Monday, January 23, 2017

A letter to my son on his third birthday


Dear Timo,

How can you be turning three today?  You were only just a newborn!  A fragile, tiny, five-pound newborn who fit in your Daddy's hand. Exquisitely perfect and delicate, we were terrified to hurt you those first few weeks. Ok, who are we kidding, I'm still afraid to hurt you. Only now, I'm more afraid of someone else hurting you.  And maybe afraid for the someone else who does, too.  I have taken to saying that if I ever spend the night in jail as an adult, it will likely be over my reaction to something that happens to you on the playground.  Other parents laugh when I say that, perhaps they don't realize that I'm not joking...


In this past year, you've grown into an inquisitive, agile, impy little force of nature. You are still the sweetest child, sensitive to the feelings of everyone around you both human and animal, and eager to meet the needs of everyone from your Grandma (bringing her a hug and a frozen coffee yogurt immediately upon arrival) to your doggies. You are musical, and delight in dancing to your favorite songs - unless Mommy harshes your mellow by trying to sing along.  You've shed some of that gorgeous baby chub, and are now a brave and agile explorer, running, climbing, and splashing, your canine bodyguards never far behind. 

Perhaps the most beautiful development of the past year has been the blossoming of your friendship with your sister. She is the center of your universe. Watching her delight in engaging you - and you respond with such joy - makes my heart so full it sometimes feels like it might burst.  I hope that even as you both grow and cultivate your own interests and individuality, that you never lose that connection.  Your bond is unique, and, like you, so very beautiful.

Your smile can light up a room, and your very presence completes my life.  Thank you, little T, for the magic you have brought to us.  I'm very proud of who you are, and can't wait to see who you become.  I love you more than I could ever put into words.


Mommy





Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Shove your f***ing orange socks!

First blog as CT Working Moms Staff Writer!
Submission Date: December 30, 2016




It started out innocently enough.  We had a playdate with a few kids and moms I’d been wanting to see at the trampoline park Lili had been aching to go to. Almost two months to the day of her liver surgery, Lil had just gotten full clearance to return to normal activity, so after eight weeks of cautioning her against doing almost everything, I was determined to let her have a little fun.  I bent the rules and let the kids watch cartoons and eat egg and cheese sandwiches in my bed, so I could keep an eye on them while I packed up the 108493 things needed to leave the house with small children.  Once on the road, we promptly got stuck in traffic.  I tried not to stress about being late.  It wasn’t the end of the world, I thought, until Lili advised me that little T was “looking weak.”
This was Bad News.  T is phasing out naps, and not necessarily with my blessing.  He’s happier for more of the day if he sleeps for an hour or so around lunchtime, but despite my best efforts, he seems to be settling into a pattern of forgoing naptime in lieu of earlier eventual bedtime, and waking up later in the morning. Sounds blissful, right?  Not so much. Two unpleasant realities of his new routine:
1. T gets more exhausted during the day, which leads to frustration he lacks the capacity to control, ultimately resulting in never-before-seen, five alarm epic meltdowns.
2. When he does drift off (usually in the car, but only when I’m trying to avoid having him fall asleep) and has to be woken, he is not a little grumpy, which was the case up until about three months ago.  He is IRATE.  This fury does not quickly subside.
Although Lili and I tried desperately to prevent it, by the time we arrived at the trampoline park, T was mostly asleep. The parking lot, usually empty, was overflowing, so we found a spot at the warehouse next door and ran over in the pouring rain. By the time we arrived at the door of the place we’ll call Super Bounce, we were half an hour late and soaking wet, T was miserable, and I was frazzled.  When I opened the door, we stepped from the third to the seventh circle of hell, populated by wall to wall screaming, overstimulated children of all ages.  The overwhelmed desk clerk couldn’t find Lili in the computer, so we had to go fill out a new waiver at a separate computer station.  T refused to let me put him down, so I lugged him and the diaper bag over and typed out our information while he alternately tried to unplug the computer mouse and turn off the monitor. We got it done, and paid for an hour of bounce time plus the requisite $4 worth of Super Socks: bright orange, non-skid, generally ill-fitting ankle socks.  T *hates* them.
Next, we removed our shoes and headed up to meet our peeps, who I hoped weren’t already on their way out, given that we were now nearly an hour late.  Before we could even get to them, we were stopped by a hostile employee demanding to know what was in the 2 holiday-wrapped presents Lili was dutifully carrying. Seriously?  Sneakers and a cat toy, I told her. Irritatedly, I wondered if the TSA had started policing trampoline parks.  Finally upstairs with our crew, T was warming up to a major meltdown.  Lili bounced away joyfully while I tried to exchange pleasantries with our friends over the increasing volume of T’s fussing and whining.
Another SB employee arrived to advise that T needed to be wearing Super Bounce orange socks.  I explained that we’d paid for them, but he was too combative to let me put them on. Not only was he not interested in bouncing, he actually had on non-skid socks of his own. The man said that I’d have to put them on him or we needed to leave.  Sigh.  I muscled the socks on him while he swatted at me, eventually throwing himself on the ground, rolling around and kicking.  Most unfortunately, a small child was in the line of fire and got karate-kicked into the foam pit.  The good news: the child thought it was hilarious.  The bad news: her mother did not.  I apologized profusely and moved him off to the side, firmly telling him that it was ok to be angry, but not to kick people. That led him to switch over from screaming to wailing.  

I wanted to dive into the foam pit, cover myself head to toe, and hide.  Instead, I sat down, tucked T under one leg, and rubbed his head while I waited for him to calm down. Shortly thereafter, our friends left one family at a time, until it was just me and T watching Lili launch herself joyfully into the air.  His last sob had launched a massive booger out of his nose and onto my hand. Not having any tissues readily available, I cringed but left it there, unsure of what exactly to do about it.
T rallied briefly and bounced across the trampoline squares in the big-kid-area towards his sister. Halfway there, he apparently remembered he was wearing the detested orange socks, and flung himself back down to flail and scream.  I headed out to retrieve him, only to be stopped yet again by the Super Bounce etiquette police, the same woman who’d hassled us about the Christmas presents Lili carried in.
Super Bounce Bitch: Ma’am, you’re not allowed on the trampoline unless you’re wearing Super Socks.
Me: I don’t have Super Socks because I’m not bouncing, just picking up my kid who’s about to get stomped.
SBB: Everyone on the trampoline needs Super Socks.  You can go to the front desk and get a pair.
Me: I’m not leaving my toddler alone while I go to the front desk.
SBB: Ma’am, you can take your toddler with you.
Me (considering wiping T’s SuperBooger on her): I can’t take my toddler anywhere unless I go pick him up, which you won’t let me do.
SBB: Ma’am you can go get him if you’re wearing Super Socks.
Me: F*** Super Socks!  Shove your f***ing Super Socks!
Blessedly, before I could say anything else that could get me forcibly removed from the premises, a loud buzzer sounded.  It was 12:00 and the bouncers were advised to move to a different area. That gave me the chance to grab T and get close enough to Lili to tell her that it was time to go.  I hustled us down the stairs, yanked off both kids’ orange Super Socks, wiped T’s booger on one, and deposited them directly into the trash.



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Innocence is not lost, it is taken (Michael Keller)




One sunny day last fall, T and I zipped down to pick up Lili early from school.  Our eventual destination was the Bronx Zoo, which has discounted admission fees on Wednesdays and is a blast for both kids. We'd secured written permission for her to be dismissed just after lunch, and anticipated quick turnaround time at her elementary school since it's small and well-organized.

As we turned down Pound Ridge Road, I saw emergency vehicles blocking the school's entrance, lights flashing.  My heart immediately began pounding.  I pulled up next to one of the firetrucks and rolled down my window, only to find myself mealy-mouthed and unable to speak.  After a moment, I composed myself and told the fireman that I was there to pick up a student for early dismissal.  He pointed to where I could park my car, and told me to "be quick."

My mind raced.  What the hell was going on?!  It wasn't likely to be an injury or accident, because that would not require entrances and exits to be blocked off.  As I hustled in carrying T, we passed EMTs and policemen standing in groups in front.  We went to the window, I signed the book and asked the anxious-looking clerk if I could pick up Lilia Gomez who was in Mrs. Crupi's class.  She said that she wasn't sure they could release her yet because they were about to start a code-red drill.

A drill.  Thank God.  Hugely relieved, I pointed out fire trucks to T while we waited for the front office staff to sort out releasing Lili.  She eventually appeared, and as we walked outside, the kids hand in hand, I noticed that she did not seem remotely concerned by the mass of emergency personnel swarming her school.  Once in the car, I asked if she was excited to be getting out of school early to go on an adventure to the zoo.  "Well," she said, "I'm excited, but a little disappointed because we're having a lockdown and I'm going to miss it.  They're really fun."  

I was shocked.  Fun.  She thinks lockdowns are Fun.  Fun, in my opinion, is not synonymous with Lockdown.  One one level I found this heartbreaking, but also curious, so I initiated the following conversation:
K: What happens when your school has lockdowns?
L: It's really cool. We turn out the lights, crouch down away from the windows, and hide. No one can make any noise.
K: What are you hiding from?

L: Animals, usually.
K: Animals?
L: Yes. You know, sometimes a wild animal accidentally gets into the school, so we have to hide from them so they don't know we are here and hurt us.

K: A wild animal, like a deer?
L: Yes.  I hope we have another lockdown soon, since I'm missing this one.


I recounted stories of wayward deer jumping into a Greenwich Chinese restaurant and the seal tank at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, and our conversation shifted away from emergency preparedness drills.  The exchange stayed on my mind long after my car pulled away from the school, though.  The kids enjoyed the zoo that afternoon, thinking of nothing but amazing animals (and the occasional snack).  My mind was still on the lockdown, and Lili's comments related thereto.

Late that night, I lay awake thinking things over.  I marveled at Lili's naiveté, and complete trust in the somewhat nonsensical explanation she'd been given for why her class had to play regularly scheduled lockdown "games."  I thought of the massacre at Sandy Hook, and the families - some of them known to us - whose children lost their lives, or (at best) their innocence.  I remembered the time, some years back, when I had been to a gun range and fired a gun.  How easy and inexpensive it was to rent or buy one, just flash a driver's license, fork over a little cash, and pick a target.  No test, no training. Just pay, point and shoot.  There were women's and even kid's themed gun models. Would you like a Hello Kitty AR-15 for your daughter?  Pink-handled pistol for your purse?


Lili was in first grade when the Sandy Hook School massacre happened, the same age as many of the precious children lost. T is about to start preschool, out of the my ever-vigilant sight, under someone else's supervision.  I believe that our schools are safe, I do. But I'm scared for our country, even our community.  How will we change in the next four years, without a president fighting for better gun control? What will we tell our children about the vitriolic, venom-spewing man leading our country?  If we preach a gospel of peace and love at home, will that be enough to balance out the increased outbreaks of violence and hate? When we encourage our children to trust the good guys with guns, our policemen, will they believe us?  Should they?

Sadly, I don't know.  This is not meant to be a political commentary. These are just the thoughts running around in my head, and sadly I don't expect to find answers to them any time soon.  For today, I will remember twenty children killed in the place where they should have been the safest, and the six adults who died trying their hardest to protect those little lives.  I will hug my little boy tighter.  I will be grateful for all that I have, without forgetting all that was lost.




Thursday, November 24, 2016

Crazy Grateful

November submission for CT Working Moms



Each Thanksgiving, I take inventory of the things I am grateful for.   While I am never more or less appreciative, one year to the next, there are times where events like births or deaths act as glowing reminders of all that we are blessed with (and, more soberingly, how quickly those things may be lost). This is one of those epically humbling years.
My daily life is rich with moments to savor.  Every morning, I am reminded by my beaming, footie pajama-clad alarm clock how very lucky I am to be the mommy of a darling little boy. Every opportunity I have to witness the interaction between our two kiddos, I see the joy they bring to their father and each other, and my heart swells.  While my job involves scenarios that do not often lend themselves to positive outcomes, there are measurable improvements here and there, and those little victories are very, very sweet.
Our life was turned upside down at the end of this October, when Lili was found to have a massive liver tumor.  Two weeks of witnessing terrifying procedures and pain for her, compounded by diagnostic uncertainty and related prognoses made it very hard to stay positive.  Every day we spent with her, particularly when she had a room on the bone marrow transplant floor, I told myself “it could be worse,” but the truth is that seeing her suffering and scared often prevented me from staying in touch with gratitude.
In early November, we received the amazing news that the pathology lab had declared Lili’s tumor benign, and several days later she was discharged.  We were buoyed by the good news, however while her incision scar is healing spectacularly, she took a big emotional hit, and her psyche has been slower to recover than her belly.  The hospital psychiatrist told us to expect regression in both of our kids (one from the trauma of a hospitalization and major surgery, one from the sudden and near-complete absence of his parents).  This has manifested itself in truly heartbreaking ways. Timo, our toddler, now collapses in agonized wails when he loses sight of me, making it soul-crushing to try to drag myself to work, let alone put in extra hours to make up for the time missed during Lil’s hospitalization.
Lili is more fragile than I have ever seen her, suddenly and very uncharacteristically dissolving into tears over a forgotten stuffed animal, or a dropped call with her mom. While I think returning to school has helped to accelerate her emotional recovery, she was so exhausted the first two weeks that she would need to sleep for hours after finishing even a half day of classes.  She still has plenty of spunk, but is as quick to erupt into sobs as giggles, which has been hard to watch and left me feeling still quite helpless.
I’d be lying if I said that the darkness didn’t creep in sometimes late at night, especially while Lili was in the hospital.  However, the sun kept peeking out from behind the clouds.  All throughout and for some time after her hospital stay, groceries, meals, and gifts were dropped off, at both the medical center in Valhalla and our home in Easton.  Offers of babysitting (or mommy sitting-with), cards, prayers, and messages of support poured in, from family, coworkers, Easton Connects with Kindness and mom’s groups, church congregations, old and new friends.  And just when I thought our refrigerator and our hearts couldn’t get any fuller, Easton had a 2nd Halloween for Lilia, because she’d been stuck in a hospital bed on October 31.
Nearly 20 houses in our tiny town participated, with an entire street designated for Lili’s trick-or-treating pleasure.  She was greeted by adults and children (and even dogs!!) in costume, hugged, fussed over, marveled at, and lavished with full size candy bars.  After just a handful of our many stops, her treat bag and my eyes were already overflowing.  What may be the most impressive thing about the whole event is that we don’t have a child in the local school system.  T is not quite old enough for preschool, and Lili goes to school in a different district.  So, Liliaween 2016 was created and carried out entirely by people who had never even met her – and in many cases, any of us.
So this year, I am grateful for Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, borne of the tragic loss of a child, whose skilled and compassionate staff helps other families fight to keep theirs.  For two healthy kids, loving families and fantastic friends, both near and far. For the wonderful community we are blessed to be a part of.  Most of all, though, this year I am grateful for the kindness of near- and even virtual strangers.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Eviction Notice

October submission for CT Working Moms:


Removal of object unknown from privately owned liver.

NOTICE TO QUIT

Under instructions from the owner, Lilia Gomez, the mass situated at the left lower lobe of her liver (Tumor Unknown) is hereby given notice to vacate and NOT TO RETURN.

The period of that notice being 6-7 hours from the service of this document.

Date: October 28, 2016
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Our 9 year old is losing a lobe of her liver this morning, the pinnacle of a terrifying sequence of events that began last Friday. Both Jeff and I were working from home. Usually, on days like this, I am simultaneously rassling a wild toddler, so Jeff retreats to the downstairs office while I run around holding my work cell phone in one hand, and T's sippy cup in the other. Around lunchtime, he appeared in the kitchen looking pale-faced, waved his phone and said, "Lili has a mass the size of a grapefruit in her stomach."

My chest tightened, but I needed way more information before I would be ready to accept that a true crisis was brewing.   I reassured Jeff that we would sort it out, and dispatched him to busy himself delivering a baby gift while I gathered more information. As Lili waited for her ultrasound, I interrogated her mom.  First, I confirmed that the word the doctor used was "mass."  It was.  Next, I asked if it was possible that it could be a little bowel blockage. Lili eats like a champ, so it wouldn't be unthinkable that she'd have a big meal or two still making their way down.  The answer: possible. Last, I asked Lindsey to describe where on Lili's stomach the lump was, so that I could narrow down the possibilities.  She told me it was above her belly button on the right side, just under her ribcage. This was not reassuring news.  The options in that area did not include intestinal anything, they would more likely be lung or liver.

Lili is a bit of an allergic, asthmatic kid.  She has peanut and seasonal allergies, is prone to wheezing, and sensitive to temperature and climate changes.  Suddenly, I wondered if that occasional cough and regular wheeze meant that something awful was happening in there.

Commence freakout.

I texted my sister.  Twice.  Three times.  I called her on the home phone.  Then the cell phone.  Then, I texted her SOS on my cell while calling her from the landline and sending rapid-fire emails. After a bit, she called back from the hospital where she was working. We reviewed possible scenarios. Megan is both a pediatric ER doc and an ultrasound specialist, so I was hoping she would help me get some perspective.  She was very careful not to speculate too much in a way that would completely derail me, but she didn't sugarcoat it either.  Something was clearly wrong.

Ultrasound results led to the Yale Children's Hospital ER which was followed by a complicated, miserable 24 hours ending with Lili's admission to Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center.  Jeff and I grew up with the Fareri family. We weren't, like, barbecuing at each other's houses every weekend, but several kids in each of our families had been friendly when we were school-age.  I reached out to Mike at dawn on Saturday in a panic, and despite not having spent any time together in the past decade, he and his amazing mother Brenda immediately began helping us navigate our way through the ER and then up to an oncology floor. *Please note that Lili is not an oncology patient.*  She, and we, are in limbo currently, and will remain there until the tumor has been studied by the pathology lab.  Lil's bloodwork was perfect, scans beautiful, and all signs point to a healthy kid with a rare, exceptionally large benign liver mass.  Which would be fitting, since Lili is rare and exceptional, without a hint of malice.

Earlier this week, Lili and I named her tumor Toast, as in "he's gonna be toast!"  And today he will be.  At 7:45 this morning, Lili will roll into the operating room for a six hour liver resection.  Toast will take some of her liver with him when he leaves today, but there should be no lasting ill-effect on her.  After the pathology lab does their thing, Lili has approved donating him to the medical school to help figure out what causes these anomalies.  Even uncomfortable, scared and exhausted, she's still the most generous and thoughtful child.

The next few hours are going to be excruciating as we spend our last minutes with her before she goes into the operating room, and then wait the six or so hours until she moves to recovery.  Several days in the ICU are expected, with a total of another week in the hospital. She is going to rock this.  We are going to be with her every minute. It is going to be ok.

I love you to the stars, Lilia Gomez, and you are going to be just fine.  See you soon.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Where does the time go?

September submission for CT Working Moms:


I never wanted to help raise someone else’s kid.  Quite the opposite, really.  Although I’ve always been fond of children, and have the most awesome nieces ever, I confess that for most of my adult life, I was perfectly content to enjoy the company of other people’s kids in small doses and a nicely controlled setting.  When I ran into my now-husband 15 years after we were high school friends, he was a new dad and pretty excited about it.  I thought it was cute, but not necessarily come-hither cute.  More like, enjoy that at a safe distance from me, and show me some photos which I’m likely to find sweet but not nearly as appealing as dog pictures.
A few years later, we ran into each other again, commiserated about being single, and then promptly commenced dating. Funny how that works.  Although I met Lilia early on, it took a while before she and I had any alone time.  The first solo day I spent with her, I discovered that I had absolutely no idea what to do with someone else’s toddler.  My nieces and I had done plenty of hanging out when they were Lili’s age, even a good deal by ourselves.  But I’d known them from birth, and was familiar with their preferences, so it was pretty straightforward.  Trying to entertain someone else’s two-year-old (who was still eyeing me somewhat suspiciously) was a different ballgame.
During our first visit, we mostly sized each other up.  It was impossible to deny that she was extremely cute, but she was not in a hurry to warm up to me, so we stayed in safe, neutral territories: the playground and the bakery.  We didn’t have any big hiccups, apart from diaper changes, which baffled me and infuriated her.  After nearly losing a tooth to her foot during one attempted diapering, I found myself thinking that I should probably just stick to guys with dogs.  In the months following, though, I dutifully soldiered on, and she definitely grew on me, but I didn’t really find myself feeling attached to her.

Until she met my mother.
Lili was a reserved little kid.  Not quite standoffish, but like most toddlers she had her people, and didn’t want to be handled by anyone who wasn’t very familiar to her (and even some who were). Once she’d gotten to know me, she would let me hold her hand to cross the street, but she did not let me pick her up except to put her in her carseat.  And if she got a little boo-boo, she ran away from vs towards me for comfort.  While it didn’t hurt my feelings, it didn’t help me feel bonded to her, either.
Once Jeff and I were getting more serious, we decided that since he already knew my parents, maybe we should introduce them to Lili.  I arranged to meet my mom one day near a doughnut shop in town, and worried for the several nights prior about how it would go. My mother is great with little kids, but I’d only ever seen her with ones she was related to. This was not my kid, which had its own implications and potential issues. And, of course, Lili was not a child who vaulted onto strangers’ laps.  How could it possibly end well?  Oy.
The day of the big event, I picked up the curly-haired kiddo and told her we were going to meet a special person.  Lili walked at eight months and talked very early too, so despite her young age, we were able to have the following conversation:
Karen: We are going to have a doughnut with my mom.
Lili: I love dat!
Karen: Doughnuts or my mom?
Lili: Doe-nuth!
Karen: My mom is very nice, you’re going to like her too.
Lili: No.
Karen: We can wave to her from the car first if you like.
Lili: Wha she name?
I didn't get a chance to answer, though, because my mom knocked on the window and I went around to take Lili out of her carseat.  I figured I’d walk in with them and then see if Lili would let me leave her to order while she eyeballed my mother.  My mom is not very reserved, though, and also highly susceptible to small cute things. So after I unbuckled Lili, she reached around me and scooped her right out of her carseat.  I closed my eyes and waited for a blood-curdling scream.  One never came. When I opened my eyes, my mom was almost to the door of the doughnut shop, holding Lili who was smiling from ear to ear.  I couldn’t believe it.
They went up to the counter together while I sat and watched in disbelief.  My mom sat Lil on the counter while they ordered, where she beamed and swung her legs contentedly. Once they’d gotten their doughnuts, they proceeded to the table (where I sat in complete shock) holding hands.  In between enthusiastic bites of her doughnut, Lili pointed at my mom and said “Thas Gramma.  I like she.”
Until that day, I had never been able to envision what it would be like to have a blended family.  It had felt overwhelming and complicated and impossible.  When Lili decided that Grandma was her people, though, she became one of ours.  I never had to make the big decision, she made it for me.
That was more than six years ago. Since then, Lili has been a central figure in my life. Instead of bridesmaids in our wedding, we had a glorious herd of flowergirls, featuring Lilia. She’s been with us for many firsts, most of them magical and happy.  First room of her own, first puppy, first international flight, and first caribbean vacation with my nieces who are now Lili’s cousins.  
There have been some tough firsts too. Three years ago this week, she broke her arm on a weekend trip and required a surgical repair. So, her first hospital stay was on our watch as well. I’ve had the pleasure of watching her go from an impy little mop of curls to a lovely girl with a huge heart and bright smile.
She is absolutely the best big sister to little T, better than I could ever have hoped for. She is a patient, kind, creative, and tireless playmate for him, despite a 5 year age gap that means her interests are in a different league entirely.
Lili never ceases to impress me.  Today I am thankful for her parents, who brought her into this world and let her be part of mine. Most of all, though, I am thankful to Lili, for choosing my family as an extension of her own.

Happy 9th Birthday, Lilia.  

Love,  Karen




Friday, July 29, 2016

I could get used to this

July submission for CT Working Moms:


If someone told me 20 years ago that in 2016 I’d be working as a nurse and happily living 25 miles from the town where I grew up, I probably would have socked them.  In June of 1993, I graduated from high school and hustled out of Connecticut with no plans to come back. Acutely aware of – but grateful for – the amenities provided to me by both my parents and the community we were raised in, I was determined to find a place I felt I belonged.
My childhood had no shortage of friends or fun, it was nothing if not idyllic.  However, the roller coaster of adolescence and a growing discomfort with the value system taught to “privileged” kids led me to believe I needed to get as far away as possible to find myself. I started college in Virginia.  The countryside was beautiful and horses abounded, but the mindset conservative and old-school. Next, a brief stop in Massachusetts before throwing caution to the wind and going across the ocean to France.
Spending four years based in Paris led to more than just language skills, it gave me the opportunity to begin creating an identity for myself that was uniquely my own.  For most of those years, I lived in a ten by ten room.  So did everyone else.  And it was enough. When I returned stateside, it was not that I felt I had learned all I could have, but because it was impossible to find an entry-level job that paid enough to support myself in even the tiniest of shared apartments – and living with my parents in the Northeast while I got my feet wet in France wasn’t possible. While the Concorde was still running at that time, the commute was a little pricy…
My first job out of college was with an emergency medical assistance company whose reach spanned the globe, and whose American offices were in Philadelphia.  Philly is an wonderful city, and arranging medical evacuations was fascinating.  A requirement for every Operations coordinator was to speak a minimum of 2 languages, so both the staff and the work were multicultural. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that after 4 years of literature, language, and music study, the single most interesting part of the job turned out to be the medical component.  I had tried hard to avoid the medical field. My parents and one sibling are doctors.  Since I’m not great at math, I had always assumed I’d never make it through the requirements necessary to enter medical or even nursing school.  To top it all off, I was never big on following rules, and medicine never sounded like something that involved a lot of creative interpretation.  Little did I know!  So, I took a gamble, and applied to nursing schools.
A few years later, I graduated from NYU’s school of nursing, which had led me to an adorable apartment in Brooklyn and a solid job at Planned Parenthood.  Community and public health nursing were right up my alley. Through some strange twist of fate, I wound up running into and later dating my future husband, who I’d first met in high school.  He was based in Stamford, and my future stepdaughter’s mom in Pound Ridge. As things got more serious, we talked about where we might live.  I bristled at the idea of returning to Fairfield County.  True, I grew up here and can wear a polo shirt and use the correct fork. But concerning myself with that sort of thing is not me.  In the major cities of the world, no one bats an eye if you have a nose ring, or a prominent tattoo – let alone assumes that they might be barriers to gainful employment. The suburbs, however liberal, are less easygoing.  What about Vermont?  I asked Jeff.  Great education, job opportunities, and an open-minded hippie vibe.  He liked the idea too, but that would mean leaving Lili behind, which wasn’t an option.
I agreed to give Connecticut another try.  We rented in Fairfield, found neat local kid things to do with Lili on weekends, and looked up some old like-minded childhood friends who’d settled in the area.  I left Planned Parenthood and began working for a therapeutic foster care program.  Still, I felt like a fish out of water. Even as we started to enjoy the area and branch out a little bit, I wondered if we’d ever find our people. When we bid on and eventually bought a house in Easton, I struggled to imagine us at community events. We sort of blended (as much as the Latino dad and tattooed mom can), but I wasn’t sure we’d ever belong.
It was not until two years later, when our baby had his first hospital visit, that I realized what an amazingly welcoming town we had landed in.  T was discharged from Yale late in the evening, recovering from respiratory distress. They sent us home with a prescription for Albuterol and a steroid, and a nebulizer with which to administer them.  When we went to CVS to pick everything up, the pharmacist advised that they were out of mouthpieces for the nebulizer. I asked where I could buy one, and was told “At this hour on a Saturday night? Nowhere.”
Cue up a complete mommy meltdown.  It was late on a weekend night.  There was no pediatrician’s office open to give us a nebulizer mouthpiece.   There was no way I was going to drag our poor, exhausted baby to New Haven to beg for one from the hospital. Earlier that evening, it had taken a solid hour for them to find one in the first place.  As a last resort, I made a pitiful plea to the Easton Mom’s group on Facebook. Within ten minutes, NINE local moms – only one of whom I’d actually met – located and offered up the needed breathing apparatus. Several even offered to come drop it off, at 9:00 at night!  It was an amazing show of generosity and mutual mom support.  T got his meds, I dropped off some banana bread thank-yous the next day, and the universe righted itself.
That night made clear that there are good people to be found in this area. Friends who are pet vs human parents have also proved unbelievably supportive and understanding, even of things they are not currently working through. I’ve discovered that some of the people whose paths crossed mine after moving back are even more awesome than I’d remembered.  My own parents are close enough to barbecue with on a given Sunday, something that geography alone had made impossible for more than twenty years. We live in a town so safe that the police log is almost exclusively roaming animals or routine traffic stops.
Over the past year, I’ve also met a bunch of lovely Fairfield County-area moms. Motherhood, while very empowering on a lot of levels, is also very humbling.  It is not all perfectly edited photos on social media. Sh*t gets real, both literally and figuratively.  We get barfed on.  Sleep deprivation is cumulative, so before we can recover from labor and childbirth, we have become walking zombies (I believe the term is “Mombie”). Any remaining brain power is used to ensure our newborns are adequately and organically fed, free of diaper rash, safely secured, head supported, etc etc. No detail pertaining to child welfare is missed!  But sometimes, when one of us finally arrives at the grocery store with aforementioned perfectly-nourished-and-packaged child, she might look down to find she is still wearing fuzzy slippers.  At those moments, it’s nice to have someone who understands to laugh (or cry) with.
In the chaos that is parenting, any support is welcome, judgement-free support even more so. Being a parent is hard. Being a mom *and* a wife, an employee, even a good citizen is no small endeavor. Discovering that there are other moms who, despite having their plates already full, remain happy to lend a hand or an ear was game-changing for me.  Yes, I’m sure there are judgy, mean-spirited types out here. To my surprise, however, there are far more mutually-supportive, loving women who are focused on keeping their own families afloat, and couldn’t care less if my shirt has a collar (or what might be spilled/smeared on the front).  These are my people.  And I feel lucky to be raising my kids with them.