Category Archives: Motherhood

Even kisses

We listened to a sleep meditation recording as he fell asleep last night, hanging on to me like driftwood.  As the faintest snores began to come out of him, I kissed his hair and tried to retract my arm. He grabbed it and kissed me on the wrist.

He always wants us to be even on kisses these days.  If I happen to shortchange him, he’ll yank on my arm, reach his hand toward my face and say “I need three smooches.”

A few nights ago, he walked on my back when I was achy, patting my hair when he was done, asking “is that better?”

I hugged him close and told him yes.

“You take such good care of your mom,” I told him. “Do you ever feel like you’re always taking care of me? Or do you feel like I take care of you?”

He snuggled into me, stuck out one arm and pointed his finger at my shoulder, bouncing it there repeatedly.

“You take care of me,” he whispered.

I was overwhelmed with relief. I just lost a friend who helped keep me steady over the past year and half. I know I have days when I feel awfully alone and uncertain right now. I work hard to take care of myself so I don’t get lost in those feelings. And my son feels loved and safe and taken care of. By me. What more could I ask for?

This morning I took him to the first day of first grade. We walked in to a quiet room with a big circle of children already cross-legged on the floor. He tiptoed in, put a card with his name onto it into the attendance basket, hung up his backpack and sat down with the group, looking around excitedly.

I stood in another part of the room with a couple of other parents who were snapping photographs and taking deep breaths. The joy on my boy’s face threatened to crack him wide open. He was so engaged in the newness of everything – the faces, the classroom, the whole, fresh ritual – that he didn’t see me wave and blow him a kiss goodbye.

My heart tightened a little, then let go with relief as I slipped into the hallway. He wasn’t afraid to be on his own. He wasn’t afraid to leave me on my own either.

And I know he’ll even up the smooch count before the day is through.

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A note to my boy, who is six today

Dear Declan,

You are six today. Six!

That’s halfway to twelve.

That’s one-third of the way to 18.

You’ve grown so much this year. Taller. Wiser. Kinder.  More confident, and though I didn’t think it was possible, more curious. Aggressively curious, even. And infectiously thrilled by every new thing that you learn.

You wander around the house, wondering aloud, asking questions I don’t know the answers to, like “Why is Qatar so small?” Or quasi-rhetorical ones, like “3.5 billion years isn’t a very long time for life to take to evolve, is it mom?” (Props to Carl Sagan.)  You quiz me to find out if I know which continents use the most electricity, or sit up with a start, just moments after waking, and tell me “I just got what plasma actually is.”

On Mother’s Day, you explained how the Himalayas were formed to three separate audiences, how they are folded and getting taller every year. No wonder I got so excited when I found a DNA stencil at the craft store yesterday.

We’ve traded in bedtime storybooks for brief tomes about Silicon, Chlorine, Fluorine & Iodine, and Sulfur. Then you always manage to extract sciencey, psychedelic stories from my imagination in which you are the star (sometimes of the plasma variety) before you fall asleep.  Thankfully, you return to storybooks now and then when I grow weary of molecules. When there are pictures or short chapters, you do most of the bedtime reading.

All that, and I can still say silly things like “hey, my son turned into a pink punch balloon” at the dining room table, watch you peek over said balloon and say to me in earnest, “no mom, I’m right here.”

Earlier in the school year, you started asking me six times four, three times seven, nine times ten from the back seat of the car, using your fingers like the Montessori chains.  “I’m not sure if it’s safe for mommy to do math and drive,” I told you.  You kept testing my multiplication skills anyway.

A few weeks ago, you sat down at the dining room table with me and asked “what is 122 times 365?” I thought you were just seeing what I could do in my head, but you had a greater purpose. I leaned on my phone calculator for an answer. You repeated the number I read — 44, 530 — and looked thoughtful for a moment before you declared: “that’s how many days the oldest person who ever lived was alive.”

I am always a little stunned, although I shouldn’t be at this point, at the things you understand – like the kind of math you have to do in order to find that number. And then I’m a little sad, because I also understand why the length of a life might be of such interest to you. You watched your Grandfafa fade away last summer, and bravely read a book at his funeral.  The last year has taken us to a plethora of hospitals and funeral homes. You know I spend every Saturday morning with someone else who will be passing soon. You dive-bomb me with hugs and kisses the moment you sense any sadness.

Sometimes, I am overcome with worry around 4 a.m., feeling this is all much too much for you – deaths, illnesses, separated parents – all this while you’re figuring out how to keep your feet clean in the muddy world of playground politics. But we’re good about talking right now, you and me. We share and work through things.  We feel sad when we need to. We rebound. It feels like most of what we do when we are together is laugh.

I try to remember to stop and breathe you in the way I did when you were a baby, to breathe in these fleeting moments when I can still carry you, still snuggle you so that you can feel little and safe.

The real reason I imagine that you want to know how many days are possible in a lifetime is because you are busy calculating how to make each one count. And you do. You really do. More than anyone I have ever met.

Declan, I love you so spectacularly much that my heart can hardly stand it.

Happy sixth birthday.

I love you infinity,

Mommy

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I guess I picked the wrong night to fall asleep at nine

My mom broke into bedtime last night to deliver “good news and bad news” to me.

Apparently we are descendants of early U.S. settler Richard Treat, which means that we are distant relations of many historical figures I’m not all that fond of, including Samuel Colt (who popularized the revolver), Henry Ford II and (ahem) the Bush presidents. It’s no wonder these people have gotten under my skin so much over the years… they’re family!

This also makes us distant relatives of Thomas Edison, author Stephen Crane, Robert Treat Payne (a signer of the Declaration of Independence), actor Treat Williams and writer/playwright Tennessee Williams. Some good news there, indeed.

I really didn’t have time to process this as I was trying to get my son to sleep early for the last night of spring break. We were reading “Merlin’s Tour of the Universe” by Neil de Grasse Tyson (in which he pretends to be an omniscient visitor from the Andromeda Galaxy).  As I read the evening’s last paragraph, there was a joke about restaurants on the moon having no atmosphere.

“I don’t get it,” said Declan.

He knows that the moon has no atmosphere. but had no idea what would be different about a restaurant’s atmosphere than anyplace else on Earth.

“It’s a pun,” I said, and began describing restaurant atmosphere to him. He interrupted me when the switch went off in his brain: “Oh I get it, I get it. It’s an idiom and a pun.”

I lay there, hugging his soon-to-be-six-year-old body in my arms, wondering how long it will be before he starts correcting my grammar. This time next year? I fell asleep.

I woke up at 4:30, looked at my phone and found out that Osama Bin Laden is dead. I watched a recording of Obama’s speech and accidentally woke Declan up, who sat up and said, with a start:  “Morgan Freeman said that! He said dogs were escaping, the hills were falling down…”

I’m not sure at all what that means, but, like most dream statements, I believe it to be true.

So I missed the news and the social media frenzy because I was dreaming about lightbulbs. Since I am rested this morning, I don’t think I’ll turn on the news for a while.

Usually, when I think of September 11, 2001, I feel a catch in my left knee. It’s a muscle memory of the last time I visited the south tower observation deck as a teenager, when it was so windy we couldn’t go outside. You could feel the structure swaying. I remember how my body tried to compensate for that unsettling feeling.

Today I don’t feel that, but I don’t think it’s because someone died. It’s because it’s disarming news, and my inner Pollyanna would like it to be just that. Disarming. News.

“Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.” – Tennessee Willliams

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Taxdog

Arrow came along about one year before my son did. A rescue puppy, he’s always been a bit troubled, and a regular pain in the butt. Since we only know that he was born sometime in April, we decided his birthday must be Tax Day.

He’s still a bit troubled, but he is so adored. He got belly rubs galore for his birthday, along with the loveliest serenade and a squeaky toy that Declan picked out because it resembles an atom.

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Pink stink

I had an impossible time finding a plain pink shirt for my son when he was two.  I wound up buying him a tie-dye with a big pink heart in the center instead. He wore it all the time. It suited him. He’s also had whatever length of hair he likes his whole life, usually preferring it long. He was accidentally called a girl by strangers regularly and he was able to shrug it off ninety percent of the time, because neither his dad or I treated him as though liking so-called “girl” looks or toys or colors was weird or problematic. If anyone thought his masculinity was being damaged, they didn’t say it to my face.

So I don’t understand why the J. Crew catalog ad with the company’s creative director Jenna Lyons and her pink-toenailed boy caused any kind of stir. The idea that boys doing “girl” things could cause “gender confusion” seems inextricably tied to a horde of old-school chauvinist ideas that don’t help anyone of either gender.

And the idea that the boy will be bullied because of this picture? Only possibly by children of the kind of parents that consider such things damaging or outrageous. If you ask me, instilling those kinds of limitations on everyone’s boy- and girl-ness or, even worse, antagonizing the choices of lovely, curious children on the basis of such limited perceptions is far more damaging than all the pink toenail polish in the world.

P.S. I loved Jon Stewart’s “Toemaggedon” coverage.

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He can do it himself

Once, when he was two or three, he asked me in earnest, “can I drive?”

Now he watches my right knee as we travel through town.

“Why does it move when you drive? What is your leg doing?”

I love the way he constantly looks under the hood of the world to find out how it runs. How his school has encouraged that.

At one point, keeping him from falling off the ledge (or driving there, apparently) was so important.

Every year since, it’s been more important to drop that habit and just let him do.

I’m not allowed to see what clothes he picks in the morning until he’s fully dressed. His style is better than anything the celebrities can afford.

He loves to have a job to do.

He loves to get things done.

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The re-education of a science mom

The other day, my son was asked to draw a picture of something he is grateful for.

He made semi-scribbly, red twisty lines. Above them, he wrote “DNA.”

I asked him why. Why DNA?

“Because it’s here,” he said. “No life would be here without it. Not the trees, not you or me. Nothing.”

To be honest, I am far more grateful that he is happy we exist than I am that he understands DNA.

I asked him if I could blog about what he said and he agreed.

“What should I say about DNA?” I asked him.

“Life needs it in order to be here, just think about it,” he said. “Just write about it in a long sentence. Write that it controls cells. That cancer happens when DNA is broken.”

I think back on high school and remember myself as a girl with an aversion to science.  Today, I don’t know that it was an aversion so much as something that my teachers presented in a way that I couldn’t find relevant to my daily life. I was technically adept, but confounded by chemistry. And if there were programs designed to promote women and girls in science and math in 1980s Central Ohio, we never crossed paths. I veered into social science and the arts and humanities, where the world seemed to invite me.

So now I live with an almost six-year-old whose aptitude for understanding quantum mechanics, geology, biology and especially astronomy have long since dwarfed my own. This is thanks to Google, several extremely cool kids’ science books, our fantastic local science center. a great, old-school observatory, the vast array of images in discounted Hubble Telescope picture books, PBS, National Geographic, the History, Science and Discovery channels and the availability of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on Netflix.

When my son was two, he was in love with everything he could find out about the planets, moons, stars, dark matter and endless nebulae (he loved watching the short film Powers of Ten over and over, which we found on a now-defunct kids’ astronomy site). Around that time, Neil DeGrasse Tyson floated the idea on some talk show or other that he was working on a book that would tell parents the key things they needed to know to be scientifically literate and raise scientifically literate children.

I’ve longed for this book, although I think my re-education in science has gone okay without it. My son used to get frustrated with me over the things I couldn’t answer. Now we’re both content to let him do most of the teaching.  Truthfully, he always has.

Here’s the thing, though: If it all went away tomorrow, if his interests suddenly took a radical turn into Batman and baseball and fart jokes, I like to think that I wouldn’t turn into a judgmental parent who turned her nose up at “lesser” pursuits. I’d be sad to see interests that have been so fun and exciting and integral to his life diminished, but our lives would be easier. I wouldn’t have to evaluate, every year, the thorny politics of introducing him to a new classroom and new teachers. Parents wouldn’t dislike me because I’m worried about my smart kid.  To most, it doesn’t sound like a problem. It sounds like bragging.

If you go around telling people that your kid is smart, special, or at least has a high aptitude for a particular subject, I’ve found out that you’re likely to do that child more harm than good in the classroom, on the playground, in life. What you say can turn morph into a temporary blind spot for teacher, who has heard a thousand parents’ confident descriptions, many of them wrong, or at least lacking the perspective on a sea of children that an experienced educator has.

I try to let my son unfold before his teachers without my assistance. And if they are good teachers, they find him. They see him.  And if they are very good, they know how complicated it can be for sweet-faced boy who still has all of his baby teeth to know so much, so very, very much. Together, we see him recognize the reality of things that once just seemed cool or interesting to know before, not scary or heavy. I see it suddenly weigh on him and I sometimes wish I could erase that thing he learned a year ago, that thing I thought he would forget. He rarely forgets.

And so I let him explore Super Mario Galaxy, joke books, America’s Funniest Home Videos and Justin Beiber. I am relieved when dances like a lion, puts a pylon on his head or tells me about playing “crazy baby” on the playground with a friend. I don’t want him to be the ultimate brainiac of the universe. That’s lonely. I want him to be every bit his brilliant self, but I also want him to be happy. I want him to feel okay and whole when he’s not feeling brilliant.

I imagine Sagan, as well as Tyson and the wide host of living celebrity science advocates I am now acquainted with as people with a dark blue sense of humor.

I keep joking with friends: “If you’re going to raise an astrophysicist, better to raise an astrophysicist who can make jokes about his balls.”

Or maybe it’s not a joke. Maybe it’s my science mommy prayer.

This post is a contribution to the #scimom collection, an experimental conjunction of mom and science bloggers.

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He rocks

There’s so much I wish I could say about him here. Stories about the way his mind is working and the tenderness of his heart. It would make this 30-day exercise a breeze.

But he is so remarkably becoming now.  Anecdotes don’t do him any justice. You wouldn’t believe what I told you anyway. Most people don’t, until they stop talking and listen to him.

I wish more people knew what it is to listen to children. To stop trying to teach or entertain or discipline or coach and listen.

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Dharma spelling

My son patiently snuggled on my lap during a Sunday morning dharma teaching about living in samsara. As I took in my wise teacher’s thoughts about nurturing compassion in the face of bad drivers, mean governors and crappy news, he pulled out a pad of paper and some crayons.

Oh, imperfection. Impermanence. How beautiful it can be. I think this is the best phonetic spelling ever.

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