Or In Which I Ramble On The Eve Of My 53rd Birthday
The quiet on these first Monday mornings of the New Year is bittersweet. What does bittersweet even mean? Mostly sweet, with a side of bitter? Largely pleasurable, with a hint of pain? If so, then yes, bittersweet. In the past, I’ve shared with you my love of Mondays. But they’re different now.
For one thing, since the end of August, I have a new job. A J-O-B. I know. I still laugh every time I hear myself say it too. I don’t know why. I guess because I avoided it for as long as possible – and I fully realize how fortunate I am to have that choice – because I didn’t want to deal with people and politics and bullshit in the workplace ever again. I have enough people and my hands are full with them, especially Boy (in a good way). I’ve had an absence of personal ambition for a long time. Raising kids and healing from crap takes a metric shit ton of psychic energy. The rest of the time, I’ve just wanted to BE, man, you know? Ha. Girl kind of shook that up as she prepared to leave for college and she encouraged me to think about broadening my world a little. And I did, some things changed, but still, I had no idea what I wanted in a job – besides money – if I ever got one again. I only knew I didn’t want to be a Social Worker anymore and I didn’t want to manage anything or anyone. And most importantly, I didn’t want to work for another crazynarcissisticmisogynistmotherfucker. I decided long ago that my heart for humanity and justice probably needed to be channelled away from the workplace, on my own time. So when I thought about looking for work, I seriously considered something like Home Depot. Or a garden/landscape center of some sort where I could simply keep my head down and my hands in the earth, even though I can’t manage to keep plants alive for long. I had no idea how in the world I’d ever fit a paying job of any substance into my life again considering the above guidelines, not to mention all of the mental checklists I have going on in my head just to manage Boy’s goings-ons. And that doesn’t even include my actual face-time with him which, depending on the day, can feel like the equivalent of having twins, maybe even triplets (in a good way). Yeah, definitely do not minimize for one second the whole pre/mid-MENOPAUSAL-mama-with-a-SURPRISE mid-life-young-child-with-high-needs thing. Plus taking care of my house. And my marriage. Following Springsteen around when he’s touring. And most importantly, my need for alone time while my people are at work and school so that when my hands are full with them once again, I can manage without losing my shit all over the universe. Truth is, even before getting this job, I wasn’t juggling life as well as I wished. I never have. But it was good enough and at least I had time alone to gather my marbles and do stuff like, I don’t know, LAUNDRY. Write. Read. Plan my Springsteen tour travel. Go to the grocery store. Figure out what we’re having for dinner. Exercise. Pull weeds. Volunteer. Move my furniture around. And yes, I realize this reeks of the many levels of privilege I enjoy. But it’s true.
All of this thinking about the loss of my solitude and my struggle to find time to do some of the things I did back when – which, again, I can’t really tell you what I did all day, but I know it took me all day to do it – is complicated by the fact that I actually like my new job. I can’t remember if I’ve talked specifically about what I’m doing or not, so at the risk of being repetitive I’ll tell you again. I’m doing administrative and project support work for a college/university campus public safety consulting company that specializes in Title IX and Clery Act compliance issues (Google it, LOL). Think sexual assault prevention, investigation, and related issues. I work in the local office most of the time (the company’s main office is in Delaware) – the downside of that is the commute, which is 3 doors down from my house, yeah, it’s a total bitch – but when my boss is on travel, I work from home. I’m working about 25 hours per week, depending on the week. For the most part, I work when Boy is at school, and so it’s a perfect fit for me so far. My boss and co-workers are very cool people. They like me because I’m mature (LOL), relatively low maintenance (LOL), entertaining at times (whatever), and I like to put my head down and work quietly, on the projects especially, except when I like to be chatty, which does happen because I do enjoy these people. I’m grateful to be learning something new, and its surprisingly satisfying to be exercising my brain muscles in a different way, as well as to be contributing to something productive outside of my home and family. All of this is to say I feel pretty lucky because this gig fell right into my lap.
This whole mostly-positive-working-mother-who’s-never-alone-anymore-situation aside, I’m still usually very ready for Monday to arrive, especially the Monday after a break longer than 2 days. Generally speaking, I like routine. But on the first Monday of the New Year, I felt kind of sad when my little boy ran down the driveway to board his school bus. I didn’t want him to leave. I wanted that bus to disappear into thin air. He’d had an especially awesome Christmas break because his cousins from Atlanta (nearly 11 and 7 ½ years old) were here. It was a week-long sleepover full of nonstop play, shenanigans and togetherness. He was in heaven; I’ve said it before, but if ever a boy needed siblings close in age, it’s this kid. I was happy to see him so happy and busy, you know? He started to cry the day before they left, poor guy. He rebounded well, though, as he often does these days, and his reentry to school has been fairly smooth. So why the sudden tug of sadness on my part? I don’t know. I guess I wanted his pure joy and delight, his feelings of near constant companionship and belonging to continue. Like the old days. He has a few playdates a week that I work hard to schedule with kids from both his former school and his new school. It isn’t a no-brainer to juggle because only one of these kids – new to the hood – lives right here on our street. He enjoys these friends a lot, but things are palpably different for him now. He was hurt in this process of switching schools and he carries himself differently. He doesn’t allow himself to get *too* attached to any of these kids. Over the holidays a video from a few years ago popped up in my FB timeline and I couldn’t stop watching it. There was a spark in his eyes that’s been dampened. Maybe it’s simply because he’s older and that in and of itself robbed him of some of his sparkle. Or maybe it’s just school and its associated challenges for him. Or maybe it’s residual pain, from what he lost. I don’t know, but I hope it’s not the last one. For some reason, on this particular Monday morning, I was taken off guard by feeling royally pissed off when I opened the door about 10 minutes before Boy’s bus arrived, and saw all of the neighborhood kids at the corner, shooting hoops, carrying on, waiting for the “regular bus” to the local elementary school. I felt an ache in my heart, even though Boy appears to have healed up relatively well from his multi-layered trauma last year. Yes, trauma. I don’t have the emotional energy to recount it all again, to find different words in an attempt to MAKE anyone understand. I learned the hard way – AGAIN – to carefully discern with whom I try to share the more difficult details of this child’s journey, a journey that many folks seemed interested in until they learned it wasn’t over. I’m sick as all hell of feeling like I have to overexplain, overjustify, overshare for all of these clueless people who, yes, only know what they know blahblahblah, so I shouldn’t be such a bitch about it, but maybe they’d know differently or better or more if they would shut the hell up and truly listen. With their hearts. Opening their damn eyes instead of turning their heads away would be good too. And don’t get me started about boundaries. Arghhhhhhhh.
Someone once said, “There are none so blind as those who will NOT see”. No idea who said it and I don’t feel like looking it up right now, but it’s TRUE.
Boy once said, “There are people who only like dry, white toast and they’re not interested in knowing about any other kind because they believe that’s the best kind. And guess what, Mom? Some people live their lives that way too.” ALSO TRUE.
Anyway, Boy almost never talks anymore about the kids – some of whom were his very closest buddies for several years – on our street with whom he used to play. He doesn’t even seem to notice their squeals and laughs echoing through the neighborhood. The last time I checked in with him about it, before Christmas when a bunch of them were playing outside, he told me wasn’t sad or angry anymore, but he didn’t trust them with his heart, so why would he expose himself to them? Yes he said that. Yes, the kid is my son, no DNA check needed. He found out he was disposable to some of those friends – with whom he shared deeply connected, RECIPROCAL relationships – during some pretty dark days. It hurt him – a lot – on top of everything else he was forced to deal with. He’s largely moved on, it seems. But I guess I haven’t, and for some reason, I was temporarily knocked over by sadness on this particular morning – not only about the neighborhood kids, but about all of it. My sadness gave way to anger. I had a really strong, funky, delayed reaction to watching Boy get on that “short bus” to his current school. Truthfully, there is no good reason why his needs couldn’t have been met in his home school. That he had to move schools to get what he needed academically – primarily due to a sorry excuse for a principal – is complete and utter bullshit. And the aftermath of that move – socially and emotionally? After everything he’d already overcome? None of it matters anymore, other than he recovered and he’s getting – mostly – what he needs because we bust our asses to make it so and yes, he’s in a much better fit situation with a teacher and principal who give a damn. We’re lucky the program he’s in exists and that we had the money to hire an advocate to help us navigate the circus also known as the special education system. Boy is thriving in some ways, sucking it up in others. At some point we’ll find out if it was all worth it. After the year he had last year – admittedly against a backdrop of some positive things happening peripherally – I don’t know if I’d put him through it all again. Maybe it’s all my fault. Maybe I ruined his childhood trying to make things right for him. Maybe he’s destined to pay some random therapist a metric shit ton of money someday; he’ll lie (lay? whatever) on a leather couch every Monday and Wednesday afternoon, recounting what a nightmare he had for a mother, while his therapist stares at the ceiling as he picks his teeth with the fingernail he just bit off. I don’t know. Its just that I will never forget the pain Boy lived with and expressed to us during that time. Pain that lingers, even if he seems to have mostly moved on. Medically, he was in crappy shape, fighting one infection after another, which made everything worse. He felt horribly stigmatized. Abandoned. He had a full blown identity crisis – at 9 years old. I still blame myself for that part of it, I guess. And in the process, he was blindsided by the complete loss of some connections that deeply mattered to him, connections he had every reason to believe were solid, connections that – if preserved on some level, despite some diverging interests – might have helped him better manage his struggles and the transition to the new school if it had to be made…but hey, that’s life when you’re a kid. Easy come, easy go. Out of sight, out of mind, no matter how long you’ve been buddies, no big deal. That’s what I’m told anyway. Still, I maintain that some teachable moments were lost somewhere in the mix – big ones, like empathy, compassion, kindness – but whatever, we all have our own lives and priorities and values to live. Thankfully, I’m only in charge of screwing up MY own kids. God Bless America!
I shook off the sadness and anger on that first Monday of the New Year and reminded myself that Boy is ok. He’s matured, built some serious muscle. Maybe that’s why his spark seems not quite so bright? He’s still standing, he’s ok, but he’s battle-weary? I don’t know, it just seems as if he lost some of the innocence I’ve always fought my ass off to protect.
Anyway, I got ready for work and once situated there, I quietly plugged away on a time-sensitive project. I periodically observed myself sending good and loving vibes to my son as he went about his own day, willing him to know I’m on his side and to feel me with him every step of the way, no matter what. It’s what I do these days. Early afternoon, my work groove was interrupted by a phone call from the school nurse. Sigh.
Let me begin this part of the tale by letting you know that Boy is well-liked at school. Thats a big deal, because if he wasn’t – as is sadly the case sometimes for special needs kids – things would be even harder than they are. This nurse, in particular, is very fond of him. She sees him a lot for various reasons and she totally gets him. She nurtures him when he needs it and kicks his butt when he needs that, and cares for him always.
Anyway, on this first day back to school, one of Boy’s good buddies gave him a belated Christmas gift. A bottle of hot sauce. Everyone knows my kid loves hot sauce, so Friend and his Dad searched for and found a special one on the internet, specifically with Boy in mind. After he opened the gift, he took the bottle over to his teacher to ask her to read the label and to make sure it’s safe for him given his peanut and tree nut allergy (yup, I’ve trained the kid well…I had to scare the living shit out of him to do it…but I trained him well). She confirmed that it is a safe product for him to consume, then he took it back over to his group of friends who proceeded to encourage him to open it and taste it. They began to speculate that there must be some sort of world record involved in guzzling hot sauce in school. Boy drank that up (ha) – true attention HOE that he is – and then that gang of 4th grade frat boys surrounded him and began to chant for him to take a belt. Without a chaser. And he did. I have no idea where the adults in charge were during this party, as it did take place in the classroom, but perspiring minds *still* want to know. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised because remember that time Boy wanted to take cheese in a can to school and line his friends up for cheez whiz shots straight into their mouths? And remember how I knew his teacher would shut that shit down but, still, I wanted to be there when he asked her about it because that’s exactly the kind of nutcase mother I am? Yeah, well, she let him do it and I have the photos to prove it. She’s awesome.
Oh, and the hot sauce? Not your garden variety hot sauce. Nope. It was GHOST PEPPER sauce. Google it and then understand why my kid was in the nurse’s office not once, but TWICE, that day. The second visit is what prompted the phone call to me.
The dude was sick.
And guess what? I made him stay at school and deal with it. LOL. I was not leaving work because he caved to peer pressure and got sick from taking a shot or two of ghost pepper sauce. No. I did worry a little, but I also laughed myself silly for the rest of the afternoon about the conversation the nurse and I had. Good times.
You’ll be relieved to know he lived through the ghost pepper sauce incident and he reassured me he’d never cave to something dangerous or illegal or unhealthy or stupid. I told him the ghost pepper sauce incident could be viewed by some as unhealthy AND stupid and he goes, “No way, Mom! It was SO worth it because I’m a legend at school now. That sauce was so hot, kids’ eyes were burning and they were choking while they stood near me watching me drink it. I felt sick, but I’m famous.”
No idea how to transition from THAT, so I’ll just use this sentence to transition. Ok? Good.
Dear God, I love that little boy. Did I say that already?
I love my other kid too. After nearly a month at home with us, Girl is safely back at school, ready to tackle spring semester of her sophomore year. How can time be racing by so lightning fast? No idea. We spent our last evening together in typical mother-daughter fashion. I screamed at her for taking my laundry out of the drier and leaving it in a tangled up, damp ball on the floor so she could do her own gigantic pile of laundry that she left for the last possible minute and then we made up and watched 3 episodes of a crazy ass, endearing show called Jane the Virgin. I’ll miss her. At the same time, I’m so happy and thankful she’s happy and loving her life at school.
Phew. I did it. I made my self-imposed deadline. I actually finished writing this thing and I’m getting ready to click “publish”. It wasn’t easy, but I wrote it over the course of a week, a little bit each morning, between the time Boy got on the bus and I had to be at work. And a little bit late at night. Making time to write more is one of my goals for the New Year – along with drinking more water, getting back on track with walking, washing my face before I go to bed at night, applying Boots No. 7 Lifting and Firming serum and anti-aging cream twice daily, and scheduling my colonoscopy.
Happy Birthday to me.