The Big Scary World

briaroceanI’ve always loved this photo of my son. He wasn’t quite 4 years old when it was taken. It always scares me a bit to look at it, thinking of my boy going out in the big wide world, having to face some challenges alone but also having to handle problems I never even imagined.

This past year my boy has had to deal with more than his fair share of sadness, despair and hard times. It’s one thing to think that I will never be the same after my brother’s death, but I’m 44 years old. To realize that my 10-year-old will never be the same is an entirely different story. He certainly has sad days but he also has more anger than ever before. Just this week, the topic came up about saying goodbye to someone before they died and my son started to cry and spit out, “Just like I never got to SEE someone and say goodbye!” I started to sob right along with him but held him tight against me. I told him how sorry I was, but I also told him that his uncle would never, ever forgive me if I had let my son see his uncle in the hospital hooked up to all of those machines. Phil didn’t want any of us to see him that way.

As a parent, I often wonder what my child can handle and what he can’t. I want to believe him when he says certain things don’t bother him or that he really can do this or that. He told me that sometimes when my mother lived with us, it was ok.  And sometimes it was, but the relief that kid showed when his grandmother moved out was unmistakable. And I don’t have any doubt that seeing my brother the way he was on that last day would have been horribly traumatic for my son, because it certainly was for me.

For whatever reason, I thought a lot about that day today.  I couldn’t tell you what triggered the memory, but there it was. I was actually in the dentist’s chair when it trickled through my mind and I had to hold back a sob while keeping my mouth open so the hygienist could clean my teeth. Really not the best place to have a mini breakdown.

Will my son always wonder and possibly regret not having those last few moments with his uncle? I tried to remind him this week of his last conversation with Phil. It was the same day I had my last back and forth conversation with him. He was in the hospital and my son was in Florida visiting his grandparents. I brought my laptop into the hospital and my brother and son talked via Skype. They chatted about the weather and my son showed his uncle some YouTube video about a video game and they joked around for a bit and they told each other that they loved each other. They said what mattered.

I know I don’t have this parenting thing pinned down yet because I’m still making mistakes every damn day and I’m not sure I’ll ever know what good or harm I’ve done to this poor kid. I’m just trying to listen to him and love him and do what I think is best for him. I think I’m doing and saying what matters.

That’s all I can really do, isn’t it?

 

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That First Step

I’ve always said that blogging has been my own source of therapy. I write about my issues, get everything out of my heart and head and typically I feel better. I often get feedback from my readers, many of them being my friends, and usually I feel like my head is clearer, my body a little lighter and I’m not as alone as I thought I was.

But now….now I think blogging might not be enough.

As I’m writing this post, my brother has been gone for 11 weeks, 5 hours and 11 minutes. I think I hurt more now than I did that day. Everything was fresh and raw and horribly painful that day, but now I feel empty. Hollowed out. Lost.

For the past few weeks, I’ve known that I should seek out counseling. The combined stress of trying to care for my mother and dealing with my grief has been overwhelming.  One morning when my boss encouraged me to give the counseling program a call, I broke down in tears and told her I just couldn’t. My mom’s health has deteriorated very quickly in the past few months and I’m taking her to one doctor or another each week, sometimes twice a week. The thought of adding something new to my schedule broke me.

Then my best friend started nudging me, trying to get me to make that call. I put it off for another week then finally made the first call. This was just to set me up and give me a list of counselors I can call and try to meet with. My stomach hurt the entire time and I willed my voice not to shake. After the call ended, I put my head down on the table and cried. If it’s this difficult just to get a list of names, how the hell will I be at an actual session?

Now that I have my list, I still haven’t been able to call anyone. In fact, two days after getting the list I thought, “Ok. This is good to have, but I’m really fine. I can handle this.” I spent the afternoon cleaning my mother’s home, having lunch with her and taking her to the store. Sometimes when I spend time with Mom, I miss her. I miss the person she used to be. I felt like that this week, but I also tried to make the best of the situation. We chatted about food, my son, our cats and how beautiful the leaves were looking. “I can do this, ” I thought.

And then I spent the evening with my son. We’ve been watching The Flas71289d196e3604c520bb1fdd7bf20310h on Netflix. So, if you haven’t been watching season 3 of The Flash and intend to, skip this part now. *SPOILER ALERT*  In this episode, Cisco, one of my favorite characters because he makes being a geek look so damn cool, has been seeing visions of his dead brother, Dante. Cisco gets his hands on an artifact that messes with his mind and he eventually must seal the artifact away. But in doing so, he will never see his brother again. His rational mind knows that this image isn’t really his brother, but it doesn’t make the task any easier. So he has to choose–see his brother again or lose his brother forever but save his friends’ lives.

As Cisco makes his choice, I cover my face and sob into my hands. My son asks me what’s wrong, but I can’t answer. I’m sobbing so hard that it’s difficult to breathe, much less talk. My sweet boy then slides closer to me on the couch and hugs me. I end up crying on his shoulder, literally. I finally pull myself together after a minute and let my boy go. All he says is, “Uncle?” I nod. I apologize to him, but he said that it was ok. Then he takes off his shirt and says, “Here, Mom. You can just use this as a tissue.”

I love that kid so much.

So…after that little breakdown, all from a damn tv show no less, I think I might be able to make that phone call. Or I know I should.

I know I have to at least try. That’s all I can promise myself right now. But it’s a start.

 

Double Digits

It’s been one decade since my son was born. Ten years. On many days, it seems like just yesterday I was changing his diapers and  yearning for an entire night of sleep. Most of the time, though, it feels like the baby days were a lifetime ago. And I’m totally ok with that.

I didn’t do so well with the newborn/infant stage. Like many parents, I had no idea what I was doing. Although to be honest? I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing but I’ve learned to fake it. I love my boy with everything I have and I try to listen to him and encourage him to make good choices and I try to be a decent role model. I think that’s the best I can do.

As my son gets older, each new year brings my new favorite age. At one, he started walking. At age four, we could start having conversations. At five he was reading to me and telling me stories. At seven I realized what a funny kid he was  (and is) and what a class clown he had become. At nine, his YouTube channel debut made me just as proud as it made him. And now at ten? Who knows what the year will bring. But I know how happy I am at the human being he’s becoming.

These past few days as we’ve driven home, the boy has read Garfield and Peanuts comics to me until we both laughed so hard we couldn’t breathe. And in the past month, we’ve had the best discussions about gender roles and stereotypes and about how fantastic it was to finally see a gay boy in a graphic novel for middle schoolers. (Thank you, Raina Telgemeier!!) I feel like I’m pretty liberal in my political and social views on the world, but my son’s ideas have challenged them. He’s of the belief that anyone really can do anything. If you’re a boy and want to join the Girl Scouts, you should. If you’re a girl and want to join the Boy Scouts, you should do that. He doesn’t see anything “wrong” or even “weird” for either of those scenarios.  If you’re transgender? Great! If you’re not? Great! It doesn’t matter to him. Just do what you want to. Accept everyone, no matter what. Don’t tolerate, accept. And I find that absolutely awesome.

I think my boy will find the world a challenging place and it often won’t bend the way he wants it to. But hopefully in the future he can change what he’s able to and go with the flow when he needs to.

For right now though? For right now I hope he can continue to just be himself–the gamer, the tall kid, the sports player, the reader, the clown, the actor, the Youtuber, the creator of zombie peep massacre dioramas, the cat lover, the writer–and be happy with who he is and who he is becoming. Because I certainly am.

Happy 10th birthday, my beautiful boy!

End of Summer

Typically, this time of year fills me with happiness. The nights are just starting to cool down, a few leaves have already turned a lovely shade of red, and school is about to begin. The smell of new sneakers lingers in our home, pencils are sharpened, the backpack is filled with notebooks and folder and my kid is excited to see his friends again.

Yet this year? This year I am completely filled with dread.

Fall means school and school means homework and schedules and getting up early to make supper for that night and begging other parents to take my kid to soccer practice and squeezing in running so I don’t have a complete mental breakdown. Arguments will begin over me feeling stressed and not everyone pulling their weight at home and more arguments about homework and bedtime and Oh my god I already want to tear my hair out and school hasn’t even started!!!

Goodbye-Summer

*deep breath*

*breathe in and out*

Ok. Let’s start over.

Hi. I had a pretty damn good summer. Did you?

Are you sad summer is nearly over?

Me, too!

Now let’s go get a drink and dream about NEXT summer!

Cheers!

Fly Your Freak Flag

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When my son was 6 years old, I liked to call him my noncomformist. He danced to a different tune and wasn’t afraid to show it. I was proud of him for that. We all know how difficult it can be to just be yourself and not worry about what others think you should be.

Now that my boy is 9, I see that in most ways, he’s still that independent free thinker. And I’m still proud of him…yet now I’ve been trying to make him conform.

I know. Shitty, right?

 

Let me lay it out for you. See these boots?  My boy loves these things. He’s finally found footwear that doesn’t hurt him and is completely comfortable. So he wore them all winter and spring. Now that’s it’s near summer, he still wants to wear them. One day last week, he wore shorts and put his boots on. I told him, “No way!” He looked like a clam digger, an old man with his muck boots on. I could just picture him getting teased by kids on the playground and the damn school bus.  I was protecting him….or so I thought.

This week, my son once again wore shorts and as we were leaving, he put his boots on. When I started to tell him “No” he burst into tears. And I mean burst. This kid goes from zero to sobbing in 2 seconds. His face scrunched up and his mouth was making horrible sobbing noises and tears were leaking from his eyes.

I stopped what I was doing and sat down with my boy in front of me. I explained my reasoning, that I didn’t want people to make fun of him. He said he didn’t care if people teased him about his boots, but told me that no one had made fun of him. “Not for that, Mom!” We recently discovered that some older boys were picking on him on the bus (surrounding him, actually) because he’s taller than they are and they don’t like that. So he’s getting pushed around for something he has no control over. And I think that’s why I wanted him to dress differently, to have some kind of control over what the kids do tease him about. Don’t give them more fuel for their fire, you know?

But my little guy sees things differently. Right now, he doesn’t care that he’s not good at sports. He doesn’t care that he’s bigger than everyone else his age. He doesn’t care if he looks weird or odd or silly. And since he doesn’t care, why should I?

I just read a review of the book, The Awakened Family: A revolution in parenting by Shefali Tsabary, with one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard on this topic. “Only when we can separate our fantasies concerning who our children should be from who they actually are can we do justice to their original essence and craft our parenting to allow for this to flourish.”

In other words, let your son be who he wants to be, Holly. He will never be in any kind of fashion magazine. He will never be an award-winning athlete. Just let him be the boot-wearing, cat-loving, video game player and reader extraordinaire that he is. Let him be the amazing, sensitive, funny, sweet boy that you’re proud of.

Shut up about the boots and just love your boy and makes sure he knows it.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

 

 

Seeing is believing

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”–Henry David Thoreau

We received a note from the school nurse last week, letting us know our boy was having trouble seeing in the classroom. Both my husband and I were waiting for this to happen. I was 6 years old when I got my first pair of glasses, whereas my husband was in high school. Nearly every adult family member has glasses or had eye surgery, yet apparently our boy was still hoping he was immune.

When I made the appointment to see his optometrist, I warned my son that he would probably have to start wearing glasses. I wanted him to prepare himself if that was indeed the outcome. The kid flat out refused to even think about it. He told me to “Stop saying that!” in a freaked out and “oh my god the world is ending” kind of tone. So I didn’t mention it again.

I picked him up today for his appointment and he was in a great mood. It’s always nice to be picked up early from school, even if it is for a doctor’s appointment. We got to the doctor’s office, waited for less than two minutes and then the various testing began. My boy was polite, funny, and just all around wonderful. I was with him when the doc had him read some of the eye chart, and since he could only read the 2nd line without help, I knew what was coming.

The doctor told my boy that yes, he needed glasses. His vision was not horrible by any means, but with glasses, everything would be that much clearer. He let my son know that he didn’t have to wear glasses when playing sports, but at some point he might find that it could improve his performance. We thanked the doctor, but as soon as he left the room, my boy’s face fell. He was absolutely devastated. He quickly became angry and I just hugged him to me and told him it was ok.

He disagreed. Vehemently.

We walked to a different part of the building to pick up some paperwork and I hugged my boy again. He was fuming but let me hug him. “Honey, this doesn’t change anything. You’re fine. You’re still you.” But between tight lips he spat, “This. Changes. Everything.”

I sighed, but didn’t argue. For just a second I put myself in his place and tried to remember what it was like to put on glasses for the first time. To know that this would be part of my life forever, and everyone would be able to see the change. It wasn’t something you could hide from. “You’re right, Bri. You’re right. This does change things, but it doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing and it’s not a big deal. Honest.”

He didn’t talk to me again until we got into the car. He always sits just behind me and as I started the car, I looked in my review mirror. His head was down so I couldn’t see his face. As I started to turn around in my seat, I could hear my boy gasping for breath as he sobbed. I rubbed his leg and started to cry, too. I asked him if I could get out and give him a hug and he agreed. I got out, opened his car door, and crushed him to me as he cried and cried into my shoulder. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and told him that I loved him.

After we left the optometrist’s office, I stopped to get gas while my boy ran across the street to get a donut. (I don’t care what anyone says. Anytime we have a doctor’s appointment, we treat ourselves afterwards. Not always to food, but sometimes that’s the easiest and cheapest thing to do. It seemed appropriate today.) As I was pumping gas, I had an “A-ha” moment. Although getting glasses is a little scary and new, my son’s reaction still surprised me. He was really, really upset. And had been since the first mention of glasses last week. It’s not like he doesn’t know anyone who has glasses, but he knows very few kids that do. There are a few, though, including a girl in his class who he’s friends with. BUT, my “a-ha” moment was when I really put myself in my boy’s shoes. My kid–who has tics, who is over five feet tall at the age of eight, who wears shoes bigger than some adults–will now have one more thing to make him different, one more thing to make him stand out in a crowd, one more target on his back for the asshole on the bus to shoot at. THAT was why my kid was crying in the back seat of my car, and I don’t blame him.

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This was taken two years ago when he liked wearing fake glasses.

Being a kid is so damned hard. Do you remember? You want to grow up so fast so you can feel like you have control, feel like you have some power in your life. Of course, once you get there you realize that you really don’t have as much control or power as you thought you would, but we don’t want to hear about that part. I want my boy to feel good about being different, about being unique, and that it’s ok, damn it! I don’t want him to feel like the “special snowflake,” as in feeling entitled. That shit just pisses me off. But I want him to feel good about being who he is. Or what he is. Currently he’s a Star Wars-loving giant who blows on his hands when he’s anxious, is a video game-playing rock star, and will soon be wearing glasses.

I know in another year or two (hopefully sooner), my boy won’t think twice about putting on his glasses. It’ll be just another part of him. It really won’t be a big deal. Until then, I’m hoping he’ll find his way to acceptance without too much anxiety. I want to guide him on this journey by showing him how awesome I know he is and how being exceptional can be wonderful. But I don’t want to beat him over the head with it, you know? I need to be patient and just let him find his way. I know he’ll be ok. I just need to sit back and watch it happen.

And that’s the hardest thing to do.

 

 

Another reason to hate Valentine’s Day…and Swedish fish

Over 20 years ago, I started wearing black to protest Valentine’s Day and the commercialism that went with it. I wasn’t being noble, I was just angry and bitter because I was single. But a tradition was born that day and I’ve continued it ever since, more to honor my amazing friends and the love they gave me way back when and the love I still have for them.

My husband and I don’t celebrate the “holiday,” although some years we have gone out to eat because any excuse to eat out is fantastic. We’ve given little treats to our son some years, too, again because it’s a good excuse to do so. But this year we were looking forward to doing absolutely nothing on Valentine’s Day. The weather forecast was predicting a *very* cold day here in Maine (wind chills of -30 degrees) so the plan was to stay home all weekend and do as little as possible.

On Friday, my son had a Valentine’s Day party at school. They always exchange the little cards you can buy at the store or homemade cards or whatever. There’s usually extra goodies for everyone, too. But there is also something called “candy grams” that are sold by the PTA. Now, I personally love these things. It’s a great little fundraiser for the PTA and it’s an easy little gift to give to my boy’s teacher and bus driver. Each year I ask him who he’d like to give a candy gram to. In the past, I’ve always twisted his arm and told him he’d be sending one to his teacher and bus driver, but apparently that already sunk in because he mentioned those two people first off. (Yay for my brainwashing, I mean parenting skills!)  Then he rattled off a few of his buddies’ names, wrote very formal messages on them, which I found hilarious (“Thank you for being such a good friend. I really appreciate it”), and called it good.

Here is where I screwed up.

When my boy got home on Friday afternoon, one of the first things he said was, “No one likes me, Mom.” He wasn’t crying, but he was matter of fact with a dash of melancholy thrown in. I told him that was untrue but why did he think no one liked him? “Because every single person got Swedish fish, except for me!”

Oh man, Swedish fish. Had I known the candy gram was Swedish fish, I probably would have bought one for my son. Why? Because Swedish fish is our crack, people. We LOVE this stuff. How these stupid, red, gummy fish can taste so yummy, I just don’t know. When I was a teenager, I worked in a video store where we sold Swedish fish (the small ones–which are WAY tastier) as penny candy. My friend, Ang, and I, had to eat at least $100 worth of these things while we worked there. And now I’ve apparently passed on my addiction to these little gems to my son.

fish

 

I reassured my boy that not every single person got a candy gram. He went on to describe the many places he saw the fish (classroom, hallway, lunch room, bus) then actually said, “Mom, why didn’t YOU buy me a candy gram?”

Oh, shit.

We ended up having a discussion about why I hate Valentine’s Day and how I don’t need one day to tell people I love them, because I tell them every day. And I reassured my son that he does have friends and people do like him, but maybe not everyone has the money to buy candy grams or maybe they feel exactly the way I do. Either way, don’t worry about the candy gram. And then I promised we’d buy him Swedish fish if he would pinky swear to give me some. So he did, and my husband bought the fish and my son and I gleefully ate them.

Is there a lesson in here somewhere? Besides the fact that I really need to give up Swedish fish? Or that I shouldn’t buy my son candy? Well, neither of those things are going to happen, so let’s see if there’s anything else I can learn.

One thing I kept thinking about today was, “Is this how people who don’t celebrate Christmas feel in December?” It feels kind of shitty. We say we want to be outsiders because we think it’s cool and it sounds awesome. But it doesn’t feel very awesome. It can feel very cold and lonely.

Does that mean I’ll conform and go back to buying chocolates and flowers for my honey? Or wear red on this day of love? Ummm…no. But it does make me empathize with those that always seem to be outside looking in. It sucks out there.

So come on inside and get warm. I don’t care what you’re wearing, what color you are or what you believe.

But if you have a craving for Swedish fish, we may have to wrestle for it.