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Living in Denial

My father died.

 

I have trouble admitting this, accepting this. I go about days, just thinking that he’s off working late, back in his lab at IBM. Or on the racquetball court destroying the competition. He’s still alive. He’s just too busy to have lunch with me and my mom. Or asleep, exhausted from a long day, when I call.

 

Because I cannot accept the reality that this incredibly brilliant, kind, funny man no longer exists.

 

I have tried telling people, but it stuns me every time the words come out of my mouth. I can’t tolerate when people tell me that they are sorry. I know that most of them mean it and want to pay their respects. I deeply appreciate the kindness. I appreciate the acknowledgment, but I cannot acknowledge back. I can’t discuss it.

 

So, I haven’t told some of my close friends. Many of the people with whom I grew up, people who spent holidays with us, people who celebrated with us, don’t know yet. I can’t get the words out.

 

I watched him endure a devastating illness and mourned him as his health deteriorated in front of my eyes. I was anxious and sad around the clock, listening to doctors tell us that he could live one more year or one more day. Now, the anxiety is gone. I should feel a sense of peace. But all I feel is a deep sense of sadness that permeates my every waking moment.

 

But I don’t want to discuss it. Happy, thoughtful, and kind memories of my father do not make me feel better. I cannot look at pictures of happier times. I can’t talk about missing him or contemplate how much he valued his life and family. I can’t comment on what he would have enjoyed doing or seeing. I can’t reflect on all of his great accomplishments. None of this gives me peace. None of this makes it easier for me to accept that he has died.

 

I don’t confront my sadness. I function like a shark, moving forward so that I can stay alive. Stay functional. Stay busy.

 

On the daily, I pretend. I pretend that he is still there. That I can hear his voice again. That I will hold his hand again. That my children will once again hear his good-natured chuckle whenever he answers the phone and hears their voices.

 

Friends, wonderful friends, have asked me what they can do for me. I laugh, not because I do not appreciate their sincerity. But the only thing that would make me feel better is to bring my father back. To save a life that could no longer be saved.

 

My father died.

 

I know it happened. But I’m not able to accept that reality. So, I will continue to move along, living in denial.

 

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They’re Back….

My second child cried as he boarded the bus six years ago for his first summer of sleep away camp. He wrote letters home about the pain and torment of sleep away camp, telling us he wasn’t “manly enough for this,” and that we must come and get him. And then, the second he came home, he started texting his bunkmates about the next summer, counting down every second until he could return to the lake. Six summers later at the same sleep away camp, he does not want to leave his “paradise” and come home.

This summer, my fourth child came home from his four weeks at camp telling me that his friends bonded more this summer than in the past two years. He suddenly considered these kids, with whom he spends a mere 30 days a year, some of his closest friends. He started talking about having his bunk over for a sleepover. He complained that he was not permitted to stay for the camp’s second session. When I explained that his brothers did not spend the entire summer at camp until they were much older, he argued that he is a particularly mature at 11-year-old. And besides, some of his friends were staying. We ended in a stalemate.

Coming home from camp can be likened to a re-entry into mainstream society. Yes, the kids are leaving a hopefully happy place; not a prison. Yes, for most of them this is not their first rodeo. Yet as they enter their teenage years and become more attached to their camp friends, each homecoming becomes more challenging. For the kids and the parents.

So many factors play into this. Camp should be a non-stop, parent-free party, filled with all of your favorite activities and non-stop playdates. While camp can be a learning experience for many, it can also help you to grow up and find yourself without the shadow of siblings, parents, teachers, and schoolmates. You have the chance to re-invent yourself for a few weeks, which can be quite empowering in the pre-teen and teenage years.

As I write this, I am scanning Facebook pictures of happy parents hugging their children who just returned from sleep away camp. Tomorrow, my second child comes home from his last ever summer as a camper. As much as I miss him, I am dreading his return. After seven weeks of pure joy, never-ending parties, hanging for hours at the lake, coaching and playing sports, and endless laughter with “his peeps,” I know he is not excited to re-enter mainstream society. He texted last night to tell us that he plans to return next summer. I held my tongue, contemplating whether or not to ask the director to keep him until next summer. We could visit on weekends and every other Wednesday. Wonder if the camp would go for it?

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The Little Label

The first time my sister-in-law met me, she described me as “little.” Given that I am nearly a decade younger than her and about one-third her size, I didn’t think much about her comment at the time.

Now, 20-something years later, I suddenly re-visited that long-forgotten description.

We have endured almost two years of condescending comments from the current President of the United States about “Little Marco,” “Liddle Bob Corker,” and “Little Adam Schiff.” Using the word “little” to describe someone is not a compliment. It demeaning and deliberate, often used to diminish someone’s importance and to place a person in a negative light.

That is certainly what Trump tries to do with this term. He considered Senator Rubio a lightweight and Rep. Schiff a low level government employee. He wants to weaken their importance, simultaneously making himself appear larger than life. The scary thing is that enough people bought into his absurd, blatantly mean characterizations to get him elected to the office of the President of the United States.

Trump is not the only person to use this term in a derogatory manner.

Teenage boys will often refer to their shorter counterparts as “little,” making sure that they put them in their place. It’s a solid method of teenage control. Imagine being the best basketball player, even though you are four inches shorter than everyone else on the court. Imagine your teammates talking about your height incessantly. It’s an easy mind game to make kids feel inferior, and most kids have to be exceptionally tough and confident to overcome this scrutiny.

I’ve seen eighth grade girls look down at fifth grade girls and say, “Aawww, you’re so little!” in a superficially affectionate tone. This is not endearing. Sixth grade girls are not looking to be patronized by older, potentially intimidating girls. Many people remember thinking that they were older or more sophisticated than their age. Calling someone “little” is simply designed to undercut people’s self-esteem.

Maybe part of this is society’s over-sensitivity to everything; political correctness taken to an extreme. Yet, in the current world climate, we are expected to watch our words. To speak more deliberately, carefully, and kindly than ever before. Calling a female “silly” or “crazy,” or referring to anyone as a “snowflake,” is already considered inappropriate. Referring to any person over 18 as “cute” was always condescending. Now “little” can be added to the inappropriate descriptions list. Because using the word “little” to describe another person is clearly meant to weaken them, to diminish their worth. And that is not okay.

In the end, I can easily be the bigger person and say that this description is meaningless. Yet, we all know that words can alter perceptions. So beware of the “little” label.

family

In the Blink of an Eye

There are days that I still think that I am 22.  Really.  Maybe it is the delusion of old age.  Maybe it is emotional survival.  Maybe it is that everything after 22 happened in the blink of an eye. And then there is today.

Today, my college roommates messaged me to reminisce about the olden days in our decrepit dorm. We talked about boys who are now men. Inside jokes that still make us chuckle. Familiar places that no longer exist. Parties at which we lingered until dawn. People whom we no longer know, some of whom are no longer with us. At the time, every moment seemed incredibly important, utterly vital to our everyday existence. Yet it was all so incredibly fleeting, and now these moments are simply memories. Mostly fond memories with people who will mostly hold a special place in our hearts.

And then it hit me. My child will be leaving my home in about a year. I will have a child who is around that age. I cannot be that age, because I will have a child who will be leaving our home and starting a new life without me, without his father, without his brothers. A life that will consume him, a life that could take priority over his life in our home.

And then it hit me. My child will move into a dorm room and meet people who will have some sort of, hopefully positive, imprint on his life. A child who will be meeting people with whom he will forever share the bond of college. He will visit new places, make new memories without us, and start his separate life.

And then it hit me. Twenty some odd years from now, he will communicate with his college roommates and reminisce about familiar people, places, and events. He will try and recall names and places.  Events that were too important to miss at the time. He will be my age.  And I am no longer 22.

And then it hit me. Life happened faster than I anticipated. I no longer have four little boys running about my house. My baby, my firstborn, is almost an adult. So everything has a greater sense of urgency for me. As I put off doing anything until tomorrow, tomorrow quickly became a memory. And as much as I enjoy reminiscing about those fun yet fleeting college days, I beg to savor these days. This last year or so as a complete family unit.

Today, I was forced to remember that I am not 22 anymore. Not in a bad way. So many good things happened after 22. So many events that were truly vital to my growth, to my life, to my inherent happiness. Starting with my family and including this child who will be 22 in the blink of an eye.

growing up

FOGO: Fear of Getting Older

My family and friends will be shocked when I tell you that I don’t really enjoy my birthday. I always use the excuse that it is overshadowed by Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and National Cheesesteak Day. But the truth is, I just don’t like getting older.

I know, I know. No one likes getting older, and the alternative is even less appealing. Whatever. It’s all a justification. My body aches, I’m not as physically strong as I used to be, and I tire more easily. Getting older stinks. And eventually, I am going to be faced with that less appealing alternative.

For me, this was not a middle aged revelation. This was something about which I thought when I was as young as 16. My mother will tell you that is because I had such a wonderful childhood with the best parents in the world. She is somewhat right. More importantly, that is a line that I now throw at my almost 15-year-old.

In our home, we make birthdays a big deal for the boys. They get more than a day, as they are guaranteed a birthday weekend, and a few of them are known to take advantage of our celebratory nature and stretch birthday celebrations out for an entire week. They get tickets to sporting events, meals in their favorite restaurants, large family gatherings, and parties. Many parties. Yet, like me, my child who is about to turn 15 does not want to get older.

He claims to have a litany of reasons for hating his birthday. Yet ultimately, like me, he does not want to get older. He likes the minimal responsibility and good time that comes with being a child. He does not want his life to rush past him because there is never enough time to enjoy every experience. And he doesn’t want anyone around him to get so old that they are faced with the not at all appealing alternative of death.

Of course, as his parent, I am obligated to make him feel better about growing up. I talk to him about all that he has yet to experience. I tell him that the happiest time in my life is when I had my own babies. I tell him that one of the happiest times in my parents’ lives was when their grandchildren were born. We talk about all that he hopes to accomplish in life.

But he doesn’t buy any of my shtick anymore than I do. He rolls up into a ball, asking me to cuddle him. And I know that I don’t want him, or his brothers, to get any older either. I want to freeze them in these moments. So I am trying to invent a time-freeze machine. That will alleviate all of our anxieties.

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The Too-Long Goodbyes

Maybe it is heartless, but I never understood the whole “waving as the bus leaves for sleep away camp” thing. You knew they are leaving. You can’t really see them through the bus windows. But, you continue to stand there, staring at the tinted windows, waving at random children whom you’ve convinced yourself belong to you.

Once the kids get on the bus, they don’t want to see us. They have waited ten months to jump on that bus and escape their daily grind. I even asked my children if they are waving back. They are not. They have said their goodbyes. They are either happily involved with their friends or teary and avoiding the masses waving at them.

And yet, we continue to wave.

Sometimes I think it is guilt that encourages us to stand, endlessly, in the smoky heat of the busses as we watch them pull away. They are half a mile away, and we are still waving, hoping that they have x-ray vision and can see how much we will miss them. Because if we wave enough, and they know that we will miss them, we can relax and enjoy our summer while they live it up at camp.

We send them to camp for four to eight weeks. We will not be available to cater to their every whim and whine. They do not have to check with us before they go swimming, build a rocket, or have a soda. We do not know what they are eating for every meal, and we cannot tell them to eat their veggies. And, let’s face it, other than repeatedly refreshing the pictures to make sure that our little ones are alive and hopefully happy in their summer homes, we barely communicate with them throughout their time at camp.

But we stand by the busses and wave goodbye for a long, long time.

This year, my husband drove my boys and one of their closest friends upstate for their seven-week escape. No long goodbyes or lingering. We laughingly waved for two seconds as they flew out of the driveway. They were on their way to their happy place, and we did not feel remotely guilty enough to continue waving as they sped down the street.

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Tattle Talers Never Win

How many times have you heard someone tell you, “My child would never do something like that,” only to know that the child in question is guilty of the wrong-doing in question?

No matter how old you are, no matter what your intentions, it is always best to mind your own business when it comes to other people’s children. It always ends badly. Trust me. People do not want to hear that their child might be imperfect, unkind, aggressive, not the most brilliant person ever to walk the Earth….Should I go on?

When my one of my boys was in third grade, he told me that a good friend, let’s call him Don, was starting fights on the basketball court with some of my son’s other good friends. He was upset because the group wanted to exclude Don, and he simply wanted Don to be less aggressive and stay in the game. “Please speak to Don’s mom,” he begged, only wanting to keep Don in the fold. At the time, I considered Don’s mom, let’s call her Elaine, a friend. At the time, I too wanted Don to continue to hang with this group of boys. So I tried to speak to Elaine. But instead of the friend whom I came to enjoy over the years, I hit a brick wall. “Well what are the other boys doing to Don?” she demanded. I explained that my child did not see anything inappropriate done to Don. But my pleas fell on deaf ears and anger. My son’s friends soon refused to include Don, something I tried to prevent. And part of the problem was that he had a “Not My Child” mom.

Flash forward to seventh grade. Another one of my many boys leaves dinner with friends in tears. Turns out that one member of their crowd, let’s call him Turner, is telling their mutual friends that my son is too “boring.” Turner wants to convince the crowd to stop hanging out with my child. Not because my son did anything mean, just because they were middle schoolers. In this case, I made the decision to guide my son rather than call the mother – let’s call her Susie. There should have been an open door for this type of conversation with Susie as she was someone with whom my family spent vacations, holidays, and hurricanes. But I was hesitant to tell her about her son’s behavior. Turns out that I made a well-thought out decision. Months later, after Turner caused some notable damage to some of my child’s relationships, Susie called me to ask why I did not offer Turner a ride to a party. Turns out that Susie didn’t get the answer she anticipated. Turns out, Susie, my one-time friend, the friend who spent hours telling me, “if my kid ever does anything inappropriate, I want to know about it,” really didn’t want to know about it. Her child was perfect. Her child could do no wrong. She was another “Not My Child” mom.

The moral of this not so happy story is simple. Tattle talers never win. We learned that in preschool when Johnny called you a poo poo head and the teacher simply told you to ignore Johnny. And it holds true as adults. As much as people say that they do not want to parent in denial, they want to parent in denial. That’s just the way it is. The majority of people want to maintain their fantastic bubble of perfection rather than work towards a more perfect reality.

So do yourself a favor. Do not try to burst those bubbles. Mind your own business. Eventually reality will explode in their faces. Hopefully without too much everlasting damage done to anyone.