Well that was kind of weird

Today was the first day of school for the Herd. Honestly, it didn’t really feel like we had a real summer. I know everyone says it, but our summer really did fly by. We waited forever for this summer to arrive, and then eight short weeks later, it’s gone.

Today felt weird. Maybe that had something to do with me being gone until Monday. Maybe it was because our summer was abbreviated. But Little Man put my feelings into words when I was taking first day photos of him and Big Man. He said, “It will never be the same again.” Nope, it won’t. The Princess had left an hour before, her first day photo taken inside the house, rather than the traditional courtyard photo, because it was still dark outside when she left for cheer practice. After photos, Big Man drove himself to school. The only thing that was familiar was driving carpool to the middle school. Even that though is a bit different with the addition of some traffic lights due to new neighborhoods going in.

As soon as I had Little Man dropped off, I had to get myself pulled together and go to a work lunch. That threw my game off a bit too. For the last eleven years, I’ve generally spent the first day with my mom friends, or enjoying a quiet day at home after a run or walk. The other weird was not picking any of them up from school.

Things are changing. Big Man has his license. The Princess will have her license in a few months. They’re growing up, and too soon, they will fly off to their adult lives. I’m left feeling a bit off-kilter.

I know by the end of next week, we will have settled into the routine of the school year. I’ll have wrapped my brain around the fact they are back in school. It will be less weird than it feels today.

Not posting a pic of this year’s first day since Little Man was wearing his school shirt, and I’m not tech-savvy enough to blur it out with my photo editing software. But here’s a throwback first day photo for your enjoyment…..

First day of school 2011

The last first day all three were at RC

Hey, they’re still alive, aren’t they?

When the kids were little, I learned it was okay for me to take time for myself. It was necessary to maintaining my sanity – those once-a-month bunco nights, book club, the occasional GNO….When they were older, I started to take weekends – scrapbooking retreats and girls’ getaways. Every time I came home though, I felt I was being punished for having had the nerve to go out/away. The house would be a total disaster – kitchen covered in food and dishes, cups everywhere, everything anyone had worn while I was gone tossed wherever, shoes and blankets all over the floor. I’d cry and yell in frustration. I’d bang things around, making sure everyone was aware I was unhappy with the state of our home. It didn’t make anyone feel any better.

Years passed. I continue to do book club, Girls’ Night Out, weekends away. Sometimes when I come home, they’ve taken the time to clean up, knowing it will ease re-entry for everyone involved.  Sometimes it’s a total disaster. I never really know what I’m going to get, but even if it’s relatively clean, it’s not how I would do it. Counters aren’t wiped down. Blankets aren’t folded on the back of the couch. Shoes aren’t in their baskets. There are likely towels hanging over the chairs in the backyard. The dishwasher isn’t loaded the way I load it (and everyone knows the moms load dishwashers the most effective, efficient way possible to make the most of every inch, right?).  The trash and recycling bins are probably overflowing. Floors likely aren’t swept. I’ve learned to let it go.

Hey, the kids (and pets) are still alive, right? They’ve probably been off-schedule, the boys likely haven’t taken their meds every day. But they’ve been fed. They’ve probably done some fun stuff with dad. They got a break from the way mom does everything. No, it isn’t the way I do things, but everyone is still intact, and the house can be put back to order.

I got home from my weekend in Chicago yesterday. I’d been gone for five days. The house was a DISASTER of the first order. I was so tired, and my luggage had been put on another, much-later plane than mine, so I was dealing with that too. I walked in the door, happy to be home and see my babies. I saw the mess, and sighed. I gave the boys a hug, greeted the fur herd, dropped my bag, and set about putting things in order, my order. But I wasn’t mad. It is what it is. I had an amazing weekend away. My kids had a great time at home (well except for the part both Big Man and the Princess’ phones took a dunking and had to be replaced). And hey, they were still alive, right?

How Not To

I’ve been processing this post for weeks, and debated whether to write it or just let it lay in my head and on my heart. But the words keep fighting to get out, so here it goes. I’m going to preface this with a word to my Princess……Please know I am not judging or disagreeing with your decision to try new and different things. Now is the time to explore and experience. Just know these words come from my viewpoint, my experience as a mom, as your mom….

When I found out I was having a baby girl, I was fairly sure I was going to put her in dance and/or gymnastics at some point. Whether it ever stuck or not would be up to her, and I would never force the issue if she straight-up hated it. But I knew we would try it out.  Before she was even born, I imagined her vaulting, swinging on the bars, and in a pink tutu and tights. When she was three, she started a Saturday morning combo class which covered ballet, tap, and a little bit of tumbling. It was adorable. She was adorable. Seriously though, I needed something girlie going on in our lives, outnumbered by men in our house. She made it through one year, and had her first recital when she was four. It was precious, and everything I’d hoped for.

We took the summer away from the studio, and when fall rolled around, I asked her if she wanted to dance again. She gave me a firm yes, so back we went to that Saturday morning class. That year, we met and made friends with another family whose oldest daughter was in class with the Princess. They’re still dancing together. That year, they did a tap routine for recital. I got used to doing the recital hair and makeup, to dress rehearsals, and buying flowers for my budding dancer.

Year-after-year, I would ask the Princess if she wanted to keep dancing. The answer was always yes. Eventually, we added a jazz class. Now, she was also playing competitive soccer. By age ten, she reached a level of dance we were at the studio three or four times a week, and she also had at least two soccer practices a week, plus Saturday (and sometimes Sunday) games. She was a busy little girl. That fall, midway through soccer and Nutcracker season, she told me she was tired. We told her it was probably time to choose between dance and soccer. She couldn’t do both at a competitive level and NOT be exhausted. I fully expected her to choose soccer, as that had been our life for more than three years.  She sat on it for a couple of weeks, and then told me she’d made her choice – she wanted to dance. I made her evaluate that choice for a couple of weeks before we started making any announcements, and she had to finish the season with her soccer team of course. But in February that winter, she became a dancer full time.

I’ve spent twelve years watching her dance, watching her become such a beautifully talented young woman. Every time I see her perform, I’m touched by her strength, her grace, her courage, her ability. I cry more often than not. I can cry just watching her hands moving in class as she works at the barre. This has been our life. I can’t begin to count the hours I’ve spent at the studio, driving to and from the studio, sewing ribbons and elastics on shoes, altering costumes, watching competitions, dress rehearsals and shows. I’ve loved it all. When  your kid does something so intently for so long, it’s not just about her anymore. You develop your own friendships with the other parents at the studio. We definitely have a much-loved dance family. And don’t get me started on her teachers and directors. They’re so much more to my girl than *just* dance teachers.

This past February, the Princess told me she wanted to stop dancing – well, at least stop ballet. I had no words, couldn’t even begin to think when she told me. I told her we were in it until recital as we’d already committed, paid, signed on the dotted line for this year. She’s a sophomore now, almost sixteen years old. She wants to try new things, be more engaged with her school. I understand. But this is hard. She may not believe this, but she is such a beautiful, talented dancer. Her face lights up on that stage. I see her – what’s inside of her – when she dances. And I just can’t imagine not being able to see that ever again.

Here’s the deal – I don’t know how not to be a dance mom. I don’t know how to not be able to watch her do something she’s so good at. I don’t know how not to be part of this dance family.

I watched her dance recital this past weekend. I cried every time she stepped onto that stage, knowing it might be the last time. We’ve spent twelve years doing this. I spent twelve years watching her grow, watching her turn into a real ballerina, a real dancer. At the hour of dress rehearsal I sat through last week, every dance she’s ever performed rolled through my head, from when she was a tiny ballerina in a pink leo and tutu, through her Hairspray jazz number, to being a turtle and lion, and on through her turn as Clara in the Nutcracker, to her solos, duo, and other competition pieces, to her finale as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. I could see them all in my mind. So  many hours, so many years.

Who knows what will happen in the next months and years. I know we have to let her choose, have to let her make these decisions. I will have to come to terms with change. She says she’s going to continue with some dance, but we won’t be here again, in this exact place. No more competitions, no more Nutcracker, definitely not nearly as much time at the studio. I will just have to learn how not to be the dance mom I’ve been for twelve years.

Last Days

Oh lordy, but we are struggling through these last days. It seems an insult to have to carry on with regular school activities for one kid when two have been on their summer break for eleven days. My brain is totally not on reports, Open House, report cards, morning routines, nor on signing field trip/dance permission slips. This momma has checked out, and I do apologize to Little Man’s teachers and team.

He is having a rough go. They had a field trip yesterday. He wouldn’t say what happened, just that it was “horrible.” That may mean one small thing went awry, or it may mean he had a full-blown meltdown. Who knows, and I’m afraid to ask. There’s a dance at school Friday  night for the 5th-7th graders. We haven’t even discussed it. I have to keep reminding myself his Open House is Thursday night (can I send a surrogate, or would that be frowned upon?). I got an email from his SAI earlier today he has completely pushed back on being in the classroom for the 7th grade health class. While I feel the curriculum is important, appropriate, and not beyond his abilities/understanding, I don’t have it in me to fight him right now, nor deal with the fallout of pushing his boundaries. We’re both toast. My response to her was I was fine with him sitting this one out.

His anxiety is elevated. He’s done. He wants nothing to do with getting out the door in the morning. He has asked daily to take his plushy  to school (I’m still saying no to that one). He’s forgetting necessary items. He’s basically pushing back on almost everything. While I know he will have another adjustment period once summer does start for him, we are both so ready to be through this process of the end of the school year.

I looked back through my end-of-year posts through Timehop on my phone. So many of them reiterate this feeling – he’s over it, he’s stressed, he’s anxious, he’s ready to be done but he’s also afraid of the change of routine/lack of routine that comes with summer. No matter how much he matures and grows, change in routine and structure is an achilles heel for him, and it likely always will be. His tool box is forgotten by this point, and we all just hang on for the ride. It’s a bit brutal, and these are the days I would do anything to make this all right and better for him. This is when I raise a certain finger to autism, because it makes days that should be full of fun and excitement stressful and anxiety-ridden. Add to that fact his siblings are swimming, hanging out with friends, sleeping in and enjoying summer while he sits in a classroom, and you have a boy (and a momma) who is just over it. #bringonsummer

Just Love Them

Eight years ago, I was flying home for my sister’s funeral. God, that sucked. It still sucks. Seeing the posts of when she went into Hospice, waiting for word, then when she passed, and then her services come up in my TimeHop – you just should be able to block some things from coming up in your social media memories. I miss her, especially lately when things have been such a struggle with the kids. I know she would have pulled up a stool to my kitchen counter, poured a glass, listened, and then would have given me some insanely awesome, sage advice. I know it.

Instead, I’m left with the last words she said to me, which were, “Just love your babies.” Lord, but I hope I’m doing her proud. And I guess when it comes right down to it, what better advice is there when parenting teenagers going through a ton of muck? Just love them. Everything else will fall into place. Love them enough to be strong. Love them enough to be consistent. Love them enough to stand by your rules, your values, your beliefs. Love them enough to help them become independent. Love them enough to not tolerate bad behavior. Love them enough to hold them accountable. Love them enough to require them to be respectful. Love them when they hurt. Love them when they’re unsure. Love them when they’re doubting themselves. Love them when they make mistakes, and help them learn to pick themselves back up. Love them enough to push them when they need to be pushed. Love them enough to let them know when they need to pull back. Love them enough to let them be independent while under your watchful eyes and the safety of home, and a known environment. Love them enough to talk with them, ask questions, know who their friends are, what their dreams and desires are.

I consider my sister’s words often – not just those last words, but all the words she gave me. She loved fiercely. She took such joy in living. Her laugh filled the room. Her sarcasm inspired all her siblings. She was our Queen. She momma-bear’d with the best of them – she taught me how to momma bear. She kept us together, reminded us the value of family, no matter how unconventional our family was/is.

She’s been hovering this week – I’m sure for my parents and my siblings, her children, her Spouse too. This year has been so difficult, and I’ve found myself in a deep, dark place too frequently. Nothing was getting through. But lately, I’ve heard her, and her reminders to just love them. I can do this. She’s gone, but her lessons live. 11:11

 

My sis with baby Little Man E and Deb

It didn’t feel right

I remember distinctly the first, and the second time, someone called me “Mom”. It was hours after Big Man’s birth, and I was being wheeled to his bedside just before he was transferred to his NICU. A nurse said, “Here comes Mom.” I looked around. I didn’t feel the least bit like a mom. I certainly didn’t feel like this baby’s mom – I’d failed him in every way in my mind, my body booting him out well before it was time, not protecting him the way I should have. There was so much guilt wrapped up in that word, “Mom.”

The second time I was called “Mom” was five days later, when I finally got to see him again. I walked up to Big Man’s isolette, and his  nurse whispered to him, “Your mom’s here.” I still didn’t feel an ounce his mom. I had been pumping every three hours faithfully since his birth days earlier. Spouse had brought video of him for me to watch every day. I’d signed the form for his birth certificate. But I still didn’t believe I was a mom. Everything about the process was wrong at that moment in time.

I was afraid of my child. He was so tiny. He was connected to so many tubes and wires. His face was covered in tape, his eyes covered by goggles to guard them from the bili lights he was under for jaundice. In my heart, it was my fault he was laying there, when he still should have been inside of me. I held him that night. He was too small for me to hold in my arms, so I held him on a pillow. One of my biggest heartaches is that they could have put any baby boy before me and told me he was mine, and I wouldn’t have known the difference. I’ve never said that out loud before.

Days passed. I spent hours every day next to his isolette. One day, I saw him kick out one leg, stretching beyond the boundaries of his cuddler, and I realized that was the exact same leg, the exact same motion he’d made while still inside of me. I connected the baby in front of me with the baby that had been in me. Suddenly, the name, “Mom” didn’t seem so wrong. His primary nurse encouraged me to take an active part in his daily care, even if it were just to take his temperature a couple of times a day before diaper changes. I gained faith in myself, and started to not flinch when someone would call me “Mom.” Eventually, I was the one changing his diapers, flipping him from side to side, watching his color instead of the machines so much, even occasionally pushing his feeds through his feeding tube. Once he graduated to an open crib, and was off the vent and CPAP, and able to be dressed in more than a diaper or hospital t-shirt, I changed his clothes as well, and then gave him baths. I read to him. I talked to him. I held him. I grew into my Mom name. By the time he came home, three months after his birth, I knew him, I knew me as his mom.

The guilt never leaves…the guilt over his birth, the guilt over being afraid of him, the guilt over not knowing him, the guilt of not being there for him his first five days of life. The first time I was known as Mom, it didn’t feel right. It took me awhile to get there. I don’t know if that hurt ever quite goes away.

The Late, Quiet Moments

The Princess’ dance studio is twenty minutes away from our home. Well, it’s usually 17 minutes each way, but I’ve done it in 12 minutes when there weren’t any slow people in front of me, no traffic on the freeway, it wasn’t raining, and I needed to get there very quickly, but I digress. Let’s just call it twenty minutes away. It’s not a hardship to make the drive, most of the time. Some nights, I’m just tired, but for the most part, it’s just an accepted part of the deal. The family we’ve become part of there, including her directors, studio manager(s), and teachers, are worth it. And we can usually get her a ride back to a closer-to-home meeting spot when needed.

Tuesdays are her late nights at the studio these days. She finishes class at 8:45pm, which means I leave the house around 8:20 to go pick her up. I was making the drive last night, and realized I don’t mind those later-night drives. I appreciate the quiet. On the way there, I appreciate the time to quiet my mind, the opportunity to just breath. It’s dark, there aren’t many cars on the road. I enjoy the drive on the curvy road between the freeway and the village the studio calls home. I also appreciate the drive home with the Princess in the car.  Some nights, she’s full of chatter. Some nights, she’s lost in her own thoughts. Some nights, she falls asleep, exhausted from a full day of cheer, school, homework, and nearly three hours of dancing. Some nights, we sing our hearts out all the way home. I love them all.

The drives at night, those late, quiet moments, remind me of when my babies were babies, and we had those nightly 3am feedings. At the same time you’re wiped out and just want to sleep, you know those quiet moments with your baby are fleeting, they’re special. There’s just something different about them. Some of my friends think I’m insane when I say I miss those 3am feedings, but I do miss them. I miss that quiet time, holding my loves closely in the dark, the rest of the household sleeping, the world outside dark, the busyness of the day  held at bay.

Here’s the thing – I’m so very aware how short my time with my babies home is. In two weeks, the Princess will take her permit test. This time next year, I won’t be driving to and from the studio because she will be driving herself. Our quiet, late night drives will be done. In two years, Big Man will graduate high school, the Princess in three. They are growing up, too fast. Maybe I’m overly-sentimental, overly-emotional, but those things that used to be irritating, annoying, disturbances to my sleep and my schedule are now cherished, because they are fleeting. So I make those drives late on Tuesday nights, or after dress-rehearsals, or after shows, or after football and basketball games, and I don’t mind.