FRENEMIES?


Cousins, Siblings, Frenemies

These two. They are cousins and, after 3 years and intention, brother and sister. It’s of interest to me that out of the 6, they are the only two without Asian blood in them. My ‘Little Photo-Negatives’ I call them. When summer rolls around again their biological similarities will be even more outstanding as they, like their mother, will fry and burn at the first moment of forgotten sunscreen. All their other siblings will grow darker and darker and darker over the duration of the season, standing in stark contrast to these two.

Their physical similarities seem so highlighted in this photo above and often I wonder at their individual fates. I wonder where their journey will take them. I wonder where will they go from where they started and how much of it will be spent together. I wonder things like this a lot, but such is the case when you are fighting to weld together a family to outlast your own lifetime from such a widely diverse biological field.

He is 2 years older than her and for those first two years he didn’t say anything. At all. And he wasn’t frustrated by it (or anything else). A more easy going baby you’ve never seen. But beneath that easy going nature you began to sense that something wasn’t quite right. While he was very engaged with his father and I, he didn’t interact with anyone else. He was unflappably happy to play by himself. But you began to notice that play consisted primarily of finding bowls and plates and any other circular object and spinning it, like a performer in a Chinese circus. He could make them do things I couldn’t begin to and would watch them with endless fascination. He also liked to play relentlessly with the little toddler size basketball hoop that we had. And all the while he didn’t say a word or make the slightest sound, other than crying on occasion, at which times he was as impossibly loud as he was silent. And content with it. His lack of frustration actually worked against him and the tutors who worked with him 5 to 6 days a week from the age of two in an attempt to push through the peacefully anti-social bubble that enclosed him.

And then, when he was 5 years old we threw a grenade into his life in the form of his 18-month-old cousin. She was his polar opposite in almost in every way possible. Highly verbal at an early age, hyper-competent, controlling and frustrated by everything, content with nothing. This child who had been so traumatized for her 18 months of life was a fighter who was at odds with all of life was throwing at her and provoking in every way. She was a storm of trauma into his placid pool of contentment.

She spent the first year either ignoring him (and forcing me to do the same) by utterly dominating all my attention 24 hours a day, or teaching him how to have tantrums by demonstration and alternately finding every available button on him to push and manipulate for reaction. I tell no lie when I say we used to be grateful that for the sake of the older kids that they got a break from her by leaving for their fathers every weekend. He got no such break. And while it wasn’t enjoyable, I can say that the way she pushed him increased his emotional range for sure, although at first in the most unpleasant of ways as he learned to imitate her tantrums. We can never know what road he might have gone if she had not come into our family. We can be certain of only one thing. She had an unmistakable effect on him.

The next 18 months they spent arguing, fighting and screaming at each other. Gone was our peaceful, gentle, pliable child and mostly it was awful. There were certainly times that we worried about the level of stress that she was putting on him. But later, one has to wonder if somehow his under-developed-for-his-age skills and her pseudo-maturity didn’t cause them meet somewhere in the middle and give them both a unique balance which only they can share.

I can see this now because about 2 weeks ago, something changed. Something that has ended up with whispered confidences and shared giggles, with hugs and casual endearments and heads often touching unconsciously while they watch a show together. Suddenly, they manifest a consideration for each other at moments that I wasn’t sure I would ever see.

Recently, they spent the entire afternoon inseparably in each others company, playing together, sharing confidences and calling each other “Honey”. What might sound normal for two children living together was remarkable when I reflect on where their journey started.

And suddenly, they were magic together. It is wonderful for them, but it is even bigger for her and what it means on her road to just being a child again. It is big and huge, a victory of near exhaustive efforts on the part of everyone in this household that she will now turn to the children in the house for social companionship and attention. And it only took three years…

Heard Today: 5 Year Old “Um Honey? oh sorry, sorry, I mean Jack…”
7 Year Old “Oh, that’s alright. You can call me Honey. I don’t mind.”
And so she did…all night.



Ski Trips and Voodoo Curses…


Ski Trips and Voodoo Curses

So, my oldest 3 kids are currently stuck in a blizzard having a great time on their annual ski trip with their father.  This year they went to Lake Tahoe and I miss them in irrational ways. To keep me busy while they are visiting one of my favorite places on earth and to make myself feel better about not being with them (it’s not really working btw) I thought I’d take a tour through ski trips past and revisit a little thing I like to think of as Post Traumatic Trip Disorder.  Pay attention now, because I’m about to make you feel better about every trip you’ve ever taken with your kids.

*Please note, this is as faithful a recollection as I can post, but some memories have been repressed for my own protection…

The ski trips began several years back. It’s a tradition the triplets’ father started over Christmas vacation/their birthday.  When he mentioned it after we had stopped cohabiting together and an uneasy truce introduced, I agreed to go for several reasons. Firstly, because it would be the kids first time to the snow right?  Who wants to miss that? Secondly, it would be their birthday, and I’m not missing that. And thirdly, because my presence and that of their younger brother and the Golf Pro was a statement supporting the kind of shared custody that I hoped for them to have.

Trip # 1:  Big Bear, Ca. 3 Adults, 3 Five year olds, 1 Two year old.

When I look back on this trip, I can only tell you that we got in the car and it pretty much went downhill from there.  We made the short trip into the mountains before the gods of travel turned on us.

The vomiting began about a third of the way up in the midst of an absolute maze of switchbacks leading us up the mountain. At least 2 children succumbed (it might have been three, who can say, repression is a wonderful thing) By the time we arrived they had pretty much thrown up in every available thing and I had been reduced to emptying packet oatmeal boxes so they could have something to throw up in.  The humanity, the HUMANITY!

I barely remember where we stayed that year, only that it was night by the time we arrived.  After cleaning things up in the car as best as possible that night, we investigated the cabin and one more child threw up.  Little did I know this was only the beginning of the Bataan Death Marches these vacations were to become.

The next morning brought with it incontrovertible evidence that we weren’t just dealing with motion sickness. Nope, stomach flu – one 5 year old and the baby.  The other two went skiing with the adults while I stayed in the cabin and racked up more laundry. Some time later that day the Golf Pro and I found one of maybe 2 Big Bear Laundromats and began to wash pretty much everything they had touched in the last 2 days, car seats included.

Between tending sick kids and cleaning the results of it, I still hadn’t really seen much (any) of Big Bear.  So after a couple of days of crises management, we , the Golf Pro and I, decided to actually enjoy some of what the mountain had to offer. I had never been there before.

The whole crew (we had friends and their kids with us) had decided to go tubing that morning and we made arrangements with the triplets’ father to come back and get us.  We packed up the two year old and the triplets Dad, who had possession of the only car, dropped us off with the plan of getting a lift back with the others. He had been up all night and was going back to the cabin to sleep for a couple hours.

He let us off in a busy parking lot at one of the tubing places off the highway with directions on where he had left everyone else less than 30 minutes ago. And with a goodnight and good luck, he drove off.  We went over as directed, paid our price and began to search for our people. Except…no people.  Anywhere.  Take out our cell phone and call. No answer either.  WTF? Call their Dad. No answer. Call everyone else we are connected to on the mountain. Nothing. Arghhhhhh!

After an hour of Where’s Waldo, we accept our situation.  We are stranded on this highway with a 2 year old and outside of reasonable walking distance back to the town. Well fine, we can’t just sit out here off the highway forever.  We ask the desk clerk of a nearby motel that was across the parking lot from the tubing hill about ways to get back to the main town.  We learn we can take a bus.  The bus stop is just up the road a bit. We go and wait for close on an hour at the bus stop for the bus. They’re not big on public transport on the mountain. The three of us finally end up on a bus, which I seem to recall had a crazy, homeless person on it conveniently located in the seat next to us.  The day is really starting to take shape. It’s the kind of shape generally achieved only after a really good dose of Chernobyl-style radiation.

We reached the town.  More calls, more no answer from anyone. Let’s have lunch. Still no answer. Let’s window shop. Still no answer. Let’s go and visit the Big Bear Visitors Center and Chamber of Commerce.  How about a taxi service, because I’m freaking over this and I’m positive that I can guide him to the general vicinity of our cabin.  There is, it appears, only one taxi guy for the whole of Big Bear. I think his name was Pete. At least that’s what the answering machine we kept reaching said before it informed us that he was currently out of range.  We left a message.   It was one of at least 3 messages we left for him.  We never successfully made contact.

I don’t really remember how we were finally rescued. I have vague recollections of finally hearing their father’s sleepy voice on the phone.  We hadn’t seen him for about 6 – 8 hours. At least 4 of those hours were spent in the Chamber of Commerce.  Big Bear Lake was the first mountain recreation area in Southern California. I know this because I read every pamphlet in the visitor’s center.

We were picked up and because my people are crazy…no one ever acknowledged that our ordeal of being abandoned stranded with a 2 year old all damn day was in the least way remarkable. They just said, “Hey, we’re all going to dinner!”   Yay! Dinner in a nice restaurant with a bunch of small children, my favorite! The waiter that night asked if I wanted a drink, it felt like both the kindest and the cruelest thing anyone had ever asked me.

I remember very little about the rest of the trip. My oldest children had a birthday and they learned to ski. When we went back down the mountain, the one child who hadn’t thrown up on the whole trip, joined the one who genuinely did get car sick in a show of solidarity and they vomited their way back down the mountain. Afterwards, friends had to help me decompress, and I had the shakes for a good month afterwards.

Time spent skiing: O Hours

*Stayed tuned for trip #2 coming soon…



T.G.I.F? More Like F.U.I.F…on Shared Custody.


That’s right. You read it correctly. Friday, that godsend to the rest of the working world, is my least favorite day of the week. For a long time now.

For starters, it’s traditionally the day of the week when the Golf Pro opens and as a result, he’s long gone by the time the alarm sounds to call us to the morning get ready for school routine. So that means it’s me vs. 6 kids with two school drop-offs to make. It used to be three different schools. And it used to be Hell on earth, but I have to admit, this year it got slightly easier now that we have one less school, the baby can get himself to car with everybody else and the 10 year old’s are better able to assist in the routine. But still, I have no doubt that Friday mornings have shortened my life. If I ever succumb to the family history of aneurysms, mine will have Fridays written on it.

The mornings always start the same, with me hitting the snooze button as many times as I can get away with. And in between five minute intervals, I try and rate myself on a scale of 1 to “irresponsible as hell” how bad it would be to just call everyone in sick that day.  I eventually realize I cannot do that and lurch out of bed (read – Not A Morning Person).  I wake up the 5 school-goers, gently at first, then with threats of violence and tearful pleas for help. When this behavior fails,  I bust out the trump card – I tell them they will walk if they don’t get up and help me. That always works.

The next part of the negotiation is where I stumble to the kitchen and mentally start counting up how much money is in my wallet so I can get out of the monotony of making lunches. At some point in time, while I am making my coffee and still yelling threats of missing the ride up the stairs, I will have talked myself into actually caving in and will have sent my childish, petulant, non-lunch-making self to another room in my head.

The third phase of the negotiations begins during the lunch making, breakfast, serving, traffic-directing time. This is the one where I start figuring whether I’ll be late to just one school or both.  It’s usually around this time, I usually see a glimmer of hope and realize that we are doing better than I think we are and I kick into gear…and mostly, everyone gets breakfast, to school and has a lunch or snack in their backpack. On time. Every Friday. I don’t know why I have to play this psychological game with myself, but I do. Mentally, it’s like some sort of Friday morning airbag deployment.

But all the above isn’t the real reason I hate Fridays ( although I think it’s enough of a reason).  On Fridays, my oldest children go to their fathers house for the weekend. And I hate it.  I will never, ever be used to the fact that my children have another home where they live without me. I will never be happy about the disruption to our family routine or the pressure I feel not to argue with them and end our week on a bad note right before they leave. Or the dreaded “re-entry” period when they change houses, routines and general expectations. But on the whole, they have always handled it fine, because that is what I worked so hard for. For them to feel that all this is exactly the way it is supposed to happen. And they do.

When this arrangement all started, I would breath deeply, smile and deliberately open my hands to release them with exhortations to go and have a wonderful time with their Father. At the time we were engaged in deep hostilities. The kind that involve lawyers and mediators while we negotiated what I call “The Un-Divorce”.  It was one of the lowest points of my life.

Every Friday, without fail, I would suck it up and send them away from me to the place that had been our home. Now it was only theirs and I was not welcome in it at the time.  I never once made them carry my burden of how would I live without them for even 2 days, when they had been every minute of my whole life up to that moment. I made no panicky demands that they call and I placed no such calls myself. I gave them no burdens to carry with them and behaved as if it was all perfectly normal. And to his great credit, so did their father, even though we were not on speaking terms at the time. That they never experienced any of the conflict the adults were experiencing is something I count as one of the most right things I have done.

And then, once they left, I would lay down on the couch with total numbing grief and mute from the pain of having my entire impetus ripped away from me. I would not get up again until they returned and the earth would right itself on it’s axis and begin revolving once more.  They had been the sole focus of my every minute for 3 years. Years riddled with health crises and emergencies that required a watchful eye and hyper-vigilant focus, as well as a total mental record of their rather complicated medical histories. How would I trust anyone else to guard them? When they left, they took my reason for living with them.

In those days, only one thing kept me from sliding completely into the darkness that threatened. If it hadn’t been for the Kid, who, at just 2 years old, still had those pesky needs to be fed and changed and kept from choking on things, I don’t know if I could have coped.  He kept me going until the others returned. He has always been my miracle, and on the weekends, even though we all still miss the older kids and our family is incomplete, we all still get by with each other.

Things got better between their father and I over a period of time. Being able to put their needs above everything else made that possible for both of us, although it’s still a journey. And I catch a break because of the sports.  I go to every game to see them and in that way they are not gone quite so much. But I still don’t like this day of the week any better than I ever did . So from me to you Peggy Sue…Fridays, you can Suck It.



One More Chance…


The Giants won the Series and for most of the rest of the country, baseball ended in the cool air of Fall. But for us, there is one last battle to be fought.  One last game.

About a week and a half ago, The Kid, my 7 year old baseball rookie, got hit by a ball as hard as I’ve ever seen any of my kids hit.  Turned away and took it in the back like he was supposed to, but it dropped him to the ground as both benches of parents gasped, winced and held their breath, and I did one of the harder things the mother of a child playing sports does. I sat in the stands and let someone else triage my child’s injuries.  And then, since that night, I’ve had to do something even harder. Push him uphill past his fear.

In the way of life’s ironies, the child most terrified of getting hit got hit the hardest.  And now my job is to do my level best to not let him be turned away from something he loves because of terror.

He’s had one game since then, been at the plate twice. It was not pretty.  Picture in your head any of the Warner Bros. cartoon characters at the plate while a squadron of B-52’s overhead rained down rockets and bombs and that was my boy at bat.  In between at bats I spent moments separated from my child by a wall of breeze blocks, our hands squeezed through the gap between the dugout and the fence, fingers touching, while he fought back tears and whispered  “Mom, I’m so scared.”  ohmygodohmygodohmygod went my heart, but from my mouth came the needed words, “You can do this. Don’t quit. Just stay in there and give yourself a chance.”  This is not what I want to do. I want to take him in my arms and leave the field immediately…but I don’t.

We’ve got one more game. If I can get him to the plate, two more at bats to confront the fears he has whispered to me all week and try to win back a small measure of confidence.  And my heart will ache as I keep turning him towards the plate and yelling  “Stay in there. Don’t back out.”  He may or may not in the end be a baseball player, despite his current love for the game, but that won’t be the important part. What matters is not quitting because of fear.