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The kids are playing in the basement; the decibel level is akin to a rock concert. I ask my husband to close the door and search for serenity within my fiction cocoon. I am nearly in the zone when I hear feet pounding on the stairs. Small is whining before he bursts into the kitchen. Since his father is the first parental unit he’ll encounter, I stay on the couch and do my best to ignore their conversation. I am semi-successful until I catch a sentence that concludes with “Mommy.” I am needed. Sighing, I look up from my book. Small is heading in my direction; his face tear-tracked and dirty. I sit up and put on a sympathetic expression. I reach for him, ready to whisper words of comfort and absorb all his hurt feelings, but he hurries past me with nary a glance. Throwing himself on the dog bed next to Paco (who sighs as deeply as I had), Small breathes deeply of musty dog and closes his eyes.

“Brendan?” I call. “What did you just tell Henry?”

“I told him to go snuggle with you or the dog.”

Small stops sucking his thumb long enough to give me an unsolicited one sentence explanation: “Paco cheers me up faster.”

Knowing that my child, whom I spent hours laboring to bring into this world without the benefit of pain-dulling drugs, whom I love, counsel, and care for, whose physical and psychological well-being I put before my own, whose head I have held, butt I have wiped, and knees I have kissed, whose everyday actions I chronicle in the hopes that they might, someday, promote fleeting, happy thoughts…he prefers the dog’s company over mine?

That’s just fabulous.

And the Mommy of the Year award goes to a neutered, middle-aged, red dog whose favorite hobbies are surreptitious sleeping on the furniture and overt cleaning of his ass. “He just makes me happy,” says his son.

Humble pie does not go down well. It almost always gets caught in the throat.

There are so many things I ought to be doing now, but instead of tackling any of those MUST-DOs, I am sitting at the computer, writing, which is a decided NICE-TO-DO. Writing eases my mind; it puts order to the chaos. When I am stressed or even just busy, I make lists. I feel a ridiculously deep sense of satisfaction when I cross items off a list. Done. Done. Finis.

I am trying to get Large to embrace list-making as a way to manage his anxieties but so far, it’s not working.

He’s ten and a half years old. He is a smart, funny, socially-aware kid. He loves to read, tell stories (replete with sound-effects!), sing, dance, and do anything technology related. He is also a tougher critic of himself than anyone ever could be, including me. And I’m no picnic.

Every mother wants success and happiness for her child. But what I’ve come to realize is something I’ve known all along: Wanting isn’t enough. We can’t just want for our children to grow up and become confident, well-adjusted, compassionate adults. We have to actively help them get there. It’s what we do, as mothers – as parents – that counts, if not now, then later on.

Being a parent is often mind-numbing. The stalling. The bickering. The whining. The slammed doors and the I-hate-yous. I am far from being a perfect mother (or wife, but that’s another post) and I am embarrassed to admit how frequently I delve into my fiction cocoon or retreat onto the internet rather than engage, comment and interact with my offspring. Even so, I hold fast to the belief that good parenting is a cumulative process. Consider the little things parents do every day, even when our patience is spread as thin as peanut butter on a piece of Weight-Watchers’ toast. The gentle reminders. The sit-and-do-your-homework speeches. The pep-talks. The these-are-the-consequences dictums. The smiles and hugs and cuddles. The I’m sorrys. The I’m proud of yous.

God, I hope I’m right.

Liam, every one of us learned to walk one step at a time. The luckiest of us had someone’s hand to hold onto. Your family loves you! Don’t ever forget it.

It’s that time of year. Heaps of stress, never-ending lists, presents that will not wrap themselves no matter how hard I wish it, (plus!) scheduling my annual pilgrimage to church with my mother.

The funny thing is, I love the holidays. I love the twinkly white lights, the tangible greetings from family and friends delivered right to our mailbox, the all Christmas music radio station (Bing Crosby, Vince Guaraldi and last but not least, Jon Bon Jovi’s Please Come Home for Christmas).

I tend to be more thankful at this time of year than at any other.

My kids are out-of-their-minds excited for Christmas; they decorated the house with gusto, happily picked out presents to give to each other and our family members, reminded me that it is tradition to put the tree in the corner of the room—NOT in front of the window. While I know that somewhere in their consciousness lurks the understanding that this holiday is about more than Santa Claus (unlike me, they are semi-regular church-goers), it is not often that that knowledge is exposed.

A case in point: Let’s flashback to five years ago. Nora was an infant and Liam was four years old. Henry was but a twinkle in my husband’s…eye. Overwhelmed by dirty diapers and a dearth of much-needed sleep, I came downstairs with the baby to find an empty house. I searched for Liam, who should have been happily ensconced in front of the TV, for five long minutes. On the brink of insanity, I happened to look outside. At the end of our driveway, stood a small, snow-covered figure with a bucket and a bell. Ripping open the front door, I shouted, “Liam! Get in here, this instant!”

Reluctantly, he trudged back up the hill with his bucket.

“What were you thinking, mister?”

“Nana told me never to pass someone with a bell without giving them money. I rang the bell, but no one stopped.” He was both wet and disappointed.

“Oh, buddy. What were you going to do with the donations?”

“Well, you won’t buy me that Star Wars blaster, so I’m gonna buy it myself.”

Obviously, this prompted a long conversation (alright, I’ll call a spade a spade—it was a lecture) about the Salvation Army, people’s basic needs and our family’s commitment to charitable giving, which has been repeated on multiple occasions over the years and augmented with both planned and random acts of kindness. Still, I wasn’t sure that any of the kids were getting the big picture.

And then between the blank stares and shrugged shoulders, I glimpsed a ray of light.

We were, as usual, running behind schedule. The kids missed the school bus so I dispersed them—Medium first, then Small, and finally, Large.

Liam trudged toward the double doors of the middle school, munching on toast and hefting an enormous backpack. Without warning, he spun around and headed back to the car. I put my window down. “What did you forget?”

“My money.”

I was immediately suspicious. “What are you bringing money to school for?”

He met my skepticism with righteous indignation. “I’m helping buy a turkey for a needy family. Do you think five dollars is enough?”

A buried memory of an e-newsletter burbled to the surface of my mind. I was speechless. Not only had he remembered the food drive without any parental reminders, but he was using his own savings to participate.

It was my tiny miracle.

Happy holidays, everyone.

There’s no escaping the simple truth that some days go better than others. And on those “other” days, I do a lot of counting.

“Who’s screeching? What’s going on? Get up here. Now! 1, 2, 3….”

“He’s using the permanent markers?! I specifically told him…1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…keep it together, Mary, keep it together…”

“That’s it. We can do this the easy way or the hard way. You have until 3 to decide. One. Two.”

And then there are the days that I am beyond counting.

“JUST DO IT!” (This does not come out sounding like an inspirational Nike slogan.)

“NO! NO! How many times do I have to tell you?”

I am not proud of those moments when I lose my…cool. (There’s another four-letter word that better describes what I lose. Here’s a hint: starts with S.)

But I was even less proud when my husband laughingly told me to look at the back of our bedroom door.

At some point in the recent past, the kids made and hung signs all over the upstairs—Nora’s room, this way. Enter if you dare. Etc. They were cute. Plus, it occupied them for a full hour.

I hadn’t noticed the sign they made for me:

Great. That’s just great.

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