Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Badass Kid

It's the day before my birthday and we were visiting C's parents.  We'd all gone out to lunch, and as we were walking to the car, JH was leaning on my shoulder, holding my hand.  Behind me, I could feel my mother-in-law and sister-in-law taking in this sight:  this nearly thirteen year old boy, a hair shorter than his ol' ma, holding her hand, unafraid of what anyone else might think.  

As we cleared the corner of the building, two boys about fourteen years old, in droopy shorts and cool hats perched on top of their heads like fully popped jiffy pop pans, came around heading in our direction.  

If my son is nearly as smooth with his future girlfriends getting his hand IN theirs as he was getting his hand OUT of mine?   Those girls are in big trouble.  Because it was effortless and seamless and a thing of beauty, really.  If our hand-holding were an object, say, and you were looking at it, why it would have just disappeared before your very eyes!  

As we cleared the boys, I chuckled and said to him, very low and quiet, out of the corner of my mouth: "were you busted?"  and he smiled back, shook his head, looked down with bright red cheeks and said just as quietly "so busted."

The next morning this is the card he gave me.  I am going to have it framed.

the inside of my birthday card from JH

In case you can't read his writing, it says:

Happy Birthday!  To the best mom in this entire galaxy.  
Mommah, whether it's you poning* me at H.O.R.S.E., (by one letter, I might add) or just chillin', I love hanging out with you.  No matter how "unkew"** it is to give u hugs or hold hands, I'm always ur son.  
Here's to you, Ma.
(ps.s  It's only when the badass people are around that I won't give you the x's and o's that you deserve)

* this means "owning" or "winning", with smacktalk.  It might also be a sexual term adopted by middle school boys, or idiots who play videogames online but if this is the case, JH and I don't know it.  And I don't want to know it.  So I'm not going to look it up.  Dammit.  Of course I looked it up.  And yes I will be talking to him about this term. 

**think Erik Cartman.  Yes, we let him watch South Park on occasion.  And we've started letting him play some "M" games on his xbox.  

It's a whole new, almost a teenager, badass world.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I understand/ I don't understand....

I understand:

Bravery, selflessness, goodness, love.

These are all things we saw yesterday in the midst of madness and heartbreak.

Someone, in a brave, final act turned on the PA system at school to alert other teachers that something horrible and unthinkable was in their midst.

Teachers, with families of their own at home, instinctively went into action to protect the children.  To keep them safe.  First and foremost.  They acted with courage and love.  Teachers.  Not soldiers.  Not firefighters.  Not policemen.  Teachers, who may have gone into the profession because they thought it might be fun to be around kids all day.  Teachers, who day after day correct spelling tests and do lesson plans and worry over family situations of "their kids" that they have no control over.

First responders, many just volunteer citizens, went in to harms way, not knowing what they'd find, or if they'd come out alive.  But they went in anyway, and did everything they could.

The community, from all reports, tight-knit, close, loving, has gathered to support those who have lost:  innocence, laughter, a future of memories that will never be made.  It's an impossible task, but the community, and the rest of us, surrounded them with love and tears.  It's all we could do in those terrible moments immediately after.

I hope, and I pray with my clumsy heathen prayers that we will all do the same for a young man who lost his mother to violence, and a brother to mental illness.  He will surely need love and compassion to deal with the aftermath of this senseless tragedy as well.

I don't understand:
Why anyone with a love of our country, and good morals and a belief in a loving God, or just plain decency, would defend the fact that it's easier to get a gun than it is to get help with a mentally ill family member.

Because it is.  It's easier to get a gun than a driver's license.  That's a fact.

I don't understand why anyone who likes to use guns recreationally or for sport would feel offended that those of us who do not would like to see this rectified.

I do not wish to take away your right to own or carry a gun.  I assume that you are of sound mind, and you enjoy hunting, or you live in a terrible neighborhood and wish to protect your family or possessions.

But I don't understand why you feel the need to defend how incredibly, UNBEARABLY easy it is for the wrong person to get their hands on a gun.

I don't understand why it is nearly impossible for a person with a history of mental illness, who has exhausted their resources, and their family and community, must be deemed a danger to themselves or others before they are able to get the help they need.  Because THAT, as we've seen in the last DAYS, happens much, much, much too late.  Mental illness is not like any other illness.  Many people with mental illness do not believe there is anything wrong with them.  They refuse help.  And so their families are left to worry about them, about their safety and the safety of anyone in their path.  And there is the stigma as well - "he's CRAZY", "he's NUTS" equation of mental illness with evil.  Most mentally ill people are not violent.  But those who are?  Wouldn't it be humane to have the ability to diagnose and treat them before we find out the difference?  To at least attempt to help them return to sanity, or at the very least, safety?

Because bottom line?
It is not "us vs. them".
It is "us".
Just us.
All of us together, with our differences and our passions, living together on this planet.
We're going to need to figure it out.
Hopefully sooner than later.

Wishing you peace and kindness.  Do you understand?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Science facts

"Hey, mom - did you know that most birth defects are caused by something the mom ate or did during pregnancy?"

I am helping him get his compression stocking on, something we do every day.  It's too tight for him to be able to do it himself, even though this week he will be twelve years old, and he is nearly as tall as I am, and weighs almost as much, too.  I have just pulled it up past his knee, and I'm looking at him as he is talking, smiling.  But I was caught off guard, and for the split second it took for me to register what he'd said, he saw my secret, the thing I've battled every day since he was born and we discovered that he had Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome.  The fear that it was my fault, that I had done something wrong, even though I've had specialists tell me it's just something that happens sometimes, just a quirk of nature brought about by a wrong turn on a strand of genetic material.

I recover as quickly as it registers, but I'm caught and he...he is mortified, horrified that he has hurt me.

"But I'm not blaming you, I just have K-T, and I was born that way and I wouldn't want to be any different!  I love you and I know you didn't do anything wrong, and I only think it's sometimes that it happens, maybe most of the time, but it doesn't MATTER because I LOVE who I am and I love YOU, and if I didn't have K-T I wouldn't be me..."  He is in danger of running out of air, and I stop him.

"Sweetheart - it's okay.  I know you were just telling me something interesting that you learned, and it's just science.  Sometimes even in science there are variables.  I know you aren't blaming me.  I love you just as you are, and I know you love me too.  Please don't worry, I'm okay."

We have a ritual after his stocking is on - we have a big hug.  Today's hug is tighter than normal, and lasts twice as long.

"Thanks for helping me with my stocking, mom.  I love you."

"You bet.  I love you too."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hey, Look!

We've talked before here about JH's syndrome, always in a very matter of fact way.  It's part of our life.  I never wish he didn't have it, although I do sometimes wish he didn't have pain.  But it is an integral part of him.  I don't know if K-T has made him wiser, or more confident, or more patient, or a better friend, or if he would be that way without it.  All I can say is that he is all of those things, and I can't imagine him any other way.

Years ago, when Joe-Henry was three, Charley got his first utilikilt.  He wore it to the K-T conference in Rochester, MN, and I remember that for the first time, people were staring at Charley and not JH.  They were (and still are) fairly audacious and open about their staring.  Some, me included, might call it "gawking".  He has turned heads in Paris, in Los Angeles, and certainly here in our small town where we moved in 2006.  He even turned heads in Scotland, which I thought was sort of odd.  Everywhere we go, my hubby turns heads.  But he wears it well, with confidence, and starts conversations with strangers.  Women love it, and people think nothing about asking if he is wearing anything under it.  The usual response is that he wears it the traditional way.  Or, if they have a sense of humor, "nothing but the breeze and my wife's good graces".

He is friendlier about the attention than I am.  I was raised a Lutheran, and although I went into the arts, and spent a good portion of my adult life on stage, I do NOT like being stared at.  What I don't like even more?  Is having the people I love stared at, or whispered about.  I have been known to take pictures of people staring at his kilt, or JH's feet.  Asking them to smile for the camera.  I try to be more open about it.  I do.  It is getting easier.  I don't notice as much anymore.  I love that he feels comfortable and confident and I think he's sexy as hell no matter what he wears, but more than anything, he has given Joe-Henry an amazing example of how to swim against the current with grace.

Joe-Henry has always had an amazing amount of confidence.  Not OVER confidence, just a real solid awareness of who he is and what he is capable of.  He doesn't feel limited by his K-T, and he doesn't think twice about wearing his stocking.  It's not a fashion statement.  It's something that helps him get through the day with less pain, and not wearing it because other people might stare?  The mere thought makes him make this face like he has a question mark directly above his head.  Why on earth would he let what other people think have any precedence over his comfort and well being?  In the last couple years, he's developed quite a fashion sense, and has taken to wearing a really funky sock on his other foot.  You can't help but notice it, and I love that he has completely made it his own.

I wondered if that quality would change as he entered Middle School.  He was really nervous about going to a new school where he didn't know any teachers and there were more kids.  I could tell the first few days, he was trying to fit in.  But, it was really hot today, so he wore shorts (bright green), with bright yellow smiley face socks on BOTH feet.  I asked if anyone gave him any compliments on his socks today, and he said "no, but I did see a few people staring at my stocking."  My heart sank, but I stayed chipper and asked "How was that?  Did you say anything?"  

"Nah.  Mom, there is no such thing as bad attention."

These men of mine.  One of these days this attitude just might rub off on me.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


This sums it up.  Every year I write this post.  We start school again.  How does it go so fast?  But seriously -

My son will start Middle School today.  When your kids are little, people always say things like "Oh, they'll LOVE preschool!" and "he's so ready for kindergarten!".  No one EVER says "Middle School is the BEST".  Mention Middle School to anyone, and they all look like they're having flashbacks to their days in 'Nam.  When I think about Middle School, I think of K.F. and L. A. telling me I couldn't go out that door, I'd have to go around, or they were going to beat me up.  Or the time someone filled the sleeves of my only jacket with wet paper mache, threw it to the top of some cupboards, then when I climbed up to get it, they took the chair away, and I got in trouble when the teacher came in.

Twitch.  Twitchtwitch.

I'm doing my best to stay positive - I was truly impressed with the presentation they gave at the school, I think he'll be educationally challenged.  I just, damn, I can't keep him safe forever.  He's going to be dealing with his own bullies, making his own way.  How can I let him go?

How can I not?

In three years he'll be in highschool.  In four, he'll have his driver's permit.  In seven he'll be old enough to vote.  And I know that the world needs him.  He's going to be a truly amazing man.

Yesterday afternoon, there was a girl on my lawn.  She and her sister were visiting their grandparents next door.  They hadn't seen each other in two years.  The oldest is JH's age.  She's a darling, daring, fiercely smart and loving girl.  When we saw her last, she was handling a snake they found in my garden.  As she and her little sister caught up with JH, I noticed her twirling her long brown hair in her fingers, lowering her lashes and laughing at his every word.  It wasn't put on, it wasn't as though she were trying on behaviors to see what worked, it was as natural as air.  It was.... sweet.

I think it went a long way toward giving him the boost he needed to get over his jitters about going to a new school.  A big new school with lots more kids and no adults who knows him.

I think maybe that's what I'm not ready for.  Not being the center of his universe.  Oh, I know he still listens to his Dad and I, I know he still takes our words to heart.  But a sweet girl, laughing and talking with you or a good friend agreeing to meet you at your bus stop is better than anything your mom can say.  As long as his friends are kind and smart, I'll take it. 

I started writing this blog when he was six years old.  In kindergarten.  Looking back at those first posts, they too, were about how fast it all seemed to be going.  I had no idea.  

But we still have years left.  They aren't years spent changing diapers or soothing scraped knees, they are far trickier.  You have to still be that parent, but the cooing and cuddling is replaced with admonitions to "clean your room", "lights out", "be home by 9".  With looks and words and "mom, stop touching my head!  I just put stuff in my hair."

I'll do my best, which right now, today, is just hanging on to the rails and trying not to cry.  

This ride is crazy.

Monday, September 3, 2012

On Turning Thirteen

A dear friend of mine recently wrote a group of friends and asked if we could contribute to a book she was putting together for her daughter, who was turning thirteen. This is what I sent, minus the name. It just so happens that this beautiful young woman was born the day before another dear friends' daughter, and, well, since I can remember my own boy rolling around on the rug with these girls when they were all babies, it seems fitting to post it here, as well. I am focusing mighty hard on these young people in the coming months, holding them in my minds eye during election season. Because as exasperated as I get with rhetoric, I happen to know for a fact, that these fine young people will see us through to the other side.

Dear S,

You won't remember me, but I feel as though I know you. I met you when you were first born in Los Angeles (technically, I met you before that when your mom and dad first found out they were pregnant), I babysat for you a few times and have followed your life as your mom has posted wonderful things about you on Facebook. I haven't seen you since you were about 4 or 5, and I can't quite wrap my brain around the fact that you are going to be a teenager!

As a mother myself, of a boy almost two years younger than you, I have to tell you how hopeful I am for the future of our country, and our world. Your generation has so many advantages that previous generations have not. I am not just speaking of technology, I am also speaking of bravery, of truth, of knowledge and new ways of looking at the world. I truly believe that, just as we humans have evolved to lose our tails and stand erect, future generations, beginning with this one, are developing a very finely honed bullshit meter. It might not be an easy thing, but more than ever before, you have more information at your fingertips, to sort through, to disseminate fact from fiction. You are exposed to more of everything, and at a lightening pace. If you can always find and listen to that still small voice inside you, the one that says "yes" or "that's a load of hooey", you will be better than okay. You will be YOU, and that is what the world is so in need of right now.

I remember being your age and walking with my dad. He was the age I am now, and I couldn't get over how SLOW he was. This was way before personal computers and cell phones. This was just out WALKING, for heaven's sake. And now I see the same exasperation in my son's eyes when I can't keep up in some way - sharp mental acuity is the province of the young.

Something to take into account, though, before you all roll your eyes at your doddering parents. Our hesitance, our "slowness", if you will, is merely the gift of time that we have been given. It's like we are watching a giant clock that began to run the moment you were born, and our measured pace is merely the desire to have more time with you. Not necessarily to stop you from growing up, we know this to be inevitable and feel certain the world will be lucky to get such amazing young adults; but to hold on for a bit longer to the idea that you belong to us, the notion that we can protect you and guide you to make the right decisions, before it's time for you to do those things on your own. Just to hold on to you a bit longer. To marvel at you, to enjoy you, and to make sure you know how to wash your dishes and fold a t-shirt. That is our small contribution to your amazing selves. Well, that, and to see you safely through puberty, which is like teething was for you as a baby, with less drool. The next few years are sure to provide you with moments of uncertainty, but don't be fooled by those crazy hormones. Get still, if you can, get quiet, and listen hard to hear your truth, and remember that feelings are not facts. They are fleeting, and while they are of great worth to shape your experiences in life, they are only part of the equation. When you feel overwhelmed by them, that's a good time to take a nap, or eat an apple. Or sit next to your mom on the couch, and lean your head on her shoulder and just be you.

Magnificent teenager.

Lots of love and Happy Birthday,

Annie McQ

Friday, August 17, 2012

Get Back, (Dark) Temptation

Do you know what happens when your boy child hits about 11 1/2?  He starts to SMELL.  Kids going through puberty are little body odor FACTORIES.  They can be squeaky clean, but their armpits?


I was in the car with him this week, and caught a whiff and remembered the most important thing on my to-do list:  let him pick out some deodorant.  So, today, we went on a little deodorant-buying expedition.

Back when I was a kid and lived with my dad and my brothers, there was only ONE deodorant in our house.  Right Guard.  Spray.  I honestly didn't need to know anything about the ozone to know that this stuff was killing SOMETHING.

Since then, I hadn't looked at men's deodorant.  Ever.  Charley buys his own, so it's not something I have ever considered.  Until today.  And I have to congratulate you, you manly men, because you are sort of eclipsing us girls in the sheer number of deodorant selections on the market.  There were so many, it took us quite a while to choose.  So we did what we do when we go hat shopping for JH, and here I shall helpfully give you the guidelines of shopping for your pre-teen/teen.  This should work equally well for girls.
You're welcome.

Rules for shopping for deodorant (or whatEVer) with your preteen:

1) try as many as possible in the first ten minutes.
2) narrow it down to three
3) add two more (or trade two out, it's your decision, really)
4) be completely unable to choose between two, and you'll run out of time and have to choose two anyway.

This should only take between 1 -3 hours.

As I said, I was impressed by the sheer number of choices, and the creativity in naming men's deodorant/anti-perspirant.

We tried:  Swagger, Sport, Pure Sport, Clean, Extra Clean, Fresh, Extra Fresh, Playmaker, Game Day, Smooth Blast, Phoenix, Danger Zone, After Hours, Fiji, Danali, Matterhorn, Excite, Anarchy, Twist, Kilo, Clix, Essence....The list is long and (hat tip to the marketing department) mighty creative.

We finally settled for Degree Sport and Axe Essence.  Not TOO manly, but it works to tackle those crazy hormonal preteen armpits.

I refused to consider Dark Temptation.  He's 11, and he's my baby, and dammit, I'm paying for it, so I still have a say.