Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Touching the Past.

I got an email from a friend the other day wondering why she still kept her wedding day underwear in her underwear drawer. Supposedly they are sexy little white bikinis that no longer comfortably fit her happily married body. And yet, she can't bring herself to throw them away. "Why?" she wondered. "It's just underwear."

But of course, we all know, it's not just underwear. It's a reminder of time gone by.

I don't like to live in the past. But I don't believe in running from it either. Making peace with the totality of my life has been hard for me. Sometimes when I look at old pictures, I get an overwhelming sense of sadness because no matter how hard I try - I can't get those moments back. I look at pictures of my childhood, the hideous velvety floral couches and harvest gold appliances of my 70s youth. I look at my tiny face, my mom-cut bangs and groovy clothes. Mostly I look at the little family that was the whole of my life. My mom, my dad, my brother. There were 4 of us and this was my world. We ate and traveled as a foursome. I never dreamed it would be any other way. But soon, there was no more little family. My brother and I grew up and left home and now we have our own little families. Mom and dad live alone.

When we gather now, it's three little families coming together. I see that foursome gathered on the grass for a Poloroid taken at a family reunion in 1978 and I am overcome with grief that I can't get that moment back. And truthfully, I can't even remember that day anymore but for the picture in my hand.

I feel the same way when I look at pictures from my teenage years. I grew up in the 80s. I WAS the 80s. I blew out Sixteen Candles, sat around St. Elmo's Fire and danced to Spandau Ballet at my prom. I walked around in a fog of hairspray and attitude. I look at old pictures and read my old yearbook... and again it takes over. That feeling of sadness... that I can't go back. I can't touch it. Honestly, I don't even want to be 16 again. But I want to remember what it was like to be so young, so enthusiastic and so naive again. I want to revisit, just for a moment,that girl with no bitterness, no fear and no stretch marks. I just want to take a quick glimpse through those eyes again.

Teen angst.

I recently found out that my husband has kept every email I have ever sent to him. In the early days of our courtship, we worked opposite hours of the day and sometimes didn't have time to talk. So, we would email letters back and forth to each other. I started reading a few of the emails the other day... and honestly I was transported back in time. These were from before we'd ever said "I love you", ever had a fight, a mortgage payment, a child, a diagnosis. This was the beginning. When everything is wonderful and perfect and so, so exciting. Reading these emails, reading my own words from the past, I was carried back in time and felt like I was experiencing the excitement, the mystery, the electric charge of new love all over again. What a gift these emails were to me. I needed that jolt.

In reality, we need pieces from our past to keep us grounded in the present. I don't have my wedding underwear in my drawer, I don't even remember what underwear I wore. But I do have a newborn onesie in there.

A few years ago, I found it folded in with my undies and tucked in the back of my drawer. I imagine it has been placed there accidentally in the sleep deprived state I was in when my babies were, well, babies. It's white and teeny tiny with 3 little snaps in the crotch. It smells like Dreft. And even though my "baby" is 5, I couldn't bear to take that onesie out of my drawer and get rid of it. Instead I smelled it, re-folded it and placed it back.

Now we can't walk around surrounding ourselves with piles of onesies, and lacy underwear and Spandau Ballet tapes... but a little something in a drawer never hurt anyone. Lately however, I have begun to treasure a new relic from my past. People. I realized the other day that I have friends in my life that have known me and loved me for more than 25 years. I NEED those connections in my life. You can't walk around acting like a Big Shot when there are people in your life that were there the first time you got drunk drinking Blue Nun wine and saw you throw up on your boyfriend's docksiders. Am I right?

Every now and again, I still take that onesie out - have my moment - and put it back. Does that make me crazy? Perhaps. But I'm ok with it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Scratch Paper

I always chuckle to myself when I hear a first time mom-to-be talk about her "Birth Plan". I had a "Birth Plan" too and I feel fairly certain that my Obstetrician flipped it over and used it for scratch paper to jot down how far apart my contractions were. At least it got used for something.

My first pregnancy was perfectly planned. Meaning: I meant to get pregnant. I'd prayed for it, timed it, wanted it. When I took the pregnancy test, and saw the faint little "+" I was elated and in shock that it happened so fast. I was so in shock, I immediately peed on Stick #2 in the double pack to make sure it was positive. Still - in a moment I can only describe as insanity - I drove to Walgreens at 10 pm and bought another double pack. It was all I could do not to pull over on the side of the road and pee on those sticks right then and there, but I controlled myself and waited until I got home.

+ + + +

I was pregnant! I decided it would be prudent to wait a while to tell others.

So, I waited. Until the next morning. When I promptly called my entire Rolodex and told everyone the news.

I was born to breed! This was my calling! Hooray!

And that is when IT happened. "It" was the exact moment I stopped having any control of what happened next - although I didn't know it at the time.

I really had a great pregnancy. My main complaint was nausea & heartburn - standard fare. I craved oranges and ate them by the bag. (Later my son would be born with a wicked case of jaundice. Coincidence?)

I read EVERY book ever written. I attended all the classes. I GAVE UP COFFEE.

I recall sitting in the hospital basement's Lamaze classroom with all the other swollen mothers and nervous looking dads. The teacher told us that 1 in 5 of us would have a c-section. I was SO arrogant I recall looking around at the other moms and thinking "Awww, that's too bad they are going to have a c-section".

Turns out, sometimes when your water breaks, it isn't an adorable splash on the floor. Sometimes it's a slooooooow leak and you assume you are just repeatedly peeing your pants every 3 to 5 minutes. Also, guess what? You don't always have your baby on your due date. I know, rude right? The nerve. I went into labor 5 weeks early at my office. I didn't actually have my bag packed yet and had to walk my husband through it from my cell phone while being felt up by Dr. Cold Hands. Here is a rough transcript of how the call went "Honey, I need you to pack me a few things. OK, open my underwear drawer. See all the underwear you like? Yeah, don't pack those. If you like it, leave it. Go towards the back, the giant underwear that look like I bought them at Burlington Tent and Awning... yes, perfect..."

Thirty six hours later.... that's not a typo .... it was decided I would have a cesarean. I was a little scared, but not for me, for my baby that I loved so much, yet had never laid eyes on.

What happened next is sort of a horror story for another day... Let's just summarize it by saying my spinal block failed and probably the worst thing that can happen to an anesthesiologist happened and that is that I could feel the surgery. Because my baby was tiny and in distress, and still shared my blood supply, they could not risk putting me under general anesthesia because my baby would have been born asleep too. So, I felt it and it was horrific. The minute Baby John was born, he was placed next to my cheek for 2 seconds and that is the last thing I remember for several hours.

My next memory is waking up, flat on my back and in my room. I could see the faces of my worried parents and stoic husband. And when I looked down, my son was breast feeding. The nurse, knowing how much I wanted to breast feed as soon as possible, had latched him on while I was in recovery. It was the single most surreal moment of my life. I will always be grateful to that nurse for her kindness.

And so it began... a life of unexpected, unplanned events.

You will be in the hospital approximately 4 days following birth.
Or, 9.

Your child will get his first tooth at approx 5 months.
Or, he'll be born with one.

Breastfeeding with be a bonding moment between you and your baby.
Or, it will hurt like a son of a bitch.

You and your spouse can take turns getting up with baby for nighttime feedings.
Sheyah, right.

Your baby will start saying "mama" and "dada" by 12 months.
Or you may not hear it until they are almost 3.

You are not as likely to get pregnant while breastfeeding.
Hello, Molly.

For someone like me - a type A, control freak - this was all a bit humbling. Rolling with the punches was never my strong suit. I have learned that the best way to approach my life is to simply stand still and hold my arms out.

And just wait - for whatever gets thrown my way.

I'm ready.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I am.

One night, a couple of years ago, it was that time of night most parents dread. The hours between dinner and bedtime when you are trying to wrangle tired children into the bath and settle them down in the hope that they will eventually fall asleep and give you a breather. My son was nearly 4 at the time. His autism was pretty severe then. In fact, at 4 he was only just beginning to speak to us. He was mostly silent until age 3. From 3 to 4 he spoke in a combination of cave-man speak and lines from TV shows. At 4, small sentences were starting to come and we would get the occasional glimpse into his amazing mind. However.. communication was very slow to come. His mounting frustration over the inability to understand and be understood resulted in behaviors, episodes, meltdowns that were so awful I can barely speak of them.

After one especially harrowing meltdown - I sat on one end of couch in silence. My husband sat on the other end. Our son sat between us, seemingly oblivious to my tears and totally engrossed in the task of spinning the wheels on his toy car.

I looked at my husband and very quietly said "I hate autism".

My son, without looking up, said "I am autism".

I'll let that sink in for a moment.

I mean, this kid had barely spoken an original thought to me in his life. His main reason to speak at all was to get his needs met "Milk" "Cookie" "Read book" "Go out". And now, he drops this bomb on me.

And I won't lie. It made me feel like crap. As if I didn't already feel like the worst mother in the world... this really put me over the edge.

But it needed to be said. With those three words, I realized that I can't compartmentalize my son. I can't hate the autism but love the child. He is the sum of his parts. I mean, how would I feel if someone said "I hate women...but you're ok"?

I had to learn to love ALL of him. I don't mean tolerate, I mean love. And some days autism is not very loveable.

His words resonated with me long after that day on the couch.

I think I am not alone when I confess that I am a very harsh critic when the subject matter is me. For years, I could see the best in everyone else, but when it came to myself I saw everything I didn't like. I was too fat, too short, too pale. I laughed too loud, made jokes at inappropriate times, tried too hard to be the center of attention. I wasn't athletic enough, brave enough, coordinated enough.

But after having my children... and especially after John's poignant declaration on the couch... I decided I will no longer hate parts of me. Because I can't hate parts of me, and still claim to like myself.

If I impart nothing else to my children, I want them to love themselves. I want them to have a life where they don't look to others for validation. So I choose to lead by example. I strive every day to show my children that I have self confidence. That I am imperfect and love myself anyway.

I am flawed.
I am overweight.
I am loud.
I am pale.


I am funny.
I am smart.
I am kind.
I am hopeful.
I am generous.
I am loving.

I am all the parts of me.
I am. Me.

Imperfect & Happy

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New Shoes?

I have been blessed in my life with a friend, a best friend, for going on 27 years. Calling her a friend is such an understatement. She's more like the other half of me that walks around and does stuff without me. I'd call her my soul mate, but that sounds a little too spousey. I've taken to calling her her my Soul Friend. I can't imagine a life where she wasn't my touchstone. We've been keepin' it real since long before people started saying keepin' it real.

We met in high school. She sat next to me for the first two periods of the day. It was the 80s, and to give you some frame of reference she was sort of a cool & sexy "Express Yourself Madonna" and I was more of a colorful "She Bop Cyndi Lauper" trainwreck . On the surface, we didn't seem to have that much in common. In truth, we started talking that first day of school and, quite frankly, we haven't stopped yet.

Age 16

I gotta be honest, Heather - that's her name - she is really pretty. Like, piss you off pretty. She has a face and a body that stops people in their tracks. She was pretty in her teens. She's pretty in in her 40s. She was pretty all of those years in between. There was approximately 13 days in the mid 1990's where she had a sizable blemish in a prominent location - her nose. I don't want to say I was happy for her misery, but for nearly two weeks the playing field was leveled and I did sort of enjoy it. (Forgive me Father, for I have sinned...)

It wasn't always easy having a knock-out for a bestie. Especially when we were younger and we both placed so much emphasis on what others thought of us. I was always outgoing and smart, but I have struggled with my weight all of my life. No matter how much I prune and preen, I never quite achieve "polished". I have, however, mastered "windblown".

I like to tell a story about going to Bennigans with Heather in the early 90's. (Remember when going to Bennigans made you feel so cool? If so, you're my age or older baby.) We got all Friday'd up and strolled into the bar part of Bennigans. We promptly ran into a guy - an old friend we hadn't seen for a while. He walked over - eyes popping over Heather - smiling and scanning. Here is what he said:

"HEY Heather!!!! Oh my God, you look AMAZING!!! Man it's been a long time, girl you look FANTASTIC!

Then, he glanced at me, did a quick scan and, hand to God, he said:

"Hey, Stacia. New shoes?"

Friends, that moment, that scan, that sentence... defined the next 10 years of my life. I can laugh about it now, but at that moment, it hurt me down to my off-white pumps (Don't judge, it was 90s).

Here's the irony. I remember every detail of that night with vivid recall. What I wore, what I ordered, what he said. But I can not tell you who "he" was. It's like my brain has erased him. Probably for the best, as I might hold a grudge.

Heather has never acted like a "pretty girl". If you close your eyes and just listen to her, you'd swear she was your run of the mill homely-girl-with-a-great-personality. And as we've gotten older, and grown closer, we've peeled off all the superficial layers. I don't even see her with my eyes anymore, I see her with my heart. I know she sees me the same way. The more we let go, break down the walls, take off our armor - the more we love each other.

Although, if there is a merciful God, we are about due for another blemish.

Age 40

Saturday, May 21, 2011

In the Field.

Yesterday was my son's First Grade field trip.  It was a trip to the zoo.  I love a good field trip.  I never board a big yellow school bus without traveling back in time to my own childhood and the excitement of "field trip day".

Growing up, we didn't have much money.  Usually I had the school's hot lunch offering.  On the days I packed a lunch, I had your standard sandwich in waxed paper with chips in a baggie.  BUT on field trip days my mom always packed a lunch worthy of the local doctor's kid.   My Field Trip Lunch always contained a teeny bag of prepackaged Doritoes and a Snack Pack pudding can.  Not a cup, a can.  A mini can of pudding with a pull tab & a metal lid so sharp that you could whittle sticks after lunch was over.  It was pure Heaven.

Now that I am a mom, I look back and realize how much my own mother did to make things in our lives special... on a budget that didn't have a lot of room for bells and whistles.  It was precisely that memory that moved me to let my son bring a "Lunchable" to yesterday's field trip.  It's the modern equivalent of the Snack Pack.  I don't normally pay people to cut cheese and ham into adorable circles and squares.  I'm frugal like that.  But I knew he'd enjoy the pomp and circumstance of taking out his overpriced Lunchable, peeling back it's plastic lid & opening the little napkin and mini mustard.  Not that he eats mustard, but it was still fun to open and squirt at the kid sitting next to him.

My oldest son John is 7 and yesterday he was the child I accompanied to the zoo.  He rose at 5:09 a.m. not wanting to be late for the scheduled field trip departure time... of 8:30.    Needless to say, he had lots of time to get ready.  And, so did I.  Over my coffee, I reflected on field trips past... and despite the hot cup in my hands, a shiver went down my spine.

John has autism and has been in some form of school setting since two days after his third birthday.  So we have quite a few field trips under our belts.  In the early days, field trips were - in a word - disastrous.   My kid, like most kids with autism, loves order, routine and sameness.  Field trips are the opposite of all that.  They take everything that is supposed to be in one place, and moves it to someplace else.   Everything that spelled "fun" to a typical 4 yr old, spelled "miserable" to mine.  He was forever anguished in a place that was too loud, smelled funny, had too many kids, was too hot....  He was never quiet when he was supposed to be, never followed the rules, always ran the other way.  He would stare at the sign explaining the thing, and never look at the thing itself.  I have a clear memory of sitting on the curb outside of Happy Joes sobbing... as my son sat on the sidewalk lining up decorative landscaping rocks next to me.   Meanwhile, all the other kids sat inside with their parents happily eating pizza and ice cream.  I felt so alone... so distant from those perfect families inside.  So distant from this kid on the sidewalk next to me.

A lot has changed since those days weepy days on the sidewalk.  John has grown and changed and evolved so much .  So have I.  He still hates restaurants and he still would rather not have his routine interrupted, but a field trip is actually now, finally, something to be enjoyed.  Although I had to laugh because yesterday John read every sign at the zoo ...  EVERY SINGLE SIGN.  This morning he couldn't tell you how many Leopards were actually in the cage because he didn't look at them.  But he can tell you their native country,  primary diet and life expectancy.  God I love him.

Somewhere near the monkey house yesterday, I saw a boy with severe autism having a meltdown.  (I didn't actually have his medical chart in front of me, but I knew he had autism because when you've lived it, you know.)  He was covering his ears and screaming and bawling.   He was with a school group & was flanked by two aides trying to talk him off the ledge.  He was, well, losing it.  And it took everything in my power to keep from running over to him, wrapping my arms around him and giving him some nice soothing deep compression, rocking him rhythmically and telling him it was OK.  It was OK to hate the zoo.  Not everyone has to love everything.

But I didn't do any of that.  I let a few tears fall behind my sunglasses and I moved on to the giraffes.  But I did take a moment to acknowledge how far we'd come and how appreciative I was that for now... for this day.... a field trip was just a field trip.  And I was just a mom... with a son .... who got a Lunchable.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hard to Get

My husband likes to tell people that when we first met,. I played "hard to get".  He likes to tell the story of how he chased my decidedly cold shoulder across two states until I finally softened and caved.   I can't say he's lying, because he actually believes it to be true.  But I know different.

By the time I'd hit my 30s, I was what you might call a seasoned dater.  I was getting to the age when people started asking me "When are you going to find someone and settle down?".  My older aunts were worried I was going to be a spinster.  My mother could barely hear me speaking over the sound of my ovaries dying on the vine.  I was much less concerned than everyone else, after all, I was having a  ball.  I certainly wasn't sitting at home on Friday nights waiting for the phone to ring.

I won't lie.... I did hear it.  On quiet nights, when the the TV was off... tick tick tick... my biological time clock. But I 'd quickly turn on the television and drown out the ticking with an episode of "Sex and the City".   Ah, order restored.

Before I met my husband, I'd  had sort of a "bad run" in the dating department.   I'll break it down for you.

There was Mr. "Perfect-on-Paper".  I liked him, he liked me, same values, same interests, cute, sexy, good with the parents.  But, at the end of the day, he never made me tingle.  When we were together, I liked him.  When we were apart, I never thought about him.  We parted as friends. 

There was Mr. "Oh-did-I-forget-to-mention-I-am-still-technically-married?".  Nuff said.

Finally there was Mr. "He's Just a Little Too Into You".  I won't say he was a stalker, let's just call it Stalker Lite. 

My husband and I met as a result of a "set up".  We were both invited to the same Christmas party by a mutual friend.  We were both aware of the situation and actually exchanged a few emails and phone calls before meeting.  But it was a total blind meeting.  We'd never seen each other until the night of the party.  Yikes, right?

Now, I will admit a few things... since I've already sealed the deal and have the ring to show for it.  When I first saw him... I liked his face.  A lot.  He wasn't Hotty McHotterson - he was better.  He had this face.. honest eyes, a crooked smile and a deep voice that melted me.  And later in  the night when it was time to leave the party, I walked over to him to exchange the always awkward goodbye.  After all, there were several sets of eyes watching us to see they'd made a love connection.  I spoke first.

"Well goodbye... it was really nice meeting you.  I'm glad Linda invited you."
"Yeah, me too.  Maybe we could see each other again some time."
"OK, sure, that would be nice."
(Can you feel the awkwardness.... ?)

So, then... I did something I am prone to do when I get nervous.  I panicked  and blurted out "Oh come on and give me a hug, ya big lug!"

And he laughed and he hugged me.  And I...... I tingled. 

He later confessed he'd wasn't sure he was ever going to call me again -  until that moment.  Until I called him a Lug and forced him to hug me.  He was hooked.

Me?  I was hooked too.  But I was also really, really scared.  I really didn't mind being single.  I'd sort of had it with men at this point.  And I also knew that The Tingle was almost always a prerequisite to The Let Down... or worse... The Heart Break.

So, I ducked and weaved a bit.  I tried to like my Big Lug, without loving him.  I tried to get to know him, without falling for him.  I tried to keep my mind on choosing outfits for our dates, and not china patterns for our future.

But I failed on every count.  I fell in love anyway.

So, in truth, I didn't play hard to get.  I was, in fact, hard to get.  I'd built this giant wall around my heart, but love, that clever bastard, scaled it.

Thank God.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Who I used to be

Many years ago, my dad went to his class reunion.  He ran into a guy that had seen more than his share of life's hardships:  illness, addiction, financial struggles.  There was very little resemblance between the handsome young athlete pictured in the yearbook and the limping, disheveled man standing near the bar.  My dad walked over, stuck out his hand and and said "Hi, I'm Tom Lietsch".  He looked at my father, paused and said "Hi, I used to be David Johnson".

I have remembered that story all of my life.  The weight of its meaning & sadness affected me.   I mourned for a man I never knew and his former self left behind.

Having lived 41 years on this earth... I've seen my share of fads and hairstyles come and go.  I've lived on both coasts.  I've been around the block a few times.  I've lived a pretty big life.  And had some pretty big hair.

I was the daughter of a sailor and moved around a lot.  I spent the whole of my 20s as a singleton... with a pretty good job and an enviable social life.   I was a theater junkie, spending years of my life on stage, behind the scenes, directing... doing anything and everything just to be near a theater.   I did a radio show for years... a morning drive talk show.  It was funny, political, racy.  I interviewed Presidential candidates.  I drank beer with the Mayor.  I hosted many a cocktail party.  I was a staple at charity events.  I emceed beauty pageants, I sang for pay, I lived a life holding a microphone and making people laugh.

I didn't meet my now husband until I was in my 30s and didn't get married until I was 33.  From there, I was on sort of  a fast track.  I had my first baby at 34, my second at 35.   We moved to another town where I didn't know anyone, bought a big house and an SUV.   When my first born son was 2 1/2, he was diagnosed with autism.  I found myself  knocking around this big house, with a small baby daughter, a totally out of control autistic toddler, in a town of strangers.  I had a husband that worked long hours and traveled a lot. Frankly the next few years are sort of a blur.

One day, going through a box, I found a picture of myself.  It had only been take 4 years prior.  I was standing there... with a big smile on my face, holding a martini, eyes sparkling.  I looked at that person and thought... "Who is that?"

It was me.  It was who I used to be.

Hi.  I used to be Stacia.  And I am trying to get back to her.