Defining death. To a child.

I love words. I love reading and writing and hearing peoples’ stories, and telling them, myself. Anyone who knows me will freely say that I’m not often at a loss for words. I’m finding, though, that as a parent of a nearly three-year-old child,  attempts to describe or define the meaning of words and actions often leave me without the means to accurately convey a concept. To be sure, some of it is developmental; small children are not the most abstract thinkers. But beyond that, there’s a desire to shield him from the ugliness of the world, at least for now, while still making good on my values to raise him in honesty and reality.

As we walked through the cemetery in our neighborhood yesterday afternoon, I thought of my mom, as I often do, and that I should visit her grave. It’s been awhile; I have a hard time ascribing meaning to that space. I asked D if he wanted to visit Grandma Patti’s cemetery, and he said yes. He immediately started chattering as we walked home, about seeing her, bringing her some of the chocolate strawberries his dad had made for me the day before. We talk to him about my mom a lot, show him photos, tell him stories, to help him understand her importance in our lives. It broke my heart to listen to him, knowing that I needed to try to explain the reality of the situation.

We got to her grave, and he smiled, recognizing my mom and dad on the etching in the headstone. “Is Papa Steve coming here, too?” he asked. I told him no. A car pulled up, and he stood, wondering aloud if that was Grandma Patti. He really believed he was going to see her. I took a breath, and asked him to sit with me. I said, “Grandma Patti isn’t with us anymore.”He asked where she was. Knowing that he attends church with his other papa, I tried to use terms that he might have some concept of; “She’s an angel now. She’s all around us. She watches us.” He just looked at me. I finally decided to try to level with him, as leveling with a three year old is always the smart choice (ha ha). I said, “Honey, Grandma was really sick. There was something in her body that made her very, very sick, and it made her heart stop working. We need our hearts to live-so we can breathe, and play, and be with other people. She can’t do those things anymore. Her body didn’t work, and now it’s here, in this ground, to be kept safe. This big stone helps people to remember who she was, and lets us come visit her and think about her.” The entire time, I kept telling myself to stop talking, to stop being so pseudo-biological and blunt about it.

He listened, looking at the ground and running his fingers through the thick grass around him. “She’s in heaven?” he said. “Yes, baby.” “Oh.” For a moment, he looked like he might start crying, and I regretted all of it. Enough of us had shed tears over her loss, and I didn’t want him to take on that burden. Not yet. He never even got to know her, just being held by her once, when he was three days old. And then she was gone. But, I think he understood, as much as his three year old abilities would permit him. “You miss your mommy, Mom?” I blinked back tears. “Yes, I do.” He gave me a little smile.

We started to get up to leave, and I said my goodbyes aloud to my mom. He followed my lead, and said, “Bye, Grandma Patti. I love you and miss you. The doctors will come and fix your heart to work again, and you will come back to life”, blowing her a kiss. More blinked-back tears. That innocence over the permanence of death, the desire to make someone else feel better, made me both incredibly sad and happy at the same time. He’s trying to understand how others feel, while learning to manage his own emotions within those contexts. That’s a hard thing, something that most of us struggle with well into adulthood.

As I drove home, him watching a show on my phone, I thought about what happened. Maybe it was OK that I shared what I did; after all, life does not exist within an absence of conflict and sadness. I want him to grow with the understanding that it’s OK to display emotion, to communicate pain in a constructive manner. Maybe he can’t really grasp the concept of death, but he can understand sadness and hurt and love. Something that my mom instilled in us was empathy, and to truly see people and their complexities, even if they aren’t on full display. This experience with D yesterday made me hope that perhaps I am starting to lay the same foundation for him, to help him intuit what is in other people’s hearts, even if he can’t fully know what has hurt them.


What are you so afraid of?

So, I bought a book today after work, titled I Quit Sugar. I then took said book to Starbucks, where I read it while drinking a grande CaramelNonsenseSomething Frappucino. No, the irony is not lost on me. I’m the same person who loves to eat candy while watching The Biggest Loser, and judge everyone (I know I’m not the only one who does that, BTW). Anyway, it struck me while I was sitting there-I do a lot of thinking and talking and dreaming about the things I want to do, from the mundane (i.e.,something as silly as cutting out sugar in my diet), to the more grand (pursuing my interests more seriously/professionally). Yet, day after day, I do the same thing, and very rarely do I step outside my routine. Of course now I have a kid, so there’s something to be said for routine, but you get what I’m saying. I’m paralyzed by real change, for some reason. I think a lot of us are. We are all so scared to take a chance.

I think when we’re younger, we are thrilled by change, by risk, the opportunity to take a crack at something you have no idea about. Everything is new and fresh and offers adventure. Yet somewhere between the carefree nature of your younger days and where you are now, your brain starts automatically conducting risk-benefit analyses on just about everything that could be affected by change. Health insurance, the comfort that routine provides, failure, outside criticism, worries that you’re being irrational and entitled (a perk of my generation), your 401k, guilt for taking the time to start doing what fills your soul. Or maybe you’re just so tired that the thought of taking two extra steps a day to work on something new seems unmanageable. So you shrug it off, and keep moving forward.

How did I get here? I wonder. When did I become so inflexible and constrained by my own life? It happens so subtly, throughout your twenties, after college when you’re chasing the goals that our culture sets for us-success, measured in tangibles. We’re told we should be making a ton of money, and be perpetually happy, sexy, skinny, funny, smart. You need a big house, great cars, vacations, stuff, stuff and more stuff. Fill your life with things and what do you ultimately want? More things. Nothing is ever enough. So you keep working in that job that does nothing for your spirit, that causes you more grief and stress and pain than anything else…so you can put that mass-produced Pottery Barn farm table in your house. It’s all so stupid.

So, I decided today that I’m going to stop being afraid of being free, of being happy. I wear a bracelet around my wrist everyday, an old gold key engraved with the word “Fearless”, to remind me of who I want to be. It’s time to start living that. I am going to start wanting and needing less, giving more, and living with intention. I want to stop doing things that aren’t good for me, physically or spiritually. It’s a terrifying thought. But we’re only enslaved by the things that we let control us, so it’s time let it go, and take a risk.

Full-On Mom Jeans.

That’s the nickname I’ve given myself-Mom Jeans. Alas, I have become that asshole that I have always hated-posting a million photos of my baby on IG/FB (that no one ultimately cares about, I know this; I mostly didn’t care about your baby, either), posting inane status updates about my lack of sleep/loss of independence/back pain/baby screaminess, and commiserating with other moms about the glamorous life of parenthood. It’s annoying, and here is where I issue my blanket apology-I’m sorry. I will also not stop, so it might be a good idea to remove me from any social media feeds or defriend me altogether. Maybe block my phone number too, if I’m texting you unwanted photos. But it’s a baby! In tiny shorts!

Even more startling are my behaviors in private-perpetually tiptoeing around the house, squealing D’s name over and over again so I can get through a shower without him losing his shit (this only works 14% of the time), singing every ridiculous made up song I can conjure off the top of my head, and putting more thought into his outfits in the morning, than my own. Oh, my eating habits? That consists of anything I can grab with one hand, and stuff into my mouth, like a raccoon. This runs the gamut from healthy (apple) to disgusting (finger swipe of peanut butter). I know this is normal, and I don’t hate it. It’s just..shocking, sometimes.

And don’t even get me started about my appearance. My crowning achievement has been that I shower and dress every morning. That’s a non-negotiable for me (although I understand how many people don’t get to it). However, my mascara wand has never seen less activity, my hair is in a perma-knot atop my head, and I don’t so much care that there’s a rivulet of baby spit/drool/milk all over my shoulder. My dirtiest little secret? Even though I fit comfortably back into my pre-pregnancy clothes, I cannot make myself stop wearing my maternity jeans. Please note, I know this is in no way flattering, as they are huge and baggy on my legs and butt, but weeee! Jeans that also feel like sweatpants! Just toss a longer cardigan on, and no one is the wiser…unless you’re walking behind me in Wegman’s, and watching me hike my pants up every 2-3 strides.

It’s all just interesting to me, how you become almost unrecognizable to yourself once you become a parent. Maybe not everyone feels this way, but I do. Like I said, I certainly don’t dislike it, nor do I find it to be a bad thing, but I didn’t always intend to be a parent. I never daydreamed about having kids and all that jazz, nor did I ever think it would actually happen. But now, here I am, with this little redheaded, doe-eyed boy, and I love him so much that it almost takes my air sometimes. He has taught me so much about myself, made me happier, much less willing to abide nonsense from other people, and has given me a sense of purpose that I thought I always got from my career, but is so much more fierce now. I feel incredibly lucky to be his mom, and to have the opportunity to help guide another person to the best life possible. So what if I AM doing it with bags under my eyes and ill-fitting pants? He will grow more independent, and I will look presentable in public again. And I bet, when all is said and done, that I’ll probably miss this time.


What the hell just happened?

I’m writing this as Dempsey sleeps on my shoulder, my computer balanced precariously on the Boppy pillow on my lap, and wondering…how did we make it through this past month?
He is 5 weeks old now, 5 weeks that simultaneously dragged and flew by. And I have to be honest-the first 4 were incredibly rough. I didn’t anticipate the difficulty I would have in adjusting. On top of the garden variety lack of sleep, I couldn’t even sleep when he did, because I had such bad anxiety. Trying to recover from a c-section and care for a newborn, dealing with my mother’s death, and just generally worrying about how I was going to adapt to it all, really took a toll on me. I frequently felt sort of out of my mind, and yes-I was suffering from a little depression as a result of it all. And just as swiftly as it all hit me, it all lifted, on the day he turned one month old. I’m not sure what was responsible for the flipped switch, but I am incredibly grateful to be feeling like myself again, happy, much more rested, and able to more freely enjoy the experience.

It got me thinking about the messages that we’re sent about parenthood, and what to expect. I got the impression that sure, I would be sleepy, but life would be so lovely with a new baby, all mushiness and love. And while there were those moments, there were more frequently really difficult ones. I would cry uncontrollably in response to a simple inquiry of “How’s it going?” And no one ever talks about those things, which then makes you feel like there is something wrong with you. I started to feel like a bad parent for feeling like that, for wishing at times that I had my independence back (or even just a free pair of hands), that I could have even one more night of uninterrupted sleep.

Once I started feeling normal again, I felt more comfortable coming clean about these feelings. As I talked to other moms, I began to hear a lot of my statements echoed in their own stories. So many people said that they experienced the same thing, and that those who had multiple children recalled feeling incredible anxiety when they became pregnant with their second child, unsure if they could do it again. So, the lesson in all of this becomes: talk about it. We as women need to share our stories with one another, support each other, validate what others are feeling. Because if we don’t, we continue to perpetuate feelings of isolation, shame and guilt. Women need to know that they aren’t alone in those feelings, that it’s OK to ask for help. Feeling overwhelmed doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you normal. Healthy, happy babies need healthy, happy parents, and that’s ultimately what we all want for our families.

I’m amazed everyday at how much easier it gets-how we just adapt to this tiny (yet huge) little person in our lives. I look at Dempsey, watch the way he changes each day, see him growing and developing and becoming his own little person, and I feel so grateful for the opportunity to be his mom. Even more so, I’m grateful for the support of everyone in my life that supported and encouraged me in those first few weeks-it lifted me up at a time when I needed it most.


Happy Holidaze.

It appears that I’ve survived another Christmas.  Another year of rushing around for gifts, vowing to “start early” next year, and ultimately forgetting that idea once I see that people are digging the things I bought them.  Pffft, I work best under pressure. Although, I did do most of my shopping in November this year, which technically is early for me.  Maybe once I’m wearing my Mom hat next year, I’ll be magically motivated to get it done in September.  More likely, though, I’ll forget Christmas is happening until approximately 27 hours prior.

Christmas felt a little off this year.  I think it’s a combination of things-my mom being sick (and fresh out of the hospital, after a week-long stay), Matthew, Jess and Jack not being around, and the general feeling that no one was really into any of it.  It’s such a stark contrast to the way Christmas felt when I was a kid.  I know that’s part of the deal that comes with adulthood, but sometimes I wish I could get even just a drop of it back.  Everyone has been telling me that once you have a child of your own, Christmas feels like magic again.  I look forward to that, being able to see the holidays through the lens of a child.

It’s been a very difficult year for me, in a lot of ways that are not worth delving into.  I was sitting here this morning, reflecting on how much life changes in twelve short months.  During my Christmas break last year, I sat parked on the sofa for most of it, eating candy, drinking wine and watching all the seasons of Mad Men.  This morning, I spent nearly three hours researching strollers and breast pumps, before deciding on (and registering for) them.  Last year, my normal jeans fit me.  This year, I only fit into jeans that lack a zipper and have a panel that pulls all the way up to my ribs.  A side note about aforementioned jeans: 1)I’ve developed a very deep love affair with them-their comfort makes up for their hidden horrible-ness; 2)I am continually shocked by how many people have asked me to pull up my shirt so they can get a better look at that f-ing panel.

Anyway, my point is…we’re taken down roads that we don’t expect.  And this year has made me a little gun-shy about anticipating what might come next, but it’s my hope that it’s nothing but goodness and love and light.  And I wish the same for all of you-I hope 2013 brings you joy and health.  Thanks for sharing little glimpses of my life with me.


A word on tragedy.

A precursor:  Some of you reading this may find it offensive, and that is OK.  Strong events evoke strong reactions, and this is mine.  I will not respond to, or validate any negativity from anyone.

Let me just put it out there-I can’t take anymore posts, news, information, stagnant lamenting about the horrible events of this past week.

What happened is beyond comprehension, because it was a senseless act.  There is no rationalizing any of it.  Innocent people died-many of them small children.  Like everyone else, it hurts my heart.  No one should have to endure such violence, and its resulting echo. I can’t even fathom what those involved feel, in the depths of their hearts.

I am bothered by the credence that tragedy is given, not just with this, but with the countless horrid things that happen daily in the world.  With every post about the gunman’s troubled past, we place a spotlight on his actions, thus making him the most prominent individual in this situation, not the victims.  Does endless information regarding his “social awkwardness” or possible Asperger’s Syndrome help us to make sense of the senseless? No.  Does post after post on social media asking others to wear Sandy Hook school colors, or regarding your own new-found fears of sending your child to school help anyone? Not likely.  As much as your heart hurts for those involved, remember that you weren’t.  Be thankful for that.  We are no more or less safe than we were the day before this happened.  Be mindful of the fact that children learning of this event will likely find themselves worrying about formerly unthinkable things, and will not benefit from any added amplification of those fears.

I do not mean to discredit the sympathy that we all feel for those involved (and I do feel a very deep, abiding sympathy), but I do take issue with the way we choose to channel it.  We are saturated with media coverage that places a high value on the quantification of tragedy; that is, referring to events such as these as “the worst school shooting in history” or “the second worst school shooting in history”.  Every school shooting is the worst one, for those experiencing it, and really, for our nation as a whole.  To buy into this rhetoric is to support the categorization of death’s significance,  according to the number killed. And that’s the exact opposite of what the true issue at hand really is.

So, pray and offer up a supportive thought for those suffering, in the silence of your day. And if you want to see change in our communities-stop talking about it, and do something.  Instead of perpetuating despair, perpetuate life.  Because in the midst of death and loss and unthinkable sadness, there is even greater love and joy and peace to be found.  Be a part of that.  Choose to move forward.


Life Lessons: Wear a sports bra to the running store, and never trust your Asian chauffeur.

A sloth among gazelles

Last Friday, I popped into the running store to get fitted for new running shoes, as mine have officially passed that “keep your body safe” point. I strolled in, immediately intimidated by the size zero sprite pulling off her jeans and trying on running tights, and all the tall, lithe runners lounging about. I sat down with a boy who started fitting me, and almost immediately, the entire store filled up with what was apparently some sort of Friday night running club. Shit, I thought, please don’t ask me to run on the treadmill in front of all these people. WITHOUT A SPORTS BRA. “Just gonna do a quick 15 miler,” I heard one of them say to a woman who was shopping for gear, asking what everyone was doing. I lowered my head, to roll my eyes without being noticed.

So, I try on my first pair, and stand up to walk around in them…only I can’t, because the room is jammed full of Kenyan-shaped white people, stretching, being cool, you know. NBD. “Just hop up on the treadmill,” the boy helping me says. So, I comply, knowing there is no alternative. God, my poor chest. Let’s face it, they’re not exactly small. This is going to hurt physically, and socially. The boy asks me where he should set my pace, and I tell him I’m not a particularly fast runner. So, what does he set me at? 4.5. “Really?” I ask, bumping it up. And then, I run. For abooout 6 seconds. My anxiety at having to run in improper attire in front of a group of people who in reality are paying zero attention to what I’m doing gets the best of me, and I slam the treadmill off in seconds. “I’ll take them,” I say. I hop down. Just get me out of here. You guys go do your fifteen miler, I’ll go home and run 3 miles and then set up shop on the couch with a bowl of Mini Eggs. See ya at the finish line.

Dancin’ on the ceiling (or struggling in the trunk of the car).

For whatever reason, I love reading books that frighten/anger/sadden me. Mostly non-fiction, of course. You know, so I can really worry about the “what if’s” in life. Anyway, I’m currently reading a book on domestic human trafficking. Specifically, about American teenaged girls who are commercially sexually exploited, aka pimped out. So, yeah, really uplifting stuff. Sunday afternoon, I took a nap, and I had this dream where I had a new driver, a Chinese woman (yes, I have hired help in my dreams). Anyway, we were driving, and she pulled over, forced me out of the car and into the trunk. I remember thinking in the dream that she was angry, because I kept accidentally calling her “Lupita” instead of her actual name, “Patty.” This was not the case. Turns out, Patty was selling me to someone. I was being pimped by my elderly Asian driver. The car stopped, and the trunk opened. Who is standing there with her?

Lionel Richie. I was sold to the man who danced on the ceiling, and has assured each of us that we are not once, not twice, but three times a lady. Also, what the hell does that even mean? Anyway, I’m not able to remember anything after that point in the dream, but it is my sincere hope that Mr. Richie was kind enough to introduce me to the kind of luxury I believe I am entitled to. Most likely though, he locked me in a basement dungeon somewhere, forcing me to listen to “Hello” on repeat, and do his bidding.
I guess ultimately, I’m wondering what this says about me. I can usually piece together bizarre dreams, and attribute them to seeing someone on television prior to sleeping, etc. This, though? No idea. So, if anyone would like to offer up their (free) misguided attempts at dream interpretation, I will gladly accept.