In Death as in Life

Nobody wants to get old. Getting old isn’t beautiful.

If we are honest with ourselves most of us look at the elderly with at least a slight feeling of revulsion in the pit of our stomachs. We feel this way only because it triggers fear within us. The fear of aging is not only the product of our own vanity but also the realization that the end is near. We want to presume, “it will never be me. I will never let myself get that old, that wrinkled, that stooped. I will never have that funk of age or skin like paper perforated with brown spots and bulging blue veins”.

But we will.

And we will wonder how we got there and how we let ourselves get this way.
photo wedding

But until I sat with my Mama* and held her hand, watched her breath get shallow and her eyes grow heavy I did not know this secret. Right before you die you become beautiful again.

The people that love you will gather by your bedside. They will marvel at the brightness and depth of your eyes. They will caress and wonder at the softness of your skin. They will clean you lovingly and brush your hair into place. They will be enamored with every wrinkle and with every imperfection that makes you unique. They will drink in the sweetness of your whispers and treasure every little snore as you rest and every breath that comes after a long silence. There is no insincerity in this admiration. It is pure.

Angela Josephine Fenech, nineteen years old, on her wedding day.

Angela Josephine Fenech, 19 years old, on her wedding day.

There is a strange but fragile beauty in death.

For those last few weeks, days and hours before death we will be young again. Beautiful in the eyes of those that love you. We will forget every wrinkle and every spot.

And we will die as beautiful and as precious as the day we were born.

 

 

 

 

* Mama was my name for my grandmother, Angela.

By Erika: Scarred for Life

Each of us has slivers of childhood memories — tiny memories among the vast sea of our experience that are somehow sharper than the others. You know, those painful little pesky ones that, try as you might, won’t go away. Pick at them with tweezers all you like… they only go in deeper. Maybe it was the day of a field trip when you forgot your sack lunch and had to sit there with nothing to eat and pretend it was OK because you weren’t that hungry anyway. Maybe it was when you heard your mom telling a family friend that you were “getting little boobies.” Or, maybe it was the day you got your period while wearing white pants with rainbow pinstripes and you had to ride the bus home wondering how you would get off the bus and walk to your front door without anyone noticing your backside.

We all have these hellish memory slivers, which make great stories now, but were just about our complete undoing (or so it felt at the time). As a parent, I consider it a primary goal to be as infrequent a source of these traumatized memory slivers as possible. You
just never know what it could be – some “harmless” thing you said about their favorite TV show or some unfulfilled promise for ice cream that you forgot you made. But last night my 7-year-old son, without question, had a sliver opportunity.

Just so no one thinks I am totally clueless, I must tell you that I cut my children’s hair for the first two years of their lives. Maybe it was even three. Although I am no professional, I have to say it looked pretty darn good. I have a track record and the photos to prove it. Last night was another story. All I was attempting was a simple ear trim to clean up the haircut to last another few weeks. There was no blood. But as my 7-year-old wiggled while standing naked in the shower (easier cleanup that way) I managed to make entry into the point of no return where you go farther and farther, trying to fix the un-fixable. A few minutes later, my boy was covered in hair saying “Itchy! Itchy!” and I was shouting, “Hold still, this looks terrible!!” I finally tried to convince him to just let me shave his head like Daddy’s, to which he lamented, “But Daddy’s hair looks STUPID! He never even HAS any!” He was about in tears when I eventually realized I’d better stop while I was ahead and have it fixed after school tomorrow by a professional. It was bad. Quite bad. But I tried to shift gears and say it wasn’t so bad and kids wouldn’t notice anyway and off he went to bed.

The next morning, one look at him and my heart sank. It WAS pretty bad. He didn’t say anything about that, but as the time to go to school came nearer and nearer, he started saying he hated school, hated Mondays, and didn’t want to go. I tried to ignore it until we were leaving and he asked for a baseball hat to wear to school. “Does it cover all my hair?” he asked desperately. I felt so bad. Then I realized he might not be permitted to wear a hat in the classroom, so I asked him if I could talk to his teacher about it. He very reluctantly said I could, and I did. She was noncommittal about whether he coud keep the hat on, and simply said, “We will see how the day goes.” I worried all day long.

At pickup time, what do you know, out comes my kid sans hat. I tell him we are going straight to get his hair fixed, and he said, “Aww, why?! Do we have to? It isn’t even that bad!!” While that made me feel better, we went anyway. He did great, lost a bunch more hair, and powered through it. I think the best thing he got out of it was the advice of the hairdresser, which was, “Next time you see Mommy coming toward you with scissors, you run. Run as fast as you can!”

In the end, whether traumatic or not, I know this will be something he will never forget. I know this because I also found out that school pictures are in two weeks. So yes, he will remember. But maybe, just maybe, I am the only one who got a sliver from it.

Friendship and Paper Plates

Being a new parent can be a very isolating experience. Right after the baby is born friends and family come by to poke and coo and to bring a noisy toy that will likely become the bane of your existence. But not long after the visits start to drop off. Friends that don’t have kids would rather go out on Friday night than sit and talk to you about how many times your baby pooped that day. And who can blame them? Friends that do have kids have their own families to worry about. Even family goes home eventually and gets back to their lives. After awhile it is just you and that baby at 3:00 in the morning. (Before my husband serves me with divorce papers I have to qualify that he got up at night too with the baby, but at 3 AM nobody is good company.)

Before I had kids I was a fairly social person. I loved having friends over for dinner or drinks or for a BBQ. So it was something that I really missed after I had the twins because it wasn’t so easy to do anymore. Dinner parties are a little tricky when they interfere with bedtime and quite honestly once the kids were asleep entertaining was the last thing on my mind. 

The other problem was that I was a bit of a perfectionist when it came to having people over. The house had to be clean, the table set, the food ready, everything in order and… perfect. Once I had kids, the pursuit of perfection was unattainable. Forget about trying to clean the house while three kids play dress up, fire station and school bus all at the same time. Forget about trying to cook something that doesn’t come out of a box without greasy kid fingers poking at it. Forget about putting out the wine glasses from our wedding or god forbid, a table-cloth! Although it doesn’t really matter because there are only three wine glasses left anyway.

Trying to live up to pre-kid standards was exhausting to think about let alone to try and achieve. This is how I entered the isolation tank. The one that I would enter upon returning from work on Friday night and exit on Monday morning when I left for work. It looked a lot like my house.

But after a while a funny thing started to happen. I started to realize that I really liked being around other people. People who are not my kids or my spouse. And my kids liked to be around other people, that are not me or my spouse. So I realized I had to change my standards because all the cleaning and prep and preciseness just wasn’t fun or realistic anymore. I just wanted company, conversation and food that didn’t start with mac and end with cheese. 

Now I might be giving myself away but I have a new-found respect for potlucks, paper plates and storage closets. A potluck means good friends and good food that I didn’t have to make and answering the door looking semi-fresh because I am not red-faced and sweaty from a cleaning/cooking frenzy. Paper plates means little to no clean up and almost anything can be stuffed into a storage closet for a couple of hours. These little “modifications” give me the time and opportunity to be with friends, to enjoy them and to enjoy myself.

Caution: Road Work Ahead

As a mom who works full-time outside of the home, I constantly question whether the decisions I have made are the right ones. It is inevitable that I question whether working is the right thing for my kids and if it is the right thing for me. It is not likely to be a question that is easily resolved. It is easy to see signs everywhere, in emails I get, articles I read, comments people make or stories I hear on the radio that sometimes lead me to believe that I should be doing something different. Sometimes, it is construction zones.

“You’ve got to be F—ING kidding me!!!” I scream as I pound the steering wheel. It is clearly not one of my finer moments. I am running 10 minutes late already and I am only 3 minutes away from work when I drive up on a barricade reading “Road Closed”. The first detour I take results in a line of stopped cars. I flip around and head down another road, which I soon find is equally as backed up.

About a year ago, I started to notice the literal “road blocks” to getting to my office. First, it was the bridge across the river that was a short cut to my kids’ school. The city closed the bridge for two years to do some necessary repairs. This required me to take a completely different route to school, one that necessitated a roundabout detour onto the freeway. In actuality, it shouldn’t have taken any longer to get there but then, there was the traffic. Getting on to the freeway was no problem but inevitably it was stop and go due to the influx of new traffic caused by the bridge closure as there was no other way to get across the river.

Not long after I began the freeway detour the city started a construction project on the on-ramps I took to access the freeway. This caused a back up of traffic to get onto the freeway in addition to the backup already on the freeway.

Several months later on my way to work, after I fought the traffic leading to the on ramp, fought the freeway traffic and headed back to work I was surprised to find that Main Street, literally two blocks from my work was under construction. The cross street was entirely closed and to get through I had to sit and wait for a flagger.

It became almost comical. That is, if I didn’t cry. I was already chronically late for work but what used to be 5-10 minutes late was turning into 20-30 minutes. The city had essentially decided to start a construction project on every possible street on my route to work. Why was it suddenly so hard to get there? Could it be sign? Could it just be coincidence?

So all of this road work was making it hard for me to get my kids to school and hard for me to get to work. I started thinking that maybe it was divine intervention. There was a higher power that was throwing out bulldozers, hardhats and road signs to get me to go down a different road. Not the one that led to my office.

The truth is that it is easy to find “signs” when I want to. It is easy to think the universe is trying to tell me something if I look hard enough. It is like when you buy a new car and suddenly you see that same car everywhere you look when you never noticed it before. I guess it was same with me and the construction zones. They were probably there all along I just didn’t see them until I was looking for them.

What is harder is coming back down to reality and to sift through what it is that is making me see those signs and whether to pay attention to it or not.

Working is a blessing and a sacrifice. Staying home is a blessing and a sacrifice. I stay home for a week or two and I am ready to go back to work. I go to work for a week or two and I am ready to stay home again. There is really no happy medium. I go through all the justifications and rationalizations for doing what I do, what I choose to do. In the end there really is no answer.

When it comes down to it no decision can be based solely on constructions zones no matter how inconvenient they make my life. It is just not that simple. I just have to do what I think is best and stay on that road and hope there aren’t too many orange cones.

This Wasn’t Part of the Plan

I am a planner. I have been all my life. It is both a blessing and a curse. But the first thing you learn when you become a parent is that your best-laid plans are just that, plans, and nothing more. A baby lets you know in no uncertain terms that she was put on this earth to shake things up.

Like most new moms before I became a mom I had ideas about how things were going to be. I had a plan. A good plan and it was going to work.

Then I had twins.

There were times in the beginning when I envied moms with “singletons”. There were times when I wondered, “What would it be like to only have one baby? Would it be easier? What would it be like to give one baby all my attention?” But the truth is I think that having twins has been a benefit to me as a parent.

I figured out early on that I couldn’t sweat the small stuff or I would go insane, really insane. I didn’t have the time or energy to worry about whether I was always doing the right thing. I tried my best but if things didn’t work out, then that was just how it was going to be as long as my kids were safe and relatively happy. I didn’t worry when they weren’t dressed in cute outfits or if their clothes were used or had stains. I didn’t worry when I had to dress my son in a pink onesie with ruffled sleeves because everything else was dirty. I didn’t worry when one baby was crying while I was changing the other one’s diaper. I didn’t stress out over making their birthday cupcakes from a box rather than from scratch. I didn’t worry about the messes and there were a lot of messes. I didn’t worry over every developmental milestone.

Instead I learned to survive and I learned the “benefits” of having twins. I learned which stores had double shopping carts and which ones had “family” parking closer to the front door. I learned which restaurants would greet us with a smile and a handful of crayons and in which ones I would see the “inner groan” on the face of the waitress. I taught the twins to hold their own bottles when they were 6 months old. I let them feed themselves with their hands at 8 months. I learned that the infant swing at the park holds two babies if you put them back to back. I learned that people hold the door for a double stroller. I learned to ignore the stares. I learned to smile and nod at the “double trouble” comments. I learned that people will hold and entertain a baby on the airplane. I learned that there was nothing cooler than watching my twins interact with each other and talk to each other.

What I have learned is that this parenting thing is all relative. Other parents say to my husband and I, “I don’t know how you do it. I have just one and it is totally overwhelming.” The truth is, we just don’t know any different. And I have to believe that had we had only one baby we would have felt just as overwhelmed, just as freaked out and just as exhausted. Yeah, twins weren’t in the “plan” but I think we just learned to take it all in stride.

There are still times I am jealous when I see a parent or two parents sitting playing quietly on the floor with one child that is engaged in an activity or when a couple is at the park, the child is on the swing and one parent is pushing and the other is in front making funny, smiley faces as the child laughs with joy. The child has all the attention and focus and I sometimes wish that I could provide that for my kids. But my kids have given me the gift of perspective. I know that plans can change and I know that my kids are going to be all right. They have had to share most things but they have never had to share love.

Leap of Faith

I have always been a person who has preferred to ease into the water rather than hold my breath and jump. When I was a kid I would always convince my little sister to go in first and test the waters before I would tentatively dip my toes in. That being said, I have been known to take a few risks in my time.

As I got older and especially after I had kids I started to take risks less and less. Until it got to the point where I wasn’t even bothering to ease into the water anymore. I was just sitting back on the shore watching everyone else.

Parenthood is an incredibly rugged and scenic journey. It is not for the faint of heart. There are so many joyous moments and so many…. Not so joyous moments. It is a constant up and down. I have spent my time as a fledgling parent focused on memories of my children, their milestones and their stages of development. All those little things I treasure and don’t want to forget as they grow and get older. What is easy to forget is that parenthood is also a stage in my development and that I took a big risk in becoming a parent. I imagine the day when I will look over baby books with my grown children and I will tell them about their first tooth and their first words. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could also tell them “This is what it was like for me to become your mom. It was a time of learning and growth for me too.”

The idea to start writing about my experience as a parent came to me quite a while ago. But it was hard to take the time out of my chaotic schedule to find an outlet for the stories I had floating around in my head. Then actually letting these stories out into the world was a really big leap, one I was not entirely sure I could take.

So this idea sprouted in my mind and its potential grew. I wrote when I had the time while babies napped or slept in the next room and I collected my thoughts. Every couple of months I would shimmy out and put my toes over edge. I would look down at the water, dizzyingly far below. Then I would shuffle back away with a sinking feeling in my stomach.

So here I am, once again, standing on that familiar ledge trying to decide whether or not to jump. I guess sometimes you just have to close your eyes, hold your breath and take that leap.