Back To School (Sober)

My big kids started school yesterday, entering 1st and 4th grade without new sneakers. This happens every year; I tell myself we will be better prepared next time, and before I know it, it’s August again.

I’ve historically blamed my lack of back-to-school planning on external factors beyond my control, like finances, but the truth is, I obsess over things that don’t matter (dirty dishes in the sink, the emotional state of the family pet, the clarity of my skin) and ignore the things that do.

The truth is, we have — well, had — the money for new shoes, but I spent it on something that didn’t matter. It mattered in the moment, certainly. That’s what always happens. I don’t drink or take pills anymore, but I still make terrible decisions. Some people call this irresponsibility, but I think it’s more like misplaced responsibility. I have no idea why I do this, but I have high hopes that working a recovery program will help me sort it out.

Please note: I HAVE A LOT OF REDEEMING QUALITIES.

This is my first back-to-school experience as a sober mother. I don’t know if my family can see a difference since I got sober almost 6 months ago, but I certainly feel different. Yesterday, I stood at the end of our driveway with my sons, holding a cup of coffee, waiting for the school bus to arrive.

After about 20 minutes, when it became clear that the bus wasn’t coming, I announced that I would drive them to school. My littlest was awake and had already dressed herself in a pair of inside-out pants, so all I had to do was unlock the van and tell them to load up.

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First day of school, August 2017.

 

Maverick is almost 9. He, more than anyone, knows what life used to be like, before therapy and diagnoses and I quit drinking. If anyone is going to notice changes, it’s him. He’s my barometer.

As we sat in the carpool line, I commented, “This isn’t that bad of a wait — if y’all would rather not ride the bus this year, I could drive you to school.”

“Wait — what?” Maverick’s eyes were wide.

“I don’t mind driving you. Unless you want to ride the bus. Just think about it, and let me know! It’s no big deal either way.”

I looked into the rear view mirror. My big boy, all arms and legs and overgrown, shaggy hair — another back-to-school task that didn’t get accomplished on time — was looking at me quietly.

“I thought you didn’t want to drive us,” he said, lowering his voice.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean … you always seemed like you couldn’t do it.”

I turned around and put my hand on his knee. I knew what he meant. It’s not that I couldn’t physically drive them in the mornings — there was nothing I couldn’t do without the help of an extra-strong cup of coffee and a pair of sunglasses — but I lived in such a constant state of stress that any unforeseen circumstance or extra task would send me over the edge. I was always one event away from a nervous breakdown, and my kids could sense that. I mean, obviously.

I looked at him, dead in the eyes, and studied his face for a long time. A car honked behind us. I continued to look at him.

“I can.”

And he smiled.

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Truth Or Dare.

My oldest child is in 2nd grade. Here’s one of our typical dinnertime conversations.

Maverick: “Truth or dare?”

Me: “Truth.”

Maverick: “Aw, man! Everyone picks truth! I always pick dare when we play it at school.”

Me: “That’s because people are too chicken to do the dares. Like me. I’m chicken.”

Maverick: “They dared me to eat grass and I ate it. I ate it a few different times.”

Me: (silence)

Maverick: “Well … grass AND leaves. I ate them both.”

Me: (silence)

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Resisting The Summer Slide.

Me: Why do you want to bring your composition book camping this weekend?

6-year-old: So I can write down all of the things I observe, like the flowers and the birds …

Me: (silently listening)

6-year-old: I have to keep my brain operating at an advanced level, or the “summer slide” will happen. That’s when you forget everything you learned over the summer.

Me: (silently listening)

6-year-old: The only “slide” I want to experience is a slide at the playground.

That’s my boy … 6 going on middle age.

WHEN DID HE GROW UP?!

WHEN DID HE GROW UP?!

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The World Needs More Kind People.

I’m an imperfect, mess of a person who married an imperfect, mess of a person. Together we have spawned three imperfect, messy people.

Robbie and I recognized early on that we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. That became clear 7 years ago in our Intro To Parenting class when the instructor said “Raise your hand if you’ve never changed a diaper!” and we were the only two people in the room with our hands in the air.

Our unborn child was screwed. We knew it, the instructor knew it, and the 15 other couples in the class knew it.

Because of our apparent lack of knowledge, we have made it our practice to set the bar of achievement at a reasonable level. We encourage our children to do their best and we are proud when they succeed, but more than that, it is important to us that we raise them to be kind.

I don’t just want my kids to be kind to people who look and act like they do. I want them to be kind to everyone. Yes, black people. Yes, brown people. Yes, yellow people. Yes, gay people. Yes, strange people — and don’t call them strange, because we’re strange too.

Yes, homeless people. Yes, punk rock people. Yes, baby people. Yes, old church people.

Yes, even your own brother and sister.

PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE. BE KIND TO THEM. This is our family motto.

The thing about parenting is that you never really know if what you’re doing is working. You just do the best you can, and as days stretch into weeks you keep trudging along until something happens that lets you know that you have either failed miserably or done something right. Recently something happened that let me know we’re doing something right.

My 6-year-old’s teacher sent me a text letting me know that she selected him to receive the “Good Citizenship” award because of how kind, helpful, and patient he’s been with a boy named Gabriel in their class.

“Who is Gabriel?” I asked. She replied that Gabriel is a little boy with autism.

“Maverick is so patient with him,” she said. “He’s made such a huge difference.”

Maverick has mentioned to us a handful of times that there is a really funny boy who does silly things and I had no idea what he was talking about. We have friends who have kids with autism, so Maverick may not even realize there is anything different going on with his friend.

The next morning at breakfast, we asked about Gabriel. “OH!” he said, “Gabriel is my friend. He has a disability. I know all about disabilities. Gabriel’s disability is that he just can’t stop being funny!”

As I turned away to hide my face, because I was doing that ugly cry thing that moms do when they are moved by something, I heard Maverick say “His favorite color is rainbow! Isn’t that awesome?!” before shoveling more cereal into his mouth.

Several days later, I found myself standing in a sea of other proud parents. My son sat quietly through the awards ceremony; he had no idea that his name was going to be called, and certainly didn’t know the reason why.

I watched him, feeling the condensation drip from my iced coffee, wondering when the transformation happened. Somehow, when I wasn’t looking, he’s changed. A year ago he would have had trouble sitting there quietly. And now, just look at him.

Raising a kind child.

Me and my kid.

Later, I arrived at his classroom for the end of year party. “HI, MOMMY!” he yelled, in typical exuberant fashion. He was sitting outside next to a little boy I’d never seen before.

“Hi! Who’s your friend?” I asked.

“Oh! This is Gabriel!”

“Hi, Gabriel! I’m Maverick’s mom.”

Gabriel smiled. I liked him already.

The world doesn’t need three more assholes. The world needs three more kind people.

I hope my children can be those three kind people.

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Poop and Redemption

This is a story of poop and redemption.

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Our middle child is three, which means he is full of words and energy.

I was so excited to send him fishing with my dad and husband last weekend, for the simple reason that I needed a break from the words. There are so many of them, and he’ll throw in a “MOMMY” just often enough to keep me from completely tuning it out.

In my excitement, I threw a change of clothes and a few wet wipes in a backpack and ushered them out the door. I didn’t ask specifically where they were going. I didn’t pack them any food. There was no pomp and ceremony. I said here’s the backpack, don’t forget the sunscreen, kissed them both goodbye, and shut the door.

You see, when you are where I am in life, you don’t ask questions beyond what is absolutely essential. After almost seven years of constant interruption, Robbie and I have learned how to communicate in shorthand:

Hey.

Hey.

(Insert hand signals so the children don’t know that we are discussing going fishing on Grandpa’s boat.)

 Awesome.

Bathroom?

Yes.

Be careful.

Love you.

Love you.

Bye.

Five hours later, I got a text.

Our poor boy got diarrhea, in the boat, in the middle of a body of water. He NEVER gets diarrhea. What are the chances?!

During the second bout, Robbie was holding him over the side of the boat, because apparently that’s what had to happen, as our child simultaneously peed all over him and shat down the side of the watercraft. It was probably at this point that my husband hit rock bottom.

Meanwhile, my dad just kept fishing.

The moral of the story is that from this point forward, whenever I find myself on my hands and knees cleaning congealed oatmeal off the kitchen floor, thinking that today is the shittiest day EVER, I’ll remember the first time Robbie took our middle child fishing.

And then … I’ll feel better.

Cram Crackers.

If you are able to go to the bathroom today without it being a circus event, don’t take it for granted.

I’m in a place in my life right now where everything is a problem, particularly trips to the bathroom. Children toddle after me, play in my makeup drawer, and stretch my prescription glasses to oblivion when I am indisposed. So if you’re reading this post while sitting on the toilet in peace … BE GRATEFUL, IS ALL I’M SAYIN’.

In this particular season, which seems infinitesimal, it’s hard to find time to write or maintain and build friendships. It’s hard to keep food in the house. It’s hard to strike a balance every day and not ignore my children.

Sometimes I wish everyone would just go away so I could do yoga in our living room, because surely a few sun salutations would make everything seem more manageable, right?! Yogis are such relaxed people.

Other relaxed people:

1. Marijuana farmers and consumers.

2. Hypnotists.

3. That guy “Chubs” on Pawn Star.

4. Robbie Hobbs.

My husband, the aforementioned Robbie Hobbs, is extremely supportive of my writing. He is truly my biggest cheerleader, and I can’t say enough how vital he is to any success I’ve had or will see in the future. I definitely need him by my side, and he’s there … until he runs out of his favorite boxers. Then he’s all, “Where are all my boxers?! What do you do all day?!” (Note: asking this question never ends well.)

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT I DO ALL DAY, MOTHERF*CKER.

I drag three kids to an allergist appointment and, due to an unfortunate series of events, never wish to call the allergist, think of the allergist, or show my face at the allergist’s office again.

I feel like a terrible mother multiple times per day, because apparently women are wired to self-loathe and self-question and over-think everything to the point of exhaustion. My kid knows the words to that song?! I’m a terrible mother. My kid tried to fight a nurse?! I’m a terrible mother. Eggo waffles are processed in a factory?! I’m a terrible mother. I have varicose veins there? I’m a terrible mother.

I didn’t say it had to make sense. Just shut up.

I patch up thumbs when they get smashed in doors. I untangle cords. I help build block towers and break up fights when the tower is inevitably knocked down.

I remind that we do not bite.

And finally, I give our little boys graham crackers to eat for their afternoon snack and I send them outside. I pat myself on the back for having the foresight to serve crumbly crackers outside and not inside, thus avoiding the extra work of sweeping the kitchen.

I then hear an inordinate amount of noises that I can’t quite identify. I allow it to continue for longer than I should, because I am unable to muster the will to stand.

Eventually, the noise level increases and I get up to investigate. I hear myself yelling something that I never imagined saying to anyone, ever: “OH MY GOD, DID YOU SHOVE GRAHAM CRACKERS UP YOUR BUTT?!”

The answer is yes, he definitely did.

My middle child, underwear filled with pulverized crackers, was gleefully throwing crumbs at his older brother and yelling “BOOTY CRUMBS!” as they laughed hysterically.

“They’re crammed really far up there,” my oldest offered helpfully.

Indeed, they were.

Next time anyone anywhere in any situation asks me, “What do you do all day?” I’m going to look them in the eye and say *cram crackers.

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Captain Underpants.

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This is in the back of Maverick’s favorite book. I nearly wept when I read it. I bet if his mother and I met for coffee, we would be instant besties.

Mothers of Boys.

You should relax, they say.

Okay, yes. I should. So I will send my sons out to play, and while they are outside I will make a shopping list.

Aww … look how nicely they’re playing.

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This was just before Maverick shoved the wagon containing his little brother into the street.

Now, I’ll give him credit for immediately freaking out and trying to catch him. And I give myself credit for not coming completely and totally unhinged.

Mothers of boys can never relax, I’ve decided.

The Psycho Threes.

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Asher is in a difficult phase I like to call the “psycho threes.” Based on prior experience, I expect it to last until he’s about 5 years old.

I’m pretty much over it and it only began in earnest a few weeks ago, the epic meltdowns and unintelligible screaming over things like his sister sneezing on him or touching him or touching his blanket or staring at him.

Sometimes it’s over things like the fact that I broke his banana off the bunch because HE WANTED TO DO IT, or because there is sand on his hands after he got in the sandbox or there is a rock in his shoe after he walked through gravel.

I’ve gotten better this time around (because Maverick’s third year of life was literally the hardest year of mine, and this experience by comparison isn’t that bad) at maneuvering the whole living-with-a-tiny-psycho thing … but it wears on me. A lot. It begins first thing in the morning when he can’t get his blanket to hang just right on the back of his chair at the breakfast table, and it ends approximately 12 hours later when someone pulls the plug on his bath because HE WANTED TO DO IT.

Some days I handle it better than others. There have been many days lately where I just sat down and cried with him because I didn’t know what was wrong or how to fix it and frankly, I needed a good cry. Being a mother is so, so hard when you’re not at your best emotionally and physically, when you are tired and feel like you need a break and yet … they are still there, asking for things. Needing things.

But tonight, at the end of a long stretch of hard weeks, after a bath and dinner and a book and a bedtime struggle, came the arduous task of picking out just the right pair of pajamas and the right pair of socks and trying and failing to put them on himself. And then it was finally time to put that sweet, psychotic, three-year-old boy to bed.

I was so OVER it, but I was holding it together, masking my exhaustion by sitting calmly on his bed like I had all the time in the world. I said — because now I must ask first, instead of just picking him up and plopping him on my lap — “Asher, do you want to sit in my lap?”

And after a long pause, he broke into that dimply grin and said very seriously, “IT IS MY FAVORITE THING.”

Then he climbed up, leaned in, smelled my shoulder like someone would smell a bouquet of flowers, and put his head on my chest.

It’s my favorite thing too, you know. So at least we have that in common.