Questions I Can’t Answer

Kids always ask the hardest questions when you are least prepared and unable to give them your full attention. Lately, this has been happening in the 10-minute car ride to school.

It started this morning with a reminder that President’s Day is coming up and there is no school that Monday, and this segued into a conversation about American Presidents. This reminded me to scold Asher for watching Top 10 Most Awkward Moments of Donald Trump videos on YouTube every time I come down to the basement to check on him or else he’s going to lose his computer privileges. He groans. Then I prompted both children to think about the many US Presidents that have been great leaders, gave inspirational speeches, that helped people in need, and were kind. And even though I’ve been to the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery I cannot recite the first 10 Presidents for the life of me, so instead we talked about Presidential faces they may recognize on dollar bills. At this time Everett interjected that George Washington was bad because he owned slaves but it’s ok because he paid them, and then Abraham Lincoln came along and was the best President because the country used to be called Slavery and now we’re two countries.

Asher now loudly states “Well you and dad have $10,000 why won’t you just give it to us? I’ve seen your credit card statement”. SIGH. “Just because you have a credit card LIMIT doesn’t mean you HAVE the money.” I explain. “It’s borrowed money from a bank and if you can’t pay it back you get in trouble.” Everett screams “You and dad are going to jail??!!” I realize I quickly need to reel things back. I try explaining bankruptcy, but at this exact moment we pulled up to Asher’s school and as he happily hops out in car line, already forgetting everything we just talked about, I say “Asher, I’m not just going to give you $10,000. Ever.”

As we proceed to Everett’s school, he quietly says “But mom, what happens when you file for bankruptcy?” SIGH. I explain that if you borrow more money than you can pay back, in SOME cases you file for bankruptcy and this means you lose everything and have to start over, like a board game. But I clarify that in MOST cases people just owe money for a very very long time and not to worry about it because mom and dad are fine. We have talked about mortgages, school loans, savings accounts, and retirement accounts endlessly at before, usually in other inconvenient moments, but no matter how many times we try to teach the kids about money, every week Everett gets his $5 allowance and he IMMEDIATELY spends it at Marshall’s or TJ Maxx.

But something nagging and incorrect inside me tells me not to give up on the credit card discussion. We have like 4 minutes left of the drive. I explain that using credit cards as a form of money that you don’t have makes it hard to keep up on paying back the bank, and also to save for their future. I DON’T UNDERSTAAAAAAND!!!!!!!! Everett screams. “And what happens to the kids?????!!!”

This leads into a dreaded moment asking myself: Do I take this moment in time to talk to my 7 year-old child about homelessness, foster homes and adoption? I have 3 minutes left. I decide to talk about it. WHAAAAAAAT???? he screams. He can’t express himself he’s so confused. I recently vowed to be very transparent with my kids when they ask tough questions, which I regret instantly. So I just quickly say “Don’t worry honey.  There are always people who will look after children in a nice home” (not always true) “‘and kids will never be in a jail” (definitely not true). And if Asher were in the car he would remind Everett about The Wall and detention centers. We pull up at his school.

OK Everett, well we’re at school now bye-I-love-you-have-a-nice day!

Here’s another moment. The other day we took the kids to an immersive contemporary art museum called the WNDR MUSEUM in Chicago which featured an infinity room of mirrors titled “Let’s Just Live Forever” by the famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Asher was absolutely riveted by this concept of endlessness. In the car ride home he couldn’t stop talking about infinity and the size of things like how big the Willis Tower is in miles and feet, and he had just so many questions that at some point I just gave him my phone to Google whatever he wanted. Every now and then he’d pipe up and say things like “Infinity plus one is omega!” and “The approximate size of the observable universe is 14 billion parsecs!” Then Everett’s brow furrowed. “But then Asher, what’s on the OTHER SIIIIIDE of the universe???????????????”

These are all such very good questions. I recently listened to a podcast on Radiolab about a man who as a young child in Russia noticed these strange birds in the fields sitting on the backs of cows. They didn’t belong there and weren’t in any local library books. So he started photographing them and took those photos to the local science museum, who then directed him to a bird specialist, and not a single person could explain to him why these cattle egrets from Africa were now in Russia. He said that this was a pivotal moment in his life that taught him that adults just don’t know all the answers. And he then spent the next 30 years tracking egrets and teaching the world about the concept of migration and what happens to birds in the winter. Up until the 1800’s people just assumed they flew to the moon!

But I digress. Adults are NOT supposed to know all the answers. And I am OK with that. But if I can encourage some curiosity and ignite new questions in their ever-evolving brains about the way the world currently works, maybe my children will teach me something one day and the rest of the world something big tomorrow. This really would be good parenting.

Burn The Needle

I sit here, sewing a broken string from my blue linen blouse with the same needle I used to dig out a nasty splinter that had gorged into my right hand the other day. The thought of this doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m reusing this tool for another necessary purpose. I burned the needle. I sanitized it. And I started again on a new task. It actually feels good.

The multi-tasking of objects and time is nothing new in our household. If it’s not utilitarian or joyful for more than one occasion, then I’m done with it. If it hasn’t seen the light of day in 6 months, or it’s a one trick pony, it goes in the garbage or donation bag. If it doesn’t have a place on the shelf or space in the day as an activity, then I’m not buying it. This is all in an effort to simplify and multi-task. In retrospect, I think this has had both a positive and negative impact on my family. That may not surprise you. I find myself cleaning up too often after the children’s messes, and I am certainly not teaching my son who lacks executive functioning the tools to organize. While my husband’s habits for collecting and accumulating piles has greatly diminished over the last 10 years, sometimes I still find his secret stash. A little shelf hidden in the laundry room or a drawer filled with useless receipts, lollipop wrappers and printed coupons for Malax which you inevitably get when you pick up a prescription at Walgreens. I always toss them. I don’t think he’s noticed yet. Does he just fear my need for organization or does he appreciate a clean desk space like I do??

Let’s cut to the chase. Life with kids is messy. You lose yourself in it. You disconnect from your spouse. You run yourself ragged. You set yourself on a path and when you come back together as a family you really just throw all expectations out the window. You learn flexibility.

I didn’t so much raise the white flag in 2018 as much as I hit the pedal hard when the racing flag was raised. My husband and I focused on our careers which included an often hectic travel schedule for me and “on call” nighttime work hours for him – meaning we’re both always exhausted. Sometimes I miss things, like my birthday. Or his birthday. And I work extra hard to attend kids activities like lunch with mommy in the cafeteria so they don’t feel the burden of that. They still think I sit at home all day dreaming up that night’s dinner. But I’m also learning to balance all of this, and to say NO when I can.

2018 also saw the end of preschool days in our family, and the start of Kindergarten and 2nd Grade. Baby toys got tossed or donated to make room for action figures and a computer for playing Fortnite. Our youngest son broke his arm and was rushed into surgery followed by three days in the hospital. Our eldest went through months of neuropsych evaluations for his IEP at school. The last two months alone have included countless visits to doctors, schools support team meetings, family therapy on the weekends, and even a brief stint with marriage counseling before our therapist moved to Arizona and we realized we didn’t have time for it anyway. My only goal through all of this was quality family time.

Yesterday I burst into tears because I didn’t plan a special New Year’s Eve for the kids. I just wanted to go to bed. I was exhausted. December included two busy work trips for me, hosting a kids party for 60 people at our house, endless therapy appointments, and literally 24-hour nonstop parenting with a kid in an itchy cast that wouldn’t sleep in his own bed, let alone for more than 2 hours at a time. We chose not to travel for the holidays this year. The kids won’t be sharing that they went to Florida or California when they went back to school like most of their friends. It was my one day off and I couldn’t even enjoy watching a dumb TV show because I was feeling the guilt. Would they forget the small joys that we DID gain when we gave family activity-themed gifts under the tree?

I often see Facebook posts of families with kids on the town looking at Christmas decorations or shopping on a bustling street surrounded by strangers, late night dinners at restaurants, children happily sampling new dishes and flavors. I talk to friends who’s kids actually entertained themselves for an entire summer with no plans other than a sports activity twice per week. I’m not sure how to feel about this. I know it’s not my reality. And I guess it kinda hits me hard.

What I’ve come to realize this past year is that my normal is not anybody else’s normal. To compare is totally unfair. We must accept and cherish what we can because we have also gained so much this past year. And even on the worst of days, when you think you have nothing left, there is always a little more to give after having a 2 minute break. Certainly, Robby and I are transparent about our struggles and really open communication is our only salvation. We are dedicated parents. But we accept what is damaged and then use our tools to mend and reframe. We burn the needle.

So while I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions, I can share that Asher’s resolution is “to work harder and believe in myself”, Everett’s is “I dunno!”, Robby wants to be more patient, and I’m going to simplify. Worry less about other people’s expectations, and more about my own. I’m really going to use my tools in considering whether something is a ‘big problem’ or a ‘small problem’ to quote our OT, and I’m going to burn that needle between uses.

Yo-Yo Parenting

 It’s happened again. Another weekend gone by of overly-ambitious family planning, followed by self-doubt, and soon disappointment in the promises I can’t keep for myself. The weekend started with an inspirational vegan cooking class, and ended with me eating a skillet cookie with ice cream. 

My goals may seem simple: make my kids laugh, have a selfish moment, learn something new, remind my husband why we fell in love, have a boost of confidence, strive to do better, acknowledge I’m far from perfect. 

Some days start off being positive, but end up just feeling insurmountable. There really isn’t a word to encapsulate the bitterness you feel after a particularly rough day of parenting. It’s like the YoYo diet self-loathing effect, when one special moment of joy comes crashing down into pitiful pain the next, over and over into an endless vortex.

How does one value the little time you have to yourself when the weekends are no longer your own? How do you find inspiration when you live in a world of diaper checks? How do you find passion when your day is measured by Toddler-Time-Outs, or mental clarity when a sneaker has been thrown at your head, or laughter and joy when heads are turning because your family is “causing a scene” at a restaurant? How can you feel attractive when you only have five minutes to get dressed?

Case in point: this morning we were eager to get the kids out of the house at 9:00am, when my husband casually asked me if I needed to get dressed before we left. Then he started to put the kids shoes on. Not HOW MUCH time I needed, or if I needed a shower. We’ve simply progressed to IF I needed to put on clothes. I was in a sleep shirt, no bra, no makeup. Not sure if he noticed. New goal for next weekend – make eye contact with spouse in the morning.

I know our kids are young and energetic and this too shall pass. I’m getting sick of hearing that advice. My low point of the weekend was really when I got puked on and we learned that Everett is allergic to walnuts. BUT my highlight was when the kids dragged me outside today to do “water play” in 80 degree humidity when all I really wanted was to sit alone in private misery and read a book. And in the end, the joy on their faces from the simple act of being soaked in the mud with a hose pipe was nothing short of spectacular. This is the reminder of “living” I strive for each day. And even though I feel miserable and lost and so so tired right now … I know that’s okay, we are bound together by the brazen and the beautiful, and tomorrow is another day!

Daddy’s “selfish” moment trying to do yoga in the morning but getting discovered…