This Christmas I decided to give my children my office. I’m completely redecorating with desks and bookshelves, lots of space for school projects and floor to ceiling whiteboards. It’s costing more money than I have , but it really has to be done. My kids are struggling at school.
I openly stressed about the money and the transition to my mother over the holidays. She completely missed my bigger issues which makes sense because she is a woman of another generation. My open stressing rendered no support, instead some small condemnation.
My mother suggested I was redecorating because I like to do that sort of thing. She suggested that I not make financial expenditures which could deprive my children. This was merely a luxury I should forego.
She was missing big points and I couldn’t convince her otherwise. She was a stay at home mom most of her life. She married my dad when she was 21 and raising children was all she ever knew.
My kids have me for only a couple of hours every night – for homework, dinner, chat and cuddling. They are now at an age where they need space to open books and make projects. The three of them share a single, small bedroom. They need my office space more than I do. My single, imposing desk which accommodates one will not help the four of us muddle through the three Rs. No question: they need a functioning room and the expense is just one of those things I’m going to have to shoulder.
But the bigger heartache in all this is losing my office. I had an occupation and a profession which gave me satisfaction and independence. I had barely begun marketing myself and enjoying the thrill that comes with building a business. I’m turning my back on that, giving it away to the three people I love the most who depend on me for everything. . . and it hurts. It hurts to realize I’m not that zippy independent professional I once thought I could be. Calling the shots from my seat of power, making things happen and influencing the world. I’m simply not important in that way and handing off my office seals that fate and acknowledges my own impotence in the adult world of movers and shakers. It’s really quite sad. I could feel like a failure except that I see this step as one toward creating success in other areas, other more important areas, like the development of children.
This really is their time. I suspect my time is over, my arc has ended. Whatever chances I had to “be something” have now dissolved except in ways that pertain to or at least include consideration of the kids. I’m really ok with that. It’s an adjustment period certainly, but I feel triumphant in that it was a hard decision. . . and I only hesitated about two days to make it.
Christmas light update: they are still working. I think we have a truce.
My youngest son, when he was about a year old, was going up the bunk bed ladder and fell down. His mouth took the brunt of the fall and probably hit more than a couple steps on the way down. By the time I got to his screaming little self there was blood gushing from his mouth. I could see his top front teeth positioned in completely unnatural ways. I had visions of the ER and a long night with a suffering baby.
I paged the pediatric dentist. She called me back right away even though she was at a cocktail party. She told me just to move the teeth back where they belonged. I was stunned. I was actually driving the car around in circles not knowing if I needed to meet her at her office or go to the hospital. Instead she sent me home.
I did as I was told and it worked. I put the teeth back. Got a cold compress and saved his teeth. For about two years. Then he came home from daycare, smiled and his upper teeth were gone. They had broken at the gum line. No one saw how or when it happened. He didn’t have an accident. I can only assume they were fractured from the long ago fall and that was the day they decided to fall out.
The roots of those teeth had to be removed. The broken bits were sharp. Which Sam misunderstood to mean “shark” like he had “shark teeth” which wasn’t an entirely bad description. We were at a maxillofacial surgeon’s office to get that done. They don’t like using general anesthesia on babies so they used all locals to remove the teeth. Sam takes after me in that he does not respond to painkillers. The meds didn’t really work. He didn’t dose off and he screamed like murder during the procedure. The roots of these baby teeth were half an inch long. The doctors had to physically pull me from the room while I was screaming I had a right to be with my minor son.
My now ex-husband told me I needed to mind the doctors. I was disruptive, a distraction. I should have divorced him then.
When my son was in recovery I went in. He was literally like a caged feral animal. He hissed at me. The nurses told me not to worry because the meds caused a type of amnesia. He wouldn’t remember a thing. But I would. I toss an imaginary grenade every time I drive by that office.
All of this is to explain why my son doesn’t speak well: he has no upper teeth. And because of that he says the cutest things. He can’t say “you’re welcome” for instance. It comes out “I’m Malcolm.”
“Thank you Sam!”
“I’m Malcolm Mama!”
I just love that. That’s really all I wanted to say.
I am irked by the holidays. I’d go so far as to say I hate Christmas, but I think God would be angry and I can’t have that.
I have a fake Christmas tree on my front porch. It’s a hand me down from my mother. I already had very nice compact tree for the inside of the house so this big tall one got relegated to outdoor decoration. And amazingly, it gets lots of compliments from the neighbors who enjoy seeing a big 10’ Christmas tree all lit with multicolored lights and metallic bows. Now, not only because of the God thing but also because the neighbors expect it, I have to put that frickin’ tree up every year. I go to war with this tree every December.
I got new lights this year. I thought I would do something nice for it and it might return the favor. About 2000 tiny jewel colored flickering lights in the night. At least for a few hours and then they sputter out. I’ve change the fuses now three times. I’ve changed the way they link together so that they don’t. Each strand has its own independent extension cord. Wires flow from under the tree skirt. Very high tech. I fear I can only keep the lights on for about four hours at a time and then they blow out. I’m so irritated with the outdoor tree I could cry. I don’t even move the ladder back to the garage any more. It’s on standby.
The indoor tree has proved just as uncooperative this year. It’s a conspiracy of ornamentation. It’s a prelit tree which came with now lost guarantees. I stacked it up and plugged it in and several of the strands don’t work this year. So off to Target for replacement lights. A couple hours later and it’s up and down the ladder filling the voids.
My faith in the indoor tree is lost so I won’t decorate it. It’s a naked tree. As soon as I hang something on it, I know a strand will go out and I won’t be able to do anything if balls are on it.
The last few days I walk into the living room, glare at the tree and challenge it to screw me over. Then I hold my breath and plug it in. Whatever relief I may experience when the lights turn on is short-lived as I realize I need to walk to the porch and have a show down with Tree Number Two.
Considering my investment of time, these trees are staying up until Valentine’s Day.
At our slumber party last weekend one of the boys came to me at 1:30am and said he was sick. He was crying, and I was quick to dismiss it as homesick or fear of a dark, strange house. I really did not want to call his parents in the middle of the night. They had a kid-free evening and were probably swinging from the chandeliers or playing naked Twister. Of course, if they were anything like me, they may have been so excited to be allowed their exhaustion, they smiled at each other before the sun set and fell asleep.
Naturally, the boy had a temp and was mortified that he might throw up in front of all his friends. We made the call. No answer. Visions of two middle-aged people bitterly wiping off whipped cream, cursing the whole time, danced through my head.
It took about twenty minutes for one of them to pick up the phone. The boy spoke to his mom. He was really crying hard. Still, just like me, he had to sell her on the idea that he was sick. About forty minutes later, his dad shows up at our house. You could tell by the way he slammed the car door he was not happy. But I opened the front door and his sick little cherub limped out, now hysterical upon seeing his father, and dad’s angry melted. It was heartbreaking.
I promised right then I would never doubt my kids when they called at an inconvenient time to tell me they needed me. Naked Twister be damned!
My oath lasted all of four days. My oldest called from school. He thought he broke his thumb and wanted me to take him to the hospital. If this was true, I reasoned, the school would have called an ambulance. I told my darling, brave, crying child that unless there was blood or bone I wasn’t leaving the office. I wasn’t even torn; there was no way I was leaving work.
Like most parents, I live for my children. Unless, of course, it’s inconvenient.
Actual photo from my 2005 Christmas card. I made some quip about "all through the house not a creature was stirring.... just not my house."
I haven’t sent holiday cards in three years. I use to love creating holiday cards. One time I drew a Christmas tree on each card, just the outline, and used my children’s toe prints to create the ornaments. This year, I’m finally in a financial position to send cards, and I have some things to communicate. There have been some big changes.
I haven’t decided how exactly to say all that I’d like to say so I’m paying attention to the letters I’ve been getting and, unfortunately, they annoy me.
I don’t like the impersonal trend toward ink jet address labels and Shutterfly messages, but more than that, they are all braggy brag. “Our son was accepted into the Global Leadership Program for bilingual children with a political interest, and after graduating from first grade this year, he will embark on the program in Spain.” Or the most irksome, “Our daughter has mastered the moguls and won her first competition. Dad doesn’t understand why this second home in Aspen which was suppose to give HIM the opportunity ski is instead making Olympic hopefuls out of his children (Darn that work!)” Seriously, this was in a letter I received today.
My letter would read something like this: “Dear friends, what a year! I’ve finally hit stride as a single mom. After a year of searching and hundreds of resumes sent, I’m back with my old employer, something I never envisioned myself doing. I realize now how important stability, a pay check and benefits really are. Big adventure and risk-taking are overrated. It’s all about the orthodontic coverage, and I know that now. My oldest son is gaining confidence although his daydreaming is reflected in his grades. My number two son is doing well with his support systems and warming up to reading now that he’s in the third grade. We’ve tackled many of his food sensitivities and his nose stopped running after three years! Who knows how number three son is, I haven’t had time to look at him. That’s right dear friends, I’m now solidly on the road to healthy mediocrity and couldn’t be happier!”
So I announced to the Boyfriend Candidate that I would never be his girlfriend. When I start thinking like “girlfriend” I start thinking like a twenty-something and putting all those expectations on him that just don’t matter to a forty-something. He was oddly disappointed.
He said he liked to think of me as his girlfriend and didn’t understand the issue with semantics. But whatever. I should do what I need to do if it means we can still hang out together.
And ever since then, he’s been acting like a boyfriend on steroids. I’ve never had such a great boyfriend at a time when I especially am not looking for one. Right now, he is in the other room nursing my sick 12 year old, tolerating my 9 year old’s need to watch South Park and politely telling the 6 year old not to pick his nose. It’s an interaction that any mother could relate to, but not a mere mortal of no blood relation.
The BC actually left work early last week to check on my sick son. I was at work myself and couldn’t leave so he checked it out. He brought my son a sandwich and stayed with him until I got home. My ex-husband during our seventeen years of marriage never did anything like that.
I’m confused. If this is “boyfriend” then maybe I should be his “girlfriend”. If this is “man trying to convince me that boyfriend is not such a bad idea therefore I should be his girlfriend then after he proves his point he goes back to being average guy”, then he can never be my boyfriend.
It’s all so confusing.
Forget it; he still won’t be my boyfriend.
My son turns twelve today. As I type have ten boys running unrestrained and untethered in my house, junked up on caffeine, chocolate and the adrenaline of a post-Nerf war victory. I’d be lying if I said there was anything unusual about that. My three boys all by themselves can create quite a lot of noise and mayhem.
It is time for reflection. Twelve years. What the hell? I’ve never had anything for twelve years. Not a plant, a dog, even my husband, one could argue, punched out long before we got to twelve years. Of all things I might imagine myelf to have for twelve years – a car for instance, maybe a mattress – I would never have imagined a human being. And my son seems happy to have me. Of course I gave him a PS3 with ensures (and insures!) his devotion so I can’t be sure how sincere his undying affection is, but I really don’t care. I have it.
So tonight, I’ll listen to him and his friends scream like girls, echoing down the streets of the neighborhood. In a year or two they won’t sound like little girls any more so I’m going to enjoy this before they get neck deep in testosterone. They are a great group of boys. I’m not concerned about a single one of them. We’re really fortunate. I have a beautiful boy who made me a grateful mom. I love him in ways that can’t be expressed.
A year or two ago, I was really worried about his life and how it might turn out. Not any more. I’ve got it covered. And for those times when I’m not there, his trusted friends and their families will be. All things considered, it’s good to turn twelve.
Calvin at 7.
So Calvin says to me tonight, “Mom, you’re really clever, even though you’re old.”
He almost had me. It was so close. But he followed it up with this beauty:
“You have so many things in your head. I don’t have as many things in my head. Not yet. As you get old, you get more knowledge and it all fits in your head. So a person’s head always fits their knowledge.”
My Calvin with his unique and wonderful brain can come up with things that give me pause. How does it all fit in there? I don’t know. Our feet grow, but our heads don’t. Weird, right? You’d think if anything would grow it would be your head to accommodate the wealth of information, the daily memories being saved for later use, the sounds and textures and smells of a lifetime. It’s such a cool observation. Cool and twisted.
I’m divorced. At the time of the Great Divide, I was a stay-at-home, home schooling mom to my three sons – one of them with entry level autism. I hadn’t worked in years. Divorce was a big thing that changed my life. I still grapple with the meaning of it. My kids are back in brick and mortar school. I’m back at work after 8 months of bitter unemployment. I’m raising three boys to be men without a male presence. I yell a lot.
What I never anticipated was our ability to adapt and the beauty of the unexpected simple solution. The little things. I have a day job, but as soon as I get home, I’m in the home office doing my part time work. There are never-ending interruptions from the boys which always makes teleconferencing a challenge. Most of my clients are resigned to the screaming in the background or the occasional “Mommy I have to poop. Will you wipe my bottom?” Right now they are in my office arguing over boiled eggs. They don’t even like boiled eggs. I repeat myself with withering conviction throughout the day. “Get out of my office!” “Let me finish my work!” and my favorite “I’ll be there in a minute!” This is a good one: “Stop touching your brother!” That one works 24/7.
Anything I can do to reduce the stress I’m game for. TV, for which I have a love-hate relationship, is a big trigger for tension because the boys only have a love relationship with it. When it’s time for bed, it becomes all out war. They’ve developed effective strategies. The ear piercing whine is fairly reliable. But a couple of weeks ago they did something exceptional. They turned the volume down so I would think they had turned it off. They faked me out. Now I have to stop what I’m doing to get a visual on what they are up to. I cannot trust my ears which for a mom is a really big loss.
Last night a little thing changed my life. The guy I’m dating, the Boyfriend Candidate, is a problem solving junkie. He must look at my house with the same glee as a mosquito in a blood bank. He gave to me a most powerful weapon: a remote control power switch I can use on the TV’s outlet. From my office, without warning, I can turn the TV off at its power source. They cannot turn it back on. They may yet find a go around; they could outsmart me. They are younger and more flexible. But for now, I’ll take the peaceful resignation of “What happened? Why isn’t the TV working? Barnacles.”
Adaptation is a small and beautiful thing.
I got a job exactly a year ago. OK, not exactly, more like 13 months ago and it’s given me some cause to reflect. Being “out there” then was an interesting experience. I suppose when you are competing in a large metropolitan area for a job with thousands of other similarly qualified candidates, it couldn’t be anything other than interesting. And grueling. The rules of engagement have changed for a job that is traditionally undervalued: assistant.
First of all, I’m rather lucid about who I am and what I have to offer the market. I’m an executive assistant. I can almost remember where I was when we changed from secretaries to assistants. I kinda liked the secretary verbiage. It means keeper of secrets and I was. I am. I digress.
Many years later I know I am not a risk-taker. I’m not going to be the guy in the window office trying to raise money or materialize profitable ideas. I will however be happy to execute that person’s vision and in all other ways kick ass to make it happen.
And believe it or not, industries still need secretaries. The cutbacks of the last few years have seen many of my peers cut loose and it’s been a mistake to let them all go. One of my window office friends works in a small industrial tools office. Highly specialized. They let their two assistants go rather than sacrifice the “real” talent. Now he spends three hours on some days trying to make an airline reservation. He spent two hours yesterday uncovering his FedEx account number. I think their investors would croak knowing this talented sales guy who could be out nailing contracts, growing their business and ensuring their long term success is instead spending hours trying to create a six leg travel agenda that an experienced assistant could do in ten minutes – then she could help put his sales presentations together, make sure he had all of his materials for the road show and be on stand by in case he needed items FedExed (an account number she has memorized).
What I do is not glamorous, but it is significant. And sure a lot of people can do it, but there are a few of us who do it really well. That’s what was interesting about the interview process, trying to figure out how they were separating the wheat from the chaff. In the end I think it came down to direct honesty rather than strategy. I was upfront, “This isn’t rocket science, I’m not developing new ideas. I’m not even interested in being creative. I’m interest in making you succeed, because when you win, the client wins, the investor wins and, yes, I win too.”
I’ve been doing this too long, not be in for the win. Secretaries can have killer instincts too. I just wish I could have brought a few of my friends with me.