Longing for Today

After the post I wrote about feeling lost when my boys went back to school, my dear friend, Andrea, wrote me an e-mail that changed how I think about life.  She wrote that her youngest left for college this fall and even though I’m having a tough time with my kids back in school, she wants me to know: I am still in the sweet spot.  She said how she doesn’t have any to-do lists on the fridge, no crazy soccer schedules to work around, no parent meetings or sleepovers or dioramas to help with.  And she missed her to-do lists.

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I think about her e-mail all the time as I get yanked around by fall’s crazy schedule, with its hours of silence at home followed by its hours of madness, of high-fiving my husband on the way out the door, of standing in the pouring rain eating soggy sandwiches for dinner.  Again.  I remember that this is the sweet spot. 

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When the boys come home and plaster the quiet, clean house with papers to sign, art projects to exclaim over, dirty lunchboxes to clean, and party invitations to not lose, I remember–this is the sweet spot.

When I have to wake everyone up to take them to speech appointments and choir practice, dentist and orthodontist appointments, when I have to pack them breakfast for the car, I remember—this is the sweet spot.

When I am so spent it takes a real effort to muster up enough energy to say “goodnight” to my husband before falling into bed, I remember—this is the sweet spot.

Because the thing is, those soccer games, the birthday parties, the parent meetings and doctor’s appointments—they’re not the things getting in the way of life.  They are life.

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I stand with the moms on the soccer sidelines and joke about throwing together a halftime show—how much could we embarrass our kids today?  The boys and I show up at speech therapy ten minutes early and Leo snuggles next to me and asks me to read him a book.  The receptionist asks me how my books are coming along;  I ask to see pictures of her newest grandson.  We pick up a carload of kids to take to practice and they laugh and tease each other and I learn more about my kid’s life from that car ride than I did from asking how his day was all week.

I had been aching for those simpler, sweet times when we’d have friends over for dinner or put the baby stroller and walk along the lake on a Saturday afternoon.  For those times we had the luxury to ask, “What do we want to do today?”  But now I realize that some day I will ache for this time of life—the one that’s happening right now. This crazy, missed-appointment, show-up-late, triple-booked time of life when friends and family are built into our days because our schedules all crisscross and overlap in the most beautiful, complicated, messy way. 

The soccer games that get in the way of dinner, the homework that gets in the way of soccer, the times in between, all of these little moments?  They’re not little at all.  They’re huge. 

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And I am glad to be here for each and every one of them.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
I blogged instead of cooking today.  I guess we’ll just have to eat this blog post for dinner.

*Also, if you are wondering Andrae, I keep seeing pictures of a fabulous Vegas vacation she and her husband are on, so I don’t think we have to worry about her too much.

Thirteeeeeen!

Vincenzo had a hard time deciding where to have his birthday party.  He had a hard time deciding who to invite.  He had a hard time deciding what cake to have, what kind of pizza he wanted, what presents he wanted.  He’s a kid who is happy with something or with nothing, which is nice in certain situations but completely aggravating when you are his mother and want him to just CHOOSE A FREAKING PLACE/TOPPING/GIFT ALREADY!

In the end, he settled on laser tag, so we went to a sports center with ten of his buddies.  I was thrilled that the center’s party policy was, “No decorations, including table cloths, balloons, or centerpieces.”  The old me would be warding off the new me with a garlic necklace if she read this blog post.

So, to review, Old Me (which is, ironically, also Young Me):

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New me:

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(Please note the lack of color coordinated or thematic anything, the generic paper cups, and the clear “I don’t give a fig if anyone’s smiling” air of the photographer.)

My heart sped up a bit when we paid for the boys to play laser tag and the pricetag was $100 for 10 minutes, and we had slated the party for three hours.  I started to do the math on that and it was some scary math. 

But after laser tag, the boys sprinted the bouncy house toys so I shelled out another $100 and prayed for them to last twenty minutes—at least twenty minutes pleeeease.  I must be some kind of superstar pray-er because the boys spent the next two hours jumping their little hearts out.  (Kinda makes me wish I had prayed for a cure to cancer or a new president instead.)  They stopped only long enough for pizza and cake, then went back to the bouncing.

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There’s at least a 40% chance they know the kid in the fetal position.

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There was also this magical moment.

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I love the posse of friends Vincenzo has collected to go through his school years with.  Hopefully his life with!  They are his bouncy-house jumping, DND playing, rec soccer league-ing, cookie-baking, good-grading, family-loving friends who will never be too cool to team up against the five-year-olds in a game of bouncy house basketball.

Vincenzo again asked for donations to Wolf Haven instead of gifts for himself, but we couldn’t give him nothing on his birthday.  So he got this giant box of socks and a pro tip.

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I’m wondering if he’ll ever notice this slight modification I had to make to what is definitely not a pair of women’s socks?

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Meh.  Probably not.

We got home from Vincenzo’s party and before the rest of us had even walked up the stairs, he was already in his cave, reading a book on his phone.

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This is The Cave.  I like to call this picture, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” by Vincenzo.

We peeked in on him a while later, made him repeat, as we often do, “I AM NOT A CAVIE!” then left him alone for the rest of the night.  It’s all he really wanted, after all.

Well, that and box of socks.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Lemon balsamic chicken
Parmesan risotto
Something green
Fruit
Gingerbread cake

Vincenzo’s Bday

Baby #1 turned 13 last weekend.  It’s been thirteen years since something wriggled out of my body and BLAMO turned me into Mom.  A few friends and I got to swapping labor/delivery stories at a soccer game on Sunday, in between standing up and shouting, “GET IT OUT OF THERE!” and, “GO GO GO!” and it felt very appropriate.

Nothing brings a group of women together like sharing a good labor story, so I will share Vincenzo’s here now, because I didn’t have a blog then and because his birth day is my answer to that question, “If you could relive one day of your life, what would it be?”*  I always feel it is a weird answer because it was the most physically painful day of my life, but there you are.  We can’t always predict these things. 

Now here it is, that day thirteen years ago, on September 29, 2005.

I couldn’t sleep that night because I had a backache, so I was watching The Wedding Singer, starring Adam Sandler.  Who would have known that from then on I would feel a special kinship with an actor I had only felt mediocre about before? But Adam Sandler was there when that first contraction threw me off the couch to the floor where I found myself rocking back and forth on my knees.  That was weird, I thought to myself, perfectly fine a minute later and back on the couch.  But it kept happening, so I crawled down to the bedroom and woke Kevin up.

“I think I’m in labor,” I said.  “Will you stay up with me?”

“Sure,” he said, and promptly fell back to sleep.  I went back to my movie but a couple hours later couldn’t bear it anymore, so I woke Kevin up for good this time, grabbed my hospital bag, picked up our cat and gave him a tearful goodbye.  “You won’t be my baby when I get back,” I sobbed.

We made it to the hospital around midnight.  The first part of my labor was just how I imagined it.  I’d have a contraction, pause to breathe, congratulate myself on how I was managing the pain, then make conversation until the next one hit.  The contractions got worse and still worse, as contractions are wont to do, and I remember a string of family and friends coming in and out of the labor room, holding my hands and helping me count to ten.  There were so many people in that room with me, it was like a TV sitcom.

At 7cm, Dr. Wang broke my water and the pain got worse and I lost control of my breathing and couldn’t count to ten anymore, so I looked at Kevin and said, “I need an epidural.”

He said what I had trained him to say.  “You got this, Babe.  You don’t need an epidural.”

That worked exactly twice.  The third time I looked at him and said, “I need an epidural!” and he said,“You got this, Babe,” so I yelled in a demon voice,“I NEED AN EPIDURAL!”

And he was all, “NURSE!  GET MY WIFE AN EPIDURAL!”  Those six little words saved our marriage.

I had been panicking, unable to focus on anything, unable to breathe, but when they told me to lie still for that epidural even an earthquake couldn’t have made me budge.  I did not want to mess with the possibility of being paralyzed the rest of my life, so I laid there, still as a stone, while contractions racked my body and an anesthesiologist stuck a needle into my spine.  The needle wouldn’t thread.  So he tried again at a different spot.  Same problem.  So they brought in a different anesthesiologist, who stuck two more needles into my spine but couldn’t get the medicine to thread.

By then I was at 9.5cm and you’d think I’d say, “Forget it then, let’s just DO this thang!”  But I didn’t.  The pain was still more than I knew could exist, and now they wanted me to PUSH on top of it all.  So I got a fifth shot in my spine—this time a spinal block—and then had a few blissful, pain-free moments of pushing.

I had been looking forward to pushing.  I was strong and in shape, and I figured I’d give a couple pushes and Vincenzo would come out with a few handfuls of confetti and all the doctors would say what an easy delivery this had been.  I was going to be a delivery superstar! But the spinal block wore off quickly, my morale was low, and each contraction felt like someone was stabbing a knife into my back and twisting it around.  At some point I started screaming with each contraction, and that didn’t help the pushing at all, and despite what my sitcom delivery room friends were saying, I didn’t feel I was making any progress.

Then Vincenzo’s heartrate started dropping with each push, so I got a second saddle block and Dr. Wang got out the baby vacuum.  “Three chances,” she told me.  “You get three pushes and then we go to C-section.”

After all that fuss, all the pain, all the needles in my spine, all that counting to ten and all the screaming, it took Dr. Wang’s warning plus two pushes to end up with a warm, slippery, loving baby on my chest. With a whoosh, he was out.  With a whoosh, I was born, too.

Our hearts found each other’s instantly and we loved each other for all we had done.

It was not the prettiest of labors.  I was on magnesium sulfate and oxygen, I had been awake for 30 hours, Vincenzo was not interested in breathing was a bluish.  But it was raw.  It was real.  It was wild.  And it was worth it.

Thirteen years later and we have a lanky, salty teenager lurking about our house.  Sometimes I think I don’t recognize this baby of mine, but then my heart reaches for his and feels the catch and I know for sure: he is still the brand new baby on my chest.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Pesto salmon
Gnocchi with browned butter sauce
Kale salad with dates and parmesan
Red velvet cake

*To Rocco and Leo:  This does not mean I love Vincenzo best.  I love you all best!  Vincenzo’s birth marked the beginning of my favorite stage of life—the one that led me to all of my boys.

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My bed* was getting a little saggy so Kevin fixed it for me.  I cannot help but be at least a little offended.

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I picked up Leo from his friend’s house and they have the perfect Home Alone staircase.  I was bombarded with all sorts of things on my way up.  This sign was my favorite.

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Some things should never get cut short.

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Leo tries on a pair of his stuffed animal’s suspender pants.  He is not the first Beto to have tried.

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A graphic organizer I made to help me with my novel.

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Crystal clear!

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Leftovers, including but not limited to:
Spaghetti and meatballs
Chicken fajitas with tomatillo salsa
Pork chops with plum sauce
Whatever vegetables in the fridge have not gone mushy
Chocolate chip cookies

*Yes, I say “my bed” and not “our bed.”  Part of the solution to ending my insomnia was to have Kevin move to the couch.  It makes me sad, but on the other hand I am also much happier now that sleep does not a ten hour battle that everyone loses.  Hopefully we can start phasing him back in soon!

If I Had Energy to Blog

I’d blog about the three days I spent at a writing conference.

I’d blog about how the agents I met with pleaded with me to finish my novel so I can send it to them.

I’d blog about how overwhelmed and full of doubt I felt after the elation wore off.

I’d blog about how I cried and cried when the boys went back to school and friends, family, and my therapist propped me back up and got me back out there again.

I’d blog about how my only writing goal this year is to learn to be happy and also be a writer.

I’d blog about my newest picture book, “Literally,” and how I turn a whole class of students into bananas.

I’d blog about  chicken and dumplings, ginger carrot soup, peanut butter chip brownies, tomatillo salsa, chocolate macadamia nut cookies, and loaf after loaf of homemade bread.

I’d blog about the hours of my day I scrap together to read beautiful books and how lovely it is that reading is a part of being a writer.

Yes, if I had the energy, I’d probably find a funny way write about all this and then tie it together with a montage of embarrassing photos of the boys.

But I don’t.  It’s been an emotionally draining beginning to the year, but as of last week, I have met my goal every day: to be happy and to also be a writer.

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And I’m totally good with that.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Chicken and dumplings
Lemon garlic broccoli
Peanut butter chip brownies

Why do I write?

People have been asking me this, especially people who are close to me and have seem me struggling, breaking down, hurting, frustrating, raging, falling down again and again.  They have seen me sobbing on the floor, literally and figuratively, and they ask me why?  Why do I keep doing it if it’s this hard?  Why don’t I stop and just enjoy life and do all the other things I love doing that don’t also make me cry, like laundry?  Laundry has never made me cry, right?.  (Well, actually it did once, but I was nine months pregnant with my third child and it was to be expected.)

I asked the question of my writing coach and she reminded me: I write because I am a writer.  I have something to say, and as hard as it is to get the words out and sounding right, it is more devastating to keep them inside.

I write because I spend a day at the beach, and this is what I feel:

And oh, how her heart broke and swelled when she saw the sea. All the life it had given, all the life it had taken back.  She could feel the struggle for life under the waves even as she felt the calm those great, lolling waves offered her.

The sea! The sea! She tasted the water, and it was the same as her tears, but it sparkled so, and the wind it brought made her think she had no use for tears anymore.

But it was a trick, for the moment she left the sea, the her heart despaired.

And even though I had these thoughts while sitting by the ocean, I couldn’t very well turn to the person sitting next to me and say them. 

Besides, while I felt all this sitting on the shore, it wasn’t until I sat down to write that I knew how big and beautiful the thought was.  My mind or my heart can start a thought but it takes my hands to finish it.

Now it’s posted on my blog and I hear my soul gasp—you’re not going to share this piece of me, are you?  But I am.  I did.  It’s embarrassing, yes, but the gasp, the thrill—it’s also something to live for.

Maybe someone who reads this has felt the same about the sea.  Maybe someone is  struck by the newness of my thought in their head.  Maybe someone will read that part again and wonder if I was writing about myself or about them.

Here they are, my words.  I give them all to you.

With a gasp and a thrill, I give them all to you.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Pasta with roasted vegetables & fresh garlic
Crusty bread
Fresh fruit

More 1st Day Pix

Because I’m feeling self-indulgent.

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So obviously, I am here today so I survived Day One.  I was not alone in feeling weepy.  At one point my friend texted me a picture of a watermelon in the basket part of her grocery cart and said she felt sad because her kids should be sitting there instead of the watermelon.  I texted back that I’m right there with her. 

I miss my watermelons, too.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Baked potatoes with cheese sauce
Broccoli, also with cheese sauce
Blackberry hombre popsicles, sans cheese sauce