Sunday, October 24, 2010

A decade.

Dear Firstborn,

Your 10th birthday was yesterday, and I hope it was all you ever dreamed of and more. I hope you thought your slumber party was a blast, and I hope you enjoyed all your birthday gifts. I also hope you are not thoroughly sick of me getting all up in your grill and joyfully yelling, "DOUBLE DIGITS, BABY!" over and over and over throughout the day.

In my defense, I waited ten years to do that, and I would not be denied. 

Your birthday was all about you, but of course, I have found a way to also make it about me, because your birthday was also the tenth anniversary of me becoming a mother. (Let's not leave Dad out of this either.)

A decade of parenthood.

That's kind of a big deal.

When I found out I was pregnant with you, almost 11 years ago, I was 25-years old, married to Daddy for a little over a year, and completely ecstatic at the news that we were going to become parents. Wanting to be the best mother I could possibly be, I devoured books about parenting, and subscribed to websites. I thought that these were the places that had all the answers. The more I read, I also thought, the more I knew about parenting.

I was prepared. PRE. PARED. Nothing was going to surprise me! Parenthood? Bring. It. On.

And then, you were born.

But more about that later. Let's backtrack.

You were three days overdue, and I was contracting heavily without so much as a centimeter of progress when my obstetrician sent me to the hospital with a wave and a, "Get outta here! Time to go to the hospital to have this baby!"

Huh? Today? But isn't it supposed to be like on those TV shows when I contract once, clutch my stomach, burst into happy tears and say to my husband, "Honey! It's time!"

Not so much.

After checking in and settling into the hospital, the nurse came to administer my Pitocin, so as to kick up my contractions a notch, and get my labor officially started. As she worked around the room getting my IV bags set up, she casually said, "Honey, do ya think you're gonna want the epidural?"

With all my 26-year old naivete bravado, I looked at her, smiled smugly, and said in an overly confident tone, "Well, I just don't know if I'll want one at all. Maybe? I'm not sure. I'm going to try to do this naturally." Naturally. As in, only the really good moms do this naturally.

Because, you know. The books said it can be done. And if the books said it, then it must be true.

And darn it all if I wasn't going to be a good mom.

At that moment, with all her experienced nurse bravado she spun around, and came to sit on the edge of my hospital bed. I could tell that she sensed my fear and my hesitation. She looked at me and said in her sweetest voice as she took my hand in hers, "Honey, do whatever you want. We'll help you. But I just want you to know that if you choose the epidural route, nobody will think you're a failure. You do realize that we don't walk around this hospital hanging award ribbons on the outside of the doors of the mothers who manage to give birth naturally. Whichever way you choose to get through your labor is just fine. I just want you to think about that."

No awards? No accolades? No extra cup of green jello? No ticker tape parade? No announcement on the hospital loudspeakers of, "MANY CONGRATULATIONS TO CLARE, THE MOTHER OF THE YEAR, WHO MANAGED TO GIVE BIRTH WITHOUT THE AID OF A SINGLE, DINGLE DRUG. WOO HOO AND MANY SNAPS TO HER! CAN ALL OF YOU PATIENTS JUST TAKE A MOMENT OUT OF YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PAIN AND SUFFERING TO GIVE HER A ROUND OF APPLAUSE, PLEASE? THANK YOU!"

Dude. Some serious re-thinking was in order. My world had just been rocked with this should-have-been-quite-obvious-to-me revelation.

Her words hit me like a ton of bricks, and I still remember them to this day. Now, I know that every single day, there are many women in the world who give birth completely and 100% naturally. I have the utmost admiration for all of them. I do not know how they do/did it. Respect, yo.

But I soon realized after a mere two hours of Pitocin-driven labor, that I most definitely would not be one of those women. And surprisingly, I was totally okay with that. Birth plan, schmirth plan.

As they say, you plan, and God laughs.

Thank goodness for the epidural, because I have no idea how I would have survived the 12 + hours of hard, active labor, what with you being almost 9 pounds at birth.

Ouchies.

Anyway, long story short, you were born, and you were healthy, and I was floating on the Sea of Epidural. Life was good, and the best part? I still felt like a good mom.

Then we took you home from the hospital. Me being me and all, I was prepared. Prepared, I tell ya! PREPARED!

We put you in your car seat. Check! We drove home safely. Check! We took you out of the car seat. Check! We showed you around your home. Check! You let out a mighty wail that shook the walls of our small, Chicago 2-flat. Um...no check.

Alright. Alright. I said to Dad, "I can totally handle this! I bet he's hungry! I know I just fed him 30 minutes ago, right before we left the hospital, and the books said they're supposed to eat about every 2 hours or so, but I'll feed him, because I bet he's hungry."

So I nursed you. And you ate. And ate. And ate. Then you ate 30 minutes later. And then you ate 45 minutes after that. And then you ate. And ate. And ate.

AND. ATE.

Repeat.

You were like the baby who ate the world. I couldn't keep up. I would finish feeding you, hand you to Daddy who would burp you, and then you would lay on him for what seemed like 10 seconds, until you would start wailing, shoving your little fists in your mouth, and looking for some food, which, WHADDYA KNOW? Lucky-Duck Daddy could not provide for you.

"Um...Clare?" Dad would say to me just as I would almost doze off to dreamland, "Um...I think he's hungry again."

After the 2,475th time of feeding you in one day (you should know by now that your mother is prone to exaggeration at times) I started crying. In my hormonal, post-pregnancy, completely exhausted brain, I cried to Daddy, "I'M DOING SOMETHING WROOOOOONG! HE'S BROKEN OR SOMETHING! HE JUST WON'T STOP EEEEATTTTTINGGGG!!!! THE BOOKS SAY HE'S SUPPOSED TO EAT EVERY TWO HOURS, AND HE EATS EVERY TWO SECONDSSSSSS!!!"

It was at that moment that a lightbulb went off in my brain. The books were all stinkin' liars.

Well, maybe they weren't so much stinkin' liars as I realized that they were just guidelines for how to do this job. Yet, I was taking their contents for fact, and as a result, setting myself up for feelings of total failure. Sure, the average newborn eats every two hours. But clearly, you were an exception, and you were not "broken".

To the contrary, you (as are all your siblings) are positively perfect in your own little way.

As we moved through the days and weeks and months together, we perfected our little dance. I understood your cries. I learned your cues. I knew when you were hungry. Or upset. Or tired. You taught me more about being a mother than any book ever could. Yes, the books know a thing or two, but I learned to trust my instincts and relax. As our family grew, my confidence grew. Your two brothers came along over a few years, and then, eventually, so did your sister.

The four of you are the best teachers that Dad and I could ever hope for. We often have moments where we stop, look at all of you and think, "Wow. We did that."

It is our pleasure and honor to be your parents. Your kind heart and sensitive soul gives me hope for the future. Thank you for being born.

This decade has been the most monumental one of my life. Here's to the next one. Bring it on.

I'm ready.

Love,
Mom

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Just a dog.

I didn't think it would hurt this bad.

I didn't think I would cry this hard.

She was, after all, just a dog.

In December of 1995, during my senior year of college, my parents decided that it was time for our family to get a dog. With six daughters, life was chaotic enough. There were a million perfectly good reasons not to get a dog. However, my youngest sister Bernadette, who was 10, had been begging for a dog for quite some time, so when she asked for one that Christmas, my parents were finally ready to surprise her and grant this wish.

"I'm not planning on getting a big dog," my Mom announced before heading off to the Humane Society that day in December, "I think I just want a medium-sized one."

Famous last words.

She came home with this dog. (Picture taken in 2006, at 11 years old.)

It was a two-month old puppy that was part German Shepherd, part Terrier, mostly mutt.

And all heart.

My mom recalls looking into the eyes of this sweet animal, and knowing this was the dog for our family.

After all, you just know a family member when you see one.

It only seemed right that in our family of six girls, that our dog was also a girl. 

Naturally.

As was fitting for the Christmas time of year that we adopted her, we named her "Holly". She lived with my parents in our childhood home for 15 years. In the short span of a dog's lifetime, my sisters and I grew up. We graduated from grade school, or high school, or college. We dated. We moved out. We pursued careers. We got married. We returned home, this time as visitors. We had babies. We had more babies. Yet Holly remained our tie to childhood, the carefree times when life was much simpler.

Holly would always be there.

Even though, deep down, we knew she would not.

Surely, our dog, the one my family loved fiercely, would defy the odds. Surely our dog would live for twenty years or longer.

Surely.

She was just a dog, who was also, coincidentally, our four-legged "sister", and the seventh girl in our family. She was a nurturing, kind soul who would watch over our babies like the protective "aunt" that she was.

She was just a dog that kept my parents company when they emptied their nest, and their daughters took on lives and families of our own.

Perhaps you think this is crazy talk. Perhaps you don't get dogs. Perhaps you cannot relate to this kind of grief for a four-legged friend. Perhaps you cannot relate to this kind of love for an animal.

I know she was not a person. I know she was a dog.

But she was not just a dog. She was a friend. She was intelligent. Caring. Non-judgmental. Unconditional.

The love of a dog is a pure love. There are no strings attached. Love it, and it will love you back.

Simple as that.

Today I said good-bye to her for the last time via Skype, from hundreds of miles away. Luckily, my sister Colette, who lives nearby, joined me.

Modern technology is a beautiful thing.

I watched as my Mom and my youngest sister, Bernadette, no longer a 10-year old girl, but a 25-year old woman, stroked Holly's head as my Mom described how our beloved family dog could no longer stand for any amount of time. The same body that used to run, and fetch, and play with us, was now starting to shut down. My parents knew it, and the veterinarian had confirmed it. But for a moment today, as Colette and I spoke to her, I had a glimpse of the old Holly, the young Holly. I saw her looking around and towards the front door of my parents' home, as she recognized the voices of two of her "sisters", and wondered why she could hear us but not see us.

And my heart broke that much more.

"Good-bye Holly," Colette and I sobbed to the image on my computer screen.

"Thanks for being such a good dog," was what we managed to tell her through our tears.

Just a dog indeed.

Thank you Holly, for 15 years of love.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A celebrity sighting! Kind of.

I am always up for an adventure with the kids.

Within reason.

After all, I have four kids. So spontaneity sometimes has to be...ahem...planned.

Yes, I realize how dumb that sounds.

Last week we received a circular in the mail advertising the grand re-opening of a local grocery store. Sales! Specials! Cooking demos! But the thing that caught the eye of my oldest son was the mention of a certain celebrity that was to make an appearance at this particular grocery store at 4:00 p.m. today.

The celebrity was Adam Richman, of the Travel Channel's, "Man vs. Food".

My two oldest boys love watching Adam in his quest to eat his way across America, as he highlights local favorites and takes on food challenges. My 9-year old begged, "PLEEEAASEEE, Moooom?!?! PLEEEEEASE can we go to the store to see Adam that day? I NEVER get to meet celebrities!!!"

Can you believe he has lived NINE-ALMOST-TEN WHOLE YEARS on this planet, and I have deprived him of meeting a SINGLE celebrity?

Let's have a moment of silence for my boy, people.

Yo. The depravity.

Anyway.

I thought about it for a bit, and decided we would go. It would be fun! Spontaneous! Memorable! Also, with the size of my brood, and their quest to eat us out of house and home, I always need groceries, so at least I would be able to complete an errand at the same time. Besides. How many people would flock to a boring grocery store on a Thursday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., in the middle of October just to see the host of a cable show?

Well, to answer that question, A LOT of people. Or, more precisely, A CRAPLOAD.

No, make that a CRAPLOAD TIMES TWO.

Yep. That many.

Undeterred, we parked the minivan, and walked the 2.8 miles (ish!) to the entrance of the store. (Barefoot! Uphill! The whole way! Just like our grandparents did back in the olden days!) I spotted a saucy little race car cart and grabbed it before someone else could snatch it away, and I scooped up my two youngest children and dropped them in the "driver's" seat. My two oldest boys stayed close to the cart as we trudged forward.

So far so good. There were many people as we approached the produce department, but since it was only 2:45 p.m. at this point, and Adam wasn't scheduled to appear until 4 p.m., the crowds weren't quite massive.

Until.

We reached the cooking demonstration area.

I saw people congregating and I asked a lady, "Is this the line to get seats for the Adam Richman show?"

"Yup," she muttered before turning her head in the opposite direction.

With our cart half-full of groceries, we stood in that spot for about ten minutes, until I noticed that everyone in line had yellow tickets in their hands. Coincidentally, I had ZERO tickets in my hand. I leaned toward the elderly gentleman next to me and said, "Do we need tickets for this?"

"Yup. They're free, but ya gotta get 'em at the concierge desk all the way at the front of the store," he answered.

I looked in the direction where the man pointed, and I could see that the concierge desk was 8.7 miles, and 2,752 people away from the spot I was standing in line with my four children.

Ish.

Not cool. It would have been nice if the THREE different employees who directed me to the cooking demonstration/Adam Richman show area had mentioned that juicy little nugget of information to me BEFORE I trudged my way to the cooking demo area, complete with cart and four children. You know, "Hey lady! See this yellow paper! You need five of these!"

I was done. With a capital, "D". My two youngest kids were squirming and starting to whine. I decided that what we wanted to do was an impossible feat. It. Just. Couldn't. Be. Done.

My oldest child looked at me with his big brown eyes and said, "Mom! Don't give up! We can't leave yet! We HAVE to see this! This is why we came here!"

Darn that child and his optimism and his perseverance. Clearly, he did not inherit these qualities from me.

Sigh. My heartstrings had been tugged by my boy. Hard.

We soon learned, however, that it probably would have been easier at that point for the five of us to sprout wings and fly to Florida rather than get tickets to stand or sit within spitting distance of Mr. Man vs. Food. I felt like I was sludging miles through a muddy swamp while wearing lead boots. I was not making any headway.

Feeling defeated, I stood by the the large crates of onions in the produce department and wanted to cry  out of sheer frustration. And hunger. And tiredness.

The irony of wanting to cry by the onions was not lost on me.

Niiiiice spontaneous, fun afternoon.

As I looked up at the big television screens near the produce department (this is not your grandmother's grocery store) I overheard an employee say that Adam's presentation would be televised on the large screens. This is the next best thing, kids! We can stand right here and watch the whole thing!

"But Mom, we always watch him on TV. I want to see him live."

Oh. Good point.

As we stood off to the side and waited, and waited, and waited, out of consideration for the 1.8 million people (ish!) trying to pass, I made sure that my cart was pushed out of the way of traffic. My gesture, however, was not appreciated by a group of teenagers. Two boys and a girl stood directly behind me as they waited for traffic to clear so they could pass. The girl sighed dramatically and said in her most passive-agressive voice, "Uggggh. I can't believe people here are LAME enough to think that they can actually use a cart in this store right now! This is crazy!"

Stupid me! To think I am LAME enough to actually use this CART for my groceries! In a grocery store! Of all places!

The boy next to her agreed and said, "Yeah dude. That's so lame. Heh. Heh. Heh."

Oh silly teenagers. Silly, silly teenagers. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss. I wish that all of your future precious, children are adorable little sweethearts who are born with healthy sets of lungs, strong vocal chords, and RIPPING cases of colic. For a good six months. And then, when you finally get them to calm down for a bit so you can get some grocery shopping accomplished, I hope that a group of teenagers scoffs at you as you push your unwieldy shopping cart in a store, and then, just as you and your kid(s) are minding your own biz, I hope that same group of teenagers calls you LAME. Just because they can. 

Of course, I am not the least bit confrontational, so I just ignored them.

And I may or may not have given them a harmless little stink-eye.

Don't mess with Mama, kids.

Besides, it's not like I was bothering anyone in my little stake-out area by the onions. Another mother hoisted her 5-year old son on top of the sweet potatoes! That people eat! He stood on them, and of course, as expected, EVERY SINGLE SWEET POTATO CAME TUMBLING TO THE FLOOR.

But it's not like I couldn't see that one coming.

Who's the lame one now, teeny-boppers?

More waiting commenced. I was proud of the patience my children displayed, despite the hour and the situation.


Finally, after shouts throughout the store of, "Adam! Adam! Adam!" the man of the hour appeared.

See? This is as close as we got.


I should mention that I had to zoom in quite a bit because even the television screens were far away.

My sons were ecstatic because they were able to peek through the crowds and actually see him for real, even though he was about 12 miles away. Ish.

A celebrity sighting. Finally. At 8 and 9 years of age. Phew. Life is complete.

Despite the hassle and the crowds, it was worth it. I'm always up for an adventure.

Even if it's planned.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A little birdie told me I'm a wimp.

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, there's never a dull moment 'round here.

I was reminded of this once again as I entered our attached garage this morning, pressed the door opener, walked to the driver's side door, and then had about ten mini heart attacks as a bird dove into the garage, straight toward my head.

A BIRD, YO.

At 7:23 in the A-M.

The only other bird I would like to see all up in my grill at 7:23 a.m. is Toucan Sam on my box of Froot Loops.

It didn't help the situation any that I am a HUGE wimp. Huge. My 3-year old daughter was more calm than I was. "Mommy, I have a plan!" she said earnestly. "Just put your finger out and the bird will land on it!"

Who does she think I am? Cinder-freakin'-rella? A Disney Princess?

Yeah right. Stick my finger out indeed.

Clearly, she overestimates her mother.

"Quick! Everybody in the car!" I shouted at the kids.

That was my master plan. To hide in the car. From a robin.

Brillz.

We closed the doors as fast as we could, and the kids and I exchanged looks of, "Now what?" as I turned the key in the ignition, started up the van, and honked the horn a few times. Loudly. At 7:25 a.m.

Sorry, sleeping neighbors. Mama don't do her best thinking in the A-M.

In my defense, it was my boys' suggestion. They were convinced that the horn would scare the bird and make it leave the garage. Unfortunately, it just made the bird more frantic, which resulted in it flying at full speed into the ceiling several times, and banging into the overhead light bulbs.

I am now acutely aware of what the phrase, "bird-brained" means.

Determined to get the bird out of our garage, I opened both doors of our 3-car garage, creating a massive opening for a small bird to fly through. Nothing. I backed the car out of the garage. I honked lightly a few times. Nothing. I drove the car into the garage. Honked lightly once more. NOTH. ING. The only thing I accomplished was cementing my place in our lovely neighborhood as, "Mom Who Makes Way Too Much Noise In the Morning".

Finally, I decided it was time for the human touch, also known as Clare + a garden rake. It's a highly scientific technique that basically involves me swinging the rake wildly in the air at the bird, so as not to hurt the bird, but rather to steer it out of the garage, all the while shrieking and doing a wild "freak-out dance" (my 5-year old's words) if the bird came anywhere near my body.

Don't try this at home, y'all.

I threw down the rake and ran back into the van. My 9-year old sighed and said in his most exasperated, Mom-please-stop-acting-like-such-a-big-nerd voice, "Mom, are you done yet? We have to go to school now." Then he let out a you're-totally-cramping-my-style sigh.

My bad. I thought I was protecting my home and family.

As the day went on, I gave up trying to deal with the frantic, feathered beast, and parked my car in the driveway instead of the garage. Once I returned home with the kids after school pick-up, I opened the garage door, hoping that the bird would fly away home. Frantic, flying, more frantic, banging into the ceiling, frantic, flying, more frantic ensued. And pooping.

From the bird, of course.

I gave up. This was now Bill's problem. I have my limits, and chasing birds is one of them. I was about to go back inside the house, when my 8-year old son looked at me and asked, "Mom, can I give it a try?"

Better you than me, buddy.

With that, he picked up the garden rake that had failed me so miserably in the morning, swung it gently in the air a few times toward the bird, and of course, the bird flew RIGHT OUT OF THE GARAGE. Just like that.

Of course.

Schooled by an 8-year old. 

Lesson: Never send a spazzy mom to do a job a calm 8-year old can do.

Monday, October 4, 2010

I'm listening. No really. I am.

I listen to my kids.

Really, I do.

I am a multi-tasker in every sense of the word. I can listen to my children while I am filling the dishwasher, while at the same time eating a snack, while at the same time holding a phone nestled between my shoulder and ear without using my hands, while at the same waiting on said phone for the customer service representative to return to the line, while at the same time eyeing the pot I have boiling on the stove.

Despite all this, I listen.

My 5-year old came running in the room to show me his drawing yesterday. I looked at it while I was also simultaneously doing five different things and said, "Wow! That's cool!" and resumed my business.

It was then that I saw my 9-year old son pull his brother aside and whisper a little too loudly, "Dude, that's what Mom always to us when she's not really paying attention. She's not really listening to you."

And my heart broke into about 3000 little pieces.

My first reaction was to get defensive.

I do listen. 

Of course I was listening. I heard everything he said. I looked at the picture. I complimented it. But perception is everything, and if they think I'm not listening at times because I'm also doing something else, then that's what matters.

Heaven forbid they think I don't care.

Later that day at the dinner table, I made an extra effort to make sure that all four kids knew that I was listening. I made eye contact. I laughed at their jokes. I asked them individual questions. As we often do at family dinners, we discussed our highs and lows of the day.

It was one of those perfect family meals when the whole family was together, and we talked and enjoyed each other's company without having to rush.

I asked my oldest son what his favorite TV show is. Before he could answer, I said, "Lemme guess: 'The Suite Life on Deck', or 'Wizards of Waverly Place'."

He scoffed. "No. way. I still watch those, but I'm a fan of the classic TV shows."

Ah. He's a Renaissance man. He likes the classics. Intrigued, I raised my eyebrow and queried, "The classics?"

"Yeah Mom. Ya know, like 'The Andy Griffith Show',  'Leave it to Beaver', 'The Three Stooges', and 'Family Matters'."

One of these things is not like the others...

Dude. 'Family Matters' is "classic" television. Ask a tweener. They'll set you straight. And it won't make you feel the least bit old either, especially if you..ahem...distinctly remember watching NEW episodes of this show as a teenager while babysitting Friday nights and watching ABC's "TGIF", along with NEW episodes of 'Full House'.

My boy loves him some 'Family Matters' something fierce. He has perfected the Urkel screech of, "LAURA!" He can perfectly imitate the dances and gestures of both Urkel and Eddie's BFF Waldo Faldo. He has determined that Eddie Winslow is a player by noticing, "Yeah, Eddie dates a lot of girls." It would not be a stretch for me to venture to say that my son has seen every episode ever made, because he records them on the DVR and watches them during his designated TV time. Wisely, he shuns the later episodes of Steve Urkel's alter ego, and the boy Laura Winslow falls in love with, the ultra smooth Stefan Urquelle. In fact, if he understood the phrase, "jumping the shark", I believe that he would use it when talking about these episodes.

He spits on those episodes.

Proverbially.

Stefan Urquelle is a sham.

My boy enjoys watching the adventures of Winslow Family-slash-Urkel. 

But I already knew this about him. Because I listen. I notice things.

Even when they think I don't notice. Even when they think I'm not listening.

However, at the dinner table that night, I made sure they knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this time, I was listening.

Because they matter. And, pun intended, family matters.