Dear Santa,

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Dear Santa,

It’s been a while, I know. As thirty-five years have gone by since my last letter, you might think I had forgotten you. But I didn’t forget, I just got busy.

I was busy growing up. Somewhere between 1979 and 1990 I began to believe that you were just for children. That you were mostly mall laps, a fuzzy red and white outfit and a pom-pom hat on a float in a parade. I came to believe that as an adult, I had other uses for you. Instead of writing you letters and telling you I had been good, I brought you with me and my young children. You went with us on errands in the car, to the beach, the grocery store and to church. When I said, “Spencer, don’t hit Parker!” “Trevor, come here, I need to spray on this sunscreen,” or “Let Spencer push the cart this time,” and “All of you, sit still and look at the pictures in this Bible!” I said that last one in a whisper that sounded like a yell. I finished all of those sentences with “…or Santa won’t come.”  I used you, boldly, and at my discretion.

I stopped believing in the real you I think, because I thought I didn’t have to. Their father and I did everything. We earned the money to pay for the gifts, stayed up late at night putting together Bouncy Ball houses, lacrosse nets, and Optimus Prime Transformers. We baked and ate the cookies, sipped the milk (“you” left a note one year saying you were lactose intolerant and asked for Lactaid). One year “you” even went on the roof with a bunch of jingle bells from Michael’s craft store. You thumped and stomped on our old shingles so much I was afraid you would land in the attic. Trevor’s eyes were unblinking as he ran to me from his room. He had the thrill of his 5- year old life. He believed. No magical chubby guy fell down the chimney to help us.

And yet, belief is a powerful thing. Like faith, it’s gotten me through a lot. I realize I had to choose to believe that I could possibly raise three sons coming from a family of women, survive an illness that has killed millions and three of my grandparents, and become the woman I wanted to be.  I believed, even if I didn’t know that’s what I was doing.

Yes, this is my Christmas wish list, but the things on it aren’t for me. They are things I want to give to my children. Trevor is in college and the twins are headed to high school soon. I don’t want them to stop believing in you. Because one day in the near future, they will leave their father and I and go out into the world, and it will happen: the inevitable disbelieving. To prepare them, I want to believe that I could pop this letter in the mail and have it land on your desk just as you were reaching for another envelope to open. You could read it and tell right away if I was naughty or nice and send me what I asked for.

My children are not boys anymore. They are nearly men. in their stockings this year will be a beard brush for one, cell phone cases for two others and under the tree, fewer gifts because what they want is expensive. No more Tinker Toys, Legos or Flash Gordon action figures. One of the 14-year olds asked for a leather coat.

If only all of us parents could write you letters and ask for the gifts our children already have, the ones within. If you could, this year- would you look down on all the parents of the world and see how hard we work for our children, how we want them to realize that everything they want is already inside them? That they, not Target hold the secret to their happiness?  Instead of Ipad’s, let our children unwrap their inner fire?

While we sleep on Christmas Eve, can you put Kindness in their stockings, Gratitude under the tree, Humility in the water they brush their teeth with, and as a special favor to me as the mother of sons, sew Chivalry onto the labels of their pajama pants?

I want to show my nearly grown boys that they should believe in magic, expect the fantastic, and that goodness can appear anywhere at anytime and not ask for anything in return. Please give them the ability to see the good in others not as something separate, but as an example of our commonality.

I know I want a lot, and I might not get it all.

But Santa, if anyone can make it happen, it’s you.

You did, after all, help me raise them.

 

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This is How it Feels

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It’s November, which means I’ve done it, I am doing it: surviving my first Autumn with my oldest son away at college.

I know you are thinking: What’s the big deal? And you know, I am completely aware that it shouldn’t be.

It should be a celebration: we have an extra bed in the house, a lot more food and no one playing Xbox at 1 am. But it makes me think of all the other things I know.

Like, how it felt to get pregnant right after a miscarriage and a few months later hear the doctor can say “Wow, this kid’s got a big head, are you doing your Kegels?” And practice them at stop lights.

How it felt to discover I was having a boy, coming from a family of women.

How I began seeing myself as a wise, pregnant-aware sage, preparing for the inevitable, knowing that my boy was going to grow up, get married and spend holidays with his wife’s relatives. Because that’s how it always works in my family.

How blissful it felt to have my 9 month old- 3 year old, 5 year old-son reach out to be held, lay his head on my shoulder and fall asleep playing with my hair.

How hard it was to hear my 15 year old son say: “Just stay in the car, I’ll come find you- DON’T come onto the field,” as he bolted for lacrosse practice. How I sat there in the car searching for tissues in the glove box and finding only maps from the pre-GPS dark ages, and a three year old Wet-Nap.

I know how shock resonates. How it began with his 16th birthday, walking out of his bedroom each morning in a cloud of Axe Body Spray, noticeably taller. I know about ordering sneakers from the Nike factory in China because no store stocks a size 14. How it felt to realize I was living in a household of not boys, but MEN and was totally inept.

To whom will I pass down my Julia Child impersonation? My liquid eyeliner application skills?

I know how it felt to send my husband into the boy’s bedroom to give him the REAL TALK, not the pseudo-talk I gave him when he was 6, the one that when I was finished espousing bee pollination, he immediately asked to watch Scooby-Doo.

How it felt, this time- when my husband came out of our teenage boy’s bedroom an hour later relating: “Well, I told him everything.” And I’d said, “What do you mean?” Only to hear, “Well, the whole deal- you know, everything sex related like oral and anal…”

I know how it feels to realize nothing will be the same, life is careening out of control, that there is no more Thomas the Train, no more Lion King no more snuggling with Goodnight Moon that culminated in a primal scream from my uterus, vibrating my Fallopian tubes:

“WHAT??! Are you crazy?”

And hear: “You told me to tell him everything..”

Followed immediately by my husband pouring himself a glass of whiskey.

I know how it felt to have my 16 year old avoid my eyes for a month because he thought his mother was a sexual deviant, and not just the woman in the mini van crying into a dried up Wet-Nap.

I know how it was to be home alone with my seventeen year old son on a Sunday afternoon, and have him announce that he was making me dinner. How we ate while watching PBS and he didn’t complain, but laughed during Doc Martin.  How touching and quietly tragic it was for me to be handed a Warm Brownie in a Mug that he’d learned in Foods class. How eating cold ice cream and hot brownie mirrored my emotions.

I know how it was to watch the boy I reminded every day to be punctual, responsible, kind, and disciplined, walk across a stage and receive his high school diploma on a blue skied, high UV alert, June day- just a few months ago. How it felt to know he was so happy to be leaving us soon.

I know how it felt, relaxing into my Adirondack chair in the backyard after the graduation party, everyone gone- but the experience not finished. Chinese paper lanterns swinging on the dogwoods behind me, finally having a piece of cake, because it was supposed to be a celebration and felt more like someone died.

Then, how it felt to deliver our boy to college. Ready to learn, to party, to grow, to become. How unready his father and I were.

How it felt for a couple weeks, things quiet at home, until my cell phone became very busy. Text messages, not daily- no, but very often and sometimes with 11pm phone calls, catching up and ending with something unexpected.

“I love you, Mom.”

Yes, this is how it feels.

 

 

Teens VS. Toddlers

At a picnic recently, someone handed me a baby. While I held it, they did that slanty head thing and said “Awwww..don’t you miss it?” I looked at the baby, who was pretty cute actually. Warm and heavy in my arms. I handed the baby to the mother and said “Not at all.” I laughed when I said it, so she wouldn’t think I hated her baby. But afterwards I made right for the cocktail table. Just to stop the baby-recall shakes.

That new mother was probably expecting me to say, “Oh yes, I remember when my boys were young. It was just the BEST time.”

But I couldn’t bring myself to lie. A good portion of the time I remember thinking I was in a sinking boat where there was just me, three children under five, one diaper and and empty can of Isomil. There’s a whole block of time, lets call it a decade, that if it wasn’t for photos I wouldn’t remember much at all. Especially once the twins came.

I bought into the magazine-inducing delusion that my life as a young mother should be idyllic. That I could have perfect children who shared in the sandbox, ate the whole birthday cupcake and not just the top and slept through the night. The reality was that taking a trip to buy formula was like a mini-vacation, sometimes my kids ate sand and if the cupcake liners didn’t come off cleanly, they cried.

Thank God there was no Pinterest or Facebook. There was no pressure to make my own birthday banner out of outgrown onesies or feed my baby a vegan diet. Or name my baby Vegan. I only had Martha Stewart Living and learned how to make my own dirt.

Having teenagers is fantastic. I think children should come into the world this way. The doctor could slide up to you in line at Starbucks and say, “Congratulations! Your new son is outside bringing the car around. He wants a Grande to go. Here, sign this paper that says you will spend all your money on ITUNES.” No diapers. No colic. Sign me up.

Recently, Spencer and Parker and I were looking at some of their baby photos. Parker said to me, “What if you forgot which one I was, and I’m really Spencer?” I laughed (a little too loudly) and said “Eat your spaghetti.”

But that probably happened.

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Never Say Goodbye

Bon Jovi is a genius. Although lately I’ve been thinking about other things and haven’t given His Bonjoviness a lot of thought. That is until today. I drove down the road, running errands and making lists in my head when..WHAM! a song came on the radio and just like that The Genius had me back in the summer of 1987. I had just graduated high school and Bon Jovi was big. Almost as big as my hair, Aqua-Netted to stand straight out from the sides of my head like I was hit by lightning. Or like Ann Wilson from Heart, my hair icon. Anyway- the song. It wasn’t just any Bon Jovi song, but Never Say Goodbye. This was THE song from my senior year. Then there were tears. Big, fat ones rolled down my cheeks and made it hard to see. Was I thinking about how twenty-seven (TWENTY-SEVEN??) years ago I said goodbye to my high school friends? Was I thinking about how I ditched Aqua Net for Nexxus? (Ah.. the 90’s) No and no. As Richie Sambora’s guitar licks wove around my eardrums it hit me that my baby, my six-foot one, 195 pound, Cross Fit baby is graduating high school and moving away to college in a few precious months and I don’t want to say goodbye. EVER. Brushing my tears away and trying not to hit the pedestrians in the cross walk I realized, there’s only one thing to do.

I’m going with him.

When I was pregnant for the first time I was overcome with joy. Joy and an unrelenting need to eat four eggs after dinner every night and drink two gallons of milk by myself. All 38 weeks. Oh and butter. I put butter on butter and ate it for breakfast. I should have known I was having a boy. I was in blissful ignorance as I dreamt of taking my daughter to ballet classes, helping her choose a wedding dress and being thisclose all of our lives. You would think it was 1956, but no. It was 1996. I am a feminist, truly. I blame the hormones. I was shocked to discover during a late-term ultrasound that she was a he. A BOY? What do you do with those? Soon after delivering him, I was in a small recovery room by myself. My mind raced. I was from a family of girls. Could I love a boy? Would we be close? My attention was called to the hallway where I heard a high-pitched cry. I instinctively knew it was Trevor. He’s mine. That’s my baby. That’s my SON. Give him to me! My entire body cried out to hold him. A few seconds later the nurse came in with him. As she placed him in my arms his perfect round face turned to me when I asked, “What do I do?” But, before the nurse had a chance to answer me, Trevor opened his eyes. I brought his cheek to mine and there was no room for doubt because love took up all the space. In that moment I got a flash. I had an important job. I had to bring him up to be a man, keep him safe, love him and show him to respect women.

Nearly eighteen years later, and Greg and I have succeeded. Well, mostly. There was that time that he jumped off the roof into the snow, hit ice and broke his leg in two places. Oh, and that time he was learning to drive, hit the gas instead of the brake and crashed into the garage. But other than a couple of brushes with death, we’ve got him to this point. He’s a teenager. That strange concoction of male bravado, sarcasm, dry humor mixed with the laid-back attitude and confidence he’s had since birth. He holds a job, bought his own truck, pays his own insurance and generally meets his obligations. He’s ready for college. But that’s really beside the point because I AM NOT. Nope. I’m going with him. Surely there’s space for me in a dorm room.

Maybe under the bed?

When Trevor was three months old I had a panic attack. “I can’t just hand him over to the daycare!” I told Greg. “He needs me! I’ll go work at that factory up the street- don’t they have a night shift? I’ll work all night and be with him all day. There, solved!” I collapsed onto the sofa where Greg sat, holding Trevor. Both of their heads had followed me as I ranted and paced in the living room. “You’d be exhausted.” Greg said. “The daycare is perfectly safe and you’d have to wear a hairnet at the factory.” A hairnet?! recovering, I said “Are you sure the daycare is safe?”

Of course it was safe. Trevor was fine. I was the wreck.

As the months slip by and approach his graduation, I wonder..have I told him everything he needs to know? Is he prepared? Probably, but we don’t need to leave such an important thing to chance!
Nope, I’m packing a bag and stowing away in the dorm. I don’t need much space, the closet will do just fine! I just need a little shelf for my straightening iron and five gallon jug of Moroccan Hair Oil. Trevor won’t mind me being on campus! Well, even if he does, too bad.

I almost wore a hairnet for him and that’s got to be worth something.

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(Yes, this is my college ID.)

Black Thursday

There is a big red circle on the calendar around Thanksgiving and my son is the one who put it there. As a mother it did my heart glad to see it. He’s seventeen now, a senior in high school. Before long he’ll be off to college, eating dorm food and sharing his life with people he hasn’t met yet. I was feeling pretty warm and fuzzy about the red circle around the date. I found myself staring at it every time I walked into the laundry room, which in a house of three teenage boys, is extremely often. (In fact I pretty much live there). I started waxing poetic about the circle: it symbolized our family and the round pedestal table where we eat our meals, or how our family went around each night talking of school projects, sharing challenges and the retelling of lacrosse games. That circle meant to me that he was looking forward to seeing his extended family, watching football, sharing a nice meal and relaxing.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The red circle marked the GameStop midnight sale on PlayStation 4.

I discovered his plans when I mentioned to him that we were going to my Mother’s for Thanksgiving.
His response: “Oh, sure, that’s cool. I just need to be home by six. I need to catch a few hours of sleep before I sit in the parking lot at the store to be ready when they open at midnight.”

Welcome to Black Thursday.

We may want to take a bite out of the bargains on the day after Thanksgiving, but we are actually sacrificing part of the holiday to do it. Just when you really settle in for the deep relaxation of the holiday: dinner is cleaned up, everyone’s too full for dessert, the game is on and at least two relatives are asleep sitting up. That’s the best hour. This is when a few people can have a real conversation about where their lives are headed, share fears, joys and turn the kettle on. I love this hour. It seems sacrilegious to put away the leftovers and quickly cut coupons before dessert. Or worse, take your dessert to go. Why even have Thanksgiving? It could just be any other day. In our ever fractured lives we don’t need a midnight sale. We need dessert. We need an extra minute with Mom or Dad. We need to hear about Grandpa’s next project or how Aunt Ann’s new job is going.

I laid out my argument to my son and then reminded him: “Besides, we’re Mayflower descendants, we can’t skip out on Thanksgiving! What if your 12th great-grandfather heard from Squanto that there was a midnight sale on corn but to take advantage of it he’d have to miss the feast?”

“If it meant they would survive the winter, he probably would have gone for the corn.”

True, but I’m not giving up dessert for PlayStation 4.

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There’s A Chair In My Bathroom

There’s a chair in my bathroom
Which must be quite rare
As my sons upon seeing it asked
“What’s that doing there?”

“Fear not my children,” I placated
Patting their spiky-haired heads
“It’s a retreat for me to sit, perhaps read a book”
(And refrain from anxiety meds).

My bathroom, recently remodeled
Has smooth white marble tile
With a new vanity and tub it lacked only
A reading spot for me, a bibliophile.

Late one night I was found
Laying on my bed prone-
Searching the internet for something to recover
From a long weekend, a house full of testosterone.

I ordered a chair! It arrived Monday
I happily put it together
Gray, a dark tufted tweed-
So lovely and comfortable, I could sit there forever!

Reading, sometimes writing-
With the door shut, I hear not a thing.
No squabbling twins, no teenage demands
I rejoice in my quiet, relax; nearly sing.

But if I should, from my peaceful perch
With legs tucked under, be alerted
To the sound of masculine voices from my ivory tower,
I simply reach behind me and turn on
The shower.

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Poem and Artwork property of Christine Kalafus. Not to be reproduced without permission.

You’re SO Lucky

Lately, several of my girlfriends who have daughters my son’s age have been proclaiming me to be “very lucky.” This statement is often followed by a sigh, a quick text on a cell phone and a long gulp of wine. I have been assured that their teenage daughters are wearing them down. Top of the list: boyfriends, college picks, wardrobe, eye rolling and as a separate category from wardrobe; prom dresses.

Me, lucky? Are they kidding? “Ladies”, I tell my friends, “you have no idea how good you have it!”

I hadn’t planned on getting married, never mind have children. On the rare occasion I thought of kids, I pictured chestnut haired, green-eyed beauties who I would raise to be awareness heightened third generation feminists with book smarts accompanied by decent fashion sense that led to the purchase of multiple season leather boots. Imagine my surprise when, eight months pregnant I find myself in the hospital with an ultrasound technician, my obstetrician and husband. My baby is breech. Therefore my OBGYN attempts a VERY painful on-top-of-the-belly manual manipulation to turn the darling girl I am carrying to a head down position instead of the current butt down position. The technician says “This baby is REFUSING to be turned. In fact, the more we attempt to move the baby to the PREFERRED position, YOUR baby wiggles his/her butt more firmly into your cervix. (We both sigh) Are you sure you don’t want to know what the sex is?” My husband and I had decided to get the surprise at the end (8 months of my Italian lady coworkers with hands on my belly-“Oh it’s a girl!”) Since the manual manipulation was a failure, I give in, succumb to something joyful. “Yes! Tell me about my little girl!” I say. “Well, first of all the baby is a boy.” My heartbeat slows. Beat One: The OBYGN and my husband Hi-Five each other. Beat Two my body goes slack and I feel a little dizzy “A what?” “Oh yes, he is DEFINITELY a boy. Look at that, he is showing us his penis.” She directs my gaze to the ultrasound monitor.
Excellent. I was not just having a boy, but an stubborn exhibitionist.
Goodbye pink hair ribbons, hello drum set.

I come from a family of mostly women. I enjoyed a girl-centric childhood full of dance recitals, “Little House on the Prairie” books and the illusion that I was Samantha from Charlie’s Angels. None of those prepared me to be the mother of boys. For one thing, they don’t really care for dance recitals. They prefer to beat each other up in the yard with sticks. They also like to leave balled up socks around the house, empty the kitchen of food like locusts every 48 hours, aim to the left of the toilet, loudly share fart jokes and keep their social lives secure from prying Mom eyes. My seventeen year old could teach the NSA about containment.

In defense of boys, there is very little drama and no prom dress decision stress. However there is a Zero Tolerance Policy for Mom-hugging (Instead, I have perfected a “I’m not his Mom in public” stance: chew gum and scroll cell phone for messages. I am there yet NOT there.) I also will never talk to my daughter about her first date, hear her giggle with girlfriends or watch my husband walk her down the aisle. My friends touch my hand and say “Ooh! But boys are GREAT in OTHER ways, right?”

Last weekend my seventeen year old and I jumped in my car for the mall. Zipping down the road, he turned on Pandora and said he was about to school me in good music. Once upon a time I made mixed-tapes from the radio and consider myself well versed in classic rock. “Have you heard this one, Mom”? Suddenly Cake filled the sound waves and “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” immediately became my new favorite song. I looked over at him, so comfortable in his skin, relaxing and simply enjoying the day. Mom and son singing together.

Not a rolling eye in sight.

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Jello Trees

I used to think having toddlers was the hardest test of Motherhood and some kind of divine punishment, until I had a teenager.

The tricky part is that they often act like regular people and then SURPRISE, crazy is in the room.

Yesterday I had our 16-year-old and 11-year-old twins in the car.  Answering a backseat inquiry of where we were going I replied “We are dropping T off at his girlfriend’s house.”  I was immediately and strongly reprimanded: “Mom, she is NOT my girlfriend.”  “Oh-OK, well what is she then?” I asked   “If you insist on this track of conversation I am going to sit in the back of the van.”  Ouch.  Once upon a time I would withhold his Gameboy if he didn’t eat his broccoli.    Now he is withholding what he knows is sacred to me:  conversation. It seems like this switcheroo happened overnight.

The late, great Erma Bombeck once said  “Raising teenagers is like nailing Jello to a tree.”

I agree, except teenagers are squirmier.  Go ahead, try and hug one.  Ours tells me I get a “crazy ‘hug’ look” which is why he escapes to his room where loud alternative rock quickly blasts out of the IPOD speakers.  This is meant as a deterrent.  The flaw in his plan is that I really like alternative rock. But, I get it- I wouldn’t want my parents thinking my music was cool either.  I would have probably turned to Liberace or something.  BUT, I’m not like OTHER Moms I tell myself, I remember what being a teenager felt like. That wide divide between parent and kid. When he was little I was never Room Mother or Team Coach.  I wanted him go to school and sporting events knowing he was supported but allowed regular childhood events like not being picked for this or that unfold without my interference.  I listened and gave advice and offered to intervene if he wanted in these (thankfully rare) instances, but only had to once.

That’s why it cut to the bone when I dropped him off for lacrosse practice a couple of years ago and he gave me these directions: “When you pick me up don’t get out of the car.”  startled, I asked:  “How are you going to know that I’m here?”  “I’ll find you-just stay in the car.”  I drove home shocked and in disbelief.  Do I embarrass my son?  I remember my friend Stacey’s horror when her Mom would pick her up from our gymnastics practice in high school.  Mrs. P. would click into the gym in red hot-pants, 4 inch heels with aqua-netted Dolly Parton hair waving at Stacey and stage-whispering “I’ll be right over here!”

I wear regular jeans and tops and if anything my taste in clothes is classic but certainly not hot-to-trot, or conversely too conservative.  Besides, I’m cool.  So what’s with the ‘keep away’ vibes Mr. Teenager?  You certainly need me when it’s time to get your learner’s permit, buy new clothes or upgrade your cell phone!  Yes, I have said those things to The Boy.  The Boy is however, 6 ft 1 and has developed a half-smile/smirk expression that I am learning to translate.  Gone are the days when he would run into my arms.  We used to play a game called Koala Hug.  I would walk around pretending to do household things like fold the laundry while he clung to me with arms and legs wrapped around my torso saying “Whatever you do, I won’t let go!”

But he is letting go.  I guess that means I have to.

But not yet.  I’m not done with him yet.  I haven’t finished teaching him all the really important things. Like grace, humility and being strong when you really want to crawl back under the covers.

Tonight though, I got him.  We were in the kitchen and as he walked towards the fridge I faked left and spun and grabbed him in the torso.  I held him tight, breathed in the smell of his t-shirt and he actually hugged me back.

I couldn’t see, but he may of been smirking.  I didn’t care.