Fish tales.

Dear Kid,

What for having read all those books about how to raise children to be the harbingers of crunchy, progressive kick-assery, I, your loving mother, am gearing up to say something absolutely brilliant when you tell me (because, of course you’ll tell me) that you’re thinking about having sex for the first time, smoking pot, getting a tattoo of a dragon on your butt. (Spoiler alert. Two words. Think carefully.) But then shit got real.

Your dad left on this business trip and we were alone together, you and me and my insecurities about getting it all “right” – work/life balance, your routine, the ratio of structured to free play, a healthy, yet satisfying, school lunch. That day, our fish died. That day, I learned there’s nothing like untimely and completely unexpected loss of life to compel a growin’-up kid to start thinking critically, asking all the tough questions.

It was the barrage of questions that, at first, made me wish I had better answers, any answers, something more than sad speculation. (“Maybe ‘dead’ is like the part of sleep you can’t remember. But I don’t know. I’ve never been dead.”) WWYFS? What would your father say? I didn’t know. There was no time to phone a friend, either. So I scrapped “right” for the best I could do, and – so far as I can tell – it worked out just fine.

It went down like this: We walked together toward the back door. My arms were full of an over-sized pocketbook, your backpack and a couple of bags of groceries. Over the top of those grocery bags, I saw it. I saw it just as I heard your shrill scream: Oh, no! What’s happening? Mama! The fish! We have to save them!

The man-made, backyard body of water, our pond, had managed to spring a leak. The family fish were laying sideways in the little puddle that remained at the bottom alongside the grinding motor that controlled the fountain which ceased to flow. And there she was, our favorite fish, Georgine, taking the sporadic, deep breaths of a creature one fin flapping in that Great Ocean Beyond. Despite our Herculean efforts to restore water levels, by morning, when we went to check on her, Georgine was dead. The other fish would follow suit.

What’s the matter with her? Why won’t she wake up?

“She can’t. She’s dead.”

What do we do now?!

“We remember her.”

And we did. I made you turn your back while I scooped her slimy body into the paper cup that would serve as her coffin. And for the whole ride to school and the whole ride home some eight hours later, you wondered whether fish that are dead stay dead. And what about cats? And dogs? And people? (“When they’re finished living, they all die.”) Is dead like dreaming? (“Probably not.”) If a prince comes along and kisses you when you’re dead, does that make a difference? (“Only in story books.”)

The next day – ain’t no rest for the weary – you asked me about my favorite color – in people.

I was too tired to recollect all that best-practice wisdom I amassed while earning my Ph.D. in Self Help and Parenting Literature. My head was full of the latest NPR report about another case of racist brutality toward an unarmed black kid by a white police officer. I thought about the kid, his mother (his poor mother), the officer, the officer’s mother. Did the officer’s mother ever have a conversation with the toddler version of her son like the one I was going to have with my daughter? Was I? Was I really? And what was I supposed to tell you?

“Hmm…” Collect yourself, Ma. And…go! “Why do you ask?”

Because people come in different colors, and I want to know what color you like: Mine? Or Nina Simone’s?

Mississippi, goddamn: Yep. We just had the death talk, and now we were going to talk race. You were swiping through the album art in my iTunes library. And there she was, Nina: whose songbook you learned in lieu of lullabies – young, gifted…and black. You could sing the words to those songs. Songs you didn’t understand. Not yet. Soon. Soon enough. Soon you’d “understand” through the lens of white privilege. But still. It was official. You were no longer “color blind.”

This – this delicate, if mildly uncomfortable conversation – was an opportunity. It was the beginning of an awareness, an acknowledgement of difference, the start of a dialogue about privilege, bias, oppression of black people by white people. We’d get there. This was good. But first I had to answer your question.

“Well, I like them both. You know how I told you I don’t really have a favorite flower because every flower is beautiful? That’s how I feel about people. Every one is so different and so beautiful it’s hard to choose. So in this house, in this family, we don’t pick favorite colors in people. We have some friends who look a lot like us and some friends who don’t look like us, and they’re all our friends, right? Because they tell good stories or make us laugh or because we have fun playing with them.”

One of your best friends is brown, you reminded me – not the same as Nina, more like Buffy Saint-Marie – and you like her because you have the most fun playing dollhouse with her. That’s why she’s your favorite.

“You two are good friends.”

You’re my good friend, too, Mama. Mama, who’s stronger? A girl or a boy?

In the lead-up to bed time (how I worked for bed time!), we had age-appropriate conversations about gender, sexism, economic disparity. I stopped lamenting what I might have gotten all wrong. I started rejoicing in the opportunity to notice, to wonder, to respond, to navigate the messy and the marvelous – together.

Your dad would be home in the morning. A week later, he’d fill that pond with dirt and flowering plants. In reality, a cheap fix. Also, a garden in Georgine’s honor.

“Goodnight, Elbee.”

Goodnight. [Pause] Wait!!!

“What is it?”

Do you think I’m beautiful?

“I know you are.”

That was an easy one,

Mama

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Twirl.

Dear Kid,

You weren’t yet three when some bubble-headed brat (or, more probably, the daughter of one) told you you couldn’t be her friend because you wore “the wrong clothes” to school one day. Your major offense: A pair of pants.

A. Pair. Of. Pants.

In other words, not a dress. And in pants, said this pint-sized waste of air, you just can’t twirl. (The twirl: The measure of the princess. The princess: The measure of your worth as a preschool-aged girl.) You were ostracized from the Fisher Price playhouse, spent recess kicking around wood chips with – heaven forbid – some boys.

So you insisted that tomorrow you’d wear a dress to school. In a dress, you said, you could really twirl. In a dress, you could play princess. In a dress, the Queen Bee of Preschool would be your friend. But in pants…

And then you uttered the five words that that child who knew no better would have you believe and the five words I’d make you regret: “You can’t twirl in pants!”

There it was: The first – and certainly not the last – time in your life someone tried to dupe you into thinking you can’t when you can. Thinking you shouldn’t when you should. Thinking there is one right way – and it isn’t yours. Thinking that yours isn’t good enough. Thinking yours is less than, not equal to.

Look, I get it. I really do. This one time when I was a lot older than you are now – a sophomore in high school – I stopped off at the bathroom on my way to class. I was still settling up when I overheard a couple of older girls chit-chatting outside about a something I wasn’t supposed to hear: My new yellow loafers. (And, Jesus, I loved those shoes. Which, apparently, went perfectly with my super funky, “butch lesbian” haircut.) They speculated the reason I missed the semi-formal that year was because the school wouldn’t allow me to bring my girlfriend. The truth was, I didn’t want to waste even a single second with these people. They suuuuuccked. But in those days, and, indeed, for a long time after (because, the thing is, it takes most of us who ever live our authentic selves a too-long time to come to our senses and do it), I wished I overheard them saying something complimentary. Or, hell, true. As it was, I only put my yellow loafers to the floor once I was sure they’d gone and couldn’t see them. And, from that day forth, I only wore those shoes on the weekends.

I wished somebody, anybody, would have saved me lots of years of giving a fuck by uttering this one simple truth: Very often, it gets better. One day, it’s going to be 15 years in the future and you’re going to see a picture of one of those gals from the bathroom. She’s going to have short hair. She’s going to be wearing loafers. And it’s not going to matter to you if she’s a lesbian. (True story.) One day, something or someone is going to help you put your priorities in perspective the way you did for me the first time I beheld that grainy white blob on an ultrasound screen and a radiologist said “Congratulations.” I’d like to tell you that people will grow out of their shallow or lose their stupid eventually, but sometimes they don’t. And like that wise sage Taylor Swift once said, “The haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” And, baby girl, when they do? You just gotta shake. You’re the key to unlock your own happiness, your own potential.

So I put down that thing I was making for dinner, stared at you standing there, lamenting your sweatpants.

What did you just say?” I asked.

You repeated yourself: You can’t twirl in pants.

“I thought that’s what you said.”

So I took you by the hand, led you outside to some wide open space and, stone-faced, whispered a one word edict: Twirl. You stared at me, quizzical. Tw-irrrl. I repeated with exaggerated slowness, the slowness of a mother who means serious business.

You did. Also slowly. Watching me out of the corner of your eye.

I copy-catted.

“Arms out, like the propellers on a helicopter.” I modeled the motion. “Now faster!”

We picked up speed until, at long last, mother-daughter whirling dervishes, collapsed in dizzy giggles.

I told you that the next time aforementioned someone tries to tell you what you can’t do, who you can’t be, you show them you can and inform them that they don’t know what they’re talking about. For lots of people, the very reason they don’t achieve their fullest potential is because they stop believing they can, after all. This isn’t to say you can actually do everything. But it is to say you should at least try if it’s important to you.

Oh, honey, you can twirl! You can twirl despite and in spite of whatever some know-nothing says. You twirl. You twirl so fast and so free you catch the whole world up in that spin: good people, interesting places, exciting opportunities. Leave your impact. Leave like wreckage anybody, any place, any experience that threatens to halt your motion. You just go. Go, go, go! Go in sweatpants, in dresses, in your birthday suit. It doesn’t matter. Just keep it moving. The only stopping you is you.

Love,

Mama

Posted in Parenting/Toddler | 1 Comment

The Proposal.

Dear Kid,

I was proposed to for only the second time in my life this week.  My special someone told me she loved me “soooo much” before planting a sloppy kiss on my cheek. She gave me her favorite snap bracelet in place of a ring. “Marry me!” she said, and, before I could respond, “Will you be my mommy forever?”

Different from but just exactly like the time your father proposed: I thought my heart would burst with all the love it felt. So I told you.

I love you soooo much, too, Elbee – even if I can’t marry you. And, yes. I’ll be your mommy forever. 

For better or worse, I thought.

Someday – someday too soon – there will come that moment when you’ll forget why it is that you liked me so much. And I won’t be able to shake the way you used to. I’ll give you advice you never asked for, praise your accomplishments in front of some kid you were trying to impress by the way you’re super cool, embarrass you for my taste in “terrible” music. You’ll wish you had some other mommy  – but you’ll be stuck with me. I promise.

Additionally, I vow:

  • To hear you, to really listen. From the start, I’ve found you impossible to ignore. From those sweet little kicks in my swollen belly to new baby cries to temper tantrums to school friends to first loves to the first time somebody breaks your heart to the thing you tell me because you just want someone to be crazy-proud to the 2:00am phone call when you’re off and on your own but not alone. Not really alone, right? Please not alone. Somewhere there’s a mother… She sleeps light.
  • To respect you, your experience, your perspective. There isn’t a doubt in my mind I won’t always get it. But I’m going to try. The other day you told me you wanted to be a princess: the kind who wears a tiara and a pink dress. Look, I’ve never aspired to the crown (except for those couple of weeks when I was five and somebody bought me a She-ra costume). By the power of Grayskull, I aspire to be a supportive mom. And so I asked a lot of curious questions about your castle and made believe I was one of your minions. You were overjoyed for the opportunity to boss me around. And you were stunned: “But, Ma, you’re usually a superhero.” I’m always a superhero, kid. My superhero name is “Mama.” My special power is mothering. The thing is sometimes, as when I know how much it means to my child, I make-believe I’m a duchess. I’m really terrible at it. You don’t seem to notice.
  • To say yes to experiences that will cause you to feel, to think, to grow. To expose you to people and things and places and moments that challenge and inspire. To get the heck out of your way, to stand back and admire your life unfolding just exactly as it should. Paint a picture. Play a sport. Get a job. Make a friend. Study abroad. (I’ll visit. You’ll show me around.) Apply to grad school.
  • To let you fail sometimes. Raised your hand in class and provided the wrong answer? I’m proud of you. You. Raised. Your. Hand. You had something to say. And I’ll wager you’ll get the answer next time. Tried out for the lead in the school play and wound up in the chorus line? Great: You tried out, didn’t you? I’ll be as proud and cheer as loud when the curtain falls. Applied to some fellowship and got waitlisted? Nice. You applied. You did that. And may no child of mine spend her days what-iffing. The pursuit of dreams is something special.
  • To say no. To put my foot down. To pick my battles. Can I have this Barbie? Hell no. What about a tattoo? I’ll think about it. My “no’s” are strategic, rendered where I suspect (or have absolutely no doubt) that they’re in your best interest.
  • To observe appropriate boundaries. I don’t need a hug. I just want one. Also, I’ll only read your journal if I have grave concern for your life, health or safety. I make no pretenses: Some things really are none of my business. And some things that are now, won’t be forever. Read: When you move out this house, go ahead: Treat yourself to that Barbie.
  • To tell the truth. There are some things you learn in elementary school that, if you promptly forget them, won’t matter in the grand scheme of things – except it’s too soon to tell what those things are, so it’s a good idea to pay attention. That pet isn’t living on a farm somewhere; he’s living in your memory. Texting while driving is dangerous. People get sick sometimes. When we’re through living (and sometimes when we’re nowhere close to through living) we die. Nobody really has a clue what happens next. Some people think they know. They call that faith.
  • To tell my truth. And speaking of marriage, I think it’s between two people who can hack it. Straight, gay…G-d love ’em. You’ll find your place where you put it. Hillary 2016!
  • To be right here waiting, no hesitating, to catch up once you realize I’m maybe not so bad and Big Country’s “In a Big Country” is the greatest single of all time. I think you’re alright. I probably-definitely always will.

I love you, ladybug,

Your mama forever.

Posted in Humor, Parenting/Toddler | Leave a comment

Oh, brother, where art thou?

Dear Kid,

There was a time, a brief interlude not so long ago, when you scarcely noticed the stuff other people had that you didn’t. Your basic needs were satisfied and so were you. And then just like that…

You’re special, see? And you’re just like everybody else.

You wanted a train set because there was one at school you liked that you had to share with other kids – who were shitty at sharing. (We got you a train set.) You wanted a teddybear you saw in a catalog I left in the bathroom. Some stranger-kid in the ad made it look so fun to hug. (Your grandmother brought one for you on her last visit. It was twice the size as the one in the catalog. Plus, it was pink.) You wanted to go camping because Peppa Pig did. (We’re actively planning a camping holiday for when/if the weather breaks. And, spoiler alert: You’re getting a sleeping bag for your third birthday.)

Then – and here comes the show-stopper! – you wanted a baby brother because, legit, all your little friends were having siblings. And all you got was…disappointed.

It went something like this. Your friends’ parents had kids – kids roughly between the ages of two and four, like you – who were growing up right before their very eyes. These parents stopped spending so much money on diapers. Or they bought some shoes that were a totally different size from the pair they bought their child just yesterday when her feet were still small and she had those itty-bitty triangle-shaped toenails. Or these moms and dads got a good night’s rest. Or they looked at some baby pictures. Whatever. Then it rained. Or it snowed. Or they drank too much wine with dinner one night and nine months later…

I know all this because sometimes I miss my little baby, too. The difference is, even if it rains, or snows or I drink too much wine with dinner, it won’t matter. That baby brother is something your dad and I can’t provide – at least not without extraordinary effort.

Now, look, you know us: We’re neither lazy nor unmotivated. So, perhaps, if we’re being honest (and we’re being honest) even if siblings were simpler to come by, you’d still be an only child. Because, turns out, we embrace the fact that no amount of rain/snow/wine/sex is going to make a difference. We like our family, a family growing in its own right, as is. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

So there will be no baby brother.

But, chin up, here are some things there will be if you want them (and sometimes even when you don’t). These aren’t your consolation prizes, kid. These are your blessings.

Your teachers. One or two are going to absolutely blow your tiny mind. They’ll teach you things that you’re never going to forget as long as you live – some directly related to some lesson plan, others not. At all. (In fact, some of your “teachers” won’t be trained educators.) They’ll inspire you. They’ll mentor you. They’ll challenge you. Your favorites won’t be the ones who sling easy A’s or excuse lack of effort.

Your friends. Go ahead. Have as many as you like. You’re going to do you: smart, silly, weird, wonderful. You’re going to embrace difference, withhold judgment. For their parts, they’re going to be themselves and flipping love you – even when you drive them crazy. For yours, you’re going to forgive them when they piss you off. Together you’ll play and celebrate, struggle and mourn. If you’re in a jam (and, chances are, they’re in it with you), they’re not going to get you out of it. They’re going to help you help yourself. They’re going to encourage you to live your best and let you know it right away when you’re acting like an ass. Because obnoxious. Because your mom is going to be horrified. Because friends. The family you choose for yourself.

Your family. They’re where you came from. You’re where they’re going. They’ll share their traditions. You’ll pass them along. You’ll call them your own. When you’re together, you’ll have this special history. And you’ll have “home.” And if you catch yourself lamenting not having the opportunity to look after that little brother in your imagination, check up on a first cousin. (You know them. Three of them. All boys. Two of them older than you.) Probably/usually they’re going to be pretty grateful you have their backs, too. Except for when you’re grateful they have yours.

Us. We, your dad and I, are among your teachers/friends/family, sure. We are so proud, so grateful, to have been a part of your beginning. We promise to prepare you as best we can for your middle. (We hope we might take a step back, watch it all unfold.) And then, if we’re very, very lucky, we’ll be long gone for your end. And your “little brother?” He’ll be an afterthought. You’ll be surrounded by so many people whose lives you’ve touched along the way. And you haven’t even met them yet.

Forever,

Mama

Posted in Parenting/Toddler | 3 Comments

The homecoming.

Dear Kid,

Once upon a time, we bought a big green house. I could stop there. But I won’t. Because I’d like to tell you the story of that green house that, by the time you’re old enough to read this, you’ll probably just call “home.” This is the story of our homecoming.

Ten years ago, I was traipsing around the Bronx fresh off the heels of an interview for my dream job. All my life was for this: To be a single girl in the big city, eating roasted chestnuts out of a wax paper funnel and listening to some old man playing jazz saxophone from his front stoop. Except for, of course, it wasn’t. And that feeling like there was something, someone, someplace else waiting on me is the reason I decided if (when, it turned out) I was offered that job, I’d politely decline. And that’s precisely what I did.

A month later, I moved to metro Boston somewhat on a whim (my great-grandma and her grandmother and her grandmother before her and so on and so on all the way back to the Pilgrims lived there so maybe there was something to it). I took a job that was different from anything I thought I wanted – until I did. I worked a 2:00-11:00pm second shift doing impossible work for next to no money  – right alongside this guy who’d grow up to be your dad.  I had just enough to cover the rent for a studio apartment in a left of nowhere town nearby my job and no one I really knew. Not in those days. My unit was sandwiched between a sex offender on the right and a family, newly-arrived from India, on the left: eight people in 400 square feet, whose cooking always smelled better than the Ramen I microwaved for lunch. In that space, which your grandparents helped to furnish, I used to watch late-night TV by myself. I used my renter’s insurance (the infamous Leak Flood of Thanksgiving Weekend 2004!) for the first time there. I lost my favorite necklace in the parking lot. (It was a thin gold chain with a charm shaped like a windmill with moving parts, a souvenir from the year I lived in Amsterdam.) I never found it. I still miss it. I hosted boys for an overnight (your dad and this weird/wonderful kid named Eric, after a moe show). They splattered shake-and-serve pancake mix on the wall. I was still cleaning up after them when I moved out.

A half hour away, on the outskirts of Boston, your dad was living in a one-bedroom, second-story walk-up, which he leased from an Indian-American family whose cooking always smelled better than the cigarettes he still smoked in those days. It had black-and-white barber shop vinyl floors and Dead Head tapestries for curtains. There, we used to sit on a futon in front of a tube TV and eat dumplings.

The next year, more in like but not having uttered those three magical words that, by our moral compasses, justified cohabitation, we decided not to live together – just closer together. I moved into this even smaller apartment in a brownstone down the street from him. I spent next to no time there (ah, young love!) but loved it when I did. I loved that I could hear people talking at the bus stop below my kitchen/living/dining room window. I loved the way I could snag a Thai tofu wrap at 2:00am. I loved the way I could walk to the T. I loved the way your dad and I didn’t have to commute a half hour to have a sleepover. Around that time, we both changed jobs that – if we’re being frank – were probably a little less fun but paid appreciably more money for working the standard nine-to-five. We ate dinner together almost every night. (We graduated from Ramen to Zateran’s jambalaya.) We used to take walks to a place called Prospect Hill Park. On the Fourth of July, we saw fireworks that shot off so close to the crowds that we left covered in ash. In that place, on the nights we were apart, we used to message one another on the “AIM.” That was a thing. In that place, I opened the mail to a law school acceptance letter. In that place,  we agreed it was time to share one. We finally said “I love you.”

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So, the year after that, we moved together to a place right down the street from my brownstone and dad’s one bedroom with the barber shop floors. The ad described it as a “not-to-be-missed, old, Victorian home!” Note the exclamation mark. (We were excited, too.) We sold our futons on Craigslist. We bought couches. We grew tomato plants in pots on the porch. We continued our walks to Prospect Hill. We talked about things like, “Well, if we ever get engaged…” We hosted our first seder. (In the infamous Pesach Grease Fire of 2007, the shank bone went up in a blaze of glory!) Our parents, your grandparents, met over Thanksgiving dinner. In January 2008, we got engaged. That August, we got married. And when we decided to take the suburbs for a test drive, that “not-to-be-missed, old, Victorian home?” We missed it. Plenty.

We rented a two-bedroom with a garage at the end of a cul-de-sac in a burb west of Boston. We moved there for the excellent school district and because (could it be?!) we might have our first child there! We walked someplace new: a “peaceful spot,” a perch overlooking the Charles River where you could sit and watch folks canoeing. We walked there a lot. We talked about things like, “Well, if we ever have a baby…” We hosted our parents for Passover. Nothing caught fire. I graduated from law school. I passed the bar. We changed jobs. We bought a dining room set. We tried to get pregnant. We tried again and again and again. (Ewww, Mom! Please, G-d, no.) It didn’t work. Again and again and again. There, we confronted Infertility. In that place, we were so happy. In that place, we were so sad.

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We pressed on the way we supposed we were supposed to. If we were grown-up enough for Infertility, we were grown-up enough for home ownership, right? Trouble is, we couldn’t afford a place of our own in that excellent school district in the burb west of Boston. So we moved back in the direction of the old, Victorian home and we did the very best we could. Which was pretty freaking good. We bought our first place, a town home off the Minuteman Trail, a proper urban retreat. We spent almost no time reveling in how dope it was that we didn’t have to ask anybody’s permission to paint the walls. We were too busy trying/failing to get knocked up.

There, in the place Bubbie dubbed “la casita” – a euphemism for “Holy shit, this place is small!” – our office was a pop-up shooting gallery, that spot where your dad mixed meds and I injected myself with fertility drugs. In that place, we were Infertile. In that place, we were pregnant. In that place, we weren’t. In that place we were pregnant (and so on and on). There, we told your grandparents the whole sordid story. We told them the news of you. They cried. They cheered. Before it came to be that my belly was an obstruction and my legs couldn’t hold us, we took long walks along that bike path and talked about things like, “I wonder what this kid’s going to be like?!” and “I can’t wait to meet her!” (Eventually, we resumed those walks from our town home to the “coffee store,” walked there every day, day after day, pushing a carriage, until you were eleven months old and I returned to work and, after that, every single weekend.) We ate Jade Garden. Your dad painted the office, your nursery, lime green. He pieced together your crib. We spent a night in labor on the couch in the living room, you and me.

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Dad and I brought you home. There, I was your mom. There, we were parents. There, we were Survivors. There I used to snuggle you and rock you and feed you. There we scratched your initials in wet concrete below the back porch. There you were a baby, a toddler. There, you paid daily visits to a neighbor’s wee little garden to see the clay owl and hedgehog statues she situated among the shrubbery. (We couldn’t leave the house without first saying goodbye. Our last goodbye was tough.) There, you went trick-or-treating. There we hosted your grandparents and great-grandparents for birthdays and long weekends. There, we dreamed about that someplace where we’d never have to tell you to shush because your neighbors wouldn’t live close enough to wake. Our family was complete and it was growing. Every single day it grew because we did. We three? We knew. We knew in our guts we’d outgrown “la casita.”

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So, that summer-turned-fall-turned-winter, with Dad working in the center of the state, with you pre-schooling there, with a hankering for a place, the place, as large and warm and wonderful as our love, we listed “la casita” and commenced a search for our new forever someplace, the home in which we’d become older people, then old people, then memories, then curiosities. It wasn’t easy. Our first almost-forever-home was a cape on a huge plot of land on a rambling country rode. (The inspection revealed well water contaminated with other people’s poop.) Our second almost-home was a mid-entry in a planned community with an average-sized yard abutting others just like it. (What set the place apart was the crazy-ass selling it. At long last, he decided to push out our closing date in an attempt to screw over the wife we didn’t know he was divorcing until it was too late, until we were way in it and so, so sad to see it slip through our fingers.) We’d go on to visit dozens and dozens of other perfectly lovely places before doing our due diligence by one we’d bypassed altogether early on in a busy, downtown historic district: an oversized, hunter green colonial across a cobblestone courtyard from a two-story barn of the same color. Your “farm.” Circa 1812.

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On your third night in this place which will serve as a backdrop for lots and lots of those things you’ll remember about being a little kid, you professed to love it here. “My new green house.”

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It was built by curiosities, owned by women – a long line of women (recall the Nineteenth Century, behold my surprise)! – who raised daughters, whose daughters grew up and called “the green house” a memory. Their names were committed to a scrap of looseleaf paper by the previous owner. (An orphanage? A boarding house? A place for scarlet ladies both isolated and on display?) Women. And it strikes me as special, it strikes me as powerful, that you should share it with them.

In this place, which stands on your parents’ memories, in this place which is mysterious and familiar, we are home.

Welcome, child.

Love,

Mama

Posted in Humor, Infertility, Parenting/Infant, Parenting/Toddler, Pre-Conception, Pregnancy | 1 Comment

All good: Lessons in grown-up gratitude.

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Dear Kid,

We were this close to the farm. This close to selling our town home in the city and sealing the deal on a beautiful cape on a couple of acres of land in the center part of the state. (A nice backdrop for your future and/or good place to plant some tomatoes.) In any event, in one week in August 2014, we learned more than we ever cared to know about fecal coliform (look that one up/don’t: it’s bacteria found in crap), negotiated our right to clean drinking water, saw our buyer walk without another word and promptly re-listed the town home, which has seen a trickle of prospective buyers since but none so committed to the idea as to write us an offer. At present, the future of the cape on those couple of acres of land in the center part of the state, the one we’re buying contingent on the sale of the town home in metro Boston, is at stake. Lots of our things are in storage including, most noticeably, my cool-weather clothes and a second couch so that, every night, Dad and I squish sideways on the sofa and complain about our aching backs.

Meanwhile, you like it here. You really like it. Here is the only home you’ve ever known.

I think we can learn a lot from you: The way you proclaim to be “almost there” when you hit the Concord rotary 20 minutes away, the way you announce your arrival in the parking lot (“Elbee’s house! I’m hooooome!”), the way you point out the mundane and familiar and get excited to see them – bus stops, recycling trucks, “the coffee store,” our neighbors. You don’t mind the way we’re uprooted at dinner time because someone wants access to our place (“I love going to my restaurant! It’s so fun!”) or the way we’re forced at all times to keep our house like the Pope is coming to dinner even when it’s unclear why he’d frequent the table of a random Jewish family. You keep on singing your “clean up” song and organizing your puzzles. It’s all good.

It really is, too.

The other morning, you woke before the sun. You told me you wanted to listen to the pigeons out the window, but it was dark and it was raining so that even the rodents of the bird family had the good sense to keep to their nests. We peeked out Mama’s little bedroom window overlooking the street, stop lights in the distance – not much to see –  and listened to it rain. I wanted to say it, but you said it first.

“This is so nice!”

Of course, the house had nothing to do with it. The house didn’t matter. What mattered was our little family: that time we spent just being, just being happy.

I remembered back to when, before there was you, Dad and I reached the place where, convinced there was going to be no you, we knew we were going to be just fine anyway. If we never met, we wouldn’t have any idea what we were missing. Now that we have, we know our world will never be the same.

So if our “farm” remains the garden window (the dwarf sunflower we grew to prove to ourselves we had green thumbs), if your back yard is the park you share with playmates you just met, if a drive to the country (or, um, Lexington) is special for the way you get to see the stars and hear the quiet, if the sound of traffic is your white noise and if navigating a too-crowded coffee shop is so second nature that, even at two, you get right in line and wait your turn because – guess what? – it’s coming eventually… it’s all good.

Let go, let G-d. And while (S)He’s getting to it, I’m glad we’ve got each other.

XO,

Mama

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With an oink, oink here.

Dear Kid,

This one day you professed to want a farm. A place to raise a pig. And probably not the sort that walks around on a leash, either. Probably the sort that lives in a barn and takes mud baths and drinks from a trough. And before I realized what I was saying, I said it: That sounds great. Pigs are nice. But it all depends on the space. It might have to be a couple of chickens. Or a dog. 

I’d spent half my life living the dream of a small-town kid with sights fixed on the big city: a place where sometimes-moody-looking people wear fashionable clothes and walk extra fast and ride subway trains and aren’t afraid of getting mugged because they’re the Einsteins of street-smart. They order fancy espresso beverages at too-crowded coffee counters, kvetch about traffic and readily give directions from any number of destinations to any number of others. Excepting the part about the fashionable clothes (which I outgrew when I grew my baby belly and never grew into again), that was me. I’d arrived. I was a first-rate city slicker.

And I wasn’t bullshitting you: That farm sounded great. It had been a tough couple of years complicated by the way we city folk are hard-pressed for peace and quiet. Plus I heard so much excitement in your voice, saw the way your face lit up when you talked about trees and a back yard and, at once, I wanted it, too. I wanted to know my friendly neighbors. I wanted off the subway and on a riding mower. I wanted to walk instead of run, press pause, slow it down. For it was all moving by too quickly.

The evolution of you: Your three- and four-word sentences became eight, nine and ten. You learned that using a telephone involves holding it to your ear and maintaining your end of the conversation. (“Hello, Daddy! It’s me, Elbee.”) You peed on a potty chair. You sat through your first feature-length movie. (And then you sat through it again.) You memorized a poem that somewhat perfectly summarizes what you’ve made of your young life. (A.A. Milne’s “Happiness.”)  You colored pictures that looked like something, if still wildly abstract and in need of explanation. (The red circle was Elmo. The purple square a cupcake. Elmo felt like sweets for dinner.) You professed to like some things “a lot” (chocolate, ice cream cones, Pooh Bear, Olaf, dirt, trees, insects, beaches, parks) and other things “not at all” (meat, naps, loud noises). You began asking questions: Who’s that? Why? Are you ok? Five more minutes? Later? Please?! You reasoned in that way that suggests you’re a little bit weird and a whole lot wonderful: I didn’t live in a belly. I met Mommy in the ocean! We were swimming and swimming and I said, ‘Hi, Mommy! I’ll keep you!’ And then we came home – and now I live here. You sang in tune. You rolled your eyes. You staged tea parties for your Cabbage Patch dolls.

Elbee2

Looking at you, I could scarcely get over how much you’d changed from that itty bitty baby into a growin’-up girl, the way you were becoming more and more yourself with each passing minute and how, if it was possible, I loved you even more at two than when we first met. Plus I really liked you: If you wanted a farm, I wanted you to have it.

So shortly after your second birthday, Dad and I set out to identify, if not a farm, a detached home with a yard big enough for a couple of chickens. Or a dog. In step with researching public school districts, I Googled up on livestock regulations in our target market – a half hour (and change) from the city I knew like the back of my hand and had grown to love considerably less than you.

Now don’t start mourning my loss of self, for it turns out it’s not like that.

The evolution of me: More important to me than the midnight ristretto doppio at 20, is being your mom at 30-[cough]. I want to take my time with it, take my time with you. And I want a next great adventure: the sort we three can have together. I want the farm and the pigs and the trees and the yard that makes you smile and makes it so we get to enjoy seeing you so glad.

The evolution of us. I can’t wait. I can. I don’t know the first thing about farming. Maybe we can learn?

To two. Happy birthday, sweet pea.

Love,

Mama

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