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.parents

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.images

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 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.little-girl-holding-baby-doll

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

palm-tree-clip-art-thumb

UPDATE 2/4/19: I received a text that they found the plaque (I don’t know where). It will be placed in the garden next to my son’s 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.school-kids-schoolhouse

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.

bandaged-heartI 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.

boy-jumping-clip-artIf 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.

 

My Favorite Boob

I definitely like one of my boobs more than the other one. I think I always have. The left one, whom I’ll call Lady Lefty, gave me more trouble over the years. She’s about a cup size larger than Lady Righty so she’s heavier and gets in the way more often. She itches and has these long random hairs that need to be plucked every once in a while.

pink-tshirtShe has more stretch marks and a red dot that marks her North Pole, like a compass. And every time I get my period Lady Lefty complains for days. I always thought she was a troublemaker but it turns out I’m wrong.

Lady Righty, the comfortably-sized non-complaining boob was just diagnosed with two sites of DCIS. The whole thing came as a surprise. I had a clinical exam in November and my Doc said everything felt fine. I had a routine yearly mammogram right after the New Year. They called me back for more views and magnifications, citing calcifications. Don’t worry, they said, most of these turn out to be nothing. They called me back for a stereotactic biopsy. Don’t worry, they said, most of these turn out to be nothing. Today they called with the diagnosis. Don’t worry, they said, it’s non-invasive stage 0 grade 2 breast cancer with an excellent prognosis — just a coupla months of utter shit first.

I’ve been through utter shit before but as a caretaker, not a patient. My son’s cancer was hopeless from diagnosis. Mine’s not. He was a child. I’m not. He suffered greatly. I won’t. His fate broke my heart and my spirit. Mine won’t.

I’m really good at keeping things in perspective. My life experience has taught me how to do this at an expert level. My thoughts are with a friend who is a decade younger than me with four young children, who is a vegan and a pilates instructor, fighting stage 2 invasive breast cancer and faces six months of chemo, then surgery, then another six months of chemo. I know so many women who went through breast cancer — different stages, different treatments, different ages, both recently and years ago — and ALL are still here. I understand mine was caught incredibly early. I’m so amazed by the technology that could find something sinister when it’s only millimeters. I keep reminding myself I’m actually lucky. (Well, lucky would be not getting cancer in the first place but like I said I’m trying to keep things in perspective.)

So…I’m sorry Lady Righty, you were my favorite but we will likely part ways. Me and Lady Lefty will miss you but persevere. (Or, Lady Lefty may join you in that great hospital dustbin in the sky — TBD). My husband will also miss you, but he loves me more than the sum of my parts.

(In case you were wondering — no family history.)

Things I Say A Lot (With Exclamation Points)

  1. “I didn’t hear a flush!”
  2. “Stop licking that!”
  3. “Why did you draw on your face with marker?!”
  4. “Are those dried boogers on your shirt?!”
  5. “What’s that smell?!”
  6. “Boogers aren’t food!”
  7. “Don’t throw that away, I’ll eat it!”
  8. “You have two devices going, turn one off!”
  9. “Who’s going to clean this up?!”
  10. “How much longer do I have to stay awake?!”

God Bless America and Other Ironies

patriotic-kids-thumbsWhen my second son was in the first grade he sang God Bless America as the opening number in the elementary school talent show. He was adorable and when he finished singing he skipped off the stage to a standing ovation. It was one of my proudest moments of motherhood, made even more so by my additional delight from a confluence of ironies only I could appreciate — the Jewish son of progressive atheist parents sang God Bless America on stage at a public school and got a standing ovation.

I’ve written about how weird it is to be one of a few Jewish families in our community, but it’s even weirder being an atheist family at our Jewish temple. The temple we attend is the only one in the county. Not the only one in the neighborhood, or the only one in town  — it’s the only one in the entire county. And still the congregation is pretty small.

My husband was raised Presbyterian and gave up religion as an adult. I was raised a secular Jew in a Jewish community where some weekends I had multiple Bar Mitzvahs to attend. I grew up thinking it was normal to see Temples and delis all over the place. Anyway flash-forward to now, we currently celebrate “Christmukkah,” a made-up holiday that falls on a date most convenient for us, and with a few traditional elements taken from each of our religious and cultural backgrounds, plus the Seinfeld holiday of Festivus. It’s a great dinner party (usually Chinese food or crab legs) where our Feats of Strength are only topped by our Airing of Grievances.

Feats of Strength means something different in our family. When my son came off the stage after his performance he practically floated. The little boy with a severe stutter sang every word perfectly in front of hundreds of people. He experienced a moment of triumph in his little life after having been through so much turmoil. He learned the words to God Bless America at a church preschool my sister directs. He lived with her during the months my husband and I lived at Children’s Hospital with our oldest son during his treatment for brain cancer. God Bless America was the only song that my little guy knew all the words to. His performance at the talent show was quite a feat of strength.

Airing of Grievances has more to do with our grievances with God rather than each other. How can an atheist have a grievance with God, you wonder? It’s because I have grievances with God that I’m an atheist. My second son is very comfortable telling the new Rabbi at Hebrew school that he’s an atheist and argues that the ancient biblical stories defy all reason. The new Rabbi loves these conversations and encourages my son the keep questioning everything and stay engaged. I, in turn, love the new Rabbi for not shaming my son for expressing his religious rebellion.peace-sign-graphic10

One day the new Rabbi asked me the obvious question — why did I send my son to Hebrew school? I felt I could be honest with him. I want my son to know the beautiful heritage and culture of Judaism. I want him to respect other people’s religion, and to do so he must first understand his own. I want him to appreciate that he was born into a minority religion and no matter where life takes him he shares a connection with other Jews. And I want to give him a solid foundation from which he could then reject religion when he’s older.

For a long time I felt like Winona Ryder in Realty Bites where she can’t define irony but knows it when she sees it. Irony, in my opinion, exists to remind me of the absurdities and contradictions in life. It tickles and confuses me. I know something is up, but I might not be able to put my finger on it exactly. Irony is defined as a state of affairs or events that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result (I looked it up). My whole life is contrary to what I expect, but unless I’m amused by it it’s not technically ironic.

Nonetheless, I like finding moments of irony because they remind me the universe has a sense of humor. And despite everything that’s happened so should I.

 

 

How To Not Win Friends And Influence People

We all sat crosslegged on the floor in the playroom of the local library and held our drooly, wobbly babies on our laps. Miss Mary led us in animated baby songs. I looked at this group and was relieved to see several other mommies my age. When we got up to do the hokey-pokey I wasn’t the only one whose joints creaked. A few other mommies looked like they had just recently exited adolescence, which isn’t unusual in the town where we live now. However, it didn’t take long to figure out my contemporaries in this circle were actually grandparents carving out some special time with their grand babies.

kids-playing-with-blocksI went to mommy-and-me for only one reason, and it wasn’t to enrich my baby’s social and emotional development. I didn’t need to learn another silly song or have my daughter make another sloppy gluey art project with things she’d rather put in her mouth. I came to mommy-and-me for me — I came to find friends.

I had great luck before when I had my first son and joined a mommy-and-me group at a local temple. I clicked with some smart, funny and wonderful women who are still in my heart as I am in theirs, after years and miles apart, and the loss of my son who was the reason I found them in the first place. Those mommies became very close to me. We shared birthdays, playdates, holidays, food, clothes, swimming pools, babysitters, laughs, secrets, advice, tears, you name it. They anchored me in a sprawling city of millions and became my village.

I found that again on a smaller scale with my second son, and I hoped to find it with my daughter in my new, tiny town. Making friends at any age is hard, but making friends after moving across the country and experiencing the loss of a child is extremely difficult. Other mommies who know my story hang back politely, or once they learn my story they don’t know what to say and they hang back politely. I get it — I am the walking embodiment of their worst nightmare. Before I became a bereaved mother I wondered how someone like me even survived.

I don’t know what made me decide I needed new mommy friends. Maybe nostalgia. Maybe self-preservation. All I know is it’s a slow and shaky process to rejoin the world after a tremendous loss and this seemed like a good baby step. I made an effort. I wore actual pants instead of sweats. I even showered before the weekly class. I had high hopes but after a couple of ring-around-the-rosies I realized I wasn’t going to find my tribe in a sunny playroom at the library.kids-playing-with-puppets

It’s difficult to relate to me. Not many people have a baby in their late forties. I personally don’t know anyone, maybe a few celebrities, but nobody in real life except me. Despite the odds and risks and the tests and the constant doctors appointments (they called it a geriatric pregnancy of all things), I had a baby when other people have grand babies. I don’t know what I have in common with the millennial moms at circle time, I figure they look at me while we sing twinkle twinkle for the millionth time and think that old showered and dressed lady seems pretty cool but I’m not sure we can hang out and eat goldfish crackers together. 

I want to clarify — I have met some terrific mommies since moving here. My second son is great at making friends and I hang out with their parents who are only about one decade younger than me instead of two. These moms are awesome — an artist and a therapist — whom I adore and we love to drink canned wine from Trader Joe’s together, even if we have to drive forty-five minutes to get it.

But middle-aged ladies getting drunk on long-distance canned wine is a story for another day.