Monday, July 7, 2014

How To Save A Life

Last week I put Aidan's graduation date in my calendar.  And then I cried.  I cried a full-on ugly cry all by myself in my living room.  

I cannot be more clear about this....I enjoy my children more every single solitary time they age a year.  I'm not a baby person.  Fine, I actively want to drop kick babies when I see them  dislike them.  Toddlers are migraine inducing, small children are willful.  I get kids from about age five and up.  I no longer have the patience for children one minute younger than my youngest (except for Logi Bear but that's because he's a 30 year old trapped in a small child's body).

So the reasons that I cried....well, they're complicated.  First, there's my mom.  My mom loved Aidan possibly more than any other person on the planet.  On him she lavished all the feelings of love and attention that perhaps were too complicated and murky between she and I.  She was proud of him in ways large and small and I know she would be so thrilled at the turn around in his grades and academic life....Aidan was her entire hope for the future and my heart breaks for him and for me that she won't be here to see him throw his cap in the air.

Secondly, there is time.  Time is a fickle bitch.  I spent a lot of my youth not being able to wait for adulthood.  Adulthood is not as much fun as you think it is, kids.  It really, truly seems like yesterday that they put that tiny, premature, jaundiced baby in my arms and I thought (out loud because I'm a total asshole sometimes), "Oh my God, I did all that work and got a boy?????  And, of course, now I thank God that I did all that work and got that particular little boy because Aidan Erin James Harper saved me then and he saves me now in ways he will not possibly understand until he grows up and either has children of his own or takes one wholly into his heart to keep forever.  But time never stops, and now I hear it like a bomb ticking, incessantly......tick, tick, tick.....BOOM!  I know he's not really leaving forever, but I am closer and closer to him being out of my house and out of my day to day, moment to moment life and I still can't wrap my brain around it.

Thirdly, there is context.  I've written (seemingly exhaustively to you, perhaps) about the hows and whys of how I came to have Aidan.  Where I was in my life then?  Wow.  I was not four years removed from a devastating, soul-crushing heartbreak, a rape, a pregnancy and an abortion....I was doing too many drugs and spending too much time with people who were not worthy of me.  When I got pregnant with Aidan I was on two forms contraception with a success rate of 98% or better.  He was a very clear sign from God for me; time to grow up and pay attention to someone besides yourself.  And while I'm a different, more whole, more confident, more healed person now, it is still amazing to look back and see what a difference one tiny person can make in the lives of so many.  

There is the context of the other people and relationships he saved as well....Aidan's birth patched up many of the wounds my mom and I inflicted on one another over twenty six years.  Not that we didn't continue to have issues, but he gave us something which united us together and unclouded many of my views of my mom as a person and as a parent.  More importantly than that, I am 100% certain that I would have lost my brother to addiction and/or depression if Aidan hadn't been born.  Aidan's birth was a catalyst that brought my beloved, drug-riddled, painfully skinny, broken brother back home to my mom and me....for that alone I will owe Aidan for the entirety of my life.  Erin completely changed his life, he is whole and kind and alive.  There are things you know about yourself and one thing I know is that had I lost Erin at that point in my life, a point without kids, I would have had nothing to live for.  If Erin doesn't stop smoking and take better care of himself I will someday know what it is to lose him but now I am a mom and while I don't want to live in a world without him, can not even imagine existing in a place where he does not, I would carry on for my kids because it is what moms do.

And that's why I cried...Aidan's place in the world, what he means to me, his dad, his uncle....what he meant to my mom...I am incredibly blessed (mostly with and by dumb luck) to be able to shepherd this person into adulthood.  I was thinking last week about how much I actually enjoy my kids...the funny, the sweet, the annoying...all of it.  If nothing changes in Aidan's personality from today until the day he dies of old age....I like him.  I think he's fall-down funny and whip-smart and heart breakingly beautiful.  I love his view of the world and that he has a healthy dose of self deprecating humor that I gave him and that he has fine-tuned  to comedic perfection.  I love that he still likes me, doesn't mind hanging out with me and kisses me in public like it hasn't even occurred to him to be embarrassed by my existence. 

Aidan turns 17 on Saturday.  Before his next birthday he will have graduated high school.  Seventeen is important, may this year be everything he hopes for himself and everything I hope for him.  I hope he continues the path he's begun academically,  I hope he does something wild and new and out of character, I hope he continues to be sweet and kind and empathetic (even when the world tells our boys not to).  I hope he believes in himself and trusts his instincts.  I hope he gets in trouble (but not too much), I hope he laughs and cries and feels.  I hope he falls in love.  I hope he never ever stops believing in magic. I hope, I hope, I hope...but I also believe.  Happy birthday Aidan, I could not be prouder of you and I look forward to front row seats for what comes next.  The training wheels are off (I thought you'd appreciate the bike metaphor) and you've got this. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground

“Wait for me” I yelled falling further behind.  She stopped and turned back to me, her strawberry blonde hair catching in the sun.  I stopped suddenly, someone walking by bumped into me.  Sometimes with the light behind her she looked very beautiful, like a movie star.  I stopped and stared hard at her face.
“What are you looking at, silly Goose?” she asked holding out her hand to me.
“When I grow up I want to look just like you.” I say running to catch up and grabbing her hand.  She dropped down to her knees, letting go of the blanket she was carrying, so she was looking right into my eyes and she put one hand one on either side of my face.  She touched her nose to mine and scrunched it up.  She seemed not to be bothered by the sea of people around us.
“When I grow up, I want to look just like you, now let’s go, Goose, we are running out of time.”
I ran a little to keep up with her.  The crowd was getting thick, she wove in and out of people and I grabbed on to the back of her shirt, I was afraid to lose her.
“How about here?” she asked putting down the blanket. I looked around us and down the hill.
“Will we be able to hear?” I asked her worried, I didn’t want to miss it, not any of it.
She laughed.
“I promise we will be able to hear every word.”
“Will he sing it?” I asked.
“Oh, he will definitely sing it.” She said sitting down cross legged in the middle of the blanket.  She patted the spot next to her and I folded myself into her side, she put her arm around me.
“Will he sing it first?” I persisted.  Her mouth turned up like she was going to smile but when she looked at my face I saw her take it back.
“He won’t sing it first, he always starts with the same song.  But, Goose,  I promise he will sing it.” When she said it she squeezed my hand, that’s one of the ways I know when she really meant it.
“What will he sing first?” I ask her relaxing into her shoulder.
“Whiskey River.  He always starts with Whiskey River.  Goose?” she looked right into me raising an eyebrow, “Why do you love that song so much?”
“Because it breaks my heart, Mom.”

“Mine too, Goose.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rules Are Made To Be Broken

Sometimes parenting identical twins feels like running a science experiment. The push and pull of their relationship with one another is fascinating to me. The ways in which they are different are surpassed only by the ways in which they implicitly understand one another.  
Where one is jubilant the other is thoughtful.  Where one is salty the other is sweet.  Where one is bound by rules the other...the other has a fine career in crime ahead of her; keep your eye on your wallet.

I've said many times that if parenting and watching your children act like you doesn't make you love yourself more then you are doing it wrong.  Being with my kids allows me to be kinder to myself.  Parenting daughters means you have to be kinder to yourself...assuming you don't want them to grow up with all the fucked up messages that made you hate your body, your face, your....everything. 

My relationship with rules is complicated....there is a part of me that follows rules as if breaking them is not an option.  And then there is the other part...the part that does things she knows she isn't supposed to and revels in it, every moment of it.  Each of my daughters inherited one of those parts. Liv revels in rule breaking, being mischievous is part of her identity; it is truly who she is.  Grace is a rule follower, she almost never steps outside the line. Except today, she did, literally.

At lunch today Grace and Olivia were playing with friends on the playground. The kids weren't allowed in the grass today, probably because it was so slushy.  Gracie stepped backwards without looking and inadvertently placed one foot in the grass just as a lunch lady turned around.  She was yelled at and had to "turn a card" to yellow.  It is the first time in her school career she has been reprimanded for anything.  Apparently, if your card is turned in class you have a chance to "earn back" the turn, but if it is turned at lunch you're just screwed.  To say she is upset is an understatement, she got in the car, hours after the incident, crying her eyes out.  What I was upset about was that she didn't feel confident enough to speak up for herself, to tell the lunch lady that it was an accident, that she understood the rules and didn't mean to break them.  She said she would have spoken to her teacher after lunch but they had a substitute so she couldn't.  What she is upset about is that her record is permanently marred.  Someone told her that they email your parents when your card is turned, she was upset and embarrassed that I was going to hear about it from school. My kids all need different kinds of parenting, what Gracie usually needs in these cases; at the times when her anxiety is at it's highest, is an example of how exactly her life will not be ruined by this particular event.

"Gracie, look at me" I say into her reflection in my rear view mirror.  She looks right at my eyes, her own spilling tears down her cheeks.

"Was it a mistake?" I ask her and she nods.  "Do you think I'm a good mom?" I ask her, she nods her head enthusiastically.  And Olivia, bless her criminal heart pipes up with, "You're a fantastic mom and you're really silly too!"

"Gracie, I make about 1,000 mistakes a day.  Today I think I made 2,000.  Seriously, shit just happens. I promise you when you are a forty year old picking up your second grader no one is going to know that when you were 8 you had your card turned.  I'm pretty sure no one will remember tomorrow.  It isn't worth spending one more minute worrying about, really, even if you did it on purpose, it's not a big deal.  Mistakes can be lessons but not this time, your foot just went in the wrong place, the lunch lady just didn't' understand.  I got in trouble when I was a kid and look how good I turned out."  I say all of this while navigating us out of the danger zone that is school pick up and she looks at me the whole time, trying to gauge if I'm right or not.  I can tell when she decides I am.  It's when I said "I got in trouble when I was a kid."  The minute I said it she visibly relaxed, she stopped crying, she moved on.  I gave myself a pat on the back.  I feel like I know my kids really well...Aidan is rule bound as well, he would have required nearly the same speech but he would have calmed down at "shit just happens."  Olivia would need me to say, well, nothing, she wouldn't have been upset about it at all.  She had a card turned once in kindergarten, she's clear that it was because she was in the bathroom when the rules were explained and that's that, the teacher should have paid better attention.

I don't know what the lesson is here, except, your kids are going to be like you....good, bad and ugly.  Enjoy the good, let the bad and ugly go when you can.  Maybe if you figure out a way to help them through it you can learn to be a little better to yourself.  Shit does just happen, let it go and move on....rules are made to be broken.  Just ask me and Olivia.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Olivia Rose... Button Pusher and Ass Kisser

Olivia Rose is my difficult child.  I could pretend that it's not true, but it is.  People who tell you they love all their kids the same are either lying or they're doing it wrong.  I love all my kids but I love them differently; they're different people.  It's okay if Liv reads this tomorrow or in 10 years or in her therapist's office in 15 years when she starts to figure out all the ways in which I've screwed her up.  And it's okay because Olivia knows how much I love her and I know how much she loves me....and we both know she's the difficult child.  She is also the joyful child and the mischievous child and the magical child. And yet, for me, she's the difficult one.  It doesn't even imply fault on her part; I'm sure it's me....I let her push my buttons.  Olivia is a very gifted button pusher.

My childhood was magical...single mom, no money, she worked a ton of hours and yes, it was magical.  My mom did magic on a budget...but more importantly she did it on a short temper.  My childhood mornings were not magic.  They were a nightmare.  My mom screamed from the moment one of us woke up until we left her for the babysitter or school or the side of the road where she often left us (kidding).

I work extremely hard, really, really hard to not have the mornings of my childhood.  And honestly, my kids have probably seen me lose my shit a handful of times in their lives.  I keep it under wraps.  And you know what?  I thought my mom was a crazy person and I didn't understand her need to torture Erin and I every day.  Now I know that kids are a fucking pain in the ass.....we were torturing her, she was just trying to get the hell to work where little kids would leave her alone so she could make just enough money not to live in a cardboard box.

Right. So this morning was tough.  Our mornings are complicated.  Aidan starts at 7:30 and the girls not until 9am so we leave the house at 7:00, drop him off and head to my friend Jesica's house.  Jesica has a 5 year old and three nineteen month olds.  Her life is very boring so she has us over 4 mornings a week to liven things up.  Don't go back.... I said 3 NINETEEN MONTH OLD TODDLERS...and a 5 year old because those people are easy to deal with!  This morning Olivia had a melt down.  I was going to tell you the hilarious story of what happened leading up to the melt down and why she had it....except I can't remember at all what it was about.  It resulted in me yelling at her which truly happens very rarely, when she got out of the car she had tears in her eyes which bothered me; I remember how that felt.  

I had a perfectly good day after I dropped off my crying child at school.  Until I took my unchargeable iPod to the Apple store only to find out it would cost $189 to fix and $200 to replace and....I can't afford tampons right now so I have no iPod.  Which, may not seem like a big deal to you but my iPod is what keeps me from killing sprees so it may be more important to you that you originally thought!  And here's the thing....I don't let my daughters touch it because they lost my first iPod and the day this one quit charging was the first time I've let them touch it and now it's broken I was pretty pissed when I walked in tonight.  Plus I burst into crazy lady tears at the Apple store prompting the lady to ask if my kids had something else to play on besides the iPod to which I replied, "I don't care about my kids, this is my iPod!" (Author's note: I can't sleep without my iPod and I'm going on about two weeks of near total sleeplessness, I'm really tired and I care about my kids but come on, they all have Kindle Fires and I had my God damned iPod)

I literally cried all the way home...the ugly sobby cry...I think I may be getting my period, fuck yay!  I walk in the door and Livi gives me a gift bag with her favorite stuffed tiger inside it and an apology card.  It reads:

Sorry how I behaved this morning. You understand I was just having a bad day :( and I was tired.  I love you so much.  Do you forgive me?  Yes or No?

Um.....YES, I forgive you, you sweet little thing!  I love that she didn't ask if I understood....she knew I understood!  She may be a grand champion button pusher but she is also a really good ass kisser and that is just what I needed this evening.  I am never going to be the mother of the year, sometimes I struggle to just get through the day, but my kids absolutely adore me and it isn't because I'm a push over or easy on's because I accept them for who they are; good, bad and ugly. With me is where they can be exactly who they are and know that who they are is exactly enough. They know they can have occasional meltdowns and we figure out a way to do better next time.  Tomorrow is another day, thank God.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year

There are just under six hours left of 2013.  I am going to start drinking shortly so I thought I best hammer this post out before it becomes an alcohol fueled, tear stained blogtastrophy.  I'm not going to lie; I'm ecstatic to see 2013 go.  Cannot wait.  My facebook feed is filled with both real and imaginary friends being thankful for all of their blessings and looking forward to the coming year.  I agree  wholeheartedly with the following caveat; 2013 can kiss my ass.  I am at the end of a bad three year run.  I have nothing but the highest hopes for 2014.  

2013 has been a roller coaster ride from one end to the other.  I'm not ready to talk about my marriage ending except to say that I wouldn't have made it through the last three years without Dan and my kids and that the two of us have loved one another for fourteen years, and that is a long time. 

  Life and their parents have thrown things at my kids over the last three years that kids shouldn't have to go through.  But, as Cheli was fond of saying, life isn't fair.  And if something good is going to come from the last three years, I hope what they have been through prepares them for their lives ahead and that when they grow up and remember their childhoods they will remember they were fiercely loved by both of their parents.  As for me, I have learned so much over the last year about who my children are as people; they are amazing individuals.  When I think back over the last eight years and the differences that Olivia and Grace have made in the lives of Dan, Aidan and myself....well, there are too many to count, all of them valuable.  The best parts about this year are specific to my kids; seven year old girls are amazingly fun especially considering that for nearly four years I thought they would kill me, and I have a 16 year old boy who still likes me and doesn't mind hanging out in public occasionally...those two things alone make it more of a success than not.

2014 is going to be a year of changes for myself, for Dan, for our kids and for our extended families.   We will all have to figure out how to move forward together and individually and we will have to learn to navigate our new relationships; I have high hopes on all accounts.  

On a personal level I am looking forward to working on the new home that the kids and I are making and I hope that we will be here for a long, long time; I am grateful for the help Dan is giving in making that a reality.  I am looking forward to continuing to feel more "myself" and  to spending quality time with my kids, my family and my friends.  I wouldn't have made it this far without the amazing support team that occasionally helps me keep my head above water when things get too crazy.  Thanks to Erin, my brother, who continually takes my problems as his own and who always has the soundest and most thoughtful advice. A huge thanks to Melissa and Paul who housed the kids and I for what was supposed to be a month and turned into three.  We took over their home and they very graciously let us leak into every aspect of their nice, quiet lives and, I think, into their hearts.  Thanks to Thia, Tim, Maison and Kendall who kept my chickens, my coop and Lilo for that same extended amount of time. First Kendall lived through the murder of Lucy, our favorite hen and then Thia cleaned her up and prepared her for burial (she is currently residing in my freezer waiting for the Spring thaw....story for another day)...and now they have added chicken to the list of meats their family doesn't eat thanks to the trauma I brought them.  On top of that, my silly dog ran away and got hit by a car while I was out of town and unreachable and Thia and Tim fronted tons of money to put her back together again for my kids.  I love Thia dearly and I know she loves me but I'm guessing she won't have such a hard time saying "no" when I ask her for favors anymore.  Thanks to Cathi, Jim, Tricia, Nick, Donna, Rob, Colleen, Larry, Tiffany, Jesica, Jim, Jeannie, Bill, Sally, John, and Pam.  And from far far away, my bff Shawna, and my soul sisters... Jessie and Becca.  Huge thanks to all of the amazing people who love my children beyond reason, most especially Dan's family. I hope I didn't forget anyone, if I did, please know that I am so, so grateful.  My actual family seems to grow smaller and smaller but the people surrounding me by choice continues to grow and strengthen and for that I am truly grateful.  I hope I am half as good a friend to you as you are to me.  Here's to a fantastic new year and a what I hope will be a spectacular rise from the ashes. Cheers.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Last Saturday I started moving into my new house and tonight I'm sitting in a beautiful cabin in Nemo, South Dakota in the gorgeous Black Hills with my brother, my kids and my best friend and her family.  To say I am thankful is an understatement.

I've been cooking since Tuesday, working on what is my first solo Thanksgiving dinner.  Look hands.  Tuesday I made stuffing and mashed potatoes and yesterday I molested massaged a turkey and a turkey breast and I made an apple pie and then realized I forgot to put in anything to thicken it.  Oops.  This morning I stuffed flour in through the slits and baked it a little more; it was delicious but runny-things could be worse.  

Last Monday I went with Shawna, Erin, Aidan, Grace and Olivia to scatter some of my mom's ashes at Mt. Rushmore.  It was amazing and comical and heart breaking, everything I knew it would be but it was okay because I was with five of the people I love most in this world.
We each had a small container of Cheli's ashes to smuggle inside the national park and we each picked a place and had a private moment to ourselves to say what we wanted to say and scatter them how we wanted to.  Olivia stood facing into the wind in front of a split rail fence.  Let's just say Grandma will be with her for a long time but she isn't alone, yesterday morning I saw Grace carrying a small container of the unwashed ash container; Grandma is with her too. 

The whole thing got Shawna and I to talking about that overwhelming love you feel for your mom when you're a little kid; that desire to launch yourself at your mom and hug her forever.  
I'm lucky, all three of my kids still have it; even the big one.  I didn't know a teenager existed that could like his mom so much, I'm so glad.  And the girls, when they hug me, I just remember how I felt about my mom and I try to take the time to just hug them back and be present.  Even Olivia who is my challenge child...when she is upset, even with me, she cannot be comforted by anyone but her mom.  I love that they need me, I need them too. 

I've been waiting over two years to do this; this trip has been cancelled again and again.  My hands shook as I poured my mom's ashes out of the urn into the six little containers in the back seat of a Cadillac.  Cheli would have totally have appreciated the Cadillac scenario; they have amazing suspension.  
It wasn't the first time I'd had my mom's ashes on my hands (you can read about the first time here). It was the first time however, I was handling her ashes and knowingly committing a crime, a crime that I insisted my kids participate in. And, I know, I write about my mom here a lot. The thing is; she is everywhere for me.  In some ways, it is easier to figure out my feelings for her with her gone.  And, yes, I know how that sounds.  I'd also joyfully trade all the knowledge and insight I've gained about our relationship since she died for one solid minute of face to face time with her.  
I am terrified that my girls won't remember her; Aidan and I spend a lot of time trying to keep her memory alive and vibrant for them. 

We each did our own thing; I sent my mom over a fence under George Washington's nose with a silent conversation (something that never would have happened were she alive) and some tears.  My kids and Erin picked their own spots and haven't shared much
about their experiences.  Shawna was the only one who used her hands, she said dumping seemed rude and she feels she has become closer to my mom than she ever intended.  My mom loved Shawna, I remember when it used to bug the crap out of me how much she loved her; I was certain it was way more than she loved me.  I was 15, I was an idiot.  What I know now is that she loved Shawna because of how tightly I held to her and how much I loved her.  She loved her because she loved me and Shawna was willing to have it, I usually threw it back in her face.  Shawna was to my mom what Nate is to me, her bonus child and you can never mother too many people.  My mom thought Shawna was the best thing that ever happened to me and even I wouldn't argue her that. 

Our Mt. Rushmore adventure ended in comedy as most things in my family do; my mom would have loved every second of it.  I wanted to take a picture of all six of us so I tried to climb over a split rail fence into a forbidden area to frame a photo and start the timer and take our picture.  I made it half way over the fence, one leg on either side and I twisted my ankle on a piece of granite...yes, I know, it's a granite mountain.  I fell down on the forbidden side of the fence in complete slow motion...ask anyone who was there.  I could feel the ridiculous slow motion faces I was making.  I could see both Shawna's and Erin's faces clearly, it was fantastic....I crumpled to the ground in grand theatric style.  By the time I landed ,which I'm pretty sure took 15 minutes, I was laughing so hard I couldn't stand up or I would wet my pants.  So I layed on the ground under the fence laughing so hard I couldn't breathe and the five people I love so much laughed at with me.  
Shawna was kind enough to capture it on film

Until my mom died Thanksgiving was my very favorite holiday, it was always filled with laughter and Hagan food drama; I truly dread it now.  Until she was gone it was the only holiday that made us feel like a big family, now it just makes Erin and I feel like orphans and that has been hard.  My husband's family always includes both of us, but it's not the same and sometimes being around someone else's entire family makes you feel more alone.  This year it's a little better, and being out of town is a welcome distraction, there are lots of kids and everyone is having a ball.  Erin is here and he is the only person left who remembers all of the same traditions and memories that I do, I couldn't do Thanksgiving without him.  Tomorrow he turns 40 and, as ever, I am incredibly grateful that he is my brother and my friend.  I remember my mom saying to me on my 40th birthday, "You can't imagine how strange it is to have a 40 year old child."  And I want so badly for her to be able to say that to Erin over his cake.  Tomorrow we will go out for dinner with Shawna and Chad and gamble in Deadwood, I hope I can distract him, birthdays without your mom are hard.  

This year I am incredibly grateful for my chosen family, I have had friends help me in ways that I can't even explain in words- and that is saying something.  Friends have moved me, they've kept and loved and entertained my kids, they've cooked.  They've gifted my children life-sized tiger stuffed animals.  They've held me up...even one I didn't get to meet in person until this very week.  They've kept my chickens and my dogs, they've given me and my kids a place to stay while all of our house drama was going on.  I am incredibly thankful.  I am grateful to my mom who taught me how to be a good friend; it pays off in my life over and over again.  So while I am missing her today a little more than usual, I am so thankful for so much of what she taught me, for the traditions she left in my care.  If you are my friend and I haven't told you lately how much I love you....I love you.  And I am incredibly thankful to have you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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