Where I Am…Being Unable to Fix Everything

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When I was a little girl, my dad had a metal magician statue that sat on his dresser. One day he told me that this magician represented who he wishes that he could be in the lives of my brother and me. He wished that he could always magically fix things in our lives. In a lot of ways, he could. He could bandage up a skinned knee. He could help us write that tough paper. He could teach us to throw a baseball. But there were also the things that he couldn’t control. And, as he explained it, these were the things that tore him up and broke his heart. As a parent now, I understand.

Last spring, Samantha found out that her theatre company was doing the play Shrek. She immediately watched the Broadway show and fell in love with the role of Young Fiona. She learned her song, practiced it repeatedly and prepared for the audition. When she got the part, she started crying. Musical theatre is Samantha’s passion. But there’s also frequent rejection in that passion. Samantha had had her heart set on a certain part many times, and that part had always gone to someone else. This time, she got the part.

Our summer was filled with Shrek preparation. Samantha rehearsed three nights a week and all day on Saturdays and she was excited to be a part of what was going to be an amazing production. We had family and friends coming to town just to see her perform. Even Colton was getting in on the act as a telegrammer who would be performing a couple of Shrek-inspired songs before the show and intermission.

The week before the show (tech week) finally came. Tech week can be a brutal time where the actors have to stay at the theatre until late in the night. That Thursday morning before opening night, Samantha woke up and tearfully told me, “I’m not feeling well.” As she started to cough and sneeze, I realized that she could be in trouble.

She made it through the first two shows relatively unscathed, but by the beginning of her third show, her cough was in full effect and her voice was in trouble. With her big scene fast approaching, she and I sat outside the theatre trying everything to help her voice. Hot tea, honey, cough medicine, hot water and lemon, we tried it all. Every time she would try something new, she would attempt to sing her song and she couldn’t get through it. She would either start coughing or her voice would fail her. But as they say, the show must go on. We walked over to the castle that would be wheeled out so that she could sing her song. I was trying to say the right things, but the reality was that she would not be able to give her best performance, the one that she had been working so hard for. Before she was wheeled on to the stage, I quickly said, “Sweetie, are you going to be okay?” And she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “No.”

As expected, her performance wasn’t her best, but it was obvious that she was sick and the audience and her cast were extremely supportive. But her performance wasn’t the hard part for me. I hated the fact that my daughter had a problem, she needed my help and I couldn’t fix things. That helpless feeling of seeing her distraught face as she went on to the stage haunted me for days and I hated the fact that I had let her down.

I’ve been thinking about this fact for the last few weeks. This won’t be the last time that my kids will be in a situation that I can’t make better. There will be a day when Brady won’t make the team. Samantha will get her heart broken. Colton won’t get the teacher/professor that he has his heart set on. I won’t be able to fix those things and it will be good learning experiences for them to get through everything, deal with it, and come out stronger on the other end.

And even though the smart, realistic side of me knows this, I still wish that I could be that magician on my dad’s dresser.

 

Where I Am…June 6, 2016

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I was woken this morning by a debilitating headache. As my head throbbed, I got out of bed, took two Tylenol and waited for the medicine to start working. As I lay there, I tried to figure out what had caused the pain. I went through a number of possibilities, but none of them seemed to make sense.

A short time later, Brady woke up and said, “It’s June 6th, right Mommy?” And there it was. Yes, today is June 6, 2016.

Ten years ago today, my world changed forever.

Ten years ago today, I learned that bad things definitely happen to good people.

Ten years ago today, my dad and brother showed up at my front door unannounced and their faces told me the worst news that I’d ever heard.

Ten years ago today, my mom died and took a huge piece of me with her.

I wish that I could say that it has gotten easier. It hasn’t, and in fact, it has gotten harder in many ways. But I’ve gotten used to the fact that I don’t have a mom. And I hate that.

I often ask myself: How would life be different now if she were still here?

My dad would laugh more. And he wouldn’t say, “Damn, I miss her” a few times a week. He would have someone to tell his funny/long-winded opinions to. And he would hear, “Come on Ward. You’re talking the fool,” on a very regular basis.

My aunts wouldn’t feel her absence when they are together. They wouldn’t miss her opinions and her funny takes on all situations. They wouldn’t grab the phone to call her and then have to just put it down again.

My brother wouldn’t miss the person that he not only looked like, but acted like too. He wouldn’t have to merely tell his wife about his mom, since he met Michelle just one month after my mom died.  He would get to talk to the person who adored him, but also always called him out.

And I wouldn’t feel incomplete. I wouldn’t have to imagine what kind of grandmother she would have been. I wouldn’t walk through Mother’s Day in a haze just counting down the minutes until the day is over. I wouldn’t have a huge hole in my heart.

When my mom got really sick, I had a hysterical conversation with Rox who had been a best friend to my mom and like a big sister to me for many years. Through distraught tears, I asked, “Who is going to replace her?” And Rox very wisely said, “No one. There is no one that could ever replace your mom in your life.” And she was right. There is no one that will tell me the honest truth at all times. There is no one who will always say the perfect thing when I need to hear it most. There is no one who can give me advice on how she made parenting look so easy when it can often be so hard. There is no one who loves and adores me with a passion that I could feel every day of my life. There is no one like a mom. But for me, I was crazy lucky for 30 years, because there was truly no one like my mom.

Ten years ago, I lost the best mother there ever was. I lost my ability to always look on the bright side. I lost my best friend. I lost my compass. Ten years ago, I lost my mom. And I am still lost without her.

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Where I Am…Taking the Annual Santa Photo

It’s that time again. Another holiday season, another Santa picture.

In years’ past, the struggle has been real. I have been striving/hoping/wishing for the “perfect Santa picture” for 10 years now. It’s a pretty simple concept. Three Dorfman kids. Three cute, clean holiday outfits. Three smiles. Should be pretty simple, right? Nope. There has never been a photo that follows these guidelines since Samantha was a 6-month-old baby who didn’t know how to be scared of anything, including a large jolly man with a beard. Since then, there have been screams, tears and general unhappiness in all of our photos with Santa.

But apparently, I am a glutton for punishment, because I take the kids back to see Santa every year. In the past, I have always given the photo verdict at the end of this recount. But this year, I will tell you right now. This year, someone cried.

Leading up to our trip to the mall, everything seemed like it was on track and that there would be no tears this year.

Even though Samantha is 9 ½ and could have been “too old” for this year’s photo, that was not the case. She helped pick out everyone’s outfits and was enthusiastic about the picture. She even helped prepare Colton. She constantly asked him if he was going to smile and did a practice run where she pretended to be Santa Claus and had him sit on her lap and smile.

Brady seemed happy about the picture too. He liked his new bow tie and couldn’t wait to ask Santa for an elaborate marble track that he had been eyeing for months.

And then there was the wild card, the youngest. He really went back and forth about how he was going to be with Santa. One day it was, “I don’t want to see Santa this year. I’m definitely going to cry.” Then it was, “I’m excited to see Santa.” And when he wrote his Santa letter, he specifically told him that he wasn’t going to cry when he saw him.

Finally, it was time. Everyone dressed with no complaint and we headed to the mall. Samantha kept saying, “This is our year boys. I can feel it. We are going to get mommy that perfect Santa photo.” We arrived, waited in line and all three kids walked over to the jolly guy. And that’s when the crying started.

As I watched my three big kids talk to Santa, sit on his lap with confidence and smile straight at the camera, the tears started flowing. I looked at Dave and said, “I can’t believe that I’m crying.” All of the years of the “imperfect Santa photo” were flashing through my mind and I realized that I love those photos. They each represent a moment in time and my kids will never go back to being those little kids who couldn’t be coaxed to smile for the big guy, no matter what I did.

The “perfect Santa photo” is now in my hand and even though it is beautiful, the end of an era has come too. So this year, instead of lamenting on the sad state of my Santa photo, I am holding on to each moment that I have with my little ones. Happy holidays and I hope that you have imperfectly perfect moments with your families this year too.

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Where I Am…Dangerously Walking My Kids to School

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Dear Driver that almost hit my children and me this morning,

My kids and I walk to school every morning. We do this for a wide variety of reasons. It’s good exercise, environmentally friendly and a good way to connect with my kids before the school day. I also do it to avoid the crazy drivers and difficult parking situation that driving my kids to school can cause. But lately, I’ve started to rethink my walking ways after we’ve almost been hit on three different occasions in three weeks’ time.

This morning it was by you, speedy driver of a Chevy Volt. Our walking signal had changed to the “walking man” and we had entered the crosswalk. I was showing my kids that they should always make eye contact with any driver waiting to make a right turn because even though we had the right of way, these cars sometimes go and we don’t want to get hit. As we took a couple more steps, you sped right in front of us cutting us off and bringing me to tears. I only have two hands and three children. On this occasion, I had hold of my two youngest and thankfully, my oldest was right behind me. If she had been in front of me, you would have hit her.

When we made it to school, I was stopped by a gentleman who lives in our neighborhood. He told me that he had seen what happened this morning and followed your car to the school to inform you that you had almost hit us and terrified our family. I was grateful for his actions, but it almost made it worse to know that I hadn’t sensationalized the situation since someone else had been affected by seeing it.

Look, I get it. Mornings are hectic.  There is so much that goes into getting a kid to school on time or getting to work. And once on the road, it’s easy to become ultra-focused on doing what it takes to get where you need to be. But you are driving near an elementary school where there are young kids present. And that extra minute that you saved by speeding right in front of us in the crosswalk could have resulted in a tragic accident that could likely affect both of us forever.

I really don’t want to stop walking to school every day. It’s truly one of the highlights of my day and great for my kids too. So, please just obey the laws of the road and be cautious when you drive near the school in the morning. Being a couple of minutes late for school or work is fixable. Hitting my children or me may not be.

Sincerely,

A scared and angry mom

Where I Am…Feeling Unwanted

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I’ve never had tears from my kids on the first day of school. The only tears always come from me.

Luckily, my kiddos are still in that stage of life where they love school. They start counting down the days about a month before the first day. Once that exciting day arrives, I dutifully walk them to their classrooms, give them a big squeeze and then prepare to leave them. Then they look at me and wave goodbye. As I linger, they usually look back at me with a big grin and even bigger wave. Once Brady even said forcefully, “Good bye Mommy” before he practically pushed me out of the room.

And that’s when the tears always start. I make sure that I’m wearing sunglasses so I don’t have to embarrassingly explain that my kids are fine, but I’m not. It’s hard for me to let go and even harder because they seem so eager for me to go. I know that it’s selfish and childish, but I walk away feeling like they don’t really need me or want me to be with them.

Then, last weekend, my perspective changed.

All three kids had soccer games and they overlapped. Since I couldn’t be three places at one time, this meant that I would only see part of Samantha’s game, part of Brady’s game and I would miss Colton’s game completely. After Samantha’s game, she alluded to the fact that she had been upset that I had missed the majority of her game and I brushed it off as a necessity to the tricky situation. The next day, her coach came up to me and said, “I have to tell you that your daughter broke my heart at yesterday’s game. When you weren’t there for the beginning of the third quarter, Samantha started to cry a bit and said, ‘My mom isn’t here to watch me.’” Her coach then went on to say, “I wish that one of my three daughters wanted me around like that.”

Prior to Samantha’s game, I watched part of Brady’s game. He had been nervous about the game all week since he was playing against his friend and they were a really tough team. Brady played with his heart all game and when he scored a goal, I yelled and cheered like I had won the lottery. After the game, he said to me, “I love having you at my games mommy. It makes me so happy to hear your voice above the rest.”

The next morning, Colton joined me on the computer and asked if he could play some Sesame Street letter games. As I agreed and got up so he could take the computer over, he said, “No, you need to sit here and I will sit on your lap.” And after he crawled into my lap, I noticed that his right hand had command of the mouse while his left had found mind and sat comfortably there the entire time that he played his game.

So, maybe my kids don’t need me on the first day of school. And maybe I will always be the only one of us to shed a few tears. But my kids still need me and want me there in their own ways. And I will always try to be there when they do.

Where I Am…Thinking About My Real-Life Superhero

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When I was eight years old, I slit my eyelid open while trying to hide in a tree during a game of hide-and-seek. My mom rushed me to the emergency room where they determined that I would need seven stitches. As the plastic surgeon began stitching and I screamed out in pain, my real-life superhero ran into the room to hold my hand and tell me stories until the procedure was finished. My dad had dropped everything at work to be by my side and save the day. That is who he is: My real-life superhero.

He was always there to encourage us and help us achieve our goals. Sports were a big deal in our house, especially baseball. My brother was a talented left-handed relief pitcher and I started playing softball when I was five. One year, I told my dad that I really wanted to make the all-star team. He announced that I would have to work hard and that he would help me. Every day after work he took me down to the softball field and practiced. And when I made the team, no one was more excited than my dad.

In high school, my brother Adam and I played on the baseball and softball teams simultaneously for one year. The softball field was on the opposite side of the campus from the baseball field, but my dad would never miss a game. On the days that we both had games, he would bring his bike to the school and bike between each field. After watching Adam pitch an inning (he would stand directly behind home plate to cheer him on), he would jump on his bike and make it to the softball field in time to see me bat. I can picture him speeding up on his bike and yelling, “Relax Rach. Wait for it and watch the ball into the bat.”

Then there were the times that the superhero came in a serious package. The summer before my second year of college, I developed an eating disorder that resulted in me working out obsessively and barely eating. After nine months of everyone tiptoeing around the subject, my dad drove four hours to my college town, sat me down and said, “This has got to stop. I will not stand by and watch you do this to yourself. If you don’t get some help and get this under control, I will come back up here and take you home. Take care of it or you will leave college and I will take care of it.” It’s what I needed to hear. I got some counseling and got my health back on track.

The superhero behavior didn’t stop with his children. When my mom was diagnosed with stage-4 cancer, my dad figured out how to retire early from his job as a lawyer. For the next ten months, he took her to every doctor’s appointment, blood test, scan and chemo session. Then in her last few weeks, a hospice nurse was sent over to my parents’ home to care for my mom. After a couple of days, my dad decided that he wanted my mom’s last days to be about only family and friends. And more than anything, he wanted to have alone time with the love of his life. He asked the nurse to teach him everything and then he sent her home. My dad changed and flushed my mom’s feeding tubes, washed and changed her bedding and administered her meds until her final breath.

The hardest thing to see is when the superhero can’t save the day. The day that my mom passed away, my dad and brother flew 450 miles to tell me in person. They entered the door and upon seeing their faces, I knew that I had lost the best woman that I would ever know. And as I crumbled to the floor screaming, I caught a glimpse of my dad who looked so defeated and helpless. He couldn’t swoop in and make it better.

When he became a grandparent, he became “Pop the superhero.” When Colton was 15 months, he came down with a nasty virus. After five days of high fevers and inconsolable screaming, Colton was back in the doctor’s office where the doctor started to voice her concerns. As she left the examination room, the phone rang and it was my dad. “Things aren’t looking great,” I said. Even though I was trying to stay calm, he heard the fear in my voice and the tears beginning to form. Dave was on a week-long work trip and even though they hadn’t admitted Colton to the hospital, my dad knew that I needed help. In 30 minutes, he was in the car driving seven hours to Northern California to be there for my kids and me. And when Colton was admitted to the hospital the next day, my dad stayed home with Samantha and Brady to keep things easier for me, and as normal as possible for them.

My kids already know how incredible their Pop is. He comes to their sporting events and plays, and is the loudest one cheering. He watches the kids weekly and always tells me that they were “great” on his watch. And when Dave and I headed to a much-needed trip to France last March, my dad took over for six days and wasn’t even scared away by the 13-page “How To” guide that I left.

It’s a wonderful thing to have someone that you can call on and you know that they will drop everything and save the day. It’s even better when you can call that person “Dad.” Shortly after my mom died, my dad told me that he had discovered the meaning of life. As I braced myself for a punch line, he gave me a serious response instead. He said, “The meaning of life is caring for the ones that you care about.” Mission accomplished, Dad. Mission accomplished.

Where I Am…Embracing Change

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This may seem hard to believe, but I don’t like change. For the first 18 years of my life, I lived in the same house with two parents who loved each other unconditionally and a brother who I adored, even when he made me crazy. Most of my best friends are the ones that I met in elementary school. I got my first job at Ruby’s when I was 15 and worked there until I graduated from college. I fell in love for the first time at 17 years old and married that cute boy. So, the fact that life has thrown so many changes my way in the last 12 years has been a real adjustment for me.

The major changes started after a dream wedding and my life becoming about “we” instead of just “me.” Marrying Dave is still the best decision that I have ever made, but his training had us move eight times in eleven years. Each move meant a new job for Dave and a new life for me. I had to get good at making new friends (which is a little like dating) and getting used to a new city, while simultaneously trying to make things as normal and wonderful for the kids as possible. So, I guess that I’ve reluctantly gotten good at change even though I’m still not a fan and I always go in with trepidation.

So, this morning when I attended Samantha’s school piano recital, I developed a new appreciation for her. Samantha knows all about change too. Next year will mark the first year that she has ever attended the same school for two years in a row. All of our family changes have resulted in Samantha attending two preschools and four elementary schools. At the beginning of this year, I thought that things could be a little rough. Samantha had a lot of catching up to do in terms of a new computer/math program, reading system and piano class, all of which the other students had already been doing for years.

Therefore, I was more than a little nervous going to her little class piano recital this morning. And then tears came to my eyes as I watched Samantha confidently walk to the front of the room and nail her piece. Afterward, I thanked her music teacher for taking the extra time with her and the teacher said, “Samantha was truly a dream piano student. She really dove right in and I’m proud of the progress that she made this year.” Yes, me too.

Samantha has every reason to not to like change. Every year since she was three she’s had to meet new friends, learn a new school and prove herself to a teacher who has no prior knowledge about her personality or her abilities. But, she has barely flinched. She has embraced it and recently told me that this year was the best year of her life.

I’ve decided that I’m going to try to be more like my nine year old. I’ve dealt with change, but I haven’t always welcomed it. Change is scary, but it doesn’t always have to be, and worry and apprehension are useless things. So, when change comes, which it undoubtedly will, I’m done lingering at the side of the pool, I’m diving in.