A Secretly Real Identity

The paunchy gal here is a figurine brought to me years ago from Mexico by a friend. He must have seen a resemblance, but in all fairness, she’s actually a little less paunchy than I am. She’s taken up residence on our new deck. Before the deck, our weedy patio hid her exposed body, but I like that she’s now shamelessly sunning herself, embracing life and the world, not hiding in fear among the weeds, and definitely not worrying if society will disapprove of her brazenness.

Anyone who’s read this blog for more than a few months at a time, knows I have a penchant for redecorating. I change banners and colors. Sometimes it focuses more on painting and then on cartoons and back again to writing with pictures. So, you won’t be too surprised to read that I’m thinking about a new banner.

What may be surprising is that, unlike previous PickingMyBattles banners, this one may include my brazen friend and also may not have more than a tiny a tip of the hat to the bad parenting and even worse housekeeping that have driven so many posts over the years.

Thing1 was still nursing when he started toddling. He went through the crawling stage and the pulling-himself-up stages. Then he’d reach out for our hands and walks with us for guidance.

And then he didn’t reach out. He figured it out, and our help was no longer needed.

For that.

And then he didn’t need to nurse, and he took another step away.

And now he’s getting ready to take a giant step away. Thing2 is taking some of the same steps as he starts middle school and finds his own identity.

And I’m questioning mine.

‘Mom’ was, for a long time, the primary (and sometime only) way I identified myself, and I was happy about it. I didn’t like myself before Thing1 was born. Being his mom, meeting his needs changed my perceptions about boys, about the world and about myself.

But there was a person there before he was born. That person evolved, but she’s still there.

She’s still bi-polar as hell, still eating too much and the owner of a bleeding heart. She’s no longer afraid of hard work or committing to others. She’s a techie, an artist and a writer. And she’s demanding to be as much a part of my identity as the person my kids know just as ‘Mom’.

There is no such thing as ‘just a mom.’ That phrase strips motherhood of the depth of its responsibility and meaning as thoroughly as it reduces women to one of the other popular one-dimensional labels of angels or whores. I’m a bit of all of them and more.

There are still battles to be fought on behalf of Thing1 and Thing2. Thing1’s hair trigger colon still threatens his independence while Thing2’s creativity combined with his pack-rat sensibility could give new meaning to Vermont’s image as ‘the Green Mountain state’ with more of a green glow. I’m grateful to be the one fighting along side them. They’ve helped me see how much stories about family do matter as much as – maybe even more than – the stories about politicians and generals. I will always write those because they are the stories about people coming together, they are ultimately stories about hope.

But there are otherbattles, my battles, to fight as well – battles for creativity and a life of contribution and meaning beyond the laundry pile. They are just as important, and all of those battles can only be won by embracing every aspect of my identity – the loving mom, the bleeding-heart angel and even what the world may see as the bi-polar whore.

They are what combine to make what any seasoned veteran truly is — a fighter.

How to Raise a Parent


Thing2 is sitting across the couch from me right now tapping on an old laptop my parents bequeathed him when they upgraded theirs. He’s working on a project, talking through the lines as he taps and proving I know nothing about parenting.

I’ve worked in some sort of IT for the better part of the last 25 years. I’m the last person to tell a kid they shouldn’t play on a computer, but Thing1 got sucked into Minecraft in middle school, torpedoing his grades for over a year. It’s safe to say, the Big Guy and I are wary of Thing2 acquiring a tech addition.

Thing2 missed a fair amount of school this winter due to severe pain from inflamed lymph nodes. The pain intensified with each bout of flu or strep he contracted in the petrie dish of elementary school, and we were worried he would fall behind.

Most sick days he rested on the couch with an iPad or Harry Potter book while I worked on support tickets. I’d check during the day to make sure his latest YouTube obsession was PG-11, but for most of the day I let him take responsibility for his own amusement. They weren’t my finest parenting hours.

Thing1 got into video games about the same time, solely on the strength of his test scores, that he also got into a middle school accelerated program. He’d coasted through elementary school math, aptitude compensating for apathy. Except for mathy-science stuff, he needed serious prodding to stay on track.

When he started the more challenging program, I asked the program head how I could help him stay more organized. Her answer surprised me.

“I don’t want you to help him. He’ll learn to rise to expectations.”

So we took the hands-off approach. Bad report cards led to loss of privileges, but when he failed, he failed. When he did well, the success was his. That experience guided him like a river winnows out earth and rock to find the best route. It’s helped him learn to stand on his own two feet and, even if he stumbles, to keep trying.

I know telling the world that I let my kid spend two months playing on the iPad is inviting slings and arrows from parenting experts. Left to his own devices, however, Thing2 scurries from couch to boy-cave, moving laundry hampers and draping sheets over his top bunk to create a movie set between naps. The iPad was soon burgeoning with special effects app and ‘screen tests’. By the time he got back to school full time, he had written a script for a Star Wars fan video, complete with a mental cast list consisting of his classmates.

It’s almost Thing2’s turn to apply to that program, and, watching him create and rise to his own expectations, I’m pretty sure we’ll use the same approach. We’ll call it good parenting even though he’ll be doing most of the heavy lifting.

Strange Territory

The other Friday night, Thing2 had a school dance.  Thing1 went over to SuperGal’s house for a quiet pre-prom night hang out.  The Big Guy went to play music with his traditional music band at the Wayside Country Store. For a few minutes, work was finished, school was out and I was somehow alone.

Then at 6, Thing1 texted he was starting home early, so he and I went to a new food truck discovery in Cambridge, NY. We got back just before the Big Guy finished up his gig. Thing1 went to bed early as he has been these days with his hair-trigger colon still sapping his endurance.  The Big Guy and I suddenly had the giant sectional all to ourselves. I had to keep reminding myself that Thing2 was going a sleep over after the dance since, even with the TV turned up to 50, the silence blared, heralding a new era.

When I started this blog about 6 years ago, Thing1 was just starting to pull at the fraying edges of my apron strings.  This year, despite the needs created by an acute episode of his illness, he’s been shredding the one on his side. What I hadn’t expected — but should have — was that Thing2 would start chewing at his share of the strings at the same time.

I’m wearing my UMass Mom t-shirt as I write this. It’s my new apron. There are no strings on it. Like that apron, it’ll get a few tears on it over the next few years, and, hopefully it will have a companion when Thing2 flies the asylum in a few years.

The geography of our new lifestyle is similar to when we were double-income-no-kids (DINKS) even if the absence of money reminds us that no matter where our kids are, there it is. Still, penniless or not, it feels like we’re entering new territory.

A Birthday Oddity


I honestly wanted to do nothing more than absolutely nothing yesterday. 

Yesterday, I woke up as a square.  An odd square.  A product of two odd primes. It’s the fourth time I’ve been the square of primes, and, in all probability the last, as I’ll have to be 121 to celebrate the next truly odd birthday.  For this birthday oddity I’d planned a trip to the University of New Hampshire for the last college visit before my first son has to figure out which dotted line he’ll sign. 

But that wasn’t what made it odd — or wonderful.

For the past two weeks Thing1 has been dealing with anemia brought on by his disease. He could not tolerate a drive of any length, so we had postponed the UNH visit already.  The newest drug, however, seemed to hit pause on his symptoms, and his affable nature had re-emerged over the last day or two. We knew this was the last best chance to go.

We got Thing2 to school and then headed down to the hospital. Thing1 needed bloodwork to check trough levels for one of the five drugs trying to control his auto-immune disorder.  It was already 9 by then, and Thing1 was ready for Breakfast Number 2 — a side effect and a sign he was starting to feel more himself. 

Treating the day like a field trip day (if it were run by an really over-indulgent teacher), I took him to our favorite diner in Bennington (my next blog will be titled ‘Diners I have Known’). We’ve been going there since Thing1 was in a car seat carrier, and my eyes started sweating as I watched my gentle giant pick out two entrees for a ‘snack’ (although it could have been tears brought on by the impending dent in my wallet). 

“Mom,” he said in that tone that said other people could see me getting emotional as my baby prepared to leave the nest.  There would be a few more warnings.

After breakfast we headed east toward the other side of Vermont and then to the east side of New Hampshire.  

We stopped for a break during the three and a half hour drive. A girl playing scratch tickets, reminded me of a failed lesson in probability from another road trip a decade ago.  On a whim, I bought a ticket, thinking he’d be my good luck charm again. Ten years ago, I’d told him we’d paid a tax on people who are bad at math and wound up winning on three $50 scratch tickets in a row. I’d chalked it up to some ‘magic’ which had everything to do with being with my seven-year-old and nothing to do with Math.  Yesterday I lost, of course.  Thing1 is too old and skeptical to channel that kind of magic anymore, but we were both laughing as I scraped the silver goo off the losing numbers. He’s still my good luck charm.

It had been a long time since I’ve heard Thing1 really laugh. 

We got UNH and asked our questions before walking around.  Thing1 loved it and was even more undecided about his future. A few more drives around the bucolic campus, we headed back to meet the Big Guy and Thing2 in Vermont for dinner. 

It poured most of the time until we got near the Vermont border.  It rained from Bellows Falls to Londonderry and got foggy as we headed over Bromley mountain to Manchester. 

My body was getting weary from the travel and from the constant travel and worry of the last few months. It was as if a day of not worrying — of seeing Thing1 happy and debating over pleasant aspects of his future —  had let my muscles relax too much for a moment. 

When we got the the restaurant, Thing1 mentioned a worrying symptom that had appeared, and we knew the tension release was temporary.  In reality it’s always temporary, but it is always welcome.  

When we got home, I got my sketchbook, planning to doodle and promptly passed out on the sofa with Thing1 next to me and eleven year old Thing2 draped over the cats that came to sit on my legs.  I woke up long enough to send Thing2 and myself to bed for the dreamless, satisfying sleep that only an exhaustingly perfect day can produce. 

And the oddest thing was that it was the best present I hadn’t even thought to ask for.

These Kids are All Right 

“Is he OK?” she texted.

“The fever’s down a bit,” I texted back. T1’s temperature had peaked at 107 for about an hour in the middle the night, and we had spent the rest of it calling his doctor and forcing fluids and more Tylenol. Super Gal and T1 had texted each other a few times in the wee hours of the morning until T1, out of the danger zone, fell into a deep sleep and forgot about texts.

I knew she’d been feeling under the weather—no one has escaped this winters ravages – and it made me smile little to see them reaching out to each other, even if, between illnesses and normal senior year time pressures mean they can’t be together much right now.

They’ve been seeing each other for a couple of years now. They’re planning their third prom together which, in high school terms, is practically a golden anniversary. Neither of them knows where they’re going next year or if they’ll end up in the same place or what they will do with their lives beyond that.

I know statistically that most people don’t often end up with their high school sweetheart, but everything about the way they have supported each other over the last few months tells me that there’s a deep friendship there that can survive a lot and be a source of comfort and strength for each of them.  And right now it’s nice to have a small reassurance that, in the long run, these kids will be all right.