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It’s the first day of school. Wish me luck!

It’s Monday morning.

The first day of school. My two oldest kids have beaten me downstairs and went straight to the Wii for their last hurrah at Power-Pros. I’m making the lunches, and while I work on auto-pilot from the years of packing lunches and snacks, the task still seems somewhat unfamiliar after a long summer.

Did I give enough snack? Did I give too much?

I err on the side of overboard and pack away. Sitting here at 6:40am, I’m tired. Throughout the summer I’ve generally gotten up at 7:30am or so, sometimes earlier to write, but now I feel weary and anxious, with a strange emptiness in my stomach like we’re catching a 5:30am flight. I worry. Do we have everything? Am I prepared? Are they prepared?

First days are always stressful I guess, so I’m happy to hear the happy shouts coming from the basement of the boys engaged in something other than worry.

It’s the first day of middle school for my oldest; a huge school with 1,200 kids, different ‘houses’ and switching classes. The middle school could eat the elementary school. In fact, it has. Its combines five elementary schools in its belly.

It’s the first day of Kindergarten for my youngest, a transition which terrifies me; the new school, the bus, the long day away, all things not only unfamiliar to my child, but unacceptable. Please, please, let him adjust easily.

And it’s the first day of third grade for my middle one, with a teacher I’m just not so sure about.

Worry. Worry. Worry.

And here’s my oldest, up from the basement, head on my lap, saying, “I don’t wanna go to middle school.”

“But it’s going to be so good, honey.” I coo. “You get to do so many new things, meet so many new people. It’s an adventure. You’re going to love it.”

My youngest just walked down from sleep, naked, but for his underwear, ran right into my lap like a warm muffin and broke down crying.

My middle one is now playing music on his iTouch, oblivious to the nerves around him.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. You can do this. You can do this.

First days are tough, but it’s an adventure. We’re going to do it. It’s going to be okay.

I’m telling them over and over. I’m telling myself.

Yet, I feel like I’m going to throw up. Probably, just like they do.

Except for my middle one, he just asked me to make him macaroni and cheese.

Too cool for school

Too cool for school

A Lost Child, a Crazy Mom and a Shot in the Heart*

Our appointment for flu shots at the Pediatrician had gone exactly as expected. I wound up restraining my howling two year-old, while grasping hands with my screaming five year-old and practically having to sit on my hysterical, flailing 7 year-old. As they each made breaks for the door, I just had to laugh at the hilarity of it all. I mean, this is what I do in a day – sit on my children as they beg for mercy.

Once the shot had successfully been administered and my middle son, Michael, finished his after-shock screams of indignation, I appeased their wounded egos and arms with a promised trip to the candy store. Amazing – the children who just moments ago, lay sprawled in misery, now jumped up and down with glee. “I guess you guys are feeling better now?” I joked.

“It didn’t even hurt.” Tyler, my oldest postured.

“Yeah. Didn’t hurt.” Julius, my youngest chorused, quickly forgetting that snot still dripped from his nose.

Michael had his arms crossed and still wasn’t talking.

“You guys are so brave.” They all looked up at me thrilled. Even Michael cracked a small smile. Honestly? Did they not remember the screaming hysteria? The horrified nurse? The arm wrestling? Is that all it took with boys? A thinly veiled compliment? A stroke of the ego? The answer was smiling up at me, times three.

We left the pediatrician’s office, but before we headed out for the sweet reward, I stopped at the office of another doctor located across the hall. I opened his office door and popped my head in to ask the receptionist a quick question while my boys ran up and down the short corridor. The conversation lasted maybe one minute. This was it, “Hi there. I needed a flu shot and was considering a new primary care doctor. Do you take United Health Care and are you accepting new patients? Great. I’ll call for an appointment.”

I popped my head back out and saw my two older children racing back and forth. The narrow, short hallway strip was about 25 feet long, end to end, with about three offices on each side and book-ended by a set of heavy double doors. In the front, the doors led to the street, and the back, to the parking lot. I looked left, then right. I quickly walked to the further end of the hallway, then to the other.

Small gurgles of panic began bubbling in my chest. “Uh, guys! Where’s Julius?” They looked at each other and shrugged. My heart thumped a little faster. Now I ran from one corner of the hall to the other. “Julius?” I called out, opening each of the few office doors, looking around, noting only baffled looking receptionists and people sitting and waiting. I ran back up and down the hallway helplessly.

“Julius?” I called, my voice rising an octave. “Jullius!” I could hear Michael and Tyler giggling in some distant world. I was on the verge of freaking out, but refused to give in to it. One of the receptionists from my pediatrician’s office came out and immediately noted my distress. I looked from one set of double doors to the other. “Stay here!” I ordered the boys and bolted for the front door.

The doors were heavy. Really heavy.  I was right there. They were right behind me. How? I hit the street and looked around. Nothing but a busy street. A really freaking busy street. Time slowed. I sharply felt the cool air sting my cheeks. I was biting my top lip, looking left to right, completely lost. Oh my God! Oh my God! Is this the moment? Is this where I lose my two year-old and never see him again? Is this really happening? Nothing around but cars and street. I was there, but it was like being paralyzed in the matrix. I raced from one end of the street to the other calling his name. I didn’t know what to do.

A woman across the street, adjacent from me, called out. “Are you looking for a little boy?”    
“Yes!” I shrieked. “YES!” It didn’t sound like my voice.

“I saw him walk that way.” She pointed toward the other corner.

What?? My brain screamed. You saw a two year-old walking alone down a street and you walked in the other direction??? But I had no time or any right to point fingers. I raced to the corner, stopped and looked up and down. Nothing. “Julius…” My voice was broken. I could barely call his name. As I was about to race down that block, the receptionist from my pediatrician came through the double doors with Julius in her arms.

“Oh my God!” I broke down in a million pieces as she handed me my baby, clutching him to me in a suffocating embrace. My hands were shaking. My body was shaking.  I sat down on the cement street rocking and crying into his curls.

“He was out back, playing in the parking lot. He’s fine.” She said, with just a hint of judgment that I didn’t begrudge her. I collected myself and my other boys from the office.

Finally, I had them all secured in the car, but I couldn’t move.
“Uh mom,” Tyler giggled, “you need to drive.”

“To the candy store!” Michael shouted happily.

“Yay!” Julius chimed.

It was nothing to them. Five minutes of their mother running crazy.

But I was stuck, my hands gripping the wheel tightly. When I think about what could’ve happened… I couldn’t even. I took a deep breath to calm myself. They may have taken a needle today, but I had a dose of reality. And no amount of candy could fix it.

*This was three years ago, going for flu shots again recently brought me back to my own shot in the heart. Yep. Still hurts.

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What Not To Do In A Hurricane

Hurricane Sandy was barreling towards us. My husband was in full protection mode, gathering food and supplies into the basement. The boys were excited since school was closed. Right now, it was all flashlights and fun, but it was only 9 am on Monday and the real storm was not supposed to hit for hours. Did I mention there wasn’t any school?

My crazy brain was figuring out my schedule for the week that was already off schedule. There were class trips, a party and dentist appointments. Plus, my cousin was in NYC for the week. And oh, yeah, Halloween was Wednesday. Without the storm, it was already one of those jam-packed weeks that I was going to be working hard to get it all in, especially my gym time.

Hmm. There’s an idea. I look outside and it doesn’t seem so bad yet, so I call the gym.  They are open and have assured me that there are actual people there. I can’t believe it. Maybe I’m not so crazy.

Afraid of my Safety Patrol husband, I gently broach the idea of me sneaking out for an hour. He looks at me as I knew he would, but actually just rolls his eyes and gives the okay. Wow. I wasn’t expecting it to be that easy. Before he changes his mind, or the storm changes course, I head out.

The roads are pretty deserted. It’s not really raining much and the winds are mild to moderate. The only thing that makes me nervous is the water. The gym is right on the Sound, and it looks dangerously close to running over. I feel a rush of anxiety and keep thinking, “Really? You had to go to the gym this bad?”

Apparently I did, and so did the other 15 or so people there. I recognize a few, and it calms me a little. Okay, I’m not super crazy. But then I see him, and I know I am. You know him, even if you don’t know him. He’s the guy in your town who’s a little tightly wound. He shouts the loudest at the kids’ sports games. He’s a little too intense and calls attention to himself in just that extra way that makes you go, “Hmmm,” and take two steps back.

Great. Now we’re bonded as one of the elite crazy people who decide to go to the gym during a hurricane. 40 minutes I tell myself, then I’m out. The storm isn’t really supposed to hit till later, and the radio had just said that high tide ended and the water was receding a bit. Calm. Calm.

I get on the elliptical, listening to the news, moving my feet faster in some warped way thinking I’ll finish faster. The front doors of the gym have the garage guard down, so that the glass doors are protected. It isn’t a big deal, except without the outside lights, the gym feels like a tomb. The whole time, I’m imagining scenarios of death.

About 25 minutes in, the lights go out. Most people calmly get off their machines, but there’s a frightening few that continue to pedal like mechanical Stepford wives. I head straight for the door, afraid that some kind of apocalypse awaits outside.

It’s pretty much the same as before, with moderate wind and some rain. I jump into my car and spy intense man doing the same. We head in the same direction, since there is only one road along the water and we live blocks apart about 5 minutes away.  We are almost at our turn, when I see him quickly U-turn and head back toward the gym. Huh?

Oh. There is a cop standing in the road, blocking the way. I lower the window, but before I can ask anything, the officer barks, “Turn around!”

“But I live there. How am I supposed to get that…?”

“Turn around!” he barks in answer. It makes the last thin nerve I’m working with snap and tears pool in my eyes.

“You could be a little nicer, Officer!” I squeak at him and make a U-turn.

Going back the other way, I keep one eye on the road and the other on the water, trying to keep it together. I’m never going to see my children again, because I needed to go to the gym. Okay, I tell myself. I can just take Radcliffe. It’ll be okay. With a plan, I calm, for about 30 seconds. That’s when I saw the other road block straight ahead. Sirens start to wail, and not just in my head.

As far as I knew, there was water to my left and a bunch of dead ends on my right.  I was trapped. Intense man was in the same position, and I watched him make a quick right on a road that said No Thru. Panicked, with nowhere else to go, I followed. I had never been on the road before, but it whipped somehow around the water and connected to another road that brought us back on higher ground, close to home.

I breathed a deep heave of relief. Safe. I’ll never leave home again! Thank you, intense man. The water was now behind me and my house in front of me. Oh, and Dunkin Donuts right here in the middle. And, it’s…open. I really should get home. I never should have left. A hurricane was coming. But…it would only be a minute, and really, who knew when I’d get a nice, hot coffee again.

Tomorrow is 9 days  since I’ve had a cup of heaven or seen the inside of the gym. We’re still waiting for our power to return.











So I Fret. I’m Not Gonna Worry About It.

It’s dark outside, not yet morning, but I slip from my bed, tip-toe to the bathroom and down the stairs. I spent the last five hours in a restless doze, waking every half hour or so and checking the clock. I had gone to bed at 12:30 am, bleary-eyed after a long day racing with the kids and then four hours straight sitting in front of the computer writing, discarding, writing, discarding. I’m anxious. I have an unfinished essay on my mind; and because of it I can’t sleep. For hours I lay there, snuggled under covers, tossing and turning, ideas popping in and out of my head as I unsuccessfully try to think myself into unconsciousness. I jump up with a start when I realize I am not alone; there’s one person at this very moment, in another town, doing the exact same thing I am. My mother.

It’s not for the same reasons, of course, but my mother is someone who when something is on her mind, it goes straight to her heart.

Often, we’ll speak and the conversation will go something like this,

Her, nervous and anxious – “I couldn’t sleep again last night.”

Me, nibbling on snacks, going through mail, half-listening – “Oh no. What now?”

“I’m worried I did the wrong thing about…”

Now here you could insert almost anything from “I cut my hair too short” to “I wish I had been a better mom.” My mother has the unique capacity to fret over everything in her life, big and small, no matter if it happened that day or 30 years ago. She can’t let it go and will worry herself until a new worry emerges to supersede it.

This is your brain on fret – It glows!

When my brother bought a new house, she worried if it was the right one. Then she worried that it was the wrong one. She worried about what color they’d paint it. And she worried about when they’d paint. Then she worried about the paint. Once it was done, she worried if it was the right color. She didn’t sleep for months over that.

I am the calm one, reminding her to relax. Trying to focus her on the important things or bring her around to the positive side. I like to think I keep it all in perspective. I tell myself I’m not crazy like that, yet here I am, typing out my thoughts while my body begs for sleep. I can’t seem to rest till it’s done. It hits me that all the women on my side are fretters to some degree. My grandmother was a fretter and my aunt is a fretter as well. My cousins, although it’s been diluted through the years, are little fretters. Maybe, it’s part of me, passed down like my green eyes and beyond my control. How aggravating.

From the dark silence of my sleeping house, my four year-old calls out and I race with soft feet up the stairs to his room. “Mama,” he says drowsily, “sleep with me.” I place my head down on the pillow and feel my tension lift as his little hands pull me closer to snuggle. Wait, maybe it doesn’t  run in the family. I can let things go and relax. I can fight the fret! I breathe in the sweet scent of my son’s curly mop. As I drift off, my brain no longer running but slowing to a walk,  my last thought as I flutter on the edge of consciousness is that this would make a great ending to my essay.

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Laugh Till You Cry

Almost in tears. Hate my father – scratch that – hate who my father is – better. He’s got one foot off a cliff and wants me to pull him down to safety, as usual. And as usual, I probably pushed the other one off instead, with my words, which were as frustrated as he is. “Get help!” But that’s why he’s calling me.

Breathe deeply. Think about mountains in Tibet, waterfalls, rainbows, ice cream. Need to call him back. His cell phone rang in the middle of our heated conversation. He was on an edge, his voice high with emotion. I won’t say from the drugs he is on.  “No-one cares. I’m worthless. It’s all wrong.”

“Is there something I can do?” There’s nothing I can do. “Maybe we should call Dr. R.”  Dr. R is his psychiatrist. There’s nothing he can do.

He snaps like Hyde awaked from his long sleep. “I wasn’t asking for advice!”

Uh oh. I automatically open the freezer. “I wasn’t really offering any. I was just trying to help.”

Him, yelling, “You can stop trying to help! I wasn’t asking for help! Why do you always think I’m asking for help?!”

My heart beating with anxiety. -“Ooookay.” I wish there was someone else he could call.

That’s when his cell rang, which he tried to pick up, but somehow picked me up again instead. I know, two different phones, don’t expect things to make sense. Final words, “I can’t believe I screwed up again!” Sad, pitiful, and the phone goes dead.  Tibet. Rainbows. Ice cream.

For me, It’s been over 20 years of pain. Over 20 years being the daughter of a man in pain. A sad man in pain. A suffering man in pain. The pain is in his body. The pain is in his head. The pain is in his heart.

We speak often. Too often for me, not often enough for him, and the calls are all desperation and need, cries for help and cries for attention.

Earlier today, he was grappling with his dwindling legacy. His fear of being considered a drug addict. Of what would be on his tombstone. For decades, he reinforced to me that he wanted his tombstone to say, “He rode the white horse.” He has quite the image of himself, romantic and dramatic, quite like him. Of course, for me at this point, the white horse is muddied, and after slumping over for a while, its rider fell off and not with a quick thump. He fell off howling, with his foot stuck in the stirrup and is still being dragged behind.

He casually mentions that if they found him at the base of a building that he wouldn’t have jumped, that it would have been an accident. You would think this mingling of tombstones and vague suicide talk would have me calling 911, but red flags barely get notice anymore. Those flags need to be shooting rocket fire to gather any real attention.

“So you now want your tombstone to say, “He didn’t jump?” I joked and he did something of a laugh. With a father like mine you look for levity wherever you can, even in suicide talk. “Yeah,” he says, the mood automatically lighter. “That works.”

In that one second, it all changed. It was better. “He didn’t jump off the white horse” He adds, “He was pushed!” And then, he’s laughing.

Where there is humor, there is hope. I’ll call him back now. We both need to laugh.

Life’s a beach… And then you die!

I don’t want to go! That’s what my head is screaming as we drive with a car load of crap and crying kids to have a fun, happy day at the beach. First off, for me, the beach is not a relaxing place. It’s the place where Jaws murdered all those people. The place where unknown creatures lurk under ominous rising waves of foamy death. It’s where slimy, green things stick to your feet and make you jump in disgust and fear before shaking them off with aversion.  It’s where a million grains of sand scratch between your toes, up your nose and in your nooks and crannies. And with kids?? OMG. Forget drowning, I’m going to die of a heart attack. Turn for just one second and there are a thousand little boys who look like mine. I’m twitching in panic just thinking about it. A million people on one end, the angry sea on the other, glaring sun overhead. Really, this is fun??

Do I seem abnormally anxious about the beach? It’s possible, but I have it on good authority that I drowned in a former life, so I’m totally within reason here. Also, I was taken to see Jaws at the very impressionable age of five. I’m sure I was ready for it though. I only spent the next three years throwing books across my green carpeted floor, which I imaged to be shark-filled waters, so that I could safely step from bed to door. I’m sure everyone did that. And who, at one time or another, hasn’t had a fear of sitting on the potty because they think a shark might come up and bite them in the ass, right? Totally normal.

Da Dum Da Dum Da Dum

I love when people say, “But you’d cruise, right?” Uh no! Why would I surround myself with the object of my fear? Eating every day for 12 is appealing, but you can’t have everything. Hasn’t anyone heard of the Titanic or read the newspaper? Big ships, little ships, boats, ferries, they all sink, people. And then guess where you are?!

So that’s my mindset for family fun day at the beach. I look at the vast, dark waters and the endless sand filled with people and tell myself, “It’s going to be okay” And it is – for them at least. Howard, the boys, my sister and brothers-in-law and the cousins are laughing, playing and, yeah, frolicking. Obviously I’m the only one keenly aware of the lurking dangers, and I alone will shoulder the anxiety, a solid stick-in-the-sand in a swim dress.

Speaking of swim dresses, that’s another reason I have to stay off the beach. Less important maybe, but it doesn’t help matters. Could you really blame me? It’s right here in black and floral.

Way hot sister-in-law
Uh, yeah.

Come on beach, one way or another, you’re just killing me.