My Best Thing

I have a lot of good things to report today — small things, little happy tasks done (not the least of which was sending the children off to school and out of this house). It would be hard to pick even two of those for the proverbial Two Best Things. But I can pick ONE BEST THING: my friend Amanda is cancer-free today.

After a pretty grim diagnosis six months ago, she endured chemo and is now recovering from a double mastectomy and reconstruction — trials for the spirit and body I hope never to know. She managed with vulnerability and bravery, humor and aplomb.

And today she got the kind of news that makes you want to kiss a pathologist or get prostrate in thanks: no tumor, nothing in the lymph nodes, nothing for radiation, nothing to see here.

I offer a great yawp of a yay to the universe. Hug your healthy bodies.

C Stands for 'Can Do Better'

Lucy made a 79 on a book report. A BOOK REPORT. A book report where she mainly just had to decorate a pumpkin like a character in the book (a picture book, at that). She made a C on an arts and crafts project about a book. This from the child whose past-times are reading, writing and drawing/gluing/decorating. When we brought it up, she was not worried about the grade. She did her best, she said. Jason and I tried to be loving and supportive, restrained and encouraging. But what's the right way to say, "That wasn't your best, kid. We know how smart you are. And we want to see an effort that reflects your intelligence." Well, I don't know the right way, but that's pretty much exactly what we said.

I was more proud of the things I didn't say:

  • "This will go on your permanent record."
  • "We don't make B's, let alone C's in this house. Unless you count some lesser academic moments by both your parents. But we are notorious underachievers. You are better than that."
  • "You'll never get into a decent middle school with grades like that."
  • "Think about your future."
  • "We may be underfunding your 529 slightly and are counting on at least a partial scholarship. Pick up the grades or pick up some golf clubs."

This conversation caused much gnashing of teeth and dramatic wailing. At one point, she blamed me for her bad grade (which she finally gave up defending as good) because I bought her an ugly pumpkin. She seemed unconcerned about the grade, but offended by our conversation.

I don't want to pressure her. Except I do. But I can't make her care as much as we do.

Vote Ronnie!

Milo LOVES Mitt Romney. But, to the relief of his progressive parents, not because of any nascent right-wing political leanings or plutocratic ambitions. The opposite, rather. Milo loves Mitt Romney because he thinks he is the plumber. Whose name is Ronnie. As in, when he comes over, which is not infrequently in this aging house of ours, we ask the kids to use their manners and call him "Mr. Ronnie." Which sounds to a three-year-old just like "Mitt Romney." Milo started identifying Mitt Romney on the radio a couple of months ago: "Hey! They talk about Misto Wonnie!" And I laughed and tried to explain that Mitt Romney was...well, I had no short answer, but left it at,  "No, they are talking about Mitt Romney and he is running for president. MISTER RONNIE fixes the sink."

But then today on the way home from school, he was flipping through the New York Times Magazine (not reading it, just to be clear), and he saw a picture of Mitt Romney and said, "Misto Wonnie! Where his mustache?" The real Mr. Ronnie, who also has a lovely head of salt and pepper hair, but can actually fix things, does indeed have a mustache. That, a tool belt and the trust of a three-year-old? Some campaigns are built on less.

I'll Show You Mine If You'll Show Me Yours

Warning: this post contains strong emotions. If you want a glib update on the kids, tune in later. I have been thinking lately about vulnerability. About how all of us pretending we are okay all the time is putting a layer of padding between us. Sometimes the layer is comfortable. It's polite. Maybe when you ask how I am, you just want to hear that I am fine, that's as deep as we need to go.

Or maybe you would want to hear that I have not been fine. Maybe we can peel away the polite padding of pretending, and I can tell you that for the past two months, after a year and a half of hard work on a thrilling but stressful project in a dysfunctional situation, I came out the other side and realized I had a different kind of work to do. I needed to work on myself. So I have been doing...nothing. Well, not nothing. But not much besides thinking my thoughts, feeling my feelings, trying not to worry about the undone tasks and unearned wages. Oh, and also going to therapy. I have been calling it my nervous breakthrough.

And my breakthrough is this: I am good enough. In every way. I don’t need to pretend to be anything or anyone I am not to impress any person I really care about. And that might not sound like much of a breakthrough, but this understanding has recalibrated my heart in a way that lets me feel, deeply, the joy of my life.

And a big part of my joy is the amazing people around me, who I have been letting into this process. I have been vulnerable — told the truth about my sadness and my pain and how I am getting better. And this vulnerability has created an opening for other people’s fear, despair, need and joy. Without the polite padding, I have felt more love and connection to the people who matter to me, and from what I can tell they do, too. I have felt, more truly, my very worthy self.

This is not to say we always — or ever — have to talk about our feelings. I am not telling people in the grocery line, “So, the other day in therapy…” But maybe we could consider that our constant burnishing of the rough edges of our lives — only good news, only perfect photos on Facebook, everything's always fine — is keeping us from each other.

Maybe a good start is knowing that when I ask you how you are, I promise that I really want to know.

Good Things Come in Threes

Lu: Grade Three

This big girl started third grade a couple of weeks ago. She has a big brain and big feelings — every day I see something more nuanced and mature in her, which I both love and mourn. Current big concerns: getting to school via bus or bike, keeping track of homework and finding ways to incorporate a sweater-coat into her wardrobe when the high is 92.

Milo: Three Years Old

Milo turned three earlier this month. He's potty-trained, he uses complete sentences and has a raucous sense of humor. He still loves "guys" — in fact, we are awash in tiny plastic people because we're still giving him prizes after he goes potty. He really needs to move out of his crib, but I'm not ready yet.

Developmental Delay?

After a couple of rough weeks in the new three-year-old classroom (Milo was coming home exhausted, grouchy and slightly violent), we decided to move Milo back to the two-year-old classroom. We'd been concerned that he'd be bored, way ahead of the younger two-year-old set developmentally. Hardly. Not only is he not fully potty-trained like most of these younger kids, many of them know shapes and colors, the dates of their birthdays. Milo knows none of those things. What he does know, as we discovered this morning, is how to swear. Milo, after falling out of his chair at breakfast: "DAMMIT!"

Jason: "Milo, don't say that word. That's not a nice word, and it's only for grown-ups."

Milo: "I cannot say 'dammit'?"

Jason: "No, Milo, don't say that?"

Milo: "Can I say 'poo-poo-head'?"

Jason: "Don't say that either."

We couldn't be more proud.