mom blog

3344127_xl

Small things

“Just remember this . . . We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make our world.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It means, don’t worry.”

From Elephant Run by Roland Smith


Easier said than done for a mom. Ever since my first child was born over eleven years ago, I’m constantly navigating a world full of dangers I hadn’t noticed before. Not only dangers to my children but to myself as well. I look back at the stupid risks I took in my youth and wonder how I survived. My next breath is stuck thinking about my children doing a version of those same stupid risks, their own variation of “coming of age.” I lose sleep over it. “It” being “everything.”

Since the election, I’ve avoided the news and social media, unable to stomach the information that comes through. It’s, like, worry on a totally different level. I don’t believe I’m being dramatic when my fears of an apocalypse are being realized. I tell myself it’s out of my control. My husband reminds me that as long as our children are healthy and safe and our immediate world isn’t affected, we can’t worry about it.

But, “it” means “everything.” What happens in the world also happens to my children, and I nearly wilt from worry.

Until I get a reality check.

Last night, I got news (through social media, ironically) that one of my high school classmates passed away, losing her battle with breast cancer.

At first, I didn’t believe it. But other posts followed, how her close friends will miss her, her college roommate will always hold her in her heart, prayers going out to her family. A husband and three children. I didn’t realize how sick she was. The last post I remember seeing from Lorien was about her daughter’s success at a horse show. She’d been so proud of her, and I had foolishly thought from the tone of her post that everything in her world was okay.

Lorien and I grew up in tandem at Lake George elementary. She always towered over me. I specifically remember feeling dwarfish next to her in gym class. At some point in high school, we were in the same Home-Economics class. (Home-Ec. Do they even teach that anymore?) We learned how to sew. We made stuffed animals. She made a brown puppy and named it “Roadkill” — which she announced in her signature low voice, followed by her signature deep, chuckling laughter. I’d looked on, bemused at her dry, semi-morbid sense of humor. It was a glimpse of who Lorien was. Just a glimpse. But it’s stayed with me.

Lorien and I weren’t close. In our small school, we were friendly but we didn’t hang out on weekends or anything. I didn’t really know her all that well. Still, her tragic death has shocked me awake.

As I snuggled my children into bed last night, I thought about Lorien. How she was no longer able to put her kids to bed, to kiss them goodnight. She wouldn’t see her daughter in another horse show. She wouldn’t be able to post how proud she was of her. She wouldn’t see her children graduate from high school, college. She wouldn’t see them get married. She would never meet her grandchildren.

What the fuck am I worrying about?

The passage above is was taken the book Elephant Run by Roland Smith. It’s one of my son’s Battle of the Books books this year. I’m reading along with him so we can talk about it and study together.

A small thing. But a huge thing.

Our jobs as moms are made up of these small, beautiful things. Things that Lorien also won’t ever be able to do again. Pouring cereal, packing lunches, signing permission slips, meeting the school bus, driving to piano lessons, monitoring homework, trimming nails, reading stories, doing unending laundry . . .

Guess what, Moms? These small things are *just as important* as the big things. We know this, but we need the reminder. These small things shape our lives and our children’s lives. They make up our world.

We have to cherish every little thing. Celebrate them, even. Every day. Because, my god, they matter. They are everything.


“Just remember this . . . We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make our world.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It means, don’t worry.”

images

6 things you can do to ease election pain

The election result is a shock for us Hillary supporters. There are a lot of us out there. There’s a lot of pain. It takes everything in me to believe in our country right now, and to give Trump a chance. But I refuse to go negative about something I can’t control.

What can I control? Here are six things I plan to do to feel better, starting today.

  1. Raise my boys well. The next four years will be crucial for my children, who will be entering pre- and teen years. In our wonderful family of five, we’ll be dealing with all that comes with that: puberty and confusing hormones, competitive sports, and driving a car — to name a few. Throughout all, they will respect women as equals, without question. I vow to raise our boys with goodness and love and acceptance and hope.
  2. Take care of myself. I exercise regularly, but as I sweated it out this morning, I thought about my body in a different way. As many women probably feel, I’m saddened and hurt by Trump’s comments and shameless objectification of women. I’m also guilty of falling into the trap, objectifying myself. There have always been things I’ve wanted to change about my appearance. “If I could only lose that pesky five pounds, if only my nose were more petite, if my teeth were whiter, if my hair wasn’t so wild…” You know what? It’s all bullshit. I’m healthy. I’m strong. And, goldarnit, my husband thinks I’m gorgeous. My kids think my extra five pounds adds to the snuggle factor. I vow to be kind to myself. To love myself as I am no matter what I see in the media.
  3. Take care of our planet. The continuing devastation to our environment is real. Our efforts in recycling and renewable energy are (excuse the pun) only the tip of the iceberg. There’s got to be more we can do to reverse the damage so our children have a worry-free future, without relying on the government to do so. Coincidentally, I’m working on a sequel to Forte which addresses this very question — where magic is the answer. If only magic were an option. I’m not quite sure how yet, but I vow to take a more active role to help heal our earth.
  4. Be kind to each other. It’s tempting to make the generalization that everyone who voted for Trump agrees with everything he’s ever said and condones the things he’s admitted doing. That’s not necessarily the case, as my husband reminded me. There are many people out there who have lost jobs and are struggling to raise their children — to survive, even. They are angry and fed up with the government they believe let them down. I vow to keep an open mind, to withhold judgment, and to treat others with kindness no matter what their political views may be.
  5. Have faith. Even if you are not religious, the idea of having faith helps during times like these. Have faith in the peaceful transition of power that George Washington bravely set up for us when our country was founded. Have faith in the US Constitution. Have faith in its “checks and balances.” Have faith in due process. Have faith in science. Have faith in God. Have faith in our country.
  6. Smile. Give yourself the gift of a good, healthy cry. And then, find humor in something. In everything! Here’s something: Just think how good SNL will be for the next four years.

I’m not saying all this will be easy. To be honest, part of why I wrote this post is to pull myself out of hopelessness and convince myself to be positive.

Let yourself grieve, and then think about what you can do to feel better. Maybe these six things offer a good place to start.

Girl Power

I’m a proud #boymom. My three boys are my world. From clothes to shoes to toys, our house is all BOY. And I wouldn’t change it for anything. Sure, before children, I imagined raising a daughter. One with curly hair. Someone I could share all my hard-learned girl truths with. I defy any woman who denies feeling the same. But now, I couldn’t imagine life without these boys. And they couldn’t either. They wouldn’t know what to do with a sister.

“Our house would be infused with PINK!” once was said — the P word sneering from his mouth.

IMG_0890

And this doesn’t include cleats. There’s a separate bin for that.

When Christmas commercials are in season, we tease about getting My Little Pony and Twinkle Toes and LaLaLoopsy for each other. Even I’m guilty of that.

But pink has always been my favorite color.

Yesterday, our middle asked, “Who are you voting for for President?”

“Hillary Clinton.”

“But we can’t have a GIRL president!”

“Why not?”

“She’ll make us wear girly clothes and play with Barbies!”

“No she wouldn’t. Why would you say that?”

“Because she makes all the rules and all the laws.”

“Well, did President Obama make me wear a suit and tie and play with trucks?”

We all laughed, but my words felt a bit hollow. The reverse isn’t the same. I’m in a boy world. They’ve seen me play with plenty of toy trucks. I may not wear a suit and tie but I assure you I’m not in a dress every day, either. Come to think of it, it’s all a boy’s world. Historically, we girls have had to fight for equal rights and equal pay and equal opportunity. And “pink” isn’t the problem.

IMG_0418

When my husband gets into one of his teasing jags, my standard comeback is: “You needed a little sister growing up to get all this out of your system.”

Growing up with three brothers, my husband has the boy thing down. He’s like the boy whisperer — able to get to the root of a rotten day or hurt feelings or big-world worries. However, judging from how protective he is of me, a little girl may have given him a run for his money.

My brother and I grew up sharing each other’s perspective. Throughout the confusing puberty years, I know we helped each other quite a bit. When a girl didn’t reciprocate his crush, I think I was able to make it a little better. When a boy on the bus stuck his fingers up my nose, it was my brother who explained that he actually liked me. (Not a good strategy, BTW). We’ve always been able to talk about things we’d never discuss with our parents. Maybe this is why he is now keenly sensitive about girl stuff. He can discuss menstrual cramps or bra-fitting issues with the objectivity of a registered nurse. And he actually looks really good in pink. Oh, excuse me — salmon.

I know firsthand sisters can teach brothers stuff moms can’t. Yikes.

My boys need more GIRL in their lives!

I pledge right now to communicate with my boys — about everything. As uncomfortable it may be, I will tell them what boobs are really for, what a thing called a tampon is, and why girls might send cryptic messages through their girlfriends like modern-day carrier pigeons. And goldarnit, they will feel okay with all of it.

If it comes to be, they will feel okay with a woman president.

No, my boys won’t have a sister. It’s a little late in the game to try again.

But I will vote for Hillary.

IMG_0936

Don’t break my heart

I was a grumpy mom this morning. Boring details aside, little things were getting to me. A speed-bump in my writing. Home appliance headaches resulting in big plumbing bills. “You’re mean!” — when I wouldn’t let my 8 or 5 y/o bring their Kindles to school. And, of course, the nauseating political stuff.

The boys had an hour delay. My vision of a leisurely breakfast and game of Candy Land never came to fruition. Unhinged from our routines, the hour was spent mostly waiting. The boys had never been so eager to get to the bus stop.

Lunches packed, I helped them into their coats and backpacks. My second-grader, as he likes to do, took off on his own. I allow this sliver of independence after ensuring he would always do it safely. Staying on the side of the road, not only looking for cars but being aware of them — always. We don’t live on a super busy street. And he likes to slide on a frozen puddle (the last of its kind this winter) near the bus stop. Why not let him have a few minutes of outside play?

My Kindergartener always waits for me. (Or, I’m usually the one waiting for him.) We walk hand in hand down the street, together. Every day.

Today, he surprised me. As I scrambled into my coat, he was off — following his big brother. He was gone before I had a chance to register what he was doing. Still, I wasn’t worried. Until I spotted him down the street — in the middle of the street — running in that carefree way kids do, thinking they’re invincible.

“Get to the side!” I called, zipping my coat as I went out.

A car was stopped in front of my house. The driver rolled down his window. “He came barreling down, right into the street. I had to slam on my breaks.”

Two sentences. Everything turned on its head.

I blinked at him. My jaw dropped. I had no idea.

“Oh, no. Sorry,” I blurted, embarrassed and horrified — processing his words.

I ran to the corner, took my little guy aside and tried to tell him. Tried explaining how serious it could’ve been. I only had a minute, tops. Can this lesson be taught in less than a minute?

“Don’t break my heart.” I said, as the bus chugged around the corner. “If anything ever happened to you, I would cry forever. I would *never* stop crying.”

Did he hear me? Did he get it? I can only hope . . .

Tears filled as I waved goodbye. We said our “love yous” and the bus pulled away. I held it together until I got back to the house, where I sobbed into my hands — “what if” scenarios crowding my mind.

All that shit from before. All those worries that made me grumpy this morning? That’s nothing. I don’t give a crap about writer’s block or padded plumbing bills or stupid things an eight-year-old might say to his mother. Bozo the Clown could be the next GOP nominee, for all I care.

My world came crashing into focus. What’s important front and center:

My boys.

Firstborn love

Twice today, I got smiling news from an acquaintance: “I just finished your book!”

Grinning back, I replied, “Which one?”

I know, I know. I am beyond blessed to have to ask that question — which one? — and there was a long, hard, rejection-laden time when I thought I’d never have any book published. No less two.

Catcher’s Keeper.”

Really? Joy ebbed from every pore. Catcher’s Keeper, my firstborn book, still bringing smiles to readers. Through a brief Q&A over our yoga mats, I was transported back to that story. My story. And I was reminded how much I love it.

Since my second release — Forte — in July, my firstborn has been neglected. Gone are the blog tours, the speaking engagements, the interviews… I’ve been busy promoting my newbie. Isn’t that the way it works?

But my passion for my firstborn book hasn’t changed.

We mothers can relate, can’t we?

My first son was almost two when he became a brother. Busy with a new baby, nursing every few hours, swaddling, rocking, burping, changing, pacifying… I had little time to play with my number one. My husband picked up lots of parenting tasks I’d been proud to list as my “Mom” job description. They played games and went out to fun places while I tended to the new baby. I mean, he was brand new! He NEEDED me! And goldarnit if I didn’t love him *just as much* as my firstborn. For the first few weeks and beyond, my husband and I had to “divide and conquer” as they say. But letting go was not an option. I missed my big guy. Our firstborn made us a family. He made me a mother. My life forever changed when he came into the world. He showed me a love I didn’t know I was capable of feeling. After number two was born, after number three was born, and now as he matures into an active young man with a life of his own — a physical distance may grow between us, but my love for him remains steadfast.

A mother’s love for her babies never wanes. It can’t be split or divided. It’s exponential.

Even if our energies are redirected, that bond is always there.

A few weeks ago on a school visit, my host escorted me to a classroom and said, “We ordered 30 copies of your book. So, every class will have a chance to read Catcher’s Keeper.”

“Oh, great!” I replied, hiding my surprise. I’d planned a presentation for Forte that day. Cue the proverbial tap dance in front of the classroom to talk about my firstborn book. Good thing my passion for Catcher’s Keeper is as strong as it was upon publication.

What a gift it was to talk about it again. How I’d missed it!

I’d been so passionate about the concept of Catcher’s Keeper — What if Holden Caulfield were around when John Lennon was shot? — I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep until I had the first draft down. I was obsessed. I couldn’t stop thinking about the story. I couldn’t believe no one had written it yet. I thought agents and publishers would be knocking down my door for a piece of the action. (That last part didn’t happen, BTW). And then, when Forte was in its final stages prior to publishing, that story was all-consuming. I lived and breathed the words. When it was finally out there, I wanted to promote it as well as I could. It deserved that. All books deserve readers. And goldarnit if I didn’t love Forte *just as much* as I loved my firstborn book.

Well, almost.

Catcher’s Keeper will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s what made me an author. It changed my life.

But don’t get me wrong, when it comes to matters of the heart, my family — my boys — have a monopoly on my love.

5-star-rating

Most Valuable Review

Forget Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly. NPR? New York Times? Get in line. I’ve received a review of FORTE recently that has blown my mind.

My ten-year-old son, AJ, attended my recent book launch party at Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga. The only kid under the age of twelve at the event, AJ displayed poise and maturity beyond his years. He sat right in the front row, listening carefully, his huge hazel eyes glistening with pride. After I read two chapters, I took questions from the audience.

Eager to be part of it all, AJ asked, “Are you working on another book?” — though he knew the answer.

Seeing his hand in the air, hearing his voice — it was all I could do to stay at the podium and not rush over to kiss every freckle on his sweet face.

Afterwards was the book signing.

“I want to buy Mom’s book but I don’t have any money,” AJ said to Grandmom.

Grandmom spotted him some cash and AJ brought the book to the counter to buy it himself, and proceeded to wait in line with the other customers in hopes to get his book signed.

AJ and Mom celebrate FORTE

AJ getting his book signed.

I signed it as I sign all copies: “Proud of you!” But this inscription had special meaning.

It only took him about two weeks to finish it. Yesterday, he wrote this review. My most cherished review ever. In his words…


 FORTE

Sami has always loved piano. She lived in New York City, but then her mother moved her to Skenesboro. At her high school, all the popular girls play volleyball, and are amazing at it. Sami, with a little magic from her coach, makes the team.

Afterwards, Sami drinks a “sports drink” to make her great at volleyball, and keeps doing it! But, success comes with a cost. Piano!

Sami has to decide who she really is. An athlete, or musician? She also finds out much more about herself, her family, and the town’s heritage.

I would definitely rate this book 6 stars, but not completely because the author is my mom. It’s because this book is VERY well written, an awesomely touching, adventurous and creative story for everyone 9 and up.

  • Anthony Spero, Age 10
AJ reads FORTE

AJ Spero reads his mom’s book before bed.

10530863_10152599418832346_3786917459407045700_n

It takes a village

My children will probably never have a traditional upbringing: growing up in the same house, markers of their growth lining the closet door, surrounded by familiar neighborhood kids, rooting for the same alma mater kinder to senior. Our first two boys were born in Massachusetts. Our littlest, in Indiana. We called Texas home for two years and are now living in upstate New York. More than likely, we’ll be moving again in the near future. Are we giving them an unstable home life or character-shaping adventures?

When I was fifteen, my parents moved me from my childhood home. I was so devastated, I wouldn’t help Mom pack. Not even my bedroom. And I wasn’t even changing schools. My grief turned to gratitude soon after we settled into our beautiful lake home. Years later, my parents moved again. This time, I wasn’t living at home but at college. Still, it was bittersweet. But when a friend made the comment that it must be hard to leave our lake home, my brother replied: “Home isn’t a place. It’s where your family is.”

Today, my family of five shares a home with my parents who live there part-time, half the year. It’s not a fancy house, nor is it lakeside. But, right now, it’s home. We share this house not due to financial strain or mid-life crises, but because it makes sense for us. Not only does it make sense, it’s been an absolute blessing. My children are growing up directly alongside one set of grandparents, and just a day-trip away from their cousins and another set of grandparents. They are surrounded by family. They are surrounded by love. This is obvious. The less obvious benefits have been revealed over time.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. My boys’ lives have become so rich in experiences, moving and traveling across the country. And now, living with my parents, their lives are enriched in another way. My mother brought them to the theater when I feared they might disrupt the onstage drama. My father talks physics and math-y stuff with my oldest while I’m allergic to numbers. My brother — who lives within driving distance — has introduced role-playing games to all the boys, gets them to make their own board games, and creates art with them. These are minor examples. The list goes on…

Our other “home” is at the beach, where my boys learn from their Nunu about ocean safety and how to be neighborly. They talk about books with their grammy and are lovingly folded into the glorious chaos of their cousins’ home as if they were more-the-merrier siblings within the eight-person-family.

No, my boys won’t have the traditional one-home-forever upbringing. But what they have is pretty great. Maybe better. Our boys will grow to be better, smarter, stronger, happier, and more confident — because they have a vast collection of love and experiences shaping who they are.

The end result is always better when you have a team behind you. Isn’t it?

Like with, say, BOOKS!

Last night at a book club discussion, I was asked the question: “How is it different working with a publisher versus self-publishing?” I get this question a lot.

When I self-published Catcher’s Keeper, I agonized over my story in solitude. Sure, I hired a myriad of editors, a cover designer, a formatter. I enlisted the help of many an author friend. I networked online and at writing conferences. I had a huge amount of support from family and friends. I certainly wasn’t alone, per se. But when it came down to it, it was up to me and me only to make it great. To make it flawless. Was it ready to be published when I finally uploaded it and — egads — people started ordering it? Was it as good as it could be? Aghhh! I hope so.

When I signed with Xchyer Publishing for FORTE, I couldn’t appreciate the expertise they would bring. I was hesitant. I’d been through the process. I’d learned so much. I’d self-published successfully and my attitude was: “What could you do for me that I couldn’t do myself?”

Well, let me tell you. I humbly stand corrected.

My team at Xchyler Publishing (my X-team) has scrutinized every single word of each line, each chapter. I had a team of five talented individuals who had a vested interest in making my manuscript the best it could possibly be, which sometimes meant rewriting scenes multiple times, writing lengthy character sketches and/or timelines that would never be included directly in the story, and examining dialogue and relationships to convey realistic characters. I was far from alone. Not only that, I was boosted up.

Granted, there were times when I’d see track-changes comment from my editor: “Not enough. Falls flat. Needs more tension.” I’d grunt at my screen in frustration, go through a short-lived cycle of denial/anger before coming to accept it and rework the scene. At times it would take hours. At times I’d have to throw the whole thing out and start anew. At times I had to add entire chapters to show what I thought was already pretty clear. In the end, the scene was always better.

Not only that, but we worked together to come up with a new title, a stunning cover, and a marketing plan. And, to my utmost delight, they took care of the critical and notoriously hard-to-write back-cover blurb. (I’d rather write an entire book than a back-cover blurb!)

LOCK 12 - original cover

Original cover and former title of FORTE

Forte_Bookcover_front

New FORTE cover design from Xchyler Publishing

 

Just yesterday, I sent what I was told had to be “absolutely the last go-around” version, and I’m thrilled with it. I have to say, the end result is so worth the effort. It’s so much better than it had been when I thought it was done. Frankly, I cringe to think of publishing the book without their input.

My “baby” launches July 25, 2015. It takes a village to launch a book. So many people have made FORTE rich in so many ways — I’m brimming with gratitude.   The best part? My boys can’t wait to read it. And the adventures continue…

books

Hey, it’s okay.

At the start of this school year, my third-grader AJ was invited to be part of Battle of the Books — a book club that meets before school hours every other week. Battlers read a total of 10 books, a blend of fiction and nonfiction, award-winners and obscure finds. The program culminates in a final contest against other elementary schools that have read the same books. Armed with custom T-shirts for the occasion, the team is excused from school for the final battle, which takes place at the prestigious Skidmore College. After the battle, a local restaurant is donating a celebratory lunch for all participants. Only 5 of the 12 students can go to this final battle, so a test was given to see who made the cut.

AJ came home last Tuesday, his backpack overflowing with all ten books from which to study for the test.

Let me tell you about my son AJ’s brain. He taught himself to use a computer and navigate the Internet before he could talk. He learned how to play chess — and play well! — at the age of 4. He has a scary memory. He can explain the difference between endangered and extinct, giving numerous examples of exotic animals for each category. This morning he recalled something his grandpa told him months ago: 70% of the universe is dark matter which pulls the universe apart, and 25% of the universe is dark energy which pushes the universe back together…Dark matter is winning. He knows the only way to cut a circle in 3 equal parts is to make a ‘peace sign.’ I’m not bragging here, but what this kid remembers blows me away…and sure keeps me on my toes.

So I didn’t do the flash card thing. I didn’t insist he reread all ten books. I didn’t make him redo his summaries. My husband and I didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on him. We enjoyed our weekend. We saw Wild Kratts Live at Proctors, we went skiing at West Mountain. AJ played the Wii with his brothers and chess with his dad. We had fun.

As soon as AJ came off the bus yesterday, tears brimming over his enviously long eyelashes, I knew he didn’t make the team.

As parents, we’re not supposed to solve for everything in our child’s life. We are there to lend advice and provide boundaries, but also support, love, and encourage. But we’re not supposed to keep them in a bubble, protect them from heartbreak, shield them from bullies on the school bus, or lie about the existence of holiday personas for the sake of their happiness. Right?

“That’s okay. Hey, it’s okay. Mom and dad are so proud of you. You did your best. It’s okay. Hey, it’s okay.”

I sounded like a broken record. So I stopped. Put my arm around his puffy coat, pulled him into a side hug as we walked up our driveway. “I know you’re disappointed. I would be disappointed too.”

And then his tears really started. Not just tears. Sobbing. Loud, vocalized agony that surely indicated to neighbors he had broken his femur…or stepped on a bed of rusty nails. (Maybe I should have stuck with the “It’s okay” mantra?)

He got inside, stripped off the day’s baggage, and fell onto the couch. There was so much I wanted to say.

“How about a hug?”

My nine-year-old curled up to me like a sleepy toddler and let it all out. When the tears stopped, we stayed there snuggling on the couch. Me holding my firstborn, my son, my one and only AJ.

I gently cracked the silence by sharing a story I hadn’t thought about for years.

When I was a little girl, I was up for a part in play called Pippi Longstocking. Not just any part. Pippi. It was between me and another girl, but I wasn’t worried. Theater was my “thing” and this other girl was younger and less experienced and had never really been in shows before. This wasn’t just a show, it was a traveling troupe. The small cast would perform all over the Northeast for months to come, creating priceless memories and experiences at every step. Not only that, but my brother Jimmy was a shoe-in for a show-stopping supporting role. It was supposed to be a family affair. Sibling bonding. Just think of the headlines…

The director called the house and although I had answered the phone, she asked to speak to Jimmy. He got the part — the fun supporting role where his comedic genius would shine. And that was all the news she had for our family. She was sorry, but I did not get the part of Pippi. I was devastated. Absolutely crushed. And what made it sting even more? I had to watch my brother have the time of his young life traveling and performing with this small group of actors who became his fast friends.

“What part did you end up getting?” AJ asked me.

“I didn’t get a part. I wasn’t in the show at all.” I said, and then the strangest thing happened. I broke into tears…while I was holding my nine-year-old who just had his first big disappointment in life. AJ was quiet while I tried unsuccessfully to hide my emotions.

Later, my husband called while I was making dinner and AJ told him the news. “I was really sad after school, but I’m okay now…Mom told me about a part she didn’t get when she was a little girl. She was really sad then too. It’s okay to be sad.”

There I was at the stove getting choked up all over again. Will he ever truly know how proud I am of him? Will he ever realize how much I learn from him? There is no bubble. There will be heartbreak. Life is prickly and unfair, yet wondrous and thrilling. AJ will feel every bit of it, because that’s who he is. And I wouldn’t change a thing about him. Not one thing.

Yes, it’s okay. It’s okay to be sad.

LG dock

Wake-up Call

My son knows how to swim.

Three weeks after moving to Texas, where we had a pool in our backyard, my son Adam — then 4 — learned to swim. That was three years ago. Throughout that first summer, my husband and I would often remark about how well Adam could swim. He seemed to be a “natural.” We even entertained the idea of signing him up for a swim team so he could develop competitive skills. Our family waterbug, he was always in the water.

We now live in my hometown of Lake George, New York. Having grown up on this lake, I feel it’s a part of me. Not only have I been swimming in this lake since birth, but I’ve boated, sailed, jet-skied, water-skied, canoed, kayaked, paddle-boarded…you name it. This lake is so important to me that my husband and I joke that if he (having grown up by the ocean) didn’t like Lake George, it would’ve been a deal-breaker. Yes, the word “comfortable” doesn’t quite cut it when describing Lake George. “Home” comes closer.

But here I sit at 3am, unable to sleep for what happened ten hours ago in that lake. Out the window, I can see its movement as the moonlight washes over it, ticking its way to the mountains. This lake has always brought me peace.

We are having a busy, fun-filled summer. One that brings me back to my childhood. Last week, we had the privilege of a beach vacation. My boys did wonderfully. My oldest thrived on his boogie board while my youngest understood his limits near the surf. Adam discovered his love for bobbing in the ocean waves. The bigger the wave, the bigger his smile. This week, we’ve been to 2 pool parties. Adam discovered his love for cannon-balling off the diving board. Watching him play in the water has brought me as much joy as he’s been having, I’m sure of it.

Yesterday, we arrived at Elizabeth Island on Lake George, where my parents have a cabin. Almost immediately, the boys wanted to swim. On with our suits and out to the dock. My youngest does not yet swim, so I made sure he wore his puddle-jumper and safely set him in the shallow part. My oldest wasted no time in swimming to the infamous rock — a generous platform about fifty yards from the dock. Adam went in too. I stood by watching, waiting to feel hot enough to take the plunge.

“Come on, Adam, let’s swim to the rock!” my oldest called.

Adam hesitated.

Here’s where my teacher instinct kicked in. “You can do it, Adam!” I cheered. And I know he could. He can. He had done it last year (maybe with a little help?). He’s been in the water almost every day this summer. He can do it. He just needed a little encouragement.

My husband and I have always been sensitive to our middle child, making sure he doesn’t feel overshadowed by his ambitious big brother. We always try to give him the encouragement he needs. In this case, as in many others over the years, I assumed this was what he needed.

But he still hesitated.

“I’ll go with you.” Was my solution.

Adam came onto the dock with me. We would jump in together (his favorite part) and swim *together* out to the rock. I felt confident in our plan.

My youngest began crying as soon as I began to swim. (He didn’t want me to swim away from him.) In typical 3 y/o-fashion, he wailed loud and long, taking up valuable space in my eardrums. Ashamed to admit, I ignored his crying, knowing he was safe. And we had a plan — Adam and me — and by golly, I was determined to finish it.

I could just picture us on standing on the rock together, fists to the sky, cheering for ourselves. This would be good for him. I was sure of it.

But then, halfway to the rock, I looked behind me. Adam had turned back.

No.

No, don’t do that.

I hadn’t found the rock yet, but that’s not what made my heart pound.

Adam had gotten nervous and turned around.

No, don’t do that. The trip is that much longer when you turn around like that. Could he handle it? Is it now too far for him?

My youngest continued to cry, so loudly I could not hear Adam whimpering. I could not hear Adam calling me for help. (Was he calling me for help? I can only imagine he was.)

My feet still had not found that sturdy platform — the rock — from which I imagined launching to save my child. But any rock would do. I dove back toward the dock, kicking my way as fast as my legs would take me.

I told myself it was my youngest I was going back to help. He was the one crying. In retrospect, I think I didn’t want to admit Adam was in need of help. He could swim! He’s an excellent swimmer!

But my chest was tight with panic. Something was not right.

In no time at all, I could see that Adam had safely made it to the dock. In less than five seconds, I was holding my youngest, comforting him, stopping his tears. But my eyes were on Adam.

“You okay?” I said to him.

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t want to swim to the rock.”

“Okay. You don’t have to.”

That was it. It was over. Everyone was safe. Everyone went back to laughing and cannon-balling and smacking each other with noodles. (Why didn’t we have those earlier?)

But I remained shaken. Even after my brother and his wife arrived from Canada. Even after a cold Sam Adams by the firepit. Even after a comfort-food dinner of chicken and dumplings. Even after snuggling with my boys watching The Lorax in lieu of the fireworks. Even now, at three in the morning.

It’s a mother’s plight, I suppose. Imagining the what-ifs. Playing out different scenarios in your mind. Kicking yourself for those close calls that should’ve been avoided. Crafting emergency plans just in case. Worrying. Worrying. Worrying.

Had he been in trouble? Honestly, I don’t know.

But, as his mother, it’s my job to know.

This lake will always be part of our lives. We will continue to swim and fish and boat and cannon-ball. But I will never let my guard down, ever, when it comes to my kids and water. As much as it’s a source of comfort, I cannot forget it can be dangerous. My beloved lake. My comfort. My peace.

That’s nothing.

If we talk about “home”?

My kids.

My kids.