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Archive for the ‘Fear’ Category

Some days, I just want to scream.

Most days, I want to scream. But some days, that want becomes a need.

Today was one of those days: the “want” was born out of last weekend, when I spent far more time driving around, chasing down various food or recipe ingredients for my daughter’s wacky diet and expensive palate than I would have liked. I have a paper due in my Globalization in Education class, and I had imagined completing it over the weekend and being done with it.

Even after four or five years of getting my plans squashed into the dust without a moment’s notice, my imagination continues to be a healthy optimist.

After driving around most of the South Bay on Friday for one thing or another, I could have told my daughter I was done on Saturday. She is rarely selfish, even though she has every justification to be so, and even more rarely unappreciative of what it takes to care for her. But…cooking, the ideas for recipes, the planning, the research, the entire process of it–that’s what makes her happy. It’s what has always made her happy: she was in the kitchen inventing recipes by the time she was three. She couldn’t read yet, but wouldn’t be able to, not really, for several years, but it didn’t matter, and I never made it matter. I opened the cupboards and we talked about ingredients: flour and sugar, spices, sauces, acids, oils, She asked questions I usually didn’t even know the answers to, because I had honestly never thought about why chocolate chip cookies flattened if you left them in the oven too long or made them too large. I had never considered why shortening was better then butter in pie crusts. If there is one place I follow the rules, it is in the kitchen.

I love food, but I’m not exactly picky. I don’t eat bugs, things with heads, or live things. Otherwise, if I’m hungry, I will at least try it. In fact, I don’t even have to be hungry. It just has to include chocolate of some sort, frosting of any kind, or salt.

But she was. And so I let her figure things out. Yes, her process made a mess of the kitchen frequently, and her recipes were often inedible for one reason or another. But she delighted in everything she made, and she learned from everything she made. I was still making things the way I had always made them, and along came this five year old who started to tell me how to make them better….I was thrilled. I had fallen in love with her father in part because he made me cookies when we were just flirting and bought me Rice Krispie treats from the food trucks on College Avenue and made me stew for one of our early dates. The way to my heart has always been through my stomach, and here was my daughter, wanting to take over in the kitchen.

If I had never loved her before then–which was certainly not the case, but if I hadn’t–I would have fallen in love with her then. I’d happily clean up after her for the rest of my life if I never had to set foot in the kitchen again.

Of course, she was five, her interest waxed and waned, so I did, in fact, step foot into the kitchen repeatedly for many years.

And then she started to get sick.

The inner chef in her went to work: she broke down everything we ate and replaced ingredients. I may not have been the greatest chef, but I’d always ensured we ate fairly healthy–little to no junk food, or junk food made out of kale, juice without added sugar, dessert was not a staple, little to no fast food. We ate homemade dinners most nights during the week. We’d also been gluten and dairy free by that point, due to intolerances for all of us. But Autumn was determined to figure out the cause of her stomach pains, bloating and severe constipation and diarrhea.

When nothing worked, and she only continued to be in more pain and her health declined, she turned away from food. She felt it had betrayed her. She also felt like a failure.

That feeling didn’t get any better when I took her to Seattle Children’s Hospital and they diagnosed her with an eating disorder without so much as listening to our story.

She did have an eating disorder. She and I were happy to admit that. But it wasn’t because she thought she was fat or ugly. She was, in fact, 85 pounds and hated her body for betraying her. She wanted to eat, and she did eat, as much as she could, but it hurt, and some days she would lie on the floor and scream after eating.

She and I did the best we could with little information and absolutely no medical assistance.

She put on weight in SCH, because they wouldn’t let her move, and they shoved food down her stomach 3 times a day. She cried after every meal, sometimes screamed. They didn’t care. She wanted to scream after every meal; some days, she told me, the want became a need, and I would hold her in my arms while she would scream into my shirt or a pillow. They had told her if she kept screaming, they would move her to a ward where I wasn’t allowed to go. So she screamed in silence.

After Seattle Children’s, Autumn went back to the kitchen. She was determined she would beat whatever was going on, and the hospital had convinced her it was all in her head. That conviction would lurk beneath everything she did and said and thought and felt until the day she was diagnosed with Lyme. But she never left the kitchen. Cooking became all she had. When she couldn’t eat, she cooked for me. She would often cook for her brother, but he wasn’t fond of her attempts to get him to eat more vegetables and less meat.

Her delight is plain on her face when she is talking about food or a recipe or modifications to something that didn’t work. She talks food, dreams food, breathes food. She has had to drag in chairs to sit on while she cooks, or more recently, laid on the floor with her feet up to try and reduce the inflammation while waiting for something to boil. But while she cannot control what her body is doing from one day to the next, she can control her recipes: in the kitchen, she forgets, for a little while, about the truth of her life.

So, when she is having a good day, and she wants to find rare gluten free ingredients to create something she has a taste for, I will drive her to the ends of the earth.

I forget, for a little while, about the truth of her life.

And mine.

I do not deny I was meant to be a mother. Motherhood was another piece to the puzzle of me. But being a caretaker? A nurse? That’s a whole different level of maternal skill. Not all mothers can be nurses, and not all nurses can be mothers. I fully planned on being emotionally available to my children for the rest of my life. I just thought that, at some point, I wouldn’t have to be so very physically, mentally and emotionally available to them.

Some weeks are harder then others. The problem with being a mom, and a caretaker, is that much of the time, even if we have a partner, we have to scream in silence. Not out of fear that we will be taken from our children. But out of fear that if we start, we will not stop.

Today, I woke up wanting to scream. By tonight, after a clinic appointment went from twenty minutes to two hours because the home health nurse kinked the picc line yesterday, after my daughter’s babesia-induced migraine caused her to be both whiny, dramatic and demanding, after the dog got it up in his butt that running around the apartment barking like a lunatic was a great idea, after I went into my daughter’s bathroom–which I usually try not to do but it was unavoidable tonight–after I thought we were “done” for the night so I settled down to watch an online concert…..only to have the picc line jam again during an infusion and the dog being an ass and there being no chocolate in the apartment…..

The want to scream became a need.

I fixed my daughter’s picc line and restarted the infusion. I did 85 situps and 110 crunches and 48 pushups. I took the dog outside to run off his looniness. And I tilted my head back towards the stars and breathed.

It wasn’t screaming. But I was tired from the pushups, which was exactly the point, and the air was cool against my cheeks. My dog looked like an idiot horse amusing himself with his own tail, and the night was calm.

The need to scream settled back into a low humming want in the back of my mind.

Tomorrow I will be able to sleep in a little later, and I have no classes. I can finish my paper and take care of my daughter and even clean her bathroom without puking. Probably.

Maybe tomorrow will be a day I won’t need to scream.

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My son has always been an “I can handle it myself” kinda kid.  From the early days, if he could get himself a snack he would do so.  He was dressing himself as soon as he was able.  He wanted to do his homework on his own from the start, and he did not want help memorizing his spelling words or geograpy.  He gritted his teeth when I taught him how to ride a bike–it took a few times for him to admit he kinda needed me at the start.

It’s a great quality to have, this independence and self-reliance, and I have always supported and encouraged it myself or by making sure he participated in organizations that did the same, such as attending Montessori for preschool and kindergarten.

Still, I often felt like I was missing out on some of the “mommy” stuff I always accepted–and looked forward to–as coming along with having kids.

“I can do it, Mommy,” he always said.

“I know you can,” was my standard reply.  “But there’s nothing wrong with asking for help every now and then.”

The last time I was able to help him with school issues, without seriously damaging his relationship with me, was in 4th grade, when he was being asked to learn the “New” Long Division, which wanted you to divide by starting from the right and going left instead of starting at the left and moving right.  He and I looked at it over and over and over….we went on YouTube and watched videos of this insane process, talked to other parents, who were having just as much trouble….Finally, I taught him the “normal” way to do long division and, when he got it in under a minute and said, “This actually makes sense! Why the hell are they teaching us this other way?” (I allowed the obscenity; it was used in context and I’d been using it plenty myself that night), I wrote a note to his teacher explaining the New Math was against our religion.

His teacher, a lovely lady who knew me well enough to know that she wasn’t going to win this fight anyway, just laughed when she got my note.

But that year was probably the last year my son even allowed me to see his homework, much less advocate for him.

I have learned, through conversations my son and I have had since his father and I divorced, that for the last five years, there was so much tension and animosity going on between me and his dad, my son just stopped asking for help.  He never knew when it would trigger something, either one of his dad’s moods or what seemed to him neverending anger from me, and he also felt like he was adding to the weight I carried: his dad was not happy.  My son knew that, he knew I was trying to help, even if I wasn’t doing a good job of it, and I had him and his sister to take care of, too.

He just dug in his heels and built up that bone-deep independence even more, telling himself, whenever an issue arose, “You can handle this yourself.”

He barely passed his Advanced Algebra course in 7th grade because of this, and he managed to pull off a D in Advanced Geometry by watching YouTube videos.

The mixture of pride and heartbreak that rose in me when he admitted this was a bittersweet tidalwave.

I had failed him, undoubtedly.  And yet….he had found his own way out.

“Thank you,” I said, the only words I could think of to say. “But I’m stronger now.  Let me help you.  When you need it.”

“It’s OK, Mom,” he replied.  “I’m OK.”

And I was resigned to accepting that, while I had somehow managed to be blessed with this child who pulled his own weight in a crisis, I would also never get the chance to let him lean on me as he had allowed me to lean on him.

But as I’m learning, I don’t really know what will happen.

My son has a knee condition with a long Latin name which I forgot a long time ago. Basically, his kneecaps are not growing in pace with the muscles and bones in his legs, and sometimes his knees will slip out of track.  A couple years of Physical Therapy and orthopedic shoes have helped, but there’s not anything permanent we can do until he stops growing. He manages it now, with patience and regular exercise and body awareness.  But running is a huge trigger.

In January, he started P.E., and the curriculum requires running the mile once a week. The second week (“I can do it, Mom; let me handle it”), he was in so much pain he could barely make it to my truck three blocks from school. He finally agreed to go see his Physical Therapist so we could get a note releasing him from the mile run,

His regular PT was already booked, and I could see, as his appontment progressed, that whatever the interim PT was saying to him, it wasn’t good.  At the end of the appointment, she came out with a cheery smile to talk to me “about his treatment.”

On the way to PT, my son and I had discussed the situation, and we agreed he didn’t need to get back into regular treatment.  He had been taking four mile long walks around the neighborhood for the last year without any problems, and he was fully able to get through a karate workout without any problems.  He just needed a note to get out of the mile run.

“So, we should probably schedule two sessions a week for about six months, is what I’m thinking,” said the cheerful PT.  “His hamstrings are tight and his hips are tight and …..” She droned on.

I spared a glance at my son, who was glowering in the dark way only half-grown men can glower. “Hang on, ” I said to her.  To him, “Go outside.  I’ll handle this.”

“Mom–”

“Out,” I said, handing him the keys to the truck.  Then I turned back to the cheerful PT and gave her a smile of my own.

Fifteen minutes later, my son returned.

“Excellent, all righty then, Liam, it was great to meet you,” said Cheerful.  “I’ll see you in six weeks?”

Outside, my son turned to me, “Geez, Mom. You should negotiate hostage situations for the cops.  I left with two appointments a week for six months.  I come back and I have one appointment in six months?”

“They just need to be able to say without a doubt you are under their care.”

“Yeah, I get it, but…geez, Mom.  You didn’t get mad.  When did you get so calm?”

I used to be calm.  I was never the most patient person, but when I became a mother, I felt settled, calm.  Long days would pass and, while I won’t deny I didn’t get stircrazy, I wallowed in the time I spent with him watching trucks rattle down our street or birds at the bird feeders.  I loved lying on the couch and watching him roll his cars over the carpet, where I’d created hills out of pillows. We took walks on the beach and talked about nothing and everything.  When he got mad, I never felt the need to get mad back.

Then his sister was born, and his dad wasn’t happy, and I felt like I was a hostage in my own home, in my own life. I lost my calm, and my impatience came back: the sooner I got through the day, the sooner I could go to sleep and wake up, hopefully start over.  Every day had the possibility to be a new day, a better day.  Soon I was steamrolling through our days together, my days with my husband, my friendships, anger the tide that drove me, waiting for the day when things would be…different.

It wasn’t even about having or not having the courage to leave my children’s father.  It was about me, believing I could fix it, believing I could find my way out of the mess I was only half responsible for, without looking around to see who might be able to help me. “I can do it, Mom,” I used to say to my own mother, long ago.  “I can do it on my own.”

Now I smiled.  I put an arm around my son’s broad back and gave him as much of a hug as an almost-15 year old will allow out in public.  “That’s what I’m here for,” I said.  It was all I needed to say.

“Yeah,” he said.  “OK, then.”

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It freezes me, this packing up of things that have belonged in my world for my entire adult life. I can only do a little at a time before the breathlessness comes over me, every muscle in my body succumbing to the shakes as if I were going through withdrawals.

“I know we’re going through ‘rough’ times right now,” I wrote in a card that I find nestled between a stack of books in the bedroom. “But no matter what, I will always love you.”

No matter what.

I tell my children this: “I will always love you. No matter what.” My son appears to accept this as fact and has never questioned exactly what he might have to do for me to not love him. My daughter is not so easily fooled.

“Will you still love me if I rob a bank?” she has asked.DSC_3026

“Yes. I’ll be disappointed, but I’ll still love you,” I reply.

“Will you still love me if I steal a car?”

“Yes. I will make you take the car back and turn yourself in to the police, but I’ll stand by you. I will still love you.”

“What if I become a vampire?” she says, “and try to drink your blood? Or a zombie, and I try to eat your brains? Will you still love me, no matter what, or will you stake me or chop me in half?”

(Honest, she has not watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Walking Dead. She doesn’t need to.)

I argue that’s a more difficult question, because if she’s a vampire, then she’s a demon, and if she’s a zombie, she’s already dead…but she will have none of it.

“I’m still me. Will you still love me?”

So I tell her yes, I will always love her. I might be disappointed in some of her choices or heartbroken that I might have to stake her if she attacks me, but I will always love her. No matter what.

Or at least, I will love the ‘her’ that she once was.

I don’t tell her that, but it’s the truth at the bottom of the phrase.

“I will always love you. No matter what.”

I don’t know when I signed that card with this phrase exactly, but given what I wrote in its entirety, I can narrow down the ‘when’ to within the last five years. “No matter what” was singularly based in what I thought I could possibly do that would change things at that time. It never occurred to me that my choices and actions might not have anything to do with anything. The end was not controlled by me.

I can go on loving, if I want to, no matter what. But it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t alter the fact that I can only control my choices, my actions–my love.

There is a new box beside the door which will go out when the kids are picked up tomorrow. It’s

SONY DSCnot a big box. But it’s full of meaning. I think. And I can’t do anymore tonight. I need to sit on the deck and let the tremors subside and the breath return. I need to watch the moon rise like it has done for my whole life, and did before I existed, and will continue to do long after I have moved on from this existence.

 

I need to know some things do stay the same.

No matter what.

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Alternate History.

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Today I woke up feeling overwhelmed.  It usually follows a night of dreams fraught with all the stuff I haven’t done or finished or even started yet.  I rarely remember such dreams other than a tangle of dark shadows and frustrated emotions.  I don’t really want to remember the specifics.  It’s enough to wake up feeling overwhelmed.

Seeing as no one else is awake, I jump in to tackle some of my “undones,” hoping to resolve the mess of anxiety roiling in my gut. As I start working on a client’s blog article, my son trails in, tears already on his cheeks because he was so tired last night he and his dad didn’t play the game he’d wanted to play.  My first reaction is to snarl in frustration: I’m not going to get anything done at this rate. But I shove that nasty part away from me, pull him to me so he’s snuggled up against my side (at 11, I wonder how much longer he’ll be willing to lean on me like this) and we talk about why he woke up ready to doom the day.

Genetics?  Environment, growing up in a house where Mom wakes up overwhelmed and, in the past, didn’t handle it so well? It doesn’t matter.  What matters is I focus on the weight of him, the sound of his breathing, his constant 11-year old fidgeting.He gets into the open notes on the laptop in my lap and we talk DNA testing methods.  Apparently comforted, he wanders off to find his dad and see if some of their aborted plans from last night can be resurrected this morning.

Before I can dive back into my work, my daughter flies in on a few thousand sentences and half of a song.  The definition of a morning person, she rarely wakes up on a tide of anxiety or distraught emotions.  Those come later in the day, usually when she stops moving long enough to think about all the things she wants, longs for, dreams of, can’t have. But in the morning…she wakes up as if the day started awhile

 ago and the rest of us are slow to catch-up.

She wants to go to a park. She wants breakfast. She wants to watch TV. Did I notice the sun is out? She wants to know the plan for the day. She doesn’t want to do anything. She wants to play with the dogs. Can she eat the last donut in the box or will her brother get mad?

I stare at my notes, the blank page for my article. I think about the garden that needs weeding, the bookshelves that need moving, the family room that I’ve started priming for paint, the grocery shopping I need to do, the ribs I need to get cooking, the 100 pages of my novel I need to print so I can ready the package for Interested Agent #3….

My heart beats faster and my chest constricts.  It’s not even nine a.m.

My daughter is whirling around the house, dashing from her room to the kitchen, chasing the dogs, singing a song…the sun is shining. She is full of life and zest and…I breathe, focus on the sound of her voice, the memory of my son leaning into my side.

Life could end tomorrow. Would it be any better a life if all my “jobs” were closed out, completed?

I shut my laptop and breathe.

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You don’t often hear that one word in combination with that one name.  But I couldn’t help but feel like I was repeating myself earlier this week when I had to have the “ZIP IT” conversation with my son in regards to his recent epiphanies about Santa.

My son loves knowledge. No matter how heartbreaking or sad or pitiful the subject might be to his personal world-views or the world in general, he absorbs it, finds it enlightening, longs to spread the word with anyone who will listen.

Most of the time, we encourage his desire to teach the world. It can’t hurt to know the facts and figures associated with the Battle of Normandy, or the back story to the Stargate TV series, or the reasons why some physics theorems will never work. But some knowledge CAN hurt. Or at least, maim a little bit.

Both Santa and sex fall into this category for me.

I was twelve when I found out about Santa. It was by accident–my father assumed I knew, and who can blame him? I was twelve–but it still dropped me off a precipice and changed forever the way I saw the world, my parents, and life in general.

I felt the same way when I found out about sex.

My son, having the voracious appetite for knowledge that he does, has suffered no such issues.

He did writhe and moan and gag and fake-vomit for several minutes when he learned about sex for the first time, but when he was done, he was cool about it all. We went on to discuss the responsibility of such information, and how it wasn’t necessarily something he needed to share with his friends or his sister in any situation unless they asked. And if his sister did ask, he should choose his words carefully and forward her to me.

Last week, I found myself saying similar words when he finally stopped using the air quotes he’s been using around Santa Claus’s name and outright announced in a room of others exactly what he knew to be true regarding this tradition.

“Hey,” I said. “Come here for a minute.”

“Huh? Why? I didn’t do it. I wasn’t even in the room where it happened.”

“You’re not in trouble. I just want to talk to you about something.”

“Oh, no,” he groaned. “Can’t I just say I’m sorry and move on?”

(Really, he’s a very well-behaved child and doesn’t get into trouble nearly enough to warrant his fears)

He wouldn’t budge off the couch, so I sat next to him and whispered, “Remember how we talked about some information being for everyone, and some information being private, or at least only for certain situations?”

“Uh-huh,” he nodded.

“Santa is that kind of information. Everyone deserves to decide for themselves when they’re ready to know some things,” I said.

His eyes went wide with understanding and he nodded. “Like, you know,” he said. “Sex and stuff.”

“Exactly,” I said, a little sad that he’d reached this threshold, but relieved, too, that it’s apparently painless for him, in regards to both topics.

It should go without saying that I did come to accept the facts about the birds and the bees.

I wish I could say the same about Santa.

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Today, I discovered that my Chapter Thirteen was actually Chapter Nineteen. Aside from the literal number issue, this is a big difference in terms of story arc. For me, it’s a wonderful big difference: I’m in the process of editing what I consider the “middle” of the book, where a few key pieces of information come to light and also a couple of key plot points evolve. And I was trying not to be horrified and shocked and anxious because the “middle” was not happening in the middle.

Then I discovered my counting error, and the heavens opened and the angels sang.

Briefly, because then I realized that the END was coming up…soon! And I could no longer delay it by playing around with my overall “big picture” arc on the excuse that my middle wasn’t in the middle.

I want to put this book to bed more than anything, and yet I am terrified of what comes after even more than anything.

What in the hell will I do when this book is done?

Don’t tell me to relax. I’m not good at that.

Sure, I have two more book ideas hanging out in my head: one I’ve already written half of, and the other I have an outline for. But I’m not going to be able to go to either of them right away. I’m going to mourn, for a bit of time. This book and the characters in it have been part of my every waking thought–and often dreaming thought, too–for several years now. I’m tired of them, and I want to be done with them, but I will miss them, too.

They’re like my best friends, if me and my best friends went vacationing in a teeny tiny cabin far out in the middle of nowhere and got snowed in for several years.

It’s not even about the time it will take to hear from any agents I’ve submitted to. After years of submitting short stories and poetry and not hearing from editors for up to a year, waiting doesn’t bother me. I just tuck all of that away and pretend it’s not happening, kind of like how I don’t see the dirt on the living room rug when I don’t want to. But thinking about the days when my imaginary best-ies are gone from my daily rituals is both a relief and yawning wide open with quiet desperation.

A good friend of mine, who is the president of the PTSA at our kids’ school, assured me she could find stuff for me to do, if necessary.

I’m glad I have something to fall back on.

For now, I’m off to continue muddling through the middle while not thinking about what comes after.

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I am locked in a metal cage that is spinning around several hundred feet up in the air. It could be several miles–I’m really bad at distances and measurements–but I don’t really want to think about it too much. My teeth are clamped shut and my lips scrunched up together. My legs are splayed, straining for purchase against the metal floor, and my arms are locked in front of me, my hands flat against the grid through which I can see the trees and neighborhood school and the road and the blue, blue sky flying by.

My eight year old son is next to me, and he has control of the metal bar that spins our personal cage around and around even as the creaking, shrieking machinery spins around the wheel we are attached to. At one point I did try to wrestle the bar from his control, but at eight years old and as a budding karate master (he has his purple belt), he has become suddenly, sometimes frighteningly, stronger then me in many areas. Holding on to this bar is one of them. He pushes on the bar even as I am using all my might to hold it back so that we don’t spin. And he lets loose a battle yell as our cage turns over, hanging us upside down, as the giant wheel we are attached to spins us into a descending ark.

I want to scream, too, but I clamp my lips even tighter and hold it in, afraid that if I start I won’t know how to stop.

All I can think is, I used to live and die for amusement park rides. What happened to me?

I remember my dad telling me, at some point, that amusement park rides were no longer fun for him, that he thought too much about what could go wrong. I also remember thinking, “You are so old. How sad for you. I will never be you.”

Of course, he also taught me to “never say never,” and recently I’ve started saying that to my kids.

Only the summer before, while watching my kids go on one kiddie ride after another, I was longing for the summer when my kids would be old enough to go on a “big” ride with me.

Now, here I was, with an eight year old so excited to finally reach the height requirements that he could barely speak, and all I could think of was, “Oh! God! Jehovah! Zeus or Athena! Don’tLetTheMachineLoseANutOrBoltOrAnythingImportant!” I can’t even open my eyes, for Christ’s sake! I’m not that old yet, am I?

Was that it, then? Had I reached the magical threshold when I could no longer find the simple thrill in freefall?

Maybe.

Maybe, I think as our cage comes out of freefall, coasts across the platform, begins another slow ascension and my son promises not to rock the cage if I open my eyes “just for a minute,” maybe we all reach a certain point in our lives when there are so many little thrills we don’t need the big ones.

I shake my head at hum and purse my lips. I can’t even talk, I am so terrified of all the things that might go wrong.

Of course, the last time I climbed into any sort of amusement park ride, cage or otherwise, was before I had kids. Back then, I didn’t care about school bombings or the economy. Pedophiles and kidnappers were bad people, but I was too old to take candy from strangers and, not coming from old or new money, I really doubted anyone would kidnap me. Let’s not even get into drivers who thought the neighborhood streets were the Autobahn, schoolyard bulllies, black market handguns or suicide bombers on planes. The bottom line was, if anything bad did happen to me, it happened to me and ME alone (my husband and parents and friends and family–they would have been heartbroken, of course, but they would have survived).

No, before I had kids, the most thrill I got out of my day was when a male friend was late to work one morning and the admin called up to ask me if I knew where he was. We came from different directions, and we took different trains, but the insinuation was that I knew where he was because we PLANNED coming in at different times. You know, like celebrities leave restaurants at different times. Gosh darn it, I said, you figured us out.

I (and my friend) had a lot of fun with that one for a long time.

But in the end, it still wasn’t nearly as much fun as whipping around in the Scrambler at Great America, or climbing the biggest roller caoster knowing that two seconds after you’re hurtling down at 80 miles per hour, you’re going to flip upside down and for a moment, just a single moment, feel like you’re flying.

No, before I had kids, I didn’t have the daily thrill of wondering if my son would finally choke on his food, he was laughing so hard. Or the constant excitement of waiting for my daughter to flip off the swing and go flying across the patio because she refuses to hold on with both hands. Of course, I also hadn’t experienced the edge-of-my-seat tension watching that same daughter, just younger, let go of the couch and walk across the room by herself for the first time. Or the pure trill of elation when my son received a Certificate of Recognition from his school for “displaying great teamwork with his classmates and table group”–teamwork being one of his…ummm….troublespots.

So, maybe it’s not age so much as the lifestyle I’m now living. Maybe I’m just overwhelmed. Maybe my thrill-o-meter is full to capacity.

Maybe I’m just afraid that if I think about how all of that stuff makes me feel—really, really makes me feel–I’ll start screaming and never stop.

I open my eyes and look over at my son. I don’t think I’ve ever seen his face quite so animated, his eyes so alight with excitement. His smile is so wide it’s gotta’ hurt. Or does it? I don’t remember my smile ever hurting when I was a kid. It only started hurting after college when I had to smile all the time at work.

“Oh man, oh man oh here we go, Mommy, here we go again!” my son yells. He is literally foaming at the corners of his mouth, he is that excited. He braces his legs against the floor, but not out of need to feel ground under his feet, I can tell. Simply so he can get better purchase on the controller-bar. Oh yeah. Here we go again, all right. We’re at the pinnacle of the ride again, about to go into freefall, and my son is going to flip us upside down and right side up and every which way in between. He pulls back on the bar and we start to tilt forward.

For a very, very long second we are hanging like that, perpindicular to the ground while the big wheel we are attached to stops to let a rider in at the bottom.

All the bad stuff starts to fly through my mind: the nuts and bolts than can fly off at any moment, the carny not paying attention, the economy, terrorists, the state of our checking account–then we are falling, heading straight for the ground even as my son is pulling back hard on the bar and we are rolling around in a jerking circle.

His screams roar out of his belly like a hurricane, and for the first time, I understand there is absolutle terror beneath his delight. But instead of suppressing it, instead of fearing what his fear will breed, he releases it as easily as our cage is pulled down by gravity.

My stomach flip-flops. Our cage begins its plummet downwards. We are upside down, my ponytail tickling my nose, and even I’m pretty sure I’m going to die, for just a moment, just a single second, I feel like I’m spinning, free of everything, elation and joy co-mingling with the fear until I can no longer tell the difference.

Without the one, how can there be the other?

I open my mouth and, inching my fingers over my son’s so we are both pulling back on the bar, I scream.

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A few months ago, after my son and husband caught the new Indiana Jones movie at the theater, my son put together his very own Indiana Jones outfit. For most of the summer, dressed in his overly long tshirt (worn backwards so only the white, not the brand on the front, showed), long-sleeved brown checked shirt that stands in for Indy’s leather jacket, and his floppy sun hat (REI calls it a ‘Research Rambler’), he ran around the yard singing the Indiana Jones theme song and lassoing trees with the homemade whip which he made from stripping a jump rope of its plastic handles.

The best part was that he kept his rope stuffed in his shorts. Not in a pocket–inside his shorts. Even now, several months after the Indy costume has been put to bed, I can still get a giggle at the memory of the looks on others’ faces when Liam would reach into his khaki shorts and pull out that rope. It was a good thing his tshirt was so long.

I didn’t ever have the heart to tell him that some moms were moving their children to the other side of the park when he dove into his pants and came out with a length of rope. After all, even if most of the kids were momentarily stunned when he reached into his waistband for his whip (ha-ha), once he had the whip in hand, they all looked a little envious that he had a whip in the first place, not to mention the handy storage space. Kids don’t, after all, have our framework to find humor or dismay in such behavior.

He was really proud of his costume, and I was, too: this is the same boy who had always refused to dress up until moments before we were leaving the house to Trick-or-Treat. He never got into the whole costume thing that some of his peers did when they were toddlers, and the closest he’s come in recent years to dressing up when it’s NOT Halloween is playing ‘Pretty, Pretty Princess’ with his sister (the game requires players to wear jewelry as they win it). So, maybe you can understand why I didn’t tell him to find a new whip storage, or ask him to take off the outfit completely, even when I realized he was sleeping in it.

I was afraid that if I asked him to take it off, he would never put it on again, and I wanted to enjoy this usually wise-beoynd-his-years boy who, for that brief moment in time was just young. In short, I was afraid if I made him take it off, even to wash, he would never become Indy again. Turns out I was half right.

The last time he was in full Indy gear was a very hot day, at least hot for us in the Pacific Northwest. The kids and I were walking to the park, only three blocks away, but Liam was, as I said, in full Indy gear. When my just-short-of-an-order suggestion to take off his “leather jacket,” was met with point-blank refusal, I tried logic, which usually works on him.

“It has to be 85 degrees out,” I told him, “and it’s humid today.”

“Indiana Jones doesn’t take off his jacket, and he doesn’t take off his hat,” I was told.

“Indiana Jones isn’t real,” I countered.

“Don’t care. Not doing it.”

I suppose, in retrospect, I should have forced him to take it off. But as I said, I was so very reluctant to do that. Worst case, I figured he’d get hot and take it off himself. I guess I didn’t realize how very wedded he was to being Indiana Jones.

Despite the abundance of shade at the park, my son chose the most sunniest area in which to run around and whip out his…whip…(sorry, but the puns and little jokes are endless, here) for at least half an hour. He had a drink of water, and then climbed onto the tire swing with his sister, who can easily achieve a Guiness World Record of Tire Swing Spinning, even after a full meal. He did this several times: play, swing, play, swing. Then we played a game of “Icebergs and Boats,” which he made up and included lots and lots of running and lassoing. It only lasted ten minutes, if that, because I felt the ruless were slanted in the boats’ favors (I was the iceberg, of course), but it was apparently long enough.

My son climbed back onto the tire swing with his crazy spin-addicted sister and within minutes he was pale and clammy and begging me to stop.

Two minutes later, despite moving him to the shade and having long drinks of water, he was close to vomiting. At that point, I forced him to give up his “leather jacket” so I could soak it in the drinking fountain and put it over his head.

“Nooooo!” he cried in outrage, but when I reminded him of the scene in one of the Indy movies where indy was riding through the desert and tied his shirt over his head, Liam agreed that it would, in fact, be something Indy would do. Still, he fell into a quiet which disturbed me.

We made it home. I tucked Liam onto a picnic bench in the shade and my daughter and I half-ran, half-walked up the three blocks to the house. We arrived just as my husband was pulling in, so we piled into the car and drove back to pick up Liam, who was still clammy and pale and very, very quiet. That night, he went into his room and, for the first time in months, undressed for bed.

His Indy outfit was in the hamper, and it wasn’t just a holding place for the next morning.

Liam has gone on to play Indiana Jones since then, but without the outfit. He has decided to be Indiana Jones for Halloween, even. But instead of resurrecting his homemade outfit, he chose a store-bought costume.

“Yours is much better,” I told him. “Ehhh,” he replied. “I can’t wear that anymore.”

I didn’t press, because I sensed he wouldn’t have been able to put his feelings into words, anyway. Much like that alien skin that crawled onto Peter Parker in the second (or third?) Spiderman, that outfit was a whole unit for Liam. Unlike an alien skin that can regenerate, Liam’s alter ego–the illusion he created for himself–was destroyed once a single piece was taken away from it.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper to him sometimes at night, when he is fast asleep and there’s no chance of him hearing me. Even as I’m doing it, I know I am neither the first nor the last mother to be sorry for having to do what is necessary, anymore then this will be the last time I will wish I could have done something different.

“I’m sorry,” I tell my sleeping boy. “But sometimes Mommy’s gotta’ do what’s she gotta’ do.”

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I believed in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy until I was twelve. I swear. Sure, there were rumblings about them not being real from as early as first or second grade, but I resolutely refused to buy into the rumor. When my friends entered into blatant, bold discussions about their parents being involved in the ruse, I simply did not join in. It was obvious to me that they had their truths, and I had mine. Of course, doubt occasionally surfaced in my mind–the older we got it seemed like everyone I knew no longer believed, so maybe there was something to the gossip. But I never saw any evidence to support their claims. I probably wasn’t looking very hard, but I never saw any evidence to support my own beliefs, either. True believers don’t need evidence. They simply believe, through every corner of their being, without question.

The year I was twelve, my dad asked me if I wanted to help with the wrapping of the Santa presents. While neither he nor my mom and I had ever had a discussion about the reality of Santa, in his defense–I was twelve (almost thirteen would be closer to the mark). My sister was nine, and she was one of those kids on the other side of the fence already. So he probably figured my belief was just a facade for my little brother.

It wasn’t, and I will never forget that moment when my belief system came crumbling down upon me like the very earth itself. Dramatic, yes, but that’s how I felt. I can still see myself, standing in the living room, right before the stairs, with my dad saying those words and then flashing me a conspiratorial grin as he jogged upstairs, off to commit fraud with wrapping paper and “Love, Santa” labels.

From that day forward, I looked forward to having my own children, so that I might relive the true spirit of Christmas and Easter and losing teeth through them.

Instead, the god of Desire was up to its usual mischief, because my first child has been wisely wary of the whole Mysterious Midnight Visitors since Day One.

My son was one and a half when Santa started freaking him out. He didn’t like the idea that Santa would come down our chimney, while he was sleeping. I know; you say, “He was only 20 months. Did he really understand?” Trust me. He understood. The only way we were able to stop his rising hysterics that Christmas Eve was to promise we’d get Santa to leave the presents on the doorstep, outside, and not to come in the house. Thankfully, my son was young enough not to question exactly when we brought the presents inside the next morning, so it was a good Christmas despite his fears.

We decided it was just some free-floating anxiety, and it wouldn’t happen the next year.

We were wrong. The following Christmas Eve, when he was two and a half, we had to perform several almost-OCD-like checks on the windows, doors and fireplace grate before he went to bed–to make sure Santa wouldn’t be getting in no way, no how.

I began to wonder if he’d been murdered by red-velvet wearing burglars in a past life.

My son’s anxieties have lessened as he got older, and when he was five we were even able to “let” Santa come down the chimney. Having a little sister has definitely helped: while his serious doubt about magic and Santa’s ability to exceed the speed of light proves he doesn’t completely buy into the whole Santa deal, he definitely puts on a good front for Little Sis. I’m also convinced he’s accepted Santa’s existence, for now, because of the end result: all those pretty presents underneath the tree.

But absolute belief? Down deep life sustaining belief? Not for my boy.

Strangely, the Easter Bunny and, later, the Tooth Fairy, have not disturbed him nearly as much. While he’s not real sure what the heck a Fairy would want with a bunch of teeth, he apparently puts it down to her business, and is OK with her sneaking into his bedroom and leaving money underneath his pillow. He was, in fact, very excited for his first Tooth Fairy visit, and while he has questioned her ability to fly, as a tiny creature, with a big bag of teeth or heavy coins, nothing much has come of it. He likes money, maybe even more than gift-wrapped presents, so he’s apparently made his peace.

As for the Easter Bunny? I like to think–imagine, my husband says–that I have enjoyed at least a little of that absolute, down deep life sustaining belief in the Easter Bunny. Easter has always excited him, and we never saw any anxiety about the giant bunny hopping into our house in the middle of the night. I suppose a giant bunny sneaking into your house is more benign then an actual man–red-velvet wearing or otherwise–sneaking into your house. After all, CNN never reports about giant bunnies murdering people in their sleep.

Last year my son did spend a few hours ruminating on the Easter Bunny’s ability to hop so fast he could hide eggs all over the place in one night, and he did question the Bunny’s storage capacity for carrying all the candy needed. But these were merely theoretical musings, and we as a family came up with several creative ways this could be possible, if we did away with a few rules of physics (if we’re ruminating with my son and my husband, the rules of physics are always taken seriously, and they view my motto, “Anything is possible” as sheer heresy).

For the few weeks before Easter this year, my son has been talking about staying up late to catch the Easter Bunny, or setting a trap to catch him in the act. I laughed and played along with trap variations until Good Friday, when my curiosity got the better of me. “What,” I said, “exactly will you do with the Easter Bunny if you catch him?” “Prove he’s real,” my son said. “Or prove he’s just a man in a bunny suit.” “Why?” I asked him. “Who’s been saying he’s not real?” “Well,” my son said. “Some of my classmates don’t believe in other life forms outside of this universe.”

Not sure we’d heard him correctly, my husband and I both said, almost simultaneously, “What do other life forms have to do with the Easter Bunny?”

Then my son gave us the preview of his teenage “You are such idiots” look, opening his wide eyes even wider and sort of rolling them at us, dropping his jaw and throwing back his shoulders. “He’s a Giant Bunny,” my son said, “who lays eggs and hops around the world delivering candy. There’s no life form like that on this planet. He can’t be from Earth! He’s got to be of alien origin!”

For the first time, I have hope that little twelve year old diehard believer did live on in him, a little bit–that he didn’t get all of his dad’s black-and-white views on life. He’s thinking harder and better then I ever did, but…there’s nothing wrong with a little skepticism to balance out the dogma .

The world might be a better place, if we all thought long and hard about our own down deep life sustaining beliefs and didn’t just naively follow our convictions.

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