Love.

I didn’t think I would cry about this, but I did.  I was. [I still am.]

I was sitting in my car furiously updating the live feed from the SCOTUSblog, waiting for news on the marriage equality ruling. Then, with my umpteenth down swipe, it was official.  Dissents notwithstanding, the highest court, and ultimate arbiters of all-things-legal, in this amazing country of ours has ruled that everyone is free to marry the person they love and no state may refuse to recognize that choice.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority:

“The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed.”

Justice Kennedy is 78 years old. He was appointed by President Reagan to the Court in the 80s. He is decidedly not a millennial. But he is part of this new generation, as we all are. The country is not the same as it was 200 years ago. And how awful would life be if it was? No toilet paper, no Starbucks, no Google, and no freedom–for so many. Justice Kennedy and the other four Justices who joined him are right. This is about liberty, so basic and so material for so many of us. And so easy to understand for the youngest among us.

My kids were attendants in their first wedding two years ago. At 5, 3 and 1.5 they wore the fanciest clothes of their lives and walked down the aisle with their cousins, throwing dinosaur stickers instead of flower petals. Never once did it occur to them to ask why there were two brides.

It was a wedding and a wedding to them was, and still is, about love–about a commitment to love and build a life with another person.

So, it feels pretty amazing to sit here in my office [where I’m supposed to be working…sorry clients] and pour over the words of the Supreme Court. To be nodding along with joy in my heart and a smile on my face, the same way I used to feel when my mom read Shel Silverstein poems to my sister and me.

The battle for equality is far from over. There are still so many wrongs to be fixed, and hearts to be changed and healed. But this morning, I’m awash with happiness and optimism.

God [or whatever higher or inner power you choose to believe in] Bless America!

***

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”
Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends.

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Soggy metaphors for loss and love on the second day of summer camp.

It tends to comes out of nowhere, when it is the furthest thing from my mind. And then it is there, my frontal lobe sending mom-soaked dopamine compounds throughout my brain. Making me stop for a moment in my tracks, just long enough to pass through a sidewalk sprinkler of memories and emotion. The moisture is barely noticeable, quickly evaporating on a summer day. I can choose to stand still and let the sprinkler hit me again, or walk on. Usually I walk on, the shock of it quickly passing. Sometimes it leaves me chilled, but mostly it feels good. Cool and warm at the same time. Like her.

When my mom’s death was fresh, raw and recent, it felt like I was standing at the shore break after a storm. Unevenly spaced waves were crashing around me, carrying tangles of seaweed and other harsh matter dredged from the ocean bottom. It was hard to breathe. I couldn’t move as the sand gripped tighter and higher around my ankles with each wave. My eyes stung too much to open, making it impossible for me to know when the next wave would break over me.

It sucked.

Now, almost 5 years later, it sucks less. I can breathe. My eyes are open and I am no longer stuck in the sand and waves.

Still sometimes, I am drenched by loss of her.

Today was the second day of summer camp for my 3 year old son.  Yesterday’s drop off was easy, but by pick up time he was sobbing.  This morning he was refusing to enter the classroom.  Asking for a new camp, asking to go home, yelling for “one more minute of talking.”

I was late for work already, my mind racing with thoughts of the thousand things that [still] need to get done.  I was tired from his mid-night calls for trips to the bathroom, sips of water, made-up songs about tall towers, and blanket adjustments.  I wanted to pick him up and drop him in the middle of room and run.  I wanted to scream.

I closed my eyes for a second and was hit by the sprinkler. Confusing and cool, the thoughts rained down. I felt her. I felt her perpetual calmness and infinite patience in all child-related matters. I sat down on the bench outside the classroom and looked at his tear-soaked face. I asked if he wanted to play with me for a while and he nodded. We played with imaginary cars and jet planes. Then we zoomed those cars into the classroom and I asked if he wanted to see where his sister sat when this was her classroom. He nodded, then audibly “ooh”-ed as he sat in the chair that was his sister’s. A minute later he waved me off with a quick goodbye and I left.

It was comforting to him to think that his sister once sat where he sat. It is comforting to me to think that my mom was once where I am. I am not her. I don’t have the tolerance that she had; but I still have her.

I have the ability to call upon her, or to have my subconscious call upon her. To splash myself with the memory of her, and let those thoughts work their sometimes sad but, now, mostly wonderful magic. To remind me to stop rushing, to breathe. To let my kid find his way in his time–just like she did for all of hers.  And to abuse oceanic and neuropsychological metaphors–just as she would have done.  Love and miss you, Mommy.

All smiles on the first day. Not so much on the second.

Magic.

We started Harry Potter a few weeks ago. The girls are 7 and 5. They want me to read with the lights on because they think the light of the kindle on my face as I read makes the story too scary.

They want to talk about each paragraph. One empathizes and wonders out loud what could have happened to Voldemort that made him so angry and mean. One stops the reading so that she can describe the vision in her head of Hogwarts from the train, with details vibrant and wholly absent from the text. In her mind, there is a gold roof and a battalion of owls are swooping with balloons in their beaks.

We took a break from the action after reading that Dudley was heading to the hospital to have his tail removed, and talked about what we would do if we had tails. Pig tails would be removed. They’re cute but would get in the way when we sit and wear pants. A prehensile monkey tail is a different story. While it poses the same apparel and seat challenges, such a thing would be so useful to climb and swing at the playground. Yes, a monkey tail is a keeper.

Reading with them is magical. Each chapter takes twice as long as it should as a consequence of their commentary. But it is fun. And when it’s time to call it a night, because one or the other is yawning and having trouble fighting the magnetic pull of her eyelids to one another, I feel sad.

Maybe it’s just that I’m tired too. Or it’s that I feel guilty because we don’t get to read like this every night. Some nights I’m not there. Some nights there is just no time. But really it’s more than that. I’m sad because I don’t want it to end.

I know that this time is short-lived. That they won’t always let me read to them. They won’t always share their opinions, and questions, and visions with me. They won’t always think that having a prehensile tail would be cool.

Tonight I’ll be home. Tonight we’ll read some more, talk some more, and when they stop interrupting I’ll know that they are tired and it’s time to call it a night. Time to let them drift off to dreams of owls and powers of transfiguration. And I’ll try very hard not to be sad, and to appreciate that the magic of this time is a factor of its fleeting nature.

And when they begin to refuse my offers to read, and refuse to think that animal appendages are cool, I’ll look back on nights like these and remember their magic.

He never stops moving.

He’s 3 today. He never stops moving. He is a blur of belly laughs, robot arms, laser hands, tiger pounces, whole-face smiles and astronaut blast offs. He loves his sisters with as much force as he hits them back.

He loves Mary Poppins and does a fair rendition of the chimney sweep “Step in Time” dance sequence. In his spare time, he goes hexagon hunting and keeps a running (but shifting) tally of how many he’s seen.

He doesn’t stop for pictures.

I’ve been trying to take a decent one since he woke up yelling, “it’s my buurrff day!!” at 4:27 this morning. This will have to do.
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California Dreaming

My mom did not have any traditional lullabies in her repertoire.  House of the Rising Sun, American Pie, Hotel California. These were the standards.  I’ve carried on this tradition with my own kids and added a few, but nothing from this century. The Joker, some Rolling Stones, and the Greatest Love of All.  This last one made it into the rotation in the predawn hours one morning when I was reaching for a song that I knew all the words to, one that would be just long (and boring) enough to finally put a teething little insomniac to sleep.

When I was a kid, I listened to Whitney Houston sing that song over, and over, and over again on my Easter egg-colored little boom box.  I laid on the floor with the lavender machine in front of me, repeatedly pushing the pastel play and pause, rewind and stop buttons. Testing the resilience of the thin cassette tape, and carefully re-spooling it with my fingers when the brown plastic loops would go slack.

I was singing it again last night as I rocked my almost 3 year old back to sleep after a nightmare.  We sat in same chair that I’ve rocked all 3 of the kids to sleep in.  But it’s too small for this function now.  The boy is half my height and the two of us together in the chair looked like a sloppily twisted soft pretzel version of the Madonna and Child.

This time Whitney’s call to action, her plea for us to let the children lead the way and show us all the beauty they possess inside, left him curious and unfortunately more awake.  There was a running commentary and stream of questions as I sung off-key.

Mama, why no walking in da shadows?  Is it dangerous?  Walking on ice mountains is dangerous. I like shadows. Can we make shadows now?  What mean “dignity”? Let’s search for heroes.

Lullabies are no longer sleepy background noise in our house.  They are songs with words and meaning, and the little person–no longer a baby–sprawled across my body was asking for more. More information. More context and definition. More time with his mama in the middle of the night.

I was rocking and thinking how much I love that I can give him these things in this too small, loudly upholstered in black and white floral chair–the same chair that my mom held his sisters in.

He’s clever and he loves his mom.  I was thinking about how my mom so loved cleverness and would have, so very much, loved him.

I was thinking about his Grammy and Granddad and his Pop Pop, aunts and uncles and Great Aunties.  All of whom rocked him and his sisters before him in that chair.  All still here, cramming themselves and one or more kids into that chair, rocking and reading with them from time to time.

I was thinking about how easy it is to get lost in wanting something or someone you don’t have, and how lucky our family is to have so much past and present love around us.

I stretched the blanket to cover his feet dangling over the side of the chair and told him to close his eyes so he could listen to a new song.  I went with California Dreaming.

Found on Etsy.

Found on Etsy.

St. Patrick is not nonsense.

Peanut: I heard that Saint Patrick played magic music and all the snakes left the land, but that’s nonsense because there is no such thing as magic music.

Sassy: ‘Scuse me Paige, but it’s not nonsense. Remember, the Ancient Egyptians played music to make the snakes calm down and not bite the queen so maybe it’s not magic but it’s not nonsense.

Mo: I LOVE snakes!

Peanut: He liked four-leaf clovers too. We should decorate the house with them.

Me: Actually, the story goes that it was a shamrock…a three-leaf clover–

Peanut: What story?

Me: The one about St. Patrick.

Sassy: So this is all just a story?!? What are we talking about then? I’m talking real stuff.  Really real stuff about Egypt.

Me: St. Patrick is real stuff too.  It was just a very long time ago so it’s hard to know now which parts of the story are real and which are not.

Sassy: That stinks.  They should have used hieroglyphics.

Mo: My shoe needs fixed.  It’s broken.

Peanut, 7. Sassy, 5. Mo, 2.

Choose your tail and make it happen.

Snow is exciting for kids, with the construction of snowmen and the whoosh of fast sleds. But snow is dreadful when it’s accompanied by arctic temperatures that make spending more than a few minutes outside dangerous. This winter we’ve had to explain the phenomenon of frostbite and ask the question, “is building a snowman worth losing a finger?”

The answer was, “yes.”

So, as the mounds of white taunted them, we barred the doors and hoped the siren song of winter would be muted by the theme from Wild Kratts.

Today, though, is beautiful.  A balmy 36 degrees–but it’s Monday.  School calls and outside diversions will have to wait.  We hope that we’ve turned the corner on this winter and that we will no longer have to stretch our imaginations to create more inside games.  We’ve hosted carnivals, markets, restaurants and even a kind-of TED talk series for a captivated, stuffed animal audience.   My favorite of the inside games, though, was not one that was created with parental support–or supervision.  It wasn’t even a game really.  It’s more a state of mind.

The tail store.

My 5 year old crafted a selection of tails from pipe cleaners.  The almost-3 year old got in on the game too.  But one tail was not enough for him.  He sported a dual tail apparatus while running endless laps through the kitchen, dining room and living room.

“Look at me!  I’m running. I so fast.  My tails are so fast. Do you see dem?”

The oldest was nonchalant about the tail thing, not partaking in the donning of tails but offering creative advice along the way, “I think you should use the purple for a dragon tail…..Yes! That’s it. More dragon-y.”

But the 5 year old was serious.  After creating a whole collection of tails, Sassy Bottom Baubles Spring/Summer 2015 (look for them in next month’s Vogue), she disappeared for a while in her room.  After a few minutes she came looking for tape, and I obliged.  Normally, a request for tape made outside of the scope of communal arts and crafts time and without explanation means something is broken, ripped or otherwise destroyed.  But, I was tired and lacking in motivation so I didn’t protest when she zoomed by me, on all fours, with the roll of tape in her mouth.

A few more minutes went by and I began to wonder about the quiet and fear for the safety of the pet fish who have taken up residence in her room.  I walked in and found her working carefully to affix a selection of tails to her dresser.  She turned to me, face beaming like the sunshine we all longed for, “It’s my collection.”

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“This way, I can choose what kind of tail I want, whenever I want,” she explained. “When I feel like being a tiger, or a mouse.  When I want to be a kitten or a cheetah, I pick one and put it on, and Taa-Daa…I’m a tiger.”

“I love it,” I told her. “They’re beautiful.”

And they were.  They were beautiful.  A simple and simply glorious depiction of the way kids can feel empowered to be something or anything they want.  She wants to be a tiger, and an astronaut, and a dancer.  She does not see any of these as impossible.  She is not afraid to make her dreams known.  To give them voice–and tail, for all the world to hear and see.

I want her to stay this way.

I don’t want her to be quiet about what she wants.  I want her to express her dreams and make them happen.  Unless that dream is to build a snowman when the thermometer reads “LL”–lower limit–i.e. so cold the damn thing cannot even tell you how cold it is.  Quiet and a little less relentless would be good in that situation.

Or maybe not.

Necessity and dreams are the parents of invention. With an adequate supply of pipe cleaners, she just might invent some newfangled snow gear before moving on to her career as an intergalactic ambassador of tiger dancing.

Presidents of us.

We were talking about what it means to be the President, what they do, what qualities they should have and what the kids would do if they were the President of the hands-down best, but still beautifully and tragically flawed like a legendary warrior or any of the lead characters in Twilight, country on the planet.

Here are my notes. These kids have some good ideas.
P (almost 7), S (5) and R (almost 3).

P: Presidents should be old, because you have to live a long time to know the right thing to do sometimes.  When you’re little, you might know but it’s better to be old. Mama, I can’t wait to be old, but I don’t want you to die. I’m going to be a mother of one [holding up one finger for emphasis] baby when I’m old.  But I want you still to be here.  You’ll be here, right? [This kid dips my heart in gooey sweet caramel every day and takes a giant bite, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.]

S: America is the best country on Earth, but there might be another good country on Pluto which is now a planet again because it [holding up one finger and demonstrating that she listens to her teachers far better than she listens to her parents] is round, [now, two fingers] orbits the sun and [three fingers and a bent pinky at 90 degrees] moves in its own circle [balled up hands circling her face as if she is the sun, which she kind of is to me…when she’s not whining].  They thought Pluto was NOT a planet, but they took a closer look [closing her left eye and looking through a pretend magnifying glass with her right] and, whaddya know, it is a planet.  Um.  Um.  What was the question again?

R: Um. Scooze me. I need food. I soo hungry. [What he lacks in diction and verbs, he makes up for in adorable politeness.]

P: Presidents make rules, right? They should be smart so they make the right rules. If I were the President I would not let people use dangerous machines. [This is a reference to my day job, and a story for another time.] I would also say you cannot cut down anymore trees because if you cut down all the trees, the dangerous animals [I think she meant endangered, but who am I to say?] will have no place to live and it will be a really crazy bad idea because we need trees to breathe. [Man, how I love this kid.]

S: Yes, there are no trees on the moon which is why we can’t breathe on the moon.  Also, wait.  Um.  I remember what I was going to say.  The President should be big like Daddy.

R: I’m big.

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These kids are gonna thank us someday.

My kid so desperately needs a haircut. He looks like a yeti, from the ears up. The rest of him is thankfully fur free. But looking at him and his porcupine mop-top this morning, with his array of half-eaten breakfast choices spread before him, I thought, Hey, despite the hair, he’s damn lucky.

His appearance leaves something to be desired at the moment (namely a pair of gardening shears), but he’s got a lot of stuff that so many other kids lack. And I may not be the perfect parent.  I may or may not have dropped him when he was 6 weeks old on to a hardwood floor (the ER nurse was incredibly kind at 3 am, “don’t worry, ma’am, it happens all the time”). And I may or may not have whispered to him, at 13 months after he finally fell asleep following 3 straight hours of rocking (physically and lyrically–after exhausting my meager catalog of lullabies I was singing my own renditions of the best rock songs of the 60’s), that he was going to drive me quack-sh*t, ducking crazy someday–only I may or may not have whispered the bald-faced curse words rather than the PG version.  I think about this little not-quite Mommy Dearest moment often and hope that his subconscious failed to absorb the exhausted menace in my words.

But the truth is he’s got a mom that would do anything in her power to keep him safe, and happy, and fully stocked in the breakfast pastry category.  So, I’ve decided to let go of the kiddie-coiffure failure and my many other parenting transgressions of the past 7 years.

I have another kid who has resorted to keeping her own calendar.  I shared this fact with a colleague in the elevator yesterday as we were both scrambling to make the clumsy transition from litigator to super mom at the end of a harried work day. Continue reading

Blurry is good.

[So, I wrote this a few weeks ago…but couldn’t push publish at the time.  Sometimes I feel like I write too much about the ache of missing my mom.  It’s not unique.  I’m not unique.  That kind of loss is something that we all will experience, or already have. Still, I figure that if the point of this whole exercise is to create a record of these moments and stories in a format that my kids are more likely to find someday than the tangible and scattered pieces of my own mother’s story that I find tucked away every now and again in old suitcases, journals and book jackets, then I should just put it out there.  This is for them.  The three people I want most to know her and me–even long after I am gone.

And I want them to know that my sister and I were lucky to have one of the great ones, and lucky to have her as long as we did.]

***

This morning he was screaming and banging the kitchen floor, like a life-size Joe Pesci in [insert the name of any mob movie here], because he wanted the salt shaker.

“Salt! Salt! I want dat salt!”

Arms flailing, feet stomping, red-faced and tear-streaked. I finally put some on his hand and he licked it.

“Yuck, dat’s disgusting. You not nice, mama.”

I kissed him anyway and he ran off to wreak mini-gangster havoc somewhere else, no longer interested in the shaker.

Continue reading