Distance Makes the Heart

My kids left yesterday to spend half of their spring break with their dad. There is nothing in the world more bittersweet than having the house stay exactly as spotless as the housekeeper left it 24 full hours ago.*

There are traces of them everywhere: the humming of the Wii left running, the smell of teen spirit wafting from my oldest's bedroom, the T-Rex frozen in time on the Whiteboard of Glorious Correction and Societal Alignment for the Advancement of the Revolution, whom I've named Fupa. Because shut up. 

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The fact that I can't figure out what to do with myself when they're gone tells me that it's important they go. The fact that I have spent 12 straight hours in this same spot on my couch hyper-focused on work in the first day they're gone tells me that I need them to go. 

Minutes take hours and hours pass in the blink of an eye. I check my phone and my watch and my phone again for text and right at the moment I stop waiting for them the phone finally rings, and they are short-spoken and distracted on the other end of the line, somewhere on the road between this life with me and that one with their father. I am relived. They are perfectly happy. They don't need me the way I need them. They are going to be just fine.

I have to get through six more days of this quiet, but I only have six days left of this quiet. I try to remember to save each extra fragment of time these elongated minutes give me, because it will be an even longer time before I hear this silence again. I close my eyes and try to conjure the things I like to do when I have any option in front of me. The smell of bath salts, the way the hair behind my ears clings to the cold of nighttime air, the taste of a cocktail at the audaciously early hour of 8pm.  

I break the silence, turn the TV on, and catch up on all the shows the show I like. I work and work and work and work and work and am grateful for the luxury of time to see something, anything from the beginning to the end, without once having to make the impossible choice between my children and anything else.

I pass each of their rooms and whisper goodnight to them, just like I do every night and I imagine I will continue to do so long as I am able. I crawl into my bed and drown myself in the tiny sounds I can almost never hear - the creak of the house, the chirp of the crickets, the buzz of the streetlamps. I cherish this fleeting eternity without them, and in their absence I am reminded that my choice to be some small part of their lives has always, and will always, supersede my obligation. 

(And no, I cannot believe I have a housekeeper, even one who only comes every two weeks. I have a ton to say about it that I just may, someday, but if you want to read a really thought-provoking post on the subject, click here.)

Clichés, Like Fairy Tales, Can Come True

I've been mentally and physically beat up by enough adults to know that there is absolutely nothing more horrid you can say to a kid than, "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you." The only people who say that are narcissistic sociopaths. If an adult says that to you, you're most likely going to carry whatever scar is left on you for the rest of your life.

I've never said it to my kids, and then few times I've even thought it's been appropriate I've stepped back immediately to reassess the situation, because those 11 words mean someone doesn't have a firm grip on the situation at hand,  and that someone is probably me.  

Except for today. Today I found the way that something can actually hurt me as the parent more than it hurts him as the kid, and I had to do it. The problem with having all these pre-conceived notions about what is and isn't good or appropriate parenting is that parenting isn't a finite thing. Children change every day, and so do the rules that govern engagement with them. 

So, my son messed up. The details of that mess up are not mine to share. (This is why keeping a mom blog for a decade is hard, friends.) No one is dead or detoxing or in jail or pregnant, but there was a mistake made at school. It was pretty big. I found out about this mistake because moms always find out, kids, and I asked about it. When I asked about it - correction, several minutes and excuses after I asked about it, I was handed a piece of paper on which the school had tried to notify me of the mistake 11 full days ago. That piece of paper had been forgotten....um, no, errr, lost...well, um....you know...it was in the WAY BOTTOM of my bag, mom.

I checked. His bag does not have hole in it's heart that goes all the way to China. There is no door to another dimension in the bottom of his bag. His bag is not the 13th Doctor's Tardis.  

I have this rule that I've always had in place - if you tell me the truth, and tell it right way, you get in no trouble. This is the most awesomely terrifying rule for kids, because no matter how many times they try it and it works, they will never believe that this time this thing they've done won't land them up shit creek. It's a leap of faith for them, a calculated risk, and I have never faltered from it even when I've re-heally wanted to. I value truth more than I value punishment served for wrong-doing. Coming clean the first time, owning up to your shit, it's hard business. They have to learn to do it, or they'll grow up to be conniving jerks. So I have no earthly clue why, the older they get, the more they try to lie their way out of things. I guess it's just part of being a teenager. 

Anyway, we had a problem. I was righteously mad at that problem; mad enough, in fact, to consider laying down some pretty severe consequences. You see, he has this ski trip coming up next week, and even though this child was born and raised in Colorado and then spent 3 1/2 years in Vancouver, he's never once been snowboarding. He's waited his whole life for this trip, and now I had to consider taking it away from him.

But I really didn't want to. I know what this trip means to him. I know how hard he worked to sell candybars and tchotchkes to pay for it. I know that he's dreamed of this his whole life, and I know that I wasn't able to provide it to him even when we lived in two of the greatest places on this continent to do it. It is more than just a trip - it's a lifetime of waiting and wanting and doing without while watching all his friends have and jeez, anything but the trip, you know? I needed a reason, one excuse, to not take it away. I searched. I searched my rational mind and my irrational heart and after long enough, I found it.  

I sent him to his room, emailed his teachers, and calmed down a bit. He seemed sufficiently concerned about the situation, he seemed to grasp the severity of the actions that led him to this place, so I called him to me and instructed him to go to school the next day and sort this out with his teachers. He was to apologize for disrespecting them in the way he did that landed him in this mess, and ask them to work with him to find a way to correct the situation and better himself as a student. He was to express his dedication to his education and his respect for the work they do to provide it, and then he was to come home with an action plan.  I know this works, because we've done it in the past. He agreed, apologized, promised to do better, and after I took every screen away from that child for the conceivable future, i decided to myself that enough was done to handle the situation, and the ski trip could still happen. 

This morning, we rehearsed what he'd say, and I sent him off to school with a hug. And then that child came home today having done not one single thing he was supposed to do. Of course, he didn't tell me that. He distracted me with having remembered to bring his lunch box home today, whee!, like I had forgotten or something. So I asked. Want to know what he said? 

"Oh, I thought I could just stop doing that thing I'd done and it would be fine."

Riiiiiiight. 

So now we have omission coupled with blatant disobedience and to make matters worse? The thing he did to get himself into hot water? HE DID IT AGAIN TODAY. 

Since I had already taken away his phone, computer, and TV for like ever, this pretty much left my options as a responsible parent in dire need of getting the severity of the situation through his teenaged skull at:

  • Sell him to traveling carnies
  • Take the ski trip away

This incident aside, I'm actually quite madly in love with him, so that takes the circus off the table. He's left me with no other option. I have to take the ski trip away. Now, I know this is going to sting. Tuesday at school is going to su-huck nuts for him, when he's in class knowing his snow club is on the mountain. He's probably not going to have the opportunity to snowboard again any time soon - we live in Northern California, and we have five kids. Snow trips aren't exactly in the budget.

He's going to regret this for a long time, but me? I wanted him to have this opportunity so goddamn much. I feel so much guilt all the time for not having been able to provide this for these boys when it was right there in our backyards. I feel so much guilt for so many of the things they had to live without when they were little. I wanted to give them the world, and I never even came close. This was something of a redemption for me. At least one of my kids would step foot on a mountain in winter while they were still kids and know what conquering it felt like. They're Colorado boys; it's in their, in our, blood.  And i'm taking it away from him. 

This, my friends, is going to hurt me much more than it hurts him. 

It is breaking my heart. And I still have to do it. 

If You're Going to Be the Worst Parent Ever, Make Sure You Have a the Best Co-parent Ever

The Tooth Fairy didn't make it to our house last night. This is a huge problem.

In the decade that she and I have had to work together to manage the extraction of baby teeth from out of little faces and under little pillows, she's not been able to complete her end of the deal a only a handful of times. There are numerous reasons why the tooth fairy has missed picking up a tooth - usually, it's simply that the tooth was dirty. Everyone knows the tooth fairy doesn't take dirty teeth. This is why you have to brush twice a day every single day, because you never know when one's going to fall out. Once she had the stomach flu (no one is immune from that BS),  and once or twice she's embarrassed to admit she's been a little drunk. What? Tooth fairies have parties, too. Who's going to be the DD for the freaking tooth fairy? You want her to drink and fly? Didn't think so. She very responsibly stayed home, feels terrible about the entire thing today, and won't be making that mistake again for a very long time.

But last night, conditions were perfect. It was Thursday night, a work night and hardly a night for revelry. We waited until every single one of us was home from work and school to go out back and call the tooth fairy, making a wish on the brightest, firstest star we saw that night - and we all made really good, sincere wishes out loud that she'd come and take 3of3's tooth. The tooth itself was carefully tucked under the perfect spot on the pillow - not so deep that she wouldn't be able to reach it, not so close to the edge that it might fall out onto the floor if 3of3 had a restless night's sleep.

We did everything exactly right, and still the tooth fairy didn't come. Needless to say, 3of3 was devastated. 

When she handed her tooth to me in the kitchen this morning, I looked closely at it. "It was probably dirty, honey. You know she doe...." "No mom, I brushed it extra last night before i went to be to be sure it was super clean." 

Oh shit. 

"Well maybe she...maybe we...um..."

"She just didn't COME, mom. She just FORGOT about me."

My 15 year old walked in, and I asked him, "Hey, why did the tooth fairy miss you when you were little?" He grumbled something very tired and 15 back at me. I tried to find a silver lining. "But didn't she always leave you extra when she missed a night?" He glared at me and said, "I don't remember. I just remember her not coming."

Ouch. 

I went over to 3of3, offered her a baggie for her tooth, and gave her a hug. Jim came into the kitchen and asked what was up. We told her the tooth fairy hadn't come, and 3of3 was just so sad about it, and he said, "Well of course she didn't come. Didn't you read the news?"

3of3 looked up. So did I. So did the 15 year old trying to not be a part of any of this. 

"Polar vortex," he said, while he brewed his coffee. "Reuters had a whole article about it. Public service crews are all jammed up, up and down the eastern seaboard. The tooth fairy was grounded, like my plane was the other day coming home from my trip to New York. She didn't get to a single kid last night."

"OOOOOH," 3of3 said. 

"I'll print the article out for you today while you're at school," he said back to her. 

She smiled, and went back to eating her oatmeal. I offered to put her tooth back under her pillow, in case the tooth fairy spent some school hours catching up on pickups, but she said she didn't think that was very likely. 

She went off to school, and I went upstairs and got to work. I was on a conference call when Jim left for work, but I found the news article on my desk for her, printed out just like he promised. Apparently, she's so backed up FedEx has stepped in to help her out, and they're expecting possible delays of up to two days. 

Thank goodness someone in this house knows how to read the news in the morning. Also, Photoshop. 

Behind the Wheel of a Large Automobile

32.9 miles exactly how far I will walk, and by walk I mean drive, just to be the mom to keep the magic of Christmas alive in this house. 

I've been procrastinating buying my son the one and only gift he has asked for this year, the one that makes his eyes 15 year old completely-over-it-emo eyes go all -

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because I don't even know why. There is no reason. I just haven't bought it because, and now it's sold out across like America and I didn't find that out until I tried to buy it online today, 17,204 months after he told me Santa bringing it to him would make his life

Yes, Santa is still bringing him presents. The first rule of Christmas Club is we don't talk about Christmas Club. When you stop believing in Santa, he stops believing in you. Santa brings you what your heart wants the most and what his heart wants the most isn't available at a single online retailer until the Ides of March and oh my god, I don't even know what to DO.  

So what I did was start pretending that I don't know how The Internet works and I called (like, with my phone and everything) (I KNOW) every (the) Best Buy in town, and they searched every Best Buy in the city, and then I did the same thing with Target, and then I did the same thing again with Gamestop and by the power of Greyskull, it WORKED. They found one for me at a Gamestop 32.9 miles from my house. Guess how long 32.9 miles from my house takes to drive? Oh, you know, an hour and a half.

The Far East Bay giveth, the Far East Bay taketh away. 

I know it's probably not smart to be hyperfocused on one child's Christmas gift when there are five children waking up on December 25th under my roof this year, but in three years this one is off to college and he'll spend one of the two Christmases I get with him before then with his father, so this is the 2nd to last round for him and me and Santa.

This is not my beautiful wife. 

I think I'd drive a lot further than 32.9 miles if it meant I got a few more years to torment him with Christmas pictures on Santa's lap, of baking cookies to leave out, of truths we dare not speak aloud lest we break the spell of childhood magic. We've never once, not beyond his very elementary years, talked about the existence of Santa Claus - we believe unitedly in the notion that someone out there delights in delighting us, and making sure he knows that that is worth all the tanks of gas on earth. 

A Time to Give

In the amount of time it takes me to drive from my house to my office, I could drive in the opposite direction and end my drive in Tahoe. We live in the sticks of Northern California because we have to. We have five children. We have to put them all somewhere.

When my boys were little, we lived in a crappy little basement apartment (which I loved so very much) in the middle of Denver. We hardly had enough space for us, let alone a bunch of kid stuff. For this one tiny little sliver of my life, I was Über-organized. I rotated toys in and out of circulation so they frequently felt they had a fresh supply of things to play with. I did the same with their clothes.

They had one toybox which they could keep full of all the action figures and Legos and Hot Wheels and Nerf guns and puzzles and dinosaurs and Dora the Explorer toys they wanted (because gender roles are for sissies, and Dora was *awesome*), but it wasn't to overflow. All their toys had to fit inside that one toybox (which really was just a big Rubbermaid crate with a bunch of stickers and shit on it) and if they didn't, some would have to be donated to charity. Not just any toys had to go, good ones were donated, ones a child who maybe didn't have enough money to buy new toys would be happy to find at the local thrift shop. 

Same went for Christmas and birthdays. Each year at the beginning of December, we brought out all the toys, all the games, all the Erector/construction sets, and we started making tough choices, because if Santa was going to leave presents, we had to make room for them. Each year I explained to them that not every family is lucky enough to be able to buy their children Christmas gifts, and that we could help make those kids' Christmas' a wonderful time by giving our best toys, the ones we have cared for and kept together and played with delicately, to the local thrift shop so a family who needed to find wonderful gifts for their kids at the thrift shop, would. 

My children (and really, every child ever) were delighted at this prospect. Yes, giving up toys they loved sucked for them, but they loved the idea of giving another kid a good Christmas, and I loved them for their kind little hearts. 

Of course, those little boys are not little anymore, and they don't really play with toys anymore. We don't have toyboxes, we have cable bins. We don't rotate stuffies, we rotate game systems. We have a great big house a million miles from no where that can store you won't believe how many crates of Legos and Airsoft guns and vintage handheld game systems. There are no more gently used toys to pass on to a new family, but the ritual of it is still important. These men-and-women-in-training need to have it instilled in them that thinking of others, that giving while they're busy receiving, is as much a part of this holiday craziness as turkey and trees and 33% off sales with free shipping.

Wanting to give isn't nearly as easy as wanting to get, until you learn how freaking amazing giving feels. 

The first Tuesday in December is #GivingTuesday. After school, we are heading out to the mall, where each kid is going to pick one gift that they want to get under their own Christmas tree this year. They're going to bring it home and wrap it gorgeously. We're going to take it our of our family budget for Christmas gifts, and count it as one of their personal Christmas gifts, and then we are going to give it away to someone else.

Maybe it will go to a local foster child, maybe to a family who's having a rough time getting by or rebounding financially. It won't be worth a ton monetarily, because we don't have a ton to give, but it will be something. It will make a child's Christmas brighter, and it will give my children the greatest gifts I can think to give them - humility and humanity.

Join the giving movement here and find ideas for giving here.