tell stories about the loved one who died. They are not just sharing anecdotes that we may or may not already know – they’re handing us pieces of themselves.

What a rare and extraordinary experience. To be alone yet together in a crowd of friends and strangers, seeing a unique individual through the eyes the people who love them.

The first time I ever witnessed something like this was in high school. A new classmate (who would later in life become a dear friend) stood in front of hundreds of people to tell us about her twelve year old brother. She did this by reading a letter his friends wrote about him.

In college, I listened to my mother’s sister and cousin tell stories about their “Nana” who never married or had children, but instead poured all of her love into four little nieces. She let them try on her jewelry and made an event of watching the Miss America pageant.

When a good friend’s father died, I listened to her sister tell a hilarious story about his dedication to snapping great photos at the many weddings he attended. His scrappy hustle and willingness to elbow any professional photographer out of the way inspired his six children to call him, “Matty Kane, cub reporter.”

A few years later, I listened to that same sister’s husband talk about her valiant battle with breast cancer. When she received this diagnosis, her immediate response was, “thank god it’s not one of my babies.”

And in the fall of 2011, I sat in complete awe as one of my closest friends described the too short but incredibly full life of her twelve year old son. He had a sweet nature and a talent for making people feel special.

I think that two funerals for twelve year old boys has been entirely enough for me. I can only hope that there will never be a third.

But the funeral last week was not for a boy. It was for a man with thirteen grandchildren. A man who lived both a long and full life. One full of stories.

Some of these stories were told by his children who each took a turn to talk about the father they knew. It was especially moving for me to witness this since I practically lived in their house when I was a little girl.

Madeline was like the sister I never had, which made her siblings my extended network of big sisters and younger brothers. So the stories they told about what a character their father was…his irreverence…his tendency to bring home random “new friends” as if they were long lost family members…his constant supply of Lucky Strikes…they all brought back so many memories of that big family with their larger than life patriarch. But I was especially touched by their more serious, poignant insights.

Marjorie spoke first, explaining that she and her sister Gigi were tiny girls when their father came into their life. He fell in love with their mother and without hesitation, claimed them as his own. It takes quite a man to do something like that.

Oldest sister was followed by youngest brother, Reilly. Who is inexplicably no longer a ten year old boy. When did he become this man with SIX children of his own? But man he is, and so much like his father. He talked about the man who taught him how to be a man, starting with the value of a strong handshake. A lesson he’s passed down to his own sons.

My Madeline (I always think of her as “My Madeline”) went next. She was a Daddy’s Girl and never one to wear her heart anywhere BUT on her sleeve for the world to see (dry eyes beware). She shared her earliest memory of being at the beach, where her father would carry her out into the waves. She thought it was scary…and also exciting. But she always felt safe.

Gigi was the last to speak, and she said that she found herself at a loss for words. She has endured what could only be described as a mother’s nightmare over the past year. And the presence of supportive parents has contributed largely to her survival. She didn’t share memories, as no story or quote was required to express the depth of her love and grief. Instead she told us how much this support meant to her – just the simple act of “spending time with him.” Knowing that he was there.

One brother was not able to talk about the father he knew, but his presence filled the room. John died young, just barely a man himself. His Down Syndrome was never perceived as a disability in their house, but the health complications that so often accompany the condition were a constant worry. The loss of this much loved son and brother was a terrible blow to the family. And while this wasn’t John’s funeral, it did feel like a continuation of grief and gratitude for the time they all had together.

While I do not have a son with Down Syndrome, I do have one with special needs. And I think that I owe much to my friend and her family for my perception of him as being just perfect the way he is. This isn’t an easy thing to do. No one finds out they’re pregnant and wishes for a child with special needs. No one wants their son to struggle with the things that come so easily to others. But I grew up watching a family find the exceptional in a boy with special needs because of his differences. And I am so incredibly grateful for that.

I didn’t go to John’s funeral. I was in college, in another state and young enough to believe that my presence wouldn’t have been important. But 20 years later, I know this is far from true. There are no extraneous people when it comes to saying goodbye.

Whether we are there alone or in the front row, we are all part of something bigger than a rite or ritual. A funeral isn’t just a miscellaneous assortment of people in pews. It’s a shared moment of grief in loss, gratitude for life and the acknowledgement that that everyone – even an introvert like me – needs people.

Alone in a crowd or together around a family table, we are just people bumping into each other’s sharp edges, reminding each other to participate in life – to actually look at each other. We take what we need and give what we can. And we tell stories to help us remember.

And as long as there are stories, then we never really have to say goodbye.

Personal History (We Move to Pelham)

I’ve been pretty busy with Listen to Your Mother for the past couple of weeks, but I’ve been meaning to post another installment of that personal history I’m writing for our family “ancestor book.” If you’re interested, you can find the ealier posts under “About Me.” Since this would be “Part Three” and I’m barely four years old…I think we’ll skip the numbers – “Part 48″ will sound ridiculous. Here’s were we last left off…

In anticipation of my brother’s birth, my parents moved our little family from a tiny Tudor house in Scarsdale to a larger one in Pelham, NY.

I loved that house with its wisteria covered, wrap-around patio. Set on an incline, the basement was full of light from large arched windows overlooking the backyard. And our hill was excellent for sledding.

We had a swing set, but the main attraction for the kids who visited was rope swing so long and so high, it’s miraculous that no one was ever brained on the tree trunk. You couldn’t pay me enough money to get on that thing now, but at the time it felt like flying.

On the other side of our yard was a house where one of my then four-year-old brother’s first friends lived. He was also named Matthew and had an older teenage brother who taught them to light firecrackers and took them for rides on his motorcycle. I’m not sure how my mother found out about that, but I do remember the waves of frantic anxiety I could feel in her presence whenever the other Matthew and his family were involved.

My best friend was my cousin, Amy. Dad’s older brother, Uncle Dick moved his family to Pelham first. And he and my Aunt Linda had three girls. Kelly was three years older than me, which at that stage of childhood, may as well have been decades. But Kristin and Amy were respectively one year older and younger.

Kristin was a tomboy, often spotted standing on the banana seat of her bike as she raced down the hill. I could never keep up with that. Amy, on the other hand was a more exuberant version of me. We were both giggly and full of imagination, but where I was reserved Amy was a love. Such an affectionate little girl – no one could resist her charms.

She was also a character. Much to my cousin’s dismay, my Aunt Linda insisted on keeping Amy’s wispy blond hair short (something I completely understand now that I have my own daughter with wispy blond hair…) But Amy desperately wanted long hair. So she would pretend to have waist-long tresses by wearing tights on her head. She’d swing the limp, two-legged pony tail from side to side, asking me what I thought of her beautiful new hairstyle. And as clearly as I can remember that part of the story, I have no recollection of what I said in response.

I loved Amy.

To be continued…

“Kids Can Be So Cruel…”

Thanks to The Bully Project for sponsoring my writing. Visit their website to join the movement and learn more.

When  was in fifth and sixth grade, there was a girl in my class named Lauren. She was small and slim, with black hair. Pretty. And for the life of me, I can’t imagine what it was that made her a target for bullies.

There were definitely “mean kids” in my small Catholic school class of 30. And Chip was the worst. He would push Lauren down on the playground. He was also fond of teasing Peggy, the overweight girl in our class. He called her “Piggy.” He was not quite as original as he was cruel.

I was just unimportant enough to escape Chip’s attention, but I hated what he did to the other kids. How he made them feel.

Lauren and Peggy couldn’t look more different. But they had one thing in common. Neither of them had close friends. Girls like me would be friendly enough – but we already had best friends. And we didn’t go out of our way to include them in any significant way.

We also didn’t take a stand on their behalf. We didn’t tell bullies like Chip to leave them alone. We thought our own kindness was enough.

It wasn’t.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know exactly why I didn’t try to help. Why I didn’t tell the mean kids to stop. It was because I felt powerless. And it wasn’t just being afraid that their terrible attention would be directed at me. It was because I knew how futile my efforts would be.

At that time, I was a nobody. While I had friends, I was not particularly pretty or popular. I had a bad hair cut. I was a little too tall. I wasn’t slim. The best things I had going for me were kindness and a good imagination. Neither of these qualities rate very highly  in fifth grade.

Seriously – I have no idea what is going on with that hair… 

If I had the nerve to stand up to a bully, they would just laugh at me. If I was lucky, that’s all they would do.

So I just watched, hating every second of the unprovoked attacks. And when the dust cleared I would make an extra effort to nice to the victims. And hoped my subtle disapproving looks would be enough.

They weren’t.

And bullying didn’t just take the form of playground taunts from the mean kids. Practical jokes were employed as well. Once a popular boy in our class walked Lauren home and asked her to be his girlfriend. He laughed about it later with another girl. I can’t remember how he told Lauren the truth – that it was all a joke… Maybe it was over the phone. But either way, I know it humiliated her. And I didn’t understand WHY. Why would anyone think that was funny? Why would Lauren believe it? Just WHY?

Neither the girl nor the boy mentioned above were mean people. She actually became a very close friend of mine in later years – and I KNOW that she is a good person. I seriously doubt that either of them considered their joke to be an act of bullying.

But it was.

And I wish that I had done more than not laugh. I wish that it never happened at all.

I have a lot of regrets about that time. But at the same time, I don’t know that I could have made a difference. Not like I could later.

Lauren left our school after sixth grade – moved away. But Peggy stayed. Chip also left the school and the overt bullying subsided. Maybe seventh graders – in such a small class – automatically matured a bit. Maybe the boys started to think it was wrong to be physically aggressive with girls. I don’t know…

It seemed to me that things got better. But if you asked Peggy, I doubt she’d agree.

I mentioned that I was able to make a difference later. This is something that makes me feel proud. And not just a little impressed by how observant I was at such a young age. By seventh and eighth grade, I became less awkward – prettier. I was one of the popular girls in my class and people cared more about what I had to say. Around this time, it became clear to me that the kids my age would believe pretty much anything presented to them in full confidence. Especially if it was true.

I noticed that Peggy spent a lot of time drawing in a notebook. Mostly fashion pictures – and they were pretty good. So I started making a fuss over her. Pointing out to people what a “good artist” Peggy was. After a while, others picked up on this and Peggy became known as one of the bests artists in the class. For once people had something nice to say about that quiet, unassuming girl.

Did this make a big difference – did it change her life – did she live happily ever after? Probably not – no – and if so, it had nothing to do with anything I ever did.

This was a nice gesture. But in all honesty, it wasn’t enough. And it was ultimately more for me than it was for her. It was so satisfying to trick people into being nice.

That same year, our class got a cassette tape in the mail from Lauren. Our teacher played it for us and later said that he thought a therapist probably suggested she do it. On the tape she told us how awful we were to her – how cruel. She asked us if we thought good people treated others like that. She said many things. It was long. It rambled. It broke my heart.

I was never anything but pleasant to Lauren, but I felt ashamed. If anything, I was horrified on behalf of our class – that we as a whole, could make one person so miserable.

I looked around expecting to see other contrite expressions. But I didn’t.

I saw smirks. They laughed. And I was furious. But of course I said nothing. Because even now that I was pretty and popular and people listened to me – it still wouldn’t have made a difference. They would rather laugh at “how weird” this girl was than face the truth of her words. To feel ashamed.

And of course I understand at age forty, that their reaction was probably a defense mechanism. The maturity level of an eighth grade classroom is not particularly high.

I didn’t miss my elementary school when I left for high school the next year. I had good memories and am still close to a number of my friends from that time. But I will always look back on those years as being harsh.

I chose well when I decided to go to an all girls high school. It wasn’t by any means a big love fest where everyone was nice to each other all the time. But it was a bit more forgiving. People found their niches. Teenage girls have different ways of torturing each other…gossip, drama, boyfriend stealing… So no one ever got pushed around between classes. No one pretended to be your friend as a joke.

The trite but true statement that “kids can be so cruel,” is exactly what makes me relieved to be done with that time of my life. And it also makes my heart clench to imagine my own children living through it in a few years.

Right now they are young, their classrooms are warm and welcoming places where they are learning to share and be considerate. Teachers intervene when there is pushing. Everyone has to say sorry. Classmates are called “friends.”

I was very lucky growing up. First, for not being in the direct line of fire when it came to school bullies, and then for going to a high school where kids didn’t get pushed into lockers. I even managed to benefit from some great learning experiences along the way.

But at the end of the day, I just wish none of it had ever happened. I wish that Lauren and Peggy didn’t have to be put through all of that. Because being told that you aren’t worthy of respect at such a young age…well, it has to take its toll. But it did happen. So instead of wasting time wishing for the impossible – to change the past – I just hope that it eventually worked out for those girls. That being bullied didn’t take away their futures.

For so many – it does.

I don’t like to think about it. None of us do – and maybe that’s why it’s so easy to turn a blind eye. We can allow the cycle of cruelty to continue because it’s easier to pretend that we don’t see it.

I can tell you right now that I DO NOT want to watch a movie about kids being bullied. About kids committing suicide because they were bullied.

But I will, because no matter how hard it will be for me to watch (no matter how hard it was for me to watch…) it must be a million times harder to experience it. And if they can live through it, then it is only right and fair that I muster up the courage to bear witness.

So when The Bully Project comes to my area, I will see it. And I will send links about it to the teachers I know. Especially my special needs son’s teacher. Children with disabilities are obvious targets for teasing…for bullying. It’s an unfortunate reality that will be part of my future. And if I felt powerless to stand up for the kids in my own class – what can I do for my son when I’m not even there?

Everything starts with awareness. And everything we teach our children is more effective while they are young. So I will watch something painful and I will think about it. I will talk to other parents about it and I will talk to my children about it. I will try to model the way I want them to treat others – and the ways they should expect to be treated. I will acknowledge the issue, not pretend it doesn’t exist.

This is huge – it’s not a problem that is easily solved…or ever solved, really. But people really can make a difference. I know that now. And this year, I will start by seeing a movie.


I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective. Find showings in your area for The Bully Project and buy tickets here.

Personal History (Part Two)

You may already know this – but I’m going to be posting installments of a personal history I’m writing for our family “ancestor book.” This is a continuation of that. And to simplify things, I’m putting the whole thing under “About Me.” So if you want to read from the beginning – you can head over there! Here’s were we last left off…

I was the oldest child in my family, born on April 27, 1972. According to my mother, it was a typical first delivery with very little drama. That is, if you don’t count the fact that my father and the doctor were so caught up in a televised basketball game, they almost missed the actual birth. But Mom had a feeling it was time, so she put her lovely manners aside for a few minutes and demanded a little attention.

From what I understand, I was a baby who refused to sleep unless held by someone who was walking. So I take full credit for my mother losing all of her baby weight (and then some) within three weeks of my birth. I think you could call that exercise plan “constant cardio.” It’s amazing how many calories you burn when you never get to lie down.

But I made up for my difficult infancy when I became a little girl who liked to sit quietly and read. Finally – Mom could sit!

I think I inherited my love of reading from my mother. From my earliest memories, she was never without a book in hand or within reach. She has always been a calm and peaceful presence in our family – and this created an environment most conducive to quiet time for reading and reflection.

Not so much my father. Where Mom made space for others to be themselves, Dad’s larger than life presence filled the room. He wrote songs and played them on the piano for us. The Toe Song was our favorite and I can still remember the words, “holding hands is fun…holding feet is dumb.” He also played with us in a way that doesn’t come easily to anyone over the age of 13. He would throw himself heart and soul into games that really just boiled down to chasing us around the house.

And he can STILL play with wild abandon all these years later. I watch Oliver, George and Eleanor beside themselves with giggling as Grandpa pretends to be a monster, and gives them piggy back rides up and down the stairs. It’s like he never stopped being a kid, himself. And I relive my own childhood watching them – seeing my brother and me in the smiling faces of my children.

My brother and I are two years apart, so we played together a lot when we were little. I hear I wasn’t his biggest fan at first, but luckily there are no stories about us that involved harmful intent. I think the worst thing I did was stand in front of my mother while she was nursing Matthew and proceed to pee on the floor. I must say, for someone who has never been fond of the spotlight, I certainly did have a flair for making my disgruntled presence known.

More to come…

Personal History (Part One)

My father is putting together an “ancestor book” and has asked everyone in the family to write a little bit about themselves and their life to date. So of course as the only blogger in the family, I am also the LAST to actually write anything.

Isn’t that always the way?

Actually I find this very difficult since “brief overview” has never been my thing. Four pages in, I realized that I hadn’t even made it to Kindergarten!

I have been working on it though, and thought it might be fun (i.e. it might provide me with some much needed blog content) if I posted installments of it here.

So here is an intro of sorts:

My earliest memory is a family picture taken when I was about nine months old. Or at least, I had a memory – then saw a picture and made the connection. In my memory, I was in a good place (my mother’s lap). Then I was moved somewhere else (a grandfather’s lap), and that was no good. I cried. There was a flash.

My mother confirmed the sequence of events when I asked. So I know this must be true. And I like the idea of knowing what it felt like to be a baby. Pre-verbal memories are like dreams – everything comes in sensory flashes…no words or perception of what anyone else could be thinking. Just undiluted personal experience.

I think about this memory sometimes and marvel over the rare opportunity it offers. I actually have some insight into what goes on in the minds of babies! Apparently, babies prefer to be with their mothers. I know this first hand!

Okay – so maybe my pre-verbal memory doesn’t really provide any useful information… But it’s pretty cool, right?

I remember a lot from my childhood (which makes the exercise of writing a personal history less than 3,000 pages long a bit daunting…) But this is most likely because I was always an observer.

You know those fearless kids who hurtle into life, head first? Yeah – that wasn’t me. I was more of a watch-consider-decide that doesn’t look like a good idea kind of girl. One drawback to this attitude is that I often let my cautious nature get in the way of having fun. But on the upside, I grew up with astonishingly few scars.

Since a blow by blow of the last 40 years I’ve been on earth doesn’t seem possible, I’ll just try to cover the interesting stuff.

Cliffhanger right?! Don’t worry – I’ll be back in a couple of days with more!

In the meantime – here is a picture of balloons that were released in honor of Jack Donaldson’s birthday today. It was quite a site – all of those balloons. I brought Oliver and Eleanor with me (George was doing something with Chris), and while Eleanor was happy enough to send her balloon off into the great beyond, Oliver found the whole thing incredibly disturbing. He cried and kept saying “I want them down – I want them back down!” And I can’t say that I blame him. As lovely as the floating balloons were. I didn’t like seeing them disappear either. It was a fitting sentiment: No matter how beautiful the ascent, I wish they could have stayed…

Horse Hell

You know those girls who are obsessed with horses when they’re young? They pretend jump ropes are reigns and run around the playground neighing and whinnying with their other horse-crazed friends? They inhale books on horses and collect plastic replicas to display on shelves?

I was NEVER one of those girls. I never took a riding lesson. I thought barns were stinky. When I looked at a particularly majestic specimen of equine beauty, I mainly focused on the huge teeth that could take off a finger or two. And possibly the flies buzzing around its rear end.

National Velvet? Never saw it. Black Beauty? Never read it.

I just never understood the the girls and horses thing.

This doesn’t mean that I dislike horses, of course. I just don’t really think about them.

I grew up in the city. I’m not much of an animal person. And this is totally fine with me.

But now – NOW – I have a daughter. And she IS one of those girls who is obsessed with horses.

Woe to the librarian who asks if she can help us… How could she know that a whip cracking pre-reader will have her searching the stacks for the infuriatingly few picture books featuring a horse on the cover. At least she doesn’t have to come home with us and sit with Eleanor as she goes through her check out pile, discussing each page in minute detail.

I’m just about as interested in this now as I was in third grade when my horse crazy best friend would make me learn terminology for horse anatomy and paraphernalia, and THEN quiz me on it. Hey – don’t judge. I was the new girl and thrilled that someone was actually talking to me. Whinnying across the playground with a jump rope around my waist was a small price to pay.

Back to Eleanor though… As much as I don’t share her fervor for equestrian life, I do feel a little sad for her. Because we live in horse farm HEAVEN and it would be easy to find a place for her to take riding lessons. She would LOVE it. And it’s never going to happen.

Yes – I’m aware that it’s not just a fun activity – it’s also wonderful exercise. In fact, it would be fabulous for all of my children. Especially Oliver. I know this because my old friend who force marched me through Horses 101 lessons in third grade is now a pediatric physical therapist in Hippotherapy (a practice of integrated intervention for various disabilities, utilizing “equine movement” in physical, occupational, and speech-language therapies). There are so many reasons for us to get our kids in to riding: easy accessibility, health benefits, fairy godmother-like wish granting for our daughter…

But it’s too expensive. Maybe if we only had one child. We have three, though. And we already spend more money than we have on therapies for Oliver.

I’m not poor mouthing or saying anyone should feel sorry for me. Nothing more than stating facts. Riding lessons just aren’t in the budget.

Luckily – Eleanor is still young enough to think that a pony ride is actual horseback riding. So I don’t think she’ll lament her lot in life with the non-equestrian family too much… And she IS only five. Next year, she could be into theater. Or soccer. Or Wicca. Whatever – as long as we can afford the associated fees, we’ll do the best we can for her.

Unless it’s Wicca. Didn’t I mention that I’m a city girl? I’m not driving her out to the woods to collect lichen and mouse skulls.

It’s one of the less fun aspects of responsible parenting…knowing when you have to draw the line.

The Reluctant Lemming

About two years ago, I realized that my children and I have a problem with tardiness. While buckling the three-year-old twins into their car seats, I said something fairly innocuous like, “O.K., let’s go!” Then the following exchange took place:

Eleanor: Are we going to be super late?

Me: What? No, we’re not going to be late.

George: Are we going to be CRAZY early?

Me: No. We’re not…where are you getting this?

After thinking about it though, a few things became clear to me. First, that I actually say “super late” and “crazy early”—who knew?! Also, that we’re rarely on time for anything. And finally, that we’re late more often than we are early.

And I have to wonder why. I mean—as a SAHM (stay-at-home mom), I am master of my own destiny. No longer do I find myself stuck in meetings that run late, wondering how I’ll ever make it to daycare on time. I plan our days—decide when we do the shopping and when we go to the playground. I don’t even have to put any effort into my appearance, so the morning wardrobe crisis excuse is a thing of the past…my hairbrush, a definite afterthought.

I never used to think of myself as someone who is always late. But if I wasn’t before, I certainly am now. And I can only come up with one reason: poor time management. More specifically: an inability to get my act together.

You know how people always say that it’s common for a school athlete’s grades to drop off in the off-season? That’s me. I don’t HAVE to leave my house and not come back for 10 hours, every Monday through Friday. Instead, I’m in and out all day, every day, and I can always plan to do something later or tomorrow.

The problem is that I don’t always get to it later or tomorrow…and I’m often scrambling at the last minute.

Why else would it be that I find myself madly trying to finish paying online bills five minutes before a swim lesson at the rec center that is FIVE MINUTES away. Do you know how many times, I’ve pulled into the rec center parking lot at the exact time that a swim lesson is beginning?

If you’re a member, you may have seen me rushing in the door. I’m hard to miss. Picture a wild-eyed, tangle-haired crazy person speed walking ten feet ahead of her three small children, periodically glancing back over her shoulder to bark, “Hurry up, we’re late! Stop running! The sign says no running! Why are you stopping? Get up! Let’s go! We’re GOING to be LATE! Stop running! Hurry up!”

My poor children. Is it possible to develop PTSD after one too many sneak attacks by a drill sergeant brandishing bathing suits and screaming, “Come on! What are you doing? I told you to put these on FIVE MINUTES AGO! Now we’re going to be LATE!” I wonder how many nervous ticks I may be creating…

It seems like this would be a simple habit to correct. I could just plan my day better, not start projects when I know I won’t have much time to complete them. I could even try to do everything early. Now there’s a novel concept!

Though having a schedule for the day or planning to be early for everything may not really be necessary. Because I do actually have some days when I feel less rushed and seem to accomplish more. And a common pattern in all of them is that I do something productive early in the day.

An example of this would be housework. When I have a list of chores that I need to accomplish hanging over my head, I rarely get around to it. But if I’m brushing my teeth, think “that sink is gross,” then just reach for the cleaner, it’s more than likely that I’ll find myself scrubbing all of the bathrooms in the house. I may even drag out the vacuum.

I need momentum.

Maybe that’s what I’m lacking right now: momentum. I’m often so frozen by all of the have to’s and should’s that I have a hard time getting anything done. And when I take a long hard look at my life, I think I’ve always been that way.

Some people feel excited about all the future holds. But for me, it’s oppressive. It looms. I fear that I won’t be able to keep up. So even though I plug away like everyone else, getting things done and celebrating my small triumphs, the anxiety of falling behind is always there.

I’ve never been fast. Even as a child, when we’re all supposed to have fathomless depths of energy and a lightness of spirit that makes running a joyful thing, I was always slow.

We have an old film of a birthday party that serves as proof. I must have been six or seven, and a group of us fill the screen, milling around my backyard in long party dresses. Suddenly there seems to be a communal, unspoken agreement, and we all turn to race down the hill. I was standing at the front and had the clear advantage as a forerunner. But seconds into the sprint, I lost my position as everyone passed me. I finished the race dead last. I was just…slower.

This isn’t a new idea for me; that I operate on a different frequency than others.

Life has always moved too fast for my liking. Even when I was a teenager, when we’re supposed to be at our most daring…fearless. I witnessed my friends’ enthusiasm for college applications and study abroad programs, and just couldn’t relate. They were all so willing to dive headfirst into an unknown future. And I never was. I never jumped. Instead, I was grudgingly dragged over the cliff by the press of the crowd around me. A hesitant lemming.

I’m not ashamed of this, it’s just the way I am. I seem to need a little more time to adjust than other people do. But what is that saying? “Time waits for no one”? And what’s that other saying? “Fake it ’til you make it?” Yeah, I’m painfully familiar with both.

But faking it has become hard now that I’m not surrounded by people who “want to” instead of “have to.”

Now, I start the day with three people who need me to show them an enthusiasm for the future. For seeking out adventures and new experiences. For anticipating, preparing and then DOING. And while I don’t fail miserably at this, it can be pretty half-hearted. Which is why I think I feel so frozen sometimes.

We’re not always late. But we often are, because I have a hard time getting my act together in the morning. And I know that this has a direct correlation to anxiety about falling behind. The weight of it presses down on me.

But I’ve seen that I have far better days when I start accomplishing things before the have to’s begin to loom. On those days, I gather momentum. And that pushes me on, helps me keep up with the fast pace of the world around me.

We all have a different tempo in our approach to life. But majority rules. And when more people beat out a staccato rhythm, it becomes necessary for the rest to figure out how to keep up. March in time.

This is hard for me. But I can do it. I have done it. And I know that it’s my responsibility to keep my place in line and not fall behind. More importantly, it’s up to me to teach all of this to my own children.

I can already see who will follow my lead and require a little more time. That child of my heart will be a bit slower, feel lost sometimes, and maybe even cling to the cliff edge, refusing to jump until the inevitable push from behind is given.

So maybe the slower speed that’s created such difficulty and anxiety for me can serve a purpose. I can provide an example that you don’t have to be like everyone else to accomplish the same things. That you don’t have to reach the finish line first. That as scary as the future may seem, it’s never all that bad once you get there. That you just have to brace yourself and jump.

So that’s what I’m trying to do. Every morning I work on creating some momentum for the day. Even if it’s just making all of the beds, the act of doing something pushes me just tiny bit forward. The first few steps of what will hopefully be a running leap.

I’ll never enjoy jumping. I’ll still lose track of time while dithering. And sometimes I’ll be late. But I won’t let all of that get the best of me, as I so often have in the past. Because I know that regardless of how hard it may be to step off the cliff—how much I dread the drop—once I hit the water, I know how to swim.

Originally posted on Health News: HERE.

Activity Fail, My Gout and Little Sisters

I’m not sure if I’ve gone into it here…but I’ve probably mentioned in the past that my kids have of yet to be enrolled in any kind of activity like soccer or ballet or even Gymboree when they were babies (though we did attempt “blast ball” with Oliver last year and decided he wasn’t ready).

Initially, the fact that I worked full time made the weekday activities for babies and toddlers impossible. And of course, there has always been the issue of expense.

While my days are now devoted to the care and feeding of my kids, the concern for money flying out the window never goes away. And to be honest – the idea that we should be spending hundreds of dollars each month (or week!) so that our preschoolers could twirl in tutus or practice their off balance somersaults with a professional instructor seemed a bit ridiculous. They can do that here! We have a carpeted basement and a dress up box. AND there are three of them – which is kind of like a class…

But now that they’re getting older and watching their friends arriving home in leotards and white pjs, it’s started to seem a bit cruel.

So as you know we’re trying out Tae Kwon Do for the boys (and Eleanor by default) and dance for Eleanor.

We’ve been lucky with the ballet class – no reasons to skip it. But Tae Kwon Do… The last class they attended was last Monday. We were told that the Friday and Saturday classes would be cancelled due to tournaments (or whatever they’re called in martial arts).

So instead of Saturday, I planned to take them to the following Wednesday class. But then Wednesday was SO HOT. Like high 90s, sweltering, jumping into cold water without wincing hot. And I couldn’t imagine forcing them all into those synthetic white pjs, marching them into an oven-like car and then making them actually exercise. We went to the pool instead.

I thought, okay – well miss a week. Not a big deal. But then the following Monday, Oliver had a fever and I took Eleanor to the doctor today… Now we’re shooting for Friday or Saturday. I think I’m experiencing the frustrating “activity fail” experience that I’ve been hearing about for the past year at our bus stop. Now I get it.

And that may be the most boring 5+ paragraphs I’ve ever written… DON’T say anything – let me have this one…

Moving on, I also got a call today about my gouty knee. It is in fact NOT gout. Blood work was clean and the x-ray didn’t indicate any issues with my bones. But here’s the thing: it still hurts. And it looks a little bit puffier than the other one. I’ve been popping ibuprofen like tic tacs – which I’m pretty sure isn’t good for you long term – so I kind of need another assessment.

So next week, I will have an MRI. My second MRI in the past six months. The first one was for something completely unrelated. Can we say domino effect. Once my hip breaks, it’s all over right?

I’ll keep you posted on my health developments. It’s all so glamorous and exciting – I just have to share.

But I did have something kind of amazing happen this week – yesterday to be exact. I heard from two little girls (now young women) I used to babysit when I was a teenager. And what makes it relevant to this blog is that I once wrote about them! About they were like little sisters to me. [Never Underestimate the Power of a Girl if you're interested.]

We haven’t been in touch since I was in college, but they both just friended me on FaceBook. All of my FaceBook friends know that I’m kind of a lame FaceBook friend…I’ve never gotten that into it. But this is one of the reasons that I keep my profile. Best thing that happened to me all week (which as you know – isn’t saying much…but still!).

I know I was supposed to post about the big boy/girl bedroom overhaul we did over the weekend. And I will – but I have to download some pictures I took first. Add that to the list of many things I didn’t do today.

So I will fall back on something else that thrills me/bores others to no end. I will charm you with my photography! The new camera is my new boyfriend. When was the last time Chris gave some thought to his auto settings, I ask you? It was inevitable…

No – he’s not ours [pouty face].
Neither is she [ditto].

Tomorrow – pictures of bedrooms. Which have now been talked up far too much. I apologize in advance for the anticlimactic viewing.

P.S. You’re welcome for all the back-links. I’m nothing if I’m not thorough.