Ting

For us, seven is the magic age of “what will I be when I grow up?” Now, her mother and I are pretty good examples for both doing what you love and doing what to have to in order to earn money while not killing your soul. And while we don’t want her to fall prey to the Dream Job syndrome (i.e. nothing is good enough if it isn’t The One), we also don’t want her to feel like she has to pick a path, prepare for it, and stick with it. At least, not forever.

The first job she reported wanting was a queen. She announced this about a year ago along with her plans for future residency (our basement) and children (two, twins, girls, who her mother and I will take care of). That was six. At seven we have a more practical job – an art teacher. Both residency and child-rearing strategies remain the same. I say practical with a bit of hesitation, I admit. She’s certainly talented, but is being an art teacher really a viable career choice? But then again, who am I to think it might not be? Besides, she’s seven and she’s still working on core skills like reading, math, and toileting (do not even get me started).

Art teacher sounds more realistic than queen and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was actually “art teacher with a tattoo artist side hustle.” Man, does this child love to draw on herself, others, walls, curtains, floors, etc. She loves the look of body art generally and begs for face-painting at every opportunity. She doesn’t ask for much else so this is a noticeable (and consistent) request. In fact, if she had free access to temporary tattoos, she’d plaster them all over her body. Which brings us to her latest efforts.

While at the pool this weekend, RR disappeared from view for 20 minutes. Debra was with her and looked all over but it was crowded and she was missing. When she reappeared, she had a large, glitter tattoo on her forearm spelling out the name of a new internet service provider in town. Yes, my child emblazoned herself with a glitter tattoo that turned her into a walking billboard. Best of all, she proclaimed, “This will last for THREE WEEKS!”

Giving the scrubbing I insisted she give it in the shower last night, I think it will, in fact, last three weeks. Can we at least get a discount?

TING
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Don’t Say a Word

A week before her seventh birthday, RR had her last accident.

I mean, it was the last recorded accident, not to imply there will never be another. SHH. You guys! Do not tempt fate.

But, it has been…26 days. That is the longest dry streak we have ever had. Of course, she’s fucking seven, but that makes it even more of a win, right?

I would like to just sit here and revel in the sweet-smelling dryness of it all. I have a sensitive nose and her tendency to sneak drawers carrying poop surprises into her dirty laundry meant we frequently were perfuming our entire neighborhood with the smell of freshly washed human feces. We quickly learned that our lovely new washer and its water saving features mean that sneakshit does not rinse out in the wash so much as dissolve and coat all the clothes uniformly. Not only that, but they frequently pass a low-grade sniff test when wet only to get into the dryer and WHAM! poop neighborhood. Exhausting.

When she was two and we worried, our physician said “she’s only two!” When she was three and we worried, the school shrugged it off and gently offered potty training pamphlets. When she was four, we dragged her to a sensory specialist who told us that RR being who RR is doesn’t have anything to do with bladder control. At five, we despaired and got a doctor’s note for school, took her to a urologist, and visited another sensory specialist. At six, we took her to the urologist (again) and a gastro specialist who, at the end of a very long day of exams, gave her cookies and diagnosed chronic constipation. It wasn’t until the tail end of six that we were down to one or two accidents a week.

She’s in a camp that she loves (vs last year when she peed in her pants all day every day) in a building that she knows (vs a long walk to a restroom) that has a beautifully appointed, quiet bathroom for her to use (qualifications, apparently, for seven-yr-old dryness). On a recent trip with us she also stayed dry through naps in the car, time changes, and unstructured chaos. That’s not unusual though, all of the other promising streaks have also occurred while she was with us. I’m afraid that when she transitions back to school (same building, no access to that particular bathroom), all of this will be lost. I’m very, very hopeful that a summer of being so dry will make being wet seem startling instead of the norm.

Then we can work on getting through the night. But can I tell you something? I could give a giant flying fuck if she stays in a pull-up until she’s sixteen as long as she stays dry during her waking hours. Her butt’s tiny. It could work.

 

 

Changeling

We do not recognize our daughter. Someone stole into our home in the night and replaced her with another daughter. This one is tall and all limbs, strong and fast but a little lazy, occasionally sullen, has a much better memory, and asks for specific toys and gifts. This one will only sometimes dress herself and likes to shower. This one is packed with sass.

We didn’t notice at first. You see, this changeling still has accidents and disappears for hours at a time to play by herself. She still likes to get up early and turn on the TV by herself. She still dances naked in the living room. But there were glimpses that made our eyes skip over her, looking for the real child. Our little girl, the barely-past-toddlerhood girl. The one who was still rocking 3T shorts just a couple of weeks ago.

changeling

She’ll be seven next month, just like our old child, and if in fact she’s ours, she is finally, suddenly, and startlingly a kid. She has habits and preferences. The tiny wolverine we’ve lived with for so long has disappeared. She cuddles. She has friends. Let that soak in. Right? This is obviously not our child.

She wants things. You guys, RR has never asked for things. With prodding, sure, but years of television have skipped past and she has been impervious to the wiles of advertisers and, when sucked in, quickly forgets the object in question ever existed. Now she has focused her mind and has turned a laser focus onto robot dogs of all types. Her drawings have become less detailed and elaborate. I catch myself being a sad about that and then I’ll find an itty bitty drawing in a corner of a page and it’s precisely illustrated.

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This is not to say that this kid is better or worse that the kid who lived here before. Just surprisingly different. It happened so quickly, she seems like a whole new person. It must be her though, I’m sure of it, because she’s still six layers deep in dirt, sprinkled in freckles, loves dancing and parties, and other children love her (even when she doesn’t love them back. No changeling could be so matched so well. Seven at the end of June. Or a teenager. It’s hard to be certain.

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Just One More Silver Lining

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My dad passed away on April 21st, five days before his 73rd birthday. I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty saying that I’m glad. That’s the silver lining. I told him as much and I’ll tell you. Glioblastoma, and all cancers, but this incurable one in particular, is a tremendous fucking asshole and it took my dad from me. Stole him away when no one was looking and left us with a shell that couldn’t be trusted to support him, to say the words he wanted to say, to think the thoughts, to cherish his family the way he would have liked. It erased parts of him altogether. I’m glad he doesn’t have to wait to die anymore.

For 22 months I’ve struggled to grieve and keep my mom upright. I’ve had to repeat to her, over and over, that the cancer isn’t in remission, it can’t be, they didn’t “get it all”, they can’t. It’s not possible to survive. I’ve had full days where it was one what the actual fuck after another. I’ve cried so much my pillow was still damp the next morning. I’ve begged my sisters to step in and take my mom off of my hands for a few days. I’ve missed countless days of work,  I’ve walked with my head down, I’ve crumpled inside.

As much as I feel ready (who is ever ready) to move on, I also feel like I want remember all of it. I do a lot of talking to myself, but it isn’t enough. I know it will fade (so much does with me) and so I plan to write it down. It isn’t all pretty. The words won’t be smooth. And, if goes like I expect it to, there’s more there than just my dad. This doesn’t feel like the right place for it really; this blank page that would prefer to host my child’s honest smile, the shenanigans of an almost seven-year-old, and the ongoing saga of her bladder because no it is not over.

So here are two things for you
1) My dad’s obituary and my addendum. Because he’s super cool and, man, I miss him.
2) The link to the place any other posts about this sort of thing will go. It’s my first home and one I only left when what I had to say became more about RR than about me. I’m delighted I kept it and it will be nice to go home.

In the Weeds

So you guys, I’m struggling every day over here. Struggling with inner guilt and pressure, the physical and mental health of my parents, a constant longing for my sisters to help with this terrible cancer, money, my relationship, my professional success. It manifests in the weirdest ways. For instance, I spent a good five minutes this morning worrying about the amount I’m contributing to retirement which may sound reasonable but, given that it is not even remotely an issue, was five minutes too much. In the five hours I’ve been awake, I have also had to haul myself away from the traps of:

Whether RR will ever ride a bike
How I have failed as a parent for not knowing how to teach her to ride a bike or swim
Whether my blood pressure was too high
Why that guy at the gym just can’t follow the rules
How to write reference letters for three people for the same job
Why I want to eat sweet things for breakfast or whether I would kill my wife if I didn’t
Why the school board meeting is tonight and not on the regular fourth Monday
If someone broke into the car
If I would get arrested for not having my license (this, after confirming I did have it)
How warm it is and what that is doing to iceburgs, seals, and polar bears
And New York and Miami
Why I am tired of eating
Whether I would cry at my therapy appointment on Thursday
Whether I cry enough or too much
Why my wife and I don’t take advantage of our alone time
Whether we would ever have alone time when we didn’t feel like just being still
How much I miss childless Saturday afternoons
If my new boss will want me to keep more regular hours
Why I am worrying about that when the position hasn’t been posted or even written
How we will ever get our grass to regrow
Whether I am going insane

It certainly doesn’t help that we’ve been through the wringer with my parents in the last two weeks. My father asked me if I couldn’t just pray away the gay. My mother ignored me when I told her. She spent the week not speaking to us and denied it ever happened while also complaining about her entire life to my sisters and copying me. Which only reminds me how much help she needs help. And also of my dad’s cancer which has visibly taken its toll in the last two months. This leaves me thinking hateful thoughts, like how it would be better if he just passed away in his sleep which is no one’s fault but my own.

I started getting daily texts from Shine which have a pithy saying (Today: “Waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress.”), then suggest a general plan of attack (Today:”Give yourself positive motivation through action. Take one small action to help you feel present.”) and sum it all up with some strategy (Today: “Stop waiting for the perfect time to write that short story, your dissertation, or a thank you card. Just do it.”) And so, while what I suspect I need is to resume a meditation practice, instead I’m spending 10 minutes writing to you, which is often just as good.

Where We Are Now

Remember that time we agonized over daycare? Then moving to a Montessori pre-school? Then public vs private grade school?*

Also, you know those moments when you have to make a really difficult decision and you have no way to know how it will shake out and then it turns out that, even though it was impossible in the moment, it was still the best decision you could have made?

RR’s Montessori grade school costs us an arm, leg, and very nearly the entirety of our bank account. We are tremendously lucky to be in the position to even make this choice. I think that at least once a day. But it wasn’t easy to decide. I love our public school system, for all its flaws. In the end, it came down to knowing RR well enough to make the decision that would best accommodate her style of learning and, let’s be honest here, her enormous personal space. And also? I’m pretty sure this whole business OF STILL NOT BEING POTTY TRAINED IN AUGUST wouldn’t have been great in public school. Regardless, she is, as her teachers have often described her, a true Montessori learner and so she’s happy as a pig in mud.

I can’t talk about how happy I am with the guides and students and school and lessons without crying all over the place so I won’t. I can’t sum it up all that well anyway. So here’s the bright spot in my week this week, coming directly from her teacher about their classwork for the week:

We began a study of the Montessori work called Interdependencies. In this study of economics, we have a set of cards that is used in several ways. One is to discuss a particular food we eat. The cards show people and a small emblem signifying the work they do to produce a particular food. These cards are used to illustrate just how many people are required to produce one item we use on a daily basis. We start with our own breakfasts, discussing what we eat. Most people’s breakfasts include a form of bread or cereal. From there, we ask where the bread comes from. The baker is the usual reply. From there, we add the shopkeeper, the transporter, the miller, the farmer, etc. One student remarked, as if on cue, “Look how many people it takes to give us our bread!” Your child may come home with their own colored pages or booklets of people and their jobs. Some chose to make cards of their own parents’ jobs, which was interesting and fun. 
Later, we will use the cards as we discuss how each person needs all the others to live, and we’ll also discuss things like taxes and services our cities and country provide. The goal here is to show children how everyone places a role, and everyone is needed.
One of the beauties of the elementary Montessori curriculum is that it emphasizes both the interconnectedness of human beings and the fundamental needs that we all have in common.”

This is a typical missive and sometimes they are so lofty I’m not sure I even get the concept but RR does, without fail. What she learns shows up everyday in the form of remarkable empathy, courtesy, patience, and respect. Interdependencies have been a big part of how we have framed her questions about the election and current fallout and again I think, I am so fortunate to have this child, this family, this school, this community.

I just had to tell someone and I picked you.

 

**There are posts on these and I’d have linked them expect that we had started trying to have a second while moving to the Montessori pre-school and so those posts are littered with this IUI and that IUI and obviously no actual babies. So you’ll have to take my word for it – those posts exist and those moments were agonizing.

Enough. Just enough.

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This week I had two people mention that my work calendar was a bit behind. This actually isn’t that unusual since I frequently forget to change over weeks into any given month. But January. You guys, I’m not sure I worked more than five full days in my office.

I worked from the hospital while I watched my dad uncomfortably shift around, without any arm or leg strength. I worked from the ER while they checked him for broken ribs from yet another fall. I worked from the ambulance even, on my phone, emailing what I thought was a “be in tomorrow” but turned out to be a “be in next week. probably.” I worked at the Rehab center while he lied to the physical therapists about how and how often he falls, while my mother alternately refused to care for him anymore and tried to leave on a vacation, while biting my tongue as he ranted about his roommates, the conditions, life.

I worked in between putting our remaining and beloved cat to sleep and cleaning the house, trying to rid it of the smell of sickness. I called HR while picking my daughter up that day, hammering out some long-standing and stagnating issues, and then sat with her while I explained that our cat wouldn’t be coming home. On the way to the car, I held her hand and mentally ticked off the list of things I needed to get done the next day. “We’re all out of cats!” she proclaimed from the backseat, eyes welling up and so we cried a bit together while I ignored the constant pinging of chats from my staff.

I worked while I talked to her school that morning, jotting notes while hearing that she maybe had lice. Or maybe it was awhile ago. But probably there was nothing alive there, now. I dictated an email to my computer while scanning my phone for a lice solution and texting my wife.

I worked with a broken finger, crushed by the car door I thoughtlessly slammed on it. The nail is destroyed, the tip shattered, but now I have a new split, which makes typing emails on my phone easier. It’s still my dominant hand though so showering takes much longer, giving me ample time to decide which issues to push forward and which interpersonal dilemmas to handle first.

I stopped working, momentarily, when my phone fell in the parking lot and the screen broke into a million pieces. And then when I was at the gym, for about 30 minutes, until I tried to dismount the stationary bike at the front of the gym and fell flat on my face, banging my splinted finger. I was thinking of the evaluation I had yet to turn in and how to frame my accomplishments in a way that would still merit an increase but not oversell.

I also did not work while bandaging my wife’s finger, after she cut the tip off and passed out on the floor. She and I are both bandaged now and are significantly more knowledgeable about wound care.

It may look like I haven’t been working. But I’ve been bending the limits of my own multi-tasking and every bit of technology I have, often at the same time, in order to not fall behind. My staff are understanding but I’m exhausted. I hope I’m hiding it. I’d like to actually work*, from my office, during actual working hours.

*I am aware, of course, about family and medical leave, and the importance of self-care in general. But my boss is pretty understanding and so I had the time I needed. The self-care I need is a series of uninterrupted, boring days, not punctuated by my mother’s outrageous behavior, my father’s debilitating illness, and my everyday woes. I am also not a workaholic (which my wife would confirm wholeheartedly) but I am responsible and diligent and refuse to let life get the better of me.