Category Archives: Family

9 1/52

I’m feeling guilty about this, my Levi, and you don’t even know anything about it. I wrote your brother a blog post on his birthday. I meant to do one on yours, and the day got away from me. Then the week turned into one of those weeks, and here I am, a week late.

That’s one of the things about you, though. You forgive quickly. If I brought this up to you, you’d say, “That’s okay, Mom,” and give me a hug. I love that, though I try not to take advantage of it.

You told me the other day that you can’t wait to be ten. I’m not sure what’s magical about that number. Maybe the double digits. But I’m asking you, sweet boy, to enjoy nine while you’re here. You are learning to do all sorts of things, and you think you have way too many chores. I have bad news: the chores do not become easier at ten. Or at forty. The gross things are still gross, and there are more of them. (If you’ve never caught vomit in your hand to keep it off the carpet, are you really a mom?) Lots of things are really good when you’re a grownup, but the hard things just get harder.

Nine is fun. Your front teeth are still too big for your face, and it’s still adorable. You can do things on your own, but you are not too cool to shriek with glee when you see one of your best buddies at the store unexpectedly.

You will leave me someday, and probably all too soon. I won’t know where you are all the time, and how you’re doing, and whether anyone has been mean to you that day. I’ve joked that my favorite time of the day is bedtime, and I do treasure the quiet of the house when everyone else has gone to sleep. But I also love the knowing. I know you are safe, and I know you are warm, and I know you are okay, because I saw you there under your comforter with my own two eyes.

Don’t be in too much of a hurry for eighteen, or for ten. Please, enjoy nine. I plan to.

Cake for breakfast, on the actual morning. Because I am not always heartless.

First and Third

Here we go!

I know lots of moms are sad today, and I support their right to the sadness. But I’m good. Besides getting a nice regular routine back, this will be the first time in quite a while that we aren’t paying for regular childcare. I would make the standard jokes about it being like getting a raise, but we just started making payments on an orthodontic plan, so it’s more like just a relief.

First try at a picture.

Elias is a little nervous. I don’t know what Levi’s face is about.

Better.

Balancing their stuffed-to-the-gills backpacks on the way down the lane. I told them they’ll never be this heavy again. Until they start bringing rocks home again, I guess.

Thumbs out so the bus driver will see us.

She did.

And they’re off.

I think I recorded first-day conversations last year, and I decided to continue the tradition.

L: Mom, why do we have arms?
Me: So we can keep our hands with us all the time.
L: Oh.

E: Why do we have to wear nice clothes and stay clean on the first day?
Me: I just like your teachers to know it’s possible.

Seven

Seven years ago, in the evening, I was leaving a board meeting for a chorus I was singing with, and my cell phone rang. It was our caseworker. “Baby was born,” she said.

She’d called the house a couple of times, finally rousing Paul from sleep for a confused conversation. He’d managed to wake up enough to convey the information that I was at a meeting just a few miles from the hospital. She’d caught me in time, and I could go and see the baby, if I wanted to.

I did.

So off I went, entering through the ER department because it was after hours. A busy nurse pointed me vaguely in the direction of the OB wing, and I explained who I was to the nurse guarding the door there. There was a side room in the hall stuffed with unused-at-the-moment equipment and some chairs. I settled into one, the plastic creaking as I shifted during the wait.

And then there you were. The scrawniest little brown boy you’ve ever seen, all huge dark eyes and wild black hair and chicken legs. I could not have imagined at that moment that at five, you’d nearly be able to knock me over with an enthusiastic hug around the legs.

Scrawny or sturdy, I fussed over you from that moment. Were you eating? Were the nurses holding you enough? Most of all, would you truly be mine forever? Would all the right papers be signed, the Is dotted, the Ts crossed?

I fuss over you still, over your health and your heart and your sweet little soul. You are almost never sick, and I wonder whether we brush you aside too often because we’re worrying over your brother. You are stubborn as sin, and I wonder how to help you learn to channel it into persistence instead of petulance. You are the most curious combination of temper and tenderness.

You are seven. You love your family and your duckling and you hate not being able to do everything Levi does. I cannot freeze you here in this moment, when you are reaching and stretching and learning to do without me, but still need sleepy cuddles in the morning. And I wouldn’t if I could. Not really.

But I will write you down, and I will take your picture. And I will answer the question you ask me the same every time. Every day, every year, every decade, whenever you ask me, and whenever you don’t. Yes. You will always be my baby.

Happy birthday, Elias. Thank you for being part of Us.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

What a weekend we had.

It started early with a parade (SO LOUD).

We dropped the candy haul off in the car after the parade, and on the way back up the hill to the festival, the boys were holding hands. Without being prompted. My niece pointed it out to me and I snapped a few pictures. My sister wondered aloud if I’d recorded the last time it’ll happen.

Then Saturday night we had a party and there were at least a hundred kids in the pool.

Oh, fine. It was more like ten. It sounded like a hundred, though. They had quite a good time. There were lots of grownups there too, although they generally hollered a lot less.

I’d been watching the weather forecast all week because of the party, but also because we’d been offered Indians tickets on Sunday afternoon. Things were not looking good. For most of the week, the forecast was for rain the entire weekend. Saturday morning looked pretty bad, but things cleared up nicely. The Sunday forecast was still very wet, though.

Sunday morning early I checked and things had improved. Mostly sun and clouds with a probably thunderstorm at 2:00. Well, I thought, if we get a little wet, it’s not the end of the world. Around 9:30, I checked again, and the thunderstorm had shifted to 6:00. I don’t think it actually ever arrived, and the day couldn’t have been prettier.

The boys got duded up in their Indians gear, special not just because it was appropriate to the activity, but because it was all part of a previous gift from our friend John, who was also the benefactor providing the tickets for the game. (As it turned out, the guy on the shirt was pitching and the one on the hat hit a home run as we watched. Serendipity was strong for our outing.)

Not very far into the ballpark, we ran into Brayden, a neighbor and Levi’s classmate. With 30,000 people in the stadium, it wasn’t surprising that we knew a few, but it was a little surprising to actually encounter them in the crowd.

I had to encourage the boys to stop staring and keep walking, especially as we got farther into the park. These are children who still get thrills riding the one-floor escalator at the children’s hospital, remember. There was a lot of looking around to do.

I’d warned them about wandering off or not paying attention as we walked down the sidewalk on our way in. “You need to stick close,” I said. “You’re just not used to crowds like this.” They clearly felt maligned, but quieted down when we got closer to said crowds.

Still, as I craned my neck around someone to see if we’d found section 172, I called Levi by name, and a voice said, “Levi? And are you Elias?”

It was Mike. John had intended to join us, but couldn’t, so he sent someone down to greet us. With goodie bags.

These boys are absolutely not spoiled rotten, and I don’t know why you’d even ask that.

Here they are just before finding our seats …

… and here’s the view we had. Pretty great.

The boys and I missed most of the last two innings to stand in line to run the bases after the game. It was worth it. Paul stayed in the stands and watched the end of the game, and texted to see where we were and when we would appear on the field. We waited in a line stretching several floors up a concrete ramp, descended back down the ramp and then even deeper into the bowels of the stadium, and at one point we had turned around so many times I texted Paul: I could not find my way out of here to save my own life.

About thirty seconds after that, I saw daylight around a corner, and about a minute after that, the boys stepped out onto the field.

We jogged – with pauses to high-five a mascot or two – to third, where there was a bottleneck. That was fine, since it gave me the opportunity to get this shot.

The nice Blue Jays fans behind us took this for us when we’d rounded home and were standing by the dugouts.

Which is where we accidentally backed up and stepped on the grass because we weren’t paying attention and also we didn’t know it was a sin. (They were very nice about telling us to move.) Levi had some questions about this on the way home, probably because because no one in the family golfs and we have no respect for our yard, so the concept of grass with which you must be careful has never come up in his young life.

Paul’s knee was twanging hard, so I offered to get the car and come back. (I was driving anyway. I do cities, he does highways.) The boys wanted to go with me, but came to regret their choice. I walk too fast.

They did make it back to the car with me, where they fell into their seats with abject relief.

It really was quite a weekend.

And, I realized on the way home from the game, it was a really fun one. They are still young enough to be openly thrilled by cool new things, but they’re old enough that sitting in a stadium for the length of a baseball game is no longer an exercise in taking someone to the bathroom every twenty minutes and wondering what on earth you were thinking. They can do the walking, even if they whine. They can be made to carry their own snacks. They can ask questions about what’s happening on the field instead of what they’re going to eat next. (Mostly. Snacks are still very important.)

Going to the ballgame was not a chance for the children to have a new experience and the parents to manage juvenile enjoyment. We all had fun. What a revelation.

It was a very good weekend.

A Word Problem

I’ll be honest, I never liked word problems much in math class. Words were so much my friends in other contexts, and in math class they just seemed confusing. But Paul has requested this one specially, and even I will admit it’s kind of cool.

This is my Uncle Harold in 1944, when he was 12 years old.

1944 Harold Stoller 12 yrs

Is he not adorable?

It runs in the family, as I used to say when I was four or five and didn’t know better than to parrot what my older siblings had brainwashed me to suggested I say.

Anyway, he grew up and married my Aunt Luella, and they had three boys. The boys were born in three different years, and they were all single births.

They will all be 56 on their next birthday.

This statement was true yesterday and it is true today.

If you want to figure it out on your own, stop here and have at it.

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A hint, you say? Okay. This happens regularly. Specifically, every four years, for two days, all three sons will be the same age on their next birthday.

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Don’t feel bad. I’ve known about it forever and I still made Paul type out the dates for me so I wouldn’t get wrong. And I still might, because it’s been that kind of week. But here you go.

The first two boys are almost exactly a year apart. The third came a year and a half later, on a leap day. Doug was born on July 18, 1961, and on his next birthday (tomorrow), he will be 56. Art was born on July 16, 1962; on his next birthday (a year from yesterday), he will be 56. Tom was born on February 29, 1964, and in about 2 1/2 years, on his next birthday, he will be 56.

I don’t know when Uncle Harold figured this out, but I have been hearing about it all my life. It is so quintessentially Stoller-nerdy.

If you didn’t know Stollers are a little nerdy, I think you haven’t met a sufficient amount of Stollers. My brother (our mother was a Stoller) was strictly rationing his driving at one point so that on New Year’s Day, he could drive the last mile required to make his car odometer read 100,000 miles even on the date 01/01/01. I found this hilarious and told everyone I ran into, which is how I discovered at Christmas dinner that one of my mother’s brothers was doing the exact same thing. Neither of them knew about the other until that moment.

Ner. Dy.

Me, too. It just mostly manifested in language instead of numbers. (Ask me about apostrophes sometime. When you have a lot of time.)

I don’t know whether the off-topic rambles can be attributed to the Stoller influence or if that’s just me, but regardless, it’s kind of a fun one, no? It’s good for two more hours before it expires, but it’ll be back around again.

July 2021, baby.

Daddy Eggs

For breakfast this fine holiday morning, we had a bit of nostalgia.

As Paul and I lolled in bed at a shocking 7:00 AM (remember, this is a man who rises daily without an alarm at the inhuman hour of 4:45), he said, “Ugh. I don’t feel like making breakfast.” He does, most days. He wasn’t really asking me for anything, just indulging in a little kvetching, but I had some bacon left from a recipe, and some time.

“Hey!” I said, “I’ll make Daddy Eggs.”

Daddy Eggs start with bacon strips cut into small pieces and fried. Going into the skillet, they look like this.

I hate frying bacon. I much prefer baking it and skipping all the popping grease. But I’ll fry it for Daddy Eggs. Even if I think up creative nonswears (Lucifer’s flaming hairline!) while I do.

Once the bacon’s done, you drain it. Then you beat a bunch of eggs with a little milk, start them cooking in the same pan, and sprinkle the bacon on top. That’s it. It’s not really a recipe. It earned a name by virtue of being the only thing my daddy ever cooked.

Daddy Eggs were company food. We had them on Sunday mornings when we’d had out-of-town overnight company. It never occurred to me as a child to question the timing, but with age and experience, I have come to realize that Daddy Eggs were a life preserver.

My mother, whose theoretical enjoyment of hostessing was sometimes compromised by the reality of same, was coming off two nights of extra people in the house and company meals, and facing the Sunday morning flat-out dash to church. My father was trying to make sure she didn’t go under.

He probably didn’t much like doing it, really, but he did. In other words, he was a grownup.

I have to be a grownup this week. Tomorrow morning, Levi and I will go to the hospital so he can have a PICC line placed for IV antibiotics. We’ll likely come home Thursday, and for the next couple of weeks, my phone alarm will yell at me multiple times a day so I don’t miss any infusions.

Levi is a little nervous, but mostly fine. I am cranky and resentful and eating all the cookies. It’s not so much the overnight hospital stay, or the IV routine, though both of those things are a pain in the neck. It’s that I don’t want to have to think about cystic fibrosis, and I can’t avoid it for the next little while. I hate it, worse than I hate frying bacon.

You probably didn’t think this is where this blog post was going. Honestly, neither did I. Sometimes in writing, as in life, we arrive in unexpected places. So often, the only choice we have in the matter is how graciously — or not — we go to our fate.

I am, though I sometimes wish it were not so, a grownup. I will attempt to be gracious, and to make memories of the mundane. We won’t have Daddy Eggs at the hospital, but we’ll have something else. (Chicken fingers and pizza in bed has played well in the past.)

And we will, as before, be fine. Just don’t hide the cookies.

Also At the Circus

So I posted about strawberry shortcake on Sunday night, and everything was great and everybody was having fun, and then someone dropped a psychological stinkbomb or something, and Levi and I were both mad, and Elias was scared and my sister was uncomfortable, and Paul was trying to sort out what had actually just happened. Honestly, I don’t know. Still.

I got up and left the table, because when this happens and I stay, things usually get worse. Leaving also escalated the situation. It seems like the only possible way for me to avoid scenes like this would be a complete personality transplant.

Full disclosure here. At the circus: great food. Also at the circus: sobbing nuclear meltdowns, mostly but not exclusively on the part of the children.

Lovely, truly.

I could pack a week’s worth of clothes in those bags under my eyes. HOT.

 

So, I make killer shortcake. Also, I yell at my children, and my stovetop is probably going to be declared a federal disaster area.

I’m not telling you this so you can feel sorry for me or try to make me feel better. I’m telling you because we are all in this together, but we don’t seem to know it. I’ve talked to so many women who think everyone around them has got it goin’ on. Every one of them thinks she is the only one who cannot pull herself together.

I really think the only way to change this is to be a little vulnerable with one another. Start small. Tell one person. Don’t start with the scariest thing. Start with the laundry, like, “I am so behind on the laundry that my children are running naked from the shower to dig through the clean clothes pile for underpants.” 95% of the time the person you are talking to will look relieved, because THANK GOODNESS someone else is a mess too.

We are all just trying to get through the day. Sometimes the only thing we can offer each other is the assurance that we are not alone.

Be brave. Go first. You can always take with you the knowledge that at any given time, two of the three rings at this circus are a disaster. It’s not just you; at the very least, it’s you and me.