Home alone 

In my almost eleven years as a mom, I’ve left my boys a few times. The first time was obviously the most traumatic since they were only about 14 months old. I had a job interview across the country and I REALLY needed a job that would pay more money and allow me to be more self-sufficient. At that point in time, I’d had a nanny for a few months who was very dedicated and sweet and who had two young girls of her own. She offered to have the boys stay overnight with her for the weekend while I flew to New York from California. I did it and still don’t know how I managed to do so without completely losing my mind.

In retrospect, I probably did lose my mind a bit. On the flight to New York, a red-eye, I ended up passing out somewhat inexplicably and needing an ambulance to take me to the hospital upon arrival. Maybe it was stress, combined with altitude, combined with a couple of beers and cigarettes while waiting to depart, or maybe it was hormones or God knows what else, but it wasn’t pretty. When the doctors advised that I check myself in and have some tests run, I refused. I tried to explain that I had an interview the following day and would be flying back to San Diego after that interview and back to my babies, thank you very much. I promised to get checked out by a doctor when I was back in California and checked myself out of the hospital. My mom and my sister drove to Long Island to pick me up since that is where the ambulance mistook me thinking I was staying there and not where my sister lived–2 hours away.

It was a whirlwind 48 hours and I was never so glad to be home and hold and snuggle those babies. They were alive and cooing and nothing awful or tragic had befallen them and in the end I got the job. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it; leaving my kids with people who were practically strangers to me. But then, all working parents know what it is like to have to leave their kids with a nanny or at daycare with people they have vetted and believe to be good, but one never really knows. Most of the times these are the risks we take because we really have no other choice.

The next couple of times I left my boys on a weekend with my sister or my mom so that I could spend a night with my BFF in a hotel in the city and down at the Jersey shore to celebrate my birthday. These were relatively short jaunts to nearby places and I felt exhilarated rather than stressed. I knew they were fine and I was never more than an hour or so away. The boys barely knew I was gone.

I did a long weekend away when one of my best friends got married in California. It was difficult, but I was so focused on the wedding that I didn’t stress too much. And then there was the New Year’s long weekend when they were four and I went a couple of hours away with my boyfriend and left the boys with my mom. This went relatively well except for me waking up in the middle of the night interrogating him about where the boys were and thinking that someone had taken them out from under my nose while I was sleeping. It was similar to when I’d wake up when they were babies and tear the sheets off my bed having dreamed they were suffocating in the blankets or worried that I’d fallen asleep with them in my arms.

There have been work trips that lasted a couple of nights and one trip to CA to see my friend and her new baby, a couple of nights in Boston to see a speaker I love, and a sanity trip to Cape Cod last summer–all relatively short trips away, all with the boys staying with family and basically maintaining their schedule and life and normalcy.

And they’ve also had nights away at slumber parties and friends’ houses. Happily leaving me behind with a “seeyalaterbye” and going off to do boy things that boys do. This past winter they had the opportunity to do a weekend campout at the nearby (read: 5 minutes) Boy Scout camp in cabins with some of the boys and Scout dads I had grown to know and trust over the past few years. I’ve been OK. I’ve taken the baby steps to let them go out on their own a little bit. I have. Really.

But when they expressed a desire to go on a week-long adventure to sleep away Boy Scout camp, I was a little uncertain. OK. More than a little. Pretty freaked out actually. Doesn’t matter that I had left them before for short periods of time with people they spent lots of time with anyway. This would be the first time THEY were leaving ME. For a week!

After much consideration, I decided to let them go. After all, what is parenthood but a series of these moments where we decide to let our children go.

As the time got closer, I realized they were not going to have a problem being away from me for a week. It was all me. I was the one freaking out. I was the one who was going to need to cope with their absence. I was the one being left home alone.

So far, the experience has been…interesting. I’ve definitely stressed over whether they were OK and whether they were homesick or if they were having a good time. I worry that they are safe and if they can handle any uncomfortable situation which might arise. But the one side-effect I wasn’t ready for was how this independence would make ME feel. Suddenly, they are one step closer to taking the car keys and leaving me for the night. They are one step closer to making their own decisions about how to spend their time whether or not I approve. They are one step closer to leaving me behind to go to college, and forge their own way, and have their own life.

And all this is scary enough without it also shining a light on the fact that over these eleven years, I don’t necessarily know myself anymore when it doesn’t relate to them. I’m mom. Who will I be when they are gone? I’m always mom, and will always be a mom, but it’s been a long time since I had the freedom to think and act independently from them. Soon, they will really be gone and I will be left on my own. What will I do then? Who will I be? What will I spend my time doing?

These past few days have reminded me a little of who I was before the boys came along and who I might be when they leave me behind for good. I took a day off of work to go to the beach and recharge. What will it be like to have all my vacation days and personal days to spend as I choose, not on caring for them when they aren’t in school or taking them to he doctor or dentist or being there when they are sick?

Tonight I thought I might get my nails done or watch a movie, but instead I dropped off their pillows and some cards with a Scout dad who is going up to camp tomorrow and ended up having a glass of wine with some other moms and realizing I’m not alone in my longing to have my boys where I can see them, in arms reach, where I know they are well and safe and enjoying their childhood. It was good to share the letting-go experience with others who are feeling it too.

But I know now my time is coming. Time that I have so desperately wanted and time that I so desperately wish I could keep at bay for a few more years of holding my little boys in my arms and snuggling them and knowing that all was right with the world. Before I know it, I will be alone and I will need to prepared to live MY life again and not just the life of me, mom, but me, ME. How will I do? What will I do?

Some things that have already occurred to me include:

  • Walking around the house naked is so liberating. I will definitely be doing more of that when they are gone.
  • Not needing to make sure that anyone but me has what they need for the day saves SO much time. I can definitely sleep later in the future.
  • I can choose to take off work, wake up at the crack of dawn, spend the day at the beach, and still make it home to get a good night’s sleep without worrying about snacks, riptide, under-tow, snacks, not enough sunscreen, three chairs, snacks, a cooler, an umbrella, snacks, a sheet, sand toys, boogie boards, snacks, bathroom breaks or stopping three times on the parkway for any number of reasons. So efficient!
  • If someone asks if I want to stay and have a drink, I can say: Sure!
  • The gym is open early! I can go before work and never think twice. I might actually be in shape again.
  • I can watch whatever I want on TV and it doesn’t matter how loud. Even if they are cursing. Or having sex. Or blowing shit up. I don’t even have to sneak a peek to see if my boys have overheard what I’ve been watching.

I’m sure there will be more by the end of the week.

What I do need to relearn is how to prioritize those things that are important to me. And how to identify those same things… I’m not even sure anymore what my priorities are beyond them. I guess what I have learned is that in letting my boys become who they are, I need to remember how to become who I am.

Because sooner than I am ready, it’s going to be all me.

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Not quite a one-liner Wednesday–Squirrel!

A friend of mine told me a story about how he went to the park to run and ended up just sitting in the car watching squirrels. The story was a lot funnier the way he told it, and it reminded me of the dogs in the movie UP. Squirrels became our code word for anything distracting, any threat to our train of thought, any obstacle that might get between us and completing a goal, a task, a sentence, or even a thought. The other day at a department store, the boys and I became very engrossed in picking out Halloween decor even though I had gone into the store to buy new dress pants for work. Suddenly, G is wearing a Santa hat with Yoda ears and they are talking about picking out their annual Christmas ornaments and I’m all, “whoa, whoa…we are getting off track here.” G said very seriously, “there are a LOT of squirrels in this store.”

My big problem is there seem to be a growing number of squirrels in my life. Are squirrels like rabbits in that they multiply rapidly? I should look that up. SEE?! This is how my brain works lately. I’ll sit down to do one thing and then before I know it my train of thought has thoroughly derailed and there are many, many casualties.

Amongst the casualties has been my writing. I cannot focus long enough to take a thought, flesh it out, and complete a series of meaningful sentences to convey whatever it is that I want to communicate. It’s common for me to have many different ideas for blog posts or character development or stories, but it is unusual for me not to at least write something about any one of those things. But these days, I am just left with a swirling mass of noise in my head and nothing to show for it.

My dreams have been super vivid and complex, no doubt as a result of all of these unresolved thoughts trying to make sense of themselves in my subconscious. But do I wake up and write them down? Nooooooo. I immediately allow myself to become bombarded with squirrel after squirrel. The other day I found myself fully dressed for work, cleaning the bathroom after the boys had left for school, about 20 minutes after I should have left for my own commute.

Today I spent an hour at work just following up on emails and tasks I should have completed weeks ago. There is a joke at work about certain people who become distracted by shiny objects. Except I’m not laughing about it any more. I have become that person.

I have at least ten browser windows open on my computer at any given time for any given browser. Working in the digital space means I often have several browsers open at any given time and different applications too. It’s a wonder I can find anything. Ever.

I’m sure it’s the society we live in. The information age. So many distractions arising from being über connected all the time. I always prided myself on not falling victim to it and yet, here I am. I called bullshit on multi-tasking a while back. And I meant it. We aren’t meant to do more than one thing at a time. Without mindfulness, everything is half-assed. I want to do everything with my full ass. My problem is I can’t get my whole ass to just sit and complete the task at hand. I can’t even decide on which task to complete!

I’ve got two main things I think about a LOT of the time.

  1. My son’s health. He had a CAT scan on his belly today and did amazing. Still waiting for the results. This in and of itself, his health and this mystery condition he has which rears its ugly head only when I’ve finally let my guard down and believe maybe he has “grown out of it” trigger at least a dozen thoughts, if not more, a day.
  2. The boys’ schooling. Here’s a typical train of thought: Did they do their homework? Oh shit, I didn’t do the fundraiser. Well, I paid my PTA dues. Should I go to the PTA meeting? When is that? When is the next fundraiser? Oh my goodness, I have to do the fundraiser for church too. And cub scouts. And baseball. Baseball tryouts are coming up. I need to sign C up for karate. Wish I had been able to find a place for him to go to tennis. Geez, no wonder they can’t concentrate on their homework there is too much other stuff going on. G really needs to practice his violin. When do their after school activities start? How are they going to do it all? How am I going to do it all?

The rest of the time my brain is like: Did you do that work thing? Maybe you should bring up that great idea you had in the shower (I have all my best ideas in the shower. By the time my hair is dry, I’ve forgotten most of them). Don’t forget to get the car to the airport for your business trip. Yikes, I hope my mom can handle the boys when I’m gone. When am I ever going to find time to see my friends.  When will I finally join a gym? How will I get there? How can I pay for it? I should be spending that money fixing up the house. I need to find a waterproof cover for the couch so the cat won’t ruin another piece of furniture with his pee. I should write a story about that damn cat. Should I do NaNoWriMo this year? Can I actually finish my novel? When am I going to work on my new business plan? Changes are happening at work, this would be a good time. But I’m so tired. I don’t even write on my blog. Oh geez, I really need to go write on my blog. I’m going to lose readers. No one reads this anyway. I should just go relax and catch up on my reading. Although I did that free trial of HBONow. I should really be watching more TV to get the most out of it. Dammit I never called Verizon to get a new remote after I washed mine in the laundry. Now I can’t watch any shows with parental controls on them….

And on and on and on.

I need to turn it off.

My vacation at the end of the summer was great. I stayed away from the computer and TV and phone and everything else. I spent every day in nature with the boys and then sat by the fire reading and listening to music every night. It was heaven. There were a lot of geese. But no squirrels.

It’s time to set up some squirrel baffles and figure out how to get back to a one-track mind. At least for a few hours at a time. I’d love to hear what other people do to keep those squirrels at bay.

Unfortunately, they can be so damn engaging.

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It’s the little things

Our 60 days of gratitude are winding down. We only have two weeks until the big birthday. This summer has been filled with a lot of ups and downs, but each night I whisper my prayer of thanks.

We are all getting giddy with excitement for our vacation and I suspect that there will be great floods of gratitude pouring out of us as we embark on our trip. A trip designed to really highlight the “little” things (which are, of course, the big things): nature, beauty, our active bodies, time with family, a slower pace, sunshine, water, peace.

But gratitude isn’t always about the big, little things. Sometimes it is about not hitting too much traffic on the way home. Or having some time to take an unscheduled bath. Or finding just the right word to express how you are feeling. And tonight my gratitude is about…

Our backpack.

Backpack

It’s an ugly old thing. Army green and black, it is actually a diaper bag. And it was probably the best thing I registered for when I was pregnant.

I had help when I was registering. Kind of ironic, looking back, that I allowed so many decisions to be made by someone who wasn’t sticking around to actually use any of the stuff, but at the time I was so happy to have a partner, I probably would have agreed to just about anything. And there it was in the diaper bag “dad” section. Filled with no frills bags in bland colors, so that no dad would be embarrassed to be carrying a bright, polka-dotted diaper bag around town. And though I looked longingly at the pretty bags, I’m nothing if not practical and not only did a backpack seem like a great idea, I would have bought anything that would ensure help from the dad of the twin tornadoes who were on the way. So, we registered for the backpack and a matching messenger bag which could be used on a quick trip to the store or whatever and it was a done deal. I was never a particularly frilly girl anyway.

Alas, no dad ever wielded that bag. But, I found as a single mom of twins, it was actually super handy to have my hands free at all times. And considering that leaving the house meant taking a shitload of diapers (pun intended) and wipes and pacifiers and bottles and changes of clothes and then as they got older, snacks and bandaids and first aid and…well, that damn bag was just about the most perfect gift I could have received.

From our first trip on an airplane (have you ever tried to change a baby in the bathroom of an airplane? It’s a treat!) to our latest trip to the beach just a couple of weeks ago, the backpack has gone everywhere with us. Affectionately known as “the family backpack”, it has grown from diaper bag and airplane carryon to daypack and overnight bag. It’s our go-to, our right-hand, our partner-in-crime.

I know it seems silly to have such an attachment to a bag. As discussed, it isn’t pretty. There have been many times since the baby years passed when I’ve thought I could find a more attractive alternative, but then I feel like I’m thinking of trading in my faithful mate for a younger, sexier model and I scoff at myself. Good looks aren’t everything, after all. I should know.

Ten years this bag has been there through thick and thin. Through diaper explosions and delayed flights and trips to the ER; through parties and picnics and camping trips, it’s been our constant companion. It’s solid. Strong. Dependable. Versatile. Sometimes over-burdened, but never quits on us. So much more than a pretty face.

And even though its original destiny was to be a “dad bag”, I’d like to think that it has received more use and love as our “family backpack”, proving that even the destiny of an inanimate object can change and find true purpose beyond the supposed-tos and could-have-beens.

Now, as the boys tenth birthday draws near and we prepare for one of our greatest adventures to date (both our trip and our entrance into the double-digits of life), I find myself appreciating this bag anew.

Thank you, old friend. I’m so grateful you’ve stuck by me all this time.

One-Liner Wednesday– On raising capable children

If you would have your son to walk honorably through the world, you must not attempt to clear the stones from his path, but teach him to walk firmly over them – not insist upon leading him by the hand, but let him learn to go alone.

– Anne Bronte


Join Linda G. Hill’s One-Liner Wednesday! Pithy wisdom and laughs every week.

Somewhere in between

I’ve reached an age with my boys that I have come to realize I am ill-equipped to deal with. They are still little boys in many, many ways, but with very big boy brains and attitudes that none of us are really ready to deal with.

Often I wish that I could go back in time and savor their little-ish-ness more than I did when I was first going through it. I suspect there will be a time in the not-too-distant future when I will wish to go back to this time and be more present and aware.

They are learning so much. They are unexpectedly funny. They are too expectedly goofy. They have big ideas and schemes. They still think that sex is kissing. Farts are hilarious. School is starting to be a drag. Family activities are too. They are struggling for independence and yet not truly ready for big responsibilities. Friends are starting to be chosen on the basis of interests and not necessarily proximity or familiarity.

I was a babysitter and a nanny and I have always maintained that I love children. But truly, I love babies and toddlers…when it comes to school-aged kids, I am at a bit of a loss.

Turns out that I have a hard time relating to my kids. I can talk to their friends. I can talk to my niece. But when it comes to my own offspring I feel utterly hopeless and helpless in a lot of ways.

Books remain a fairly constant way to bond. However, I can’t seem to find a T.V. show that we can watch together without reservation unless it is of the discovery channel/food network/history channel variety. Pure fictional entertainment is tough…we are either a little younger than we maybe should be or at a maturity level I don’t feel comfortable with.

Without knowing too much about the show beyond the singing, I thought maybe Glee would be something we could watch (we have it streaming now through netflix or amazon prime or something). But after having to skip through some more questionable scenes, I had to put the kibosh on it…maybe we can try again in a couple of years.

Even watching the Golden Globes the other evening, I was slightly uncomfortable as JLo came out wearing her revealing dress and looking smoking hot and I am watching G out of the corner of my eye to see what kind of reaction he is going to have to a woman dressed so provocatively. He seemed sort of awe-struck (as I was, frankly) but he was kind of awe-struck by the whole thing, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

The fact is, I am not ready for them to enter that big-boy world and they aren’t prepared either. But they are rapidly leaving behind that little boy world. I guess this is what they call the tweens (even though they are only 9) and it sucks.

They clearly aren’t ready to take on responsibility. That is, unless I constantly nag and remind them of their responsibilities they don’t get done; schoolwork, homework, instruments, sports equipment, Cub Scout requirements…all these things should be becoming their purview and yet, they aren’t. They want them to be. They tell me, “I know!” in exasperated, disdainful tones whenever I remind them of anything. Yet, they don’t do it on their own.

So, I continue to annoy them and they continue to annoy me and we go on not understanding one another and oh, how I miss those baby days! I get glimpses of the little boys that in many ways I still want them to be when they are snuggling with me in the morning or at the end of a long day or when they want something or something is weighing on them or they aren’t feeling well; they still come to me sweet and snuggly and agreeable as can be. But mostly, I just get big boy attitude and assertions of independence and I have to remind myself that this too shall pass.

Because they are becoming big boys. And before I know it they will be teenagers. I think that when they finally are, we may relate a little bit better. But for now the transition is rough. Not a little boy, but not quite a big one either. I want to laugh at the fart jokes, but I also want them to get dressed and out the door in time for the bus without constant supervision too.

I have a feeling these tween years are going to be my least favorite. So if anyone has any recommendations for getting through them, I am all ears. Starting with TV shows we can enjoy as a family that won’t cause any and all of us to blush.