Picture Them Doing Nothing: The Search For Super Henry

Today is my son Henry's birthday. He's 17. A strapping 17, almost 6'3" with a voice so rumbly and deep that sometimes I'll hear him from another room and think "Oh my god there's a man in the house! Who let him in?" We've come to the point in our mother/son relationship where his friends are riding shotgun, and I'm in the backseat. And that's okay, since he's my third child to reach this almost-grown stage it's getting easier to not only accept it, but to kind of enjoy it. Emphasis on the words "kind" and "of".

He's spending his birthday night with his friends. We'll celebrate this weekend, as a family, most likely at the hibachi restaurant down the road, where we'll get steak and shrimp and fried rice and leave reeking of oil and with a slick sheen on our faces. We'll laugh together, all of us, as we always do. We will talk about funny things from our conjoined pasts and gloss over the less funny parts, as we always do. Going out with my four kids now feels almost like having dinner with a group of friends. Except nobody fights me for the check at the end of the evening.

It's become a tradition of sorts for me to write something pithy on facebook as an acknowledgement of each child's birthday. I'll search for the perfect picture to post along with the words, and both of us (me and whichever kid it is) enjoy all the likes and HAPPY BIRTHDAY comments. I'll get a little misty-eyed as I reminisce, for a few whiles, about their day of birth and all the anniversaries of that day that have passed.

Which I was all set to do this morning. I thought about which picture I'd use for Henry's birthday ode. That's when I thought about Super Henry. When he was about 3-ish, I bought him a little Superman costume. One of those cheap, thin one-piece deals, that tied at the back and came with a separate,but identically thin and cheap, cape.

Henry became obsessed with that costume. He wanted to wear it all the time. And because he was my third child, I let him. One of the first things I learned as a mom was to choose your battles. Wanting to wear a Superman costume day after day after day? Totally not a battle. 

I'm an old mom. How old? So old that I have actual shoeboxes full of actual photographs taken with an actual point-and-shoot camera. I'm sure at one point in my dewy young mothering career I envisioned all of those photographs either gracing the pages of sweet, memory filled baby books or adorning a wall in a tastefully kitschy collection of mismatched frames.

Ha. The shoeboxes (there are about 5 of them) are shoved in a small cabinet that sits in my bedroom. You'd think there would be some modicum of organization, right? Like, all pics of Kid #1 in the Cole Haan loafer box, or all pics from 1995-97 in the Converse box. Ha, again. Have we met? My ADD has ADHD, folks. That's what I'm dealing with.

So, I knew there had to be a few pictures of Henry wearing the Superman costume in one of those boxes. I mean, the kid wore it nonstop for a year...how could I have not snapped a shot or two of my feisty three year old clad his beloved superhero garb?

I began the search, keeping one eye on the clock. I had to get to work, but that wasn't as pressing as my need to get Henry's picture all Instagrammed up and posted on the Facebook. Priorities, you know. I gots 'em. 

The search became a little more intense with every minute that ticked away. I became angry at my unorganized self. Why the hell do I have pictures of me, drunk in Mexico in 1989, mixed in with pictures of me, holding my newborn babies in the hospital? And glossy 4x6 reminders of how much fun my ex and I had before our marriage went to shit mixed in with faded 70's prints of my brother and I sitting on my grandma's couch?

I could see him in my mind, dammit, see his white-blond hair, his chubby cheeks and his tiny limbs clad in pilly royal blue and red fabric. I could feel the weight of his small body, leaning against me as I knelt next to him and tied the cape back on for the hundredth time that day. I could hear him crying in the morning, as I rushed to get his big brother, his big sister, him and my pregnant self ready and out the door in the morning, crying because his "SUPAman" outfit was in the wash.

I had all of these things as clear as lead crystal in my head, but where were the mother effing pictures?

The sweat began flowing as I flipped through stacks of memories. WHERE THE HELL WAS SUPER HENRY? There was a slippery Henry being pulled from my belly, Henry elbows-deep in his first birthday cake, Henry sleeping on the floor with his eyes open (that was the creepiest phase, ever). Henry playing t-ball, Henry tubing on a lake, Henry wearing a Buzz Lightyear costume and a hippie costume and of course a ninja costume. COME ON, SHOEBOXES! Where was my kid wearing that godforsaken Superman costume?

Finally, finally. There in the Nike box. I found him. I found Super Henry. One picture:

I smiled. I laughed. I might have shed a tear or two. There he was, cape and all. Super Henry. Just as I had remembered him.

The picture, with the accompanying birthday tribute, was posted. The likes and HAPPY BIRTHDAYS rolled in. All was right in my cuckoo world.

Except, I was mad at myself. Still am, a dozen hours later. I was mad at my current self for not having anything in any sort of order. And I was mad at my younger self, Super Henry's mom, for not stepping back a few more times and getting just a couple more pictures of her toddler who was sure he could fly, sure he could leap tall buildings in a single bound. For not having the foresight to know that somewhere down the line, when that little boy was towering above her and spending more time with his friends than with her...she'd want to see him again. See Super Henry, with his white-blond hair, smiling and wearing a cheap little costume like it was the most natural, the most everyday thing in the world.

The lesson I learned today, aside from the one about how being unorganized can turn the most benign morning into a frenzied clusterfuck, was this:

My favorite memories of my kids are the seemingly mundane, no-big-deal moments in their childhoods: eating freeze pops in the shade of the apple tree that used to stand in front of our old house. My daughter, wearing nothing but a tiara and her underwear at the breakfast table. A determined preschooler pushing his Fisher-Price Bubble Mower behind daddy as he mowed the lawn on a summer evening.

And a little Henry, all cheeks and big eyes, just chilling in his Superman costume. Cape and all.

Mamas? Stop the action now and then, won't you? Take a minute out of those neverending days and catch your babies doing nothing. Nothing but being themselves. Trust me when I say... you'll be glad you did.


Momastery, Me and All The Divorced Ladies: What I Learned This Past Week

In case you didn't hear me screaming from the couch last week, my Messy, Beautiful post about surviving divorce was featured on Momastery. I was shocked, I tell you, seriously shocked. Not saying that I wasn't pleased with how my essay turned out, because I do love it. But, like I told my rockstar friend, Laura, who ordered gently nudged me to submit, I didn't think my style of writing was going to fit with Glennon's vibe. I'm kind of crude, a little racy and I swear. I also don't talk much (okay, at all) about my religious beliefs. I know, right? I keep the God stuff private but I will tell anyone with ears all about the sexy times. Contradiction, thy name might be Jenny.

As every neurotic writer does, I obsessively checked my email and Momastery for signs of acceptance. I heard crickets. What she is doing with selected Messy, Beautiful essays is featuring a couple every week, under certain themes. The first week's theme was Parenting. "Okay," I thought to myself. "You still have a chance. Your essay was totally not about parenting. Carry on, Freak."

Week number two was Authenticity. Hmm. Well, my post was authentic, I guess. But I wouldn't classify it as such. "There's still a chance," I thought to myself. "Why doesn't she like me?" I also thought to myself.

Week three? Augh. The topic was Marriage. "Hooo boy," said that inner voice of mine, the one I sometimes think might benefit from some padded walls and some fine pharmaceuticals. "This is what the essay was about. And guess what? You're not there." I consoled myself, mentally curling up like a cooked shrimp and telling myself "Hey! You tried! And your good ol' crew of regular readers loved it. YOU DONE GOOD, Shrimp Lady."

Imagine, then, how it felt when I received an email from Momastery (not from Glennon herself, because she's so big she has PEOPLE. She has people, people!). They loved my essay and it was going to be featured during Week Four, which was all about...wait for it....Beginning Again. I was at school when I read the email, from a lovely lady named Amy. There might have been a strange noise made by yours truly, followed by goosebumps and an immediate urge to cry.

Amy stayed in touch, letting me know when the post would be on. It changed a few times, and for good reason. That Monday, Glennon wrote a heartbreaking post about a woman who lost her daughter, and it kind of went crazy (you can read it here....and grab a tissue for me too, okay?). Amy told me that they wanted to let that one ride for a couple of days, and she'd let me know when "You Will Survive Being Left" would be live.

Oh, and she also instructed me to keep all of this under wraps. Do you know how hard that was? IT WAS HARD. But like the Monkees often say, "We Can Do Hard Things". And so I sat on it (okay, I might have told my friend Laura, the person who was totally responsible for this whole thing. And maybe my kids, who are so used to me blathering on about bloggy stuff I'm pretty sure all they heard was something about monasteries and monkeys and Glenn Campbell). But secretive I was, and on Wednesday the 16th of July, my cuckoo words were there on the site.

I was worried, at first. Would the Monkees be kind? Would they respond well to my tale of a marriage gone bad? Would they respond at all?

Still waiting to hear from these guys.

Turns out the answer to all three of those questions was: Yes. Oh dear, were they kind. MY FAVORITE COMMENT SECTION, EVER. So much love, so much support and unfortunately, so many stories just like mine. So, so many.

So, what did I learn? Here we go:

1. Don't be afraid to go for it. A direct quote from me, to my friend who urged me to submit: "I might not be her cup of tea." Turns out, Glennon appreciates all kinds of tea. I almost didn't do this. So glad I did.You never know whose cup of tea you are, and you won't, unless you put yourself out there.

2. There are still people out there who think it takes two to destroy a marriage. Sorry, but no. Nope. I agree that it takes two people to keep a marriage going, and that marriage isn't like a hosta that you can just plop into the ground and not tend to at all, and will get pretty leaves and delicate purple flowers year after year. I know now that marriage is hard work, and I'm the first to admit I didn't do enough work on mine. But I will never, ever think that I had a hand in my marriage dying. I tried. And most of the women who have gone through this slice of fun tried, too. We went down swinging and to suggest that we left our fingerprints on the murder weapon is kind of like spitting on us. It takes two to make a marriage work, but all it takes is one to pull the plug on it.

3. The month of August seems to be the favorite month for husbands to leave. WTF. Is it the humidity? Also, some men leave on Christmas, which makes me want to hunt them down and kick them in sensitive places. Christmas? Really, asshole? Way to not only dismember a marriage but also ensure that your kids will get a sick feeling every time December 25th rolls around.

4. Monkees write good. Several of the comments are basically mini-essays, many of which made me cry. Damn, girls. There are some good books that need to be written.

5. Speaking of books: when a publishing house follows you on Twitter, you might scream.

6. This one is kind of off-topic: does anyone else find Lifetime movies addicting? The Canadian accents, the vaguely familiar actors, the soap-opera like commercial breaks at just the right moment...sadly, I have passed this sickness on to my children. William and I found ourselves alone one night this past week, and we decided to turn on the t.v. "How about a Lifetime movie?" I suggested, half-joking. Okay, maybe 1/3 joking. "Ooh..sure" he said, without a trace of sarcasm. I'm sorry, future wife of William. Or maybe...YOU'RE WELCOME.

7. Here's another off-topic one: check my Google search history and you'll find three things:

protection for vulnerable adults in MN
how to care for orphaned bunnies
why does my cleavage sweat smell like vinegar?

The first one was for my mom. And what I've found out is, I can't help her. You know why? You can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped. I am finding this to be one of the most difficult situations, ever, and am mourning so much. More on this later.

The second one was because Walter (my dog) is a murderer. We shall discuss this one further, too.

The third one? Self explanatory. And, ewww. Thankfully it's not life threatening. Romance threatening? Yeah, maybe. If anyone got close enough to catch a whiff of the sourdough factory that seems to have sprung up between my breasts, that is. Summer heat, I loathe thee. 

And on that lovely, appetizing note, I shall close. Thank you so much, all of you. Those of you who have been here from the beginning, and those who have just hopped on board this runaway train of whackadoo. I am so glad you're all here.


Ribs and Birthdays and Neverending Hurts

The smell of the ribs filled our house. It was late, almost 8:00, and they still needed another 20 minutes in the oven. It had been one of those insanely busy nights and somehow I'd put off making dinner until the screeches of my nestlings became too insistent to ignore. But now...mmmm....good things come to those who wait, and we were proving that worn-out old saying true.

Charlie's girlfriend was there, as she often is. I like her. A lot. She feels like one of my own now, almost. Charlie has blossomed since she's been around. Maybe he would have, even if she hadn't been a part of his life, but I think she's been a good thing for him. And therefore, good for our family. She and I were standing in the little area between the living room and the sliding glass doors that open to the deck. It's a weird spot of real estate, that area...not quite big enough for a usable table, not quite small enough to brighten up with a few tchotchkes and call it a day.

"Oooh they smell so good!" she said, her pretty brown eyes so open and kind.

"Thanks" I replied, "Wait til you taste them!" Modesty is my middle name, yo.

"So it looks like Charlie and I will be having ribs a few nights in a row" she said. "Tomorrow we're meeting his dad and his grandpa at Market Barbecue."

Me, being diplomatic: "Oh, nice! Have you met Charlie's dad before?"

She didn't miss a beat, and nodded as she said, "Yep. Charlie and I were at Spawn's birthday party yesterday. Wow, it was the most lavish party I'd ever seen for a three year old."

Cut back to me, frantically gathering up any and all remaining bits of diplomacy I could find. Dammit it's harder than you'd think.

"Oh. A birthday party? Fun. I guess that means you met the stepmom, huh?" I'm sure at this point I had a decent case of the Crazy Eyes setting in.

She nodded again, and added, "Yes! She was really warm and welcoming. And she's so young!" Bless her heart, I thought. And I also thought, don't. Don't say anything bad, Jenny. Don't. DON'T.

"Yes, I'm sure she was really warm." Warm from the hellfire that surrounds the skank, right, Jenny? STOP IT! Seriously! Just go into the kitchen. Walk away from this conversation! 

Charlie's girlfriend is a child of divorce, just like he is. Her situation is similar to ours, complete with a dad remarried to someone much younger, and a half brother just a couple years older than Spawn. Her parents, however, have somehow managed to keep things civil, amicable. I'm guessing it's because although the situations are similar, they aren't exactly alike. Meaning, the new, younger wife isn't the one who helped dismantle the marriage. I think that makes the concept of civility somewhat more palatable.

I felt that old, familiar warmth spreading. No, I wasn't peeing my pants. I was feeling that hot anger spill out of nowhere. Where does it come from, I wonder? Where does it hide? Nothing else on this planet can draw it out like one of these seemingly innocent conversations. And then, BOOM. There it is. All the old hurts. The pissy anger. The shitstorm of emotions that flies right out of left field and lands, with a sick thud, on my heart.

She continued on, oblivious to the tsunami of feels that were welling up behind my eyes..."There was a bouncy house and so much food and we went swimming in the pool..."

At this point I did waddle back into the kitchen, to check on the ribs. They were done, perfectly done, so I pulled them out of the oven and began cutting them apart and placing them on a big serving platter. "They're done!" I yelled out to everyone, and stepped aside as the stampede came forth and dished up plates of saucy goodness.

Henry was there first. I asked him, "Did you go to your dad's house on Sunday?" He turned around, sauce already smeared on his face, licked a finger and looked at me quizzically.

"No. Why would I have gone there?"

Almost immediately I regretted asking him. The naysaying Jenny in my head was already shrieking at me to SHUT UP! But I had to. I had to find out.

"Apparently they had a big party for Spawn. Didn't your dad call and invite you?"

His eyes answered me before his mouth. "Nah. Wow." He shook his head, and then backed it up by saying out loud, "Shake my head." Which, by the way, is kind of a little joke between the two of us. I try to be hip and stay up to date with all of the acronyms the kids use. SMH is one of my favorites to use with Henry. So of course he does me one better by saying the phrase in its entirety, when appropriate.

It was appropriate that night, I guess. Shake my head.

I asked William, and then Molly. Neither one knew about it, neither had been invited. I felt myself beginning to seethe, the thought of sitting down and enjoying a good ol' summertime dinner completely clouded by thoughts of mother effing bouncy houses and young, welcoming homewreckers and splashes in a pool.

Molly smiled at me. And then she laughed a little. "Mom. I can tell you're pissed. Don't be!"

I looked at her, my sweet girl who is mere weeks away from embarking on her college career. My sweet girl who has taught me so much about rolling with punches. "Doesn't it bother you?" I asked her, "Doesn't it make you sad that your dad wouldn't ask you to be there?" Her answer broke my heart.

"It doesn't matter to us anymore. We don't care." She spoke on behalf of herself, and her younger brothers. William, who was listening, just nodded.

Charlie chimed in then, his anger stepping up to spar with mine. "Mom...knock it off." It was too late, though. I had already opened this can of worms and they were everywhere. "Charlie, I'm sorry, but this kills me. Why weren't the other kids invited? Why just you? Didn't anyone ask where the other kids were?"

Charlie put down the rib he was devouring. His eyes were dark. I'd seen this look on his face before, and it made me feel shameful and defensive.

"He might have told me to ask them. I don't know. You need to stop it, Mom. Stop making this into something it isn't." The tone of his voice, coupled with that shadow in his eyes...I retreated. I backed off. But I had to say one last thing, had to get it out there so my kids know that it's not jealousy or bitterness that causes these small outbursts.

"I'm sad for you guys, that's all." I said quietly. "I think it's sad that you weren't invited, and Charlie, I think it's sad that your dad put it on you to invite your siblings. That's not your job."

Charlie looked at me, the other kids in the room looked at me. Charlie's girlfriend, who had been silent through this brief but intense interaction, looked at me.

"I'm sorry." I said. I gathered up plates, crumpled up napkins, began stuffing the anger and the hurt back down from whence it came. I wanted to put a fan on, blow away the residue of this mini-explosion, turn back the clock just far enough so I could shut my big mouth and not say anything.

"I'm sorry" I said again. And I was sorry. I meant it. I am always sorry, it seems, sorry for the divorce and sorry for picking their dad to be their dad. Sorry for not being a better wife, sorry for gaining weight and not being attentive and sorry for finding it hard to accept the fact that sometimes shitty things happen. Sorry for wanting everything to be fair and even and nice for them, sorry for their dad for not knowing exactly how much he has hurt them, sorry even for the shiny stepmom who might or might not realize what she's done to these kids. And sorry for myself, truth be told. Sorry that I don't have the maturity or the balls or the grace to suck it up and let things like this just roll off my back and onto the floor and out the door. Sorry that I feel so much, and then on top of that, feel it 4x more for each of my children.

Here's the thing: these are the vapor trails of divorce. Like those white fluffy lines left behind jets, arcing in the sky long after the plane is out of sight, these insults and injuries follow you even after the divorce is buried in days, months and years. They go away and then they ambush you, rain all over something as sweet and simple and normal as a late night summer dinner of ribs.

I wonder if they'll ever disappear completely? Will they ever just go the hell away and never come back? Or will they slip in under closed windows and locked doors even when we are past the time of birthdays and bouncy houses and teens who are so used to being treated like afterthoughts that they don't care anymore?

The good news is, although they haven't disappeared completely, they don't stick around as long as they used to. That night, Rib Night, continued on in relative peace. The kids finished two slabs, and even left me a few morsels. I apologized to Charlie, and to his girlfriend. The dishes were done, the mess in the kitchen cleaned up and by the time I went to bed that night my sleepy time thoughts were focused on the upcoming weekend and not on exclusive birthday parties for three year old half-siblings. I thought about spending the 4th of July with my kids, at my friend's cabin, and how grateful I am that I have a friend with a cabin and kids to bring there.

And you know what? I slept really good that night. Take that, vapor trails.

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