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I am sitting in the parking garage — 5b North — I’ve made a note of it for later — while my kids sleep in the back seat of the minivan. My daughter is moaning slightly. Outside the garage the rain is coming down in torrents. My husband is sleeping in the hotel room after spending the early part of the day in the emergency room after spending the night throwing up. Luckily my daughter only threw up once. Did I mention we’re on Spring break? Woo-hoo!

Luckily our friends who met us here in Philadelphia for a few days were still here today so I had another adult around to help out at the children’s museum. Zoe insisted that we go even though she was tired and weak. She was definitely off her game but rallied every now and then, exhibiting an encouraging burst of energy and an occasional smile. We spent a while in the craft room at the museum, a suitably low-key place to be. One table was book making. Zoe’s book was a one-page brief, which said blah blah blah blah and some other similar blahs to describe how she felt.

As I inch closer and closer to 40, which is waiting expectantly for me this weekend, I realize this is just how it is. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and — well you’ve heard that song before. Those are, indeed, the facts of life.

I used to think I needed to be happy. That you either had a good time or a bad time or were a happy person or an unhappy one. Since becoming a parent I realize it is more realistic to have a happy moment followed by an unhappy one and if you’re lucky followed by several happy ones before something else goes awry.

Did I mention on the first day of this trip we were rear-ended on the highway in what became a six-car pileup just North of the Millard Tydings Memorial Bridge over the Susquehana River and had to wait on the shoulder for the state troopers to arrive while comforting children in the car? Thankfully, no one was hurt and our car is mostly okay. Thankfully it wasn’t in a blizzard or a rainstorm or a heat wave. Thankfully our children did not scream throughout the hour we waited.

Pause.

As I was writing earlier, Zoe woke up and said she was going to be sick so I quickly unlocked the door and opened hers and she thoughtfully puked all over the ground. She is typically both neat and accurate when vomiting, which is a good skill to have. I pulled out the roll of paper towels that I cleverly stowed in the car just for this vacation and brought her some. Just at that moment, Randy texted to find out where we were and say that he’d woken up, so I requested his presence in the garage. He carried Zeke in and Zoe rode in Zeke’s stroller. I was amazed that she fit, but she did.

I won’t go into details about the rest of the evening except that to say it involved calls to my parents and the pediatrician and some amount of weeping from various family members, and wet washcloths, and a trip for Zeke (nestled in Ergo and clad in raincoat) and me (clad in raincoat wearing Ergo) to the CVS to procure supplies for everyone. I asked the woman at the front desk for directions to CVS and she explained that it was three blocks away and I actually asked her to write down directions because I knew I would not remember them and it was raining and I just couldn’t deal.

Thanks be to God that at the tender hour of 9pm, the rest of my family is sleeping peacefully. Please let them all stay that way until morning.

All this is to say that perhaps one of the most significant things I’ve learned in my nearly 40 years is that we will survive and that it is imperative to suck the juice out of those beautiful moments scattered among the messy ones. Tonight: in the midst of her painful headache, Zoe asked to call to my mom, which immediately calmed her down and soothed her. Then she watched some Reading Rainbow videos. Thank goodness for the sanguine virtual presence of LeVar Burton. And she asked me to sing “Amazing Grace” to her, which also seemed to help. And Randy was willing to switch beds with her and take the sofabed because she said she was uncomfortable.

And: Zeke totally chill and taking it all in on our rainy mission. Zeke happily putting his toys in one of the hotel room cabinets and taking them out again. Zeke smiling and laughing and blowing raspberries. Zeke not puking. And Zeke finally submitting to sleep after I was very close to being out of jiggles.

Childless people have observed to me in the past that, from the outside, being a parent seems daunting or difficult or perhaps even impossible. “I could never do what you do!” they say. Or, for those actually planning to have kids, “Wow, that seems hard.”

Well, sure. It’s hard. But what’s easy that’s worth doing? Okay, maybe a few things. But what big things in life are easy that are worth doing? I have known since I was seven when I became a big sister that I wanted to be a mom. It took me longer than I expected to make that a reality, mostly because it took me a while to find the right guy to be my kids’ dad. But it all came together and there’s nothing in the universe like it. These little beings who need you so much, and you’re everything to them. Sometimes that can be overwhelming and exhausting, but also so satisfying and joyful. You sacrifice a lot, but you receive more in return. Being this person on whom your children can utterly rely, whose trust you have earned, who love you and need you and want you so relentlessly that you sometimes feel suffocated but usually feel so privileged. I am profoundly thankful for my little family. Even when they have made a mess all over me and all around me.

This trip was supposed to be a Spring break adventure–we never go away for Spring break. We always work and Zoe usually goes to camp. And this trip was supposed to be a little birthday present for me, since I am about to have a big birthday. Since Zoe was born and her birthday is two weeks before mine, Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 9.36.19 PMwe have not done much to celebrate mine. Last year I was hugely and uncomfortably pregnant with Zeke and it happened to thunderstorm on my birthday so we got pizza delivered. And all that is ok. But sometimes I feel like I should get a little treat. (I did buy myself roller skates recently, which is as close to a little red sports car kind of purchase as I would come) And I’m sure I will. But in the meantime we will drive home in the morning. I promised Zoe we could return to Philadelphia another time, maybe for a long weekend, to do all the things we had planned to do but didn’t.

In the meantime, I will just enjoy the beautiful silence of my sleeping family and hope that no one throws up on me (or anyone else) in the middle of the night. I love these guys.

 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — to learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! To learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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10172795_10152701602524045_1070376792_nToday at her 7th birthday party Zoe was asked to break four boards. Usually at the martial arts studio where she attends classes three days a week, you have the opportunity to break a board on your birthday. The instructors at her party asked if she wanted to break four. No pressure or anything. All her friends got up and broke boards, some on the first try but most after some extra coaching. And then it was Zoe’s turn. She had requested that I hold one of the boards, so I was on the mat, on one knee, holding the board and bracing for her punch.

Turns out she was pretty nervous. Lots of friends and family members were there to celebrate her. All eyes were on her. The punches and kicks that she does routinely and knows well were suddenly harder to execute. During every practice session she practically knocked the target out of the instructor’s hand, but when it was time to break the board, she would punch to it, not through it. In the end, it took many tries for her to break all four boards. But she did not give up, she did not get upset, she did not stop trying for even a second. She even smiled through most of it, when she wasn’t looking intensely focused. Where she gets this amazing determination, I do not know. But the girl has heart.

Her birthday present from her grandparents was, at her request, a wheelchair for her American girl doll, along with a medical kit, complete with leg cast and arm brace, for the doll. Zoe loves tending to her dolls and making them well. Who knows if she will actually fulfill her aspiration to become an obstetrician, but if she does, she will have an outstanding beside manner.

One of the tasks required for her to achieve the next belt level in martial arts (the big move from red stripe belt to yellow solid belt, which signifies the transition from intermediate to advanced skill) is to come up with a virtue you think is important and which you aspire to embody, and describe it for the instructors and your classmates. Zoe’s choice is respect. We have talked about respect many times recently at the dining room table. Today she asked, “Am I respectful?” I answered, “usually.” She seemed disappointed. I said, “nobody’s perfect, but you are generally respectful.” She said, “but I never hurt anyone’s feelings on purpose and I’m never mean.” And we agreed that was true and that’s part of being respectful. Randy pointed out that it’s also a part of respect to listen to your parents and not argue when they ask you to do something or stop doing something. But, I told Zoe, it is true that you are always kind. If I have tried to instill anything in her, it is to be kind. She was listening.

On our outing to the library last weekend, Zoe selected several chapter books and then we perused the nonfiction shelves while she looked for anything of interest. She picked out a book “Autism and Me: Sibling Stories.” I asked her why she chose it and if she knew what autism was. She said it looked interesting and no, she had no idea what autism was. So we went home and read it together. As it happens, this is a great book. It includes 14 first-person accounts by kids of what it’s like to live with their autistic siblings, for better or for worse. Zoe was fascinated. We had a good discussion about learning differences and challenges that some kids have and how everyone can be good at some things even if they have a hard time with others. This is a hard thing to remember, especially when we are always hearing this message that we should be the best at everything. Which is impossible. Last weekend after her winter swim clinic, Zoe was a little down. She reported that after every lap, she was the last one to finish and felt like everyone was staring at her. I said they probably weren’t staring so much as watching her finish, waiting to start their next lap. But I got the idea. Zoe is a strong swimmer and has improved her strokes vastly in the past year or so. But she’s not the fastest. But who cares? She can swim and not sink, and she knows how to do two actual swimming strokes and can cross the pool repeatedly doing those strokes. That’s enough for me. Actually that’s more than I could do in the pool myself. Hopefully it will be enough for her too. There are many things at which she excels, so it’s good to have some things you’re just fine at, but not the best, and remember that they’re fun anyway.

Such as martial arts. Zoe’s fierce determination has enabled her to advance over the past two years. Certainly there are other kids who are stronger and technically better at martial arts. But Zoe has heart, and she has fun. And she is equally at ease becoming a magical fairy or caring for her dolls. Not to mention caring for her actual baby brother, whom she adores. I can’t wait until he starts learning martial arts from her. He already enjoys playing with her dolls, although he mostly tends to slobber on their heads or poke their eyes. In a brilliant marriage of her interests, I managed to find a martial arts uniform for Zoe’s American girl doll. And in an uncharacteristic moment of craftiness, I managed to put the logo of Zoe’s martial arts studio on the back of the doll’s jacket, to match the new uniform we gave Zoe for her birthday. 1011106_10152701603484045_910405362_nI am not a crafty person, but I wanted to do something extra special for Zoe, because she’s an extra special kid.

Happy birthday, Zoe. I love you and admire you so much. Love, Mommy

Carry On, WarriorLater this month I am participating in Glennon Melton’s Messy, Beautiful Warriors project on Momastery. This means I will be writing a post that is linked to Momastery and maybe, if I’m lucky, it will be reposted there. I am a big fan of Glennon so I am excited about this opportunity.

What’s in it for you? A free book! Because I said I would write about being a messy, beautiful warrior, Glennon sent me a copy of her book to give away. I own it and I’ve read it and it’s great. Randy even read it, and he mostly reads tech blogs and news and books about programming, so that’s a testimonial right there.

Any reader who makes a thoughtful comment on my blog in April, and who says he or she would like to be entered in the drawing for the book, will be eligible.

Coming soon–reflections on birthdays and messy beauty!

djembeHere are 10 1/2 fun facts about Zeke, who is 10 1/2 months old.

1. He thinks it is hilarious when you take off his socks or pants. He laughs out loud.

1.5 He also loves to take off his socks by himself in the car, but somehow it’s not as funny when he does it. I guess it’s like how you can’t really tickle yourself.

2. He is now tall enough to reach the top of tables, end tables, night stands, and desks while standing up. Watch out, everything!

3. He loves to kiss. He kisses by pressing his open mouth against some part of your head, very purposefully, and with much slobber.

4. He just graduated from his infant car seat and the stroller that the infant seat snaps into, and is now using a big boy convertible car seat in the car and sitting facing forward in a stroller where he can easily snack. This is better for my back since the combined weight of him and the infant carseat was painful, but it also limits our sleep inducing options because we can no longer drive him somewhere and bring him into the house still asleep. But he was growing out of the baby seat anyway, so we didn’t have much choice. The height limit was 32″ and he’s about 31″ and growing by the second.

5. He loves to eat. So far he has refused very few foods, and I think those are baby food blends that include lentils or onions or things that are too chunky. But most veggies and fruits he loves, and he’s eaten pureed beans and chickpeas and meats. He has eaten things that I’ve never even eaten, such as kamut and amaranth. He’s also begin eating people food, including cucumber, cheese, and of course the baby staple of cheerios.

6. He is still nursing. My goal is to make it to his first birthday. Sometimes he nurses while doing downward dog. Also he’s getting a new tooth, and it’s sharp.

7. He just learned how to put the blocks with holes in them back onto the pegs, after previously only demonstrating an ability to hold the pegboard upside down or pluck the blocks off individually.

8. He loves to wave. He waves hello to family members, to other babies, to the people on tv, to the people singing on the stereo, and to things.

9. He loves to tap and pound. We have two actual drums, one of which is Zoe’s and one, a djembe, that I gave to Randy a few years ago. Zeke plays them. He also plays the high chair tray, tables, and any other surface. He can also tap his feet rhythmically while nursing.

10. He loves doors and hinges. He could open and close a door for hours. So far he has squished his fingers in a door once, but that hasn’t dampened his affection for the doors.

You always hear about how the best thing for babies and kids is consistency. I would rather focus on the virtue of flexibility. As a parent and as the owner of a small business, no two days of my life are ever alike. There’s no consistency from day to day. There are many things I’d like to do every day but don’t, or plan to do but can’t. I don’t do routine that well. Maybe there are babies and children out there who are consistent, but mine aren’t. And their parents aren’t.

We do feed them consistently, although not on a fixed schedule. We keep them clean. We consistently go into their rooms during the night when they cry. We give them countless hugs and kisses every day.

And we are consistently late.

I am almost 40 so it seems unlikely that my consistent inability to do anything at the same time day after day will change. So I just need to stop consistently feeling guilty about it.

Sometimes you end up nursing your baby in the driver’s seat of your minivan in the parking lot of McDonald’s because his persistent screaming from the back seat was about to make you plunge your car into a snow bank. No varieties or volume of music would assuage him, nor your own voice, which is admittedly becoming less soothing. You’re on your way home. It’s been a long day filled with things that did not go well. Why is he screaming? It’s anyone’s guess. He is probably teething. Although he has seemed like he has been teething for the past six months or so. He is probably hungry, because it’s dinner time. You’re hungry. You plied him with cheerios and yogurt melts earlier, and you attempted to give him milk. But as is his habit lately, he will not breastfeed when there are people or things nearby that might be remotely stimulating. He drinks a few sips and–although you know he is hungry and you know plenty of milk is available–he wrests away and tries to throw himself onto the floor so he can crawl toward something compelling, like a glass object. He may be crying because his sister is not in the back seat with him as she usually is, since she has just been dropped off for a sleepover. She is a reliable source of companionship, entertainment, and cheer, and she is missing. He may be tired–as you are–and crying is his favorite way of expressing that. He may be frustrated that he has removed one of his socks but not the other. There is no telling. But you realize you cannot make it home while enduring the screaming any longer, so you pull into the parking lot, as far away from other cars as possible, and try to nurse. At first he refuses, clinging to his tears and then distracted by the novelty of the steering wheel, the gear shift, the buttons that control the music and temperature. Eventually, thankfully, basic desire for nourishment overcomes innate curiosity and he turns to you for milk. And he drinks.

After a while you step gingerly out of the car and oh so carefully try to put him back in his carseat, talking softly to him to try to erase any lingering memory of his previous activity there. He is quiet. You strap him in. You get back in the driver’s seat and start to pull back onto the road. He starts to cry again. Your heartbeat accelerates and your hands clench the steering wheel. You start to sing “Old MacDonald” (no relation to the restaurant–different spelling) and run through your mental catalogue of 15 or so animals. He is quiet again. You are so tired you start getting the animal noises wrong. You switch to “The Wheels on the Bus” and exhaust the list of bus features and riders. He is still quiet. You stop singing and feel profound gratitude for the silence.

Glennon at Momastery, who I read often and have quoted here before, is starting a new series on her blog. It’s called Sacred Scared. I love what she’s doing and I find it powerful and moving. I encourage you to read it.

Here’s what she writes about it.

We hear a lot lately about the importance of being vulnerable in front of others, but we haven’t been taught how to respond to someone else’s vulnerability, so I’ll be offering suggestions about how to receive vulnerability during this series. Here’s the first one: When someone lets you into her Sacred Scared – she is showing you her messy insides NOT because she wants you to fix it, but because she trusts you enough to let you know the real, true her.

Imagine that you have a new friend that you just love, and she’s coming to your house, and you finally liberate yourself enough to skip the panic-clean before she arrives. You decide that you trust her enough to walk in and see your messy house and you just KNOW that she will GET IT. She will LOVE that you just Let It Be for her. But she walks in and instead of flopping down on the laundry covered couch, she starts cleaning up the mess. Your mess is making her too uncomfortable. She starts to FIX IT instead of appreciating your mess as a trust offering. How do you feel about that?

Let’s not try to fix each other’s Sacred Scared, if we can avoid it. The people in this series are letting you in to see their Real, Beautiful Mess. Let’s not try to fix them, because they don’t need to be fixed. Neither do you. Let’s just try to find some comfort and love and maybe even Me Too in the offerings.

- See more at: http://momastery.com/blog/2014/02/19/sacred-scared-day-one/#sthash.85cRcLFU.dpuf

Somehow reading these women’s stories is making it a little easier for me to breathe.

Verizon repairman is here to address phones, wifi, and cable that went out yesterday. And I just called the washing machine repair person to deal with the source of the water saturating the carpet around the washing machine.

But I did get a letter today from Brother Francis, my favorite monk. Admittedly, I only know one. He always writes a kind missive on loose leaf paper in response to receiving our Christmas letter.

In today’s letter he wrote, “So when I asked GOD what GOD called the ROSSO family, God said….’MY DELIGHT!’”

So what’s a little appliance malfunction when you know that God is delighted by you?

I remember when Zoe was about three, we went to a barbeque hosted by the family of one of her preschool classmates. Many preschool families were there. I remember watching the younger sibling of one of Zoe’s classmates wander around the courtyard where we were gathered. I’m not sure how old she was, but I’m guessing between 12 and 18 months. She was toddling around reaching her hand into whatever snacks she could find, and investigating anything she cared to investigate, and generally being a healthily curious little girl. And I kept thinking, “why isn’t anyone watching her?” Besides me, of course.

And now I get it.

As the parent of a first grader and a nine-month-old, I just don’t watch my baby every second. I know where he is. I generally know what he’s doing. But he’s a lot to keep up with, and I have to interact with my big kid, and I have to put in another load of laundry, and run the dishwasher, and feed people. And I have a good idea of what he’s up to and can hear him and tell what particular toys he’s playing with or messes he’s making. But I acknowledge that the constant vigilance of the first-time parent is gone. I am not careless or unconcerned. I am also not as panicky or inclined to hover.

One result of this, unintended, is that my first grader has taken on some of the vigilance herself. She is constantly chasing after her brother and dragging him back to where he was 30 seconds earlier. She says “NO, ZEKE!” often. I remind her, sometimes, to reserve the loud no for important things like cords and electricity and imminent danger, and not just for “don’t crawl off the rug where we were playing” or “don’t grab the baby wipes.” I have had to say to Zoe a few times, when she says “will you watch him?” that I am his mother and I am taking care of him and I will not let him get hurt. When he tries to climb the stairs (which he’s done now three times) I always walk right behind him with my hands out to catch him before he plummets to the bottom. When he crawls into the bathroom I retrieve him before he plunges himself or anything else into the toilet. But if he crawls behind the couch and tears up a newspaper ad, that is fine by me. I don’t shop at Macy’s anyway. Even when he makes a grab for the mustard when anyone opens the fridge, it’s not an emergency. What’s the worst that could happen? Spilled mustard, if he could even get the cap open. If he tasted the mustard I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t like it and that would be the end of that.

Aside from the watchfulness standard, the cleanliness standard has pretty much flown out the window. I swear I do the dishes every day. The washer and dryer are running all the time. And yet piles of dishes and laundry materialize as if by magic. The recycling spills out of cardboard boxes from which diapers and toys and baby play yards have been born. But who cares. Those cardboard paper towel rolls and empty juice bottles make excellent toys for a baby to play with.

Today I was sitting in the library of my daughter’s school while her class learned about alphabetizing. I had just spent an hour in the classroom reading with struggling students, and hadn’t left yet because Zoe wanted me to spend a little more time with her.

Then he principal came on the PA and announced that teachers and staff should implement the lockdown procedure, emphasizing “this is not a drill.”

Five words you never want to hear.

Zoe’s teacher, demonstrating admirable calm, led the class into the nearby teacher’s lounge since the library is a large open space, as is their classroom. Everyone sat on the floor and she closed and locked the door and turned off the lights. I held Zoe’s hand. A few kids asked what was going on. They are savvy enough to know “this is not a drill” is not good. Zoe’s teacher kindly asked them to be quiet.

Immediately I wondered what I was going to have to do if there were a shooter. How would I help protect the kids? What if I had to confront a gunman? What if I had to throw myself in front of Zoe and her classmates to try to save them. I was so thankful I was there with Zoe but also terrified about what it might mean.

A few minutes later the principal’s voice came on again saying we did not have to lock down, but we did need to shelter in place, and that no one would leave the building and we should limit our movements if possible. Whatever that means for a building full of hundreds of kids. Zoe’s teacher took that to mean we would continue with the day as best we could, so we returned to the library and our lesson on alphabetizing, and then the kids browsed for and checked out books. A few of them asked me and the teacher what was going on and if there was a bad guy outside. The teacher said if there was a bad guy, he was far away from us, and we were just being extra careful. None of the kids seemed extremely upset. Zoe said later that she was really scared, and we held hands pretty tightly, but they seemed to get on with things. Zoe did tell me that she hoped Zeke was ok, and she was afraid someone would shoot him. I assured her that he was fine at day care and no one would shoot him. One of Zoe’s friends told her that her dad is a lawyer and used to be a police officer, and somehow he would make everything ok.

After the library, back in the classroom Zoe’s teacher read a few pages of a Junie B. Jones book and talked about realistic characters. Meanwhile, I was searching my phone for news about what was going on. The library assistant came over and asked me in a whisper if I had any information. I heard another first grade teacher tell one of her colleagues that 15 schools were on lockdown.

I appreciated and admired the ability of all the teachers and staff to remain totally together and seemingly normal during all this. Clearly that was what was best for the kids. It was helpful to me too.

Then it was time to head to the computer lab. By this point I was just trying to make myself useful since I couldn’t go anywhere. I went around to help kids figure out which math games they were supposed to be playing, closing errant windows and plugging in stray headphones. I gave people permission to use the bathroom and reminded students when they dropped their coats.

I had heard from Randy via text that news outlets had reported the school lockdowns were lifted–although they had never listed Arlington schools as affected, only Alexandria, while I knew that wasn’t accurate. About 20 minutes after Randy’s report, the principal said dismissal would proceed as usual. I stayed on in the computer lab until it was time to go, and decided to bring Zoe home instead of leaving her there to go to extended day.

The cause of all this was a shooting in a neighborhood a few miles from the school. A man shot two women in a home. One has since died. There is no information about motive or whether the suspect is still at large. I assume the police decided it was an isolated incident and the man was unlikely to roam around to nearby schools to keep shooting.

Regardless, there are shootings every day in this country. In schools, shopping malls, movie theaters. There is no sense that you could do anything to absolutely stay safe and protect your family. And I feel like there is nothing we can do. The NRA is so powerful in our country that Congress seems afraid to pass any kind of meaningful gun control. And so there are shootings every day. I feel completely powerless and hopeless. Should I write letters to someone? Who? Would it matter? I realize there are far more dangerous countries than the US, but I feel like the danger level here is rising dramatically for no reason. There is no war going on here. But there is more violence than we can handle.

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