(don’t) call me maybe

I became a parent in the prehistoric age when it seemed that only people who received a paycheck for their jobs had that nifty little item called a cell phone (in other words, not stay-at-home-moms like me at the time).

I did have the very high-tech call waiting feature on my home phone and eventually, caller ID, but if I was out at the library or the grocery store, or even the backyard pushing someone on the swing, you weren’t going to get in touch with me.

Before I finally got a phone, probably around 2000, there were a few instances that I’d return home to find messages from the school nurse or my husband on the answering machine trying to hunt me down to fetch a sick child or attend to some other mini-emergency. But it never made me panic.

And even now, with all the texts and e-mails and iPhone and Facebook, I don’t feel compelled to check in every time I get back from a trip to the bathroom (although I do like to keep an eye on my Patch and fix its hair fairly often).

So when my daughter went away to Italy over spring break with her high school during her junior year and decided to leave her cell phone at home, I was surprised by the anxiety I felt by not being able to check in with her while she was so far away from home.

I assumed, though, that she would either use one of the chaperones’ phones or get herself to a pay phone at some point over the course of the nine-day trip to let me know she was okay. By Friday, the day before her return, it became very clear that she wasn’t of the same mindset: I never heard from her.

On the one hand, I was proud of her independence and knew that no news truly was good news; she was probably having the time of her life seeing the Vatican and eating gelato and had nothing to complain about.

But there was another part of me that was sorry she didn’t need me to share all the details of her adventure: she had her friends for that.

When I told my neighbor Susan that I hadn’t heard from my daughter in over a week, she seemed fairly incredulous.

But Susan, who’s about six years younger than me and whose oldest child was seven at the time, seems to be part of a younger generation of parents that are used to being connected all the time. She recently was reprimanded by a fellow yogi for keeping her phone next to her mat during class.

I don’t have a problem with unplugging; in fact, I went away for a few days by myself and easily detached from the day-to-day communicating associated with work and home. (I bragged about that to my boss who said, “Great, that’s called a vacation.”)

But not knowing where my daughter was and what she was doing was difficult and a precursor to what life will look like ten years from now when all the kids are out of the house, and while it’s freeing, it also makes me nostalgic for the days when we even traveled en masse to the bathroom.

But when I went to the high school to pick up my European traveler from the trip, I easily spotted her towering over her peers and when she saw me, she broke out into a big smile and said, “There’s my mommy!” She made her way over to where I was standing and folded me in a big hug and I knew that not calling me was nothing personal. She was just growing up.

This essay was originally posted on Patch on April 7, 2011.

Anchors Away

Twenty years ago today, I bought a car. Or at least, I started the day buying a car and ending it having a baby. It all happened so fast.

My husband at the time and I, babies ourselves, were about to have one and having just moved to the suburbs from Hoboken, were in the market for a second car. I had already started my maternity leave – unable to cope with the long train ride in and out of the city each day – and he was off for the Columbus Day holiday.

And so, much like Columbus whose journey brought him to an unexpected destination, we set sail in search of an extra set of wheels and ended up with me barfing up a giant meal in the hospital before giving birth.

Here’s what I discovered on that day all those years ago: being a mom is hard.

For months, I had envisioned all sorts of happy scenarios as I rubbed my growing belly and religiously devoured What to Expect but none of it prepared me for the reality of actually having the baby. I had been so focused on the actual birth that I was not prepared for the day-to-day slog of parenting.

And so I had my truly excellent natural childbirth, bringing my 7-pound son easily into the world, and then everything went off script. He couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t expel the pesky placenta. We both labored until being whisked off to the neonatal unit for him and the operating room for me.

I ended up on the sad-mommy floor, the section of the maternity ward that shielded moms whose pregnancies went awry from all the happy families cooing over their newborns with rooms overflowing with balloons and doting grandparents. It was like being in the Land of Misfit Toys, where for one reason or another, our square-wheeled babies couldn’t come join us for a snuggle in our hospital bed.

For many years afterwards – long before I had to end my marriage or had a child slip into the darkness of depression – the hardest thing I ever had to do was leave that hospital five days later without my baby. I had to leave him there, alone in an incubator with tubes running down his throat and wires attached to a shaved patch on his tiny head, and that, my friends, sucked.

I remember standing on the curb in front of the hospital with my mom and my mother-in-law waiting for my husband to come pull the car around and trying not to totally lose it, when the mother-in-law, probably trying to help take my mind off the dire situation, asked me how much weight I needed to lose.


And of course, the rest happened so fast. The baby quickly recovered and in less than a week, was home and crying all the time and making me wonder what the hurry was getting him out of the hospital in the first place. While he was there, I had been religiously pumping breast milk at home so that when he could finally be fed, I would be more than ready to accommodate his little thirst. We immediately began passing thrush back and forth to each other, which for him meant a little yeasty white patches inside his pink mouth and for me it meant searing pain across my left breast. Like it was on fire (which probably didn’t compare to the mind altering pain of the cracked nipples his siblings induced while feeding in the future, but I digress).

So, here’s what I learned 20 years, three more kids and one less husband later, I was reading the wrong book all those years ago. What to Expect When You’re Expecting? That’s completely misleading. Moms-to-be should read something like, You’ll Never Know What to Expect Parenting or Never-Say-Never as a Mom.

Because we are in many ways setting sail in unchartered waters when we become parents. We think we are clever, with our course clearly mapped and plugged into the GPS of our lives. But kids are tricky and bring with them lots of variables, their insecurities and emotions are their winds and tides that can blow you off course in a heartbeat. So we often end up standing on the shores of some strange land, not where we expected to be, much like Columbus ending up in the Bahamas rather than Asia. But here’s the thing: as much as I was sure 20 years ago that my life would follow a certain trajectory, I’ve discovered that it’s better in the Bahamas.

the dog days are over

I went for a run this morning, the same three-mile loop I’ve made through this small town for years, and as I turned the corner back into my neighborhood, I felt that quick pang of sadness remembering that was usually the exact moment in the run that I would let go of Rudy’s leash and let him sprint ahead towards our driveway and home. Oftentimes, he would bend down and pick the end of the leash up in his mouth and prance the rest of the way, proving to me that he was, indeed, the man and didn’t need my assistance.

Rudy, my 10-year-old Golden Retriever who personified unconditional love, died fairly suddenly six months ago and at least once a day, there is that split second when I remember that he’s gone. When I am reminded that that’s not his big body I think I see outside on the deck, pressed up against the glass door or splayed under my desk, as it he weren’t 95 pounds of hair – oh, all that hair – shoved under my feet.

He was a glorious creature, my fifth child and, possibly – aside from the poop eating – potentially one of the best of the bunch. He made me a better mom, too, and taught me to appreciate those in my care.

Since Rudy’s death, people naturally ask me whether I’ll get another dog. Initially, while still in the depths of grief – when looking at the empty space under the kitchen table would trigger uncontrollable sobbing and screaming his name – I quickly dismissed the notion of bringing another pet into my life. “How,” I asked, “could I live through that again?”

But as the initial pain has softened to a dull ache, I’ve decided that it’s not my reluctance to open myself up to love and then loss (because as my friend Kathy so kindly pointed out, “That’s life.”).

No, I don’t want a new dog because my life in no longer moving in that direction. I no longer want to manage waste. You know, poop. I don’t want to have to deal with it up someone’s back, in their pants, on the carpet, or once, even on my bed.

But that’s a story for another day.

The cat is biding her time until she can find a way to oust me.

Two of my four children are now away at college and you know what? It’s worth every tuition penny, having them and their thorny teenage personalities and late night potato chip eating eight hours away.

For as much as I carried on to my now-ex about needing another baby (or two) to feel complete (I really said that), having just two kids at home to take care of rocks. And now that Rudy’s not around giving me guilty eyes every time I walk past, reminding me it had been days since he’d been for a walk, it’s nice to have so much less to feel guilty about.

Ironically, my neighbor Susan brought home the most adorable 12-week-old Golden Retriever puppy yesterday and it did give me the same feeling that a nursing mother has seeing another infant. I texted to see if I could come over and meet him, and grabbed my drink I had just poured and ran over. There he was, as perfect a puppy as any LL Bean catalog had ever seen, all blonde and fluffy with a chill disposition and frankly, the spitting image of Rudy at that age.

Susan’s three boys – all under 10 – couldn’t believe the dog was there either, and were besides themselves, alternately telling the puppy to fetch, come, sit stay and then carrying the little guy around.

I stood with Susan in her kitchen and marveled at the puppy’s cuteness and the boys’ excitement and told her that it reminded me of when I would bring a new baby home from the hospital, the new baby was generally the least of my problems.

We stared at the puppy a little longer, and then I picked up my drink and went home to my quiet house and settled in for the night.

And liked it like that.