Smelling the Roses


“When are they due?” I texted, knowing exactly what the answer would be.

“Today,” he texted back.

I had tons of baby pictures, but we hadn’t snapped many pic of Thing1 or Thing2 since Christmas and none that were remotely yearbook-worthy. So that’s how the Big Guy, Thing1 & 2 and I found ourselves packed into my Jetta, zipping toward the mall portrait studio after I got done with work.

The ball-drop was my fault. I had messaged a friend about senior portraits a few weeks earlier and then forgotten about it when round 3 of this year’s flu started up. Thing2’s classroom has been a petrie dish that would make a bacteriologist green with envy and gangrene, repeatedly recycling flu and strep that caught Thing1 in an especially vicious spin of the cycle.

Thing1, understandably, has had to work to remind himself of the good things that have happened to him this year — getting into most of the schools he applied to, a job he loves with people he likes, and miraculously managing to be in the hospital mainly on days he’s not scheduled.

Still, he’s been out of school a lot. Normal bodily functions require planning. A fitness buff, he struggles to remember the healthy version of himself, and it has definitely affected his mental health.

“I just wish he’d get a break,” the Big Guy says every so often.

The entire family has learned that breaks are rare, brief and never scheduled. So, even though it was our first family outing in months that didn’t include a hospital, none of us was ready to let our guard down Saturday night as we sped toward the mall for the last minute appointment I’d booked.

The Big Guy, however, quickly started doing what dads do best, using his special talent for turning innocuous road signs into the finest eighth grade humor, and Thing1 and Thing2 were, as always, an appreciative audience. They segued into fart jokes, and we all started bawling. I focused on trying to drive as I surrendered any pretense of trying to minimize the inappropriate humor.

The shenanigans ceased only briefly as we walked through the department store to the portrait studio, but as soon as Thing1 and then Thing2 got in front of the camera, the Big Guy went to work with his Family Guy impressions ensuring that the two of them smiled for every shot.

They smiled for their individual sessions and then together with Thing2 putting Thing1 in a headlock or grinning up at him as if to say, “I’m willing to be the bratty brother the whole way home if it would get a laugh.”

And in every shot, I can see them completely forgetting their troubles. The only thought they seem to be sharing, as every kid does at least once, is how embarrassing parents can be in public.

Trouble started back up for Thing1 the next morning as his body refused to respond to medication and fart jokes.

We had known the fun would be short, but at least for a few hours on Saturday night, we had been reminded of an important truth which was the only unspoken thing that night. You have to take the bad, but when breaks come your way with a bit of good, you positively need to enjoy them — even if someone has to tell a fart joke to get you started — because you don’t know when they’ll come around again.

The Scattered States of Thing2

Thing2 at the ER

Thing1  was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder almost 2 years ago now. We knew the diagnosis would come with big changes to his life, and this winter we really got to understand what it means to live with and care for someone with a chronic illness.

We were still somewhat prepared for it.

What we weren’t prepared for was going through very similar routine with Thing2. After several months of ER visits and tests and flu‘s, we now find ourselves between a number of diagnoses, including a possible tickborne illness.

 Thing2 has found himself and completely unfamiliar territory. My superhero whose used to jumping over tall rock piles in a single bound it’s only found himself with barely enough energy to walk from chair to bedroom.

Except during the worst of the pain, however, he still my superhero. I still see his enigmatic little smile, and he still finds ways to experiment, even if it’s only with making movies with special on the iPad (full disclosure: I could not do it) or testing theories about how your atoms are not really touching your brother that he heard on Cosmos (science hurts sometimes).

I would donate an organ if I could make him better tomorrow, by doing so, but, as Thing1 has Learned over last year, what doesn’t kill you doesn’t just make you stronger, it also makes you smarter.

Something to Do


For the first Saturday and as many Saturdays as I can remember, I didn’t have a class or a fair, Thing1 didn’t have a job, and the Big Guy wasn’t working. 

We have plenty to do. The yard has been professionally neglected all summer, but still with everybody in the family home for once, we felt like we should look for something to do. 

Something fun.

That’s how we found ourselves driving through The rolling hills of Washington County, New York. Thing1’s driving did nothing for my painting skills, but it did wonders for my creative spark. 

Suddenly I can’t wait to get back in the studio.

Yours, Mine, Ours

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For some reason I had a lot of gay friends in high school. It wasn’t something I planned or even thought about until senior year, when a number of friends started coming out.

Homosexuality was not an issue prior to that, and my friends were my friends. Who they loved would never became an issue for me.  They were wonderful people before they were out, and they were (and are) wonderful people after they were out.

Those relationships stayed close beyond high school and brought new friendships with them.  It never occurred to me that there was anything unusual about having a lot of gay friends because that was what I knew.

Most of my close friends had relatively supportive families when they came out, but over time I heard horror stories of people being shunned and even threatened with violence by their own flesh and blood.  I knew of at least one friend who was beaten up simply for ‘acting’ gay even before he himself had seriously contemplated who he was.

It wasn’t until I started dating more that I realized that some people really did have a problem with homosexuality. Some of the objections were religious, but more frequently, there seemed to be an unfounded fear of unwanted sexual advances (ironically often in men who themselves were aggressive with me).

I ended relationships when it became clear that the man I was seeing would never accept my friends.  For a long time, I believed my own intractable position was founded on the fact that my friends were a non-negotiable part of my life, but as I’ve married and we’ve gone our own ways geographically, my feeling is stronger.

It wasn’t until I had a son who defied convention with his tutus and fairy wings that I understood why it had mattered to me so much back then that any companion be accepting of my gay friends.  But when my unconventional son began asking to wear his rainbow wig to the diner, the empathy and love I had felt for those people crystalized.

It wasn’t just acceptance of my friends, I had wanted. It was the assurance that if any child of mine was different, a future husband would respond the way the Big Guy does — by asking if our different child wants to wear his superhero cape with his wig.

It hit again Sunday when the news came in from Orlando, and I read of a mother reading the last texts from her son, knowing he might be dying and that his last moments were filled with terror.

It hit because as a mother I knew that the last thing she probably cared about at that moment was who her son loved.  The only thing that mattered was that she wanted him to be safe so that he could love.

I knew that could have just as easily been my kid who had wanted acceptance and freedom from fear.  It could be your kid that was refused housing or service or even medical care. It could be any of ours that was in that night club in Orlando, murdered for the crime of loving someone.

I don’t know what the future holds for my unconventional son, and it is not our job to project an orientation on to him. It is our job to make sure he knows that our love doesn’t come with conditions and to work for a world where everyone’s kid can be honest about whom they love without fear.

B is for Black Hole

Picking-My-Battles-DICTATOR-MOM---web-Round

So, I just wrapped up the final rhyme for my parent’s alphabet book, “A is for All nighter”, but I had to revisit the letter B tonight. Because, as anyone parenting a tween knows, in addition to standing for Backtalk and Balk, the letter B also stands for Black hole which is the universally accepted euphemism for “The Kids Room”.

I bring this up because in the last few weeks T2’s room passed Def-Con 4 and was in danger of being condemned (It was even too far gone to use for missile testing). Being one of those creative types who sees a future masterpiece in every dust pile and scrap of paper (not sure where he gets that from), T2 refused to believe us when we warned that the room must be cleaned before our town of 300 people formed a health department for the sole purpose of fumigating his room.

He had tried every delaying tactic in the book for the past two weeks, when I stumbled on a strategy that will someday be be written up in parenting guides–it remains to be seen if it will be under the big Do column or if I’m about to be the most hated mom on Facebook.

Now, H.I. McDonnough once said, “Y’all without sin can cast the first stone.”

See, T1 is getting closer and closer to driving (that’ll be harder story for another day), and like all 15-year-olds he has wild fantasies about what type of car he’ll be driving next year. The older he gets the wilder the fantasy, and the bigger the bankroll he needs, so I withdrew my final bribe to T2 of a trip to the dairy bar and extended a new one of cold hard cash to T1 with one rule.

There were no rules

OK, maybe there was one rule. I mean I did want him to try to steer outgrown toys that weren’t pieces to the recycle bin. And I did suggest he wear safety goggles and a hazmat suit (It was a suggestion born of a similar experience that involve a snow shovel and a black contractor bag six years ago when T1 occupied this very room).

So, yes, I am officially the worst mom in the world, but not for the reason you think. You might say it’s because I sent my first born into the toxic waste dump at the end of the hall, but the pangs of guilt I felt were from knowingly turning T1 and T2 against each other to get the room clean.

But as old toys found their way into tag sale boxes and T2’s collection of microscopic paper scraps were dumped into the firebox, the anguished cries of “No, I wanted to save that candy wrapper” were replaced with high-pitched declarations of “I can do it”.

Ultimately T1 did 90% of the cleaning and T2 graciously took 50% of the credit, and the struggle that had begun weeks ago was over.  It took them less than two hours to get the room clean enough to eat in.

And now I’m trying to decide if the ends justify the means and if Mom is just a nice euphemism for “benevolent dictator.”