Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Cat

I lost a friend today. I had to put my cat that I've had for over 13 years to sleep tonight. And, I'm profoundly sad. She was diagnosed with cancer over a year ago, so I knew this day was coming. And during this process I've been somewhere in the middle of feeling like she was a family member, and she was just a cat. But I'm now realizing that although she became our family cat, she represented so much more to me. She was the last thing in my current life that connected me to my life before being a stay-at-home mom married with kids. She was my pet, my roommate, back before I was someone's wife or mom. When you think about it, its rare to have something actively reminding you of a time before all of this. She was the first thing I got for my first apartment after college and my first real responsibility. And she was the only one I could count on to greet me when I came home from work at all crazy hours.

My cat has since seen many moves and many changes in my life. She made room for my husband to move-in, and then tolerated the dog and the kids that followed. She wasn't always happy about these adjustments, but she was there, and she was a constant. Her scampering feet and her little chirps have always been my background noise, although I guess a lot more noise has been added to the mix. But despite the noises of my children running around the house and laughing, it seems a little too quiet tonight. So, I'm mourning the loss of my cat. I feel a little silly at how much grief I feel for a cat. And it seems odd that I feel alone when surrounded by a house full of my lively family. My family is sad too, but she really was my cat. She was a good companion and if I think back to "way back when", without her I would have been alone.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Halloween Comes Once a Year

'Tis the season; the Christmas season. Its December. Our Advent calendars are halfway done. Our letters to Santa have been mailed. Christmas music is playing everywhere and there is a wreath on every street corner. So why is my 3 year old still talking about Halloween?

Since November 1st, he has been planning his costume for next year. Each day it changes slightly and every few days he comes up with a whole new idea. With each new thought he comes running to me filled with excitement to tell me about his costume for next Halloween. Sometimes he seeks me out with his catalog in hand asking me if we can order the latest ensemble. I don't get it. Shouldn't he be excited for the prospect of new toys under the tree?

I entertained his fascination with Halloween for the first few weeks of November. But on the day after Thanksgiving when we were cutting down our Christmas tree and all he wanted to talk about was his Halloween costume for 2010, I couldn't take it anymore. I had to release a statement that I would not be accepting any questions or engaging in any conversations pertaining to Halloween until the summertime. There are at least 10 holidays that follow Halloween, including his birthday, that we will decorate for and celebrate; I think we can wait a few more months to start planning out the next Halloween costume. He was crushed. "But Mom" he whined, "I'm just so excited for Halloween".

Maybe its because he is young and he just doesn't really remember his first two years - maybe he doesn't even know how great Christmas can be. This year has been the first year where I feel like my 3 year old has been an active part of our family. But maybe its just that he's 3 and he still finds such simple joys in life. I'm not sure when you lose that, but as an adult it is pretty incredible to watch. Its been a few weeks since I stopped the Halloween discussion and he's moved on to practicing his Christmas carols for his school pageant. But the other night when I came into his room to tuck him in, he was lying in bed smiling and staring up at the ceiling. When I asked him what he was thinking about, he said "my costume for next year". Ah, the simple life.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Table for Three

I'm tired of dining with my kids. My gripe, and I should clarify, is that I am tired of dining alone with my kids. Don't get me wrong, the dining experience in general with this age group is not fabulous, but when you are the only adult at the table there's really not much upside. What I find challenging about dining with my kids is that I am not actually dining. I spend most of my time being a waitress. By the time I get everyone served at the table and food cut up, something has usually spilled or a drink needs to be refilled. I find that I am up from the table so often during the meal that I'm better off just standing at the island counter where I am within reach of any refills or cleaning supplies I might need. I tend to just grab my dinner when I'm "on break" from busing their table. Or I just wait until they are in bed and enjoy my dinner with a well deserved glass of wine and Access Hollywood.

But am I wrong in adapting to our situation? Dining alone with the kids is part of the culture where I live. Stay At Home Moms are not uncommon and most husbands I know are commuting into the city or traveling for work. I can't think of one husband I know who has a "9-5" job and is home every night for dinner. This week my husband is traveling for work, but even when he is in town, he gets home later than my kids can wait to eat. So, we've adjusted and I get them fed the best way I can. But with all of the research supporting "family dinners" being thrown in our faces, what are we to do? Am I hurting my kids because I don't have both parents (and sometimes no parent) at the table with them to eat? Some of these articles I've read recently would have me believe so. And that's not fair.

I get it - that mealtimes are a way to give and get undivided attention. And I'm not arguing with the research, the articles, and the public service ads running touting the positive effects of family dinners. Research shows that kids who have family dinners (some are encouraging at least 5 times a week) have better eating habits and views of food, better grades, less substance abuse, and stronger relationships with their parents. But, realistically families and lifestyles have changed and I don't think its fair to try to beckon us all back to the days of the Cleaver family. Is the act of eating dinner really bringing about these results? Or is it the conversations and modeling that are happening during this together time? With the ages my kids are, mealtimes are not the forum that they could be when they are older. An actual attempt at daily family dinners for me would likely be futile since there is very little conversation - there's a whole lot of spilling and cleaning.

So, to all of those "researchers" out there telling us that we need to have family dinners to have successful children, don't underestimate the other options for "family time". Its just food, and as I started to say, its just really not that enjoyable trying to eat with my kids. I would much rather maintain our routine of my husband joining us to read books before bedtime, or our weekend games of Horse in the driveway and walks with the dog to the coffee shop. I'm exempting those of us who have kids young enough to want to hang out with us from this research. I'll stress about trying to fit family dinners into an impossible schedule when I need to force my kids to be in the same room as me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Finding Wedge Antilles

Today was one of those days that I have to ask myself, "What happened? How did my life become this?" I spent a good 20% of my day today looking for a small 2 inch Lego Star Wars figure named Wedge Antilles. My 3 year old has a strange attachment to this little guy, mostly because he is wearing an orange suit. But whatever the reason, Wedge Antilles' whereabouts must be known by my 3 year old at all times. And if his location becomes unknown, we must stop anything we are doing to find him. If he is missing for too long, there is preschool hysteria. Wedge's popularity waxes and wanes and he sometimes spends weeks sitting safely on a bookshelf, but today he was the "it" toy.

So, we started the morning with Wedge being lost somewhere in his room and my 3 year old in a panic. He can never remember where he last put him. My 3 year old swore he was on his bed quilt, but after tearing his bed apart, my 6 year old found him driving a monster truck parked down the hall. In the next hour, Wedge went MIA 3 more times; and 3 more times I had to drop what I was doing and come help find him. And then we needed to leave the house for school and Wedge could not be located. I had to drag my 3 year old screaming from the house, assuring him that Wedge would be safe in his undisclosed location until we came home again to find him.

These are the fires I now put out. I went from a career of saving lives, to saving Wedge Antilles. And sometimes I wonder: while I'm finding Wedge Antilles, am I losing myself? Isn't my time worth more than spending it looking for rogue Lego pieces? Maybe. But other than the frustration of having to find the same Lego piece over and over again, I'm not unhappy. I gave up my career life for full-time family life and yes, my life is different now and admittedly sometimes ridiculous. But, maybe I didn't lose anything at all. Being a parent has taught me to be "selfless" and I've learned that doing this full-time doesn't mean you have less of a self. On the contrary, I think there is so much more to me now that I've opened my life up to these little people, Wedge included. The key is finding balance amongst the ridiculous fires that blaze. So yes, maybe I was at Chuck E. Cheese at 10am on Saturday and that is ridiculous. But I was also out with my husband at a hip restaurant in the city at 10pm that night and that is balance.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And Here We Go . . .

So, out of nowhere today my 6 year old asks me, "Mom, do you think Santa is real?" We were in the car and he was sitting behind me driving so he couldn't see my face. I paused for a good long moment to think about how I was going to answer this. Here it was; my opportunity to blow the whole Santa thing out of the water if he was ready. But I cautiously approached the question; or maybe I chickened out. I replied with my own question, "Maybe, what do you think?" My wise 6 year old said, "Well, maybe he's not really REAL, I'm thinking he's more of a spirit." Okay, I can work with this. I can go with the "spirit" theory without ruining all of Christmas. But I needed to clear up one major piece of the Santa story, "If Santa is just a spirit, where do the presents come from?" To this my son replied, "The Reindeer bring the presents. Reindeer are real Mom, they're deer." That's an interesting theory and I didn't want to press for anymore specifics. So, just to recap: Santa is not a real person, just a spirit. But Reindeer are real and they do in fact fly to deliver presents. Well, at least my 6 year old has the answers.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, and The Tooth Fairy

I found myself saying to my kids the other day, "I have Santa's cell number and I WILL call him and tell him to skip our house this year if you don't behave". Am I a horrible mother? I use lies as threats to get my kids to behave. I've resorted to making up a story about calling a made up person. But since I've been feeding them this story about a fat guy in a red suit bringing them presents every year, is it really so bad that I just added to the story? They never questioned the validity. Of course I would have Santa's number; why wouldn't I?

But I feel bad. I feel bad about all of it; all the lies. I know they are the same tales that were told to me as a child and I never harbored any resentment against my parents when I learned the truth, but still, I hate lying to my kids. Especially when I have a hard time keeping all the made up stories straight. Like, for instance, how does the Easter Bunny get into our house again? I think the first Easter my oldest son asked I told him the mail slot. But then when he asked me again another year, I forgot what I had said before. We settled on that rabbits are just "tricky" and probably use some sort of magic.

We're going on the assumption that Santa uses some magic too. We have documented proof in all of our bedtime Christmas stories that he comes down the chimney, and so that bypasses any question about our alarm system. But he makes it down both of our chimneys to deliver presents to both Christmas trees we set up; and one of those chimneys was sealed shut when we had a gas log installed. Don't think my kids haven't looked up there wondering how Santa could get past a steel plate. Magic. And when "magic" doesn't stop the questions, I resort to bringing up the real meaning of Christmas. Throwing around phrases like "Christmas spirit" makes that magic seem more believable. And, talking about baby Jesus gets them off the subject of Santa, at least temporarily.

But I have to just stick with plain "magic" for the creepy Tooth Fairy. What else does she have? I don't even know where this crazy woman who collects kids' teeth came from. If you look her up, she's actually a mouse which is even creepier. But regardless, she is the talk of the Kindergarten class and they expect her to show up. I didn't have her back story prepared when my son lost his first tooth. And when he lost his first tooth, he lost it, as in no tooth to put under the pillow. I didn't have the Tooth Fairy's procedural guide to help me in this situation. All I had was her first name. Apparently Tooth Fairies service generations of families because we have inherited my husband's Tooth Fairy "Blanche". So, I found myself not only telling my son a story about a fairy lady named Blanche, but at midnight that night I was writing a letter from her in the best frilly script I could produce that would look like a fairy. It all seemed ridiculous to me. But the next morning, it seemed perfectly logical to him that Blanche would have looked for his tooth on his school bus that night and found it. He never questioned how she got into our house to leave him money and a note under his pillow.

So, I guess as long as my kids keep buying all of these tall tales, I'll keep selling. But at the first sign of doubt on their part, I might cave and come clean. I don't want to spoil the wonders of childhood, but I just don't know how many more excuses I can come up with for these make believe people. Last year when Santa delivered a broken toy, I had some explaining to do. I had to explain why the Elves would not have tested it first. And why were we able to exchange it at Target? I could see my son's thought process in motion and I think I heard him mumble, "Why couldn't Santa just buy it at Target? Why does Santa need Elves?". I was waiting for "Why do we even need Santa?" But that question didn't come. Not yet.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hidden Moments

I read a quote today by Charles R. Swindoll: "Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children". How sweet; its such a nice reflection on how we as parents impact our children's lives daily. However, as I was thinking about my day today, I realized that the tirade I went on this morning when we were late leaving for the bus stop is not a memory I want my children depositing in their long term savings account. The nagging at the table last night to finish their dinner in under an hour isn't either. But how do you balance out those necessary parenting moments, that get your children to school on time and keep them nourished, while providing those good memory moments too?

Recently I've felt like I spend all of my energy just getting my boys to do the basic requirements of life and it involves a lot of instruction, reminding, nagging, and finally yelling. My best friend, who also has two boys ages 7 and 4, has told me that she is "really just trying to keep them alive right now". She counts her day as a success if they all got where they needed to be dressed and fed and arrived there and home again safely. That is not to say there are no good moments ever; my friend and I both share the same bedtime routine with our children of reading books and snuggling, but is that enough? Are those brief moments each day of calm happiness enough to fill up our children's memory bank?

I attended a talk by Dr. Stephen Treat, CEO of the Council for Relationships, a few weeks back and his "take-home" message was to make time to "peerage" with your children. His emphasis was to not spend every moment of the day parenting your children; there should be some amount of time each day where you are interacting with them, talking with them, or playing with them on their level as a peer. There should be time that you spend with your children where you're not reminding them of the things they haven't done or aren't doing correctly. When I think about the time I spend with my kids, I realize how much time I do spend parenting and when I'm not parenting I'm just background noise cleaning up or prepping for the next activity. Sure, its necessary, but its not much fun for either one of us. But creating a "peerage" situation seems like it takes planning and forethought and I'm not sure how much energy I have left for that. I tried to plan a special evening last night of an early dinner and PJs for the three of us followed by snuggling in front of a Charlie Brown Halloween special. But before we had even finished dinner, there was yelling and whining because my kids weren't following the plan and we were running out of time before bed.

I've had the "peerage" advice in my head for a few weeks and have been trying to pay more attention to the quality of time I spend with my kids. But reading that Swindoll quote about memories really put it into perspective for me. What do I want my children to remember from their childhood? They'll probably remember the Charlie Brown special, but they won't remember watching it with me because I was cleaning up the mess they left at the dinner table. Are they going to remember that I got them to school on time everyday, or is there a better memory of us belting out an 80's rock tune in the car together while we were waiting for the bus? I think its those hidden moments - those unplanned opportunities that make the best memories. I'm guessing the quantity of time doesn't matter as much as the quality of time for peerage. So, those silly conversations we have in car line and our impromptu kitchen dance parties when a good song comes on Pandora should be worth something. I just need to remember to look for those hidden moments each day.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Mother's Love

I watched a kid pull a long wet booger out of her nose this morning and proceed to stick it in her mouth and eat it. I honestly felt sick. Recounting this right now is making me a little queasy. But, I'm guessing that if my kid was the one who did this, I would probably laugh a little; maybe scold him for poor manners, but I doubt I would feel the wave of nausea I felt this morning. What is it about motherhood that makes us love our own kids no matter what?

I think I may have mentioned before that I'm not a crazy kid person. However, I really like my own gross kids. They're boys: they're dirty, sweaty, and they often don't smell that great, but I love them. Last week in Target I noticed a horrible smell filling the whole aisle we were in. When looking around to try to find the source, my eyes met my 3 year old's. He smiled and said in his little voice, "Excuse me." I had to smile; at least he is polite. But I doubt another parent would have thought he was so cute at that moment. And I know if he wasn't my own kid, I would want to get far away from him.

But that's the thing about a mother's love. I still see my kids through the same loving eyes no matter if they just stepped out of the bathtub smelling like soap or off of the soccer field smelling like sweaty feet. I guess that's unconditional love? It must be a little trick human nature plays on us to make sure that we're always there for our kids; to see them through childhood until they can fend for themselves. It enables us to deal with the diaper changes and the potty training; to not want to run when our kids our yelling from the bathroom that they need their butt wiped. And it ensures we soldier on through the puke and snot to care for our kids when they are sick, doing what ever it takes to comfort them until they are better. Its easy to love them when they are cute, clean, and well behaved. But we can't just love them part of the time; they need us all of the time.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

My 6 year old came up behind me the other day and threw something at me. I turned around to see a quarter fall to the floor. When I asked him why he just threw change at me, he answered with a little giggle, "Dad says you can bounce a quarter off your butt and I wanted to see if its true". Really? "Well?", I asked him. He answered honestly, "It didn't really bounce like I thought it would."

But that's the hard truth, or not so hard, as it may be. My husband makes that quarter bouncing comment quite frequently as a joke when he thinks I've been logging more miles running than he has. But, despite all the exercise I try to squeeze into my already crazy schedule, I am just a mom. And I've learned to accept, "You look really good - for a mom", as a compliment. In fact I embrace those sentiments now because if the stories I heard when I was pregnant were true, I'd be overweight and much more out of shape now. I had very bitter women tell me (while pregnant nonetheless, as if I didn't already feel fat enough), "You never lose all the weight", "Your hips will always be a little bigger", and "Your feet will grow at least a shoe size". If it wasn't for my best friend, who lived 3,000 miles away, telling me "work at it and you can lose the weight"; if I didn't have her own little post-baby body to hold as a reference, I might have just surrendered to a life of frumpy mom jeans. But I did work at it; I did work-out and I literally ran my ass right off. Three months after both my sons were born, I was back in my skinny jeans and all of my shoes. The truth is, you can go back to being the same size or even smaller than you were before kids and you can do it multiple times; it is possible. But there are other truths and they are bad; some even ugly.

Despite losing all of the baby weight and then some, no amount of exercise is going to undo what my two kids have done to me. I let them each live in my body until their exact due date and although I am grateful that they didn't trash the place; they didn't leave it as they found it when they moved out. Thankfully, I don't have stretch marks, but my skin and muscles will forever feel the lasting impression of being "stretched". No amount of crunches will ever get my stomach back to exactly how I remember it. And I miss my old belly button; I never contemplated how the belly button would be collateral damage with the "stretching" too. I am forever reminded that I was once 50 pounds larger when I lift something heavy and that familiar sciatic pain shoots down my leg. And when I push myself too hard on a long run, those ligaments, that I didn't even know I had until they were stretched beyond repair, flair up and I'm crippled for days. And yes, I did run my ass off; its gone along with any other curves I once had. Nursing two kids for 9 months each didn't help that cause either. Exercise can only repair so much - there is a reason plastic surgery exists.

So quarters don't bounce off of me. Maybe I should have gone for a run this morning instead of running errands; and maybe I shouldn't have passed off a Pop-tart as lunch because I ran out of time. But I am a mom after all and I embrace that. I'm not holding my new body against my children. It may have a few tell-tale signs of motherhood, but I'm actually a smaller size and in better shape than I was before kids. Am I a candidate for Dr. 90210 Rey's "Mommy Makeover"? Absolutely. And I'm not opposed to fixing what exercise can't, but I'm also a chicken when it comes to pain. I somehow managed to have two kids enter this world pain free. Unless I can be guaranteed to be allowed to go home with an epidural still intact, I won't be making any trips to Beverly Hills any time soon.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Spilled Milk

You've heard the saying "Don't cry over spilled milk". Well, I don't agree. Sure this saying has a nice hidden meaning - don't regret what can't be undone. But to anyone with kids this idiom is much more literal. For me, milk being spilled is part of our daily routine and although I can't put the spilled milk back into the glass, I can regret that it continues to happen time and time again.

My 5 year old may have the record for spilled milk. At one point he was averaging one glass a meal, 3 meals a day, every day. It has lessened, but I don't exactly know how this still continues to happen. Some days it is obvious when he is sitting at the table playing with his food, his plate, his silverware and his glass, that something is going to spill. Other days I see it coming when I ask him over and over again to please stop pretending to play baseball at the table. But my 5 year old never heeds my warnings and always tries to fit one more "up to bat". Inevitably when his little brother pitches the imaginary baseball across the table to him, he spills his milk when he swings. There are times too where the milk just seems to spill without warning, almost without actual cause. There's a flick of the wrist or a bump of the elbow that is almost too fast for the naked eye to see. What I don't understand is how he never learns from the time before. Why can't he be more careful? Why is milk still spilling in our house?

I remember clearly the first time he spilled milk at the table. He had just graduated to a real cup from a sippy cup. I didn't see what caused the spill; I turned my back for a second in the kitchen and the next thing I heard was him crying and the splashing sound of milk running off the table onto the floor. I remember staying calm, hearing that old adage in my head, and not wanting him to cry. Thinking I was being a "good mom", I stayed calm and I assured him it was okay; wiping his tears away. I cleaned up the table and the floor with a smile, and got him another glass of milk. But I have since become a little too familiar with that sound of milk rolling off the table onto the floor. Maybe I let him off too easy? I know that a glass of spilled milk is really not a big deal. But when I find myself under the kitchen table repeatedly cleaning up puddles of milk, I have other thoughts.

I now think crying over spilled milk is very much warranted. In fact its expected, especially if I am the one cleaning up the mess. My kids know that we've well exceeded the number of times milk should spill in one household. They don't laugh when it happens; they just sit there quietly watching as I quickly race around the kitchen trying to soak up the table before it all falls to the floor. But on the days where there are multiple spills, sometimes tears are shed. Sometimes I remind them that I'm the one who should actually be crying, because I'm the one cleaning it all up. And sometimes I join them. When you are on your hands and knees under the table cleaning the floor for the second time that day and have milk fall on your head through the table leaf; then it is absolutely warranted to cry a little over spilled milk.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bad Monkeys

My 3 year old has an active imagination. He's the kind of kid that prefers to just play by himself sometimes. And he is all business when he plays; wrapped up in an elaborate make-believe world.

One rainy day this summer, the boys were playing inside while I did some things around the house. I passed my 3 year old in the upstairs hallway as he was gingerly shutting his bedroom door. He stopped me in the hall to tell me quite seriously, "Please do not go in my room right now because some of my monkeys are sick". His favorite animals are monkeys and he has a large collection of stuffed animal monkeys in his room. I asked him why his monkeys were not feeling well and he said, "Because they ate some bad monkey". Huh.

I'm used to my 3 year old saying pretty crazy things, so I left that one go without further explanation. Later that same day we were in the basement playing "restaurant" with our play food and kitchen set. My 3 year old was hard at work "cooking" up a full course imaginary meal. He mentioned to me so casually while stirring his imaginary soup, "My red monkey likes to cook." To keep the conversation going, I asked him what the red monkey likes to cook. He responded, "Bad monkeys". Well, I guess that explains what the other monkeys ate.

So, it seems that we have a tribe of misbehaving stuffed monkeys living under our roof in my 3 year old's room. The red monkey taking charge and cooking the bad monkeys was not limited to just that one day - my 3 year old has mentioned it other times as well, just as casually. And he refers to the red monkey as "the good monkey". Today, I asked him what else his monkeys eat. He responded, "Nothing, there are plenty of bad monkeys". Okay then. I should have left it at that, but I wanted to know what these monkeys do that is so bad. When I asked, he told me, "They sleep too much". I'm not sure I will ever understand what goes on in a 3 year old's head, but I'm glad we have the red monkey to keep order in our house.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Boys Will Be Boys

My 3 year old has decided to be a cowboy for Halloween and he is very excited. But I think he is more excited because he thinks he should have a gun to complete his costume. I'm not a big fan of guns, toy or otherwise, so he and I have an ongoing discussion on whether he should really have one for Halloween. After much badgering by him, I agreed that I would get him a gun as long as it only "shoots love". He looked at me in disbelief, almost disgust, and asked me quite seriously, "How will I ever kill the bad guys then?"

That's a good question. But a better question is how did my 3 year old learn about "bad guys" and guns? I thought I had done a pretty good job of shielding his little world, but somehow he has still identified good and evil and has figured out how fighting and weapons can be used. For instance, this afternoon he wanted me to sit in his bean bag chair in his room and watch his choreographed "battles" against the "bad guys". Starting from the hallway he came flying into the room to battle his imaginary opponents. Since he does not yet have the gun he wants so badly, these battles were all fought with his hands, but in his mind they were swords, light-sabers, and guns. While I was sitting there watching I was thinking, "Is this normal boy behavior or should I be concerned?"

Before I had kids I would have found today's battle display disturbing and would have assumed the kid performing had serious issues. But I have since come to learn that boys can and will turn any object into an imaginary weapon, and in most cases they are not intending to hurt anyone. I heard stories about my nephew shooting people with string beans at the dinner table when he was 3. And now most days I find my own 3 year old like a sniper around the house. He not only will shoot or "sword" you with anything he can find, but he also has a habit of walking around the house making sound effects of things blowing up. It was unsettling at first, but it now seems pretty normal for a boy.

I'd like to think that boys are just genetically programmed like this. Its my only explanation since my kids don't watch violence or weapons on television or in movies and don't see it demonstrated by the people in their lives. But, even without these influences my older son as early as the age of 4 would "fight" with his preschool friends for fun. One of the little boys would say "let's fight" and within seconds the whole group of them would be rolling around on the floor wrestling and giggling. Yes, giggling. And sometimes the wrestling match would just turn into a big hug. Boys will be boys and it is not containable. A perfect example was at last year's Country Club Christmas party where one boy started a trend by asking the balloon clown to make a sword; then another boy topped that by asking for an Uzi. Within the hour every boy under the age of 10 had some type of balloon shaped weapon. In the middle of a very elegant party, there was a graphic balloon battle being fought in the corner of the dining room in uniforms of Christmas plaid and Bucks. I had to laugh a little when I saw my then 2 year old blaze past me hot on a waiter's trail with his balloon Uzi - sound effects and all.

So, I laugh and hope that this play is just play and does not affect how they turn out as people. My husband keeps reminding me that good versus evil is just human nature and kids try to grasp that concept in whatever way they can; sometimes that is role-playing games. Although my kids do always want to be the "good guy" and fight the imaginary "bad guy", I still don't like the pretend shooting. But, I think back to my childhood where half of the toys in my house were my brother's and mostly weapons. He had a full arsenal of realistic looking toy cap guns, swords, and bow and arrows; and I like to think that my brother and I turned out alright. So, I'm working with my kids on this. I still don't like guns, but I point out to them the police officers and the armed service people who use them for good to protect us. My 3 year old is now going to be a Sheriff for Halloween, not just a cowboy. And he did come back to me after much thought about his Halloween gun with a compromise. He is now asking for "just a gun that shoots nothing" so it won't hurt anyone. I guess I can deal with that.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Happy Heartbreak

If you want to feel really sad, put your first born on the bus for the first time to Kindergarten and wave good-bye. Sigh . . . That's what I did this morning and I have to say that although I thought I was prepared, you are never really prepared for your children to grow up.

My 5 year old and I have both been excited about him starting his new school this fall. We've been preparing all summer and we were ready. We visited his school and met his teachers. We shopped together for new clothes, shoes, and school supplies. And, we talked about what his days would be like being a "big kid" riding a bus and staying for the afternoon. The days leading up to the start of school we picked out his first day outfit and went grocery shopping for lunches. We really were ready. He was super excited and literally bouncing off of furniture last night. And I was feeling calm; like this was all just a natural progression.

But as we stood there this morning waiting for the bus it started to bother me. The bus was running late and I think I had too much time to think. As I stood there, taking picture after picture of my little boy, looking through the camera at him I realized that he isn't so little anymore. And then he showed me that he has two loose teeth. I suddenly had this overwhelming sense that something big is changing here. Its not that this moment now being here is a surprise; I don't honestly feel like it was just yesterday that he was an infant. But I do feel like the years have started to blur. What if all of elementary school is just a big blur from this "big" moment on? That's what started to tug on my heart. That it could all move at a lightning speed pace from here on and him being a child could be over in a flash.

So, I think my heart broke just a little bit this morning. It was a happy moment, but sad. I tried to focus on the happy and he was so happy to be waiting with his big backpack for the big bus. I didn't cry and I didn't tell him I would miss him while he was gone. But he sensed it, or maybe he was feeling just a little bit of the moment too. He looked straight into my eyes before the bus pulled up and said, "You know Mom, I will always be your little 'Love', no matter how big I get". Well, that was it, I just about lost it then. But still, I smiled. Having my grown up 5 year old say something so meaningful to me at just the right moment made it a happy heartbreak.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Competitive Streak

My 5 year old got in a fight today at our house during a play-date because he was losing a game. I can't say that I'm all that surprised; I thought this might be coming. But, I am surprised that I am dealing with this now - I mean he's 5. Just last year he was not all that good at anything; and now all of the sudden he is good at everything and feels that he should always win. Today, an older boy was beating him at Wii boxing and my son lost control. I wasn't in the room to see the conflict, but after piecing together the story from different eye-witness accounts, it seems that my son said some mean things when he went on a losing streak and then took the boxing to real life and hit the other boy. I'm appalled at my son's competitive streak and this aggressive side that has recently come out; and I'm terrified of becoming the mom with the sore loser kid who is a jerk.

I wasn't surprised by my son's behavior because I know where he came from. His father was "that kid" and my mother-in-law was that horrified mom. I guess competitive streaks are genetic. In sports as a kid my husband was no stranger to fouls and yellow cards. He was the kid who never struck out without throwing a bat or cursing, he shoved on the basketball court, and I've seen him clear a bench in soccer for a mid-field brawl. You get the point: my husband was a jerk as a kid. These memories of my husband when he was younger are like watching a preview to a "coming soon" movie starring my son. Like his father, my son has become very athletic and very competitive. Most days I no longer consider my husband a jerk, so there is hope for my son. But it is really hard to watch certain traits appear in our kids because we can see ourselves; the good, the bad, and today, the ugly.

I am the complete opposite of my husband. I don't have a competitive bone in my body and I could care less if I lose. I've gracefully accepted my third place spot in our family for all competitions and I know when my younger son finds his coordination, I won't even be on the podium. I was hoping that my older son would be evened out by his two parents, but I had a clue when he wouldn't accept losing in games of chance like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders that he would be competitive just like his father. I've always told my son, that you can't always be the winner, but more recently he has come back at me with "you can if you are the best". I've tried giving him the line "winning isn't everything, its how you play the game" only to get his response of "why would I want to play if I didn't win". I can see his point; I've heard this argued by his father before. But the fact is, he is going to lose sometimes; he already has. Somehow he has to learn to control that aggressive competitive energy when he is losing. Although I want to raise "winners", I need to also raise mature losers. Maybe my husband, with all of his competitive experience, should be taking the reigns on this lesson?

My husband had a talk with my son tonight that went something like "don't be a jerk, I was a jerk and no one liked me". Somehow, I don't think that conversation is going to be the catalyst for change. My kids worship their father and I don't think they believe he was ever a jerk or that no one liked him. For now my son will be without Wii or any other video or computer game that he loves. Having the opportunity just to participate is going to have to be his reward and incentive for dealing appropriately with any losses. And then maybe he will get the message that sometimes it is just fun to play the game - its better than not playing at all. Hopefully my younger son will be wired more like me, but judging by his recent temper tantrum when losing a simple race down the driveway, I think I'm in for more trouble.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Great Debate

How many times have I heard a mom tell me, unsolicited, that they never thought they would drive a minivan and they can't believe they are driving one now? I pretty much hear it from every minivan driver I know and that statement is then usually followed by a list of justifications, again unsolicited, on why they "had to go with the minivan". I sat at dinner one night with a table full of moms and watched three different minivan drivers defend and justify adamantly why they drive a minivan. They were so heated in their defense to each other that an outsider would have thought a debate was going on, but they were all on the same side. And I noticed that the rest of us at the table who drive SUVs sat quietly. None of us were attacking them for their minivan choice. We never entered the conversation or the debate. But for some reason, they still felt the need to list all of the reasons why the minivan "just makes more sense".

The minivan can be a good option for families, but let's clear up a misconception: getting a minivan is NOT a rite of passage as a mother. Moms have told me that they now have to drive a minivan because they have kids. But, you don't have to drive a minivan if you don't want to. It is just one of several options out there on the market. Yes, minivans provide a lot of interior room and extra seating and someone once defended the minivan as "at the intersection of cost and space"; you get a lot of car for the money. These all seem like fine reasons to choose this type of car, but I don't need to hear your reasons. I'm not sitting in my SUV judging you for being in a minivan. And I guess if you are judging me for driving my SUV, I just don't care enough. Do minivan drivers ever notice that you don't hear SUV drivers defending their choice in car?

If you want me to defend my choice to drive an SUV, I can, but the reasons I drive my car also make me happy. I love my car; I just do. My car, or "truck" as some would call it because of its off-road abilities, is fun to drive, its comfortable, and I think its cool. I've been driving my particular make of SUV since before I had kids and it has always met my needs for hiking, skiing, and toting my dog around. When I did have kids, I upgraded to a newer model for better safety features and a couple extra seats, but it is still basically the same vehicle. And although, the most off-roading my car now sees is occasionally parking in a soccer field, it still meets my needs and I still love it. No, the doors don't magically open and close on their own and there's no aisle to walk through the car from front to back; if you are in the third row, you're pretty much stuck there. And yes, sometimes I find myself standing on my head cursing trying to get the third row of seats folded up or down, but these are all things that I gladly accept.

So, minivan drivers out there, please stop defending yourselves. If you feel like you were forced into getting a minivan, I'm sorry, that's not fair. And, I don't know who would do that to you. Honestly, some of the stories I've heard are horrible: tears on the way to the dealer to get the minivan, etc. How does that happen? Did someone take you to the dealer at gun-point? Two of my friends who feel they were "never really minivan drivers" have recently traded their minivans in for SUVs, so it can be done. If you feel upset or embarrassed to be driving a minivan, then don't. If you do like your mini-van, that's great, don't defend yourself. You should like your car; as a mom you spend a lot of time in it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summers End

The gradual shortening of the days with the earlier arrival of dusk snuck up on me. I knew it was coming, summer comes to an end every year, but I was having so much fun I didn't realize how the time had flown by. I went out for an early evening run like I've done so many times this summer and found myself struggling to see in the dark on my way home. This cue made me realize I need to change modes soon and get back into my over-scheduled, back to school, back to activities mode. Am I ready?

Summer is hard to say good-bye to. And this summer has been one of the best summers I've had in a long time. I spent years transplanted on the West Coast craving a real summer only to be disappointed by San Francisco's cold fog. Then we moved back to the East Coast and I spent several consecutive summers dealing with chaotic home renovations and babies. Being a Stay-At-Home Mom allows for a lot of freedom to enjoy the summer, but infants and babies do not make for an enjoyable time with the sun, heat, and water dangers. Summers are so much better when those babies become kids. I've seen the light at the end of the tunnel and it is sunny and bright. My kids were a dream this summer. They traveled well, they played on the beach and swam in the water without eating sand or drowning, and they managed to entertain each other on all of those rainy days the East Coast saw this year.

Summer has been good to me, so I hate to say this, but now that we're at summer's end, I think I'm getting sick of summer. Sitting by the pool or on the beach in June felt relaxing, now its starting to feel boring. I could use a break from smelling like Coppertone. I'm sick of being coated in a constant film of greasy sunscreen and I'm weary of the multiple reapplications I do on my kids everyday. I'm also growing tired of the post beach and pool routine; the rinsing off and washing out of things only for everything to be used again the following day. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm ready to trade this in for rinsing out and re-preparing lunchboxes everyday. I've enjoyed our relaxed meal schedule and dining alfresco, but I'm over the novelty of having the house opened up to the outdoors since my kids have now dragged much of the outdoors inside on their feet. And most of all, I'm sick of finding sand EVERYWHERE.

I've enjoyed this summer but, I am ready for a change. Even if that change brings me back into the hectic school year schedule. I'm ready to come back from the beach that final time until Memorial Day - back to school, back to church, back to our regular life. I'm looking forward to having to set an alarm clock and having to be somewhere again. I'm looking forward to getting dressed in real clothes, not just swim suits and running skirts; to trade in my flip-flops for Uggs. And I'm ready to start really combing my hair again; its time. The "beach hair" look is getting old. The thing is, I think I love summer so much because it doesn't last forever. I need it to end. For me its vacation mode and its wonderful, but to really appreciate how great that can be, I need the rest of the year too. I need that over committed sometimes stressful school year to really enjoy the relaxed pace of summer. As much as I am now looking forward to fall, the restart of school and committee work, the smell of a wood burning fire and football games; I'm sure by February I will be counting the days until spring. That's the beauty of seasons. I know I couldn't live anywhere without them.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Left Out

I'm feeling a little left out. Everyone seems to have a tattoo and I don't have any ink. I'm not going to run out and get a tattoo because its not that I really want one, but I didn't realize how mainstream they have become. They aren't just for bad-ass bikers and sailors anymore. But I'm confused because studies done recently show that tattoo removal is actually on the rise because of the social stigma associated with tattoos. Interestingly enough, the word "stigma" actually means "tattoo" in other languages. But despite these studies, everywhere I look there seems to be a tattoo in plain view. Is there really still a stigma attached to tattoos or has that changed? And if there is a stigma, what is it? Maybe its not such a negative thing any longer to be a "bad-ass".

I was at Sesame Place with my kids at the beginning of the summer when I first started to notice the heavy prevalence of ink in our society. It seemed that everyone over the age of 18 had a tattoo in the park except for me. While we were waiting in line I had some time to study the tattoos of the group in front of us. The women all had matching "anklets" of jumping dolphins and various other hearts and flowers on their backs and shoulders. The man in the group had a showcase across his upper body. Did these tattoos influence my perception of this group of people I didn't know? Maybe. If nothing else, the tattoos gave me some information that this group didn't have about me. By the time it was our turn to get our photo with Cookie Monster, I at the very least knew all of their kids' names, their taste in music, and that someone had died because this was all incorporated into the man's "sleeves".

Maybe tattoos are just so common today that there can't be a stigma attached any longer. Maybe they can really just be seen as self-expression or art? But the term "tramp stamp" still pops into my head when I see a lower back tattoo (I can't help it, I've heard it too many times). And so I was a little shocked this summer when I showed up for the first time to swim at our Country Club. There was a lot of ink floating around the pool, including lower back tattoos. I was by no means offended, but I guess I just wasn't expecting them in such a "blue-blooded" crowd. I don't have a good reason why, but it just seems out of place. One lady in particular comes to the pool regularly fully "blinged" out in gold and diamonds. But she also has an ankle tat and another on her hip. Did my perception of her change when I saw her tattoos? Sure, I think so. There was suddenly more to her story for me; she became a little more edgy than just a pretty mom with some nice jewelry.

My kids think temporary tattoos are cool. Every kid loves temporary tattoos and my kids are sporting a new Transformer or Star Wars tattoo every couple of days. But my kids are also eerily drawn to Ed Hardy designs too, without even knowing that they are based on actual tattoo art. If my kids were picking out my clothes, I would be wearing my skull and broken heart Christian Audigier t-shirt every day. There are lots of tattoo inspired graphic t-shirts in stores now and my kids never fail to find them and insist that I add them to my wardrobe. Target even has a line of Ed Hardy designs back to school supplies and this is what my children run to - not the toys in the next isle. No, my kids would rather look at a mouse-pad with a "Death to Love" inscription across a broken heart. Designers and marketers have definitely decided that tattoos are mainstream.

Will I support my own children if they decide they want to get a tattoo someday? I'm still not sure I'm in. But, I'm not sure I have much of a case against it. There are a few moms in our crowd that have small ankle tattoos and I can hardly say that has any bearing on their character. My sister-in-law, who is also "tat-less" and I were discussing tattoos as she was applying a Henna tattoo on my ankle last week; a "girls' evening" activity chosen by my preteen niece. She likes the idea of tattoos as a form of self-expression, but she made a good point: she changes her mind too often to ever be happy with a design she might chose. Tattoos might be a little too permanent for me as well. I think my husband is very thankful that I talked him out of a Tasmanian Devil tattoo in high school and a fraternity inspired Rampant Lion in college. Stigma or not, these images just don't fit in with his image today. I'm going to stick with my Henna and avoid any permanence. And for now, my kids will have to be content with changing up their temporary tattoos as well. Maybe by the time they are old enough, I will have built a better case against getting engraved.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Land of Tweens

I've just returned from a house with "tweens" and I am finding new happiness in the big issues my kids are facing at ages 5 and 3. Let's just say I am no longer annoyed with dealing with potty training or temper tantrums. I don't mind that my 3 year old speaks broken English and my 5 year old doesn't always conjugate his verbs correctly. And I have a new appreciation when I hear that both my kids think I am the prettiest girl in the world and want to marry me when they grow up. What lies ahead in the Land of Tweens is so much harder to deal with.

We just got back from visiting my husband's sister and her family in California. We spent a good deal of time with our niece, who is almost 12, and our 9 year old nephew. The language of a tween is somewhat funny, but after a few days I was wanting to lock my kids in a closet until they are 20. My nephew was constantly referring to his "mad skills" for everything he was doing, which was either playing a video game or bouncing / throwing / kicking a ball in the house. And when he wasn't cheering about his own "skilleage", he was shouting about how "awesome" everything else was. My niece overused the word "dude" and that is an understatement. And, it seems she has a different dialect from her brother where every sentence must start with either "Oh my God" or "like"; and sometimes with both. Every sentence out of her mouth was said with a certain fast tempo and intonation made famous in 1983 somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. I had to keep reminding myself that it is in fact 2009 and we were actually in Northern California, not Southern California.

But the trouble with tweens does not stop with the language barrier. No, there are many other reasons to want this transition phase to be far, far away or maybe even nonexistent. Over dinner without the kids, my sister-in-law filled me in on what is stressing her lately. Apparently she is now dealing with her tweenage girl at parties playing "Truth or Dare" and wanting to pair up to go to the movies without adult supervision. So far, my sister-in-law has been keeping a short leash on her daughter. At first I kind of laughed to myself that my sister-in-law was overreacting. Who hasn't played "Truth or Dare" or some version of "Spin the Bottle" in middle school? I know I was going to parties and the movies with boys in middle school and it was all innocent stuff.

But then my sister-in-law filled me in on the "Lipstick Party". If you don't know what this is, stop now and go look it up. I don't want to be the one to break the news to you of what is to come for your kids when they are the tender age of 11, but needless to say it is a little more advanced than what I was expecting for this age group. Oprah exposed Lipstick Parties, also known as "Rainbow Parties" awhile back, but I missed that show. And since I never went to a party when I was 11 where boys were collecting lipstick marks on a certain part of their anatomy, this bit of information was a little startling to me. And no, it is not a myth. My sister-in-law does not watch Oprah either and she was well versed on this topic. I actually consider my sister-in-law to be pretty socially naive, so I fully believe that if she is aware of this, it is happening.

So with that shocking lesson on what today's tweens are up to, I left dinner that evening wanting to go home and freeze my kids at the age they are now - forget just putting them in a closet until they are past their teens. I am so not ready for this. And how terrifying to think that my son will be 6 soon. I only have 5 more years to try to figure this all out. And I should probably be prepared well before then. So, as I keep this troubling revelation on the back burner to simmer, I am going to embrace my 5 year old's afternoon meltdowns when he needs a nap and lack of independence with brushing his teeth or combing his hair. He cannot grow up slow enough.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pancakes Save the Day

We ran out of frozen Eggo waffles and I didn't realize it. My kids don't ask for waffles every day, but I usually keep the freezer well stocked. However, we have been at our beach house a lot in the past month and I have to say that my grocery shopping has not been consistent. This morning, our first morning home in a while, my 3 year old woke up in a bad mood, but found a smile when promised some waffles for breakfast. You can imagine my horror when I opened the freezer to see the shelf normally full of Eggo boxes was empty. It is never empty. I actually started pulling things out of the freezer because I could not believe that we had none. After thoroughly searching behind the ice cream and bags of frozen fruit, I had to break the bad news. And I knew exactly what was coming: screaming, crying, and tears. Lots of tears. What could I expect from his already fragile state? When my 3 year old wakes up in a bad mood, the smallest thing can set him off. He really needed those waffles. I really needed those waffles.

So, I found myself making pancakes this morning. For me this is an unusual occurrence in general and especially on a weekday. I am not a big breakfast maker. I'll make paninis to order for lunch and a huge dinner every night, but breakfast; not so much. We are always rushed in the morning and the thought of cooking something seems too overwhelming. Pouring some cereal in a bowl or putting an Eggo in the toaster seems like much less of a commitment to cleaning up a kitchen before leaving for the day. But the horrible screeching coming from my child forced me to reconsider. I don't like to give in to bad behavior (a kid crying to get what he wants), but I guess I was feeling generous this morning. Or maybe I was taking the easiest way out; anything to stop the crying.

Growing up my mom made breakfast for us almost every day. I don't know why because I don't remember asking for anything in particular and probably would have been just as happy with some sugary cereal. She greeted us every morning with pancakes or waffles or oatmeal, or eggs and bacon. To this day when we are all at the beach, she still would rather cook us all breakfast than let us just go out to the cafe. I appreciate her efforts now and I'm trying to figure out why I'm not living up to this Betty Crocker status. But, thinking back and remembering these breakfasts, I also remember my brother and I leaving for the day - leaving my mom behind in the kitchen still in her bathrobe with a pile of dirty dishes and pans. That would be the difference. I need to leave the house in the morning, put together at the very least in some cute work out clothes. That is what keeps me sane and happy.

The homemade breakfast exception today was also for sanity and happiness for us all. The pancakes topped with some defrosted frozen fruit brought smiles to both kids instantly. I got several thumbs up when their little mouths were stuffed with pancakes and I got a "Mom, you are the best pancake cooker ever", when they were finished eating. As it turns out, it didn't take too much effort to make breakfast and clean-up, and it was worth the smiles. But, I did end up running an hour behind my usual schedule and was still in my pajamas for most of the morning. Worth it for special occasions, but I still don't think I'll make this a habit.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Moment's Peace

As I was showering this morning my 3 year old came busting into the bathroom. This is not an unusual occurrence. In fact, there are two doors to my bathroom (neither of which has a working lock), so sometimes there is almost a parade route running through my master suite while I am showering. This morning's interruption was to show me something he had built with the Legos that were supposed to be keeping him busy while I showered. I was a little annoyed, but still came out of the shower to see his creation. After the fourth time of him barging in this morning and letting all of the warm steam out of the bathroom, I was really annoyed. Is it really too much to ask to shower in peace?

Yes, it is too much to ask with kids. There is very little alone time when raising small children, unless someone else is watching them. I may be in the minority, but I don't have a Nanny. I used to rely on naps, but naps in my house have long been a thing of the past. So this summer without school, without naps, or a Nanny, I am in high demand. The second I go into the bathroom, my kids suddenly and urgently need me. If the phone rings or there is someone at the door, they come out of the woodwork to cling to me. Even when I try to place a stealth outgoing call from a far corner of the house, they have some sort of dial tone detector that allows them to find me, rendering a conversation impossible. As I am typing this right now, my 3 year old is crawling up the back of my chair to snuggle in behind me. His little hands wrapped around me is sweet, but he is only here because he had some sense that I was trying to concentrate on something and needed a moment alone.

All of this constant attention from my kids can be draining. Until I had kids clinging to me all day, I didn't understand the toll it can take. There are some days when my husband gets home from work and I ask him to please not touch me or talk to me. I know that sounds harsh and he has trouble understanding, but after 12 hours of little people talking at me incessantly and groping me, I really need a moment of peace. Can moms suffer from Sensory Overload too? I think I just described a text book case.

So, today after the fifth time of being called out of my warm shower to see something my 3 year old built, I thought about getting the locks on my master bathroom doors fixed. But I also thought about how much my kids crave my attention right now. I am their world and that is a good feeling. I'm torn between wanting my moment of peace now, but knowing that all too soon, I will have plenty of moments where my kids will be too busy for me. I may wait to get those locks fixed and stick to showering at night after the kids are in bed.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Skin Deep

I have some work to do. The other day, while we were standing in line at the Post Office behind a tall man, my 3 year old said to me (aloud), "that guy is brown". My first response was "What?" because I thought I didn't hear him correctly. When he repeated himself for a second time it was more of gasp. Yes, he was "black" or "African American", or whatever the current politically correct term is, but I don't think "brown" is it. Fortunately, the man didn't hear him say it and he didn't notice my "shushing" either. Just a minute before, the man had been smiling at my 3 year old who was doing his usual performance in line - various songs and dance. I had noticed him because I thought he looked familiar; it was Aaron McKie of the Sixers. My 3 year old noticed him for a different reason; he looked different than himself.

When we got back in the car I started to explain why we can't really label people by color and I realized that while it makes sense to me knowing our country's social history, it made no sense to him. Obviously, my 3 year old was making an innocent observation that was literally only skin deep. He and my 5 year old make these same types of observations at home about my dark complected husband. In their opinion he is "light brown", while I am "dark white" or on a summer day "light tan". They don't equate skin color with making anyone anything but look different. To them, noticing someone's skin color is no different than noticing hair color. So, it was no wonder that my 3 year old's eyes started to glaze over when I went into my usual spiel about how no matter what color a person's skin is, the inside is the same - same heart, same mind, same feelings. Blah, blah, blah. He didn't care, because he never thought otherwise.

Every year around MLK Day, I get onto the same topic with my older son who always has lot of questions about this holiday. Each year I explain who Martin Luther King, Jr. was, how he died, and the importance of his life's work for civil rights. I go through my same speech that skin color is only an appearance and that all people are really the same despite how different we all look. This year I thought he really got it. But then he spent the rest of the day pointing out to me any "black" people we saw. Although he was following that up with "they are just like me", I was at a loss. I don't know how to get my real point across without making a point that I didn't intend to make. I didn't try to draw attention to skin color, but I did.

How do I expect them to grow up thinking all people are equal if I keep pointing out differences to make my point? I could just leave it alone and say nothing, but they do notice color and I'm concerned what kind of message they are getting on their own. I'm concerned that most of the diversity my kids see in our community is on the other side of the counter at McDonald's or in the check-out lane at Genaurdi's. I don't want them to correlate skin color with any one career or lifestyle, good or bad. I do want them to optimistically view all people as having equal potential and opportunities. I want them to know and believe that a person from a different background than their own can achieve great things, just as I assure them they can.

So, I have my work cut out for me. And, I don't have that figured out just yet. I do know that prejudice is a hard thing to explain to a child that has never experienced or witnessed it. But without this knowledge it is pretty hard to explain why they can't just state the obvious. If the person in front of us at the Post Office had blue hair, it would be a different conversation. Life is truly wonderful viewed through the eyes of children. Wouldn't this world be a better place if we never lost that view?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Temporary Insanity

I've thought now for about a year that I was done having kids. I have two boys that are 2 1/2 years apart. If I was going to have more, I would have planned on that over a year ago, so my third would be spaced the same. People tell me quite frequently that I "need" to try for a girl; that someone as "girlie" as me should have at least one girl. Other people remind me that "3 is the new 2"; it is becoming more common to have 3 kids instead of just 2. I usually blow these comments off because I've been pretty sure of my feelings towards having more kids - not going to happen. I was pretty sure until I had a moment that I questioned my stance.

I was helping out some friends today with getting their kids to and from camp and a birthday party. I had between one and two extra kids in the car throughout the day and I have to admit, I really liked it. I liked having all the chatter in the car and when I looked in the rear view mirror and saw extra faces, I wondered why not have more? Sure, today was a novelty, so there was no fighting or whining in the car; but I was still shocked with myself that I would even for a moment consider having more kids. I can't explain the feeling I had in a car filled with kids, but it was a good feeling. I guess I really like being a mom and I wanted more. Could Motherhood be addictive?

If it is, I have a few problems with supporting my addiction. For one, my husband has been very clear since our second son was born that he is DONE having kids. He has informed me numerous times that if I would like more, I will need to find someone else to father them. Kidding aside, we have had real discussions about having more kids and he would be open to considering the idea if it was what I really wanted. But, that's my second problem; I don't think I really ever want to be pregnant again. I do the whole pregnancy thing pretty well, a hidden talent, but I don't really enjoy it. The first time I was pregnant, I was excited. The second time, I just wanted to have the baby without having to grow it. But, that leads me to my last issue; I don't want to have a baby in my house again. I am so happy with the ages I have now. My car today was filled with those same ages and it was fun. We are done with cribs, high-chairs, and diapers; and I am very happy about this. I am just not a baby person. I can honestly say I have never thought, "I'd really like to have a little helpless crying person come live with us and keep me from sleeping for 3 months". That is something I am still sure will never enter my mind.

So where does that leave me? Perhaps adoption? I could fill my car, my house, and my life with children instead of infants. Its something to think about. But, so is just car-pooling more often. Today's moment may very well have been a moment of insanity instead of clarity. And, if I'm jonesing for more kids, I could maybe just get a quick fix by carpooling.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Guy

I am fully aware that I spend most of my time ranting on my blog, versus raving. My husband often questions that maybe I complain a little too much. But who really wants to read about how perfect my life is? That's not interesting. There's nothing to bond over that. I think my husband takes it personally if there is anything about my life to complain about. He does after all, get the brunt of my bad days, whether deserved or not. I try not to complain about him, but I can't help it if some of the things he says or does are just "blog worthy".

I like to tell the story about my Mother's Day gift last year - it was a Wii and a new flat screen TV only hooked up to the Wii. As in no cable hooked up and just a mere 20 feet away from another TV in our media room. A kind of Wii shrine. I was out with my older son for the day and when we returned there was the new TV fully installed on the wall in the playroom and all kinds of Wii paraphernalia. Surprise! Happy Mother's Day! The story is very funny at my husband's expense because the gift was so obviously not for me. When would I ever have time to play video games? And what makes it even funnier is how hurt he was when I suggested the gift was more for him and the boys. My five year old even said to me "silly Dad, he bought Wii for a girl". I agree. But, the part that I often leave out of the story is that I did also receive a Rolex from him the week before. So, I wasn't actually expecting a big Mother's Day gift that year. Yes, he's not such a bad guy after all.

And before you question whether I only like him for his gifts, let me set the record straight. Yes, yes, yes I get great gifts. But, he is also my best friend and biggest supporter. I have known my husband since he was 14 and could not have guessed then what kind of partner and father he would become. Luckily for me, he is deeply invested in both roles. Even on those bad days when he walks in from work to me blaming him for everything wrong with our kids, he will still tell me so sincerely that I am doing a great job as a mother. The gifts are just a perk.

So, although my husband will undoubtedly continue to inspire some of my writing as he is not perfect; he will never be on time to anything, he will never listen to me the first time, and will never kick his Blackberry addiction. He will also continue to inspire me as a person. No one person in my life has ever believed in me more. I'm glad he is my guy. Happy Anniversary and Happy Father's Day!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Invasion of Space

Let's get something straight. You may think your kids are the cutest creatures on the planet and I won't argue with you, but please don't assume that I share the same thoughts. Why do some parents think that everyone sees their kids through the same adoring eyes that they do? Lot's of people tell me that my kids are cute. Strangers give my kids compliments all the time, but I never assume that those people actually want to hang out with my kids. From a distance my kids are cute, but up close they are just gross little germ infested kids. I love them and I don't mind their sweat and snot, but I would never assume anyone else wants to be subjected to that. I've seen and recognized the horrified look in my child-less brother and his wife's eyes when my filthy children come racing towards them to give them a big sticky hug. I get it, but why do so many parents not get it?

A case in point: My husband, my 3 year old, and I were sitting by ourselves watching my 5 year old's t-ball game. A little boy we've never seen before toddled over to my 3 year old's chair and stood there staring at him. At first, we all said "Hi", trying to be polite, but my 3 year old was not interested in this kid being so close to him. The toddler crept into my 3 year old's personal space and started leaning on his chair. My 3 year old said "No" a few times and looked horrified. Then, I noticed the stream of snot rolling out of this kid's nose. A second later the coughing began. My husband and I looked around to see who this little monster belonged to and we located the dad sitting a short distance away watching with delight that his little boy was "making a friend". The snot kept rolling and the little boy started grabbing for my 3 year old's water bottle. By this point, my husband and I were staring down the dad hoping he took a hint that maybe we weren't enjoying his kid's company. When my 3 year old started crying because the snotty little boy wouldn't stop trying to take his water bottle, we finally had to take action. We had to ask the dad to please take his son back over to his area. We shouldn't have to ask, should we?

It seems to me there are certain "social rules" regarding how we interact in public and the general respect of personal space. As adults, if a stranger approached us and stood staring at us or grabbed for our food, this would not be okay. We would ask them to leave, walk away, or maybe even call security. So, why would we allow our children to bother strangers, even if they are other children? Sure, children don't know any better. They don't understand that the whole world isn't actually their playground and that not everyone is their friend. I'm not suggesting that we strip children of their innocence, but parents do need to set up some boundaries. Your children may be social invalids, but as parents (and adults) you should not be. If your child is obviously bothering someone, it is time to step in.

This past weekend my 3 year old was accosted again. Maybe he is just that cute? The four of us were sitting by the Art Museum steps listening to free live music and eating water ice when another little toddler came waddling up to us. The mother was following close behind, but made no attempt to steer him out of our direction. He went right for my 3 year old. The child's mother actually said, "Oh, you're making some new friends", as the toddler tried grabbing my 3 year old's water ice. Yuck! My 3 year old was visibly upset. The mother finally grabbed the toddler, but only after he tried for a second time to get his drool covered hands on the water ice. Did it really need to go that far? I do think that this should just be an understanding among parents. Am I wrong?

So, just to be clear, personal space surrounds all people, big and small. If I see your child and I invite them to come sit with us, or offer them some of our food, then we're cool. If your child toddles over to us and we say "Oh, its okay", then you can let your kid hang out with us. But really, unless there is an invitation, please reel your child back in. In return, I promise to continue to do the same. You will not be subjected to my kid's dirty hands, snot, or general invasion of space. I will continue to keep them on a short leash. Yes, there is a grace period because kids can be fast. But please know, that I never assume that you are as happy to see them as we are.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hate the Playdate

I really don't like hosting play-dates. I dread them. I see other mothers picking up extra kids in car line all the time and I don't know how they do it. My two boys play great together at home. I can count on a good two hours every day of my kids playing quietly together using their imaginations to go on adventures around the house or build elaborate Lego structures. There is laughter and the occasional fight, but overall our house is pretty peaceful most afternoons. But, when we throw more kids into the mix all Hell breaks loose. And usually it is by no fault of the guest. Play-dates do something chemically to my kids to make them crazy. The minute our guest gets into our car or steps through our door, all rules known to my children are no longer recognized by them. And any control I had over them disappears. The word "chaos" comes to mind.

Play-dates also make the mean mommy in me come out. The cranky unhappy mommy. But really, when I arrange these play-dates I don't expect to find myself saying "don't put race cars in the fish bowl", or "no Purell on the cat". And, what is the right reaction when you find your kids and their friends trying to "wash" the dog in the upstairs hallway with a pan of water and the kitchen sponge? I can stay calm, but I'm not happy. I was really not happy when I came into the kitchen to find my son and his friend had climbed onto a shelf and ripped it, molly bolts and all, out of the wall. The sight of a hole in the wall and plaster all over the floor makes me very cranky.

I normally am very proud of my kids' judgment. They normally possess good common sense, or at least the sense of what would be allowed and what they should maybe ask to do first. Play-dates impair this judgment severely. I wish I knew what happens in their little brains to make them crazy when their friends are over. Their voices are louder and higher pitched, and they move ten times faster than they normally do. Maybe its just excitement, but I can't get through to them. My kids stop hearing me and I get a little dizzy with them running circles around me.

Hosting a play-date becomes a very time intensive afternoon for me. For damage control, there is an obvious need for me to be within earshot of them at all times. Often I stay close enough that I can glance at them if it suddenly seems a little too quiet. If I'm not watching them, I find myself watching the clock, counting down the minutes until the play-date and the alien invasion of my kids is over. That is no way to spend an afternoon.

So, I commend those moms who do frequent play-dates. Kudos to you. My limit is one a week. I will gladly meet for a play-date at the park, or lunch with the kids, but I know my limits. Maybe that makes me a selfish mommy to limit how many play-dates we host each week because it makes my life easier. But regardless, it makes me a much happier mommy. A happy mom makes for a happy family. There is a direct correlation there.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Party Planning

My youngest son turned 3 yesterday and as requested by him, I threw him a "tractor" party. He picked the theme and I planned the party. Yesterday's party was a tractor driven hayride on a strawberry farm followed by a picnic. There was a farm scene cake, fresh strawberries from the farm, and parting gifts of treat filled individual toy barns. And I should mention that the birthday boy was in full John Deere uniform with a green John Deere baseball hat and t-shirt. Over the top? No, just keeping up with the other parties on his social calendar. The preschool birthday party has become so much more than a back yard gathering with ice cream and cake.

Throwing a preschool aged birthday party can be quite involved if you let it. And, I do. Its a creative outlet for me. Sure, many kids could be happy with any simple party as long as it involved cake. But, that's just not me. And apparently, its not my kids either. They have latched onto the idea of themed parties and there's no stopping them now. My kids might not look anything like me, but when I see them spend hours paging through their Oriental Trading Company and Party Express catalogs dreaming up their next party, I know they are mine. When its time to actually plan their next birthday, they throw an idea out there and my work begins.

The planning of a kid's birthday party is serious stuff and can take up some time if you are planning multiple parties a year. You have to scout locations in advance and coordinate them with different theme options. Yes, you can have a great party at your home and I have done this several times. But, I would now gladly pay someone else to host the wild bunch and clean up. Then there is the question of entertainment if the venue does not provide some activity. The cake has to be ordered, or if you are talented enough, designed and made. And lastly, but definitely not the least important piece, is the all anticipated goody bag. The goody bag is gold. The party is a bust if the goody bag is not awesome. It is the rock star SWAG of the preschooler's world.

Yes, there was a day when I threw real parties with such fervor. I focused my energy on the perfect cocktail and appetizer. I had themes that didn't involve the latest Disney/Pixar movie and my husband and I packed an apartment or a house with a lively mix of people with good music and conversation. There were no goody bags, but our parties were still popular. I might even say some of the more wild ones were legendary. Do I miss those parties? Oddly, no. We still have a few gatherings every year, but I now find it so much more enjoyable to plan a kid's party. For as much work that goes into the details of a kid's party, there is so much less stress about the actual party. The guest list is easy: neighborhood gang or preschool class. Food choices are easy: pizza and juice. There's no calculating which group of friends to invite, what food to serve, and what music to play. With a Fall and a Spring birthday to plan a party for, I honestly have no desire to plan many other types of parties.

I may put a lot of effort into these giant events for pint sized people, but there are great rewards. Nothing beats the smiles on my kids' faces when they are enjoying their party. My heart melted yesterday when we were driving out to the farm and my birthday boy said to me with a little voice filled with anticipation, "Mom, I am so excited for my party". How many more years will I really have to do this for my kids? Those tween and teen years will be here soon enough and the hugs and kisses for the "best tractor party ever" will be gone. I realized again yesterday that I will do anything to see pure happiness on my kids' faces. Pure happiness for them is also bliss for me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

School of Rock

It seems there are two schools of thought on what music you listen to with your kids. There are those who drive around all day with Raffi blaring for the sake of their children and there are those, myself included, that cannot bare to listen to kid's music. It actually makes me cringe to get into a car with sing-a-long music playing. I won't do it. And I think my children are better off for it.

Sure, my kids have all of those annoying CDs. We own Raffi, Laurie Berkner, and The Cat's Pajamas. And they do listen to them in their rooms, often at night when they are falling asleep. And, I will admit that on occasion, you will find the "Cars" or "High School Musical" movie soundtracks in my car. Yes, I will admit to listening to those on occasion and I am not ashamed to say that I may even know the words. But, they are music with actual content. They are not songs about baby whales or belly buttons. On most days though, if you were to hitch a ride with us, you would be listening to honest to goodness real music.

I've realized that the first song my 5 year old ever learned the words to was not a kid's song. Once when he was 2 we were in the grocery store and he started singing along with the Muzak, belting out the refrain "Catch My Disease". It didn't even occur to me that him singing was weird until an older woman passing us in the aisle started looking at him funny. It was too hard to explain that he was just singing along with the Ben Lee song that was playing overhead. I just let it go, but I was kind of proud of him that he knew the words, even if they were strange to hear out of context. My kids have been subjected to my taste in music their whole lives and I would have to say they are more comfortable with the music on the radio than any CD they may have in their room.

I love that my kids can name all four Beatles and can recognize a Fleetwood Mac song from the sound of Stevie Nick's voice. I love that my 2 year old will ask for Jack Johnson by name, even if his favorite songs are off the "Curious George" movie soundtrack. And, I'm also loving that they are discovering their own taste in music. Sure, this will evolve over time, but its cool to see my 2 year old grooving to the Beastie Boys and my 5 year old singing "Pour Some Sugar on Me". I've sparked an interest. They now ask me who the performer is with every song that comes on the radio, a test for my knowledge at times. And I quiz them on what instruments we can hear, which they are getting pretty good at identifying.

Should I be embarrassed that the first song my 2 year old knows the words to is "Brass Monkey" by the Beastie Boys? Or, that they both go around town quoting the local radio station's tag line "The Rock You Grew Up With" in the deepest voice they can muster up? I'm not. It is my music that we listen to, some of it current, some of it old, but I use it to teach them some popular culture. Last week we listened to Don McLean's "American Pie" in entirety. They came home that evening giving my husband a history lesson about Buddy Holly and his plane crash. This is how we pass the time in the car.

I would agree that if you were actually paying attention to the verse lyrics on some of their favorites, they may not be appropriate. But, they pick up the refrain and never hear or question the rest. So, I do take some pride in the fact that my 2 year old goes around the house singing "Hey Ho, Let's Go", quoting the Ramone's. And, I don't mind that my 5 year old likes to sing that he will "Rock You Like a Hurricane", quoting the Scorpions. I'm responsible for that. Music is something that my kids and I can share. Maybe as a mom, you really enjoy Raffi's greatest hits, but if not, expose your kids to something great. Let them see a part of you that existed before you made room in your life for G-rated things. In honor of the late Joey Ramone's birthday this week, put on some really great music and share it with your kids - whatever the genre may be. You can thank me later when your kids are humming your favorite song, instead of you cursing that you can't get Baby Beluga out of your head.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Great Expectations

Is it wrong to want to celebrate Mother's Day alone? Every year since I became a mother it is always the same celebration: me spending the day with my husband and children. Brunch is usually involved and every year as we sit down to our meal, I realize again that truthfully, I would have a much better time if I was alone. Yes, I know we should be celebrating with our children because without them we wouldn't have this title, but for some reason every year I have this expectation that this day should be different than the other 364 days. I guess I expect to relax and enjoy my meal out. I agree to the celebratory brunches to avoid cooking and drag my children to places they probably don't belong, only setting myself up for disappointment.

One year we arrived at the restaurant for a special Mother's Day Brunch only to find that although with our reservation my husband had specifically requested a high chair, the restaurant had run out of them. They ran out of high chairs on Mother's Day, probably the biggest day for small children to be dining in restaurants. I had to sit through my meal with a squirmy 1 year old on my lap. And, the restaurant had been so considerate to seat us right next to the open wine racks, that I had no choice but to keep him on my lap. I foolishly had expected to actually eat my meal at the brunch in my honor.

I guess I think of Mother's Day as a holiday for Moms. And I find myself expecting to have the day off in a sense. But I'm now thinking that is just not a realistic expectation if I'm going to spend the day anywhere near my children. My husband told me this year that he thinks of Mother's Day as more of a "celebration of mothers", and maybe I should actually do more mothering on this day. Despite my husband's "hilarious" comment, he generally does try to make Mother's Day special. He always plans the brunch and usually starts off the day giving me a break and handling the kids. He'll change a few extra diapers throughout the day, but as the day drags on, I think he gets burnt out. By 5pm this year, he was asleep on the couch leaving the kids to fend for themselves and me to intervene.

I don't know if its wrong to want to be alone on Mother's Day. I certainly wouldn't judge a mother who decided to. For myself, I do enjoy the excitement my children have helping me celebrate. I've found its just wrong to have certain expectations for this day. If I want to relax and be pampered, then yes, maybe I should spend the day alone at a spa somewhere. But then, I think my children would be disappointed. Another mother was recapping her Mother's Day to me and she and her family basically stayed home for the day. Also, not what I expect out of Mother's Day, but maybe not a bad idea. She certainly didn't seem stressed by her day. It was just another Sunday.

This year I did find myself at a Mother's Day Brunch again. The Country Club this time, but the same scenario as always with my kids falling out of their seats, and me controlling the chaos. I sat down to brunch though this year with a different expectation. Its just another Sunday brunch. My friend with three kids at the table next to us beat us through brunch and commented that she was "so done", while her husband commented that we looked like we were actually having fun. I'm still not sure it was fun. But, I was pleasantly surprised that although my meal was interrupted a few times, I did finish eating. And although my boys were whining that they were finished before I even started eating, I did have time to appreciate that they are the reason that I am a mom. But, I also set the bar low. And, I wasn't disappointed when my 2 year old spilled his Shirley Temple; I expected it. It was just another Sunday brunch.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Super Moms

A kid threw up next to me at Starbucks the other day. I posted a question on Facebook soon after: "What are the odds that I will get sick?" One of my friends, also a nurse and mom commented, "A nurse and mom? You are immune to bodily fluids". I hoped she was right. Do moms possess special immunity, a superhuman immunity? By most definitions, possessing a superhuman quality would deem one a superhero. Do we have special powers giving us superhero status?

The reason I was at Starbucks was to meet with a woman taking over a committee project I had organized. She, also a mom and multi-tasker, had to bring along her daughter in a stroller. About a minute into me explaining the details of the project, her daughter leaned over the tray of her stroller and puked. This was followed by a second eruption down the front of her shirt. The mom swooped in with napkins catching what she could, and with a second swoop she had the tray and most of the little girl's shirt cleaned off. There almost wasn't enough time for me to gag before it was gone - almost. This struck me as an example of the lightning quick speed that moms may share with superheroes. She was wearing an "S" somewhere under her sweater that day.

Of course, not all moms need to be nurses to handle bodily fluids with ease. We've all found bathrooms or receptacles that would make do for our child who is crying, or should I say screaming "I have to pee!" after only giving us 30 seconds notice. And, we have all had the encounter with the diaper explosion. Diaper disasters not only require quick reaction time, but also quick thinking. I once had to dress my 5 month old in just a diaper and my husband's fleece jacket for a 2 hour plane ride home because his clothes were destroyed by a malfunctioning diaper. Similar to superheroes in a jam, we figure it out and fast. We are problem solvers. There's no time to whine about the problem or lack of solutions. We make the best available solution work.

And, not unlike superheroes, moms also sacrifice themselves for the greater good. My friend from Manhattan brought her 2 year old son to visit us for the day last summer. After driving 2 hours alone with her little boy, he got out of the car, walked into my house and threw up on the floor. And this wasn't just car-sickness. My friend sprung into action. She scooped him up and got him to the bathroom and then proceeded to clean up the entire mess before I was even back from containing our dog in another room. After mopping my floor for a second time, she cleaned up her son, loaded him back into the car, and drove him another 2 hours back home. This was not the trip she had planned. We always put our children first, even if that means doing something we don't really want to. Although my Manhattan friend probably wished she had brought her super speedy invisible jet, she definitely brought her cape with her that day.

So, yes, maybe there is some truth to my Facebook friend's comment. I didn't end up getting sick, although snot seems to be more of my Kryptonite. Perhaps, I do have a special immunity and furthermore, special powers. I think moms are the forgotten superhero. We should be honorary members of the Justice League. We may not actually have flashy uniforms or gimmicks, but we do possess amazing powers, get the job done, and often save the day. Happy Mothers Day!

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Golf Widow

The golf season has officially begun and I find myself in a new role - that of a golf widow. This will be our first summer as members of a country club and I'm not sure this is what I signed up for. I was the one with the connections to introduce us to the club and I went through the proposal process fully aware that the goal was a golf membership. Maybe I was counting on there being truth to the rumored 5-10 year wait list for golf. Maybe I was distracted by my husband's excitement at golfing again. But, regardless of how I got here, I am about to embark on a summer of single parenting the weekends while my husband is golfing.

The argument by my husband is, "what's the big deal, you take care of the kids by yourself all the time". Thank you for noticing and EXACTLY. That is exactly the big deal. I don't count on the weekends for blissful alone time, but I do count on sharing the load. I look forward to the weekend where the parenting duties get split up. I like the support when a death match breaks out over a toy; and now this spring, I appreciate the team approach to t-ball and soccer practices.

My husband's rebuttal is, "I work all week, when am I supposed to have any hobbies?" I don't have a good answer. I work all week too. And, if we want to get technical about the work week, I put in a lot of overtime. There are many nights that my husband gets "stuck on a call" or "stuck in a meeting" and misses the train.

My sister-in-law, a seasoned golf widow, has told me to "stand your ground". But how much ground do I really have? There's two of us and theoretically we should be splitting this parenting gig 50/50. We've established that we both work all week, so who should have the weekends off? I do have time during the week to run or play tennis when the kids are in school, so I don't always need my husband's support on the weekend to have hobbies. But, I'm also not happy with the expectation that I am always there to take care of the kids.

Since I do have hobbies of my own during the week, I will be as flexible as I can to support my husband's interests on the weekend. Maybe we can compromise for one round of golf a weekend. This discussion is tabled for now, but definitely not closed. He assured me just this past weekend that he is only golfing a lot now to build his handicap for the summer tournaments. Yes, you read that right, tournaments is plural. Definitely not closed.