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My mother's birthday was Saturday. Wait - maybe it was Wednesday. If it was Wednesday, then my little brother whom I don't talk to anymore had a birthday on Saturday, but I kind of feel like his was Wednesday. He'll be thir...*I'm39minusthreeyear*...tysix. He'll be thirty-six now. My mother? Christ. She was either 23 or 25 she had me and her mother was 18 when she had her and she married my dad when one of them was 18 and my dad was born in 49 so I think maybe she's 63ish? 

This one time I tried to do Ancestry.com and I got stuck at "grandmothers' middle names." My family is *amazing* at secrets. 

I used to get so mad at people when I was in school and they would, in all sincerity, ask me questions like, "If you don't celebrate your birthday, how do you know how old you are?" Because math, maybe? I couldn't understand how they couldn't understand that not having a party didn't equate not counting years. Of course, they had never not celebrated a birthday and I never had, so neither of us were going to understand. They never woke up on their 10th birthday to Tuesday.  I'd never woken up on the day of my birth to anything other than whatever the hell day it was that day.

Until I turned 19.

On my 19th birthday, my father threw me a party. He threw me a first birthday party, because he'd waited 19 years to do it and he wasn't about to let either one of us miss out on the Pooh decorations or the 101 Dalmatians cake or the Perma Frost shots until I couldn't walk a straight line. What? Everyone gets their minor child completely shit-faced at her first birthday party, shut up. (If you don't know what Perma Frost is, I envy you your childhood.)

After that, I kind of got what those kids couldn't understand. I got how a birthday meant something completely different when someone else, anyone else, acknowledged it.  39 years into being my mother's daughter I have no idea what her birthday is, and only a vague guess as to her birth year. I don't know any of my siblings birthdays (except the one I still talk to, and I get his wrong by a day on either side every damn year) and I won't because they don't celebrate them so there's no reason for them to tell anyone, and less reason for anyone to remember. 

I've been alive for 39 years, but I just had my 20th* birthday** a few weeks ago. That means next year? 40/21. Everything bad happens for a good reason, people. #vegas

My friend Ben the Blue Lobster tagged me in this Facebook meme where he picks an age and you talk about where you are now vs where you were then. Perfectly, albeit unwittingly, he picked 20 for me. I'm supposed to do this on Facebook but this is 20. We do what we want.  

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Where I lived then: I started my 20s living in Denver (well, in Arvada, which is just northwest of Denver and just southeast of Boulder and hasn't made pot legal yet, in case you were wondering) with my dad and step-mother. This was the year I moved into the one and only apartment I'd ever live in as a single woman. I loved that apartment. I loved the autonomy, the silence, the power that comes from being completely unhinged to any one or thing. I lived in the apartment on top of the office of a storage facility in Golden, CO, and every evening, so long as I looked up and out, and not down, I watched the Rocky Mountains devour every delicious ray of sunlight. I learned more about myself in those months than I think I have in all the years since. Aside: If you've never seen a sunset in Colorado, you've simply never lived.

What I drove: I'd just traded in the car my dad gave me when in my senior year, his 1983 Datsun Nissan Stanza red stick shift that I rode in with all six of my immediate brothers and sisters as a child, and all of my high school friends as a senior. We drove up to Boulder every Friday night - moonroof open wide, BADII blaring from the cassette player, our ironic berets nearly blowing away in the gusts of cold mountain night air, the car barely making it up the incline from Louisville to Boulder on I-36. My two little brothers vanished with their mother (for good reason) in the mid-eighties, and didn't resurface again until the mid 2000's (thank you MySpace) and that car was the last physical tie I had to them. When I traded it in for my Mitsubishi Eclipse in burgundy with a turbo-charged engine and an adaptor port for one of those compact disk players that year, I found one of my little brothers' army toys buried beneath the seats of the car and had one of the best cries of my life right there in front of the car dealer.

Who had my heart: I was right in the beginning of the end of a relationship with the one guy who'd ever been genuinely nice to me in my entire life. Even when we were in high school and I was fixated on the idea that he was the one, the answer, the beginning and the end - and he couldn't get far enough away from me fast enough - he had still been nice to me. We dated for years after high school and I pushed him away every way I could during that time. When I was 20, I met some guy at work. He wasn't nice to me. He pushed me away. Obviously, I had to have him. I didn't even try to get him for a long time after, and didn't success for even longer, but at 20 I knew he had me, and I think he knew it, too. 

Where I live now: I grew up in the actual 'hood, and the road I've traveled so far has taken me from So. Philly/Northern Delaware way up & over to Colorado, then all the way up to Canada and all the way down to Texas and across to Arizona. All long, I've dreamed of living on a farm. If i had my way, I would own some land, grow my own food, keep a few animals. Nothing major, nothing profitable, just a life that includes simple, quiet contact with the earth. I didn't quite get my way, but I came pretty close. I ending up settling down for the long haul way in the very suburbanized end of a cozy little farming community on the outskirts of the San Francisco Bay area.

Yes, there is a farming community in the bay area. No, not even the people in the bay area know where it is. (It's that impossibly far away place where you have to drive your kids to play soccer in the summer.)

I don't live anywhere near the cable cars San Francisco is famous for, and there are no fog-lined bridges near my house. My neighbor lives in an old cottage and keeps goats, and the biggest town event of the year is the local corn festival (NorCal Corn Capital, representin'). You have to drive through either an enormous wind farm or 11,000 acres of active farmland to get to my house. It takes me as long to drive to the city in traffic as it would to drive to Lake Tahoe. We can pick our own fruit; hell, we could grow it if we weren't so lazy. I pretty much got exactly what I dreamed of and I have a nice basil and mint plant-thing growing in in my kitchen windowsill for happy hour to show for it. 

What I drive: I had a five-passenger Jeep, and Jim has a five-very-skinny-passenger Volvo. We have five kids between us, so we needed something bigger, and there was no way we were going to live in the one place in Northern California where you can get away with owning a truck and not own one. So we bought this.

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I'd like to tell you we bought it so that we could get everyone around town one car, but I'm really pretty sure that one of us bought it to play Toby Keith real loud and also this.

Who has my heart: This is the year that I legally ended my relationship with that guy I met when I was 20 who wasn't very nice to me most of the time, but did end up giving me the three greatest gifts I ever could have asked for. He didn't have my heart for very long, mostly because once I realized what my heart was in for with him, I took it back and hid it in a deep, dark box inside of myself where no one would ever find it and fuck with it again. Except I underestimated this guy. He saw right through my heartless facade and over time, over years, he helped me remember what corner I tucked my heart away into. He helped me find the courage to go into that deep, dark place and re-examine what I'd hidden away. His faith in me was constant and pure, without condition or pretense. He offered me nothing but support, and he asked for nothing in return. He taught me to trust again, to open up to the possibility that my life could be different, even good. He showed me what I looked like through a lens not warped by co-dependence, but one bent for potential.

This thing that I have become, it is all because of him.

Who has my heart now? I do. I have it and I feel it and I follow it and I trust it and I'm grateful for every hole poked in it, because they are the spaces he was born to fill. Who guards it and nourishes it and heals it and drives the very beating of it? This amazing, wonderful, funny, beautiful, intelligent, creative, ridiculous, driven, inspiring, loving, passionate, protective, nurturing man. This guy that makes every single thing I had to get through to get to this point in time with him worth it. This guy that brings order to my chaos and reason to my insanity. This guy that is my perfect complement, and my exact counterbalance. This guy that takes my breath away every moment he is alive, either in awe or laughter. He also has my tackle box.

This is a pretty big deal.

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*I also recently had a 22nd birthday. I have 19 years of missed birthdays to catch up on. Judge not, friends.)

**HTML is fun

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. 

Fupa the Mighty TRex.jpg

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.)

What Goes Around Comes Around

My oldest son's first word was bubble. He was three years old, and didn't do a damn thing until he could do it perfectly. He took his first step at 8 3/4 months, on Christmas Day, to a video camera. By the end of that day he was running circles around the tree, his poppup, and me.

The first time he rode a two-wheel bike without training wheels (at the ripe old age of two) he rode it down a huge hill and back up again. He does things loud, big, and on his own timeline. So he was three and he didn't talk yet, but he had better balance and gross motor skills then than I have at 39. 

In fairness, he did kind of talk. He mumbled some stuff and pointed a lot and I pretty much knew exactly what he was saying. His baby brother was an infant - a freakishly verbal infant - so I had some bandwidth to decipher my first-born's weird little language. We realized much later that his godmother had set out to teach him Dutch, but had failed to mention it to anyone else, so a lot of what we thought was his cute whittle made-up language was really just an English-Baby-Dutch hybrid. Talk about your reckless fusion. 

Eventually, this whole non-verbal thing came to a head for him. Little Baby Brother Talks-a-Lot gets the teletubby dolls and thesauruses and stuff; what's a toddlah got to do to get some damn bubbles off the top of the fridge to blow over the neighbor's new fence? Oh, right, grow four feet right now or ASK FOR THEM.

Oh right, YOU CAN'T.

There are few forces in the world more powerful that sibling rivalry, but irritation with your parents inability to "get" you as strong as it is eternal. He stood in front of that fridge, red faced, screaming garbledeegook at me while I tried to decode - do you want milk? popsicles? cheese? crackers? a nap? what, child??? 

He inhaled, and pointed his stubby little finger up just a bit higher. "I! Want! BUBBLE!"  he shrieked! His first sentence! And it was yelling at me! Of course it was.

And now here I am, 13 years later - standing in a different kitchen, pointing up to the shelf where we keep the stash of tea, telling that same child who currently stands 6" over my head and is growing that I want a teabag. Of course I am.

Everything comes back around, parents - every little thing.

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.