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,

That B-Word I’ve Been Waiting to Hear

frumsWith the start of middle school for Evan came the option to enroll in band.

I’ve been waiting for it. Ready for it. Of course, it ultimately came down to what Evan wanted to do, but I secretly hoped he would. And he did. He chose percussion–drums. Of course all band parents hope their child does not choose drums, and many nix it. I wasn’t afraid in the slightest. The kid wants to play drums. So be it.

The start of this new thing has not been uneventful. First, I had to get an instrument for him. We went right away. I was going to just buy him a snare drum, which is what the kids always started out with when I was in school. Nope. They have to have a bell kit, complete with a drum practice pad, a xylophone-type instrument, a stand, mallets, and sticks. And because this was Evan, I knew he would likely quit in a couple of months when he realizes that I intend to make him practice. So I opted to rent to start us out. So they hand me this form to complete. The rental fee is a whopping $22 per month. Nothing to break the bank. So I fill this form out. It consisted of my name, employer, social security number, address, employer’s address, how long, etc. Then she hands me this other sheet–5 references. Okay, I guess, just to ensure I’m not going to skip town with an instrument. Of course my phone was dead, holding within its lifeless body all of my contacts and their numbers. I had to dig deep to come up with 5 people whose addresses and phone numbers I actually knew. So I finish and start to get my wallet out to pay the woman for the first month and the book that Evan needs. Not so fast. Next she hands me a sheet of paper with more detailed information–my last 3 employers, my occupation, highest level of education. Now, mind you, all of this is duplicated for John. Then she needs my driver’s license. At one point, I looked at her and asked her how much it would cost to just pay for the damned thing. I know a snare is only a few hundred. Nope, this is over $1000 worth of stuff. So I am just waiting for her to ask me to bend over for the body cavity search while she runs my credit. But she doesn’t. Instead, I reach for my wallet out of my purse, now ready to pay her. I never dreamed. They tried to decline me!!!! I have purchased 2 new cars in the past few years. I can walk into my bank and ask for a great deal of money on credit and they will give it to me. I have multiple college degrees, a good income, and decent time on my job. Why in the hell would they deny me for something that only costs $22/ month? Well, because I have a medical bill that went to collections that I am still making payments on–for Evan’s autism diagnosis. It was thousands of dollars, and I just didn’t have the funds to pay it in full at the time. So I have been paying $250/ month for it and still owe about 2.5 more months of these payments. That is why. The good credit didn’t matter. Now if I were trying to buy a $100,000 car or something, I could see them being that particular, but this? So I was about to call my bank and arrange to just buy the thing when the woman came back and told me that it was okay, that she called their credit department, who told her to apologize to me and put it through. But then I thought about what this meant.

We have decent credit–decent enough to get credit when we need it. The only real mark against us, aside from that bill, is that we don’t own our home. That is intentional because of my education. I have no idea where I am going to be 6 months from now, so it is a convenience to just rent. I have a decent middle class income, own late model cars that I pay for on time. What about all of the people out there who earn less, have lots of medical bills, or are just pieces of crap and don’t pay? Those kids are deprived the opportunity to play an instrument, to learn music? So that leads to the next thing.

Music education is not a luxury. I know because I was a student of music. I wanted to play an instrument and, tired of buying expensive instruments for kids who would ultimately quit, my mom was hip to the game and made me choose from one our family already owned. I got my sister’s flute. And I was good at it. I played for years, with the school teachers always recommending private lessons. Mom got those for me through the local music store for a whopping $8 per hour. But within a year, I quickly outgrew those. She had to find someone from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music to teach me–someone who was good. Those got more expensive, but Mom paid the $72  per hour each week. And I got good at it.  Good enough to win awards, have articles in the paper about competitions I won, honors I received. By the time I was in high school, Mom was ill. They had to file bankruptcy on medical bills. And I outgrew my sister’s flute. It was time for a professional model. The one that worked best was over $4000, and my parents simply could not do it. Of course I couldn’t either. Knowing I wanted to go on to major in music, the band director at my high school cosigned for the huge purchase and I got a job at McDonald’s to pay the payments directly to him so he ensured they were paid. And I paid the last payment right before I left for college. Mom, continued to be my biggest fan, though. She followed me around to all of the concerts, competitions, solos, honor bands and orchestras in which I was invited to play. She would always have to sit in the back with her oxygen tank, and she would cry as I would play my solos. At home, when I would practice, she would listen through the air vents, knowing that I would get nervous and stop if I knew she was listening, She doesn’t know that I knew.

So I went to college. They went to great lengths to break me down, knowing that in the music world, only the toughest survive. I rolled with it, but it was emotionally draining to take something I loved so much and make it into so much work. And Mom got even sicker. She couldn’t be there anymore. And then she passed away. And I would try to play and would come across sheet music for a piece she had wanted me to learn or for a song she loved to hear me play, and I would break down, unable to play through the tears. I eventually gave up. When I fell on financially hard times in my early twenties, I sold that expensive flute. I have not touched one since. But the lessons I learned–about finding what you love, what you are good at, and throwing yourself into it; about hard work in exchange for goals reached, about the bonding power of music, about the value of a support system–I took all of these with me. They are still here and still influence me daily. I want the same for Evan. I want the same for Evan’s classmates. This is why it made me so sad that some children may not be able to participate because of their parents.

Evan may never be a rock god, a virtuoso, a prodigy when it comes to music. But I will encourage him. I will be there. I will remind him of the value of it all. My mom served as a great role model in that.

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.
1239614_10201960273115063_1972389987_n

The Smallest One

393096_10201215393853547_1875360026_nZachary is three whole years old. This happened last month. Remember how he wouldn’t talk? Well, now he doesn’t stop. And it amazes me to hear what he has to say. All of that time he was silent, he was absorbing so much so that now that he is completely verbal, he can show us that he was learning all along. He was listening.

Yesterday, while going to eat at a local restaurant, we were occupying him with some coloring while we waited on our food to come to the table. He asked for a crayon I was holding. I reached out to hand him the one in my hand. “Not that one, Mommy. The blue one!” He was pointing to the blue crayon laying on the table, but John and I had the same reaction: to stare, mouths agape, at this kid. As if to say, “When did he learn his colors???” Well, of course he learned colors because, from the time he was about 3 or 4 months old, I have included the color of everything in my sentences. “Here’s your cup, Zachy. The cup is red!”, or “Look at that tree’s green  leaves!”

And he learned empathy and how to be concerned for others. You could try this one for yourself. All you have to do is act like you have hurt yourself–stub a toe, get a papercut–and he drops what he is doing, stops in his tracks, to come to you and look at you with with those big green eyes and ask if you are okay. It is so cute that, I must admit, I have said “Ouch!” on more than one occasion just to see him in action.

I’m trying to convey how much he has grown and I am struggling here. He is just his own little person. I could spend all day just watching him. He has his own tastes and preferences, sense of humor, ways of doing things. The wobble of toddlerhood has been replaced with confident running, jumping, climbing, playing. For his third birthday, his little green tricycle was replaced with a green bicycle.

The shadows of dimples that were once there on his little cheeks have been replaced with real dimples. We knew they were there. 253495_10201210419249185_1369711929_nWhere Evan was always temperamental and a little introverted, Zach is the opposite. He is rambunctious. A true boys’s boy. He says “Hi” and “Bye” to everyone he sees, which can make leaving a grocery store or any other outing quite the experience. (Oh, there’s a bag boy 5 checkout lanes to whom we didn’t say goodbye! Let’s take care of that now!) When he hear’s a song on the radio he likes, he has complete confidence to just belt it out. Our current favorite is this:

*Note that the radio plays the edited version and since Zach associates all bridges with crossing the Ohio River, his version involves crashing a car into the river, not a bridge. But it is still hilarious to hear him sing it.

And yes, he’s starting preschool in August. And it breaks my heart because it has gone so quickly.

The Christmas That Never Was

blog_christmas_no-santaI have done Christmas differently each year. I know, I know. This is not going to win me any points in the Mother of the Year Race. First came the years where we didn’t have a pot to piss in, and I would have to count to know exactly how many paydays I would have before the holiday to come up with a game plan. Then came the years after my first degree, where I would end up working Christmas and Evan would never know if we were going to have Christmas early or late. Then, when Evan got old enough to make his voice be heard, I would let him choose whether he wanted Santa to come early or late. (Always, always early.) And then there was the Great Christmas Con, when Evan decided to celebrate late, went to spend actual Christmas with John’s mom, and conned her into believing that we weren’t buying him gifts, inducing her to spend even more money on him. I could go on, but you get the general idea. Christmas is always an adventure in this home.

This year, I wanted it to be different. I wanted us to have the close, cozy family Christmas. I bought the stuff to bake gingerbread men and chocolate chip cookies with Evan. Nevermind the knowledge that I cannot bake for crap. I’m smart, right? Well that was a disaster that I do not care to recap.

Regarding gifts, I got smart this year. I bought the boys’ gifts online. We were going to do the whole cookies for Santa, Christmas morning surprise thing. I even told some white lies to throw Evan off so he would be surprised that he got what he really wanted when the day came. I am smart. I am clever.

The problem is that my kids are smarter than I ever will be.

Because instead of delivering the packages midday during Evan’s last days of school before the holiday, as was supposed to happen, Fed Ex decided to knock on the door of this small-ass house in the middle of dinner. John and I recovered nicely, though. Instead of bringing the boxes in through the living and dining rooms where the kids were, he ran them around to the basement.

Then Zach wandered into the basement, following John, who was doing laundry. He found one of the small gifts, a Super Grover, his favorite Sesame Street character. John didn’t have the heart to tell him that he couldn’t have it, so Zach carried it around the house, with it still attached to its box. That is when Evan saw and, thinking it unfair that his brother got a gift early, went in search of the loot.

The moral of the story is that I returned from work one day to find that the kids had found all of their gifts and were even playing with some. The incessant begging ensued. Mom-can-I’s started. One by one, with each of the gifts, I gave in. And by the time I had the time, I had absolutely no desire to even put up the tree. No gingerbread men and milk for Santa. No Christmas morning surprises. All of it, gone. Except the turkey. John insists on cooking the bird, but I got the flu and spent Christmas unable to even hold down clear fluids. The result? Christmas dinner the day after Christmas.

You could say this holiday has been a huge failure. I’m choosing to think of it as Zach’s speech therapist described it: this is truly a Christmas we will never forget. And after all, aren’t those memories the whole point of all of it:?

 

What I’ve Dreaded Writing

Twelve days ago, we all watched the news and learned of the massacre of innocence at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT. I did. I cannot even speak on the level of sorrow, the level of waste. We do not know which of those children would’ve grown up to lead out country, which could have held in their young minds the eventual potential to cure diseases. We’ll never know the future those young lives held because they were ripped from this world. I cannot imagine. Cannot. I looked at John, tears streaking my face, unable to put into words how heartbroken I was at that moment.

And how terribly frightened I am.

And now comes the part where I tell you some things that are not going to make me popular, but in my little space on the web, I can say this. Only here. I hope you will hear me out, that you will try to understand. I cannot speak these words to family, to friends, to coworkers.

When I read Liza Long’s post on her blog, “Anarchist Soccer Mom”, my heart dropped to the floor. Because I was thinking some of those things, but I never could say them. It is a terrible place to be in where you are truly afraid of the potential your child has to do harm. Not just harm to us, his family, but harm to others, to undeserving, innocent people. My child is not violent. He never has been. But I see in him a volatility that leads me to believe that the potential to turn that way is there, somewhere within him, if not managed appropriately. I have felt like this since Evan was very young, and so I have taken steps. No violent games. No violent toys. My husband, the veteran who has some valuable antique firearms, is barred from keeping them in this house. I’m not making a statement about gun control here. I am making a statement about my family. If the potential is there, why taunt it out of latency? People have hushed me when I have said this, citing that there are multiple ways to keep firearms in a home in a manner that a child cannot gain access to them. To those people, I will simply remind them of the time when Evan was really young and too independent (what I now know to be a sign of Aspergers) and we feared for his safety, as he would fail to wake us up before he would try to cook. No matter the solution, he would find a way to outsmart it. And that was to prevent him from wasting groceries or cutting himself on a broken glass. There is no way I will challenge his intellect to come up with a way around safety mechanisms that prevent him from gaining access to something as lethal as a firearm. And not only that, but I see how he gets interested in a topic almost to the point of obsession. So no. No guns. Not for my kid.

But this doesn’t help prepare us for the day when he will be old enough to do things without me, without my consent. Those days will come. So I do all I can. It is a constant uphill battle. I have good insurance. I have access to some of the best pediatric services in the world, and it is still an uphill battle. Look at the years his father and I have been screaming at the top of our lungs in a crowded room before someone finally heard us, before someone finally looked into the idea that what is going on with my kid is not simple hyperactivity, but something more. And after all of those years, when someone finally listened, saw what we saw, look how long we spent on the waiting list to get him help. And we still aren’t there. We’re getting there, but this is such a long process. Why? Why does it have to be? And if it is for us, with our resources, what is it like for the families at the poverty level, the families without insurance, the families in rural areas without access to the services to which we have access?

So then I find out that Adam Lanza, the gunmen, the cold-blooded killer of these innocents, had a possible Autism Spectrum Disorder, and I became flooded with emotions. All of the fears for my own child, given his history and what we are currently dealing with, came to the surface. Became palpable. And I want to label this Lanza kid a monster not fit for human life. But in his descriptions, I see my son, with his big brown eyes and his tousled hair that is always just a little too long. In the descriptions of his family demographics and his upbringing, I see my family, my neighborhood. So I begin researching infamous names: Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold…Monsters, right? Maybe. But maybe these are just more names of kids we have failed. And those failures have multiplied exponentially to where they are manifesting themselves in even more kids we have failed–their victims.

I am in no way advocating violence, but something in our system is broken. We are missing things, huge things, that are creating costs with which we are not prepared to deal. We cannot handle any more loss of children. And while Adam Lanza was of legal age to be considered an adult, if he was truly like my son, I offer you this: my child is, chronologically-speaking, eleven years old. Cognitively, he is an adult. Developmentally, he is about nine years old. Emotionally, he is stuck somewhere between a toddler and a five-year-old. Was Adam Lanza really an adult?

And what of his mother? We can judge her all we want from our safe distance. From here, I can tell you that, if I would never dream of having a firearm in my house, why would she? I want to tell you that. But in my mind, I can tell you that coming to terms that your child is capable of taking such a turn is terrifying to think of. It is not for the weak of mind or heart. It is terrible to admit. Soul-crushing. Because we parents internalize everything. If my child is capable of such an act, what does that say about me as a mother? Am I, too, a monster? What did I do wrong? I have worked much of my adult life to obtain higher degrees to provide my children with more, better, best. I have sent my oldest to private school when the public school system wasn’t working for him. I have pursued treatment when something just wasn’t right. I have read the parenting books, followed the advice of experts. I have tried every discipline technique known, every reward system to motivate him. I have done all I know to do, and I still look for more ideas. But if my child were to do something like this, I would be the monster, and you would be judging me right now.

So while the media, the web, everywhere you turn, is arguing over gun control, over whether teachers should be armed, it is painfully obvious to me that we are missing the big picture. Something is broken, and we have to fix it. We need services to identify this stuff before it happens. We need to create a safe place for parents to turn to truly help their mentally-ill kids. We need to interrupt the downward spiral before a firearm even comes in the equation. We have failed these children. Yes, even Adam Lanza.

Time Flies (Still)

So the boys had some more photos taken with a coworker of mine who is working on honing her photog skills. She has taken their photos before, and this time she got some great candid images of my babies. We met her at a gorgeous park in Cincinnati, which is a prime spot for photography, it would seem. Well, at least there were a bunch of others there that day for the same purpose. We saw baby bump photos, wedding and engagement photos, and family photos being taken. I just wanted some playful, casual shots of the boys, as they are growing up before my eyes. And as always, I see the photos and I still see the newborns they once were. Time goes so quickly, and with grad school now, I am always hustling and bustling to and from one destination or another. And I miss them so much. While I wasn’t looking, Evan turned eleven years old. Two more years with him until he is a teenager. I want to clutch them to me and beg them to slow down. In the mean time, I remind myself daily that I am doing all of this for them. At some point, so help me, I will be able to honestly say that I can give them anything they want. Anything. The best home, the best education. Opportunities that they may not have had if I had not pushed myself to get these higher degrees. But in the meantime, I keep my nose to the grindstone, cherish every tiny moment I am given with them, and count the days until I am finished.