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If My Life Had a Sitcom Title it Would Be “Pushing Fifty and a Stroller”

The other day while we waited to be called for brunch, the overly cheerful hostess said, “I have a granddaughter that age, too!” There’s only one problem. My baby isn’t my granddaughter. She’s my daughter.

I’m old. And I have a baby. I’m an old new mom. But this isn’t my first rodeo. I had my first son at 33, and my second son at 39. I thought I was an old new mom then, but the universe said, “Ha! You think you’re tired now?” I was 47 when I had my daughter. Tired doesn’t even begin to describe what those first few months were like. There was a brief window of time when I was post-natal, perimenopausal, lactating and menstruating all at once.

That deserves repeating. Post-natal (hormone frenzy), perimenopausal (hormone frenzy), lactating (hormone frenzy) and menstruating (hormone frenzy) all at the same time. People think I deserve some kind of medal for living through this without killing my husband, and maybe I do. But let’s consider my husband for a minute. He was living with a woman who was post-natal, perimenopausal, lactating and menstruating all at the same time. I’m pretty sure he deserves the medal.

I’m a much different mom now than when I became one at 33. I’m much more laissez-faire about the whole thing. Chicken nuggets for breakfast? Sure, why not. No bath tonight? Fine, more time to catch up on This is Us. Fell asleep in your clothes again? Great, that will save us time in the morning. At this point I’ve learned what the important things are and what’s not worth sweating. That, and I’m inherently lazy.

Back when I was a first-time mom I needed to be a good mom, whatever that meant. (I let go of that now.) With my oldest son, I was always present. I never checked out mentally when he talked or pretended to be working while actually playing Bubble Mania on my phone. I looked at every ingredient on everything I bought at the grocery store. I read to him. We co-slept. I took him to the park, museums, story time, art time, library time, mommy-and-me, Gymboree, My Gym, bouncy castles, carnivals, play lands, etc. I read parenting books. When he was diagnosed on the spectrum I advocated at his IEPs for the maximum amount of intervention.

He flourished and I thought it was because I did everything right. Then just before he turned ten he was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor and only had a few months to live. I bring this up not for sympathy or shock value, but to show that nothing sculpts motherhood into something unrecognizable like losing the baby that made you a mommy. I changed drastically after losing my oldest son, and not for the better. I no longer care if I do everything right. These days I feel accomplished if a can do anything right.

My middle son describes me as badass, mysterious and loving. But if I’m so mysterious then how come he can figure me out so easily? I used to think I was relaxed and sincere. An old friend once described me as down-to-earth, which I immediately confused with back-to-nature and argued that I did in fact wear deodorant.

This blog will be a lot of things because, well, I’m a lot of things. We all are. We are normal and boring and unusual and interesting all at once. I’ve experienced great heartbreak and tremendous joy. I can see the forest and the trees and both have their own beauty.

So join me — or not. It’s up to you. My blog may have a cute sit-commy title but my life isn’t all set up and punch line. Whose life comes with a laughtrack anyway? Nobody I know.

 

The Apple and the Tree

My mother was forty when she gave birth to me. This was in an era when women were generally finished with childbearing around thirty, rather than now when many women are just getting started at that age. When my mom was pregnant there was no such thing as genetic testing, no amniocentesis, no nucal-translucency test and no ultrasounds. It was widely assumed to be very risky for both mother and baby to be pregnant after forty.

Family legend goes my mother spent two years convincing my father they should add a fourth baby to the family. Then it was another couple years of trying until she finally became pregnant with me. My mother didn’t tell anyone she was expecting for the first six months. Instead, she let her friends and neighbors think she was getting fat. She refused to wear maternity clothes and bought larger sized normal clothes instead. My mother was a beautiful and vain woman who looked like Natalie Wood, but she was also superstitious and known to wear a splash of red to ward off the evil eye. Her vanity took a back seat to the combined pressure of her superstitions and intense need to be protective of herself and unborn me. (How my mother ended up with my father, who looked like Larry Fine, was a mystery to me — until she told me he was the nicest and funniest man she ever met, and when I got married I also chose the nicest and funniest man I ever met, but this is story for another time.)

So there my mom was, in all the glory of the late 60’s, the anomaly of being and old new mom. Granted she wasn’t quite pushing fifty, like me, but I find it interesting that we share the experience of having a baby late in life. Once I became a mom, I spent more time thinking about my own mother and trying to figure her out. She died of cancer when I was seventeen, during the normal rite of passage of adolescence that drew me further away from her and toward my own identity. She died before I got through that phase and would have the opportunity to go back to her as a young adult and form a mature relationship. Part of me is forever stuck in teenaged rebellion because of this, but another part is remarkably mature because I had to grow up fast and figure things out for myself.

After my mother died I had the idea I would be a young mom so I could spend as much time as possible with my children. To quote Al Capone in “Thrill Ride,” “Nothing ever goes how you plan.” Even though I met my husband in my 20’s it would be years before we’d start a family together. We thought we were done with babies after two beautiful boys, but we were wrong. Child loss fueled an intense desire in me to have one more, and we had no place else to turn except science.

Like my mother before me, we spent two years discussing whether having another child was the right decision, then another year trying to get pregnant.  And like my mother before me I didn’t tell anyone until nearly the sixth month. But unlike my mother before me I had every test under the sun and nearly constant monitoring to make certain both the baby and I remained healthy and without complications.

My son recently asked me to describe my mother — his grandmother — for him. I said she was beautiful, protective and loyal. I said there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for her family. She knew what was best for others and sometimes herself. I said she was a good bargain shopper but had trouble making decisions so she wound up buying the same blouse in different colors. She liked health food but not exercise. She loved pecan pie. She wore Maybeline liquid eyeliner. She had a temper and was also extremely loving.

My son said she sounded exactly like me, except for the eyeliner.

I never thought about how I’d wind up resembling my mother because, truth is, I don’t know her that well. For years I couldn’t see the traits we shared. Only looking back and after talking with my older siblings do I see her as someone enormously strong and willful, who survived trauma, setbacks and a crazy family to eventually flourish later in life. This description fits me. It probably fits you, too.

And it will also probably fit my daughter.

The arc of a woman’s life isn’t set in stone but there are many things we all share. I’m happy the arc of my life has so much in common with my mother’s. I feel her willfulness and strength supporting me whenever I need it. And I feel her love every time my heart beats.

And so will my daughter.

More Things I Say A Lot (With Exclamation Points)

  1. “Who left this here?!”
  2. “Where’s my change?!”
  3. “Ow!”
  4. “It’s not bleeding, you’re fine!”
  5. “Why is this sticky?!”
  6. “Brush your teeth!”
  7. “I don’t run a restaurant!”
  8. “Can’t you make your own nuggets?!”
  9. “Figure it out yourself!”
  10. “Why is my phone dead?!”

 

Self-Help

I recently donated all my self-help books to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was constantly reminding me I have little serious interest in actually improving myself. I’m fine, thanks. But I’m keeping all my old notebooks because gawd those can’t get into the wrong hands.

I recently donated all my yoga tapes to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was constantly reminding me I never do yoga. But I’m keeping my yoga pants because they’re freakingly comfy.

I recently donated all the clothes I thought I’d someday wear again to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was constantly reminding me I’m never going to be the size I was before I had babies. But I’m keeping the flannels because they’re freakingly comfy.

I recently donated all my old crafting/rug hooking/scrapbooking projects I bought but never opened or finished to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was reminding me I’m incapable of doing anything Pinterest-y. But I’m keeping the adult coloring books because those actually work.

I recently donated all my unfinished pine furniture pieces to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was reminding me I can’t make a simple decision like what color to paint an unfinished piece of furniture. But I’m keeping the decorative drawer pull knobs because dammit at least I chose those.

I recently donated my treadmill and free weights to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was reminding me I never exercise. But I’m keeping all the hangers I had on the treadmill because now I have to find a new place to pile up my clothes.

I recently donated the fancy party trays someone gave me for my wedding to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was reminding me I never host any fancy parties. But I’m keeping the fancy booze glasses because those are cool.

I recently donated all my doubts and fears about the future to Goodwill because the only thing they’re good for was reminding me that life is hard and scary. But I’m keeping a healthy sense of caution because that’s helpful sometimes.

I recently donated the sinking feeling that life is flying by way to quickly to Goodwill because the only thing it’s good for was reminding me not to live in the moment. But I’m keeping my sense of gratitude because life is precious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mommy’s Magic Eye

A great thing about little kids is they believe everything you say. They think a fat old man breaks into our homes once a year and leaves a pile of presents in the living room. They think a fairy flies all over the world collecting bloody, used teeth and in exchange leaves money under the pillow. (What could The Tooth Fairy possibly do with those teeth? It’s creepy.) They also think a giant bunny sneaks into the house every spring to leave a basket of chocolate on the kitchen table. Each of these scenarios takes place in the middle of the night — It’s a miracle children sleep soundly with the rash of break-ins going on.

I’m just as guilty as any parent who perpetuates the legends of Santa, The Tooth Fairy and The Easter Bunny, but I go even further. I doubled down against my kids’ gullibility and invented the myth of Mommy’s Magic Eye, an all-knowing and all-seeing superpower designed to keep my kids in line when I’m not around. For a good chunk of their childhood, my sons believed I’m part psychic and part wizard with the ability to know if they committed no-nos without me being present.

I’m pretty sure people behave better if we think our mother is watching. My idea was to instill a little dose of healthy paranoia, much like Elf on a Shelf tricks kids into believing the strangely dressed toy has a direct line to Santa and is filing numerous behavior reports prior to Christmas. The difference is Mommy’s Magic Eye works 24/7 and has a direct line to me, my kids’ ultimate boss.

You’d be surprised how effective this was, but eventually things took an unexpected turn. My second son believed in the power of Mommy’s Magic Eye so deeply that for him it evolved into a cross between a Magic Eight Ball and a personalized Google Search. He asked questions like, “Does your Magic Eye know if I’m getting a Happy Meal today?” or “Does your Magic Eye know if we’ll have outside recess?” Then, after losing his older brother, my little guy became anxious and relied on Mommy’s Magic Eye for reassurance. His questions became more existential and worrisome. He’d ask, “How long am I going to live?” or “Is anything bad going to happen today.”

For him, the power of Mommy’s Magic Eye went beyond what I originally intended and I realized it could have therapeutic potential to give him comfort. I used it to calm his fears, of which he had many. I assured him my Magic Eye knew there would be no car accidents, no diseases or tragedies, and everybody we love will be fine. He’d calm down and believe what Mommy’s Magic Eye saw.

There are little lies we tell ourselves to get through our day (this piece of dessert won’t matter, this shirt looks good on me). There are little lies we tell others to help them get through their day (that piece of dessert won’t matter, that shirt looks good on you). Then there are little lies we tell our kids designed to enhance their childhood or make them better people. I’m not sure exactly where Mommy’s Magic Eye fits into all of this, but I wonder — are lies always bad? Maybe not in the moment, but even the most well intentioned lie can boomerang years later.

My oldest son was four when we sat with him by the picture window at his grandparents farm on Christmas Eve to watch for Santa Claus. After a few minutes we saw a figure in a red suit with a large sack slung over his shoulder walk across the meadow and leave footprints in the snow. My son stared, his mouth open in disbelief, too overwhelmed to utter any words. He later told his friends at preschool about the Santa sighting. He was a firm believer for years — after all he saw him with his own eyes.

When he finally learned the truth — that “Santa” was actually his grandfather — the look on his face was devastating. Sure, he was upset to learn Santa wasn’t real, but he was more crushed that I lied to him. My heart sank as the little boy who believed everything I said now saw me in a different light.

You’d think I’d learn my lesson, but I’m a slow learner.

My daughter is starting to potty train. I told her I’d get her anything she wants once she learns to pee and poo in the potty. Without hesitation she said she wants to fly. Now I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want to pilot an airplane — she’s talking about full-on Peter Pan levitating. I told her she can start lessons as soon as she gives up her pull-ups. I consider this lie a necessary step in our negotiations. For a little while I will let her believe that learning to fly is a possibility, and then I will gracefully exit our agreement when I tell her the local Park District catalogue doesn’t offer flying lessons.

I haven’t yet told my daughter about Mommy’s Magic Eye, but I doubt she’ll believe me anyway. She surprises me each day with her outsized sense of self-assuredness and sass, so I’m guessing she’d just tell my Magic Eye to buzz off, and then do her own thing like count her teeth and plan what she’ll do with the money from The Tooth Fairy.

When my second son got older I decided it was time to fade out Mommy’s Magic Eye. I told him it got “tired” and couldn’t see the future anymore. Eventually, he caught on and confronted me. I asked if he was mad that I tricked him into believing I had a superpower and he said he wasn’t sure, he’d have to ask his Magic Eight Ball.

 

 

Helicopter Wife

“Do I drain the water before adding the cheese powder?” This question was posed to me by my husband very early in our dating relationship. I thought it was a joke but he was serious. He had no idea how to make mac-n-cheese from a box and instead of reading the directions he asked me for help. After rolling my eyes I’m sure I took over making dinner.

My husband can do a few things in the kitchen like pour cereal, make a sandwich or nuke a Lean Cuisine, but if it requires the cooktop or turning on the oven he’s helpless. Last summer I got so fed up with him saying things like, ‘Those scrambled eggs look good. Can you make me some?” I finally walked him through the one minute process and now he makes them every morning. I understand the phrase “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” Except in our house it’s “Get off my nerves and scramble your own damn eggs now that you know how.”

I love my husband and he works very hard for us. I give him tremendous credit for holding a full time job with a helluva long commute, finishing a second advanced degree while also completing a long-term side project. Still I can’t help but wonder if over the years I’ve morphed into a helicopter wife. He rarely makes a decision without consulting me — from the mundane to the important — I am his constant sounding board. He shows me his outfit before he leaves for work and never sends out a project before I read it. He checks with me before he buys things — until he goes off the rails and gets a three foot tall Yoda greeter holding the sign “Welcome, You Are” — and we are reminded why he must check with me before he buys things.

Helicoptering starts slowly in a relationship and builds over time. When we started living together he’d load the dishwasher in such a haphazard way that I’d redo it. I go to the grocery store because if my husband shops he comes home with half the Hostess aisle. I took over the driving because I couldn’t stand the herky-jerky nausea inducing way he’d press and release the gas pedal. It’s progressed to a point if my husband had to endorse a check the bank probably wouldn’t cash it because the signature won’t match.

Does this make me a Helicopter Wife? What is helicoptering anyway? And is it always bad? We are familiar with the term as applied to parenting. The helicopter mom is always hovering waiting to swoop in and fix even the smallest of problems, leaving a child unable to eventually navigate life’s hiccups by themselves. I’m no psychologist, but this sounds like co-dependency and the ultimate goal of parenting is to create a person who can function independently. So maybe helicopter parenting isn’t so good.

But what is marriage if not the ultimate co-dependent relationship? I depend on my husband for things and he depends on me for different things. Put another way, there are certain things I’m good at and certain things he’s good at and we generally stick within our respective wheelhouses. For example, I cook; he kills bugs. Hence, we are co-dependent. But it gets more confusing — if helicoptering is co-dependent then is co-dependency a form of helicoptering? Is your head spinning yet like mine? Is the dress blue or gold?

Anyhoo — back on subject — sometimes I feel my husband deliberately does a task badly so I will take over and let him off the hook. Anybody can load a dishwasher, yet he refuses to learn how to do it properly. Similarly, I’m incapable of learning how to turn on the lawn mower. (It’s a button, but still.) If I ever figure it out (wink, wink) and have to  mow the lawn I guarantee I’d purposely leave so many undone patches it would look like a drunk five year-old did it.

Ultimately, I’m confused about what a Helicopter Wife actually means. It sounds controlling and micromanaging, but I don’t think I do these things. I actually give my husband a lot of space and sometimes don’t even know where he is. Maybe a Helicopter Wife is is protective? I’ll fess up to that. If so, then my husband is a Helicopter Husband because he walks on the side of traffic whenever we cross a street, ready  to swoop in and take the hit from a runaway car.

I think what it comes down to is we are two helicopters hovering over this life we made together, each filled with various emergency services and ready to swoop in, take over and save one other when we are too tired, unwilling or unable to take care of something ourselves.

And that’s pretty much sums up our co-dependent marriage.

 

 

 

An Adventure

Does anyone remember the store Venture? Basically it was a cheap version of Target before there were Targets. They had everything. Just venture beyond the giant diagonal black and white stripes covering the front of the building and enter a shopping paradise filled with affordable household items and “I’m Thumbody” iron-on sweatshirts. Venture was the destination for back to school, holiday, and all-occasion shopping. But for me, Venture remains in my memory for two reasons. First, it’s where I shoplifted candy and nail polish with friends from my early teen years. Second, it’s where I’d treat my nieces to shopping sprees of shoes and hair clips when I was a young adult. Only one of these makes me proud. Hmmmm, which one?

I feel like I’ve been doing mom things forever and that’s because before I was a mom I was an aunt. But not just any aunt. I went well beyond always having gum in my purse. I was a fan-freaking-tastic aunt that loved hanging out with the tiny people my siblings created. I loved them so much I even changed their diapers. And when they got older, going on our shopping sprees to Venture made my nieces feel special while we created fun memories together.

And now my nieces and nephews have gone and grown up. People whose diapers I’ve changed now are changing diapers of their own (you know what I mean). These people who seem like babies have actual babies the same age as my daughter. This makes me a great aunt (on top of already being a fan-freaking-tastic one). When I was growing up I had some great aunts who seemed ancient. One was a hat model married to a train robber — that’s how ancient they were — they came from an era when people wore hats and robbed trains. I suppose my grand nieces will one day tell stories about how their great aunt came from an era when people had a “telephone” stuck on their kitchen wall and had to get off their duff to turn a knob on the 2-D television to watch a show at a precise time from among three available channels.  “Can you imagine,” they will telepathically ask each other via their brain iChips. “That sounds like torture!”

My daughter and my grandniece are best friends now. They go wild together, copy each other’s goofiness and sometimes fight over who loves the color pink more. They like to wear the same dresses and twirl around like little princesses. It’s adorable. They also both like to go on shopping sprees at Target, which my daughter calls, “an adventure”  because you never know what we might find. Her favorite sections are shoes and hair clips, which nicely carries on the family tradition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pineapple Tree

There’s a fat, squat palm tree that looks like a giant pineapple in the courtyard of the elementary school that my oldest son attended for most of his short life. He loved that tree. He ran endless laps around it to burn off his exuberant energy. He climbed up the knotty pieces that jutted out from its sides until a teacher chased him down. He balance walked all over the display of rocks set around the tree, and sometimes he simply stood beneath it and stared up at its miraculous starburst formation and let the golden sun shoot through the empty spaces and illuminate his curious face.

People took note of how much he loved that tree and started calling it “XX’s tree.” Kids told each other to meet at “XX’s tree” to play tag, and of course my son would play too. When we moved away I wondered if they’d still call the tree by his name. A few months after we moved, my son was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer. We received a lot of support from my son’s teachers at his old school — XX had the gift of charm and was easy to fall in love with and hard to forget.

After he passed away I ordered a memorial plaque and the aide from his kindergarten class oversaw its installation. I was sent pictures from thousands of miles away. I’m told my son’s friends arranged rocks around the base of the stake for decoration and protection. I was deeply touched by everyone’s expression of love for my son.

Those friends moved on to Junior High and then High School. The kindergarten aide retired. After a while, only three of his teachers remained. The school changed Principals. The building underwent improvements. Years went by before I returned for a visit, and when I did I dropped by to finally see the plaque.

But it was gone.

It was after school when I snuck onto campus and the office was closed. I called the next day and left a detailed message for the Principal. She didn’t return my call. I called and spoke to the office secretary again. The Principal again didn’t return my call. Finally, she told me she’s never seen the plaque and never heard of my son. She’d ask around, but it’s likely gone.

One time when I was in the fifth grade the boy who lived across the street punched me in the stomach and literally knocked the breath out of me, so I know what it feels like to not be able to breath. The feeling I had when I hung up the phone was similar — fast, shocking and unexpected — my breath was gone.

Nobody wants their child forgotten. Nobody wants the memory of their child disrespected, especially in a place that gave him so much pleasure. My son was a friend to everyone who met him. He loved his school and felt love from his teachers.

I needed to find out what happened.

I flew home and waited. A month later I sent an e-mail. Finally seven days later (after a follow-up asking if she received my e-mail) the Principal finally responded.  She said she asked around and nobody knows what happened. Sorry, she said, she tried her best. I got the feeling she wanted me and the whole uncomfortable and inconvenient business about a plaque for a dead child she never knew to simply go away.

But I wasn’t going to go away.

I followed up and urged her to look in closets, boxes, cabinets, everywhere. I figured someone wrapped it up and put it somewhere during the improvements, and with all the staff changes it simply got misplaced. I figured it was somewhere and it could be found if someone looked for it. If I lived closer than 2,000 miles I’d do it myself. I offered to send friends to look, but she didn’t want that.

She did everything she could, she said. I told her — I understand it didn’t go missing on her watch, but it’s kinda her watch now and it falls to her to find it. She said she didn’t see it that way.

I get it that after my son died the world had the audacity to keep spinning. I get it that nobody probably meant to throw away a memorial plaque for my dead son. It’s likely missing because of thoughtlessness. But it’s a thoughtlessness that feels cruel.

If I close my eyes I can see my son’s pineapple tree. It was our meeting spot at the end of the school day. I’d park down the block and walk over to look for his shiny dark hair among the blush of boys, and finally spot him dancing and running around the giant base of his tree. I’d catch his bluish-greenish eyes that changed color depending on the color of the shirt he wore. My heart skipped a beat every time.

And I’d pause to catch my breath at the sight of my beautiful little boy.