Monday, July 2, 2018

And then … he was 21

It’s difficult for me to find birthday cards for my kids. I struggle between trying to be lighthearted with one of those funny Shoebox cards and wanting to be deep and meaningful (those cards always make me cry but I don’t think have the same effect on my boys.)

Regardless, it didn’t take me long to find a card for my son’s 21st birthday that spoke to me. It said this:

“He was born.
And then he smiled.
And then he laughed.
And then he crawled.
And then he walked.
And then he talked.
And then he ran.
And then …
And then …
And then …”

The inside of the card says, “Loved you then, love you now, love you always.”

That kind of says it all, doesn’t it? Isn’t raising kids a series of “and thens”?

I always told my son that he was my first everything – my guinea pig, if you will. The poor kid came into the arms of a mom with so much anxiety and trepidation I’m surprised he survived the first week. But in spite of my second guessing, lack of patience and general “what the fuck am I doing” attitude, I managed through the grace of God to raise a pretty amazing kid.

And then …

I still marvel at the fact that I’m now one of those parents who is telling young moms, “It goes by so fast.” Flashback 15 to 20 years ago I didn’t believe that any more than the mother of the two-year-old believes it now. I look back on old photos and videos and I remember. I remember those moments. My son’s joyful grin (I used to tell him he smiled with his whole face) as he ran in and out of the sprinkler then hugged me and said delightedly, “I get Mommy all wet!” The photo of him proudly walking to me for the first time. The awkward video of him standing like a deer caught in headlights, singing with the rest of his preschool classmates, finding my face and waving like he hadn’t seen me in months. I was his world.

And then …

I said this then and I still believe it now. When your kid goes off to school, you lose a little bit of him. All of a sudden, you don’t know what he’s doing every single moment of the day. He starts to create memories you aren’t a part of, and talks about other kids you don’t know. Sometimes he’ll hold your hand all the way to school; other times he’ll drop it quickly and run off to meet up with his buddies. A part of me was grateful – relieved to have a brief respite from the more than full-time job of parenting. The other part of me – my heart – broke just a little bit as I watched him start his own amazing life.

And then …

I do believe that boys love their mommas in a special way. I don’t have girls, and I was always grateful thinking I didn’t want to raise one like me – or at least like I was as a child. There is a time, however, when that love is buried underneath a lot of teenage angst. In our case, that love was buried beneath a lot more than that.

No one can predict the roller coaster ride that is raising a child. Though I knew the teenage years can be rocky between mom and son, I was not prepared for the outside forces that threatened to tear us – and my son – apart. I was the worst mom during that time, and I was also the best mom. I can honestly say that the years my son was a teenager were the years that I finally grew up.

And then …

And then he was gone. I remember a time when my son and I were asked to vocalize one thing for which we resented each other. (This was part of a healthy exercise so don’t raise your eyebrows.) I told him I resented being gypped out of being able to parent him for two years of his life. I told him I earned that right, and to have it stripped away from me made me angry. Part of me felt like a failure – that I couldn’t handle it so I had to turn him over to someone else; another part of me knew I had made the best decision in order to give him the greatest chance at life.

I’ve heard moms complain about their toddlers, and sometimes I’ll shoot back with, “Just wait until they’re teenagers.” I regret saying that, because it’s not fair. When my son was a toddler it was more of a struggle to take care of his physical needs. He was tired and cranky at inconvenient (for me) times. He was hungry. He was thirsty. And I was responsible for fixing all of that.

With teenagers, you’re both struggling with that perfect storm of hormones, independence and good old fashioned trial and error. It’s exhausting because unlike the solutions of feeding them, changing them or putting them down for a nap, there ARE no quick fixes for a 16-year-old’s emotions. You can't always help, and you shouldn't always help. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you’ve had the solution to your child’s every problem for years – now it’s up to him, and all you can do is stand by, let him make his mistakes and reap the consequences. That’s sometimes what hurts the most.

And then …

And then somehow, some way, they’re 21.

“Legal.” “An adult.”

My son will turn 21 tomorrow. I cannot even write that without the words catching in my throat. I remember 21 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. That kid and I grew so much together. As much as he learned from me, I learned so much more from him. I honestly never understood the term “unconditional love” until I had my son. I’m an easily annoyed person, and thought, “Oh my God, how am I going to be able to live through the shit that is going to happen with raising this child.”

Somehow, you do. I’ve told my kids on more than one occasion, “I may not like you right now, but I will always love you.” That’s true; however, love takes on many forms. There were times when I didn’t think I would live through what was going on in his life, let alone live through him. Love can be beautiful and amazing, but it can also be the most painful emotion you’ve ever felt. Love can hurt so deeply you honestly think your heart is going to break. My heart broke for my son many, many times during his life – and it still does. But now, to me, I know that just means it’s stronger than ever, just like my love for him is.

And then …

I don’t know what’s next for my son. But I do know that I am so, so proud of him. As I've told him so many times during his life and it continues to be true - I will always be his biggest fan. I am so thankful that God chose me to be his mom and to be responsible for what is truly an amazing, unique young man. I can honestly say that if God said to me today, “You want to do it all over again with this same kid?” I’d say, “Hell yes.” I’ll take all the “and thens”, whether I know what they are or not.

Happy 21st birthday, Son. I loved you then, I love you now. I will love you always.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Mother of a Day

I’m honestly not big on holidays – any of them, really. To me, some of them, like Mother’s Day, seem like they were made up by a group of people from Hallmark and FTD on a conference call brainstorming ways to make more money during the offseason.

I know, I know. We should recognize mothers. And fathers. And grandparents. And sweetests (really, who celebrates that day?) But for some, it’s pressure. And obligation. And sometimes, sadness.

This will be my fifth motherless Mother’s Day. Back when my mom was alive, we’d get together for brunch or dinner, I’d get a lovely card from my kids and a gift usually picked out by their dad. Again, not complaining. But when I think of mother’s day, it’s not obligatory cards, gifts and meals that come to mind – it’s the days I was well-mothered and the days I mothered well.

When I think of a mother’s day, I think of the times something “significant” happened in my life – “significant” being a relative term that ran the gamut from a breakup with a boyfriend to a new job to a life-changing issue with a child. I think of how my mom was always there for me – she was a rock star when there was a crisis. She was my go-to person – the one I thought of to call first, whether it was to cry or yell or seek advice. (Honestly, I never really had to ask for advice; she readily offered it whether I wanted it or not.) Regardless of whether she told me to suck it up, encouraged me to look on the bright side, sympathized, discussed my options or helped me find a solution, she was the comfort I usually sought when the going got tough.

I miss that – so much. There are still many times I reach for the phone to call her when something happens, good or bad. She would have been a source of support when my older son put me through hell as a teen. She would have wanted to know who I was dating and would have continually reminded me how I dodged a bullet getting out of my last long-term relationship (I don’t think she ever liked him anyway.) She would have encouraged me on my career path and pushed me to do more writing. She would have called me every day for the past month after my son’s serious accident for updates - she adored my kids. She would have helped me redo my family room that I’ve never gotten around to painting because I don’t trust myself to pick out the colors.

Lots of people feel this way about their moms – I know I’m not the only one. There are people who haven’t had their mom around for years; others have lost them more recently. Though your life adjusts, there’s plenty of instances when you think, “Wow. I wish my mom were here to see this/meet you/help me.”

I was well-mothered. Sure, we had our issues. But now that I'm a mother myself, I know she did the best she could. I know this because she taught me well, and I’m doing the best that I can.

I was well-mothered, and I’m trying to mother well. I’m lucky to have a pretty solid relationship with both of my kids – a few years ago I could not have said that. Now I seem to be their go-to, and I love that. I love that they trust me, and I love that I am sometimes the first person they want to call to talk to, whether it’s about a job, a relationship, a problem or just life in general.

Those are the moments that are my mother’s day. Sure it’s nice to get a card, but only because the powers that be designated a random Sunday in May as a day to celebrate mothers. I don’t need flowers or gifts or a special day – I just want my kids to keep calling, keep close and keep loving me.

I’ll stop by and “visit” my mom this weekend, but there will be no brunch or Mother’s Day trinkets – just one-sided conversation in the hopes that she hears me. Miss you, Mom. Happy mother’s day - every day. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Warrior

Have you ever known that one person who seemingly has it all? Great looks, winning smile, hilarious, talented, always positive, tons of friends, awesome husband, adorable kids ..... ugggghhh.

I first admired her from afar. She was that crazy mom who came sprinting up to the elementary school to pick up her kid just as the bell rang - usually wearing spandex workout capris, a tank top with some inspirational workout saying on it and a brightly colored bandana covering her vibrant auburn hair - yes, always the bandana. Her constant smile and laugh was infectious, and when her son ran up to meet her, it was apparent that this was probably the best moment of her whole day.

I was intimidated and envious - and I wished I could be her friend.

I discovered that as a fitness instructor, she was vigilant about having a healthy body - not a skinny body - but a healthy, strong body, and wanted nothing more than to wrangle others into jumping on the exercise bandwagon with her. I saw friends and admirers flood her Facebook page with comments when she announced the next time she'd be teaching, and her after-class selfies dripped with genuine praise for her students for "crushing it" once again.

She chose a vegetarian lifestyle, which may have been somewhat of a point of contention with her husband, who is maybe not quite as health-conscious as she. But in a style that is true to them as a couple, they poked fun at it by creating a hilarious video called, "My Wife's a Vegetarian" - her husband on guitar and both of them on vocals - it's probably out there on YouTube somewhere.

As I got to know her better, I realized that this woman has a HUGE circle of friends - and not just fair-weather friends. Real friends - like from childhood, high school, college ... all over the United States - and they all adore her. She is quick to love them back; in fact, I've never met anyone who is so filled with love for her husband, her children, her family and her friends. Her gift is her love, which is evident for anyone close to her. She will tear up talking about her magnificent husband, her kids who are growing up way too fast, her incredibly supportive parents and her veritable treasure trove of friends.

All that said, somehow, some way, I got this amazing woman to be my friend - and finally realized what all the fuss was about. She DOES have it all. Great looks, winning smile, hilarious, talented, always positive, tons of friends, awesome husband, adorable kids ...

And cancer. She also has cancer.

It was no secret she was a survivor of breast cancer - every year she celebrated her cancerversary - the fifth year being the big one - and she was an avid participant in Race for the Cure - the running part, of course - did I mention she's a runner? Surviving cancer got her into fitness. Surviving cancer caused her to change her eating habits. Surviving cancer made her realize even moreso what was really important. Surviving cancer made her outlook on life such that she considered every single day a gift.

She was told years ago that she was at her one child max. Ten years after her son was born, she went to CVS and bought a six pack of beer and a pregnancy test - and eight months later, a beautiful, free-spirited replica of her came into this world. In my mind, it was because the universe realized that the world needs more people like her - so they made one.

We laughed at the fact that she was "starting over" - having kids 10-plus years apart. We adored the spunkiness of her daughter - "just like her", her mother proclaimed - and the baby pictures prove it. We were envious at how she so quickly reclaimed her post-baby body. True to form, the woman went through pregnancy and those baby years like it was a walk in the park - now, we all know it wasn't, but you know what I mean. She did it all like a warrior.

A warrior.

She did everything like a warrior.

She does everything like a warrior.

The cancer is back, and she's a motherf*cking warrior.

She continued to teach the fitness classes despite the chemotherapy. She lost her hair and dyed it red. She takes bets on how much fluid will be drained from her swollen tummy. Her posts about her progress are blunt and full of her unique humor: "My liver is being an asshole but if I can get it to cooperate I'll be the mayor of healthytown!" She is fighting, reminding me of one of her favorite phrases of recent years - "Nevertheless, she persisted."

Never in my life have I known someone as inspirational, as vigilant, as strong and as superhumanly powerful as this woman I am so incredibly humbled to call my friend. She is the epitome of a true warrior - and as her friend, I am so privileged to be a part of her extensive, worldwide army that has been assembling itself since the day she was born. I have never seen a more supportive, generous, caring "tribe" - as she calls us all - who I honestly think would do ANYTHING for her. I know I would, and I do not have the longevity that most of her friends have with her.

I know at times she feels weak. At times she's so tired. If she only knew that even when she feels tired and weak, she is still stronger than so many of us. I KNOW she knows that when she feels tired and weak, she still has us - her army - her tribe - supporting her, loving her and STILL being inspired by her every single day.

Here's the thing. You cannot have someone like her walking this earth without acknowledging her amazingness - in fact, we should be shouting it from the rooftops. She should be on a poster somewhere with an arrow pointing to her that says, "WE NEED MORE PEOPLE LIKE THIS." There needs to be a "How to be a Warrior" class - and she needs to teach it.

Make no mistake, here - she was a warrior before cancer, but she's in the fight of her life right now, and I think every member of her tribe feels helpless. We can stand by her side with our arrows and swords, but in the end it is the lead warrior who does the most fighting - it is her battle. If forming a circle around her to shelter her from the blows of this disease would keep her safe, we'd do it. If finding some way to defeat this enemy for her was within our powers, we'd have done it yesterday. If there was a way to bottle her strength, spirit and determination and give it out as a cure, we'd do it tomorrow.

We'd do it - for our warrior.

Update: Our Warrior, Amy Poirier Bjornstad, passed peacefully at home surrounded by her loved ones on Tuesday, March 27th, three days after this post was written. Rest now, my love.

Help a warrior; be a warrior. Give to the Jimmy V Foundation and let's get a victory over cancer.