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.

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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.

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Calvin and Hobbes and Santa Claus

I always get a bit nervous when I see my son’s teacher has sent me an email. I’ve gotten a bunch over the past few years. Some good, letting me know about something spectacular he had done that day (especially with writing, since that’s something he constantly struggles with), and a few that were not so good. Mostly about his behavior or a scuffle on the playground.

And this week? This week I got the email informing me that my child was telling everyone in his class that Santa didn’t exist and it was just their parents putting the gifts under the Christmas tree.

Oh shit.

A few months ago, I briefly mentioned in this blog, the evening my boy found out the truth about Santa Claus from a Calvin and Hobbes comic. He cried himself to sleep that night, and kept repeating, “I’ve lost a friend! I’ve lost a friend!” The day after this happened, he went into complete denial mode and I just let it go. It was in the summer and I didn’t feel the need to discuss it anymore at that time, and he definitely didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

I started thinking about this again a few weeks ago but was really unsure how to bring it up. I really, really wanted him to face the truth. I hate lying to him and I wanted to stop the charade. I don’t think he ever noticed the different wrapping paper or hand writing or any of the other tricks we implemented, so why even bother? I wanted him to figure this out himself, I guess. Although is it better to tell your child, “Hey, I’m sorry but I’ve been lying to you your entire life,” or is it better for them to figure it out (or read about it) and feel betrayed? It’s all just icky.

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Instead of finding a way to bring this up, my son did it on his own. He mentioned Santa a few times last week, and I just looked at him and shrugged my shoulders. He knew the truth and I wasn’t going to flat out lie anymore, so I let him think about it. At that time, I had no idea he would say anything to his friends. NO IDEA! I thought he hadn’t completely admitted to what he really knew, so there was no sense saying anything about keeping it  a secret.

After getting the email from his teacher, I told my boy that he needed to keep the information about Santa to himself and he asked why. I told him that it might upset some kids and they didn’t need to know this right now and they didn’t need to hear it from him. He kept whispering, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know, I didn’t know. I’m really sorry.” I let him know that it wasn’t his fault. I was responsible for this. I never told him not to say anything. Apparently when my kid learns something new, everyone needs to know about it.

I asked my son why he told people about what he learned. “Some kids were talking about Santa and I thought they should know the truth. They don’t know, Mom!” I told my son if any of his friends asked him about Santa and the presents, that he needed to tell them to ask their parents about it and let those parents deal with it from there. (And if any of you are parents of children in my son’s class, I AM SO SORRY!)

In a weird way, I feel proud of the kid. Even though he hated the truth, he felt others shouldn’t be left in the dark. And maybe he didn’t want to feel so miserable by himself, which is exactly what I would have done. Misery loves company, right?

I thought I’d feel really sad when this little piece of Christmas magic died out, but I’m not. If you know me, you know that I *love* Christmastime. I love the music, the lights, the gifts, the movies, the stories, the whole shebang. And I love Santa Claus. I love the entire idea of him and what he stands for. Giving because it feels good is a fantastic thing. But I don’t like telling my child that this old man sneaks into our house once a year and leaves boxes in our living room while we’re sleeping, nor do I like telling my child that it’s ok to sit on that old guy’s lap. Seriously. All of that is really creepy.

Now my child will know that his parents stay up way too late on Christmas Eve and wrap and put things together and make everything appear picture perfect, all because we think he’s pretty darn great.

Star Wars figurines? $20

Video game?  $50

Knowing how awesome your parents are?

PRICELESS

 

 

Surprise!

Visiting my mom these days tends to fill me with trepidation. What will I find this time? Each visit brings something new–cuts on her face from falling out of bed, an unpaid bill with possible consequences, confusion about the location of her hairdresser she’s been seeing for nearly 20 years.

At this point, Mom still knows who I am and isn’t confused in any way about me, but I worry that one day soon she won’t know my son. He’s growing so quickly and looks so much older already. I’m afraid that one day she won’t recognize him, and who will be more heartbroken when that happens? My son or my mother?

This last visit, though, I wasn’t worried about that. We already knew what special surprise we had waiting for us. We had a task that needed to be accomplished. The search was on….to find Mom’s teeth.

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Doesn’t this sound like a Janet Evanovich novel?  Crazy!

But it’s what needed to be done. Apparently Mom took her teeth out sometime in the middle of the night. She found her bottom teeth somewhere WAY behind her bedside table, but no top teeth. So the hunt was on!

As my son and I looked under and in the couch, I started to wonder if he’d remember this one day and how he’d look back on it. Will he remember it fondly or just shake his head and think how bizarre things were? Or maybe both?

After the couch there was searching under the bed, behind the bed, under tables and bureaus and chairs. But still no teeth. And this, my friends, was over a week ago. Mom can chuckle about it, but I know it bothers her. She keeps saying how funny it feels not having her top teeth in during the day. Where the hell could the teeth be?!? She has a cat, and honestly, I even looked in the cat box just in case he dragged them in there. It would be horrible if they were in there, but at least they would have been found!

I am really trying to find humor wherever I can. I think when you love someone who has dementia, you *must* find humor and happiness wherever and whenever it’s possible. There are so many bad days and bad visits and dreaded phone calls, that when I have a good afternoon with my mom, I hold onto it with everything I have. I must remind myself that there are still good times ahead. They might not be like they were before and they won’t be as frequent. There will be more good moments than good days.

But that’s something. And right now I’ll take it.

 

A gift

A few weeks ago as we sat at the dinner table, my son picked up his napkin and put it to his forehead. “Well,” he sighed, “I’ve got a new tic.” He removed the  napkin to show us his eyebrows raised on his forehead. Then he waggled his eyebrows like Groucho Marx…except my boy didn’t do it on purpose. This might have seemed amusing if it wasn’t a tic. If he just wiggled his eyebrows to be funny, then we’d probablygroucho2 find him a hat and fake glasses and show him YouTube videos of the Marx brothers to explain who he looked like and why it was funny. But as my son continued to sigh throughout dinner and kept his napkin covering his face, it was no laughing matter.

 

This past summer, Bri’s body (or rather his body’s reaction to anxiety) created a tic that physically hurt him. He started to nod his head in a very quick, jerky movement. Sometimes the nodding is up and down as in “yes,” and sometimes it’s a shaking of the head as in “no,” although typically it’s the former. There are times when the nodding is so frequent, that I’ve had to ask him to answer me verbally when I ask a question. On at least one occasion, I asked him something and didn’t hear him answer “no” but he was nodding his head as in “yes.” He got upset because of the confusion, but hopefully the verbal responses will help in the future. What’s even more upsetting is that sometimes after a particularly bad day, he’ll try to settle down at bedtime but will cry out to me, “Mom, my neck really hurts!” I always respond with a visit to his room and many whisperings of “I know, sweetie, I know” and light massages of his neck.

Although my son has had transient tic disorder for a few years, it seems to be getting more difficult for him to handle. Or rather he is more aware that the tics are happening. I am grateful for at least the rotation of the tics, the fact that one particular movement will go away for at least a little while. For instance, he doesn’t blow on his hands like he used to. He might start again tomorrow, but right now that’s not what his body feels is necessary. I just keep hoping the nodding of the neck will disappear soon. The fact that this tic is hurting his body scares me. I’ve read about folks with Tourette’s Syndrome and how the various jerky movements negatively affects their bodies. How could it not?

The most disturbing aspect of all this though, was watching my little boy’s body create a tic while we had what we thought was a relaxing dinner. It had not been a bad day and it had been a good evening. I keep asking myself, “Why does his body do this? Why does it react to stress and anxiety this way, even when it’s not a particularly stressful day or moment?” I don’t have specific answers and yet I know from observation that he tends to tic more at night, no matter what his day has been like. I do think he tries to resist the tics while at school. (I’ve seen him at a birthday party try to hold his face still and open his eyes wide so he won’t squint and scrunch his eyes.) Once he gets home, he knows he can be himself and I think his body just lets it all out and it tics like mad–eye scrunching, eyebrow raising, head nodding, blowing on the hands–the whole kit and caboodle.

But this morning? This morning I wasn’t thinking about anxiety or body tics or deep breathing exercises or any other kind of stress reliever.  I was only thinking about getting our four cats outside so they’d stop bugging me. And as I let them out, I heard my son waking up. I didn’t know it, but I was about to receive a very special gift.

Typically my husband, the early riser, is already awake but this morning he slept in. I whispered to my son that he could get up if he wanted to, but we had to be quiet. So we went into the kitchen and quietly talked about what we dreamt the night before while we made tea and coffee for ourselves. (Don’t worry, decaf tea for him!) Then we tiptoed into the living room, sipped our drinks in front of the lit Christmas tree (yes, you read that correctly) and talked about video games, my sister’s 50th birthday, our freaky cat we secretly think is Batman, and ghosts. And near the end of this lovely conversation? I realized that my sweet boy hadn’t tic’ed once.

Not once.

I love my son more than anything that has ever existed in this world. I’ll love him if he dyes his hair purple or turns into a yeti. I love him and all his eccentricities and goofiness and bad jokes. And I love him with his tics. But I also love him without his tics and can appreciate those few moments when his body and mind are calm and happy and in sync.

 

 

Sometimes it’s difficult to just “be”

Lately, there have been many moments when I realize that my son really “gets” me. He’s always been one to compliment me and call me beautiful, just like his father does. That’s one thing we try to do in this house is to boost each other up and not tear each other down. (Ok…that’s not really true. We tend to tease each other incessantly, but it’s done with love and if there’s ever any bad feelings, we stop.)

But it seems that just in the past few months, my son has realized a few things about his mother and felt the need to share his observations. “Mom, you seem to be particularly cranky. Did you go for a run today?” Or, “Hmmm….I think you need a treat. You should go buy an iced coffee.”

Then this afternoon, after having an unexpected house full of family and food and fun, I finally sat down beside my boy after everyone had left. My cold was making my head hurt and my eyes sting, but I needed to spend some time with my son. I watched him play a video game and we discussed which was easier while playing, being in first person or third.  As we talked, I started to lose my voice so he entertained me with making his character on Halo do wacky things. (I personally love it when these guys dance.) But after just a few minutes, he quit the game and left the room. I put my feet up and tried to read for a bit. No matter how bad I feel, I typically hate to lie down to nap or just rest. There isn’t enough time in the day to get done everything I want to do, as it is. Being sick doesn’t change that.

But as I tried to read with my eyes watering, my son came back into the room and said, “Here, Mom. Let me tape this to your forehead.” It was an “Out of Order” sign he had made for his computer so no one would touch it. As he placed the sign on my face he said, “There. Isn’t that better?” And as I closed my eyes and put my head back into my chair, it really *was* better. I needed a few minutes to just stop. No reading, no thinking, no doing.DSCN3175

Just being.

And it took an 8-year-old boy to teach me this.

By placing a sign on my forehead.

I’d say little nuggets of wisdom come from all people of all ages. We just need to take the time to listen.

 

 

 

Creating Dignity

“Can you tell me what happened? Can you tell me why you went to the hospital?” the doctor asked my mother.

Mom starts to turn to me to refresh her memory, to fill in the gaps, until the doctor firmly said, “No. I don’t want you to ask your daughter. I want YOU to tell me what happened.”

I was sitting beside my mother with my 8-year-old son on my lap. We were packed in a corner in the small doctor’s office. While I wrapped my arms around my son, I stared at the doctor and in my mind I kept willing my mother to remember. “You can do this, Mom!” I kept saying to myself. But when I glanced at my mother’s face, I could see the color rising in her cheeks. She was staring at the doctor, too, but just kept saying, “I don’t know. I…I don’t know.”

When Mom finally turned to me, I put a hand on her shoulder and said, “Remember, Mom? You were driving to Hartland and you started to shake?”

“Oh, YES!” my mother nearly shouted. I was nearly expecting her to raise her fist in triumph as she recalled her little escapade that ended with a trip to the emergency room. And as she was telling the story, my son whispered in my ear, “I didn’t know that’s what happened.” He looked scared. I nodded and held him tighter.

Although Mom’s was not a good story, I was so happy she could remember it. During those few moments when Mom looked so embarrassed and helpless, I would have done anything to make her feel good again, to not feel ashamed or scared.

I’ve thought a lot about that doctor’s visit today, wondering if when I take my son to school tomorrow, *he’ll* be the one who needs a little protecting. His tics have been quite calm over the past few days, but today as he talked about his upcoming first day of school and how excited he is, his tics started to increase. He’s been blowing on his hands a lot and raising his arms. I remember last year on the first day of school, I cried when I drove home after watching him tic like mad as we walked into the classroom. His teacher at least knew about the tics, but this year, we haven’t even met the teacher.  Fortunately most of his classmates seem to “get” my boy and don’t seem to care about the tics, but there’s always someone new to explain it to, or some little shit on the bus who is looking for a kid to pick on and ridicule for the school year.

As my son was getting ready for bed tonight, he was telling me about all the things he wants to tell people at school tomorrow, like about the Youtubers he thinks are cool and he wants to get his friends to subscribe to those Youtube channels. He wants to make a sign to have on the playground, telling people to come to him so he can tell them all about these great gamers. And as my boy told me all of this, I was cringing inside, just hoping that no one beats him up, and also hoping that he will find his tribe sooner rather than later. Most geeks I know didn’t find others like themselves until they were at least in high school. I want my son to find his people NOW. I want him to feel like he belongs with others that he is not related to. I want him to feel safe and happy, not ashamed or scared of who or what he is.

I want to make two of the people I love most in this world to feel good about themselves and to feel safe and happy. That is all I want to do.

It’s really not that much to ask, is it?

 

 

 

 

 

Poopy Parenting & Crappy Choices

This week I have not done a very good job at being a parent. In fact, I’ve sucked.

I made some pretty stupid decisions, like taking home a lobster from a library program my child attended…where the kids named the lobster Steve…and then my husband and I cooked the lobster.  My son yelled, “You can’t eat my friend!” After trying to explain that in our home, lobster is our food not our pet, he refused to talk to us. He didn’t talk again until we were eating the lobster…and then he just cried silently for several minutes. (As a side note, the boy actually likes eating lobster, but apparently not after it has a name or after he got to watch it poop on a table in the library. True story.)

A few nights later, my boy was reading Calvin and Hobbes at bedtime when he called out to me, “Mom, do YOU put all the presents under the Christmas tree?”

*sigh*

I started to give him only the partial truth, but when he called me on it, I fessed up. He responded with a gasp then, “NO! Wait! I’m too young!” You can imagine the rest of the conversation. It was filled with lots of crying, honest talk, and ended with my attempt to tuck him in which he adamantly refused.

Last night I let the boy buy a slushee. A small one. I didn’t think it looked like a small, but he was sure it was. So I gave him the benefit of the doubt and later found out it was  large. He slurped that drink down as quick as he could, then proceeded to talk like the guy on those drug commercials telling you all the side effects of that medicine your doctor wants you to take. And did I  mention that I let him drink this AT NIGHT! *forehead smack*

I yelled at him last night, too, when he was “tic-ing.” The tic is a new one, like a nervous smile, and always seems to happen at the worst possible moment. I felt like a total schmuck afterwards.

The week was also filled with babysitting woes and juggling schedules that will probably continue for the rest of the summer, which just makes me want to wish away the summer. And I *hate* that feeling.

It was such a friggin’ long winter and I have waited and longed for these lovely two and half months to arrive. Now that summer here, I’m really trying to enjoy it. The weather hasn’t been too hot or humid, a bit of a rainy stretch, but nothing horrendous. I’ve loved it and have dragged my child outside to “enjoy” the weather with me as often as I can.  Although when you work full-time, that “often as I can” really means “hardly ever.”

You know, I get to work at a job and career that I love. In fact, I’m about to attend a week-long leadership training seminar as a mentor, something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and yet I feel like a damn hypocrite. If my financial situation changed and I was able to stay at home more with my son? I’m quite certain I’d give my notice, sign-off of all of the committees I’m on, and run home to my boy as fast as I could go.

The kid is 8 years old. He can be a royal pain in the ass (and has been consistently for the past month) and yet I still want to be with him. (I know, right? Bizarro.) I’ve been trying to take advantage of those hours when I’m not at work and we can read together, play basketball, hike with friends or by ourselves, play card games, or just talk about anything and everything, even about why boys and men seem to fart so much. (Seriously, why is that?)

I’m running out of time I can be with my son when we *both* want to be with each other.

I keep coming back to this dilemma over and over and over with no good solution. Do I just suck it up, do the best that I can, and repeatedly apologize to the kid for not spending as much time with him as we want? How do I make us all happy? Or is that even possible? I know that if I’m not happy, I will be an even worse mother AND wife, and then *everyone* (and I mean everyone who has the slightest contact with me) will be miserable.

How do YOU do it?

I keep saying to myself that we’re ok. After all, I didn’t do everything wrong this week. I fed my kid healthy snacks as we went on a hike with friends. I played basketball with him many times and never let him win. (He kicked my butt at least every other game.)  I tried to explain why apologizing when you’ve done something wrong is the right thing to do, even if it’s difficult. And we started reading the new Jedi Academy book together and have discussed how cool it would be to go to school there. I suppose we’re as happy as we can be right now.

But is it enough?

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