Whiskers

Yesterday, a few hours before dismissal, I received an email from Luca’s teacher. She had taken the time to send it to all the parents, something for which I am so grateful.

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Dear Families,

Our classroom pet, “Whiskers,” the hamster, came to the end of his lifetime this morning. He was an old hamster; here before many of the children began attendance in the classroom. We explained to the children that he had come to the end of his lifetime and is no longer living. Death was explained as a cycle of nature – that his body was not alive and that it would change, get smaller and go back into the garden to give back to the trees.

We will read from a book, “Lifetimes” by Bryan Mellonie. Your children’s questions may bring an opportunity for you to explain your family’s perspective and faith.

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I knew the day, the one I’ve been dreading from the moment I had kids, was coming. And, sure enough, it finally came, in the form of a dead Hamster named Whiskers.

I made sure to be at the front of the dismissal line earlier than most days. I was going over questions he may ask in my head, and reminding myself not to project my fears onto him. Just because I’ve always had this great fear of death and loss, doesn’t mean he will.

He was okay when he hopped into the car, smiling even.

I waited a few minutes before bringing it up.

_ _

So, I heard about Whiskers, buddy.

Yeah, he died.

Yeah, your teacher told me. How do you feel?

Sad.

That’s what I figured. I feel sad, too.

Mommy, every living thing dies, right?

Yes. All living things die.

Except for people. People don’t die right?

No, people die, too, buddy. But, people live a long time, a lot longer than they used to. It’s not something you need to worry about, okay?

So, people will die when they turn 1,000?

Well, it’s different for everyone. There’s no exact number – but, usually, it’s when they’re really old.

< Lots of silence and thinking on both our parts >

Hey, how about we go to the bakery and buy a cake for Whiskers?

But, he’s dead, mommy.

I know, but we can still celebrate what a long and happy life he had? It will be our Celebration of Whiskers cake!

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We got home with our Celebration of Whiskers’ Life Christmas cake and, immediately, cut ourselves a huge slice.

Then,  we clinked forks and shouted, “To Whiskers!”

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To Whiskers, indeed.

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A Hand to Hold

“Oh, what beautiful children you have! Do tell me their names.”

Go on, boys, tell the nice lady your names.

“I’m Hold On.”

“And, my name is Gimme a Second.”

Oh, these boys of mine, always joking around. This is Luca. And, this little guy here is my youngest, Leo.

* * *

Okay, okay, so this didn’t actually happen.

Yet.

But, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

I spend more days than I should phoning it in, and putting the unimportant before my most important.

Give me just a second, while I reply to this tweet.

Hold still for a minute, honey, so I can capture this moment instead of participate in it…you know, for my blog.

I tell myself they’re still too young to know better, but that’s a lie. Just because they’re not able to articulate it doesn’t mean they don’t feel it.

Somehow, though, they always seem to forgive me, but I’m trying to shape up before they get any older.

* * *

Sweet boys of mine,

I’m still learning everyday how to be your mother.

I try hard to be the best, but I still mess up more than you deserve.

I’m not perfect, and I’ll never pretend to be. But, I’ll always apologize to you when I’ve done wrong. Even tiny-sized children deserve adult-sized respect.

You’re not perfect, either, and I won’t pretend you are. In fact, I want you to know just how imperfect you are. Because, we all are, and isn’t it lovely?

I cherish that I’m getting to know you at the same time you’re getting to know yourself. And, that you’re getting to know me at the same time I’m still getting to know myself.

The complicated journey of self-discovery has just started for you. And, there’s no final destination, just little pit-stops along the way.

I wish I could tell you it’s easy, this growing up stuff, but it’s not. It’s incredibly hard. Never let anyone discount that or minimize it.

You’ll try on a million different hats until you find the one that fits, which will probably end up being the very first one you tried on.

You’ll question who you are often and, when you don’t like the answer, you’ll try to be someone different.

And, that’s okay, we all do it.

But, me? I’ll never question who you are. I’ll only love you, all of you, even the parts you hate. And, when you’re pretending to be someone different, I’ll be here to guard those parts and keep them safe. Because, trust me, one day you’ll want them back.

As your mother, I’m looking forward to so many milestones.

I can picture them now…

I’ll sit on the sidelines and cheer loudly for my baseball all-star. Or, sit in the front row, and silently pull for my ballerina.

I’ll watch in awe at how fearlessly you take on life, attacking it head-on. Or, the way you cautiously approach it, preferring to get your toes wet before diving in.

I’ll talk loud on how brilliantly academic you are, and how effortlessly you earn perfect marks in every subject. Or, the way you put in your all, and study day and night to raise that D to a C.

I’ll beam with pride at how outgoing and confident you are when you walk into a room, and how much you relish the spotlight. Or, at how incredibly shy you are, comforted most by shadows and shining your brightest when no one’s looking.

I’ll stand proudly by your side the day you find God. Or, the day you find you don’t believe in him.

I’ll leap for joy when you find your wife. Or, your husband. Or, the day you decide you don’t want either.

I’ll cry tears of happiness when you finally make me a grandmother to a bouncing baby girl. Or, stray cat. Or, a Chia Pet.

I’ll embarrass you often, bragging to everyone about my handsome, wealthy, heart surgeon of a son. Or, my broke, starving, artist of a man.  Or, my hardworking, honest custodian.

For, you see, it’s simple.

The only thing I expect of you is to choose what makes you happy, independent of what’s considered the norm or what makes others happy.

It’s not your job to live for anyone, especially not for me.

But, it is my job to live for you.

And, because I take this job very seriously, I’ll do things that you won’t understand sometimes.

Like pushing you to take chances on things that terrify you.

Or, stepping back and letting you fall.

I won’t try to fix everything for you. It’s not my place. But, I will always be close by to pick you up and dust you off.

I expect you to be kind, to defend those that are weak, and try to make the world a little better than you found it, any chance you get.

I’ll take you out of your comfort zone, and expose you to things and people that are different from you. I refuse to let you miss out on diversity and all the beauty it brings.

I’ll tell you incessantly to be grateful for all you that have, then remind you that none of it makes you better than those who have-not.

I’ll push you to be gracious and generous. And, not for praise or the expectation of something in return, only because it’s the right thing to do.

You’ll see all of this as nagging, and you’ll roll your eyes and stop your feet and slam your door in my face.

Sometimes you won’t like me, and you’ll tell me so. You may even tell me how much you hate me.

But, don’t worry, it’s a rite of passage, and I’ve already forgiven you. There’s nothing you can say or do to make me love you less.

Life is unpredictable, and ever-changing. With the good comes the bad, and with the happy, the sad. But, there’s one thing that will always remain constant.

I’ll always be here to hold your hand.

Even when you’re trying to let go.

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We Get By With a Little Help From Strangers

Yesterday was one of those days that seemed like it would never end. I had a ton of things to do and planned it all very poorly, which ended up interfering with Leo’s afternoon nap.

As in, he didn’t get one.

And, if you’ve ever gone to Target with both kids in tow, you know it can get pretty messy. Especially, if one of them is hungry or tired.

I was making my way through the store, when Leo ripped off both his shoes, throwing them down the aisle with the skill of an all-star pitcher.

As I ran to scoop them up, Luca began shouting, “MOMMY, Leo won’t stop touching my penis! Leo won’t stop touching my penis! STOP TOUCHING MY BODY, LEO. This is MY penis.”

On one hand, I was proud that he knew to say “THIS IS MY PENIS,” because of, you know, stranger danger. But, on the other hand, having him repeatedly yell penis in the middle of Target was a little startling to…everyone.

During this ordeal, Leo kept hitting the button on his new toy car, prompting the song feature.

Won’t you take me to…a funky town….over and over and over again.

Luca was angry and defiant when I told him the town was funky.

“Mommy, it’s CRAZY town, not FUNKY.”

Crazy town, indeed.

I was smack dab in the middle of that moment.

The moment when you’re sweating, and positive that all eyes are on you and your shitty parenting. It’s easy to forget that, most of the time, people are too busy stressing out about their lives to notice ours.

Just as I was about to lose my shit, an older woman approached me.

What the hell is she going to say to me? That my boys are out of control? That they’re causing a ruckus? That I suck as a mom? I know all this. Move along, lady.

Instead, she gently laid her hand on my shoulder and, with the warmest look in her eyes, said, “Honey, I just want to tell you that you’re doing a marvelous job as their mommy. You got this.”

It had to have been at least three decades since she had stood in my stressed-out shoes, but she could see in my eyes that I was in major need of some encouragement.

Those words took mere seconds out of her day, but they changed mine completely.

You know what? I do have this.

That simple shift in my attitude carried over to my boys, and left us all much more relaxed.

I laughed, thanked her, and we went our separate ways.

But, I wish I’d said more. I wish I had told her that her support, her kind eyes and warm smile, had made such a difference in my day.

In a city of six million people, the odds that I’ll see her again are tiny, so all I can do is pass it on.

Whether it be a look of solidarity, or a quick, “Oh, mama, I’ve been there. It’s so hard, sometimes. But, you’re doing awesome,” makes no difference.

Sometimes, all we need is support from our stranger-friends, from those who’ve been there, to turn our day around.

A few aisles over, Leo chunked his shoes, again, straight at another shopper.

“Uh-oh!” said the innocent victim.

This time, instead of getting all sweaty and panicky, I laughed out loud, and told him, “Being the mom of two boys isn’t easy, but it’s definitely never boring.”

Then, I walked away, the three of us singing as loud as we could.

Won’t you take me to, a CRAZY town…

Only Parts Of The Whole

Being an afternoon child is a big responsibility, huh?

That’s what Luca told me yesterday morning, as he emptied an entire can of hairspray onto his head…all in one spot.

Don’t worry, Mommy, I closed my eyes when I sprayed it.

* * *

It’s been almost five years since I had him.

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I closed my eyes for what seemed like a split second and, when I opened them, I was sending my sweet boy off to school for his first day as a primary student.

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That was over a year ago.

* * *

I closed my eyes again and, this time, when I opened them, I was sending him off to school, lunchbox in tow, as a big-shot all day child.

This day was a special one.

In his words, he’s no longer one of the little kids.

Staying at school for three more hours each day may not seem like that big of a deal, in the grand scheme of things, but it symbolizes just how fast he’s growing up.

When did my baby become old enough to be away from me for seven whole hours?

This child, the one I’m probably way too protective of, is the most extraordinary soul I have ever met.

A part of me wants to put him in a bubble, and save him from the real world. A world full of hate, where one can no longer feel safe crossing the finish line.

Thankfully, a bigger part of me understands that this would do him more harm than good. It’s important he have a world all his own – one he doesn’t have to share with me, his father, two dogs, one cat, a fish, and four very horny frogs.

And, although I know that loosening my grip of his tiny hand is the right thing to do, it doesn’t make it any less bittersweet.

I’m especially protective of Luca, because I see so much of myself in him. Often enough to make me wonder if I’m merely projecting my feelings and fears onto him – something that wouldn’t be fair at all.

But, then he’ll say something I understand all too well and any doubts I had, that he’s not cut from the same cloth as me, are extinguished.

His tender nature is exemplified again and again in the most ordinary of moments.

Like, during a recent road-trip.

A Texas-sized truck flew passed us on the highway. Going at least 80 mph, it had a dog in it’s bed that was holding on for dear life. He didn’t look to be enjoying the wild ride at all. I cringed, but I bit my tongue, not saying aloud what I was thinking.

Hey asshole, how would YOU like to be thrown in the back of a truck that’s speeding dangerously down a congested highway on a holiday weekend?

Instead, I went with, “Oh, look at that cute doggie!”

Luca fell silent for the next few miles. Sitting in his car-seat, he wore a cute shark shirt and his trademark thinking face.

Mommy, is that dog in the truck going to be okay? I think he’s probably scared.”

Of course, he said everything I’d been thinking.

Of course he did.

He always does.

This kid walks around all day long with his feelers sticking straight out, for anyone and everything to grab hold of.

His constant worry about others, especially those that are weak and powerless, makes my heart ache. He’s not even five, and way too little to worry about such big things. He’s got his whole life to make himself sick with the sadness that surrounds us.

Despite my worry, I wouldn’t change a thing. Because, I love this about him, just slightly more than I hate it for him.

But, I know how heavy it can be to walk around with an extra sensitivity chip – it is such a beautiful burden.

My friend Katya would say he has a bad case of The Lastimas. Which, basically means he doesn’t just feel for people and animals, he feels with them.

I know from experience how exhausting this can be.

Most people feel sad when they see a lifeless animal in the middle of the street. But, they’re able to move passed it fairly quickly; Their reactions, offering no more than the situation warrants.

And, then there’s me.

When I see a dog-turned-roadkill it can ruin the better part of my day, if not all of it, popping up again and again and again in my head….

Did it suffer?

Was it scared?

Did it lay there all by itself, confused and dying, until the end finally came?

I am the Queen of Emotional Overreaction.

Not all that long ago, I told you guys a story about a slug. And, while my tone was humorous, my concern for that damn snug wasn’t exaggerated in the least.

As my friends sat around laughing, I couldn’t stop wondering if the headless little blob was in pain?

(Google has differing opinions on slug-pain.)

I’m not saying this to come off as some kind of Mother Teresa. Rather, I’m acknowledging the fact that my reactions to things teeter dangerously between normal, everyday sensitivity and straight-up insanity.

When I was younger, I’d even catch myself ascribing feelings to inanimate objects.

It’s funny, though.

When I see all these things in myself, I call them crazy. Yet, when I see them in Luca, I call them beautiful.

In him, I see a beautiful caring soul who feels way too much for his tiny heart to hold.

On the flip side, would I rather have a son that steps on a slug, rather than a son that worries about a stepped-on slug?

Not a chance.

Nevertheless, it still pains me to know that his kind of empathy comes with a price. One that is beautifully painful and oh-so-heavy.

I lose sleep at night, praying I’ve passed on only my best parts to him.

Please don’t let him hate himself like I did.

Please don’t let him worry so much about what others think.

Please let him be confident.

* * *

All weekend, I worried that he wasn’t ready to be a full-day student.

Is it too soon?

Am I pushing him?

But, when I picked him up yesterday from cloud nine it was evident, by the huge smile on his face, that my worry was for not.

That’s when I realized something big.

Although, Luca undoubtedly has many parts of me, he is not me.

He’s his own person, traveling down his own path, and making his own unique mark in the world.

And, he’s so much braver than I’ve ever been, in all of my 35 years.

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I’m so proud of you, my sweet afternoon child. Keep being the sensitive soul you are. Because, no matter how hard it may be at times, it’s a beautiful way to live.

I will not be closing my eyes anymore.

* * *

My thoughts, love, and deepest condolences are with Boston, and all those affected by yesterday’s tragedy.

The Birds, And The Bees…Froggy-Style.

Parenting is hard.

We have to deal with things like seeing our babies sick, projectile vomit, and a four year old mini-Picasso painting their bright-blue masterpieces on our clean, white garages (ahem, Luca.)

Everyone tells me it gets harder as your kids get older. But, most of the time, I’m knee-deep in kid-shit and way too busy to worry about what’s to come.

Yes. I’m well aware that their questions will become more difficult with each birthday they celebrate, but I’m barely hanging on as it is, you guys. Taking things one day at a time is all I can handle.

For now, I make sure to answer my boys open and honestly, giving them as much as their little brains can process.

But, I always try my best to tell it like it is.

My husband once asked me why I introduced words like penis and vagina into Luca’s vocabulary.

Umm, because that’s what they’re called? What should I tell him to call it…a cock?

Kids deserve our honesty, even when it’s uncomfortable for us.

I mean, do I dread the day when the Mommy, what does pizza look like when you throw it up turns into the Mommy, how are babies made?

A little.

Although, I’m pretty confident, because I totally have a fail-proof plan as to how I’ll approach these kinds of things.

(Plans? Ha. Children laugh in the face of plans.)

But, I’m certainly in no rush to tackle these doozies.

And, luckily, I haven’t had to go there yet, because my boys are still at an age where I can control their environment.

Just yesterday, I thought about how relieved I was that Luca wasn’t around when I was unwillingly exposed to pigeon pornography.

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Oh, but not so fast with that big sigh of relief, Allison.

Hours after my little pigeon peep-show, the animal kingdom decided it wasn’t quite done fucking with me.

As I was getting Luca ready for bed I heard him scream.

“MOMMY! Come here now. WHAT are these guys doing? WHY is my boy frog sitting on top of my girl frog like that?”

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Of course, our frogs had decided to do it froggy-style right there in plain sight for all the world to see. OF COURSE THEY HAD.

Oh…well…honey…that’s…umm…how they make their babies do you want a giant cookie before bed oh look there’s a bird.

“They hug each other, mommy?”

Oh. Yes…Ha…YES! They totally have to hug each other to make babies.

And, although the explanation was one of pure innocence and the crisis seemed averted,  I could see that somewhere, deep in his four year old head, he knew there was way more to the story than that.

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Please, animal kingdom, I beg of you.

Get a room.

Because, it turns out, I am so not ready for this shit.