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There’s a family member who likes to tell me my children don’t look like me. This might be true for Ryan, but there is no question with Owen. Owen has my eyes.

He’s also just like me. He’s cautious and sensitive. He can cry at the drop of a hat and he’s not one to jump into new situations easily.

Last week he started swim lessons. Knowing how to swim isn’t negotiable, especially living where we do. We talked it up the week before and told him how much he would learn; how fun it would be. We picked out his bathing suit and special towel and packed them all up ready to go. The night before his first lesson, as we lay in bed getting ready for the night, he turned to me and whispered, I’m a little nervous.

The first class started out exactly as I would have expected it to. Faced with the realization that he was expected to climb into the pool — the great unknown — and climb in without me, Owen burst into tears. He looked up at me with a mix of panic and sadness, waiting for me to rescue him from the instructor slowly guiding him to the platform. I knew this would happen, and I knew I had to let him go. Logically, I understood he had to get over the fear to start benefiting from the class, but my heart hurt.

By the middle of the lesson, he was doing great. Cautious and reserved, yes, but trying. And doing! I was so proud of him. The whole way home we talked about the class and how much fun it would be to go the rest of the week. And it was fun. He did great all week long and the growth both in skill and confidence was abundantly clear. We signed him up for the following week.

Yesterday was the start of week two, and the first day with an new instructor. This teacher is a whole different ball game, in a good way. Owen was immediately forced out of his new comfort and challenged to try more. This morning he hopped in the pool (alone!) and gave me a thumbs up and a big smile. Moments later the instructor dunked him under and he emerged in tears. Here we go again, I thought to myself. As the class move forward, I could tell he was feeling stressed, despite the teacher’s encouragement and wonderful soothing. The other three children in the class were clearly more comfortable — kicking around alone on their floaty dumbbells while Owen clung to his and the instructor’s hand at the same time. At one point, he scanned the room until he found me and when we locked eyes, I felt everything.

I know exactly what he was feeling right then because he is just like me. I can still remember the same fear and the same feeling of being unable to hold back tears, even when you desperately want to. Sometimes my emotions still get the best of me over little things, even when I don’t want my own tears to fall.

I did the only thing I could do, and gave him my own thumbs up and big smile. You’re doing it, buddy. You’re doing great.

The instructor lived up to her praise and at one point during a clear panicky moment, she made him laugh and kissed his forehead. Even from across the pool I could see him relax and, unsurprisingly, my eyes welled up. By the end of the lesson he was all smiles again, and as I dried him off I thanked her profusely. She modestly brushed it off, but I don’t think she understood how much I was thanking her for.

As I buckled him into the car seat, Owen looked up at me and said, “Mommy, I was scared at my swim lesson today, but I did a good job!”

I’ve never seen myself reflected quite as clearly as I did in that moment, looking into my child’s eyes. Eyes that look just like mine.

“You did an amazing job, Owen. I’m so very proud of you.”

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I wanted to sit down today and write a lighthearted post about anything that isn’t what is on everyone’s mind. But as I sit here, I realize I’m not ready to do that yet. Maybe tomorrow.

I wrote about it yesterday over at Pooping Rainbows. (Check them out; lots of good writing over there.) I will share it here today.

~

Everything is different

My husband has a dangerous job. I’ve become quite skilled over the years at pushing the fear and worry of whether or not he will come home each day far into the back of my mind because I have to. To spend each day in fear of the unknown would destroy me. And so, I choose to believe it will all be OK and he will return each evening to kiss his children.

Like so many others, the tragedy that occurred on Friday has changed me. There is a chink in my armor, a crack in my foundation. I suppose this is my Kennedy assassination — a world event changing me to the very core. I’ve been walking around in a fog with a pit in my stomach I just can’t shake. I’m crying at random moments and having a lot of trouble watching the news. I’ve sobbed through first-hand accounts and stared at the pictures of those tiny faces for far too long. Since Friday I’ve hardly done more than hold my children. My oldest — two and half — told me I was squeezing him too tight. If only he knew it wasn’t tight enough.

I alternate between wanting to watch, read and talk about anything that isn’t this, and not understanding how anyone could think of anything but. I carry guilt as I wrap Christmas presents because my children will have the chance to open them.

As I write this, parents across the country are putting their babies on the school bus for the first time since Friday and I just don’t know how they are doing it. How are they letting go of their little hands and watching them drive away? When will that simple routine feel normal again?

The fears I keep at bay are threatening so very hard to bubble to the surface. Hell, they’re at the surface. They’re threatening to spill over. I know that at some point I will have to let go and send those I love out into the world without fear, I’m just not sure how to do that anymore.

Sometimes being a parent makes me hate the Internet. There’s so much out there to scare you, or tell you you’re a bad parent, or make you feel badly about yourself. But then there’s the times when you find your toddler suddenly running away screaming from the bathroom, and you thank your lucky stars for BabyCenter message boards and lots of other mothers just like you wondering, “WTF, kid. I thought you liked the bath?!”

Owen loved the bath. Loooooved the bath. He would stay in there all day if I let him, splashing around and playing with his toys. Then about a month ago, Michael and I went away for our anniversary weekend and when we returned, Owen started to flip out whenever we put him in the tub. It would start with a little whimpering when I placed him in the water, would progress to crying when I tried to wash his face, and would end in full-blow back arching hysterics when it was time to wash his hair.

I asked my mom and sister if anything had happened in the bath while we were away (soap in the eyes, a slip in the tub) that might have caused this sudden fear, but they said he was happy as a clam when they bathed him.

Huh.

For the past month, every bath as been a fight. I don’t like to see him upset and I’ve tried to make it as fun and exciting as I can, always telling him exactly what I’m washing and showing him how it’s not scary, but nothing has workd Thinking maybe he didn’t like water in his eyes or ears, I’ve tried everything from a washcloth to a cup to my bare hands to wash his hair, but nothing prevents the screams. It’s been a long bath month.

A few nights ago, we reached the peak of his fear. I started to run the tub and he went running the other way SOBBING and crying, “No, Mama! No, Mama!” I caught him, walked him through the getting nakey/getting into the bath routine, but the whole time he cried. And when he touched the water, you would have thought I placed him in molten lava, rather than a lukewarm tub. He trashed and tried to get out and it was just so sad.

Not knowing what else to do, I stripped down and climbed in the tub with him. See, I told him. It’s fine! Mommy is taking a bath too! It’s not scary! But he was too far gone at this point, and even letting him recline against me while I tried to wash his hair did not ease his fears. It was so heartbreaking, but I didn’t want to cry along with him and reinforce his fears.

We got out of the tub, him shaking like a leaf in my arms, and that’s when I turned to the message boards. HELP ME.

Apparently this is kind of common? This sudden fear of the water? At least it was common with the 40 or so commenters that gave me lots of ideas to choose from. A bath is a non-negotiable in my eyes, so the next day I psyched myself up for some crying, and armed with my list of The Bath Is Not Scary ideas, I jumped in.

Literally.

I ran the tub…for me. Owen watched as I tested the water, did some splashing and climbed in. He laughed as I washed my face and when I started to play with the rubber duck, he asked to come in. Together we played. He let me wash his body without a fight. This was progress. I know that one day it won’t be appropriate for him to see me naked, but right now, seeing me take a non-scary bath seemed to be doing the trick.

But there wasn’t a ton of water in the tub and it was many degrees cooler than I would have made it if it were just for me, so soon enough I was cold and wanted out. He remained content playing, and I knew I might be pushing it, but I wanted to try and wash his hair.

But not before one more trick.

I took Michael’s shaving cream – the gel kind – and squirted it into the bath. Look, Owen! It looks like blue wormies! Can you catch them?

He freaking LOVED the blue wormies. He didn’t love me washing his hair, but he didn’t flip out about it quite the same either. All in all, a bath success.

He’s due for another bath today. I’m going to try it soon, actually. I’m not going in with him this time, but I am armed with lots of blue wormies, of course.

Wish us luck!

One thing I haven’t really talked about during this pregnancy is my fears. I have them. A lot of them. As cool as it is to feel baby kicks and marvel over itty bitty onesies, the fact is in 17 weeks or so, there’s going to be a real life infant here who will rely on us for survival.

I’m not afraid of keeping him alive, but I’m afraid I’m going to do it wrong. I watch my friends who are mothers and think, “How does she know to do that? How does she know that’s what he needs?”

I’m good with kids, love them, actually. But will I be able to tell the difference between a cry for food, a cry because he’s tired or a cry just because he wants to be held? What do I do when he gets a fever, won’t eat or doesn’t poop for days?

I know every new mother goes through this, but as the weeks tick on, I start to worry about this stuff more and more. Last night I had a dream that the first time I decided to try and breastfeed was weeks (!!!) into his life. He was huge and I just couldn’t get it to work. I kept jabbing him in the eye with my nipple and one point, his face puffed out like a marshmallow and milk started dribbling out the sides of his mouth and it was only when he spit up in my face that I realized I had essentially squeezed a water balloon worth of breast milk into his mouth all at once and he was choking on it.

I was so upset in the dream that I didn’t even think that I should stop and notice that hey, you’re looking at your baby. All I could see was this little face that I was drowning IN MY BREAST MILK and I felt horrible.

I’m hoping that some natural instincts will kick in and I’ll surprise myself and in the meantime, I’m hoping these dreams don’t get more persistent.

And I really hope I don’t drown my baby in my breast milk.

Arrive at in-law’s house with six-year old (Michael’s mom adopted her last year — we’ll call her Curly) just done with tennis lessons. See grandmother’s car in driveway.

Walk to door, ring bell. Ring bell again. And again.

No answer.

Knock on door. Knock on door again. Then some more. The louder. Ask Curly if she could be sleeping. “Maybe, she said she wasn’t feeling well.”

Knock on door some more.

Yell at Curly to get out of the bushes where the ticks are.

Knock on door.

Go to car, retrieve cell phone. Call house, no answer. Call her cell. No answer. Remember spare house key is in Michael’s car, not mine.

Bang on door.

Walk around house to basement window (facing into her apartment.) Look through screen. See lights on, dog barking. Call her name.

“Grandma! Graaaandma! GRANDMA!!!”

Being to panic.

Bang on window. Ask dog, “Where’s Grandma?” in hopes of sudden Lassie abilities.

Send Curly to play on trampoline. Act as though everything is OK.

Bang on window. Has she fallen and can’t get up?

Call mother-in-law. Explain situation. Find out that she hasn’t been able to get a hold of grandmother for an hour.

Panic.

Tell Curly to stay on trampoline and jump as high as she can. Walk across the street to neighbors in possession of spare key.

Ring doorbell. Contemplate finding Grandma unconscious. Wonder if I remember CPR. Panic.

Hear footsteps approaching door.

Door opens…

it’s GRANDMA.

Stopping by the neighbors to chat.

And effectively giving me an aneurysm.

Inform her of panicked last few minutes and tell her I’m so happy she’s alive.

Because now I’m going to kill her.

Last night I took Kodiak out for his post-dinner bathroom break. We have a motion sensor light on our shed, but it doesn’t reach very far, so I always grab a flashlight to avoid stepping on something of the poop variety.

All was going as usual, when suddenly I heard a child screaming at the top of its lungs.

“AHHHHH!!!!”

I stopped. Where was it coming from?

“AHHHH!!!! AHHHHH!!!!”

The sound was stopping my heart. I grazed the beam from the flashlight across the woods, but could see nothing. As the screaming continued I wondered, should I call out to them? Ask if they’re ok?

“AHHHHH!!!!”

By now, Kodiak was on high alert — hair standing up, deep bark and growl — and he was dragging me towards the woods. Scared by his reaction, I hauled him back into the house.

Back inside, I opened our bathroom window which faces the yard to see if the screaming continued. As I listened, a different sound began.

Footsteps in the brush. Right next to my house.

I slammed the window shut, locked it and grabbed my phone.

Once up there, I realized that I didn’t have any girl intruder armour. You know…something you could use in case of an attack. I know you’ve all looked around your room and thought would you could use in that situation. I’ve done it before. Only this time, the only thing I could find was a desk lamp and a pair of scissors.

So I sat, looking ridiculous I”m sure, in my hallway. Clutching a pair of scissors.

Moments later, two police officers were combing the backyard and surrounding woods and while nothing was discovered, I’m still glad they looked.

Michael’s friend, an outdoorsy guy, thinks that the noise was probably a Fisher Cat, a small weasel-like animal that is known in this area for attacking cats. He said the first time he heard it, he thought it was a child screaming.

You be the judge. This video (just sound) is one man’s recording of one. Hearing it still gives me chills.

HERE

“Can you come in here for a little bit? I need to talk to you.”

I’ve always loved Christmas. The family gathering around the tree, the smell of a honey ham baking in the oven, the way the twinkle lights look in the dark if you lie underneath the tree and look up through the branches.

“I wish I didn’t have to say this at Christmastime, but since you’re heading home soon…”

It was my first holiday home with Michael. The holiday itself had been wonderful. Everyone liked him, the gifts were perfect and the house with warm with holiday cheer. I had spent a week at home without him and was planning the trip back to Rhode Island to celebrate my birthday.

“I have breast cancer.”

Have you ever felt like the time just stopped? Like everything around you is frozen and you’re staring straight ahead trying to make sense of your surroundings but nothing is clear?

“I found out on Christmas Eve, but didn’t want to ruin the holiday.”

You only get one Mom. One person that has loved you unconditionally since before you were born. That has seen you through the highest and lowest points in your life, watched you take your first wobbly step across the kitchen floor and your proudest strides across your graduation stage.

One mom.

And mine had breast cancer.

“It’s OK to be scared,” she said as she stroked my head, the wet stain from my tears creeping slowly outwards across the fabric of her jeans. She told me about the diagnosis, the treatment, the prognosis. “I’m not going anywhere,” she promised.

She kept that promise. She kept it through radiation, through the hormones, the mammograms, the countless doctor’s appointments. She kept her promise even when I wasn’t there to fight the fight with her…filled with guilt as she filled me in with updates, sitting cross-legged on my bed at college wishing I was home.

I kept my promise to stay positive, breaking down only sometimes in the quiet of the dark or the comfort of Michael’s arms. Only once did I let it overcome me, losing it completely, curled up in a ball on my oldest friend’s kitchen floor.

One year went by. Safe. But before we could reach year two, Michael’s father lost his battle with cancer. As Michael struggled with his father’s death, I felt my world starting to shake. What if mom was next?

Year two passed. Then three, then four.

Five is that landmark year. When they say the cancer probably won’t come back. Year five is just a little more than a month away.

Each Christmas I lie under the tree, looking up at the twinkle lights and remembering. Remembering that Christmas nearly five years ago. And this Christmas we will celebrate. Celebrate life and family and love.

I am so, so grateful I can hug my mom again this Christmas.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s almost over, but you can still help. Click here to help fund free mammograms.

There’s been a lot of secret sharing ’round these parts lately. My girls Ashley and cdp started the trend and I thought I’d join in. It’s cathartic, no? We’re like our own little Post Secret here.

  • I’m not religious, but I’ve started to pray. I guess it’s more like thank you’s or wishes, but I do it every night before bed now. It started the day I got engaged. I thanked God, whoever he/she is, for bringing Michael into my life.
  • I also pray for my mom. She’s been losing her hearing for years and I’m frustrated that with all this modern medicine, it can’t be reversed. I pray she’ll be able to hear her grandchildren laugh. This prayer always makes me cry.
  • And while we’re on the topic, I have very conflicted feelings over this God thing. A woman in my mother’s office died suddenly–at 50–just days before he son’s wedding. Explain that one to me.
  • Sometimes when I get overwhelmed, I want to throw in the towel and just elope.
  • I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
  • Even though I’m not worried, I always feel a little relieved when I get my period.
  • On occasion, I choose comfort over style when I put on shoes for work.
  • Sometimes I question my writing ability.
  • Sometimes I look in the mirror and think, “Damn, I look good”.
  • And sometimes I hate what I see.
  • I hate to drive places I don’t know and will make an excuse not to.
  • I know I will be a good wife, but I’m scared I won’t be a good mother.
  • Even though I know it’s better to save, if I came into some serious money I would buy a pair of Christian Louboutins. In a heartbeat.

One: My plan for the evening was simple. Come home, make dinner, go the gym. Simple.  I was standing at the counter that faces our driveway, chopping vegetables for homemade pot pie. Michael had been standing in the yard talking on his phone when he popped his head in.

“That van that just drove by,” he said. “Was that the van from the other night?”

Since I was chopping, I hadn’t noticed. I brushed it off and got back to work.

Minutes later I looked up to see the van in our driveway and a man getting out.

“MICHAEL!” I yelled as I grabbed my phone, ready to call the police in case crazy van man had a loaded .45 on his hip.

Uh…yeah. So crazy van man? Turns out he was not stalking me. He was looking at the boat. And had a thousand and one questions about it for Michael. Somebody should really tell him it’s weird to just pull into someone’s driveway and if he is going to check out our boat, maybe he could do it in less creepy way. OK? Thanks.

Two: After van man left and Kodiak stopped whining at the window (good watch dog!), I was eagerly anticipating the pot pie, practically drooling at the yummy smell coming out of the oven. Just as the timer buzzed and I opened the oven door, Michael’s phone rang.

It was his grandmother, hysterically rambling how one of the children his mother is fostering had hit her repeatedly in the eye and the mother was taken by ambulance to the hospital.

I looked longingly at the steaming pot pie, knowing that dinner would have to be postponed. Luckily, the mother had to have some tests and since we live so close to the hospital, we were able to shove some food down our throats before heading out.

We were met in the ER by a now-calm grandmother, who immediately launched into the story of what happened. Minutes later, his mother returned from her CAT Scan, only to burst into tears in Michael’s arms.

The next hour was spent waiting to see if her face had been fractured (thankfully, it hadn’t), icing her ever growing black eye and discussing what will happen next. This was followed by a somber ride to pick up the younger child, who kept asking repeatedly where her sister was and when she was coming back. It was heartbreaking.

Needless to say, when we arrived back home after nine all thoughts of the gym and vacated my mind.

Three: There is no three. At least not yet. But stuff like this always happens in three’s, right? What could possibly be on its way?

When he was in college Michael was also a volunteer fireman. He rose quickly through the ranks and was well liked. He loved what he did and was great at it, but he did not want to be a fireman forever and after graduation he got hired at his current job.

This was fine with me. While there were some things I enjoyed about him being a fireman (mainly the uniform), the fact that he was running into burning buildings left me feeling nothing short of terrified. There’s actually a photo hanging in the station of him up in the bucket above a burning building. You can barely make him out through the flames. I do not like this picture.

So now he has his career, and while he’s not fighting fires, his job can still be dangerous. Mainly because people are crazy. And crazy people have guns.

Last night I was home alone since he was working over night. I was sitting on the couch when I noticed a van pull up in front of the house. I didn’t think much of it at first since our neighbors always park on the street, making it difficult for people to drive around their car. But the van didn’t move. It sat there for awhile, then drove up the street a little, stopped, backed up and sat in front of the house again. And while I couldn’t make out the driver’s face, I could tell they were straining to see the house, the driveway and the yard. After ten minutes of this I got nervous, wrote down the license plate and called Michael.

Eventually the van drove away and Michael told me to call him if it came back. He also assured me that his coworker was in the area if I needed him.

I sat on the couch rigid and scared the rest of the night. Every time a car would drive by I would grab my phone, ready to call. I finally fell asleep around midnight, only to be woken up by Kodiak barking and growling at 1 a.m. I lay frozen in bed, absolutely terrified that my worst fears were coming true.

“This is it,” I thought, visions of becoming the subject of a Law & Order or CSI episode. 

Obviously nothing happened, as I’m here today writing this. But I’m still a little shaken up. When Michael crawled into bed just after 2 a.m. I held on to him as tightly as I could and incoherently begged him not to leave me.

“I’ll never leave you,” he said stroking my hair.

I was finally able to fall asleep and when I woke up this morning next to the man I love, safe and sound, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief.  

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