A Letter to My Son on His Twelfth Birthday

Hey Baby,

I call you “baby” because that’s who you are to me. My sweet baby boy with the enormous eyes like Oreo cookies.

Happy Birthday, Baby. You’re changing fast. Two weeks ago you weren’t taller than me.boy-with-birthday-cake-and-confetti Now you’re taller than me. You have an adorable faint mustache, and your voice is in its Peter Brady phase. You used to have baby fat, but now you’re lean like a library ladder. It’s almost like you’ve become a different person overnight.

But you will always be my baby.

You were born into this family as the little brother. Your big brother loved you like crazy. You followed him everywhere. You climbed on his lap and the two of you stared at the little DS screen together while he played his games, and you cheered him on. He protected you from icky bugs, made sure you learned “parking lot rules” and taught you about Pokemon. You shared sushi, toys, a room and a deep love for each other.  Many nights I’d find you asleep holding hands across the empty space between your beds.

The role of little brother fit you perfectly. You were a silly goofball, carefree and happy.

Then your brother got sick with brain cancer. You were left frequently with your Aunt. You were confused. Things changed. Your brother changed. He looked different. He was in a wheelchair and spent months in the hospital, but all you wanted was to be near him, hug him, talk about Pokemon and make up scenarios for your “guys” with the hundred stuffed animals you both owned. He put his arm around you when you climbed into his hospital bed to watch Nick Jr. You fell asleep holding onto him.

You were an only child for a few years, and this role didn’t suit you. You were anxious and lonely. You never wanted to leave my side (and I didn’t want you to, anyway).

Then you became a big brother to a little sister who thinks you hung the moon.  You thrive in this role. You are an amazing big brother, and you say it’s because you learned from the best. You are protective and fun and funny. You teach her about Pokemon and sushi and “parking lot rules.” Now she’s the silly one and you’re the protector.

I am so amazed by you. Every day I am inspired by your resilience. I aspire to the level of kindness, compassion and curiosity you demonstrate naturally. You are my living example of how to be a good and strong person.

Did you know you saved my life? You were the reason I woke up and got out of bed the day after your brother died. Without you, well, I can’t imagine… You have transformative superpowers in your smile. I am helpless against your cuteness. You give me courage to face any challenge. Last year I wrote an entire screenplay about everything I learned from you.

You own my heart.

When you grow up you want to be a doctor/actor/comedian/research scientist/theoretical physicist — and I think you can make it. I believe in you.

You have a great friend group who accepts you with all your aspirations and antics, especially your bestie who is sunshine in boy form. You look out for each other like brothers — what more can you ask from a friend in Jr. High? What more can you ask from a friend in life?

But don’t be in a hurry to grow up. Stay immature and goofy a while longer. Stay silly. Stay innocent. And I know you will…

Recently, you said, “I know how babies are made. The man puts his ding-dong into the woman’s slipperslap, and then a baby comes out.” First of all, I don’t think I ever heard a better slang term. I’m the proud mom of a word inventor. Second of all, not quite. You really don’t know much at all, and that’s awesome. With all your excelling in academics, I’m relieved you lag behind the kids who ride the bus, go to sleep away camp or hang out behind the 7-11 when it comes to maturity.

I love that you’re a bit of a nerd. I love your dance moves and dry sense of humor. I even love our arguments (you’re so good at it!). You make me laugh every day. You make me happy. And you make me proud.

You make me look better at this job of being a mom than I actually am.

My birthday wish for you is to find your place in this big world. Do not to be overwhelmed by choices. Stay close to the people who love you. Keep a calm heart. Seek happiness, whatever that means to you — you deserve it. Your past doesn’t dictate your future.

Thank you for being mine. Promise me you’ll never be too old to snuggle and watch Saturday Night Live on the couch. And thank you in advance for letting me live in a tiny house in your backyard when I’m an old lady.

Stay cool, Baby. Have an amazing birthday!

I love you more,

Mom

 

How I Spent My Midlife Crisis

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? 

alarm-clockCliche 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’tgirl-angry-face 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 life has more in common with someone decades younger than me than 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 fought brain cancer. One day, we asked him 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 love 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 life 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.

Like Space Mother, Like Daughter (a repost in honor of Mother’s Day)

little-girl-astronautMy 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.

Let’s Party Like It’s 1979

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.

boy-sitting-in-grass-clip-artEverything 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.

board-game-pieces-clip-artI 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.

 

 

Even More Things I Say A Lot (With Exclamation Points)

  1. “Why are your clothes on backwards?!”
  2. “How many days have you been wearing that?!”
  3. “Five more minutes ended twenty minutes ago!”
  4. “It wasn’t really a question!”
  5. “Did you stick your head in the sink again?!”
  6. “Don’t touch my stuff!”
  7. “Pudding isn’t breakfast!”
  8. “Put the couch cushions back on!”
  9. “You have ice cream in your hair!”
  10. “Don’t feed the dog your banana!”

Butterfly: My Daughter’s “Diffwent Mom”

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.

pretty-butterflyHer 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.butterfly-chrysalis

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”).

purple-butterfly-transparentI’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.