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A love letter to my sons.

Dear Matthew and Michael,

Before we get started, I have a confession to make. I wanted girls.

I think I’ve mentioned this to you. I didn’t want boys because I have anything against them; it’s just that, you know, I’m a girl, and growing up I really didn’t have a lot of friends who were boys.  I was a pretty stereotypical girl, playing with dolls and makeup, so I think I assumed that I’d have girls, because that’s what I knew.

Someone had a different plan.

I realized that the first time I changed a diaper and had to clean pee off a wall. Seriously, I don’t think I even realized that was possible, but there I was. I’m fairly certain one of you still holds the record for the number of times a baby has peed on the wall in our pediatrician’s office in one visit. Three.

But aside from what I consider to be the sometimes quirky differences between sons and daughters, I couldn’t be happier with my two boys, and realized that we were all meant to be together.

Until yesterday.

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When I came downstairs after one of you returned from a baseball game, and I found – gasp! – a cup sitting on the kitchen island. Where I was about to make your lunch for the next day. Why? There are so many other places you could put it – your room, the bathroom, even your bed, or, you know, the bin in your room designated for all of your sports equipment. And I hate to admit this, but yesterday was not the first time I found your cup in the kitchen. And I’ve talked to other moms of boys about this, and I know you’re not the only boy who has done this.

I’ve seen other things too — the stuff of nightmares.

I’ve seen our dog ripping apart a small pile of the tissues you used when you had a terrible cold. Because for whatever reason, these tissues didn’t quite make it into the garbage.

I’ve seen you pick up a half eaten jellybean off the basement floor. And eat it.

I’ve seen you stuff the strings of your hoodie into your mouth.

I’ve seen you take dirty laundry out of a hamper to wear it. Because my usual 24- to 48-hour laundry turnaround wasn’t quite speedy enough for you.

I’ve seen you wipe your nose on a sleeve. On a clean towel. On me.

But you know what. I still wouldn’t trade either of you for anything. I can’t believe how much I love you both — more every day. You’re some pretty amazing kids.

But please. Put the cup away.

Love,

Mommy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m falling apart.

50 is looking at me from around the corner. She’s not pretty.

I should say that these days, I recognize that 50 is no longer considered old. And most of the time, I don’t feel old. I should also say that I’m quite grateful to have relatively good health, and a lot of lovely people in my life.

And I’ve been happier in my 40s than any other decade of my life. So maybe that’s why I’ve got my claws in them, hoping that if I hold on tight enough with my hands (which, I should note here, have so little collagen left in them that the skin flaps in the breeze of a strong hand dryer like a Golden Retriever out the window of a moving car), that somehow I’ll just stay here.

I started my 40s with 6- and 2-year-old sons, who are now in high school and about to head to middle school. That’s probably good, because I don’t think I could pick up even the smaller versions of them these days. You know, tendonitis in my shoulder.

As my 40s progressed, I developed arthritis in a knee, broke one ankle (and then in a supreme stroke of bad luck – and clumsiness – broke it again just 16 months later). So I guess the good news here is that I leave my 40s with an expensive souvenir – a titanium plate and a handful of screws – that I didn’t come in with. And some super cool orthotics for my shoes (which, in case you were concerned about me breaking another ankle, need to be flats these days).

I learned in my 40s that I can no longer eat whatever I want (which, by the way, would probably be pasta and ice cream) and still fit into whatever clothes I want (which would be skinny jeans and a white t-shirt. And since I can no longer find a white t-shirt that is much thicker than dollar store tissue paper, this is overall just a pretty bad look. And not just for me).

A great night’s sleep is now elusive. If anyone within about a one-mile radius wakes up at 2:00 a.m. and turns on a light, I’ll be up for an hour. The bright side of this is that I can grab my phone and spend the hour productively, taking quizzes on Facebook about what kind of tattoo I should get, or which country I should be living in. My only hope is that it might be daytime in whatever that country is.

The one really deep wrinkle I have is about a half-inch vertical line next to my right eyebrow. My main concern, though, is that it’s just going to continue to deepen, and my face is just going to crack in half right down the middle. And moving further down my face — now I understand why Nora Ephron wrote a book called I Feel Bad About My Neck. Because I do.

I feel bad about my eyes too. I’ve been wearing glasses since I was seven, and contacts since I was 16. But now I can’t see much at all in the dark (thanks, iPhone, for putting that flashlight app on there for people like me who are trying to get through a dimly lit parking lot at 9:00 p.m. — because, really I can’t stay out much later than that anymore). And I have reading glasses scattered about the house; I guess it’s not bad enough that I can’t see anything far away or in the dark. Now I can’t see anything close either. At least I still have a superb sense of smell.

I’m sure there’s more, but you know, I can’t remember what.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Yesterday at school, another kid accidentally smacked Michael in the forehead with a computer. Given the description of the incident, I still don’t entirely understand where everyone needed to be positioned for this to have happened. I’m sure it hurt, and I’m guessing Michael was also a little startled (because, really, who goes through their day preparing to be hit in the head with a laptop?). He told the teacher he was dizzy, and out of an abundance of caution, the school nurse was called to the room. She walked Michael down to her office, gave him some ice, checked him out and sent him back to his classroom.

That should have been the end of it, right?

It wasn’t.

One of the boys in Michael’s class accused him of faking being hurt. And this isn’t the first time that’s happened.

I get it. They’re in 5th grade. This is what kids do. And when one kid says another kid is making something up, other kids will pile on. Unfortunately, I’m sure my kids have done it too. It’s hard not to.

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But with Michael, it’s more complicated than that, and he gets frustrated when people tell him he’s faking being hurt. It took him 18 months last year to recover from a torn meniscus and ACL. He returned to sports, only to get hurt again a month later. And when he showed up at school on crutches again, kids started whispering behind his back, and telling him to his face that he wasn’t really hurt.

And really, I get that too. Because first of all, it seems a little implausible that a kid this young could sustain these injuries back-to-back. And it gets a little annoying that Michael is again getting to leave school a few minutes early, doesn’t participate in gym class, and is once again asking friends to miss recess so he won’t have to sit in the nurse’s office by himself.

And in the midst of these injuries (which, in the last year and a half, have also included an ankle sprain and an overuse injury to his elbow), we discovered that no, Michael is not faking, and there’s a reason he keeps getting hurt — he has a mild form of a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which causes excessive mobility in his joints and leaves him at a greater risk for injury.

As his parents, we’re glad to know there’s an explanation for why Michael has gotten hurt so many times, and that it’s not too serious. But as a kid, Michael doesn’t want to be different from anyone else, and doesn’t want to tell his friends about this diagnosis.

We continue to encourage him to let people know what’s going on, in the hopes that maybe they’ll be a little more understanding. And even though Michael getting hit in the head with a computer has absolutely nothing to do with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, or his previous injuries, that for Michael, getting hurt in any way can be a scary thing. Spring baseball starts this weekend; he hasn’t made it through a season without getting hurt, and subsequently sidelined, in two years. For a kid who loves sports and is more happy being active, it’s been really hard. Michael knows that he needs to continue physical therapy to keep his muscles stronger, because that’s the only way to try and avoid injury.

All Michael wants to do is be able to run, shoot baskets in the driveway, and play sports with his friends. He knows that there’s always a risk of getting hurt when he does, and even though he doesn’t like to talk about it, I’m sure that’s on his mind. But because there’s nothing on the outside, Michael looks just like everyone else, and it’s understandable that kids might think he’s making something up. And because he looks like everyone else and would prefer to be like everyone else, he doesn’t want to tell them that on some level, he’s not.

As Michael’s mom, as much as I want to send him out in the world covered in bubble wrap, I know I can’t. So, we just hope the adults around him will keep a extra eye on him, and hope that someday Michael will understand that every kid (and adult) has something that makes them different, and this is just his “thing.” And even though they can’t see it, it’s still there.

Of course it’s easier to cut someone a little slack when they have something going on that’s visible. But if we try and remember that not everything is so obvious, and we sometimes have to look beyond the surface, we’d probably all be just a bit more compassionate.

Now, back to figuring out how someone takes a computer to the head….

 

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The Sanka Connection.

Just so you know, this story is not about coffee. It’s about the random human connections that brighten our days and keep us going.

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The backstory: I took Michael to see a doctor a few weeks ago; we finished up around lunchtime, and he asked if I could take him to a local diner. We ordered an egg salad platter to share (one scoop each of egg salad, potato salad and coleslaw – Michael’s idea, not mine). I commented to several people later in the day that I thought it was funny that my 5th grade son orders like a 60-year-old woman, and that all he needed to go with it was a black coffee.

That afternoon, Michael had an appointment for physical therapy. He and I were chatting about our lunch with one of the employees and the woman she was working on at the next table from where Michael was. We started talking about his 60-year-old taste in diner food, and the patient suggested that Sanka might be a better beverage choice. This evolved into a discussion about Sanka (which, if you don’t know, is a brand of instant decaf coffee, and in the dark ages of the late 1900s, was the only decaf available. It was also a favorite of the 60 and up set). We wondered if it was still around.

So yesterday, we returned to physical therapy for another appointment. And we found out that yes, Sanka is still being made. Because the patient we had been chatting with found an individual packet somewhere, brought it to physical therapy to give to someone to pass it along to Michael and me (which was really confusing to the person who hadn’t been privy to our original conversation and had no idea why a patient was giving a packet of decaf coffee to pass along to another patient — a 10-year-old boy).

At any rate, I had a good laugh with the employee who had been there when we’d been talking about it. And I was astounded that this other patient had remembered our conversation, and thought to bring this little packet with her to her next physical therapy appointment.

These are the random connections with people that make me smile – the Sanka Connections. We can choose to exist in the little bubbles of our own lives, or we can choose to cultivate the experiences that we have with the many people around us, however frivolous they may seem at the time. It’s usually worth it.

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To the people taking care of my kid.

I’ve written about our experiences with the amazing people who took care of Michael last year during his lengthy recovery from knee surgery.

Now, it seems, there’s a new chapter to this story. A few weeks ago, Michael hurt his “good” knee. It was a bone contusion – a painful, but relatively minor injury. Given his history, we did have to take him for an MRI (his 4th in the last year and a half!), and several weeks later, he’s still on crutches. This latest injury also bought him a visit to a geneticist, who diagnosed him with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. We do have to take him for a cardiac screening to rule out complications, but thankfully, it looks like a fairly benign type of the syndrome, which causes loose joints and allows him to do weird circus-like tricks with his limbs, which seem to simultaneously amaze and nauseate people. Unfortunately, it also makes him more prone to injury, which is tough for an active kid who loves sports.

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Yesterday, I said a silent prayer of thanks to Michael’s physical therapist. Michael is 10 years old. He had been going to PT twice a week for 16 months. He was released from PT for just a few weeks before he had to head back again for this latest injury. And because of his diagnosis, it’s likely he’ll be there for a while, to continue to strengthen his muscles and hopefully avoid further injury.

While Michael was in the gym warming up on the bike, his physical therapist sat down with me to talk about his diagnosis, stopped thoughtfully, and said he would try and figure out ways to make this journey easier for Michael. A few minutes later, Michael returned, and LJ had given him a ball, with instructions to dribble while he stood on one foot, then the other. Knowing that Michael loves basketball, he’d found a way to make my kid smile while he was getting back to bearing full weight on both legs.

A small gesture? Perhaps. But not to Michael. And definitely not to me.

Regardless of their medical status, athletic ability, academic gifts, social stature, or the rest of the factors that make our kids who they are, we all have challenges to get through with our kids. This is ours with Michael.

Is it easy? Definitely not. Could I bemoan the fact that I have his orthopedist’s cell phone number, and that I’ve called it more than once? That he sat on the bench for all of last basketball season, played two games this season, only to be benched again with another injury? Sure.

But I’m choosing not to. Instead, we do our best to use these situations as lessons for all of us. I’ve learned that it’s hard for me to take him to his basketball games to watch him sit on the bench. But I’ve also learned that being a part of a team is so important to him, and that Michael is happier sitting on the bench, cheering his team on, than he would be at home. So we take him to the games.

I’ve learned that Michael is entitled to bad days. And so am I. But there’s little point in having too many bad days, so we choose to find ways to turn a bad day around, especially by being thankful for the many people who are in this with us.

Thank you.

 

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A loss.

I had a sad parenting first last week. My 14-year-old son learned of the death of an important teacher in his life. He’d only known she was ill for several weeks before she passed away.

I wanted to talk to Matthew about her — about all that he’d learned from her, the fun he’d had with her, and the impact that she had on his life. The only problem with my plan was that Mickey was Matthew’s teacher, not mine. And though I’d spoken with her a few times and corresponded with her via e-mail, Matthew was the one who had been with her every week for four years, for drama classes and rehearsals for an outreach theater program. This was his loss, not mine.

And yet, I felt it profoundly. I’m still trying to figure out why.

When Matthew was 10, he decided to take part in a musical at day camp. He’d never expressed interest in theater before that, but he had fun. When we were looking for a new activity in 5th grade, he asked about acting classes. I did a quick online search and signed him up for a drama class at Papermill Playhouse, a nearby regional theater with an education program. That’s where he met Mickey. He spent two years in her weekly “Creative Drama” classes, then auditioned for and was accepted into the school’s All-Star touring company. He took part in two years of productions directed by Mickey, and performed these shows at schools for kids with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and other disabilities.

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When Matthew first started these tours, he was hesitant about going into the audience after the shows for a “meet and greet” with the other kids who performed. I noticed that he’d sort of tag along with one of the program veterans – usually a girl – who seemed more comfortable with the kids who were different than those Matthew had always been around.

By the second year, Matthew was hugging the kids in the audience, taking pictures with them, and genuinely thought that meeting them was even better than performing. This, I know, is because of Mickey.

Matthew is still participating in this program; they’re rehearsing now for a tour of Into The Woods in February. As his mom, I’m proud that he’s now also volunteering for a soccer program for special needs kids in our town, and he loves it. I think Mickey would be proud of that too.

So I guess my sadness over Mickey’s death is understanding how fortunate we are to have people in our children’s lives who can impact them in such a positive way, sometimes without our knowledge until after the fact. Matthew went into a classroom with Mickey when he was 10 years old, to learn about acting. He did learn about acting, but has come away a better person because of everything else she taught him. And how many of us can say that about a teacher — and someone we hardly knew?

Thanks for everything Mickey. Rest in peace.

 

 

 

 

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End of an era.

My next-door neighbor just dismantled the trampoline they’ve had in their family’s backyard for nearly a decade. One daughter is in college, and the other will graduate from high school in the spring, so it’s not surprising. And yet, looking into their yard this afternoon, there is something missing from the landscape of our neighborhood, both literally and figuratively.

Our neighbors bought the trampoline for their younger daughter, who at the time loved gymnastics. My kids were still pretty young then, so the appeal of jumping on a brand-new, springy trampoline was strong. Our neighbors gave us permission to use the trampoline whenever we liked — a decision which I think they may have soon regretted, as I think my boys were probably on it more than their own kids.

Michael was a late walker, but loved to sit on the trampoline and bounce around while his brother jumped on it. And Matthew did his first solo back handspring there. They ran around and jumped, even when the black trampoline was fiery hot from the sun, and when the weather was icy and frigid.

But it was so much more than that.

Our youngest neighbor is nearly four years older than Matthew, but when they were younger, they bonded over gymnastics  tricks on the trampoline. As they got older, I’d peek outside and see the two of them sitting on the trampoline with an iPod, talking and bonding over their mutual love of music.

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When we had our annual block party, an adult would usually keep an eye on the kids who went into the back to play on the trampoline. It was never really necessary, because this is where the kids all learned the neighborhood tradition: the big kids take care of the little kids. The biggest kids would always make sure that the littlest kids weren’t getting bounced around more than they wanted to. Kids would help each other on and off the trampoline, and tie their shoes for them when they located them in the big pile and put them back on.

And that rule the kids learned from each other on the trampoline — it extended beyond just the neighborhood kids. I still smile when I think of the time I saw Michael, in first grade, squatting down to tie the shoes of a classmate who came over the play, got off the trampoline, but hadn’t learned to tie his shoes yet.

If a neighborhood kid was walking or riding by on his bike, the bike would often be left on our neighbor’s driveway, and the kid would join whoever was already on the trampoline. Many of the kids in the neighborhood could probably still tell you where I keep the cups in my house that they’d drink water from when they got thirsty. Some kids, including mine, ruined countless pairs of socks trudging through muddy grass after a football that they were playing with on the trampoline, or just because they were too lazy to put their shoes right back on.

RIP, trampoline. Thanks for the bounces, the lessons you taught the kids, and helping to make our neighborhood the great place it is.

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