I admitted that these past few weeks have been challenging in terms of emotional well-being. Six weeks sitting on my butt is not helpful to someone who stays busy to keep mind and body from getting bored.
If you’re not following Awesomely Luuvie on social media, you need to stop everything and do so right now. She frequently discusses mental health. Her quote about keeping busy as an avoidance technique resonates with me. She understands why I feel like I cannot just sit, which is what I’ve done for the past six weeks.
I have been trying to keep my mind as occupied as possible, reading books and watching so much television. This week, I had the meltdown that has been brewing. While I’ve been watching mindless movies, The Starling came through after a rom-com finished. I got sucked in, resulting in sobs. Between these sobs, I realized that I had not yet received the sign from my mom I usually get whenever I’m having a rough time. This made me feel even more alone.
When Michael came home from school, he was doing something he never does. He was singing commercial jingles. All afternoon, he sang the jingles to Nestle Crunch and a few other products. When Mike asked him why he was doing it, Michael explained that he “just felt like it.” It hit me that my mom used to do this all the time. She’d often do so in public, which embarrassed me to no end. I called my sister, who agreed, “I can hear her saying ‘you wanted a sign. Here’s your sign, asshole.'”
I went to bed assuming that I had my small, passive-aggressive sign that my mom was not going to make me sit on the couch recovering for eight weeks by myself. The following morning, while scrolling Facebook, I noticed something in the background of a post by a local consignment shop. It was a ceramic Christmas tree like the one my mom had when I was growing up. I’ve looked for one for years, able to find one similar, but not exactly like the one of my youth. I immediately called the story, gushing about how much finding this means to me. The owner listened, explaining that she enjoyed this part of the job, and she would put the tree aside until my husband could pick it up that evening. When I called Mike to tell him, he offered to pick it up at lunch.
Eleven years after losing my mom, it does not get easier. I wonder what her relationship with Michael would be like. When I was pregnant, I called her every afternoon to update what he had been doing in my tummy during the day. When he was an infant, she would be perfectly content staying on the phone listening to Michael drink his bottles. Eleven years later, wondering remains between reminders that she will look out for me when I need her.
It is the first full week of summer, which is usually filled with all sorts of excitement and possibility. Boundless possibilities and talk of adventure often fill this week, discussion of new places to visit and promises to improve our running and maybe plant some vegetables. This year is so different.
Distance Learning was challenging, but it may have been one of the best things for you. While I jokingly call you Old Man Liam, distance learning afforded you opportunities to become much more independent and self-reliant. You had to check in to Google Classroom each morning, making a list of assignments before joining three Google Hangouts. You learned how to cook a bunch of meals, informing me at the end of some days that you made your own breakfast, lunch and dinner. You learned that you had to ask for help and find answers when things were confusing, relying on teacher emails and Google Hangout office hours, group class chats, and even YouTube for clarification.
While you were doing this, I was in the midst of my own distance learning experience. While parents applauded me, I realized how easy I had it, spending my days wearing sweats and talking to kids about The Outsiders, relating the problems of Johnny and PonyBoy to current events in attempts to make sense of both COVID and civil unrest affecting our country. I had it much more comfortable than most.
Although you excelled at distance learning, you also counted down to the last day of school. An hour after school ended, your eyes filled with tears. “This isn’t how I wanted my year to end! I love my teacher and I wish I had more time with her. It isn’t fair.” You wanted the hugs and high fives that usually accompany the last day of school.
We did this in our house that is small yet big enough to take breaks from each other. Sometimes, we did our distance learning in our backyard, enjoying the sunshine and warm spring air. Banjo thought this was the greatest thing to ever happen to him- his people were home all day!
Two days later, I suggested driving to Newport and walking the Cliff Walk. You asked if we could instead walk Thames Street and downtown. It was the first time we had to wear our masks for any length of time, which was horrible and leaves me so concerned for the fall when I will wear one all day at school. We bought cookies, watched the water, and browsed the stores a bit. It was time to go home, and as we drove over the Newport Bridge, talking about the time we ran over it and wondering if life will be normal enough to do so this October, you burst into tears, the feelings you had been suppressing coming up and out.
Too many times during this breakdown, I heard you apologize. “I’m so sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry. I know that other people have it so much worse than we do.” We talked about summer, how it usually means endless possibilities and new adventures. “But this summer will be different. I’m tired of walks and bike rides. And hikes are nothing more than walks in the woods.” (Dammit, you figured that out!)
During this past month, we’ve had other stuff going on. Banjo got hurt and required two surgeries. While we tried not to talk about it within your earshot, we whispered about how much pet insurance would cover and where that left us. You toured the new school you’ll be attending in the fall because your school eliminated morning care. You helped me honor my mom on the tenth anniversary of her passing, making you realize that you do not know this woman everyone says loved you so much. We’ve somehow managed to fit years of terrible events into a very short amount of time. And while you are the kindest, most compassionate kid I have ever met, you have not had to experience any real trauma, so this is new to you.
So here’s what you need to know:
It is okay to be sad about the summer. You’re right- it won’t be as much fun as it usually is for us.
You are learning about social justice, reading New Kid and They Called Us Enemy and learning about Pride and Black Lives Matter. We are teaching you that the world you have experienced is not the same world everyone experiences. You have been so open to learning about injustice, and discussing what we can do to be a part of the solution, which is a lot of new information. While it is tough to hear, you need to learn things that other mothers do have the luxury of deciding when and what life lessons they teach their children.
So while we keep teaching you that other people are affected by COVID by a much higher extent than you are, you are still allowed to be sad. We can play in our yard with our friends, take Banjo for walks, and feel safe and without fear of paying bills on time. We will not visit the Baseball Hall of Fame as we talked about after watching A League of Their Own. Nor will we take the train to New York City, visit the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, or sing “Sweet Caroline” at Fenway. But we will read books and go for bike rides. We not take random trips to the zoo, but we will eat ice cream and Del’s lemonade. You and Dad will relearn how to play Magic the Gathering. We are going to master making friendship bracelets. We will complete socially distanced November Project workouts stay active at home.
It may not be the summer we usually have, but I promise it to be great as it safely and possibly can be, and we will count our blessings.
When I was pregnant, someone told me that every age would be my favorite. Once I survived the infant stage, I have to say this person was correct. (I did not love having a baby. Every time someone told me, “Enjoy every moment; you’ll miss this when they’re old,” I felt like a terrible mother. I didn’t love every moment of having a baby; it was difficult and lonely.
I loved four, five, six, and seven. Eight was my favorite. There are many reasons I wish I could stop time and keep Liam eight forever. These are the strongest reasons I love having an eight-year-old:
He can express his feelings. He can tell me what’s wrong and whether he wants an apple or a yogurt. During our twice daily walks with Banjo, he tells me about his days, things he does with his friends at school, how he feels about his teachers, and asks questions about just about anything. He is getting really good at keeping a conversation going, which is a skill I know will take him far in life.
He can do things on his own. He gets his clothes ready and gets himself dressed. He can make an English muffin, pancakes, or a PB&J. He showers completely on his own and brushes his own teeth. The fact that he is more independent is a huge help, especially in the morning. Last week, he cooked the family French toast for breakfast. He even set and cleared the table! I love seeing how proud he is of himself when he is able to do things on his own.
He has a good heart. I hope this one doesn’t change. Liam loves knowing that others are okay and takes care of people. If a classmate is out of school, he wants to know they’re okay. When his godmother gave him money for Christmas, the only thing he wanted to do with it was to donate it to the Food Bank. He realizes he is fortunate in a lot of ways and wants to help those who aren’t as lucky.
He believes the world is good. I know this will falter at times, but he still believes that everyone is a friend who deserves a chance. He assumes best intentions in everyone he meets.
His problems are still pretty easy to fix. He’s really good about telling us things that are going on in his life. Most of his worries and concerns are pretty easy to address. When something is bothering him, we can usually talk through it in a short amount of time. I know that, as he gets older, his worries will not be so easily squished.
Yesterday, Liam turned nine. As we let him plan his day, we started at IHOP. In the parking lot, he began to cry because he did not want to turn nine. I hope that he is always so happy with his life that he doesn’t want anything to change.
While I was upstairs getting dressed, I took a moment to myself to mindlessly scroll Facebook. Liam was downstairs playing and I thought I had a few minutes. Mayim Bialik’s site, Grok Nation, featured a video of her explaining her expectation versus reality regarding how many children she would have. When she was younger, she imagined giving birth to enough children to create her own football team. Once she had two sons, she realized that was what she could handle. As Mayim spoke, she was on the verge of tears as she explained that, even though she knew it was the right choice for her, she needed to mourn the future she originally planned for herself.
Her honesty and her confession made me think of my own plan for having children. When I was younger, I always imagined having two children. It just seemed like the thing to do. I have a sister and (usually) enjoyed having someone to play with and to understand when different things were happening in our lives. She helped me through various times when my mother was sick. When it came to planning my future, I never thought about anything other than having two children.
Fast forward to adulthood. I met Mike, who was adamant that he only wanted one child. We agreed to discuss it again after becoming parents. The months after Liam was born were some of the most difficult of our lives. At four weeks old, we flew Liam to Florida to meet and say goodbye to my mother, who held on long enough to meet her grandson. Two weeks later, we drove to Maine to say goodbye to Mike’s grandmother. We came home to two feet of water in our basement. Our friends all but abandoned us after Liam was born. Liam suffered from terrible colic, eventually taking baby Pepcid to relieve the symptoms. The first few months after Liam was born were some of the most rewarding yet difficult months of my life.
When Liam was almost a year old, we revisited the topic of more children. When he was a year old, we decided we were happy as a family of three.
There are many reasons for this. Some are quite responsible and others are strictly personal:
I was thirty-three when I had Liam. Having more children at a later age increases the chance of complications for both myself and future babies,
Mike’s job relies on contracts; long-term work is not guaranteed. We do not want to have more children than we can comfortably afford.
Having one child allows me to better balance what I call the “triangle of sanity,” or the management of career, marriage, and motherhood.
Having one child makes it easier for both Mike and I to pursue our interests, partly by having the money to pursue hobbies but also because, when I go for a run or yoga, I am only leaving Mike with one child. When I go for a run after school, I am only paying for one child to attend after-school care. Did I choose to have one child so I can run and practice yoga? No. But having the time and energy to follow those pursuits centers me, making me a better mother, wife, and teacher.
Having one child gives Mike and I more time for each other. More important than the weeks at the beach house, toys, or adventures, Mike and I give Liam two calm parents who have time available for him each day.
Having one child allows me to train for a half marathon, attend yoga twice a week, and enter thirty-seven books into my Goodreads account this year.
This is not an insult or disrespect against anyone with more than one child. I applaud your time and money management skills. I watch you balance sports practices, birthday parties, and overall needs of multiple children with admiration and respect.
I watched Mayim explain that, while she was content in her decision to stop having more children, she also needed to mourn her original plan. That line summed up how I feel. There are times I wholeheartedly wish we had more than one child, simply because that was the original plan. However, I know that I am meant to be the mama of one child. As I watched, I began to tear up, relieved that someone else understands how I feel. Before the video finished, I heard my bedroom door open. My first impulse was to sigh, slightly frustrated that I cannot get five minutes alone to get dressed.
“What’s up, Bug?” I asked.
“I just needed to know where my mama is. I love you.”
This summer, Liam has been joining me on my workouts with the Beginner’s Running Group and November Project. He quickly fell in love with the social aspect of both groups. He’s the first to dish out encouraging words and high-fives. Of course, he loves receiving encouragement as well.
Last week, we headed to Lippitt Park for BRG after spending the weekend on the Cape. Liam played hard all weekend, tubing, swimming, and catching turtles. He was already tired, but I reminded him we committed to attending BRG. It was also ridiculously hot. After a quick warm up, we hit the Boulevard for intervals. I made sure our pace was barely above a jog and took Nuun with us. He found his mantra an repeated it, “There’s no need to lead… There’s no need to lead… There’s no need to lead.”
A few minutes into our run, our friends Kerri and Kristin caught up with us. After explaining they had already gone for a run, they admitted they were walking to their cars but, upon seeing Liam, knew they couldn’t leave him. We made it through the run, even when Liam wanted to give up. Kristin challenged Liam to a race to the finish line, which he gladly accepted.
That night, Liam was getting ready for his shower.
“You know, quitting is a lot harder when your friends are there. If our friends didn’t show up, this kid would have been out of there.”
At that moment, I knew Liam got what this is all about. It’s not about leading the pack. It’s about trying your best and not giving up. It’s about doing things you didn’t think you could accomplish. Most of all, running with a group is about supporting each other. There have been times that I was not at all feeling my run. I ran anyway because my friends were waiting for me. There are times I pushed myself to run farther and faster than I thought I had in me at the time because my friends were by my side. I’d like to think there might have been times when my friends weren’t completely ready or into their run but were able to get through it because I was by their side. Running and working out are about so much more than the actual activity.
I hate to bake. I hate crafts. Basically, I hate any activity that involves closely following directions. When Mike and I first moved in together, he was amazed at my inability to put together IKEA furniture.
Fast forward thirteen years. We have an incredible eight-year-old boy, one we intentionally tried to have in February to time my maternity leave, allowing me to stay home for seven months. Each February since, we curse ourselves as we try to plan his birthday party. We usually have his party at various indoor facilities throughout the state. Last year his party was at McCoy Stadium. While his parties have always been fun, Liam wanted an outdoor party so we didn’t have to worry about time or how many kids he could invite. We decided to celebrate his eight and a half birthday over the summer. When he asked if he could have a Harry Potter themes party, I jumped at the chance to let him have a party in a theme I really liked (as opposed to last year’s love of Minecraft). Liam and I have been reading the illustrated books together. I love that he loves them. (I’ve stated earlier that I sometimes feel guilty for not sharing his enthusiasm for things he loves, such as Star Wars, Minecraft, and Pokemon.)
I told him that this would only work if he helped me, which he happily obliged. We set off on Pinterest. He started off having much more faith in our abilities that I even had, wanting to make Hogwarts letters to send out to friends.
“We can put wax on them and send them to everyone.”
“I already sent out a Facebook invitation.”
Liam really wanted to give his friends wands. We had recently visited Wynotts Wands in Salem, where Liam chose his wand. He understood that we could not afford to buy each kid a wand. The bulk ones online were either too cheap or too expensive. Pinterest shared a tutorial for making wands that actually seemed reasonable. We ordered chopsticks, hot glue gunned the ends, then painted them. Liam was happy to help, and the finished products were pretty cool!
We also made golden snitches and chocolate frogs. Liam began asking me to make the chocolate frogs on Monday. Knowing I could not be trusted with that much chocolate in the house, we needed to wait until Friday.
We made a Quidditch court. Mike was happy to act as our Quidditch coach. The kids had a ball playing.
I set up a table for “potion class” containing small cauldrons of baking soda and vinegar. They were about to mix the ingredients in their cauldrons and watch the reaction. Liam used to love doing this trick, but I feared that they would think it was silly or childish. Potion class was a hit!
After potion class was wand class, in which the students needed to keep their balloons in the air.
My only real goof-up involved the cake. I assumed I could order a cake from Stop and Shop a week before the party. I was wrong; they no longer carry the cake kit. Walmart does not have Harry Potter cakes, either. After Googling “easy Harry Potter cakes” for a while, I decided to order cupcakes from Stop and Shop and cake decorations from Amazon. It worked out just fine.
After a week of making golden snitches, wands, and Quidditch courts, Mike began calling me his “Pinterest Princess.” While I don’t see myself doing this again, the process wasn’t terrible. I love Liam’s ownership in the planning. I didn’t mind doing the projects with him. I’m also painfully aware that the number of years remaining of planning birthday parties and Liam wanting to spend all of his time with Mike and I are dwindling. I need to make the most of it while I can.
By the end of the school year, I created a pretty good routine to make sure I was ready for my first half marathon. I would come home, change, and take Banjo with me on a short run, picking Liam up from school and walking home together. Now that we are both out of school, I pondered how to get in my runs as I begin training for my second half. When a friend asked if Liam and I would be interested in training for a 5K in the fall, it seemed like a perfect reason to introduce Liam to running. He is excited to run with his friend.
When we decided that we would begin running with the dog in the morning, Liam had many of the same fears I did when I began running. He questioned his ability, could he run far and fast enough? We set out with a goal of running one mile. I asked what a good time would be to run. His reply: “3:28 in the morning.” We agreed that a fourteen-minute mile seems a reasonable first goal. We set a few norms to keep either of us from getting frustrated or discouraged:
Liam decided the course.
We run no more than a mile.
Walk when you need to walk.
We set out, walking a block before beginning to run. Liam took off, which I knew wouldn’t last but let him play it through. After a few minutes, he was tired. I set the one-minute interval on my app that I usually use for speed training. He did fine with this, then decided to use landmarks as goals. “We can run to the main road, then walk to the next street, and run again.” It was a perfect setup! When we were close to the one-mile mark, I noticed our pace was 13:35; I decided to push a little further so we could finish at 13:30.
We walked the rest of the way home. Liam was great about celebrating what he accomplished. When he started putting himself down, I reminded him that it took months before I could run a mile. “Now you can run thirteen.”
“Yup, I can. And it took me over a year of running to be able to do that.”
I am beyond thankful that Liam is interested in running. I hope it becomes something we can enjoy together. Much like our daily walks with Banjo, I appreciate the opportunity to connect with Liam and talk about life. I only have a few summers left in which he will want to spend most of his time with me; I need to enjoy them while they’re here!
I am a firm believer in compliments. I compliment my students, my family, and my friends as often as possible. I think about compliments that have truly affected me and encouraged me to continue working towards my goals.
You’re a good mom. A significant portion of parenting involves worrying.
“Am I too hard on Liam? Are my expectations too high?”
“Am I being too soft? Am I letting him get away with too much?”
“Am I reading to him enough?
“Am I playing enough games with him?”
“Is it okay that he is the only kid he knows without a video game system? Should I just suck it up and buy him one?”
With all of these daily worries, it was a huge confidence booster when my mother-in-law randomly told me I am a good mom.
You are stronger than you think you are. My “running bully” gets the credit for this one. I lovingly refer to my friend Kerri as my “running bully” because she pushes me when I question myself, causing me to PR at the ever-difficult Gaspee 5K and beat my goal time by fifteen minutes at our first half-marathon. I love my running group because we focus on getting out there and getting stronger over being the fastest. That being said, having someone out there pushing you out of your comfort zone is never a bad thing!
I’m so glad you’re my mama. Liam and I have a really good ability to bounce off of each other. We can make up games on the fly, without stopping to decide rules or goals. Mike and I each have activities that are “our things” with Liam. Liam and I go for bike rides, read books, sing Hamilton, and tell each other silly jokes. Every so often, Liam wraps his arms around me and tells me, “I’m so glad you’re my mama.” It melts my heart.
This one hits close to home. This past month has provided countless opportunities for reflection and perspective. Being asked to reflect upon what stands in your way is especially fitting this week.
Self-doubt and Worry I have it. I continuously question my abilities. Am I a good parent? Am I a good teacher? Am I a good wife? Am I good enough friend? Do I have any business writing about running? Am I spending enough time playing with Liam? Am I hovering? Do I check in my friends often enough? While doing all of these things, how do I keep my own head above water? Running and weight-lifting have taught me that I am stronger than I think, but I am always doubting myself.
Not Asking for Help Mike is a saint when it comes to this. Somehow, it has come into my mind that being a good wife means taking care of as much as I possibly can. I get home before he does and get laundry, dishes, lunches, cleaning, and dinner taken care of before he gets home. By the time he gets home, I’m exhausted. Mike tells me to leave stuff for him to do, yet every day, I feel the need to take care of it myself. I take care of holidays, birthdays, and events without asking for help, then get overtired and grumpy. It’s a vicious cycle, one in which Mike does a fantastic job of tolerating from me. I fight the same overwhelming meltdown several times a year, and Mike gets me through each time.
Social Anxiety Maybe I hide this. Maybe I don’t. I fear silence in small talk and talk too much then I worry that I dominated said conversation. I try to make a point of asking more questions while talking. Then I get together with a group and, for fear of dominating the conversation, don’t say much. On those rides home, I worry that people thought I was disinterested and won’t invite me in the future. I avoid certain social situations in which I know there will be a lot of small talk for fear I will talk too much or too little. I replay conversations in my mind, searching for spots where I may have messed up.
Usually, I ask Liam the same questions in the weekly prompt. It makes for interesting conversation while walking Banjo. This week’s topic is not one I want to ask Liam to reflect upon. We sometimes say he is his own worst enemy. He gets worked up about problems and spends more time worrying about them than it would take to fix them. He will spend a half an hour arguing that he doesn’t want to do math homework or clean his room, only to admit defeat and get the task done in less than ten minutes. This is part of being a kid. Overall, Liam is a thoughtful, intuitive kid. He’s is going to get himself right where he needs to be.
This is a common encouraging phrase heard in the workout circuit. Yes, it is true when it comes to working out. I can now do things I never thought I’d be able to do like run fast(ish) miles and complete half-marathons. But it also applies the regular life.
This week marked the eighth anniversary of my mom’s passing. I never really know what to do on that day. The first year, we took the day off and went to the area where her ashes are spread. We went to get ice cream at her favorite ice cream parlor. Now, I am not allowed to take personal days during the last two weeks of school and her favorite ice cream parlor is closed. I wanted to take Liam, Mike, and Banjo up the street to our local place, enjoy the company of my favorite boys, and have a sweet treat. The universe had other plans.
My friend’s dad passed away this week. The wake was scheduled on the anniversary of my mom’s passing. I selfishly wanted to get there at the beginning, pay my respects, and take care of my own mourning. Liam had other plans. He did not want to go with me, having attended my cousin’s services last week. I was not going to push it. He was fantastic last week and two wakes in two weeks is a lot for anyone, nevermind an eight-year-old.
I tried not to cry while I waited in the receiving line. This is not about you, I told myself, be strong for your friend.
The line provided time to think about what to say. I am terrible during difficult times; everything that comes out of my mouth is cliche. I hugged her. “I am so sorry this is happening,” I began. I asked how her mom and her kids were doing. I asked how she was doing. She admitted she was being strong for everyone. “Take care of yourself. I didn’t cry until five days after my mom died. It’s going to hit you at the weirdest, silliest times, and that is okay. I’m going to check in on you and help you any way I can.”
And that was it, a whole conversation while embraced in a hug. I managed to hold my own tears. I managed to not think about the conversations I wish I could have, the things I wish my mother could have taught me. I thought of what I wished someone had said to me when my pain was fresh and I was adjusting to my new normal.
Every year, I look for signs from my mom. Sometimes, she shows up in a dream. My son starts singing one of her favorites songs, that he has no business knowing, such as the words to Lionel Richie’s classic “All Night Long.” I see a rainbow. My mom always took care of others. This year, she took the focus off of my own self-pity and provided the opportunity to take care of someone else. Maybe I am making the events fit into the idea I need, but I’ll take it.