Funny, She Doesn’t Look Blueish

I have been sad all week long and I don’t know why.  It’s not an all consuming sadness, it’s just a dull ache in my shoulders and a hot scratchiness behind my eyes.  The sadness itself isn’t nearly as onerous as my unflaggingly incessant need to determine if it’s just sadness or if it’s an early sign of depression.

I have a history of depression.  I know what it feels like to tumble ass over tea-kettle down the rabbit hole of endless, hopeless, unnamed misery.  I know what it’s like to watch my life pile up around me, turning laundry and homework and answering the phone into Herculean feats of strength. I know what it’s like to harangue myself with nasty epithets like “lazy” and “ungrateful” and “slovenly.” I know what it’s like to not only question the existence of the light at the end of the tunnel, but to wallow in the muddy certainty that even if it were out there somewhere, that it’s just the 3:10 to Yuma come to put me out of my misery.

Deep, dark, depression is no joke.  If you’re one of the lucky ones, like I am, you’ll forget to call your mother on her birthday and she will know that something is really, truly wrong and she’ll call you up, leave a voice mail on your machine saying, “I’m calling you again in two minutes and you will answer the phone.”  And then when she does, and you do, she will say, “What. The. Fuck. Is going on?” And when the question finally unlocks the answer (as the right question often does) the truth will come tumbling out, ass over tea-kettle, and you’ll have finally named it, and naming it will bring about the kind of help that actually helps, whatever that might be.  For me, in that deep, dark, junior year of college, that help came in the form of medication, therapy, and my parents and me taking turns reading The Taming of the Shrew out loud so that I could complete my final Intro to Shakespeare assignment.  The truth, as advertised, will always set you free.

I don’t ever want to go a-tumbling ever again.  I’ve slipped since, I’ve even fallen, but I have fought tooth and nail against the tumble and I can humblebrag that I am Tumble Free since 1997.  When I was pregnant with Boyo, I was so scared of postpartum depression that in addition to deputizing both my husband and my mother in the Battle of Baby Blues vs. Full Blown Depression, I became hyper-vigilant about analyzing my emotional state.  Ever since he was born, I’ve been constantly sifting through any shades of blue moodiness in search of black, opalescent despair.  I spend vast stores of energy making sure the light at the end of the tunnel stays lit.  The shadows on the tunnel wall might be scary and macabre, but the thing about shadows is that they do not exist without light.  I can deal with shadows.  It’s replete, impenetrable darkness that scares the shit out of me.  When I feel even just the tiniest bit blueish, I rip it apart, searching for its source, spending whatever (rare and precious) energy it takes trying to reframe what’s bothering me, put a positive spin on it, look for the silver lining, smother it in confidence and affirmations, baking it in sunshine so it doesn’t even think about leading me toward the rabbit hole.  Most of the time it works beautifully.  But sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t Pollyanna that sadness into submission.

Hyper vigilance, as it turns out, is exhausting.  At the end of the week, when I still didn’t feel any better and I still didn’t know exactly what it was that was bringing me down, I just surrendered to it.  Not in a “I can’t fight anymore so I must be depressed” kind of a way, but a “Well, I’m already sad, might as well watch Legends of the Fall” kind of way.  When there’s no energy left to fight the blue, all you can do is let the blue in while you regroup. (Plus, Brad Pitt makes for excellent regrouping company, wouldn’t you say?)

Because I bear the internal scars of depression, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to feel blue. It’s okay to sit with it and in it.  It’s okay to steep in it, even.  Life in general (and new motherhood in particular)  is hard, and it’s kind of ridiculous to pretend that it isn’t.  I’m battling sleep deprivation, the monotony of days, hours, minutes, that are all remarkably and recklessly the same, a pitifully puny bank account, and the loneliness brought on by acute friendlessness (just to name a few), so it’s not only okay to let sadness wash over me, it’s probably healthier than spending every ounce of energy I have staving it off.  I freak out at the first sign of clouds because I’m afraid if I don’t do everything in my power to chase them away, I will drown in the deluge.  But rain and flood are two different things.  Rain won’t kill me.  If I’m caught out in a rainstorm having forgotten my umbrella, (or, more likely, my umbrella blew away while I was trying to untuck my dress from my panties) you know what will happen?  I’ll get wet.  That’s all.  Not the end of the world. The danger isn’t in getting wet.  The danger is in confusing wet with dead.  The danger is in the unceasing worry that wet will turn cold which will bring on a case of turn-of-the-century-influenza which will morph into tuberculosis which will lead to dying, alone and impoverished, in the gutter like a dog, leaving only Puccini to weep for me.  My (rare and precious) energy is better spent accepting what is real than fretting over what is absolutely not real.

I feel blue.  And it’s okay.  There, I’ve named it.

Still Tumble Free since 1997.

This poster of Brad from Legends of the Fall hung on the a door in my childhood bedroom from the time the movie came out until I was 30 years old.  Yeah, I can sit in sadness with this man. No problem.

This poster of Brad from Legends of the Fall hung on the a door in my childhood bedroom from the time the movie came out until I was 30 years old. Yeah, I can sit in sadness with this man. No problem.

 

 

 

 

That’ll Do, Pig.

It’s been said that the only people who don’t have doubts are frauds and the only people who don’t struggle with guilt are sociopaths.  Well, if that’s true, then I am the least fraudulent and least sociopathic mother who ever cried into her glass of Target-bought boxed wine.

I have been wrestling the greased pig of guilt more than usual these days.  Guilt is a furtive, insidious little fuck that always seems to find ways to ruin decisions, stall out momentum, and generally make you feel as though the Parenting Police is going to break down your door and haul your giant, please-don’t-judge-me-because-I-still-haven’t-lost-the-baby-weight ass to the clink.  (Hey, Parenting Police?  You didn’t have to break down the door.  I forgot to lock it last night.  As you were.)

The thing about New Mother Guilt is that she never rubs her bitchy little snout in the big stuff.  It’s the myriad tiny decisions that fill the trough. Consider the following internal dialogue I had not too long ago:

Should I feed the baby?  Yes.  Should I feed the baby cereal?  Um, yeah, sure. Is it time for cereal? I think so. I didn’t buy organic, should I go back to the store? Um, well, no, that doesn’t make sense. Does it? Should I? He’s rubbing his nose, is he allergic to this cereal?  Uhhh, well, probably not. He’s probably just got an itchy nose. Probably. Can a baby be allergic to non-organic?  Well, if he can, I bet he is.  Am I poisoning my son?  Yes.  YES!  Because you are terrible at this! If I were a better mother I would have gotten organic.  Well, this poor kid has the worst mother in the world, so how much more damage could non-organic rice cereal do, really?

And that’s just breakfast.  It’s only 7:00 in the morning and I’m already a guilt-ridden failure.  An entire day of decisions lays before me like the poppy field suburbia of The Emerald City.  I’m exhausted.  And going nine rounds (with a voice inside my own head for eff’s sake!) over rice cereal is just ridiculous. It’s time to slaughter that guilt pig and fry up some pride bacon!

So, in an effort to overcome the oink, I am going to turn my attention to the things I know I am doing right* instead of the things I think I’m doing wrong.  Here are a few:

1.  I am proud (and grateful) that I am staying home with my son.  It’s the most challenging, exhausting thing I have ever done, but I am doing it.  My son’s days are filled with me and mine with him and I think we’re both extremely lucky to have each other.

2.  I am proud that I make Boyo’s food.  It’s not a huge deal, really.  I just boil up fruits and veggies and then puree them in a food processor.  But, I’m reducing the packaging that I bring into our home and put out with the garbage, I’m saving us money, and I have the reassurance of knowing EXACTLY what he’s eating because I made it myself.

3.  I am proud that I am learning where my limits are.  I know what the end of my rope feels like I am getting much better about tying a knot and hanging on instead of tying a noose and slipping it over my head.  I reach out.  I call my mother, I text my girlfriends, I step outside, I breathe.  Then I write about it, get rid of it, release it.

4.  I am proud that I know in my bones that perfection is unachievable and what I need and want to strive for instead is excellence.  This one’s easier for me because I have never been a perfectionist.  Know why?  Because my mother knows it in her bones, too.

5.  I am proud that I remember to take care of myself.  When I know what I need, I ask for it.  And I am lucky enough that I get it when I do.

6.  I am proud that my husband and I are still cheesy, mushy lovebirds.  When we got engaged, we joked that our goal would be to make everyone we know throw-up a little bit over how cute we are.  We did.  We do.  We will.  I put handwritten notes in my husband’s homemade lunch.  He tells me all the time that he still can’t believe that it’s me, his childhood crush, sleeping in his bed.  We still turn each other on.  He loves my boobs.  I love his butt.  We make out.  We make love.  We always greet each other at the door.  We are husband and wife before we are Mommy and Daddy.  And we are better parents for it.

7.  I am proud that we have not turned our home over to our son.  There is no doubt that a baby lives here, but our home is not overrun with baby things.  One of the best decisions I ever made was forgoing a baby registry and asking for gift cards instead.  (This decision was not without drama.  A couple of relatives got really pissed and thought that I was extremely rude and even ungrateful for robbing them of the opportunity to shop for my baby.  Weird, but true.) That allowed us to determine and purchase what we actually needed and kept our tiny apartment from bursting at the seams with toys and apparatus that we never used.  Every single baby related item in our house is used almost every day.  Boyo has one smallish basket of toys, but it’s mostly filled with kitchen utensils and books.  He has a jumper, but we packed away his little gym before we put it out.  Instead of an expensive, space hogging high chair, we have a $25 Fisher Price baby seat that attaches to the kitchen chairs we already have.  Everything has a home, a place where it belongs, and because we aren’t drowning in an ocean of stuff, we are able to pack most of it away every night.  Although the “Just Wait-ers” would have me believe that this will not last forever, I am very proud that it’s true today.

8.  I am proud that I have committed to telling the truth about motherhood.  I think I’m helping people in doing so and I know I’m helping myself and my child by not pretending this isn’t the hardest goddamn thing in the world.

9.  I am proud that when I’ve had enough of feeling bad, I find a way to feel good.  I hope to pass this on my boy.

10.  I am proud that when I am not at all proud of myself, I am lifted up by family and friends (and even strangers!) who are.

Although I have yet to experience the rarity of heading to bed thinking, “Man, I really nailed today!” I am equally as certain that I do have solid moments of “I’m doing this right” as I am that feeling as though you nailed an entire day is probably reserved for the fraudulent sociopaths.  Lucky bastards.

*Gentle readers, It’s important to note that if what I think I am doing right is the opposite of what you think you are doing right, we are both right.  I do not judge.  Not you, anyway.

Learn it.  Love it.  Live it.

Learn it. Love it. Live it.

Love and Understanding

The thing about being a movie junkie and a relatively self-reflective person is that sometimes a movie I’ve seen a hundred times can all of a sudden come to life with a previously undetected and all of a sudden vitally important life lesson. Those kinds of lessons aren’t usually at the hands of the grand and dignified like Gregory Peck or Sir Alec Guinness, because the lessons that Atticus Finch and Obi-Wan Kenobi have to teach are pretty on-the-nose.  No, I usually uncover these hidden gems under the most embarrassing of rocks.  Like, Renee Zellweger embarrassing.  Consider the following:   The scene in Jerry Maguire when Dorothy is confessing her too-soon-but-I-can’t-help-it love for Jerry.  She boldly and excitedly proclaims, “I love him for the man he wants to be and I LOVE him for the man he almost is!”  Her proclamation always bewildered me.  How can she love a man she doesn’t understand?  How can she be so sure that she loves him when she’s also so sure that he doesn’t even know who he is himself? That rock-solid certainty in the face of nebulous uncertainty never made sense to me.  That is, of course, until I became a mother.

Let me back up for a minute.  In the three weeks since I last wrote a post, so much has happened to and with my Boyo that time stretches and dilates, taking up more room in my memory than it really took.  He experienced his first trip on an airplane (and did marvelously, miraculously, magnificently well!) He got his first stomach bug (and puked profoundly,  proficiently, and pretty much everywhere!) He sprouted five new teeth, he started eating finger foods, he threw crawling into high-gear, and he discovered the magical satisfaction that can only be found in a crash-clink-clatter of a set of metal measuring spoons.  Big doings.  He also just came through one of the most challenging of his “Wonder Weeks.”

I’m not the kind of person who finds comfort in doing a great deal of research.  Having every option in the world only makes me feel more adrift.  I’m much better off taking a simple piece of advice from a trusted source and seeing if it fits my needs, then adjusting from there, deciding as I go what works and what doesn’t.  For this reason, I don’t read a lot of parenting advice books or articles.  I find a resource that has been recommended by someone I trust, (or that just resonates with me for whatever reason) I give it a try, and if it works, I use it as a reference until it stops working for us.  Well, The Wonder Weeks might as well be called, “Keeping Mommy Sane:  A Guide to Raising Boyo.” I won’t go into major detail about it except to say that this book helps me understand that my son is going through something major even if I don’t understand exactly what my son is going through.  The thing I really love about this book is that it does not offer parenting advice.  It simply informs the reading parent of what’s happening in her developing baby’s brain, how that affects his behavior, and some head’s-up signs that her baby is, in fact, in the  throes of a developmental leap.  What’s to be done from there depends entirely on the integration of whatever parenting style works best for this particular baby (something only his parents can determine.) The Wonder Weeks has helped mitigate my monumental frustration of a thousand unanswered questions (Why is my baby, like, screech-screaming?  Why is he all of a sudden not eating or sleeping? Why does my baby act like I’m peeling off his skin when I change his diaper?) by not only providing some of those answers, but also by reminding me that sometimes, there simply aren’t any answers.  Sometimes, it’s just life blooming and blossoming and all that is to be done is to take a deep breath and remember that while there are similarities in all babies’ development, all babies are different and the only expert in raising my child is me.

Having scream-fuss-whined himself through a huge developmental leap, my persnickety little man is now cheerful and bubbly, crawling full tilt, pulling up on chairs and ottomans (and entertainment centers no matter how many “No!”s I thunder at him.) He’s fascinated by simple household items (thank you, Whisk and Giant Spoon!) and laughing spontaneously at things I didn’t know were hilarious until I heard his golden laughter trumpeting out of his toothy little mouth.

I do not always understand my boy.  I don’t always know what’s making him cry.  I can’t always figure out what he wants, even when I can tell that he’s seeking something.  I am often surprised by his reaction to both new and familiar circumstances.  I am living with a (tiny) man that I do not understand.  And I love him.  I do.  Deeper and more profoundly every day.  I love him for the boy he is today, right now, this moment.  I love him for the boy and man he’s developing into.  I love him for the boy and man I hope he becomes.  Watching my son’s nascent personality effloresce is a pleasure and an honor unlike any I have ever known. Each new bit of understanding is another link in the garland of love that we are building together, like the strung-together popcorn on Bob Cratchit’s Christmas tree.

I don’t have to understand Boyo to love him.  I only have to understand that I do love him.  I only have to remember the Dark Days when I wasn’t sure if I did love him, when I felt like all I could do was tolerate him, when the inky stain of that guilt threatened to ruin the fabric of my sanity.  I only have to be grateful in my bones to have realized that love is where I go when patience is gone.  Love is where I go when frustration threatens to cloud up and rain chicken shit all over my day.  Love is where I go when my yearning for understanding gets sharp and heavy, like a medieval flail.  When impatience, frustration, and lack of understanding have me in a free fall, love is the net that will catch me.

So, as embarrassing as it is, I have Renee Zellweger and the 100th or so viewing of Jerry Maguire to thank for helping me unearth a lesson that I hadn’t realized I had learned.  Love, that sturdy bulwark in the battleground of parenthood, will stand strong with or without understanding.

Now, if I could just get someone to show me the money…

This serving spoon does what a pile full of toys did not...Entertain my cranky baby.  Thanks, Giant Spoon!

This serving spoon did what a pile full of toys did not…Entertain my cranky baby. Thanks, Giant Spoon!

On Needing Mama

Boyo is teething.  *Deep breath.*  A classic over acheiver in the making, he’s seems to be getting them all at once.  He’s started off with two at once on the bottom, then another and now it appears both upper teeth and maybe a fourth bottom tooth are coming in as well.  He is, in a word, miserable.  But that really sad kind of miserable where you can see all the sunshiny smiley sugar just wanting to burst out of him, but then he remembers his face hurts, like really bad, and oh, is that Mama?  Because yeah, I sure do want Mama.  And now that I see her, only Mama will do.

There is such a bewitching duality to having a clingy baby.  On the one hand, it makes it a real challenge to get anything done.  In addition to taking full-time care of my boy, I also have a work-from-home job and a work-on-home duty, so Boyo’s teething neediness means, among other things, that the laundry is piling up and — sniff — ew, is that me?  Yeah, y’all.  That’s me.  So, I give myself a whore’s bath, (tits and pits; ass and sass) throw a load of essentials (undies, mostly) in a quick cycle, and head back to my mewling little wretch.  I walk up to him and even as the fresh tears leak down his cheeks, his hands go up, reaching for me, and the sweet babble of “Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-” starts bubbling on his lips and even though I know he’s not really saying “Mama” he really is because here I am and I am what he wants, what he needs, and only I will do.  That is a truly, deeply, spectacularly wonderful feeling.

I know how he feels.  These days, I miss my mother so much, I almost feel raisinated.  Like the juicy grape of having my shit together is getting too much sun and not enough water and I am shriveling.  One of the greatest blessings in my life is my relationship with my Mama.  It’s not perfect, but it is round and rich, deep and distinctly ours.  Mama knows me in a way nobody else on the planet does, not my best friends, not my husband, not anyone.  When I was a little girl, struggling with with my parents’ divorce and the achingly terrible reality of having to split time between two very different households, my Mama told me that there was an invisible, unbreakable golden thread that connected her heart to mine.  She taught me to name the feeling of being lost without her as the simple tug of that golden thread; that the very act of missing each other was part of how we stayed connected.  These days it feels like the tug of that golden thread is gonna yank my heart right out, I miss her so.

I haven’t seen her since April, in the midst of The Dark Days, and so very much has happened since then.  After a year of working retail to make ends meet, my husband (I’ll call him Daddyo from now on) got a job in academia.  In the span of six weeks, we flew down to Florida to find a place to live, we said goodbye to the friends and family that had made Massachusetts home, we packed up our whole lives, drove across country and spent every dime we had settling into a brand spanking new life, full of opportunities, but empty of anything or anyone familiar.  Daddyo dove face first into a new job, new responsibilities, new expectations, and the new reality of having to earn the opportunity to make his one year appointment a permanent gig.  We’ve unpacked our new home, hosted both of my in-laws in two different visits, forged a relationship with a new pediatrician and found the local versions of those two bastions of domestic life:  the grocery store and Target.  Also in that time, my dad (my step-dad, really, but really, my dad) had heart surgery and my grandmother died.  It’s been a hell of a summer.  And in all that time, I’ve not once rested my head on my mother’s shoulder.  Brutal.

That all changes this weekend.  Friday starts a twelve day stretch of “me and you, kid” time.  Daddyo is going out of town for a conference and Mama is coming to help out.  I cannot properly express how profoundly excited I am to see her.  I feel fresh tears on my cheeks as my hands go up, reaching for her, and the sweet babble of “Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-” bubbles on my lips.  Every beat of my heart is saying “Mama” because she is headed this way soon and she is what I want, what I need, and only she will do.   And that is a truly, deeply, spectacularly wonderful feeling.

I hope my boy never stops needing me.  I know our relationship will (and must) change as he gets older.  But I hope resting his head on my shoulder is something that always makes him feel better.  I hope we have the kind of relationship that renews and recharges us both.  I hope spending time together makes him feel closer to whole.  I hope he believes in the golden thread as thoroughly as I do.

If I’m half the mother to him as mine is to me, he will.

Mama and me.  <3

Mama and me. Christmas 1978 is my best guess.  Am I three months old or 15 months old?  I’m so bad at that.

 

 

Home: No Shoes, No Shirt, No Worries

The other day I took my sweet boy out for a photo shoot.  The week before we had found a pretty little patch on the nearby hospital grounds.  It was the Children’s Memorial Garden, a simple spot with unshowy flowers, plain white benches, and a lovely pond-side view.  It’s  a pensive nook adorned with the memorial plaques celebrating the beautiful lives of children lost far too soon.  It’s a place where death is in the abstract, but the quiet hum of life going on whispers its harsh but important message.  I spoke in hushed tones to Boyo, thanking him for being healthy, hale, and here.  I asked him to be careful and conscientious with his life, and to stay with me for absolutely ever.  Or, at least, as close to absolutely ever as he possibly could.  I sent love and light to the parents of these lost souls and asked them to send love and light back to my boy, in the names of their sons and daughters.  I prayed the prayer that every parent prays, “Please protect my child.”

As I took out my camera and snapped some shots of my beloved boy, my mood turned from solemn to celebratory.  We had had a good (if not yet entirely unbroken) night of sleep, it was a gorgeous day, and we were here, together, passing the time under a canopy of trees I couldn’t name.  I had dressed my boy in a green collared onesie, tan corduroy pants embroidered with golden-crowned frogs, and his grey newsboy cap which, since our grocery store trip two days before, held a new magnetism of meaning.  He looked cute as a bug’s ear, y’all.

He was also probably hot as balls.  It’s the coolest it’s been since we moved here, but the October Florida sun is still powerfully strong.  By the time we got home (after a walk of just over a mile), I was drenched in sweat.  I had covered Boyo’s stroller with a muslin blanket to provide shade, but at the cost of even a breath of breeze.  He was asleep when we got home, but I was so uncomfortably hot that I just couldn’t stand the idea of leaving him a sweaty, sticky, sleeping mess.  (The equal but opposite mandate of my thin-blooded mother, “I’m freezing!  Go put a sweater on!”) So I peeled my shirt and pants off, scooped him up and took him to his room where I promptly stripped him down and stood in front of the fan, both of us in our skivvies, while we cooled down.  When, a short time later, I saw the the pile of discarded clothes not three feet from our front door, I laughed to myself thinking, “Boy, I sure don’t fuck around in getting comfortable once I’m home.”

I grew up in a home that was welcoming and beautiful and functional and organized, but mostly, comfortable.  I have tried to emulate that cocoon of comfort in every home I’ve built for myself since I left for college.  Home is where I don’t have to wear a bra or shoes or even pants.  I don’t have to suffer through an itch that’s not acceptable to scratch; I can just scratch my bits as needed.  I don’t have to answer to anyone.  I don’t have to suck in my stomach or stand up straight or wear makeup.  I can wear soft pants and shelf-bra camisoles and hoodies and soft white socks.   I prefer glasses to contacts, hair up to hair done, flip flops to high heels and chapstick to lipstick.  I choose all those things when I’m home. (Although I don’t do high heels at all anymore.  If your feet hurt, your heart hurts.) Tim Gunn once said you know your tailored clothes fit correctly if they are slightly uncomfortable.  Now, I damn near worship Tim Gunn, but eff that noise.  Pour Mama glass of wine while she takes of her bra.  In the kitchen.  Without removing her shirt.  (You know the move!)

My living room chairs are worn out, slip covered hand-me-downs but they are super comfy.  I spend money on high thread count sheets because I would rather sigh the sigh of the utterly contented when I get into bed than have fancy shoes or lots of earrings or the latest and greatest gadget.  My living room says, “Come hang out!”  My bedroom says, “Sweet dreams!” My kitchen says, “Let’s feed this beautiful family!”  Everything about my home says, “Come in, have a cold drink, then sit and chat for awhile.  Pants are optional.”

My home is my soft place to fall, and I have feathered our nest to catch us all.  My home is my sanctuary, so I want my family and anyone else who enters to feel safe here, too.  Home is where we hang our hats, rest our heads, and heal our hearts.   The world can be cold and cruel.   Home must be warm and welcoming.  The world is a place to mourn lost children.  Home is a place to be found again.

 

To all the sleeping children and the heavy hearts of their mourning families.

To all the sleeping children and the heavy hearts of their mourning families.

 

 

What a Difference a Hat Makes

These past few days I have been cloaked in grief.  I didn’t expect my grandmother’s death to hit me quite so hard.  I thought I had such a good grip on the very logical, very healthy, very Irish perspective of “Death is just a part of Life” that it wouldn’t be long until my heavy heart could catch up with my clever head.  Maybe it hasn’t been that long, really, but I am still rather reeling from the loss.  It gets easier every day until the day comes when it isn’t easy at all.  But the sun always, always sets on the hard days, and always, always rises again on a day that has the potential for being better.  In that way, Life is just a part of Death.

Yeah, some days I’ve got it all figured out.  And other days, I need a little help.  Yesterday, my bright and beautiful boy was my rising sun.  It was something so simple, as day-brighteners often are.  It was just a trip to the grocery store.

I justify not always dressing my drooly/slobbery/barfy little stain magnet when we’re at home by drawing a heavy line at his always being dressed when we go out among the English.  Yesterday, I put him in a simple short sleeved, red and blue striped, grey accented onesie.  On a whim I grabbed his little grey newsboy cap.  I, of course, thought he looked absolutely adorable, but guess what?  I think he’s cute when all he’s wearing are carrots and peas.  I was unprepared for the red carpet that appeared beneath our grocery cart.

This kid was a massive hit!  It took us five mintues just to get in the opening-closing-opening-closing doors because every single grandma and grandpa in the front entry stopped to admire him. The Deli Dames damn near lost their minds.  It took me fifteen minutes to get my cold cuts for the week because the gal who was helping us literally kept calling the other ladies over to look at Boyo.  Then she stopped the customers who were walking by with a “Don’t walk by that baby!  Get your share of the cute!” One call over begat another and pretty soon, we had a Nana and PopPoparazzi surrounding us!

As we walked through produce, we encountered a grouch.  She was clearly agitated by the fact that her path to the zucchini was blocked by other shoppers.  The “harumph” never left her face or her voice when she spotted us and said, “Cute. It’s the hat.”

I was picking out a ham steak in the meat section when I heard the microphoned voice of the cooking demonstration lady calling, “Oh my goodness, look at that baby!  With the hat!  Oh, look!” I would have guessed that taco seasoning really can’t hold a candle to my boy’s incandescence, but it sure was pretty awesome to have announced proof.

I swear I am not making it up when I say that on every single aisle, someone, usually an older gal, but also men, young women, store employees, and even a teenager stopped to remark on how adorable my hastily and serendipitously dressed little man was.  We were the celebrities in the cereal aisle, the stars of the seafood department, and the famous faces in Frozen Foods.  We were showered with attention and praise at literally every turn.  My cheeks hurt from grinning like a fool.  It felt fantastic!

I missed introducing my son to my grandmother by three weeks.  That fact is a heavy stone in my pocket.  I take great comfort in knowing (thanks to my mother and my aunt) that even toward the end when my grandmother couldn’t remember anything, she always asked about my boy by name.  If I were a more mystical being, I would have said that maybe my beloved grandmother had a hand in enveloping us in grandparental admiration and attention yesterday.  Maybe it was her way of telling me, “I see him.  I see you.  And I am proud of you both.”

Of course, for that to be true, it would mean that dying completely changes your personality.  My grandmother was a lot of things, but maudlin and sentimental she most certainly was not.  That’s what the living do, though.  They hold on to their dead, seeing and hearing and feeling them until they are ready to let them go.  I guess I’m not ready yet.  Because yesterday, I swear, she went grocery shopping with us.

Yesterday, I unknowingly exchanged my cloak of grief for a little boy’s newsboy cap.

What a difference a hat makes!

I mean, is it any wonder, really?  Look at this effing kid!

I mean, is it any wonder, really? Look at this effing kid!

 

What Troy Dyer Knew

Remember the scene in Reality Bites when Troy, Vicki, and Sammy are hanging out watching One Day at a Time? Troy says, “If I could bottle the sexual tension between Bonnie Franklin and a Schneider, I could solve the energy crisis.”  A bogarted can, a whole pot of poinsettias, and a gas station dinner later, the energy crisis still lingers.  Well, if I could bottle the zing-buzz-thrill of having a fundamental need met, then I could give Bonnie Franklin and Schneider a run for their money.  And I’m not even talking about sex.

I’m talking about having some time by myself.

I need alone time.  Maybe it’s having grown up in a big Irishy-Jewishy family where if your mouth isn’t stuffed with homemade goodies, it’s yapping on and on about something, rendering quiet time something of a precious commodity.  Maybe it’s genetic, because my mother tells me that when I was little, if she found herself with some alone time, she would unplug the fridge so that not even the whirring of the motor would interrupt her reverie.  Or maybe it’s just that I am a pretty engaged person and I give a lot of myself especially socially.  Whatever the reason, for me, time alone is exceedingly important in keeping the crazies away.

So, a couple of weekends ago when my husband recognized the crazies starting to party in my eyes, he asked, “What do you need?”  I’m not sure he even got to the end of the question when I said, “I want to go to the movies.  Alone.” (One of the really spectacular things about my marriage is that all it takes is “I need” and that need is met.  I really lucked out in the husband department.) I got to spend some time alone and as soon as I settled into that dark (and nearly empty – SCORE!) theater, I could feel the crazies retreating back to their lair.

My mother always told me that the first step toward getting something is wanting it.  Sometimes, in the hurricane force winds of parental chaos, it’s hard to discern what it is we really want.  Sometimes, in the destructive riptide of parental guilt, it’s hard to admit that we have wants at all or that those wants are actually needs.  To deny a basic need, whatever it may be, is to ignore our very self, the one being on this earth that we are 100% responsible for.  As I detailed in The Oxygen Mask Theory, putting ourselves first, while sometimes a challenge, is the greatest tool we have in building a good parenting model.  Let us release ourselves from the quagmire of guilt and unrealistic expectations and give ourselves the chance to recharge, renew, restock the cupboards of our strength with whatever it takes to do so.  Let us be grateful for pedicures, shopping trips, a cocktail with the girls, bike rides, naps, weekends away, the chance to read – oh sweet Jesus – a book that is not about giving any kind of animal a snack, and just being completely alone.  They are the conduits to sanity.  Let us not consider them anything less.

Perhaps most importantly, let us also release our husbands, wives, partners, and support systems from the hangman’s noose of silent expectations.  Let’s don’t expect anyone to be mind readers.  To think, “If my husband really knows and loves me, he would just offer [what I want/need] without my having to ask for it” is to strike him out without letting him have an at-bat.  Let’s live out loud, shall we?  Let us ask of ourselves before we ask of others.  Let us know ourselves better, listen to ourselves more carefully, fulfill ourselves more frequently, indulge ourselves less guiltily, and accept ourselves, our needs, and our wants more readily.

And let us always remember that sometimes all it takes is “a couple smokes, a cup of coffee, and a little conversation.  You and me and five bucks.”

Here's something weird.  In searching for an image of this scene, the only pics I found were flipped.  In the movie, Troy's on the other side of Lelaina.  Still hot, though. :-)

Here’s something weird. In searching for an image of this scene, the only pics I found were flipped. In the movie, Troy’s on the other side of Lelaina. Still hot, though. 🙂

The Truth About Oldie

Before my grandfather died thirty-ish years ago, he told my grandmother that when she died, he would meet her in the nebula of Orion and would take her the rest of the way to Heaven from there.  Two nights ago, he did just that.  Surrounded by four of her children, with the fifth on the phone, my Oldie died and flew to the stars.

I know it was coming.  I know it was time.  I know she was so curious to “see what was on the other side.”  I know she was tired.  Tired of living, tired of dying, tired of missing her husband.  I know it’s a blessing for her, for all of us, especially for my mother, who took such brilliant, loving, quotidian care of her.  I just wish the steadfast logic of my beloved grandmother’s death being a good thing had any effect at all at on the wellspring of sadness that has dampened my heart and my cheeks.

Grief is a harsh task masker.  It will not be ignored.  You try to turn your back on grief and it will rise up, gather strength, and knock you on your ass whenever it goddamn feels like it.  The only tool we have against grief is to surrender to it, feel it in its entirety, deflate it from the inside.  And so, as I mourn my heavy loss, I am taking out my memories, thumbing their well worn, dog-eared pages, and remembering some of the lessons my Oldie taught me.

You don’t have to deal with something you hate.  Get rid of it.   Oldie was staying with me while my folks were out of town the day I brought home my 4th grade school pictures.  I was terribly upset. I had a mouth full of metal, a face full of pimples and (O! The horror!) my hair was parted down the middle!  She tried to console me, told me it wasn’t that bad, that braces were fixing my teeth, that my skin wouldn’t always be turbulent, who the hell cared where my hair was parted.  None of it worked.  So she pulled out a pot, filled it with water, took out all the spices and said, “Boil ’em up.”  We spent a half hour, the two of us, adding a pinch of oregano, a soupçon of gravy master until the offending image was gone and all that was left was a blank page.

She taught me that when faced with something abhorrent, try a different perspective.  But if that didn’t work, then get rid of the damn thing.

They’re just boobies.  When I was about twelve years old, Oldie was again filling in for my folks.  I had a nasty chest cold.  Oldie tucked me into bed, grabbed the Vicks Vapo-Rub and sat down beside me, waiting for me to lift my nightie so she could apply it.  I hesitated, embarrassed to expose myself to my grandmother.  She said, “Come on, they’re just boobies.  I’ve seen ’em.”  Somehow, her brusqueness broke through to me in a way that sympathetic understanding might not have.

She taught me that sometimes we must make ourselves vulnerable in order to receive the comfort we crave.

The magic words.  I was in my early twenties when my grandmother called me over to her house to help her unstick a drawer.  I thought it was cute that my “poor old widowed grandmother” (as she like to call herself when she wanted me to do something for her) couldn’t get a drawer open and I felt kinda puffed up that I would be able to come to her rescue with little effort.  Well, forty-five minutes later, you think I had made any progress?  Yeah, no.

Me:  Oldie, I can’t get the thing open, either!

Oldie:  Did you say the magic words?  You can’t give up until you’ve tried the magic words.

Me:  What, abracadabra?  Open sesame?

Oldie:  No. [Smirk.]  Shit, shit, SHIT!

She taught me that I really do come from a long line of potty mouths, and that spicy language is sometimes the best way to get your point across.

You have to have a sense of humor about aging.  I used to call my grandmother “Grandma.”  All of my younger cousins do.  But on her 75th birthday, I teased that she looked fantastic for two hundred years old.  She stuck out her tongue, thumbed her nose at me and said, “Smart ass.” The spark in her eye and the wink in her tone told me we had just found a game that was gonna last for the rest of her life.  I started calling her “Oldie.”  She started signing cards and letters that way, too.  But just to me.  When my younger cousin once snidely called her Oldie, she snapped, “Don’t you dare.  Only your cousin can call me that.” I think she trusted that there was not an ounce of disrespect in my nickname for her.  Just the teasing love of a granddaughter who adored her.

Every Thanksgiving was the Old Folks’ Home test.  As long as she could make the gravy, she didn’t have to go in the home.  She always muttered about smart-mouth kids, but every single year, she called me to the stove for the taste test.  When she got the thumbs up she’d declare, “Stick that in your Old Folks’ Home!”

As she got older, her standard answer for “How you doin’, Oldie?” was “Not bad for an old dame.”  And she often said even when the chips are down, “You gotta keep on living.  Otherwise, they stick you in a hole a throw dirt in your face.”  She even had a sense of humor about her memory loss.  Toward the end, many a conversation happened like this:

Me: “I told you yesterday, remember?”

Oldie: “Oh, well, I have a very fine Forgettery, you know.  I must have put it there.”

She taught me that to fear or even lament aging is ridiculous.  It’s gonna happen, there’s no way around it.  Embrace it.  Surrender to it.  Laugh at it.  That’s the thing about life:  Nobody makes it out alive.  Life is better when you don’t rage against the inevitable.

There’s nothing like a dirty joke.  Oh, how my Oldie loved a dirty joke.  Not filthy, but dirty.  There’s a fine line, but I knew where it was and I could tickle her funny bone with any one of a hundred I had collected over the years, knowing she would love them.  As she started to get dotty, I would just stick to the four or five that made her laugh the hardest, because every time I saw her, they’d be new to her. (Thanks, Forgettery!)

Her favorite:

For the longest time, I never wore no underwear.  Drove my boyfriend Ernie nuts!  One day I got a cold and headed to the doctor.  Unbeknownst to me, Ernie called the doctor and told him, “Doc!  Tell Soph that the reason she’s sick is because she don’t wear no underwear.”  So I get to the doctor’s office.  He looks down my throat and says, “Soph!  You ain’t wearin’ no underwear!”  I says to him, “Doc! You can look down my throat and see I ain’t wearin’ no underwear??  Do me a favor.  Look up my ass and tell me if my hat’s on straight!”

She taught me that old people are just old young people.  And they love to laugh.

In the end, it’s just going home.  After many years, Oldie started wearing her wedding rings again.  She’d taken them off when Grandpa died declaring, in her classic unsentimental way,  “I’m not married anymore.  I promised til death do us part.”  When I asked her why the about-face, she said that Grandpa had visited her in a dream and said, “What’s the matter, Dearie?  You don’t want to be married to me anymore?”  She was excited to see him again, to be with him and with her God.  Her strong Catholic faith and a sixty-five year old love for her husband, whom she knew was waiting for her, alleviated any fear about dying.  She knew where she was going and was eager to get there.

I am honored to have known her, to have loved and been loved by her, to have teased and been teased by her.  She will live on in my heart, in my memory, and in the scintilla of my favorite constellation.    

Here’s to you, Oldie!  Orion shines brighter for having known you.  And so do I.

May the road rise up to meet you, Oldie.  I love you very much.

May the road rise up to meet you, Oldie. I love you very much.

 

 

AMKO  March 18, 1921 - September 29, 2013

AMKO
March 18, 1921 – September 29, 2013

 

This post is dedicated to the staff of St. Dominc’s Village in Houston, TX.   They treated my grandmother with the kindness, dignity, and respect she deserved.  They gave my mother endless comfort and worked tirelessly to help her maintain my grandmother’s finances and care.

For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’  Matthew 25: 35-40

 

Mom Stays in the Picture

She’s mean.  Sometimes, she’s super-crazy mean.  She can cut you to the quick and devastate your feelings in a heartbeat.  She can take your deepest secrets or your darkest fears and force them to swim up into the very forefront of your consciousness.  If left to her own devices, she can make you feel utterly, ruthlessly worthless.  If it were anyone else, you’d have washed your hands clean of her long ago and good riddance, too.

She’s the Little Voice Inside Your Head.  And she can be a bitch on wheels.

Maybe your Little Voice says you’re boring or ugly or strange or ungraceful.  Maybe she calls you stupid or thinks you’re too short or too tall or makes fun of your acne or thinks you have a mustache or weird boobs.

When my Little Voice gets loud, she calls me fat.

I’ve always been chubby.  I took to food as comfort at a very young age.  Childhood trauma taught me that in world that was sometimes inexplicably cruel, the constancy of chocolate’s deliciousness (for example) was incredibly soothing. Thus was born the emotional-eating monkey that would cling to my back for the rest of my life.

One of Little Voice’s favorite and most fecund stomping ground is in photographs.  How many times have I seen a picture of myself and heard Little Voice scream, “Look how fat you are!  Double chin!  Flabby arms!  Thunder thighs! You’re so groooooooooooss!!” This is probably the reason why I became such avid picture taker.  I don’t have to be in the picture if I’m the one taking it.  This has been a pattern for my entire life.  See a picture that makes Little Voice kvetch?  Just tear it up (I’m dating myself here) or delete it.  Feeling particularly large on a given day?  Avoid the camera completely.  Stand in the back.  Make sure you’re at a lower angle than the lens, don’t get shot from behind.  I know all the rules. And I adhere to them like they are commandments.

Then I had a baby.  Now I’m the chunkiest I’ve ever been and things are…um…droopy in a way they never were before.  Now I’ve got perma-circles under my eyes and my hair is rarely clean, let alone brushed.  My clothes are always covered in barf.  And did I mention that I’m the chunkiest I’ve ever been? Besides which, I’ve got the cutest baby in the entire world, so why bother even being in pictures when I’ve got such a beautiful subject and Little Voice doesn’t get mean about him?

And then it occurred to me.  In giving Little Voice the microphone, I am at risk of digitally deleting myself from the documentation of my son’s childhood.

LIGHTBULB!

When he looks through the pictures of this time, I want my boy to know that I was there.  I want him to look back at the pictures of his childhood and say, “There’s Mommy!” not “Where’s Mommy?” I want him to know how much time we spent together, that I took him on walks and tickled his toes and fed the ducks and read Brown Bear a hundred thousand times and sat under big beautiful trees and marveled at the beauty of autumn.  I want him to have photographic evidence of his homemade baby food, his ridiculously adorable outfits, his penchant for slobbery, double-handed face mushes.  I want him to leaf through photos of times he was too young to remember and realize that for his entire childhood, I was never far from him.  I was there, I took part, I was vitally present and involved in this very important time.

If I kowtow to Little Voice, then I risk losing all of that.  Plus, if I let Little Voice do the decision making, then I run the risk of teaching my son that a woman who could stand to lose a few isn’t worthy of attention, respect, or love.  If I don’t actively and demonstratively love myself, just as I am, then I am setting a dangerous example for him follow.  I want my son to love and respect himself, just as he is.  And I want him to love and respect women, just as they are.  I can hardly expect that of him when I don’t expect that of myself.

So, shut your face, Little Voice.  My son doesn’t care what I look like.  My son cares what I smell like.  He doesn’t care if I have a double chin, he nuzzles his face right in it.  He doesn’t think my curves are too curvy.  He thinks they make for the comfiest snuggle spot in all the land.  I think I’ll hand the mic over to him for a spell.  I could learn a thing or two.

 

All Little Voice can see in this picture is enormous face, double chin, gross upper arm.  Little Voice is so blind!  Look at that fucking kid!  And the look on my face says, "I am so proud of myself for producing the cutest kid on the planet and for dressing him as such."

All Little Voice can see in this picture is enormous face, double chin, gross upper arm. Little Voice is so blind! Look at that fucking kid! And the look on my face says, “I am so proud of myself for producing the cutest kid on the planet and for dressing him as such.”

Little Voice has a thing or two to say about this pic, too.  But it was Boyo's first swim ever!  I don't want to be absent from moments like these just because Little Voice is a raging bitch!

Little Voice has a thing or two to say about this pic, too. But it was Boyo’s first swim ever! I don’t want to be absent from moments like these just because Little Voice is a raging bitch!

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: Love, Fear, and Cupcakes

LST is a middle and high school girlfriend of mine and author of this guest post.  She is a lawyer, a wife, and a mother to two adorable food allergic boys. This is the story of her difficult and brave journey into new motherhood.

===============================================================

When I think about my experience of the first year of my older son’s life, I think a lot about gluten-free vegan baking.  I have always had some liberal and foodie tendencies, but vegan baking, prior to 2010, seemed a hippy-dippy, earthy-crunchy bridge too far. I was more of a fake-it-til-you-make-it, doctor up the box mix kind of girl.

Until, that is, there was the possibility that my adorable baby son might not have cake or cupcakes for his first birthday unless I made them my own self. Thus is the life of an allergy mom – specialty baking mixed with a serious dose of panic.

My oldest son was diagnosed at about eight months old with a rare allergic condition called eosinophilic esophagitis.  His life up until that point had been…well…frankly, terrifying to me.

My kiddo entered the world the rarest of the rarest of the rare. His birth involved me on a gurney with a nurse on top of me, people running, and lots of screaming, “OR, STAT!” and “We have to save your baby!” He had a prolapsed cord with a true knot in it. My friend the internet tells me that those complications happen in about .23% and about .05% of pregnancies, respectively. Either complication on its own can, and often does, kill a baby. How lucky we were to have had those nurses and doctors screaming and running. How lucky to have general anesthesia and surgery so quick they cut the side of the baby’s head on the way to get him out. How traumatic it all was! After he was born, he needed stitches while I was still out cold. Due to general anesthesia, I didn’t really meet him until he was about six hours old.

Our young son’s adventures with medicine didn’t stop after his birth. He vomited blood at 24 hours old, and again at 48 hours. He was admitted to the NICU for observation for several days, and they never really found the source of the problem. “It was probably related to his traumatic birth. He’ll probably be fine,” we were told. Then he had blood in his stool at six weeks old. No explanation. Then he was “fine.” Then he vomited blood again at about eight months old. In the meantime, he grew really well, and smiled and was very social…but he never really slept. We held him and rocked him and walked him and literally read prayers from the Book of Common Prayer over him in an effort to will him to sleep. He was a sweet, wonderful little person during the day, but he nursed all. the. time. His symptoms were so non-specific, that the only response we got from the pediatrician was, “Let him cry. It’s probably time for some sleep-training.” In the meantime, while I desperately wanted sleep, I was panicked that he was going to die and I felt that it was my responsibility to watch him every minute. I mean, in all of those months – 24 hours old, 48 hours old, 6 weeks old, eight months old – he had had blood coming from *somewhere* but no one could tell us where or, more importantly, why. I had crushing guilt that I didn’t know how to help this little person whom I had *created* and for whom I had total responsibility.

In the meantime, probably because he was immune suppressed from having to deal with the underlying allergies, he was frequently sick. He had recurrent ear infections. He had recurrent croup. I lived in fear. The Christmas season when he was six months old, I had such a hard time seeing the “beauty of the season” that I wanted to shout to that young woman on the donkey, “Mary!!! Look out! That miracle child of yours dies in 33 years! DIES!!! Guard your heart! DIES! Crucifixion! Look out!!!” Like a young mother, even thousands of years ago, could guard her heart against the future, protect against the pain of losing someone whose DNA was knit into her very brain. As though knowing the outcome lessened all the amazing days in between – and this was JESUS. I wanted to warn MARY that her baby JESUS was going to DIE. Terror wreaks havoc in the brain of the first-time mother. In my mind, I refer to the overwhelming panic I felt about my son from his birth until he was about ten months old as That Dark Time.

At eight months, after vomiting blood, he was admitted to the hospital and an upper GI endoscopy with biopsy was scheduled for the next morning. They would knock our boy out with general anesthesia and send a tiny camera down his esophagus and into the first part of his stomach, taking tissue samples as they went.

A week or so later we received the results of the test. He had eosinophilic esophagitis, also called allergic esophagitis. He was allergic to some of the food proteins that were passing through my breastmilk to him. His immune system was attacking the proteins as they went down his esophagus, and this was causing visible damage to his GI tract. No wonder he couldn’t sleep. An answer. An answer that caused the specialists to apologize to us – “This is rare.” “This is a long, slow road…but at least now you’re on the road.” – but an answer, nonetheless. We embarked on a long, complicated journey to find out which foods were causing a reaction. For a while, I avoided dairy, eggs, wheat, and soy. After he had more trouble at around ten and a half months of age, we weaned him from breastmilk to hypoallergenic formula. Through allergy testing we found out that corn, wheat (gluten), dairy (cow’s millk), eggs, sesame, beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and treenuts were probably the things causing the trouble. Once weaned to the hypoallergenic formula alone, he slept. It was like a miracle. He was still happy during the day, and now he was peaceful at night. Thank you, sweet teeny tiny baby Jesus (he who died at 33 years of age).

As it turned out, not all of my fear that something terrible would befall my tiny son had been irrational. One of his pediatric specialists or his pediatrician (I don’t remember which) told us shortly after his diagnosis, “Well, this probably doesn’t lead to cancer.” Probably. Doesn’t. Lead. To. Cancer. My son was eight months old.

Even having a diagnosis, I still felt awful. If allergies were playing a role, that also meant that genetics were playing a role. My husband and his mother have seasonal allergies. My mother and father had seasonal allergies. That meant our son had gotten “allergic genes” from both sides of his family tree. I felt like I had brought this broken person into the world, and that it was my (and my husband’s) fault he wasn’t typical, because we chose to conceive him, and we gave him our (as I saw it at that point, clearly flawed) genes.

I said something to that effect to the pediatrician once through tears as we were talking about how allergies had a genetic component: “What did we do to this child?” The pediatrician pointed out that we had also given our son some “really good [genes], too.” It took me time to see the good ways in which his genes have affected our kiddo  – now that he is funny and clever, I can see (and claim) all the good genes.  Even adorable and happy pre-verbal children can be hard to fully embrace when they don’t really sleep and everything about them makes you think that the other shoe is about to drop.

Over time, we have learned how to cook differently, bake differently, and be differently about food. And we learned, and we learned, and we learn. And our son grew and grew and grows.  Today our son is a beautiful, kind, active, silly four-year-old. He loves dinosaurs, superheroes, running/jumping/swinging, drawing, and his little brother.  He’s also grown up knowing that some foods are safe for his body, and some aren’t. He knows to ask what the “‘gredients” are before trying a food. He knows that he has special treats in the freezer of his preschool, in case someone has a birthday circle. He knows that that isn’t always a bad thing – like when your preschool has a substitute teacher one day and she gives you all four (!) special treats at once (yes!), so while all the other kids get a muffin for a snack, you get a special brownie, and a cupcake, and some fruit snacks, and a cookie. He knows that he should always wear his special allergy bracelet to remind the adults around him to check before giving him food. He knows that one simply doesn’t leave home without the Medicine Bag – containing Benadryl, Epinephrine, and an asthma rescue inhaler.  He knows that he has to drink all of his “powder milk” (hypoallergenic formula) before he can choose to drink whatever he wants with dinner (like chocolate soymilk – yum!).

The kiddo avoids foods for which he has a positive allergy test, and that seems to have done the trick. He has to have new allergy tests every so often to see if his body is able to tolerate a food it once had trouble with. Then, he can try a new food. After a few weeks on the new food, he has a new endoscopy to check for hidden damage. So far, he’s been able to add successfully into his diet wheat (gluten), sesame, milk baked into baked goods, peanuts, pork, pecan, cashew, and almond. To add in the foods in that last sentence took about two years. That sentence was hard-earned, and involved pokes, prods, a couple of rounds of general anesthesia, some frayed nerves, and countless prayers. Right now he is trying chicken. Just this last week, for the first time, we went out into the world without bringing a lunchbox. He ate a grilled chicken sandwich from Panera Bread. I almost cried. Each act of trying a food that he’s previously been told to avoid is a profoundly brave act. I can see that he has learned from the superhero stories he loves.

From his parents, to get to this healthy point it has taken many internet searches (thank you, Al Gore or whomever, for inventing the internet so that I can find safe recipes to feed my child), many special-ordered ingredients (new allergy mom, repeat after me: “Authentic Foods Superfine Brown Rice Flour”), several new cookbooks (I love you, Cybele Pascal), the gift of a Kitchenaid stand mixer, and a few breakdowns (“Why, God?! Why! I just want to doctor the cake mix like Rachael Ray says is delish! Why?!?!”).  Each birthday our homemade allergy-friendly cupcakes tasted better than they had the birthday before as we perfected our recipes and technique.

I wish I could go back and tell that mama of That Dark Time not to feel so scared and guilty, that it would all be okay, and that I was missing this amazing little person who had cheated death (twice!) before ever entering the world.

I probably needed therapy. Or a drink. Or a therapeutic drink.

The thing that released me most from my fear, other than time and the gift of experience, was when I asked the pediatric gastroenterologist, “Do you expect this child to grow up typically, except for this condition?” He said, “Yes.” It changed my life.

I am eternally grateful for the people that came to me during That Dark Time and held him and loved us – telling me, “You’re doing great. He’s growing. You’ll get there. You’re a great mom. You love him so much.” The people who held our hands before his early endoscopies will forever have my heart. The people who prayed for him (and still do) are my heroes.

I have two sons now – our amazing four-year-old and his baby brother. We are still in mystery, sleepless night, pre-verbal territory with baby brother. I do not know what lies in his future. I know that I am lucky that I have not been so terrified with him and that allows me to enjoy him more. We are different people each time a child enters our lives, so we are also different parents.

For the record, I recently found a woman in our city who makes cakes for people with special diets. For a price, she makes us vegan, corn-free baked goods. I love her. I can e-mail her even faster than I can doctor up a box mix.  Eat your heart out, Rachael Ray.

Here are the boys, dressed as the Supperheroes, their team for the FARE walk for Food Allergy.

Here are the boys, dressed as the Supperheroes, their team for the FARE walk for Food Allergy.