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I run because I can’t hide

I don’t want to go.

My coffee is hot and dark and I’m sipping it slowly, leisurely; enjoying both the relaxation and the morning lift it offers. I’m in no rush to do what I have to do. No rush at all. In fact, there’s some laundry piled in a messy but clean mountain on my couch just waiting to be folded. If I leave it too long, it threatens to become pillows under children’s butts or tissues to wipe snotty noses. The longer I leave it, the more danger it is in. So you see it’s somewhat urgent that I attend to it immediately.

It’s been months since I’ve traveled down the path I’m about to go; the extended winter has sidelined me, kept me shivering even while indoors. All of a sudden, the yearly migration of the Florida snow birds; something never before considered, and in fact lightly mocked, has taken on a nice warm glow.

But I am ahead of myself by a few decades, and right now I am milking my last bit of coffee, even considering refilling my cup. But of course, that’s not a good idea. You can’t run on Dunkin, even though their ads say you can.

Running is my fair weather friend. The moment the temp dips to a certain degree, I tie up those shoes and store them away, choosing instead to split my time between the elliptical in my room, watching reruns of the Good Wife, and classes or machines at the gym where I could climb to the top of Mt. Everest, all while reading my book.

I’ve always exercised, generally five days a week, sometimes six. It’s as part of me as eating ice cream, but for a while now, I’ve just been going through the motions. I’m showing up, but I’m not putting up. Which might explain the heaviness in my body and in in my head. I don’t know which came first. Maybe chicken.

I started thinking about giving up on the whole business. I mean, I’ve managed to maintain myself for my entire adult life. I’m over 40. It would be nice not to worry so much about jamming exercise into my daily schedule or not eating that brownie. It would be nice to lay on the couch, ice cream spoon in hand, zonked to Housewives. It would be nice to just accept being me, instead of all this exhausting trying to be better nonsense.

I could just sit here, flip through the paper and enjoy another cup of coffee. I could… but probably won’t. Because no matter what I tell myself, what I’d like to do – or not do – I know what needs to be done.

Even at 9am, the thermometer reads 59 degrees. The sun is playing peek-a-boo with the clouds and the birds have started singing. My first run of the season has waited for Spring, and now it’s waited for me to tie my shoes, make sure that my in-laws are good with the kids, pee once more and do another last check on Facebook.

I’ve run out of excuses.

Sometimes my kids will cling to me and beg me not to leave them, but no such luck this morning. So now there’s only one thing left to do. Put one foot in front of the other and go.

 

Here I come...

Ready or not…

 

 

There Are No Fairy Tales

It is night and I am sitting on the edge of my child’s bed, exactly where he insists I sit, in between the old cat laying by his feet and the team of stuffed animals encasing his body like a frame. I am about to read him The Three Little Pigs, one of his favorite books, and even though we have gone past bedtime into my time, he still insists and I comply because I am worn down and feeling both melancholy and appreciative of my gifts, which of course, he is one.

We have at least five different versions of the book. In some, the wolf gets eaten, in others he is merely boiled, and the kind gentler versions spare his life and allow him to run away with only a bit of singed fur. But in all, the message is clear, at least to me, life ain’t no fairy tale. In fact, I’m not sure fairy tales are fairy tales. Even the ones where the princess gets her man, there’s an awful lot of suffering involved.

It’s been a tough week in Suburbia. Not the usual ‘can’t get to my gym class’, ‘I stained my favorite shirt’ or ‘I need to make 50 cupcakes by morning’ tough. Real life tough; the kind that breaks down barriers and breaks your balls, that doesn’t care if your lawn is manicured or your nails, who you are or where you come from. The kind where children suffer and their parents suffer, where people die expectantly and unexpectedly and both are horribly shocking. Marlboro man tough, human tough.

It’s those times that make you wonder about life; want to rage and cry at the sky above, like it holds any power and say, ‘You suck! What is this? This is not okay!’ But the sky doesn’t care. And life doesn’t care. It just keeps on going and going like the wheels on the bus, showing off with its casual beauty thrown haphazardly about. Look at that snowcapped mountain in the sunset. Look at that wild haired child who can’t stop giggling long enough to blow his bubbles. Look at those skyscrapers soaring into the horizon, and the perfection of a rainbow.

So much magnificence, to say yes, there is suffering but there is also splendor to distract you; to mock the heart ache, but also to ease it a bit as well.

Life is beautiful, even though it is pain and death, and no one – not Hansel or Gretel, Snow White or the doomed gingerbread man – can escape unscathed.

No one.

We are all in this together till death do us part. We cannot out outrun life, even when the sky is falling, or a wolf is banging down our door.

Life is tough, meaning rough, dangerous and difficult, but we are also tough, meaning strong, sturdy and resilient.

We have to be.

Because there isn’t always a happy ending, sometimes there’s just the end.

3 pigs

 

Good Enough! vs Good Enough?

When I’m in one of my gym classes, I can’t help but assess the assets in front of me. I size them up. Not to judge them in any way. It’s not about them at all. It’s about me. It’s about how I stack up.

Almost always I’m on the losing end of my self-assessment. No matter if I’m at my heaviest or at my most fit, I’m never good enough.

I’ve done this for as long I can remember. As a teen, I remember myself as the cute girl’s side kick; my best friend was really the one to want. I was always smart but never remarkably so, if you ask me.

20 years later and I haven’t changed. When I make cupcakes for my kids, I’ll always nod semi-approvingly and say, “They may not be so pretty, but they work.” When I put on a pair of favorite jeans, the best I can manage is, “They don’t look terrible.” When I size up those behinds in front me, I’m always shaking my head and accepting that while I could look worse, I don’t look all that good either.

Even with my latest manuscript, I have a very difficult time just admitting I think it’s good. If you ask me about it, I’ll first need to go through a bunch of hedging… “It’s not the same kind of writing as my essays… It’s just an easy beach read… It’s not going to win any awards or anything…”

Why do I undersell myself every chance I get? How can I expect anyone to take me seriously when I can’t even take myself seriously?

I’m always in awe of the people around me who possess the confidence to sell themselves. I remember at work watching guys march in and strut their stuff. Generally I never thought their ideas were any better than mine – often I didn’t think much of them at all; but they walked the walk, while I slouched and stumbled.  They believed in themselves, while I always felt a bit like a fake.

Yet, day in and day out, I sit here and type away my thoughts, my stories, my life. And almost every day, I’m at that gym working my tail off, although mostly it stays on. I must think it’s worth something; I must think I’m worth something to keep at it.

And I guess I do. I mean, I do.

But admitting that puts all sorts of expectations out there. If I told people my book was great would they agree or be disappointed? I couldn’t stand the disappointment.

I read posts on Facebook by bloggers who confidently say things like, “I’ve written this really important piece that we need to be talking about.” And I’m fascinated. How do they say that about their own work? How do they put themselves on such a high level? Not only is their work ‘important’, but we, as a general population, should be discussing it?

Sometimes it makes me roll my eyes, embarrassed by their self-serving assertions, and other times I’m beyond impressed. Go them, I think. Kind of like when I first watched Lena doing her naked all over TV thing.

Like my grandmother would say, “No one’s gonna toot your horn but you.”

I think I need to start trusting myself and my talents. I need to start thinking that I am really good and worthy and deserve success. I mean, I’m smart, I’m funny and gosh darn it, people like me.

It’s true.

Now I’ve just got to believe it.

toot toot

Toot

 

 

 

Not playing is hard work

From somewhere in the house, a voice cuts the quiet with a serrated edge…

“Mommy! Where are you? Mooooommeeeeeee!”

Don’t find me Don’t find me Don’t find me.

“MOMMY!”

Sigh. “I’m in the kitchen, honey.”

“Mommy. I want to play!”

Ugh. I really really don’t want to play. “I’m washing the dishes, baby.”

“Mommy! Come on! Pleeeeee e e ease.”

“How bout I set you up at the table and you can draw?”

A brief pause for consideration, followed by a fetching tilt of the head. “Will you draw with me?”

Sigh. “Maybe later. I’m washing the dishes right now.”

“But I wanna battle dragons and Skylanderrrs right nowww.”

I hate battling. Hate it. Hate it. “Why don’t you go play with your brothers in the basement?”

“They don’t want to play.”

Well, no duh. “You have to wait, honey. I’m busy. (Warning: Combination bribery and poor parenting ahead.) Hey, how bout I put on a show for you? Maybe get you some goldfish crackers while you watch?”

“No!” Followed by a drop to the floor and pulling on my pant leg, “I want to playyyyyyyy.”

Come oooon. Go a wa a a ay. “Seriously dude, find your brothers. That’s why you have brothers, so I don’t have to play.” Quizzical look of the 6 year-old followed by quick repositioning of the mother. “I mean, you and your brothers are kids. Kids are supposed to play. Mommy has work to do.”

Smug, happy little boy bouncing up and down. “You don’t work.”

Internal sneering, eye-twitching, but voice stays reasonable. “These dishes aren’t gonna wash themselves.”

Big manipulative, adorable smile, “How bout you play now and do dishes later?”

Sideways, raised brow – what-do-you-think-you’re-a first-kid – look. “How bout you go find your brothers.”

“They don’t want to play.”

“They do. Go ask them.”

“They’re playing one-on-one basketball.”

“Then you need to go play by yourself. Do your legos.”

“Will you do them with me?”

Time to fight fire with fire. “Will you wash dishes with me?”

Silence.

Whew. Finally, he’s going to play by himself.

Then he shrugs and starts dragging a chair over to the sink, smiling brightly. “Okay, and when we’re done we can battle dragons!”

I look left. I look right, but I am backed into a sink, I mean a corner.

Damn. I’ve been played.

 

Oh we're so doing this!

Oh, we’re so doing this!

 

The Meaning of a Kiss

My father calls just as we are about to leave the car.

It’s his third call of the day.

“Don’t pick up,” my husband instructs, fixing me with a hard stare.

But I do, immediately rummaging through my bag for a chocolate kiss and popping one in my mouth. Sugar calms. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

“Hi Dad,” I say pleasantly, the sweetness softening my tongue. “You’re at your doctor appointment?”

“Yes,” he grumbles dejectedly, sounding lost and faraway, which he is. “But they are taking a long time.”

“Let’s go,” My husband interrupts, exiting the car and opening the back door to release the children. I shoot him my nasty eye glare, which he returns to me with his own give-me-a-break eye roll. Touche.

“Don’t worry,” I hurriedly assure my father, the last bits of patience dissolving in my mouth. “There’s plenty of time.”

I hang up mildly abruptly, the only way with him, and hurry to catch up with my husband and our three boys who are already headed into the hospital to visit my husband’s aunt.

She has some health problems, but the biggest is her progressing dementia. Still, she nods pleasantly when we arrive; possibly happy to see us, possibly uncertain who we are.

We try to prompt some conversation but quickly realize that a polite, vacant, ‘No thank you’, ‘yes’, or ‘I don’t know’ is as much as she’s capable of giving. It’s uncomfortable and ultimately we give up on talk, instead opting to hyper focus on our blissfully ignorant boys as they spin quarters across the table.

They are too wild, but she doesn’t really seem to notice; her line of vision both straight ahead and internal. Remembering her fondness for sweets, I find some more chocolate kisses and set them in front of her. Slowly she reaches for one, automatically unwrapping it, and placing it in her mouth. I feel a childish pride in her acceptance and wish I had something more to offer.

Suddenly without prompting, she announces to everyone and no-one, “Time for bed.”

My husband and I look at each other startled. Was she asking us to leave? Were my boys too loud? I immediately stop the game of quarters.

Shortly after, we say our good-byes and leave her sitting in the same seat we found her, still staring straight ahead; her aged fingers slowly working the silver foil of another chocolate.

Back in the car, I notice a missed call from my father. Taking a deep breath, I dial his number and unconsciously search my bag for another kiss, which soothes me the moment it touches my lips. It makes me think of my husband’s aunt, sitting straight and placid; seemingly unaffected by our visit, her mouth full of chocolate but no words, and wonder if she was doing the same with us.

 

kisses

 

 

 

I’m so honored to be the subject of the amazing Arden of Writing While Wineing‘s latest Yeah Write Interview. Please read it after you check out the Grid!! Also, must thank the always awesome Twin Daddy for making Ice Scream Mama part of his Feature Friday!

challenge154

You say middle. I say center.

When my middle son was born, he wasn’t yet my middle son, he was the baby. Yet even then, some of his strong characteristics seemed to foreshadow another baby in our future. Like tantrums. Serious tantrums that would leave us with our heads cocked like a retriever or wondering if he needed medical attention. And social acuity. He would chat up the postman, a dog walker, a teacher. He was always finding a lap to sit on that wasn’t necessarily mine. He was the boy I worried would happily get in the car for free candy. He didn’t even need the candy, just a ready ear for his chatty little mouth.  And negotiation skills? Dang if that kid couldn’t sell a fur coat to a cat.

He had middle written all over him.

Two and a half years later, he officially was a middle child, and not just a middle child, a middle boy between two boys. Double whammy. I focused all my attention on giving him attention. I would ignore the baby in front of him and say things like, “He can wait. What do you need?”I carved out time especially for him. “Just you and me.” Wink wink. “Let’s go get donuts.” I allied myself with him. “We’re the only ones in the family with green eyes. We see better in the dark. We’re like super heroes.”

I thought that if I was careful of his feelings and was extra attentive, that we would sidestep the middle child syndrome altogether.

But he wouldn’t let me do it.

When I ignored the baby, he’d remind me that I should check on him. When I offered time alone, often he’d turn me down or enlist one of his brothers to come along. When I allied myself with him, he’d call me out. “That’s not true mommy.”

I wanted to protect him but the more I focused on him, the more he fought it off. It was like he already had a shield of armor around his heart which pretty much broke mine. I thought I had sealed his fate and he was punishing me.

But really he was unconsciously fighting against this notion that there was something wrong with him or at least his lot in life. Always the defender of justice, he wanted what the other boys got, no more, no less.

I had made a mistake. I was so worried, I was over doing it. He fit in just fine with his own unique gifts; his own strengths and weaknesses.

There is nothing wrong with being a middle child. It’s the center of things. And that’s usually where he is in most situations, right in the center. If his older brother is having an argument, he’ll interject himself into it. If his younger brother is vying for another snack, he’ll point out why I should give him one. If there’s a playdate somewhere, he needs to be on it.

He’s the only one of my children to really put himself out there and take chances. He’s the bold one; the one who will try things (Well, except food, but that’s a whole different topic.), the one who speaks his mind; who isn’t afraid of mistakes. He’s super stubborn, independent, responsible, a skillful manipulator, sensitive and full of fire.

No matter the labels, my kid knows who he is.

He is my baby.

And he’s right where he belongs.

Beginning, middle and end of story.

Go the F%$! to sleep. Oh, fine. One more hug.

“Mama!” I hear him yell from his bedroom; his need finding me, even though I’m downstairs in the kitchen cutting an apple for my older son.

“Mama!” He yells again and I roll my eyes. I’ve specifically told him not to call for me, that I will be there shortly.

Even at six years-old, lying with him at night is a non-negotiable. I love it more than it annoys me, which I repeatedly remind myself as his calls become more insistent.

I could enjoy relaxing with him more if I didn’t feel anxious about also getting the other boys into bed. If I didn’t hear the loud tick-tock of the clock in my head, announcing with every beat that it’s getting later and later; that I won’t have any time for myself and my husband, that they will not get enough sleep, that they are stomping on my last nerve and I might just snap, ruining a perfectly good day in the very last minutes.

I finish slicing and trudge upstairs to my oldest son’s room where he is reading a Tom Green book and happy for the snack. I note that he is fully dressed, and even though I’d rather he be studying his vocabulary for a test tomorrow, I hold my tongue on both counts. He’s eleven. I need to cut him some slack. Besides, I’ve told him twice already.

I stop in my middle guy’s room to tell him to stop shooting basketballs and get in bed. He continues shooting, so I tense, preparing for battle. “Just let me make this shot!” He bargains, sensing the imminent loss of his ball. I accept his compromise thankfully, confrontation averted.

Finally, I head to my youngest son’s room. He’s hiding under his covers, preparing to jump out and shout ‘BOO!’ He does it every night. I used to feign surprise but now I just tousle his head. “Boo yourself.”

“I wasn’t supposed to call for you.” He admits. “But I did.”

“I heard you.”  I say, pushing a long dark curl away from his face.

“But you took sooooo long.” He complains.

“You were supposed to be relaxing.” I scold, but not really.

He nuzzles closer, unzipping the extra sweatshirt I’m always wearing because even in the house I’m cold, and tucks his little arms in and around me.

“Stay for 10 minutes.” He coos, snuggling his face against my chest.

He still loves squishing into my boobs. Since he was three, he’s been trying to cop a feel.

“Two minutes.” I whisper, feeling my insides go mushy at the soft curve of his cheek, the long lashes, and pouty mouth. With his eyes closed, he still looks so much the baby and I tenderly kiss his fat cheek that’s not as chubby as it used to be.

“Mama!” My middle son yells. “Tickle!”

“One minute.” I call out.

My baby instinctively pulls me closer. “No, not yet.”

I pet his head and kiss him again, knowing it’s time to go, wanting to go, but afraid of the day he’ll just let me, so we cling to each other a little more.

“Mama.” I hear the voice of my oldest. “Come.”

I really want them all to be sleeping. It’s late. I’m tired. I want to relax and watch Modern Family. But I can’t stop myself from taking the moment to baby each one of them; to remind them that they’re still little and special and mine.

It’s time to go, and I gently but forcibly extract myself.

There are still two more rooms to visit.

Sweet faker

Such a faker

Such a faker

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