How to be ordinary

I cut too many bangs. I swore I’d never cut my bangs again, but then I was bored with the image in the mirror and feeling brave after successfully cutting Violet’s hair into a cute little french Audrey Hepburn-esque coiffure, so I took scissors to the front of my hair but then, as was inevitable, I cut too much. Now when I wake up in the morning I look like Garth from Wayne’s World, and when I accidentally pass my reflection in the mirror on the way to the toilet, all I can think is, “You did this to yourself, you dummy. Party on, Garth.”

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Mediocrity. My life feels full of it at the moment, from my stupid bangs to my marriage to motherhood to my lack of a career. My writing has dropped off to… well, nothing. I can’t seem to get seasonings right anymore when I’m cooking. Everything I do, everything I am, it’s all just… okay. I’m feeling not spectacular at anything these days, and for a theatrical person such as I, that’s hard to live with. It’s like going to a thousand auditions and getting cast in the ensemble every time. I’m good… just not good enough.

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Like… I’m pretty, but not gorgeous. I’m starting to look old. Older than I looked yesterday; older than I feel. What is this dark pouchy skin underneath my eyes? Why do my cheeks look like they’re sagging off my face? The gray hairs HAVE to come in all wiry, do they? So they pop out and stand straight up on top of my head? And yet… the acne hasn’t gone away yet. Now THAT is some unfair bullshit right there. And what’s with these boobs, or lack thereof? I knew they would look different after breastfeeding, but why are they all cockeyed? After I put on a shirt I have to arrange my breasts so that my nipples are pointing the same damn direction. And it’s important that they face the same way, as nipple is basically all that’s left of my tits anyway. Since I started running I lost them. Running has done virtually nothing for my stomach flab, so-called “love” handles, or saddle bags, but my rack is totally gone. Really, my (remaining) boobs are just WEIRD now. Stretch-marked, deflated, and a little sad looking, like they just heard a friend died and had a good cry about it. And while I have very little body-image issues, at least compared to some, I still can’t bring myself to wear a two-piece swimsuit. It’s the stomach dough that bothers me. When I sit down my belly folds over onto itself like four times, which is actually kind of good if you consider then at least you can’t see my belly button anymore. I actually don’t understand what the hell is going on with my belly button. It didn’t take popping out to accommodate babies very well, so now it’s like a crossbreed: half-innie, half-outtie. It’s the Quasimodo of belly buttons. I don’t like letting it out of my shirt because I don’t want it to frighten the children at the pool.

And… I’m a decent writer, but I’ll never sell a book. I have little to no time to sit down and write, and when I DO make time, I just sit here and stare at a blank screen. The truth is I’m starting to struggle with doing so many things for free. I love to write, but I want someone to need me to do it, hire me to do it, then pay me for a job well done. Maybe this sounds like a very first-world problem. It feels whiny to talk about, and on some level I disagree with the notion that we must receive something in return for work that we love; what about doing something for the sheer love of doing it? Whether or not this is ethical, the fact is that our society validates good work monetarily. I have passion for theater, for instance, but I don’t have a job in theater right now. Everything I do (and I do a LOT) is on a volunteer basis. 99% of the time, I’m happy to pursue my passion for free. My paycheck is my pride in my craft. But that other 1% of the time, quite frankly, it sucks. I don’t get paid for writing my blog. I don’t get paid for acting or singing. But SOME people do. That’s where my own sense of mediocrity comes in. What about me is NOT good enough? I want to be paid for the work I do, artistic or administrative. And I swear, it’s not greed. It’s not about the money, not really. Of course, it would be nice if I could bring in a little something extra for my family. It would be empowering to know that I can help send my children to college, help save money to travel. But truly… it’s about something more. That validation would feel really damn good every once in a while.

And… I’m an okay mom, but I still yell at my kids. One of the most depressing and frustrating things about parenting right now is that Noah and Violet complain ALL. THE. TIME. No matter what we do, no matter where we go, my kids are unhappy about something. My problem is I haven’t learned from my mistakes. I have such high expectations at the beginning of the day… we’ll go to the zoo! We’ll go out to lunch! We’ll go to a park! We’ll do a craft! Play a game! Watch a movie! Read books! Go to the splash pad! Bake muffins! I’m always trying so hard to give my kids these amazing experiences, but they always end in catastrophes that make me feel like a piece of shit mother. I like put on the Yo-Yo Ma station as background music for some finger paint and decoupage project that I’d envisioned the three of us merrily working through together, and I’m elbow-deep in the stuff when Violet starts crying because she sees the iPad and tries to take it, and I’m like, No, it’s not time to play on the iPad right now and within 45 seconds her mild whining becomes a full-blown meltdown complete with horror-movie screams, kicking, and choking. Noah remembers he hates crafts after about three minutes and starts whining about how tired and hungry he is, then he tears all the cushions off the couch and pushes it into the center of the living room so he can pretend it’s a ship. Then he climbs up onto the ship and screams “You’re a mean guy!” and shoots me with his finger gun. And I’m like, what?! Why am I a mean guy? What did I do to you? And he’s like “You’re being mean to Violet!” And I look down where she’s still writhing and screaming on the floor because I tried to get her to paint instead of vegging out with the fucking iPad. Then instead of just being okay with my big plan falling apart, instead of rolling with the punches of parenting small children, I always take it all personally and wonder why we can’t do ONE PLEASANT THING EVER WITHOUT EVERYONE BEING ASSHOLES. Only I don’t wonder it in my mind like any sane, rational person might when dealing with a four-year-old and a two-year-old. I wonder it out loud. To my kids. And then after I calm down and clean paint and glue off the couch I feel guilty and think, ok, I’ll make it up to them by taking them to…. the farmer’s market! Yeah! It’ll be so fun! Get your shoes on, guys! GUYS! GET ON YOUR DAMN SHOES SO WE CAN DO SOMETHING THAT IS GOING TO BE INCREDIBLY FUN FOR GOD’S SAKE. NOW! MOVE MOVE MOVE!

And… Lance and I love each other, but romance is dead. I’ve heard it’s normal to not have time for one another during children’s formative years, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Sure, I miss long leisurely dates and lazy Saturday mornings and sex, but who doesn’t? At this point I just miss having conversations with my friend. Every time we try to talk to one another the kids instantly begin vying for our attention. We get pulled on, climbed on, yelled at. The result is that the only things we ever have time to talk about are like, bills, doctor appointments, budgets, chores, and weekend birthday party invitations. So we bicker a lot. I feel like he doesn’t get me anymore, and he feels like I’m overreacting, which of course I am. Sometimes I find myself blowing up at him and I KNOW I’m overreacting, often concurrent with the blowup. All day long I have to have so much energy for the kids and by the time I see him my energy is completely nil, so he gets the worst of me. Which is unfair, because he also gets the worst of the kids… the dinner/bath time/bedtime insanity. I find myself wondering if one day he won’t come home at all because who wants to come home to three people at their worst every day? (Plus two hungry pets.) Wondering that makes me want to be better… stop getting annoyed at tiny things, make an effort to kiss him hello before laying into him about all the crap that I’m dealing with or whatever. (Ok, ok. He’s super offended reading this right now, I know. Of course I know he’ll never leave.) But I don’t want to just exist with someone. I don’t want a roommate. I want a husband. I don’t want to just love, I want to be IN love. I don’t want him to come into the bathroom while I’m pooping. I don’t want him to watch me floss my teeth. I want to preserve a little mystery, you know? I want romance, and sex, and flirting, and meaningful conversation. And I want all of it with HIM, the man I married.

But what am I going to do, y’all? It’s all just the phase of life I’m in, and I’d be foolish not to know it’s all going to pass. (Ok, maybe my boobs will never look good again, but everything else is just a phase.) I have to keep going, and keep hoping mediocrity will turn into something spectacular. I’ll keep working out, and maybe my tummy will get toned. I’ll keep auditioning, and eventually maybe I’ll get a paid role and my name will be in the newspaper(!), or maybe I’ll get a part-time writing job. I’ll keep trying to do cool things with my kids, and eventually they won’t complain about every single thing; they’ll learn to enjoy life and I’ll learn to leave them alone and let them destroy the living room if they’re happy doing it. Eventually Lance and I will have lots of time to rekindle our relationship. Right now I’m just waiting, and the waiting is hard, because I’m waiting for something amazing. Which means that right now, things aren’t amazing.

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Like my Garth bangs. I know I did it to myself, but it was a mistake and now I have to wait for my bangs to grow out. But I’m hopeful that once they do, my hair will look fantastic.

White Squirrel Farm

For the past few months, we’ve been doing a CSA. Our dear friends have a farm out in Bethpage, and we bought so much delicious produce from them last year that we decided to get the share this season.

It’s been really good for us; we’ve stretched ourselves by cooking and eating things we’d never even heard of. And last week I made collard greens for the first time, so if I wasn’t before now I’m officially southern. (Yes, I cooked them in bacon grease.) (Yes, they were ah-mazing.)

Yesterday, we went out to visit our friends at White Squirrel Farm. I wish I had taken more pictures! The gardens are so lovely this time of year, and they are near bursting with vegetables. Their whole property is gorgeous and peaceful. We ambled along the driveway that winds through the woods and past horses and up to their house.

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The kids ate so many blackberries off the bushes and helped themselves to cherry tomatoes (which I will be getting in my CSA today!). They were so worn out (Noah from playing hard with his friend, Winston, and Violet from trying to keep up with the older boys) that they both fell asleep on the way home. (Which is good, because I went the wrong way and yep, that’s pretty typical because I am horrible with directions.)

These guys sell beautiful flowers and fresh, delicious produce every Wednesday from 4-7 at Mitchell’s Deli in East Nashville. As someone who doesn’t like raw carrots but can’t stop eating the raw carrots from this farm, I can tell you that it is well worth it and you should go get some goods.

I was reminded yet again yesterday how much I love living here. We have been toying with the idea of moving to New York someday, because that is a dream we’ve always had that hasn’t died and most likely never will. But days like yesterday make me so thankful to be right where we are, at least for the time being.

Thoughts on a Hallmark holiday (Part 1)

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and we all wanted to spend it celebrating Lance. We had a plan to make him breakfast in bed, the children made him Father’s Day cards and Noah chose a gift, a really good gift that is exactly what Lance would want. We had a plan to pack up a night picnic and take him to see some jazz at the park. It didn’t exactly work out the way we’d hoped (a story for another day), but the point is Lance deserves to be celebrated, and the kids and I wanted to give him a special day. He is patient and kind, doesn’t overreact or freak out like I do when Noah laughs maniacally and tells us he’s going to “circle-saw people up today.” He spends time thinking about our children’s wellbeing, cares about their education, brainstorms ways to make himself a better, more consistent parent, believes strongly in gender equality and children’s rights, and basically just kinda rolls with the punches of parenting.IMG_6363

Like, literally. The other day Noah punched him right in the balls. Lance had calmly asked him to wash his hands for lunch, and in response our darling son punched his gentle, loving father right in the nutsack. I was all yelling my head off at Noah about how we don’t hit and especially not a private area and that really hurt Daddy, and if he was going to respond that way he could just skip lunch altogether. But Lance was like, “Dude, you’re being a little harsh.” That pissed me off. After all, they were HIS balls I was taking up for, so I threw up my hands. “You don’t care about your own testicles? Fine! Why should I yell at Noah about YOUR balls when you don’t even seem to care to discipline him about it!?” And Lance was all “I said ‘OW‘.”

Yup. That’s what I love about Lance’s parenting style. It takes a lot to make him angry. And even when he IS angry, he isn’t mad at the kids. He doesn’t think they’re going to turn out to be psycho killers. He doesn’t respond emotionally. He never arbitrarily doles out threats like I do. (No lunch? Yeah right. Noah saw through that immediately. In fact I think I heard him snort at me as he sauntered off to wash his hands, the little turd.) Unlike me, Lance never holds grudges. Sometimes I need a time-out, but Lance always just seems to be able to shake it off. In other words, he’s the exact opposite of me in many ways. And that’s a good thing.

(Not that I don’t think he should have reacted a LITTLE bit more to being punched in the crotch.) (Not that I gave him a chance, since I swooped in with my hand on my hip and my idle threats.)

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I should also mention that while I scrolled through countless hyperbolic facebook posts yesterday about how everyone’s dad AND husband are THE MOST AMAZING DADS EVER IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a little. A lot. It was like scroll, read, roll eyes, repeat. People. I appreciate your sentiment, I truly do. But I don’t believe you. EVERYONE CAN’T BE THE BEST. Everyone has their shitty parenting moments. The honest truth is Lance is not the best father in the entire world. I have looked outside to see him pushing the kids on the swing while staring at his phone. I have overheard him trying to explain concepts of morality that are WAY beyond a two and four-year-old’s brain capacities instead of simply correcting their behavior. Unlike me, who can think of little else, he seems painfully unaware of how quickly our children are growing up; I find him checking out on an electronic device more often than not. (Most of the time he’s posting a picture he just took of our kids to Instagram, ironically.) He doesn’t seem to understand the concept of picking battles; he starts with a single “no” and quickly gets lost in a swirling vortex of “don’t do that”s that end in one mad-ass four-year-old who takes out his aggression on a certain father’s ballsac. And he is laid back to a fault; last weekend I went to a good friend’s baby shower and stayed overnight in Birmingham and when Lance texted me good morning he confessed that Violet woke up at 5am and he’d given her a banana and stuck her in front of Daniel Tiger. When he woke up with Noah at 7:30, Violet was still watching that damn tiger, eyes swirling, mouth slightly ajar, drooling, limply holding a banana peel in her hand, brains slowly oozing out her ears. (Ok, I made up that visual. But I’m positive that’s what she’d look like after TWO AND A HALF HOURS OF TELEVISION. Including the brains.)

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Why must we pretend everything is so perfect? Social media has made us into liars, man. There’s no such thing as the best parent in the entire world. There is no “perfect father,” just as there is not a “perfect mother.” Instagram creates a pretty little half-true picture because I rarely post pictures of myself screaming at my kids while brandishing a wooden spoon. Rarely. I also rarely post (or take, for that matter) photos of my children having epic meltdowns because I told them they couldn’t have another piece of chocolate cake or watch just one more episode of Dinosaur Train. My videos are not of them whining and me losing my patience because I quite nicely asked them to put on their shoes so we could head to the park. To meet friends. And have a picnic that I just packed us. And take pictures that will end up on Instagram. (Idea: “It’s the Circle of Social Media Lies,” sung to the tune of Elton John’s classic from The Lion King) I can say with honesty that I’m trying my best, and I can say with certainty that Lance is trying his best. He’s not THE BEST, THE MOST wonderful, THE MOST amazing. But he is giving it his all.

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And he is wonderful. He is exactly what I want. He is exactly what his children need. We are navigating these choppy parenting waters together with our two guinea pigs, Noah and Violet, who see and hear us argue when we disagree with one another’s choices. Lance (and his balls) is the best dad I could ask for for my kids. (Get it? Cause the kids? You know…? Came from sperm? You get it.) He loves his children with all his heart. He spends ALL of his free time at home, with us. He’s had his fair share of lone bedtime routines as I spend at least three nights a month at the theatre (and that’s when I’m NOT in a show). Yet, unlike myself, he never complains. Never acts tired of being dad to our babies. He is moved to tears almost as often as I when they do something kind; he is as livid as I when they have been hurt emotionally or physically; he is fiercely protective of them. When he comes home our kids squeal with joy, run to him, jump into his arms, squeeze him tight, chatter to him about their days. He never withholds affection from them, and he squeezes them tightly right back when he walks through the front door. He lets our kids be who they are, never expecting them to adhere to social norms, never so much as raising an eyebrow when they’re running around the front yard stark, raving naked. When they grow up I believe wholeheartedly that they will remember a father who sacrificed for their happiness, a father who loved them with all of his being. I can’t imagine raising kids with anyone else. He’s not a superhero; he’s a human. He’s showing our kids what it means to live a real life full of mistakes and flaws and as much joy and love as one can muster.

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So, with all that said… Happy Father’s Day to the best, most wonderful father in the entire world. No, really.

An argument and some eye-rolling from the backseat of the car

Violet: “Mine naking! Mine naking! Mine naking, Noah! Mine naking! Mine–“

Noah: “No, you’re not naked, Vi. You still have pants on.”

Violet: “Yes, mine naking, Noah.”

Noah: “No.”

Violet: “Uh-HUNH.”

Noah: “Nuh-UNH.”

Violet: “Uh-HUNH, Noah. Mine NAKING.”

Me: <snort>

Violet: “What, Mama?”

Me: “You. You’re funny, Violet.”

Violet: “Yeah. Mine tunny. Mine tunny, too, Noah.”

 

But really, I liked that birdhouse.

I hear a child scream across the playground, and I feel my blood go cold. Immediately, I run toward the sound, scanning the busy play structure for a glimpse of my son. “Where is he where is he where…” goes my brain. There! I spot him. Head cocked, helmet on, straddling his bike, way over by the tennis courts, he is silently watching the players volley the ball back and forth through the chain-link fence. I stop mid-run and exhale the relief. I look over where the screaming child is now crying, his mother kneeling beside him. Noah wasn’t involved. It wasn’t Noah.

This time, it wasn’t Noah. A few weeks ago it was. Not the one hurt, but I wasn’t worried about that. I know his cry well by now, and I knew he wasn’t the wailing kid. I’m worried when I hear a child cry that it’s because of Noah. I never let my guard fully down, and even this day a few weeks ago I hadn’t, but I had turned my attention to a friend when I heard another mother yell, “No! Don’t hit back!” and saw her dash past me and right over… to Noah. Another little boy had a red nose and turned away, crying, having been warned not to retaliate. “What happened?” I asked Noah. “Nothing,” he said. I tried a different tactic. “It sounds like you hurt that little boy. Can you tell me what happened?” “I punched him in the nose,” Noah told me. Swallowing my shock, I asked him why in the world he did something so mean, and he responded, “I was being a superhero!”

God, I wanted the reason to be “because he hit me first” or “because he called my mother a whore,” but no. Noah hit another child on the playground because well, Noah doesn’t live in reality. He lives in Noah World. In Noah World, it’s perfectly acceptable to create injuries if Noah is pretending you are a “bad guy.” Pulling out finger guns, he’ll blast you into oblivion; pulling out a bow (fashioned by a piece of hollowed-out bamboo and a bungee cord), he’ll shoot you in the heart with an imaginary arrow. He’ll blow a whistle startlingly close to your ear because you’re walking past much too quickly to be considered safe. And, sinking to a new low, he will now punch you out, Batman style.

Not that he’s ever SEEN Batman, or any other superhero show, or that he even knows what a superhero IS. Lance and I, infinitely wise as parents obviously, opted to shelter him from shows and books about vigilante heroes, knowing that our hyper-imaginative little boy would decide he WAS Superman or Captain America or whoever and start punching the shit out of kids on the playground. Then Lance and I, infinitely wise as parents obviously, sent him to a multi-age preschool. My guess is some of the older boys in his class run around the playground pretending to be superheroes and being rowdy, and he thinks they’re cool. I know that’s how he learned about war toys (“Shen gave me a stick gun on the playground, Mom!! He’s my BEST FRIEND! You shoot a gun like THIS!”), because Lance and I, infinitely wise yada yada yada, never exposed him to toys that encouraged violence. You may recall, Reader, I have tried to be intentional about instilling a sense of non-violence into my boy.

Clearly, it hasn’t worked.

I forget we live in a world with other people, and that our children’s influences reach much farther than our little home with our little ideals. When I read those french parenting books about the culture of food and how to get your kids to eat well, they made so much sense to me that I drastically changed the way we approached food. No more snacks, no more eating on the run, food becomes fun and exciting, a way to reconnect with friends and family and experience new tastes and talk about those flavors and try new things, food is never a pacifier, we sit down together to eat each meal, blah blah blah… then we go to the library and all the other kids are cramming their faces with Goldfish crackers and suddenly my kids are “huuuuuungry Mama! Huuuuungry!” It’s like that with gun play, too. We all know that men are creating most of the domestic and global violence in the world. We can all read Huffington Post articles about how important it is to raise boys to be gentle. We can all talk about how we have to change rape culture so that society stops slut shaming and blaming girls for abuse and how we instead need to focus on raising non-violent BOYS and I’m sitting on this side of my computer screen screaming I AM TRYING!!! I can shelter Noah from violent shows and books all I want, can talk to him over and over again about being gentle and how hurting others is wrong, but when that’s not a priority or even an ideal for parents of kids in Noah’s world, my opinion is just a fart in the wind.

I needed to change, is the thing. Society isn’t going to change, and I can do nothing about that. So how am I going to weather this gigantic monsoon? I can’t shelter Noah from guns and swords just as I won’t be able to shelter Violet from princesses and pretty, and at some point I sort of/kind of/maybe realized that. While I never encouraged him to play with guns, I couldn’t stop him from finding a gun-shaped stick and pointing it at imaginary bad guys, but I made a half-assed rule that he not point a finger gun at people because it was rude. I non-consistently tried to get him to play guns outside only. If he excitedly showed me a stick he found in the yard that he decided was roughly shaped like a pistol (again… how did he know what a gun looked like, I found myself wondering), I gave a kind of non-committal grunt. And I found myself reminding him several times a day how killing people is bad, guns aren’t toys, “Yes, police officers CARRY guns but they try not to USE their guns” (imagine the WAH-WAH-WAH of the indistinct adult from Charlie Brown). That wasn’t working, and I knew it on some level, but it wasn’t until THIS happened that I truly had a moment of revelation.

THIS… used to be a birdhouse.

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THIS guy smashed it to smithereens.

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He pulverized the thing until it was literally splinters, and I was so speechless and dumbfounded that I started crying right in front of him. WHY IS MY SON THE HULK?! What frustration lies in him that he has the emotional need to reduce an innocent housing unit for robins to bits and pieces? WHERE WILL THE BIRDS LIVE NOW, NOAH!? My tears might seem irrational, as his need to DESTROY did to me, but I found myself finally admitting that I have no earthly idea what to do with a four-year-old boy. Up till now I’ve read books about positive discipline and how to help kids sleep at night and stuff, but no one prepared me for having a four-year-old boy, and I foolishly didn’t prepare myself. What kind of book would I even have looked for, anyway, How to Raise a Little Shit Without Losing Your Own Shit? What Every Parent Needs to Know When Your Son Turns Green and Tells You You Won’t Like Him When He’s Angry? I am ill-equipped to handle this phase of his life, y’all. So I did what everyone my age in my situation would have done.

I googled it.

It turns out boys experience a testosterone surge at the age of four, producing in them DOUBLE the testosterone they’ve known at ages one, two, and three. The need to destroy and wrestle and basically go completely apeshit is… normal! Normal! TOTALLY FUCKING NORMAL. (That is, if you can believe the internet.)

I called Lance and sloppy-wept into the phone while I watched through the window as Noah looked for things to smash in the backyard. “It’s not his fault,” I blubbered. “It’s not his fault and I’m always on his back about everything and I don’t know how to give him what he needs AT ALL.” All I know, Reader, is that I want to raise my little boy to be happy, and healthy, and to do good in this world. And to me good=no violence, you know? But I knew then that I was not accomplishing any of the above (well, maybe he’s still healthy) by constantly rolling my eyes and refusing to give ear to the thing he is most excited about right now. And after all, I had better get used to this. In his life he’ll be into LOTS of things I don’t particularly care for, but I still want him to talk to me about them, to always know that I love him no matter what and I’ll support him even if I don’t agree with him all the time. After I dried my eyes, I walked out to Noah and said, “Well, Noah… I guess I’ll have to get a stick-gun.”

Oh, lord, he lit up so brightly. “YEAH! I know the PERFECT gun for you, Mom! You be the bad guy, and I’LL be the good guy, ok!? Can we play??” And we did. I was the bad guy who sped too much (he wanted me to have killed someone, but I’m just easing myself into this, y’all), and he was the “pleece officer” who took me to jail (he cornered me and said “lemme just call my JAIL guys…”). Once I was in jail on the swing I asked him how I’d ever see my family again, and he said, “You can just get up.” Which was a relief.

I wrote this post because after Noah punched that kid right in the face at the playground, and we’d gathered up bikes and stray shoes as quickly as possible and I’d deposited him and poor unsuspecting Violet into the car, and I’d made profuse and humiliated apologies to the kid’s mother, I found myself wondering “what do you do when YOUR kid is the bully?” I was unnerved when I tried to illicit some remorse from him at dinner that night by telling him I couldn’t stop thinking about that poor boy at the playground and I hoped he was ok, to no response whatsoever.

Despite everything we have done, all the ways we have tried to raise Noah to be kind, be gentle, use words, check on someone who is hurt even if it was an accident, even if you didn’t do it… the truth is he is a physical, apparently testosterone-filled preschooler, and he is in what I hope is a boisterous (and slightly non-empathic) PHASE. I am no longer surprised when I hear a kid cry and look over to find Noah fleeing the scene suspiciously fast, or when an offended little girl in a tutu runs over, frowning, to say “Um, Megan? Noah HIT me!”

I am not surprised he did. I am weary that he did. I am angry that he did. I will fume and lecture him and try to get it into his thick head that he MAY NOT HIT, NO IT IS NOT A GAME, YOUR FRIENDS DON’T THINK IT’S FUN. But I don’t believe he is a bully. I know him better than anyone, and I know his HEART, even if not his hands right now, is gentle and kind. He protects his sister; he gives her secret kisses and puts his arms around her. He cries when he thinks about a world with no parents, or reads a book about a sad puppy, or when I tell him that one of his friends won’t be riding with him to class anymore because he wouldn’t stop slapping at her and pestering her. He wakes me with a kiss and looks at me with his wide brown eyes sparkling to tell me he has a surprise for me on Mother’s Day, and then he hands me a present he’s wrapped: a handmade card from school that he already gave me three days ago. He excitedly announces that he can’t wait to homeschool and he wants all his friends to come over when he does. Without anyone ever asking, he always shares a bite of cheese I give him or a cookie he steals off the counter with Violet.

I think what you do when your kid is the one making others cry is… you just keep loving him. Maybe you lose a few friends along the way, maybe HE does when other parents don’t want their kids around yours, but your arms are the ones he needs at the end of the day. I think the only way to get through to Noah is for Lance and I to nurture him in an environment without fear of rebuke or retribution, without violence, and without any conditions whatsoever on the love we show him. And you trust that he’s as good as you know him to be; you trust that he has a good and precious heart and it will be that that slowly blossoms as he grows. I could be wrong about this; I don’t know what I’m doing as I mentioned, but it’s the only thing I have to give, and, as I wave my stick-gun around over my head and try my hardest to join him in the world he’s in, I’m gonna give it everything I have.

Here’s hoping so hard that one day I’ll be standing on the playground, chatting with a friend, and I’ll hear a child cry in the distance with no fear that my son was involved. Bonus points if I glance over and see him bending down to help.

Month 24

Dear Violet,

Last week you turned (drumroll please) Two. Years. Old. Mommy may or may not have just spent an hour looking at your baby photos and pinching my nose to keep from crying. Why is it that meeting you is something that feels like only months ago, yet you’re two years old now? Well, according to us, at least. According to YOU, you’re “two half.” Where you got the half from, I truly do not know, but you refused to ever say “one,” always saying you were two back at 18 months, so my guess is you think you’re six months older than you actually are.

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Lord knows you ACT six months older than you actually are. A few weeks ago I was pushing you on the swing, and I noticed you leaning back and forward in perfect rhythm. You’ve already learned to push yourself! I’ve been telling Noah to watch you for tips! And you are talkative and active enough to fool everyone into thinking you’re older, too. I wish I could keep track of all the new things you say and how articulate you are, but you’re way too fast for Mommy. You’ve been speaking in full sentences around here (“Iwan eat Daddy lunch, too, Mama. Noah? Wan eat Daddy lunch, too?”), helping cook dinner, helping bake, mopping, gardening, washing windows, letting the dog outside to pee, calling Noah to come inside, crawling up the playground ladder all by yourself (even that curved one!) and sliding down, helping buckle your own car seat, opening and closing the car doors, putting on your own clothes and shoes, sitting on the potty (although rarely does anything come out), wiping yourself, washing your own hands, brushing your own teeth… I could keep going. In fact, I’m just looking around here in the kitchen for a single thing you haven’t tried to do all by yourself.

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“I DO!” is your mantra. Everything from dousing seasoning your plate with salt and pepper to opening and closing the door gets a “No, I do!” We have to let you try everything by yourself first, and only when you ask “hup, Mama!” can we step in. It’s very important WHO helps you too. If you want Daddy to get you down from your high chair but Noah tries to help, we will all suffer your wrath.

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Ah, your wrath. Our family knows it well. Your tortured scream-cry when you don’t get your way, accompanied by hitting and throwing yourself on the floor has become almost boring. You make the BEST angry faces; we actually think it’s sort of funny now. You’ve been trying to improve your game, so this month you started grabbing fistfuls of Noah’s hair whenever his head is low enough to reach and just yanking the hell out of it. It’s funny because you truly are the gentlest, sweetest child I know. And I can tell there’s no real malice in you when you pull Noah’s hair; you just think it’s an interesting reaction out of all of us as we yell “ow!” and “stop!” and rush over to untangle your fingers from his hair, respectively.

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Your big brother is still your favorite person, really. (Well, you are QUITE fond of your playmates Edie and Eli, and ask for them by name on a DAILY basis. And recently you ask for the whole family by name “I wan see Edie aaan Li-Li aaan Wachel aaaan Wuh!”) But your brother is the person you dance with joy to see upon waking up in the morning, the person you ask about constantly when he’s at school, the person you ask about as soon as you wake from your nap. When he’s gone you want to sit in his car seat, play with his toys, put on his clothes, do the things he does. In fact you want to do everything he does ALL the time. He has taught you (much to Daddy’s and Mommy’s displeasure) how to shoot finger guns, how to jump off of high surfaces, how to play all kinds of games, how to get your own water, how to pretend a hanger is a bow and arrow, and a whole bunch of words and sounds. He drives you CAH-RAY-ZEE still, mostly when he has something you want or he tries to show you how to properly work something or “help” you with something that you want to do by yourself. I hear a lot of frustrated screams coming from your direction, and it wears on Mommy and Daddy. But when you’re getting along… oh joy and bliss!

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My favorite thing in all the world is seeing you play and communicate with your brother. At dinner you ask him if he wants more “bled” (bread). You ask him “Why, Noah?” when he tells you something you don’t understand, and he patiently explains (“That’s just the way the world works, Vi.”), and you say, “Kay.” “Wait! Tiss, Noah!” you yell from the kitchen as Noah heads out the door for school. He comes back in for a kiss and the two of you embrace. “Good day, Noah!” you tell him. Last week Noah got hurt and cried pretty hard. I held him for a while, and you ran over, chanting “kay, Noah? Kay, Noah? Kay, Noah?” and tried to break the two of us up so you could get your own hug in there. “Kay, Noah?” you asked as you frantically pushed your way between us and put your arms around his waist. You asked so many times he finally stopped crying, sniffed into your hair, and mumbled “I’m okay, Violet.” “Shawy, Noah,” you said as you pulled away.

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It was the best. Thing. Ever.

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It’s actually harder when Noah is at school than when you’re both at home, because you get so bored without him. You’re so social and you LOVE to be around your friends, and no toys are very entertaining for you so there’s not really anything exciting to do at home. You put your shoes on right after breakfast and tell me that you’re “weady doe, Mama!” I have to figure out something to do quick because by 9:30am you start losing your shit. You love to eat but I think you might be eating out of boredom when we’re home, because if we’re at the library or park you don’t bug me about food. At home, though, you’re always asking me for a “nack!” I admit it, Boo… Mommy hates how often you want to snack. You used to ask me to nurse all the time though, and I’m glad you’re starting to realize when you’re hungry you need to eat and not nurse, so I comply. “Would you like a banana?” I ask, still trying to limit snacks to fruit. “No, nack!” “An apple?” “No, NACK!” “Strawberries? Pears?” “NO! NO! NACK!” I sigh and ask in a tiny voice, “cashews?” “YEAH! TATTEW! I wan ahmin milk too, Mommy.”

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Despite all the ways you’re “two half,” you are DEFINITELY still my bebe girl. You would live on my hip if you could. Wherever we are, no matter who else is around (even if NO one else is around), you want me to be holding you. You want to be on my level, doing whatever I’m doing: cooking, folding laundry, sending a text, checking email, talking to other adults. A few times lately I’ve even gotten out the Ergo, just because you refuse to let me put you down. And Boo-Boo, let me tell ya. You are HEAVY. People comment on Mommy’s arms looking strong and all I can say is, with as much as I am holding you, THEY SHOULD.

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It’s just like when you were a baby. From the first time I held you on my chest and you were content as can be and the nurses and midwife were amazed that you didn’t cry, to the days I wrapped you up in the Moby, to the nights I slept with you in my arms, to right now, at the dining room table, where you rejected the FIVE CHAIRS in favor of my lap, you just want to be next to me. “I wanna hold yoooou,” you croon, and I tell you “I wanna hold you toooo,” and it’s true, even though I do wish you would give me a break from time to time, just sayin’.

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One more story, because I think it sums you up so perfectly right now, and I hope you never lose this. I play a game with your brother and you, where I ask you both “Who loves you?” or “Who loves you the most?” The answer, of course, is “Mommy.” I would also accept a finger point. Noah always used to say “you do,” or he’d pat me on the back, or sometimes he’d say “nobody,” like freakin’ Eeyore. When I ask you, however, you go: “Mommy!” And I’m all, “Yeah! That’s righ–” but you cut me off. “Aaan Daddy. Noah. Mammaw. June. Edie. Wachel. Wuh. Li-Li. Ellen….” and on and on it goes until you run out of names, which takes a surprisingly long time. And I just stand there, watching you think of all the people who love you the most, and when you’re done I tell you, “That’s right, Buddy!” It is right. To know you is to love you.

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I love you, Boo. Happy Birthday, and may TWO be the best year of your life so far (that wouldn’t be hard I guess).

Love,

Mommy

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Illness

It’s so funny, the way we decide to procreate. The desire to have a baby is so basic, so animalistic. That’s what we say, and that’s what we mean! “I want to have a baby.” “Let’s have a baby.” “We’re going to have a baby!” It’s never “Let’s have a child that will eventually be a teenager who we have to keep from getting a girl pregnant!” or “Let’s raise humans to be contributing members of society!” or “Let’s have a toddler who will have multiple, daily meltdowns and cling to my legs when I’m trying to cook healthy food to feed it!”

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And it’s CERTAINLY not “Let’s bring an innocent child into the world and expose it to a whole bunch of sickness and disease! We’ll be AMAZING parents, taking our kids to the playground and sending them to playschool where they’ll pick up croupy coughs and stomach bugs, infecting themselves and us with disgusting germs that will make our lives miserable and keep us housebound for at lease a full week out of each month as it filters through our entire family! Wheeee!”

Ugh. You never think, when you’re contemplating having a family with the one you love, that you’ll be up all night with sick kids, cleaning crusty vomit out of your hair, administering cough syrup, applying cool cloths to keep fevers down. I completely get why people who have chronic illness are prone to depression. Sickness doesn’t just make me feel bad; it makes me feel BAD. Like, emotionally bad. I want to be interacting with other adult humans, but sickness forces me to stay away from people. The only thing worse than getting hit with a day-robbing bug is when my kids are sick. I can power through most of the time, but when it hits my kids, we’re just all down, and not just for a day. Usually for more like a week. And even though they feel like crap, they don’t understand why we’re not out playing with friends and running around like monkeys, so we’re trapped at home, everyone feeling miserable, them showing me how miserable they are by emitting a constant, soul-crushing scream-whine-cry combo.

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This year has been tough on us. Violet’s been vomiting a lot for the past month and a half, always at night. I’m so tired of doing laundry, I can’t even tell you. The doctor thinks she might have developed lactose intolerance after one of her multiple stomach bugs, so we’ve put her off dairy to see if that helps at all. We’re not super hopeful about that, since I’m still breastfeeding her and breast milk has a shit-ton of lactose in it. (That’s “shit-ton.” It’s a medical measurement. Look it up.)

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Currently, Noah’s sick with his second stomach bug in two months. He woke up sick around midnight Friday, and I was up with him ALLLLL night. Like, till 5:30am, when Lance took over while I caught up on some sleep. He was sick all Saturday and I was bitter because, worst Saturday ever! (And also he felt terrible, yada yada yada.) He began crying, hard, about half an hour after he vomited on Saturday afternoon, because I was trying to convince him to lie down for a much-needed sleep. “But we haven’t even had breakfast!” I explained that he couldn’t eat anything yet, because his stomach was still rejecting even water. “But I’m hungry, Mom! Please, let me just have a bite to see if I can eat!” He said this while big crocodile tears ran down his flushed, fevery cheeks.

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I held him close and cried too as I realized the meaning of true parental heartbreak: not being able to feed your child when he asks for food. It reminded me how truly fortunate we are.

Also, it was funny in the wee hours of Saturday morning, when Noah was so delirious that he started saying weird things after a puke session. “Why does it scare me!?” he demanded loudly, giving “it” absolutely zero context. In his sleep, he said, “I wonder what the balls are for.” He also told me solemnly “I’m angry at the frow up, Mom. I’m so angry.”

He felt a little bit better on Sunday, though not much, so we opted to stay home again. Thank God it was beautiful weather and we were able to play outside in what is becoming a nice backyard oasis (before the heat and mosquitos start, that is).

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Do you believe in curses? Because I totally don’t, but I’m starting to change my mind. If this string of illness (which started at Christmas, you may recall) doesn’t end soon, I’m going to have to get on some anti-depression meds. Cause y’all. There is not enough wine in the world.

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Think healing thoughts for us, would you, Reader?

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