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 ...

 

She’s Nine




She’s Nine

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

<sob>

<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.

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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.

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The Very Best Dog

At some point in my 20s, I became fixated on pugs. I was single, living in Manhattan, and working about a million hours a week. I had no business getting a dog.

But on a spring day in 2003, I went to see a litter of pugs that had just been born. Of the eight dogs who were there, most were shy — except for the one who ran right up and chose me. It was as easy as that. I named him Señor, and a short time later he moved into my cartoonish-ly tiny fourth-floor walk-up. When I think about that day — when my sister and my mother came with me to bring him home — it simultaneously seems like yesterday and a million light years ago.

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Last week, I said good bye to Señor, and it was hard. Really hard. Even though he was 15 with declining health, I still found myself shell shocked that I had to make the decision to let him go.

I write about a lot of trivial and everyday things here. And it only seemed right, to me, to use this space to honor one of the very big things in my life. One of the very best things. So you’ll have to indulge my inner Crazy Pet Lady for today.

It turns out that a very spoiled dog requires some adjustment to sharing his spotlight. About a year after Señor arrived, I decided to move in with my then-boyfriend (now husband — we look like babies in this photo!), and the dog had to get used to not just some new city digs that consisted of more than one total room, but also another human in his space.

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And, eventually, another.

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And another.

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And another.

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You know those photos and videos on the Internet of dogs who love their new human siblings so much that it goes viral while melting millions of hearts? Yeah, that didn’t happen with us.

Señor never loved having a baby in the house, but he begrudgingly tolerated the adjustment of sharing his turf with a growing family. Not once, but three times. We always joked that he loved me a little less with each new baby I brought home, and my husband increasingly became his favorite person. This dog would never have, in a million years, shown an ounce of aggression, but I swear he would’ve loved the ability to roll his eyes and flip me off at times. I respected his inner curmudgeon.

When our family ultimately outgrew our Manhattan apartment and our suburbanization was complete in 2010, I always got the sense that Señor, like me, still tended to prefer the city, despite gaining more room in the burbs to co-exist inside together, and a yard to claim as his own outdoor domain. In the city he had been a fixture in our neighborhood — at the local wine shop, the doggie day care place, his little piece of Central Park. In the suburbs, sure, there was wide open space for him. But there were also the indignities of canine Halloween costumes. He had a little something to say about it here.

We allowed him to retire from holiday costuming after this family-themed swan song a few years ago. I think we can all agree that he earned it.

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He excelled at relaxation. Perhaps I was always drawn to pugs because of their like-minded affinity for laziness and weight gain. He was a stalker of food and a snorer extraordinaire. He loved hedgehog toys, neck massages, treats of all flavors, high fives and sleeping — on our shoes, in spare boxes, in the sunshine, in the coat closet. Or in any bag, anywhere.

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Any bag.

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Really — no bag left behind.

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Even though he hadn’t been particularly active recently, our house without him now has a stillness and quiet that it didn’t have before. Even with three kids here and all of their noise and activity. I don’t feel the motion of the dog under my feet when I’m making food in the kitchen — where he always was, at the ready, waiting for the inevitable scrap. I don’t hear him with the one ear I keep open overnight, when he used to shuffle around at all hours going to and from his water bowl. I don’t hear him pacing the family room while I watch TV in the evenings, waiting for him to find a comfortable napping place and beginning to snore. I don’t see him sleeping on the pile of shoes by our front door when I come and go during the day. It’s just different.

I lived with him longer than I lived with my husband. He was here for every day of my kids’ lives. I look at the photos and I see the different phases of my adult life — single, engaged, married, motherhood times three — and there he was, a fixture of what I’ve defined as family over the last 15 years.

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If you have a pet, you understand. You know that the love for a pet is so deep and so fierce — and the hardest part of that love is that their lives are always too short. When he sharply declined on Mother’s Day, it was fitting that my mom and my sister were both here — the same two people who helped me bring him home to that tiny apartment a virtual lifetime ago.

 

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And so, before I said goodbye, I thanked him for choosing me all those years ago. I was so lucky to call him mine.

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Eleven

I’m here tonight to accept my award for Best Slacker in a Blogging Role. I’d like to start by thanking space and time for conspiring against me to write at even minimal intervals at this point. It really takes special forces to make me stop doing one of the few things I’m okay-ish at. I’d also like to give a shout out to laziness, daily chaos and the black hole of laundry for allowing me to achieve this distinction. Really, I couldn’t have done it without you. Also, huge thanks to my short-term memory for briefly forgetting my own blog’s password; without you and your sidekicks, anxiety and panic, this truly wouldn’t be possible.

Who am I wearing? Oh, my leggings are by Gap, circa 2015.

Now that we’ve dispensed of the formalities, let’s discuss what finally brought me back here. My oldest child went ahead and turned eleven on me today. Eleven.

It’s only appropriate that, as I spend the day reflecting back on his birth, I am bombarded with media images of Duchess Kate presenting her newest addition to the world. The similarities between us, after all, are striking — the class, confidence, fashion, fresh hair and make up upon exiting the hospital. If. Only. I’ll refrain from adding yet another meme on this subject to the Internet, but I’ll just say that my seven-hours-post-partum style could be best described as Don’t Tell Me How Many Stitches I Have meets I Plan to Shower Sometime Before This Child’s First Birthday.

But somehow I pulled it all together, eventually, and raised a small human. The first time I wrote a birthday entry here for him was when he turned four, in my early blogging days. I made him a stegosaurus cake that resembled an armadillo doubling as a cautionary tale for diabetes. He schooled me on its anatomical inaccuracies, rocked his pre-school party and handed out Thomas-themed favors. It was the best I could do — I hadn’t yet been ruined by the domestic pressure cooker and fault-identifier known as Pinterest. Those were simpler baking and party planning times.

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Fast forward seven years. This weekend, I’m taking a group of boys to see the new Avengers movie and then to grab some food, which I expect they’ll consume in metric tons while telling fart jokes and comparing YouTubers. Happily, Pinterest has no place in the life of an eleven year-old boy’s party.

And these boys — his closest friends over the last few years — will finish elementary school with him in June.

I was in pretty firm denial about this, until I sat through parent orientation for middle school one night last week. It was all very informative and well-presented, even in the mystifying absence of paper bags for hyperventilation. I mean, middle school? What fresh hell is this going to bring? (Working on my optimism).

It’s hard to believe that this child will leave behind the place where he has attended school since 2013. Hard for me, anyway. I can admit that familiarity is my jam, and that I’m not remotely great when it comes to accepting major changes. Instead, I totally excel at worrying disproportionately about things over which I have no control, so fearing this whole upcoming transition is firmly in my wheelhouse. I’ve been training for years to do this.

It will be fiiiiiiiiiine. This is my mantra.

(It’s the only one I’ve got and so I’m sticking with it.)

I should note here that my son is completely and authentically non-mantra fine with all of it. Mostly because he knows there will be an actual cafeteria in middle school (see ya, packed lunches). And because he has grown tired of the non-fiction section of his current school library.

Yes, my Historian in Residence is still at it. While WWII remains his favorite period, there has been some broad diversification lately. What would breakfast be without a tutorial on the Roman Empire’s testudo battle formation? And a simple Spring Break meal in EPCOT’s Mexico pavilion wouldn’t be complete without shaming one’s parents for not knowing the difference between and Aztec and Mayan temple.

{Mr. Ruyzam, I know you never thought I’d say this, but I’m so deeply sorry for not paying attention in AP History in 1988. I can see now that I was wrong and that maybe truancy should not have, in fact, served as my greatest achievement of junior year. Had I known I would raise a budding historian and spend time researching which battle re-enactments we can attend this summer, I would have worked harder. A little. Ok, I probably would’ve at least attended class.}

Where books and facts are my son’s everything, he is navigating a world in which sports reign supreme as the social currency of boys his age. While his peers play in about 3,384 travel leagues, he’s happy wielding a sabre at fencing lessons or playing his tuba (although it nearly outweighs him — perhaps a more athletic pursuit than we all realized). He wants to talk about the news and understand the world around him. His imagination is vast, and his curiosity deep. What opportunities all of these traits will present to him remains to be seen, but he has confidence in what he knows and what holds his interest — which is more than I could say about myself at his age.

As with everything, he will be the first of my kids to show me what this next stage of parenting entails. We’ll cut our teeth on it together and he will both benefit and suffer from my inevitable mistakes, some of which I’m sure will be the butt of ongoing jokes for years of family dinners to come. It will be his journey and his experiences that shape what comes next. Even though he is becoming more independent in so many ways, he is still young enough to need us in a million more.

When he was born, I set up an email address for him in his name (I did the same for all three kids — and none of them know about it yet). A few times a year, I forward family photos with notes from me. And I always send an electronic copy of the newspaper on his birthday. It felt like this curated time capsule for the last decade, and soon I have to think about handing it over to him. It always seemed so far away to think it would be his to open, use and shape with his own notes and interests and contacts and identity, but like everything when it comes to our kids — it snuck right up on me.

And so, eleven is here. For him, eleven is more sneakers than fashion. More indoors than outdoors. More funny than exasperated. More evening than morning. More questions than answers.

And equal amounts of push and pull. As it should be.

This child is unique and compassionate. Strong willed and confident. A puzzle and a delight. And a distinct privilege to call mine and to show me the way. As always, he teaches me more than he can possibly imagine.

Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet boy.

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The Year of Yes, We Loved You So

Let me just dust off the tumbleweeds here for a minute and prepare my monitor for the shock of some actual words being typed on my blog. It has been a while.

So, I’m up against my annual oh-hey-look-it’s-November-and-suddenly-I’m-way-behind-on-holiday-prep realization. My 412 mental browser windows opened simultaneously, like they can only for the person who is in charge of making all of the Christmas magic happen. And as I started thinking about the hell that is holiday cards, my photos reminded me that I never sat down here to write about and memorialize this past year.

Because, once in a blue moon, the universe throws you an unusual gift that deserves some attention.

My husband recently went back to work after being out for a full year. We ended up calling it The Year of Yes — not by design, but as a name that sort of evolved over the course of our time together.

I am married to one of the most low-key, even-keeled souls in the world. Which is good, because I am the opposite, and there can’t be two of me in a union without the inevitable occurrence of spontaneous mental combustion. We knew after he turned down a job transfer to Denver that he’d be laid off when the acquisition of his company was complete. This didn’t bother him. In his mind, he had been working for close to 30 years and the temporary time off was a welcome change.

He basically wanted three things out of this situation: family time, some travel and some golf.

I also wanted three things out of this situation: some long overdue home organization projects completed, an extra set of hands with the kids, and maybe a trip to remember.

So we had some basic overlap, which was a good starting point.

I’ve mentioned before that we are not really “must have things” people. Yeah, sure, I like new stuff sometimes but we would always choose travel and experiences first. This is why you should never ask me for style tips or what car to buy, other than a minivan that requires a FEMA-level cleaning. I can plan a vacation for you, but I have no clue what bag I should be carrying or what shoes to wear when I get there.

And so began the “hey, why not, let’s take a few trips” mentality. Because, as I reminded a 50 year-old man with three young kids, he’s never going to have this kind of time off again (#collegesavings #retirementmoney).

And so, there were lots of long weekend getaways. Local-ish ski trips. A visit to my dad in Arizona, where we brought the biggest drought relief to the desert in years. It wasn’t unusual to find me in the elementary school office on a Thursday around lunch time, with the administrative assistant addressing me by name and correctly assuming that I was there to sign my kids out yet again. Yep. Second and fourth grade is not going to send us off of a learning cliff. See you Monday, the car is packed.

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When spring break planning came along, we wanted to do something different since we didn’t have to plan around any work schedules and, hey, what’s a few more missed days of elementary school at that point in the year? (Yes, they managed to stay within state laws and complete their grades.) We entrusted our kids’ new-ish traveling chops, packed an entire rollerboard full of gluten-fee food for the Celiac Crew, and put ourselves on an 11-hour flight.

 

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They slept not one minute between the three of them, but we landed in Hawaii and all was forgiven — mainly because you can’t be annoyed about anything when you’re thousands of miles away from New Jersey, holding a giant coconut filled with booze while a board shorts-wearing Mickey Mouse walks by. To break up the sensation of being trapped forever in an airborne capsule with kids, we stopped in California on the way back for a few days, and finished up what was the trip of a lifetime.  We made this last point very clear, very frequently, as in: “Kids, there won’t be another trip like this. Enjoy it — hit the buffet hard and often, as well as every water slide in sight. Mom and Dad will leave no cocktail behind.”

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When the school year was drawing to a close, so came the realization that the Year of Yes would end in a few short months. Without the constraints of educational requirements and common core math problems, summer beckoned and we put a few more road trips under our belts. And in a swan song move for which I take full responsibility, we even managed to ditch the kids for a week and fulfill one of my bucket list items of seeing my favorite four people (U2) in Dublin.**

**Please note that I am not a stalker by the standard legal definition. This trip probably warranted its own post but I’m not willing to show my crazy quite that much.

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So, there was travel. Lots of travel. And would you believe me if I said that wasn’t even the thing I was most grateful for all year? It’s true. Because, more importantly, there was also a household where two parents were home at all times, and this was really the amazing part. Nobody had to be schlepped unwillingly to a sibling’s activity (I’m looking at you, child #3 — you of the spirited refusal in voice and body). I outsourced all math homework to my engineering-brained spouse. Dinner and laundry and cleaning were shared tasks. I was not driven to the point of insanity by 6pm every night. Divide and conquer — what a glorious way to live.

The kids loved having their father at home, having him drive carpools or take them to school. They weren’t waiting around every night to see if he’d make it home from work before they went to bed. It was wonderful for them.

And I had a daytime date. It turns out that, when it comes to everyday conversation, I really prefer my husband over almost anyone else in the world. That should probably go without saying, but a lot of people would roll their eyes at me and say, “I would lose it if my husband was home every day. Aren’t you dyyyying for him to just go back to work already?”

Honestly, I wasn’t.

I liked hanging out with him in intervals that weren’t driven by schedules or kids’ commitments. Full sentences, even paragraphs, were spoken on an uninterrupted basis. Yes, of course there were times I needed him to get out of my space or stop messing with the well-oiled domestic machine I’ve cultivated over the years, but that wasn’t very often. We’d go out for coffee or lunch sometimes, maybe run an errand, and spent a lot of time together following the insane political news coverage of the last year. I can’t remember if it was him or me who threw the first shoe at the TV during a Sean Spicer press briefing, but it was good to have someone here who shared my outrage. (Yeah, yeah, I’m trying not to be too political here — stay with me — I’m moving along.)

Were there downsides to this whole arrangement? Sure. My weekly grocery bill saw about a 30% increase by having the biggest food consumer home 24/7. And with that came a slow but steady uptick in junk food around my house. Did you know that my husband singlehandedly keeps Entenmann’s in business? It’s true. I have the pantry to prove it. And if you were wondering what post-college adult enjoys buying Ring Dings or Drake’s Cakes, he’s 5’10” and lives right here. Don’t get me started on the abject injustice of his caloric intake with zero weight gain consequences; it is a long-standing pain point for me. To have him here, flaunting his glazed donut for breakfast while I had my usual spartan meal on my way to Pure Barre, was really a drag.

Also, you know those to-do list items you’ve had for your house that neverrrr get done? The ones that have been written down for a decade of rainy days? Let me tell you something super-depressing: We have them on our list and, after a full year of my husband being home, they did not get done. Nope. So, I have basically made my peace with the fact that they must be deleted because there is simply no chance in hell they will ever happen now. Goodbye, visions of a cleaned out attic and purged basement. Apparently, it’s just not fucking feasible in this lifetime.

Now and then, I’d have mini panic attacks over the course of the year about not-so-minor things like income and employment. My husband was calm and cool, working on it, knowing he’d land something. He was giving himself a year and, true to form for the way he is lucky about everything in life (ahem), along came a job just as the year off was coming to an end. You can’t make this shit up.

(Also, I do not share the good luck unicorn thing he has going — so, yes, I’ll join you for a moment of vomiting in solidarity.)

And just like that, the Year of Yes was over.

And. It. Flew. By.

The week before he went back to work, I was having anxiety over the transition back to reality. Who was going to deal with all of these kids, all of the time? Was the math homework, now a year more advanced, just going to get itself done? It all had to revert to the old way. But, back to real life we went.

It was like ripping off a Band Aid. I looked around the first day he was gone and realized I’d have to launch my shoe at Sarah Sanders’ press briefing all by myself. I had a long chat with the now four year-old about not throwing down while attending ballet/Girl Scouts/gymnastics/fencing/football for his siblings. I watched my kids cry as their dad left early in the morning and said he’d be back in about 12 hours. I took myself out for coffee and made peace with the to-do items that will never, ever see the light of day.

And we all bounced back just fine. Because, why the hell not? We were lucky to have what we did, and it was amazing while it lasted. And, frankly, it was time for the Entenmann’s stash to go.

Maybe I’ll just tackle the basement and attic on my own this year.

 

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