- Breast Cancer
- Normal Stress
- Abnormal Stress
- Seasonal Allergies
My son is entering puberty. He’s going to be in a bad mood for several years and grow more hair. He will be hormonal, irritable and confused but when the years long transformative ordeal is over he will come through it a stronger, calmer and more mature person.
His adolescence coincides with what is supposed to be my second adolescence, or midlife crisis — or middle pause since I’m a woman. I’m also in a bad mood but my hair will thin. I’m hormonal, irritable and confused, but hopefully when my years long transformative ordeal is over I will come through it a stronger, calmer and more mature person. But chances are I will just be more wrinkled and neurotic.
My son and I grapple with the same existential questions: Who am I? What am I supposed to do with my life?
Cliche dictates most people in a midlife crisis buy a sportscar. Or they get divorced, have a makeover or fall in love with youth culture. I think a midlife crisis is the natural outcome from realizing more of your life is behind you than ahead. You think, This is it? But I haven’t ________________ yet. So you make decisions designed to shake things up. But here’s the irony about shaking things up — it teaches you what your limitations are and maturity comes from accepting limitations.
I think the best part of my midlife crisis (so far) is cultivating a what the fuck attitude. I don’t mean the exasperated/befuddled “what the fuck???!” I usually exclaim. I’m talking about fuck it/why not/what the fuck do I have to lose kind of attitude that is remarkably liberating. It enables me to try new things like this hobby called blogging, or sign up to be the oldest student in graduate school this coming fall.
But previous to this I kicked off middle age with something drastic and insane by having a baby. While most of my friends prepare for an empty nest I’m preparing for preschool (again). My daily life has more in common with someone decades younger than me than it does with the lives of my friends. I potty train, play Candyland and know which one is Shimmer and which one is Shine.
We started thinking about having another baby while our oldest son was fighting brain cancer. We even discussed it with him. One day we asked if he’d like a baby brother. He said, “No thanks, we already have one of those.” Then he thought about it and said, “A baby sister might be nice.” He told us we should have more children, that we were the best mom and dad in the world.
Having more children didn’t seem crazy at that time, but it took a few years of fertility treatments before we finally had our daughter. We stuck with it because my husband and I knew one thing for sure — we loved being parents.
For those looking to shake up your shit, I totally recommend having a baby. Nothing adds new life to your life like adding a new like to your life. Plus, it’s the most optimistic thing a person can do. It requires a certain amount of faith in the future. You have to believe things will get better (or at least not worse). We decided to have a new baby at the lowest time of our lives, when we needed to find joy and attempt to lessen our pain.
Those last five words bear repeating because therein lies the optimism: attempt to lessen our pain. This is a very hopeful statement. It recognizes that we could change, over time, the debilitating pain we felt after our son died. The word “attempt” means we still had some strength in us to try something. The word “lessen” is significant because it’s not the word “heal” or “end” or “fix.” It lacks totality, as it’s impossible to fully heal, end or fix the grief after losing a child. However it acknowledges we had some power to change our situation — to make it more or less of what it was — but our pain would never be gone. The words “our pain” need no explanation.
I’m learning that second adolescence is a time to recycle one’s attitude and priorities. A time of physical change and readjustment. A time of questioning and repair.
Inevitably, I think about my mistakes. I can trace back and see several points when I made the wrong decision — my college major, quitting a job/taking the wrong job, not trying this or that. (I also see moments when I made the right choice — marrying my husband, having my kids, taking a risk on this or that). I can’t change the past, but I can attempt to lessen the impact of my mistakes (there’s that word again). I can rid my life of things that aren’t useful anymore — I’ll keep what I use and use what I keep. I’ll also detach (physically and emotionally) from people who drain me. I no longer have the patience or energy to pretend to be anything I’m not.
Oh, and I faced a breast cancer diagnosis this year (the ultimate Fuck You). Getting diagnosed with cancer puts everything into focus. It’s like perspective on speed. It forced me to face myself, let go of certain things and make decisions I had been putting off.
But all this middlepause makes me tired. From now on my motto is more midlife, less crisis.
My daughter is at an age where she talks a lot of nonsense. Her stories lack focus. Not to be too critical but they generally lack a beginning, middle and end. But hey, she’s not even potty trained so there’s still hope her skills can improve.
She uttered some such nonsense the other night while I was cutting potatoes for roasting. She stood next to me and said, “My diffwent mom teached me to do dat.”
Wait, what? Your different mom? And she let you use a knife? I had so many questions.
“She cut potatoes too,” my baby said.
I had to ask, “You had a different mom? From me?” She nodded. “What did she look like?”
“She have yellow hair. Yike me,” she said. I have brown hair.
“What’s her name?”
“Mom.” And then things got weird. “My baby sistahs ahr cute. Dem Beanie and Dot.”
I’ve heard of kids who sometimes talk about a past life and I wondered if this is what was happening. I actually believe in reincarnation — or I hope in reincarnation. When I was pregnant with my daughter I went to my older son’s grave and begged him to come back to me as the new baby. After she was born I looked for signs of him in her eyes and mannerisms. I never found any.
Something similar happened to me in my childhood. When I was about seven I told my mom she wasn’t my real mom. I said I was from outer space and I was going to wait outside for my space mom until she arrived in her spaceship to get me. I stood on the driveway that evening and looked at the stars. My mother stood at the dining room window and looked at me. It wasn’t until years later did I learn how much this freaked her out.
Now it was my turn to freak out. I looked at my daughter’s stunning green eyes. Mine are brown. “Beanie and Dot,” I said. “Are they twins?”
“Yeth,” she answered. “Dem twins.”
“When did you live with them?”
“Me unknow,” she said. Wow, I thought. She unknows. That’s deep.
The subject of her different mom and baby twin sisters came up again when I packed away some clothes she outgrew. “Don’t give dose away!” She protested. “Save dem for my baby sistahs!”
“Will I ever meet them?” I asked. “Me unknow,” she said.
“What was your different mom like?” I asked. “She never say no to me or yell,” she said. Whoever this different mom is I’m beginning to think she might be a lot better at this motherhood stuff than I am.
I only know a few details about “different mom,” like we have the same kind of slipper-socks, we both watch the news, and we both like hugs. I’m curious why she talks about her. Maybe there are things that feel familiar to us and we don’t understand why, so we make up a story to explain it to ourselves, even at a young age. Or maybe my daughter did have a different mom before she came to me, and is young and pure enough to remember bits and pieces of her previous incarnation.
I also wonder what I felt as a child that led me to tell my own mother that I wasn’t her real daughter, but a child from space abandoned on earth with a strange human family. I vaguely remember the feeling of going outside and waiting. Maybe we all feel like aliens in our own homes, different from the people closest to us and have no explanation for what we’re doing with them while we wait to finally find our home.
And maybe beyond the different hair and eye color, my daughter and I have much more in common. After all, what goes around comes around. Like an orbit.
One day, for no particular reason my son said, “Mom, I think you were born at a good time. You know, before electricity. And then you got to have electricity.” I asked how old he thought I was. My son shrugged.
I was born before a lot of life changing things were ubiquitous — cell phones, the internet, video games, tv remotes, MTV (do they still have MTV?) But one thing I wasn’t born before is electricity. Thank gawd he didn’t say indoor plumbing or ask about my pet dinosaur.
My childhood took place in the 70s, I explained. NOT the 1870s. And we did things a little differently. Most notably, hours went by without my parents having any idea where I was, what I was doing or whom I was with. I had boundaries — the busy streets that bordered my neighborhood — but this left blocks and blocks of territory to roam. I was most likely riding my bike downhill with no hands and without wearing a helmet.
I ate garbage. Not literal garbage but ravioli from a can, cereal with the brightest colors and a lot of Jay’s chips. My mom had a crate of flavored pop delivered to our house once a week and I slurped down the orange ones. Now I won’t buy anything in a can (chemical liners), bright cereals (artificial colors) or pop (sugar).
There were only a handful of channels on our television, which was a giant wooden piece of furniture in the corner of the room, and no remote control. Sometimes my dad shouted from the window for me to come inside to switch shows for him. Today my son speaks into a remote that understands english and changes itself from among hundreds of channels.
Everything was simple. I don’t remember feeling overstimulated, stressed out or FOMO, which are things my son feels strongly. I often used my imagination rather than electronics to pass the time. I didn’t have expectations of being constantly entertained. A favorite pastime was to stare at the clouds and find animals. I filled a lot of afternoons doing nothing. Yet it was enough.
I don’t think my son feels the same way. He has anxiety from having too many choices and a surreal awareness of the ticking clock hanging over his childhood. He thinks about the choices he didn’t make, things he doesn’t have and the experiences he didn’t create. Nobody escapes this thought loop these days — I certainly don’t — but I don’t remember thinking like this as a kid.
I suggested to my son we have a 1970s day, which meant we eat food I ate at his age and play outside. This was met with little enthusiasm. Canned Italian food was declared “gross” (it is) and going outside was “not good for our skin” (kind of). The whole experiment fell apart after I dug up my old Merlin and showed him what hand-held computer games used to look like.
It’s a vastly different world, and pretending the fun I had in 1979 is relevant to my son now is silly. His life would seem crazy to eleven year-old me. He suffers through brutal amounts of homework that’s more complicated than mine ever was, and I can’t imagine the stress of living with social media during the awkward tween years. (Is tween a new word?) When I put myself in his shoes (which actually fit my feet) I realize I have no idea how he does it. How is he growing up normal and sane with all these distractions? How is he not royally messed up from the pressure?
And when did my cute little baby boy become a tween with his childhood half over? I hate that he’s growing up so fast. It’s like somebody pressed fast-forward on our lives and then one day he woke up taller than me.
But he will always be my baby boy, who somehow thinks I did my homework by lantern light, yet knows too much about other more important things.
- “Why are your clothes on backwards?!”
- “How many days have you been wearing that?!”
- “Five more minutes ended twenty minutes ago!”
- “It wasn’t really a question!”
- “Did you stick your head in the sink again?!”
- “Don’t touch my stuff!”
- “Pudding isn’t breakfast!”
- “Put the couch cushions back on!”
- “You have ice cream in your hair!”
- “Don’t feed the dog your banana!”
I’ve written previously in “Like Space Mother, Like Daughter” about how my little girl surprised me with her claim she had a “diffwent mom” before me. I have since learned more details.
Her name is Butterfly, she has purple hair and wears skirts. She is married to Brian and they live somewhere cold (I asked her to show me on a map and she pointed to Alaska). Her siblings are baby twin sisters named Bella and Rosy, and a baby brother named Junior. Brian likes to fish and they eat what he brings home. My daughter says she was seven years old when she lived with them. She doesn’t know why she had to leave and live with me. She claims to love me and Butterfly the same.
I find it fascinating that Diffwent Mom’s name is Butterfly. The spiritual and symbolic significance impresses me, as many people believe butterflies represent the soul, and are a powerful symbol of endurance, change, transformation and resilience. The journey from caterpillar to butterfly is one of confusion and struggle before the creature emerges from the isolation of its chrysalis a more beautiful, enlightened, and less fearful version of itself.
The butterfly is a good allegory for recovery of any kind — from loss, grief or illness — all of which I know too well. You probably do too. A lot of people know what it’s like to go through a process of self-isolation and emerge braver and stronger.
I feel badly for Butterfly, if she truly exists somewhere she’s mourning her loss. She doesn’t know how much our little girl is loved and adored. She can’t see that she’s happy and glowing. I relate to her struggle, because I wonder about my deceased son every day. I wonder if his soul was returned somewhere in the world, being loved while he talks about his Diffwent Mom with brown hair who likes to wear flannels, whom he slightly remembers and hopefully misses. If this scenario is possible, I’d wish he’d still love me the same as his present mom.
I want Butterfly to know that I understand, and she doesn’t have to worry because I’m loving our girl enough for both of us. If I could write Butterfly a letter, I’d tell her she did a good job fostering our girl’s exuberant and silly soul which arrived intact, along with her big personality and feelings. She came with an overflowing capacity to charm and spread love, which fills my heart with joy every day.
My daughter talks about Diffwent Mom and “baby bwaddah and sistahs” several times a day. I think she was a protective and doting big sister because now she frequently wants to give them her leftover food, outgrown clothes and baby toys. She talks about their favorite foods, activities and colors. I’m fascinated by her stories, especially the details, like Junior won’t eat macaroni and cheese but her sisters love it. Her sisters have brown hair but Junior has no hair (“but him still cute”).
I’m oddly comforted when she talks about life with Butterfly. It gives me hope that maybe our souls, no matter where they travel in the world, never forget love. If that’s true, then my son will never forget me. My daughter’s fantastic tale about a possible past life makes me believe my deceased son could still remember me. His Butterfly.
“What’s behind your back?” My toddler daughter stood next to my bed with a strange look on her face and both hands behind her. I knew she was hiding something. I just hoped it wasn’t a kitchen knife.
She shook her head, “Me not want to tell you.”
I approached her carefully. Surprisingly, she didn’t run away. Behind her back I found a half eaten candy bar. The other half, I presumed, was in her tummy. This happened after I told her flat out no more candy before dinner. I asked, “Did you eat candy after I told you not to?”
“No,” she answered. Then my daughter stood there all smiley and cute.
My baby lied to me. She lied like she invented it. She did it quickly, convincingly, and with minimal remorse. All I could think of was how much bigger her lies would get, and how much better she’s going to be at lying when she becomes a teenager. I thought, this one is going to be trouble.
Is she showing me her true colors? Is my cute-little-sweet-squishy baby girl a born liar?
It got me wondering — is lying an innate skill or a learned one? And what does this really say about my baby? Surprisingly, Dr. Google says toddlers who tell lies may have advanced cognitive skills, like a diabolical criminal mastermind (I added that last part). Apparently lying is a complicated skill. It’s a sign of early intelligence and requires my cute-little-sweet-squishy baby girl to know how to pander to her audience, namely me, and tell me what she thinks I want to hear, not dissimilar to a master showman who runs for high office. Some psychologists suggest toddlers lie because they can’t distinguish between reality and fantasy, again an asset along with her tiny hands which may propel her to high office.
So, I guess I’m raising the first woman president?
The advice is for parents not to put their toddler on the spot, so of course the first thing I said was, “Did you just lie to your mommy?” My tiny Punky-Cutester blinked her adorable baby blues and answered, “No.”
She lied again. She ran away. I chased her into the kitchen and got there in time to see her throw the half eaten candy bar into the junk food basket on the counter (which is right next to the fruit bowl, btw). She giggled the whole time. I asked, “What are you doing?”
“Nuh-fing,” she answered. Then tried to look all innocent but it only came across as adorable.
I’m pretty certain the Candy Bar Lie (yes, I’ve named the incident) is my daughter’s gateway lie. It will be a slippery slope toward a lifetime of far-fetched cover-ups and shirking responsibility.
There’s a common misconception that kids don’t lie. Hahahahahaha. Of course they do! Anyone who has kids knows this. They lie to get things, they lie to get out of things, they lie to please us, they lie because it’s Tuesday and other ridiculous reasons. Dr. Google says it’s a completely normal developmental process. I just don’t want my baby to lie to me. Ever.
My sister is an early childhood expert and she explained I shouldn’t worry about my daughter telling lies unless she shows no remorse. Uh oh. I looked at my daughter after flinging the candy bar into the basket, I swear, she looked proud of herself.
I’m not used to living with a good liar. My sons were both bad liars. My middle one likes to tell people my husband and I once left him and his brother home alone while we went to a wedding. Of course this never happened. I advised him if he’s going to lie it should at least be rooted in reality. For all his smarts he never learned this fundamental truth about lying, which is why another time, after staying at my sister’s house, he told me his Aunt washed his hair with poo. Upon further grilling he recanted and to save face insisted he meant to say “shampoo.” I once asked my older son what was the worst lie he ever told me. He responded, “That I brushed my teeth when I didn’t.” See, bad liars.
But the girl child impresses me with her natural ability.
Back in the 80s I was allowed to go to a Bruce Springsteen concert because I told my father he was a Jewish rock star. Maybe I repressed all the other lies I’ve told my parents, but that’s the only one I remember. I’m sure I lied about drinking and covered my tracks when I was actually doing stupid things with my friends, but the specifics evade my memory. The world has changed so much I can’t bear the thought of someday being on the receiving end of my daughter’s lies about her whereabouts.
I have to nip this in the bud. But how?
Dr. Google says there’s not much I can or should do. Lying is a developmental milestone and should be celebrated (I added that last part).
So I guess I’ll tell you I’m proud my baby girl fibbed to my face…but that would be a lie.