Fortitude

Another paraphrased anecdote, this from a friend of mine. This is the story of six weeks in his life.

“First, my mother fell and broke her arm, so she couldn’t work. Then my brother went off his meds [for bipolar disorder] and freaked out. He started destroying things. He kicked in Mom’s front door, cut the cable line, cut the freon line in her refrigerator, put a giant nail in my truck tire.

“My mom moved out, went to go stay with a friend. She was scared of my brother. When he called to find out when she was coming home, she told him that. He apologized, packed a bag, and went on a 65-mile hike.

“Now, in the meantime, I was smelling something bad in my apartment (M lives in one of five row houses in McKees Rocks). Plus I was starting to have really bad back pain. I was cleaning obsessively trying to find the smell and get rid of it. This went on for nearly two weeks. Finally, I was lying on my living room floor, writhing in pain, and screaming about this smell in my apartment.

“So I went to the hospital. They diagnosed me with kidney stones, sent me home with pain killers, and I waited for them to pass. After sleeping for 24 hours, and then passing the stone, I felt a lot better.

“But the smell was still there. Now I kept asking my neighbors if everything was all right. They are two [mentally challenged]* women who live with their crazy mother. (She really was crazy — 91, with dementia.) Was their refrigerator working? Did they need help taking out the garbage? They kept saying everything was fine.”

[*My friend is probably the least politically correct person I know. He used a different word here.]

You see where this is going don’t you?

“Finally, I’m cutting So-and-So’s hair (my friend is a stylist who works out of his home), and asking her if she can smell it — because by now I’m sure it’s in my head — and she like, yeah, and then the flies started. So-and-so is a social worker, and she’s just like, ‘That’s bad, M. That’s really bad. Call the cops.'”

So he did.

The woman had been dead nearly five weeks. Three weeks later, and the house is still being cleaned out (although, thankfully, the smell is gone.) Oh, and his brother finally called.

“Frere,” he said. “I’ve got blisters the size of which you wouldn’t even believe.” My friend went to pick him up.

I have friends going through hard, hard things. Divorces, foreclosures, a mother with breast cancer (caught early), miscarriages, unemployment, children with autism. I have a friend who struggled for years with infertility, finally had a daughter, moved to BFE for her husband’s job, and is now divorced and single-momming it.

And all these friends of mine, they keep moving forward. Sometimes they let me see the struggle, they let me help if I can. I think they are so strong. I mentioned this to M, my friend from the story above.

“They are thankful,” he said simply. “They have something that keeps them grounded, something they are grateful for. Look at you and Dan.”

He was referring to our loss of Gabriel. I’ve known M longer than I’ve known my husband; he was the first person at the hospital when I discovered Gabriel was dead.

“You are the bravest woman I know,” he said.

I hear this sometimes, that Dan and I are brave, and inspirational, and strong. And it’s not that I’m not saying it’s not true — it’s just that I don’t remember feeling that way at the time, or, even, much now. At the time, I was utterly devastated. As time has passed, I just feel blessed, rather than brave.

I think about visiting my girlfriend in BFE — and laughing with her, enjoying our time together. Even though she is going through one of the hardest times I have witnessed. I was thinking, “What gets us through that, or this, or these times?”

I think M may have hit on the answer. And I’m not writing this to tell you to count your blessings. I just came through a pretty tough depression, and I could barely see my blessings let alone count them.

Just keep going, I guess I’m trying to say. I mentioned this in a comment yesterday, and I feel it’s true: Coping is overrated. Sometimes, it feels like the universe is piling on. I wasn’t coping a few weeks ago. Going on, I suppose, moving forward, but hardly coping.

Don’t cope, I guess I’m saying. But don’t quit either.

POV

This is a paraphrased anecdote that was recently told to me by another woman. The woman is a stay-at-home mom of two boys, 4 and 8; her husband (and the boys’ father) works full-time. She grows most of her own food, and pretty much cooks everything from scratch.

“My older son has a friend he likes to have playdates with. So I make arrangements for the two boys to get together now and again. The other boy’s mother works 40 hours outside the home, and is married to a man who works full-time too. Whenever I go over to her house, I feel stunningly inadequate. Her house is so neat and organized. Plus, it’s really well designed, like something you would see in a magazine. I always feel like such a slob when she’s dropping her son off at our house.

“One day, I was dropping Dave* off, and the woman said to me, ‘Meghan*, can you come in for a little bit? I was hoping we could talk.’

“So I go in and sit down, and she makes us some tea, and then she sits down and says, ‘I want to know how you’re so relaxed all the time. You just seem so calm. I don’t know how you do it.’

“I didn’t know what to say! Finally, I just said, ‘Really, I don’t do much.’ And it came out that she’s on medication for anxiety, and has some IBS issues, and I’m just sitting there like, ‘Well, I totally get the anxiety thing, but what are you going to do?'”

This is not a SAHM v. a WOHM thing; this isn’t even an observation about the grass being greener.

This is a commentary. What your life looks like from the inside is not what your life looks like.

Know what I mean?

And I know that this is how I use this information: First of all, to not judge others from what I can see. Not their marriages or other significant relationships, not their parenting, not their occupations, vocations, or avocations. Second of all, to let others’ judgement roll off me. Yes, my 5yo is having a hard time containing herself at this moment and in this space (and my 7-year-old is probably obliviously reading a candy package, and my 18-month-old son probably has dirt on his face), but my kids are loved and they are good kids. What you can see of my life isn’t wholly my life.

Although, trust me, sometimes I don’t know how I do it, either.

How do you do it?

*Names have been changed.

Random Thoughts: The It’s Not Boring! Edition

Yesterday, I got home at 4:36, and was promptly greeted outside my car window with Kate who had something wrapped up in a paper towel.

“What’s in the paper towel, Kate?”
“It’s a dead mouse! I’m going to keep it as a pet. I won’t bring it in the house.”

Damn straight, you won’t.

The nanny was appalled and apologetic. She had no idea that Kate had picked up the mouse, and she couldn’t apologize enough (or stop gagging, and I don’t blame her.)

Short story: We gave mousie a decent burial, and everyone washed his and her hands very, very thoroughly.

I really do have to follow up on this pet idea.

++

I’m pretty sure Michael would spend every waking moment outside. It’s his favorite word, second only to “mommy”.

As soon as he gets up: “Outside?” As soon as he comes inside, “Outside.” As soon as he’s done with dinner, “Outside! Outside!” After bath, “Outside.” This is difficult as there are some things I need to go inside to do, such as change my clothes, use the bathroom, cook dinner, eat dinner, bathe the children. Michael couldn’t care less about my needs. “OUTSIDE!”

++

As a result of good weather and getting home an hour earlier, we’ve been taking a lot of evening walks. Flora usually bikes, and Kate usually thinks shoes are optional.

Last night Kate stubbed her toe something awful, and she didn’t even notice until Flora pointed it out. She piled into the wagon with Michael because obviously she couldn’t *walk*. Because she kept saying that her toe didn’t really hurt, I joked with her. “Maybe that’s not really blood then. Maybe you stepped on a ketchup packet.”

Protip: Children are very literal creatures.

Yes, Kate actually tasted her blood.

*ptooey, ptooey* “Nope, Mom, that’s not ketchup.”

++

I finally gave into temptation and snapped a picture of M’s tushie (he was in the tub). Unfortunately for you, I can’t share it on the Interwebz. But I do plan on printing it out for embarrassing collateral when he’s a teen.

++

She came up with this idea all by herself. I call it, “Ohm.”

++

It’s a good kind of not-boring right now. I’ll take it.

Meatless Monday: Cherry Cheese Pastries, Kind Of

We are a brunch household. We just love that meal. So for family celebrations, we usually host a brunch, and depending on who we’re feting, my husband or I cook and clean. Dan usually does pancakes and made-to-order eggs, and I usually do… something else.

My plan for Father’s Day was sausage, eggs (scrambled with cheese or scrambled without cheese), plus croissants and apple pastries from Costco. (I’m not as good at brunch as Dan.)

I had returned from Costco with a truckload of cherries as well, because have I mentioned my children like fruit? Well they do, and Costco was giving out samples of cherries, and my children had about a dozen. Each. I could see the sample person sweating as she was pitting cherries for my ravenous children. I herded them away after three, but they kept circling back, circling back. Finally I told them to leave the poor woman alone, I was buying cherries already.

I wondered if I could create a cherry-cheese-croissant-type pastry with what I had to hand. The short answer was no: I needed cream cheese, and I needed crescent roll dough — not already-made croissants. But once I’ve gotten an idea in my head, I gotta see if I can make it work.

Between Twitter and general Web surfing, I got the gist of what I wanted to do. I did NOT want to use canned cherry pie filling; I did want sweetened cheese; and I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that the Pillsbury Doughboy was going to get some of my cash.

Father’s Day Cherry-Cheese Pastries

One container crescent roll dough
1/2 cup fresh cherries, seeded and chopped (I used my food processor)
8 oz. brick cream cheese, softened
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 egg, separated

2. Combine the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and the egg yolk. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth.

3. Spread out the crescent dough triangles on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

4. Place a spoonful of the cream cheese mixture on the long end of the triangle, then place a spoonful of the cherries on top. Fold the pastry around the cherry cheese mixture (there must be some kind of technique to this, but I certainly don’t know it). Brush the top of the pastry with egg white.

5. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.

The end result was not pretty, but they were tasty. That 1/2 cup of chopped cherries is an estimate — I chopped up WAY too many cherries, nearly 2 cups — and next time, I would like to make my own dough and make the pastries bigger. Because the filling is amazingly delicious. I’ll have to do a little legwork on that.

Oh, and you’ll have left over sweetened cream cheese spread. It’s excellent on croissants.

Do you brunch? What’s your favorite thing to make and/or eat?

Thinking Aloud: Happiness is Not A Given

I’ve been seeing a lot about happiness on the Interwebz lately. Who’s happy, who’s not happy, does so-and-so deserve to be happy, being happy, why you aren’t happy. (NPR has a summary of TED talks on happiness that was very enjoyable, too.)

It got me to thinking, though. Here’s the thing: I don’t believe we’re here to make ourselves happy. We aren’t really here to make anyone else happy, either, to be clear.

Happiness qua happiness is not the goal of our lives.

Now before I expand on this, let me be clear: You also don’t need to go through life being miserable, or sacrificing happiness for others. A right in the United States Constitution is the PURSUIT of happiness. So you can do things to make you feel happy (as long as your happiness doesn’t impinge on another’s life, liberty, and/or pursuit of happiness).

But happiness per se isn’t a right. Happiness isn’t a given.

Happiness is ephemeral. Fleeting. It’s not a state of permanent being.

There is nothing WRONG with happiness, or being happy, or the pursuit of happiness (again, within reason). I think it’s something that we all want, to be happy. I think if you are doing what you are supposed to be doing with your life, happiness (or peace, or contentment) is a natural result of that.

I’m just saying I feel there are more important things than one’s personal happiness.

The enduring lesson of my life is something my father taught me when I was a child.

We are here to love one another.

That’s it. That’s the upshot of life.

Love one another.

Really and truly, I think that’ll make you happiest. To love, and act with love, in all its variations.

Agape: Have compassion. Be nice. To everyone.
Phileos: Love of your friends.
Storge: Love of your family.
Eros: Love of your spouse or partner.

I think that the idea that we are supposed to be happy can be very dangerous. It can leave people wondering what’s wrong with them. It can lead us to try to make other people happy (by giving them stuff, or trying to protect them from being UNhappy). It can make people suffering from grief struggle to repress the process of grieving.

I think happiness as an end is the wrong path to travel. Rather, travel the path where happiness is a side effect.

I believe that would be a path with a lot of love.

What do you think? What comes first, happiness or love? Or are they so intertwined, it doesn’t matter? Where one is the other will follow?

Random Thoughts: The More Random Thoughts Edition

Remember when I was worried that Michael had food allergies? I can conclusively say that he may not have full-blown allergies (no hives, no breathing problems *KNOCK ON WOOD*), but he definitely has some sensitivities. Something in that store-bought hummus, cinnamon, and tomatoes (or tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, at least). In the case of the first two foods, he gets a contact reaction (red splotches around the mouth).

In the case of tomatoes, it shows up later in the process, if you get my drift. I’m hoping it’s something he outgrows, because we like our tomato sauce around here! It took me a little while to put two and two together, poor little guy. But once I had an inkling, I took it out of his diet for two weeks. No problems, no rash. We were at a party on Saturday where the vegetarian choices were limited. So I took a chance on the pasta, and BOOM. Next day, problems and a rash. I’m guessing it’s the acidity of the tomatoes.

(My other guess was strawberries, but fortunately it’s not that. I say fortunately, because like the girls, you can’t even show strawberries to Michael unless you are going to immediately feed him some. “Berrs?” he’ll ask, then “berrs, berrs!” I swear somedays all he eats is fruit — strawberries, blueberries, cherries, bananas — and either bread or yogurt.)

++

I jumped the gun on telling ya’ll that we had our own vacation house. The guy forgot to double check his calendar, and told me the place was free when it wasn’t. The other place I inquired about is $300 more, and bigger — way more room than we need. I was hoping to hear about another place, but so far, nothing. Looks like we’ll be crashing with my parents again, which does have its advantages. (Primarily, a Nonna who will take them for a morning stroll while I have coffee.)

++

Other random Michael words: car, go, ball, doggie, mine, outside, “ella” for Bella or sometimes “la-la”, “ink” or “rink” for drink. He says “sock” only he can’t say “ess” yet, and so subs a “k” sound in the word, which makes me giggle like a 12-year-old. He says, “bye” and throws kisses.

I will warn you: if you say to Michael, “Do you want to go outside?” you better be ready to go outside. There’s none of this going to the bathroom, or looking for shoes, or it being 6:30 a.m. Say “outside” in his earshot, and you’re heading out the door. No if, ands, or buts.

++

Speaking of “buts”, we have a new aphorism in our house. I was telling Flora something the other day, and I ended by saying, “And no buts.” Kate piped up, “Yeah, butts are for pooping.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Belated: Happy Father’s Day

It always struck me as a little unfair that babies usually said “da-da” before they said, “ma-ma”. At least, my babies did. In some cases, the sound/words were close together — Michael of course being the exception. He’s been saying “dah-dee” for *months*, and only just started saying “mah-mnee”. He’s making up for the lag by saying “mah-mnee” every .7 seconds, though.

From an evolutionary standpoint, saying daddy first is probably advantageous, right? You’re this little wrinkled defenseless being, your mom, while soft and good smelling and your food source, probably isn’t bringing home the bacon otherwise, or scaring away the saber-tooth tigers. That big, loud hairy thing that hangs around the fire (making funny smells while he’s there) seems more intimidating. Why not win him over to your side?

Dan didn’t wait until hearing his first “da-da” to be utterly devoted and captivated by his children; most modern-day fathers probably don’t. He was pretty much hooked from birth (if not a bit before). They barely got those babies — our babies — out and cleaned up before his heart was lost.

How funny language is. Because it’s not that his heart was lost, or gone, or melted. If anything, for Dan, it was the opposite. That in Flora, Kate, and Michael, Dan’s heart was found — especially after our loss of Gabriel. That part of his reason for being in this world was fulfilled in becoming not just a father, but a “da-da”.

This post is a day late because we were so busy yesterday, probably not the most ideal of Father’s Days in my husband’s view. We cleaned, and had brunch for his father and brother-in-law, set up a kiddie pool, and then got everyone cleaned up (again!) to go to my brother’s for dinner with him and my father. But ultimately, I know that being woken up (not until 10 a.m.!) by his children and their big handmade card was pretty much the pinnacle for him. That we can celebrate my husband’s fatherhood means the world, and not just to him.

Random Thoughts: The Small Change Edition

1. I think the Great Bang Experiment of 2012 is coming to an end. Which will amuse my stylist to no end because I asked him for *months* for bangs. He refused until I showed him a picture, then said, “Oh, those will look good on you.” And they do. However, the combination I have going on now of bangs, glasses, and, occasionally contact lenses, isn’t working so well.

2. I’m occasionally wearing contact lenses again now that it’s summer-time weather. My eyes don’t really like them, but for short periods the minor discomfort is better than fussing with glasses when trying to be active out in the sun.

3. And I’m whispering this because I don’t want the vengeful gods of childcare smiting me, but *we hired a nanny for the summer. It’s going well.* I hope to have a report — a glowing, positive report — at the end of the summer. Please cross your fingers for us.

4. I suddenly find myself with an extra hour with my kids at the end of the day! I’m not always sure what to do with that time! Suggestions welcome!

5. Speaking of suggestions, I’m a little over my favorite Internet news/opinon site (Slate for those of you following along). They’ve kind of turned away from the kind of news analysis I enjoyed (and somewhat relied on) into a lifestyle/lifestyle-critique online magazine. Additionally, they are utterly obsessed with Girls and Mad Men, and I have to avoid those articles like the plague because in the first case I don’t really care and in the second case I haven’t gotten through Season 4 yet. I will always read Slate for the addictive-as-crack advice column Dear Prudie, but I’m kinda burned out on the rest of it. Where/How do you get your Internet news, dear readers?

6. Just this:

This is Kate at the Venture Outdoors event in Point State Park about a month ago. My mother, who took the pictures, reported that Kate wished the snake had been “more wiggly” because she really wanted it to “crawl up her arms and around her neck” because of course she did.

7. Oh, I might have mentioned to the girls that we could get a pet bunny rabbit. Gotta follow up with a few people about that.

8. Every year, my family — my extended clan — descends on Seven Springs Mountain Resort to vacation. We usually stay with my mother and father, who get a townhouse that sleeps 10-12 people.

Dan and I made the radical decision to get our own place this year. Last year was really difficult getting five of us into two rooms, and Michael had a bad week, waking up every night. Since he slept in a room with Flora and Kate, he was also waking them — and probably my parents too.

Dan went along with the plan (to rent our own place) somewhat reluctantly, but I think it’s going to prove to be a good decision. We’ll find out!

What small changes are going on for you? Or big changes for that matter?

Billie Hollidaysburg

The problem with going to see your friend and her daughter in Hollidaysburg, PA, for your friend’s 40somethingth birthday is that you and your girl children have so much fun that Monday finds you desperately hoping not to nod off and faceplant on your keyboard.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Driving Route 22, which is how we usually go to Hollidaysburg, is always interesting. Places with names like Mundy’s Corner and Nanty Glo (Welsh for “seams of coal” — h/t to @shadow), roadside strip bars (I’m thankful Flora spent a lot of time playing her DSi and Kate can’t read yet), and my personal favorite sighting: a barn-like structure that advertised on the side “Live Bait!” and “Tattoos and Piercings.”

Um, no thank you.

And then, once we arrived, we had a picnic lunch at a state park (Canoe Cabin State Park?), played in the sand, swam (okay, I didn’t swim, but I did go in the water to play with the kids a bit; it was really cold! — oh, I bought new swim suits!), the girls ate their weight in cheese puff balls and homemade chocolate chip cookies (not homemade by me, made by my friend’s friend). After a few hours, we picked up all the toys, went back to the house and cleaned up, put on dresses, made dinner, drank wine and beers, ate, nattered endlessly about our lives, let the children stay up way too late (Kate actually fell asleep on the couch), and then stayed up too late ourselves.

It was really delightful. Although I got the stupidest looking sunburn ever on my nose. Seriously.

My friend has made lovely friends in this tiny corner of Pennsylvania, and I’m glad we got to meet them. I’m glad on Sunday we went to church and sat in the choir loft, bought ice cream and coffee at the corner gas station, and let the girls play some more while eating leftovers for lunch. I’m glad that Kate passed out in the car, her fingers and lips dusted bright orange from our car snack of cheese puff balls, and Flora played the DSi while wearing ear plugs (Kate snores). I’m glad that my boys were glad to see us when we got home, and I’m glad that while I made mac ‘n’ cheese for the children, Dan picked up dinner for us at Mad Mex.

Being this tired is worth it if it comes with weekends like that.

9

The morning is still, at first. I am awake and have hit the snooze button once already. I’m in that a.m. limbo, part of me still sleeping but most of me awake.

Mornings are a flurry (or, depending on how it goes, a cluster) of activities: lunches to pack, sleepy children to turn out of beds and feed, making sure Dan and I have coffee to go.

The fresh grief of losing a child is 9 years behind us now. I saw that grief recently described somewhere as the feeling of an elephant sitting on your chest. That’s about right: crushing.

I survived that — we, Dan and I, survived it, together — and in this quiet morning space before the flurry, I am, again, amazed by that simple fact. To have come through the suffocating, drowning, breath-stealing grief, to be alive nine years later.

To just be sad.

When I do the relativity scale of the baby-loss community, I feel I got off fairly light. We didn’t struggle with infertility. Our babies that came after Gabriel were not … I’m not sure the word to use here: damaged? sick? My pregnancies were fraught, my third trimesters anxiety-provoking, my labors no picnics.

But we got ’em out alive.

And although a baby is nine-years gone, he is loved and remembered. Differently yet alongside his 7- and 5-year-old sisters, along with his 18-month-old brother.

For me, Michael’s toddlerhood, like his babyhood, seems most poignant. Because if Gabriel were going to look like, act like, inhabit the world like anyone, it would be most like his brother.

Maybe. Although I always think Gabriel would have had Flora’s dark hair, not Michael’s light. But blue eyes, I bet. Definitely blue eyes.

But now the morning’s reflection is over, because Michael, my second son, is babbling in the other room. I have to wake Dan to kill a wasp in the bathroom. Kate’s curiosity has her peering over her dad’s shoulder, but I steer her out of the room; I don’t want her getting stung.

I write this in my head, and then on a computer.

Later, I’ll treat the kids to fast food and we will buy six white flowers. I’ll let the children wander among the stone angels while I lay the flowers on Gabriel’s grave.

And another year will come and go, and my other children will grow up, Dan and I will grow older. Probably no less sad, I think we’ve reached our plateau there.

We will carry Gabriel with our other children in our heart. The only place we can carry him now.