Together In It

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On Sunday, the day of this past weekend that did not include a hangover for me, our family skipped church for another kind of unifying activity: a Moana singalong at the local cinema. It’s like this…

Old life: sleep in until 11 am, hustle down to the local brunch spot in time to grab a table and a pomegranate mimosa. Or three. Eat way too many fries and eggs and fried eggs. Head home for a nap in front of the TV.
Now life: Wake up at 6:30 with two kids in the bed. Hand them screens to get 30 more minutes’ sleep. Fill the time until 10 am. Head to local cinema and meet friends there with their kids. Occupy two rows and watch/belt out Moana for two hours. No alcohol involved. Or naps, for that matter.

Maybe I’m polishing a turd here, or maybe I was just on a non-hangover high, but I’ll tell you something: the singalong was actually fun.

Our two familiar families took up rows in front of and behind each other, and our kids traversed these rows at will. I held all four of them on my lap at some point, as did The Husband. The kid in front of us, with his dad and sister, kept turning around and making exclamations like, “This film is GREAT!” and “I love this song.” There was no order, except the dictated chronology onscreen. And yeah, I sang. I sang like a mofo.

It’s no pomegranate mimosa (#RIP Penelope), but it ain’t nothing either.

Another favourite film of the kids’ is Inside Out, which I will take over Transformers any day, thank you, and The Kid has been quite into feelings lately. Maybe it’s the movie, maybe it’s all the talking I encourage about emotions on the sly since TH tries to avoid it like the plague (#submissivewife), likely it’s a combination of both and just…everything else in life. He’s been going through a period of fear and worry when it comes to our family’s safety and health. He’s afraid we’re going to disappear, though I’ve made him countless unkeepable promises to the contrary. When he asks if our Family Island, like the one in the film, could ever fall apart, he already knows the answer: No. And he also knows the answer to the next question, why: Because the love is too strong. But he still likes to hear it. Over and over and over. So I tell him. Over and over and over. Maybe I need to hear it too.

“There is nowhere you could go that I won’t be with you,” Moana’s grandmother said to her, and maybe I’d been looking at my phone the last time I heard the words, because this weekend it was like hearing them for the first time. I whispered into TK’s ear: “Did you hear that? Remember what’s true,” the thing I say to him so often as he’s drifting off to sleep and the fears arise, as they so often do in exhaustion and darkness. Remember what’s true.

Because here’s what is true: eight weeks into the school year, he’s finally settling. Re-settling, after last year. The fearsome changes are beginning to take their rightful shape as blessings, new people sitting around our table over champagne while their kids bound up and down the stairs with mine, old people knowing us and being known by us even better than before. I told it to TK, how new things can feel hard but get easier as you get used to them, and the other night he said it while drifting off: “Mom, I’m getting used to it now.” And I let out an eight-week breath.

What is true happens while we’re standing around a pool in which our kids swim, and I tell the story of James’s diagnosis and my denial afterward, and one of the new people who’s feeling less and less new, she reframes it: it wasn’t denial. I was refusing to let him be defined by it. I was fighting for him. And I see the grace that passes through people, through friendships, through the places where we’re put that can feel so wrong at first but become so right.

This is our community, these family islands that coalesce with ours to cover a map called Home. These moments in the foyer, when a friend comes by to grab the things her kids left, and I tell her about the kid in TK’s class who seems fixated on the word autism, and she cries and hugs me. These are our people, and we were put among them by grace.

“Tomorrow there’ll be more of us,” the song says, and there are moments when the loneliness seeps in and I look around, waiting for it, welcoming it. But so often now, one year and more in, here and across the ocean, I hear those words and think…more? How could there possibly be?

Broken Hallelujahs

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What she had could not quite be put into words, but the best way to capture it may be to say that she knew what wasn’t true.” –Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway

I’m in a season of learning what’s not true.

The Kid and I talked about it the other night as he was falling asleep, Little Brother already sacked out beside us. This is when so many of our meaningful conversations occur now, in that space between daylight and night, the twilight seeping through their window, the coming darkness allowing fears to float to the surface and feelings to be whispered before dreams transform them into images. He was talking about feeling sad, about how Year One is so much different, and harder, than kindy; how it makes him sad when I leave. He asked what would happen if we all disappeared and he was left alone in the house and I did the thing parents do: I made a promise I have no real power to keep, telling him that will never happen. That we are with him.

“And God is with me?” he asked, calling for divine assurance in the way only children (and distrusting adults, ahem) can: as backup. As co-pilot.

“Yes, always,” I told him, because we believe these things even as we doubt them, even as all evidence points to the contrary. Believe me, I’ve tried the opposite. Didn’t take.

“He’s in my heart? He’ll never leave me alone?” he asked, assurance and reassurance stacking upon each other, never enough.

“Yes,” I said, and told him one painful yet freeing thing I’ve learned: that our feelings can lie to us. That when the sad turns to being afraid, to be suspicious, because this could be a lie. Sometimes sad is real, and must be felt. But sometimes it can be based on a feeling that is based on a lie.

Because I’ve been learning it–what isn’t true–so that I can tell them what is.

I’ve learned that feeling happy isn’t what keeps us safe. That easy isn’t always better. I’d rather remember this in years when things are easier, when he skips into school and can’t wait to go back, rather than a year in which (so far) every day is a struggle to get through the gate and the classroom door. But I don’t remember it as well then, do I? I don’t need to.

I’ve learned that it isn’t me who ultimately protects him. That my hands can only hold–and hold back–so much.

I’ve learned that some amount of letting go is always necessary, and always awful.

I’ve learned that I can’t stay at his school and stare through the window all day with a video camera. APPARENTLY.

I’ve learned that the bottom of a bottle of wine may not hold all the answers.

I’ve learned that running from feelings just makes them run faster to catch up.

I’ve learned there are no blood tests for what TK and I have, these anxieties that plague us, that turn into spectres that dog us and clench our insides until we must be unravelled to be healed.

But I’ve also learned other things.

I’ve learned that the hands that are big enough to hold my children also have room for me, if I will let them. That grace operates independent of mathematic principles, because the more I need, the more it abounds. The more I use, the more is left over.

I’ve learned that I can’t stay with him at school, but I can go into his room when he calls at night, and I can lie between him and LB and answer their questions just at the point when I’m so spent I think I have nothing left, and grace will tiptoe in and be enough for all of us. I’ve learned that they can fall asleep hearing the truth.

I’ve learned that sitting down with feelings and facing them, rather than running to some other distraction, can leave them both disempowered and somehow befriended. which makes them scream less. Which…helps.

I’ve learned that, for me, the bottom of the bottle may not hold the answers but a glass or two can, and the truth for me lies on some murky line in that deep red liquid.

I’ve learned that both anxiety and hope are future-focused and that we carry both, and are formed by both, and will be freed in the midst of both.

I’ve learned that I have one kid who, at his brother’s age, wouldn’t sit still for or participate in a group class, but that I have one, LB, who will be the star of Gymbaroo his first week. That pitying glances and “oh, he’s so cute!” exclamations don’t begin to sum up either of my children.

I’ve learned that I have one kid who didn’t speak until he was four, and that I have one who, at three, pronounces to everyone in the grocery store that “broccoli smells like farts.”

And I’ve learned this: that at their baptisms, neither much liked the water spilled over their heads by hands that loved them, but that now, they ask what it all means; they watch the babies up front endure the same and turn to us with grins on their faces, knowing they’re a part of something. That they are held by things deeper than feelings, by blood and water, bread and wine, promises kept.

I’ve learned that hallelujahs that are broken are still hallelujahs. That they may, even, be the best kind.

Same Kind of Different As Us

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It’s the same with every new group of people–and life has been full of those for the last few years. There’s the getting-to-know-you awkwardness, which my social anxiety allows me to feel keenly. There’s the wondering whether I should reveal all the sections of me that are a hot mess, which is to say, ALL OF THE SECTIONS: my history of pre- and postpartum depression and anxiety, my childhood quirks that have largely been resolved due to coping mechanisms (WINE) but which will always familiarise me with feeling a part of the “weird” kids, the outcasts; my American accent, which carries its own baggage (I promise I won’t shoot you and no, I didn’t vote for him); and, over dinner tables and in schoolyards, over classroom desks and social drinks, the spectrum diagnosis that somehow defines us and doesn’t, colours every day yet can be even forgotten in the monotony of just life.

There are people who wouldn’t have even known, they tell me, had I not told them about The Kid’s special Apple brain (our current preferred work for autism, thanks), and this begs the question: when’s the time, if ever, to admit we’re different?

I find that I’m drawn to the people who do admit it, so maybe the answer is…always?

My friend said it over the phone the other day: “Why do our kids always have to expose us?” And my thoughts were multi-fold: 1) Damn right. 2) Because they’re assholes. 3) Because that’s how grace works. Rudely, and effectively, because we need it. 4) I cannot wait for people to read the book CG and I are writing because this kind of stuff is all over it.

Because it turns out that it’s not so much about TK’s social challenges, or Little Brother’s struggle with not screaming “HELP!” at school to make his presence known, or the way that other kid picks his nose, because they’ve all got something, because we’ve all got something, and it’s really about that. About my stuff. About everybody’s.

The local grocery sells banged-up produce at a discount, but I’m wondering if that might be the best kind.

Last Monday, we were walking down our suburb’s main road, fresh off a trip to the toy shop, when an older kid passing in the other direction did a double take and stared at TK. I glanced at TK myself, wondering if he was standing out in any way and prepared to fight, then the older kid smiled. “Hi James,” he called out, and I relaxed as TK, predictably, glanced his way and ignored him for his new toy. But I turned to the kid. “Hi!” I compensated. “Do you know James?”

“Yeah, I went to his school last year,” he told me. “I’m at the high school now.”

I asked his name, thanked him for saying hello, and walked the boys to the car with tears in my eyes: we’re now getting stopped on the street. Sometimes–often? Always?–things aren’t what they appear at first.

Later, a girl who lives a few houses down knocked on our door and asked for a play. We headed to her front yard, populated with toys, and she pointed out a car to TK. “That’s a beautiful car,” he proclaimed, and she looked up at me and grinned. It wasn’t the response either of us expected. It was better. It was him.

And this past weekend, we were sociable every day and somehow are still alive. We connected with new friends and older ones over things happening to our kids, which are of course things happening to us, and there was frustration and anger and joy and laughter and all of it. We strategised and questioned and planned. “Here’s to not having it all together,” one of us said, and I exhaled a breath that I didn’t even know I was still holding. The kids ran around us, torches lighting up the sky and house, and a knock at the door revealed a policeman. He told The Husband he had been called by a neighbour who, because of the lights bouncing around, was worried we were being robbed. “I’m a bit embarrassed really,” he finished, “Now that I see what’s actually going on.”

After speculations were proffered in the hope we would end up subjects of this week’s crime section in the local paper, I thought about it again: all the first impressions that don’t have to persist, but can only be broken through the awkwardness, through the revealing, through the sticking around and not having it all together. This opening, like flowers to the sun, the light being the thing that both hurts, and keeps us alive.

Back to Reality, Back to Life

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I spend all day recovering from the first two hours of the morning.

Trying to recover, at least. The process never feels complete, as the hours while the kids are in school fly by and I am always somehow still connected to them: through their laundry, in meetings with their teachers, by the emails I’m sending to the rest of the parents in The Kid’s class.

I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is: the school year has begun, began five weeks ago actually, and I am in many ways just now coming up for air.

Little Brother’s last day at his first childcare spot in Sydney was a few days ago, and they sent him off with a huge card full of pictures and notes. I cried, naturally. Goodbyes are almost as hard as hellos for me. We drove away and I processed how this familiar place, where he is loved, will from now on be a part of our past. (It’s possible I overthink things. I’ve heard one of my weaknesses is that I care too much.) And now he’s fully immersed in his new preschool, where they are beginning to love him–his teacher yesterday told me that whenever LB goes to the toilet, he announces, “My mom will be so proud!” He’s not crying at dropoff. Life goes on.

And The Kid. Well, I’m back into advocacy mode with him, having spent two mornings in the principal’s office this week due to teacher difficulty. I’m acquainting other people with him, filling in the picture that’s nowhere near complete for them yet, and picking up that brush again can be exhausting and…fraught. Finding his place is, for now, my role, and it runs the span of emotions daily.

Last night I fell asleep with LB beside me; this morning I woke up with TK beside me. The days start early and in full-on mode, those first two hours full of sandwich-making, breakfast-dispensing, coffee-drinking, toilet-visiting, scream-stifling, brother-fighting, anxiety-managing chaos.

And later, when they come home? Sorry not sorry, but playing with kids is the worst. LB has all these rules: “Be the bad guy! No, NOT LIKE THAT.” And TK is constantly asking questions, the whys affording a glimpse into his beautiful mind while driving me to the edge of insanity, these pendulum swings between love and rage, understanding and confusion, laughter and tears the measure of our time together.

Also, the questions TK asks really should be directed more toward experts in the respective fields: physicists, theologians,, meteorologists. Because really, how am I supposed to answer why God takes people to heaven after their hearts break and the hospital can’t fix them and the moon is behind the clouds and walking uphill is harder while I’m making another f-ing sandwich?

Someone asked me awhile back if having kids changed my writing. Again, maybe an expert should respond, but here’s my take: Having kids changed everything. As far as my writing goes, they frustrate it even as they inspire it; the interrupt it as they provide all the parts of it that matter. Mainly, though? They ignite it like never before.

That’s the thing, the worst and best thing of it all: they kill me to bring me to life. I think they got the idea from God, and grace.

Last night LB would NOT go to sleep. I let him come upstairs with me since The Husband was a dinner, and I thought I had been more surreptitious with comments made under my breath. But lying there beside me, he began to whisper: “Fuck fuck fuck.” FAILURE AGAIN. Sound the alarms. And this after I’d lost my temper enough times to approach sleep from a shame spiral.

Just before that, before TK had fallen asleep, the boys were fighting and squealing in bed and I had explained to them, through gritted teeth, how hard it is for me when they’re both making demands at the same time. That I’m not their servant, but their mother. TK asked if my heart was broken, and I assured him it wasn’t.

And after all that mess, all that death…life. TK reached out for me. “I love you,” he said, so softly I had to ask him to repeat it. He did, those all-too-rare-from-him words sinking into a heart that, let’s face it, is always somewhat broken. An hour and terse words after that, TH arrived home to find me and my arch-nemesis/BFF, LB, spooning in bed. Tomorrow, I’ll spend my third day in a row in the principal’s office, trying to sort out what being my child’s advocate looks like right now.

Yesterday, after (another, always) rough morning, I drove by the beach on the way home. I got out of the car and walked to the edge of the sidewalk, stared at the water and the gray clouds, felt the wind whip through my air, sand blow across my face. No one would pick this weather scenario for a day on the shore, but still…sometimes you can smell the salt better on days like that. Smelling the salts that are meant to revive.

Weights of Glory

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“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” –C.S. Lewis

There’s just no way to predict it.

I expect the tears on Monday, when we’ve had the weekend together, to blend and lean in to each other, each settling into the next one’s edges and curves until we emerge after the weekend, one unit that must be broken for another five days. Monday comes and both boys head into their schools with minimal protests, absent of tears, and I walk away from them pleasantly surprised.

Then Tuesday arrives to bitch slap me in the face and I’m left reeling.

Little Brother was denied entry into a tower-building partnership by a boy with whom I had thought, five minutes earlier, I had established a rapport. Harrumph. I thought for sure that would bring on the waterworks, as he looked at me uncertainly; then his teacher suggested they read a book together and he nodded resolutely, walking off to hold said teacher by the hand, and The Kid and I headed to his school.

We arrived, switched out his reader and hung his bag as usual, and he was all smiles for the whole of it. Then, inexplicably (to me), the tears began: “School is hard. School is boring. Take me home.” From someplace deep within me came the strength and conviction that are not of me, and I took a knee beside him, the ground gravelly and painful on my skin.

“Remember: I’ll share the sad with you.”
“What will happen to it?” he asked, knowing the answer.
“It will get lighter until you don’t even feel it.”
“Where’s God?” he asked, knowing the answer.
“In your heart.”

I went on to tell him other answers he already knows: that his therapist is with him. That he’s stronger than anyone I know–the scar on the back of his neck (and countless other memories he hasn’t even retained but I have) proving it. That he is loved and cared for and kept.

“Walk up the steps with me,” he said, and I pushed against my own weight, against the weight of a thousand heartbreaks, to walk that way, then turn around. He went into the classroom and out of my sight.

Out of my sight, but the weight remains. It remains for the mothers I talk to throughout the day, commiserations longer than the days themselves, stretching out through the years with our worries over these children we’ve carried and still carry, always, one way or another. The seven pounds at birth translating to a weight that grows throughout a lifetime, in and out of moments and never leaving. The weight of love, of responsibility, of obligation, of limited freedom but occasional glory.

The other day I was walking TK home and up ahead, I saw another mother with her son. On the main road, with the six lanes of traffic speeding by. They were skipping.

There are some weights that lift us.

“Many hands make lighter work,” my friend said to me the other night as she helped wash our dinner dishes, quoting her mother half-jokingly, and I thought of all the people who have been added to our life by our struggles, by our move, by the things we never would have chosen. How content I would have been to stay comfortable, protecting myself. How I never knew it before, the way to turn a Transformer robot into a car and back again. How I never would have had scar stories.

Last weekend, The Husband and I went out for Valentine’s Day, celebrating it our favourite way: with a movie. A new world in Africa opened up to us onscreen and afterward, we stepped into the Sydney night, a new world that is now a year old to us, that never would have happened had the boundary lines of our existence–the ones I set–not been scattered. The weight of life fluttering in the breeze all around us, grace with wings, kindly making us feel as though we were the ones who pulled something off.

Will Write for Attention

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When I was pregnant with my first son, I spoke to a close friend who had given birth just a few months before. I was looking for reassurance and advice, and she told me that though having a newborn was hard, it did make her feel like she and her husband were on the same team.

A few weeks later I sat on the couch holding my newborn baby boy. I was crying. I didn’t know why. All I knew was that I didn’t feel like the person I had been before, and that my husband looked like a stranger too — one who couldn’t carry or feed our baby like I could; one who had been able to drink beer and eat deli meat throughout my pregnancy. Not that I was bitter. And as he looked back, I could tell he didn’t recognize me either.

We felt further apart than ever, with mere feet between us. Never had I felt less on the same team.

My latest for Mockingbird–read the rest here!

Through a Mirror, Darkly

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“…it does deepen you to be dark-minded…if you’re lucky or if you come out of the other end of it, it also brings you to compassion, I think, for other people.” –Mary Karr

The other day I had the thought–much like Carrie Bradshaw in her series finalewhat if this had never happened? The “this” in question was TK’s diagnosis, almost exactly three years ago. The denial afterward. The ache for so long about what it meant, what he and we had lost. The scramble to find a school and therapists for him.

The school we found for him. The therapists who came into our house every week. The people we met in waiting rooms and therapy centres. The school where we landed here in Sydney. The therapists who have become like family. The friendships we’ve made, deeper because of what they know and how they help.

Would I take it away, I wondered, knowing what I know now? Three years down the road?

A friend called last week during the wreckage that was the start of school for TK and Little Brother, in the midst of my guilt and anxiety and nausea, the ups and downs of an adjustment period knocking us all flat. She told me that she had spoken to TK’s teacher from last year about what a wonderful class it had been, how special it was and how they missed it, how it had been different from other classes. Why was that, my friend wondered.

The teacher spoke TK’s name. She said that sometimes “different” can pull apart, but sometimes it can establish. Bring together. Call out the best. That, last year, it–through TK–had done the latter. I put down the phone and cried: my boy, seen. Known. What could be better than that?

Differences can tear apart or mend. So, I think, can likenesses. Sometimes, when I look at my children, I think that what can piss me off the most is when they resemble me.

LB with his fiery demands, the latest being a line of PJ Masks figurines lined up just so before he does ANYTHING: using the toilet, brushing his teeth, BREATHING. His bottomless need for affection (“sit by me” meaning “let me sit on top of you”) doing battle with his independence and need for space, all on his terms. TK and his curiosity, reflected in a million whys a day, constant background sound doing battle with his occasional reflection periods, a processing going on beneath the surface that can be so easily missed. His anxiety raising my own, or maybe it’s the other way around?

I’ve had a voice inside my head my whole life, a constant narrator who serves as judge, and I’m only recently learning how to turn it off. Then TK shows up to replace it, or wrangle with it for preeminence in the moment, and I want quiet even while remembering the years of silent aching, hoping he would speak. The same friend told me that her daughter came home the other day, telling her, “I heard James on the playground today! His voice is so cute.” And I thought about that all week, this voice that I ached for and now could use a mute button for, how it can be all things at once–but yes, mainly very, very cute.

I like my kids better when they’re a window rather than a mirror: when they open up new ways of seeing things that are easier to write about in blog posts or capture on Instagram. When they crack jokes rather than whine, when they hug rather than pull, when they smile rather than cry. I want them to be better than I am in the moment so that the moment will be easier for me. That’s really ugly, and a hell of a demand to put on a child. It’s also being human, and it’s bound to happen within five minutes of my picking them up from school today.

Would I take it away? The hard parts, the things I didn’t want to hear, the diagnoses and the adjustments and the pain? Three years ago I would’ve. And in so doing would have erased everything that makes us who we are, who we’re becoming, who we’re meant to be.

Today at school drop-off, one of TK’s friends came up and tried to hug him. He tried to escape the embrace, but she wouldn’t let him. Despite his running and pushing, she kept on (#neverthelessshepersisted) until, finally, her tiny arms wrapped around him and he was still, his No turning into a Yes, the acceptance of a love that wouldn’t let him go.

Getting Known

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It has been a hell of a seven days.

I know God took that long to make the world–okay FINE it was six–and, not for nothing, I feel like we’ve been under some deconstruction and construction on the order of world-building ourselves this past week. Both boys were thrilled to be starting school: Little Brother in his new preschool, The Kid in his new class at his old school.

The sheen wore off quickly.

When faced with continuing to play with new toys and chasing me out the door screaming, LB continues to choose the latter most mornings. His friendly teacher holds him back while LB throws his arms toward me and I sneak away, feeling like the opposite of a mother. Then I take TK to school.

And hasn’t that been interesting.

Last week he was counting down to the start of school, popping out of bed the first two mornings two announce it: “FIRST day of school!” “SECOND day of school!” He was met, once there, with total chaos and a year one teacher who was away until this week, and he was. not. HAVING. IT. Yesterday he informed me that he hates school (a word–the “h” one–that upset me much more deeply than if he’d said “I don’t like that f@cking place” or “how about you don’t take me to that sh#thole today?” I blame YouTube). I explained to him, rule follower that he is, that it’s against the law for kids not to go to school and did he really want me to go to jail? (When, let’s be honest, we all know that I’d be headed to a mental institution first.) He responded by asking me to tell him a story about how James doesn’t go to school and Mommy goes to jail. Another stellar parenting moment.

Yesterday he sobbed. I walked away from another child, this one with a therapist at least, in the maternal guilt pose: one hand on my phone, the other clasping itself in prayer. Then I spent a few hours by myself and felt like I could breathe again.

Last week we also said goodbye to the Yankee Mom and Dad, visitors for a couple of weeks who were a wedding gift from my sister–at her wedding, to me, when she married their son and I welcomed them into my life as second parents during my stint in New York, when they lived an hour and a half away by train and always served dinner and wine should I need it (I needed it often). We have known each other for thirteen years–the length of my sister’s marriage SO FAR–and they’ve seen the ugly moments of me: the time I missed a brunch early on because I was hungover on my future bro-in-law’s couch; the time I left my sister’s wedding shower early to pin down an apartment in the city; the time I barfed after their niece’s wedding; the times I was super right-wing. They’ve stuck by me for some reason, and even seem to think I’m a decent person, which makes me question their judgment and enjoy their company. Having them around was tiring in the sense that having anyone around besides myself is tiring, but it was also relieving: being understood, and known. No play-acting required. Also, we drank a lot of champagne.

And every time we have guests, we get to know them more and show them this city we are knowing more. We are learning each other, and this place, by heart.

I’m learning my kids by heart, too. Which can sometimes be very painful for all of us.

TK said it from the back seat this morning: “I don’t want to go to school today. I’m just VERY SAD.” Thankful that my need for him to go coalesced with his best interest, I stood firm. “You have to go,” I told him, not bothering to ask again if he wanted me to go to jail–I’m too fragile that early in the day. “But I’ll share your sad with you.”

“You’ll share it?” he asked.

“I’ll be sad with you,” I said.

This quieted him. We arrived at school and he was less agitated than yesterday. His teacher was there for the first time–the (hopefully) last big change for awhile–and he pulled my hand. “I want to go talk to her,” he said, and my heart swelled with pride. He is constantly out-braving me. When it came time for them to line up and enter the classroom, he grabbed my hand and I sensed another epic goodbye meltdown. Then he dropped it and grabbed his therapist’s, and it relieved and saddened me. Joy and pain: the components of all the most meaningful moments.

Over the weekend, we drove out to Costco, a forty-five minute haul, and TK said he’d never been there before. We explained that he actually had, it’s just been a year so he doesn’t remember it. A lot can change in a year, after all: people in the school yard become friends, their understanding replacing uncertainty. A two-year-old turns three, abandoning his nappies for underwear and talking up a storm. Two boys learn to swim. Their mother cycles into a depression and, slowly, back out again. A mammogram comes back clear. A place becomes home.

As the four of us walked toward the entrance, TK skipped a bit, and, as though he hadn’t missed a beat, grinned, and announced, “It’s good to be back.”

Right Down the Middle

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This morning I dropped Little Brother off for his second day at his new preschool, which was going swimmingly until I decided to leave, then they had to hold him back while I walked out the door, his shrieks following me to the street. Assume the maternal guilt pose. Then it was The Kid’s turn, for his first day of year one, which he’s been counting down to daily. He took the news of his former therapist’s moving on well when I told him in the car last week so that I wouldn’t have to meet his eye and start crying, and he ran ahead of me as we approached the school gates so that I was afforded the opportunity to scream his name in the middle of the street in terror, then we entered the school yard and a sea of people. He remained excited, if a bit more subdued, as I had fed him the lie that his therapist was stuck in traffic and would arrive shortly. (“Stuck in traffic” = had a death in the family yesterday; “shortly” = by noon.)

What I’m saying is, WHO’S GOING TO POUR ME A DRINK?!

A learning support teacher stepped out of the crowd and homed in on us immediately, God being all anonymous and such, and she promised to stay by his side until his therapist arrived. I waited with the parents of some of TK’s classmates, all of us reluctant to step away just yet. One child cried in his mother’s arms and she gently led him to the class, then stepped out and cried into her husband’s arms. Our war-torn army of veterans then left the battle scene to head in our own directions.

I assumed the maternal guilt pose. Then I prayed. Then I went for a run. Now, I’m just…in the between.

For the first time in a month and a half I’ve got both kids at school. It’s exhilarating and exhausting. We wake up earlier and I’ve got lunches to make. The anxiety sets in when (before) my feet hit the floor. I love it and hate it. I sit suspended in this space, split down the middle: free and chained, happy and sad, concerned and distracted. And it appears that things will always be this way. YAY.

Both of my boys were pulled from my body; even at birth I was unable to push them away. I’ve a biological predisposition for difficulty letting go. But damn was I also ready for them to get out of there. It’s this life between extremes that is so tiring and confusing and fraught, and medication only partly helps.

Where is my drink? How are my kids?

A friend (let’s call her The Sis) told me once that when she’s away from her kids for too long (a year or so) she can’t wait to get back to them, but she knows that within five minutes she’ll feel weary again. SAME. Is it being human, or being mother, that lends itself to this ambivalent form of living? I tend to think it’s being part of the whole now but not yet, home but not life on this earth; the hint of more underlying everything and making a promise that hasn’t yet been fulfilled.

It’s hard, is what I’m saying. And this split existence carries over into the little moments with my boys, the ways they each show up with pieces of me. For so long I assigned LB to The Husband in terms of genetic inheritance: looks, laid-back attitude. TK, poor guy, got all my anxiety and nervous twitches. But each day brings something new: TK laughs like TH, or LB flies off the handle and I assume the maternal guilt pose, all “I resemble that.”

They have split me down the middle, but I’m still jagged. There are rough edges and curves and somehow this all fits together better than a clean cut. Complications persist, and the story goes on.

The other day I was thinking I should make a business card that reads “Professional (ha) Mother: When I say Yes I mean Maybe.” When I say calm I mean frazzled. When I say wired I mean tired. When I say terrified I mean…I am…held. Grace where I am, which right now is hours away from pickup, blocks away from my children, and somehow right where we’re supposed to be.

Tell Me Again

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We’ve begun our second year of life in Australia, and it’s going by faster than the first.

I remember the tedious days of January last year, when everything was an uncomfortable first: walks through the summer heat to different locations (typically, the gym, the bakery, and the wine store). The first day of school for The Kid and childcare for Little Brother. Our first time at church. First time on the ferry. First mental breakdown at IKEA.

Now, we’re circling back. But things can still feel new the second time around.

LB is meant to start a new preschool next week. In true helicopter mom fashion, I’ve arranged for him to remain at his current location also until I’m sure he likes his new gig. Which will come in handy when it turns out that LB School, The Sequel may not accept our doctor (not government)-provided immunisation form. Which I have to get signed by a justice of the peace. Which has to happen by tomorrow.

TK starts school next week: Year One, aka first grade. He’ll have a different shadow therapist this year, which I’m still crying about, and new people along with old friends in his class. We’ll walk the same path to both a new and different experience, one that beckons and looms, that leaves me hopeful and anxious.

We’re swimming this summer, every day, and The Husband turned to me last night from the pool and asked, “Could you have imagined last year that they’d be this far along now?” The question resonates across the facets of our life, these boys becoming seasoned travellers, students, friends, toilet users, nonstop talkers, and for over a month every waking moment (and some half-asleep ones) of my days have been consumed by them: their demands, their questions, their laughter, their fighting, their tears. No, I couldn’t have imagined where we’d be now, with LB leaping from the side of the pool and TK shooting underwater without floats attached, these boys who had to be carried around in water a year ago.

I could never have imagined it.

We have visitors, the Yankee Mom and Dad, and as we show them our city–our home–we revisit so many places we’ve shown other people, and places we frequent ourselves: favourite restaurants, the Opera House, our beaches. We see these sites through year-old eyes and new ones, knowing them and learning them all over again.

And these damn kids, man: as the summer rolls to an end, at least the non-school part of it, I want to hang on to what is beautiful about it even as I don’t have a square inch (centimetre) of mental or physical or emotional space to myself. I stifle screams when I’m asked to tell another of the same stories: James eats all the toys in the world and goes to jail; Will eats only junk food and becomes like the guys in WALL-E. The same narratives over and over, and I tell them to ears that know the ending but still need to hear it anyway.

Yesterday, when I was at a breaking point, I left LB with our guests and took TK to therapy and ventured out to a branch of my gym near his centre, one that I’d never visited. It was gloriously empty but for one or two others, and after my workout I wandered to the women’s locker room, which held signs pointing to a relaxation area. I hesitantly pushed the door open and inhaled the scent of eucalyptus and the sound of silence, and though I couldn’t stay, I was renewed.

Later, after a day full of joy and regret, patience and seething, I approached the boys as they sat on the couch. “Hi, Mom,” TK greeted me. “Sit by me,” said LB. And I sat by them, these two people who always welcome me back home to the same stories, reminding me of all the ground we keep covering and the grace that keeps meeting us there.