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.