Friday, May 28, 2010

Taking it off...

It seems that my mind is just as tired as my body.

As I sit in front of the computer monitor, the screen remains blank.

It mirrors what is currently playing in my mind...nothing.

It is a weekend designated for remembering our fallen soldiers.

They will never have the opportunity to be with their families in this lifetime, to enjoy their company, their laughter.

But I do.

So I will do just that.

I will be back on Tuesday. Hopefully with a mind filled with words. A body that has rested.

And a heart filled with sun-warmed memories...

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, everyone!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Are you my mother?

It has been a LONG week. It has been an even longer month. One without breaks, one that began with a sick toddler and included many, MANY nights of an uninvited three year old making his way into our bed. A snoring toddler who likes to kick the crap out of everyone in said bed.

We are on the threshold of a nice, long Memorial Day weekend. I cannot wait. I do not have any plans, but really, I don't require any. All I long for is just ONE full time job that does not require lesson plans, grading or end of year procedures. And I don't care if there is no retirement plan for this particular full time job.

That being said, the past two nights have brought full nights (and I use that term loosely, as full night these days means 5 hours of sleep instead of the standard 8) of sleep. My sister, God bless her, let me borrow her cool mist vaporizer, that, much like Mr. Sandman, has brought me rest, and sleep for my precious little boy. No snoring. No waking up in the middle of the night. No visits.

But more than that, it has brought back my cheerful three year old. Joshua, with no sleep, is less bearable than a full on lobotomy; anesthesia, optional. He has been argumentative, on a hunger strike, unable to rest, and therefore, an evil troll. But, after two nights of sleep, he is back to being himself.

Which is a good thing.

Because I was considering my options.

This evening, after a full day of work, a faculty meeting, a visit to my mother's former condominium, (which my sister and I like to refer to as the money pit), errands, a pharmacy run, dinner and baths, everyone was ready for bed. Matthew was up completing homework. Andrew lay in bed, whining about the noise the vaporizer makes and reading, and Joshua came out to get me.

"I reads to you, momma," he declared as he grabbed my hand. He led me to his bedroom.

"You are going to read to me?" I asked.

"Yes," he exclaimed as he climbed into his tiny toddler bed, and he opened his book.

And he began. "A little egg jumped and jumped and jumped and jumped..."

Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman.

And with the quiet roar of the pounding rain as it hit my roof, I sat cross-legged on the floor, next to his bed, my head resting on the bed rail, enthralled. I sat listening to the sweetest little voice in the world, as he "read" his book, with intonation, with pride.

He has undoubtedly heard his teacher read it to the class countless times. He obviously loves it.

I, myself, have read that book hundreds of times, to hundreds of children over a 16 year teaching career. I have heard it read back to me just as many times.

But no other time came close to this.

My baby boy, the youngest of my brood, is growing up.

I sat and listened, with my ears, with my heart.

And my heart was happy.

And I prayed for another restful night for all of us.

So that I can be his mother. And I can be a mother to his brothers...

Here's to a rainy night's sleep.

And I wish the same for all of you...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Please, PLEASE, tell me NOW!

For weeks, rumors have been swirling. Anticipation was at an all time high. And when we got word that that the news we had been so anxiously anticipating was in the building, there was a mad rush to the source.

My class sat for the state mandated test in mid March of this year. We worked, prepared, drilled, prayed, cried, made concessions, timed, cried some more, found our happy places, and spent many sleepless nights wondering how else we could prepare these children.

In the days leading up to the test, I wondered how the children would react to the test. Would they feel confident? Would they spend the majority of the morning keeping themselves from emptying the contents of their stomachs onto the test? Would they find peace in knowing that we had worked their butts off? Would they feel prepared?

Those questions have been dancing around in my little old head for the last eleven weeks. And even though my own nine year old son sat for the same exact test, I was less worried about him than I was about the children I teach.

Yesterday afternoon, third grade teachers caught wind of the scores. They descended on the main office like hungry vultures.

But everyone was told that we would be told today.

This morning, as I applied my face, I thought twice about wearing mascara, lest I turn into a raccoon upon learning the scores. I decided to live dangerously and made my lashes a little thicker and darker.

Upon getting to school, unloading stuff from the car and taking my junk upstairs to my classroom, I returned to the main office. Armed with my class list and a firm affirmation of NOT walking out without knowing how my children scored, I approached my principal.

As she beckoned me into her office, my co-teacher and I stood, ready. With each name that I said, the scores I heard were just music to my ears. Name after name, reading and math, those scores were worth EVERY single drop of sweat that been exuded over the length of the school year.

The numbers brought uninvited tears.

Tears of joy, relief, pride.

Damn mascara...damn raccoon eyes...

And the tears really flowed for the math scores of some students who had walked into my classroom, terrified of math. Those I had coaxed out of that fear, those who I had demanded so much from. Those that many a time during the school year reminded me of myself at that age. 

So scared, feeling stupid as the teacher would explain concepts and I lagged further behind everyone else. 

The ones I vowed to reform from math-haters to math lovers.

Those students were the ones that scored the highest on the math. I thought of their reaction when I told them what they had earned. I thought of how they had proven to themselves that they COULD do it.

Because they didn't just score what they had to in order to pass.

They went above and beyond.

And my students' reaction this afternoon was everything that I had hoped for during those dark days of preparation. Their eyes grew wide with disbelief. The uncertain looks were replaced with wide, confident, toothy smiles.  They asked to look at them again, perhaps to convince themselves that their eyes were truly not deceiving them.

I am not a braggart. But I am so proud of those children. I am so proud of the determination, consistency, effort and growth they have shown throughout this school year.

And I am SO relieved that the State agrees with me.

And so, for the rest of today, I felt drained.

More than what a teacher typically feels at this point of the school year.

Because you cannot hope and work so hard without giving of yourself.

And I gave.

And it was worth every bit.

***By the way, my son performed just as well as my high achieving students!  Happiness and pride all around!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Walking away from it all...

30 for 30 on ESPN premiered a documentary on last month titled Run, Ricky, Run. (Yes, I watch ESPN with my husband, at times, when he is REALLY, REALLY good). The documentary was on Ricky Williams, who is a running back for the Miami Dolphins.

Ricky Williams is famous for being a great football player.

But Ricky Williams is most famous for flunking drug test after drug test, and basically, walking away from football, a multimillion dollar contract, and leaving everyone scratching their heads, saying, "Huh?"

I was one of the hundreds of thousands of people who just couldn't understand how someone as talented as him could basically, in the eyes of others, just screw up their life because of marijuana. That was the story the media, the Dolphins organization and players put out there.

Ricky's version was slightly different.

Ricky had a rough upbringing. He played football. He was good. He tried to fit the mold. And he found that he couldn't do it.

The documentary chronicles his time after leaving the Dolphins and the National Football League. He spent some time in Australia, he studied yoga and holistic healing. He was trying to find himself.

Unlike the majority of the NFL players out there, he was not willing to sell his soul for money. Instead, he walked away, chose to work on himself, as he said, "Get my head straight."

And everyone rushed to judge, to condemn.

How many of us would walk away from seeming happiness, to the ridicule of others, to better ourselves? To walk the long windy roads into the dark part of ourselves, to work out those issues that have left us emotionally stifled and unable to enjoy the prosperity of our talents?

How twisted have we become as a society that we can feel qualified to pass judgment upon others, regardless of how little or how much we know of others?

And yet, I was one of them.

I thought he was ignorant. A druggie who couldn't control his addiction.

He was fighting his demons.

As I watched the other night, I came to understand this man's journey back to himself. At the beginning of the time chronicled, his voice sounded devoid of emotion, just dead. As the documentary continues, and he makes progress, you can see the light return to this man's eyes, life back in his voice.

And I wonder how many of his critics have ever chosen money over themselves. How many have sacrificed their families and happiness to get ahead?

Is the victory really worth the lives you destroy on the way to the top? How many will be cheering for you if you are not genuine with yourself? How can you be honest with anyone, if you cannot stand to look at yourself in the mirror?

How can you love anyone if you cannot love yourself?

Perhaps, I am an old softie at heart. Perhaps, I am too easily swayed by emotions and claims of renewed lives. But I was swayed.

At the end of the documentary, we have watched this tormented man reach within himself, dig himself out, and DONE something FOR HIMSELF.

He is a yogi.

He has studied holistic medicine.

He is a better father.

He is a husband.

He has made something out of himself, and can now share it with others.

He has proven to everyone that sometimes, you just need to walk away from it all before you can come back to it.

That takes courage.

It takes faith.

And it is always worth it, if you find what you are looking for.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rare indulgences and being Lost...

This weekend was a rarity in my life over predictability, routine and rules. Since Mother's Day weekend, I have been ignoring the fact that my refrigerator and garage freezer were reaching dangerously low levels of nourishment.  You would think that the cobwebs in the pantry would have been a tip-off.

On Friday afternoon, after a "quick" (was there ever a bigger oxymoron?) run to the bank, I picked up Joshua and headed to the grocery store. I knew what I was up against; three tired and hungry children, hundreds of people with the same task at hand, but, I had nothing to serve my family other than frozen sausages, frozen basil, American cheese slices, and milk.

I was also starved, as I had lunch at 11:00 am. It was a bad combination. Very bad.

One hundred dollars later, I had frozen lunches, breakfast foods and fresh veggies to add to my pantry, refrigerator and garage freezer.

I also bought Haagen-Dazs ice cream. I have not been intimate with Haagen since Pregnancy #2. Damn lunch at 11:00 am and no snacks in between.

After a quick stop home to drop off perishables, I went back out to the "fancy" grocery store and decided to indulge in blue cheese burgers, stuffed shrimp and other curiosities. I also picked up miniature roses, that just happened to be on sale. They were glorious, fragrant; just the indulgence my eyes needed on this weary Friday afternoon.

I got home, fired up the grill for the burgers,  indulged in a glass or two of wine, and watched Finding Nemo. There is something incredibly soothing about the underwater scenes, about the message every young child needs to hear: your parents will go the ends of the Earth for you. As I watched the movie, I was surrounded by the loves of my life, and my heart indulged in the moment.

Saturday brought a hair appointment in the never-ending battle with gray and later on, the opportunity to babysit my two nieces. Take out Thai and sushi with even more fabulous wine. Five babies asleep, the right seating arrangements and the acquisition of the remote assured me chick-flick heaven (He's Just Not That Into You and Julie and Julia), accompanied by a torrid tryst with Haagen, as my husband lay sleeping blissfully unaware on the couch nearby. The only evidence of what transpired; an empty carton, a forlorn spoon and the inevitable 5 pounds that moment of weakness with Mint Chip will cost me...

Sunday brought a day of work for hubby and intense negotiations with three children to ensure a couple of hours at the Outlet Mall...Final arrangements for delivery of negotiated goods to be handed over upon completion of said shopping trip, with no signs of Jab, Poke and Whine. Mommy got HUGE discounts on some summery looking clothes and some peace while acquiring them. Children got super soaker weapons and an impressive looking water apparatus that will entertain them for the duration of summer vacation, and with a coupon to boot! Sunday brought much needed and heavily discounted retail indulgence.

As the evening wound down, we rushed through The Witching Hour at warp speed so that we could indulge in FOUR (!) hours of Lost. Although I have not been religious about watching it (seriously, how could I commit to another thing when I barely can remind myself that my bladder needs to be emptied every once in awhile), I have thoroughly enjoyed the twists and turns that it has brought into our family room over the past six years.

The mental challenge of watching Lost last night was invigorating and breathtaking...Without revealing too much, the ending was beautiful. The connections all of these people had made me think of the connections we all have within our lives. Sometimes, the more difficult the situation, the tighter the bond we have with the people we share the experience with.

And that is really it. After watching the finale last night, there were several moments that were immensely spiritual in nature. How people are connected, how our actions affect all of those around us. How we need others, emotionally, physically, spiritually, in order to live.

How we cannot do it alone.

Anyone who is a parent will tell you how much harder it is when your spouse or partner is not available to help you. And sometimes, it isn't even about all the things you have to do physically. It is about having a sounding board, someone to share the incredible joys, and someone to play rock, paper, scissors when there is a sick child and work to go to. Someone to share.

When I think about my life, I know that my existence would be completely different had it not been for certain people, certain circumstances, certain experiences. If I had my own Lost, I am sure that I would have a parallel reality floating around somewhere.

But I am certain that it would not be better than the reality I live every day.

And I think that that was the beauty of Lost. That, in our own way, we are all lost. We are all finding our way, making our own reality, regardless of the smoke monsters and polar bears that might roam our uninhabited island.

But were it not for those who are our constant companions, those that we can rely on and who we help in their own troubles, we would truly be lost.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Foot in the mouth syndrome belies the love in my heart

I got an interesting piece of mail today. One with great potential. And when I called the person who sent it, I put my foot in my mouth.

I think I blurted out something that was along the lines of "Have you lost your mind?"

Clearly, the person who sent that correspondence had not lost their mind.

I had.

Because instead of saying something graceful, eloquent, well-intentioned and full of gratitude, I turned into someone who was in desperate need of a public relations person.

Or at the very least, the opportunity to mull it over, write a first draft, edit said draft, and then, again.

Because for all the way with words I may demonstrate on this blog, it seems no one is immune to foot in the mouth.

Not me.

Not today.

But I am grateful. Beyond words.

And more than that gratitude for the correspondence, I am grateful you are in my life. For many reasons.

Because with you, I can be me.

Without editing.

Regardless of how often my foot seems to end up in my mouth.

And how wonderful is it to have that kind of relationship?

Where editing is optional?

I will tell you. It is marvelous.

Regardless, here is my edited version of what I should have said.

Hi. I got what you sent. Thank you. It means the world to us. I love you.

And yes, I have lost my mind!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Yes, I can!

Momalom's Five for Ten: Yes

There are many things on this Earth that require an incredible amount of faith, of taking an enormous leap and just jumping into the thick of things.

Marriage, parenting, friendship, faith in ourselves.

All of them require an affirmative answer to unasked questions: Yes.

When you marry, inevitably, a question gets asked; an answer is given. But before that question and answer, there are many moments that clearly define where you are going, what you are sharing, what you are seeking. And in gestures, in nonverbal acceptance, the yes comes. Yes to creating a life and home with someone. Yes to maybe going to bed angry once in a while, but knowing that the anger will subside, the cheeriness will return and all will be well. Yes to piles of chores and things to do, but always with companionship.

In parenting, the yes begins with the incredible leap from two to the thought of baby makes three. In the positive pregnancy test. In the delivery and congratulations that new babies bring. Afterwards, we walk around in a cloud of positives and a sleep-deprived state. And many decisions. Yes, we want the best for our offspring, but the no's come in rapid succession. Sometimes, we could have easily said yes, and we wonder why we don't more often...Is it that we are afraid that they will become accustomed to having their way? Or are we afraid that they will not know how to handle when things don't go their way?

In friendship, we say yes to helping, supporting, enjoying each other's company. We lean on one another when situations call for it, hold hands when things are difficult, share in celebrating the joyous occasions that life brings.

But how many of us say yes to ourselves? How many of us do for ourselves like we do for our spouses, our children, our friends?

How often do we drop everything when we feel sick? How many of us call in sick to work when our child is running the slightest temperature, but will drag ourselves, half dead to work, on an ongoing basis?

We often short change ourselves with respects to parenting skills, too. We sometimes falter in the day to day stuff of parenting and worry that we are screwing up our kids. But, aren't we doing the best we know how, with our hearts in the wrong place? Don't we provide them with a clearly defines support system? Don't we encourage them from the very start? Don't we soothe them when they are upset?

Why don't we do it for ourselves?

It has taken me a long time to realize that yes to me means not being too hard on myself when I goof up, giving myself a little more credit than I usually do, and not feeling guilty when I do something that is just for me.

Because, when I say yes to myself, I am a happier.

I am a better partner to my husband.

I am more likely to say yes to my kid's non life-threatening request to doing something that will bring them happiness.

I am a better friend to those who bring me happiness.

I am a better me.

Saying yes to my needs and wants is just as important as saying yes to my husband, my kids, my friends.

Saying yes to me helps me renew me, makes me someone others want to be around.

As I see it, there are enough martyrs in the Catholic faith. I am not cut out to be something that I am not. However, I do believe in improving myself.

And really, who could say no to being better company for others, and more importantly, yourself?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Storm clouds threatened...

Today, storm clouds threatened. I listened.

No rush to shuffle children to and from tennis.

No scrambling at the supermarket with three children in tow.

No coming home to pot and pans demanding to be put to use.

Storm clouds threatened. I listened.

Stayed at home. In quiet chaos.

Warmed up leftovers to feed out bodies, nourish my soul with rest.

Children finished homework.

Kitchen picked up.

Children bathed and reading in bed.

Mama bathed and reading on the couch.

Today, the clouds threatened, but meant no harm.

I listened, and I was at peace.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lust for Life (...after diapers)

Momalom's Five for Ten: Lust

One of my favorite commercials of all time was one from the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines where Iggy Pop's Lust for Life blared. It was the perfect soundtrack for all the adventurous activities you could do onboard the ship and on the excursions.

There are people who have an affinity for the finer things in life; travel, gourmet cuisine, finely aged wines, art, music.

I am a WHOLE lot simpler. I have three children. I don't have time for fancy this or that. I often times forget what it was that I was going to do, going from one end of the house to the other. In my case, it is all simpler, except for one tiny, little detail.

My three year old is still in diapers.

I am ashamed to admit this.

When I had my youngest son, I had big dreams relating to potty-training. (Wow, that just might be the saddest sentence I have ever written.) I thought that this child would be the easiest to potty train, having two older brothers with the same kind of plumbing.

But alas, my older sons had different ideas. And in particular, one from The Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

For those of you not familiar with the story line, Greg is the middle child, getting ready to begin middle school. He has a younger brother who, in the midst of potty training, is told that there is a potty monster. Needless to say, the toddler will not go on the porcelain king, and mom is pretty upset.

So is this mom.

I discovered this debauchery when I took my boys to see the movie. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Laugh, because they saw the opportunity and took it; cry, because they saw the opportunity and took it.

Looking at the bright side, they learned to do something from a book, right?

But, on to reality. I have spent a small fortune on diapers and wipes. A small fortune I could have spent on the finer things in life, not poop.

I have purchased diapers for eight out of the last ten years, people. I am done.

There is a life I lust after. Not one that is fancy or complicated. It is very simple wish.

I lust for a life that requires no diaper bags, no refilling the wipes box, no Butt Paste.

I lust for a life where everyone wipes their own ass.

It will mean freedom for me. Of not being tied down to a baby. Of having three independent boys. Of life progressing, evolving.

It will mean that my youngest son will be nearing school age, and we will leave the preschool he attends now, where I send a hefty tuition check the first of every month.

It will mean not having to drive back home if I have forgotten the diaper bag, or harassing the older boys into carrying it to the car, out of the car, into the house, out of the house. It will mean one less thing to have to remember.

It will mean more stops on road trips, accidents while we are out, accidents while we are at home, accidents while we sleep.

And while I cannot wait to unburden myself and Joshua of chasing after him, getting all thirty pounds of him on the changing table and getting down to business, I know I will miss it, just a little.

Because it will mean that I no longer have a baby.

It will mean that I have raised another human being to some sort of independence, regardless of how basic that independence is.

I am starting to see the glimpses of this new and improved Joshua. Last night, he went pee in the potty. Mama did the potty jig and sang the happy Mama song for a good twenty minutes.

Lady Luck was at my house this morning too. He went potty again. Another round of dancing and singing.

But more than that, I saw my littlest boy proud of himself. He was so happy that he did it. He kept telling me he is a big boy. And, he is.

No fear of a potty monster.

And that was good.

Like anything in life, those things that are the most worthwhile never come easy. Not love, not good friendships, not parenting.

Especially not parenting.

But, if you encounter the difficult but worthwhile with a lust for life, then the whole journey is a little more enjoyable, even more worthwhile.

Even in the adventures of potty training.

And especially if you have a particularly good soundtrack playing in the background, even if it's only in your head...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

When hitting rewind isn't a good thing...

If I had to describe what kind of memory I possess, I would have to say that I remember things as though I was taking a photograph. And while in many instances, this particular trait has been useful, all too often, it has been detrimental, at best.

I am particularly hard on myself, especially when I feel I have not acted as I thought I should. And when analyzing, I have found that I replay the same thing, over and over, picking apart every action, every word.

And it is not helpful.

Because, some things are meant to be left in the past.

To be left alone.

To remain a distant memory.

To be remembered only as a warning.

Not a constantly replayed mistake.

That destroys every shred of self confidence, self worth...the best of you.

So sometimes, you need some courage to break away from bad habits. To try something new and hope the outcomes are better than what you are used to .

And that breaking free of those chains that bind us, can lead us to happiness.

Sometimes, it' not nice to rewind, regardless of what Blockbuster Video will have you believe.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The first time, ever I saw your face...

Momalom's Five for Ten: Memory

I remember the weight that my small arms held. I remember the pounding of my little heart, as it beat ferociously within my chest. I remember the warmth of the mid-March night. I remember the sweetness of that face.

My earliest memory is one of happiness. It is one of meeting someone who would be my constant companion for the next nineteen years and my life long friend. It was the day my mother brought home my sister.

I was barely three. We lived in Queens, New York at the time. I cannot recall anything about the apartment we lived in, but I do remember the roughness of the small plaid fabric that covered the sofa I carefully sat on.

My grandmother had come to stay with me for over a month before my sister was born. There were complications that required that my mother be hospitalized for the last couple of months before my sister was born. Nature is a tricky combatant. The final ultrasound determined that my sister was overdue, labor was induced with no desired results. Blood anticoagulants were reversed, an emergency cesarean delivered my beautiful baby sister.

Over the phone calls during that time apart, my mother had promised me the ability to hold my baby sister when she arrived at home. I don't remember my parents coming home, but I do remember sitting with my back all the way to the back of the couch. Of holding my breath in anticipation. Of the weight in my arms and her soft, pink face, as she sighed her sweet baby sighs in my small, inefficient arms.

I remember my grandmother arguing with my mother, pleading with her not to place my sister in my arms, that I was too little, that I would drop her. My mother placed that precious baby, bundled against the cold New York spring in scratchy, white woolen clothes and blanket.

I remember that newborn baby, opening her eyes and looking at me as if to say, "I know you. I am here."

In the pictures that were taken that night, my face shows a curious expression for such a young child. I have this look of wonder, of delight, of happiness.

All throughout her pregnancy, my mother ingrained in my young mind that I was this baby's little mother. That I was responsible for her. Truer words were never spoken.

For as long as I can remember, I have been my sister's keeper. You could say that my sister is indeed my oldest child, even though I am only three years older. I have been her biggest defender, ally, cheerleader, shoulder to cry on, and co-conspirator.

When my sister found out I was pregnant with Matthew, my oldest son, she never had any doubts about what kind of mother I would be. I don't know that I share her opinion, even now. But I was grateful that I had a practice run with her.

When I see my two young nieces, I am constantly reminded of how fortunate my sister and I have been, in spite of such a painful childhood. We had each other; always, to love and support the other. My nieces are following in suit. It is uncanny how much they look like us, act like us. A constant reminder of our good fortune.

I wonder what memories will stand out for my sons. Already, they talk about their youngest brother's birth, their young cousins' births, trips and activities we have shared. I wonder if one single event will stand out for them as my sister's birth stood out for me. I wonder if they have yet to have their life altering memory.

Memories, I feel, are gifts from the past. They are there, to carry you through hard times, through grief, longing, sadness.

They are there as a reminder of what worked, what was right, what was good, when things don't quite go as planned.

They are there to ground you. To remind you of who you are, what you are capable of, of the happiness your heart can hold.

But more importantly, like snapshots of a life well-lived, they are always with you. A quick glance back to a time when life was simpler, less chaotic.

As parents, we are bombarded by memories of our children's infancy, toddlerhood, middle childhood. We glean from the best, wistfully recall the details, the when's and why's.

This week, as we have taken on these topics from Momalom's Five for Ten Again, I have seen the natural transition of the topics.

It takes Courage to invite Happiness in.

Happiness brings Memories.

And of all of these, Memories of Happiness are by far the most cherished.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Happiness is...

Momalom's Five for Ten: Happiness

When I close my eyes, and I think about happiness, there are many images that come to mind. Here; a sampling.

Being seventeen years old, and walking on the local boardwalk. The young man, holding me close, whispered softly, like a prayer, "I love you." It took my breath away, to know what his heart felt, to hear the words aloud that I had yet to say.

Being a twenty-two year old bride, walking down the aisle and seeing the same young man, our eyes meeting with such emotion, at knowing our day had come. That my happily ever after was about to begin.

As our lives have progressed, I can honestly say that I am happy. I look around inside our home, at the pictures on our walls that chronicle our moments, our lives, and I am constantly reminded that happiness, in many instances, is a conscious decision we make every day.

How many people walk around each day, thinking, "when such and such happens, I will be happy" and when the situation does materialize, it is then immediately replaced with another "such and such." The person wastes their life waiting for the moment happiness smacks them in the face.

All too often, I have heard parents say that they can't wait for their children to grow up, move out, and start their own lives. Will they truly be happy, knowing their children are away? Will that fix whatever is wrong? I am sure it will provide some degree of accomplishment, but I don't know that I will be completely overjoyed when the last chick leaves the nest.

I know I am not the parent of an adolescent, and perhaps, I am romanticizing parenthood a tad, but some of my happiest moments are in direct result of having my children with me. Finding out I was pregnant, the first ultrasound and hearing their heartbeats, the first glance of that newborn lovey over the surgical sheet, nursing hungry baby boys in the middle of the night, breathing in the scent of a newborn baby that is so intoxicating.

And after the newness of a brand new baby wears off, it is all the little things that they do and how they react to the whole new world that they are busy discovering, every single day. Who has not felt happy at the sight of a wobbly toddler, as they prance, relishing in their new, hard fought mobility? Who hasn't giggled at the antics of a young child who is just beginning to venture out with words and sentences?

Happiness for me is being a witness to my sons' growth and development. I have marveled at their curiosity, their wonder, their love for John and I, their love for each other, and our extended family. My heart melts when my sons tell me excitedly at the happenings at school, what they learned, what they are anticipating the most. As they grow older, I imagine that I will stand in amazement that they are grown adults, wonder where the time went, but never regret a moment.

My happiness is not measured in the amount of things I own, what car I drive, where I will go on vacation. My happiness is driven by making people laugh, at my crazy stories, at themselves, at life's lemons.

I am blessed. My children are healthy. I am married to a man I love and respect. I come home to a chaotic, messy home, filled with laughter and love.

My happiness is measured by the amount of people who make me smile on a daily basis. It is measured by how I choose to react to difficult challenges. It is measured by the difference I make in the lives of the children I teach.

Happiness has a ripple effect. The more of it you have, the more of it gets spread around. If you are happy, the people around you tend to be happy too. And the more people you are in contact with throughout the day, the more opportunities you have to share it with everyone else.

Please don't misunderstand and think I am just the happiest person put on Earth. I have had a lot of bad things happen to me, usually things that could not be ignored, changed or moved away from. There wasn't a whole lot of choices on what I could do.

But I do have the power, the opportunity, the responsibility; to myself, and my family, to detect every shred of happiness I can find, in any and all situations.

Because if you are given the choice, would you rather wallow in self pity and sadness, or try to walk a little lighter?

Because if all you get is what you have, can that really make you happy?

Because being happy has nothing to do with what you have.

It has EVERYTHING to do with choices you make, how you react, what you do.

And I will change what I can, accept what I cannot and CHOOSE to be happy.

Every day.

Every time.

Surrounded by those who make me the happiest.

No regrets.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Living fearlessly

Today has been a whirlwind. So much to accomplish in so little time. So many bodies to care for, but not my own.

Last night, after a long day, I laid myself in bed. All I wanted was rest, renewal, a respite. I got very little. My favorite night time visitor. He came into bed, crying for his Mama. He got her.

As I tried to get some rest, the words swirled in my head. Perhaps it was all the reading I had done last night on courage. The words seemed to float on air, silently drifting from the infinite sky. Words; their beauty, their power, their stillness, filled my mind.

Intoxicated by sleep, I thought I would remember the luscious combinations that were created in my mind last night. Confident that my brain was a sponge, ready to soak up such beauty, I did not get up to write or jot down...

After a night of tap dancing on my back, I rose.

Having written yesterday's post helped cement something for me. For the first time, I publicly admitted something that has cost me emotionally. Something that has made me feel sad, ashamed, angry, hurt and victimized. But no more.

After reading some of the other blog posts on Courage, I truly felt that I was not alone. That others carry the same weight upon their shoulders and hearts. That they too, tried to overcome hurt and maintain a relationship, to no avail.

I find courage in those actions. Whenever we look beyond the hurt, when we are in constant motion to move forward, to break away from all that we know, to the unknown.

And that takes some serious guts.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Like the Cowardly Lion, I want Courage

Momalom's Five for Ten: Courage

I am a coward. For too long, I have kept quiet and played the game that I was taught as a little girl. Put on a brave face, smile, and no one knows.

But I know. And there comes a point when you cannot lie to yourself any more.

Courage comes in many forms. For many, the very word conjectures images of service men and women, fighting shoulder to shoulder on foreign lands, to protect others. The images might be of local police and fire men and women.

But courage is not limited to those images.

Courage is taking off the bandages from over your eyes, and seeing for the first time. Courage is waking up one morning and deciding that you will no longer sit in denial. Courage is sitting in front of a stranger, telling your story, asking for help, and then doing it.

Courage to not continue on the merry-go-round of dysfunction. Of stopping the cycle of manipulation, verbal abuse and alcoholism. Of trying out happiness instead of continuing to drown in sadness.

Courage is then living with the consequences. The silence. The anger. The reality of what happens when you no longer are willing to play the brave face game. The consequences of courage.

Sometimes, you do the most growing up as an adult. When you are responsible for the lives of your children. When you know that your decisions will have real, lasting effects on those lives you would do anything to protect.

So, in my case, courage has meant that I have had to finally face the inadequacies of my life. Of how my parents' decisions shaped me, how those scars were created, how they healed, and how I cannot erase them. They are there to remind me.

Courage has meant silencing the mindless chatter that insinuates that I am not worthy of happiness, as defined by me.

Courage was saying "yes" to a life with a man I love, and trusting that my outcome would be different than the one I had experienced in my young life.

Courage has meant seeing the beauty that my husband and I have created in our life together, in spite of having no role model to go by, in my case.

Courage has meant realizing that living a fantasy for others is something I cannot continue to do at my expense, and have my husband and sister to support and comfort me.

Courage meant becoming a mother, because my heart wanted it so, even though I was terrified of the mistakes I would make.

Becoming a mother put a whole different spin on courage. Because mothering isn't for sissies.

Mothering requires courage from the get-go. Being wheeled into an emergency cesarean. Watching your child struggle against their own physical limitations. Praying for God's mercy when sitting in front of pediatric specialists. Praying that you are doing the right thing.

Courage has meant venturing out of my comfort zone, putting myself out there, so that my limitations do not become my children's limitations.

Courage has meant putting my fear of water aside, and learn how to swim as an adult, with my sons at the edge of the pool, cheering me on.

Courage has meant holding a snake, in spite of the horror on my oldest son's face, so that my fears are not his fears.

Courage has meant facing my own limitations, knowing when I can "fix" things, and trusting that I don't have all the answers.

Courage has meant that I heal myself, love myself, change myself, so that this mother's inadequacies do not scar her children. So that she can be an example that she can be proud of.

Courage has meant crossing over into the fantasy of a little girl, who would often dream of the life this woman now claims as her own.

It takes courage to unchain yourself from a painful past, one that limits your capacity for inner peace and happiness.

Maybe, I am not a coward after all...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day: Feeling loved

My oldest son has spent the last week with a clipboard in hand, jotting notes on how he was going to make Mother's Day special.

My middle son was secretive about what projects he had worked on in school in preparation for Mother's Day.

My youngest son, slave to neither a clipboard or projects made at school, did not have a clue that today was Mother's Day.

My husband, as usual, was not prepared with any tangible gift.

But each, in their own way, made today exceptional.

My oldest son, for all his preparation, has already won my heart. His poem, his letter, and more importantly, his found treasure from the park (a girl's plastic pink heart ring) and a Lego mini-mom, were all the gift I needed. And how he held my hand today.

My middle son's shy smile as he handed me his beautiful, handmade card, depicting a VERY thin me, holding hands with an equally thin drawing of him. Plus, we have a breakfast date on Friday morning at school.

My youngest son's approach was that of everyday. I am his Mama, so that means I am entitled to as many hugs and kisses as he feels are necessary. Today, he felt that I needed an extra helping.

And my husband?

My husband offered me the opportunity to create this beautiful family with him, one special and beautiful child at a time. He held my hand at each sonogram, cried tears of joy and relief at each triumphant delivery. He held each of those precious babies as though they would shatter at the mere touch of them. He has murmured words of encouragement in my ear when I have wanted to throw in the towel.

His gift is not one that can be wrapped in exquisite paper and topped with a lavish bow.

His gift comes on a daily basis, as we feed, bathe and put to bed each of these miracles that provide us with such joy, sorrow and worry. As we look at each other with the wonder of how two imperfect people created such perfection.

And if I had to pick which one of these gifts that flowed so freely today, I could not choose.

It would be like taking the stars out of the breathtaking night sky, or the waves out of the ocean.

You cannot have one without the other.

I hope that each of you enjoyed a day surrounded by the stars that light your sky. Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Motherhood: Bringing out the worst in women, daily

I know you have encountered mothers who are out running errands. They look frazzled and ready to either abandon their children in the midst of a busy store, or just sit on the floor, and sob.

Today, I was that woman.

My normally easy going boys were liked caged wolves who have been set free. They complained, they smacked one another, they refused to keep up with my frantic pace.

My toddler decided that he did not need a cart. He also did not need to hold my hand, walk next to me, or even be in the same aisle where I was frantically trying to find the items I needed, so that I could just go home.

Today, I could have easily walked away.

Except that my two older boys would have called my mobile, and I inevitably would have had to come back.

I would have made the local news. The degenerate mother who left her three adorable boys in a busy Craft store. On Mother's Day weekend, no less.

And there might have been some prissy women thinking what kind of woman does that.

And others would have been cheering.

I have noticed a strange pattern developing within myself when I witness children who are getting reprimanded by their mothers in public.

Before I had children, I would feel terrible for the children in question. Poor babies, being made to feel so poorly.

Now, after kids?

I feel terrible for the parents in question. Poor mamas, being made to feel so poorly. I say, take those kids down. Sometimes, you can almost hear the silent cheering of other mothers, who have also had to chase their toddler children around the store. We exchange looks of "You go, girl!"  We closely resemble men watching a boxing match.

Sometimes, we even high-five each other.

Well, not really.

But I wish we did.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Making lemonade...

Sometime life hands you lemons. Lately, my lemons have been thrown at me. Hard and with direct aim. But I am a firm believer in seeing things in a positive light, despite the circumstances. You make lemonade with lemons, but lately, Mama needs something with a little more, um, substance.

As you get older, you wise up on how to deal with certain issues and certain people. You might smile and move along with some, as you are gritting your teeth to keep from yelling obscenities. Others, you coax until you get the desired results. Others, still, require a heavy hand. This week, I think I have run the gamut.

I have always thought of myself as a people person. I mostly enjoy being around people, talking with them, finding out what makes them tick.

But I think I need a break. I want a time out.

This week, I have organized events for the teachers at Joshua's school, sat in board of director meetings at said preschool, dealt with issues with students, prepared end of the year documents, continue awaiting test scores, taught long division with remainders, administered more end of year testing and dealt with issues with my own, birthed children: mainly, incomplete class work assignments.

It makes Mama thirsty for something other than lemonade.

A couple of days ago, what I really wanted to do was have a full fledged temper tantrum. I have seen enough in my time to know how to throw a good one. Somehow, I didn't think that I would get what I wanted.

And what did I want, you ask?

For adults to play nicely. For adults follow through when they are supposed to, not make commitments to things they have no intention for following through with. To be, you know, adults.

I am a pretty tolerant person. I can deal with people behaving badly. I taught Kindergarten for 10 years, ya'll. I know how to handle "problems."

But the amount and caliber of the "problems" are not laughable. They are not something you can just shrug your shoulders at and say "whatever" to. They are mean. They are ugly. And I am tired of drinking the lemonade flavored Kool-Aid.

So, what to do, you ask?

Well, I am looking forward to unwinding a bit this weekend. My youngest niece's birthday party is on Saturday morning. I know, it might be more fun to visit a sweat-shop, and the temperatures might actually mimic one since Florida has now begun what we refer to as Hellish Heat.

Regardless, I have big plans for after the party, mainly, getting everyone fed, bathed and in bed as soon as it is feasible. After that, I plan to do the same for myself.

'Cause Mama's tired.

And when Mama's tired, there are no good times to be had.

So, I continue to gather the lemons, by the truck load.

But something's got to give.

All those damned lemons need to be immediately traded in for limes.

So that I can at least make a decent margarita instead of sipping on that insipid lemonade.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Another round...

Today called for heavy artillery of adult beverages in my house. None were consumed, although they were much deserved. An extremely busy week, a most difficult day, and still, another two days until the week end.

My morning was not particularly hard. I was able to get dressed, get out of the house, and get the older two boys to school on time. I was scheduled to serve as a Science Fair judge at my old school, where I worked for ten years.

I left six years ago this fall. I remember that I struggled with the decision to leave for over a year. My children were getting older, I lived too far from the school and my husband had started working in his current job, that required huge amounts of travel at the time.

I struggled for many reasons. The main one is change. I traditionally have never done well with it. I will change my wardrobe a million times. I might change my hair and it's color without too much remorse. But the big things like a place of employment, not so much.

I completed my final internship at HES school in December 1994. There were no open positions there when I graduated, so I found a job at another school where I was miserable. It was the longest six months of my life.

I doubted whether or not I had made the right career decision. I wondered if I should go back to school and get a degree in something else. At the end of the year, my position was eliminated, and I went back to the principal at HES, trying to secure ANYTHING for the following year.

As luck would have it, I was hired in mid September of 1995, after the school year had started. I was fortunate enough to work steadily, although in temporary teaching assignments until the following school year. In 1996, I finally had my own classroom with 38 of the most energetic, and bright Kindergarten students ever.

At this school, I began as a young 21 year old undergraduate. I slowly emerged to married woman, Graduate student, mother of one, struggled through the loss of one parent, to mother of two boys. More than coworkers, these people became a sort of family. We mourned our losses, we celebrated new additions and life's greatest joys. It was hard to leave them and all that history behind.

But I did. As scary as it was to go and begin again in a new place, to form new friendships and professional relationships, I understood that this was something I needed to do for my family. Matthew was nearing preschool age. I wanted him to be able to attend a school that was close to home. I wanted to be closer to home as well, and not spend the bulk of my day behind the wheel, in traffic, gathering children and getting home.

The reaction on the last day of school in 2004 was hard. As people heard that I had transferred out, the questions swirled. The tears flowed. It was surely one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I still had my doubts, but at least, I knew that my sister and I would be working together, that my children, one day, would be able to attend this school with me. I forged ahead.

The first few days of that school year were hard. As the school year began, I was preparing in a new classroom in a different school. I often thought of my old school, my friends that I had left behind, my old students. But I made new friends. I reveled in the new challenges and procedures. I enjoyed my new students. I loved being closer to home and not fighting that traffic as much.

I still keep in touch with more than a few people. Several of those Class of 1996 Kindergarten group stay in touch with me through Facebook. They are now completing their Freshman year in college, which is just astounding to me.

But today, as I walked through the old halls at HES, I did not feel too nostalgic. The last few years have been rough for the staff. Administration is not what it should be. I was GLAD that I was gone. People seemed sad. They said with longing, "Be glad you left." And I was.

Because sometimes, you need another round to realize that even decisions made fearfully and with some doubt are the right ones.

Because I would have grown to hate my job.

Because, eventually, I would have equated those beautifully hearted co-workers with the confines of that building. And would have grown to dislike both.

Today, as I skipped out after judging Fourth Grade projects, I did not leave with the usual twinge of sadness for a simpler time.

I left with gratitude.

Gratitude for the people who had helped shape that shy 21 year old young teacher. Who had supported her, helped her hone her craft, and been a second family to her, and bade her goodbye six years ago.

Gratitude for having had the courage six years ago leave something that seemed safe, but would have surely killed the best part of me.

Gratitude for having forged ahead in a journey that made me mighty uncomfortable. But forced me to grow. To adapt. To change. And like it.

Another round of blessings that would have been forever undiscovered, had I not taken that simple step.

And for that, I am incredibly grateful.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Too little, too late....

It is too late tonight, almost tomorrow.

My day today has been very hectic, much like being a hamster on one of those silly wheels. You spin and run, but you don't really go anywhere.

Work and orthodontist appointment.

Making sandwiches and more appointments.

A little of this, a lot of nothing to show for.

In the midst, long division with remainders. Students who are longing for summer vacation. A teacher looking forward to rest.

So tonight, not too many words, because too many have left this body today.

Perhaps tomorrow, more energy, more creativity, more words, a brighter outlook.

Not too many words tonight, but enough to get the point across.

Monday, May 3, 2010

You can't trade back...

This afternoon, my boys had their end of season pizza party for tennis. Since they were each three and a half years old, they have been playing with the same coach, in a kid league that they both seem to enjoy, although I am not raising any Andy Roddrick's over here.

Regardless, their coach is a wonderful teacher who instills a sense of dignity and sportsmanship amongst all her charges. In many cases, some of those kids really need a guiding hand.

Case in point: In our neck of the woods, a strange phenomenon, eerily reminiscent of Madonna (circa 1984) has come to pass. School-age children are obsessed with these silly shaped rubber band bracelets that are worn as Madonna wore her infamous bracelets, and of course are traded.

As a school teacher, you can imagine how distracting these bracelets are, and the potential for all sorts of mishaps when trader's regret occurs.

Last week, after our little Friday Happy Hour pediatrician's foray, I bought Andrew some of those bracelets, just because. He has been so good lately, cooperative, kind to his brothers; that as I watched him look at the packaging with longing, I could not resist getting it for him.

He agreed to share with Matthew, who agreed to share his toy as well. All is well in the world.

Not quite.

Today, an older boy quickly made a beeline to Andrew and finagled a trade. Andrew traded a baseball bat for a phoenix. I watched the whole transaction; unable to stop it, knowing what was going to happen.

When Andrew saw my face as I asked him what had happened, his eyes grew round and his mouth found its way into a tight, small frown, with a slightly trembling chin. He realized that he had not really wanted to trade, and now wanted to trade back. But the older boy would hear nothing of it.

"You can't trade back," the big lug called coldly, as he searched out his next victim.

My little boy put his head into his crossed arms, tears silently rolling down his face, trying to be strong, but unable to keep it together.

Although he had wanted to make the trade, now, he wanted to go back.

I thought back to how many times I had wanted to be older, wiser. And now that I was, I didn't always want it. In many ways, there are days when I could just put my head down too, and cry. Because sometimes the trade sucks.

I tried to comfort him. I do recall telling him that the kid was a punk, which brought a glimmer of a upturned corner of his mouth. But I also tried to make him understand. Sometimes, the trade may not be worth how we feel about it later.

I think of how many people I have seen reach great success in their careers, only because they seemed to have traded their personal lives for them. They go home to cold, silent houses, and the trade doesn't seem that great in those moments.

Or how many marriages fell apart because holding on to anger was more important than holding on to the love that brought them together. And then, suddenly, they had their anger. But their being "right" wasn't worth the feeling of losing someone who you really cared about.

I later saw Andrew grin his sideways grin as the coach called him up to receive his trophy (BTW, everyone gets a trophy, not my favorite thing, but hey, who am I to judge?). He seemed to have moved on from the disappointment.

But I hope that he learned the greater lesson here. Sometimes, what you have isn't worth trading for anything if you are already happy.

I know that I could have been good at some high paying, all consuming job.

But I traded.

I traded the opportunity to be "successful" in dollar signs and be happy doing something that I love.

I can be a mother and not constantly feel at odds with my life and my job (although some days, it does happen).

And though there might be days; when I am standing on the street, holding a sign to fight for my livelihood, that I want to "trade back."

But those moments are few and far between.

Because I come home to a noisy, messy, chaotic home.

A home full of children.

A home full of love.

And there is no one in their right mind who would want to trade that back...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

On being the baby...

Yesterday was my youngest niece's birthday. My little sister's little girl turned one. We spent the better part of the day celebrating, and as you can see, I am late with my birthday tribute to my sweet Allison.

Allison is the youngest of two parents who are also the youngest...So she is literally the youngest of the youngest, and boy, does she know it!

Little Miss has sass. Her mouth sits in a permanent pout; as if she is modeling lipstick or constantly trying to figure out how to make you do what she wants, if she could only decide what it is she wants.

But that chubby baby is just a slice of heaven. Her head is covered in a golden halo of soft curls, and when she finally does smile or laugh, I swear, she is just like her mama. It is hearty, genuine, and impossible not to join her in her fit of giggles.

Being the youngest does have its privileges. She lives in a state of being perpetually spoiled. By her parents, her sister, her aunts and uncles. Her grandparents and cousins are no better.

And yesterday, as Her Royal Highness looked around at her loving subjects, she was a happy little girl. The youngest of the youngest. The most loved of all.

Happy birthday, little Miss Alli. We love you so! And I love that sass!