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.

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A different diet for the new year.

I’m exhausted, you guys. I’m talking, physically and emotionally, right-into-your-bones, sort of tired. Life is crazy, as it is for all of us at this particular stage in life-career, relationships, kids, adult stuff. Those are OK things, though-I can handle them, keep them in balance.

What I can no longer keep in balance, however, is the flood of negativity, vitriol, hatred, violence, horror and general terribleness that rushes into my life every time I lazily step into any sort of online environment-facebook being the number one offender, as it usually compiles all of these different avenues of media into one little neat stream. But, man…does anyone else feel like they are being crushed under the weight of all the terrible things that are happening in the world?

I’ve always been pretty tapped into world events, for better or worse. I like to know what’s going on, I want to better understand humanity. And with that, comes the unfortunate side effect of taking some of it on, personally. But lately, I don’t know-I can’t handle it. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, maybe (likely) it’s because I’m raising a tiny human to become an adult human who will be left to make his way in this world, and I’d like that world to not be burned to the proverbial ground by then. I’d like his spirit to remain intact, to not be jaded by what he sees and hears. I want MY spirit to remain intact.

This has all been accelerating for me over the past few months, thinking about the need to pull the plug for awhile on being so “connected” all the time. A poor choice of words, for sure, given that I can’t think of anything more DISconnected than looking around in a public space and seeing literally everyone’s face buried in their phones. When did we stop understanding that human interaction is necessary, that it makes us who we are?

I believe in the power of media, of social media in particular, and the rise of citizen journalism and what that means for accountability and transparency on all levels. However, what I can no longer deal with, is absent-mindedly hopping online in the same manner that people continually open their fridges even though they know nothing has changed inside, and reading that overnight,  a man has thrown his 5 year old daughter over a bridge, killing her. Or that attempts at forced censorship include a mass murder of illustrators and editors. It has officially infiltrated my heart, and it is just another thing weighing me down, that I don’t want.

So, all this to say, I’m going on a diet. A crash diet that includes no social media and very limited news exposure. I am not deleting anything (as evidenced by the fact that you guys are reading this, through a linkage between WordPress and FB or Twitter), but I removed the phone apps, and let’s face it-who the hell is on a laptop or desktop more than they ever have to be? For 30 days, I’m going to focus on remaining present, at all times, and allowing what is good to flow into my world (how’s that for some weird, new-age garbage?).

I’ll be back, at some point, if for no other reason than my son’s apparent internet celebrity. In the meantime, feel free to subscribe to my blog to get updates on new posts (because I’m going to be writing a lot more), or shoot me an email at JenniferLHurlburt@gmail.com, if you want some occasional photo updates on what the Ginger is up to. Or, be like, “Eh, whatever, who the hell cares?” Either way, see you on the other side.

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.

Let’s talk about kids, shall we?

“I have come to the full-on decision, Dad, that I don’t think I’m going to have kids. Ever. It’s just not me,” I said to my father, slowly, anticipating the But-I-need-more-grandchildren! response. Both of my parents have always communicated this idea that life is much more valid with children. I happen to find it much more valid with free time, quiet, a flexible schedule, and only one giant, stubborn ego to battle with (my own). So, agreeing to disagree has been the name of the game.

However.

Steve’s response was this: “That’s fine. Kids aren’t for everyone. Besides, you’re too old to start having kids now, anyway.” Totally serious. Whaaaa? If this is some sort of reverse psychological move, this attacking my age, in order to trick me into having a child, consider yourself denied, Pop. BOOM. DENIED. But no, he was serious. I don’t know what motivated this change in thought, but I’d venture to guess that these proclamations of desiring a child-free life carry more weight coming from your 30 year old daughter, rather than that same daughter at 20. Life is a bit more figured out, you know who you are. I think he recognizes that.

It just doesn’t seem like anyone else recognizes that. I have entered the space in my life where, when talking to someone that happens to be a parent, I hear-“So, when are you going to have a little one?”, “Time’s ticking!”, or “Don’t you want one of your own?”, almost weekly. I DO have one of my own. She weighs 80lbs, sheds hair all over my house, eats paper towels, and chews my glasses under the dining room table. That’s enough for me. As much as I like to say that this incessant focus on children doesn’t bother me, it does. I don’t like being made to feel bad, or somehow selfish, for not wanting children.

Look, I love kids. Adore them, even. And because I love kids, I elect not to have any, because I also love my life, and it’s a life that isn’t conducive to properly nuturing and raising a child, at this juncture. It’s something I never envisioned myself doing, and I just don’t know if I have the capacity to be THAT responsible for someone else. Whenever I encounter a tantrum-throwing toddler, my anxiety instantly ratches up to 1000%, and then I hear the inevitable, “Yeah, but it’s different when it’s your own child.” This isn’t a comforting thought for me, because all I hear is, “Yeah, but it’s WORSE when it’s your own child, because you can’t safely give it back and walk away.”

I know the response that this is going to elicit in some people, and so, what I need to make clear is that I am in no way saying that choosing to have children, and raise a family is a somehow less valid way of life. I respect and admire people who choose to be parents, and are doing amazing jobs at cultivating these outstanding, loving, socially-responsible little people. I think it’s one of (if not the most)important roles that people will ever play in life, and also one of the hardest. I, on the other hand, cannot even properly iron a crease into a pair of pants, let alone handle the pressure of raising well-rounded, emotionally mature children. I can, however, walk my dog semi-sporadically, feed her everyday, and forgive her (begrudgingly) for eating yet ANOTHER possession of mine (RIP, laptop power cord). I guess family looks different to everyone, and the one we’ve created looks pretty good to me.