Saying goodbye after breakfast

He is bouncing in the back seat as we pull into a dirt driveway. The neighborhood is filled with ranch-style homes and there are horses in every field. He holds my hand tightly as we ring the doorbell, his sister on my hip.

My 4-H leader from when I was a child greets us and hugs me to her. It has been over 20 years since we’ve seen each other and she marvels at how grown-up I am. I introduce her to my children. My boy is 4-years-old and is wearing his favorite long-sleeve t-shirt with a kitty and a heart on it. His sister is 2 and she won’t let me put her down.

This woman I knew so well as a child feels like a stranger. She shows me pictures of her children and grandchildren. I only have vague memories of my time shared with this family and I feel suddenly old and slightly nostalgic.

We follow her through the kitchen and down three stairs to a dimly lit room. All along the back wall are cages, stacked five high, filled with guinea pigs. We can hear some moving around and several wheek a greeting to us. My boy is wide-eyed and bouncing again.

She tells us one of her guinea pigs was flown to Los Angeles to be used by the animators who made “G-Force.” This was the first movie my son saw on the big screen and he looks at me almost in tears from excitement. She takes out two little guinea pigs for him to choose from.

He only takes a moment. He points at the smallest one. She is the Teddy variety, a wiry haired breed known for resembling the stuffed animal they are named after. She is black, white and brown.

He names her Guinea The Pig.

This was seven years ago and she was my Valentine’s Day gift to him.

Since then, she has been featured in hundreds of his drawings, clay figures, short stories and even a few comic strip panels. He has created costumes for her, she has a stocking at Christmas and there isn’t a day he doesn’t pet her or watch her eat.

When I walk down the stairs every morning she greets me with her familiar wheeking sound, calling for veggies from the fridge and a little petting.

Her sound is as familiar to me as the hum of the refrigerator and I didn’t notice its absence until I saw the look on my boy’s face.

“Guinea is dead,” he says.

As he says the words, the reality hits him and he begins to sob.

We sit on the couch and his sister joins us and we all cry together for our sweet little piggy, our Super Guinea, our Steam Punk Unicorn Pig and my son’s favorite thing in the world.

We drive sister to school, but I let him come back home with me.

He sits down at the art table and begins drawing pictures and making pipe cleaner figures of his sweet Guinea. I can see tears come often, but he quickly brushes them away.

I want to comfort him, but something stops me. When he was little, I’d cuddle him in my arms and kiss the tears off his cheeks. He would tell me things and I’d listen.

He is 11 now and things are different. He listens to music with his door closed. He continuously turns the amp up while playing his guitar until I’m forced to tell him to turn it down. He reads books for an entire Sunday morning alone in his bed.

I don’t know what to do.

I try and busy myself around the house, but keep finding him near me.

I finally sit in my big comfy chair and he crawls in next to me.

We sit in silence for a long time and I just feel the weight of him next to me. My boy, whose feet are bigger than mine and who wears deodorant now, feels the same in my arms as always. I rub his head and he purrs into me.

I know exactly what to do.

I kiss his head and listen as he tells me how much he will miss her. We talk about other things too and the morning melts away in my chair.

We eventually make our way to the computer to look at pictures and videos of Guinea. We laugh at the video of him at 4-years-old trying to walk her on a tiny leash in the yard. We marvel at how little she and he both were.

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Then he asks to see pictures of himself as a baby. We start with the painting of the nursery photos, and move through newborn hospital shots, pictures of him in my soft blue baby sling, propped up next to his baby cousin, sleeping on a blanket in front of the fireplace, starting to roll, crawling on all fours, videos of him laughing, food on his face, 1st birthday, playing in the backyard, dressing up, riding the tractor with grandma and on and on.

After an hour of pictures, I tell my boy we’ve had enough and turn off the computer.

We decide to get dressed and go eat lunch at the bookstore. On the way out the door, I point at the giant stack of books next to my chair.

“Don’t let me buy another book,” I tell him. “You don’t need one either. We are just looking.”

We end up buying magazines, because they aren’t books, and sandwiches. We find a cozy place on the patio to read, eat and drink tea.

“Mom,” my boy says.

I look up.

“Do you see that napkin over there?”

He points to a brown napkin stuck on a small rosebush. It is blowing slightly in the breeze.

“Yeah,” I say.

“I’m going to free it,” he says. “It deserves to have an adventure.”

“You should pick it up and throw it in the garbage,” I say.

“That’s no fun,” he says. “It will end up there eventually, why not let it have a little adventure?”

He stands up.

“It is recyclable anyway,” he adds.

He runs over and pulls the napkin loose from the rosebush. It flies through the parking lot and out of sight. He smiles and returns to his magazine.

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Little Peppermint, the house fairy

You might be shocked to hear I don’t like Elf on the Shelf.

I know it is weeks past Christmas, but stay with me. It is relevant.

I don’t like the elf for lots of reasons, enough to fill an entire book and then some. I’ll spare you the long rant. Basically, I find an elf moving around the house at night creepy and I hate the pressure it puts on kids to be “good” and on parents to remember to move the damn thing.

There.

I know. Geez mom. Way to make it all about you.

According to my 8-year-old daughter, we are the ONLY family in the world to not have a spying elf and it isn’t fair. We had no less than 20 conversations revolving around the injustice of it all.

“Mom, you just don’t understand.”

Nope. I don’t.

“I will make it clothes.”

No.

“It will be fun.”

No.

“It is a good lesson to kids on being good.”

No.

She finally realized there was no budging on the issue and made her own. Only this little one isn’t an elf. She is a fairy, she is named Peppermint and she moves around the house the entire year.

THE ENTIRE YEAR.

Bam. Got you mom. Now you have to move the fairy around the house every day or I will lose faith in magic and shit like that.

At first, I played along and moved dear Peppermint all over the house. It was actually fun to pose her in the bowl of oranges on the counter, or hide her in the Christmas tree or have her hanging with baby Jesus in the nativity.

But I got busy.

And forgetful.

And tired.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a fun mom. I swear I am. I play dolls and games and tell stories.

I’m awesome.

But come on.

I have to remember to move the fairy every night.

Every. Single. Night.

It is too much.

Yesterday at breakfast, my girl tells me Peppermint hasn’t moved since a few days after Christmas.

“Mom,” she says. “Do you think Peppermint will ever move?”

I think I see tears in her eyes. Real tears, folks.

“I don’t know love,” I say and silently promise myself to move the damn fairy every day for the rest of my life. “I think she was just really tired from the holidays. I’m sure she will move soon.”

“I hope so,” she says.

Well-played daughter.

The second she is out the door, I take Peppermint out of the doll house bed and put her on the mantle holding a few candy canes.

Nailed it.

She comes home and notices right away.

“She moved!” she says.

“Yep.”

“Can’t wait to see what she will do tomorrow.”

Yep.

We leave the house an hour later for her keyboard lesson. My boy decides to stay home to work on his homework.

When we come back, Peppermint has moved again.

This time she is sitting with a doll playing a game my girl created the day before.

“Wow!” she says. “I can’t believe it.”

My boy comes over all smiles and snuggles up close to me.

“I will move Peppermint mom,” he whispers in my ear. “Just look how happy she is.”

And then my heart exploded.

peppermint

A journey with my son

He won’t look at me anymore. I twist my head all around trying to find some angle to reach him, but he is allusive and quick. I don’t know when I lost him, but I feel the separation as sharp and painful as a knife wound. I bleed out silently, letting the anguish take me further and further away.

His feet shuffle slightly and I hear his breathing quicken. The tears are right there. I can almost feel them as if they were forming in my own eyes. He squints hard, fighting them and looks in the direction of the clouds.

“Do you see that?” he says pointing his entire hand upward.

“Yes,” I say without following his gaze.

“I want to go there,” he says.

“So let’s go,” I say.

His breath quickens even more and I look away. I don’t want to break the spell, so I count my intake and outtake of breath.

One.

Two.

Three.

Four.

Five.

“Really?” he says.

“Yes,” I say.

Six.

Seven.

Eight.

“Good,” he says.

I can feel him shift next to me and I stop breathing. I hold everything perfectly still, afraid to shatter this moment or even to crack it a little. It feels like the most fragile thing on the planet and I’m worried that even my thoughts will cause it to flee.

His hand reaches for mine and I stay limp and let him grab it. He squeezes it hard and I match his firmness without moving anything else in my body. My breath is as quiet as I can get it and I’m willing my mind to stay blank.

I feel our feet lift off the ground and I’m terrified. Now I squint my eyes closed, the tears pooling quickly as I feel the air become colder around me. His grip stays tight and I want to look at him. I want to see his face and read all the emotions I know are there.

I don’t risk it. The wind is getting stronger and I feel my hair blowing all around my head, as if it is trying to pull itself free of my scalp. My shoes fall off of my feet and my dress begins flapping loudly in the breeze. Whomp. Whomp. Whomp.

“I got you,” he says.

His voice is almost lost in all the sound around us, but I somehow hear it. My body, all tense and tight in fear, loosens at his words. I open my eyes and look at him.

“I love you mom,” he says.

This time his words are loud and seem to echo around us, bouncing off the clouds and air. His glasses have fallen from his face and his blue eyes have brightened to match the sky around us. His shabby brown hair, always in need of a haircut, looks somewhat perfect up here.

Sunlight is bouncing off his tan face, giving him the glowing effect the leaves in the tree of our backyard get in the early morning light. He is searching my face and seems pleased by what he sees reflecting back at him.

The air is suddenly still and quiet. We stop and he reaches for my other hand. He looks into my face as we circle slowly, the clouds wrapping themselves around us like golden blankets of light. The magic within him, the power I’ve always seen, swirling around us in bursts and bubbles. He giggles and smiles.

“I love you,” I say.

My voice echoes too, bouncing around and coming back in every pitch and tone. Like a chorus of my voices, high and low, singing the words over and over. The words seem alive and powerful, filling up every part of the space around us with great warmth.

We start to descend, the sounds of flapping clothes and wind rushing forward again in a great gust. He lets go of one of my hands and for a moment I fear I will fall, but his other hand is strong and reassuring. I close my eyes to stop them from burning in the wind and don’t open them again until my feet land back in my shoes. His hand drops from mine at the exact same moment.

I turn to look at him, but he is already looking away. I feel the space between us become heavy again, as if a wall was being quickly rebuilt in the span of 10 seconds. He angles away more and more until his back is facing me. I follow his gaze and see he is still staring up at the sky.

clouds

There is a massive cloud taking up the entire span of the sky directly in front of him. The cloud is made up of hundreds of textured layers, each varying in color from the palest of pink to the darkest of gold. It is glorious and we both stand still and look at it.

I want to reach for him, to yell and sing out my love in all the voices of the sky, but I don’t move. He knows, I tell myself and nod my head. He begins to walk away without turning around and a smile bursts across my face and fills my soul with the knowledge of it all.

He knows.

Falling in love in my comfy chair

I don’t normally share my chair.

The kids have dubbed it my “queen chair” and it is my favorite place to sit in the house. The soft-brown striped cushions are enormous and I sink deep into them. My beloved quilt is always folded across the back so it can be easily pulled down for cuddling and comfort. This is where I read, watch TV, craft, drink my morning coffee and have a good cry. It is also where I nursed my babies and read all the Harry Potter books.

I love my chair.

This week I shared it with a special baby, my sweet nephew. I fed him, burped him, played with him and let him nap in my chair. I spent four days with this little guy and I cherished every moment of being his auntie.

But something else happened this week too.

I truly saw my boy.

He is almost 10-years-old and things are changing.

I can remember sitting in my chair with him as a newborn and being so madly in love with him that I wanted to scream it to the world. He became my reason to get up in the morning, to move my body and to love. We did everything together and practically became one.

Now? I barely know this kid.

This week I took both kids roller-skating as a fundraiser for their school. I completely checked out when we got there, spending time chatting with my friends. At some point I see my boy and I reach my arm out to stop him.

“What are you drinking?” I ask him.

“Coke,” he says. “I won it. Didn’t you see?”

“I didn’t say you could have soda?” I reply.

He skates off and I’m angry that he didn’t ask me first, embarrassed I didn’t see him win something and just plain annoyed. I don’t see him again until it’s time to leave, and then I don’t bring it up because I have no fight left. He puts himself to bed and I barely have enough energy to muster a half-hearted kiss goodnight.

The next day we fight in the morning. I make his breakfast and pack his lunch and he takes 700 hours to put his clothes on.

“I have nothing to wear,” he screams from his room.

“I don’t want to hear it,” I yell back. “Get dressed now. You’re going to make us late.”

He finally comes to breakfast with a scowl and barely touches his food.

We go to a birthday party after school and I see him drinking a Pepsi. I call him over and he tries to hide it. I’m furious.

“Where did you get that?” I ask.

“My friend bought it for me,” he says. “Everyone is drinking them.”

“Not you,” I say and take it from him.

I see his anger and hear him tell his friends that I just don’t understand.

Again, I’m too tired to fix things between us.

We come home and fight over homework until bedtime. He is being so lazy and I’m extremely agitated. I yell. He cries. Not sure I even give him a kiss goodnight.

Yesterday we drop sister off at grandmas. We are alone for the first time in a long time and I just want to yell at him. He was poking at his sister the entire drive, he was rude to me and I want to just scream.

Where is my boy?

I miss him.

I miss us.

I look back at him in the mirror and mentally prepare a lecture about responsibility, kindness and not being a jerk to his mother.

But he looks different.

“You OK?” I ask.

“Mom, I need to talk to you about something,” he says.

“OK,” I reply and then brace myself for what I assume will be a barrage of complaints about how unfair I am to not let him play video games, watch TV or drink soda.

I am ready.

Bring it.

“My friend dreamed he kissed a girl,” he says.

Oh.

“Sometimes I get a funny feeling when I think about girls,” he says.

Oh.

He tells me about some strange dreams he has had, conversations about sex with friends and how he stood up for his sister at recess.

Oh.

I listen quietly, asking questions for clarification, but just taking it all in.

He is processing so much, seeing the world differently and he needs me.

He is talking to me.

I haven’t lost him.

Maybe I’m doing something right.

We talk the entire drive.

We talk about what he wants his future wife to be like, how he can be a better friend to someone he knows is struggling, how he really doesn’t like scary things, what he wants for Christmas and how much he loves the Percy Jackson books.

He talks and talks and talks.

Oh.

I take him in. His long legs and lean body; the way his eyes shine when he gets excited about something; the little smirk he gets when he says something clever; that laugh that he makes with his entire mouth open and his whole body jerking.

I fall in love all over again.

This afternoon I shared my chair with him.

We snuggled under my quilt, took selfies with my phone, giggled and talked.

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I’m in love.

No, he isn’t my sweet baby anymore. He is a growing boy filled with wonder, excitement, joy, optimism and hope. He drives me crazy with his boundless fits of silliness and complete inability to just do what I ask, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

He’s my boy.

My boy

The events in Boston are still on my mind. As I wrote this post about my boy, the significance of the 8-year-old that was killed was present with me. I had a hard parenting day and needed to write about it, but I realize that I’m very lucky to have this problem. Damn lucky.

I’m losing it. I’m losing him.

He just won’t listen to me.

Although he is now getting out of bed in the morning, thanks to an alarm clock, he is still not getting dressed or coming down to breakfast without repeated pleas that end in yelling and me threatening to send him to school without food.

No carpool this week because he has created a story of Teddy and Mousey, two of his stuffed animals, that has taken on a life of its own. It involves lots of exploding cakes and moldy cheese. Its been going on since September, but we’ve all had enough. Really. ENOUGH.

In class today I witnessed him ignoring his handwork teacher. Then he was making sounds during the quiet moment she asked for. Cat sounds. Loudly. Followed by giggles.

His karate teacher had to tell him repeatedly to stop daydreaming and to pay attention. When he comes out of class he says, “I had the best chamber kick recoil.”

He was supposed to be brushing his teeth, but instead I find him banging two toothbrushes on the counter, shaking his butt, singing to himself and watching all this in the mirror.

Annoyance.
Anger.
Fear.
Embarrassment.
Disappointment.

I’m not supposed to feel that way. His behavior is not supposed to reflect on me. I try to stop the tirade against myself that I know is coming, but I can’t.

Am I failing him? What could I have done differently? I wasn’t present enough. He didn’t get enough protein. I should have been more patient. Did he get enough sleep? I should laugh more. Give more hugs. He is only 8. Lighten up! He is just a kid. But is he turning into a brat? Is he becoming that kid you don’t want your kid around? Am I that mom? I don’t know what I’m doing. Panic.

Then it’s bedtime. We read two chapters of book eight in the Lemony Snicket series. He begs for one more, but I say it’s late. I’m tired.

He pulls my face toward him. He gives me my kisses. Forehead, both eyes, cheeks and chin. Nose rubs followed by eight kisses on the nose and one big smooch on the lips. I return them in the exact order. He looks at me with his glasses off. His eyes red and tired.

“I love you mommy.”
“I love you too.”
“Did you hear me?”
“Yes.”
He grabs my face.
“I love you mommy,” he says again.

Melted. Renewed. Reassured. Everything is going to be OK. We have another day together and it’s everything.

Poke ‘mom’

“It’s time mom.”

“You said after sister went to bed.”

“The table is clear.”

“I made you a glass of ice water.”

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So, it begins.

First I take the pink ribbon off my deck and shuffle. He gets his deck out of his special velvet black bag. We both lay down our six prize cards, draw seven for our hand and the battle begins.

He can’t sit still. His legs jerk around as he constantly shifts positions. He has a smile all over his face and the excitement is contagious. Oh, no. He has Mewtwo. Bye-bye my little Pokemon. But wait. It’s not over yet. I can evolve Tepig. I might have a chance.

And so it goes.

When he got his first pack of cards, I secretly threw them away. That was when he was 5. I saw these cards as something commercial, being marketed to my boy. They were promoting violence and fighting and I would have none of that. My sweet boy is not interested in that stuff.

Well, he is 8 1/2 now. I finally decided to sit down and see what this thing was all about. OK. Some of them are cute. Some look like turtles (which I love). You have to do math (big plus). Nobody actually dies (another plus). It’s really like any other card game, but with cute made-up creatures with names like “Bellossom” (flower-like), “Piplup (penguin-like)” “Eevee” (dog-like) and “Bidoof” (beaver-like).

The part I dislike is that it’s designed to keep you buying cards. In order to get a “really good deck,” you have to keep buying packs and packs of cards. Commercialism at it’s best. But here is why I’m not only allowing this, but contributing to it (he got 1 pack for Valentine’s Day and 2 for Easter).

1) It’s fun. Really. Even grandma has her own deck now.

2) We don’t do video games and very little TV/movies (more on that another time).

3) It’s a good lesson in collecting things responsibly.

4) He got up and got dressed AND made me breakfast this morning so we could play a game before school.

So, we will continue our nightly, and sometimes early morning, Pokemon games. I will treasure these moments when mom is still “cool” and he can share something he loves with me.

I will continue to encourage him to give cards he isn’t using to friends that have none (which he is doing already). I will keep the dialogue open about how anything can be an obsession and how everything should be in moderation. And I will keep trying to beat him and that darn Mewtwo!