Where did the mama go who laughed and sang and read stories and played with her children?
Where did the mama go who had patience and a smile and the ability to let all the demands of the world melt away and focus only on her precious pint-size people?
Where did the mama go who could create one-of-a-kind birthday parties and scavenger hunts and toilet-paper-cardboard-exoskeletons-with-pipe-cleaner-antennas?
Where did the mama go who volunteered as room mom and decorated cupcakes like coral reefs and had seventeen girls sleepover in the living room in a snowstorm?
Somewhere along the way, she got more than a little bit lost. She’s a quarter century older than she was with her girls. And her patience and reserves aren’t what they used to be.
She’s vanished, and I really need to find her again. I miss her.
Not only do I miss her readiness to drop it all and be present in the moment… I miss the fact that there aren’t so many moments left for her to squander. And squandering precious moments is one of my biggest worries. I have no time to waste. There’s so much that has to be done…
… between parenting and teaching and grading and gifted cert classes and football and laundry and trying to find time to write because it’s the only bit of something I actually do for myself…. it leaves very little time for fun and games. And I don’t like that about myself. I’m way too serious these days.
The Joker would not approve. And I don’t think my boys do either.
But all the things are pulling at all my moments. And the only common denominator besides parenting between when my girls were little and now my boys are little is the laundry. Everything else didn’t exist.
And neither did the Me who is Mama now.
I am the new version. And new versions aren’t always what people want. It’s not what I want.
Take the new and improved Butterfingers candy bar. Nobody wants them. Everybody loves the classic. Supposedly there’ll be more cocoa and milk and no more hydrogenated oils. It’s all about quality. But nobody is happy about it.
My new and not-so-improved motherhood — nobody wants t it either. There’s definitely more worry lines and deadlines and no more happy-go-lucky moods. It’s all about quantity. And nobody is happy about it.
I scramble to make everything fit. I cram and pack the moments full. Too full. Till everything bursts from the pressure. Me. The boys. Mike. All of us.
How can I fix this? How can I do better? Explode less, love more? Dear Lord, I wish I knew. I’m at a loss. I’m losing daily.
With the girls, I was a stay-at-home mama with time on my side. Neither is true now. What is still true is I love my kids — grown and growing — with all my heart, and I love being a mom, and I want to be a good one.
So how can I pack more into each moment without packing more into each moment? I’ve got to figure it out. How to do what I’ve been doing without doing what I’ve been doing. It is a paradox so simple and so hard. And I don’t have the answers.
Motherhood is my most important thing. Right now and always. Especially right now. The boys have hit a tough age. Somebody said the other day they love the five-year-old boy year, and I almost choked on my incredulity.
This Five-Year-Old Boy Year has been flipping HARD. A lot of it has to do with how there’s TWO of them and all. And there’s kindergarten. And homework. And they’re playing flag football. On weeknights. So they’re getting to bed late. Plus, they’re growing like gangbusters and burning through all their fuel and they’re HANGRY as H-E-double-hockey-sticks.
Have mercy! — which is what I need.
And what they need. And I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but they deserve it. So I’m going to find the solution to the paradox. I’m going to pack more moments full of my boys’ big brown eyes and wide open smiles and kind, generous hearts. Even if it means squandering the moments of all the other things.
Because motherhood demands sacrifice. And motherhood is my most important thing. Right now and always.
Nothing is more important than my children’s emotional and physical well-being. All four of them.
It is autumn! At least, that’s what the calendar tells us. My car thermometer, on the other hand, says it is 93 degrees at 6:30 pm. We’ve had more than eighty days of 90+ temperatures in North Georgia this year. Enough is enough already! But supposedly it’s autumn, and that means it’s officially my favorite season.
I love fall for so many reasons. For pumpkin patches and apple orchards, for candy corn and nutmeg and cloves, for gemstone leaves and front porch scarecrows. Albert Camus proclaimed autumn “a second spring, when every leaf’s a flower.” And I tend to agree. I mostly love fall because it symbolizes new beginnings in all sorts of ways for my family: a new school year, a new football season. Fall is my absolute favorite!
Fall is the season of new school years: new faces, new potential, new energy, new passion. And even though we’ve already been in school for over seven weeks (this is the South, after all – we go back before the sunburns have even had a chance to peel), we still call this fall semester, and we’re still feeling fresh (sort of) when the autumnal equinox officially strikes. I have one-hundred- eighty sophomore students sitting in my seats and eager to learn (sort of). And while the challenges are great and the resources are slim, I still have a tremendous reservoir of love for my students and passion for my subject. So fall is my favorite!
And fall is the season of football, the game that seasons our family with a long, strong, complicated marinade. It is flavored with dynamic combinations, unexpected ingredients, raw emotions and daring outcomes — all served up on a spiral slice to robust and critical crowds. It is the sport that leaves me absolutely spellbound and absolutely spent… a complete and utter glutton for the punishment and pain, the pleasure and pride that makes up the season. As a football family, we wouldn’t want it any other way. So fall is my favorite!
And fall is the season for late afternoon drives in the countryside. Living in the country gives the boys and me ample opportunity to witness the glory that is fall: golden soybean fields, corn crops with buzz cuts, and barnyard nurseries – the farm animals are having their fall babies!
We pass a menagerie of livestock on our way home from school every weekday, and I swear, almost any given pasture on almost any given day has a new baby to ogle. Parker and Tate providing me with a running commentary of each fascinating new discovery. We pass a horse farm, a multitude of cow pastures, and even a field full of mama sheep and their newborn lambs. I bet there’s a dozen in that pen — little, bleary clouds scattered sleepily across the grass and under the pines. My breath catches at the sight of them every single time.
And fall is the season for hay bales. I’m here to say that I never knew how compelling hay bales could be until I had twin boys with a hearty devotion to tractors. There’s been a steady harvest in recent weeks. From one field to the next, the same scene has run its course and the boys never tire of talking about them. I dread the day when all of the hay bales are gone. It will be a dark day, indeed.
Fall is the season of long and languid afternoon sun, a sun that leans low to blind drivers and irritate my twins on rides home, a sun that creeps deep inside living room floors to butter bare toes, a sun that catches dust and pollen dancing in its rays for an undeniable reminder of allergy season – as if we needed reminding. The boys’ noses have had snail trails from nostril to lip for weeks now.
Fall is the season of baking treats and making memories. I used to spend hours in the kitchen when the girls were little, crafting fall festival Cake Walk prizes and bake sale bounty. Baking makes me dizzily, freakishly happy. It’s my mother’s fault. She baked a lot when I was a kid, her hair, frosted with highlights (and probably splatters of buttercream frosting, as well), pulled back from her beaming, beautiful face. The world felt warm and wonderful and safe and sound in the sanctity of her kitchen — and I guess somewhere along the way, happiness, beauty, warmth and womanhood all got tangled up with baking for me. So now when I bake, I feel like I’m Wonder Woman on a mission to cure what ails the world, one bundt cake at a time.
I made some banana bread last week, which went with Mike to the football war room, where the guys spend hours working on this week’s game plan. I hope it gave them a little lift in the midst of the Sunday grind. The process of making it and the comforting scent of it gave me one, for sure.
Fall is the season of my grandson Bentley’s birth. The little acorn is a fall fledgling with gangly limbs and translucent skin, who shimmers like wheat fields in the sun when he smiles, and his eyes are brighter than crisp autumn skies. So thanks to Bentley Boo, fall is my favorite!
Finally, fall is the season of change. Colors change, temperatures change, grades and teachers and wardrobes and weather… they all change. And in this hate-filled political climate, I pray that Camus is right. That autumn is a second spring – a season of new beginnings – an opportunity for rebirth. May it baptize us all under the shower of leaves, washing us clean of this long, hot, angry summer of hate and intolerance.
Let clarity and love, humanity and grace shine on us all. May we all feel welcomed and valued, respected and protected in this rapidly unfurling season of change.
I defy logic. I defy all explanation. I am one of the wonders. I shouldn’t have been able to have these boys. I’m a challenge to the balance. I know that. I knew it all along. But when our maternal fetal specialist agreed to take our case pro bono because our lovely Georgia governor played dirty with our insurance, I learned just how unique I was. Modern medicine was eager to use me as a case study. I was a Wonder with a capital W. Without my fertility specialist extraordinaire and my maternal fetal specialist with angel wings and a big check book, without my ever-steady and supportive ob/gyn, I wouldn’t have these boys. I completely get it.
But it’s not just medicine that brought my winsome sprouts to my womb and formed them into into flesh and blood and spirited magic. There is so much more to it than that. Prayer played a tremendous part. And Grace. And finally Fortune, that most fickle of Ladies. She decided to be kind. For whatever reason, the Universe decided to bestow two breathtaking blessings upon Mike and me. And I cannot be thankful enough. Ever. And so I’m giving my testimony for others. Sharing our recipe for success. Hoping that someone, somewhere along with way, will benefit from our story.
I know that my age was against me. VERY against me. Especially when I would read all of the unhappy IVF stories of women my age. I quit reading them, actually. I eliminated all negative energy from my life. That was ingredient Number 1. Only positivity and sunshine.
I began listening to Natalie Merchant’s song, “Wonder,” some lines of which I alluded to earlier. Now if you don’t know it, Google it. Get on YouTube and listen to it. It is powerful stuff. Words are powerful potion. My father taught me about self-fulfilling prophecy and about spoken blessings. He’s quite the preacher type. He’s also a physicist. He’s kinda weird. He’s an oxymoron. He’s Sheldon Cooper on scripturoids. But he always, always, ALWAYS has believed in the power of prayer and the spoken word. So I accentuated the positive and eliminated the negative.
Speaking of the power of the word, if you haven’t read The Secret by Rhonda Byrne or The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Ingredients 2 and 3), read them. Out loud. And believe. They both discuss the power of the Universe and Her generous nature, Her willingness to grant your heart’s desire. You just have to say it. See it. Believe it. Write it. And wait for it to be delivered.
Now of course it’s not that simple. There is hard work involved. You have to dig. And keep digging. And the digging is physical, which is hard, full of medicines and injections and time and doctors visits and uncomfortable procedures, and it is also mental. The ups and downs of infertility is an ordeal no one who hasn’t experienced it can ever possibly imagine.
But you know what else? It is one that SO MANY of us share. It is a taboo subject that most are afraid of, or ashamed of, or too private to talk about. I was amazed at how many couples I knew presented themselves as IVF patients once I came out about our journey. Infertility sufferers are everywhere, yet it is still such a lonely, isolating experience.
So Coelho nails it. The mental digging is the hardest. But he explains that just when you are ready to quit, when the digging has gotten darn-near impossible. When the clay and rock are so incredibly rigid and unyielding and your body is bone-weary and your soul is sucker-punched, just KEEP digging. Because the Universe is about to deliver. It’s like the transitioning stage in labor. It feels like you’ve accomplished nothing at all, but your bundles of blessings are about to present themselves, to crown in all of their wondrous beauty.
So just like the good books commanded, we said it, we believed it, we wrote it down, complete with baby names (names, incidentally, which are now the middle names of both boys ). We visualized. We saw our sticky beans steeping in the placental gravy of the Universe’s Grace. We believed we would stay pregnant, even through dehydration and preeclampsia and advanced maternal age and hospital runs at midnight and the fortnight I slept with ice packs on my chest because it felt like the boys were splitting my sternum like a Butterball turkey’s wishbone.
Beyond saying and believing, Mike and I also played an active part in our process. We researched a ton, which included watching IVF home videos of couples who had been through this process before. (You would be amazed at how many of those there are online.) We watched those who had succeeded and we watched those who had failed and then succeeded. We searched for any and every kernal of wisdom and homeopathic hocus pocus, which leads me to Ingredient #4: pineapple core (yes, CORE) and raw walnuts.
I ate them every single day without fail for two weeks after embryo transfer to assist with implantation. The core was a bit gritty and fibrous and pulpy, but not as bad as you would think. And besides, I would’ve eaten an entire pineapple, in all of its sharp and spiney glory, if I thought it would help in our quest for the elusive sticky beans.
Coming home from the clinic on our transfer day, Mike and I implemented Ingredient 5, a tradition that carried me and our embryos through that most terrifying of times for all fertility patients: the first trimester. We listened to two very, very (have I said VERY?) uplifting and prophetic songs: Natalie Merchant’s “Wonder,” which referenced earlier, and Elton John’s, “You’ll be Blessed.” Google that one too. Right now.
These two songs became the soundtrack of our conception and gestation. I listened and sang along to them religiously every day. Every. Single. Solitary. Morning. Without fail. My power songs. Through them, Fate smiled at Destiny. Through them, the Universe laughed as she came to my cradle and laughed as my body she lifted and laughed as she filled me with her bountiful blessings. With a little help from these songs, and With love, with patience, and with faith. I made my way, and continue to make my way through this miraculous journey.
The final ingredient is absolutely NOTHING like the aforementioned ingredients. It was nothing I planned or researched or manufactured. It was completely unpredicted and unrehearsed and (thankfully) unrepeated and something I would’ve preferred had happened in a bit more private of a manner, but the Universe works in mysterious ways…
Ingredient # 6: the Collywobbles. Such a fun, playful, Roald Dahl kind of word for one of the most UNfun, UNplayful conditions known to man: intestinal distress. The night before our two little baby buds would be siphoned from a petri dish and shot through my cervix with a straw, I had an up close and personal experience with the Collywobbles. To say it was horrible would be an understatement. But I have no doubt in my mind that not only was it God trying to acclimate me to the shit storms to come (twins are nothing, if not collywobbles times two), but I also maintain that it was an integral (and embarrassing) part of our recipe for in vitro success. Doctors prescribe enemas for all manner of procedures. It just so happens that this particular order was placed by the Heavens. Now, my girls will tell you I just don’t ever discuss poop. Ever. But in keeping with the nature of my blog to give honest, heartfelt information about our journey and our family, I guess I have contracted myself into spilling all… kind of like that midsummer night’s eve three years ago.
So before getting down and dirty, allow me to set the stage as prettily as possible: Daytime was dripping into dusk and it was hothouse humid — typical August fare for Georgia. Mike was away at football and wouldn’t be home until late — again, typical August fare for a Georgia football wife.
I was at the park across from our neighborhood, the chattering rise and fall of cicada song pacing my run. Butterfly bushes lined part of my path and I was pushing myself hard. I knew that the following morning Mike and I would drive to the perimeter for transfer and I would be taking it easy for at least the next nine months. I was taking no chances. I didn’t care that my doctor had told me I couldn’t sneeze, poop, fart, laugh, hiccup or jiggle those embryos out, I was going to be as safe and sedentary as possible.
So on this hot, humid, hellhound of an August night, I decided to get my last run in and work out all of my remaining anxieties. When, much to my surprise and chagrin, on the far side of the baseball fields, in a No Man’s Land of summer perennials and the boys of summer charging their grounders and snagging fly balls– I was struck with a vicious and violent blitzkrieg. My stomach flipped and dropped. I broke out in cold sweats. My core cramped. My vision blurred. I was a half a mile from home. And I was in trouble. To call it intestinal distress would be an understatement. And to call it collywobbles seems way too pretty. And it was NOT pretty. And there was nothing I could do. Nothing but think about that horribly humiliating scene in Bridesmaids and be jealous because Maya Rudolph at least had a huge tent of a wedding dress to hide her shame. All I could do was break out in spontaneous prayer. Sincere prayer. Bona fide, true blue, unpretentious prayer. There’s no prayer more down to earth than a “please don’t let me crap myself in public“ prayer. And as I prayed, I shuffled. A hearty knees together, buttocks clenched shuffle. A get-your-Flintstone-feet-in-gear shuffle. And I am here to tell you that bona fide prayer and heartfelt hustle will get you far. It’ll get you darn near half a mile. Close, but no latrine. I made it to our driveway, and I am forever thankful for that small blessing.
And then then floodgates of Heaven opened and the rest is a poorly digested visual. I don’t know if it was nerves, a beastly bug, or the reheated half of a Reuben sandwich from Larry’s Giant Subs I had for dinner, but I was dealt a savage– and I believe an extremely fortuitous, hand. I thoroughly believe the Universe decreed that I have a completely pristine vessel in which to implant my little lads. I’m convinced that in our parenting game of chance and childbirth, my royal flush didn’t beat a full house, it helped make one. (Sorry, terrible pun.)
Anyways… that is our sticky beans recipe. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Note I didn’t say THE recipe for success. Everyone’s recipe will different. And the climate and the conditions and the Universe all have a mighty say in how and when and where the blessings will be rewarded. Some beans will be organic and simply made, with no assistance whatsoever. Others will need chemical intervention, like ours did. And still others will be harvested elsewhere and then supplied. But know that if you want it deeply enough, badly enough, heartily enough, your own little peas will be delivered unto you. Thus sayeth the Universe. So dig deep.
Cackling farts — from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. And I certainly love me some vulgarity. Anyone who knows me knows my propensity for my favorite four-letter acronym – one I’m trying to curb since I’ve got these two impressionable young lads soaking in vocabulary like spaghetti sauce (or pureed prunes, or masticated teddy grahams, or you name it) on your favorite silk blouse (but I’ll save the stain stories for another blog). Still, “cackling farts” is simply the grossest, funniest, most colorful, obscene, and obscure term for EGGS I ever did hear. And this post is dedicated to them.
Eggs. Such simple things, it would seem. But simple, or not, as humans, we are fascinated by them. We eat them for breakfast in numerous ways, from the simply scrambled or over-easy, to the fancy-schmancy eggs benedict or quiche. And the recipes go on and on…
We’ve also built idioms around them. Some to reflect personality: “you’re a tough egg to crack” or he’s a “good egg” or a “bad egg.” Others reflect embarrassment: you can have “egg on your face” or we’ll tell someone to “go suck an egg.” We can use them in terms of monetary metaphors: we build “nest eggs” or search for “the goose that laid the golden egg” or we’re cautioned not to “put all our eggs in one basket.”
Naturally, if there are idioms about eggs, there are bound to be books about eggs. Some of the greatest literature features them. From Gulliver’s Travels to The Handmaid’s Tale to “Green Eggs and Ham,” we celebrate and admonish, using the Egg.
So eggs are far more complicated than the chalky-white ovals of serene, life-giving perfection they might seem. They house SO MUCH POTENTIAL. In the afore-mentioned The Handmaid’s Tale, the narrator proclaims, “I think that this is what God must look like: an egg.” And then later, “If I have an egg, what more can I want?”
Interestingly enough, this novel is about infertility. An entire nation that has fallen on post-nuclear sterility. The narrator may or may not be infertile. She has one daughter. She, nor the reader, knows for certain if she can get pregnant again.
And just like Offred, six years ago, I myself didn’t know if I would be able to carry children again.
We had an appointment with our fertility specialist, Dr. Mark Perloe, at Shady Gove Fertility in Atlant. (I can’t sing his praises highly enough!!! If you are contemplating IVF or if you are struggling with infertility of any sort, go see HIM.) Anyway, at that very first meeting, Dr. Perloe informed us that a woman over 40 had nearly zero chance of getting pregnant with her own eggs, and that we would need to use a donor.
My eggs were past their expiration date.
Now, you know what? I knew that already. Of course I did. I’m an educated woman. I do my research. I knew it going in. Still, his words stung just a bit. Just for a second. Not, though, for the reason you are probably thinking (the use of donor eggs).
NOPE, it was the Advanced Maternal Age phrase he used. AMA, a three-letter acronym that isn’t nearly as fun as my favorite four-letter one, and a label that would go into my charts and follow me to delivery. I still feel twenty-two, after all. As Jimmy Buffet says, “I’m growing older, but not up…”
“Donor eggs,” though — I was already familiar with and prepared for that phrase. We were given a password and the privacy of our home to view the donor profiles and search for our potential anonymous Wonder Woman — a super hero of the highest magnitude. I am forever and ever in her debt.
It felt strange, perusing those profiles. A giddy, dizzy, feverish, frightening cyber-ride. We wanted someone as close to me as we could get. Not because we intended to hide the fact that we used donor eggs from the boys or anyone else, for that matter, it was just something we wanted.
We wanted someone who loves literature as much as me. Someone who excels in science like their big sister. Who swings a mean bat or tennis racket, like their other big sister. Who appreciates a mean game of football, like their dad. Oh, and we wanted height. A nice, tall drink of water. I’m 5’10 and so to combine that height with their daddy’s good genes, we’re hoping for a couple of defensive powerhouses one day.
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen,” said the mighty Ralph Waldo Emerson.
And our decision, our selection, set the Universe in motion, her cogs and wheels, parts and plugs assembling the various and sundry pieces, the stardust and cackling farts, the wood glue and lacquer and metal most attractive that would spark our little fellas into being.
Her eggs. My basket. And a gaggle of Y chromosomes from Mike. Now of course, it wasn’t nearly that simple… but more on that next time.
Being a mother of five-year-old twin boys at 53 is a whole nother level of tired. Like 4th-circle-of-eternal-boulder-pushing-with-Sisyphus-riding-piggy-back tired.
Some days I just don’t know where I’m going to get the energy.
The boys’ constant demand for attention is so… demanding. The endless bickering, boundless messes, bottomless hunger… it all saps my energy.
While they themselves are unending bands of the stuff, bouncing and careening over any and all semblance of peace and order. And legos and play doh. And happy meal toys and wrappers. And the last remaining vestiges of nerves that make up my life.
I wonder… can I steal some of that energy? Harness it for the stamina I need to entertain these green goblins of go-gettedness for the next fourteen hours? The next fifteen years? Because I seem to have zero reserves of go-gettedness left. Zilch.
I don’t recall being anywhere near this kind of tired when my girls where little. But then again, I wasn’t anywhere near this kind of age when my girls were little. I was a young mom to young kids. Now I’m a — well, let’s just say an older mom to young kids.
Which makes my life way more than a wee-bit more exhausting. I would swear I’m anemic, but they’ve tested me for that.
Mercy. Most days I beg for mercy. And mercifully, most days, there’s the swimming pool.
Swimming is their favorite right now. They love to splash in the coolness, to feel the ripples across their shoulders, to dive beneath the surface and hear their warbling words come out in whomps that burst in bubbles above their drifting curls.
So I take them to the pool. For them — and for me. It gives them play. And it gives me peace.
It’s the easiest part of my day right now. Demands diminish in the calm, soft ripples of silver and blue. The boys splash and play like sweet little sprites, and I’m granted a blessed disconnect from the harshness of my real — and really hard — world. Until…
My goggles are slipping! I’m hungry! My noodle is missing! There’s a frog in the pool! Parker won’t talk to me! Tate broke my head! I’m hungry!!!
The whines cut the calm like a chainsaw, severing it into the bloody little jagged pieces of pandemonium that is my life.
And it dawns on me. I’m not anemic. I’m exsanguinated. There’s nothing left to bleed.
I saw a story the other day from the Wall Street Journal celebrating a slew of women in their fifties, empty-nesters with newfound freedom to fly the coop and reinvent themselves.
One woman picked up and moved to the crater of a volcano. Another biked across the United States in a peace sign pattern. A third went snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands. None though, said, “Hey, I’ll raise a second set of kids.” None.
Many women I know commented on the article, saying they’d had their children early, and now they were living their best lives.
Well… I had my children early. And I had my children late. My nest is ragged and worn, with a whole lotta years left to go.
Perhaps there’s a reason God made sure most women don’t have babies after 40, much less 48.
And now, in my summer of 53, with school about to begin again, and Sisyphus and his boulder on my back, and my 5 year old twins in my nest, and me on my own for the next six months while my husband resumes his football duties — I refuse to believe I can’t still reinvent myself. In my fifties. With a far-from-empty nest.
I will work even harder to make this writing dream of mine come true.
I will continue to carve out words from the smallest slivers of time. I will keep stringing stolen seconds into sentences. I will keep climbing the steep and thorny path of progress while keeping my nestlings as content as two five-year-old boys can possibly be. Which isn’t very. And not often.
But I will not give in. Because inside the exhaustion of it all, there is also inspiration. And there is also breathtaking beauty.
This morning, my little goblins came creeping into my bedroom at Seven-Zero-Zero, as my oldest son says. (They are NOT allowed to leave their rooms until that six-five-nine has flipped. And they waste nary a second once it has.)
For a minute, I SO wanted to bark at them to go back where they came from and just let mama sleep.
But then, they are where they came from… curled up on my body like fiddlehead ferns, tentacles tracing my cheek, lips kissing my eyelids, chattering away like baby birds about their daddy and the swimming pool and the desperate need to water the garden before it rains. We have to GET UP… NOW. And how could I be mad at that?
They are where they came from, and they are where they belong. For this season. And for always.
And yes, there’s a reason God made sure most women don’t have babies at fifty. But you know what? I’m not most women.
I can raise these boys with the grace and the grit they deserve. With the same grace and grit I raised my girls with. I will. They deserve no less.
And I can also write my memoirs and my musings and murder my little darlings (it’s a writing metaphor, please do not be alarmed…) with the grace and the grit that I deserve, too. I can and I will.
Because I’m not most women.
I had my children early, and I had my children late. My family is beautiful and messy and more-than-I-can-handle most Mondays and a whole lot of other days, too. But still… I am absolutely living my best life AND reinventing myself, too.
And while I’m not swimming with turtles off a Darwinian desert isle, it is still survival of the fittest in all its glory. It’s all fight AND all flight. And while most days I feel I’ve been exsanguinated, I’m not dead yet.
Five years ago today, I was having turtles. Shell and neck, times two. Twin boys. At 34 weeks. And 48 years old.
Five years ago, we were zooming up the interstate toward Chattanooga, anxious and uncomfortable. I was flat on my back on a stretcher in an ambulance, twins riding my bladder, magnesium surfing my bloodstream. NOT a pleasant combination.
My husband was following behind me in our newly-purchased Town&Country minivan.
I’d never ridden in an ambulance. I’d definitely never wanted to. My husband had never driven a minivan. He’d definitely never wanted to. But here we were.
I’d also never been a boy mom. Nor had I ever had a c-section. The whole Boy Mom thing, I wanted. The emergency c-section, not so much.
But five years ago today, the ambulance, the Boy Mom thing, and the c-section would soon be under my belt — right along with a six-inch serated scar.
Our little heroes on a half-shell were coming early. Born on the spring equinox. To a mother old enough to be their grandmother.
Five years ago today.
And it’s been a tough five years, I’ll grant you that. And I don’t rightly know if it’s because there’s two of them. Or because they’re boys. Or, again, because I’m old enough to be their grandmother.
I’m thinking it’s a combo of all three.
But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Unless you catch me at a weak moment — like 6:15 AM on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Because one of our turtles, he thinks sleeping-in is overrated.
So I might be willing to trade one of them for sleep.
But then, he climbs into bed between Mike and me, and he rubs my face and crinkles his nose and tells me he loves me.
And dad-gum-it, I have to forgive him.
After all, he forgives me every day. They both do. Every. Single. Day.
They forgive me for losing my temper over petty things like dropping gummy vitamins the same color as our throw rug onto the rug… EVERY. SINGLE. MORNING.
They forgive me for not knowing the convoluted family trees of the humans and animals on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
They forgive me for feeding them grilled cheese sandwiches and Cheeto balls on weeknights far more often than the food pyramid or our pediatrician would recommend.
And they forgive me for not having the patience, energy, or pop culture knowledge of a mother half my age.
Turtles, I have discovered, are full of forgiveness.
And the snuggles make all of it… every sticky, gummy-pressed-into-carpet morning, every stale sandwich-crust-slipped-under-coffee-table weeknight, every PBS-DisneyJr-rerun-filled weekend, every Saturday-morning-sunrise wake up… all completely worth it.
Yes, today is our boys’ fifth birthday. It’s the spring equinox. And it’s a full moon — a super moon.
Maybe that’s why I forgot the youngest turtle’s shoes this morning, not realizing it until the preK director pointed it out as he was unloading in the school drop-off line.
But he forgives me for that, too.
Yes, turtles are snuggly, forgiving little creatures. Happy 5th Birthday, fellas! Mama and Daddy love you SO MUCH!
I’m sitting on a couch in my basement watching my boys play. One almost-five-year-old son scrambles across the pool table, flinging balls into pockets with his bare hands and making crashing noises. His twin brother croons “Havana na-na-na” into a karaoke mic while pounding a keyboard and perfecting his KidzBop choreography.
Disney’s Ferdinand is playing on the big screen in the background.
I remember the picture book from my childhood, but this is the first time I’ve seen the movie. Ferdinand — a calf seemingly destined for bullfighting. His dad is a fighter. His peers, his friends, even his enemies — all fighters.
But Ferdinand? He doesn’t have a smidgeon of fight in him. Nope, he loves flowers and dancing and all things NOT bullfighting.
I can’t help but think of our twin boys. They were born into football. Their dad played and now coaches football. Their mom loves football. They are the genetic product of a football family. Football pretty much drives our lives.
One son wants to grow up and be a football player. He loves rough and tumble and tackle and touchdown.
And one son wants to grow up and be a one-man boy band. He loves singing and dancing and all things NOT football.
They are exact opposites, my twin boys, despite being sprinkled with the same genetic spices and baked up in the same uterus at the exact same time.
And this ain’t my first rodeo… or bullfight or stage production, or whatever metaphor we’re working with here. I have adult daughters. And they are, likewise, complete opposites.
One grew up to be a surgeon, and one grew up to be a mama. The surgeon, she wanted to be an astronaut at five years old. And the mama, well she wanted to be a mama.
So Lord knows childhood dreams can change at the drop of a hat — or helmet or mic or whatever. Or dreams can remain the same.
Me? I wanted to be a mystery writer as a kid. I wanted to be the next Agatha Christie. I wanted people to die with the scent of almonds on their breath and secrets clutched within their cold fists and storied bloodlines.
Instead, I grew up to be an English teacher and a blogger, the scent of peanut butter on my breath, and while nobody’s died yet, I do clutch a red pen in my cold fist and bleed all over student story lines.
So yes, things could change. Or they could remain the same.
But whichever direction my boys and their dreams go, I will be there to support them. I will be there to believe in them. And to tell them they can be and do whatever they believe they can be and do. Just like I did with my girls.
And I will hang out in their corners encouraging, supporting, and cheering them on. Just like I did — and still do — my girls.
I like to believe I’m a lot like Lupe, the calming goat in Ferdinand:the awkward, rough-around-the-edges, bearded, female life coach of the title character.
I’m definitely in my kids’ corners like Lupe was in Ferdinand’s corner. They’re my kids after all… and technically speaking, kids are baby goats. (Heck, one of my kids even has a beard. At. Five. Years. Old.)
And since Lupe’s my spirit animal… right down to my lack of orthodontia and fondness for bed-bug rhymes at tuck-in (although I don’t have a beard, thank God), I guess that makes me a goat.
But since I’m the age where most mothers have already retired to an empty nest, I guess that makes me not just ANY goat, but THE GOAT.
I am the Tom Brady of motherhood.
I even have my own little personal deflate-gate — lumpy rucksacks that breastfed four babies for a grand total of four years and now appear the worse for wear…
Babies. I don’t know that there is a subject that tweaks the heartstrings and fuzzes up the solar plexus quite like babies. Just the thought of tiny wriggling newborns gets us all giddy with promise and potential. We thrill to the touch of their tiny fingers and toes, their tufted, downy crowns, their milk-mottled necks. We cradle them in our arms; they cradle our legacy in their limbs.
Four years ago, this past week, Mike and I brought our own downy-crowned, milk-mottled newborns home from the NICU. And we’ve been caring for and corralling our twin bundles of rollicking, unequivocal energy and joy ever since.
We owe it all to the generosity of the universe — and a top-notch IVF team.
Because it was five years ago, this month, that Mike and I sat down to meet with our newly- acquired fertility specialist to learn all the ins and outs of “test tube” baby making: the belly and booty shots, the ovary stimulation, the egg extraction, the cup deposits, the petri dish insemination, the embryo transfer. All of it.
Talk about exciting.
Daunting because I was about to do from-scratch motherhood all over again at forty-seven. I’d already raised two daughters successfully into adulthood (no small task); yet here I was again, preparing myself mentally – and physically (hence the fertility specialist) — to bake up a couple more.
And daunting because the odds were not necessarily in our favor.
Now the first thing I recall about that initial meeting is the vast, heavy, wooden desktop in the doctor’s office. The surface of that desk seemed to me a small-scale representative of the hard, formidable expanse that must be crossed to make Mike’s and my dream of parenthood together come true.
But luckily, there on the other side sat Dr. Perloe himself – frothy white curls, cropped close, and eyes twinkling behind clear lenses. He instantly put us at ease.
But he didn’t mince words either, when he gave us the facts. The fact that my eggs were too old to consider for our IVF procedure. The fact that using a donor’s eggs could cost us as much as a compact car or a midsize sedan, depending. The fact that the procedure was no guarantee, but the odds were greatly increased if we followed his protocol precisely: multiple medical and psychological exams; donor candidate selection; numerous supplemental vitamins and hormones using ingestions, injections and suppositories; and time and patience — lots and lots of time and patience.
Our success depended on it. Our success demanded it.
We signed a contract to do our part. The contract also specified that our clinic would do its part.
We never considered otherwise. Events in the news this past month suggest perhaps we should have.
Thank heavens, Dr. Perloe and his staff are consummate professionals and we never had a need to worry. Mixing babies for couples with fertility issues goes beyond their life work. It is their passion. And they do it with compassion. And with contracts.
Those two qualifiers — compassion and contracts — ensure that they would never, ever risk a patient’s hard work, dedication, financial and emotional investment, and (most important of all), eggs or embryos. Never.
The procedure is risky enough as it is.
The IVF success rate for a woman over 40 is between 13-18%. A donor egg increases those chances to 35% per embryo. Transferring twin embryos gives slightly more favorable odds, procuring a 55-65% success rate that one embryo will take. With a chance for twins at 30-40%.
Now I’m no mathematician (far from it – despite being the daughter of a physicist), but I do understand that even when hedging my bets with donor eggs and a double-embryo transfer, there was absolutely no guarantee we would find success – especially on the first try.
But success, we found. On the very first cycle, too. And with both embryos.
It was an absolute miracle. Without a doubt.
But the miracle was brought to fruition through the hard work and dedication of our IVF team – the physicians, embryologists, nurses, technicians, and Mike and me. We were all in it together, working hard and following our contract to the letter. We dotted every egg and crossed every petri dish.
Again, I reiterate that the one thing that was never considered when we rolled the dice, said our Hail Marys, and took our gamble on IVF was that our clinic would be negligent.
But a month ago this week, a fertility clinic in Ohio was just that: grossly negligent. There were issues with a cryogenic tank that housed microscopic miracles, the frozen eggs and embryos of thousands of prospective parents. Somehow, the built-in failproof — the remote alarm system that would notify employees if temperatures began to climb — had been turned off.
As a result, that tank — a tank that housed a total of 4000 eggs and embryos– rose to temperatures that left all 4000 nonviable. 4000 hopes and dreams, 4000 Hail Mary passes, 4000 double or nothing bets, 4000 potential babies… all lost.
I’m up close and personal with the IVF process that these heartbroken families went through. I understand their hopes, their dreams, their financial and emotional investments. I understand their courage, their fear, their gamble.
But I am not up close and personal with their loss. The emotional cost is unfathomable. I can’t imagine it. I don’t even know where to begin. That reality is too harsh, too brutal, too gut-wrenching. There is too much frustration and betrayal and agony and pain for my mind to go there. It slams shut at the thought.
IVF is a wild, whirling roulette wheel. The odds are frightening. A world-class clinic makes the risk worth it. Still, it’s a scary bet.
Wannabe parents willingly take bold risks at steep odds because babies are the jackpot. Babies. Our tiny-fingered, downy-crowned, milk-mottled legacies. We will do almost anything humanly possible to bring them into this world.
These parents in Ohio did just that.
This clinic in Ohio did not.
This clinic was anything but. It is a tragedy and a travesty.
The harm done is irreparable. The resources lost are irreplaceable. The crime committed is unforgivable.
And as the lawsuits stack up, the cases are nearing class-action status. But how do you put a price on hearts broken? On families fractured before they’ve begun? On entire legacies lost?
To introduce the concept of allegory to high school students, I use Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.” It is the first book I ever remember receiving as a gift. I still have that original copy. It’s inscribed with a birthday wish and a life blessing. Its edges are tattered and curl softly from use, and its insides are tatted up from Crayola abuse.
I loved “The Giving Tree” from the beginning, although I didn’t understand its complexity back then. Instead, I loved it for its simplicity and purity — the modest black and white sketches, and the story of the tree who loved a boy – loved a boy from every depth and breadth and height her soul could reach.
A boy and his tree. I loved it. But I didn’t get it. I didn’t.
And then I became a mom.
And KA-POW! – deeper understanding hit me like a felled oak straight to the noggin. This wasn’t merely the story of a boy and his tree. I mean it was, but darn, it was so much more, too! It was a little allegory of a parent’s soul. And for the first time ever reading that story, I cried. And ever since, every single time I read that story… I cry. I can’t even read the last line, I get so choked up.
The truth and power of its message gets to me: the unhesitating willingness of a mama to hew off whole parts of herself to raise up her young with the necessities and tools to survive in this world.
Like I said, I introduce the concept of allegory to my high school juniors – and they can see it, the multiple meanings hidden in its seemingly simplistic lines. They see the sacrifices the tree makes to keep her boy happy. They see her wide-open love through the gifts of her leaves and her apples; they see the unflinching sacrifice of her limbs and her trunk; and they think they understand the final grand gesture in the giving of her shriveled, old stump. Yes, they can definitely see it. And they think they get it. They interpret the allegory in one of two ways…
Some of my students connect it to parental love – those blessed enough to have parents who have shown them true, unconditional love.
But sadly, some don’t get it at all because some of my students haven’t felt that sort of love from their moms and dads. The stories I hear — the stories I see – students whose parents have left them surfing couches in friends’ houses, students whose parents are locked away in jail or whose love is locked away in addiction, students who are parenting siblings — students mere saplings themselves — playing the role of the Giving Tree.
It’s an impossible task for them. They lack the depth and breadth and height of maturity: their leaves are too tender, their fruit is too green, their roots are too shallow to support and sustain another soul, much less themselves. Their stories are enough to crack open a planet-full of hearts and send them weeping.
And speaking of planets… some of my students see another allegorical interpretation: humanity’s blatant misuse of Mother Earth and her resources. In this version, the boy takes and takes and takes with no regard for the Giving Tree’s sacrifice – the more he needs, the more he takes until there’s nothing left but a shriveled-up stump – and even that gets used.
And yes, the depletion of our planet’s resources is a valid and compelling argument — easily seen and scientifically supported, regardless of those who might say otherwise. And in this political climate – when the Environmental Protection Agency is being run by a fossil fuel magnate and the current POTUS is playing a nuclear-annihilation game of chicken with his Asian doppelganger, it is an interpretation with grave importance.
But I prefer the little allegory of a parent’s soul. And I really do believe it was Silverstein’s intent. Because after each sacrifice, after each leaf and apple and branch and trunk that is taken, his prose simply reads: And the Tree was happy.
And the earth cannot be happy being plundered and pillaged. That just cannot prove true.
But as a parent, that happiness statement rings true every single time. When my girls need me. When my boys need me. When my small and humble breasts sustained them all as infants. When my wide and ample hips carried them all as toddlers. When my long and lanky arms surround them as both youngsters and adults. When my eager, willing heart beats for all four of them always and forever with joyful abandon… I am happy.
For them, I would give all. Willingly. And happily.
That’s how I know “The Giving Tree” is a little allegory of a parent’s soul.
This past week, I introduced my boys to Silverstein’s masterpiece – my original, 45-year-old birthday book, its edges all tattered and curled from use, its insides all tatted with Crayola abuse. My boys were mesmerized. They loved it: the simplicity and purity of its prose, the modest black and white of its sketches.
This story of a tree who loved a boy is timeless. This story of a tree that readily hands out huge chunks of herself never gets old. The tree herself may get old. She may lose apples and branches, and her tattoos — if she had any — may wrinkle like that ME + T heart scratched into the core of her being, but no matter what, if her kid finds happiness, that tree finds happiness. No matter the hardship, the struggle, the pain…