Thursday, July 29, 2010

Love is the Truth I Realize, Not a Stream of Pretty Lies

I have been on a few musical binges lately. These are episodes during which I play the same song over and over and over again. Then once more, for good measure. Listening to songs on repeat is so easy now. I remember back in the day, right after college when I was commuting to NYC from Long Island (good God, this was 20 years ago), I used to have to play the song, hit rewind on my walkman, and then play it again. I had so many cassingles. I thought a Discman was the most amazing invention and was happy to endure skipping CDs for its many advantages. Don’t even get me started on how iPods changed my world. But I digress…

Songs that were/are the object of my obsession are sometimes lyrically significant, sometimes not. I once overplayed Prayer for the Dying by Seal because of one lyric: “Playing with fire and not getting burned.” Because at that time, I was playing with fire and not getting burned. How convenient. I thought I was having my cake and eating it too. (However, I did learn that being the burner and not the burnee, well, that kinda sucked too. So much for playing with fire and not getting burned.) “You Get What You Give” is tightly woven into the beginning of my relationship with Nicole, and I have been known to binge on that song, as it always puts a smile on my face. However, the lyrics of that song are not tightly wound into us at all.

Lately I have been wearing out three songs. In the car, I blast Where the Street Have No Name so much that when the song ends, Avery yells out “Again, Momma, again!” For reasons I don’t quite understand, this song makes me think of mortality and death. And, as I have said before (maybe on Facebook), I hope I hear the intro of this song in my head when that day comes that I lay dying. Morbid, no? I’ve been thinking a lot about end of life again. Lots of health scares and aging reminders and death circling around these days. But it just seems so fitting, that intro. Uplifting with juuuust a touch of sadness. If I really had my way, I would hear the intro to that song, followed by another U2 hit: Beautiful Day. That is, to this day, the only song that I had a very ugly memory attached to that I managed to turn into a happy memory song. So if I am on my death bed, someone needs to make this mash-up happen.

The second song that I can’t shake lately is Pure by the Lightning Seeds. I ran five miles the other day listening to it on repeat. That is almost 45 minutes of the same song. Torture for some; heaven for me. The lyrics get me every time, and the song itself is the very definition of infectious. It brings back good memories and makes me think happy thoughts. The third song, well, I think I need to keep that one to myself. My heart starts to beat a little faster and my stomach launches up to my throat when I start to think about it. Listening to it is bittersweet. The song makes me cry, so I need to be careful when I do play play it. But I love the ironic nature of its title.

But I can say that the third song is sort of wrapped up in my current state of insecurity. First of all, my closest friend, the one I talk to 16 times a day; the one who talks me off of my ledges and talks sense into me; the one makes my day better just by existing; she just left with her family for a three week vacation to Italy. I am not good with goodbyes, even of the temporary variety. Her twenty-one day absence will affect my daily life in a big way.

And then, in a mere two weeks, before Jen even gets back from Italy, my brother and his family are moving far, far, far away. By far, I mean a 12-hour plane ride away. About as far away as they can get on this earth. While I understand that they are just disappearing off of the face of this earth, I can’t quite get my mind to agree with that. I held Leif when he was an hour old and I swear to God he changed my life. And then came Skye, this beautiful, perfect little angel baby who almost died when she was four months old. She spent two weeks in the hospital recovering from a near-death experience and I swear that made me appreciate life and her just a little more than I did before. Both of them came in rapid fire succession after Nicole entered my world, and have brought me nothing but happiness and joy.

I was saying to Nicole recently that my relationship with them is the purest form of love I have ever experienced. This is not meant to be a slight to my own children or Nicole; but being an aunt is a different dynamic than being a mother or wife. I get to spoil them, indulge them and not enforce any boundaries. And I do all of that, in force. I have never hurt Leif and Skye and they have never hurt me. We don’t have spats or quarrels or periods of ebb. It is just love love love, pure and simple. And now, they are leaving. For good, maybe. My niece and nephew will call another country home.

This has sparked a flare up of insecurity. Insecurity is not a fun place to be, and people who don’t experience it have no idea how lucky they are. I can tell stories of insecurity that would make heads spin. Like how with one relationship, I was afraid that if certain *words* were mentioned, it would set in motion a domino effect that would end that relationship for good. I am not kidding. That is what it is like to live wrapped up in intense insecurity, which was my specialty.

I know exactly how this insecurity manifested and even when. No mystery there. And, thankfully, I can pinpoint its end date: Nicole. When she came along, the planets aligned in some perfect way and through the sheer power of her love (yes, corny, I know) I suddenly felt safe, secure and fearless. I do deserve some credit: I did plant the seeds of this change. But Nicole was the sun, fertilizer and water that made it all bloom. She might have picked a few weeds too. The point is it happened, she helped, and I maintained. I did not worry that she was going to leave or disappear. I did not feat that a word would set off those dominoes.

I extrapolated all that into all of my relationships. How great is it to walk through life feeling secure and confident in relationships. My friends for life really are friends for life. They aren’t going to walk away if I don’t return a phone call in an hour; and similarly I am not walking away if they don’t return my call right away either. Friendships are not measured in how quickly calls are returned. The relationships that I put time and effort into will reap the rewards of that time and effort. And love, well, it will be, as I told someone recently, strong and passionate sometimes. And hard and annoying sometimes. And slow and comfortable sometimes. But it will always be.

But this impending move and Jen’s loooong vacation and various other factors have reignited this insecure flame. So I am struggling to remember that this too shall pass.

Pictured above, Madeline as a bee. She ran around yelling Buzz Buzz. Avery on the beach. And the girls playing with their cousins. Both have a knack for lacrosse! Well, at least they have an interest in lacrosse. That's a start.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Balancing Equations and the Periodic Table of Emotions

When Avery is doing something wrong, like stealing toothpaste to eat or commandeering a toy that Maddie has claimed, she does it stealthily. Or, the toddler version of stealthily. She will, for example, hide the toothpaste behind her back, and edge around me, going so far as to walking backwards so I can’t see what she has. Just to make sure I am distracted, she will tell me to go into another room or to not look in her hands. Her attempts at subtlety are anything but. Madeline, on the other hand, doesn’t even try to be subtle. She is an in-your-face violator of rules. She feels no need to hide anything, ever. Her attitude screams, “Yeah, I’m chewing on paper. Go ahead and try to stop me.” When I ask her to cease a certain behavior or activity, her canned response is “But Momma, I am practicing!” Practicing ripping up paper, practicing throwing cheerios, practicing taking all of the cushions off the couch.

Interesting to see their little personalities develop. More interesting is that there isn’t a single mothering approach that works for both. They keep me on my toes.

I think we all idealize parenthood to some extent. When I envisioned motherhood, the type of mother I envisioned I would be is, in retrospect, the mother of one child. That is, all those grand plans and schemes I had are more suited to a one-on-one parent/child ratio. Which is to say, I thought it would be a LOT easier than it actually is. Something so basic as needing to fine-tune discipline approaches for each child is something that just never crossed my mind. Of course, now when I think about it, it seems obvious to the point of absurdity. But my little daydreams from long ago were quite macro, a one-size-fits-all approach. I actually thought I could just read books on parenting and poof, be the perfect parent. And then, of course, infertility pushed my into Faustian territory, which had me making promises of perfection in exchange for the gift of a child. I think all those promises went out the window by the second week.

So I am not perfect. I think it is a sign of progress that I am not beating myself up as much for these infractions. The girls will sometimes watch hours of TV while I cook and clean. There are perfect weather days when we don’t go to the playground. There are those times when Avery will snatch the bag of raisonettes from the counter and I don’t stop her, even though I know this will spoil her dinner appetite. Despite my doctor’s advice to make potty training an expectation that is not rewarded with treats, I reward with treats. In a big way. The thing is, I don’t really think that these parenting gaffes are going to screw them up. I know for a fact that my children feel loved. I know they will have an amazing childhood. I know they will be raised in structure, order and routine. And I know that we are planting legacy seeds here, as we are not just raising our children, but also our someday grandchildren, because how we treat our children now is how they will treat theirs someday. There is a lot at stake. Thank God for Nicole, because all this comes so easily to her. I guess I could chalk it up to the fact that she spends a lot less time with the girls, so she is going to have more patience than I would. But I know that that is not the reason. By nature, she is calmer and more patient than I am for sure. But I feel like I am getting better. I can say that I am the type of person who is very aware of my flaws. But for the most part, the sentence and sentiment stopped there. Now I feel like I am earning the right to say that not only am I aware of my flaws, I am also actively trying to change them. What good is clarity without effort? What good is knowledge without action? How unbalanced I have been, thinking I was all that and a bag of chips because I could identify my core issues. How easy it is to fall back on these old labels, these old descriptors. I am, for example, impatient. But I don't have to be. Progress.

Pictured above, more signs of summer: Drying bathing suits and towels. Tomorrow we will head for the lake beach again. And to my favorite pizza place for then pizza with asiago almond pesto, zucchini, squash, scallions and red onions. That is all that is on the agenda, and that is just fine with me.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Controversial For Controversial’s Sake

I’m rusty. Summer is by far my least favorite season, but it is my busiest, which means blogs are neglected. The girls have a demanding schedule of playgrounds and zoos and walks. And while I enjoy these activities, I find it all exhausting and way too hot. Unlike most people in the world, I cannot wait for summer to end. Bring on the fall, and its sweaters and turtlenecks and chilly weather. Bring on the comfort food meals and early sunsets. And, yes, bring on the snow. Nothing makes me happy like sunset at 4:30. For me, summer is something endured. Well, June is fine, but July and August I wish I could fast forward. I am excited that July is winding down. Yes, I know that I’m in the minority here, but what can I say. I live happily in the fringes.

And now, a bullet list:

Pre-School: Much to the consternation of several friends and countless experts, my two three-year-olds will not be attending preschool this year. This is for several reasons, some of which may ruffle some people’s feathers, so let’s go with the least controversial reason: It is way too expensive for way too little. Three mornings a week, of basically structured play and socialization, from September till June, runs 12K per child. (Which adds up to 24K, or, in pretax dollars, about 48K.) This is for just THREE mornings a week, which basically means I would be paying all that money to drop the girls off and go, say, to the gym and then pick them up again. It doesn’t even include meals. And this is one of the cheaper options: Most schools run way more than that. Five days a week at this place runs 5K more per child. When they are four, they will attend Pre K, so until then, they are attending the preschool of my kitchen table and socializing with their frousins and cousins.

Kindergarten: And as long as we are talking about school, we are not going to separate the girls when they are in kindergarten. They will be in the same class. And we will keep them in the same class for as long as they want. I have read lots of studies and literature on how this may be detrimental to their social development, but I respectfully disagree. I have no intention to ever sever the bond my girls have. I respect people who want to do it, but for us, it is not the right move. It will happen organically, perhaps, or maybe they will be super close their entire academic lives. If one wants her own class some day, then we will cross that bridge when we get there. But as far as I am concerned, they are in the same class for as long as possible. I am glad Nicole agrees with me on this.

China: My brother and his family are moving to China in less than a month and I am devastated. I don’t want them to go. Selfish, I know, but I cannot bear to think of my niece and nephew that far away. I start to panic when I think about it. I want to visit them in China, but I am not sure how possible me and two girls on a plane for 1,000 hours really is. I would have to stay a while, as a trip to China isn’t exactly a long weekend. I am hoping Nicole might have to go to Hong Kong (where they will be is about 45 minutes away from HK) for work and we can all go together. That is a slim, far-off possibility. But I need to think abut things like that because when I think about them leaving, I get a pit in my stomach. It is almost too much for my brain to comprehend. So right now I am NOT thinking about it, which means their upcoming departure will certainly smack me like a bucket of cold water.

Bats: In our house in Massachusetts. Yes, in our house. We saw the first one in the girls room, which is beyond horrifying. It flew across the room and Nicole caught it with her bare hands. Well, with her bare hands wrapped around a towel. Six bats later, we high-tailed it to a hotel for the night. I am still haunted by the supersonic screech of the bats. Turns out bats can get into holes the size of a pencil. We had some nesting in the eaves and the baby bats followed the wrong drafts and ended up in the house. Their moms came to find them, which resulted in the Night of Bats Everywhere. We had to pay a bat removal company thousands to fill up the holes and get them out. Nicole had to get her rabies vaccination, since she had contact with the bats and apparently bats can leak rabies through their membranes. So you don’t need to get bit or scratched: You just need to touch one. Nicole was fairly certain she didn’t touch any with her skin but since the end result of rabies is death, we decided that rabies shots was in order. Less than one half of one percent of all bats carry rabies but why take the chance. I am happy to report we are bat free (knock wood) and Nicole is still alive. Win/win.

Bears: In other nature news, Nicole made eye contact with a bear on our back steps. Let me repeat that: A bear. On our steps. She called me over to see, but in my frantic efforts to get the camera, I missed the bear. He trampled some ferns and left one big print as evidence. We found out they are nocturnal, so I don’t need to worry so much during the day that they are lurking around ready to snatch the girls. I am sad that I missed him, but Nicole thinks we will see him again, which is both exciting and scary at the same time.

How Does Our Garden Grow: It grows well. We have planted hostas and day lilies and butterfly bushes and basil and black-eyed susans and hydrangeas. We also planted a blueberry bush, but the fruit was already eaten by some animal or bird. I never, ever pictured myself a person who looks forward to gardening and walking around nurseries, but here I am, looking forward to gardening and walking around nurseries. Nicole has a rather organized and complex plan the entire yard that will take years to execute, but I am fine with that. It is nice to see little swatches of cultivated plants and flowers and every weekend I am excited to see what grew or bloomed or blossomed.

Pictured above, the girls, getting bigger and bigger by the minute. And the bear paw print, to the right of Nicole’s hand.