My Ungrateful Boy

‘Tis the season of gratitude, right?  You would think so, but not necessarily for three year old boys.  In this most abundant of seasons, we’ve been talking a lot about gratitude and being thankful at home and at school.  My boy is lucky.  He has a nice home, goes to a great school, has two parents who love and care for him, good health, and toys and books that appear to reproduce on their shelves.

When asked what he is grateful for, what makes him give thanks, the answer for days now has been a sullen, “Myself.”  Hrmph.  Pout, stomp, drop mic, and leave the room.  Boom.

Initially, this really bothered me.  “Are you kidding me?,” I would ask myself in my head.  Jiminy Crickets, this kid has it made and all he is thankful for is his own damn self?  Oh no he didn’t.  Ain’t no way this mama is gonna raise herself a narcissist.  I know narcissists and I don’t want to have any hand in raising one.

And then I remembered.  He’s three.  Not 13, not 30, not 47.  My boy is three.  He shows his gratitude in a hundred different ways — the neck nuzzle, calling me Spider Man 2 to his Spider Man 1, holding hands on the sidewalk when we’re not even near an intersection.  I know my boy is grateful because I feel it.  Every day.  Well, mostly every day.  Sometimes I just annoy him and he growls and makes his fingers into claws.  I love that boy, too.

On this high holy day of gratitude, my job is not to require a rote reply from my three year old to the question of “What are you grateful for?”  My job is to show my gratitude — model it every day, not just this day.  My boy will learn.  I will, too.


And if you are reading these words, know just how grateful I am for you in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!  


Slogging Through the Sludge of Life

Saturday I did my annual planting.  We live in a condo with a postage stamp sized front yard and lots of hosta.  No fuss, no muss.  Hosta fulfills my housewife mantra:  minimum imput, maximum output.  Hosta shows that you care, but you don’t want to spend a lot of time caring, except it looks like you care a lot.  Perfect.

So while I don’t really have to worry about the yard, I do have to actually think about my planters.  I have sixteen feet of containers to fill along my deck. The deck is right outside our dining room, so it features prominently in our home.  There is nothing more depressing than empty planters in July.  That’s not true.  Empty planters with last year’s dead plants would be worse.

So every year I plant.

Here’s the breakdown:  I like to shop for plants.  I like to design where they will go, and yes, what the theme of the planting season will be:  botanical, traditional, grassy.  Yes, I have planting themes.  Shut up.  I like to water them right after planting.  Job well done, and all.  I don’t like to do the actual planting.  It’s a little like torture.  More accurately, it’s like work.  Ugh.  I work enough, right?  Do I really want to make more work for myself?  NO.  Work defies that already stated housewife mantra:  minimum imput, maximum output.

This year was no exception.  The family went together to the nursery.  Mary Tyler Son behaved beautifully, fascinated by the sensitive plant.  Little Scientist in the making, that one.  We were back home by ten and unloaded the plants and soil.  Mary Tyler Dad took the little one to the park to give me some time to plant.  Hooray!  Yeah, not so much.

All those plants and soil and empty planters overwhelmed me.  I puttered a little, but within minutes I was sitting inside watching The Real World San Diego.  Ugh.  Insufferable, self-righteous, ignorant youth were somehow more palatable than planting.

I gave it another shot after one episode.  I brought music with me this time. It annoyed the neighbors two floors up, which thrilled me, as those neighbors are really annoying.  This time I had more fun dancing than planting.  I mean, how can you not have the moves like Jagger when you’re holding a trowel? And all apologies to the new next door neighbors whose dining room looks onto our deck.  My only hope is that when you look upon the lovely plants you aren’t scarred by the memory of me getting my groove on in a really unfortunate way.

I retreated back inside for more Real World, as my real world was too much for me in that instant.  It struck me that planting reminds me of the changing of the seasons, the passing of time.  This is three plantings since Donna died.  Seasons are how I often mark how long it has been since Donna left us.

Something about planting those plants was making me want to hide under the blankets, drowning my sorrow in Coke and chocolate.  A task that should have taken two hours ended up taking nine.  Nine hours to plant six containers.  Pathetic.

This is life in grief.  Not every day, but on some days, every single thing I do is work.  Showering = work.  Dressing = work.  Deciding what to eat for lunch = work.  Going to the bathroom = work.  Changing into pajamas = work.  It is so much easier to watch others struggle with their lives rather than struggle with my own.  The Real World and Real Housewives franchises were made for grieving mothers.

But what kind of life is that?

Not a good one.  Not a pleasant one.  Not a joyful one.

So I got my a$$ in line and planted those plants.  Mary Tyler Dad is patient with me.  He gives me the time and space I need.  The cost benefit ratio is an easy one.  Nine hours of slogging misery against four full months of light and life.  I look out my bedroom window and see life and growth.  I walk through the dining room and see color and hope.  Ugh.  I wish it weren’t so damn hard to get there, but it is.

Part of why I do what I do, plant those plants, and make those efforts is because of Mary Tyler Son.  He deserves no less than Donna.  He is no less worthy of a mom who does whatever she can to bring wonder and joy into his life.  He is a powerful motivator, my little one.  I refuse to let him grow up with an absent, depressed mother.  Some days I need more time to get it together, but I do get it together.

Grief sucks.  Just like cancer.  But just as cancer did not prevent me from mothering, grief is not going to get the best of me either.  I will plant those plants, and cook those meals, and fold that laundry.  I will fly that kite, and splash in that pool, and bake those cookies.

I am Grieving Mother, hear me roar.

Easter for Heathens: Religious Holidays When You’re Not Religious

Apple Blossom Tree
Yesterday was Easter, which also happened to coincide with Passover — two of the highest of Holy Days in Judeo-Christian traditions.  For many, these days hold extreme relevance, for others, they are another day on the calendar.  For me, well, it’s complicated.

I was raised Catholic.  Irish-Catholic.  Parochial school education, Church every Sunday, Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, fish on Fridays, two aunts who were nuns Catholic.  Hard.  Core.  Catholic.

Mary Tyler Dad was raised outside religion.  Jewish father, Christian mother, 1970s progressive New England parenting.  Outside religion, indeed.

Together, we are not religious.  You’ve heard the phrase, “There are no atheists in a fox hole?”  Yeah, well, Mary Tyler Dad and I sort of set up camp in the closest thing I could imagine a fox hole feels like, our Donna’s cancer diagnosis.  We spent over two years in that fox hole.  I came to believe that if you haven’t found Jesus Christ when your daughter is dying of cancer, well then, you’re probably not going to find Him.   And that’s okay.

I capitalize Him intentionally, because while I am not religious, I respect and appreciate those that are.  I never aim to antagonize others with my lack of belief.  On the contrary, I completely respect those with religion and faith. Sometimes I think my life would be easier if I did believe in one thing or another.

But that’s neither here nor there.  This is not intended to be a defense of atheism or agnosticism or faith.  What I want to consider is this idea of raising children without religion in a religious culture, specifically, how in the H-E-double hockey sticks (respectful, see?) do you explain religious holidays to a child when his family does not subscribe to a religion?

There is no easy answer.  What works for me may or may not work for you, which, oddly, is a bit like religion itself, isn’t it?

Easter Bunny

Let’s talk about the Easter Bunny.  For three year old Mary Tyler Son, the Easter Bunny is where it’s at.  He is a big fan.  Last week I asked him what he thought Easter was about.  “The Easter Bunny bringing me chocolate!”  Yes, his reply was about what one would expect from a toddler boy.  Chocolate and treats.  Of course.  And equally unsurprising is that chocolate and treats were just about my favorite thing about Easter growing up, too, despite my very religious upbringing.  Kids are kids.  Chocolate and treats are good and fun and yummy and special.  And for a three year old, chocolate trumps most anything else.

Knowing that in the absence of faith, I would not be providing a religious explanation of Easter, I tried to broaden young Mary Tyler Son’s perspective a bit in talking about Easter being a celebration of Spring, and more specifically, the return of life and growth after a long, cold winter.  Yeah, my three year old boy wasn’t too interested in that, preferring the treat bearing bunny with his basket of goodies.  And you know what?  That’s okay.  Mary Tyler Son is three.  He is allowed to fixate on sweet treats a few times a year.

As his parent, what’s important to me is  that in addition to this annual sugar rush on a Sunday morning courtesy of a fictional bunny, is the intentional and structured teaching of the appreciation of life, of the return to life, of the cycle of life that Spring confirms.

Egg Dyeing

One way to do this, I learned this week, was the coloring of eggs.  Dyeing eggs was never on my radar.  My Mom never did it and quite honestly, it seemed a bother.  I mean, seriously?  Willingly introducing your toddler son to sloshing glasses of dye?  Are you kidding me?  And then arming that kid with eggs to fling in those sloshing glasses at will?  Well, I could not have been more wrong.  What better symbol of life than the egg?  It’s where we all started.  Each and every one of us.  And the wonder of taking something so basic as the egg and submerging it until it reveals itself in all its Easter glory — bright and lovely and colorful and wondrous.  Lesson learned — life can be messy, but so amazing, too.  (Thanks, Grandma.)

Another way to convey this is on a simple walk to the park.  We took a few long walks this past week and had some opportunities to see new growth in all its glory.  The Spring light is amazing — clear, fresh, intense, vibrant, bright. The color of the sky is different in April and May than it is in January or July. The light and changing green on the trees is more brilliant on that first day you look up from your winter stupor and realize that, yes, those green things on the branches are leaves that have indeed returned.  The four hundredth time you see those same leaves in August, I guarantee, you won’t even notice them.

Spring is a beautiful and profound and sacred return.  It is confirmation that light and warmth follow cold and dark.  Always.  Spring is our annual reward and promise as human beings that things do, in fact, get better, even in nature.  As a family who has buried one of our children, this promised and expected annual return to life and growth and hope is so very needed.  It’s why we planted tulips and daffodils and hyacinth and iris bulbs at Donna’s grave.  Even though, no doubt, the deer will eat them before I see them, the reality of that brilliant growth at the physical marker of Donna’s death is necessary and provides comfort.


A facebook friend of mine, educated as a linguist (yes, I am blessed with amazing facebook friends; you can check out her super cool blog here), posted this yesterday:

Easter: from the Old English Easterdæg (meaning ‘Easter Day’), named for a Germanic goddess of fertility and spring. Her name (probably Austron, thought we have no written example) in turn indicates the celebration of the spring equinox, from the Proto-Indo-European *aus-, *austra- ‘to shine, sunrise, dawn’. Ultimately related to ‘east.’ Early Christians in England adopted the pagan goddess’s name and many of the practices surrounding her celebration, and grafted them onto the Mass of the Resurrection. 

Most other West Germanic languages — and Middle English — use(d) a derivation of Latin/Greek Pascha, from Aramaic Pasha, related to Hebrew Pesah or Pesach, ‘to pass over.’

So, looks like this heathen in is good company.  If the celebration of Spring was good enough for ancient cultures, it’s good enough for my family.

Long story short, if I am doing my mothering job properly, Mary Tyler Son will some day come to recognize and appreciate the glory of Spring himself.  He will teach his own children to love the light, trust the warmth, and plant those bulbs.  He will know that life is universal and that its cyclical nature is confirmation of something to be celebrated.

Maybe even with chocolate from a bunny.

Tulip, Lilacs, Eggs


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