Friday, August 22, 2014

Love, more

Once again I return to this completely ignored space to acknowledge my twin boys' 14th birthday.  This is a long post but they each deserve their own letter.

August 22, 2014

Dear son,

A few years ago you were in a community production of Suessical the Musical as one of the Wickersham Brothers who are the meddlesome monkeys in the Jungle of Nool.  Clearly this was not typecasting a then mischievous 5th grade boy.

This past spring you were in the Middle School production of Suessical Jr. but this time you were cast as Horton the Elephant, the only story line that isn't butchered by turning the full length play into a one act (the Junior version doesn't even have the General/Bread-and-Butter Battle storyline which makes Jojo and the Mayors' story lines really short and odd).  You were also finishing up 7th grade - that glorious year of growing like a weed, getting serious pimples and being so full of yourself I just wanted to knock you on the side of your head.  If I could reach that high.

So when you sang "Alone in the Universe" in your grey newsboy-looking outfit, holding a pink fuzzy thing that looked more like a poppy than a clover in a glaring spotlight it was all I could do to not start loudly sobbing.  You sang about loneliness, imagination and flying over troubles with conviction and sympathy.

When you sang it at the very last show it was with desperation and delirium.  You had a 102.7 degree fever which came on during call time.  You were fine when you left the house at 5:45pm.  The fever came on like an arson fire.

But not once did you back down from the show.  You channeled what little energy and focus you had and got through it.  You even sat through an awards program when you could've have begged to be let go.

So when you sang, feeling sick, about being alone in the universe just know that you will never be alone.  No matter where you are or what you are doing I am there for you.

Happy birthday darling boy,

August 22, 2014

Dear son,

You are my tough guy.

Yet earlier this month, after we had eaten dinner at picnic tables I turned my head to find you rolling on the grass with your not-quite 4-year-old cousin.  I'm not sure if there was a race involved but I do know that you had her laughing loudly as you both rolled down a small incline.  You smiled at her and she just beamed right back at you.

Earlier in the summer you let your twin 7-year-old cousins both sit on top of you while you laid on your belly.  You chased after their minivan as they drove away with their heads out of the windows laughing loudly.  You never once turned down a request to put one of them on your shoulders.

And we share our two weeks of beach heaven with another family who has a 15-month-old son.  You follow him around, make funny faces at him in restaurants, and give him hugs and kisses.

Because while you are tough, you are also affectionate, loving and kind.  So go ahead and be the tough 14-year-old today.  I know you are quick with a kiss for a little one.

Happy birthday darling boy,

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy Birthday, Happiness

Dear darling,

You are ten years old today.

Last month we had our first, real, public this-is-your-life-get-out-of-my-way-mother moment.  For the world to see.  Well, our beloved town and the theater group we're a part of.

You were recently the Red Queen in a local production of Alice in Wonderland.  In this version you start the second act, explain what was about to happen to Alice and generally got the audience back into the groove after a twenty minute intermission spent eating Skittles and brownies, buying raffle tickets and listening to blue grass music.

Let's just say that was a tall order for a then 9-year-old.  Only something a mother would ask.  A mother who was also the director.  A first time director.  So there was no pressure on either of us.

Two weeks before our "paying" shows, the theater company performed a free show for a local autism support network.  Over 60 individuals came and got to experience live theater.  You were just perfect.  You consistently and clearly delivered your lines with a very royal attitude.

And in my mind - the director's mind - you peaked.

Because after that show you started doing all these weird things.  You would pull a Mae West with one line (like you knew who Ms. West was), then go into a Lucille Ball bit, then flail about and suddenly be still. You would drop the last word of a sentence in an attempt to be super dramatic which only made it harder for people to hear your jokes.

You were clearly bored.  You had memorized your lines in January.  It was the end of March and you
not only knew the Red Queen inside and out - you would probably knew what moves she would maneuver on the chess board.  You were bored.

And I was frantic.  As the director - and your mother - you looked like a character mess.  There was no rhyme or reason to what you were doing on stage.  The entire tech/dress rehearsal week was agony for me.  I'd talk to you about this at home so as not to embarrass you in front of the group.  You'd nod, repeat a line as I suggested, and then promptly continue your whack job delivery.

The show opened for four performances and you shined.  Every single person who spoke to me marveled at your stage presence, your "look at me" quality, your funny character.

I've been stupid enough to bemoan to a few friends that you went off the rails as an actor.

The thing is you didn't go off the rails.  You never do.  You are just so amazingly confident that you don't care what 120 people in an audience think.  Or what your mother thinks.  You will just experiment and try new things.

You are by far the most fearless person - man or woman, adult or child - I know.

And being your mother is the greatest gift I could ask for.  A bit of a stomach-turning-will-I-survive?-ride but I would not trade this for anything.

Welcome to double digits, Darling Daughter.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Explaining Anna's rape to the 9-year-old

Watching Downton Abbey is a weekly treat in our family.  The 13-year-old boys get to watch it with me on Sundays.  The 9-year-old girl is in bed before the show begins so we watch it on DVR the next day.  Being on the west side of the pond means I have worked very hard since the fall to avoid all discussion about season 4 or read any spoilers.

However, this past Sunday's episode was not like any other.  I probably should have paid attention to the warning on the screen before the dog's backside appeared but I was lulled by the sweeping piano and strings and the excitement for a weekend of parties!

Anna's story unfolded - unfortunately - very well.  Her assailant grooms her with his flattery, fun game (what was that card game all about?) and small talk.  So when he violently rapes her it comes out of no where because, well, he had been so nice.  Although Anna's husband, Mr. Bates, of course knew the guy was a good-for-nothing.

As the credits rolled, the boys and I sat stunned.  We talked about how horrible it was to watch and how unfair it was that Anna was now hiding a secret.  I also reiterated to my not-quite-men that women are not for men's (or boys') pleasure.

But how to talk about it with my 9-year-old daughter?  That Monday, after school, I didn't offer to play the recorded show and she didn't ask to watch.  On Tuesday driving to ballet class she asked about it and I told her that I was sad that Tom and that new maid were spending time together (I call her O'Brien 2.0).  Other days have passed and now we're almost at a new episode.  I believe Anna was pregnant before the violent sexual assault (dropping Lady Mary's perfume, getting all emotional about Moseley's debts, that fateful headache) but I think the writers will (cruelly) cause her to think the rape led to her pregnancy.   This means the crime will be a key part of several episodes and my daughter would not understand what was upsetting Anna and (hopefully) others when she finally shares this horrible secret.

This afternoon we had the talk.  I stressed that this was a make-believe show and everyone was actors.  Then I told her what happened and how they showed it on the screen.  But I made some key points.

1. Explain what actually happened
"Inappropriate touch" or "he hurt her" does not fully convey the horrible crime and abuse this fictional character (and sadly so many real people) suffer through.  My boys were about her age when the Sandusky scandal broke and they asked me what the former football coach did to the boys.  I told them so that it wouldn't be a mystery.  And I told my daughter today what happened to Anna.

2. Reassure that she could tell me and her dad anything
I told her, several times, that no matter what happens to her she can tell me.  No matter how bad she feels, how wrong she may believe she was, whatever the outcome she can tell me and her dad because we will love her and help her.

3. Trust her feelings
I explained that part of the assailant's plan to attack Anna was to make her feel comfortable with him.  I told her that unfortunately most rapes are done by people who know their victim.  So that means that if someone she cares about starts treating her differently, making her feel bad, or pushing her to do things she is not comfortable with she needs to trust that funny feeling in her stomach and get away.  This is harder said then done but hopefully talking about it now means she'll be brave later.

I asked her if she had any questions or anything she wanted to say.

"Mom, I think I'll skip this week's Downton Abbey.  I like it when it's happy and has parties."

Me too, darling girl.  Me too.