The Beginning and the End

You sit beside a bed. This particular bed holds your father, not your baby, but you are struck by the similarities at the beginning and end of life. The ointments and diapers. The confusion and breathtaking emotion. The endless sitting and the slowly ticking clock. The love and the fear and the pain, all mixed together.

You sit for hours just watching for a rise and a fall of his chest, barely taking a breath yourself until you see that his ribs are rising. Uneven breaths make you nervous, pauses are terrifying.

He cannot feed himself, so you spoon smooth food into his mouth, using the edge to wipe any wayward drips from his lips. You gently ask if he's ready for some more, trying to decipher from his facial expressions, his subtle movements, his mouth being open or closed or turned away from you whether he wants any more.

You ask for his help when moving him, you wait until you think that for sure he's heard you, that you have his permission, that you aren't doing something to him but for him instead.

He is so dependent on others and only vaguely aware of the world. When he is awake, you mostly cannot understand what he is saying. There are some words, some emphatic feelings and noises. Mostly you are the one talking, using your softest, sweetest voice, telling him you are there, you love him, he is okay.

You focus on the time you greeted him and he said, clearly, "Hi Sweetie" and choose to forget the time you hurt him while changing his shirt, making him yell out with a pain that reached right into your chest like a knife.

But, unlike your babies, he doesn't cry. That, the unpredictable indecipherable crying of a baby, is left entirely to you.

All of life seems to stop when you are inside his room and when you emerge from the room, from the house, it seems unreal that the world should be going on without acknowledgement of how severely your life has been rocked. Have the cars always driven this fast? Has the sun always been this blinding? Where are all these people going and can you just lay down here in this soft snow for awhile? You have done nothing but sit here and stroke his forehead and hands and stare at his impenetrable face but you are just so very tired.

As with your babies, you know that part of loving him is caring for his needs, holding him close, and ultimately, letting him go.

Like your babies, he is on a journey and your love can only take him so far.


The enormity of it all

Z came home Monday and told me about a lockdown drill they had in her first grade class that morning. The children were instructed to crouch silently on the floor against the wall by the coats "so that the robbers couldn't see or hear us and come and rob us."

I wanted to write about the conversation we had at bedtime about "bad guys" and why people do terrible things but I didn't know where to start or how to end it or what to do with the heartbreak in the middle. The post didn't work because I didn't know how to process it, couldn't get my head and heart around the enormity of it all.

Today, I paid many benjamins to replace all four tires on my car, found out my one credit card was compromised and summarily cancelled, and discovered, during a visit to the pediatrician that included one girl having to be physically restrained just to get a swab in her throat and the other girl tumbling off the exam table, bonking her head and then peeing all over me - that both my girls have strep throat for the THIRD TIME THIS MONTH.

I tried to write a funny post about today. It didn't work.

It didn't work because the backdrop to all these frustrations and challenges is the fact that my dad has transitioned to hospice care. He is home now, semi-lucid, losing his battle with cancer.

Tomorrow, I drive to New Jersey to see my dad, most likely for the last time. I can't imagine what I will say or do besides sit there and cry. I can't comprehend how to even begin to look at this reality through my red, swollen eyes.

This reality, so much of it, is not what I wish it to be.


The Truth About Stage Mothers

Z has now had a whopping two rehearsals for her upcoming gig as Gretl in the Sound of Music and while the first one went fairly well, after this last one, I'm fighting a sense of impending doom. I know, I know. Give it time! We'll get used to the new schedule! She'll learn her songs and lines and where she's supposed to stand! She'll figure out she's supposed to actually pay attention when the director is giving instructions instead of, oh, say, putting her shoes on her hands and pretending to walk all over her chair with them!

Yeah. I'm not so sure.

You see, Z has many wonderful qualities - as her mother, I must emphasize the "many" - but self control isn't one of them. Neither is patience or paying attention in an even minorly chaotic situation. She gets revved up in new situations and her excitement spins into physical expression that could be just the bizarre behavior of a normal 6 year old or could be the basis for one of several diagnoses.

(Unfortunately, that last part is not hyperbole.)

I sat in the room for the last two rehearsals, far enough away that I could only watch helplessly as she stuck her hands in her pockets and pulled her dress down so hard her neck elongated like a turtle reaching for food, oblivious to what the director was asking her to do. As I walked her back to the car through the rain last night, I didn't tell her I was concerned she missed important information she will be expected to know at the next rehearsal. I didn't mention the fact that she raised her hand when the director asked who knew the whole song "off book" and then proceeded to look around distractedly and NOT SING while everyone else sang along.

I did not say anything last night because my feelings were a jumble of concern and vanity, love and fear. I couldn't work out if I was upset about it because I feared it reflected on my parenting, on ME. I could still taste the metallic bite of fear that rose in my throat as I watched my 6 year old play with her pencil and pull on her clothes and loll her head around and NOT SING and I immediately feared for her adult future in any pursuit. How can she ever succeed if this is how she behaves when rehearsing for something she is super excited about?

I fought all those fears and I said nothing. I held her hand in mine and I got her home quickly to tuck her in just barely past her bedtime.

Today I sat with her, gently but repeatedly focusing her attention on her script and we went through the songs line by line. I did not enjoy this experience, as it was clear to me that after a full day of school, doing what she's told to do, and an afternoon swim lesson, doing what's she's told to do, this girl who has to work extra hard to hold herself together needed to be loud and silly and messy and hang upside down and NOT do what she's been told to do, if only for a few hours in the day.

Oh I am struggling. We allowed her to audition and to take this part because she was so excited about the idea. We signed up for this and implicitly agreed to help her succeed. But none of us had any real clue how she'd fare at this. Who knows? Maybe she'll rise to the occasion and the success will be a current that carries her forward.

I do know this: this is why stage mothers are a THING. It takes some serious energy and clarity of purpose to push your kid so that they can succeed at something as exacting as performing. I want to help Z succeed at this, because she insists she loves it and wants it so much. So I will run her lines with her and help her practice her songs over and over again, because that is what it takes.

But today I just wanted to have a pillow fight with my 6 year old and then dance to Katy Perry and talk in her loud, emphatic made-up language.

My girl wants so desperately to be IN a play but mostly I just want her to PLAY.

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