Archives for August 2010

Chuck

Summer ended today. Well, not technically, but when Joe boarded that big yellow school bus this morning, his schedule sure put the kibosh on our lazy days. Don’t get me wrong, he was more than ready to start first grade, but Gwen and I floundered when he left . We wandered around the house like a couple of zombies. I threw myself into cleaning and, in the process vacuumed away the sand that we carried home from the beach yesterday. It was our final hurrah. A farewell to sunshine and giggles.

We’re so lucky to live where we do. Its Vacationland, man! Who doesn’t like Maine? We live exactly 10 miles from the ocean. We have a parking pass that ensures our ability to stake a claim in the beach lot whenever we want. We have a beach shack that sells toys and hot dogs and crappy over-priced ice cream. We can buy lobster at five different places on the way home. Maine. The epitome of summah. It’s been wicked hot, but for me…this is nature’s antidepressant. What a magical place for our children to spend their youth.

There was a time when my family had a summer house at Lake George. The magical location of my childhood summer days. I vaguely remember the beach, our boat and feeding the end of my sugar cone to sunfish at the “Old Beach”. Then we moved on to our renovated farm house and let’s just say that summer became a bit more of a solitary existence. No lake and no neighbors, unless you count the kids who lived a mile away in every direction. We did have a tiny little stream running through the horse paddock though. On blazing hot days, we swam in the pool at Hebron Camp. My best friend, Chrissy had a pond and some giant inner-tubes that provided hours of fun.

Mostly, as the youngest of three, I was foisted off on my siblings while my parents went off to work. As a parent, I can’t even begin to fathom leaving my three children alone in the middle of nowhere for hours on end. Yet, it was the 70’s, my sister was teenage-ish and my brother was pre-pubescent, so back then it was A-Okay. Besides, we were really good at coming up with ways to entertain ourselves. For example, that extra “farm car”, otherwise known as the green El Ranchero, was normally reserved for carrying hay bales to horses. But…when grownups weren’t around, it had the magical ability to morph into the General Lee.

Two kids, aged 13 and 8, could easily drive around for hours pretending to be Luke and Daisy in that old beater. And why the hell not? There was no adult supervision!

I clearly remember my brother, his braces throwing off glints of sunshine, turning donuts in the dirt driveway and sending plumes of dust into the air. He’d stop and yell, “Get in, Daisy! Boss Hog is on our tail!” This was my cue to gracefully climb (scratch the shit out of the door) through the window Daisy Duke style, land on the passenger seat and scream, “YEEEEEEE-HAW!” Good times were had by all.

Now that I think about it, I really don’t recall being watched very closely at all. This might explain that time I played with the carcass of a dead woodchuck. I think I saw it get hit by a car…or maybe I just tell myself that it was fresh road kill because that’s just a little less gross than playing with an old dead animal. Either was, it was just wrong. On so many levels. I do recall having the bright idea to prop Chuck up on the side of the road with his “thumb” sticking out. He had places to go.

As I posed him, It struck me that he’d look more authentic with a sign. Within minutes, Chuck was holding a placard emblazoned with the words “California or Bust”. He still wasn’t complete. As I was tying a red bandana to the end of a stick, a la Bugs Bunny, my brother happened along. Was he disgusted? Absolutely not. He helped me get Chuck situated. We artfully arranged Chuck with his new bindlestick slung over one shoulder. He then sat with me, hidden by the lilac bushes, and we spent the afternoon watching random cars slow down to read the sign and ogle at our weird dead play-thing.

Is it wrong that the thought of that day still makes me laugh? Perhaps. Am I thankful that I am able to stay home with my children? Yes. I would prefer that they don’t play with road kill and drive the farm equipment unattended. I prefer spending my days with them building sand castles and body surfing. I prefer buying a lobster and letting the kids play with it before we kill it…okay, that’s still a bit “off”, but it happens. I prefer spending family time with each other while we can.

We are a lucky bunch, aren’t we?

My Own Private Chuckle Patch

2.22.11
Today is the day that we all clean out our closets at For the Love of Blogs, so I’m sharing a post that I wrote back in August during my “dark” period. I pretty much let my flag fly last summer and publicly shared my lifelong battle with depression. This is just one of the posts that I wrote on the subject. I know, I know…it’s an older post, but it’s close to my heart. Thanks for reading.

fortheloveofblogs


I once saw a movie called Sleeping with the Enemy. I can’t say that I loved it or the actors who were in it. The movie wasn’t even particularly good, but I was enthralled. Julia Roberts played the role of a woman stuck under the thumb of a physically abusive husband. Survival instincts cause her to remain entirely submissive to her sadistic, controlling husband and she does precisely what is expected of her or she faces serious beatings. Yet, we quietly learn that she is planning her escape by staging her own death. There’s a bit of suspense while you wonder if she can pull it off, but of course she does. She runs, lands in an idyllic little town, miraculously lands a job and rents a home. POOF! Happiness and freedom were hers.

I didn’t relate to the movie because I was ever physically abused, though I did witness physical abuse. I was sucked in because Julia successfully ran. She escaped her personal hell. She fled negativity, and as luck would have it, she found her own version of Utopia somewhere in Middle America where no one knew her. She wiped her slate clean and began anew. She was unfettered and anonymous. She could be whoever she wanted. This is what sucked me in because it was my fantasy.

I always wanted to run. Before I can even remember wanting to run, I ran. Somewhere around the age of four was the first time I tried to make a break for it. I don’t recall why, but I have heard the story told countless times. What I do remember is my mother and father calling my bluff as I packed my bag, dragged it out the front door, down the sidewalk and kept on going straight down Dixon Road. I remember looking back at some point and seeing the two of them on the front stoop laughing and waving as if I was a four year old idiot. That pissed me off so much that I walked with renewed purpose. Really, I do remember that part. My father, waving a smart ass wave and calling, “So long!” If I had known how to flip them the bird, I definitely I would have.

Eventually, my four year old freedom march carried me from their line of sight and someone was forced to retrieve me. I’ve often wondered how far I would have walked if I was left alone. Where did I think I going, Sesame Street? Did I think I could become a four year old vagabond hobo, squatting at The Magic Garden? Maybe I could have joined Carol and Paula swinging and singing as the Chuckle Patch giggled nearby. Sadly, this is likely exactly what was on my mind.

I spent a huge amount of my childhood in other worlds. I lived in books or alternatively, in my own head. At our farm there was a very old row of lilac bushes. They had been there for so long that tiny, child-sized paths wound their way through the gnarled branches; perfectly sized for a little girl. It was my own version of the Secret Garden. I wonder if I would notice it now if I passed as an adult…the perfectly arched opening dripping with fragrant purple lilacs. It beckoned to me each spring. I would stand at the entrance with my eyes squeezed shut, concentrating. I willed myself to make a successful movement into another world. Surely, magic would take over in the middle of the lilacs, transporting me. I’d exit at the other end into a world of magic and happiness, love and laughter. I would walk through those winding paths in the shady interior of the lilac bushes, believing to my core that when I reached the other side, I’d be transported. I’d be free. I believed so hard that each time I exited the lilacs, my heart broke to see that I hadn’t moved an inch.

When my parents divorced and I ran away, I lived with my father for a time. I realized that running got me nowhere closer to happiness. I couldn’t run backwards in time. One day I spent hours drawing another world onto an enormous sheet of paper. It was large enough to cover a wall in the bedroom where I was staying, so I made this world to scale. I carefully drew a path large enough to accommodate me as I stepped into my Utopia. As I hung the drawing on the wall I began “believing”. I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed. I walked forward, fully believing that I would be able to step onto that paper world and into a new life. I walked forward, fully trusting my own magic and hit my face on the wall. Hard. I collapsed onto the floor and sobbed. I hated myself for not being magical enough to make it happen. I felt hopeless and trapped. I wanted to run but had nowhere to go. I was a complete failure.

My running took various forms after the day that I smooshed my face into the wall in attempt to escape. Books were about as close as I could get to residence in fantasy land. I remember getting on one of our horses bareback and running, feeling a powerful freedom as I recklessly held on to a newly broken horse. I remember discovering that actual running was a great temporary escape. I spent 6 months of high school smoking a lot of pot…a giggly escape. I could go and on…

Dave and I have talked about my “flighty” past behavior. As he says, “Where ever you go, there you are.” He’s right. I eventually figured that out and instead of running, I’m turning around and confronting my demons. Here I am. I’m standing still and putting down roots. I have nothing to run from anymore. I’ve found my place here with this incredible man and our three magical children. I’d love to plant some lilacs next spring.

Sunshine and Lollipops

Well, that was definitely interesting! I did it. I pressed the “publish post” button and set the elephant in my room free. Oh, don’t worry…Jumbo is still hanging around. He’s just not sitting on my shoulders anymore and I’m going to try my hardest to keep him from jumping back on.

I’ll admit that I’m still slightly freaked out that I put my personal struggle on public display. I think that Dave is probably the only person on earth who knew the extent of my dark secrets. Thankfully, I have discovered that removing myself from situations and people that trigger bad feelings keeps the darkness away. I avoid bad energy.What I’m trying to say is that I haven’t begged God to put me out of my misery in at least 12 years. Exception: the first time that I got pregnant and thought that I’d finally gone completely bat shit crazy. Seriously, hormones are a BAD thing. Newly-pregnant-but-still-doesn’t-know-yet Kelli could potentially have made Sylvia Plath look like sunshine and lollipops. Dave, my smart and insightful husband, was the one to figure it out. He drove to CVS in Brighton during an epic snowstorm to pick up a pregnancy test then ordered me to pee. VIOLA! Not crazy…just knocked up.

A few years ago, in an e-mail to a high school classmate, I referred to my high school age self as shy. He thought this was hilarious. I was somewhat disappointed to discover that what I thought was “shy” was really interpreted as bitchy and standoffish. I guess the reality of the situation was that I held (and continue to hold) potential friends at arm’s length. I’m social, but private. I can “turn it on” in public and be physically drained when I reach the safety of my home. I close the door behind myself and recuperate.

My biggest fear in sharing my battle is the assumption that I’m not firing on all cylinders..you know, people might think I have a few too many bats in the belfry. Will people smile and wave, but subtly hurry their children along after a polite exchange? I guess this remains to be seen. Over the past two days I have wondered if the people who I see often, knowing what they now know, will be cautiously watching me, wondering if I’m contemplating my own tragic demise. Will they look at me with pity? Disdain?

Let me set the record straight. As I wrote “Crazy”, I was paying a long overdue visit to the past. I’ve held so much pain inside of myself for so long, simply because I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the people who caused that pain. Well, I certainly let it rip the other day didn’t I? I want to say I’m sorry for so publicly sharing family secrets and rehashing past bad behavior, but I’m not. I’m not sorry at all. I’m sorry if you didn’t like my words, but I’m not sorry for trying to heal. What I described in my post was how I once felt and my past struggles with depression. I’m still trying to forgive, but its hard to move forward when I still have a problem with people who don’t hold themselves accountable or can’t apologize.

I’m in a really good place these days. Despite a few bumps caused by pregnancy and post-partum hormones, my depression is under control. I haven’t curled into the fetal position and wished for death in years. That’s a good thing. I’ve never felt the urge to drown my children in the bathtub or had similar horrible thoughts. Why do I feel the need to tell you these things? Because too many people don’t understand depression or don’t consider it a real illness. I’m not going to get into a discussion aimed at educating people about serotonin levels and neuronal reuptake. Go Google it if you’re really interested. I just want you to know that I sometimes have a bad day. My coping skills can be pretty shitty. I might be quiet, pensive or even have a short temper on a bad day. I might not feel like talking and might not call you back for a day or two. I will beat myself up over not calling you back. I’ll run through an endless cycle of guilt and self-admonishment for not trying harder…for not pursuing friendships. I’m too used to hiding myself, afraid that some of my cracks might show. I’m shy.

So thank you, friends for being persistent. Thank you for being supportive and not making assumptions. Thank you for understanding that if I don’t call you back right away, I’m not blowing you off. I’m not snobby or standoffish. I don’t think that I’m better than you. I’m shy. Thanks for hanging in there.

Crazy For Feelin’ So Lonely

In my quest for self-discovery, there are some things that I need to blog about that aren’t, well…funny. I have some experiences that some people might not want me to publish for the world to see. After all, my memory of how things happened might not be flattering. Maybe what I’m about to write will just sit in the “edit” stages for eternity, waiting for me to click the “publish post” button and set it free. Maybe not.

I have a friend who is in the process of freeing herself. She’s sharing the painful experience of caring for her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. Apparently though, the pain of the relationship didn’t begin with the onset on that ugly disease. Reading about the dysfunctional familial relationships of others interests me. I’m sure that on some level, it is a continuation of my sociological studies, but mostly it makes me think of my own circumstances. Which leads me to ask myself the following questions: Did I actually go to college to find myself through the experiences of others? Do sociological texts interest me because I’m still trying to find my place? Will I always be searching for the why and how of me?

Most of my posts have been snarky glimpses into my past. I tend to use humor to gloss over a childhood that was at times, really painful. Maybe it’s the rain today, or the fact that Patty (my above-referenced friend) has the courage to write about her mother. Whatever the reason, I’m feeling blue and it is about time to open this dark can of worms and throw it away.

Last week, my sister mentioned something about me always wanting to be a writer. It’s true. For years, I believed that to be a writer one had to experience life through travel and extensive education. You had to be interesting. Therefore, I would never be, could never be a writer. Isn’t it silly, how we belittle ourselves and our experiences?

Growing up, we all have aspirations. Sure, some are unrealistic. Of course I wasn’t going to grow another 5 inches, suddenly resemble Elle MacPherson and drive a Ferrari. Admittedly, that one was laughable. Ha ha. But what about design? What was so funny about that? Why was going to the University of Florida so laughable? Why was it so bizarre that I was interested in pursuing a career in journalism? Why were none of these interests encouraged? No talents explored? Why did they laugh when I mentioned college? I can’t imagine doing that to my children or for that matter, allowing someone who isn’t technically my child’s parent to do so.

Divorce is ugly, but kids are resilient. That’s what they say, isn’t it? I “get” the need for divorce. I’m thankful that my parents took that route, but in essence it was simply the lesser of two evils. If they had stayed together there would have been daily exposure to really unhealthy behaviors. Yet, my parents apart also meant that I was truly alone.

Of course, my mother had to work (and worked hard) to support us. I was 11 when they split and my world shattered. My father, who had been God-like to me up to that point, was unexpectedly and, much to my disappointment, quite human. My mother was trying to survive as a single woman and I felt like a unnecessary extremity, simply along for the ride. One day I was having a play date with my friends and, when I got home my mother announced  that we were moving away the following day. Just like that… we’re leaving your beloved farmhouse behind tomorrow, your best friends, your family. Death. That’s what it felt like. If it happened differently, I’m sorry, but this is how I remember it.  My sister was forced out into the world. She was 18. My brother went with my father. I was suddenly an only child, but had I ever been anything more?

I’ve always felt like the lone wolf. I found that in my immediate family, the best way to survive was to fly under the radar. If, by some chance they did notice my existence, my best bet was to make them laugh before I went back to my bedroom and escaped into a book. Books saved my life and quenched my thirst for something else.

Once that move happened I was truly alone. I spent entire days wandering around in a strange new town. I got myself to school and let myself in the door when I got home. When she wasn’t working, my Mom was trying to enjoy her newly single life. There were only a few boyfriends (one of whom later became my stepfather) and most seemed to tolerate my existence. I was part of my mother’s package. I knew this. Even at 11, I knew this.

One day, on my way to my new school I ran away. I had already missed something like 15 days and it was only early November. As I walked to school, I was overcome with the first feelings of overwhelming darkness. A hopelessness so powerful that I needed to escape, I needed to go back. Back to the farm, back to my father. I needed to run but here’s a little secret: you can’t outrun depression. Not the clinical kind.

I hid in a big tunnel that went underneath the Northway and led to the Prospect Mountain trail. Before I ran, I called my father at the State Police barracks and pled with him to take me back. I stood in a phone booth, 11 years old, sobbing. In essence, I was pleading to go back in time. What I didn’t understand was that I was really begging for someone to remove the growing ball of black desperation from my core. I couldn’t have explained this to you at the time. It took nearly twenty years to be able to verbalize “the darkness”. The darkness has been a nearly constant and unwelcome visitor since I was 11 years old.

I don’t blame my bouts with depression on my parents. I blame insufficient levels of serotonin and the faulty neurons in my brain. Its clinical and, come to find out, hereditary. I know that my maternal grandmother suffered from depression. As I’ve been told, she was diagnosed as “manic depressive”. These days they call it bipolar disorder. I have imagined generations of people in my family feeling this way, hopeless and black, but mixed with days of intense happiness and boundless of energy. We’re a never ending cycle of crazies stuck in a never ending cycle of crazy. Please, God let it end with me. I can’t bear the thought of my children quietly suffering in the way that I have.

Back when I was 11, depression was still a relatively taboo subject, especially in my family. I struggled through my pre-teen and teenage years desperately trying to feel, and more importantly, appear normal. My family situation wasn’t exactly stellar. My mother had seriously dated one man, then married my stepfather. During the whole dating and newly married process I was kind of left to my own devices. Sometimes I feel like I raised myself. I definitely felt like I was in the way and rebelled against the men who, it seemed, so easily influenced my mother’s thoughts and actions. Let’s face it, my stepfather isn’t really a guy who digs children, let alone teenagers struggling with undiagnosed depression and adolescent mood swings.

I don’t have many memories of parental involvement in my school career. Kids tend to go off the grid when their parents don’t show up for track meets or cheerleading or art shows. (Art shows where they won an award for a still life painting.) Teachers tend to lose interest in the kids whose parents aren’t involved. Kids who are bobbing along with no real idea of who they are or where it is that they are going tend to fall off the radar. That’s what I did. I quit track, quit cheering, and stopped pursuing anything related to art. What was the point? They had very little idea who my friends were, unless it was a friend who I could stay with for the weekend when they wanted to go away. I began questioning my worth and abilities. I was feeding the darkness with my teenage angst.

As college application time drew near, it was painfully apparent to me that none of the adults in my life were going to encourage my attendance. My pile of catalogs was met with disdain and laughter. I clearly recall my stepfather’s mean spirited chuckles at my choices and his questioning my ability to pay. It still enrages me. His choice (as if he had the right to make such decisions) was community college. The gist of his suggestion was that it was second rate, but that was about all I was worth and/or capable of. 40 year old Kelli wants to go back to 1987/88 and hug 16 year old Kelli. I want to tell her that she is an amazing artist and writer. That she shouldn’t quit track or cheerleading. That she is smart and capable and oh, don’t worry you’ll discover Zoloft in a few years to help with that debilitating depression. Don’t give up because your people don’t believe in themselves enough to believe in you.

Needless to say, the first year of my college career was a bust and, in my quest to run away from the darkness and find a happy place, I returned to Mahopac. (Actually, I was no longer welcome in my stepfather’s home.) My sister was there, my brother was there, my Aunt Rain and Uncle Joe were there, my cousins, my grandmother…it was my answer. They understood how unhappy my life was in my stepfather’s house. They supported my move and rearranged their lives to accommodate my arrival. I flew to Florida (where Dad lives) and went through an emancipation proceeding simply because I wanted nothing to do with my two selfish, narcissistic absentee parents. It was my statement to myself. I was 19 and, though I’d essentially always been alone, I was announcing to the world that I didn’t need their half-hearted interest any more. We could all just go on with our lives and stop feigning interest in one another.

I tried so hard to fit in somewhere. Anywhere. I was still existing as an outsider and seemed to feel more of a connection with people outside of my family. I dated an older guy who for some reason, my family believed was a “coke head” who was turning me into a drug crazed junkie. Untrue. I never developed a taste for illicit drugs and, had they really known me, they would have realized that hanging around people who drink to much or do drugs freaks me out. Silly, mean spirited, small town/family rumors.

Regardless, I met a different guy who was my own age and began dating him. This made my family happy. He looked like Matthew McConaughey, or so I was told. A bartender/friend of the family dubbed us “Ken and Barbie”. We had nothing in common. I was back in college, he worked in construction. I liked museums, books and art. He liked football. He hated my friends. My family LOVED him. Through their acceptance of him, I finally felt like I belonged. I was an idiot. We dated for 5 years and were married for 3. Three of the longest years of my life.

It was my own fault. I questioned the marriage months before the wedding and even returned the engagement ring shortly after we purchased our first house. My mother and my sister talked me out of calling the wedding off saying, “It’s cold feet”. I felt like an outsider again. I could see it on their faces…Oh jeez, Kelli is going crazy again. She’s being a bitch. What’s her problem? He’s so nice. She’s so mean to him. She’s so bad. She is worthless and we actually like him more. I married him.

It took me 2 and 1/2 years to realize that I was living with what had become a constant and crippling depression. I began seeing a psychologist, then a psychiatrist so that I could try prescription meds. Nothing helped except for that bottle of wine each night, or happy hour with my work friends. I dreaded going home. I wanted to die. Mind you, I’ve never been so depressed that I have attempted to take my life, but I have pleaded with God to end it for me. In my book, when you begin praying for death, its time to act. I decided to leave. A decision that was not met with support. At all.

I got an apartment in Greenwich, CT but had to wait two weeks to move in. With nowhere to go, I slept in my car for two nights and showered at the gym in my office building. Luckily, I worked for a hotel company, so for a few nights I stayed at the Sheraton in Stamford for the employee rate which still quickly added up. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone what was happening and forced myself to sit in my office each day and act normal. In private, I was barely able to move.

Dave and I had professionally known each other for about 6 months at this point. I was his client. We had a good rapport. He’s the kind of guy who makes you feel safe and in my second week of upheaval, I confided in him. I told him my story. I told him that I was alone. It all sounds so pathetic now, the circumstances that brought us together, but he was literally my savior. He held out his hand when I had no one and expected absolutely nothing in return. He was attracted, but respected what I was going through and was prepared to simply be a friend. He had worked through his own hardship and was coming out the other side when we found each other. It’s funny how when you aren’t looking, love finds you. At my darkest, most alone time, God threw David in my path.

To this day, my family believes that Dave is the reason for me leaving my first husband. My first husband believes that Dave is to blame for my leaving. They all still stubbornly believe that I was having an affair. David has been accused of being “the other man” in quiet, “manly” confrontations at family gatherings. Someone in my family even referred to him as “the other man” at our wedding. He has never become confrontational in return. He remains unscathed and above it all. He loves me enough to tolerate not being accepted. He is the first person to recognize the extent of my depression and understand how tightly it holds me in it’s grasp. He seems to be the only person who understands that I left because I was severely depressed.

Together, we discovered that Zoloft combined with running is the most effective weapon in battling depression. Pregnancy and post-partum were a challenge. Ample amounts of sleep are a must and too much dreary weather is a really bad idea.

He has pointed out how easily old patterns of behavior emerge when I’m with my family. How to this day, they see what they want to see in me, and not who I really am. He has pointed out that when those old patterns emerge, I am almost immediately on edge and depression creeps back in. No, I don’t like be labeled the bitch/shopaholic/snob/loner and yes, I do become a bitch when those words are spoken. I’m tired of old labels. I never wanted you to make fun of what interests me. All I ever wanted was to be seen and heard, not ignored and interrupted.

So there it is. I just went public with some heavy stuff. If you’re still here reading, thanks for hanging in and I’m sorry if I brought you down. I’m not expecting a lot of feedback on this one, but I do feel slightly more free.

Cookie

Gwennie’s preschool welcome letter was in the mailbox this afternoon. This was the moment that I have been dreading all summer. *sniffle* I know, I know… I need to let her move forward. It’s preschool. A right of passage… a major milestone in the life of my little cookie. My Cookie. *sob* She tries to make me feel better by saying things like, “Mommy, I have to get all growed up!” or, “It’s okay Mommy, you’ll be right back to pick me up”. She says these things with a shrug of her tiny shoulders while wearing an appropriately empathic, but too-bad-for-you facial expression. I recognize it as my own.
Oh, how long I waited for my little girl! For all of my blustering about never wanting children (back when I didn’t know I wanted them), I secretly dreamed of one just like her. Here’s a little secret…Gwen was not planned. I had no idea I was pregnant for weeks. No idea at all that another baby was on the way! Thankfully, we sorted it all out before we ended up on the I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant show.

My sweet little Cookie. I have no idea how or why the nickname “Cookie” began, but it belongs to her. Like every other mom, I will never forget the day we first met. As I recovered (lay helpless in bed) from surgery Dave took photos and, in his ecstatic state of new Daddy bliss he posted a most unflattering photo of our new baby girl.



I was beyond mortified! “WHAT?! You posted that picture?! Look at her…she looks like a hairy linebacker in that shot! Why that picture?!” You can imagine that my hormones were in full swing at this point. Poor David.

Here’s the one I would have sent:

I’ve enjoyed each and every minute of her existence, right up to this very moment. She makes us laugh both giggles and belly laughs without even trying. She can as easily make me cry as I watch her attempt a brave face before confronting the man-eating hippos in her closet. Who can blame her for being frightened if those are the kind of things lurking in the shadows of her bedroom?

Over the past week, I have gone through what seems like thousands of photographs and can’t help but marvel at how tiny the children were. How easily we forget and how quickly they grow. Chubby little baby cheeks and beautiful toothless grins are fading away. Like every other parent in the world, we only have our memories and photographs to help stir them.

I explored picture files full of Joe and Gwen’s first years, when we lived in Boston. I had forgotten how tiny our apartment in Oak Square was. I thought of when our two babies shared a sweet little bedroom, and how suddenly one afternoon I heard them babbling to one another. That was the afternoon that she became a little bit more “baby” and little less infant.
When people say that children are born with their own personalities, they aren’t wrong. It didn’t take long to see that Gwen was an “Alpha” baby. She began busting Joe’s chops (his words) as soon as she could sit up. Here’s the proof:

Gwen came into the world making us laugh. She has that special something that lets her get away with just a littlebit more than the others. She has comic timing. Gwen has presence. She’s quick to defend and stands up for the rights of those being wronged…including herself. She has a quick wit and a sharp tongue. At 18 months, she exited the sandbox with purpose to toddle to the swings where she proceeded to smack the neighborhood’s three year old Neanderthal who was pushing Joe around. I wouldn’t have believed it unless I watched with my own eyes. She emitted some sort of crazy babble/yelling, smacked the bully a few more times for good measure and chased him off. Gwen is one tough Cookie.
She claims that her brother is her bestest friend in the world, but will rat him out in the blink of an eye. She welcomed her new baby sister into the family with grace and watches over her to ensure her safety and happiness. In fact, she’s Kate’s official spokesperson. So much so, that Kate can speak her own Kate language, leaving Gwen to interpret. Oddly enough, she has developed an uncanny knack for knowing precisely what Miss Kate is demanding.
Gwen can walk into a room full of strangers at 12:00 and come out with 5 new friends a half hour later. It doesn’t matter if it’s a girl or a boy. So now, as summer ends Gwen is eager to join her fellow tribesmen, the little people of Patten’s Nursery School. She’s a tiny social maven on the verge of independence! She’s teetering on the edge of freedom. She’s chomping at the bit to escape my (control) love.
I will be shocked if there are tears when I leave her on the first day of preschool. In fact, I have absolutely no fear that she will cling to my leg, screaming to go home. Nope. No need to pry her off and run before my own tears start to flow. Instead, I’ll drive her there, walk her inside and she’ll run away from me to meet her new friends. I’ll hang around a bit (too long), making sure that she finds her cubby…that she’s okay, and right around the time I realize that I’m not okay, I’ll feign cheer, choke out a “Goodbye, Cookie! Be a good girl!” as I hastily exit. My little Cookie is growing up too fast.
My dirty fingered, bandaid obsessed, dress wearing angel. I had no idea that she was coming, but I’m sure glad she’s here.

Werewolves and Cheezits and Sticks…OH MY!

I have to say, we have lucked out in the tantrum department. Mostly because we’re likely to laugh at the kids as we step over them should they resort kicking and screaming. There really is nothing more effective in squashing temper tantrums than ridicule. What can I say; we’re a tough crowd here at Chez Faherty. Unfortunately, luck runs out and on occasion, one of the kids acts…well, like a kid. Usually, I’m very lucky to have just one of the children having an “off” day. Yet, sometimes the stars seem to align perfectly…and during a full moon. When this happens, all three lose their minds and become “THOSE” kids. Last week the stars and/or moon were perfectly aligned for the Faherty clan.

I have a theory about the cycle of the moon and it’s effects on the adorable little humans residing in my house. You see, during the full moon, the adorable little humans morph into Crazed Fanged Beasts. Did you hear the echo when you read that? Here, let me say it again. CRAZED FANGED BEASTS! Beasts…Beasts….beasts…

No, I’m not suggesting that lycanthropy (turning into a werewolf) is rampant in my household during a full moon. My children don’t become extra hairy, sprout fangs or howl at the moon. However, they do scream, exhibit short-tempers, and the smaller two have been known to bite when provoked. It all got me wondering, and after the last moon I felt compelled to do a bit of research. Do you know what I found? I found that The Bradford Royal Infirmary conducted a study about behavior and the moon that was published in the British Medical Journal in December 2000. The Bradford Royal Infirmary reported that dog bite admissions to hospitals in England were twice as common during a full moon. Interesting, but I’m not worried about my dog. So far, I can find no conclusive evidence that the behavior of my children is influenced by the moon. Yet, read on and maybe you’ll begin to see my point.

August 10th: New Moon. This has absolutely no bearing at all on my “study” except for the fact that it made me think of shirtless Jacob. Sink your eyes into this:



YOU’RE WELCOME! HAVE A NICE DAY.



Where was I? Oh..right..
August 13th: The planets are in Triple Conjunction with the Moon. Now mind you, I have no real understanding of astronomy, but this sounds like a good explanation for crazed children, no?

It all started innocently enough with a trip to the beach. In fact, it was a promising outing. There weren’t any obnoxious/weirdo tourists in our vicinity, yet oodles of well behaved kids who were willing to share beach toys. Joe and Gwen hit it off immediately with some new buddies, the weather was perfect, the tide was out…enter Kate and a box of Cheezits. It took precisely 30 minutes for the older couple sitting next to us to go from admiring the “adorable” baby to cringing in fear as she screamed and flung her body in the sand at their feet because her Cheezits were soggy.
There I was, faced with the dilemma of a quiet exit, yet one that said ‘I know that my child is being a complete a-hole so we’re leaving and you are all welcome’ or, I could have stayed and made the entire beach endure Kate’s terror filled Cheezit rampage. Yes, I just used the word a-hole when referring to my toddler. I’m honest and I’d never say it to her face. (Refer to my blog entry, Some Parents Eat Their Young). By the way, I opted for the quiet exit which turned out to be really loud since Gwen was so ticked off that we were leaving.

Let’s jump to our evening foray to soccer camp. I’m thinking that it was right around this time that those planets were getting closer to their “conjunction” with the moon because Hell was about to break loose on the soccer field.

We were all napped up and ready to go. There I was, wrangling Kate and our chairs, water bottles and soccer balls. Suddenly I realized that I had lost sight of Joe. Upon scanning the park, I located Joe on a hill waving a giant stick next to another kid. You know that slow-motion tunnel effect in movies? I can only describe it as a kind of out of body experience. One where the character foresees impending doom then suddenly gets sucked back into her body in time to save the day. Yeah. That’s exactly what I was feeling as from what seemed like miles away, I told (screeched at) Joe to, “PUT THE STICK DOWN! PUT….THE…STICK…DOWWWWWN!”

Of course, he couldn’t hear *ignored* me and continued waving the stick around until he whacked the kid’s glasses off his face. The kid’s mom went running up the hill while what seemed like the entire town stared at me and/or my kid. THAT kid…my failure. What to Expect When You’re Expecting never mentioned what I should do when my kid beats another kid with a giant stick. Did I wait too long to have children? What’s the etiquette for this situation? I’m almost 40 and I’m not equipped for this! As I stood glued to the soccer field questioning my skills as a mother, I watched the other mommy glare at my son, who for her, had become “that” kid.

Maybe I’m too hard on myself and expect too much of my tiny people. I mean, just because we waited until we were on the verge of AARP to reproduce didn’t mean that our children were required to pop out with the ability to attend wine tastings and admire fine art, right?

My research has shown that there is no conclusive proof that the cycle of the moon has any effect on human behavior. However, soul searching has brought me to the following realization. I do not understand 6 year old boys at all. Bitchy three year old? Got it. Tantrum throwing toddler? I’ll tolerate that. As long as no one turns into a werewolf, we’re going to be just fine.

Have any of you had these moments, or is it just me?

Reinforcing Good Behavior: Making the Princess Movie Work For You.

You know those days when you’re out and about and you cross paths with “that” kid? Come on…you know the kid that I’m talking about. She can be found wreaking havoc in any number of public places. Usually, the lucky soul accompanying the little angel is either feigning cluelessness or wanting to melt into the earth from the embarrassment of it all. Please, don’t tell me you haven’t lingered to watch from the corner of your eye while smugly saying to yourself, “Self, thank GOD you don’t have a kid”, or “Self, thank GOD that isn’t your kid!”

Is it horrible that I’ve been known exploit another kid’s crappy behavior for my own gain? I’ve seen my own wide-eyed children absorbing the offending kid’s mannerisms and watching for the parental response. Believe me, they’re processing the situation and rationalizing future use of the bad behavior in question.

Friends, this is a golden opportunity! You should jump on the chance to use some other mommy’s moment of public shame for your own benefit. This is the time to reiterate that bad behavior is socially unacceptable. For example, if the mother in question appears close to tears, don’t offer her kind words of support. Instead you should quietly say, “Look at what that girl is doing! She’s making her mommy cry.” Throw in a bit of hand wringing and say, “Oh dear, that poor mommy is sooooo sad.” While you’re saying this, don’t be afraid to paste an overly dramatic, wistfully sad expression on your face. One that shows empathy for the mom. Shortly, you’ll notice that your princess loving preschooler can’t help but feel involved and somewhat conspiratorial. After all, her own mommy is suddenly adopting facial expressions normally used by her favorite princess. By the way, peppering your sentences with princess-style language can’t hurt either. Interjecting expressions like, “Oh, my!” or “The poor dear…” can only serve to underscore your princess-ish persona.



The “Sad Princess” Expression



Overly dramatic resonates with the preschool set. Remember, they’re accustomed to watching the painfully sad expression of the Disney Princess as she experiences death/destruction/abandonment/neglect/abuse. Plus, your child is still looking to you for behavioral cues. So by adopting the “Sad Princess” facial expression, your child is likely to mimic your sorrow and, if you’re lucky, might even look at you and say, “That little girl is being bad, right mommy?” Now, this is the important part…while you have her attention, let out a big sigh, sadly shake your head and slowly tear your eyes away from the Mom-In-Hell. Make eye contact with your child and with lightening speed, change your expression to one of sheer joy and say, “I’m sooooo glad that you are such a well behaved girl! You would NEVER do that your mommy.” Give her a kiss, lovingly stroke her hair and then adopt a thoughtful look of surprise. (One that you might see in cartoon character whose brilliant idea inexplicably causes a light bulb to appear over his head.)
The “I have a Great Idea” Expression
Yes, it is at this moment that you should employ the most powerful tool in your blatant exploitation of bad behavior. You might say, “Oh my! I have a WONDERFUL idea! You’ve been such a lovely girl, why don’t we get you a treat?” BAM!! You can’t beat it. I’ve just served up an incredible method for reinforcing appropriate social behavior. Simply make the tantrum throwing kid the villain and the mommy automatically becomes the helpless Princess. It works like a charm.
The “Super Happy, You’re Such a Good Girl” Expression
So, next time the kids ask to watch Mulan/Princess and the Frog/Beauty and the Beast, don’t think of it such simple terms as the 127th viewing. Approach it as research and study the mannerisms of those princesses. Practice them in the mirror and store them in your arsenal. Now…if only I could figure out a way to have little birdies and woodland creatures follow me around…
-Toddler Discipline: Effective and Appropriate Tactics (webmd.com)

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Some Parents Eat Their Young

It’s true, you know. They do. Some species engage in filial cannibalism – otherwise known as baby eating (I looked that up). In fact, I once had a rabbit who ate its own babies. It was the male and I can’t attest to what he was thinking, but maybe he was driven over the edge by that year’s 5th litter of fuzzy bunnies. What if he was feeling a lot of pressure from Mrs. Rabbit? The hutch was getting smaller, the family bigger and the paychecks just couldn’t make ends meet anymore. Clearly, I fabricated that part, but it sounded good, no?

Pigs are guilty of occasionally noshing on their young as well. Back on the farm, we had a gargantuan pig named Bertha. Bertha birthed some piglets and had to be separated from her babies lest she feel the sudden urge to inappropriately chow down. (I wonder if pigs can use the post-partum defense?) The problem with mama pigs is, if there is a piglet that seems different or weak, she’ll eat it. Of course, Bertha happened to have a runt in her litter, so before anyone knew what happened, the runt was named ‘CC’, swathed in a pink doll dress with matching bonnet and plopped into the doll stroller. In case you were wondering, that was also the summer that I read Charlotte’s Web. If Fern could pull it off, so could I!
Anyway, CC slept in a cozy little box in the house, was fed with a bottle and snuggled for a period of time that I can no longer recall. As soon as CC was “caught up” with the rest of the piglets, it was right back out to the pig pen. I don’t know what happened to CC, but what I do know is that she never developed a weird friendship with a freakishly intelligent spider. That poor little runt piglet.
We have runt here in our house and her name is Kate. She’s tiny and she’s not like the others. She’s loud, refuses to eat much else than fresh mozzarella and Yo-Baby yogurt…and it better be frozen and strawberry flavored or you’ll be damn sorry! She almost always looks like she hasn’t been brushed or bathed in days. In fact, ten minutes after a bath she has the ability to waltz back into the room looking like a tiny, dirty little woman after a week-long bender. She has the ability to emit a piercing string of babble that oddly resembles a profanity-laced tirade. She can wrestle Stella to the ground in a headlock when the other kids are terrified to go near the teething puppy. She’s one tough cookie and she likes to be heard.

Kate is our third surprise…oops, I meant third baby. Kate came out screaming and hasn’t stopped in 18 months – unless you count some public appearances where she stuns us by morphing into Darling Angel Baby. She smiles at people, shares her treats, dances a little dance to the overhead music and bats her big blue eyes which results in admiring glances and comments on how adorable she is…so well behaved even! I know, I know…several of you have spent time with Darling Angel Baby and you are astonished when I tell you that she’s a screaming, tantrum throwing whack-job. When I say these things to the other mommies, I am alternatively met with, “really? She’s so quiet!” or looks of alarm that say, How could you have such thoughts about your baby?…and actually SAY it out loud?!

Simple. I’m honest. I also share a very sarcastic sense of humor with my husband. So on those evenings/mornings/entire days when Kate is screaming and hanging from a our legs as we try to cook/dress/pee. The days when we have to scream over her screaming to be heard, when my mild-mannered husband starts losing his temper…we go into the pantry together and call her out on her bullshit. Not very nice names either. Don’t worry, she can’t actually hear us because we’re hiding from her.
Our fake confrontations are similar to what you might say to a friend who is being a complete asshole during hour number 14 of a road trip. A secret pantry “confrontation” typically goes something like this:
Me (whispering): “Jeez, Kate… you’re being a real BLEEP.”

Dave (also whispering): “Seriously, man…you’re acting like a huge BLEEEEPITY BLEEP.”
From the other room, we hear Gwen yelp in pain and begin crying as Kate pummels her head with a bottle. Again.

Me (still whispering): “How ’bout I take that bottle and…..” We can’t help but dissolve into laughter at the fact that we are secretly speaking to our toddler like she’s the world’s most annoying adult. We then exit the pantry feeling far less stress than we did when we entered. 
Right about now, you might be questioning our roles as parents. Judge if you must, but our method of stress relief is effective and it sure beats eating the runt!

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My One Special Guy

This morning I watered this year’s pitiful excuse for a garden and, as is often the case, I watered in silence as the kids played inside. Silence. It makes me think of Frank Costanza screaming, “SERENITY NOW!”

Actually, I do my best thinking when I’m watering the plants. There is something about the trickling water and the morning sun warming my skin that always brings me back to my first special guy. He watered his garden in the morning, letting me spray the tomatoes and play in the water that dripped from the hose. He rarely scolded and often chuckled. He taught me to make homemade pasta, how to fish, and eat an entire bag of cherries in one sitting. He taught me how to say “bicycle” in Italian. He taught me to sit quietly with my own thoughts. From him I learned the fine art of comfortable silence. He taught me how to laugh. He was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of person, who you longed to be around for no real reason except that he was good. He taught me so much about life and I never said thank you.

Uncle Joe, kneeling with baseball bat

All summer, I’ve continued watering the sad, fruitless plants in the gardens, despite the fact that they have yet to produce a single thing. Uncle Joe was with me as I watered the gardens today. As I fell into into my serene, thoughtful chore he entered my thoughts. I miss him.

I moved the hose to the children’s garden that we started earlier in the summer, and began watering the (bean-less) bean plants that are slowly crawling up the tee-pee. I laughed to myself as I recalled one of the rhymes Uncle Joe taught us as children. Beans, beans the magical fruit, the more you eat, the more… And there they were. Beans. Yes, he was there with me. I hope that he heard me say thank you.

Life Lessons, Child Rearing and Pet Keeping…Hadfield Style.

Well, the visit from Dad is done. Fantasy Island? Not so much. As usual, my imagination offered up a far juicier scenario than what reality had to provide. Mom and Dad behaved nicely. No knock-down-drag-out fights, no slow-motion running across the lawn, arms outstretched as “Reunited…and it feels so gooooood!” played in the background, no crazy monkey sex. However, as happens after every visit from my father, I was brought back to that question I asked in my first blog…who am I? I have concluded that the more appropriate question is, HOW am I? The utter insanity of my family (sorry family) just makes me wonder exactly how I am able to present myself as a relatively “normal” and functioning member of society.

Two things are clear. 1. I definitely inherited my father’s sick sense of humor, and 2. thank GOD that my parents divorced.

Why am I thankful that they divorced, you ask? Let me put it this way, he’s cigars, scotch and Cadillacs and she’s tennis, (strictly) two beers per night, and Toyota’s. He’s American Legion and she’s Gourmet Club. He’s…well, you get the point. I’m left wondering what these two ever had in common, even at the age of 19. No matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine the two of them spending any more time together than they did last week. A few hours of polite conversation each day and a courtesy lobster was quite enough, thank you very much.

The sick sense of humor is another story. For example, last year my father bought a 1981 Rolls Royce Silver Spirit. Why? Good question. Let me explain what I think. I think he thought it would be funny to have his friend Larry chauffeur him around South Florida to completely normal and mundane places. And that is precisely what they did. Evidently, Larry had no issues with playing “driver” and would even open the back door with a flourish. Mostly, the stories involve forays to the liquor store and Larry carrying Dad’s booze..er, packages to the car. 20 years ago this would have horrified me, but those were the days when anything my father did crippled me with embarrassment.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a time that we were inseparable. Mostly, before we moved to upstate NY and still lived in Mahopac. Lets see…oh, he always let me come to Keen’s with him. Even though it was a bar, it was okay because they had a pinball machine and his bartender lady-friend was always kind enough to hand me a fat roll of quarters. She sure was a nice lady..sending me off to play before she came on to my Dad. Ahhhh…the’70’s. You’d never be able to pull that off today. You know, bringing a 5 year old into the local dive bar. Maybe you couldn’t do it then either, unless you are the local State Trooper/Daddy, that is.

I have to say that one of my fondest childhood memories is of my bull, Emile. My dad bought me my very own “cow” at an auction. Oh, the excitement! I couldn’t wait to get that cute, tiny baby cow home and feed him and love him. My father lovingly named him “Emile”. I vividly recall the smile on his face as he bestowed the very noble name of “Emil” on my new pet. Emile…he was a nice guy. Impeccable manners, followed me around like a dog even though he was HUGE. I taught him to eat the equivalent of cow “formula” since he wasn’t weaned from his mommy when he arrived at our big red barn. Oh, how I loved my Emile.
Fast forward. I’m not sure how long it took. Frankly, I’ve blocked the horror from my mind, but at some point we loaded Emile up and drove him over to the local COW KILLER. Said COW KILLER killed my friend. It was then that I learned Emile was actually “A Meal”. The horror…the HORROR! My sicko father thought this was hilarious. It is this incident, and many others that shall remain unspoken, that shaped my weird, sick and twisted sense of humor.
I might still wonder how I function properly as a human being, but I did come away with the following life lessons:  1. Do NOT under any circumstances murder your child’s pet and serve it for dinner. This is highly confusing and slightly reeks of Hannibal Lechtor’s early years. 2. Try to show some compassion if your adult daughter continues to display a photo of herself and the eaten pet 30 years after the meal. Oh, and I’m also not above handing off my typically screaming 18 month old as revenge..its not like he can eat her or anything!
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