Susan's Blog

Friday, March 9, 2007

My Sonshine

You are my sunshine
My big boy sunshine
You make me happy
all night and day
–My adaptation of the song; sang it to my sons for as many years as they would allow.

Today is Maximillian Zachary Batchelder’s 15th birthday. A big name for a big person. He was my biggest baby of the three, weighing in at 8 pounds, 9 ounces. The first moment I looked at him, I laughed. He had a little sharp nose and high cheekbones that reminded me of my mom’s, and he was all at once familiar and a stranger. “Who is this?” I remember asking him.

I wanted to get to know this new/old person right away. He made it easy. He ate and ate, and he settled into a napping routine that fit with his big brother Nat’s pretty quickly. He never had that feeble newborn air. His eyes popped open by the time we were home with him. At six weeks old he had so much head and neck strength that I could just prop him a little on chair and use the backpack instead of the snugli (the precursor to the Baby Bjorn carrier). He was smiling as soon as his infant face would allow it, and that is how I will always think of him: with a beautiful smile, lit up by an inner contentment that I envy. He might have my family’s gorgeous cheekbones but he has Ned’s golden serenity (and hair).

He also has Ned’s mathematical mind, but also my artistic leanings. He has always been a sculptor, constructing amazing things from what you might consider garbage or just part of the scenery (his room is a collection of cast-off mechanical stuff as well as folded business card structures.) When he was four, we had Laura’s baby shower. She unwrapped a gift that had to be assembled; a lot of parts. Little Max looked down at the box of parts and at the picture of the finished item and said, “It’s missing a part.” We smiled skeptically and then tried to assemble it — he was right.

I used to worry about him when he was younger, growing up in the sometimes confusing shadows his brother’s erratic behavior or my anxiety and depression cast his way. By the time he was eleven, however, I could see that he knew what he was about in a way that I still did not, at 40. He started to find a major part of himself at that point, with computer programming and playing the game Uru Live. He refused to go along with any of the prefabricated cliques in his middle school, and now at the high school, instead forging out on his own to be a kind of socially skilled nerd. A geek with a lot of girlfriends (over the years; currently just one).

At 6’2″, Max is the biggest in the family. He is softspoken, and I have never seen him become aggressive. Only once, when he was a toddler, he hit Nat in the head with a little wooden hammer (from the toy “Tap-A-Chap,” which he called, “Bap-Bap-Bap”), and it was done playfully, not angrily. He teases Benj mercilessly, but also knows when to stop.

For his fifteenth birthday, I wish for him all the good things this life can bring you, and the ability to continue to handle the rest.

Tabblo: Random Max

Is this the little boy I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older…

See my Tabblo>

Thursday, March 8, 2007


In pain shall youse give birth.
Archie Bunker

Spending the night with a tennis ball
is a phrase that can evoke the biggest smiles from Ned and me. This phrase will always mean the night leading to Max’s birth day. I was having back labor, and our childbirth class coach had instructed Ned to use a tennis ball, to apply a firm counter pressure to the area where it hurt the most, the small of my back. Every few hours, and then minutes, I would wake up with my pains, and he would hold me or get the ball. At one point he took me into the shower and we stood there in the delicious heat, holding on to each other while the pain washed over me with the water.

This, we both feel, was one of the best nights of our lives, despite my physical pain. We got into a pattern of dozing, waking up, holding, and falling back asleep. I remember feeling that blazing golden excitement that screams This is It, when you know that after all this you will have a new baby.

We waited for Laura and John to arrive so that we could go to the hospital. They were taking care of little Nat. When they arrived, joking and laughing as always, it was funny to see them sober up as they took in my state. Serious labor.

We continued our holding-and-tennis-ball technique until we got in the car. At the hospital, I was not quite as ready as I had imagined. It is so hard to believe you are going to be feeling even more pain than you are at those moments, but hard labor is simply unbelievable. So much so, that we don’t even remember just how bad it is.

My particular birth horror story for Max is that I started feeling fiery, pounding pains again sometime after the epidural had been applied. By the time they rolled me over to check on what I was whining about, I was at eight or nine centimeters; the requisite pushing number is, of course, ten. Turns out the epidural needle had indeed fallen out.

“Too late,” my doctor said. “You just have to blow through it.”
And no tennis ball was going to help me now. Except, perhaps if I could have walloped her with one.

To be Continued…

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

A Beast No Longer

I always thought it was cute and clever that I had changed Benj’s nickname, “Little B,” into “Little Beast.” He did not like “Little B,” which had a little song attached to it, more like a jingle, “Little B!” (doo, doo, doo, oh well, if you meet me, ask me to sing it for you, if Benj is not around, that is) and which morphed into “The Bee-ster,” and then became “The Beast,” etc. “Little B” was too sweet and sidekick-like; but he seemed content with “Beast,” because he admired things that are wild, scary, forceful, and perhaps, mean.

This devilish and tough-guy attitude, or “‘tude,” you might say, has been Ben’s persona for quite sometime, now. It has fit him to a “T,” or should I say, to a “B.”

But then came the weekend Ned went away, and Ben admitted to me, in the dark of night, that he missed his Dad. I lay there, swallowing my salty-sad tears, also feeling happy that he actually had such feelings. Who knew? I am ashamed to admit I thought of the Grinch’s heart that grew three sizes that one day, and broke out of the magnifying glass. And how Laura and I joke about Ben and his cousin Kimmie’s (also known as Kimji, because they are like two parts of one person when they are together) “hearts of stone.”

And then, last night, he came into my room with a bad dream. It wasn’t until we moved to his bed (so as not to wake up Ned while we talked), that he admitted, “Well, you see, you died.” I could see his in the gray darkness that his lips were pressed together in a line, to prevent himself from crying, and his eyes kept blinking rapidly. Ben is not a softie. Or a hugger. He does not ever, ever talk about his feelings for other people, except the angry ones. I lay there, thinking, “Yeah, I am going to die someday.” How to talk about this, reassure him, and yet be honest?

Hugger or not, I reached over and pulled him to me, tasting tears from his cheeks. I told him that yes, everyone is going to die someday, and that that really sucked. I also told him that I was going to be here a good long time. I told him how I thought about my own parents, how they’re getting older, and how it makes me very, very sad to think about losing them. But I said that everyone feels that way and that we try not to think about it too much. We should be thinking instead about Max’s birthday (this Friday) and what his cake should be, and how could we trick him into smelling it so we could push his face into it! Ben laughed a little, but then said how that wouldn’t be nice on Max’s birthday.

I thought about the story our rabbi told us, long ago:

An angel was told by God to bring back the most precious, most beautiful thing he could find on earth. So the angel searched all over the earth. He looked at treasures from the wealthiest kingdoms, jewels, gold, silver. He looked at colorful silks. He marveled at magnificent castles. He was at a loss as to what was the most precious, beautiful treasure from mankind.

And then one night he happened upon a house in the woods. A thief was standing outside, about to break in. But the thief happened to be right outside of the room of the little boy who lived there. The mother was tucking him in for the night.

The thief started to cry as he witnessed the scene. The angel watched, holding his breath, and felt his own heart beat faster. He gathered up the tears from the thief’s face and brought them back to God, who felt he had done very well indeed.

Benji, of course, is no thief. But I have worried about his seemingly tough heart. I have grown used to the idea that my third son is tough inside and out, and that I love him just the same. Our children are not given to us to fix what is wrong with us, or to give us what we so sorely need. They just exist, like anyone else, and we love them simply for who they are.

But Benji has grown in such a way that he felt able to show me a part of his heart, and in doing so, he helped heal something sore, needy, and gaping in mine.

Monday, March 5, 2007

My Millions

The child’s worth ten of the mother.
–Belle Watling, to Rhett Butler, GWTW

The child is father to the man.
–Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1840

They’re my millions. I’ve got two millions. One, two. And you’re the third.
Grandma Esther Senator Gross, to me, about Max and Nat

I know other people are not like this, but I experience life as an ever-shifting force, a moving puzzle beneath my feet. There is no stasis, the only times that do not feel like this are the strange empty sinkholes that pop open during my day, inexplicable periods when there is nothing to do — or is it nothing I want to do?

On top of the problem of this strange boredom is the guilt: I know that so many people have the opposite problem, of too much to do, and never enough time for themselves. So I feel ashamed about this, kind of idiotic to have time on my hands. And then, of course, suddenly it’s pick-up time for the kids, and it all changes, it’s all a blur of seeing to everyone’s needs and then the Dreaded Dinnertime (I have lost all inspiration for cooking for my family. It is boring and it is thankless.)

Ned says that I don’t have enough to do during the day that gives me the positive feedback people need. My work is to write and pitch articles to different editors, and at some point, to work on my second book once it’s accepted by the publisher. So this means a lot of dead time of no contact with people. And then my mind wanders — into trouble.

I would like to be more like Max, I think. He has a lot of time spent in his own mind, working on something on the computer, happy just being. He knows what he wants, and asks for it gently but persistently when he really wants it, such as the blue hair, or his new phone, or to go to a particular rotten movie with his friends.

People ask me all the time about how Max does with Nat. “Is it hard for him to bring friends to your house,” they wonder, as if Nat is something to be fearful of. I understand it is their lack of familiarity with Natty and autism that makes them ask this, but still. If they only knew just how okay Max is with it all. (Knock wood. I could always be wrong, but why? Nat is his brother. This is his family. He doesn’t seem to question the way these things are.)

Tonight I made chili, and I always make cornbread with it; actually, I have Nat make the cornbread. I thought he knew the recipe by heart, but I was wrong. I got everything out, and got distracted by Max who was telling me something about his math teacher, whom he adores. When I turned back to the mixing bowl, I saw a heavy white blanket of flour on top of the cornmeal, oil, etc. Far more than what is called for (one cup). I said aloud, “Jeez, that is too much flour.” I knew that Nat would not be able to answer how many cups he’d put in, so I asked Max if he knew. “Two,” Max said. I sighed. “Nat, that is too much. It is just one cup. I thought you knew that.” I proceeded to shovel out the extra flour, until I had close to a cup, which miraculously had no corn meal mixed into it. Nat started mixing it, and it was viscous, almost immobile against the wooden spoon. I sloshed in a little water to make it less paste-like.

Max slipped out of the room, back to his peaceful space upstairs, while I grumbled over the mess in my kitchen. The oven beeped its preheated message to us and I put the pan in. Nat went back to his station on the couch, where I’ll admit he often sits hunched over in fetal position. Why does he do this? Is he unhappy? Or is he okay like that? I felt a very old, rusty pang inside me, looking at him like that. What more should I be doing, if anything?

Sighing again, I took the cornbread out twenty minutes later. Dinner was all ready. Ned came home a bit late, but everything was still warm. Afterwards, when we were cleaning up, Max said, “That was like the best cornbread we ever had.” I turned to him and smiled gratefully. “Yeah? Tell Nat,” (who was sitting right next to Max).

Max’s face shifted slowly, into the most beautiful smile, a look that sort of said, “Relax, Ma. Everything’s okay.” And he said, laughing, “I just did.”

Library Gala

Tabblo: A Lovely Gala

Every winter the Library has a Gala to raise additional funds, most of which have gone to pay for the incredibly beautiful renovation of the main branch. The Gala features a silent auction and local authors as the entertainment.  I was one of the authors this year and last.  The Library Gala is always fun, filled with people I know and love from all around town, most of whom dress to the nines to add to the enjoyment.  Always a terrific party!   … See my Tabblo>

Sunday, March 4, 2007

A Really Great Thai-mmmmm

Where have I been? Totally submerged with my sister in a wonderful visit. She came here with her two children, who love my boys so much. They all play so well together. And so do Laura and I!

Tabblo: A Really Great Thai-mmm

My sister Laura came to visit me this weekend with her two children.  As you can see, we had a great time.  We went downtown shopping, walking, talking, drinking coffee, and of course, laughing, for all of Saturday.  In the evening we went out with Ned to a Thai restaurant, and had a most delicious meal, made all the more exquisite for the company.  I will be as sad to see her go as I was happy to be with her.
See my Tabblo>

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Politically Intrigued

My column for this week’s Brookline Tab delves into the absurdity of local politics by taking a humorous look at the use of traffic signs all around town. I have been struggling with whether I want to run for Town Meeting again in my precinct, which not only would mean spending an entire day at the polls asking for people to vote for me, but also would mean six nights a year sitting through Warrant articles about any of the following: zoning changes, money spent on playing fields, being required to say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of Town Meeting (yes, it’s true, this one did come up!), resolutions to impeach the president, leaf and snow blower laws, leash laws, and other minutiae of running a very diverse community. Do I have the koyach to do this? I hate these votes that end up making your own neighbors mad at you! Who needs that?

And yet… and yet. As Ned says, I am like a moth to the flame. I get drawn to passionate conflict, excitement, and intense debate. Town Meeting is 240 of my fellow Brookliners, sitting in the Brookline High auditorium, and sometimes, I have to admit, it feels like a big party. It is the very essence of what it is like to be a part of a community.

Oy vey, I’m probably going to run. It’s not until May, anyway. And you know what will happen if I lose, or get thoroughly disgusted? Another “I hate Town Meeting” garden!

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