By: Danny Thomas
The only thing I can think to write about this week is gratitude.
My gosh, we are blessed.
What brings it to mind at this particular point in time is the fact that
I am being generously afforded the luxury of sitting on the couch and writing this blog by a friend who is holding my baby for me… who has spent the afternoon and evening with my kids… and is still enjoying their company enough to remain in our house, into the evening, and hold a semi-sleeping-sometimes writhing-probably teething baby…
Not only is she enjoying their company, she relishes it.
Thank you, Megan! Thank you universe!
And you know what?
Thinking about that puts me in mind of how, for the last 7 years… or 8… Jen and I have been fortunate enough to have generous, kind, dear, and beloved teachers, caregivers, friends, and family taking part in raising our kids.
From the moment we shared the news that Jen was pregnant with Lil’ Chaos our friends and family rallied around us… surrounded us with good food and good feelings… and we have been fortunate enough to have people in our lives throughout parenthood who have been both open-handed and big-hearted with our family.
I realize that not everyone is that lucky, and that some opt to hire extra-hands… but what a blessing it’s been, even just today to have someone give their time to our family so that Jen and I could take in an afternoon of theatre… do some household chores in the basement, uninterrupted and in relative calm, to have extra hands at dinner and bedtime, and to have someone here now, holding the child so that I may make a batch of brownies and write a blog.
It’s a reminder to think about all the blessings we have, that through life’s challenges and hardships, through all the stress and worry we are carried by the love of our loved ones…
Thinking of the kindness of the people we’ve known… and the people who’ve been brought in to our lives by our children, and those we already knew whose relationships with us have evolved and expanded to include our children too… fills my heart, it fills my heart.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the desperate moments and to spend our days focusing on what we don’t have, on things… and on times we miss or are missing…
But generous people and good relationships have worth without measure, and they keep us afloat, I have been, and will be grateful without end for the kindheatedness we’ve been shown.
This life is full of kindness and generosity of all stripes… these, I believe are moments of grace… little miracles… and they are there to remind us that even in the face of hard times love is the best response.
By: Janet Borrus
Some people look to their parents as relationship role models. I look to my daughter Maya and her man Axel.
They’ve been together since kindergarten. Everyone thought it would last a year, maybe two. But they’re into their fourth and are tighter than ever.
Maya is eight. Axel nine.
In many ways, it’s a case of opposites attract. He’s guileless, affable, easily hurt. She’s fierce, shy, and stoic. Named for a Nordic folk hero, Axel is tall and blonde. Maya was born in western China and has caramel skin and delicate features. She reads better; he has a firmer grip on socially appropriate behavior. Maya is the one who says “penis” too loudly at In ‘n Out Burger. Axel takes her hand on the ride home and muses, “Isn’t this nice?”
They have pet names. He’s Apple. She’s Mango. When Maya becomes “Kitty” Axel goes by “Wolfy.”
The last time I called my husband “Padrino” we were on our honeymoon.
Depending on how many dishes are in the sink, the two of us can go from sweet to snippy in a matter of seconds. Maya’s play dates with Axel, on the other hand, are free of petty squabbles. They disappear into make-believe games like Endangered Species, in which Maya is a rare mouse and Axel the wolf determined to make her extinct. In Powerboosters, played on the swings, they become airborne to escape Motorcycle Man and his lethal super sucker. At other times, they build veterinary hospitals out of pillows and heal Maya’s myriad stuffed animals.
They do have different interests, but patiently indulge each other’s obsessions. Maya will spend hours operating Axel’s remote helicopters and hovercraft. Given a little popcorn, he’s happy to sit through the feature-length nature videos she loves.
They do not finish each other’s sentences. Or cut each other off. Their third-grade expertise in taking turns is enviable. Recently, Axel bought himself a motorized scooter. He eagerly let Maya try it, with no warnings about potential scratches and no panicked outburst when she nearly trashed it on a concrete retaining wall.
“Ya know Kitty, I think maybe you need to weigh a little more to work this thing,” was all he said.
If only my husband would stay that calm whenever I back our Honda into the gum tree.
I email him calendar items and to-do lists. Maya and Axel write each other love notes. This summer we went to visit my family in New Jersey. I came upon the following trail of texts on my iPhone ten days into the trip:
Axel: (next to photo of him with a tray of firecrackers) “Happy 4thof July, Maya!”
Maya: (next to photo of her stuffed camel wearing my glasses) “School is better on the Jersey shore!”
Axel: “Ha, ha, Maya. I hope you’re having fun. I miss you; when are you coming back? XOXO Axel”
Maya: “I am coming back on Wensday (sic). Secret, I love you! Your friend, Maya.”
Axel: “I can’t wait to see you! (photo of his latest batch of polished rocks) Look at my beautiful rocks. I polished them. I love you too. Axel.”
After they’ve been apart, they surprise each other with trinkets and news of their travels. And are never disappointed. When Maya gave Axel a bag of chocolate-covered nuts from Toronto, I overheard this from her bedroom:
Axel: “Gee, thanks for the moose poop from Canada, Maya! Did you see some moose?”
Maya (slightly downcast): “No just a reindeer and some lightning.”
Axel: “Hey, that’s better than moose!”
Even sleepovers go smoothly. Last weekend they wanted to camp out in the living room. When I explained that this would mean sharing a double blow-up bed Axel looked at me with utter sincerity and said “You know, Janet, I’ve always dreamed of sleeping in the same bed as Maya.” What mother gets such honesty from her daughter’s boyfriend?
They no longer share baths, but snuggle freely and greet the dawn with an interpretive pas de deux to the funk sample on our electric piano. Videotaping, I make a mental note to sign up for couples salsa at Arthur Murray.
In quieter moments, Axel and Maya reflect on their relationship and consider where they’re headed. When my husband jokingly referred to Axel as his future son-in-law, my daughter told him, “Me and Axel discussed this. We have a couple of options. We could get married or we could not get married and be friends. We crossed out live alone.”
At school their closeness has threatened some and confounded others. They draw stares from both classmates and parents when — as Kitty and Wolfy — they hug (and sometimes paw) each other goodbye at the end of the day. But they refuse to be shamed. When older boys tell them they should be playing with kids of their own gender, Maya says, “It’s none of your business.” If they persist they get “It’s none of your beeswax.”
For a while I thought their bond could be broken by a force even stronger than public opinion: the competitive younger brother. Oskar, age six, seizes every opportunity to discredit Axel and up his own intimacy with Maya. He delights in showing off his superior burping skills, teases Axel about his occasional thumb sucking, and will lunge across his booster seat to cover Maya with sticky kisses. She occasionally finds his antics amusing, but her heart is true. Maya knows the value of the unconditional love Axel gives her. And so do I. Because I get the same thing from her dad.
Watching her with Axel helps me remember that.
Janet Borrus is a writer, actor and arts educator living in Los Angeles. She has written several plays and screenplays, and portrayed a variety of evil moms on television and film. At home, she is better behaved.
Lil’ Chaos had her first audition…
It was not easy, for us.
But she did it!
She did it…
It’s funny, we are pretty much a theatre family so you’d think this would be
easy, or at least easyish… or that we’d have some calluses built up for this kind of thing…
You know, Jen teaches 18-22-year-olds how to audition,
and that’s easier,
It seems like,
than trying to figure out what a six-year-old needs for an audition…
Lil’ Chaos has been wanting to be “in a show” for over a year…
She’s grown up around them – and seen many, many plays…
In fact, last summer we went to see Fiddler on the Roof Jr. and she declared,
“By next summer, I will be in a show!”
So we signed her up for Theatre Camp this summer…
And part of camp is auditioning…
They all get in, it’s a cursory audition, for placement, and education…
Lil’ Chaos was excited and picked a song
“Lay All Your Love” from Mamma Mia!
I couldn’t have been more pleased with her song choice…
She learned it well…
but had some nerves about performing it
we practiced around the house
and even went to over to the college stage
to practice in a theatre.
Her mom and I have struggled a bit
with how to deal with her nerves and shyness
around all of this audition stuff…
it seems like uncharacteristic anxiety…
I guess the reason is because she is so gregarious and outgoing most of the rest of the time…
but the reality is that even the most outgoing of us, in certain situations, especially when the pressure is on, can get shy and anxious, Jen and I too, to be sure.
‘Tis, yet again,
an opportunity for adjusted expectations.”
We drove to the audition, all together, sang the verse a couple times as a family, then unloaded ourselves… roly poly tumble bumble, into the audition place.
Lil’ Chaos was manic.
She was literally, and yes I mean literally, bouncing off the walls.
It was hard to take – luckily I had to walk the baby around to keep her quiet…
I was nervous.
Lil’ Chaos was nervous
Jen was nervous
Zilla was being three
There was friction.
When she was called in my heart jumped
and the three-year-old started screaming…
she wanted to go too
it was not awesome.
She came out and was clearly disappointed.
That was a sucky feeling.
She had been too nervous to sing her song,
and sang Happy Birthday instead.
we were sad that she was disappointed
we were disappointed that she had put work into
learning the song and didn’t get to share it…
and it was hard to tell if she was disappointed
and sad because of pressure she put on herself
or pressure she perceived we had put on her
This is strange new territory for us.
A big part of the reason I stopped trying to be an actor is because I hate auditions and how they make me feel. I hate them.
Jen acts like they’re no big deal, but I’m sure they get the better of her too.
I was less worried about Lil’Chaos the other day when she wrecked her bike and landed on her face
than I was seeing her come out of this audition…
We both kept telling her – as she was building up nerves about the thing
that auditioning was part of being in a show,
and that it’s okay to be nervous,
and that even big stars get nervous,
and it’s okay to be scared,
and you just have to have fun, be yourself, and do your best.
which she did
she did it
she got through it
and that is the part
that we finally realized we needed to focus on.
She did it.
By: John Jericiau
You’re only two days into a nine-day business trip back east, and the boys and I miss you terribly. It’s the longest time apart for you and me since that fateful day on June 11th over 7 years ago. We found ourselves sitting in a Santa Monica movie theater watching The Stepford Wives and then getting to know each other over ten pins in a bowling alley. I enjoyed myself so much that night, even though on the inside I was suffering greatly from the loss a week before of my adopted son Ryan after having him in my home and heart (as a single guy) for a short 24 hours. When I finally did share that story with you over Rigatoni Bolognese on our fourth date, you were so sweet and supportive – I knew right then and there that you were a keeper. You had no plans at all regarding children in your life, but you made it known that your plans might include me and thus any of my dreams and aspirations.
A lot of the qualities you possess are amazing. You’re romantic but not over the top. When we coincidentally gave each other a card and little gift on July 11th to celebrate our first month together as well as the potential that we each saw in our budding relationship, we laughed but weren’t really surprised. Now 92 months later, having never missed a month of swapping cards and gifts, we still laugh but sometimes cry at the symbolism of this small but grand showing of love. It makes me realize just how much I cherish traditions in our family, first with us and now with our sons. Sunday breakfast at our favorite Venice restaurant, Saturday date night of dinner and a movie, Friday night at Baja Fresh after your yoga class —footprints of the life we are making— footprints that we continue to step in until they are so deep and permanent that someone notices that we actually exist, and there’s no need to be fearful of us. We’re not monsters, we’re not fiends. Just lovers floating on the river of joy and looking up at our reflections in the clouds.
I can see how much our boys admire you. “I want to become a doctor like my Papa” or “Papa loves me” are commonly heard when you’re not around. I admire you too. Always trying to better yourself with reading, observing, and listening. Even when you’re so busy at work, I smile when I see you bring home Raising Happy Boys or How to Make a Mountain Out of a Molehill or some other library book.
I can see how much the boys trust you. “Papa will help me do this because he said he would.” I trust you too. I know that to you my health and well-being is paramount – almost ahead of yours. I trust you with my health. I know that you have my back no matter what. People take for granted how precious that trust really is. I know you trust me and my love for you too.
So you’re gone right now and I’m like a three-legged dog. I can still walk, I can still eat, and I can still enjoy life with the boys. But what I would give for that fourth leg! It’s especially noticeable when I have a lot on my shoulders and I need that extra support that you give me. Or when I have an itch on the same side of my body as my missing leg and I really need you here to scratch it.
We know what a lot of this world thinks of us and our so-called family. It’s second-rate. It’s not quite a family. It’s a sham. But we just continue what we’re doing in hopes of showing by example that we are two people who simply love each other and our kids, and that we are not afraid to live the dream. I love that we embrace in public, that we sometimes walk the boys to school together, and that we file our taxes jointly. There are places on our beautiful earth that would execute us for showing our love —not too many people have to even consider that— and there is the outside chance that we could be harmed even in our own community, but we choose to be brave and live our life as we see fit.
So thank you, babe, for making me happy and your boys so content. I have been asking myself every moment if such happiness is not a dream. It seems to me that what I feel is not of this earth. I cannot yet understand this cloudless heaven. Forgive the craziness of your partner, your husband, your friend –who embraces you, and who adores you. I love you so much.
Come home soon.
By: John Jericiau
It took about a year for Alen to get on board with the whole baby thing. Our first date (after corresponding by email and then phone for a couple of weeks) was over seven years ago, on June 11th. We chuckle now as we recall that The Stepford Wives was starting at 8:11pm that night, and after the movie and then some bowling, our date ended at 2:11am the next morning. We learned that we both wear a size 11 shoe, our ages are different by 11 years, and we were both born on the 22nd of the month, which is 11 doubled. I also gave our first date an 11 on a zero to ten scale.
Little did Alen know during those first few dates that I was reeling from the loss of my newborn son Ryan. I didn’t even let him in my house for fear that the stroller, crib, changing table, and pile of fresh diapers would scare him away! The subject of kids came up in conversations or when we would see a cute one (they’re almost all cute) during our dates, and he would share how fond he was of children, and that “someday” he “might consider” having one of his own, but I couldn’t dare ask him “If it were next month, was that too soon?” Eventually (I think the 4th date) I finally came out with the tragic story, and he was extremely supportive, tearful, and loving, but he was also a new physician finally out of residency with his entire life ahead of him with no immediate intentions of adding something so permanent and life-altering to his recently altered life.
Only incredible sparks were happening between us and the desire to be together grew stronger and stronger, so I put away any thoughts I was having about a child, much like you put your holiday decorations away in a box on the top shelf of your closet. We enjoyed our relationship and the success it was having, and after about a year we celebrated by moving in together. Amazingly he began bringing up thoughts of possibly having a family together, and I took that to mean that I should immediately make an appointment with the adoption agency to get the ball rolling. Our communication and listening skills have improved greatly since then.
It didn’t take long for us to get through all the paperwork and other requirements to be adoption-ready, especially since I had been through it all before, and now I was finally able to free my box of baby thoughts from the closet! Before we knew it we had been chosen by a Midwest birthmother who was having a girl in a few short months, and the excitement during those months was almost but not quite equal to the sadness we experienced when six days before the birth the woman decided against adoption. That devastating feeling had returned, and back went the thoughts into the box on the shelf.
After about a year we felt stronger, but also wiser. We allowed ourselves to be picked by a birthmother from Las Vegas who was due in four months, but we left the box in the closet as a precaution. Many red flags later, after taking her to her first appointment with a physician, she tested positive for methamphetamines. And as quickly as it started it was over.
None of this was helping the cause! Funds were depleted and we felt defeated. We were not sure at all if we could face this scenario ever again. However, little did we know that an angel was about to pay us one heck of a visit.
By: Melissa Mensavage
It’s a wonderful thing.
It’s what everyone wants (well, most everyone).
It’s surely what I want, second to being a mother. Yet, I am single. Have been for a very long time.
I surely don’t want to be single. I want to have companionship. I want to have someone call me regularly to say hello, because they want to and look forward to the next time we see each other. I want to share my life with someone. I want to be a good role model for Max, especially when it comes to relationships. I know you don’t need a relationship to be a good role model, but this here is what’s been happening in my house as of late, ‘Oh you wont eat cantaloupe? I see. Well Mommy is eating cantaloupe. Mmmm-mmmm. Oh, now you eat cantaloupe. Ok, I get it.’
I surely don’t want Max to feel like there is something wrong with his mother. I will tell him the truth one day, the right day, about how he came about. I am afraid in that message will be his mother wasn’t capable or didn’t know how to have a relationship.
I’ve been mentioning the cute guy at work. Well, I think that’s just about it, he’s cute. We’ve been working not-so-close together now for a little over a year, and there has never been any personal dialogue between us. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve asked. Oh how I’ve asked.
‘How was your weekend?’
‘Big plans for the holiday?’
‘Did you see the game?’
I get a response, that’s not the problem. It’s the missing return gesture. You know where people usually say, ‘My weekend was good thanks. How about yours?’
Yeah, we are talking dead air.
So how does one get to know another if there is no type of conversation? I would even settle for work conversation (temporarily, of course). Here’s the thing that kind of kicks me in the head: The dude has been asking about me to another co-worker.
‘Is Melissa going to the conference?’
‘Will Melissa be joining us for dinner?’
‘So Melissa has no experience with this program? And will need training?’
Yes, my poor friend Natalie. She is tired of fielding questions on me. I think she bangs her head on her desk just as much as I do.
The week before Labor Day, the cute guy and I had a meeting to go over this new software we are using here at work. He came to my desk, we sat right next to each other and he never asked me one single question.
Then we ran into each other on the way out of the building last week, and again, dead air.
I’m already exhausted.
I don’t have time to be the ‘on’ person all the time. I don’t have the energy either. (I don’t even have the energy to pick up the gazillion toys that seem to make their way into my home!) So one side of my brain says, ‘if he can’t step out of his shell to get to know someone, he isn’t for you.’ The other side of my brain says, ‘well maybe this is just it. Maybe I am supposed to be the outgoing one of the partnership.’
Then my heart interrupts the two and says, ‘C’mon! This would be great! It’s what you want! Just make it work!’ Then sanity has to add its two cents, and says, ‘There is a reason why the dude is still single. You deserve someone who can be the ‘on’ person half of the time. And don’t forget, he has to make you smile and laugh.’
Lots of emotions, lots of thoughts, and it always comes back to sanity. I try remain objective about the situation, remove the emotion from it, but when it’s so important to me, the above internal dialogue is probably seen by others. Not good. Especially if it’s a person of interest who is seeing it.
As of last Friday, I ended the chapter with the cute guy. That has been hard, because he has given me hope that it could be possible to have it all – motherhood, love, and career. I think I am more upset with the missed opportunity than with anything else. And I wonder will another cute guy come along? Will he be the right one?
By: Heather Somaini
We went to a wedding this weekend. It was a couple hours north of Los Angeles in central California’s wine country. It’s quaint. It has a Danish village – Solvang. I always think Solvang is German and we’re going to get great Bratwurst and Schnitzel there but it’s not. It’s Danish. There are windmills.
I’ve decided that I’m jaded and grumpy. The wedding was gorgeous in a field right next to a vineyard. The groom was handsome and a little nervous. The bride was beautiful and radiant. The families were so proud and beaming. The flower girls and ring bearer were ridiculously cute. The view was perfect. Every detail had been considered and the guests were well taken care of.
But as they recited their personally crafted vows, I turned into a cynic. I started pooh-poohing their idealistic ideas and the lofty goals for their marriage. I turned to Tere and said “Wait ten years and throw in two kids and let’s see if they still feel the same way.” I whispered crack after crack to her throughout their vows. Tere, of course, cried through the whole thing and kept smacking me to be quiet. To her, they were beautiful and in love and perfect. To me, they were on a downhill track and would never be able to recreate or maintain what they have right now.
I should tell you that we’ve had a rash of divorces happening around us. We’re sort of confused by it. Everyone always has a couple of friends who are serial monogamists and we’re no exception. But these break-ups are 25-year marriages, 10-year marriages, straight and gay and all with kids. It’s been challenging to say the least. We keep discussing “why” or “why didn’t they” or “who is to blame”. My favorite these days is “well I’d respect him more if he had done this or that.” There really isn’t any sense you can make of it so I don’t know why we try. People grow apart; they get distracted and take each other for granted. They stop working at their relationship. It just is. No one tells you that your wedding is the high point. That this marriage thing just gets harder and harder. No one tells you that kids make it super difficult and magnify the differences between you and your spouse.
I felt terrible by the time we reached the reception. What have I become? A cranky, cynical married parent of two. Wow, just what I want to invite over for dinner! I knew I had to snap out of it somehow. I had to do something. If I didn’t, I could stay this way. Tere would be married to an ogre forever! I wanted to show Tere that I could still be that person she married; I could still surprise her with something simple and unexpected.
I decided to ask her to dance. Two perfectly great songs went by. I did nothing. Why? Because there was no one else dancing. The crowd was fairly conservative and I was a little nervous that every eye would be on us. When a third great song came on, I threw caution to the wind and grabbed Tere’s hand. I’m sure there were a few funny looks and questions were definitely asked. But I held her under the stars and for a moment, Tere remembered who I was and who she hoped I could still be.
By the end of the evening, I realized that we had spent all of our time with three couples in very different stages. One 30+ year marriage with grown kids, one 10-year marriage trying for baby number two and a set of divorcees who found each other after long marriages that fell apart. Every single one of them has struggled and sacrificed but they’re still here, making their way.
This thing we call life isn’t perfect but it’s ours.
By: Allison Norris
I’m watching The Bachelor on abc. Of course I am. It’s what stay-at-home-moms do, right? Watch young women throw themselves at a short guy with an “interesting” accent (is it Texan, or Dork? I can’t be sure). It’s what I wait all week for. I scream at my television and comment on the terrible decision making that went into a bathing suit choice or how bad her hair looks with curls.
“Nice baby talk… she doesn’t really talk that way, I know it.”
“Who does this girl think she is? Why is she telling him that she LOVES him? She doesn’t even know him, and he’s wearing grandpa shorts!”
“You are dancing? No. That’s called the 8th grade hump-grind.”
My neighbors must think that I am terrible, as I scream such horrible things about people that I do not know. I hope they can’t hear me.
It’s a fascination with love that I have and being able to watch it on tv is like a car wreck that you can’t take your eyes off of, no matter how gruesome it is. How does it work? Will it last? I watch the show and think about how much I didn’t know about real love prior to having Baylor. Putting every bit of energy I have into another human being – my needs are met last, if at all. Can someone find that in another adult? The desire to completely give, and care for someone seems impossible – especially when you have a child.
I look at these young women on this show kissing in a penthouse suite with a private pool off of the patio. Of course they are in love! I want to rub some poopy diaper on their shirt and then leave a little pureed banana in their hair to find totally hardened 3 hours later. I want them to smack their head on the side of the car because their leg gave out while hoisting up the car seat on the side of the car to open the door.
Do they ask this bachelor character if he leaves yogurt containers out when he’s done eating out of them? Does he pick up his underwear off of the floor? Does he pee in the shower? I’d like to know! I guess I am wondering how many peeves make up one big deal breaker. Do we reach a point where we stop being so picky and accept the little things that bug us because we are looking for a partnership, and realize that we aren’t exactly perfect either? It’s sort of like signing up for someone whose annoying habits bug you the least.
I think about the things that I will teach Baylor to make him… well… perfect. Napkin on his lap and waiting until everyone is seated to take the first bite. Details that will help him at his first dinner with future in-laws. But are there things programmed into him that I will have no control over?
Control. I remember that… I think I used to have it. Now, I get a thrill about what temperature the dryer is set to – it’s all my decision. It’s like I am God of Laundry. Nobody will tell me what setting to put it on! See, I am totally in control.
Relationship books and couples therapy can try to close the communication and expectation gap between couples, but it may be a whole lot easier to accept that nobody is perfect – not even on a tropical island with a camera crew filming you frolicking in the surf, awaiting your “final rose”.
[photo credit: Flickr- Vancityallie]