When you cried at the airport my heart shattered

We went to the airport and you wept and said that nobody loves you.  After mom pressed, you said nobody likes you. By nobody, I think you meant us.

We were in Logan Airport, having just visited my family in Billerica. On this trip, Nikki took you on a shopping trip with Mom for the first time and sprang for a lot of expensive clothes at Justice, and new wedge shoes (I think that’s what they’re called?) We also spent a fun day in Salem and a few days later spent a day at Ed’s girlfriend Joanne’s family lake house where you threw lake weed onto Uncle Ed  and teased him about a stain on his shorts. And then it was over. And we jumped into our rental. Dropped it off.

Somewhere over dinner at an airport restaurant–it’s always at a restaurant–you grew sullen, you put your head in your arms and you shut down. Are you mad at me? I think she’s mad at me. You sure she’s not mad at me? I don’t know. Honey are you mad at us? Silence. Are you mad at daddy? Silence. She’s mad at me. Why? I really don’t know. And then you cried. You told mom you didn’t know what was wrong and memories of my own adolescence rushed back–a painful “I’m depressed, I want to die, I don’t know why” conversation with my mother that got me into a therapist’s office and on antidepressants.

It’s always so hard for me to know what’s really going on, and your old memory of things will probably be so radically different from my fresh experience and guesswork, but just because this is fresh, I don’t want you to think I that I feel I’m right.

I just know what I saw. I saw a young lady who swam every day in the pool, got everything she asked for, went to bed when she felt like it, ate whatever, whenever and was showered with affection by her doting aunt. (Her gamma…not so much this time around. She’s depressed and won’t leave the couch–not sure if that hurt your feelings and contributed to this…it really may have.) And then we left. Back to a life with mom and dad, and rules and bedtimes, higher expectations, lower tolerance for all the “can we buy me one of these” requests…And you broke.

But you gave us no more to go on. Until I left to investigate food options during a quest for a smoothie. (You didn’t want to eat at the restaurant. You weren’t hungry enough.) When I came back mom filled me in. You had reported that you felt nobody likes you.

A little while after that, I was walking with you alone. Mom had gone to the bathroom and we were making our way to the gate. I think this was the hardest parenting moment of my life so far. You were feeling intense, overwhelming sadness. It reminded me of depression, which I know well. The thought of you feeling this is enough for me to do anything it takes to make it go away. But I’d just been told, in a roundabout sort of way, that I was part of the problem. Mom always seems to know what to say. I can often muster the right words in writing but in the moment, face-to-face, I rarely can. So my mind and my mouth was frozen. Your sadness was visceral, and it begged to be addressed.  I had nothing.

We sat down. Nothing. You pulled out your phone. You were going to shut me out. Quick, think of something, anything! “What are you doing?” I asked, without even thinking.

“Playing Color Switch,” you said.

“Can I watch?” I asked.

“Sure,” you said. And then I watched you play your game. I felt a little like the idiot who can’t figure out how to ask someone out so he follows her around wherever she goes, trying to build up the nerve. But then something strange happened. You warmed up. I watched you closely, commented on the game, eventually played a little too and we laughed a lot. Mom later told me that when she came back, she figured we’d had a talk and hugged it out. Nope. I just followed you where you were going and asked to be there too.

Here’s my interpretation, now, fresh: we don’t give you enough attention. More accurately, we don’t give you the right kind of attention. You’re lonely. Partly because it’s summer and you really are between close friendships right now. In a matter of minutes, you’ll be focused on your friends and will want less and less attention from us, but we make the mistake too often of choosing to live in a world of responsibility–one that we’re always aware is fully centered on you but kids don’t care about this stuff–rather than a world of minute-by-minute joy and interaction with the whirlwind of a gift that you are in our lives. We concern ourselves with your screen time, your forgetting to put your clothes away, your dragging your feet on your chores…and leave less energy for all that happens in our lives between those parenting moments. We forget to follow you where you are.

That’s the only reason I can think that you would have gotten the impression that we don’t like you (in this moment, at least). We adore you. Despite all the new emotional stuff that has entered into our relationship, you’re still getting more and more funny, more and more charming and clever and…just…awesome…in basically every way.

In the days that have followed this trip, I’ve been making a greater effort to stop moving from responsibility to responsibility and take moments to be with you.  We’ll see how it goes. My initial findings have been that this is getting harder and harder to achieve. Because, paradoxically, your maturation means you’re also pushing us away and wanting, more and more, a life defined without us.

Happy 2017!!! Top 3 Changes Since Last Year

1-23-2017-4-46-42-pmHappy New Year, Ari! You rang in the new year by staying up all night for the first time in your life to “see the ball drop because everyone at school has seen it but  me!” We kinda saw it. It was disappointing. As it always is. So it was a perfect introduction. And then on the 1st, you sat with  Lily and Jack to watch your parents perform for the first time (in a Neo-Futurist benefit performance of old plays from Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.) Mom danced a Fosse number while she made ants on a log. I smashed fruit. We picked these plays because we thought you’d like them.  You did. (Fist pump.)

Anyway, in keeping with my recent annual tradition…I wanted to talk about the ways in which you’ve changed since we rang in 2016.  And the ways are many. As usual, you’re more  you. By that I mean way smarter and way funnier. You can make me laugh hard. And we’ve had a few dinners out as a family where we all cracked each other up on an adult level for the first time, ever.  It gave me a picture of the kind of life we might all have together if we manage to keep our bond tight during those teenage years.

Otherwise, here are the top 3 ways you’ve changed since last year:

#3. You’re bored with elementary school. While it’s a fact that Mrs. Kersner is just not as nice or engaging as Mr. Pollard, I also think maybe you’ve matured to point where you’re ready for more challenge. You’ve never been a huge fan of school, but for the first time in your life you’re saying things like “uuhhhhhh….I really, really don’t want to go to school tomorrow!” At first we wondered if something bad was happening to you because of the growing sense of dread you seemed to display. It turns out, you’re just bored as crap. I think you’re ready for Middle School. And while you may not know it, I think you’re ready for new friends, too.

#2. You’re showing a tendency toward obsessive worry. It started on Thanksgiving day, 2016, when we came home from Papa’s house and you noticed that your gerbils had been fighting. Teddy’s belly was scratched up and bloody, Marcus had wounds on his tail and both of them had cuts and scrapes around their necks.  You were horribly upset.  After some quick research, we simplified their cage and treated their cuts and they both healed up nicely and haven’t fought again. This was a few weeks after Marcus escaped from his cage and I found him while we were watching TV. Both of these events seem to have unglued you a bit. “I’m worried about the gerbils” has become a daily mantra, multiple times a day. The upside of all of this is that you’re really talking about and processing your feelings in ways that feel healthy and adult. The downside…or more accurately the concerning side…is that your gerbil’s well-being is dominating your thoughts at home in an almost phobic way. You check on them, sometimes, every few minutes. You’ve told us that you don’t want to go on a vacation while they’re still alive. When I come in to kiss you good night, you ask me to check on them on my way in and then again on my way out. You wear earplugs made of cotton balls so you don’t wake up worrying about the noises you hear. You tell us, almost daily, that you’re afraid to feed them because…”what if one of them won’t eat?” (Which is legit. They’re 3. They’re old. This will happen. But that certainty seems to provoke more anxiety in you than surrender.) So what does all of this mean? I don’t know. But it’s new and interesting and worth watching.

#1. You’re becoming less of a tom boy.  I was sitting having a beer with my friend Halena one night, telling her how much you remind me of her. (She is I guess what you’d call a tom boy if we called adults tom boys.) And then the next day you told us you wanted to get your ears pierced! And then you started buying and collecting all these flavored lip balms (and then later gloss). You dressed up like a grown-up looking vampire punk girl for Halloween and then kept wearing the boots you bought that day! You started putting stuff in your hair a few months ago–some kind of oil that you brush in after you shower. And it’s making your hair look great. You seem to have noticed that your hair looks great. You seem to have noticed your looks. And then you bought a purse!  This is all happening fast. And I had no idea how many rights of passage there were for girls. For boys it’s like you get a big-boy bed, you stop playing with toys, then you get a car and leave for college. Girls…I’m already noticing have all these in-between phases that include all kinds of things. It’s crazy! You’re still definitely holding on to your individuality so far. When we bought you the purse, you told me “I like it a lot, but I don’t like the idea of me having a purse.” I can see you wrestling with identity and trying to allow these things in on your own terms.

A Summer of Discontent?

Summer is here. And immediately I see in you the inner conflict that all humans seem to struggle with. We want more time to ourselves and fewer responsibilities. (We don’t want to go tproject_365___149___lazy_summer_day_by_jguy1964-d6o summer camp–that’s too much like school.) We want nothing to do. Just relaxation. Freedom. And in not too long we become terribly bored and lost.

Retirees do it. Teens do it.  Even people on leave do it. This is the story and the glory (and the paradox) of work, my friend. We don’t want Continue reading

Christmas, 2015…a pogo stick and a bite in the arm

snow globe diy pendant necklaceMerry Christmas!

The day began with drama. Your dedication to our dogs as members of our family is painfully endearing. And this Christmas morning was no exception. After the dogs ate, you decided to give them stocking gifts for their post-breakfast treats. To Simon went a wheat free biscuit and to Zoe, a little rawhide bone. Unfortunately, Zoe didn’t finish her bone fast enough and when Simon entered her zone of privacy to investigate, she pounced and… Continue reading

Three things you need to know about your mother’s career life

43The other night mom was trying to talk to you about why she’s not working and the decisions that went into it. You were interested for a bit and then we lost you.

You’re 8.  She didn’t take it personally.

But these are the moments this blog is made for. I wanted to be able to communicate to you all the meaning behind the interaction mom was having with you, from my own perspective, but you’re too young and who knows what will happen to this story after 10 years? Continue reading