All I want for Christmas is...to survive.

Yesterday Clay and I met with a Realtor. I don't know what the difference is between a Realtor or a listing agent or whatever. I just know Realtor is capitalized, and that the one we picked to sell our house brought us coffee. She also has a cleaning crew, which lawsy. That, right there, justifies every penny of her commission.

We really needed that cleaning crew, because the house we're selling is our old house, our tiny little jewel of a home (I'm completely rational and businesslike about this whole deal, btw), and for the past couple of years, we've been renting it out. Renters, man. Wow. I don't even know how you get carpets that dirty. Seriously.

So anyhow, there we were yesterday, talking over the work the property needs, and looking at "comps" (which is Realtor technical speak for "houses nearby that are nowhere NEAR as lovely as yours, but somehow determine your house's price, the jerks." See what I mean about the businesslike rational deal? Totes.), and making marketing plans. I suggested we list it at 150% of what she did, and she just chuckled at me. That makes her the third Realtor to think I was being funny. But really. It's a GOOD HOUSE.

Everything seemed totally doable yesterday. Then this morning I woke up and hauled a morning-weakened Sophia downstairs and propped her in front of her breakfast. As I stood there, hands cupped around my coffee, staring bleakly at my girl, who stared bleakly at her breakfast, Raphael looked at the calender. 

"Hey, it's exactly three weeks until Christmas!" he exclaimed. I looked at him, then focused and looked at the calender. And you know what?

It is three freaking weeks until Christmas.

At least, it was this morning.

I started to sweat, thinking of all the Christmas duties and events before me, plus Sophia is Star of the Week at school next week, so I need to find a craft for her whole class to do, and the house-selling chores on top of that. Painting and cleaning up the yard and picking out new carpet and...

I had me a little red and green glitter panic attack.

There is no way. There is simply no way. And yet, here we go! Yeesh, life is crazy stuff.

 


Given, and taken away.

This morning we arrived at Mass just barely in time to sneak into one of the back rows before the processional. Some would call that late, Clay and I gave each other fist bumps. It was the 9 AM Mass, after all. The crack of dawn. Early birds were rubbing their eyes sleepily and glaring at us for making so much noise. Did I ever mention that I'm not a morning person? No, really. I'm not.

Anyhow, since we were what some would term "late," we were in the back of the church, with the rest of the families with little kids, since everyone knows that it's all their fault that we're late all the time, amIright? Sitting right behind me was a family with two young kids, one of whom was a preschool aged little boy. He was wearing a fire fighter costume. I swear to you, the child walked an entire marathon during the service, all on the kneeler located directly behind me. I'm pretty sure that attending Mass while being elbowed in the back of the head regularly grants one something along the lines of God Points. Not sure how those are calculated, but I assume I got a lot of them today. 

Actually, the unnecessary force using fire fighter didn't bother me. I spent a moment getting a little nostalgic over the churning energy of a preschooler, remembering Raphael in particular, how he was forever in costume and never sat down ever at all, world without end amen. Those days, being over, look kind of sweet now. I was forever fretting about him bothering people, and I wish I could go back and stop worrying. He absolutely was bothering people. I didn't have to worry about that at all.

But now? Now he sits still for entire minutes at a time! He was sitting on my left, as a matter of fact, and as I mused about this, he leaned over to ask me a vital question about the burn on the back of his hand? And how it's shiny over here? And not on this side? And why is that, exactly? I shushed him, then realized that it was probably the fourth time in the last five minutes I had shushed him. He still never shuts up. I gave him frowny face, which is a totally valid and constructive parenting technique that I can't seem to stop doing.

About this time I heard whispered chattering on my right, and I turned to see Sophia, talking away with my mom, who happened to arrive at the same time as us. I dished them out some frowny face too, but neither of them took any notice at all, being safely separated from us by Clay and Max. I shifted instead to give Clay your daughter is talking in church face (also valid and constructive). He shrugged back and mouthed, Her GRANDMOTHER. Then he rolled his eyes. 

Raphael leaned over to tell me something else, this time about how one of the altar servers had messed up, and I realized that everyone was standing up for the gospal reading, and I hadn't heard a single word in the last ten minutes. Fire fighter elbowed me in the head, and I stood up, sighing. 

So much for all those God points. 


The hope of empty arms

I know I've told the story before, of how Tre was born and everything changed. Bear with me, please, because those days are on my mind right now.

I was barely more than a child myself, really, and I knew I wasn't ready to be a mom. I cried every single day of that pregnancy. Well, every single day from 10 weeks on, when I finally relented and woke up long enough to take a test. I bounced the rent check the week before I found out I was pregnant. I was newly married, and we had no health insurance. 

What was more, I had all sorts of plans. Two year plans, five year plans, ten year plans. A baby didn't fit in there for a minimum of six years. I knew what I was supposed to be doing. I think that's the main reason I cried. I knew what I was supposed to be doing, and it was all upended. 

But he was there. He was just plain there, and there was (as my grandmother used to say) no way around it but through it. The morning of his birth, I hauled myself to the hospital with more of a sense of duty than breathless anticipation.

But when they handed him to me...oh, that moment. I was forever changed, from a girl with a fistful of plans, into a woman with a life's purpose. My arms were full of the most delicious being I'd ever seen, and I knew why I was born.

A mom. I am a mom.

For nineteen years I've answered the dreaded "what do you do" question just like that. I'm a mom. Sometimes I mention the homeschooling, but mostly I'm a mom. Not just a mom, either, but a mom.

Last week I was standing by the playground after picking up Sophia from school. I'd promised her she could stay and play, so there I was, chatting with two other moms. The talk turned to work. One of them works in...um...finance/insurance? I'm not entirely sure. But she mostly works from home, on conference calls, which sounds like a horrifying kind of hell to me. All meetings, no coworkers to vent to? I can't even imagine. She says it's worth it, because she hardly ever has to wear business clothes. The other one does medical billing, also from home. I listened, genuinely fascinated, because people's stories about how they ended up in their line of work are really amazing. Almost no one says, "Well, I went to college, and my major prepared me to do this, and that's what I've done ever since." Off the top of my head, I can only think of one person. Anyhow.

Eventually, the question swung my direction, what do I do? And for the first time in nearly two decades, I faltered. 

"I...um...I've been homeschooling. This is my last year..."

I AM homeschooling. And that plus driving children to schools should be enough. IS enough, for me. But for the first time in this whole lifetime of being a mom, I didn't feel like enough. 

The truth is that the very best parts of my job, as a mom, are being outsourced. Teaching and exploring and talking for hours. These things are being handed over to teachers and friends. As it should be. But even though my days are impossibly full, increasingly my arms are empty. 

I've been debating about including this aspect of it, because it feels a little naked to me, but it is the truth, so here it goes. I wish that my childbearing years hadn't been ended by miscarriage. As I move out of everything I've known, as a mom and a homeschooler, I am dogged by a feeling that I've failed at the one thing I was ever any good at. The one thing that really mattered. That my baby would be alive if I'd done it right. I know that's not true, but knowing it doesn't erase the feeling of it. Also, whether it's hormones or grief, the loss of an unborn baby has left me with an indelible feeling in my arms of longing for a tiny body I should be holding. My arms are not only metaphorically empty, but literally. It aches.

I think it's possible that I haven't really grown up that much since I was a crying knocked-up 23 year old. I find myself again with everything I thought I knew I was supposed to do...over. It leaves me weepy sometimes.

But I also remember that I have been here before. And the last time I was so unmoored, my arms were so beautifully filled. I still do not know what I am supposed to be when I grow up, but through the tears and the fear, I watch in hope of the next astonishing thing. 

 


One week, three pictures, various levels of success.

This week Max finally got his driver's permit. In case you're wondering, the lateness of the getting of said permit is cruel and unusual punishment, and clearly illuminates the horror and pain of being our child.

Also in case you're wondering, a new driver's permit goes a long way toward overcoming that particular kind of suffering.

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Also this week, Raphael went for a different look.

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Whenever he walks into the room, I say, "Awww...why so blue?"

That just never stops being funny. Never.

 

This morning Sophia woke up nearly an hour and a half early. That's 1.5 hours. 90 minutes. As one who is not yet adjusting to the early morning school start as she is, I am a little bitter about this. Anyhow, since she was up early (although still a little groggy, because morning is really not her best time), she decided to get herself all dressed and ready for the day. Usually I present her with her clothes when she finishes her breakfast, because the uniform at her school is sort of complicated and confusing. But this morning she figured it all out (with only a smattering of questions bellowed from her bedroom), and presented herself to me, ALL READY TO GO.

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She was just. so. proud. 


Today was such a day.

Oy, today. Today was a day. Sophia had the day off, for Columbus Day, because apparently people still do that? What's worse, on Friday she told me that her teacher mentioned that there was no school on Monday, and I said, "Oh, I think you misunderstood, sweetheart." Then when we were leaving church on Sunday, Father Ed recognized Sophia as a student and said, "Enjoy your day off tomorrow! No school on Monday!" and I took her by the hand and said (like a big ol' lie-y liar), "Yep, that's right! We're sleeping in!" as though I had any inkling at all about it. Then I came home and finally checked the school calendar, and guess what? Heh. 

So I had to punt on my plans for the day, because Tre was going to meet friends for lunch, and I had been expecting all the other kids to be in school (Raphael has homeschool enrichment on Mondays, so those are paaaaartay days, if by "party" you mean frantic running of errands). But it's fine! Fine! I've been missing Sophia fiercely since she started school, so it would be churlish of me to not enjoy an unexpected day for just the two of us, right? Okay, I did pawn her off on Tre for a few hours, so I could get some things done, but that was as much for them as for me.

Anyway, I asked Sophia what would make her day off special, and she said lunch out and a trip to the park would do it, so that's what we did. However, as we pulled up to the park, I got a call. Without going into details that might embarrass anyone unduly, one of my children was facing disciplinary action at school, and needed to be picked up.

Okay, look. I really am not intending to embarrass anyone here, but I'm mentioning it because 1) it's what actually happened today and 2) sometimes I think I present a sanitized picture of my life that looks way more successful than it really is. Sometimes my kids are jerks, and today was one of those days for one of my kids. It's not a crisis, it's just one of those stupid bumps in the road that make you turn to look deep into the eyes of someone you have loved since before they drew their first breath, someone you would cheerfully take a bullet for, someone you adore and admire and hope every good thing for, and say, "WHAT THE HELL? WHAT. THE. HELL." You know. THAT sort of day. 

I was still dealing with this stuff okay, but yeesh. You do not throw a monkey wrench into my day without ducking shrapnel, okay? I have schedules. OVERLAPPING SCHEDULES. I have places I need to be and support people lined up to make things happen and bring children home at the appointed hours. I immediately hopped on the phone to reconfigure...everything. How long could I stay at the park with Sophia for her promised special day at the park? And if Mom picked up the other (not in trouble) child, when could I drop off that check at that child's school, and could Tre keep Sophia so she didn't have to witness me murdering her sibling? And would there be time to start the stew for dinner when I got back from said murder?

As I wandered around the playground, orchestrating The Afternoon 2.0, I walked past a little boy. Unfortunately, I walked past him just as he hauled back and threw a plane as hard as he could. Into the side of my head.

It was just a foam plane, could not have been lighter and still had actual substance. It did not hurt me, but just made a loud noise against my head and startled me, and I jumped and yelled "OUCH" into the ear of whomever I was consulting with at the moment. The little boy looked back at me with huge eyes and said, "I was just trying to throw it back over there," which isn't technically an apology, but as it is with terrified little boys, I'm pretty sure what he meant was, "OH NO, AM I GOING TO JAIL NOW?" I muttered back that it was fine and walked away, but that was the last straw. With one lightweight plane to the side of the head, all my can-do attitude crumbled, and I became convinced that life was terrible and I was clearly a failure at everything, in every way.

Well, now I'm not sure how to end this, because it sure seems like I was building up to some sort of Lesson there, doesn't it? Maybe about grace and mercy or something fine like that? But all that happened was that I dropped off Sophia with my mom, who was treated to a frantic rant about the sins of the wayward child, I drove off to pick up said wayward child, I did not in fact kill him, and after dinner (beef stew over mashed potatoes, which was EXCELLENT, by the way), we all felt better. Tomorrow is already winging its way toward us, and I suppose all will be okay eventually. 

At least I cleared up that pesky "sanitized picture" problem, right?


Home again, home again

On her dresser, beside her bed, Sophia keeps a little plastic pot, the kind you might find lip balm in. What she keeps in it, though, is a piece of chewed gum. Gross, I know, but it's the last thing Tre gave her before we drove away and left him in Arizona. She sobbed for miles, and when we stopped for lunch, she soberly handed me her slimy wad of gum and asked me to find a safe place to keep it, because she was going to save it FOREVER.

And so there it sits, on her dresser, and I know that's weird and wrong, but you know what's really weird and wrong? Having a member of your family peel away and live somewhere else. I know, I know, it's not "wrong," not actually. But it feels strange and lonely and stumbling sometimes, as we all try to figure out how we fit together now, with one of us gone. When Tre had been gone several weeks, we sat down one night to say evening prayers. The kids take their turns in order of age, starting with the oldest, and this night Max sat silent, waiting. Someone nudged him to go ahead, and he looked around, startled. "What? Where is Tre? Why isn't he here? I miss him!"

It was silly, because he'd been gone for weeks, but it was also so baldly true, the startled realization that nothing seemed in the right place somehow, that no one laughed.

This weekend, however, Tre came home. Just for a few days, but we are fizzy with joy over having him here. Sophia WILL NOT get out of his grill. I just now sent Max and Raphael up to their beds, even though they were supposed to be there an hour ago, because I could not bring myself to interrupt the way they hover around him. The comfortable bickering, the physical need to sit next to him and interrupt him as he tries to study. It's all so lovely and familiar and right.

Tuesday he goes home. Mom warned me the other day, that the first few years after your kids leave home, when they come back for a visit, the leaving hurts just as much as the first time. I'm not thinking about that right now.

Right now I'm just soaking it in, the content feeling that I can turn my phone off, all the way off, at night, because everyone is home. Tuesday is coming, but for now, we're all here.

Trehome

And it's very good.


School morning haiku

Open the curtains

And wake the tired wee girl.

She thinks I'm a jerk.

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Here is your breakfast

The same thing you always have.

Please get off the floor.

 

Play lunchbox tetris

Realize I think cheese flavor

Really is protein.

 

Okay, time to dress.

Yes, you have to wear panties.

Please get off the floor.

 

Sock is inside out.

Change it or leave it that way.

It will not be sad.

 

Sock. Seriously.

Put it on or turn it out.

The sock does not care.

 

Please get off the floor.

I am now so very old.

Put on the sock. Now.

 

All dressed! So well done!

Now let's comb your pretty hair.

Yes. Again. Today.

 

Shoes on! Grab backpack!

To the van and buckle up!

Where is your backpack?

 

Cars go left and right

A ballet, keeping me stuck

Here in my driveway.

 

Race into the lot

We scramble out of the van

She points out her friends

 

She gets in her line.

They walk away, she looks back

And then she is gone.

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Happy National Coffee Day, Everyone!

This morning, after I dropped off Sophia at school, and before I dropped off Raphael at his Monday school, I swung through a drive through for a latte. When the lovely and blessed woman handed me my warm cup through the window, I clutched it to my chest and murmured, "Coffee. Oh coffee. You're the only one who understands me."

Raphael, sitting next to me and messing around with my phone, glanced over and said, "Mom. I think it's time to examine your relationship with coffee."

Being the loving and gentle mother that I am, I recognized this as an opportunity to open up dialogue on the subject, to encourage a free and open exchange of thoughts. And so I turned to my beloved son...

...and grabbed a fistful of his tshirt and growled in his face, "DO YOU WANT TO SAY THAT AGAIN, PUNK?"

(In case anyone is worried, Raphi found me nearly as funny as I found myself at that moment. Which is pretty darn funny.)

 


Hoping

The other day I was standing in the kitchen, thinking about something. Just thinking, but it was big thinking. As I stood there, holding a glass of water and staring at one of the pendant lights hanging over the counter, Max threw the front door open and entered. He never just comes home. It's more like he abandons the real world with a flourish and a scattering of backpack, shoes, and papers. 

He came thumping into the kitchen, dropping more detritus on the counter. 

"Hey, Mom," he said, then paused to take a second look. "You okay?" I nodded blankly, then roused myself and said, "Yup. I'm fine."

Max shook his head. "No you're not." He grabbed a bunch of grapes, then moved in to wrap a hug around me. "Love you, Mama."

And then he was gone.

You know, Max is 16. That's a scary age for the calmest and most thoughtful of kids. Max is not the calmest or most thoughtful of kids. He downright terrifies me sometimes. I'm not sure if he's going to grow up to be a homeless criminal or worse, the president. 

But there are moments like this when I see the outline of the man he almost is. And whatever else is true, if he grows to be someone who notices the people around him, cares about them, but doesn't let their burdens weigh him down, well.

I think he might be just fine. 


It all may be okay.

The truth is that I don't think I ever quite emerged from the dark when Eva died. Not completely. The pain receded eventually, but that's not the same thing.

And then this summer. I suppose I could go back and parse it out - this stressor on top of that one. Facing the boys' biological father for the first time in twelve years, Tre graduating. Everyone being sick for so long. Carmi dying. Tre leaving. Sophia starting Kindergarten. I'm having some health problems. Does it matter why? Somewhere along the line I went from grimly trudging along, to finding myself at the bottom of the ocean. The weight of all the water in the world on top of me, no light, no air. 

During the day I was limp with exhaustion. All I wanted was to crawl into bed. During the night I lay in bed and stared at the darkness. Sleep was a bewildering puzzle, and there was no escape. 

I am, by nature, a busy person. Lots to do, many details to see to. But all that busyness dwindled, just slowed and faltered and stopped. It's not just this blog I've neglected, it's everything. 

And everyone.

About a month ago I was at a doctor's office, trying to figure out some of the aforementioned health issues, and mentioned that I was fatigued. Just. so. tired. She looked up at me from her note pad.

"Every day?" I nodded. She paused and made very deliberate eye contact. "Do you cry often?"

And dammit. Tears pooled. 

Do I cry often? Whenever I'm alone. Or confronted about anything by anyone. When I'm in the shower. In the car. When Clay falls asleep and I'm awake, listening to the nightime noises of the house. I cry as often as I fail people, so. Yes. 

She recommended antidepressants, which I know. A shocker, right? I said no at first. I insisted they don't work well for me. I cried about it.

A few weeks ago I went out to lunch with a friend. We talked and talked and shoved awkward bites of salad in our mouths (that part was mostly me). At one point she put down her fork and looked at me and said evenly, "So. How are you? Really?"

The tears. Again. I told her, mostly truly, how I was. Then I heard my own voice say, "I'm thinking about going on antidepressants." Because it turned out that I was.

Eventually, I even made an appointment to get the damn pills. 

I just started them last week. I know it's supposed to take weeks for them to work, really. But shortly after my second dose, I was attending Mass. I always cry at Mass. I started to do what I do, which is to review everything to figure out where I went wrong. And when I say everything, I do mean EVERYTHING, the entire history of salvation. This, as you can imagine, takes a while, because that particular story is one of lovely and unmerited grace, and it's not easy to turn that into a tale of how this one person really sucks.

Not saying it can't be done, just saying it's tricky.

As I started on my own personal anti-litany, a thought pierced everything. All of it.

"What if it's all going to be okay?"

That may not sound profound, but if you'd been in my head recently, you'd know that it is. It's light and air and space, and it's wonderful. It just might all be okay.

I don't want to oversimplify things here. This not a happily-ever-after post. I am wobbly. I'm becoming aware of just how much I have let slide. Some of it I can fix, some of it I can't. I'm trying to make one difficult phone call or email a day. I've managed one so far. 

But hey, for today, there is air. And light. And space.

And it all may very well be okay.