Chairs and Birds
There are times when you can sit and listen to a song and be wholly transported in time. This has not happened to me in a while, until one night a few weeks ago.
I was two wines in, listening to Bob Marley, thinking about my dear friend Rebecca. I have not written about her death until now — some seven months later — because there simply aren’t enough words, or maybe just not the right words. And that is daunting in front of a blinking cursor. There was some sense of knowing, at various points in her battle against metastatic breast cancer, that the day would come when we would lose her. But it also somehow always seemed equally impossible that such a bright light and big presence would leave us behind. You always hear about the exceptions — someone has to defy the odds and be the medical miracle story. It was never out of the realm of possibility that it would be her.
But when the end came, it came so quickly. I was not prepared, even though I was aware of how much her condition had worsened. I had texted with her on a Sunday about coming up to see her that week, and heard from her family on Thursday that she was hospitalized and they were saying their goodbyes. It was incomprehensible.
On the morning following her wake where 1,000 people had waited in a winding line for hours to pay their respects, I found myself sitting in a distinctly familiar yet long-forsaken chair in our college chapel, just five days before Christmas. And because Reb drew people in, standing there in the chapel was the lead singer of The Wailers — who, months earlier, had met her just once to perform at her annual Cancer Couch Foundation fundraiser. She made such an impact on him that he flew in just to sing at her funeral mass — one that had its own overflow room with a remote video feed to accommodate the crowds of people coming to say goodbye.
If you also attended college in the early to mid-nineties, maybe your dorm friends had the Bob Marley & The Wailers Legend CD as required listening like we did. Reb lived down the hall from me freshman year when we played Legend on a repeat loop. I can remember her singing with us as it played incessantly in the background, before or after Pearl Jam or Eric Clapton, or maybe James Taylor or U2. I knew her when she was a shower-challenged college freshman, a study abroad roommate, a grad student, a bride, a mother, a bridesmaid, a godmother, a therapist, a patient, and an activist. All of those moments in time were riddled with music, with a relentless pursuit of laughter, and often with a tendency to be the very last to leave an event of any kind.
Reb’s life was lived fiercely. She was endlessly ambitious — about her career, about parenting, about her advocacy in the metastatic breast cancer community, about party planning, and about friendship. There was not really an in between with her — no real moments of her merely considering something for future thought. If she was in, she was all the way in. In the last years of her life, after leaving behind her successful career as a leading neuropsychologist who had worked with everyone from post-9/11 trauma victims to Sandy Hook survivors, she founded and ran The Cancer Couch Foundation and raised millions of dollars specifically for the long-overlooked metastatic breast cancer research community. She also decided to become a stand up comic and taught herself quantum physics on the side to better understand how her cells could be retrained to heal themselves. She never missed anyone’s birthday, and was the most thoughtful of gift givers. And even as she was laser focused every day on staying alive as long as possible for her family — physically, spiritually, and mentally — she never stopped listening, despite the millions of pursuits she always had cooking and her ability to capitalize on every single second. She remained one of the very few people on this planet who understood everything I had to say and told me when I was right, and also when I was way off.
The last time I saw her alive was at her Cancer Couch fundraiser in October, and there were The Wailers — because she was just able to secure a band like this to entertain us — and I was in awe of how true to the original songs they sounded all these years later. There was a suspension in time hearing those songs, so true to how they remained in my memory.
When she died two months after that fundraiser, I was in utter disbelief that we had lost her. I sat in that chapel where I had mumbled through hundreds of Catholic masses in college 25 years earlier, and the singer from The Wailers started playing Three Little Birds, right there in front of us — as if everyone has a renowned voice of reggae drop by to sing at their funeral. It was a completely surreal morning on so many levels, and I remember being acutely aware of how I would never forget all of its details.
“Don’t worry about a thing. Cause every little thing gonna be alright.”
This was my undoing, my muted ugly-crying, my acknowledgement that she was gone and that, everything would not remotely be alright in a world without her.
* * *
Ninety miles away, at that same moment, my mom was under general anesthesia at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for surgery — the very same hospital where Rebecca had endured so much over the last four years.
And then a mentally numbing Christmas came and went. And a new year started with bringing my mom to the ER on January 1. She has since spent several hospital stints at Sloan Kettering this year — where we have met oncologists, pulmonologists, hematologists, gastroenterologists, and infectious disease specialists. It’s a very complicated case, they all continue to tell us. As I worked to absorb the constantly evolving details of her situation, I wondered frequently if we were sitting in a room where Rebecca had been or if we were speaking with a nurse who had treated her at some point in her multiple hospital stays.
And it was those chairs in Sloan Kettering that marked the beginning of 2020 for me, always thinking so much about my mom while also trying to begin to come to grips with Rebecca being gone.
It was all so suffocating, and — funnily enough — I remember repeatedly thinking that 2020 really couldn’t get any worse.
[CUE GLOBAL PANDEMIC]
* * *
Seemingly overnight, we were all sent home to social distance indefinitely and, possibly, also ponder a complete and total reset. After an initially unmotivated start to our stay at home order, I eventually cleaned out rooms and gutted closets. Part of this process dictated that it was finally time to give up the ugly glider chair where I had spent multiple hundreds of hours nursing three babies. That chair taught me several things:
1) Never choose a furniture fabric ever again from a thumb-sized swatch (greens can be very deceiving).
2) The full recline feature is worth the cost.
3) Yes, you will someday sleep again, but it will take years.
That chair was where I equally lamented and loved being the only one awake in the dead of night with a baby. That chair was fucking hard to give away. I had dreaded the moment it was carried out of our front door, out of our lives, and closing that chapter of parenthood. Off it went.
* * *
After too much news intake, I recently went back to playing more music to think about better days, about crowds and energy and live bands that will have no place in our near or even medium term future as it is reshaped by face masks and antibody research. I listened to my beloved U2 and thought about the chairs I never sat in at their last concert because I was up singing the entire time.
Most days now, I sit in the same chair in my kitchen while I work from home amidst the pandemic new normal. I noticed in the last few weeks that red cardinals not only drop by often on my back porch, but linger almost insistently to make their presence known, much like someone I miss so much.
Maybe because my first part of 2020 was so consumed by hospitals and aftermaths, I hadn’t had a chance to even begin to process Reb’s death until the world stood still.
After multiple COVID-related and other postponements, my mom finally got the additional surgery she needed. Nobody was able to go with her, and nobody could visit. The chairs for visitors were empty this time, as they remain for all of her ongoing treatments and follow-up visits in world of public health emergency restrictions. My mom is very strong and presses on, and hopefully soon I can sit beside her during her appointments again.
* * *
These chairs — in the hospital, in my college chapel, in my mind’s eye nursing my kids, in better days of concerts and gatherings — they are all so tangible to me, as if I can visualize their ugly yet supportive backs and haggard fabrics from years of wear, of memories.
And that brought me to the moment of sitting in my kitchen chair again — my pandemic work station where I can see the cardinals visit, and where I had those two glasses of wine and thought of Rebecca. That night, I figured I’d just shuffle Bob Marley songs on Alexa. The first one played at random was Three Little Birds.
This time, all these months later, the song was still a gut punch, but not my undoing as it was in the chapel in December. Maybe because we are all the wiser by this point in 2020 not to dare think that every little thing is gonna be alright. Maybe the familiarity of the song was what I needed to transport me in time before all of these chairs came and went. Or maybe singing along during visits from the cardinals might just be healing in some strange, full circle sort of way.
I’m not sure, but I do think about maybe buying some new lawn chairs for these summer days in the strangest of times. While the view is both the same and very different in 2020, I know from Rebecca that it is always still something to behold.
“This is the beginning of a new day. You have been given this day to use as you will. You can waste it or use it for good. What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever; in its place is something you have left behind. Let it be something good.”
August 20, 1972 – December 14, 2019
Let’s just start this off by saying this is not entirely a birthday post. Because, come on, what 13 year old wants his mother talking about him publicly?
This is more of a peek back at what looks like another life. I was re-reading the blog post from the first time I wrote about one of my kids’ birthdays (the now-13-year-old was turning four), and it was like opening some crazy time capsule. Our 2011 lives are unrecognizable in a lot of respects — a four year-old and an almost two year-old (and no third child yet), new to the suburbs, navigating toddler years, spending hours baking elaborately themed yet horribly executed cakes. It was light years ago.
Here we are, an additional kid, nine years and a pandemic later, staring down the teenage era of parenthood.
As part of our current stay-at-home lives, we recently spent an entire day finally tackling a project whose incompletion I have been cursing for about a year — cleaning out our basement. It required focus, dedication and, apparently, stiff mimosas (hold the orange juice). Always know your motivating factors.
I emptied out entire bins of old toys, mismatched parts, and orphaned Lego pieces. I was in purge mode, and nobody was going to stop me from the diligence of donating all of these things that had gone unused and unloved for so long. My kids, groaning about the injustice of participating in this clean-out, contributed very little to the effort as I re-lived some key phases of their childhoods.
After getting the cold shoulder of indifference from my ten year-old daughter about the bin of Frozen accessories — the same kid who sang Let It Go on a repeat loop while switching from Anna and Elsa’s gowns intermittently all day, every day — I could see that maybe my nostalgia would not be shared. I reminded her wistfully how she always preferred Anna, and she responded by telling me she had a Zoom call to join soon.
And then I found the cars and trains.
It could have been the champagne going to my head. Or the build up of the pandemic emotions. But when my two boys passed over the Lightning McQueens and Thomas trains with complete non-chalance, it was my undoing.
I pointed out the many, many variations of McQueen they had accumulated and treasured. My six year-old, who legitimately thinks he’s a fully formed adult, shrugged me off. I could not believe my eyes. He was a borderline McQueen stalker in his Cars prime.
And there was Mater. How we all loved Mater.
No response from my sons — except to ask how much longer this would all take.
Do not even get me started on Thomas, Percy, and their franchise-dominant and morally questionable co-inhabitors of Sodor. Not even a blink from the two boys who, each from the ages of two through four, were unable to walk from one room to another without carrying fistfuls of trains at all times. Because of their age difference, these characters held a very prominent place in my home for nearly a decade.
As I boxed them all up and prepared to give them away, my oldest picked up on the Toy Story-esque moment I was having by myself.
His acknowledgement was understated — almost imperceptible, even — and came with an age-appropriate mumble and nod in my direction, while his eyes never left his phone.
“Yeah, that’s the OG McQueen, that one there with the yellow flame on the paint job.”
He remembered. But it hit me hard that time fucking flies.
If you had told me on that fourth birthday, as I prepared that awful dinosaur-resembles-an-armadillo cake, that we would celebrate his 13th birthday under a stay-at-home-order, avoiding grocery stores, wearing face masks in rare public outings, wondering where my purse and car keys are and if I’ll ever need them again, sharing memes about distance learning, hoping we can score more toilet paper, and watching the world basically come to a standstill to avoid the spread of a global deadly virus — I would have, to put it mildly, considered it dystopian fiction.
But here we are. And today we will watch a video montage of birthday greetings we’ve gathered, wonder if the Amazon Prime gifts will arrive sometime this week, and eat ice cream for dinner that we can pick up curbside with our masks and gloves in place. It will be memorable, but not in any of the ways he expected.
This 13 year-old with his encyclopedia-like retention of facts reminds me that we’re living through history, his very favorite subject that he wants to incorporate into a career someday. He has a lot to say about the pandemic and how it compares to plagues of the past, and what it means for health care. As he hits 13, he also has a soft spot for dogs of all kinds, a well executed meme, and injustice on any level, as well as the conviction to tell you his position on any topic at all times. There is no lack of opinion, no middle ground (we’re working on it — also: see genetics).
And I as I’ve come to the slow yet jarring realization that we’ve somehow surpassed most of the little kids phase of parenting, I think this will be the last of the birthday posts about him — this tenth one — because the rest of his story belongs more to him than to me. So much remains to unfold, to be told, and I think the trajectory will surprise us all.
Instead of writing about it for him, I can’t wait for the family historian himself to document it for all of us in his own way.
And with that, a mini-parenting era closes. Happy 13th birthday to the boy who teaches me more about humanity on most days than I could possibly impart to him.
It’s hard for me to believe I used to crank out a few posts a week.
Now, they sneak up on me, after months of being pent up, until I eventually grab a keyboard and alleviate the guilt of not writing. I had a post simmering for the last two months — and it kept changing, because life kept changing — until I was finally ready to type it up two weeks ago and let it live somewhere other than in my head. It was about chairs, but you know not really about just chairs. But also not deep at all. You’ll see — I’ll bring it back someday.
Because as I was ready to get it typed up, all of this happened.
And so that post is canceled.
Like most everything else.
It’s all canceled.
Normalcy and sanity are canceled, my friends.
I can’t even begin to imagine what we’re going to think when we someday look back on this period of our lives defined by flattening the curve, stay home hashtags, instructional graphics about social distancing, and daily counts of the infected in the era of COVID-19. Will we even remember how fast it all got so weird, and then how much faster it all sort of became the new normal? I wonder. A little over two weeks ago, we were hugging people and shaking hands, talking with neighbors from a normal distance and looking with a cautious eye at how this was all going to evolve. It literally feels like months ago that I was not Cloroxing doorknobs with regularity.
How are you processing all of this? I can’t even identify how I feel from day to day, but if you’ll allow me to show my crazy, here’s where I’m at. It’s not neat and pretty. I didn’t do multiple passes at editing this piece. But hell, I’m lucky I could even remember the log in to access my blog at this point. My WordPress account is like 48 updates delinquent, so let’s roll the dice and see how this comes out.
The social introvert in me does not hate the stay at home order.
I’ll be very honest. For me, there is something freeing about not only having nowhere to be, but being expressly forbidden from going anywhere. I am very happy, on the whole, to be forced to stay at home with an empty calendar free of carpools, activities and obligations that are often overlapping or attempting to defy the space/time continuum at the expense of my sanity. All of that is gone — literally gone — and I can’t help but think it’s some giant call for a reset, drawing us back to our homes and our people. Again, not trying to go deep here. The reality is that part of me will, in fact, be sad to resume the insanity of our overscheduled lives when that time comes.
I feel like I should be achieving something. What better time to take on those long-neglected projects, right?
You know, those projects that have forever resided on your long-term to do list — the ones that never get done because there is no time. Nope, no time at all. The basement that desperately needs to be cleared out. The pile of kids’ projects and artwork to be sorted/secretly discarded in the dead of night, hidden under produce scraps in the trash. Creating some sense of order around my tens of thousands of digital photos. Reorganizing our home office. The time is surely now.
I see you hyper-organized sorters out there. You motivated purgers. You people posting shelfies of your books sorted by color and size. I see you and my envy is palpable. Because I cannot find the energy, the wherewithal, the mental bandwidth — somehow, here, stuck at home — to do any of this. When we come out of this on the other side and none of my big projects got done, I think it’s safe to say I can wave the white flag of defeat on them in perpetuity.
In the absence of taking on these once in a lifetime projects, I feel like I should be — how do the online influencers describe it? — making the most of this gift of time.
I think we’re supposed to be going on long nature walks and playing family board games, or maybe taking up composting and whatnot. Shouldn’t that, at the very least, be happening? It feels like I’m supposed to glean some big meaning out of the very little being asked of me, or make this a very special time for my kids. I have a feeling from the mindfulness set that maybe I’m not doing this right. So thanks for that.
But, here’s the deal. We are doing everything we can to just make the bare minimum happen, all day, every day.
Like many families, we have two demanding jobs, which of course are now being performed from home. Are we lucky to have these jobs? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a complete domestic circus. Add in three kids with three distinct distance learning programs occurring around a dining room table that resembles where organization goes to die. I wear my seventh grader’s gaming headset at my work laptop in the middle of the kitchen, so that I can hear the hours and hours of COVID-19 conference calls over the ambient sound of children arguing, while hand signaling what may or may not be available for lunch and asking through lip reading if everyone has finished their virtual science project or pre-algebra Zoom conference. My husband and I each have a mother fresh out of hospitalization stints just before COVID-19 busted wide open; both of them still need medical procedures and treatment in the near future, and nobody really knows how or when that might happen. And we cannot see them anytime soon. We consume too much news, and it feels a lot like drinking out of a fire hose — but of course not one that has been within six feet of anyone else.
So, the baseline feels, shall we say, strained.
How do we save ourselves in the absence of an endpoint to this madness?
Oh, hi, Zoom and FaceTime. Like most people, I find we are now catching up more with friends and family. It’s nice, if not pandemic-surreal to interact with people only in small video cubes. But that is where the comfort lies for me — with the people I know, the ones who get me, and frankly are willing to go a little dark with me when we think about this entire situation and scream into the abyss about the jackasses who continue to gather and dismiss all social distancing guidelines. I am glad to be home, glad to be tucked away from having to show up in all manners of things.
You know who else is going to save us, besides doctors and nurses and first responders? The funny people. I see you and your memes out there, and you are giving us life right now, I swear to God. The crafters of witty tweets and videos keep us patently unqualified homeschoolers alive while working, inventing recipes from unlikely pantry bedfellows, and wondering when we can see our parents. The hint of a laugh feels so foreign and misplaced sometimes, but so richly deserved.
I need that Venn diagram.
It seems insane to complain about anyfuckingthing at all right now. We have it easy, relatively speaking. Hats off to everyone who is still an essential worker, showing up every day amidst this insanity. Huge applause for the teachers out there. The single parents. The people waiting for medical treatment. The Coronavirus-infected people and their loved ones. I cannot imagine. But I saw a homemade Venn diagram somewhere on Instagram today and it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. It essentially drew one circle about being fortunate on one side, and one circle about this situation being hard on the other, with the science-y overlap in the middle. That. That’s what I feel. I, like many, am lucky — but we’re still allowed to say that this is hard without taking anything for granted.
I try to help in the ways that I’m able — but let’s be clear: I have the luxury of not putting my life or that of my husband on the line as a first responder or medical professional. I am just being asked to sit here while members of our family run nursing units and oversee police departments. None of that is lost on me for a second.
OMG, the kids. Are we messing up our kids?
It fills me with anxiety to read about how our kids could be affected by all of this. Of course they are. And how much are we failing them by not making the most of this gift of time, or modeling better reactions to the situation at hand? The makeshift schedules to keep the normalcy going — that’s what we’re supposed to do, right? I let my kids sleep in. They do distance learning in pajamas if they want. And then there’s the embarrassment of free online riches available for them to experience — live streamed koala sanctuaries, banjo lessons, cartooning sessions, junior meditative journeys, Slovakian tutorials. We need a virtual cruise director to sort all of it out because, oh my God. I cannot. It’s overwhelming, so I have instead shut down and added Disney Plus as our new family member, with a daily side of the panda exhibit at the Atlanta Zoo. Nobody here is picking up a new language or hobby right now.
What will my kids think when it’s all said and done? When the COVID-19 history chapters are written and they think back on their personal narratives, what will stick with them? Will they look back on their high strung mother wearing the fucking gaming headset in the kitchen with her laptop, while trying to whisper-yell that they need to wash their hands again and bring me the damn learning log to sign? Will they be pissed I didn’t take this once in a lifetime opportunity to expose them to virtual aerial yoga or live streamed origami sessions? Will they wish we had gone on more walks or reorganized their book cases? Will they resent that we did not build fairy habitats in the woods or read an entire book series aloud together around the fire?
I don’t think they will. At least I’d like to tell myself that.
Because, really, who the hell knows? And that’s sort of the entire hashtag/mentality/big issue here. The uncertainty and the unknown of what normal will look like when this is over, whenever that may be.
Who the hell knows.
So let’s give ourselves a break, shall we? We don’t have to make the most of this gift of time.
We don’t have to accomplish anything huge — I kind of think we already are.
The Last Sixth Birthday
I could do a whole post for my youngest in the “You might be the third child when….” theme. You know the ones with the long lists that induce familiar nods across the parenting spectrum. I could cite all the examples of how ha-ha-ha these various incidents showed that we have the stereotypical third kid challenges. Almost no photographic existence of him in the house (or anywhere off of my phone). No baby book in sight.
Or, maybe, when you didn’t know your third kid lost his first tooth until you saw him throw it in the trash, not knowing it was even loose. Why did he throw it in the garbage? Oh, because he didn’t even know about the Tooth Fairy.
In my defense, he lost this tooth like almost two years earlier than my older two ever did and there was no disgusting-dangling-tooth drama. It just happened one day. Also, yes, I went into the white trash bag and found the equivalent of a needle in a haystack so he could have his Tooth Fairy moment and I could feel less like a dumpster fire (no pun intended) of a parent.
So now it doesn’t sound quite so bad that it has taken me almost four weeks to get around to writing this birthday post.
Anyway, I’m here now, at my keyboard, feeling terrible about this lapse. You know what didn’t help? This, last night, at bedtime:
“Mom, you’re my favorite person in the world.”
I’m not even kidding. This kid is either the absolute sweetest person I’ve ever known, or the greatest emotional manipulator in the history of children.
I’m going with the former.
While not without the moods and impatience that come with his age, he is the child who asks me to lie down in his bed with him most nights as he wraps his arms around my neck, who reaches out for hugs multiple times a day, who declares his love for me unprompted and randomly.
Add this to the stark contrast of two tweens who alternate eye rolling and sighing at me, and this youngest child just makes me smile.
Six seems so old for him. Past any clothing sizes with a letter T after them, past pre-school traditions, past needing everything done for him.
This is the kid who is dressed and ready, discussing the day’s plans, and basically reprimanding his siblings for not being equally prepared each morning. He calls his brother and sister — six and almost four years his senior, respectively — “the kids,” as if to remind everyone who is basically in charge.
“Mom, I called the kids to come up for dinner but they’re not listening.” <insert exasperated shrug>
“Mom, I’m not sure, but I think the kids are watching something inappropriate on YouTube.” <pronounced sigh>
“Mom, I’m ready to go but the kids literally can’t find their shoes. Unbelievable.” <raises hands in the air in disbelief>
This last year was a big shift for all of us when I went back to work for the first time in eight years. I have to remind myself that while the change felt seismic to me in many ways, it had to be odd for my kids too. In some respects, they seem to like having our routine changed up with a babysitter sometimes, but there are other times when my youngest in particular wants to know why I can’t be home with him, or why he has to go to after care at school until I’m finished working.
And that’s hard. But change is good, right? Seeing a parent do something to improve herself is important. Wait, I’m talking to myself here. You get the idea. I appreciate your silent agreement and support from the other side of the monitor.
My six year-old has a mind of his own. There’s no wavering, no looking around the room to see what other people think, no hesitation. He’s in or he’s out, and good luck getting him to change his stance. He wants to be seen, be heard, and be counted in the plan.
He will start Kindergarten in September, and I am torn between not believing it at all and knowing this is exactly where he should be. He loves to be with friends, create intricate stories, and side-eye anyone who’s not following the rules.
He loves being around his siblings and their friends, and craves being in on their jokes and interests, although ideally he’d really just like to convince them to play Bey Blades instead while making up stories about ocean animals. Recently, he has been saying that he wants to share a room with his 12 year-old brother, which is a negotiation whose terms may require a UN-level ambassador. As much as I love the idea of them being close, I don’t know that a six year-old should be hearing about the Ancient Roman testudo battle formation, recaps of middle school group chats, or jokes from The Office with any regularity.
It’s in those moments that he does, in fact, still seem so small as my older kids veer towards adolescence and all that comes with it.
This kid. He has my whole heart, even if he couldn’t get a birthday post remotely close to on time. He doesn’t care. He just wants to give out hugs and charm the hell out of all of us.
Happy (extremely belated in writing) birthday to my sweet, sweet boy.
When your first child is born, you worry so much about how to handle a baby. Is the child getting enough to eat? Gaining enough weight? How do you get him to sleep? How will you know why he is crying? How do you soothe him? Will I ever sleep again and why don’t the books answer all of my questions?
Turns out that’s all the least of it. As my oldest reminded me over breakfast today, on his 12th birthday, “What are you going to do with an almost-teenager in the house?”
Great question, kid.
Although I worry very little these days about him getting enough food and sleep (just try and stop him), we’re on the edge of a whole new world here with this tween.
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of online resources to completely freak out every parent about what challenges await us in this stage of raising kids. Screen time, social media, bullying, vaping, and more. The question from 12 years ago still stands: Will I ever sleep again?
To be clear, we’re not pushing the envelope on any of these dicey issues yet. I mean, yes, we have multiple daily arguments about screen time, but that’s sort of standard life on Earth now. He’s not on social media yet and thankfully shows no interest in it. He is not focused on who is hanging out with whom and what the popularity hierarchy entails — sort of like a social honey badger. I often vacillate between thinking this is great and worrying that he doesn’t pay enough attention to the world around him. But I’ll say this: I envy his confidence and his willingness to overlook what can be utter bullshit.
At this time last year, my husband and I were in the throes of making a decision about middle school. We live in a town with a very strong school system, but it’s really large. We found another school that we knew would be a great fit for our son, but had reservations about removing him from his friends here and starting over somewhere else. There was no wrong decision here, but it weighed heavily on us to figure out which was the better choice.
So, in September, off he went on a bus to the new school where he knew exactly zero other kids. Conjuring up memories of my 11 year-old self and how I would have felt in that situation, it took everything in me not to breathe in and out of a paper bag in front of him. But no need — he was calm and cool. Whenever I come across the photo I took of him that morning, I can instantly recall my fear for him, but also my pride in how he handled everything.
Turns out it was a great decision. Is he happy and learning? Yes. Is it the right place for him? Yes. Do we still argue about homework? Also yes.
Recently, his entire grade started participating in the World Peace Game — a long-term, role-playing/problem-solving game that entails being assigned to a fictitious country with specific traits and scenarios to achieve world peace while working with your classmates. There was a lot of build-up to the sixth graders starting this game, and my son anticipated it for weeks.
When he came home after the first day of play, I was eager to hear about how it went, but he hesitated to tell me for a moment. Finally, he sat back, propped his feet up on the table and put his hands behind his head.
“Well, Mom, unfortunately I had to stage a coup.”
“Wait, what? A coup? It’s a peace game — is that even allowed?”
“All’s fair in war. Plus, I really wasn’t happy with the direction my country’s leaders were taking. So I traded some weapons with another country, recruited some rebels and overthrew the prime minister.”
He seemed pleased with himself and, although I admired his strategic thinking, I knew there was a bigger lesson at hand here about cooperation, compromise and flexibility.
I spoke to my mini military strategist and encouraged him to work things out with his countrymen. It took him a few weeks, but he got up the nerve to apologize to the ousted prime minister, work out a deal and reinstate her leadership — while promoting himself to head of the military and annexing some additional territory from the vulnerable neighboring nation.
And with that, you now know nearly everything there is to know about this child.
He is a lover of history, past and present. His convictions are strong and his compromising skills under development. He rarely wavers, stubbornly pursues his ideas, yet is secretly sweet and empathetic to others. He has a soft spot for puppies and babies, and will interview any parent of a small dog or child to get their essential details and promptly file them to his vast memory. He knows the value of wit and appreciates well-placed sarcasm.
With a few exceptions, he rejects sports and all of the team loyalty trappings that come with them. You can find him with a fencing sabre or — this year, for the first time, and at the expense of years off my life — on the wrestling mat. It’s not always easy to be a pre-teen boy who wants to talk about history instead of hockey. To be the kid who’d rather watch a mini-series about the Roman Empire than the Super Bowl. He does not seem to mind one bit, and a huge part of my goals in parenting him is to make sure he is always comfortable with who he is, despite what other people may expect. Many days, I think he will teach me more about this than I can impart to him.
So, yes — as of today, it’s the last year he’s not a teenager. And, no, I don’t understand how we got here so fast if I’m still 30. But regardless, my firstborn child will always stretch my heart to its very limits.
Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet boy.