Due to Extenuating Circumstances

Adventures in Unplanned Parenthood

2011, 2016: Magic

2011

August 12th, 6:30 pm: Mac and I stood at the altar in a ballroom decorated by a dear friend. My best friend AJ and our family friend Greg were the co-officiants in our secular wedding. Robin was my maid of honor, Mac’s dad stood up with him. We had written our own vows to each other. Mac was feeling real pressure since the wedding guests were about 75% Imes or Imes-adjacent people and he thought there may be a quiz afterwards. I’m not sure why a raucous, erudite, never-ending wave of the Clan Imes would be overwhelming for someone who identifies his family as having about 9 people. Nine Canadian people, which when you factor in their general politeness and concern for etiquette averages out to 3.7 Americans, but you won’t notice them because that’s an imposition.

My gown was an elaborately tucked ivory sweetheart neckline. I was allergic to my bouquet. Our song was Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.” My aunts helped cut the cake. Our moms had great dresses. Our dads and Robin gave terrific toasts.

On the whole, magic.

2015

My folks took El Niño (a favorite nickname for baby) last night. Mac and I had dinner and made a determined effort to not talk about our kid, and we did beautifully. After we picked him up the next day, our 5th anniversary was going to be watching tons and tons of sports and hanging out with Baby. We love the Olympics. Here’s the play-by-play:

OLYMPICS!!!!

Hey, kiddo! See the Olympics? What’s that smell?

Change diaper.

Did we feed him?

I dunno.

Me either.

Watch Olympics.

Did we ever feed him?

I dunno.

Feed.

Diaper.

Olympics!

Baby wanted to wave Canadian flag for soccer. Wave, Baby, Wave! He wants to wear a plastic bag on his head while he does it. Great hat, baby! Oh. Except not. No, plastic bags are not toys. TANTRUM. Baby threw Mac’s glasses in anger. “No throwing eyeglasses” is a VERY big rule in the Imes Borden household of late. Baby got a one minute time out, which he understands. Which is great. Except it exposes a haunting gap in Imes Borden parenting knowledge: We have no idea who taught him “time out.” We’re guessing he’s watching the older kids at daycare? In his age group I think they usually re-direct. My parents discovered he knows time out, but they didn’t teach him, either. If he’s had a Time Out Setting all along, that most certainly should have been divulged by the maternity nurses.

So. He’s being forced to stand by the vacuum cleaner at the end of the hall, a 60-second time out. He cried. Mac and I had to strategically retreat to the kitchen to not let Baby know this is at least 10 times harder on me than him, and his little wails are cute, and last time I had to leave because I was going to laugh at him, he’s so damned adorable in time out.

Then he comes out, where we immediately revert to “Time served, clean slate, let’s have fun again!” OLYMPICS! Good plan. Right up until Mac needs to go downstairs and use the facilities for a bit. So here I am, I have to keep Baby occupied, it’s not safe to leave him in the living room alone or he’ll mess up paused Olympics even if I have the remote. Mac says that’s not possible. Oh, but it is. It is. IT IS. HOW? If I knew how I wouldn’t let him do it and I don’t care if you can’t see how because he’s GODDAMN HARRY POTTER I DON’T KNOW HOW HE JUST DOES…now I also need the bathroom. This is how we get to the weirdest part of my day.

“HEY! You’ve been so good, why don’t you come in and help mommy go potty?”

I am not making this up.

He loves it when I tell him he’s being such a good boy, that yes, he can come in and help me go potty. (Let’s talk about how weird that thought is to ME another time). This is a non-stop thrill ride as far as my son is concerned. Listen to his little brain:

This is the part where mommy closes the door! Look how special I am, I’m on THIS SIDE of the door! Then, mommy does a weird thing about pulling her pants down, and sits, and her squishy tummy fat is all bunched up. I’ll poke my finger into her belly button! Everybody likes belly pokes! Mommy’s had so many surgical implements pass through that belly button it has a knot of scar tissue behind it the size of a golf ball; she will love it so much if I poke extra hard, to let her know I remember! It’s also cool to poke all the other scars. Mommy would never thank me ironically for that! What ar– Mommy there’s liquid coming into the bowl you’re sitting on and 

WHOA.

This is an actual quote. The first time my son heard urine his eyes grew enormous and in a reverential whisper he said “whoa.” He knows when that stops mommy does whatever the weird paper thing is, and always wants to close the lid before flushing, so in his mind, “Really I’m a much better helper if I close it while she’s still on it! I’ll hit mommy in the back with the lid! I am saving Mommy so much time!”

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for…the Mystery Handle of Amazement. It sends things to another dimension. You can SEE Baby’s mind burning rubber it’s going so fast: Mommy we could put so many things in here! Everything we never wanna see again like a ton of Kleenex, a stuffed owl, my crayons, shoes, and everything I’m supposed to eat I don’t like which is now every food on the planet except plain, starchy pasta! What about the cat? Mommy would love it so much if I gave the cat a bath in here!”

After that, the last Big Treat of the night was trying to watch the Olympics, which can be summed up thusly: Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps make a lot of money for NBC, and we are viciously, irrevocably old and out of shape.

Wait.

Did we put the baby to bed?

I dunno.

Olympics.

Magic…ish.

This ends in MOMA or the Hague.

The slippery slope; war on my walls, or untapped genius?

The Baby has discovered crayons. I’m using “discovered” loosely here. His father, about whom I have many good thing to say, was a complete and total goober and gave our son crayons. Many, multiple crayons. First, he gave him skinny crayons (should be noted, these were labeled “washable”) then when too many of those broke, he got Baby those big, fat fuckers that come in Ground into the Rug Red, All Over Oscar Orange, Mom Will Yell-ow,  Baseboard Black and my favorite, THESE DON’T SAY “WASHABLE” WHITE: NOW CUSTOMIZED TO FIT THE CREVICES OF YOUR HARDWOOD FLOOR!

To be fair, Mac provided a really nice tablet of paper. But the tablet is like, 9 x 12? Our house is many, many, many 9 x 12 spaces. That are at his eye level. His meaning Baby’s. Mac was a well-intentioned goober but his line of sight remains unassailable. For the moment.

So, how long do you think it’s going to take for the average toddler to run off the reservation with this? I can tell he’s doing it, because every morning there are more scraggly little crayon marks running across my white hallway doors. They are light (Baby has yet to discover the satisfaction of putting all your weight behind one of these suckers) and they run exactly horizontal across each door as though he’s testing to see what happens if he runs along and scrawls in his CLACZ (Chubby Little Arm Comfort Zone). I was wondering if he made a few marks every day, or made several all at once while Mac was doing something else. Sunday night at 4:30 am, I erased all the marks using a Brand Name Serious Scrubby Thing.

Oh. Why 4:30 in the morning?

I have bipolar disorder, chronic pain, and a toddler. If 4:30 in the morning is when my head, my abs and my ass can get it all together long enough to scrub walls, then that’s when it happens.

The marks were there when I woke up at noon, 11:009:00, 8:15, meaning Baby is running amok, probably while Mac does something inconsequential like hygiene. This is potentially very bad. Or good. Is it the call of the wild? The need to be a bad boy? Tag his territory? Mark up the walls that won’t hold me in forever, mom? I have declared war on painted surfaces because I prefer my doors like I prefer my truth: unvarnished, unpredictable, and filled with messy complications WHICH YOU’LL NEVER UNDERSTAND BECAUSE YOU’RE LIKE 167 YEARS OLD, MOM.

Or is it “My colors need to be free! This is an expression of angst that I am kept down by your class system, your race system, your assumption that because I have chubby little arms I cannot soar like the eagle? WHICH YOU’LL NEVER UNDERSTAND BECAUSE YOU’RE LIKE 167 YEARS OLD, MOM.” If it’s this one, I’ll quit erasing them. That sounds like someday it could add value to a 2 bed, 2 bath split-level on the Side of the Tracks that Realtors Call ‘America is Trackless.'”

In the meantime, let’s figure out the math on what he’s using to mark up the walls. There were 16 in the first box, 8 in the second. He broke each Washable crayon into at least 3 pieces, making a box of 16 now, functionally, a box of 48 and counting. I never made it to getting a hold on most of those. These pieces were “cleaned up” systematically by letting Baby throw some of them through the holes in the gate at the top of the stairs. At most, it makes a tiny wax dot on each stair where it lands. I can live with dots. I’m hip with that. I like Georges Seurat as much as the next person who understands that joke. However, triage of the Throw-Zone yielded about 13 pieces, and I have 4 inexplicably whole smaller crayons, meaning that (in theory) 25 pieces of crayon are out of commission in this war on my walls, but 23 remain in enemy hands and we have 8 Big Boys yet to come. They’ll roll out like a Panzer division any day now. Or, the cat got into the box and batted them under the TV. He loves that.

We must understand this is a war of attrition. Because the bigger crayons are not unbreakable. And how many pieces might each bigger crayon yield? Also, where are the rest of the small ones?

How long do I have before he figures out the pens, pencils, colored pencils, hi-liters, Magic Markers, Charmed Markers, Muggle Markers, artistic charcoal and spray paint? How do I combat this? I can’t guarantee the 4:30 am Maginot Line Against Markers every night year in, year out, until he’s old enough forget drawing with markers and tries to huff the damn things.

Meeeeeeh…ok. I think I surrender. There are many things worse than my kid drawing on the walls with a few art supplies. He could hate art. He could be afraid to try new things.

He could take every bucket of leftover paint, every bottle of nail polish, every permanent marker in the house and paint a giant mural over his closet that stands for years and many people that come into our lives write on, draw on, sign… spending half a decade documenting the teenage years of an artistic but floundering girl and her intrepid younger sister.

As far as I know the Hague let me slide on that one.

 

If the door is closed, God opens a window. That you can’t reach.

Attention! Due to extenuating circumstances, the following MUST be kept closed to minimize the damage that can be done to, or done by, our toddler:

  1. Our bedroom door. Immediately as baby enters there are three shelves within his reach. Two of them are decorative corner units (warning! Sap alert!) Mac installed to my sight line for when I can’t sit up. They hold some of the things I find beautiful or special that remind me of traveling. Among other things it has a Russian lacquered bowl, a matrushka my nephew is quite fond of (don’t know why this particular thing, but I’m happy to share) and a couple of jewelery boxes. There’s also very pointy wooden Buddha from Thailand, a family picture from 15 years ago and the first dollar I ever earned as a published author. My son loves the little bowl, but it’s only a matter of time before he pokes out somebody’s eye with Pointy Thai Buddha and that’s not a level of metaphysical introspection I have time for.
  2. His bedroom. Eddie has learned pens and markers leave behind pretty, pretty colors. My husband keeps his work clothing in Eddie’s closet right now as Eddie’s sartorial needs are limited to “big spaghetti sauce stain but it’s technically clean vs. stainless, too small but everybody loves baby tummies.” Eddie wants to watch highlighters (we own 876, see also: professor) make pretty colors on Daddy’s dress shirts. The shirts for which Mac meticulously shops in higher-end, professional wear boutiques that tailor every piece as needed for him. The higher quality the fabric, the better they hold highlighter.
  3. Under the sink. Sure, we have the childproof magnetic locks and all that, but you have to figure in baby’s need to open the left cabinet. Why? It holds the cat treats. It is a guarantee Oscar will come rushing. I look under the sink, I see under a sink with some sponges I should give up already, and the feather duster next to cat supplies.gar kisses Eddie looks under the sink… and sees an opportunity to wield untold power over the cat. It’s all he ever wanted. Eddie screams “Gar! Gar! Whoa…Gar!” (Our new word is “whoa” and it gets used 89 times a day, plus whatever he says at daycare). My son follows his bliss. And then face plants himself into the soft, furry underbelly of the bliss.
  4. The bathroom. He saw the toilet flush once and got so stoked the water was vanishing he stuck his hand in there to feel it swirling away. This wasn’t a test flush, by the way. This was a fully operational toilet scenario, folks.
  5. The dishwasher. To be fair, Daddy loves it when Baby helps by getting out spoons and giving them to Daddy. So, the more engaged Baby is, the more Daddy will love this to the point of freaking the hell out, right? Baby is thinking “When did it become “wrong” to crawl up onto the door so I could find out how the green powder in the little rectangle-shaped dispenser tastes?”
  6. The stairway gate. The slots of the gate. Throwing toy, after toy, after toy, a green bean, the diaper he just wiggled out of (oh yeah, true story) and more toys..we’re learning so much about the sound of plastic on wood, wood on wood, crayon on wood, and, in its most colorful iteration, Daddy on baby metal fork at 2 am.
  7. The liquor cabinet so he can’t root around in there before bedtime.
    1. I should also make sure Baby doesn’t do that
  8. The entertainment system because good dowels gave their lives so that others might be safe. Never Forget.

Nice to meet you, Erma.

I like eating applesauce in the middle of the night.

When I need a snack at night, unsweetened applesauce in the total package: easy to find in fridge, low calorie, good for nausea, thick enough to cushion pills, and I can eat it silently in bed, perusing the internet for funny pictures of cats while next to me Mac produces an astonishing amount of body heat for someone who is neither awake nor the Human Torch.

Eat it silently.

***

fore·shad·ow

fôrˈSHadō/
verb
gerund or present participle: foreshadowing
be a warning or indication of (a future event).
***
          Two nights ago I came to the kitchen, then got my Peter Rabbit bowl, then filled it with applesauce, then grabbed my glass of water, then padded back to the bedroom, then set down the applesauce, then put the water on a coaster on my bedside table, then climbed into bed to sit up and peruse funny pictures of cats. Then jumped up with a robust squeal as my left butt cheek tipped a child’s plastic bowl filled with cold applesauce. Right now, I’d like to use this platform for some sage wisdom:
When setting things down it is of vital import to remember where one did this if one wishes to collect said item with hands, not arse.
          As you can imagine, Mac’s eyes opened PDQ when I squawked. I’m dripping applesauce onto the carpet on my side of the bed, where we keep a power strip on the floor. Two nights ago the power strip was hooked up to FIVE things, only two of them less than a hundred dollars to replace. I was frantically scooping up applesauce with my hands, trying to see how much of it got near or on the strip, and since the strip is how my bedside lamp operates I’m scared to turn the damn thing on. I replace my disgusting, squishy nightgown. Mac gives up sleep as a lost cause and heads to his bathroom, stopping to put my nightgown in the washer. I collect bowl, spoon, sodden Kleenex and such to get everything rinsed since we’ve already spent two months at the Maginot Line as far as kitchen ants are concerned.
          Mac returns, shuts off his light, and I come back in with some wet paper towels (carefully kept away from electrical sources, thankyouverymuch) and a flashlight. Satisfied our bedroom is no longer a target for Ant Lebensraum, I sit back on the bed.
          We have cream-colored sheets.
Guess what looks like a wrinkled shadow against cream-colored sheets?
I hadn’t seen the pile of applesauce puddled dead center of my butt imprint.
          Oh, yeah. Same sauce, second verse. A little bit louder, and a metric shit ton worse. There are now TWO disgusting nighties (silky fabric for optimal conduction of frigidity, TWO soggy areas of bedside floor to clean, TWO times I have woken up my husband, an essentially good man, for absolutely no reason than my own terrible choice of late night snack. But wait! There’s more.
          Our mattress pad has a heating element, like sleeping on a giant heating pad. I have no clue if the sauce got in there, and if it did, how do we clean it? I just said moisture and heat sources are mortal enemies. We can’t get clean sheets (stored in closet of Baby’s room), I’m still hungry, I haven’t taken the needed pain pill, my snack is lodged in crevices polite society doesn’t discuss plus Mac goes to work in three hours and his wife is having a breakdown over pulverized fruit.
          Mac smiled gently and told me to get a towel. I miserably put a towel over the whole damn thing and reply, “At least I’ve got a blog entry. Can’t let this be for nothing.” Then Mac tells me, as the CPAP goes back on, “Erma Bombeck would be proud.”
Well.
Fine.
All right then.

Oh, my god.

Dear Readers, for maximum enjoyment of this piece, please visit the article at the website. There are embedded videos you may not be able to see via email or on certain phones. —SIB www.duetoextenuatingcircumstances.com

***

There’s not a good way to ease into this, so let’s jump right in.

My son is a God. Now, I mean that exactly as the words are intended to convey: that the small person over which we have custody is a deity. This isn’t “Mommy’s Little Prince” or “He’s such a drama queen!”

My son is the Norse god of thunder, Thor.

What are the signs? For starters, up until now we’ve been using the standard toy assortment every little kid in America seems to own: things with wheels, things that makes noise, and things that aren’t really toys but it kept him quiet so now they’re toys. His favorites come and go. Last week that ‘take it or leave it” attitude came to a shit-screeching halt when Baby discovered The Hammer. Say it with me now:

The hammer.

I can tell you’re not even trying. The Hammer. No, you’re still not giving The Hammer its proper due. Say it with reverence now, The Hammer.

Keep working on it. In case you were wondering, this is The Hammer.

IMG_3104

Did you think you that’s what Mjolnir would really look like? Me neither, but maybe the people at Marvel have a crappy props department. If you’re doubting for a second this isn’t a Norse magical artifact, well pal, go screw yourself. I have HURT myself trying to separate my boy from this stupid hammer. This is what Mjolnir really looks like. I even went back to the movie and checked: if your entire life revolves around acting insane to the other people on earth, howling mightily and carrying on until your precious hammer is by your side…yep. You’re Thor. Full name, by the way, Thor, God of Thunder, Son of Odin, Lord of Asgard Imes Borden. And the hammer by your side is Mjolnir, all right.

Speaking of the movie though, my Thor has picked up an astonishingly annoying behavior, which is to throw food on ground because it’s good, because it’s bad, because it’s nap time, because it’s Thursday… just, watch. This is my entire life right now.

To top that off, we have now mastered the art of walking, which means the next great challenge is to smash into places mommy and daddy don’t want Thor to be. I’m sure it does look rather harsh to see a hallway of nothing but closed doors to places that couldn’t possibly be dangerous, like an unattended bathroom or the closet where we keep all of the disinfectants and OTC medication. But Baby’s answer is to test every door, because one of these days this will happen:

4241066-5258407687-thor5

Who’ll be weak and powerless against doors then, Mommy?

At this point, I’m torn between just letting him have The Hammer because in spite of imminent danger it’s easier than taking away the beloved Fisher-Price style Mjolnir…or perhaps letting young Mr. Odinson Imes Borden learn that with power comes great responsibility. I could do that by showing him a carefully edited version of the first Thor movie. A pretty good argument could be made that Chris Hemsworth Thor has educational value when watched with mommy.

Actually, if we want a really good educational question to ponder, Mr. Thor Odinson Imes Borden…why can mommy lift Your Hammer?

I should definitely look into what the movies have to say about that. After your bedtime, your highness. That’s enough door smashing for today, dear.

The HMS I Panicked

Whoo-boy, I was in exceptional form last night. As far as I know I’m still married, meaning Mac is either a patient or paperwork-averse man. I’m not looking that gift horse in the mouth.

Last night I FINALLY fully understood a lesson my mom gave me when I was 8 or so, during one of the dozens of tornado warnings that come with being a kid in Nebraska. For real, we went through a phase where we kept a blender downstairs and everybody could have fresh, homemade Orange Julius while we waited to see if anything was serious. My grandparents had been caught in the Night of the Twisters (Grand Island, Nebraska, June 1980). We weren’t flippant, just not panicking every siren. We knew about warnings vs. warnings.

A bad storm came through last night. I was awake on Baby duty, it has been 12 days since he had a cold, so he’s been due for another since four days ago. It’s relevant to mention I was on some low-middling level pain meds, because I waaaay overdid it seeing family July 5th. The next two docs I’m seeing this month essentially do this when their office reports I’m on line one:

gallery_298_17_1836

Last night, at 1:10 in the morning, I heard a horrifying sound: it was an extreme ripping against our back screen door, 12 feet from where I was sitting. We’ve had it fly open, patio furniture blow over, flowerpots break; this was none of these. It was a lot louder, and there was a break between sounds. The first part sounded like somebody trying to punch through the all-glass door, the second sounded like someone trying to rip the door wide open.

I didn’t stick around for the next sound. I ran into our bedroom, turning on the light and forcing Mac’s CPAP off of him. In a loud, clear voice (Mac is very hard of hearing without his aids and seeing your lips) I told him I thought someone was trying to get in. That I was sending him to investigate, and I was going to stand at the baby’s door. To his credit, Mac didn’t even question this. He marched out there like a gladiator in boxer briefs, turning on the floodlights and Being The Protector.

So, Mama Bear here is back in the hallway, standing in front of the baby’s room…doing what, exactly? Well, I had my phone, 3/4 of the way to calling 911. I am not ashamed to admit I have practiced what I’ll say in different scenarios in case I’m scared and the actor trick of calling “line!” isn’t gonna do much for me. But other than that…what the hell was my plan?

No idea. Lizard Brain was driving the train. The ONLY thing in reach would have been something out of the small hallway cabinet that Mac uses to store the few bottles of alcohol we own. So Braintrust over here thinks “I could hit the intruder with a bottle!” Yes, if this person has a knife or a gun, I’ll be locking the baby in and guarding his door by christening the criminal like a new ship.

For .23 of a second it occurred to me that ownership of a handgun would make me feel safer in that moment. In a more reflective moment later I rewound my scenario: a woman on medication, scared out of her wits, using her Lizard Brain to make decisions, shaking like a Jell-O shot in a paint mixer…with a gun. Forget about loading the damn thing, I probably would have bled out there on the floor trying to claw through the fucking safe to reach the gun. My cause of death would have been listed as ripping out of nails, teeth and fingers attempting to open a SAFE. Official verdict, death by irony.

In the end, it turned out the winds had rearranged our supremely heavy deck furniture for us, some things were blowing away, and something probably hit the glass door with great force. Mac, god love him, was back asleep by 1:30. My adrenaline and I were up well past 4:00. It’s 8:30 in the morning and I’ve still got a knot in my stomach. Hm. I should probably ask about bowel obstructions. But my point remains; I was scared as hell, and in that moment the thing that made the most sense in Primal Mommy Mode was to put myself between anything and my son.

So, what does this have to do with tornadoes? When we were very young, during a tornado warning we were in the downstairs bathroom, ready to go right under the stairs, a place I HATED because I once saw a mouse there. But, in my little kid mind, I could still see mice<tornadoes. I asked my mom what she’d do if we heard a twister coming, and she said that my sister Robin and I would crouch on the floor with our hands protecting the vulnerable back of our necks. Then, she would huddle over us wearing a blanket, protecting our bodies with her own. My seven-year-old mind exploded. Mom didn’t act like this was a big whoop. Just, yeah, I’ll cover you guys. With my own body.

I never forgot it because WHOA. That was a lot to take in. Seriously.

Well, it took me about 33 years, but I get it now. Thanks for your Lizard Brain, mom. The next time we have a tornado warning, do the Orange Julius thing. If I were you, I’d incorporate my new Lizard Brain tradition: pick up the big bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey. The bigger, the better.You never know when you might find it useful.

 

Well, this is embarrassing

HIATUS OVER! It’s good to “see” all of you again. Hey there. You look great and those highlights are perfect for summer. I DID lose weight! Thanks for noticing! By the way, I was so happy they finally saw how hard you’ve been working and they rewarded it. Plus, CONGRATS! I know you had wanted that one thing for so long now, nobody deserves it more!

Or.

I planned to tell you that the recent hiatus here at DtEC was because I’ve been in feverish negotiations to publish my latest bestseller, or that my son has become so attached to me we can hardly go thirty seconds without a Significant Moment such as one sees in diaper ads, formula commercials, etc. Or perhaps I was finishing up a stunning little bungalow for Habitat for Humanity, and sure it took a bit longer but I like to wire it myself and personally supervise the solar panel installation while I paint a cheery fresco in the kitchen.

To be clear, absolutely all of those things happened (not to me, but be patient, I’m telling this story). So why haven’t you heard about my latest parenting misadventures?

Well, this hurts. So, here goes: You haven’t read about them because I was too ashamed to admit I’ve let being a mother take a back seat in my life. And I’m not sure that’s OK. I was supposed to put my son before anything and everything else that would ever happen to me. I thought I WAS. But I wasn’t.

It’s not news my body is an Atari in a Playstation world. Big deal. The night before I turned 40 (oh yeah– I did that!) I reminded myself that some people don’t turn forty, they EARN 40. I think I’ve fought pretty hard to get here. Even though I keep my mental and physical health as good as I am able, the fact remains that many people with my particular diagnoses struggle to keep on keepin’ on. Did you know that the CDC estimates 50% of all people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide? Our risk is well more than double the average person. I say this not to be morbid but educational. Add that to some of the more colorful physical challenges my body likes to present, and I feel damn well justified for saying I worked hard to make it to 40.

So what’s happened? To be blunt– I don’t know, and a lot of other people don’t, either. I’ve begun having pain, dizziness, lack of appetite, and two memorable vertigo attacks I wouldn’t wish on anybody short of a dues-paying member of ISIL. I’m steadily working my way through the medical establishment, doing what my friend AJ used to call the OYS tour. “Only You, Sarah” explains a ton, medically speaking. These symptoms are additional to the underlying issue. You can see how this is complicated. Not playing chess complicated…organizing the landing on Omaha Beach complicated. But, for the sake of my readers who are married to me and have lived the unbearable pain of losing a partner– let me be clear. None of this is terminal. It’s merely…presenting such a unique set of problems that even the Mayo Clinic demanded over 100 separate new items before they would continue to review my case for admission. Uh, yay for individuality?

My role in my son’s life has changed. When I can I’m doing the stuff he needs (I hold a fourth degree black belt in singing Wiggles songs to deflect whining) but the grind, the day to day, Mac has done. My whole family and our friends have been amazing (like the morning we had to call 911 because a vertigo attack lasted two hours and I began to aspirate vomit; my neighbors simply crossed the street and solved the childcare crisis as I’m being sped away). How can you tell people what it means that they will do that when you yourself can’t?

Now my embarrassment.

I thought I knew humility and gratitude as those around me loved and cared for our son, wanting him as much as we always did. Then, two nights ago, I said something that was shocking in its honesty but also shocking in that I didn’t know I felt this way: if I had known this would happen, I might not have ever filed the paperwork. I would have said it wasn’t fair to saddle everybody else with my dream of motherhood when I’m not suited up and ready to play. Obviously he’s so much more than “my” son– he’s a grandson, a nephew, cousin, playmate, friend. But I was there from day one. Believe me. Mac was on board, but I was driving that train. Had I known my limit-testing son headbutting me in the gut took me down for the count (24 hours of ice, heat, rest and meds to get past a simple toddler hissy fit) would I have thought parenting was a good idea?

In the coming weeks, I assure you we have MANY fun things to laugh about. First spaghetti! First summer buzz cut! First hissy fit over juice in a sippy cup! First real steps (at 18 months he’s considered a bit of a late bloomer but that’s horseshit because these were exceptional first steps, not everyday walking around stuff, or whatever other babies do). The humor will be back, I assure you.

Thank you for giving me time off to build that house, scream at a publisher who is DESPERATE for my next book (as he chomps on the end of a cigar, because my brain gets my imaginary publisher confused with the editor that wants more pictures of Spiderman), and coo with my son in artfully arranged gauzy cotton swaddles while the announcer extols the virtue of new No Farter-Starter Gas-Ease Formula (Geneva Protocol Brand, ask for it by name!).

I dinged my funny bone; we’re on the mend now. Please enjoy summer and come back soon for the story of the Great Saltine Rationing of 2016.

Love Story: the real sequel

Oh, readers. You’ll love this. I mean it; you’ll love this, because by now you think you’ve copped on. “Sarah can’t possibly have this many physical problems, she’s a head case who exaggerates minor physical discomforts for the sake of the story,” you’re saying to yourself in my voice at this very minute. I do mean this minute. I wait until each and every one of you is reading, then I say it along with you. (Hi, Don & Suzie, congrats on the move!).

Hollywood, I have the ultimate pitch to you. I want to pitch my movie about the sequel to Love Story, only this is very real and the coveted age 40-65 movie target audience will come for this one. They truly will.

We start with the wife, and this IS based on a true story, somewhere out there some superheroes disguised as EMTs and firefighters will corroborate… taken to the ER with what we now know was an extremely sudden attack of benign positional vertigo. The entire world was spinning, I could NOT stop puking, I was lethargic and confused, and wasn’t ambulatory. Simply put, it was like being drunk on a Tilt-a-Whirl after you’ve eaten Thanksgiving dinner then stepped into an anti-gravity chamber. Hm. I need to work on “simply put.” Anyhow, the vertigo is expected to last six weeks or so, and I frequently get so dizzy I have to stop everything and sit on the floor, or I’ll get there one second later but land on my face.

We meet the protagonist, Mac. He’s NOT George Clooney, he’s had to live a real life, so go find an actor that has DONE that, thank you. Mac is now married to a person who cannot pick up their beautiful adopted baby from off the ground, lift the baby or carry him for more than a minute, put him in a carseat, or, for that matter, drive. (I still get so damned dizzy that I get carsick while I’m driving. One or two things my cop father said are rattling around somewhere in my brain, thus I respect a car is a deadly weapon in the wrong hands. I have taken myself off the road before I get myself or someone else killed).

Mac’s school year is all but done, he’s mostly researching and writing. Don’t let that fool you; that’s still a 40 hour work week, when done by serious professors who give a damn and are good at their jobs. Sitting on your butt and writing (for real) is WORK. His day is simple: get baby up, feed him, dress him, drop him at Learning Center (daycare), go to work, get baby, come home, amuse baby til dinner, make dinner, TV, bed. He has made it clear my character is welcome to join in, but if I don’t feel well enough, by all means he’ll get’r done.

Obviously I try to do what I can. Mac can nap while Baby and I watch Sesame Street and count our toes, or I give him an amazing new toy and he can hit other things with it. Today it was a spoon. Yesterday it was empty husk of a highlighter, the innards long-since sent to the Staples in the sky. I helped change the bed after Baby pooped in it and the clumpy, yogurty mess went all down Baby’s pant leg. That mess, by the way, was a grim reminder that Mac should double check he put a diaper on the kid before putting him in the crib.

That’s how tired this man is. He forgot the diaper entirely. Then thanked me for getting a clean mattress pad on the bed. Thanked me.

Think about that for a second.

Hollywood, take note: I am now writing the secret to the greatest screenplay of the last century, and giving it away for free, so at the VERY least give it some thought and then cast an actress who is 40 to play me, not a 22 year old who has a flat stomach and a $300 haircut.

Mac did Love Story, the original. His first wife died very young, of a cancer so vicious it couldn’t even have the mercy to end her days quickly. There was no Ali McGraw, no beautiful soundtrack, no Academy award nominations. It sucked Mac dry then left him for dead, except he was still here.

Now here he is, in a sequel that, like so many others, is a fainter shade of the real deal and nobody’s heard of the actress. A whole decade younger…should have been a safe bet, huh? Nope. Still calling 911, still getting huge medical bills, still seeing doctors shake their head and say “I’ve never heard of this before. Sorry.” And in the middle of all of this…he found enough love in his heart to dream of a son, and then Baby finally comes. Mac is now under studio contract to keep making this work no matter how much the actress is wandering off and on the set, taking weird pills, sitting for no discernible reason in the middle of the floor, making the whole house into an instant parody of the world’s shittiest ashram. The baby screams because he wants Cheerios, the soundtrack to the Wiggles is on permanent loop for the rest of our lives, and after cleaning up the poop, putting everything in the clothes washer, drying it, bringing it upstairs, feeding our kid and spending time with me…

HE thanked ME for putting the mattress pad on Baby’s crib.

Hollywood, I know you’re blowing me off, but believe me when I tell you every couple who has been in love through these times will see this movie. Anybody can fall in love. Hell, it’s so easy the Kardashians, David Hasselhoff, Voldemort and Donald Trump all did it, and remember Hasselhoff was quoted as saying “I’ve got taste. It’s inbred in me.”

The sequel is the better, braver movie here. It’s the choice to be a good man, a good father, a good husband, a good provider, a good son, and, with the time he was allowed, a good brother. THAT’S the angle, Hollywood. Show the choices people make when one has to be at 100% day and night, trusting the other will be there when the time comes.

She is here. No, hon, look down. On the floor. But I am here, and I’m grateful that “romantic movie” gives way to scary EMTs, poopy sheets and the grace to thank me when I do what I can as well as I can.

I love you Mac, as I can and from wherever I am. Yep. Down here again, kitchen floor. Thanks for making the sequel.

 

The Longest Day

Forget Operation Overlord. Ian and I have just had the longest Day of Days. It’s 3:48 am, this timeline is as accurate and factual as I am capable of recalling.

  • 8:00 pm Sarah having pain, in bed with heating pad. Mac puts Baby to bed with standard routine, about 8:30. Normal bedtime is between 8:45 and 9:15. We’re consistent with this.
  • 10:30 During a YouTube video of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (cannot recommend this show highly enough) Baby wakes up, screams.
  • 10:37 We decide something is wrong, usually a little nightmare he’ll fuss for 90 seconds and go back to sleep.
  • 10: 45 Mac goes in to soothe and offer more bottle, standard operating procedure (SOP). Baby gets one soothe visit per night if needed while teething is in full swing. He refuses to be soothed.
  • 11:30 Baby stands in crib and screams. And screams. AND SCREAMS. Very unusual, I go to investigate. Decide to give him standard dose of baby ibuprofen because when I touch around his mouth he looks like that pissed off little red memory voiced by Lewis Black in the film Inside Out. SOP again in play, Mommy leaves after one short comfort song. This tactic almost never needed.
  • 12:05. Mac and I agree this is unprecedented. Daddy tries sitting in favorite chair, offering bottle of nice new milk, BABY MAD. Baby beginning to TALK LIKE HULK. YOU WON’T LIKE ME WHEN I’M ANGRY.
  • 12:30. Holy cow, this is has never happened before. Mommy and Daddy have checked temperature, gently tugged both ears, hear snot but snotsucker produces disappointing results. For me. I think Mac is always happier when there’s not a lot of gelatinous boogery stuff. He says it doesn’t bother him. I know he’s lying, he knows I know he’s lying, now I have made a public record of the fact I know he hates what he professes not to hate and I know that’s bullshit and he knows I know and now you know what? Now you know. That’s what will be listed as the cause in the divorce papers should I receive some tomorrow. Sorry, Mac. I’m tired.
  • 12:45. Again…no idea. Back in bed. Constant, relentless screaming. I put on the soundtrack for The Wiggles on my phone, leave phone near crib but out of sight thinking he’ll relax and fall asleep.
    • Dear Mommy, I can hear Simon but not see him? Tell me again, what made you think this would work?
  • 1:20. He hasn’t stopped screaming in 3+ hours. There’s no longer any, any way to salvage the “nighttime is for sleep and we don’t do other things at night” concept. Our firmness had never backfired until now. I have to strip him out of his pjs, which are WET. Not damp, WET at the collar from tears. Fresh diaper again, now new PJs, and I get a wild idea that says, in Lewis Black’s voice, “Huh! Might as well try gas drops. Everything else on the planet has done jack shit.”
  • 1:30 Daddy takes him for a drive. It invigorates him and then he feels super sleepy. I mean Mac. Who knows what the hell was going with The Incredible Sulk in the car seat?
  • 2:00 I tell Mac to go to bed. As the certified night owl, this really is supposed to be my biggest contribution; I take the night stuff because Mac needs to sleep for work, and in return I sleep later in the a.m.
  • 2:20 I give in. Kid, I give in. I put on The Wiggles, he lets me give him a proper dose of Tylenol and antigas drops in him. He had spit out a good deal of the first ibuprofen three hours ago, how much he got in his system, who could tell you?
  • 3:00 He has quit crying, (now he’s only cranky) because he now has Cheerios, The Wiggles, and even mommy looks tired
  • 3:17 While dancing the Hot Potato song as he holds himself up from a chair, he turns and looks straight at me, and
  • 3:18 FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAART. PHHHHHBBBBBBBTT. TOOOOOOOOT. RIPPING, GIGANTIC, FART.
  • FAAAAAAAAAAA-AAAAAAAAART

  • Looks at me, with a sweet angelic grin, and I’m not making this up, he holds his hands out to me. When I pick him up he says “ma-ma.” It’s clear, and beautiful, and he takes one ounce of milk before he rubs both eyes and I lay him in his crib.
  • 3:22. Out like a frickin light, chubby little cheeks smooth with the sheen on dried tears on his face.
  • 3:30. Decide to write it now, while it’s fresh in my mind. And, er, foul in the living room. Realize something like this happened in that movie The Last King of Scotland.
  • 3:40. Yo. Imes Borden: these contacts won’t take themselves out.
  • Good night

The Other Woman

Well, let’s out with it: there is another woman in our relationship. That’s OK, there’s another man, too. Oh, and two small children. And a slightly older child, probably not in the US.

And grandparents.

It’s such a weird and wonderful thing, to know somewhere out there my son has a whole family he knows nothing about. Frankly, I don’t know what’s weirder; we know, but very little, or if we didn’t know anything.We were never supposed to meet our son’s birth family. It was more of an awkward “uh, this is a VERY small maternity ward, and you’re the ONLY white people coming in, unpregnant and excited out of your minds we’re the Mexican man, woman and two very young children stuck in the doorway while they do some paperwork… uh…hola!” We were under the impression they wanted to meet. That was wrong. Through an interpreter, at the last minute our social worker was told that in the Mexican communities of itinerant workers the common preference is for a totally closed adoption.

That’s rare in the US now. Open is the only way to go. I admit a selfish part of me wanted to be the ONLY mom, the ONLY woman he could picture…but our kid is, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, Mexican-American. He’s gonna cop on pretty fast he doesn’t look like Mrs. Gringa over here, who is the color of the underbelly of a frog and can be used as a night light in certain emergency situations. I’m glad his birth family consented to one super awkward picture, so at least we can show him: see? You didn’t come out of thin air. The reading I’ve done, and talks with our social worker, indicate children of color need these cues to feel more secure as they grow up. OK, nobody’s pretending I got a good tan, I do see where I came from and letting me be who I am involves talking about my birth mom and dad.

For me, the weirdest part is wondering when she thinks of him. She must although she has got to be BUSY;when we met they had a 2 AND 1 year old with them. I have a single 16 month old and my husband washed a load of underwear for me last week after he looked in my underwear drawer and saw two swimsuits and a credit card I haven’t used since 1998. I went to feed Baby the other day and found my keys in the freezer. Still though, she must wonder how the son they gave up is doing. What would I say?

Well, he was a VERY non-picky eater until two weeks ago,now he throws tantrums worthy of Gordon Ramsey in the kitchen. He screams his head off at nap time, even though he’s rubbing his eyes and trying not to yawn. He likes strawberries better than grapes. He likes most veggies. He thinks hot dogs are OK-ish, and he loves to eat rice with his hands. He uses his grubby little hands to mold sushi bites, then eats them. They’re gross, honestly.

Mostly, I think I’d say thank you. I did then, but that was for the baby.This time I’d say thank you for the experiences, and insanity, the unexpected moments of grace, and hilarity. I’d say thanks for knowing what you’re about to miss and handing him over anyway.

Finally, I want to say Happy Birthmother’s Day. I’m pretty sure most women don’t set out to become one. Thank you for doing it anyway. I may make light of silly things in this column, but I get to do that because there’s enough buoyancy in my heart to share. Those levels were ROCK BOTTOM before we received your gift. Gracias. As I said to you in my crappy Spanish the day we accidentally met, “desde el fondo de mi corazón, gracias.” From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

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