Did I Tell You The One Where Christmas Break Would Not End?

1476175_10202797128275919_1196886460_nTeachers everywhere were rejoicing. Of that I have no doubt. It started all extra-nice. (See above photo for evidence.)  It was snowy outside, warm and cozy inside, and the boys loved each other. I was having visions of piling up on the soda, toasty warm, watching our favorite movies, reading our favorite books. Cocoa would be in hand, complete with marshmallows. Zach in his footed pj’s, Evan in his flannel sleep pants, me in sweats.  The world shut out, and the ones I love shut in against the cold. There was no school for me, and only my 3 scheduled days of work per week. It was going to be great.

Then this happened:1480549_10202798469749455_592936327_nIt snowed. I love our street in the snow. The houses look so cute and cozy, the neighborhood becomes a Thomas Kinkade painting. We put up the Christmas tree together. This year, Zachy was really able to  participate, which was adorable. I kicked the OCD into low gear as he put the ornaments too close together, and somehow resisted the urge to tweak them ever-so-slightly the entire time that tree was up.

This year, I even managed to somehow get all of the Christmas presents for the boys wrapped before anyone knew what they were getting. This was about as successful a Christmas as I could’ve asked for, considering some of our previous misadventures. The whole next day, the boys broke  played with their new things. Then Evan remembered how fun toys can be when you are only 3, and Santa brings you things like racetracks for toy cars or little train sets. And it dawned on Zachy just how cool big-kid stuff can be.

Magic: Over. Bubble: Burst.

Next thing we knew, there were fights. “Mommy, Evan did________.”, squealed Zach. “Mom! Zach has my _______.”, whined Evan. And so it went all the way up through the end of their Christmas break. It seemed like the longest one in the history of winter breaks. I seriously thought I was going to die. To make matters worse, I was fresh out of school. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t have that distraction. With me home more, John felt he deserved a break, and left most parenting matters to me. I’m certain the grey hairs on my head have multiplied as a result.

The eve of their first day back to school, I was working the ICU. It really is a good thing my patient was in a medically-induced coma and couldn’t hear me or tell on me. The tv in his room was turned to the news, where I saw the update where the boys’ first day back was called off due to weather.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

I’m sure my wail reverberated off of the walls of the ICU, into the adjacent waiting area and throughout the rest of the hospital. Nurses from outside the room rushed in to see what had happened, as I’m not generally an alarmist at work.

That day. That day I had been dreaming of, hoping for, wishing on….My hopes were crushed. My spirit broken.

The fighting a home got worse as cabin fever started in. Snow kept dumping on us. Just when it would start to clear up, more would come. And then it didn’t. The boys were finally going to go back to school. I was relieved, and by that time, I think they were as sick of us as we were of them causing chaos.

And then that “Polar Vortex” bullshit happened. Anyone remember the “I can’t put my arms down” scene in A Christmas Story? Well, we will never have a modern-day version of that. They cancelled school because it was too cold. For not one day, but days-yep, plural. When we were kids, our parents would just bundle us up. We waited a little closer to last minute to go to our bus stops. But our bus stops weren’t at our driveway, either. Generally, we had to walk. If it was dangerously cold–as in losing digits to frost bite despite gloves or mittens—my mom would crank the heat in the car to warm it up while I was getting ready and then drive me to the bus stop, where I would sit in the car until the bus was in sight. The lowest it got here was 2 degrees, and I am sure that I remember it getting a lot colder. As a matter of fact, I just googled that and discovered we had temps as low as -25 in 1985 in Cincinnati. But they closed school. There was no snow or ice on the ground, no slick roads, no frozen pipes at the school. It was just cold.

It seemed like winter break was never going to end. John and I were never going to have a single moment of peace. Armageddon was going to strike, Hell was freezing over, and we would have to home-school the children from now on. I was on the verge, man.

Finally, on January 10th, the boogers got on the bus and headed back. They were out of school for 29 days in total. I sincerely hope they tack the extra unplanned missed days onto the end of the school year. I am now on a mission to treasure every moment of silence until June, and promise to never take a peaceful moment for granted for as long as I live.

Finally,

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Dear Interviewer

Dear Interviewer,

I don’t know your name or even very much about your business. I take my heating and air-conditioning for granted, though my husband has spent a couple of nights a week studying these systems so he could learn a trade, any trade, to make him employable. You’ll meet him tomorrow. You are one of the first to even give him a second glance, and that is my fault. He is a good man, a smart man. He has abilities and skills that are very different from mine. 

You see, years ago, he recognized that I had some talents and abilities that were going to waste. He was in school at the time, and he went to talk to his dean about getting me into classes despite the fact that I was in default on a federal student loan after having dropped out of college when my mom died. And that I was being held back simply because I didn’t have enough money to resolve the issue. And that dean called me in and we came up with a plan to get me out of default, and I learned that I can still shine. I didn’t look back. And my generous, kind, loyal husband put his goals on the back burner so I could continue to shine. 

And then we moved when I found a good job far away, causing him to abandon those goals he had set for himself. And I made a decent living. But when expensive childcare became an issue, he listened to me when I said, “It would be so much easier on us, financially and physically, if you would just stay home with the kid.” And he did. He put away his old-fashioned ideals of the manly-man supporting his family, and he became about the car-riders’ line at the local elementary school, Cub Scouts, karate lessons, and any other thing that comes with having a young child. When people would have the knee-jerk action of turning to the dad first to ask what he did, he would say he was a stay-at-home dad. But even I could notice that his shoulders always slumped just a little when he said this.

And then we moved again, where I had an even better job and higher education opportunities. And he enrolled in a school for this or that, taking a class at a time. I think he just needed something for himself. Anything. But still he kept that role of homemaker so I could do well, better, best. First, it was so I could pursue my dream of going to medical school, then there was another baby. His days were no longer only filled with carpools and extracurriculars, but again with diapers, keeping me in clean breast pump parts, teething. Still, he kept on.

Then it was, “John, I think I want to go to business school instead.” And his reply, that he would support me in whatever I wanted to do. And there was a BBA. When I decided I wanted an MBA, he was there cheering me on. He told me I could do it, that I was awesome. He stayed with the kids, washing my scrubs in preparation for my weekend shifts at the hospital while I sat in accounting/ finance/ marketing/ whatever classes. And he picked me up. On test days, he’d always have a motivational song on cue for when I would get into the car.

And all of this time, it was one class at a time for him. Scheduled around my work and class schedule, of course, because he always put me first. And then he was finished, but somehow even that was dwarfed by my completion of grad school one week later. And he never complained.

So tomorrow, you will meet him. He really wants this job, and I want him to have it. You are going to see his resume and application and ask about the 7-year gap in employment. Like most others, you will probably ask why a man didn’t work to support his family. It seems that, despite how progressive we think we have become as a society, we are still very much old-fashioned. And John, well, he just isn’t good at singing his own praises. This is what I would want him to tell you:

He worked. He worked harder than he ever has in his life. He honed time-management skills. He learned cleaning. He learned to keep others happy, multitasking. He perfected the art of motivational speaking, of problem-solving, of making sacrifices for the improvement of the team. And he was successful in all of those roles. After all, with him backing me, I did everything I set out to do.

So, Interviewer, tomorrow, I hope for a couple of things. I ask that you look at him as the man he is: the man who was brave enough to serve his country, put in his 40 at a job he hated in order to pay the bills, and the man selfless enough to give up what he wanted for his wife and kid(s). I ask that you not be like all of the others and you give this loyal, hard-working, awesome man a chance instead of simply seeing a long period of unemployment.

If you could see him like I do, you would know that you would not be sorry.

Sincerely,

John’s Wife

Grocery Woes

8019650_f520Hang with me here, because I swear I have a point. Off the top of my head, breakfast items I purchased for the house include the following:

  • 2 packages of whole-wheat English muffins
  • 1 pound of turkey bacon
  • 12 yogurts
  • 2 boxes of Pop-Tarts (don’t judge me!)
  • Multiple types of fruit–berries, oranges, clementines, apples, grapes
  • 3—yes, 3–boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios (they had a bundle pack that was discounted)
  • 1 Bag of Bagels–I buy the minis because they are more like a normal serving size, so I am estimating 12 were in the bag.
  • 18 eggs
  • 4 boxes of Nutrigrain-type cereal bars
  • a container of oatmeal
  • 1 box of Grape Nuts

I ate, I think, 2 English muffins, maybe a couple of pieces of fruit. I went to work for 3 nights and got off on the following Monday, and all of it–everything on the above list–was gone. What else didn’t survive the weekend? 3 boxes of granola bars, 2 boxes of low-calorie snacks I bought for myself, 2 boxes of snack crackers, an 18-pack of Jell-O, 2 gallons of chocolate milk, a whole pound of turkey breast. In one weekend. And that is just the quick items.

So it goes like this: I get paid, I determine a grocery budget, and I go to the grocery store. There isn’t a lot to go around anymore because my boss has cut down on our ability to work overtime, so I have to stretch what I do have. I clip coupons, I price match, I shop sales. I usually do pretty well, coming home from the store with the back of our SUV filled with grocery bags. On the last trip right before Christmas break, I spent $350 because I knew the kids would be home all day everyday. It would be more than enough for anyone.

Except for this family.

I never dreamed I would say this, but I cannot afford to feed this family anymore. More specifically, I cannot afford to fee Evan. The kid eats something and immediately goes back for more. All day long, this is how it goes. So my trips to the grocery store are decimated and when I come home from work after a 3-day stretch, there is nothing left and we spend the rest of the week running to and from the store, buying miscellaneous items because there is nothing left in the house. Which is decidedly unfriendly to the environment and to my wallet, as gas is fricken expensive. I have even had to let some bills slide to buy more food because they ran us out and we cannot starve for the rest of the week..

I should add that this does not just happen when I am gone. Last night for dinner, for example, John made chops, veggies, baked potatoes. When he made the potatoes, he made a whole bunch of them because they were smallish. I split one with Zach. John had one. Evan cried and carried on until he ate the rest of them. If we order a pizza, he eats more than all of us combined. One night, I made a pan of baked ziti–lowfat, of course, for John–and we all got a spoonful while Evan ate the rest of the pan.  He’s starving, he says. He cries.

We have tried everything. We’ve explained how obesity runs in our family, as well as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. We’ve had discussions about genetics and how John’s dad had to have open-heart in his 40’s and John had all of those blocked arteries this past summer in his 30’s, so Evan is pretty much doomed if he doesn’t amend his eating habits. I can’t make too much of an issue of it because I don’t want to make such an unhealthy connection with food, as this can also lead to problems.

What do I do? And the reason I am asking? Well, after the “polar vortex” that we have had that expanded the kids’ winter break, I am broke. We literally have no money. I have fed this child until our wallets, pockets, bank accounts are completely empty. And there is no food left. I have resources and I can get groceries, but the point is that nobody else will get to eat them. And even when we are diligent, when we watch the food supplies all day, being careful about what Evan consumes, our efforts go to waste when he sneaks into the kitchen after all have gone to bed and hoard entire boxes of stuff into his room. In the morning when he wakes, we have found empty boxes of snack crackers, granola bars, anything that he can easily take and snack on all night.

Do we have to sleep in shifts? Put the food under lock and key? Start buying by the meal instead of stocking the kitchen? And then when he cannot get what he wants, we deal with one of his meltdowns where he turns over furniture, gets violent with his brother, breaks our things intentionally.

I am at my wit’s end. I do not know what to do or how to do it.

And I’m hungry.

These are the Days

16 Days. Of course I type that while I am supposed to be awake putting together a 45-minute multimedia presentation on integrated marketing practices for class tomorrow. My final project for a marketing elective to round out my requirements for the almighty advanced degree. John, in his awesomeness, brewed the strong coffee for me before turning in for the night. And I can’t quit thinking. I can’t quit thinking, not of integrated marketing as I should be, but of the uncertainty of my life right now. Have you ever been in a place where the things you spend your days doing no longer feel like they are what you should be doing? Where you feel like maybe your real life awaits you, if only you can survive this short little interim? That is this place. These are those days.

My views may possibly be skewed. I realize this. There are people who have devoted their entire lives to do what I have done for the past eight years. They keep doing it, content with their contribution to the world. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is honorable. I’m not selfless enough. I feel like I have spent the past eight years paying dues to the world, to my being in general. To the spirit of my mother, who died from lung disease. I’ve been a good girl, and I have been good at my job. There are, in all honesty, people who are breathing today because of the work I have done. I have been there to help babies who could not help themselves. I have been there when families have said goodbye to parts of themselves. I have wiped brows of the dying, delivered tough love when necessary, compassion when it was needed. I have put myself and my family last. And now, after all of these years of doing that, I want to do something different, and in my warped mind, I have earned that. Not because I will, in just 16 days, have a piece of paper with my name in beautiful calligraphy saying I have completed some requirement set forth from society, but because I have paid my dues in other ways.

People ask me what it is I want, and I always answer with a “we’ll see” kind of shrug. I love healthcare, am passionate about healthcare. And I want to leave some sort of mark on this industry that is on a higher level than the one I am currently leaving. And I want to do so in a way that allows time for me, time for my family.

Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about my path through higher education as a non-traditional student. Evan was about 2 when I put on a  backpack for the first time since my mom died, which was eight years before that. Evan is 12. I will finish this long road about 2 weeks before the ten-year anniversary of that first time back. And I have thought about it. I have allowed myself the luxury of pondering just sucking it up, reaching deep, and going straight into a Ph.D. program or a JD, even. And then I think of them. Of Evan and Zach, of John. And what I want is no longer about a higher degree or prestige. Now, when I think of what I want, it isn’t grandiose at all. It’s simple stuff. Little things that aren’t luxuries to most, but have been to me in these years where I have tried to do it all.

I want to come home and not have to rush off to class, be able to eat dinner with my family at a normal hour around a table with food we prepared at home. I want to watch a movie with John without worrying about homework I should be doing or, better yet, am actually trying to do with said movie playing in the background. I would love to take the boys to a movie or park on a weeknight for no reason at all. Maybe even go on a weekend hiking trip. Maybe John and I could have a real date once in a while. Or I could read a book that has not a damned thing to do with academics at all. I want to blog more. Maybe I could revamp this one a little bit with all I know about social media marketing and content creation these days. I want to join a gym and be able to go–and not some lame attempt a a resolution where I don’t have the follow-through because, hey, thinking I would even have the time for a workout each day was optimistic at best, even closer to being the world’s dumbest idea. No, I want to actually go. And work on myself a little bit, and not just on cramming my brain with as much knowledge as possible.

It’s so strange to me. When I started this, I thought, “MBA: the CEO’s degree. I’m want to be loaded.” It isn’t about that anymore. It’s about enjoying life and having the means to do so comfortably. There is only one material possession I even want, and it is going to sound worse than it is: that new Mercedes CLA 250. Sounds greedy and ridiculous, right? No, because in reality, it is only about 3K more than I paid for our current car and I bought it used. And the current car is too big for me to feel comfortable driving with my vision issues. So sounds crazy, but really isn’t. But anyway, here I am at the end, and the salary isn’t the thing anymore. The job is, the career is, the comfort is, but the money isn’t. And I am saying this about 2 days before I have an interview for a position that would pay more money than I have seen in my life–about 5 times my current salary. And now I suddenly don’t care. Well, I mean, I care in that there is a minimum I can take. I worked hard and paid a lot of money for my MBA. I can’t just give it away. But money isn’t the key determinant.

So here I am. Sixteen days from the big finish. And it feels like everything in my current life is winding down so I can start the new one. So these are the days. The days of excitement, of anticipation. Of anxiety and uncertainty. Of endings and new beginnings. Of wrapping up and starting anew. Of sheer panic mixed with resolution and calm.

These are the days I have to let go and hope it all works out, that it proves to have been worth it.

And if it does work out, these are the days I get to lean back, prop up my feet, and tell myself that after ten years, I earned every damned bit of it.

Still Alive

One day, I’ll return to writing for my own sake.

In the meantime, this is what is going on right now:

Evan is thriving in middle school. The girls are swarming. It’s bad. Last Thursday, after some really strange symptoms that had been going on sporadically, we were told that they thought he had a brain tumor. More about that experience on another day. I just can’t right now. He is seeing a pediatric neurologist in a few days and we’ll hopefully get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, I am trying not to unravel in my worry by focusing my attention on the fact that the head CT was negative. I am instead focusing on other things: that–for the first time ever–this kid has friends; that girls love him and I actually have to worry about what goes on when he is not supervised with a girl, that he is now wearing small men’s clothes, that he has that goofy ‘stache coming in and his dad is going to have to teach him to shave.

Zach is…Zach. He refuses to have anything to do with a toilet. I am tired of having to buy Pull-Ups. Or worse yet, diapers. He still sleeps in a diaper because Pull-Ups leak too much at bedtime. I would let him feel that discomfort with the idea that it would motivate him, but he just sleeps through it, thus we sleep through it, and we wake in the morning to a child with a rash and blue lips from sleeping in soaked pajamas. I cannot deal with neither the grossness factor or the health risk of that. We encourage. His preschool teachers encourage. We have purchased every toilet-learning device known to man, looking for the magic one. Currently, that is this cushie Prince Lionheart insert that seems so comfy that I wish it would accommodate adults.He has no desire whatsoever. But what is he doing? He is speaking plainly, counting, saying his alphabet, (crudely) writing his name, singing songs. (Please do not mix up the order of he verses of “The Wheels on the Bus”!) In May, this was the child who could literally say nothing that a stranger could understand. So I am not sweating the potty stuff. We’ll get there. He always does, doesn’t he? He’s still my little wonder–smart, cute,  funny, sweet.  He’s just Zachy.

John is making me proud everyday, He has lost over 50 pounds since the fateful day over the summer when a doctor I respect came to me to tell me that he could have died at any second from the blockages in his heart. His BP is down. He is down to only one medication for diabetes, and that dosage even had to be cut in half. His cardiologist cleared him to run at home after he outgrew the mild exercises at cardiac rehab. His cholesterol was actually low at his last check, so his medication for that was cut in half. The beta-blacker was stopped after he exhibited no need for it. He was wearing a size 40 waist in the summer. He is down to a 34, and those are falling off, but we’re holding off on shopping for more, since he’s built up to 2-mile runs daily–any little bit of weight he has left will melt off as his endurance gets back up there. His doctor says he only needs to lose 9 more pounds to be ideal body weight. If he loses 18 more, he will be back down to his post-boot camp weight from his Marine Corps days.

And me? I’m hanging in there. I have–wait, let me count–8 more weeks left of school. I start my capstone next Saturday. My paperwork for graduation is submitted. I am off of work. Blame some little boys who cannot seem to get their dirty laundry in a hamper. I tripped on some dirty clothes and fell down the entire flight of basement stairs on my left leg, with it ricocheting off of each step on the way down. They thought stuff was torn. Instead, I found out that every piece of cartilage in there is inflamed from the trauma. So it has been injections, PT, crutches (for about 5 weeks). I am finally to the walking stage, but only for very short trips and in transit. I cannot stand or walk for long periods at all. (Read: I can limp to my class and sit in a chair, I can walk to the car and get in it, but I can’t do shopping trips, etc.) I’m just hanging in. Also, I remember lamenting on here how I hated undergrad corporate finance. It has nothing on the 600 level.

That’s all.

I’ll be a blogger again one day, I swear,

Not Ready

28809_1470325484751_4630848_nI remember the day like it was yesterday. It was just yesterday, right?

We tell new parents all of the time that they shouldn’t blink, that it will all go way too fast. Evan started middle school a couple of weeks ago. That hit me hard. Not as hard as the day I found myself sobbing in the school gym as he turned and looked at me as he was walking away from me and toward his kindergarten teacher. I remember the clothes he wore: khaki shorts with a brown leather/ orange grosgrain belt coordinated perfectly with his orange polo from Baby Gap. He was small. He was my baby. He still is.

But then we had another one. I wrote countless times how I didn’t think I could ever love another like I love Ev. And I remember kvetching that I couldn’t possibly be pregnant again, that it was a cruel joke with the worst possible timing. I had no idea that the child would completely consume me. That he would become very much a part of my very being. I could tell you I love him, but those words seem so paltry and inadequate. If you cut me, I would hemorrhage Zachary.

So today happened. It’s a day I’ve done before, many years ago. Except Evan was starting kindergarten, not preschool. But somehow, this is worse. This is so much worse. He’s only a year younger than Evan was when he started kindergarten, but still. He really is my baby. And I just watched him. I saw the spark of excitement in his eyes, the amazement that that big yellow school bus was stopping for him this time. I watched his chubby baby fist grasp the rail and climb onto the first step of that bus, guided by his father while I tried to hold it together. That first step, incidentally, was almost waist height on him. The bus driver motioned me onto the bus, smiling in understanding and reminding John that moms just do this while the assistant helped Zach to his seat. And he turned and looked back at me as I blew him a kiss, all smiles and happiness at his new milestone reached. At independence and new days filled with macaroni art and learning to sing new songs. At things that would no longer involve me.

I turned and got off the bus and they pulled away. I turned back to watch him go as my heart splintered. Because I worry that these strangers entrusted with his well-being won’t understand how amazing he is. They don’t know how he almost wasn’t here, that he is a connoisseur of chocolate milk, that “bobberries” are really strawberries and are his favorite fruit,  that he simply must have an Eskimo kiss before his nap. But also because, having done this about 8 years ago, I know. I know that Tomorrow, he will be starting middle school. He’ll have earbuds in his ears and not want to cuddle. He will be too cool for me. I will become Mom, no longer Mommy.A Mom is, after all, different from a Mommy. Moms ensure you do your homework and take care of you when you are sick. Mommies kiss boo-boos to make them better, read bedtime stories, are given the gift of crayon scribbles that may as well be fine art. It will be Tomorrow.I know it from experience.

I’m not ready for Tomorrow. And I know that is where Today leads.

I’m just not ready.
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This Could’ve Been My Kid: Toddler Boy Called A Faggot At WalMart For Wearing Pink Headband

http://www.mommyish.com/2013/07/31/toddler-boy-called-a-faggot-at-walmart-for-wearing-pink-headband/

Anyone remember Evan and his affinity for all things pink and sparkly? I didn’t really care, but I was worried for him simply because of people like the man in this article. Because people are ridiculous. And dumb. And virtually intolerant of anyone or thing different from themselves.

I remember those days. I remember having to tell my son that, while there was nothing wrong with him wearing or choosing whatever he liked, that there were people in the world who didn’t understand that and would be mean and cruel to him as a result of his different tastes. That didn’t make it okay, but as his mother, I felt it was my duty to protect him from any potential threat. I would rather he learned that lesson gently from me at home as opposed to the way this innocent little boy learned. So he expressed himself in the house, but not out in public.

Right or wrong, it was such a story as the one above that motivated me.

If I reflect back on that time in his childhood, I feel guilty. His personal preferences have always reflected his quirky, spunky nature. He is not the same as everyone else. He knows it, we know it, everyone knows it. He may have outgrown the pink, sparkly phase, but he has shown other differences. That’s fine with us. His unabashed exhibition of who he is for all who care to get to know him reflect a comfort in his own skin that many of us only hope to have at some point in our lives. I hope that time all those years ago didn’t quelch any part of that within him.

If it did, I am no better than the oaf in this story.

We all have our heads crammed full of what we should be/ think/say/do…
You’re a girl. You can’t throw a ball.
You live in the city, so you have no values.
You’re rich, so you must not know what it means to work.
You’re a man. You aren’t worth shit if you don’t solely support your family.
What do you mean, you can’t cook? Aren’t you a real woman?
You’re poor so you must be lazy.
You’re straight, so you hate homosexuality. You’re gay, so you’re a deviant.

We are who we are. That’s the world I want for my kids, in a nutshell. A toddler in the midst of discovering he is separate from his parents can wear a damned headband-pink, green, sequined, lacy-if it makes him happy. Evan can be obsessed with history instead of XBox. We can choose for my husband to stay home if it works for us. And, yes I suck at cooking anything aside from 3 specialty dishes, but I can rock out some corporate finance while keeping you alive, so that’s okay, right?

Our preferences don’t make us better or worse people. We are not less simply because we have our own strengths and weaknesses that are distinct from the person sitting next to us.

Someone needs to teach that man a lesson.

Bitchypants