Sunday, January 29, 2012

During my maternity leave with Ethan, I took him to visit my office so I could show him off to everyone I worked with.  I remember introducing him to one of the ladies I worked with (who did not have children) and she said, "Are you enjoying your three month vacation?".

I almost cried.

First, I hadn't slept in four weeks.  Ethan wanted to eat every ninety minutes around the clock.  By the time I fed him, changed him and re-swaddled him, I only had about 45 minutes to sleep before he would wake again.  It was excruciating.  I've never been so tired in all of my life.

Second, it took everything I had to get myself up, dressed, showered and looking marginally presentable to make the trek across town to my office.  Never mind making sure I had the diaper bag packed with every item I might ever need while attempting to perfectly time Ethan's feeding with our outing (he had to be fed at the VERY last minute so that he could endure the drive AND a tour of my office - without a hunger meltdown).  And forget the fact that he would likely spit up on my clean clothes and require a diaper change right before we left, for which the clean up ate into about twenty minutes of my post-feeding-traveling-visiting-no-meltdown time.

Plus, I was trying to squeeze into my pre-pregnancy jeans because I just couldn't bear the thought of wearing maternity clothes for one more minute.  I'm certain I cut off circulation to major organs in my body that day.

My house was strewn with burp clothes.  Half-empty bottles were shoved in between couch cushions.  The only clean laundry in the house belonged to Ethan.  I was barely keeping afloat.

So when asked about my "vacation", all I wanted to do was scream, "VACATION!?!?  WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!?".  But I didn't.  I just smiled at my little bundle and mumbled something that I'm sure was totally incoherent.

I have to admit, as my boys are growing, I miss having a baby in my arms.  I miss smelling their baby smell, inhaling their sweet baby breath, feeling their warm little body next to mine.  But I don't miss coordinating my time of departure with a feeding, I don't miss feeling like I'm just teetering on the brink of being completely out of control and I don't miss not sleeping.  Not even a little.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It seems before each of the boys' birthdays, I always go through some sort of organizing frenzy.  I tell myself it's because I'm clearing out space for some of the new toys they will be getting as gifts, but really, I think tidying up is one thing I can do where I'm in full control, whereas I have no control over how fast those little boys grow.  De-cluttering distracts me from thinking that with each passing day, they are one day closer to moving out and away from me.

I was cleaning out some cabinets earlier this week and came across a pair of shoes that I had received as a gift for Eli when I was pregnant with him.  They were a pair of blue suede Stride Rite baby shoes and were so adorable, that as he grew out of them, I continued to purchase the exact same pair (just in a larger size).  Once he turned about a year, Ethan, Eli and I headed off to Stride Rite once again to buy his next pair, the third pair or maybe even the fourth by this time.

When we walked in, I simply showed the salesperson the shoe that Eli had on and said, "I'd like the same pair but a size larger". She redirected me from the "baby" shoes over to the "pre-walker" shoes and said, "I'm sorry, you have the largest size we make in that style, but you can choose something else."

Ethan was standing next to me, while Eli was likely either in his stroller or strapped to my chest but I remember quickly turning away from Ethan and swatting tears away.  This news struck me as a great injustice.  How DARE the salesperson point out to me that I no longer (and would never again) have an infant!?  I felt sad, inane and ridiculous and for one crazy moment, I thought about leaving in a huff.  When I turned and looked at Ethan, I saw that he also had tears in his eyes.

"Why are YOU crying!?", I remember asking him through my own tears half laughing, half sniffling.

"Well...I'm just sad.  Because Eli's not going to seem like Eli anymore without his shoes!"  And with that statement, Ethan's tears spilled over and he was sobbing.  Quite simply (and eloquently), he summed up the way I was feeling.  It's the way I always feel when either of my boys cross over that very fine, invisible line of growing from one stage into the next.

The line is ever so fine, barely there, and when they start crossing over it, they begin with a light step, a slight tip-toe but yet seem to land on the other side with a clanging, jarring thud that I suppose I will never grow accustomed to.  It's a grand and loud announcement of "I'm growing up!  I'm one step closer to leaving the nest!"  I am caught off guard every single time I'm greeted with one of these new stages, however insignificant it may be (new shoes, the move from a crib into a bed, a lost tooth).   I'm never prepared for these moments and yet they don't (and won't) stop.

I assume the trick is to enjoy the moment (which I have to admit, I'm not all that great at doing).  In the meantime, I'm going to hang onto those little shoes for dear life.  They remind me of my sweet, sensitive boys.  And of the Stride Rite lady who looked at the three of us and was probably wishing she'd applied for a job at the Barnes and Noble across the street instead.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tonight, while eating out with friends, I heard Ethan cackling and out of the corner of my eye, I could see him pointing at something.  I turned to see what he was pointing at and with sudden horror, I realized he was pointing at a little boy wearing a girls' ski coat (and it wasn't even MY little boy - for once...).  I felt as if my stomach dropped straight to the floor as my heart ripped from one emotion onto the next...fury, sadness, surprise, devastation, disbelief.  After all, after everything that I've been preaching, how could one of my own be making fun of someone for something that I feel so passionate about?  What was he thinking!?

Outraged, I called Ethan over to me and with tears in my eyes, I furiously addressed his behavior, hissing at him, his face just inches from my own.  I was overcome with sadness, angry that Ethan had let me down in this way, that he had openly rebuked my most important teachings and missed an opportunity to set a good example in front of one of his friends.  Since my last post, I've had so many messages pouring in to me about what an amazing mom people think I am, and tonight, I felt like a fraud.  I've been joking to people that pay me compliments that this is all a facade...and now I feel like I was right.  How can I expect society to accept and respect Eli's quarks when I'm failing to teach my own family how to do it!?

At home, behind closed doors, I told Adam what had happened.  He was just as exasperated and disappointed as I was and we calmly sat Ethan down and explained to him why that behavior was so hurtful.  I told him about the year I was in third grade when I was the target of constant teasing.  I told him how I cried at school almost every day and that I would pretend I was sick and go to the nurse so that she would call my mother to come pick me up and that almost thirty years later, I still remember how bad that felt.  I told him that making fun of someone is a really, really big deal, even if they don't hear you.  I even let him read my last two blog posts and when he finished, he had tears in his eyes.  He cried, telling me how embarrassed he was and that he never should have laughed at the little boy in the purple coat.  I asked Ethan if he knew what he was doing was wrong when he was laughing and he said, "I did hear a little voice telling me it was not a good idea."

I hugged him and said quietly, "That little voice in your head is always right.  Always listen to that voice.  That little voice will never let you down."  And then I said, "Did you read on my blog about how much I love Eli and how I will love him no matter what?  That's how I feel about you, too.  I love you so much and I will always, always love you."  I'm still shaking my head at what happened, but I have to remind myself that Ethan is just 7 and is still learning how to be the best he can be.  And I'm still learning the best way to teach him that.

I've been pretty hard on myself the last few months, wishing that I was doing "more" with my life rather than "just being a mother", but as I sat there with Ethan, snuggled in his bed, I realized just how much these two little boys of mine need my mothering.  They may need me for different reasons, but they need me.  Tonight, I was reminded that being a mother to those boys isn't just my job, it's my life's work.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Adam and I are always very careful about how we talk about Eli's flair for the feminine when we are in front of Eli (if we even talk about it all).  Knowing that, you can appreciate the story I'm about to tell...Eli is either very intuitive or has been up late at night reading my last blog post!

Last week, I took Eli to the Imagine It! Children's Museum where there was a fairy tale exhibit I knew he would love (which was complete with princess dresses to try on).  We went right to the exhibit where Eli excitedly began to rifle through the boxes of sparkly, ruffled dresses.  

He chose a yellow dress with pink roses and as he put it on I exclaimed, "Oh Eli!  You look beautiful!".  He glanced sideways and then looked at me and said "Maybe I should take this off".  Perplexed, I said, "Why!?".  He looked sideways again and pointed to a gaggle of young girls who were staring at him and he said, "Because they want me to act like a boy".  My heart felt like a balloon that just had the helium leaked out of it, shrinking and twisting in a downward spiral.  This is the conversation I've been dreading for more than a year and I was shocked that it happened so soon.  

Trying to wipe the tears off my cheeks so he wouldn't notice I was crying, I dragged him off to a corner and pulled him down on my lap and squeezed him tight.  I told him that it doesn't matter what anyway else thinks and asked him how wearing a dress makes him feel ("happy") and how it felt when he took the dress off ("sad") - and this is where I had to fight off the urge to go over and flip the lunch table that those little staring girls were sitting at.  I told Eli I was so proud of him and that he looks beautiful in a dress and that we should go back to trying them on.  Then he ran away from me and when I chased after him he said (and I am directly quoting here), "I just have to work this out myself.  Not with you," and with that, he scampered off to play/hide in a little tunnel.  Stunned, I sat patiently at the end of the tunnel and waited for him to come out, which he eventually did.  After he crawled out of the tunnel and stood up, he said, "Maybe I will just wear dresses at home."  I asked why and he said, "Because it's just weird."  My mama bear instincts kicked into high gear and I practically shouted, "Who told you it was weird!?  It is NOT weird!  It makes you happy to wear a dress!".  He just shook his head and said, "It's just weird."

It's days later and my insides still feel shredded and I have tears in my eyes just remembering his sweet, confused, disappointed yet determined little face. It hurts to see your kids hurt, but I'm grateful for the life lessons that all four of us are learning.  Our experience at the museum made me realize how powerful just one little look can be and how bad it can feel to someone when they know someone is staring at them just because they may look or act a little different.  It's not enough to be accepting, we also must be respectful.  It's not enough to be tolerant, but we must also be supportive.  These are good lessons to teach to our children, but also necessary lessons to learn as adults.

Monday, January 9, 2012

I came across this article tonight and it stuck with me.  It more than stuck with me.  It made me want to hunt down this dad and offer him a few choice words.  It also made me want to hunt down the older brother and give him a huge hug and a big old kiss on the cheek.

I'm a mother to a boy who loves purple, pink and just about anything that has to do with Barbie, Strawberry Shortcake or the Disney princesses.  Though he wears "traditional boy" clothes - striped shirts, jeans, Chuck Taylors - he doesn't usually leave the house without some sparkly accessory or other feminine flair.  This is just fine with me.  And with my husband.  It's other people that seem to squirm and stare.  And I gotta say - it really pisses me off.  Why does anybody care what my son plays with or what he dresses like!?

Just last week, Eli wanted to get an American Girl doll with some money he received for Chanukah.  I was more than happy to oblige.  After all, Ethan asked to buy Legos with his Chanukah money and I didn't bat an eyelash.  Eli and I packed into my van and headed off to the American Girl store and during the entire drive there, Eli chattered on about the "American store" and how excited he was to pick out his doll.  By the time we pulled into our parking space, he was practically hyperventilating.

I tried to be cool as we strolled around the store, but to be honest, I could feel many sets of eyes on Eli and I.  After maneuvering past women and children who appeared to be utterly fascinated that a boy would be playing with a (gasp!) doll, we strode up to the cashier who peered over the counter and said to Eli, "You are such a lucky little girl!".  I decided to just let this one go by since I really didn't want to be rude and correct her but then she said, "Is this your little girl's first American Girl doll?" and I had to say, "Um...actually, he's a boy."  I said it cooly and tonelessly, plainly stating the facts and proud of myself for not throwing in the explanations that I usually have at the ready to diffuse the awkwardness of these situations.  I wasn't offended by what she said - it was an easy conclusion to draw given our surroundings.  But she stopped was she was doing, clearly flustered and started sputtering apology after apology which only made the situation more and more uncomfortable.

When we finally got away, after what seemed like an eternity, we headed to the Bistro where we greeted by the hostess who asked us how many in our party.  I responded with, "Two, please."  On the way to the table, she began to make small talk with us and asked Eli in a sing song voice, "Oh, is that your sister's doll?"  My heart sank and the only thing that kept me from bursting into tears was the fact that Eli was completely clueless.  He just strutted on through the restaurant proudly holding his big red box with his new doll.

During lunch, several people came by our table to check on us.  One manager even said, "Oh, your little girl is so cute."  Okay.  Hold the phone.  Eli IS adorable.  His hair is bright orange and fuzzy like a duck.  He has an infectious smile and gorgeous, creamy skin.  But he looks NOTHING like a girl, and certainly not a cute girl.  In fact, I think he would make kind of an ugly girl.  Plus, what kind of mother would give their sweet little daughter the messed up, cropped haircut he has and put him in dark brown pants and a pea green shirt?  (Obviously, I jest, but you get the point....)

I felt a lump in my throat for the majority of the day.  Not because anything particularly bad happened and not because anything happened that upset Eli...but I caught a glimpse of the possibilities of the future and was reminded that Eli might not always be oblivious to the stir that he seems to create around him and that while he doesn't notice the stares now, someday he will, and someday they might hurt.

I am so blessed by a loving family and loving friends who accept Eli with the same open minds and open hearts that Adam and I accept him with, and that makes me forget about all the other idiots out there who can't or won't mind their own business and won't get past what Eli appears to be on the outside and therefore will miss out on seeing how absolutely amazing he is.

And if I hear one person tell me "It could just be a phase," I might scream.  It might be.  And it might not be.  But who cares if it is or isn't?  I don't need consolation.  And while I'm sad that Eli could be hurt by the nastiest of others, I don't feel sorry for him or for myself.  I'm not hoping that Eli might turn out to be someone else.  I love him EXACTLY the way he is.  When I hear someone say "It could just be a phase," what I feel like is left off of that sentence is "Let's hope it is."  Look, I know what I could be up against.  I know what Eli could be up against. Will his life be hard if the preferences he shows aren't a phase and continue into adulthood?  Probably.  And we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.  Together.  But in the meantime, I sleep REALLY well at night knowing that no matter what turns his life takes as long as I am his mother, and Adam is his father that he will ALWAYS have the wind at his back and will always be bolstered by the pride and the unconditional love that we have for our sweet, incredible and beautiful son.  And I will take to him the American Girl store ANY TIME he wants to go.  And who could just be a phase...:0)