Tag Archives: #motherhood

Things We Gained in the Fire

14 Dec

Have you ever had a fire in your home? Probably not. Fire happens to other people. Not to you.

Fire happened to me. And for a multitude of reasons and strokes of luck and fate, I was home and no one was hurt. But still. I did not expect to find the entire second floor of my home filled with smoke. I did not expect to find my bathroom wall in flames. I did not expect to find the need to call 911.  And yet all that happened in a matter of minutes.

Do you have smoke alarms? You should. Do you have fire extinguishers? You should. You should also make sure that they have not expired because otherwise, they’re just taking up precious space in your home in which you could store something that will help you should your house catch fire. And while we are on the subject, you should also make sure they are “ABC” fire extinguishers for all levels and kinds of fires. I did not expect to gain this type of education.

We have smoke alarms. Ironically, for a few weeks they were without batteries (also a no no) that my husband only recently replaced. While previously I thought of smoke alarms as annoyances, this one happened to save our house and possibly, our lives, as I never even smelled that smoke filling up the second floor of my home.

We also have fire extinguishers on every floor but I did not use them to try to put out the fire because I estimated I would first have to read the instructions label and I just did not have the time to do that. I knew the fire would not wait for me to figure out how to kill it and it was already speedily climbing up the wall and charring surfaces on adjacent walls. Do you know how to use your fire extinguishers? You should. You pull the pin and shoot.

Do you have a fire drill in place? A family plan? You should. We did not. I recalled seeing some kind of program that advised that in an emergency, you must direct specific people to carry out certain tasks. You cannot merely say “someone call 911” because someone may never get around to it. I told my son, Eli, to call 911, and I told my son, Ben, to get me a bucket.

My sweet friend, Stacey, has been sending me birthday gifts every year since college. Typically, they arrive on my birthday or the day before. This year, a tin of cookies showed up on my doorstep about 10 days early. Thank goodness. I used that tin to put out the fire.

I did not think about electrocution although I surmised the fire was electrical. I thought about my home. I thought about the place we love, the roof that shelters us, the kitchen and den and dining room in which we have shared so many wonderful holidays and memories, the deck where we love to entertain, the couch on which we gather to watch old home videos, and the bedrooms we retire to at the end of the day. I thought about this space that we love and that loves us and that this recent slight betrayal was going to end right now with me and several cookie tins full of water. I thought that if I did not act immediately, my house was going to burn down along with beloved irreplaceable photographs, ticket stubs from games my sons attended with their father and uncle, knitting needles owned by my adored Aunt Sandy, dirt memorialized from Yankee Stadium for Derek Jeter’s 3000th home run, a needlepoint of the alphabet my mother made for my sons, an old chenille cardigan that my beautiful late grandma used to wear, my son’s cherished stuffed Bunny, Cocky Pancho, my wedding band, and the dress I plan to wear to my sons’ b’nai mitzvah in April. I thought we could lose our history.

Then again, maybe I did not think at all. Maybe I just reacted out of instinct because you when you see flames threatening to destroy something you love, you just want to extinguish them. 911 instructed all of us to leave the house immediately. I sent my sons outside and I went back up the stairs. The fire was still contained to one wall which I took as a good sign. I wondered whether it was a bad idea to try to drown an electrical fire and whether I might short out my entire house. I wondered whether the fire could spread fast enough to trap me in my own bathroom. I also wondered where the towel rod went and if I was doing all the wrong things. I probably was. Perhaps I should have immediately left my home. Instead, I filled and refilled the tin with water and threw it at the fire until I could see no more flames. And then, wondering what might be lurking behind the wall, I threw a few more tins of water, dampening the area as much as possible just in case. And then I ran out the door in my socks.

Only then, while standing in our socks on the driveway waiting to hear the relief of sirens, did one son start to cry while the other one dribbled a basketball. But I told him about how lucky we are, about how we lost nothing we really cared about, and about the death of that goddamn fire. And then, after seeing many firemen and firewomen, and several police officers in and out of my home, we went out for dinner. Because life goes on.

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The fire happened the first night of Hanukkah. I never lit my menorah that night. Instead, we were evacuated from our home. The only thing I really worried that we might have lost in that fire – our sense of security – has been restored. And what we gained, hopefully reclaimed perspective, appreciation for all that we have, and gratitude for just how lucky we are, is worth much more.

Last night, on the final night of Hanukkah, we lit our menorah and slept soundly under the roof we love.

Shehecheyanu.

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Thankful for Human Kindness

26 Nov

— and Stephanie Robinson of Oxford

 

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Reservoirs of Hope

6 Oct

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I posted optimism in haste. I understand, I am optimistic by nature. I am also superstitious, however, and that should have given me pause. Regardless, I was hasty and we have seen immeasurable sadness.

My son returned to a fetal position on the floor, unable to contort himself enough to not feel pain. He winced, he punched pillows, he cried. I did too. “It’s not fair!” He screamed. I told him he was right. It was not fair. Life often is not. He is only 12. I wish I could know the pain he is feeling. I wish I could experience it so I could commiserate with him. I fear the pain I feel as a mother might be worse. I hope it is because I am abler to weather it than he.

He rearranges himself constantly, twisting around within and atop the quilt, like a giant stress ball but regrettably ineffective. Another very sad week to enter into the calendar.

“Tomorrow will be a better day” I tell him, just like my mother used to tell me when my day ran afoul. Each night I go to sleep an empty pot left beneath a leaky ceiling, allowing hope to collect in time for morning. Each morning I wake with expectation, yet it is always the same, if not worse. The pain still there, the agony unbearable for a young boy, and too much for this mother to witness. At what point do my empty promises reveal me to be an optimistic liar to my child. I cannot keep telling him that “tomorrow will be a better day” when it just does not come to fruition. Perhaps he should be more like his father: an over-prepared realist. Ready for and expecting the worst and anything less will be tolerable and even welcome. Then again, I’m not sure I could live like that either.

“Just sit here and look out the window” my mother used to tell me when I had a nightmare. It was also what her mother used to tell her to remedy the same situation. Inevitably, I would stare out the window and become distracted enough with whatever I may have noticed to have lost track of my nightmare. I wish I could stare out the window long enough right now.

“Just sit here and look out the window” my mother tells my son. But he cannot sit upright long enough without pain to complete this task. He again curls himself into a ball and weeps.

I wonder if this little boy knows how much he is loved. How much the lives of those who love him are thrown off by this spell. That his mother goes to sleep waiting to refill a reservoir of hope by dawn. That his brothers might be a little bit nicer to him. That his grandmother does not sound like herself when she answers the phone. That his grandfather makes frequent unannounced visits just to see how he is doing, just to look at his face, just to kiss the top of his head and rub his back. He is so loved.

Yesterday was the type of day you just do not expect when you wake up, even with a full supply of hope. When you confront a disease, especially one that afflicts your child, and you must contemplate therapies, sometimes none of the choices are good. All medications are accompanied by unfathomable risks and you find yourself asking doctors “is it at least a treatable Lymphoma?” as if that is an acceptable outcome. Simultaneously, compromising your child’s current health is not an option. Pile on the relentless pain and decisions are suddenly made amidst a pressure cooker of love and concern and the need for a young child to simply find some rest.

I refused to allow the nurse to provide a detailed consent, particularly in front of my son. I do not want to know the risks they are required to tell me by law. I do not want to know about minuscule possibilities of terrible things that may await us. I do not want to know about something that might have happened to a lab rat that received 1,000,000 times the allowable dose. I want to see my son well. I want to see his smile again. I want to see him be a 12 year old boy.

Several hours later, following his first IV infusion therapy, I did just that. Now he is at school. He is sleepy, he is concerned, but he is smiling. Today is a better day.

My pot is full.

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Sailing

21 Sep

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We are drifting aimlessly on the sea. The water is so placid even our boat does not create a ripple. We stretch back and let the salty air wash over our sun-kissed faces. We are good.

And in an instant, the sky turns dark and stormy and our boat is upended. We are swallowing the sea water that protected us just seconds earlier. We are desperate to right our boat, to climb back into its safety, to escape this disastrous storm. But it takes time.

This is what it is like to live with a chronic illness. One minute you are navigating innocent waters and the next minute you are laying with your son on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, struggling to find stillness.

Last week, out of nowhere, our boat was toppled. My son experienced what can only be described as “labor pains” for nearly a week. He winced, he cried, he dug his nails into the flesh of his wrists to feel something other than agony. And with each tear that traveled down his cheek, the vise around my heart tightened its grip. I tried to act casual, I cried and told him I wish it was happening to me instead, I tried everything. There is literally nothing I could do to soothe my son, to make it better, to be his mommy.

“Can’t you just hug me and make it go away?” He cried.

Oh, how I wish.

On Friday morning, after a long and very sad week, my son woke up feeling no pain. He later called me from the nurse’s office at school:

“I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that my stomach feels fine. The bad news is that my wrist bent back in recess and then I fell on it and it hurts a lot.”

“So you have good news. I love you.”

Later that day, my son managed to take his iPhone for a night swim. He called me from his friend’s house in such distress that it was difficult to hear actual words.

“I’m an idiot. I did the dumbest thing. You’re going to kill me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Are you ok? How do you feel?”

“I feel fine.”

“So you’re ok.”

I told him I don’t care. I told him it’s just money. I told him I’m just happy he feels good. I told him to hang up with me and go be a kid.

When I picked him up that night, he again cried, saying he made a mistake.

“I’m glad you did. That’s how you learn. You will never go swimming with your phone again. I make mistakes, Dad makes mistakes, we all make mistakes. It is part of life and no one gets out of here without making some along the way. And by the way, you mean way more to me than a phone.”

The following day was spent going to Urgent Care and getting X-rays for his wrist. As we drove to the clinic, my son reflected on the broken phone and the possibly broken wrist.

“Yesterday was the worst day, Mom.”

“Yesterday was the best day.”

“No, I mean because of my phone and my wrist. So it was a really bad day.”

“Yes, but you woke up feeling fine and your stomach no longer bothers you. Your phone can be replaced. Your wrist, even if broken, will heal.  These are things that happen to everyone. But you feel good. So it was a great day.”

When the dark clouds gather and the storm rolls in, I worry that my son’s whole life will be like those moments on the bathroom floor: a tiny ship tossed around helplessly in a maelstrom. I remind myself of the things I must believe in: medicine, Hope, and my son. I remind myself that this disease should be the worst thing that ever happens to him. I remind myself of the serene seas in which we have been fortunate enough to sail. And then I look out for those starry nights, the traditional harbingers of the promise of beautiful weather ahead.

The phone was irretrievably broken.

The wrist was not.

And neither was my heart.

And our ship is again floating under a beautiful, cloudless sky, hoping for endless starry nights.

The Scream Chart

3 Jun

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Raising kids is challenging.

I remember when my babies were babies, strung out on hours of lost sleep and coffee, and patience frayed, I snapped. I screamed at my kids so loudly that I was hoarse for a couple of days. I was plagued by guilt. I was certain that all the hours I spent loving them, playing with them, laughing, watching and rewatching Wiggles videos (that is love for sure) would be outweighed and even forgotten by those intense moments of primal hollering.

I thought myself the only mother that ever yelled at her child. After all, everyone is always on their best behavior when you see them and if they’re not, can you just imagine what kind of monster they must be in their own home? Unable to shake myself of remorse, I asked a wise friend if she ever yelled at her kids. Her reply, which stayed with me, was “we all scream inside our own house.” She was right.

Sometimes we do lose patience. Because we are human. And while I have not lost my voice again since that time when my babies were babies, I still raise it here and there, mostly because no one seems to listen the first 8 times I say something.

Recently, my son complained that there was too much screaming in the house. To be precise, his belief was that one of the five of us, at the very least, yelled every single day. I was surprised at his perception of how our home functions; probably because I’m more of a positive person and definitely because I am his mother. Regardless, he should not feel that way and if, to my horror, that was accurate, we would all have to change because I wouldn’t want to live in that house either. I decided it was time to experiment.

I made a “Scream Chart.” For an entire week, my son was to track our “screaming activity” and assign a tick for anyone who screamed. If someone yelled more than once, they received more than one tick. No one was to behave any differently than usual (not that we are all self-aware enough to act otherwise) and frankly, no one did.

One week later, I approached my son to review the final results of the Scream Chart. Lo and behold, there was very little yelling in our home that week, similar to every other week, except, apparently, for Sunday (I cannot remember what occurred and I am pretty sure I don’t want to either). Indeed, throughout the school week, there were only two incidences of shrieking (although, to be fair, a raised voice counted just as much as outright caterwauling) and one of them belonged to the very son who thought there was too much yelling in the house to begin with.

Perceptions and misperceptions are so important. I hope my son remembers to lean towards the positive memories and viewpoints as opposed to coloring our world with darker shadows just because someone screams here and there. I always tend to remember and view things more fondly (except for laboring 23 hours to deliver this same child; that was pure agony) and I think it has served me well. It has also provided a grounding optimism sorely needed for challenges faced along the way. I explained this to my son. I discussed the value of believing in good and happiness over constant misery. I told him that just because someone in a family gets angry (which happens! people living together are bound to bounce off each other at times!) doesn’t mean it is an angry family.

About a month later, I checked in again with my son. His perception of our family’s life together had thankfully changed. He no longer believed that there was daily bickering and acknowledged that part of the screaming he had to endure was his own. There are so many things I feel I don’t get right as a parent, but I was so grateful to be able to change his appreciation of his own life. He should think better of it. And I am so glad he actually does.

Had that Scream Chart filled out according to my son’s expectations, I would have been devastated. I would hate to think that this family we have created out of love and desire and joy would be so overshadowed by constant conflict. Although 18 years sounds like a long time to raise a child, it moves faster than I would have ever imagined. Those 18 years should be a filled with laughter, beauty, kindness, love, and warm, screamless nights.

Loving Big

13 Feb

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About 30 minutes past bedtime, my son came to me.

“I had a bad thought.”

Laptop closed.

“What’s your bad thought?”

“What happens to people when they die?”

I let him continue rather than opening up a larger can of worms.

“Are they still here? Do they become other people? Are they in heaven?”

Instantly, I said yes, they are. They are still here. They are in heaven.

Who knows what the right answer is. And more importantly, who can really prove me wrong.

We hear what we want to hear. We hear what makes us sleep at night. We hear the things we want to tell our children so that they can sleep at night.

“Yes. When people die, they are still here. They go to be with people they love and haven’t seen in a while. They are just fine and they are all around us, keeping track of what we are doing and how we are and loving us from there.”

“Okay”

And he grabbed his beloved stuffed animal, Cocky Pancho (don’t ask, I don’t know!) and went back to his bed.

Pretty big question for a pretty small guy with a big mind and an even bigger heart.

We never know if we are giving them the right answers. We just hope we are giving them the strength and comfort to get through this life and the courage to love the biggest without worrying about that ultimate, terrible loss. Because that’s life and we should all live it.

The Greatest Show on Earth

20 Jan

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I never liked the circus.

Even as a child, the format of three rings with three simultaneous acts made no sense to me. What was I supposed to be focusing on and regardless, all three acts were not entertaining. At all. I didn’t buy into the costumes, the acrobatics, the parades. I finally just started to beg my parents not to bring me anymore.

When I got around to having my own kids, I felt obliged to take them to the circus as a rite of passage. It was as awful as I remembered and my kids were not sold on it either. Thank goodness for good taste.

Last weekend I walked my own tightrope as my oldest son was in an emergency room in Massachusetts and my mother was in an emergency room in New York. I have been in this position so many times yet each time it happens it is a shock and I yearn for the luxury of a monotonous existence.

When my oldest son was a baby, he let us know he was ready for a bed by launching himself out of his crib. The next morning he was seemingly fine with the exception of a slight alteration to his usual routine: he danced to The Wiggles but he used only one arm. I could not fathom that he might have seriously injured himself. He was such a champ that we did not even know he had fractured his clavicle until a follow-up x-ray revealed a healing bone. On Sunday, this same son broke his clavicle in two.

Inhale.

When my oldest son was 4 years old, I went to Mexico with my family and my parents. While walking back to the room with my mom to call my aunt, my mother began to have a heart attack. We did not know what it was at the time, and it did not unfold in the typical way in which it is often depicted: a man with left arm pain grabbing at his chest and directing someone to call 911. Rather, it was as if she had a sudden and severe reaction to something she ate, vomiting until it was over. And then she was fine. Until we learned she wasn’t. On Sunday, my mom called me in the morning to tell me she did not know what came over her but she couldn’t stop vomiting. But once you have a history of something kind of terrible, you cannot just crawl back into bed and assume that you have a virus. Thankfully, after an EKG and blood work, she learned she had a virus.

Exhale.

On Sunday, as if not to be left out of the disastrous emerging trend, another son of mine injured his hand and wrist simply while walking in the hall of our home. Nuts. But no broken bones; just a sprain. You try leaving an orthopedist’s office with two wounded boys and not being  looked at suspiciously. I joked with the woman at the front desk, asking if she was going to contact CPS. She just eyed me and went back to questioning my children.

Repeat.

When I was pregnant with my twins, the sonogram technician advised that I was going to be having two more sons. Broken bones was in my future; it was a given. Although you never expect it when you get that call, when you see that dangling arm, when you hear that primal scream that alerts you that something is very wrong, you always know that these things are possible, that they happen all the time and you are not going to be excluded from this club. After all, if I got through this life with 3 sons and no broken bones, I would worry that I was somehow failing my boys.

Aren’t we all performing some kind of high wire act? Teetering between news–both dreadful and wonderful, striking the great balance of life and making careful–extra careful–to keep our balance and not succumb to a mere slip of the foot.  The more we love our people, the more we’re going to be walking that tightrope. Because we care. Because we are lucky.

Maybe the circus is our introduction to life. Maybe by throwing so many things at us at one time, we are learning how to focus, how to zero in on what makes us the happiest, and to filter out all those tricks we see right through. Life is both the Worst Show on Earth and the Greatest Show on Earth and I wouldn’t want to live it any other way.

 

Raising People

16 Jan

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My kids don’t listen. Not really.

They’re great kids and objectively perfect but still, their casual disregard for questions I ask or advice offered is incredibly frustrating. Particularly for someone who gave these human beings life. Often, it seems, that I cannot adequately capture their attention without raising my voice. I can say the same thing nicely 7 times and no one listens to me until I scream it the 8th.

Raising people is hard work indeed.

Tonight, while having dinner, I tried to talk to my son about his day and an upcoming project. He was impatient and impertinent and exasperated. It is entirely possible he inherited these traits from me but I am not a stranger in the customer service department trying to navigate him through a maddening situation. I am his mother. He should be kind. He should want to listen to me. He should want to hear what I have to tell him. My words may one day provide some type of guidance for him that he currently seems to think unnecessary.

After multiple attempts at conversation, I was thoroughly disenchanted with this boy who I usually let get away with everything.

“Fine! You are cleaning up the entire kitchen tonight!”

“Fine. I don’t care.”

I don’t know if this was the most ridiculous form of punishment ever or simply an order to do a chore he should have been doing regularly for years. Regardless, I issued this edict and he was going to follow it.

He donned rubber gloves and filled the sink with water and soap while I sat on the computer playing Solitaire. He was not flustered by this task and remained cavalier and unapologetic.

“You know, I buy all the things I need to make you the food you love. I prepare a nice dinner. I try to sit with you and talk to you and make sure you are doing everything you need to be doing so you can be the best you, and you can’t even answer a question?”

“Is this pot supposed to have all this black stuff at the bottom?”

“No.”

“How do you get it off?”

“Figure it out.”

After a few more games of Solitaire, I tried another tack.

“Do you think everything is so easy? It is work to remove that black stuff. It is work to cook and clean and do all these things. Your only job is to treat me with respect. I’m ashamed that you cannot even do that.”

Finally, he broke.

“I’m sorry, Mom! I’m sorry! I apologize. I apologize. I apologize.”

Wet rubber gloves, floating soap bubbles, and tear-stained cheeks, he clasped me around the waist, heaving. He sat down on my lap, and clung to me.

“I’m a bad person,” he whispered.

“You are not. Why would you think that?”

“Because I was mean to you.”

“You are a wonderful person. You were badly behaved and even wonderful people don’t always act the way they should.”

“I’m sorry. It will never happen again. I love you.”

I love him too. And it will happen again but I’ll be ready for it and also, the kitchen will be spotless.

My Son and My Swollen Heart

11 Dec

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This year has not been easy.

At the end of last year’s school year, my son was trying to select courses for his first year at middle school. He wanted to take chorus but was reluctant.

“Do you like to sing?”

“Yes.”

“You should take chorus.”

“I like singing but I’m not sure about chorus.”

“Are you worried you will be teased about it because you’re a boy?”

“Yes.”

“You should take chorus.”

He was already dealing with more than any 11 year old child should have to deal with: a Crohn’s Disease diagnosis and the attempt to get it under control. He was also being followed for rapidly progressing Scoliosis and only 4 degrees away from getting a brace he would have to wear 23 hours a day for at least 3 years. He selected chorus.

Recently, I was involved in a fundraiser for Crohn’s, Colitis, and Celiac (which another son of mine happens to have). It was successful in that we raised money, awareness, and spirits, particularly those of my sons. The following day, my son had his follow up appointment with the orthopedist to determine if his Scoliosis would finally require a restrictive brace. Eight months elapsed since his last X-ray and I spent most of the day alternating between holding my breath and praying for good news. Miraculously, his Scoliosis did not worsen; if anything, it may have slightly improved.

Perhaps good deeds beget goodness. Perhaps that fundraiser made a large karmic dent in our tiny world. Perhaps my son was just entitled to finally receive some good news. Perhaps.

Last night was his first chorus concert. He stood, clad in a bow tie, next to the only other boy in chorus, amid a sea of 35 girls. He was also chosen with three other children to sing parts of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman.” As I crouched in the aisle of the auditorium, taking pictures and watching this boy, with his unique and immutable spirit, I cried. He has survived so much in so little time and he is doing what he wants and living his life. Good for you, Eli, good for you. Don’t let anything keep you down, my baby boy. You are unstoppable.

I am so thankful for this current lull in the great and unwanted upheaval of life. It may be temporary but that is no different than the life belonging to anyone else. There are good days and bad days and days in between. The hope is that the good days outweigh the bad and that we are lucky enough to find them and know them and love them.

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Shared Moments

8 Nov

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A few days ago, I wrote a post about a moment I was lucky enough to share with my son.

It was moving and special and wrought with emotion. It was also ours.

That post, for whatever reason, did not save. And perhaps that is because some things are meant to be kept as gifts just for ourselves.