Untitled.

Yesterday, I learned that a family friend’s son passed away. It was a heroin overdose that took him. He was twenty-two.

Up until yesterday, whenever I heard the phrase “heroin overdose”, the picture that came to mind was one of squalor and plight, a withered person plagued by their poor choices, bad judgment, and the disease of their addiction. I imagined a person untouched by a shower in several days, someone between jail time or rehab, someone who had locked out those who love them and turned to a needle instead.

That was not the person Mikey was.

He was, by all accounts, a “normal” 22-year-old. He spent time with his family, loved his sister, loved sports, and like most 22-year-olds, he liked to have a good time. He wasn’t an addict. He wasn’t a junkie. He hadn’t reached a level of dependency that tore him away from his hobbies and interests, hadn’t even given his parents reason for concern or the slightest notion that their son would join the ranks of victims of the New Jersey Heroin Epidemic. His passing is the ultimate example of “that would never happen to me”.

When accepting condolences from my family and asked how she was doing, Mike’s mother said, “My life is in pieces… My sweet, sweet boy.”

He was not privileged or spoiled or bored or inconsiderate or stupid. His parents were not disinterested, uncaring or ignorant. They had a close bond, he had done well in school, and the entire family works hard for the life they have. Simply put, in the face of a fad as popular and widespread as ecstasy was when I was in college, Mike just went along with what everyone else was doing to have a good time, didn’t think “it” would happen to him, and changed everything for everyone around him forever.

As parents, what can we do? Do we roll our children up in bubble wrap and duct-tape them to the floor of their room so they never, ever have the chance to encounter things like heroin? Mike’s parents are good people, good parents, did their best to teach him right from wrong and keep him safe without smothering him. What more should a parent do to keep their child safe?

As Dory explains to Marlin the clown fish as he grapples with the idea of letting Nemo experience the world, “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.”

When I put my own son to bed last night, I held him just a little longer than I usually do before laying him down in his crib. And I pray that doing my best for him will be enough– that’s all I can do.

My heart goes out to all those whose lives have been affected by drug addiction and overdose. May you find peace.

Mommy Envy.

It’s time to admit it. We are ALL guilty of it. Just as we experienced it as children, pining for a friend’s new bike or later bedtime or cooler parents, we feel it as mothers, too- that bitter feeling of wanting what someone else has.

We are now addicted to constantly one-upping each other at work, at home, at play, posting it all on social media so all are aware of how perfectly blissful our lives are. Or else we battle out who has it worse:
“My son had SIX ear infections this year…”
“Oh yeah? Well my daughter is one and STILL won’t sleep in her own room!”

Mothers argue and brag online and in person about pretty much everything parenting related. Most common:

1. How long to breastfeed?
“Look how awesome my daughter and I are at breastfeeding, she’s still doing at age
2!”
“You nurse in public?!”
“I don’t need a nursing cover. But don’t look at me while I breastfeed my baby!”
“I bought the $400 breast pump.”
“I bought the $35 hand pump.”
“I go home from work on breaks to breastfeed!”

2. Whether or not to vaccinate at all, or on a delayed schedule.
“You’re OK with pumping that much medicine into your tiny baby?”
“What do you mean, you don’t vaccinate your children? You’re spreading measles!!”

3. Is it better to stay at home or go back to work?
“I’m SO lucky I get to stay at home with my sweet little ones, it’s the best job
on the PLANET!”
“I’m so lucky that I get to be a mother and still do my own thing! I love both my
jobs!”
“I hate working, I wish I could be at home with my babies.”
“Stop complaining about how busy and tired you are, you’re a stay-at-home mom!”

4. Store bought baby food, or make your own?
“The safest food for babies is what comes right out of your garden.”
“I don’t have time to blend vegetables!”
“Is organic baby food good enough or do I HAVE to make my own?”

5. Look at how amazing my child is (one step shy of “my kid is better than yours”).
“I taught my one-year-old baby sign language!”
“My baby is walking at 7 months!”
“My son is 2 and in gifted day care!”
“My daughter started sleeping through the night at 5 weeks old!”

Keeping-up-with-the-mommies can be a full time gig for most. But why do we do it? Why battle one another, both passively and actively? We should be banding together, helping each other out, offering advice- and I think that’s what mommy blogs and forums and communities intended, but somehow we have taken it to a whole other level by means of social media. Personally, the best advice I’ve found online has come from mommy-forums where I’ve been able to post questions anonymously or under a screen name. I’ve found that when people don’t know who you are, they don’t fear your judgment and they aren’t threatened by you or your experiences, and are much more willing to offer their experiences, both good and bad, to your aid.

In the brief time I had a Facebook account as a mother, I made a few posts soliciting advice. Rather than getting the advice I sought, the comments became a long-winded chain of opinions on what was best. In one particular comment, another mother I know who stays at home with her daughter mentioned that my son was probably experiencing separation anxiety when I was away at work. While she may have been right, I took it to be a hurtful comment. There’s nothing I can do about the fact that I work. My son is a hungry boy, and I need paychecks to feed him. Rather than get into the great debate regarding employment and motherhood, I ignored the comment.

But I see it all too often, everywhere, in social media. Safely on the other side of our computer screens, we type away, picking at one another, boasting, seeking attention, pity, respect and validation. Don’t we have enough on our plates without turning our lives into reality show?

Let’s put an end to the Mommy-Envy.

Thursdays.

My daily schedule, Monday through Wednesday and on Fridays, goes like this:

Wake up at 5:45
Walk and feed dogs
Get ready for work
Wake up my poor baby at 6:30
Bottle, diaper, dress him for the day
Out the door by 6:50
One hour commute
Drop baby off with the sitter at 8
Arrive at work at 8:30
Leave work at 5
Pick up baby from the sitter at 5:30
Home by 6:45
Dinner for me and baby
Bath time
Baby to bed by 8:30
Make lunch, prep bottles and diaper bag for the next day
Shower
Read for 15 minutes
Bed by 10.

There is no wiggle room.

But Thursdays, ohhh Thursdays, Thursdays are special.

Thursday is the day I get to work from home.

On Thursday, I don’t get up until 7:30. I let the baby sleep in (8:30 or so). No commuting. I work while my mom helps out with my son. I run an errand or two on my lunch break. We enjoy dinner. The day goes in slow motion.

Today is Thursday, and some pretty normal, mom-esque things went down.

I brought the baby to my doctor appointment and he had a full blown off-the-charts temper tantrum because he wanted to play with the wheels on the doctor’s chair and I wouldn’t let him. He took a nap and when he woke up in the late afternoon when I was finished working, I got him ready to go to the post office. As I buckled him in to his car seat, he spit up all over my left shoulder and down my back. Black shirt. No time to change it because the dog had managed to get into the garage through the LOCKED doggie door and was trying to climb into the backseat with the baby. Went to the post office with spit up all over me. Also went to the bank and the pharmacy. My son was referred to as “she” by five different people despite the blue rocket ship on his outfit. Went to the grocery store. Had the baby too close to the canned soups which caused an avalanche of cream of mushroom into the aisle. Came home and drained the pool a few inches since it was dangerously close to overflowing (hooray for the “sunshine” state. We need a new name, like the thunderstorm state). Realized I left the milk in the trunk. It leaked. Cleaned the trunk. Fed baby and dogs and forgot to feed myself. Bath time for baby. Dinner for me. Prep everything for tomorrow.

Even after changing my shirt, I still smell like spit up.

But Thursdays are my normal days. I’ll take the unpredictable little challenges of my normal Thursdays over a day in a cubicle any day.

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A Vacation for my Son.

For the past week, I’ve been somewhat removed from “civilization as we know it,” meaning I had no internet and sporadic cell service while staying at my family’s cottage on Cape Cod. I was around people, and plenty of them, people I’ve known since before I realized I knew people at all, people who know my name though I may not know theirs or even what they look like, because my maiden name of Cooper and it’s telltale physical family traits (small nose, large brown eyes, dark hair, round face) goes way back on the Cape and our family just “know people”. But though I was surrounded by others, the lack of technology induced connectedness to the world made me feel secluded and at peace. I chatted with people who knew my great grandfather, his parents and siblings, and the entire line of us that sprung from them and have trekked to the Cape ever since Bap (great grandfather) bought the cottage back in the late 20′s. When I was young and my family still lived in New England, we spent almost the entire summer at our cottage, and I made friends with the other all-summer kids, but we fell out of touch as we grew older and apart; this year I was able to see many of their parents again and introduce them to my son, with whom another generation of Yarmouth Campgrounds Association kids begins.

Now that I have cell service again, I want to throw my phone in the ocean and never touch a smartphone again (I probably won’t though, see earlier post titled phonepocalypse). 200 unread emails from work (yes, I put the work email back on my phone). Seven voicemails with no missed call attached to them. Push notifications out the wazoo. Being bombarded with all of it at once was like meeting the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, local cheer squad, youth soccer league and the Salvation Army all at once at the entrance to the grocery store. I didn’t know what to ignore first. When all of that outside world stuff hit me after such an easy vacation, which, with a one-year-old, easy was shooting for the stars in my opinion but somehow came to be, I’ve never wanted more to return to the days of nothing but riding my bike around the campgrounds and hoping some of my friends would be in their cottages, because my old rotary phone wasn’t all that reliable and I didn’t know any of their numbers anyway. Days when all you needed to do to find someone was knock on their door. Days when all you needed to be happy was air in the tires of your bike and in your lungs. Days when fireflies mattered and so did county fairs and craft fairs and ice cream trucks. But those days aren’t mine to have anymore, they are meant for my son now, and our little family cottage at the Yarmouth Campgrounds Association on Cape Cod is the only place left on earth that I know can provide those kinds of days for him.

On this particular trip up to the Cape, my son had small victories. He’s still too young to even notice a firefly let alone appreciate one. But I give him credit for fearlessly walking (holding my hands, of course, he can’t walk on his own yet) into the warm, shallow water at Dennis Pond, all the way up to his elbows. He played in the sand with his toys and ate lunch on a beach towel. He sat in a swing on the same swing set I once loved (as did my sisters and cousins and uncles and father and grandmother) at the YCGA playground, rode the merry-go-round, had ice cream at Four Seas, and visited the Kennedy memorial in Hyannisport. He went to his first Field Day and “ran”, clinging to his Aunt Colleen’s hands, in the ages 1-5 race and came in last place, but everyone cheered for him as though he’d won. We’d guessed how many M&M’s were in the jar and watched Aunt Colleen conquer the pie eating contest. He met people who knew he came from the Cooper line before I’d even introduced him as my son. He took in the Cape as much as any one-year-old could, and I think he truly enjoyed himself.

Next year, we will hope for running the 1-5 race on his own and tackling the pond with swimmies rather than my hands. We’ll hope for making some toddler friends and maybe even a tricycle of his own. Maybe even Kandy Korner downtown Hyannis, where he can pick his own 5, 10 or 25 cent candies to toss into his own basket. But this year, this year he experienced more than what I can hope for. An of course, he won’t remember it, but I caught it all on my camcorder to show him one day.

I could have taken him to Cancun or the Bahamas and he would have enjoyed himself just the same. But just like teaching him the routine of sleeping on his own, I believe that loving the Cape will come to him naturally. It’s in his blood as it is in mine. And though I know there’s nothing I can do about the technology driven world he will grow up in, I think that this place will mean to him what it means to me- a place where you can put the phone, tv remote, and computer away and just be a kid.

Tara.

“She had gone back to Tara once in fear and defeat and she had emerged from its sheltering walls strong and armed for victory. What she had done once, somehow–please God, she could do again! How, she did not know. She did not want to think of that now. All she wanted was a breathing space in which to hurt, a quiet place to lick her wounds, a haven in which to plan her campaign. She thought of Tara and it was as if a gentle cool hand were stealing over her heart. She could see the white house gleaming welcome to her through the reddening autumn leaves, feel the quiet hush of the country twilight coming down over her like a benediction, feel the dews falling on the acres of green bushes starred with fleecy white, see the raw color of the red earth and the dismal dark beauty of the pines on the rolling hills. She felt vaguely comforted, strengthened by the picture, and some of her hurt and frantic regret was pushed from the top of her mind.” — From Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind

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My Tara is somewhat different from Scarlett’s, in the sense that it is not a plantation. Other than that, they are the same: Home. Mine is not rolling hills and cedars and acres upon acres of wooded land, but rather a small, white cottage nestled beside a frog pond, shaded by pitch pines and juniper trees. At night the crickets and bullfrogs hum and bellow in a serenade, and during the day a symphony of cicadas is the only sound carried on the hot air. This place has held my heart since I was born, it’s the only place in my ever changing life that has remained constant- I’ve moved fourteen times, lived in five states, attended 3 high schools and 4 universities. This little cottage is the only place I know I can turn to and find comfort.

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There’s something about the salt air, the smell of pine and sap, the feel of the sun’s burn without the dampness in the air that Florida promises that puts me at ease. People (Floridians) think I’m crazy for preferring New England to Florida- but I’d take the marshes in Chatham over crowded, hazy Cocoa Beach any day. Maybe I’m so in love with it because it represents everything positive I’ve ever known- summers full of ice-pops and sandy bathing suits and salty hair, riding my bike until the sun set, chasing the Cape Cod train and waving to the tourists, catching fireflies, peeking out the loft window and watching for the headlights of my dad’s car as he came to join us on the weekend, spending weeks with my two best summertime friends, the Barnstable county fair, bonfires… The list goes on. The house is filled with pictures of my family- me, my sisters, my cousins, my parents, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, my great grandparents. The families who stay in the cottages neighboring ours grew up with my grandmother, watched my father grow, my sisters and I. It’s the last piece of the good life that I know, it brings me back to when I was young and not yet touched by heartbreak or loss, not yet knowing what it meant to struggle, never having met with disappointment or pain. When I’m home, I can just be. I ache to be there so badly that I feel as though when I do finally set foot on the porch, I will melt into it with happiness. I have one week to go. One week left, and I’ll be home.

Teething Week.

It is very fortunate for us all that we don’t remember the experience of teething, other than watching our own children struggle with it, which is hard enough in itself. My son has seven and a half teeth, all of which he has worked very hard on. Does everyone’s child cut teeth in twos? Every time I see the thin white line of a new tooth appearing in my son’s gum, I know that its partner, the exact same tooth on the other side of his mouth, will follow in 48 hours or so. He will be frustrated and in pain for roughly one week as the two slowly take their place in his smile, and then we get a couple of uninterrupted months where he is the happiest, silliest, most enjoyable baby on the planet.

But oh, that one week…

We are coming to the end of one such week, and I feel like I did after running the mile for the first time in gym class back in sixth grade- physically exhausted, mentally drained, panting, blurry-eyed and literally crawling to the finish line in disbelief that I’d made it through alive. I can’t imagine how my son must feel. I can’t imagine my tooth pushing through my flesh… Ouch. And the only way he knows how to express his discomfort is by biting me, biting his crib, biting his hands, chewing on his toys, shaking his head from side to side, tugging his ears, digging in his ears, kicking, screaming, wailing, and being just plain miserable. He doesn’t eat, he cries so hard he gags and gets into coughing fits, he hits, he throws his head back in a tantrum and goes stiff every time I try to pick him up and move him.

People who don’t understand teething, or children in general, or who have simply forgotten the struggle with teeth, think I’m a bad mom with a bad child. They give me dirty looks in the supermarket, they look at him like there’s something wrong with him, and they keep a safe distance from both of us. With the first set of 2 new teeth, I tried (and failed) to crack jokes (“Do you think he’s trying to tell me something?”) and keep my cool when around strangers during teething week. Now, I’m meaner than I’d like to be. But when someone looks at my son as though he’s melting or makes a face like I forgot to change his diaper for a month, I can’t help but say, “he’s teething, what’s your excuse?” I feel bad later, but I feel worse for my kiddo.

The best part about teething week is when it’s over. Because that’s when my real baby comes back, the happy, silly, giggly one who loves everyone, even strangers (which is going to be a fun lesson to teach as he gets older- “stranger danger!”). That’s when we get compliments at the supermarket- “What an adorable baby!” “Such a friendly boy!” “Look at all that curly hair!” They could very well have been the same people looking at him as though he were a grenade as his K-9′s cut through, judging my baby by his cries and discomfort, judging my parenting, writing him off as a poorly behaved child.

He will experience this again and again, repeatedly, for the rest of his life, this unnecessary and unwarranted judgement, he will be faced with people who don’t understand, people who can’t empathize, people who just don’t care. And when he’s a little older, I’ll teach him that what other people think of him doesn’t matter as long as he knows he’s doing the best he can. But for now, while he’s a teething, pained baby, I will protect him and ward off these monsters who don’t understand what he’s going through. Because he is doing his best. He doesn’t have any other way to get through teething week than by doing exactly what he’s doing.

 

Phonepocalypse.

I didn’t drop it in water, didn’t let it slip down the stairs, didn’t hand it to my son to be thrown to the tile ground at the supermarket. I had just hung up from a call (“Julie, please call me when you get that amendment signed”) and placed it on the counter. When I picked it up again to text the babysitter to let her know I was going to be a little late picking up my son, nothing. Just my stunned, ghostly reflection staring back at me from black screen as I fumbled with the power button, home button, power button, home button. Nothing happened. I felt a rising panic. My phone was broken. Gone forever. It had served me well for three and a half years, and now it was a brick. How was I going to function without my phone?? I have a child under 12 months old and I work from home half the time!

I had the babysitters phone number written down somewhere, but where? I began rummaging through my purse, kitchen drawers, the stack of junk on top of the fridge. I don’t have any phone numbers memorized outside of my immediate family, and I remember texting them the sitters number… did they save it? I picked up the house phone, which is practically antique and never used, and dialed my son’s father. No answer. I called him three more times and left him a message that I knew he wouldn’t listen to- “my phone is broken. Call me on this number PLEASE.” I dialed my mom and my sisters next, and when I got no answer from them either, I ran to my laptop and opened a new e-mail item to my son’s father. “My phone is broken. I need the babysitter’s number. I just called you four times and left a message. Call me back on that number or email me here.” There was a better chance he would respond to my email than my phone calls.

While I waited for him to respond, I tried to figure out what to do next. I had an old flip phone somewhere in the house, but it wasn’t charged and I definitely didn’t have the charger. Could Verizon charge it for me and switch service to that phone? I’d already used my upgrade in January on a new iPhone, the screen of which was now cracked irreparably after I’d thrown it (mature, right?) at my son’s father/then-husband in a wine-fueled argument and it had tumbled down three flights of cement stairs outside our apartment. I was currently using my old iPhone 4 that was three years old and wasn’t due for an upgrade until January 2016. And I’m cheap and broke, so a new smartphone was out of the question now. What if Verizon couldn’t restore the old flip phone? I prayed I could buy a used phone or simple, standard phone for a reasonable price, otherwise I’d have to go without until I could figure something out or find someone I knew with an unused Verizon phone they could sell to me, or, preferably, just give to me out of the kindness of their heart. I hadn’t backed up my phone in over a year, so most of my contacts would be lost. I shuddered at having to do the mass e-mail thing begging for phone numbers, and I don’t have Facebook, so if I didn’t have someone’s e-mail then I wouldn’t get their number until I heard from them. It dawned on my how little I suddenly cared about having a smartphone. Faced with the fact that I may have to revert to the cellular technology of 10 years ago with my little Motorola flip phone as my back up, all I cared about was being able to get ahold of people. All that other stuff that comes attached to the smartphone- e-mail on the go, twitter, my banking apps, internet surfing whenever I want it- how important is all that, really? I work on a computer 8 hours a day, and have a computer at home, so what’s the point of having one literally attached to my hip? It wasn’t too long ago that I didn’t even own a cell phone, and if I needed to talk to someone I had to call them on the house phone or from a pay phone or go find them. I’d become so used to having my phone as my little personal assistant and entertainment-on-the-go that I’d forgotten what life was like before it. I pushed the power button again- nothing. I plugged the phone into the charger in my bedroom and left it there for the remainder of the day.

My ex returned my e-mail. “Thanks for letting me know. The sitters number is xxx-xxx-xxxx.” I immediately dialed her from my house phone. She didn’t answer, either. I left her a message that I would be fifteen- well, now, thirty minutes late picking up my son, and to call me back on this number if there were any issues since my phone was broken. When I returned to my inbox, the signed amendment was there waiting for me. My company uses Microsoft Lync messenger, so I IMed one of my coworkers and asked her to call Cathy to let her know I had the signed document and would upload it for processing. I gave my coworker my home phone number and asked her to share it with Cathy and any others who may need it.

And then I felt calm. I would go to Verizon after picking up my son and see what they could do to help. But really, would it be so bad if I had to go without a phone for a bit? I thought of no more text messages, just phone calls, no more email buzzing incessantly at me during dinner or late at night, no more CNN Breaking News updates in real time, and I felt at ease. I could do this no phone thing. No problem.

Well, in the end, Verizon fixed my iPhone. Apparently there is a reset trick that, like, everyone knows but me, and the sales rep did that to my phone and sent me on my way. So my phonepocalypse only lasted about 5 hours. But still, it was a learning experience. I deleted most of my apps. I bought an address book and wrote down every single contact in my phone, and put colored post-it tabs on the pages that have my son’s sitter, pediatrician, and grandparents on his father’s side. I turned off notifications on my phone, and I removed my work e-mail account. I’m definitely not where I was ten years ago, and I’m not back to the technology basics, but it’s definitely better than the phone obsessed me that existed a week ago. And the changes were easier than I thought. Maybe, just maybe, when I upgrade in 2016, I’ll treat myself to the simplest of flip phones there is. Maybe.