I'm not sure why, but I've been thinking about broken hearts, specifically in regard to my kids. I remember my mom telling me (as I lay disintegrating in her lap over what was, to date, the only real broken heart I've ever had) that I can't even imagine how much worse it is to watch your child's heart break than it is to manage your own broken heart. Even as her own tears fell on my face for those many days that I lay there paralyzed and broken, I didn't believe her. I do now.
My heart lives firmly outside of my body. On an early summer morning, waaaaaaay back in July of 1997 she knocked out my brain during an epic love triangle, packed up her stuff and she moved out when I wasn't looking, although, to be fair I was busy trying not to bleed to death. We see one another all the time, but she never moved back in, I'm not expecting her to be sleeping in my basement any time soon, she is all grown up.
"I can't believe I did all this work and I got a boy." Said my brain.
"Bitch....suck it." Said my heart right before she blasted my brain with a nasty left hook, packed up her toys and was gone forever.
For eight years she lived alone in a tiny rent-controlled, under-sized boy, barely enough room for all of her furniture. But she made it work, the three of us worked out a routine. She stayed with him, kept her eyes open and reported back routinely. He was eating, but barely. He was reading, no worries there, four and reading like a champ! He was growing, slowly (sometimes, when they're all sleeping and it's safe for her to come home, the two of us have a drink and laugh about that worry; he's practically a giant).
On a winter's morning in 2005 I was at Delnor Hospital for a daily appointment. I was on bed rest, I couldn't cook or walk or have sex or disco but I could drag me, my two broken ribs and two in-utero babies to Delnor every single day for heart monitoring. Anyway, they weren't due until the end of January, and I wasn't feeling any more tired or sore than I had nearly every day of my third trimester, but my blood pressure was crazy and they wanted me at CDH immediately. My heart was in Miss Erickson's second grade class back in Batavia but she was on alert, I sent her a text; you watch that one, I've got these two.
My mom came and got me (because, apparently, NOW it mattered if I drove) and we met Dan and Patti at the CDH and we kicked ass, took some names and had some babies. Go big or go home. My mom even managed to get kicked out of the delivery room for being a badass and my equally badass husband got her brought back in because even though he thought it was crazy for my mom to be with me he knew it was what I wanted.
Their birth was easy, I am built for birthing babies (Read about their birth here) and upon seeing their little faces across the room a couple of things happened. First, I counted my own fingers and toes because, I am nothing if not Cheli's daughter. Second, I felt it happen; even though my heart was in Miss Erickson's second grade class back in Batavia, I felt her divide. Not really divide....more photo copy. It was kind of a grinch thing, she just grew and grew and split into three. My heart went from living in the under-sized 8 year old to living in an 8 year old and two tiny, naked mole rats (and God bless them they are beautiful now but they totally looked like naked mole rats). She bought a lot of real estate that day. The bitch likes living large.
And then the birth was over, they seemed okay, me....not so much. My mom was still alive then, I didn't know that there was a solid back up plan in case the host body tries to leave the children....I don't think I'd really ever thought about it; my kids living in a world without me. I did that day. I was certain I was going to die. There was a moment, a very short moment, when Aidan was born and there was so much blood, when I had a passing thought that I might not make it but I was young and had total confidence that the doctors would make it stop and they did. With the girls I was older and wiser and knew the risks to myself going into the pregnancy. I didn't get to hold the girls or really even look at them and then they sent Dan and my mom away and I saw my doctor's face and I knew I was in serious trouble. It was a very long night, I had a lot of time to think, I was, unfortunately or fortunately depending on your viewpoint, awake for everything they had to do, nothing to do but lie there and think. And... story for another day...it turns out I have very few regrets. Given the chance to do it over, I would do it largely the same, there are a couple of times maybe I would have spoken up when I kept quiet. A couple of truths I wouldn't have messed with...but that is a different post. What I mostly thought about was my kids, the one I already knew and loved beyond what I had ever believed myself capable and the two I already worshiped but hadn't even met yet. I thought about what it would be like for them to grow up without me. The girls never knowing me, Aidan always missing me....I thought about shallow things like how the girls would never have long hair or braids because I wouldn't be around to over-see it. I thought about Aidan growing up and falling in love without his mom there to watch, basically I felt sorry for myself and sorry for them...and I thought a lot about my heart. As the night wore on and I became exhausted I called my heart back, we needed to talk, I asked her to hang out and keep watch over my kids, to make sure they always remembered me, to make sure they would be okay.
"I will" she said, "but they need you."
"I don't know if I can." I said.
"That's why I'm here. I know you can, you aren't going to stop fighting now, it's what we do" she said, "tonight, I'm with you. The kids are fine. The kids don't need me tonight....you do."
And to her credit, she stayed. She stayed until I was safe and out of danger and then she went back to her spacious 16 year rent-control boy and her two tiny efficiency apartment preemies and she's been there every day since. Her digs get bigger, her worries get bigger, but the space within her grows as well, she's like a real estate mogul at this point.
What I know now, because my mom did die, is that I've been carrying around her heart for 42 years. It didn't leave when she died, it's with me....always, it will stay with me as long as I live. And while I am in no hurry to leave my children for any circumstance, I take comfort in the fact that even when gone I will continue to be a real, actual presence in each of their lives. My heart lives outside of my body today, it will live outside of my body as long as one of my children is alive. That isn't nothing.
I never wanted three kids, I wanted two. But life works in mysterious ways and I will tell you that my lucky number is three and good things really do come in threes, I wouldn't trade one minute of their lives for anything-not even the horrible ones and there have been many, many horrible ones.
I am not a helicopter mom. It goes against my common sense. I think you learn to walk by falling on your ass, the sooner you master falling on your ass the sooner you can run. On the outside, I may be one of those moms that seems unconcerned or perhaps even neglectful. I'm not. What I am is dedicated to making sure that my kids get a childhood similar to the one I had (mom, wherever you are, you heard it here first), it comes at personal expense. I look up, I see my tiny daughters 50 feet in a blue spruce barefoot in January, I take a breath- I take 27 deep, terrifying breaths, and I re-group. I want my kids to wander the neighborhood until they hear me scream for them at dinner. I want them to make new friends and talk to strangers...for what are new friends if not former strangers? I wasn't as good at it with Aidan; me and the heart? We are learning as we go. We're so good at it now that my girls wander the neighborhood for hours at a time (if they don't stay together I tell them I will beat their asses-feel free to call DCFS, I could use a night off) . They can't go in anyone's house unless they come check in, they can't leave one another alone. They don't leave with anyone and if you ask them what not to do they will say in unison "don't get in anyone's van but ours." We talk about it, I think they get it.
"What if one of us is dead?" Liv asks
"Then you better pick her up, throw her over your shoulder and bring her to me." I say.
"What if she's being mean and won't come?" Grace asks (the reasonable kid asks the most likely to happen question).
"Well then you have a decision to make, give it up, work it out or take her down; you're the exact same size, you can totally take her. Throw her over your shoulder and bring her to me." I say.
"What if someone is bleeding?" They ask.
"Figure it out; we are like the marines here....NO ONE GETS LEFT BEHIND. NO EXCEPTIONS. GOT IT????" I say.
"GOT IT." They say in unison.
That is me being a helicopter parent. The result? They are confident, they are fun, they are well behaved they are an absolute honor to parent (please, God, let them not read this for a long, long time). And my heart? It is in constant danger, it lives on a precipice, ready to go over an abyss at any moment. Sometimes she thrives on the danger, sometimes she gets in bed and pulls the blankets up over her head, I can't really blame her.
So back to the rent controlled apartments...parenting is all about learning to live with your heart outside your body. My kids are still young. I have three children and I've never been more than 7 and a half months pregnant, I have been extremely blessed in the health of my children all of whom were born prematurely. Between all three of them I have one set of stitches and one broken finger; all same incident, same kid. By the girls age I had had stitches at least 5 times and my mother had been questioned by the police thanks to the frequency of my ER visits. I am very, very lucky.
Aidan had a rough time in middle school, he suffered at the hands of bullies, fought depression and was diagnosed with inattentive AD/HD. It was the first concrete evidence I had in regard to what my mother had told me. Watching him go through that was much harder for me than it was for him, I will never tell him that, someday he will be a dad and he will know. My heart was in constant unexplainable, overwhelming pain. But watching him navigate it? Watching him overcome and grow beyond? It was amazing and eventually he figured it out and my heart calmed down...a little.
At this point the girls are more of a cardiac issue for my heart than a structural one. They are outgoing and crave danger, the stress they've put on my heart to date is more of the "oh my God, there are two three year olds on my roof" variety and less of the "let me find the people who broke them and kill them slowly with malign intent" variety. Given the choice I'd pick kids on the roof any day.
When my mom died....obviously, she's my mom, after two years, I still struggle daily to figure out how to exist in a world without her, but Aidan, Olivia and Grace? That was harder. Watching them, particularly Aidan who was older and so intensely close with her, was devastating to me. There is a reason you are born with your organs inside your body; a reason you have a rib cage to protect your heart. If you ever want to live dangerously? Don't skydive, give birth, everything that matters will now live outside your body, outside your control.
So all of this good luck and joy in parenting (oh my God did I just say that out loud?) got me thinking about how I will react when someone breaks one of my kid's hearts. For some reason I imagine Aidan skirting broken hearts for a good long while; he's not in any hurry to get involved with the opposite sex at this point, I couldn't be more excited about that! But the girls? Oh boy. Me and my heart? We recognize boy crazy when we see it. Both of us remember what it looks like. We try to roll our eyes and laugh it off but we worry. We remember when we got in trouble because Jim R. showed us his underwear in first grade (how I got in trouble for that can only be explained by the fact that it was the seventies), we remember how we felt when Matt L. liked our friend better than us, we remember what it felt like when our first love left us for another girl, we remember crying in my mom's lap when the other one married someone else and we remember all too well how a too-drunk evening can go horribly, horribly wrong and change everything forever...neither of us wants that for any of our kids but specifically our girls. So we do what we can. We let them know they can talk to us...or not. We show them how we handle difficult situations. We talk with them about making tough decisions and as they grow so will the depths of our conversations. We live outside our body; both of us on guard, both of us waiting knowing the broken hearts will come no matter what we do to try and mitigate them.
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. I am very, very glad that mine is not faint; and while she is occasionally a bitch, it is only because she has to be; she's got some very important property to oversee and she's kicking ass and taking names, I defy you to get in her way.