Waiting for Tragedy

Either I have an anxiety disorder, or you all are awfully cavalier. Everywhere I look I see parents walking around not in a constant state of near-panic. What is wrong with you people?

I may be biased, but I’m the mother of two extraordinary children. Luke, as maddening as he can be, is the most generous and thoughtful person I know. I’ve seen him literally give the shirt off his back and I’ve seen him cry at another’s misfortune. He also experiences the world through all caps and excessive exclamation points. He’s not happy; he’s HAPPY!!! Combined with his wonderful empathy, he’s often HAPPY!!! for you, which makes him a very special little boy. If life is to be lived to the fullest, he is LIVING IT TO THE FULLEST by experiencing it all more forcibly than the rest of us do. He is an all around great guy, and fantastic husband and father in the making.

Sally has the happiest disposition. She doesn’t complain, is easygoing, and really just wants to hug you and pat your back in between stretches of happily playing independently. She is freaking adorable and is a genuine joy to be around. She may spend most of her time dressed in princess attire, but she’ll trade out her tiara for a helmet to ride her bike over the ramp with the big kids, and she schools kids twice her size as she jumps into the deep end at the Y. She is awesome. She’s the chick I want to be friends with. (When she grows up. I do not want to be friends with any 4-year-old.)

And this is why I’m certain that something tragic will happen to one of them. Terrible things always happen to the best, most special people. You never hear of the just average guy who died tragically in a fiery crash at the tender age of 16. No. That guy is always the one who befriended the social outcasts, despite being a popular star athlete himself, started community outreach programs, and saved a truck of orphan puppies from falling into a mine shaft which then led directly into the state closing down the evil puppy killing mine crime ring.

While you sit and enjoy the movie, I’m playing out scenarios in my head wondering how quickly I can get both kids on the ground under me, and if the shooter might come from the front or behind us. While you browse in Target, I’m eyeing the shelves and exits, debating the merits of hiding vs. running. I wonder how I’ll tell my kids to run out of the house without alerting the murderous intruder of their presence. I calculate how I’ll unstrap my kids, (which one first?) from the car as it sinks into freezing water. Which of my children’s friends will want to show off his father’s gun to a tragic end? Who will bully my kids into depression and suicide before I even realize there’s a problem? And, finally, when will I learn of the cancer?

It’s not just the kids. Unfortunately, my husband is also a great guy. His drive to work isn’t long but he’s out there with the distracted texters and the drunk assholes and the black ice. It’s just a matter of time. And when is his cancer diagnosis coming down the pike?

I am not a particularly fantastic person, so I’m probably safe. Then again, it could be me. The lives of my husband and kids could turn tragic by my cancer diagnosis, run in with a shooter, or highway encounter with a texting stoned teenager.

I’ve lived my life until now relatively unscathed. Nothing terrible happened to any members of my innermost circle while I was growing up. So am I due? Of course I’ve lost people along the way, some before their time and/or after long, protracted illnesses. Lately, I’ve watched in fear and horror as kids lose parents, parents lose children, young couples lose each other. Every news story of entire families killed, lunatics with a grudge taking out crowds, tragic accidents of kids killing kids… these all are filed away in my mind, filling me with dread and anxiety, keeping me up at night and rising to my consciousness in every crowded public place. I might think of Newtown every single day I send my children to school.

I know that you all watch the news and know people who have faced the unthinkable too, and yet you seem so calm and well rested. Sure, statistics are in my favor with regards to shootings, kidnappings, home invasions, driving off bridges, etc, but my kids fit the profile. They have that something extra. That intangible goodness that Billy Joel warned us about. Also, importantly, and despite all my efforts, they are stupid. They are going to make a ton of bad choices and so will their idiot friends. (Your kids. No offense.) So I’m sentenced to a life of panic for my extraordinary, and stupid, children. How can you be calm at a time like this?

Either-I-have-an-anxiety

I’m not funny after all

We are not a farty family. I know that there are many families who openly let ‘er rip to the delight of men and children everywhere. Hey, if they’re happy, I’m happy. But we are not those people. This explains the exceptional delight in this house after the receipt of two whoopee cushions as birthday favors on Saturday. Sally didn’t particularly get it or care, but Luke’s enthusiasm more than made up for it.

Yesterday afternoon we plugged the kids into a movie and Tim and I sat together in the kitchen attempting conversation. With tremendous (but still not quite enough) effort to be quiet, Luke sneaked up behind Tim’s chair with his whoopee cushion poised for maximum fart-plosion. His objective: to trick Tim into thinking that he, himself, farted. The first time, Tim jumped out of his seat and ran to the bathroom holding the back of his shorts as if he just had a sudden and messy surprise. Luke’s glee was unparalleled. Absolute fits of screaming laughter. His plan had worked! Even better than he ever could have anticipated. Tim exited the bathroom clearly relieved that his shorts were clean.

Since a good joke cannot be done enough times in a row, Luke left the room to “subtly” refill his cushion. He could barely blow it up for all of his giggling. In the meantime, Tim actually did subtly fill up the other whoopee cushion and placed it under his leg. The moment before Luke gave his own a squeeze, Tim let his concealed cushion fly. Flabbergasted, Luke nearly collapsed from surprise and joy. “It wasn’t even me this time! Daddy really did it! It was Daddy!” he shouted while showing us his still-inflated whoopee cushion as evidence. Once again Tim ran to the loo.

The two of them did this another 6 or 7 times. At first it was genuinely funny. Not the joke itself so much as Luke’s reaction. He HAD NO IDEA that a second whoopee cushion was in play. It stopped being so funny, as most things do with successive repetition. I said something to that effect to Tim, also mentioning that the whole construct of Luke’s prank was absurdly illogical. After all, Tim would certainly feel it if he crapped his pants. Luke was doing it all wrong. My reasonable comment was met with an eye roll and I was told that I’m just too intellectual (implication: not fun enough) to understand a good fart farce.

“I am NOT too intellectual for a whoopee cushion!” I found myself saying, genuinely miffed.

To prove my ability to be just as juvenile as the next guy, I inflated the whoopee cushion and placed it up my shirt. I stood strategically behind the kitchen island, concealing my stuffed shirt. With a simple shift in weight against the counter I too could delight my son. I’ll show them that I can be just as funny and stupid as they are! I called Luke over with the pretense of whispering a plan for a new way to trick Tim into thinking he shat himself, not even mentioning the illogic of the sham. When he got close, I pressed myself against the granite and…

IMG_3074

POP!

I obliterated the whoopee cushion.

I utterly failed at fart humor.

Tim practically fell off his chair laughing and I broke into that weird laugh where you also sort of cry. Luke still had no idea that there was another whoopee cushion involved in all of this and he took the loud explosion in stride, as if giant BANGS! happen all the time. He simply said, “Stop laughing and tell me the plan!”

I was unable properly execute a joke perfected by 6-year-old boys the world over. It turns out that I might be too intellectual for whoopee cushions. My attempt at fart humor resulted in breaking my daughter’s toy. When I recovered from my hysterics I felt sad, but only for the briefest moment.

Maybe I can’t pull off farty jokes. I’m OK with that.

Birthday Letter for Sally on Her Fourth

On each of my kids’ birthdays I compose a letter. My plan is to one day hand over a book of heartfelt letters, proving to an ornery teenager that I do, in fact, know and love him/her, and that my goals as a mother go beyond ruining his/her social life.

Today my daughter turns four. My BABY!

Dear Sally,

Every year as I sit down to write your birthday letter I come across the same problem: my feelings about you don’t fit into words, or the only words that apply are really cheesy. The phrase “you light up my life” has been used and is now ruined, but it’s the closest thing I can think of that fits. You do light up my life. And you are my sunshine. Aside from that, for some reason, everything else I can think to say are either about eating you or things you’d say to a puppy. It’s all just squeezes, smushybabytalk, and weird cannibalism.

It’s not your smallness and cuteness. Well it is, but not just that. Your smallness and cuteness are so precious to me and it’s bittersweet to see you grow. For now you still fit into my arms, my lap. For now you still want to fit into my arms and lap. But for how much longer?

But you are so much more than cute, and I need you to know that.

As you approach your fourth birthday, you are suddenly aware of your power as an adorable girl, and you manipulate people with a pigtail swish, a false giggle, a hug. I don’t know how to get you to cut this crap out, considering how completely effective it is, so all I can do is point out how much more than cute you are. It would help if strangers didn’t constantly fawn over your cuteness. I asked you recently if you knew that you are so much more than cute, and that those other things are much more important. You replied, “Yeah, I know. Being pretty is really important too.” Palm hits forehead. Let’s hope that you really are absorbing my messages in addition to the million comments about your adorableness that you receive daily.

While your adorableness is impressive, so is so much else. This summer you learned how to ride a bike with no training wheels and how to swim! You can ride over ramps and curbs, pedal up a hill to fly down the other side, and then go swim in the deep end! (Pretty sure this made you the coolest 3-year-old ever all summer.) I’m so proud of you! Both of these accomplishments are the result of your determination and tireless hard work. You wanted it, so you went and did it. You persevered even when it was hard or you were scared. You’d steel your nerves by counting yourself down to a head-dunk. You kept up on long family bike rides on your little balance bike without complaint. You climbed right back on the saddle after flying over your handlebars – a result of an ill-conceived attempt at biking with your eyes closed. Through all of your practice and progress you never complained about it being hard and you never even threatened to give up. THIS is more important than cute.

No training wheels!

Your sense of humor is amazing. It’s weird but it’s constant. You love to laugh and if nothing funny is happening, you make your own funny. “It’s backwards Sally!” you announce moments before you back yourself into a room. You tell jokes that make you laugh so hard in the telling that no one can understand you and you seldom make it to the punch line. And you don’t care. You laugh and laugh and laugh with abandon. Your laughter is contagious and you use it to lighten moods and break tension. THIS is more important than cute.

You play. Your imagination gives you hours of fodder for entertaining yourself. Often these hours happen in your room after bedtime. You put all of your dolls, stuffed animals, and random inanimate objects to bed all over your floor. You read them stories, sing them songs, and then go around and rub each of their backs. Your evening ritual is elaborate, but shows so much tenderness, thoughtfulness, and care. THIS is more important than cute.

And it makes your room a minefield.

Dolly Bedtime

You love us so much it’s incredible. The way you look up to your brother, the way you miss him, try to comfort him, play with him – the best! The sweet happiness you show when you see me or your dad, whether it’s first thing in the morning, at school pick up, or if we just walked out of and then back into the room – heart melting. Your affection for friends, grandparents, cousins – boundless. You might just give the best hugs on Earth. All of this is also more important than cute.

So please remember, my sweet girl, you are so much more than cute. You just also happen to be impossibly cute. I’m so happy to see you grow up, even as I’m sad to see your baby-self vanish, even as I fear your adolescence. I love you so much, smushybabysweetiepie!

You light up my life, Sally, and I want to eat you. Happy birthday!

Love,

Mom

You can see more birthday letters to my kids here.