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Dear New Daddy,

You didn’t know it (or you might have, who knows?), but I watched you the other day. Not in a creepy stalker way, although my husband may disagree, but I couldn’t help myself.

We were guests at a wedding, an absolutely wonderful time filled with love and laughter. At the reception, across the room from our table, you were holding your new daughter who, I found out later from her grandmother, was ten weeks old. She was adorable, this little bitty peanut in a navy blue dress with the obligatory giant bow on her little head.

If you know me at all, you know that I am powerless in the presence of babies. In my family, I have the reputation of being the baby-stealer. I adore them. Every maternal instinct in me cries out to cuddle those little snug-a-bugs and I don’t care who knows it. Social anxiety be damned, it’s no match for my baby fever. I lose all inhibitions at the chance of eliciting one little gummy smile from a cherub face, of wiggling an irresistible toe. Your baby was one of many little ones that day, adding even more joy to a wonderful day.

While your baby was reason enough for me to be admiring her, it was your interaction with your little one that made me keep on stealing glances.

You had her tiny head cradled in one of your big daddy hands, her little diaper butt in the other. You were engaging her, talking to her, smiling at her, making those goofy faces that adults only make when we talk to babies, and she was fully into watching you, those bottomless eyes watching one of her favorite people in the world. I love when people talk to their children like that; no texting or other cell phone distractions, just pure parent/child time together. The thing that touched me so much that I decided to write about it, though, was the love in your eyes as you looked at your baby girl. For that moment, nothing else mattered to you; she was your whole world, a wee girl and her Daddy. It gave my heart the warm fuzzies to watch. My eyes still well up when I think about it.

Why am I gushing on about this? It’s simple. I want you to remember. I want you to remember that exact moment when it was just you and her in your own little world, not noticing themusic, the cake, or the baby-crazy lady a few tables over. You connected, you were bonding, you were loving this adorable little human with everything in your soul. Remember this, Daddy, because there will be times in the next eighteen years when you don’t feel quite as close to her. Buckle up, Buttercup, because parenting is no joke.

There will be sass, hopefully less rather than more, but at some point, she will assert herself and it will completely take you by surprise. I still remember hearing that first, “I don’t have to listen to you!” pop out of the mouth of my sweet boy and it rocking my world. Oh, yes, there will be sass and the bigger they are, the worse it can get. Prepare yourself.

There will be slammed doors, maybe from her, maybe from you. (I am guilty of this after losing my temper because of, you guessed it: sass.) There will be angry tears, cries of, “You’re SO unfair!”, and rolled eyes. There will be friends of hers that you can’t stand, hours of PBS Kids, and endless messes to clean up. There will be times when you wonder what you were thinking. It is so important that during those difficult times, you remember those beautiful moments, the moments like I witnessed, where all is right in your world. Those are the moments that will get you through those tough ones, like when you’re trying to figure out how to get nail polish off of a wall or dealing with explosive diarrhea in the middle of the night. (All over the bathroom. Enough to where you have to get entirely new bath rugs, towels, and shower curtain and spend two hours bleaching everything else. I’m not kidding. Seriously, I have PTSD from that night.)

There are moments that I hold onto now, with Youngest Child being a teenager. Teenagers, you see, are their own special category. They can be both extremely frustrating and incredibly lovable, often in the same day. The same teenager that whines and moans about emptying the dishwasher or cleaning the lizard cage can say something profoundly sweet in the next minute, sometimes without an ulterior motive. In a word, they can be a challenge. I digress…

One of the moments that I hold onto with Youngest Child is when he fell asleep on my chest on the couch. He was around six months old, still a little bobble-head, and had been having a difficult time settling down to his nap. He wanted to be with his mama, and snuggled up to sleep so sweetly in my arms that I just let him take his entire nap on me. He little cheeks were so soft and he was so warm and cuddly that I couldn’t bear to take him up to his crib. My heart was full, in that moment, life couldn’t have gotten any better for me. When he woke, he realized where he was and smiled at me so happily that it melted my heart even more. It was perfect.

I remember that moment, and many others, when he comes home covered in mud on my clean floors, when he stalls so he doesn’t have to clean his room, when he “forgets” to let me know who he was with. Those moments remind you that you can get through this, that you do have this bond with your child. And, lest I completely scare you off, it does get better. They start understanding why you made the rules that you did and, as they get more independent, they understand you better. We’re experiencing this with Oldest Child right now and, let me tell you, it is balm for a parent’s soul when they have to clean their own place.

New Daddy, these moments you have right now are precious, something that you will look back at with misty eyes the older she gets. I still can’t watch family videos without tearing up. You’ll make tons of wonderful memories, plenty to draw from during those difficult times, but I’m telling you to not take those moments for granted. Treasure them, cherish them, just as you do that baby girl of yours. Children should be cherished, they should be loved with our whole hearts, even when they make us crazy. We have to take a step back, cool down, and remember. Remember that toothless grin, that grip of a tiny fist around one of our fingers, the sloppy, open-mouthed kisses, the first, “I love you”. spoken in a tiny voice.

You’ve got a good thing going, New Daddy. I wish you and your little girl much love. Thank you for letting me be a witness.

 

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I’m becoming jaded by the news and I don’t like it. I detest the ugliness, racism, misogyny, lies, and disregard for the environment in our country today and it makes me feel hopeless. I don’t understand why people intentionally ignore facts, excuse blatant wrongs, hurt each other, and don’t take responsibility for their actions. I don’t understand why adults ridicule traumatized children. This country needs a big dose of Dr. Phil and/or God right now, but I have to focus on something else for a minute. I have to, or else the anxiety becomes my whole world. I have to focus on good, beautiful things that I love. Here are some of them.

  • My husband, for so many things, but his hand on my hip as we sleep is something that makes me love him all the more. I’m a light sleeper and I have a lot of bad dreams. Most of the time, when I wake up, Marty is there, a reassuring presence who makes everything alright. (Even if he is snoring loudly.)
  • My boys, individually and all together. They’re so unique, I love talking with each of them alone. And then, when they’re together, it’s like having a heap of puppies romping through the house, except the puppies shoot dart guns, play baseball, and creatively insult each other.
  • Fuzzy kittens. Enough said.
  • My neighborhood party store. Brothers Steve and Randy know me and sell me my weekly MegaMillions ticket on my runs. It’s like Cheers, but not a bar.
  • My theatre. Well, not my theatre. My niece thought I owned it, but no, lol. It’s a place where I’m accepted and I can be myself. I can express myself. A nice place to be.
  • My penpal/dear friend, Sabrina. She lives an ocean away, but is such a kindred spirit. And she puts up with my crappy Italian.
  • Music. It gives so much meaning to life. Hamilton, Pentatonix, and Lindsey Stirling are my current obsessions.
  • Writing. I have an outlet. I’m sort of good at it, but still have a lot to learn. This week, I completed a novel on Bessie Blount, the real one, not the sleazy HBO version. Accomplishment.
  • Babies. Babies are my heart, my joy. Incredible innocence. They’re a promise that life goes on.
  • My church. My church is progressive, including people of all races and sexual identities. I love that.
  • London. London is my dream, my hope, my destiny. I’ve never felt more at home anywhere in the world. Six years now… it’s been too long.
  • Italy. Italy is life to the tenth power. I can’t wait to get back.
  • Cadbury Mini-Eggs. Can’t help it, I adore them.
  • History
  • My therapist, Renee. She’s listened to me for seven years now and I adore her. Most of the time. Not when she’s telling me something that I don’t want to hear, but I know it’s for my own good, but, yeah, she’s awesome.
  • Ireland. Such fond memories of an impossibly beautiful place where I went with some amazing people.
  • Genealogy. I’m a sucker for historic records and long-ago grandparents.
  • Easter candy. Right now, this is an essential part of my diet.
  • God. I saved the best for last. Prayer is essential in these times of confusion/craziness and God remains my rock, every day. My spirituality keeps me centered, grounded, and keeps me sane.

Take some some time and reflect on what makes you happy. Leave it as a comment if you like. I’d love to hear what you love.

Until next time, a presto.

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I have dear friends, a married couple, who have very recently become parents to an absolutely beautiful baby boy. This little boy is so loved by all, surrounded by adoring family members, and will undoubtedly have an amazing life. It’s wonderful to see them so happy, excited by their sweet boy, ready to be the best parents that they can possibly be.

Seeing their joy has made me reminisce a lot about my own baby boys. I’ve loved all (well, most of) my boys’ growing stages, but there’s something so special about those few couple of years, something that you can never get back. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of stressful times, but the sweet and the stressful work together to make a family.

I’ve always loved babies, anyone in my family or circle of friends can tell you that. I have quite the reputation for being a baby stealer at family events, loving to hold those tiny warm cherubs, talking to them and rocking them to sleep. It’s nothing that I can explain, but I see a baby and my heart just melts into a puddle.

I was the oldest sister and the oldest cousin in all of my family branches so I was naturally the babysitter when I was old enough. I remember telling my mother that I wanted ten babies when I grew up and feeling totally insulted when she laughed at that. I think I was around nine years old when I said it, so I, understandably, had no concept of what it would take to raise ten babies, but my nine-year-old heart just knew that babies equaled love.

By the time I had my first baby, I had had more than ten years of experience with newborns and was quite comfortable with their wobbly heads and changing poopy diapers. Still, there are things that babysitting doesn’t prepare you for, the most important being sleep deprivation. I remember waking up with Oldest Child at some ungodly hour and trying to get him back to sleep when all he wanted to do was play, his bright blue eyes staring at all the shadows. I eventually sort of got used to running on broken sleep and the zombie feeling that came with it until they began to sleep through the night.

That was a whole new world, as was the necessary evil of taking my babies to get their shots. They would be so happy at first, cooing at the doctor while she checked them out and playing until the nurse came in. The nurses were always apologetic for what they were about to do. quickly swabbing with alcohol and then doing the deed as quickly as possible, but it never failed. Their eyes would open wide, their bottom lips would quiver, and then a heartbreaking wail would ensue, communicating their pain to the entire office and often setting up a chain reaction before I would guiltily swoop them up to comfort them.

The worst was when they had to get more than one shot. The element of surprise could only happen once, so the nurses had their work cut out for them. Middle Child, in particular, had set himself against needles since he was born. When he was two weeks old, he contracted RSV and was hospitalized for three days. Before the doctors knew that it was RSV, however, they wanted to test him for meningitis, which required a spinal tap. They wouldn’t even let me in the room, so I sat rocking in a chair in the hospital hallway just outside the door listening to my precious boy rage at the indignities being foisted upon him, tears uncontrollably streaming down my face, physically holding onto the chair to prevent myself from just running in and scooping him off the table.

A few minutes later, the doctor came out, shaking her head as she pulled off her latex gloves.

“We’re not going to be able to do the spinal tap”, she said. “He won’t let us.” As traumatized as I was, I also felt a twinge of pride the my two-week-old had the moxie to refuse to let a team of doctors stick a needle in his spine. I was a little less prideful when four years later, Marty had to take Middle Child to get a shot of antibiotics for an infection in his foot. When they returned home, I asked Marty how it had gone.

He fixed me with a withering look and said, “You mean you couldn’t hear him?” Apparently, it had taken three nurses to hold him down for one injection, something that he’s still proud of to this day.

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I miss how unbelievably curious they were as babies. Everything was fascinating. Everything needed to be explored. Knocking block towers over was endlessly funny, as was playing peek-a-boo with an urp cloth. Watching them grasp things for the first time, both literally and figuratively, was a joy to see. I am blessed that my family is very much a family that loves small children and takes the time to really be with them, so watching my family members, especially my grandparents, interact with my babies has given me memories that I will treasure forever.

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The best thing about having babies, though, were the snuggly bonding times, often right after feeding and before a nap. There’s just something so precious about that time, when your baby is looking you right in the eyes and you can feel that they’re saying a million things to you with their eyes, you feel that love just well up in your heart like nothing you ever felt before and you recognize that these moments are fleeting and will soon be gone. You feel the curl of those chubby little fingers close over your thumb (or your ear, in Middle Child’s case) and watch their eyelids flutter closed, then snap back open because they want to keep looking at you, but sleep is winning out and they finally can’t fight it anymore. Their whole little body relaxes against you and even when you know that it’s safe to move them to their crib, you don’t want to because you just want to capture that moment forever and ever. Eventually, though, you gently kiss that chubby cheek and lay them down so that you can get something done around the house, but there’s always a tinge of regret about it.

Nap times aren’t always like that. There were plenty of times when they just cried and cried themselves to sleep as we walked/bounced them around the house, or we were too impatient to appreciate the moment, especially if they were being stubborn about taking a much-needed nap and we had things to do. Youngest Child was notorious for his twenty-minute naps, or for waking up the moment he was laid down in his crib, but when they did happen that way, it was beautiful and special.

I know that babyhood isn’t glamorous and I’ve romanticized it here a bit. There are plenty of messy, frustrating, moments, too, like the crying for no reason, diaper explosions, stuffy noses, projectile vomiting, and messy baby food in the hair, but I tend to forget those; not completely, but the rough times aren’t the first things that I think about when I remember how my boys have grown up. Then there were crazy times that have turned into funny stories now, like when Middle Child completely dismantled Marty’s Easter basket. Or when Youngest Child had such a bad diaper blowout in an Indiana restaurant that I had to throw away his clothes and give him an impromptu bath in the restaurant sink. (Sorry, Perkins.) All three boys urped into Marty’s mouth at least once each and Oldest Child’s diaper leaked onto my Grandma’s pantsuit at a party, leaving a big wet spot. Good times, but better stories now.

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I have no doubt that my friends will have their share of moments, too: sweet ones, funny ones, and incredibly frustrating ones. Parenting is not for the fainthearted and there will be tons of mistakes made, things that they will wish they could do over again, feelings hurt, doubts raised. There will be boo-boos kissed, songs to sing, and wet, sloppy, open mouth kisses. I’m excited for them and all that they have yet to experience.

Through all of my own parenting journey, I know one thing for sure: my nine-year-old self was right.

Babies equal love.

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From my earliest memories, I always wanted to be a mother. I had a bevy of babies that I would wrap up, feed bottles to, change diapers, and talk to, including my actual baby doll, Jill, three Cabbage Patch kids, and an assortment of stuffed animals. They are some of the very few things that I saved from my childhood. I loved playing mommy, it was always in me, and I looked forward to the day when I would have my own real babies.

When those real babies began arriving, I was exhausted and sometimes overwhelmed or irritated, but totally and completely in love. I still am, even though they’re all bigger than me now. My job was very simple to me: I was entrusted with these new souls, these helpless little squishy beings that I brought into the world and depended on me for everything. It was my job to protect and nurture them into becoming caring and wonderful adults one day. Did I and do I continue to make mistakes? Oh, yes, indeed. There are things about raising them that I would go back and do differently if I could, times when I let adult problems overwhelm me and I would lose focus, times when I was just too tired to play or I didn’t listen properly. But I will tell you this: I tried my best to make sure that they knew that they were loved and wanted, no matter what. I hope they felt that way, I hope they still do, because I wouldn’t trade them, or the experience of raising them, for the world

That being said, I know that not all women are geared that way and I get that. I have dear friends who have always loved on my kids and the kids of other friends and family, but are very content not having any of their own. I admire that, because, let’s face it: there’s a lot of pressure for not only women, but people in general, to have children. Kids are a humongous life change and commitment, but society pressures couples to have them anyway. Women especially, who choose to remain childless, are often called selfish or unnatural if they choose to not have kids, a totally unfair judgement. Society doesn’t make it easy to make those decisions permanent, either. Women of childbearing age who seek out voluntary sterilization are often turned down by doctors, told that one day they may change their minds. How insulting! Sterilization is a pretty intense operation for a woman, I seriously doubt that anyone would go through that on a whim, not to mention that it is incredibly condescending to question a decision like that, but I digress.

So, why am I writing about this? I read an article the other day that infuriated me about parents who regret being parents, which again, I understand that someone could feel that way.  In a perfect world, every baby would be wanted and born into a loving environment where all of their needs are met. Unfortunately, not every child brought into this world is wanted or loved. People have children sometimes because they feel like they are supposed to, because of restrictive birth control issues, or because it’s expected, rather than having a real desire to parent. It would be a terribly difficult situation to be in, one that isn’t true for me, but I definitely have sympathy for those who find themselves there.

No, my beef isn’t with parents who regret having children, it’s with the parents who regret having children and then publicly tell the world about it at the expense of the feelings and well-being of those children. That second part is definitely not okay.

There have been several articles written in the past few years by both women and men who regret having children and then decide to write about it, using their own names and stories, such as in the case of Corinne Maier, author of No Kids: 40 Reasons Not To Have Children.  Google it, it’s amazing how many sources there are. As much as I think that those feelings of regret are legit for a lot of people, is it really ethical to air those grievances when those very children will very likely hear or read them one day? Simple answer: No! No, it isn’t. It’s never okay for a child to hear that they should never have been born.

To be fair, many of these articles contain comments from parents who are remaining anonymous or who are using pseudonyms. There are even closed Facebook groups for parents who regret having kids, with the idea that it is a support group. Again, I understand that those feelings are real, even among parents who initially wanted children, and having an outlet to discuss those feelings with others could definitely be therapeutic. In fact, I think that therapy is an excellent idea in general. But it was shocking to me to see how many parents did not bother to conceal their identities, who openly stated that their lives would have been better if they had never had their kids.

Normally, I’m all about being open to ideas and feelings, truly I am. I draw the line, though, when airing those ideas and feelings can only serve to hurt innocent people, especially kids. Kids can’t fight for themselves, they need adults to stand up and do it for them. If your own parent doesn’t accept you, how does that shape your self-worth in relation to the rest of the world? Articles and statements like that are extremely damaging.

Children have no choice about whether they are born or not. They come into this world as innocents, helpless and needy. Part of parenting is to not only fulfill their physical needs, but their mental and emotional ones. When those needs are not met, the emotional damage is extreme and lasts a lifetime. I’m no psychologist, but I’ve had the very eye-opening experience of working with children who were victims of abuse and neglect for most of their lives. Underneath the exterior of violent outbursts and abusive speech, they were still children, desperately looking for someone to trust, for someone to love them. The child who had cussed me out right and left and tore my room apart one day would come into my classroom the next day, lay his head on my shoulder for the entire lesson, tell me that I was the best teacher ever, and let me mother him a little. As damaged as they were, that instinct to be taken care of, to feel that someone out there gives a damn, was still present, as it is in all children.

Children not only want, but need to feel loved and accepted by their parents; it’s a basic life necessity. Sadly, it doesn’t always happen. Families can be dysfunctional. There are so many world problems that it can be difficult to be present with kids and to give them everything they need. But what purpose does it serve to tell a child that if you had to do it over again, you wouldn’t have had them, that they should never have been born, that they should not exist? It’s selfish and destructive, no good can come from it. I can’t even imagine it’s cathartic for the person saying it. What comes next after that moment? What do you say when your child reads in an article or a book that your life has been dismal since he or she came along? How would you ever repair that? I don’t know if you could.

We live in a society where everything is overshared. Social media provides an easy platform for us to get things off our chests and say things online in the heat of the moment, especially when we’re angry or frustrated. I know that I’ve been guilty of that, especially when social media first started becoming a thing. Opening up about things, speaking one’s mind, and speaking truth are all very trendy, but I firmly believe that there are some things that should not be publicly shared. Telling your kids that you regret having them is one of those things.

So, what to do then with those feelings if one has them? Again, therapy is GREAT. I should know, I’ve been in it long enough. There could also be underlying problems that a therapist could diagnose that might be contributing to those feelings, such as depression or anxiety. From what I’ve read in these articles (I tended to be a bit obsessed once I started reading), there are also support groups where one can talk about these feelings without hurting the children involvedHopefully, actively addressing those feelings and having a support system instead of taking them out on kids will help temper the angst into something more manageable.

A wise neighbor once told me that with children, the days can be long, but the years are short. As parents, we only have so much time with our kids, especially when they’re little. We think the sleepless nights will never end, the diapers will never end, baseball season will never end (oops, maybe that one’s just me), but it all will and one day, they’ll be gone and the house will be empty. Depending on who you are, this might make you happy, or, in my case, you will tear up every time they leave after a visit home. Whatever the case, a parent’s job is to turn out grown kids who are prepared to be a contributing member of society. If a child believes that he or she should never have been here, what motivation will they have to believe in themselves, to be joyful, to have a happy life?

To wrap it all up, parents have good days, parents have bad days. It’s a parent’s job to raise the children they have to the best of their ability, whether they regret having them or not. It can be a tough racket at times, mistakes will be made, but if you brought them into the world, you owe it to them to give them every possible chance at having a successful life. That starts at home, in the heart.

Until next time.

 

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(This post will have absolutely nothing to do with anything political, of that I can assure you, so any readers who have previously disagreed with my political views have nothing to fear. Or to fight about. Not that my feelings have changed in any way, but it’s very soul-sucking to have to argue and defend all the time, especially after the Christmas craziness and play rehearsals kicking into high gear. I need a break. Just wanted you to know before you started reading.)

I was inspired by a meme on Facebook today. It asked the reader to judge the year based on the difference in where you were as a person at this time last year to where you are now. I know, I know, it’s a Facebook meme, but this one got my attention because I made a major life decision at the end of last year and I’ve been asked a lot about it recently this holiday season, mostly by people I haven’t seen in a long time. Having to answer these folks has made me think about the place I’m now, as compared to last year, and this is what I’ve come up with.

At this time last year, I was kind of a mess, mentally and emotionally. I was at the end of my rope as a teacher; depression and anxiety were a daily struggle that I was having a tougher time fighting as each day passed. I made the choice to take a pay cut, leave the profession that I had acquired several thousand dollars in student loans to go into, and went to work as the office administrator for my church. At the same point this year, I can say with certainty that leaving classroom teaching was one of the best decisions that I could have made for myself. There were parts that I loved: interacting with the kids one-on-one, light bulb moments for the kids, some silly moments, my teaching assistant and friend, Nicole, the hugs and pictures. But the bad had outweighed the good for me. There were plenty of times that I cried all the way home or in the shower from certain interactions or from work situations that seemed hopeless, all the while putting on a brave face during the school day so that I wouldn’t be seen as weak or soft. I was cranky at home, snapping at the kids for small, stupid things, constantly on edge. I was always defensive, feeling like I always had to be on my guard. I felt constantly defeated, that nothing would ever be happy again. I felt trapped.  I know it sounds pretty dark, and my thoughts did get fairly dark, but that is a very common depression symptom and it was true for me then. I want you to see the state of mind that I was in, how ugly it was.

There are teachers who deal with those circumstances just fine, Mr. Marty Man being one of them. He can leave work at work, talk down any outraged parent, and deal with horrible behavior without so much as an eyebrow twitch. My parents-in-law were good at that, too. I’m just not built that way. I internalize the criticism, take it home with me, dwell on what was said, and dread having to deal with the situation again. Like for days and even weeks. Parent-teacher conferences and report cards were a nightmare. While I always gave the grade that the student earned, I knew which ones would turn into a big deal and what would be blamed on me with personal attacks on my personality and teaching ability, even though I always felt that I did my best, but it didn’t matter.

On the other hand, there were absolutely fantastic kids, parents, and extended families, some who still stay in touch. There were some good times, really good times. When I first started student teaching, and then for a long-term sub assignment in the same school (6 months!), I loved it. My cooperating teacher was amazing and the school had a close supportive staff. I enjoyed teaching for that first year and if it had kept going that way, I may have stayed in. For whatever reason, the circumstances changed and it all began to fall apart after that. I know that I was able to reach some kids, that there were kids I could help, but ultimately, I felt that I wasn’t an effective teacher. It’s a horrible feeling. Kids deserve the best, even if they’re obnoxious and difficult to like. I do believe that, from the bottom of my heart, but I found it really hard to put into practice another reason to leave the profession. I’m not good with sassy and difficult. Kids deserve a teacher who can see past that and there are some children who aren’t as easy to love as others. I hate typing this, admitting it to the world, but it’s true. Difficult kids need love, too, and being a classroom teacher isn’t for everyone.

My family has noticed the changes since I left teaching, my kids especially. Mama has a much longer fuse than she used to, the snappiness is much reduced, and I’m much calmer, less prone to black depression holes. The depression holes aren’t gone, but I have more energy stores to deal with them than I did before. They don’t last as long.  I’ve been spending a lot of time with my beloved theatre this year and not feeling torn in five different directions with all of the work at home hours. There is a lot of guilt, I do admit, about the decrease in pay and I’m not sure quite how that’s going to pan out in the long run, but for this moment, this very moment, I’m okay where I am. Why is that a good thing? Because I hadn’t felt that way in several years.

So, on the occasion of this New Year, I toast to change. I toast to scary, freaking difficult decisions, and I toast to dreams that turn into goals.

Saluti.

 

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I’m finding it difficult to get in the Christmas spirit this year. Actually, it’s been this way for the past few years, so I don’t blame any particular event of 2016. I still find the story beautiful and meaningful, the lights pretty, the cards welcome. I’ve done all the shopping, all of the wrapping (almost), and made a respectable amount of cookies. I’ve sung the songs and felt my heart stir with the beauty of the melodies and lyrics, but yet… I don’t feel it. The magic hasn’t been there.

I will love spending time with my family on Christmas Day, chaotic as it can be. I want to see my nieces and nephews in their joy, and even their eventual crankiness, with all of the excitement. I want to see my brothers and sisters (including the brother- and sister-cousins), parents, aunts, and in-laws that I don’t spend nearly enough time with. I will grumble when making dinner, as I always do, but it will be good-natured. I will drink too much wine, laugh too much, and get all of the dishes done Christmas night because I don’t want to wake up to a mess. I’ll crash into bed around midnight and sleep in the next day until 8:00 or so. (My younger self would have thought that pathetic, but she didn’t have kids.)

I know a lot of people feel the Christmas magic every year, but the last time I remember having the “magic” was sometime when my kids were smaller. I have such fabulous memories of dancing with Oldest and Middle Child around the living room to Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, watching them rock out over and over again in their Pull-Ups as Clarence Clemons belted out the saxophone part. They will disown me for sharing this memory, by the way, but it’s worth it. I miss the astonishment on Youngest Child’s face when Santa KNEW HIS NAME!!! I miss the looks of awe of all three of their faces when it was finally time to go downstairs and see what Santa had left on Christmas morning. I miss the absolute reverence of them putting Baby Jesus in the manger. They still do take turns putting him in, but that sweetness has left with their baby chubbiness. Decorating the tree was a BIG DEAL when they were small, now they’re doing me a favor. Their excitement fueled my own and as they got older, it’s still lovely, but not quite the same.

I don’t know if it’s “normal” to feel this way or not, but I don’t like it. I miss the magic. I want that feeling back. I don’t know if you have to be a kid or have a kid who believes for that to happen, but I want to feel Christmas again. Is it lack of time? Is it extreme busyness? Have I grown up too much, God forbid? Maybe it will come back when I don’t have so much to do, when I can focus on the mystery of the season. I told Mr. Marty Man that one year, I wanted to spend Christmas in Europe, just visiting ancient cathedrals, participating in local traditions, soaking in the feels. He’s not on board yet, but I’m working on it.

In the meantime, even without the magic, I will enjoy the next few days. I hope that all of my readers have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Happy New Year, or whatever it is that you celebrate. I wish you love and a prosperous 2017. Thanks for reading.

Salute.

 

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But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I’ll gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be with you all.

~The Parting Glass

My grandma is dying. There’s no way to write that sentence differently that will make it any better or easier. My grandma is dying. It’s time to say goodbye, but dear God, I don’t want to.

I wasn’t yet blogging when my other grandma, Grandma Ruth, died, almost seven years ago now, or when my grandfathers passed away, but I wish I had been.  It’s difficult to let someone go mentally and emotionally, especially when that person was so much a part of one’s life since it began. Writing helps me to alleviate a bit of that pain. I think grandparents hold a very special place in one’s life, something different than parents. If they’ve been loving grandparents, as I was fortunate enough to have, the loss is felt keenly. I don’t think it ever really goes away.

I’d written about this grandma, Grandma Ballantyne, the last grandparent I have left, a few years ago when she seemed to be taking a turn for the worse. Her memory, among other things, was rapidly declining, although she would try to fake you out if she couldn’t remember something.

“Of course”, she’d say when you asked her a question or tried to remind her of a person, or, “Well, that sounds about right.” It was clear that she knew she was supposed to understand who or what you were talking about, but she didn’t, and she didn’t want you to know that she was lost. It was heartbreaking. The last few months, though, she hasn’t spoken much, except to say, “I love you”. When I saw her last, on Saturday, she wasn’t speaking at all.

We’ve known for a while that Grandma has been declining, but even when she would forget where she was or she didn’t understand what was happening, there were still glimpses of her feisty self in there. Up until a year or so ago, I could still get her to smile when I would tease her about smuggling in some whiskey to the nursing home. We shared a liking for it and red wine, although I admit that these days, I enjoy sipping a nice Merlot a little more than a Jameson. Up until a couple of years ago, I would relay some irreverent message to her from Mr. Marty Man and she would still smile. They had always gotten along famously and she enjoyed his naughty sense of humor. He made her laugh. I love that she loved him so much.

Saturday afternoon, I was privileged to have some alone time with her, to tell her things that I absolutely had to say before she leaves us. Most of them are private, things that I will hold in my heart forever, but I will share one thing with you. I told her that she was my hero, that she always had been. When I said that, her eyes focused sharply on me and she squeezed my hand tightly. Say what you will, but maybe just for that moment, she knew me and heard what I said. That’s what I’m going to choose to believe, anyway.

Grandma was an amazing person to grow up with. She watched me frequently when I was little and when she didn’t have to watch me any more, she would have me over to spend the night, just because. She allowed me to pillage her closets and drawers, including her make-up drawer, and dress up in the most amazing outfits that a six-year-old could muster up. She had a long blonde wig that I was sure had to be the most perfect thing in the world and I festooned myself with it, tons of floaty scarves, and gobs of costume jewelry, convinced that I looked beautiful because she always told me so. She eventually gave me her tiara and black satin gloves that I adored. What little girl doesn’t love a sparkly crown? I still have them and will keep them forever.

I was a pretty solitary kid, for the most part, and she left me to my long hours of playing dress-up and pretend, letting me run a “bar” out of her kitchen and a beauty shop in her dining room. Lord knows that there was almost no limit to her patience as she taught me to cook French toast, pancakes, and smoky links. I still love smoky links, not so much for their taste, but just to remind me of those carefree days. Sometimes, we’d got to McDonalds for breakfast, a rare treat, and get pancakes and sausage in the old Styrofoam containers. She always made me drink orange juice, even though I hated it (I hate pulp) but I did it because it was Grandma, even though I gagged on it.

When the cousins came over and we all spent the night, Grandma would let us build huge blanket forts in the living room and we’d all sleep on the floor. If it was just my cousin, Erin, and me, as it sometimes was, we would sleep on the pullout couch in the back room, always with a cat or two, telling stories for as long as we could stay awake. She didn’t care how long we talked, knowing that we’d eventually drop off. It was a short walk from her bungalow in Allen Park to the corner store, Frances Market, to buy milk for dinner where the clerk always knew that we were “Jackie’s grand-kids” and would give us a long stick pretzel for the walk back. We were usually allowed to buy a candy bar, too. Hershey bars were a favorite, but so were the bubble gum cigarettes, loaded with powdered sugar that puffed like smoke. This was the eighties, remember. smoking was bad, but not too bad, yet.

She had a VCR before anyone else I knew and a camera to go along with it. Every band event, school play, and holiday was lovingly videotaped and labeled. My cousins and I wish that some of those videos would disappear, and maybe they have, but she was determined to record everything. She and Grandma Ruth were always in the audience of everything I ever did. Back then, it was expected. Now, it’s treasured. Just recently, I had the opportunity to appear on television. It happened to be the same day that I was going to drive down and visit her, so she was on my mind. Fifteen years ago, she would have been grilling me about when and what channel it would be so that she could set the VCR to record.

Grandma never told me that I couldn’t do something, or that I was silly for dreaming my dreams. She never worried about logistics. I wanted to go to college at Oxford? Why not? She thought I was brilliant. Veterinarian school, perhaps? Sure thing. I wanted to be a Rockette, just like in the movie Annie? Well, I needed to learn to dance, starting with the box step, so she taught me. I never felt stupid or ridiculous in her presence. No dream was too big, no movie star was unattainable for Grandma’s girl. (All four of us granddaughters were Grandma’s girls.) As I grew up, she treated me as if I were older than I was and talked to me about world affairs and life in general. When I started smoking real cigarettes, she knew about it before any other adult in my life (because I trusted her) and simply sat in the smoking section with me with no rebuke. With Grandma, I knew that my choices, even the bad ones, were my own and that she would respect them and me. She offered advice, but always in a way that made me think about things, to see both sides. I never once felt disrespected or tolerated by her. My thoughts and feelings mattered to her. I felt that; it’s one of the purest, truest feelings of my life.

When my kids were going to be born, she told everyone from the moment she found out. She was so proud to be a great-grandma, and a youngish one at that. I’m so glad that my boys had the chance to know her when they were small, before she began having strokes. She read them stories and played with them in the lake, just like she did with us when we were small. She has four children, nine grandchildren (including my two brothers who are not her biological grandchildren, but that didn’t matter one bit to her ), and twelve great-grandchildren. She loved us all, more than anything.

My grandma is dying. I hate this. I want her back. I want her putting me in the front basket of her bike, riding just down the street, just far enough to make me laugh with joy. I want to ride the bicycle built for two with her again. I want to ask her to read me Cinderella again and again and again, just like she used to until her voice was hoarse. I want her to rub my back until I fall asleep, safe and loved. I want to talk to her again, about boys and sex and love while I’m pretending to be sophisticated and grown-up. I still don’t feel grown-up sometimes. I didn’t visit as often as I should, life gets in the way, but I will regret not being there to visit as much.

I want her to rest. I want her to be at peace. I don’t want her to hurt or to be confused anymore.

My grandma is dying. She is loved.

I need to let her go.

 

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