My baby brother turned 25 this week. We went to his birthday party on Saturday to celebrate with my family. At some point during the festivities, the boys and I took a walk around the back of my brother’s property, walking up the road to the top of the hill.
With the snow melted and spring trying to make its way into the land, the fallen branches from a long, hard winter littered the trail. The boys decided to work together and clear the large branches out of the way for their uncle, happily lugging and tugging and tossing sticks and limbs and even small logs off the trail and into the woods.
My brother and I don’t really have any memories of traipsing about the woods together. I have very specific memories of hanging out in the woods by myself and later with teenage friends, but none really with my brother. I do remember the time we took a walk down by the creek with my mom when my brother was around two-years-old. He went to throw a big rock in the creek. It hit me in the temple instead; I still swear he did it on purpose.
We weren’t always close. Eight years quantifies and qualifies as a pretty decent age gap. By the time he was old enough to play, I was slamming into preteendom and wanted nothing more than to be alone with my music and my notebooks. He just wanted to be with me, standing outside my bedroom with his toe crossing the line into my room to torment me. I would scream, “MOOOOOOOM! HE’S BOTHERING ME!” And he was, of course, but I see it for what it was now—hindsight being what it is. He just wanted to spend time with me. And then I left when he was ten, for college and the path toward the life that I now live.
Sometimes he’s still a ten-year-old gangly looking boy in my head instead of a tall, broad-shouldered working man, husband, and father. It blows my mind sometimes, when I watch him holding his baby boy as he flips hamburgers on the grill.
The boys cleared sticks all the way to the top of the hill before racing back down the other side. I know that their close-in-age proximity isn’t a guarantee they’ll be friends when they grow up, but I enjoy watching them now as they work and play and laugh and argue and do everything together. I also like getting to know my brother as an adult and as a friend.
Now I find myself saying my very favorite sentence of the year, in any number of variations: “GO OUTSIDE!” “GO PLAY OUTSIDE!” “GET THEE OUTSIDE, MY YOUNG LADS!” No, really, I’ve said that to the boys.
The best outside time has always been and will always be our after dinner playtime in the fresh air. Right now, the fresh air is tinged with the cool sweetness of early spring. We find ourselves popping back inside for jackets as the sun dips lower on the horizon; we find ourselves seeking out the spots that the sunlight still touches, still warms, and avoiding the fast-cooling shadows.
Baseball season also began at the end of March, and the slowly warming temperatures mean that we’re spending some time in the front yard—as the backyard is still super mushy—throwing the ball around from glove to glove. The sound of the ball hitting the glove is now our soundtrack, a new sound this year as the boys have stopped running away from the ball and have found comfort placing themselves directly in the ball’s path.
The love of my life tosses the baseball high, high, higher still into the air while the intended recipient of the ball giggles, neck craned and eyes strained to keep it in sight. Too far forward one time, too far back another. And then, smack, into the glove it falls. With BigBrother, we begin to expect the smack, the catch, the happy giggles. LittleBrother, two years younger, still rocking the t-ball pace—slower, happier—isn’t always quite there, isn’t always under the ball in the right place.
And then, it happens. As it does. Smack.
I actually had to ask him to stop and smile at me again, because I missed the first excited look on his face when he caught the pop fly that evening, in the hour after dinner, the golden sun setting all around us. I missed capturing it with my camera because the joy I felt by witnessing the joy he felt meant I forgot to press the button. Instead, I yelped and cheered and smiled the smile of a mother whose child is happy and proud.
I sat and watched as they happily caught ball after ball, pop fly after pop fly, grounder after grounder. They threw the ball back, sometimes right on target and sometimes off in a random direction. I smiled at the joy, at the sunset, at the cool, crisp feeling in the air, at the lack of arguing, at the time spent together, at the joy of baseball, at the innocence of it all.
And then LittleBrother took a baseball to the face and the moment ended. But still, it happened.
I went in to this year’s Well Child visit with the boys trying to remember to talk about eczema and a lengthy recovery time from a series of illnesses.
I left victorious!
Let me explain.
As one nurse asked me a lot of questions, another nurse took the boys off for height, weight, vision tests (both passed, 20/20), and hearing tests (BigBrother failed again). Once returned to us, the boys gowned up and waited for the doctor to arrive. While we waited, the nurse handed us pink sheets of paper with their height and weight—and a series of age appropriate information. Some things were about development, but a lot of the information on the sheet talked about healthy choices for growing kids. Good choices, as we call them in our house.
The boys began to look over these sheets.
“Limit screen time to two hours a day,” one boy read aloud. “Hey! We do even better than that! We don’t have any screen time on the weekdays.”
“Yes, I told you that mommy and daddy weren’t just making up rules to drive you crazy,” I said with a smile.
“Get your zzz’s! You need at least 10-11 hours of sleep at night,” the other boy read. “So is that why we go to bed at 7:30.”
“You need to be in a booster seat until you are 4’9″ tall and you need to be in the back seat until 13 years of age.” A pause. “Mommy, how old will I be when I’m 4’9″?”
I looked at my husband and shrugged. “Hopefully before you drive, buddy.”
Other things they read rang true with things we try to do around these parts. Wear your helmet when you ride your bike or scooter. You should be active for at least an hour a day. Milk with meals, water between meals, less than eight ounces of juice if you do drink it—and it should be 100% juice. Snack on fruits and vegetables. Have a fire plan! Brush your teeth at least twice a day; don’t forget to floss.
And then, the kicker.
“Keep screens out of the bedroom.”
This has been a question we’ve been asked eleventy billion times recently. “Mommy, when can I have a TV in my room?”
I always want to reply, “When pigs fly,” or, “When the cows come home,” or, “Never.” I was decidedly not allowed to have a TV in my room growing up, and I let my parents know that I felt my civil rights were being infringed upon… on a somewhat daily basis. I don’t even know what my problem was; we didn’t get cable until I was nearly 13-years-old because rural Western Pennsylvania in the 90′s and I was involved in All the Things. I didn’t even watch TV much when I managed to be at home between practices and performances and All the Things. But I was adamant that children deserved television sets in their bedrooms.
I get it now.
I actually get a lot of why my parents made certain choices on behalf of me and my brother; I don’t always 100% agree with them, but for the most part, they were really spot on with a lot of things. I hope that a lot of what my husband and I are doing as parents on behalf of these two boys falls somewhere in the Decent Parenting spectrum when they look back on all we have done, someday far, far in the future when they’re trying to figure out how to parent their own children (should they have any; and if not, just as they sit around and reminisce).
But back to the doctor’s office.
The boys continued to read over their sheets, kind of in shock that their parents were making good choices, not just choices made simply to annoy the bejeebus out of them. The doctor came in and only further drove home some of the points, especially the screen time rule. When they told her that they don’t have any technology Monday through Friday afternoon, she all but applauded us. I kind of felt like BigBrother in his Buzz Lightyear costume, a little puff-chested.
The feeling was soon deflated when LittleBrother had to get a vaccine after I told him, prior to leaving the house, that he definitely didn’t need any more shots. Oops? He shot me the, “You’re lying” look. Oops?
Lying or just forgetful, I am the proud mother of two healthy brothers—who might just believe that their mother isn’t totally “ruining their lives” like a kid on the bus said to them regarding the no technology rule. No really. “Your mom is ruining your life.” Just like my mom and dad ruined mine with the no TV in my room, kid. So totally ruined, dontcha think?
I should know better. I should know how to handle this, both the logistical issues and the emotions that come in waves. I should be better at this by now, all these many years later.
I am not.
– __ — __ —
My daughter’s mom texted me with info about the Munchkin’s next show. She plays a mean electric guitar, and recently started singing at these shows. She’s been doing them for years, her talent growing with each performance. I watch each video, my jaw dropping a bit lower each time, and marvel at the beauty and talent radiating from her being on that stage.
I’ve never made it to a show.
I have tried so many times to make it work, to even just drive the nearly seven hour drive to arrive just in time for a show only to turn around and head back immediately after—but I’ve never been able to make it.
Every time I miss a show, I am filled with such guilt. And then I have guilt about my guilt. I feel guilty that I cannot be there; I want to be there. I feel guilty about wanting to be there; I should be happy and present in this amazing life I have been given.
I won’t be able to make her upcoming show. It takes place on a Saturday and a Sunday—during baseball season. And not just practice season, but during the games portion of our yearly love affair with America’s pastime. We try really hard not to miss games, save for last year when BigBrother missed his very last game because we had to leave on the vacation that we scheduled six months prior to getting the baseball schedule. The boys love baseball. We, the parents, love that they love baseball. Practices started this week, and we’ve already noticed a big difference in the way BigBrother throws. It’s going to be a great season for both boys, for us as their parents, for the grandparents that come to watch the games.
This is where fire life and parenting and baseball season and open adoption collide, and not in good ways. My husband works his normal 24-hour shift the Saturday in question, meaning that I am the responsible parent for getting kids to the field at Early O’Clock on Saturday morning for the LittleBrother’s t-ball game, to get BigBrother shuffled to his field in time to practice for his coach pitch game, to gather up one kid and all of our stuff and make it over to watch the other kid’s game—that is if we are blessed with two closer games. I will do all of that solo, save for a grandparent or two, that weekend. These responsibilities are a joy to me, save for rain and cold weather and dealing with other parents, as I love watching my sons do something they love so dearly.
It comes at a cost.
A cost I never considered when weighing the pros and cons of placing my daughter for adoption. A cost no one at the non-agency never mentioned. A cost no one was talking about at the time in online spaces, not that I had reliable, consistent Internet access at the time to use in order to research these topics. I believed what the non-agency told me, that someday I would have kids of “my own” and all would be well.
And it is well.
But the push me, pull you of wanting to be with my daughter and wanting to be present with my sons remains so hard. I physically cannot be in two places at once. My sons deserve my presence, but doesn’t my daughter too?
It feels useless, even counterproductive, to keep saying, “I just didn’t know.” But, oh, I just didn’t know.
– __ — __ —
Finding the balance of parenting and being a birth mother involved in a fully open adoption remains a constant struggle. While most things get easier as time passes, this elusive balance seems to get harder and harder to find. It was easy to visit four times a year before my husband and I had children. It was easier to visit frequently before Munchkin started school. It was harder then, but even harder when BigBrother started school and, yes, harder still this year when LittleBrother started school. Adding in the plethora of extra-curricular activities the elementary aged children are involved in, an adorable baby, weekends that are pre-scheduled for them, extended family, vacations, friends, and adults who have their own interests and desires and things to do and… it feels impossible. It is no one’s fault; it just is.
The weight of my choices feels too heavy to carry some days, especially as of late. I sit in the stillness sometimes and wonder how I’ll ever manage to endure a lifetime of this: this loss, this ache, this reality that a decision I made negatively affects my parented children, this never ending battle of logistics and emotion.
This feels like the longest December of my life, and I really don’t see it ending any time soon.
We influence our children in ways we don’t realize, in ways we couldn’t predict. Just by being ourselves, our human selves, we introduce things and concepts and foods and all sorts of stuff to our children. While we talk so much these days about mindful parenting, about being careful and intentional with our time and what we expose our kids to, we are human beings with likes and desires and experiences and failures and hopes and dreams.
Our children deserve all of that; our children benefit from our humanness.
– __ — __ –
I sat across the bench seat of the gold pickup truck from my dad; one of his hands on the stick shift and the other draped across the steering wheel. The wind from my open passenger side window whipped through my long brown hair, tangling it in knots behind my head. The sun streamed through the windshield; too short for the sun visor to be effective, I shielded my eyes from the sun with my hand. This scene played itself out any number of times in any number of trucks at any number of heights, of all of which remained too short for the sun visor to make a difference.
In those trucks on those drives, to and from voice lessons and softball practices to musical performances, I learned about my dad. I didn’t learn about his parenting ideals and how he imagined he might raise me and how, once here, I changed anything he might have thought about parenting because that’s what kids do. I learned that my dad loves sports on some deep core level that allows him to ignore the absolutely grating sound of static on AM radio. I learned he’s really hard to “beat” in a philosophical conversation; I still remember how flabbergasted I felt the one day when he threw out, “But if you were meant to be you, wouldn’t you have been you anyway?” I learned the stories of his youth. I learned about what made him a human being; I learned what made him tick, what made him mad, what made him him.
And I learned his music.
In the background of all of these little-but-big conversations, the radio played music—when it wasn’t making me claw my ears out because of the static on AM radio. Sometimes we listened to what I wanted to listen to, whatever was new and “hip” and on B94 in Pittsburgh. But often, my dad controlled the radio because, as we all know, the driver owns the controls. When we weren’t discussing the deep things in life, he taught me what he knew about music. Like most things he has an interest in, he knew a lot about music. He taught me little weird things about individual songs and funny stories about bands. I learned that he doesn’t like Beatles or Jimi Hendrix. And I knew early on, he loved Fleetwood Mac and that he adored Stevie Nicks.
– __ — __ –
On Mother’s Day 2003, the beginnings of a Munchkin growing somewhere deep within my belly, I saw Fleetwood Mac in Pittsburgh. At that time, still healthy, I felt that it was a fitting beginning to our journey together. A band that was one of my father’s favorites and eventually became one of my favorites was kicking it off for us. I didn’t know then what I know now. I didn’t know what was to come, how much heartache awaited. My hand fluttered to my still flat belly when Stevie reminded us that even children get older; I so looked forward to watching her grow up as my daughter.
– __ — __ –
I called my dad today, shortly after learning that Fleetwood Mac will be in Pittsburgh on October 14. “Guess who’s touring this fall!”
He started an unnecessarily long but characteristically my dad type of guess. I laughed and told him. We discussed the ins and outs of what it means that Christie McVie is back with the band. He joked about how I old I am now. At some point a co-worker walked by and caught wind of the conversation.
“This is why you raise your kids with your music. So that when your favorite band starts touring 30 years later, she’ll call and tell you.”
– __ — __ –
I don’t know which bands will tour in 25 some odd years that make my children pick up the phone, giddy to tell me, knowing that I won’t already know. I don’t know what movies they’ll watch in future decades and recall watching it with us on evening. I don’t know what meals they’ll want to make for their own kids. I don’t know if they’ll remember the way I danced them around the kitchen to all the Broadway tunes. I don’t know whether they’ll like any of my music or any of my books or movies or foods or stories.
But I share them anyway.
I want my sons, and someday my daughter, to know me as a human being in addition to being their mother. I want to be real to them, more than parenting theories and routines and bedtimes and chores. I don’t need to be their best friend right now, but I do need them to know who I am.
Hopefully when they’re nearly 33, they’ll want to call and tell me about my favorite band. Or just call me at all.
When I say that we don’t allow any technology Monday through Friday afternoon, I am guilty of a Sometimes Lie or Not Quite Truth. Or, maybe we’re just us, our own unique family, doing what works for us at any given time. Whatever the case, we frequently watch the Nightly News at 6:30.
I don’t know if they watch the news with us because it’s the only screen time they have on the weekdays or if they have a genuine interest in what’s happening around the world. I grew up watching the news with my parents; whether in the afternoon or the evening, in the kitchen or in the family room. I remember discussing issues with my parents, asking my dad lots of questions. I realize now he probably just wanted to listen to the newscast, but he answered me—mostly patiently—every time.
They ask questions now when they watch the news with us. “Where is the plane?” “Why did they take that land?” “What are wounded warriors?” “Is it hard to be a firefighter?” We answer as best we can; we definitely don’t have all of the answers for their wide and varied questions, but we try.
The commercials provide the most aggravating part of our evening experience. We’ve been seeing a series of commercials for both men and women featuring medical fixes for both ED and menopause. After watching one tonight, LittleBrother asked, “So boys can’t wear that patch?” I then had to explain that some medicines are just for girls, some medicines are just for boys—which I think confused both boys as we preach a lot about how there aren’t really boy or girl toys or jobs and blah blah blah equality. So apparently it’s not the news that will start the slow seam-ripping in the fabric of gender equality we’ve been trying to weave. It’s commercialism. Which, duh, right.
The photo above is from this past week, the boys sitting in a tangle from the couch to the floor. When we watch the news, they don’t fight or argue. They ask thoughtful questions. They learn. They allow a brother into their space. I kind of like it, this news watching thing we do together. I really like them.