Tomorrow I will be turning thirty-two. I will admit, thirty-two looks a lot different than I thought it would look when I was younger. I remember thinking that by my thirties, I would have more answers. All I really have are more questions. I thought I would be totally comfortable in my own skin and be very confident. But I find more than ever, I feel like I am screwing it up and everyone knows it. I feel like the most unorganized mess of a human being. I am deeply flawed. I am selfish. I am bossy. I am impatient.
These are traits that are hard-wired into me and I have to try every day to be the opposite. But I’ve had the best teacher to show me how. She started teaching me from the day I was born how to be a better person. Take for example the fact that I was born the day before her twenty-second birthday. That’s right on the last day of her twenty-first year, she was delivering me (naturally) into this world. Talk about a pain in the a**. She was recovering in the hospital on her birthday. She was probably excited, but also scared to death. But she’s never even hinted at regretting any of it. She has always said I was the best birthday gift she ever got.
She has had to share her birthday with me for most of her life. And for years, I have believed I was so special to be born so close to my mom’s birthday. But now I realize that growing up, she was just sacrificing her day of being special to make sure that my day was more special. She has always made our birthday cake but let me blow out the candles. She threw parties for me and my friends on my birthday and probably had a big mess to clean up on her birthday.
Now I finally understand how much my mom has given through the years for me and my siblings because I am a mom. I was given new eyes the day my son was born. I see through the same eyes my mom has seen through for thirty-two years. I can appreciate all of the sacrifice she made for me and my siblings. She stopped working outside the home to make her full-time profession a stay-at-home-mom. It was the 80’s! She didn’t raise us in a time of play-dates every day. She and my dad worked very hard for everything they had. She had my sister nineteen months after me and my brother 20 months after her. My kids are even further spaced and I am still ripping my hair out daily. AND she even had a fourth kid! (Sorry, Pops. That won’t be happening.) There were no iPads to keep us busy while she made dinner. We never had cable T.V. to entertain us while she stole ten minutes to take a shower. There was no facebook to help my mom keep in touch with her friends. My mom didn’t go to college. She got married and had kids. She grew up quickly, much younger, and far more alone than I did.
Mom, I know you’ll read this. I just want to thank you for giving me the best birthday gift(s) of all. Thank you for sharing not only your day with me from the minute I was born, but the rest of your life. I finally see that once you become a mother, you’re a mother for the rest of your life. Thank you for showing me what selflessness looks like. Thank you for teaching me humility. Thank you for showing me unconditional love every day of my life. These are things you can’t give a person, but can only teach by example. You are the best role model a person could ask for. If I learn nothing else beyond what you have taught me these past thirty-two years, it will be okay because you have taught me the things that matter most.
You are an angel on earth and I love you. Happy birthday.
Normally Friday is a day filled with hope and promise for me. Because no matter how many temper tantrums are thrown, I know Scott will be home earlier than usual and will be home for two whole days after today to help deal with our whiny, crying sweet, innocent children. Also, typically Friday is a non-school day for my difficult angelic preschoolers. Today, however was Picture Day. So I had to pack up the three children and haul them to school by 8:30 this morning for an event which probably took a good day or two off my years on Earth.
Picture day…a day of pretty clothes, neat hair, and sweet smiles immortalized in digital file. Sigh. Sounds delightful, but no. This was not how my morning began. I had picked out the outfits for my boys, filled out the envelopes with all of their information, and stuffed them with $20 bills for the second least expensive package knowing we probably wouldn’t get great shots, but maybe something worth putting in their baby books or handing out to close family and friends. Luke hadn’t gotten a haircut this week as I had hoped but my husband thinks his hair looks better longer with side-swept bangs dubbing him “Bieber-esque” which both annoys and amuses me. I let it go because even though in most pictures it looks like a disheveled bowl cut, it’s who he is right now and I love him and his messy hair.
I also made the mistake of not setting an alarm this morning thinking Gracie would do what she always does and be awake for the day by 6:00 a.m. But today, Grace chose not to make a peep until 7:14 a.m. We needed to be out the door – all of us – by 8:00. So the fifty-eight minutes (we didn’t leave until 8:12) were a mad dash. Dress the boys, feed them, break up three fights, Luke bashed his lip on a table, dress Grace, nurse her, get myself ready (sort of) and shovel a bowl of cereal into my face.
YAY! We were on the road.
Luke was angry the whole way there: the sun was in his eyes. He couldn’t get his sunglasses on. His lip hurt. Something [nothing] was touching his head. He didn’t like his shoes. Noah was looking at him. He wanted to go to the park. A bug was on his window. Gracie sneezed. And I had to stay calm because God forbid I lose my cool today and make him cry. But today is FRIDAY and I have been dealing with this crap ALL WEEK LONG. Though my blood pressure was at a steady boil, I remained outwardly calm.
Thank God, Noah was cooperating. And Gracie was also being very good. It made up for Luke being slightly more challenging than usual.
8:40 a.m: We arrive at school. And blessedly the preschool class was still downstairs waiting to come up for pictures in the commons area. I hurriedly handed the photographer our envelopes and nudged Noah to the stool. He gave a great cheesy smile and stepped down. Perfect! One down, one to go. But then the double doors busted open. Mrs. L. and 50 children, ages ranging between three and five, poured into the commons area. Mrs. L. encouraged the non-school day kids to do their pics first so we could go home. I was so grateful for her foresight.
“Ok, Luke! Are you ready,” I said combing his hair with one of the black plastic combs and trying in vain to get it how Scott likes it. It just kept falling back into the bowl cut. He looked down at the floor and did the Luke pout. No. No, no, no. Not now. Not now, please God, No. He went boneless except his legs and I tried to pull his noodly arm toward the stool for his picture. His legs were rigid and he seemed frozen to the spot. He caved into me and leaned his head on my hip. “Please buddy? One picture?”
I carried him to the stool. 50 preschoolers were being wrangled by at least a dozen stressed out parents and Noah’s preschool kid-whisperer teacher as I carried my son to the stool flanked by giant spotlights and a huge green backdrop. Luke stood hunched over on the stool staring at the floor with a look on his face I can only describe as reminiscent of a homeless, abandoned child starving in the streets of a cold, heartless city; EXACTLY the look you want for a kid’s school picture.
The photographer chirped, howled, barked, laughed, begged which of course only made it worse and Luke actually stuck his tongue out at her through frowning lips. “Keep it together,” I heard that little voice in my head even though disrespect toward adults is probably my number-one-button-pusher with children. I then started begging and bribing with promises of candy and toy trains, and a trip to the park. I even lied and said Spiderman was on the ceiling just to make him look up. I didn’t even care if he smiled at this point.
Nothing. Would. Make. Him. Look. Up. I was dying a thousand deaths as I felt all the parents’ eyes on me probably wondering what was wrong with me and my child whose soul obviously had not an ounce of joy in it. Mrs. L. even stood behind the camera and did her song and dance but obviously Luke was going to win this battle. He slinked off the stool and scampered back over to me after at least five of the longest minutes of my life. “What’s wrong?” One of the parents asked.
“He’s my stubborn one. He hates having his picture taken I explained,” feeling the blood start to drain back out of my face. I pulled Luke back over to where Noah sat with Gracie cooing in her car seat. “I did a good job mom! Do I get a special treat?” Noah asked. I just stared at him.
Another mom and I started chatting because I thought if I kept thinking about the previous five minutes, I was going to flip out. I had to think about something else. We made small talk and I kept looking over at Luke who was now laughing and playing with the other kids waiting their turn. I walked over to him. “Want to try again?” I asked trying to sound warm and sweet. The frown returned and he shook his head.
“Mother %*?#^$!!!” was all I was thinking now. I said good-bye to my mom friend and picked up Gracie in her car seat and led the boys out of the school. Noah was asking me a question per second and almost ran out into the parking lot without looking both ways. I snapped at him to get back over to me and I told him we would go get bagels but no park this morning. Luke stared wailing, “I want to go to the park!”
Then he kicked my shin.
That was it. I didn’t care if I was in the school parking lot. I lifted his gangly body off of the pavement and seated him very firmly into his car seat. I grabbed both of his cheeks and said, “Don’t you ever kick me, or anyone again. That is disrespectful. You didn’t get your picture taken today and the deal was, if you did a nice smile and looked at the camera we would go to the park. You chose not to do that so we are not going to the park.” He frowned and stuck his tongue out again. I hastily buckled his seat belt and shut the sliding door glaring at him, reminding myself that it would probably be frowned upon to spank his butt there in the school parking lot.
“Mom, I’m a good boy!,” Noah sang from the back seat.
“Shh-sh-shhh,” was all I could manage through my rage.
We went to the bagel shop. I ate a half of a bagel. My anger slowly dissipated as I reminded myself he’s only three. He’s new at this stuff. Be kind. Be patient. Deep breath. It’s Friday. Scott will be home by 5:00 today…
And there will be picture re-takes in October. I looked at Luke’s now smiling face while he made up goofy words with his big brother at the tiny bagel shop table between sips of apple juice.
“I do love you, Lukey,” I said pushing his bangs back.
“I love you too, Mommy.” He said and licked the back of my hand like a puppy.