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.
So Many Somethings
I have rushes of thoughts — intermittent, compelling, and yet often fleeting — that I’ve tried to sort out and produce into written sentences over the last few months. The beckoning of a blank screen, a deserted blog, and a head full of phrases blink like bright lights.
But instead of having one coherent thing to say, I have so many somethings instead.
I have something to say about this blog.
This blog is almost nine years old — a lifetime ago in online years. Since then, things have changed substantially. We’ve moved from an era of comments, responses and shares among a kindred blog community to the collective reduced attention span of viral memes. Online profiles are measured by the ha ha emoji count on a single sentence captured in a frame and re-shared. And that’s fine — but it’s also not really me (just try to contain me to one sentence). And so where does this go, this online vault I’ve accumulated over these years of my kids’ childhoods and a time capsule that I hold dear but don’t maintain regularly anymore? Do I rebrand it? Collect funny memes and call it a day? Keep it as is, if only for myself? Or walk away?
I don’t know. I’m not ready to shut it down, yet, but its future weighs on me.
I have something to say about the shifts within my house this year.
This was the year when we saw our oldest go to middle school and squarely land us in the unenviable dynamic of Three Kids in Three Different Schools (with no school buses in this town). Whose school is texting about a delayed opening? Which one of you has the Monday after Easter off? How are your spring breaks a full month apart from each other? Why does my iCalendar look like it’s weeping? Who needs to be picked up when, where, and WHO NEEDS A LUNCH PACKED TODAY? There is one constant, though — we are all late and just get in the fucking car already. This tri-school dynamic has made things here crazier than usual, which is probably why I can’t even summon up a single sentence meme now and then — I’m endlessly distracted by a calendar alarm telling me where I was supposed to be somewhere between 18 minutes and three days ago.
I have something to say about re-entering the work force. The fact that I’m only able to articulate this a full ten months after starting my job speaks to my level of organization.
After a protracted focus on domestic ship-steering for eight years, I had been thinking about going back to work for a while, but was conflicted about what I wanted to do (and not do), exactly. My husband laughed at my requirements: a job in my field (PR/communications), but not full time, not corporate, and not far from home. Perhaps I was being unrealistic, but I also had not started searching in earnest. Then, last year, without actually looking for it, I happened to see a job posting that was basically an exact list of everything I’d ever done in my professional past. And it was part time. And not corporate. And literally down the road from my house. And so my entire goal was to just land an interview — just the chance to get in the room and prove to myself that I still had some professional acumen. So, when I was called in for such an interview, I was thrilled and ready to check that box as merely a warm up exercise for eventually going back to work.
Then they called me back to come in again. And again. And again. And then they offered me a job. It’s a job that has put my skills to good use, and a job that has taught me a lot about people, their instincts, local politics, and community.
I love my job. I love the projects I work on and the co-workers around me. I love seeing people in action who make a difference and devote their energy to the town where I’m raising my kids. People are amazing.
But I have something to say about the death of civility, the toxicity of keyboard warriors and the way people treat each other online — about the deep divide in which we live and the partisan nature of our interactions. It’s obvious on a macro level but what amazes me is how much this same dynamic plays out locally. It’s one thing when you see that unhinged extended family member (and we all have one [or more], right?) go off the Facebook reservation, but to watch it happen among neighbors is really something. Part of my job involves social media in our community, and it’s astounding to me that some folks I see at school pick up or at my kids’ activities have no compunction about arming themselves with a fraction of the facts, a will to divide, and generous dose of speculation and conspiracy theory in order to spread misinformation. I can’t decide if they completely lack self-awareness or just don’t care. Both explanations are equally galling.
I have something to say about our national political climate (don’t worry, I’m not going partisan). Like many, I have strong political opinions, none of which I ever discuss here. Plenty of people share my point of view — and plenty do not. That used to work out nicely and exist on some “let’s not discuss it” realm of cordiality. That doesn’t seem to hold up anymore as two sides drift further and further apart from each other — and I really have to wonder where this leaves us sometimes. It feels exhausting. I would love (LOVE) to join Team I Don’t Care and just bury my head in the sand — I think I’d live a lot longer. Alas, no can do.
I have something to say about the passage of time, about the role of a child blending with that of a caregiver. My mom has had some health issues lately — and she’s going to be OK. But it’s hard to watch someone you love so much in such a vulnerable spot, in such a state of uncertainty. All I want is for someone to promise her the worst is behind her.
I have something to say about things that resemble medical miracles, regardless of how much or little stock you put into such a categorization. My dear friend Rebecca, who has battled stage four breast cancer for nearly four years, recently received the most amazing news. I will let her words speak for themselves, because they are worth reading and holding dear and taking with you when you need something uplifting and awe-inspiring.
I have something to say about my oldest turning 12 next week, about how proud I am of him going off to a new school this year where he didn’t know a soul, because it would be a better fit for him. To see that risky decision — one that we really struggled with — play out so well and benefit him so greatly is something for which I am grateful every single day.
I have something to say about springtime and its insanity, its beckoning of summer and the season of closure that it brings as it signals the end of the school year in sight. But first I have to find the softball medical clearance form, schedule three physical exams, pick up the dance recital costumes, see who has sandals that still fit, and pay the balance for summer camps. Wait, what was I saying?
All of these somethings — so many somethings — I’m not sure what they bear, if not a peak inside the lid of a brain brimming over and perhaps collapsing from overload.
But they are, for me, precisely what words are for, and what brings me back to this keyboard once in a blue moon to fill the intimidating blank screen for however long I decide to keep at it.
There, I feel better now.
I see some of you online with your back to school photos, shiny new kids’ backpacks and giant parental grins. I am watching from the sidelines, deliberately keeping my distance from the mentality of transitioning out of summer and back into productivity mode. And while of course my kids can easily fray my last nerve sometimes as the end of the season approaches, the truth is that I have never once wished to have school start earlier.
This last week of August to me is special, sad, and a little glorious all at once. I’ve been at the beach all week in a house where 13 members of my family are all staying together. There are a few decisions to make each day: Beach or pool? Hamburgers or chicken? Red or white? There is simultaneously a tremendous amount of activity and a gorgeous lull of laziness hanging in the thick humidity of the ocean air.
I know that, in a matter of days, my kids will go back to school. And the madness of schedules will return. Yes, we could use some structure and consistency for sure, but I’m not ready yet to give them back to alarm clocks and homework and the building crescendo of “Get in the car, get in the car, get in the car, WE ARE LATE GET IN THE CAR.”
It will be a big year of change for us. My kids will be in three different schools, and my oldest will be starting middle school, with its own set of distinct challenges. I recently went back to work after eight years (more on that another time), which has required all of us to adjust on several levels. And to boot, space and time refuse to slow down, despite my repeated requests. Processing change on any level is really not my strong suit, and this year feels like seismic shifts in a lot of ways. It’s hanging out there like a big leap I have to make, and soon.
And so this week, which has turned out to be steamy and even more late August-y than usual, has brought my extended family together in this house from three countries and three states. It’s rare that we are all together, and so to have this time to catch up and laugh without anyone having any kind of schedule is beyond special to me – even if a little bit like a reality show — and the perfect pinnacle to this summer.
It is my summer solstice.
I’m not good with science or being on time, and so yes, I know the solstice was really in June if you want to be technical. But, for me, in thinking about the longest days of summer, they are here with me now – without camp or work or laundry or a lot of rules. They are walks by the beach every morning before the sun gets too strong, with an iced coffee on the way back. They are a group mimosa most mornings, with some laughs about the night before, and maybe talk of a loose plan for the day. They are hours in the pool or the ocean while listening to Motown over cocktails and depleting the pallets of sunscreen. These are the days of ocean air, ice cream taste tests, and denial of what another looming school year will bring as my kids are somehow another year older.
These are the longest days not because the calendar says so, but because I have willed them to stretch beyond what is physically possible, capturing them in photos and in my memory. My solstice is borne of nostalgia and a lifelong habit of poorly transitioning between seasons, both of life and of the year. I know the days will shorten soon, and rapidly, once we pack up this beach house and all go our separate ways back to reality. And so, for now, it is peak summer, if only in my mind.
When my son turned nine two years ago, I remember being incredulous that he was halfway to adulthood at that point. This morning, when my daughter got up early to announce she didn’t want to miss a minute of her ninth birthday, I realized that I have been thinking she’s halfway to adulthood since she could form words.
When she began to crawl, we immediately called her The Bullet because of her relentless speed. She is the same way today, bouncing from room to room, from one activity to another, never still for a moment. She is game for anything and her only two settings are 1,000% or fast asleep. There are impromptu daily choreographed dance performances in our family room. There are nightly bedtime rituals with her 12 Beanie Boos, lining them up and often assigning them roles in her next story. There are self-imposed sous chef duties to ensure her favorite foods make their way to the table. In this respect, she is so many things that I never was – self-assured, open-minded, ready for anything. And I love all of this about her, even if the rest of us can barely keep up.
Leading up to her ninth birthday, our conversations can best be summarized by a few key, ongoing exchanges:
Can I have a phone? (No)
Can I have my own YouTube channel? (Definitely no)
Can you change the station to Kidz Bop? (ugggggggh, OK, but can we talk about classic rock or my beloved U2 for just a minute?)
Where is my shirt with the flip sequins? (In the laundry, since you wore it just yesterday)
Can I make more slime? (Yes, but only in the basement, and how are we related?)
Can I host a Slime Camp this summer? <sound of audible blinking>
She is all about sparkles, unicorns and rainbows – so many things that keep her a little girl. And then there is the constant pull with technology, as more and more friends have phones and social media accounts – and she has a mother who is in the firm Team No camp for now on those items. There is also the onset of friend drama, which I can’t even believe some days, and I’m sure will only get much worse in the years to come. I hope she is as kind and inclusive in those situations outside of my reach as she seems when she is home with us.
When not pretending to host a You Tube channel, she is always planning. For today, for tomorrow, for summer sleepovers, for dinners we should prepare and slimes she should make, for next year’s first day of school outfit, for December’s Christmas list, for decorating her own bedroom when we (finally) separate her and her older brother, for family vacations she thinks we should take when her younger brother is old enough. It’s like living with some hybrid of a cruise director, project manager and fashion blogger all at once.
She wants to know everything, do everything. She has endless questions but also likes to provide answers. She has *almost* resigned herself to not getting a younger sister (sorry, but no), and sways between relishing and eye-rolling about her destiny as the only female child in this family.
She is simultaneously the easiest child on earth and incredibly challenging, both because of her fierce independence. My wish is to never, ever slow her down, while also providing her with some yield signs along the way. The truth is that, most days, she teaches me far more than she could ever know.
Her heart is boundless and fiercely loyal. I cannot wait to see what she will do in the world, because I’ve known for nine years now that it’s hers for the taking.
Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet girl.
The Last 5th Birthday
There are two camps of parents: Those who love the baby phase, and those who don’t. I am a card-carrying member of Camp Baby, and always have been.
Oh, but they’re better when they’re older and they can interact.
They are so much easier when they aren’t so small.
Yeah, I know. I’ve heard the finer points of debate. But still. Babies.
NO, I’m not here to say that I’m adding another to our mix. But today my youngest turned five, and although I’m aware he hasn’t been a baby for quite some time, this birthday stings more than a little. I feel like he turned a corner into the Bigger Kids Club with some kind of express pass that happened in the blink of an eye.
With his newfound almost-tweendom, one of the most interesting things to watch is how this child continues to establish and assert his role in our family. For so long, he was “the baby,” the one who wasn’t big enough or old enough to do everything his siblings did. No more, his every move says. I am here and I’m coming with you.
When his sister wants to go play with the girls down the street? Uh, yeah, he’s coming too. Gone are the days of staying behind and hanging out with Mom. Who cares if they’re making jewelry and crafts? His mission is to bring along his beloved Hot Wheels and convince them to incorporate cars into their crafts in any way imaginable. He is currently experiencing mixed success at best on this front.
His brother and sister are playing a game? Listen, he wants a role in it too. And he’s not going to hear otherwise. So if you were wondering how Minecraft, fairies and Hot Wheels all join forces into an imaginary scenario, look no further than my family room and behold three strong personalities trying to work this out into a cohesive playtime narrative. I think Wes Anderson would be proud.
Bottom line, according to this kid: I’m in the mix now. I have a voice. I see what I’ve been missing out on, and I want in. Oh, and everything in which I participate much involve at least four and as many as 19 Hot Wheels cars located in my hands, pockets, bed, Mom’s bag, and car seat at all times. Why have you not learned all of their names? Have I taught you people nothing?
Yeah, sorry Lightning McQueen. I didn’t think I’d see the day when you were decidedly replaced by a 50-year old toy franchise, but you can take your racing wheels and find another kid’s house. It’s Hot Wheels City here, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re 1/30th of the cost. Take Mater with you. (OK, you can stay and we’ll just store you somewhere in our basement in perpetuity because I have a soft spot for your entire franchise.)
For a long time, my youngest would not go to bed until we sat in his glider together and I sang him silly songs that I made up for him years ago. Recently, his long limbs have gotten too big for both of us to sit there together comfortably for more than a few minutes. We moved the good-night routine over to his bed, where we chat before he goes to sleep with his stuffed dog under his arm every night. I will hesitantly admit that the glider has reached the end of its useful residency in my house, after eleven years and thousands of hours spent in it with three kids. It is a hideous and bulky piece of furniture, but it has remained a constant, if not final, reminder of the baby era in our family.
While in his bed chatting last week, I asked him if we can give the glider to another family for their kids. In the past, he has steadfastly resisted and cried about getting rid of it. This time, he shrugged and said, “Sure. I’m not a baby.”
<me, not him>
He knows he’s getting big and wants to increasingly do things for himself, but — like many of the youngest kids in the birth order of a family — he also knows when to capitalize on his littleness. Yeah, that was me carrying a 45 pounder in my arms today at elementary school pick-up. Yes, he can come into my bed every morning. And yes, he can usually secure one or twelve additional hugs to stall his bedtime. He is a mush of affection just as my older two are starting to become, shall we say, hesitant about public displays of parental love.
Well played, my boy. Well played.
He is a born conversationalist, which anyone who has spent two minutes with him would know — from closest family members, to strangers in public places. Remember when we were in the same check-out line at Target, never having met before? And now you know the most minute details of our family, complete with an invitation for dinner? That’s because my youngest child was put on this Earth to tell you allllll the things you need to know about him, his family, his toys, the weather and various top of mind grievances — complete with highly exaggerated hand gestures and the inflection of an exasperated 75 year-old.
And so, this expressive, opinionated, affectionate and endlessly curious boy turns five today. I can’t pretend that I’m shocked by this milestone, but it feels like a big one as I’m keenly aware of and mournful for the baby years slipping away. Yes, there is so much fun in this phase and yes, life gets easier in many respects without strollers and cribs and gear and whendidilastsleepallnight fogs. Turning that corner is both tough and exciting.
In the meantime, we have Hot Wheels tracks to build and racing times to compare before deciding which cars will advance to the Ultimate Birthday Championship Round. And there will be ice cream and five candles for the child who made our family complete.
Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet boy.