So, I just finished up a story about a 19 year old accused of violently shaking his 2 month old daughter until she had a fractured skull, ribs and bleeding in the brain.
I’m still waiting to update the story on the 150 people killed in a plane crash in the French Alps.
Before I started that one, I wrapped up the arrest in the cold case murder of a 64 year old, unarmed hotel security guard who was shot twice in the back by a robber.
In-between stories, I cried all over the desk after reading a friend’s blog about her friend’s 21 month old son who died unexpectedly last week.
Yesterday, I sobbed on the drive home after a stop at the vet’s office to get my dog’s medication. I saw a woman holding a little boy on her lap in the parking lot as they wept over a dead pet.
When I have a spare moment, I am overwhelmed by sadness over my mother’s struggle to care for my grandparents alone.
They have Alzheimer’s and dementia.
She works full-time in the news business too and comes home every night to soggy adult diapers stuffed in the dog food canister and profanity-laced tirades from my grandmother who is perpetually threatening to kill herself or escape. (When she’s not berating her husband, who has no memory of her insults just moments later.)
Last night as I worked out, I sweat, cried and worried for a friend whose marriage is falling apart.
Along with the endless sorrows of this life, I had to fight off panic today when I realized I missed a phone call from the day care because Alma was screaming that her eyes were burning for some unknown reason.
Then, I cried because I feel like a shitty parent. For missing the call. For not being able to rush to the school to pick her up.
Then again for the mother I don’t even know who just had to bury her son.
I am worn thin from the misery, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I love hard, even though it means I hurt deeply.
I care for complete strangers and take pride in my empathy.
I hurt for my family and friends, but I also celebrate their joys like it’s my own private party.
And at the end of the day, when I put my daughter to bed, she will give me a real hug and a kiss on the cheek and tell me she loves me and it will be enough to prepare me for another day of tragedy and despair.
My son will ask me to read him a book and rub my arm nonchalantly and lay his head on my shoulder and I will feel like I can walk around with the weight of the world on my shoulders forever.
So, you survived the endless pooping newborn months.
You managed to tackle toddlerhood without your child escaping diaper-clad from your home or flying down a flight of stairs.
Time to celebrate?
No way. Now, you’ve reached the creepy kid stage.
Children are basically small stalkers and perverts and they get a free pass.
Allow me to use my own as examples:
My kids constantly want to watch me bathe. I don’t have a clue what they find so fascinating about my personal bathing habits, but it’s not cool and locking the door is the ONLY option.
They also want to watch me use the potty. Again, my bodily functions don’t vary much from anyone else’s, so I don’t understand their obsession.
They’re also obsessed with their own bodily functions.
Each child, every time without fail, feels the need to share the number and size of their poops. “I did three! One big, two tiny!”
I’m like, ‘Uhhh, I don’t care. I just know I can’t wait until you can effectively wipe your own butt.”
Just about whenever I get my son undressed for his bath, he points to his chest and says, “What’s this?”
“Also your nipple.”
“Do you have nipples?”
“Does Alma have nipples?”… and so on and so forth. Bathtime is one long list of people who have nipples.
Last night, I bent over to pick him up off the couch and he reached into my shirt and said, “I want to touch! Squeeze! Squeeze!” Nothing like getting goosed on the boob by your kid.
They love to share their bodily functions. Alma sees nothing wrong with wiping her snot on my blanket. Occasionally she will drag her hand across my cheek, leaving behind a wet streak. I will ask her why her hand is wet. “I licked it.” (‘Cause that totally makes sense.)
Huck doesn’t mind that I use the bath towel to remove the shit-ton of wax from his ears, as long as I can show him what it looks like afterward so he can say, “Ewwwww.”
Children are also morbid.
The other day as we were walking through the park, I noticed a black snake writhing in the parking lot, it’s head squished by a van that had backed up over it. I tried to urge Alma to walk away and she started whining, “I want to see it! I want to see it!”
She also told me about a classmate who killed a lizard at school. She went into graphic detail about how he chopped off its head.
Then she told me that same story again… and again… and again.
Children are not only creepy, stalking, morbid, perverts. They also know how to REALLY bring the awkward.
Randomly the other day, Alma turned to me and said, “So, when I grow up will I have someone in my belly?”
It’s sweet that she already aspires to become a mother someday. It’s adorable that she’s planning her brood. It’s totally NOT a conversation I want to delve into with my FOUR year old.
In conclusion, you thought you were done with the yuckiest part of parenting? Nope, now they can just TALK about all the nasty stuff that comes with being human. Welcome to Kids Are Creepy.
So, we’re at some family-neutral restaurant eating wings when Alma starts to act up.
She’s sliding around the booth like an eel, smacking her chin on the table, worming her way onto the filthy floor.
I threaten her with a “bathroom time-out.” Before she even blinks again, she’s grinning maniacally, slithering back under the table.
So, I drag her to the bathroom and go inside a stall with her. Instead of whimpering and apologizing, she’s grinning at me with hate in her eyes.
She’s in full-on batshit crazy mode.
So, I tell her I am going to leave her alone in the stall for her time-out.
I close the door, waiting for her to at least utter a half-assed ‘sorry’ when instead, she says “I don’t even want to look at your FACE right now!”
At which point, I drag her back out and my husband and I tell her she’s not going to attend her friend’s birthday party. That’s where we were heading next, so I drop off my husband and son at the party and drive Alma home.
She’s now raving like a lunatic, screaming, spit flying from her mouth, digging her hand into the back of her throat and gagging.
I put her in her room for time-out, while she continues to shriek and flap her arms wildly in my general direction.
I tell her through tears that I wanted her to go to the birthday party, but her behavior is the reason why she can’t go.
She screams louder.
She screams for an hour.
When it turns to a shuddering hiccuping, I go back in and ask her if she knows why she got time-out.
I said, “You were not listening, sliding around in the booth and then you told me you didn’t want to look at my face during time-out. You were mean to me. Do you want to be mean to me?”
I said, “If you act badly, you can’t do fun things like to go to birthday parties.”
Alma: “I’ll just go to the next one.”
This was me sticking to my guns.
The most epic time-out of my parental history and she doesn’t give a shit.
If she’s this vicious and ungrateful now, will we be bailing her out of jail when she’s 13?
This weekend, we took the kids to the beach, to the park, out to lunch, bought them Big Hero 6.
We cooked for them, we bathed them, we cuddled on the couch suffering through episodes of My Little Pony and Jake and the Neverland Pirates.
We do so much for them and so very, very little for ourselves.
I asked Alma if she had any fun this weekend at all.
Her response… “I didn’t go to the birthday party.”
She got another time-out at dinner for playing with her food. My husband threw her food in the trash.
I’m the mom who is secretly sneaking some leftover mac n’ cheese into the fridge, just in case she really is starving and apologizes or acts even remotely like a normal child.
I am the mom who cries as she’s tucking that tupperware into the fridge.
I am the mom who is tucking it right next to the rum I bought in order to make it to Monday.
I am the mom who is starting to feel like she’s losing as a parent.
My daughter can be so sweet, yet so evil.
So kind, yet soul-crushing.
I watched her at the park playing on the see-saw long after she was done so the other little girl could keep bouncing.
She will find a quarter in the mulch and look at me to see if she should put it back down, just in case it might be someone else’s.
She will rush to get me a band-aid if I have a hangnail.
Then, she transforms like Ed Norton in Primal Fear.
Sticking with the Norton theme, she’s Tyler Durden from Fight Club, pouring lye on our hands.
Such a sweet face.
I know the devil inside.
The real story behind the sweet pictures of our Sunday trip to the zoo.
(Worth noting: My son was sick the night before and we were up with him every hour until he woke up for good at 4 a.m.)
Things started off remarkably well.
The first animal we saw was some kind of warty hog that had buried himself under a pile of hay with only his rotund rump exposed. Despite this, my daughter shouted with glee, “This place is fun!”
We dodged dive bombing parrots inside the aviary.
We saw white rhinos, including the enormous lumbering bull that my daughter was determined to call the “mommy rhino” despite some obvious danglage of dude parts.
Both kids were amped inside the exhibit I call “Snakes and bugs and stuff.”
We made our way through the shrimpy funk at the stingray tank and got splashed by mungy water during a feeding.
Then, Alma made her first demand for a toy.
Here we go.
I tell her she has enough toys at home.
She says she wants a different toy.
I say she should start to learn to enjoy the experience of being somewhere fun without taking home a token toy.
Her attitude shifts and the next thing I know she takes a swat at my husband with her bunny.
I take her bunny away and tell her she has to apologize for hitting him with it and she bursts into tears.
She’s crying hysterically while we walk past the flamingos and coy pond.
People are staring, but I am not backing down.
Eventually, she apologizes and we recover on the carousel.
Afterward, Huck wants to go on the tiger train rollercoaster and we’re pumped when we see that he’s over the required height.
Alma and I stand by to take pictures while the boys wait in line and then I see them come back out of the line.
Huck is crying.
They’ve told him he has to be 3. My husband told them he turns 3 next month and they still turned him away.
We try to appease Huck with a watermelon icee and he’s NOT HAVING IT. He’s grunting like a gorilla and swatting the air.
“Do you want to go to the petting zoo?” “Do you want to see more animals?” “Are you hungry?” “Do you need medicine?”
With every question, he does an angry Michael Jackson moonwalk away from me.
I finally get him to calm down enough to take a spoonful of the melted icee and he promptly gets brain freeze and spews it across the ground outside the penguin exhibit and starts screaming.
Moments later, Alma starts choking on her icee. This is just SO MUCH FUN.
Later, we’re standing in line waiting for the “train” (hoping to make Huck feel better) that takes you around the zoo for a brief and underwhelming tour. The kids are eating Doritos, which means mostly just dumping them along the walkway and stomping them into tiny pieces.
Of course while we’re waiting in line, they notify us one of the trams is shut down so it’s a longer wait than usual. (Now, 20 minutes) Then, the speaker system breaks on the working tram while we’re in line and it’s another 20 minutes.
Alma yells, “Mommy, Huck pushed me!” Huck says, “I said I was sorry.” Then he hugs her.
I overhear people standing nearby saying, “Awww” and “There’s still good parents out there.”
There it is. The balance between cracking the whip and showing the kids a good time.
“Here’s a fantastic day where you don’t have to do anything but have a good time. We provide the snacks, juice, icees, rides and carry your crap around. We wipe your bums, bring changes of clothes and spend a gazillion dollars all so you can have a blast.”
They behave badly and we give time outs, take their stuff away and trouble shoot.
People see them throwing a massive temper tantrum and probably think, “crappy parents.”
People see them hugging and apologizing and think, “good parents.
The fact is, we’re good parents BECAUSE we don’t buy into their temper tantrums.
Alma never got a toy. She got to keep the zoo map.
We did not try to smuggle Huck onto the kiddie rollercoaster. (Although it was tempting) He got the tram ride where he kept saying, “There’s no animals. There’s trees.” (An astute observation)
We’re trying so hard, but it’s a battle and one that doesn’t usually end with pleasant memories and grateful children.
As we walk back to the car, Alma is pouting because she didn’t get a toy.
Huck whines, “Where’s MY map?”
Then he crashes, drooling on the car seat.
We were hoping to go out to lunch. Instead, it’s McD’s and buying groceries and consoling Huck when he wakes up and tossing out the kids uneaten peas and watching Batman and breaking up fights over legos and “Don’t hit your sister!” and “Stop crying over everything!” and yes, that’s moonshine in my Coke.
There were good moments at the zoo: Alma in heaven on her horse, Huck mesmerized by otters, the moment when Alma randomly started patting Huck sweetly on the head.
Was it worth it?
Ask me when the kids are in their 20’s and we find out if they even remember this stuff.
Working in news, you have to be detached, even jaded.
You must be bitter, hardened and borderline soulless.
People cope by making dead baby jokes and cracks about crackheads.
I am just as guilty as the next guy.
But, there are days when the stories we cover feel absolutely unbearable. The weight of cruelty crushes your spirit. The injustices, the death of innocence piles up and blinds you to the good in the world.
Today was one of those days.
An unthinkable crime. A father clutches his 5-year old daughter to his chest, lifts her up, then throws her off a 60-foot high bridge into the frigid water to her death.
I first read the headline when I woke up at 5:30 a.m.
It was easily shoved into the back of my brain as I worked out, showered, got dressed and drove to work.
Then, I arrived at work and had no choice but to listen to the coverage of the story. I could feel the tears begin to well up.
Then, I see the first pictures of the little girl. Her name is Phoebe and she’s a cherubic little blonde.
Then, I hear the owner of the daycare she attended talking about how she was terrified of water.
Now, I can’t STOP crying.
The terror she must have felt. Did she survive the fall? Did she struggle to swim? What went through her mind when she realized her own father had just sealed her fate?
MAKE IT STOP.
I could say this makes me want to rush home and hold my children. It does, but it doesn’t make up for the gnawing sorrow in the pit of my stomach, the grieving for a child I’ve never met.
The worst thing I’ve ever had the urge to do to my own children is drop an F-bomb in front of them.
This is unfathomable.
I did see a wonderful post on Facebook where a man similarly darkened by the cloud of gloom suggested everyone use it as an opportunity to post one thing they love about their child.
Just one? Impossible!
I love that my son randomly pets my arm while we sit together on the couch, then looks at me out of the corner of his eye and smiles so I will know that it’s no accident.
I love that my daughter asks every night if it’s my turn to put her to bed and when it is she shouts “Yesss!” and runs to hug me.
I love that my son really believes that if he wears Batman pajamas that he IS Batman.
I love that my daughter demands we call her “Flash.”
I love that my daughter wants to cook me with every night and when that’s actually a realistic option, she squeezes my legs and says, “I love you, mommy.”
I love that my son comes to his sister’s defense when we say she’s being naughty. “Alma’s not bad. Alma’s good!” (Even when she was in trouble for hitting him.)
I love that my daughter asks me if I’m “okay” when I lose at a game.
I love that my son doesn’t just give you a half-assed hug when you ask for one. They’re long and warm and heartfelt.
I love that my daughter is under the impression she can run incredibly fast when in reality it’s more of an awkward sprint.
I love that my son can’t sit still for more than a few minutes before asking, “Wanna play ball?” or “Want punching time?”
I love that my daughter asks a million annoying questions and when you finally give her a real and complicated answer, her eyes get big like her mind just got BLOWN.
I love that when she asks my son for a turn politely, he hands over whatever is, no matter what it is and without argument.
I could go on forever… and now I feel, only slightly better about the world, but fantastic about MY world.
Lately, I can be seen shuffling around like a homeless schizophrenic, mumbling to myself over and over, “It’s just a phase. It’s just a phase.”
For the past few weeks, my daughter has transformed into the kind of girl nobody wants to hang out with.
She has pretty much ruined every holiday event or special occasion.
There was Christmas where I watched in horror as she shredded open gift after gift barely pausing between to assess the present. When she finished she whined, “I want more presents to unwrap.”
I tried to convince myself it was just some kind of OCD obsession with the thrill of unwrapping.
She practically cried when I offered her Cinnamon Buns for breakfast, then downed two of them within minutes, sending her off on a sugary high, shrieking and bouncing around the house like a crackhead kangaroo.
She spent hours in separate “time outs.”
I asked her what her favorite gift from Santa was. (Santa, you know, the “guy” who bought all the presents, wrapped all the presents, decorated the tree and stealthily stuffed stockings when “he’d” rather have been sleeping.) Her response: “The kitty, I guess, but it was the wrong color and I didn’t get the doll carriage I wanted.”
This sent me off on a tear-filled, mimosa-fueled afternoon followed by a splitting headache and sweaty nap.
On New Year’s Eve, we used the Netflix fakeout countdown for the kids during which my daughter whined that she wanted to watch Batman instead.
Afterward, we partook in the Cuban traditions.
We were each eating our 12 grapes when Alma proceeded to drop 2 of them, 1 of which was never located. A slimy grape is currently curled up in our carpet maliciously awaiting a middle of the night barefoot run for a glass of water.
She refused to put pants and shoes on with her pajamas, despite the fact that it was super cold outside, because she wanted to “be Tinkerbell.”
We walked around the house with our suitcases in order to ensure a 2015 filled with travel. Of course, our neighbor walks out in a vest and tie on his way to celebrate New Year’s the way normal adults do. I can only imagine how ridiculous we looked traipsing through wet grass and dog shit with our luggage, wearing pajamas.
We get back to the front door and Alma starts fake-crying because she was under the false impression we would be walking around the whole neighborhood.
We go to dump our bucket of water out the front door to wash away all the crap that’s happened in 2014. Alma is throwing a fit because she wants to do it herself even though the Popcorn bowl is so heavy, she would end up on the sidewalk in the puddle.
Last night, I managed to sneak out of work early because we had short newscasts on New Year’s Day. On the drive home, I am cheerful despite writing about sons decapitating their mothers and boyfriends nearly strangling their girlfriends to death. There is no traffic, it’s not too hot and I am arriving home before the sun sets.
So, we decide to take the kids out for pizza. After the 30 minute drive, we discover the restaurant is closed. Alma commences whining about how all she will eat is pizza, so we end up at chain Italian restaurant that shall remain unnamed.
I always planned to be the kind of parent that would NEVER let their children play on computers at the dinner table… until I ended up the kind of parent with kids that jostle me perpetually, ask “why” repeatedly and don’t allow me to eat a single bite of food without arguing with me about something.
So, I let Alma play with her Leapad. Instead of enjoying herself quietly, she’s demanding that I watch what she’s doing, take part in what she’s doing and talking over the Comicon, Dungeons and Dragons playing waitress who is trying to take our order.
Halfway through our overpriced, undercooked pasta, the little boy in the booth behind me stands up and projectile vomits spaghetti all over the floor.
The C-team staff starts to mop it up and then leaves little wet spaghetti pieces on the floor right next to me and the stinking mop and bucket right behind my husband.
My main resolution this year was just to detox, not for the entire year, but long enough to avoid feeling pickled post holidays.
January 1st and I’m making a Moscow Mule so I can suffer through putting my daughter to bed.
We’re coloring together and she’s wide-eyed and crazed, intentionally coloring hard and outside the lines.
She stays up too late on her computer. I take it away and tell her to sleep.
When it’s finally time for me and the husband to go to bed, he turns off the hallway light and I heard Alma yell, “MOM! MOM! Turn on the light! I can’t see!!!”
She says it like we’ve offended her sensibilities by turning out HER light when SHE is trying to stay up until midnight the day AFTER New Year’s Eve.
I cry myself to sleep while browsing Facebook, looking at people wearing their fun New Year’s Eve hats, drinking champagne, their children grinning and still joyously and gratefully playing with their Christmas loot.
It’s just a phase. It’s just a phase. Until… it’s not.
I’m about to tackle an incredibly touchy subject.
While passions run high in the wake of the Ferguson riots and now the Garner protests, it’s nearly impossible not to have some level of awareness of racial tension.
It’s clogging social media, sucking all the attention away from positive news stories and making everybody just feel frickin’ uncomfortable.
I don’t have some profound take on the issue. I am no expert. But, I have acquired a pretty comprehensive collection of personal experiences.
Let’s begin with my fundamental Christian beginnings.
At the first church I can ever remember attending.
My very first memories of a best friend.
Her family went to our church. Her mother was black and her father was white. I was friends with her because she was nice. (and very pretty)
My brother had a black friend from the neighborhood that came with us on a family camping trip.
I’m not trying to say, “We’re not racist! We had token black friends!”
What I’m saying is that the song we sang in our church preschool wasn’t just a catchy little diddy.
“Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
It was a mantra. I pictured those kids. The red and yellow peeps I had never seen were always perplexing, but I grew up believing there was absolutely no difference between me and anyone of a different skin tone.
Accepting others, even when they are different from yourself is not something my parents just taught us. It’s something they put into practice.
My parents had black friends. We had black friends. It was NORMAL.
There were also ample opportunities for me to deny my upbringing and become racist.
One of my first elementary school crushes was on a black kid who teased me mercilessly. (Clearly, he was in love with me.) He got expelled for bringing a gun to school. (I still thought he was AWESOME and misunderstood.)
Another little black boy was obsessed with my long hair. He would sit behind me in 4th grade and pluck it out strand by strand.
It was annoying.
I was flattered! He liked my hair!!
In middle school, I had a crush on a black kid in gym class because he had a six-pack and could do several back handsprings in a row. He was a total badass. Isn’t that what all girls are looking for?
While my friends were writing their wedding vows to the boys from NKOTB, I was equally enamored of Christian Bale from Newsies and Michael Jordan.
My middle school was rife with racial tension. I was once walking down the hallway when a gaggle of loud black girls started hollering behind me. I glanced back to see what the deal was and one of them said, “What the f&^k you lookin’ at white bit&h?” They proceeded to (as a group) shove me onto the ground.
An overhead view of our school cafeteria would’ve revealed something resembling a black and white cookie. It was split down the middle, Black kids on one side, white kids (and others) on the other side.
Somehow, I always ended up on the border. The girls from the black side frequently threw school lunch food at my hair. I had to rush to the bathroom to drag tangled spaghetti noodles out of my hair, more than once.
That could’ve made me racist, but thankfully there were always OTHER black kids around. Perfectly decent, lovely human beings.
She would never know it, but one of those people was Fontaine. We weren’t close friends, but in retrospect her impact was pretty profound in my life.
At a time when I felt harassed and humiliated for being white, she was sweet, smart and treated me like anyone else. She would be my science class partner without batting an eyelash.
It was no big deal. Which made it a big deal.
I went to a high school in Southside St. Pete. If you know Tampa Bay, then you know exactly what that means.
I was 16 years old when the race riots broke out in the wake of a black teenager being shot and killed by a white officer. People set fire to businesses, looted stores and even beat a newspaper photographer, all within blocks of my school.
But, I was there the next morning ready for class.
Some black kids wore black power tee-shirts and the richest of my white pals were noticeably absent. That was it.
It further solidified my belief that even if I was white and they were black, it wasn’t a “me” versus “them” situation.
I knew plenty of ghetto people during high school and college, the vast majority of whom were white.
The guy who was hopped up on cocaine, rested an axe on my shoulder and whispered, “I could kill you right now.” He was white.
The guy using scales to measure drugs with the gun in his waistband. White.
The crackhead who called me a bi*&h for hanging out on a porch during some rave party at a house because he didn’t want the cops to show up. White.
I ended up staying in a house in the heart of Southside St. Pete for many weekends over the course of a couple of years.
Black girls would glare into my car as I drove down the street, some stopping in the middle of the road as if daring me to hit them. I had a car. They didn’t have bumpers. This never made sense to me.
In an area where gunshots and sirens were the nightly soundtrack, I was given shifty looks every time I walked the dogs.
I never chalked it up to “all these black people.” It was “all these ghetto people.”
I could hang out in Pinellas Park and feel equally uncomfortable about “all the ghetto people.”
While I was treated like some kind of outcast in St. Pete, my best friend in college was a guy I called “big black Steve.” He called me “Ofay.” Although we haven’t seen each other in years, he’s still my friend.
I have encountered plenty of racist white folks and they all seemed to have one common denominator. They were from wealthy, exclusively white suburbs. Their lack of exposure seems to be the biggest problem. They just don’t know any black people, so they make assumptions. Shitty ones.
I knew a (rich, white) guy in college who once said, “I think I want to date a black chick next.”
I asked, “Who is she?”
He said, “Oh, I don’t know any black chicks. I just know I want to date one.”
It told him this was reprehensible.
I knew a guy who used to say, “There are black people and then there are ni&&ers.”
I said, “There are good people and there are bad and they are all just people.”
In conclusion: I feel like there are many factors that contribute to someone’s likelihood or improbability of being racist.
It’s your upbringing, your parents putting their beliefs into practice, exposure to people of all races and the common sense understanding that a handful of people will never represent an entire group.
It’s why I love the daycare worker who braids Alma’s hair all the time, the little Asian kid named Andy that’s Huck’s best friend at school, the crapload of Indian kids that live on our street and Doc McStuffins… finally a character of color with her own entire goddamned Disney show.
The most important thing I will ever do in my life is raise a little girl and a little boy to grow up to be good people, ones who don’t even consider the color of someone’s skin as a factor.
I think it’s a safe bet.