Friday, August 22, 2014

Love, more

Once again I return to this completely ignored space to acknowledge my twin boys' 14th birthday.  This is a long post but they each deserve their own letter.

August 22, 2014

Dear son,

A few years ago you were in a community production of Suessical the Musical as one of the Wickersham Brothers who are the meddlesome monkeys in the Jungle of Nool.  Clearly this was not typecasting a then mischievous 5th grade boy.

This past spring you were in the Middle School production of Suessical Jr. but this time you were cast as Horton the Elephant, the only story line that isn't butchered by turning the full length play into a one act (the Junior version doesn't even have the General/Bread-and-Butter Battle storyline which makes Jojo and the Mayors' story lines really short and odd).  You were also finishing up 7th grade - that glorious year of growing like a weed, getting serious pimples and being so full of yourself I just wanted to knock you on the side of your head.  If I could reach that high.

So when you sang "Alone in the Universe" in your grey newsboy-looking outfit, holding a pink fuzzy thing that looked more like a poppy than a clover in a glaring spotlight it was all I could do to not start loudly sobbing.  You sang about loneliness, imagination and flying over troubles with conviction and sympathy.

When you sang it at the very last show it was with desperation and delirium.  You had a 102.7 degree fever which came on during call time.  You were fine when you left the house at 5:45pm.  The fever came on like an arson fire.

But not once did you back down from the show.  You channeled what little energy and focus you had and got through it.  You even sat through an awards program when you could've have begged to be let go.

So when you sang, feeling sick, about being alone in the universe just know that you will never be alone.  No matter where you are or what you are doing I am there for you.

Happy birthday darling boy,

August 22, 2014

Dear son,

You are my tough guy.

Yet earlier this month, after we had eaten dinner at picnic tables I turned my head to find you rolling on the grass with your not-quite 4-year-old cousin.  I'm not sure if there was a race involved but I do know that you had her laughing loudly as you both rolled down a small incline.  You smiled at her and she just beamed right back at you.

Earlier in the summer you let your twin 7-year-old cousins both sit on top of you while you laid on your belly.  You chased after their minivan as they drove away with their heads out of the windows laughing loudly.  You never once turned down a request to put one of them on your shoulders.

And we share our two weeks of beach heaven with another family who has a 15-month-old son.  You follow him around, make funny faces at him in restaurants, and give him hugs and kisses.

Because while you are tough, you are also affectionate, loving and kind.  So go ahead and be the tough 14-year-old today.  I know you are quick with a kiss for a little one.

Happy birthday darling boy,

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy Birthday, Happiness

Dear darling,

You are ten years old today.

Last month we had our first, real, public this-is-your-life-get-out-of-my-way-mother moment.  For the world to see.  Well, our beloved town and the theater group we're a part of.

You were recently the Red Queen in a local production of Alice in Wonderland.  In this version you start the second act, explain what was about to happen to Alice and generally got the audience back into the groove after a twenty minute intermission spent eating Skittles and brownies, buying raffle tickets and listening to blue grass music.

Let's just say that was a tall order for a then 9-year-old.  Only something a mother would ask.  A mother who was also the director.  A first time director.  So there was no pressure on either of us.

Two weeks before our "paying" shows, the theater company performed a free show for a local autism support network.  Over 60 individuals came and got to experience live theater.  You were just perfect.  You consistently and clearly delivered your lines with a very royal attitude.

And in my mind - the director's mind - you peaked.

Because after that show you started doing all these weird things.  You would pull a Mae West with one line (like you knew who Ms. West was), then go into a Lucille Ball bit, then flail about and suddenly be still. You would drop the last word of a sentence in an attempt to be super dramatic which only made it harder for people to hear your jokes.

You were clearly bored.  You had memorized your lines in January.  It was the end of March and you
not only knew the Red Queen inside and out - you would probably knew what moves she would maneuver on the chess board.  You were bored.

And I was frantic.  As the director - and your mother - you looked like a character mess.  There was no rhyme or reason to what you were doing on stage.  The entire tech/dress rehearsal week was agony for me.  I'd talk to you about this at home so as not to embarrass you in front of the group.  You'd nod, repeat a line as I suggested, and then promptly continue your whack job delivery.

The show opened for four performances and you shined.  Every single person who spoke to me marveled at your stage presence, your "look at me" quality, your funny character.

I've been stupid enough to bemoan to a few friends that you went off the rails as an actor.

The thing is you didn't go off the rails.  You never do.  You are just so amazingly confident that you don't care what 120 people in an audience think.  Or what your mother thinks.  You will just experiment and try new things.

You are by far the most fearless person - man or woman, adult or child - I know.

And being your mother is the greatest gift I could ask for.  A bit of a stomach-turning-will-I-survive?-ride but I would not trade this for anything.

Welcome to double digits, Darling Daughter.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Explaining Anna's rape to the 9-year-old

Watching Downton Abbey is a weekly treat in our family.  The 13-year-old boys get to watch it with me on Sundays.  The 9-year-old girl is in bed before the show begins so we watch it on DVR the next day.  Being on the west side of the pond means I have worked very hard since the fall to avoid all discussion about season 4 or read any spoilers.

However, this past Sunday's episode was not like any other.  I probably should have paid attention to the warning on the screen before the dog's backside appeared but I was lulled by the sweeping piano and strings and the excitement for a weekend of parties!

Anna's story unfolded - unfortunately - very well.  Her assailant grooms her with his flattery, fun game (what was that card game all about?) and small talk.  So when he violently rapes her it comes out of no where because, well, he had been so nice.  Although Anna's husband, Mr. Bates, of course knew the guy was a good-for-nothing.

As the credits rolled, the boys and I sat stunned.  We talked about how horrible it was to watch and how unfair it was that Anna was now hiding a secret.  I also reiterated to my not-quite-men that women are not for men's (or boys') pleasure.

But how to talk about it with my 9-year-old daughter?  That Monday, after school, I didn't offer to play the recorded show and she didn't ask to watch.  On Tuesday driving to ballet class she asked about it and I told her that I was sad that Tom and that new maid were spending time together (I call her O'Brien 2.0).  Other days have passed and now we're almost at a new episode.  I believe Anna was pregnant before the violent sexual assault (dropping Lady Mary's perfume, getting all emotional about Moseley's debts, that fateful headache) but I think the writers will (cruelly) cause her to think the rape led to her pregnancy.   This means the crime will be a key part of several episodes and my daughter would not understand what was upsetting Anna and (hopefully) others when she finally shares this horrible secret.

This afternoon we had the talk.  I stressed that this was a make-believe show and everyone was actors.  Then I told her what happened and how they showed it on the screen.  But I made some key points.

1. Explain what actually happened
"Inappropriate touch" or "he hurt her" does not fully convey the horrible crime and abuse this fictional character (and sadly so many real people) suffer through.  My boys were about her age when the Sandusky scandal broke and they asked me what the former football coach did to the boys.  I told them so that it wouldn't be a mystery.  And I told my daughter today what happened to Anna.

2. Reassure that she could tell me and her dad anything
I told her, several times, that no matter what happens to her she can tell me.  No matter how bad she feels, how wrong she may believe she was, whatever the outcome she can tell me and her dad because we will love her and help her.

3. Trust her feelings
I explained that part of the assailant's plan to attack Anna was to make her feel comfortable with him.  I told her that unfortunately most rapes are done by people who know their victim.  So that means that if someone she cares about starts treating her differently, making her feel bad, or pushing her to do things she is not comfortable with she needs to trust that funny feeling in her stomach and get away.  This is harder said then done but hopefully talking about it now means she'll be brave later.

I asked her if she had any questions or anything she wanted to say.

"Mom, I think I'll skip this week's Downton Abbey.  I like it when it's happy and has parties."

Me too, darling girl.  Me too.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Love, more

My sons - who were born ten weeks early and spent eight weeks in the NICU - are turning 13 years old today.  Feel free to sob with me.

Dear not-so-little-man,

During a week of no camps or activities I dragged took you and your siblings to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Museum and Library.  The building alone is stunning.  It is designed by I. M. Pei and juts out onto Boston Harbor.  Inside this beautiful space is history of an era that we are not familiar with but impacts our daily lives.  You were enthralled with the faux White House hallway, the real letters and news footage from the time.  That and television channels were only changed with knobs that you had to get up from the couch to change.

As we finished the special exhibit about the Cuban Missile Crisis you begged me to buy you Profiles in Courage, the book the then Senator Kennedy wrote while he recovered from back surgery caused by injuries from World War II.  Surprisingly you have been reading it, telling me all about Robert Kennedy's forward to the book and interesting facts about the Kennedys.

A few days after our visit to the museum a good family friend who has his own wonderful career in politics offered us two barely used twin-sized mattresses and box springs.  After I happily accepted he threw in two headboards which had been used by a certain newly elected Congressman and his twin brother when they were boys.

So now you've been reading Profiles in Courage propped up against the same headboard of Robert Kennedy's grandson.  And President Kennedy's great-nephew.  Which only feeds into your belief that you are going to make a difference in the world, in a really big way.

And I have no doubt you will.

I love you,


Dear not-so-little-man,

We, as a family, had to give up one of our dogs to animal rescue in June.  You, your brother and your younger sister seemed to handle this development well.  You all appeared to understand that Zeke was becoming increasingly violent and our family could not provide him a safe home.  We had a scheduled time to drop him off while you were at school.

The morning we were to drop off Zeke your brother woke up and was inconsolable.  He sobbed and sobbed, unable to even get to school never mind manage the day.  You were fine and trooped off to school with barely a lowered shoulder.  I promised your brother I would take him out of school to say goodbye to Zeke and be part of leaving him at the shelter.

When I got to school your brother told me you wanted to go as well which mildly ticked me off since I figured you were only asking so you could miss a class or two.  Eventually we got to the shelter, finished the paperwork and said goodbye to Zeke.  Everyone's eyes stayed dry.

Until we got out the door when your brother lost it.  You told him to sit in the front seat of the car and you sat behind him.  Once we climbed in you reached forward, grabbed his shoulders and told him that Zeke was safe now. You reminded him that you both could now have friends at our home (since Zeke was particularly hostile towards/would bite 12-year-old boys).  You rubbed his shoulders and told him it eventually wouldn't hurt so much.  Your brother calmed down - so much so he walked back into school with a smile.

You were not at the shelter to skip a class.  You weren't there to say goodbye to the family dog we had for four years.

You were there to help your twin brother grieve.

I was dry eyed as we left the shelter.  I was practically clicking my heals - a la Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain" - as we walked out the door since Zeke had been a struggle for a while.

But as you comforted your brother I slipped my sunglasses on.  Because that was when I started to cry.

I love you.  More than you will ever really understand.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Happy Birthday, Happiness

Dear Daughter,

You love to perform.  Last month you had your own song for our local production of Schoolhouse Rock Live which you memorized in one week.  At Christmas time you were in The Urban Nutcracker and never has anyone been so proud of dancing on a blue and yellow-polkadotted bouncing ball.

But the work it takes to get there, to get to the performing, is something you don't love.

You manage the expectation of learning your part with both unrealistic fantasy ("Maybe I'll be the lead!!") and stoic team player attitude.  You accept your role and find something to get excited about ("I am the first person on stage for the second act!!").

Then the dreaded learning of the parts begins.  You squirm in your seat as the cast learns songs ("WHEN do we get ON STAGE?!?") and grumble as the dance sequence is gone over again.  And again.  And again.

But when tech week begins, when costumes are worn, when bright lights are tested, you stand taller, throw your shoulders back and look out into the seats with eager anticipation.  When the shows begin you are both an eager kid goofing with friends backstage and focused performer quietly centering yourself (sometimes doing both within a minute).

This confidence carries through to school, standing up for yourself with your two older brothers, and your playing.

Because when I walk into the kitchen in the middle of you doing an imaginary cooking show you don't recoil from embarrassment that I am seeing this.  You smile, nonchalantly face the "camera" and say "and here is my mom.  Say 'hi', Mom!"

And I say "Hi" to the imaginary camera just as you direct me.

Happy Birthday.
I love you,

Photo by the always wonderful friend
Steven Davey.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Love, more

Once again, I'm writing letters to my sons.  For their birthday.

Dear not-so-little man,

This summer you and your brother started to do the lawns of several neighbors.  You announced it was a company, started "hiring" friends to do jobs and even used money from your godmother to invest in a new weed whacker.

I really did not take this all seriously.  Until an 11-year-old called the house in July asking if there was a meeting that Friday night to discuss the weekend jobs.  I was informed by you there was such a meeting and sure enough several boys were in my front yard promptly at 5:00 pm discussing cutting lawns, pulling weeds and laying mulch.

According to the neighbors who hired "the company" you are the taskmaster of the group.  You assign the jobs, keep people focused and save most of your fussing for your brother.  I've heard many an argument between you two about who "owns" the company and who is the "boss".

However, what I also saw this summer was a commitment to getting a job done well, being courteous to customers in the hopes they will rehire you, and worrying about the conditions of neighbor's lawns while they were out-of-town but hadn't hired you to tend them.  "Should I just cut their lawn?" you would ask.

So when you are lazy on the couch, laughing hysterically over sit-coms like Reba, I think about your company.  And know you are going to be just fine.

Happy 12th birthday.  You are my not-so-little man.


Dear not-so-little man,

A few weeks ago your brother was going off the deep end about something ridiculous and became very rude to me in the process.  The three of us had two more errands, both fun, and I informed him that not only was he not going with us I was taking him back to the house to stay home alone.

The last fun errand was to get junk food for watching the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics (because it is our family tradition to watch athletic matches while eating horrible food - think Super Bowl).  Since your brother was not with us we were not getting him any special food.

You, however, would not stand for it.  You got a bag of chips you knew your brother liked, turned to me and declared "He's my brother and I am sharing with him."  That was fine with me. This was not your punishment so if you chose to share with him that was fine.

You were also very antsy to get home to him.  "He can't be alone" you informed me.

"More like you miss him?" I asked.

"Yes" you said quietly, looking down.

So home we went.  Because your brother's punishment shouldn't make you suffer too.

Happy 12 birthday not-so-little man.  Who won't admit that he is a big softie inside.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Happiness

Dear Daughter,

In New York City last week you were happily chomping on a chocolate chip pancake as a singing server at Ellen's on Broadway started to belt out "Notice Me Horton" from Seussical, the musical you were in earlier this month.  While you were a Bird Girl, you knew just about every other part.  The singer noticed you crooning, came up behind you and stuck the microphone into your face as you finished chewing.

She was clearly expecting you to recoil, to cringe at the thought of singing so publicly in front of strangers eating their breakfast in a Broadway diner.

She had not met you.

You proceeded to sing the rest of the introduction to the song as the wide-eyed server cheered you on.  Other servers noticed and started to clap.

But when you told the story the next day you made it sound like you were reluctant and did not sing very well.  Even though our neighbors were impressed with the story you lowered you shoulders, looked down and acted as if it was not a big deal.

It made me think of a quote by Bobbe Sommer:  

“Having a low opinion of yourself is not ‘modesty’.  It’s self-destruction.  Holding your uniqueness in high regard is not ‘egotism’.  It’s a necessary precondition to happiness and success.”

I told you to be proud of your confidence and talents.  You should not be embarrassed that you like to perform.  You enjoy it and your family enjoys watching you.

Earlier this month a reporter from our local paper was at the first big dress rehearsal for Seussical.  She was interviewing cast members when you charged up to her and said,
“Have you heard of Harper?  Well here I am!”

The reporter could not get enough of you.  I spoke to her a few weeks later and she still thought you were funny, confident and talented.
Which you are.  As you start your 8th year, please stay that way.

Happy birthday.
I love you,