The Power of Four

The other day I received a text from a high school friend that simply said: “are you doing okay?”  With no inkling as to what had precipitated his communication, I responded by saying, “why do you ask?”, effectively responding to his four little words with four of my own – all of which were powerful and, for some reason, overwhelming.   A genuinely good guy who knows that there is a lot happening in these parts was warmly reaching out and letting me know that he was thinking of me and I simply didn’t know how to respond.  Having grown so used to things being so complicated, I was tripped up by the brevity and simplicity of it all.  I could have laid it all out which would have likely reduced me to tears (something I do a lot, often for no good reason) or just kept it short and sweet.  I opted for the latter. Despite my extensive texting,  this one stopped me in my tracks.  Literally.  I was walking (into a shoe store – I was obsessed with finding the perfect black wedges which, I am happy to say, I found!) when it arrived and I halted to re-read it thinking I had missed the beginning of a conversation or something.  I hadn’t.  It was just an old friend letting me know he was thinking of me.  Four little words.

People are always asking me how I am doing (while secretly counting their blessing that they are not me) and I, in turn, attempt to respond with enough honesty that I feel okay, but not so much that the inquirer feels like they have opened a slowly healing wound.  So, as I did with the text, I usually keep it short and sweet.  Everyone has crap to deal with – they don’t need mine on top of it.  And while my unusual set of circumstances would leave only the most heartless among us devoid of curiosity,  people still aren’t sure where, when and how to tread but that text nailed it.  When I heard the familiar ding-a-ling notification coming from my phone I assumed it would be an inquiry of one sort or another from someone or another.  But as it populated my little screen it communicated, in just four little words, a message of sincerity and warmth that I had not even realized I craved.  That is not to suggest that people I see regularly are insincere, rather it is more often than not that their outreach is more related to happenstance than actively thinking of what I am experiencing at this moment in my life.   This is not a judgment – on the contrary as I am as guilty (if not more so) as the next guy of getting so caught up in my own issues that I lose sight of the things that other people are grappling with.   The sender of the text has had plenty of his own issues to deal with and I admit, with my head hung in shame, that I haven’t initiated much of our communication of late.  I respond to his calls and his texts (which, I am ashamed to admit, I cannot say about all outreach), but I now realize that it was he who took the time to get out of himself and reach out to me.  Given who he is, I think it is safe to say that I am not the only person he is randomly texting just to be sure they are “doing okay”.  He’s just that kind of guy.

I really try not to be self absorbed or to wallow in the issues which threaten to splay my gray matter all over my immediate vicinity, but I now realize that I might be kinda blowing it.  Naming no names, I think often about my dear friend who worries how her children are going to make it in the world.  I often want to hug my always smiling friend whose daughter has, at the tender age of eleven, had cancer twice.  And my amazing bestie who has had more tragedy and death in her family than any one person should have to bear.  (We have a sick little competition as to who has the most shit to deal with.  That is part of why I love her.)  She’s on my mind, too.  Friends with aging and ailing parents or with children struggling with yet to be diagnosed issues, and those just in a shitty place for any number of reasons…they are all with me, but when I got an unexpected text with just four little words I realized that those friends probably don’t know that my heart is with them and I do wonder about them:  “Are you doing okay?”

The evening following the text, I was going out for a long overdue dinner with four women from disparate parts of my life: my bestest friend since sixth grade, my two closest mommy friends from when our oldest children started school and Harrison’s girlfriend’s mother who quickly became a dear friend when we realized that we share a brain (it’s a private joke, she gets it).  They have all met over the years, but this was the first time the five of us had managed to get together despite having been discussing it for years.  Under the auspices of celebrating my birthday (which was nearly two months ago) we finally solidified a plan.  A few hours before dinner, still appreciating the unexpected text I had gotten the day before, I was overcome with a need to let each of them know how grateful I am for the support they have shown me over the past several months (um, years is more accurate, actually.)  I put together little gift bag for each of them and was moved to tears as I watched each of them be, well, moved to tears.  In place of the four little words I had been given – “are you doing okay?” – were four little items:

Socks for their having kept me feeling warm and grounded.

Gummy Bears in the shape of the alphabet for spelling things out while keeping it sweet.

Reusable ice cubes for the times I need (or caused them to need) a drink.

A toy gun for use against me, a spouse, a child or an in-law…whomever they deemed worthy.

It, like the text, did not take me a long time to do, but it came from the heart.  I wish I could make a gift bag like that for all the people in my life who deserve them.  Or would like them.  Or need them.  A little goes a long way, boys and girls.

So whether you text, call, send a note, or make a little goody bag know that it can take as few as four words or items to make someone’s day.  What are your four?

Oh, and here are the shoes…you know you wanted to see them:

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Charge It!

Rich and Harrison are at the movies.  (They are seeing “The Dictator” which is one of those movies I have no interest in seeing.  Much like “Dark Shadows” which, in a quest for fun family time with Jessie, I saw and hated last night.)  In her father’s absence, Jessie has just borrowed his iPhone charger.  I can tell you with complete certainty that this is not going to end well.  Despite her deep and sincere well meaning-ness to return the charger to its rightful owner, my ten plus years having attempted to parent her tell me otherwise.

Here’s how I see it playing out.  Rich’s iPhone (which doubles as his work phone) is his lifeline, at the very least between the hours of sun-up on Monday until sun-down Friday.  Without it at the ready he is literally incapable of conducting business, knowing where he has to be and functioning at as close to one hundred percent as possible.  Sure, it is fully charged now, as Jessie removes it from the wall, but I suspect that there will be some sort of mechanical drain which will render it only partially charged come tomorrow morning which is when, upon discovery, all hell will break loose.

I will somehow be blamed for the misstep.  Rich will inquire as to the charger’s whereabouts and I will, in a moment of bad parenting, rat out Jessie for having made off with it.  She, in turn, will swear that I told her that she could use it but will manage to leave out the part when I told her she must return it once her iTouch is charged unless she is prepared to suffer, er, face the consequences.  Yelling between the upstairs and downstairs of the house will ensue.  At some point, likely early on in the game, I will be held accountable.  I will try to gently remind her of her promise and everyone will be aggravated.  This will all happen prior to seven a.m. (on a Monday morning, no less.)

Oh, sure, I have the power to arrange things so that none of that happens by simply retrieving the charger on my own and re-attaching it to the phone before I pass out, er, go to bed tonight.  I could continue to remind Jessie of her obligation to return that which she borrows, particularly when the owner of said item has not officially sanctioned the borrowing in the first place.  Or, I could let it alone and hope that this will be the one time that my child who cannot manage to get herself from the kitchen to the car without losing something might suddenly become responsible.  No matter which path I choose, it somehow lands on me.

So, as usual, I am torn.  Do I make things easier for everyone (okay, mostly me) by retrieving the charger and plugging the damned thing back in with Rich none the wiser?  Or do I actively encourage Jessie to try to follow through on her obligation and return it herself once her iTouch (or iPad or Kindle Fire or GameBoy or whatever the hell else she has going on up there) is fully rarin’ to go?  Perhaps this will be the turning point – the time when she recalls that which I have, in the past ten minutes, reminded her of.  Whaddya think?  Yeah, I’m pretty sure it ain’t happening, too.

File this under one of the many trials and tribulations of raising a child of any gender.

p.s. As I was posting this I got a shout out from upstairs: “mommmmm, my Kindle won’t charge!”   Is this kid trying to charge her Kindle with the iPhone charger?

p.p.s.  And now: “ohhhh, there’s my iTouch charger!”  And she dutifully returned Rich’s.  Well there a real-time blog for ya!

Seeking Solace in Others’ Suck-dom

Wanna know what really sucks?  I will tell you.  It really sucks when you have a blog with hundreds of followers (thanks for that!) and suddenly find yourself unable to write anything that anyone might be even remotely interested in reading.  Your head is awash in crap from all different directions but even you have limits in your sharing and now, on top of everything, the pressure to be insightful, witty and articulate eludes you.  That, my friends is what sucks.

Rest assured, there are plenty of other suckish things going on, all of which I unload on my wonderful therapist (she’s mine, you can’t have her!) each week, but many are nobody else’s beeswax.  That realization, for me – a sharer, is brutal since my inclination is to, well, share.

I have started several (as in six or seven) pieces and have abandoned each one mid sentence.  Those abandonments have arrived for some after having written several paragraphs, for others in the first sentence or two.  My mind wanders in a manner that is more akin to being suddenly stricken with short term dementia than day dreaming of Christian Grey.  I go off on tangents that make absolutely zero sense.  None.  I had written a whole blog entry about my induction onto the world of kale and how that somehow reflected Jessie’s transition when I realized that it did little other than make me sound like a lunatic.  There was another about the power of the word “no” (which I plan to revisit) which portrayed me as existing somewhere between two extremes: being a subservient wench and being a crunchy-granola-tree-hugging sixties leftover.  I like to think that I fall somewhere in the decidedly more normal middle.  Note to self: go back to that one someday.

As we speak, I am doing everything in my power to not curl up with this week’s issue of Us Magazine that just arrived at my house.  Teresa Guidice graces the cover (if you do not know who she is, we may have to rethink this relationship.  Okay, this once I will tell you – she is the crazy-assiest of all the Real Housewives franchise women which is saying a lot.  If you do not know who the Real Housewives are, well, we might have a bigger problem…) and all I want to do is dig more deeply into her latest drama.  The cover entices me with tales of her (moron) husband’s infidelities, illegalities and exploitation.  It goes on to scream of her having been humiliated by her (moron) husband although I would argue that she does a stellar job of humiliating herself without his help.  And, nearly equally compelling to learn more about: it seems that Reese Witherspoon’s father has a bit of a bigamy issue which needs to be dealt with.  All these horrible life challenges, even for celebrities – I feel better already!

There, I (sorta, kinda) said it…there is a certain comfort in knowing that other people have problems, too.  While mine are unlikely to wind up on the cover of Us Magazine (and I will never face the forehead challenges that Teresa does) they are kind of out there.  So today’s blog is nothing other than dribble with a side order of self pity for a tough week.  I hope you won’t hold it against me and will appreciate the suck-dom in which I am wallowing.  I intend (hope) to be back to normal soon.

Now you will have to excuse me while I go find out more about Teresa.  And did I mention that, and this may come as a shock, some of the Kardashians (I cannot tell them apart) are on the cover, too!  At least no one has thrown flour at me.  Yet.

Walk This Way

“All we can do is walk with our children.” – jnb 5.10.12

One should never underestimate the power of comfortable shoes.  They are an essential tool in getting us from point A to point B.  Shoes need to possess everlasting powers of not only conveyance, but of strength and fortitude as they are the basis for the one certainty of parenting: our ability to walk with our children.

Up until now, I have never had a favorite quote, yet the power of those nine words – all we can do is walk with our children – and the headiness of their quote-worthiness increases exponentially the longer I reflect upon them.  As they were spoken, I literally felt my ear-high shoulders drop down just that much closer to their proper location.  Something clicked in my brain which felt like slipping on a pair of well-worn shoes.  Growing up, my parents always told my brothers and me that it is not what you say, rather how you say it.  As a parent myself, I would embrace and, further, elaborate and add to the importance of those words by also taking into account who is doing the “saying”.

It was during an emotional (is there any other kind?) discussion with Jessie’s therapist, one during which I was feeling particularly vulnerable and failure-laden, that he said it:  first in the context of his role as a therapist and then, and perhaps more poignantly, in the context of my role as a parent.  All we can do is walk with our children.

It begins when they are just several months old and take those first tentative steps, excitedly reach for the counter only to  yank to the ground the vase of flowers that were intended to brighten your day  but instead make a gigantic mess.  It is incredible to watch them pull themselves up by whatever means possible and to toddle over to whatever destination they choose, with us at the ready to catch them when they trip, tumble or head toward danger.  Those early days we may be barefoot, or perhaps in slippers as we are so consciously aiding in their steps.  Creature comforts go a long way in those early years and having agreeable footwear only aids in the game.

As the years go by and the obstacle course becomes more complex, the urge to steer (as opposed to accompany) them has to be stifled a bit in the quest for independence that is vitally important (and frightening) to expound.  With my kids, it was not long before walking with them proved impossible.  I vividly recall being at our local Stride Rite store, in the midst of paying (too much) for shoes for Harrison, my wallet perched on the counter, when I was forced to kick off my own sandals in order to dash out into the hallway to catch my sprinter before he headed down the escalator or, worse, hopped over the railing just so he could see what would happen.  In hindsight, I realize I was merely “walking with my child”, but at the time, I had a few other thoughts running through my head: like vowing to never go to the mall with a child under eighteen ever again.  It turned out okay, though: I caught, stopped and returned him to the store to delightfully discover that neither my shoes nor my wallet had been abducted.  Thankfully, the other moms were too busy walking alongside their own children to even notice my quick workout.  Someone was looking over me when I chose my shoes that morning…while I was ill-equipped to run in them, it was easy enough to escape their confines and do what I needed to do: save my kid from a mall mishap of some sort.

Perhaps this sheds some light on why so many women, I among them, have a deep love, desire and need for excessive shoe ownership. Since our primary goal as a parent is to walk with our children, we truly need to be prepared for every conceivable (and, inconceivable, for that matter) situation that may arise.    Some of the walks are leisurely and can be done in flip-flops.  Others are more brisk requiring a halfway decent pair of Nikes.  Still others require boots, picks and rappels.  And then there are the times when you are pedicured-up in flip flops but truly need Timberlands.  It happens to all of us and may, in some deep psychological way, having the perfect shoes may well be a part of our desire for preparedness.

So I am here to say, on this Mother’s Day weekend: that we should all embrace our love of shoes – be they from TJ Maxx or Saks – since they are the groundwork from which we are able to walk with our children.  It should be noted, as well, that truly comfortable shoes all but elude me thanks to a huge benign tumor in my foot.  Coincidence?  Methinks not.

The Long and Winding Road

The other day, a woman I know (who has, apparently, been living under a rock and is the last person in my real – as opposed to cyber – life to hear the tale of my family’s adventure) told me that she had heard I had a “mommy blog”.  My initial reaction was one of wonderment over what she was referring to.  Mine is not a “mommy blog”.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)  For starters, it has been no fewer than seven years since anyone has called me mommy not to mention the fact that my kids were early adopters of the more cultured “mom”.  (I would venture that there are people who may refer to me as a MotherF-er, but never a mommy.)

No, mine is more of a parenting or, more precisely, a hopefully-not-in-vain-attempt-to-successfully-navigate-the-paths-of-two-growing-children-one-who-happens-to-identify-as-transgender blog.  I profess nothing and am the first to cast doubt on any successes I may happen upon.  I parent as I was parented: on pure intuition. (Okay, I get by with a little help from my friends, my own mother, my brothers, school administrators, shrinks and pediatricians, but mostly intuition.)  Since having learned all about what to expect when I was expecting and then, what I should expect the first year, I have learned to expect nothing.  I have learned to assume nothing.  Further, I have learned that my folks had it right when they opted to go with their guts when they hopped on the parenting bus back in, gulp, 1959 when my brother David was born.

Here’s the thing: this parenting gig never ends no matter if you are mommy, mom or mother.  I have solid proof of this as just yesterday I spent close to an hour on the phone with my mother in a discussion during which I came frighteningly close to calling her mommy and asking her to rub my back while I sucked my thumb and went to sleep.  Poor thing was just minding her own business when suddenly her iPhone starts to vibrate and I am on the other end expecting (needing? wanting?) her to have the answers to all my problems – of which there are many.  I would venture a guess that a part of her wished she had let me go to voicemail, but to her credit, she did not.  I myself have wished for a voicemail system within the confines of my family room so that I can be “unable to take a call” from my children who are sitting next to me, usually in some state of need.

I have learned over the years that I prefer events in my life to have a beginning, a middle and an end.  Pregnancy:  you get pregnant, are pregnant, give birth.  Done. Buying a home: you search for one, find one, make an offer on one, get a mortgage on one, pass papers. Done.   ER visits: Your kid has a raging pain in his lower left quadrant, you go to the hospital, he has an appendectomy, he goes home.  Done.  These are things that begin and end.  Parenting does not fall into that category.  It begins but then never ends rather goes on and on and on and on…

Lest you mistake my curmudgeonly ramblings for disdain, let me assure you that I adore my children and would, in fact, do any- and everything in my power to make their lives happy, healthy and productive.  I am their fiercest ally and strongly suggest that G-d help he who chooses to wrong my kid.  I’ve long embraced a mantra: mess with me, don’t mess with my kids.  However, in the interest of keeping things real, I am here to say that the prospect of my role being eternal sometimes (okay, often) feels mind-boggling.

I adapted fairly easily to the baby years, due in part, I am sure, to the fact that my children were kind enough to be good eaters, excellent sleepers and were devoid of colic or spitting up and were born seven full years apart.  As toddlers, however, they both regularly drove me to the brink of insanity, but I somehow managed to persevere and not leave either by the side of the road.  (Aside: when I was 11, my parents – in a brave move – loaded my two brothers and me up in the Vista Cruiser station wagon and embarked on a six-week drive cross-country.  (We may well have been the inspiration for the movie “Vacation”.)  Anyway, at one point during that trip, on a long, desolate stretch of highway somewhere in the middle of the country my father had had enough of my brother and me arguing, pulled over and simply said, “Get out”.  I scrambled out on the verge of total hysteria, my brother was laughing.  He understood that we were at an off-ramp which would enable my father to easily loop around and retrieve us.  I did not share in that understanding.  My father, whom I adored, literally left us on the side of the road.  It was the last time in that 6,000 mile car trip that my brother and I fought.  For those who know me personally, this probably need not be said, but it was Robbie.  Surprising?  No.)

As the years went on, I was foolishly lulled into thinking that I was in the middle of my parenting life, but I now know that I am still at the beginning.  The middle will be right around the time they are off, married and having babies (yeah, good luck with that) and the end will be, well, um, when I cease to exist.

What lies ahead remains a mystery.  I am confident there will be plenty of events with beginnings, middles and endings.  I am more confident that there is no end to the biggest event of all…being a parent.  My “mommy” days have long ago passed, but this winding, pothole infested, speed trap ridden, stretch of road with off ramps spread way too far apart is here for the duration.  I just hope this jalopy of mine can go the distance and that there is some halfway decent signage along the route.

Morning was Broken

One morning earlier this week, in a highly uncharacteristic move, I departed the house before my children did.  I did not leave calmly, nor did I leave happily.  I left in what can only be described as a rage.  My children were so wildly obnoxious and rude that I literally wondered if I would be able to contain my anger long enough to get myself out the door, in the car and safely drive off.

The details of their transgressions (both were equally culpable) fall squarely into the “things I need not share with everyone on earth” category, but, suffice to say, it was unpleasant for everyone involved.  I am aware of two sets of tears (mine and Jessie’s) and one denial of car usage.  I am less aware of what exactly prompted the complete dissolution of humanity from my kitchen table.

As much as my children were losing their shit at the tender hour of 7 a.m., I was no better.  As I drove off I willed myself not to cry.  I had a full day of meetings and appointments and the thought of facing any of them with my beloved mascara having been washed away was simply more than I could bear.  I situated my car in a place that I would not be spotted by aforementioned monsters, yet would be able to assure that they got off okay.  I spied Jessie and her bright pink jacket (which she has since managed to lose)  walking alongside our neighbor Grace and checked her off my list of immediate concerns.  Not long afterward, the high school bus rounded the corner and I checked to see that Harrison’s car remained in the driveway.  At the precise moment I did my drive-by, he was climbing into his friend Alex’s car, hitching a ride.  (This kid will do anything to avoid taking the bus.)  Once I knew that they were both on their way to school and each looked fairly unscathed by the events of the morning, the need to weep passed.  But, as you can surmise from the fact that I am still talking about this all this days later, I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

One thing I know for sure: this had nothing to do with anything tangible.  (Read: one child did not do anything egregious against the other.)  And while I like to think it was unrelated to Jessie’s (not quite so) new identity, I fear that, in the recesses of the minds, it may have been.  No matter if the issue is transgender, illness, anxiety or any other of the many curveballs we all face as people and, perhaps even more so as parents, everyone in the house is forced to take it on and, inevitably, it bubbles to the surface under the guise of something totally unrelated and, voila, we have complete and total meltdown.  Well, that was a hell of a way to start the day.

I know how hard this (or any other unanticipated, crazy ass issue) has been for everyone in the family. A part of me almost appreciates the degree of normalcy in siblings going after one another, although that morning was a tad more dramatic and intense than I might like.  Another part of me, though, wonders when the new normal will become just plain old normal.  When will negative sibling exchanges be taken at face value and not require deep psychological thinking?  When will I successfully embrace the “sometimes a rose is just a rose” philosophy that is so close, yet so far away?  And when will my kids make the move from being at each other’s throats to appreciating one another and their shared history?

I am relatively sure that my darling children have all but forgotten about the ugliness of that morning earlier this week.   There have been minor upsets, insults and altercations since then which, if I had to guess, are more in the forefront of their immature minds than the time they drove mom to the brink of insanity.  And I suppose it is preferable that I, as opposed to my kids, be the one struggling.   Either way, as boring a normal can be it sounds kinda nice right about now…