Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Lowes lady who made my day

I believe people come in and out of our lives for a reason, whether they step into your path and stay for a lifetime or a few years. Or maybe only for a college semester or a week at summer camp, or for just two days at a professional seminar -- or even for three minutes at a checkout counter. Sometimes you just need to pay attention.

Today I had one of those checkout counter experiences. I realized this morning that I'm in my 30th week of this pregnancy. Just 10 weeks left until Baby DeeDee makes his/her appearance. Which, at the pace my life has gone this past year, might as well be 10 minutes. And although I'm excited to meet this little gift, I've spent most of this past, oh, 25 weeks feeling incredibly anxious about the pregnancy and our new addition. Why would we upset the happy balance we have here in our family? Will Sweet Boy love and adore his younger sibling, or will he envy and dislike him/her? How will I be able to give my attention to two children, when one sucks up so much of my waking time? Will my marriage turn rocky right when we seem to have hit such a good groove? On and on and on my mind reels through these anxieties.

Anyway, this morning after some deep breaths to get through the 30-week-realization panic, Big Daddy and I went to Lowes to buy paint for the nursery. (Gorgeous dusky amethyst paint, by the way -- a color I can't wait to surround myself and my baby in.) The checkout woman, a middle-aged black woman with a friendly smile and orange-brown braids, commented on the paint color, how it was so soothing and soft. I mentioned it was for our new baby's nursery, and she got all sorts of excited about the idea of a new baby -- she seemed more thrilled than some of our family. She asked about my other children, and I told her about Sweet Boy, that he's 4-and-a-half and how we thought for a long time that he'd be an Only. And for some reason, this Lowes checkout lady's response put all my earlier oh-my-god-we're-having-a-baby-imminently anxiety to rest:

"Oh, how perfect! That's the perfect age difference! He's going to be a big brother who knows how to show love. And you let him have his babyhood, gave him time to be the one and only -- but now you can give this baby undivided attention, too, when big brother goes to school. Perfect timing, mama. You all are gonna be just fine, just beautiful."

So there I was, standing in the checkout line at Lowes, smiling and nodding and feeling a bit choked up at this stranger's effusive show of happiness and support for me and my family. Maybe she wasn't placed in my path by God or the universe or any higher power; perhaps I was simply looking for reassurance from any source I could find. Regardless of how or why, this little light at Lowes was spot-on today.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How to enjoy a snowstorm

Here in Delaware (and all up the East Coast) we've been socked by what's now been dubbed The Blizzard of '09. (Why don't we give blizzards names like we do hurricanes? Isn't it essentially the same kind of weather event?) Between late Friday and early Sunday, almost 20" of snow fell on my house...and my driveway...and my deck...and my sidewalks...and my poor little Japanese maple tree.

Because I'm entering my third trimester, I had a perfect excuse to not even open the front door, other than to look out and say "oh my!" While the rest of the world freaked out over missing the last shopping weekend before Christmas, I discovered the perfect recipe for a great snow-bound day:
1) Send your husband and child away the night before to visit relatives in a non-snowy location. (This is a crucial step, people.)
2) Wake up to a quiet, peaceful house. Put on your favorite set of pajamas and fuzzy slippers, and turn on the radio to the all-Christmas-song station.
3) Bake all your favorite cookies, sampling dough as often as you need to. Call your besties while the cookies are in the oven, so it's almost like you're together, if only briefly.
5) Pull all the gifts out of their hiding places and set up wrap-shop in the family room, in front of the giant TV. Spread out your bags, paper, tape, etc. all over the room if you need to -- go ahead, there's no one else there, and you don't have to clean up until tomorrow!
6) Watch as many cheesy rom-coms as necessary while you wrap gifts. These include favorites such as Love Actually (one of my recent faves), Say Anything (one of my teenage faves), and Mamma Mia (don't judge...it was a snow day...)
7) Call your husband and child periodically to update them of the big storm, to ask how they're doing, and to remind yourself that the alone-ness is temporary.
8) Optional activities include, napping, reading, writing letters, yoga, playing solitaire, snuggling with your cats, and staring at your beautiful Christmas tree while sipping hot chocolate.

Although it's important to stay as busy as possible on these home-alone snow-bound days so you don't feel lonely or stir crazy, be sure all your activities are relaxing. The following is a list of things you must not do:
  • Vacuuming, dusting, scrubbing bathrooms, or any other type of cleaning
  • Laundry (this includes folding and putting away laundry, too)
  • Checking work e-mail or trying to get a jump on deadlines you're worried about
  • Talking on the phone to any relative who will heap their stress on you
  • Paying bills or balancing the checkbook
  • Any type of sweaty exercise
And, most importantly, be sure to prepare a nice little gift for your neighbors who not only have shoveled and plowed out your driveway and sidewalk three times, but also have called to check on you periodically.

Be sure, too, to enjoy the gorgeous sunrise when the snow finally stops falling the next morning.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Maternity clothes manifesto

Dear Designers, Manufacturers, & Retailers of Maternity Clothing,

We, the expecting moms of the world, have a few requests we'd like you to consider when creating your garments.
  1. Realize that even though we are pregnant, we have not become fashion retarded. Surely you can come up with something other than empire waistlines and ties in the back. And I'd kinda like a dress that doesn't look like a mumuu, thanks.
  2. Underpants still need to stay put even when one is pregnant. There's nothing that puts me in a bad mood faster than standing up and realizing my underwear has drooped into a bunch across my rear.
  3. Please find an alternative to the "under belly" waistband (which doesn't stay up) or full panel (which reaches all the way to my boobs...and still doesn't stay up). I am so tired of pulling up my pants!
  4. Why do all necklines plunge so dramatically? And why are these tops so sheer? Do you really think that now is a time, with the gigantic breasts and the 30 extra pounds that I want to start dressing so provocatively?
  5. It is not OK to charge us twice as much for a top that's half-quality. Seriously. You're just taking advantage of people in a desperate situation.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ohh, Christmas tree

Every year around this time, Big Daddy and I start our annual "is this our last year with a live Christmas tree?" discussion. So far, we've stuck with the live tree tradition, mostly because of my stubborn adherence to my own family's tradition. But. I'm starting to wear down. And I think this might, in fact, be our last year with a live tree.

When I was a kid, picking out a tree was a big deal. Really big deal. Remember that scene in Christmas Vacation, when the Griswolds drive to the middle of nowhere to find the perfect Griswold Family Christmas Tree? "It's not big; it's just...full." That scene makes me cry with laughter because I lived it year after year.

We'd pile into the Mellovan on the second Saturday of advent, no matter what the weather, and we'd drive to a tree farm about 20 miles from home. For over 20 years, we went to that same tree farm (and I swear the proprietors were elderly from year one), where we'd wander the rows and rows of trees searching for the perfect Mello Family Christmas Tree. We would each put a glove on our favorite tree, and then it was up to Dad to choose the winner. He would deliberate for what seemed like hours, as we tried to stay warm or not think about how bad we had to pee. (I finally got wise by the time I was a teenager and took an extra pair of gloves, so as to avoid the frostbitten fingers.) The best part of this tradition was that every tree really did look different -- until we got it home and decorated it with our pretties and made it ours.

However, since moving out on my own, the annual Christmas Tree Search goes something like this: Drive around to area nurseries or lots, wander around looking at hundreds of trees that look pretty much the same, trying to guess which are fresh-ish and which have been lying around for weeks, kvetching about how expensive they are. We make it a night by dining (and I use the term loosely) at Pizza Hut -- the one time per year that we eat there -- and it's usually a fun evening. We found a tree lot a few years ago run by the area Lions Club, so I feel that at least a portion of the cash we shell out on the mostly dead tree is going back into the community.

This year's search was a partial bust, though, and it's led me to believe that perhaps the faux tree is the way to go. We drove to the Lions Club lot on a snowy, slushy evening, after much fanfare and excitement building for the little one...only to discover the lot was closed due to weather. So we went to the local nursery, where they were charging an exorbitant amount for great big fat trees that wouldn't fit in our room.

We ended up at Home Depot. There's something less than magical about picking out your Christmas tree at Home Depot, amidst stacks of potting soil and piles of kitschy holiday decor. In the freezing rain. With your kid running like a maniac through the puddles, hiding behind mulch bins and generally driving you crazy. And then waiting for 15 minutes for an orange-aproned associate to help you tie up the tree. Oh, and don't forget the argument with your husband in the parking lot as you both fumble with frozen, painful fingers trying to tie the damn thing to the roof. The trip to Pizza Hut was fun as we regaled Sweet Boy with our own 12 years of Christmas tree memories, but really -- we could have done that without the rest.

At the end of the evening, when Big Daddy brought the tree into the garage, approximately 3 million needles fell to the ground, indicating that this is not the freshest tree on the block. And we won't even talk about the half-strand of lights that we spent 30 minutes trying to get to light. Or the annual chasing of the cats out of the tree water, or the yelling that takes place when the clumsy little three-legged cat skitters past the tree and sends ornaments shattering across the floor. Again, not magical.

Don't get me wrong: Hours later, once we got all the ornaments and lights and garland and beads and candy canes on it, the tree is just as beautiful and special as all others. But truly, wouldn't that be the same case with a pre-lit artificial balsam fir, purchased a half-price at the end of the holiday season? I'm starting to think that maybe the magic is in the trimmings, in being together as we pull our Christmas treasures out of the attic -- not so much in the tree-picking and setting up (and endless vacuuming and watering and cat-chasing and fear of fire). Perhaps next year we'll take our tree out of a box...and then go to Pizza Hut.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Grampa memories

We said goodbye to my grandfather yesterday. I sat on the edge of the dock as we scattered his ashes on the bay -- from the very spot where Grampa and I caught a bucket full of crabs and promptly tossed them back because we didn’t like to eat them -- and memories from my childhood flooded over me. Grampa was part of so many moments of my life, present for all the biggest, most important times. It was so difficult to watch his rapid decline in recent years because he was larger than life when I was a child; a visit to Bellport was a trip into his kingdom. Everyone knew Dick Stock. He was a teacher and principal, a volunteer fireman and ambulance driver, member of the Hearth Club and local Methodist Church, library trustee, fix-it guy, fence painter, builder. We would walk through that town and I felt a special sense of pride at being his granddaughter.

But as a child I often felt nervous around my Grampa. He was a stern man, a Navy man. He was raised during the Great Depression, came of age in wartime, and raised four children on a single income, so he was also a frugal man. He had high expectations of his children and grandchildren, and we all worked very hard to live up to them. As I got older, though, he mellowed, and I appreciated him more each time we were together. He was not outwardly affectionate, but Grampa never missed an opportunity to show his grandchildren the world around us, to give us new perspective, to make us things, and to teach us how to do things on our own.

When I became a parent, I gained a whole new perspective on the importance of grandparents. They are the foundation of the family, acting as back-up for the parents, supporting us with advice and childcare. Grandparents give their grandchildren love in a special way, often filling in the magic when Mom and Dad are too focused on the practical, everyday details. Oh, and grandparents are around on the most special of days – birthdays, Christmas, holidays, summer vacations, births. Many of my memories of Grampa took place on those special days; my grandparents were with us for just about every holiday and birthday I can recall from my childhood. The took care of us when my mom was bedridden during her pregnancy with my sister; they held us all up through my mother's declining health and her death. Gram and Grampa helped us celebrate, and they helped us mourn.

My most vivid Grampa memories are sun-infused and taste like salt water. We spent countless hours sailing on the Great South Bay and playing on the beach. He taught me how to sail -- how I loved to sit on the bow of that boat with my toes in the water! -- and we built sand castles using giant clam shells as shovels. He pulled me in a canoe when I was too afraid of the muck at the bottom of the water to dig my toes in for clams. He taught me how to slide down the fireman’s pole at the playground. He built us swings and a tree house in his backyard, and he piled the leaves up high so we could jump from the tree house into the leaf pile – totally grandfather stuff right there.

Food was very important to Grampa; every time I went away to camp or traveled to another country, the first question he’d ask was “How’s the food?” He showed me the joy of dipping a fresh strawberry in sugar before popping it in my mouth. He helped me pick sugar snap peas in his garden and crunch them in my mouth, warm from the sun. When I was a toddler, he grew pumpkins in his garden that were bigger than me, and when I started my own garden in my first house, he gave me helpful pointers about where and when to plant. He introduced me to Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies and crumb cake; we would sneak out to the back porch together and demolish a box of those cookies – and he always had a back-up box so Gramma wouldn’t know. He showed me where to find the best wild blueberries in Acadia National Park. And from Grampa I learned the joys of ice cream. Over the last few years that he lived in Bellport, especially, we could be assured a trip into town for ice cream – always vanilla for Grampa, peanut butter swirl for me. (Oh, and I still can’t eat a slice of apple pie without a hunk of sharp cheddar cheese on the side.)

He built us things. Fabulous, hunky wooden things: a built-in bed and walk-in closet in my childhood bedroom; a gigantic bunkbed that both my brother and sister used over the years; a dollhouse, a garage, a desk, an entertainment center. You name it, Grampa could build it. I marveled as I watched him design and build the giant gazebo down by the bay 25 years ago; today it stands tall and broad and sturdy, just like Grampa once did. The bedroom in my first college apartment was only 8x8 – no room for a bed and a dresser, when you considered the giant radiator that took up a chunk of that tiny space. No problem. Grampa visited with a tape measure and a clipboard, and before I moved in, he had built a custom-made dresser/fold-down desk/stereo shelf that fit perfectly over the radiator, between the window and bed, and out of the way of my door. He also built the cradle that my sister slept in as a newborn; my son slept in it when he was an infant, and soon it will rock our new baby. I know this cradle will slumber many more babies in its lifetime.

From Grampa I inherited insatiable wanderlust. He loved to travel and wanted us all to see the world. One of my favorite photos of Gram and Grampa shows them in fabulous silk robes in China; my grade school classes marveled when they visited to tell us of their trips to the former Soviet Union. Maine has always been a special place for my family. We camped in Acadia when we were young, and I watched Grampa scramble up and down the rocky shore like a mountain goat. My brother and I spent a week with Gram and Grampa traveling the East Coast one Easter break. We hit every military base between New Jersey and Florida, we saw where the Wright Brothers flew on Kittyhawk, we watched for alligators as we drove to Cape Canaveral; throughout that week the love of this country and his pride in our military glowed on Grampa’s face. Many years later, even though he was not a sports fan and had a hard time grasping the idea of a granddaughter-jock, he traveled all around the country following my basketball career. I still giggle when I remember him sitting in the stands at AAU Nationals in Amarillo, Texas, yelling “It’s not football!” when he felt the other girls got too rough. He funded my college trips to Europe, the UK, and Russia, and years later I’d call him and Gramma from fabulous hotels around the country when I traveled for work. (And every time, his first question was “How’s the food?”)

My most treasured Grampa memory, though, is of the day he held his great-grandson for the first time. He smiled and cooed and sang, and love lit up his face even when Hayden screamed and cried. I had never seen him shine like that, and my heart fills up when I remember those moments. I’m grateful Grampa had a chance to play cars with Hayden as a toddler, and I’m grateful Hayden had some time to sit on his Great-Grampa’s lap. I’m grateful too that sometimes I look at Hayden and see Grampa’s broad jaw and big sparkly eyes.

The last time I visited Grampa with my family, on his 85th birthday just over a month ago, even in his failing health and cloudy mental state, his eyes were crystal clear blue. He still recognized my grandmother and my uncles – proof to me that true love never falters. I’m thankful that he knew such a long healthy life. Can you imagine never spending a night in a hospital until you’re 81 years old? I’m grateful, also, to have stored up over 30 years of good, strong grandfather memories – one of the perks of being the oldest grandchild. My grandparents were present for many, many of the special moments in my life -- good and bad -- and I know how fortunate I am for that.

I don't know yet what heaven might look like, but I'm hoping that for Grampa, it's an endless sail on a crystal-blue bay, the sun shining above him and the wind at his back.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The only one in all the world

My son is training for a long, profitable career as a stunt man. Pretty typical kid stuff, I think, but for a newbie mom like me, it can be scary: He loves to jump off the fourth step; throw himself on the tile floor in the kitchen and pretend he's swimming; see how much air he can grab while jumping on our bed like it's a freakin' Moon Bounce. Lately he likes to bounce his little body off of anything he can and ricochet as far as possible, until he bounces into something else...and something else...until he falls down giggling...or crying. Picture a 4-foot, 55-pound pinball with limbs, and you'll get the drift.

In his latest pinball impression this morning, Sweet Boy leaped off my bed, bounced himself off my backside, then into the side of the bed. Only he misjudged where the side of the bed was, and he instead landed on his butt...and his elbow...and his head. On the hardwood floor.

First, I'm embarrassed to admit, I yelled at him (I'm a yeller, as maybe you've gathered) because he almost knocked me over with the velocity of his initial jump-and-bounce. Then I heard the thud and realized he had not landed on a squishy spot. When I turned and asked "What happened?!" the giant tears and ear-splitting wailing commenced. He wasn't that badly hurt, probably crying more because he was shocked and because I yelled. I scooped him up and we laid on the bed while I rubbed his boo-boo head, kissed his elbow and knee. Once he calmed down enough to hear me, I apologized for yelling, explaining that I yelled not because I was angry, but because I was upset that was careless and that he hurt himself.

"You've got to be careful with your body, Sweetie, especially with your head," I explained. "You're the only Hayden I've got -- the only one in the whole world! And it really makes me upset when you hurt yourself."

"I'm the only one?" he said.

"Yup, the only Hayden ever. And you're precious and unique, and you mean the world to Mommy and Daddy. So please be more careful."

"But don't worry, Mommy. You have another baby coming soon. It's ok if I bash up a little," he responded, in all his frank, 4-year-old literal-mindedness.

Oh my. Once again, Mommy's heart breaks. Wide. Open.

Perhaps I'll need to reiterate this point a few more times in the coming months, that there's only one Hayden in all the world and that's all there every will be. Just so he knows for sure that Baby is not a replacement.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Happy birthday, Baby

Today is my man's birthday. This is the 12th birthday I've celebrated with him, and he's not one to ask for a whole lot of hullabaloo. As he would say, birthdays happen every year. Maybe so, but when I started thinking about it this morning, I realized what an awful lot we've been through since his last birthday. And I was instantly awed and grateful to have this birthday to celebrate with my sweetie.

In this past year he's shown me time and again why I chose to spend my life with him. I have watched him conquer major health issues and come out stronger and healthier. He works so hard and endures a ridiculous commute, but he busts his butt to be home with us in the evenings. He is an amazing father, playful, wise, and stern in equal parts; his patience is far greater than mine. He shares household tasks (even writes cute little chores lists for himself) -- and I even overheard him say to our neighbor once this spring "It's a great day for yard work, isn't it?!" Always, without hesitation, he steps up for his mom and siblings when they need him.

He can tell by looking at my face whether I need a hug or whether he should just keep his distance. He listens to me gripe, laughs at my jokes, offers advice when needed, cracks me up on a daily basis. He tells me I'm pretty, makes me feel sexy. He respects my work, encourages me to try new things, and values my opinion. He is calm when I am frantic. He is patient when I am raving. He is kind when I am mean. He is charismatic when I am wallflowery. He is strong, always strong -- a rock, a boulder, a mountain for me and for our family. This man is everything I could hope for in a husband, and it's even clearer today than it was a year ago.

We have grown up together, really -- I've known him since I was 20! -- and we continue to grow up side by side every day. But in this one single year, we have gone through better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health, and I know now more than ever that I am a lucky girl. So today I am doing more than simply celebrating my sweetheart's birthday. I'm saying a thank you prayer, and I'm celebrating another year with my best friend. And I'm looking forward to so many more.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

My little Halloweenie

Sweet Boy declared about a month ago that he was not going to do Halloween this year. Hmph, thought we, his perplexed parents. No dress-up? No trick-or-treat? No parade and party at school? Nope, nope, and nope.

For about two weeks we tried to talk him into it -- brainstorming costume ideas (SpongeBob, Peter Pan, Superman, robot, ghost, puppy, anything!), discussing favorite candies, talking about the difference between make-believe and real. Nope. He didn't want to do it. And there's something I'm learning about my son: When he sets his mind to something, that's it.

So we finally let it go. We told him he didn't have to do Halloween, but ew made it clear he couldn't decide at the last minute that he wanted a costume and send us scrambling. We made sure he understood he would miss out on the preschool parade and party, and he wouldn't get any candy from trick-or-treating. That's ok, Mom and Dad, I don't like Halloween. Hmph, again said we.

I was nervous about it all month, of course: worried that he'd be picked on at school, or he'd be disappointed when trick-or-treat time came---or worse, that he'd feel pressured by the world around him to do something he really didn't want to do. But we did a few Halloweenish things together, to show him that it doesn't have to be all about creepy animatronic witches and gory face paint.

We picked pumpkins and carved them into the faces Sweet Boy drew; he helped me pick out the candy we'd give out to trick-or-treaters; he sang all the Halloween songs he learned at school. When Halloween morning arrived, and I woke him up with a "Boo!" my silly little boy smiled enormously and said, "Why didn't you tell me it's Halloween today?!" He scrambled out of bed to put on his new Darth Vader winter hat, picked out a black t-shirt and sweat pants, said "What kind of shoes does Darth Hayden wear?" as he put on his sneakers, and grabbed his toy Lightsaber. Darth Hayden partied all day in his own Halloweenie way, looking more like a rapper than an ubervillain, but he wore a smile on his face the entire time.

When trick-or-treat came around, it was drizzling, then pouring (and I was thanking my lucky stars to have the only kid on the planet who didn't want to troll for candy this year). We three sat in the driveway with our candlelit jack-o-lanterns and our bowl full of goodies, and Sweet Boy put candy in every child's bag. He sprinkled them with "Ooh, I like your costume!" and "Are you Batman? I love Batman!" and "Look, Daddy, it's Yoda!" He didn't flinch when the grizzly zombie masked boy arrived (Mommy averted her eyes), and he didn't seem to even notice the horrible sound effects coming from the haunted house on the corner. As the rain came down harder, he happily ate his special swirly lollipop in the tailgate of Daddy's car, and when the last trick-or-treater had come and gone, we snuggled into bed to read a book as usual. He looked up at me with those wide hazel eyes and said, "Mom, I had a really fun time today."

And there you have it: Once again I worried too much for no reason. Once again I have seen that when my kid makes up his mind, that's it. (By the way, I am proud that he stuck to his guns on this Halloween issue.) And once again I learned from him that sometimes the best holidays are the ones you do differently.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Talking through the big questions

Sweet Boy and I were riding in the car last week with both cats wailing in the back seat. We were on our way to the animal shelter for annual shots, when the discussion turned to the cat we had put to sleep before SB was born. "Simon the Cat is dead now?" Sweet Boy asked. "Yes, baby, he's dead now, but he had a good life."

And I'm sure you can see where the conversation went from here:
SB: Mommy, are you going to die someday?
[Oh. Lord. Help me. This is the conversation I've been dreading since I found out I was pregnant 5+ years ago! Take a breath, Mom, you can handle this...]
Me: Yes, honey, I'll die someday. But not until I'm much older and you're much older and we have a very long happy life together.
[Whew. Maybe that's enough...please let's talk about all the animals we'll see today...]
SB: OK. When you're old? Really old, like Great Gramma?
Me: Yes, honey, really old. Probably even older than Great Gramma.
[Which is an all-out lie. I am all too aware that even parents die too soon, but of course I can't say that to this sweet child who is working it all through right now.]
SB: Is Great Gramma gonna die?
Me: Someday, yes. Everyone dies someday. It's a part of life. Remember that movie The Lion King, when they talked about the circle of life?
[Because all of life's major lessons can be learned from Disney movies, right?]
SB: Oh. OK. So will I die too someday?
[Oh crap. Don't go there!]

Me: Yes, honey. We all will die someday. But not for a long, long, long, long time. I promise. Please don't worry. What kinds of animals do you think we'll see today? Do you think they'll have any guinea pigs at the shelter this time?
[Divert! Divert!]

SB: Hmph. I don't want to die, Mommy. That sounds sad. But will I go to heaven?Me: Yes, sweetie, you will go to heaven. And I believe heaven is a wonderful place where you have everything you ever dreamed of.
SB: Will my Jodi Bear be there too?
Me: Yes. And you can eat whatever you want for dinner every day!
SB: Will God be there?
[Oh my goodness. This is what I get for taking him to Sunday school, isn't it?]
Me: Yes, babe, God will be there. Remember, you're a child of God? He'll be thrilled to see you in heaven.
SB: And because God makes everything, he can remake me when I get to heaven, right?
[Wow. Now we're getting into some Eastern philosophies, aren't we? OK, go with it, Mom.]
Me: That's a nice idea, isn't it? You can get remade in heaven.
SB: Yeah. That would be cool. I can come back then and be your little boy again.
And this is the moment I had to pull over to take a breath and get myself together.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Know what makes me want to yell?


The headline on one of the most ridiculous NYT articles I have ever seen reads: "For some parents, shouting is the new spanking." Interesting that this appears in the Fashion & Style section of the Times, but whatever. I'll read on...only to discover that now, according to this nonsense article, we need to add yelling to the list of things we should not be doing as parents. Okie doke. That's reasonable.

There are a number of choice quotes in this piece, but here are a few of my favorite:
"Parental yelling today may be partly a releasing of stress for multitasking, overachieving adults, parenting experts say." (Translation: Focus all your energy on your child, not on running your household, volunteering at church, or your outside-the-home job.)
"Psychologists and psychiatrists generally say yelling should be avoided. It’s at best ineffective (the more you do it the more the child tunes it out) and at worse damaging to a child’s sense of well-being and self-esteem." (Translation: It's much healthier psychologically for your child to run all over you than for you to express any sort of anger. Ever.)
"...while spanking is considered taboo by the major medical and psychological associations, there are still some religious and conservative groups who support it as an effective disciplinary tool....But...'There is no group of Americans that advocate yelling as a parenting style.'" (Translation: Not even religious zealots think yelling is ok, so really, you should feel lower than low for raising your voice last night when little Jimmy flushed his toys down the toilet and flooded the bathroom.)
But here is my favorite bullcrap tip:
"Experts suggest figuring out ways to prevent situations that make you most prone to yell."
Wow. Thanks for that piece of advice. Too bad the only way I can think of to prevent situations that make me most prone to yell would be to stay in bed all day long. Which is not really an option since I'm a frazzled, overwrought, under-rested, impatient, multitasking, working mother. Hmph.

So, in light of this new piece of parenting wisdom, let's recap the Guilty Mommy Commandments together:
  1. Thou shalt not work outside the home.
  2. Thou shalt not feed your child anything from a can, box, or bottle that contains any type of preservative or added sugar.
  3. Thou shalt not let your child watch television, especially the kind with commercials.
  4. Thou shalt not buy toys made outside the USA because they may contain lead.
  5. Thou shalt not allow your child to play in your yard unattended because there are lunatics lurking everywhere.
  6. Thou shalt not spank. Ever. Big no-no.
  7. Thou shalt not even threaten to spank.
  8. Thou shalt not put a child in time-out for more minutes than his/her age, no matter how much time you need to cool off in order to avoid spanking or threatening a spanking.
  9. Thou shalt not yell.
  10. Thou shalt not ever become frustrated because that leads to yelling. Which leads to crying. Which leads to you feeding your child salty, processed snacks in front of an episode of SpongeBob because you feel so guilty and ashamed.
Got it? Good. If we all just follow these simple guidelines, we will raise happy, healthy, overindulged, pansy-ass kids with sensitive digestive tracts and no idea how to cope with anything other than sunshine and rainbows.

By the way, instead of yelling at or spanking my child, I am now considering this mom's approach as the most sensible:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A taste of what's to come

One of my favorite traditions at the end of my work-at-home days is to power down the computer and go for a walk around the neighborhood with my Sweet Boy. It's a time for both of us to decompress and reconnect, to notice the simple things that make us smile, to hold hands and breathe deeply. During the fall, it's also a time to collect pine cones, ooh-and-ahh and the "burning trees" maxing out their colors, listen to the high school marching band warming up on the other side of the hill.

Today Sweet Boy took his scooter out with us on our walk. This scooter is way too small for him, the kind with the two wheels on the back, but I can tell he feels much more comfortable on it than on his (much hated) bicycle. He's mastered this little scooter, and he's proud of himself when he rides it. And he feels like a big kid on it, like the grade school kids who skateboard up and down our street.

About halfway around the block we encountered three boys from the neighborhood, all between the ages of 8 and 11, and all who live within a few houses of us. They were skateboarding and playing in the creek. While SB and I threw monkey balls into the creek, the boys came over and started talking to us. In fact, I quickly realized, they were talking to Sweet Boy, showing off for him by climbing over the railings at the creek and jumping from one muddy bank to the other, demonstrating how you can drop sticks into the sewer and see them come out on the other side of the street, doing tricks on their skateboards. Boy stuff, for sure.

Oh, you should have seen the stars in Sweet Boys eyes. These big boys are talking to me! They want to show me how to climb down into the creek! They want to show me their scooters! He joined in a couple times with "Watch how fast I can go!" and the boys cheered for him as he raced scooter down the sidewalk. They talked about their schools and SpongeBob. The boys told him of a legend of an alligator in the sewer -- and then the oldest boy, sensing SB's nervousness, said, "but don't worry...that was a long time ago, when my dad was a kid." Sweet Boy responded by snapping his hands like an alligator jaw and laughing.

What really struck me about this encounter was that Sweet Boy had no trepidation about joining in with these three kids who were so obviously older than him. He was one of the gang immediately, though his awe at being included was obvious. I caught a glimpse of my little guy growing up right before me, like in those 10 minutes he crossed the invisible line between toddler and boy. One minute I was holding on to the back of his pants as he leaned over the railing of the creek, the next minute I could picture him zooming down the street on his own skateboard. It's hard to describe the emotion in those moments -- proud of him, wanting to protect him, backing off to let him interact -- my heart was full and shattering at the same time.

As we left for home, he called "See you later, buddies!" and they all called him buddy right back. A giant smile on his face and a spring in his step, he turned back into my little boy again, reaching up and grasping my hand as we turned the corner. He beamed up at me and said, with all the desire in his oversized heart, "I wish I could be a big boy like my new friends."

Soon enough, lovebug, soon enough.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Winky? Hoo-ha? Who knows!

Once again we sat with baited breath (and maxed-out bladder) at an ultrasound appointment, only to discover that our unborn child is a modest little stinkerpants. Here's the exact conversation as the procedure wound down, at the big drum-rolling climax of the scene:

U/S tech: OK, let's find out if this is a pink baby or blue...hmm...here's the legs...here's the rump...here's between the legs...ummm...this is the umbilical cord...umm...hmm...
Me: What do you think, Bachman? Do you see a winky?
Chris: Um, I don't see what you're even talking about.
U/S tech: Well, here's the left leg, here's the right leg, here's the butt...jeez, this kid is in a bad spot...
Me: [Wincing as the tech digs that little wand into my belly to cajole baby out of its cozy spot] I don't see a winky...is it a...?
Chris: No, wait, I see it...what's that?
U/S tech: I'm gonna say girl...but wait...no...what's that?
Me: I don't see anything.
Chris: What is that? Umbilical?
U/S tech: Oh, man, I don't know...I didn't see anything before, but that is definitely something now...but Baby is all jammed up against the placenta and here's the cord...it's hard to tell...it might be the umbilical cord, or it might be a penis...it might be nothing...
Me: What? I don't see a winky...where?
U/S tech: I don't know...I can't really tell...
Me: But I've been having girl vibes! Move it around some more...want me to do jumping jacks or hold my breath or something?
U/S tech: Sorry. I just can't tell. Maybe at your next ultrasound.
Me: BUT I WON'T HAVE ANOTHER ULTRASOUND! THIS IS IT! WE CAN'T GO YET! WE HAVE TO KNOW! WAIT!
U/S tech: [shakes her head] Sorry. I can't say, and I don't want to guess wrong. Good luck! [And she speeds out of the room while we sit starting at each other in silence.]

So that's that. We don't know if Baby is a he or a she. And as we walked out, I felt bummed -- I was really hoping to prepare my brain, bond a little with my new son or daughter...not to mention prepare Big Brother (who won't even listen to the possibility of a baby sister) and paint the nursery and choose a name and get stuff together. Drat.

But as the day goes on, I've regained perspective. We have a healthy, very active baby growing in there, and up until a few months ago I didn't think that would happen ever again. I saw his/her head and heart and spine and legs and arms and foot -- I saw our baby's little foot! I caught a glimpse of a miracle, saw a tiny 11-oz. person swimming around inside me. And that makes me giddy-teary-happy.

I suppose, too, there's something to be said for the "last big surprise" on the day I get to look this little stinker in the eyes and say hello, my love, we're so happy you're here (now you're in time out for not cooperating at your ultrasound!).

As my sister so deftly put it, "You've got plenty of time --and so does Sweet Boy -- to figure out what it means to have a brother or sister while your infant is changing from a seemingly genderless mass-blob of breastfeeding and pooping hilarity into a real human being that cares about colors and toys and stuff." True. Very true. And like I keep telling Sweet Boy, there's really no difference between teaching a brother or a sister all you know about life; your little sister can play with trucks with you just as well as your little brother can play the piano with you, right?

Stay tuned, then, for the ongoing saga of Is It a Winky or Is It a Hoo-Ha? To be continued around, oh, mid-March.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

When expecting, expect the unexpected

There's a lot that goes on while one is expecting that is, in fact, unexpected. For instance, there are times you sneeze and come close to peeing your pants...hmm, unexpected. Or sometimes you step on the scale and find you've gained five pounds in a week, even though you've been nauseous and sleeping most of that time...also unexpected. Bad skin is unexpected, since everyone talks about glowing and whatnot. And widening feet is fairly odd and unexpected.

But my favorite unexpected moments come when you break the news that you're knocked up to friends, family, and colleagues. Here is just a sampling of my favorite reactions to the big news, collected from both my pregnancies:
  • Are you sure Chris is the father? (asked by one of my husband's female colleagues at a Christmas party...fabulous)
  • Will you breastfeed? (asked by a male coworker during my first pregnancy, while standing with a group of people at a lunch function)
  • Why?
  • Oh, thank God, I was afraid you'd never give that poor kid a sibling.
  • It better be a girl this time!
And my #1 most unexpected reaction -- from my dad, of all people:
  • Again?!
Today, however, I received a really nice unexpected reaction when I told one of my colleagues: His eyes teared up, and he said with a big grin, "Family is #1, Tor. You've got it right, and this news really makes me happy." Good words, unexpected moment.

Monday, September 7, 2009

New season, big news

Hi, my friends. Sorry I've been away for a while. I had to get through August, my most hated, dreaded month. I won't get into my many "boo-August!" feelings, but let's just say now that there's cooler air, I'm a happier girl.

It's been a wacky few weeks in a number of ways, and it's time I catch you up. I've been anxious and emotional, swollen and achy. I've been tired beyond reason, most nights falling asleep in Sweet Boy's bed as we say prayers. I've been dealing with 24/7 nausea and a complete lack of appetite, yet I've managed to gain 7 pounds. My exercise routine is suffering greatly; I count it as a good week if I get out for a 45-minute walk 3 days. And I've given up my two favorite beverages, coffee and wine.

However, right around last weekend, I started to feel human again (or at least not as nauseous and a tad less tired), even though I have to loop a rubberband through the buttonholes in order to fasten my pants. And we've made it through the first couple months, especially through August, so now I can tell you what you've already figured out:

I'm pregnant! It only really sunk in the other day when we heard Baby's heartbeat at my doctor's appointment. We're going to have a baby! Can you believe it?!

I'd been holding my breath since we first found out in mid-July. In fact, Big Daddy and I realized a few weeks into this adventure that we were speaking in code and euphemism, never really saying the words baby or pregnant, as if uttering these words aloud would somehow jinx us and bring on that pain we felt in March. In fact, I think we were both fairly shocked that this pregnancy happened so quickly after the miscarriage, and our excitement has been tempered with extreme anxiety. I've noticed this anxiety, too, in our families when we told them our news a couple weeks ago, like no one wants to get too excited until they can see my giant belly and feel those little kicks.

The only person in our family who has shown true, unadulterated excitement is Sweet Boy. He talks to my belly button every day, asks about what things he can play with his little brother (the idea of a sister is completely foreign, of course), and he giggled with glee when he heard the heartbeat the other day. I will hold forever in my heart the image of his wide eyes when he heard that beautiful whoosh-whoosh on the Doppler. We look at the Your Pregnancy This Week book every weekend, and he giggles at the idea of a baby the size of his thumb one week, then a baby the size of a plum the next. These are yet more reasons I thank God every day for the wonder, joy, and hope this boy has brought into my life. And these are reasons I can get excited about Baby Deuce joining our little clan in March.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Happy birthday to my best friend


My mom would have turned 60 today. She is in my head every day, but a much younger version. So I can only imagine what she would look like at this point: I imagine her sparkling green eyes have a few more wrinkles around them -- laugh lines, of course, similar to the lines that accentuate her smile. She's still trying to find the perfect shade of strawberry blond to cover those stubborn streaks of white above her ears; sometimes her hair is a little too blond, sometimes a little too red. She still obsesses about her chin and her pot belly. Her long, thin arms and legs are a touch more suntanned than ever before from all the time spent gardening and playing on the beach with her grandson. She'd be retired now, after all, with more time to spend in her beloved outdoors -- but I'm sure she'd still be teaching here and there, maybe volunteering in an after-school program for gifted kids or tutoring adults who need reading help. She'd stay busy. Could never sitting still, my mom.

Even though I've been out of the house for over 10 years now, I'd still call her every few nights, just to tell her about my day or to laugh about something silly Sweet Boy said. Sometimes I'd call to bitch about work or to gripe about something dumb my husband said or to whine about the latest frustrating kid behavior. She'd tell me to suck it up, to stop complaining, to look around at the beauty and wonder that is my life. And she'd be right, and I'd feel better just having gotten it off my mind.

We'd get together for girl time every now and then, go out for drinks and live music, like we did that summer I got my fake ID. She loved my fake ID. And in hindsight, it's good I had it, because she died right around the time I was breaking in the real one. In summer we'd drink white wine together on my deck, like girlfriends, and we'd watch our men chase fireflies with Sweet Boy. She'd be teasing my dad in her odd, biting way; humor was not really her strong point, but after 35 years with Dad, her sense for sarcasm has finally tuned up a touch.

Sixty looks good on Mom in my mind. She's happy, relaxed, peaceful. She's finally able to enjoy some of her hard-earned money, instead of constantly scraping and sacrificing for new shoes for her kids or summer camps or college bills. Mom and Dad have been to Europe more than once since retiring, and they're planning that Alaska trip. It's so nice to see them with time to spend together. So much time.

I won't dwell today on how much I miss her. Sometimes I feel as if the hole in my middle is visible to the entire world. I've waited 12 years for that hole to heal, to close up even just a tiny bit, but I realize now it never will; it's part of who I am. But the bigger part of me is full from the 21 years I got to spend with my mom. I do think about her every day, sometimes with sadness, sometimes with anger, sometimes with curiosity. But today I'll think of her with happiness and gratitude. Today I'll sing happy birthday to my mom. I'll eat a cupcake in her honor, I'll drink that glass of white wine on my deck. I will celebrate her memory.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Waiter, there's an f-bomb in my soup!

I know you've been here before: You're sitting at a family-friendly eatery with your child, or maybe even with your spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, enjoying a nice little meal when the bozo at the table next to you starts spouting out obscenities. He's dropping f-bombs left and right...every sentence contains at least one (because let's face it, it's a highly versatile word), like it's, oh, bunny or very or pretty.

So you give him a look. You know the one: the passive-aggressive "hey, buddy, knock it off, my kid's right here" look. But he doesn't get it. Why would he? This is how he speaks, after all. Why would he notice you and your wide-eyed 4-year-old sitting to his left? So you try to talk louder to your child so as to distract yourself and your partner from the foulmouthed fool. "How's that quesadilla, love? Isn't it good?!" -- and your child looks at you with confusion because he doesn't understand why you're yelling at him.

But Mr. Potty-Mouth keeps going. The f-bombs now flow forth with more colorful expletives (which I won't print here because this is a family blog, but you can guess), and he's getting more vociferous and animated. ESPN is on the television (why do we need televisions in restaurants? is your food that bad that we need the distraction?), and he's all fired up about some pitcher's poor performance. So you shoot another look, this time followed by a curt "excuse me!"

Yet, he doesn't get it. His friends do; they've asked him to tone it down. But he's still going...louder and bigger F's flying. Finally you hear this spew: "This f-ing guy is so f-ing oblivious...what an f-ing douche!" That's your limit. You look at him and say "Yes, some guys are really oblivious. Could you please watch your language?" His friend says, "dude, there's a kid..."

To which The Effer mutters under his breath, "F-ing bitch."

And this is when it's really nice to be 6-2 with ridiculously broad shoulders and eyebrows that you can arch a tiny bit menacingly. Even though your blood is really boiling now -- he did not just call me an effing bitch!!! -- you simply stand up, cross your arms, and say "Excuse me? What did you say?" (In your very best Mom voice, of course.)

The Bad Man leaves, sheepishly, and goodness and innocence is returned to the land. I mean, really -- if your kid is going to learn how to use the f-word, wouldn't you rather he learn it from you?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Birthday party panic

There are three events that send me into a total where-is-my-mom-when-I-need-her panic:
1) Choosing new window treatments
2) Halloween
3) Birthdays

My mom was great at all of these things, mostly because of her creativity, fearlessness when it came to tackling all projects great and small, and her ability to fashion just about anything from a few pieces of scrap fabric and a sewing machine.

I, however, break into a cold sweat when confronted with any of these. Don't even get me started on curtains; I will cry, seriously. I've gotten through the Halloween thing recently because I realize that store-bought costumes are actually cheaper, easier, and often just as cute as homemade ones. This week, however, as Sweet Boy's 4th birthday looms on the near horizon, I'm sweating about how exactly to throw the Best Party Ever.

We're going once again with the Giant Family-Friend Barbecue Bash this weekend because, frankly, I lack creativity. If I was my mother, I would have thrown together a smashing birthday party for all 15 of Sweet Boy's classmates, complete with themed games, a craft activity, special prizes, and delicious food. But alas...the thought of entertaining 15 little kids AND their parents made my stomach churn.

So. Grilled hot dogs, chicken, and potato salad it is. I hope the sprinkler and water balloons I have planned for the little ones keeps them happy. It's no moonbounce in the driveway, of course, but it's something.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Perfect summer evening

We chased fireflies tonight in the backyard. First time with Sweet Boy. It was amazing.
They sparkled in the trees behind our house, like Christmas lights.
He was in awe.
Stars blinked overhead. A cool breeze kissed our faces. The grass licked our bare toes. Peeper frogs serenaded us from the creek beyond.
We caught three fireflies for his little bug jar, put some grass in it. He just went to sleep watching them on his nightstand.
The world is so beautiful when I see it all for the first time again through his eyes.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Supermom and Captain Defiant call a truce

Wow, I just re-read my last whiny post. Ick. I promise to not complain too loudly anymore about my exceptionally wonderful work/life set-up. I realize that most mothers don't have the choices and options I have when it comes to balancing work and family. Sure, it's hard to work with a child at my side, but I say a thank-you prayer every day.

So. I've had a couple days since that vent session to evaluate the telecommuting situation, as well as my own parenting. I know now that much of Captain Defiance's naughtiness has been a result of feeling neglected by his staring-at-the-computer mom these last few weeks. (I overheard him tell SallyCat the other night, "Sorry, Sal, I can't play with you now because I have a lot of work to do." Zing!) And I know that I have been making poor parenting decisions based on guilt and annoyance and anger. Also, I realized I often forget that this little guy is just 3 years old -- he doesn't understand what I'm trying to accomplish.

I'm happy to report that today we had a delightful day, nary an argument, foot-stomp, or whine. I woke up and decided to regroup and try some of the things I know make life easier on my telecommuting days. We started the day with a quick little chat about the behaviors that make Mommy crazy, and I asked if there was something he really wanted to do today. As usual, he answered "Go to the park!" so we made that our "deal": If we get through the morning without any stomping, whining, throwing, etc., we will go to the park for lunch.

And because he made it brilliantly through the morning, we went for a long bike ride at lunchtime; we ate a picnic lunch at the state park (and got attacked by a really ballsy squirrel, which was memorable, if nothing else). A long lunch outing, of course, meant that I'd have to work at least an extra hour into the evening, but I'm willing to do that if it means a little fresh air and play time. This is true quality time, after all, and priceless. In fact, picnic lunches at the park are the main reason I chose telecommuting!

I've rediscovered this week that it's all about giving him more control, yet setting my own parameters. I know, any parenting book or guru or experienced parent will tell you that's what's needed. But remember, I'm a novice. And I don't read parenting books or listen to gurus. And sometimes I just get stressed and don't think straight.

So I made a conscious decision to take it easy today, speak rationally, listen to my child, give and take. Here are some of the other conversations we had throughout the day:
  • You can watch TV, but only one show or kids' movie. You can choose. But you also must choose if you want TV time to be first thing in the morning or later in the day.
  • It's OK to stay in your jammies until lunchtime, if that's what you want. We can't go outside the house until you're dressed...but when it's time to get dressed, you choose what you're going to wear.
  • When breakfast is over, the kitchen is closed. [I turned off the lights and made an official announcement.] That means no more snacks, no more asking for juice, no more opening cabinet doors until lunchtime.
  • Mommy needs a helper. Can you sit here next to me and color a picture? Or how about you make me a poster? Can you put some stickers on my manuscript as I flip the pages?
  • I can't play much today, buddy, but if you can play on your own for the next little while, I'll take a break to play a game, do a puzzle, or read a book with you.
  • Hey, do you know what's coming up? Lunchtime in about 10 minutes! Then we'll go for our walk...then naptime...
  • You must stay in your bed for quiet time in the afternoon; whether you sleep or not is up to you. [Usually he sleeps for 2-3 hours, thank goodness.]
I have to remember at all times that I can walk away from the computer at any time -- it will all be there when I return, but time with my son won't always be there.

And really, whenever the negotiations with Captain Defiant really break down, even Supermom can take a sick day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The summer adventures of Captain Defiant and SuperMom

I made a deal with myself four years ago, when I started telecommuting in order to spend more time with my then-infant son, that I would take the telecommuting thing one week at a time. Meaning, I would never get so used to it that I couldn't adjust back to a regular 40-hours-per-week-in-the-office lifestyle. Also meaning I would assess periodically whether this work/life balance was still the best arrangement for my son, for my career, and for myself.

Once more I’ve come to reassessment point. And I'm finding that keeping the deal I made with myself is really, really difficult. I'm not sure if this summer may be the breaking point. As in, perhaps it's time to bite the bullet and just put the kid in daycare full-time...which truly would break my heart.

Sweet Boy is home with me this summer on Tuesdays and Thursdays. All day. While I work. All day. I am working a four-day, condensed week so I can have Fridays off to spend with him -- and our Fridays have been amazing! However, the Tuesdays and Thursdays have been less than stellar. As have been Mondays and Wednesdays, come to think of it. My work schedule has me on the road to the office at 6:30 am on Mondays and Wednesdays, then logging on to my computer at 7am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The workday goes until 5pm, at least, on all four days. Often Tuesdays and Thursdays are even longer because I've had to split my focus all day, so I'm cramming in e-mails as I make dinner. (But it's worth the grueling schedule to have three-day weekends for a few months. Did I mention how awesome our Fridays off together are?)

We have a babysitter who comes on Tuesdays to break up the day for both of us, and my dad still comes on Thursdays for most of the day. But today the babysitter is ill. And my dad is on vacation in Florida until mid-July. The days are longer. The rain has been incessant. The afternoon naps are getting shorter. The workload is picking up. Oh. My. Goodness. (I know...keep focusing on those Fridays!)

As you can imagine, Sweet Boy has not been so sweet lately. (In fact, he’s in time out YET AGAIN right this minute.) I'm not sure what the cause -- his age, the shift in daily routine, the rainy weather, too much peanut butter, not enough sugar, whatever -- but lately he's been a defiant, nasty, foot-stomping, toy-throwing little monster at times. Sure, for the most part he's the same happy-go-lucky little dude -- but I feel that he saves the worst behaviors for me. He knows all my buttons, and he has no problem pushing them. In fact, he delights in pushing them.

The last couple weeks, especially, the major hot-button behavior has been his flat-out ignoring of the things I say. Like when I tell him, for example, not to jump on the couch, and he looks me right in the eyes...then jumps on the couch. Or when I have to say 2,000 times "it's time for dinner/bath/bed/getting dressed" and he simply pretends to not hear me -- as if I'm not even in the room, let alone standing next to him. ARRGGGHH! Just typing it makes my blood pressure rise!

And the whining...sweet Lord, deliver me from the constant whining.

So. Here we are. End of June. Just about midway through the summer. Can she do it? Can Supermom make it through without having a total meltdown? Can Captain Defiant survive the summer, or will he be shut in his bedroom on a permanent time-out? Stay tuned for the next exciting installment...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

My girl athlete manifesto

Yes, I'm a girl.
Yes, I'm an athlete.
Yes, I'll kick your butt.

This little diddy hangs on my refrigerator on a magnet; I used to have a t-shirt with this slogan way back when I really thought of myself as an athlete. I'm bringing it back. The athlete thing, I mean.

I type this post tonight with very sore muscles in my arms, shoulders, and back. My knees are throbbing a bit, too. But I feel so great.

Big Daddy and I have started going to the gym to lift weights together two or three times a week. (This is why my blogging has been unsteady -- time is limited, with the longer work days, squeezing in gym time, and the earlier bedtimes.) He is a great trainer. And talk about personal! Who knows my body better than my husband? And who knows the parts of my body that I'm insecure about better than the one person I whine to most? I think he knows my parts better than I know my parts. So he has worked out a training circuit for me that not only works my whole body, but it really targets the places that I most want to tone -- and I can do it in three one-hour sessions per week.

We work out together for an hour or so each time (the babysitting at the YMCA is only free for an hour -- you've gotta take what you can get, right?) but it's an hour that's just for us. An hour where we're connecting and spending time as a couple, giggling at private jokes, pushing each other to reach further, cheering one another on. And let me tell you, I have rediscovered that watching my husband bench press 200 pounds is really pretty hot!

The most significant thing about this, though, is that I've reclaimed my status as athlete. For a long time I've felt as if I gave that distinction up back in 1995 when I walked away from playing organized basketball. I wanted to leave that part of my life behind for good. I didn't want to be the tall girl who played basketball anymore -- so cliche. Sure, I've worked out on and off since then, but I haven't really been thinking of myself as an athlete. Not for a long, long time.

Well, today I'm taking it back. I'm going to call myself an athlete, and I'm going to be an athlete -- on my terms. No more worrying about someone yelling at me, no more trying to live up to other people's exaggerated expectations. No more allowing some tiny man to belittle me for not being fast enough, strong enough, or mean enough. And no more beating myself up. I'm doing this for me, because I love this body -- do you know the things this body has done and can do?! -- and I want to make sure it works for a long, long time.

In doing this for me, in jogging or riding my bike or swimming every day, in lifting weights -- just being purposefully active -- I have rediscovered how powerful and beautiful my body is. I have rediscovered what it feels like to be healthy. I have rediscovered my own physical, mental, and emotional strength. i have rediscovered energy and enthusiasm. I have rediscovered that I can speak up, sweat it out, push back. I am proud of myself. I love these sore muscles. I love this potential. And a sweat-soaked t-shirt really feels good.

So, yes, I'm a girl. Yes, I'm an athlete. And yes, I'll kick your butt.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Wrapped up in the number no more

I'm about to let you in on a little secret: I (re)joined Weight Watchers about 6 weeks ago. I haven't told many folks because although I was successful on WW years ago, it took me almost 2 years to lose 35 pounds. And toward the end of that weight loss journey I, frankly, became a tiny bit nuts -- gaining and losing the same two pounds for at least 5 months, getting frustrated and angry and depressed and obsessive. Not pretty. I was within 4 pounds of my ultimate goal when I got pregnant and put on 65 pounds. And there you have it. Two years of maniacal food counting and compulsive exercising right out the door.

My son is almost 4 now, and I still carry around the last 15 of those 65 pregnancy pounds. I want them gone. Not-So-Big Daddy is melting away since his illness in January -- he's down almost 70 pounds, people! -- but I've been struggling to shed my own spare tire. So I paid the money, stepped bravely onto the WW scale, started counting the Points and walk-jogging the miles. I've been losing weight slowly...very s-l-o-w-l-y...but I feel good.

Or at least I felt good until my last WW meeting.

This past week I went to a different meeting than I usually attend. I remembered the leader from my previous WW experience -- and I remembered disliking her then. But I stuck around, because, hell, I'm paying the money, might as well get the full experience, right? The topic of the meeting was motivation, and the intention was to get all of us to reach into our bellies, pardon the pun, and find what it was that led us to WW in the first place. The theory, I suppose, was to remind us that fat is no fun, that getting healthy should really be the focus, that in the day-to-day battle of the bulge, we need to concentrate on little things like how much easier it is to button our pants or how much less our knees ache.

However, as the meeting progressed, my motivation actually waned. Instead I got depressed. There I was sitting in a room full of beautiful, smart women -- mothers, wives, sisters, friends, professionals, caretakers -- all of whom repeated over and over how they felt unworthy of doing something important for themselves. More than one woman said she felt guilty when she took an hour to go to the gym instead of cleaning her house, that she felt inadequate if she served her husband a vegetarian dinner in order to meat her own weight loss goals, that if she enjoyed herself with friends at lunch and happened to overeat, she punished herself by not eating dinner and going hungry all night. Is this healthy behavior? I think not.

Why, you ask, do they feel unworthy? Because they are fat. Many, like me, have been overweight since childhood, so we carry scars of nasty kids and compulsive parents. Some were thin until a certain point in adulthood and can't understand how or why they became overweight; they feel out of control. Everyone in that room had serious self-esteem issues that centered on our weight. Instead of seeing the positives in our lives, we all dwell on that number on the scale, let that number rule our thoughts and our self-confidence. For some reason, in our warped brains, it doesn't matter that we have husbands who think we're sexy, children who think the sun rises because of us, friends who would rather spend their time with us than with anyone else.

Wow. Epiphany time. As I sat there listening to these women revealing their food scars, I thought I don't want to be like this!

The two things that makes Weight Watchers work is also the problem with Weight Watchers: (1) Food becomes your #1 focus. You must plan what you eat ahead of time; you must be ever-vigilant, constantly evaluating whether you're hungry enough at 2pm to eat that 2-point cheese stick and therefore not have the 2 points to use at 9pm when you might be really hungry. (2) The weekly weigh-in holds you accountable for your food choices. But it can make you completely crazy about the number each week, because really, it's the only empirical measure of your success (or failure). No matter how well your pants fit or how much you've lost to that point, if you've foregone cake, beer, and pizza at a party yet not lost weight -- or, horror, put on weight! -- you will walk away feeling bad.

They say that people who are successful on WW learn how to do it by rote; they think in points values, get used to eating the same types of things at the same times, habitually exercise, and make healthy food choices. That sounds easy enough, right?

But it seems to me that people who are successful with weight loss, no matter how they do it, learn how to shut off the self-defeating fat-person thoughts. So I suppose the un-motivating motivation meeting did in fact motivate me: I want to learn how to look in the mirror and see the smart, beautiful, successful, happy woman I am. When I can do that, no matter what the scale says, the weight will be gone.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Parenting without fear...but with knowledge

Alright, my kid is almost 4, so his father and I have been slowly easing up on the hovering. I mean, we've never been real helicopter parents -- I often say that my parenting style is more along the lines of mindful neglect -- but lately we've been trying to give him more freedom to explore his world. The past few weeks, as the weather is warming up, we've been letting him play in the backyard...alone.

Now I'm not talking all day every day all alone. I'm talking he sits in the sandbox at the back of the yard in full view from the kitchen window. And usually I can only last about three minutes before I'm out on the deck yelling "You OK? Can I come play? Want some water?" etc. He doesn't want me to play, he doesn't want water...he just wants to play with his guys in the fresh air. And I love that.

I can tell he loves this big boy freedom. He is proud of the fact that we trust him to play on his own. But there's a little tiny voice in my head that's always whispering "kids get snatched from their yards all the time...there are sick, sick people all around us...you are a terrible mother..."

Yesterday the little voice quieted a bit when I read an empowering column by Lenore Skenazy, who blogs at FreeRangeKids. Although I don't think I could put my 9-year-old on a NYC subway on his own, I do understand her point about easing up on the hovering, because perhaps the fear we feel is a result of our constant bombardment with news and TV shows full of badness, as well as a kid-products industry that preys on our every insecurity. Actual crime statistics are down since we were kids, in fact. A good quote summarizes her point:
"The world is safer than we've been brainwashed into believing. Our kids are more competent than a superstore's worth of kiddie walking, reading, eating and sleeping aids would have us think. Our parental instincts have gotten us to this point in human evolution without a library full of books warning us that one wrong step and our kids are goners. In other words: take a step back from this weird parenting moment we're in and you CAN give your children the freedom you had without going nuts with worry."
Maybe some would say I'm a nut face for letting my almost-4-year-old play in his backyard unsupervised, even if only for three minutes. And it's OK if you say I'm a nut face because we each have to parent in our own way; if you want to hover, that's cool too. But I believe we have to know our kids well enough to know when they're ready for these tiny steps toward independence. They also have to know that we trust them, and that they can make decisions on their own. I don't want my child to grow up afraid to be on his own, afraid of every stranger he meets. It's a tightrope act, of course, as is pretty much everything we do as parents.

Sadly, right around the time I was reading this article and feeling all supermommy, a house on my block was being raided by a SWAT team. That's right, raided -- guns drawn and everything. When my neighbor told me about it, my first reaction was, oh, drugs, bad. But we soon learned it was worse: four people were taken into custody, and at least one was charged with distributing child porn. Great! A child pornographer (or many) has been living a block-and-a-half away in our sleepy little family-friendly neighborhood. We walk by the house every time we walk to the playground. My friend lives across the street with her 6-year-old and her 1-year old, and another friend lives two doors down with a toddler. Another friend who lives on the block has two free-range boys who spend all day riding their bikes and exploring the world.

I would have preferred a drug dealer on the street, frankly.

So I suppose I will continue to let my son play in the yard on his own, and I will continue to check on him every three minutes. But maybe a solo walk to the park will be years and years away.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Behold, the Re-generation

NYTimes columnist and author Thomas L. Friedman delivered the keynote address at my sister's University of Delaware graduation this past weekend. As we sat in the sunshine staring down upon 3,100 beaming, proud graduates stepping from their happy, beer-soaked dorm rooms into the doom and gloom of a global recession, I thought, dude, I do not envy him this task. How do you tell these kids to go forth, work hard, fear nothing, reach for the stars, be productive, yada yada yada, when everyone else in the world is wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth?

Friedman spoke well, as I'd expect, delivering grounded advice with wit and intelligence. He brought us all down a bit, of course, by indicting our parents' generation as Grasshoppers who simply consumed, consumed, consumed and destroyed the earth while destroying the economy. (I watched the Baby Boomers all around me squirm and fidget through this segment of the speech.) He then termed the graduates as the Re-generation: Those who will go forth and replenish, rebuild, and refocus the world. It was inspiring, I'll admit, to hear him advise them to use imagination and creativity and define success in their own ways.

But as I looked around, I couldn't help but wonder, is this really true? Is it really this era of graduates who will regenerate? Of course in some regards, yes. But don't you think that in the immediate future, it will be my generation -- Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980 -- who will be doing the real work?

As I see it, this global recession means that the Grasshoppers, all the while lamenting their lost retirement savings, have left (or are leaving) the workforce. But companies are not re-hiring a newer, fresher, just-out-of-college workers. Nope. Hiring freezes worldwide mean that the Re-generation may be spending more time in the Grasshoppers' basements then they'd originally intended. They may be volunteering their time and using their intellect and creativity to save the world's wretched (who last year were probably the world's upper middle class...oh, irony), but they will have a hard time moving into the existing spaces to make immediate change within the workforce.

So who do we have left? That's right, America -- the 30-somethings you poo-pooed 10 to 15 years ago when we graduated from college. I remember well the Time, Newsweek, and NYTimes articles that looked down their noses at those of us who came of age listening to Nirvana, playing Super Mario Bros., and watching Must See TV. Aren't we the ones who started the recycling movement? Didn't we yell at our peers in the dorm bathroom to turn off the water while they brushed their teeth? Didn't we marvel at the technology behind listservs in our lit classes, harness the power of the internet in our jobs, and teach our parents how to use e-mail and MS Word? And aren't we the ones doing the heavy lifting now?

I look at my own workplace as a prime example: In the last six months, as the shit really hit the fan, many of the Boomers went quietly into early retirement -- whether voluntarily or involuntarily. Many of these were our upper management folks, too. Because they mishandled the money and ran the joint into the ground, we can't hire new people to fill the gaps.

Yet at the same time, everyone's scrambling for new ideas, asking for revising and re-visioning of the old ideas, looking to those of us in the middle to take on new challenges to compensate for the decrease in workforce. We're all working our asses off to keep the place alive, yet getting no raises for at least another year, maybe two, maybe three. But we look around and think, yeah, I'll keep working hard because I know I'm fortunate to even have a job and I believe in the work that we do. Furthermore, I can't afford to not work my ass off because I have a house and family, so there's no alternative. This is a mindset similar to the Great Generation, no? Put your head down, work hard, remember your priorities.

I've always been annoyed by the moniker Generation X. As if we have no place, no defining qualities, no endearing characteristics. Well. That will change.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

If you keep feeding them, they just keep growing

A couple weeks ago, we went to the playground with the giant rock-climbing wall. I turned to grab my camera, took my eyes off Sweet Boy for a minute, and the next thing I knew, he was 12 feet off the ground, standing proudly on the platform at the top of the wall, waving and smiling to me. I looked at Big Daddy and said, "How the hell did he get up there?!" He climbed, replied my nonchalant spouse. "He can't climb up there by himself! He's too little!"

The day after that mindblowing rock-wall climb, we were sitting at lunch when I heard a tiny knock at the door. Standing on our steps was Sweet Boy's little buddy from across the street: "Can Sweet Boy come over to play?" Imagine my delight -- his first come-out-to-play request! I watched Sweet Boy take one last gulp of PB&J then charge out the door and across the street with our friend's mom. I yelled after him "just 20 minutes! I'll be over soon!" And I turned to my husband and said, "Can he go over there by himself? Doesn't he need me? He's not too little?"

Today we went to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and as I started unpacking the car with all our jackets and backpacks, I reached for the stroller. Both Sweet Boy and Big Daddy looked at me like I was nuts. "I can walk, Mommy," said the little one. "He can walk, hon," said the big one. But it's far! We're going to be walking all day! He'll be tired and whiny! He's too little! But once again, I was wrong. He's a big boy now. He walked and walked and walked all day, and only complained one time right at the end of the day (when all three of us were dragging and whiny).

These are just a few examples of the countless ways my son has shocked me with his maturity in the last couple weeks. There's also the vast and ever-growing vocabulary, the name spelling and writing, the wild and imaginative stories, the big boy pants straight through the night. The most significant grown-up boy development in the last few weeks has been the easy daycare drop-off. Who knew an exuberant, happy child waving bravely to me from the window could bring me to tears just as quickly as the miserable, crying one could?

It's no exaggeration that he's growing before our eyes, every day becoming more and more fun and interesting and intelligent and amazing. Yet in our busy day-to-day we often miss the little things. Which is why we decided to take this week off, to enjoy a family staycation, to soak up every wonderful minute with this little dreamboy. Because he's not so little anymore, and we just don't want to miss a thing.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Evacuation plan

Around 10:30 last night, my friend up the street e-mailed with a quick message: "Did your house just shake?" Although I hadn't felt the shake, I did hear a quick boom boom, and had just brushed it off as my cats wrestling in the hallway above us -- which often does sound like boom boom. Hmph, I thought, and turned on the news.

Sure enough, there had been an explosion at the giant Sun Oil refinery that sits on the river about 6 miles from our house. Any other night, and I would have been snug in my bed, unaware of this excitement. But this night, I sat in front of my computer and my television, trying to comprehend. All I needed to hear were the words "extremely toxic and dangerous when ignited" and "evacuation possible for residents within a 10-mile radius" and my brain went into high alert.

I stayed cool, but my thought process was weird. At least it wasn't what I would expect when faced with evacuating my family from our home. Big Daddy calmly stood, went to the bedroom, and packed up his backpack full of clothes and medicines. He was ready to roll in about 2.5 minutes.

I, on the other hand, thought the situation through like this:

  1. Do we have any food in the emergency box?
  2. Did I replace the $20 I took out of the emergency cash envelope?
  3. Do I have any clean underwear to pack, or is it all in the dryer?
  4. Should I call my dad?
  5. Where are the cat carriers?
  6. What DVDs would Sweet Boy want to watch in the car?
  7. How many toys and books should I grab for him?
  8. Is this travel sized toothpaste tube going to be enough for all three of us?
  9. Is there gas in the car?
  10. Where the hell are we going to go?
Ten minutes later, all this randomness in my brain had worked itself out. Within moments I had packed two bags for me and Sweet Boy, grabbed my laptop and a handful of movies and books, filled another bag with small toys, piled everything by the front door, and started throwing canned goods into the empty laundry hamper.

Then the word came that we had the all-clear. Which is a darn good thing, because it probably would have taken us quite a while to get it all in the car.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Got dirt?

I'm hot. My face is streaked with dirt, fingernails caked with mud, knees grass-stained. My back aches, my arms burn. Sweat drips down my forehead, soaks my shirt. My hair is frizzy from the morning mist and drizzle. But...the scent of rosemary lingers in my nose. I am smiling ear to ear.

We just turned over our veggie garden, prepping it for planting. Although we'd borrowed a (very old) roto-tiller from our good friends -- the friends who time and again bail us out with our home and yard issues -- we just couldn't get the tiller moving long enough to actually turn the soil. So, we did it the old-fashioned way: hoe, rake, hands, back.

We pounded the hell out of the weeds with a hoe, hacked at and yanked up clumps of grass with an edger, evened it all out with the rake. Sweet Boy "saved" all the worms by lovingly picking them out of the earth, collecting them in a pile then moving them to the far edge under the tiny dogwood sapling (that has remarkably survived not only transplant but two seasons of ragged lawnmowing and a toddler). Big Daddy pointed out all things creepy and crawly, and the two boys marveled at spiders, potato bugs, a beetle, some kind of pupa, and even a small snake.

Later today we'll take our annual trip to the garden center to pick out our vegetable plants. We all love that trip. So many possibilities await in those tiny plants! Tomatoes and zucchini and peppers and string beans. Oregano and cilantro and basil and mint. It all tastes so much better in the heat of the summer sun, when you've picked it with your own hands right out of your own yard. This is the stuff I longed for all those years in apartments and condos...now I remember. And maybe this is, in fact, worth all the other hassles home ownership brings.

I feel indescribable joy when digging in the dirt. Maybe it's the nurture of tiny sprouts into full-grown food-bearing plants. Maybe it's the nostalgia, memories of sitting in Grampa's garden eating snap peas, Mom with salt shaker in hand for the juicy tomatoes she ate like apples off the vine. Maybe it's watching the wonder in my child's face when he sees the first zucchini squash, the excitment he exudes when we get home each day and race to the backyard to see what might have grown while we were gone. Maybe it's the associations: summertime, delicious food, relaxing afternoons on the deck. Maybe it's simply feeling part of the earth, connected. Whatever the reason, this small patch of ground in my backyard makes me happy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Top 5 Reasons Why My Husband Is Awesome

5. He not only washes and folds all our household laundry, but he puts my clean clothes away if I whine about doing it myself at the end of a long day. (He may not guess all the drawers correctly, but he tries -- and that's what counts.)

4. Instead of complaining about my spiky legs, he hands me one of his expensive uber-razors. (Ladies, don't be fooled by the pretty pink packages -- men's razors really are better!)

3. When we eat out, he never tells me what he's going to order. He lets me pick my own meal, then he gets the dish he knows I really wanted, and he swaps with me mid-meal.

2. He surprises me with a pair of purple Chuck Taylor sneakers he saw me eyeing in the mall weeks ago. (Because he knew I wouldn't get up off my wallet for something so silly.)

1. He calls me in the middle of a busy Monday to talk about mundane stuff like garage door openers and lawn mowers and all the phone calls he's made about each...then mid-sentence pauses and says "I can't stop thinking about you today."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Moms all around me

I'm thinking about the moms in my life on this Mother's Day. First, of course, I remember the mom who raised me to be the person I am today, the one I look and sound more like with each passing day. Not a day goes by that I don't wish I could call her on the phone. I imagine today what she would be like as a grandmother, and I smile.

I think, too, of her mom, my own grandmother, the woman who spoiled me with frilly dresses and girlie gifts as a child, who traveled the country ringing a bell in the stands at my basketball games. She has stood tall by my side through happy and sad times as an adult and I'm so blessed to be standing by her side through next chapter of her fabulous life.

I think of my husband's mom, as well, the woman who raised the most amazing man I've ever known. She has taken me into her family without hesitation, with an open heart, and loves me as her own daughter.

I think of the moms who have filled in the gaps for me, the women who have lifted me up and carried me through uncertain times when I didn't have my own mom to do so. They have advised me and loved me when I've needed it most. Some of these women were part of my life for only a short time, but they affected me deeply; others remain crucial still today.

I think of my friends who are moms to little ones, women to whom I look to for advice in my own motherhood journey. These are the moms I laugh with or worry with, the ones who say, "hey, don't sweat it," or "maybe you should try this instead." I would be lost without these moms. Truly.

And I think of the friends who are not moms to their own children but who sometimes fill the space in my heart where a mom might dwell. I turn to these women to help me think through life's problems or to celebrate life's joys. They love my family as their own. They keep me balanced and grounded.

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms in my life. Thank you for enriching my world. I am so fortunate and grateful for each and every one of you.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The grass is always greener

Once upon a time, Big Daddy and I lived in a two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of a large apartment complex. A quiet building full of retirees who looked after us and doted on us like their grandchildren. We would call maintenance when the washing machine overflowed and flooded the kitchen, or when the window leaked and stained the wall, or when the air conditioner unit froze up, or even when we locked ourselves out. They would come within 24 hours, fix the problem, accept a cold beer as a thank-you tip, and be on their way. We lived there for four years. Yet I complained about it every week -- hated that we had nothing to call our own, longed for a backyard and garden, felt sad that we didn't have enough space to store the bread machine we received as a wedding gift.

Then we moved to a condo, a nice little place with three bedrooms and three levels, a pretty little balcony on the living room level and a patio through French sliders on the ground level. Nice big rooms, but not a nice neighborhood (hence, affordable). We had to take care of all the "walls in" portions of the property, but otherwise all the exterior stuff was handled for us: the lawn was mowed once a week, the flower beds weeded, the gutters cleaned, the siding repaired, the snow shoveled, the trash taken directly from our enclosed front patios. We lived there for four years, too. And I complained about it every week -- hated the restrictiveness of the condo association rules, cursed the lack of parking, wished for a yard we didn't have to share with 20 other homeowners.

Two-and-a-half years ago we moved to our current home, a four-bedroom split level in a quiet little family neighborhood. We have a quarter-acre yard, a deck, a sunroom, a fireplace, a garage, and a giant attic. We have a basketball hoop in the driveway. We have friendly neighbors, an elementary school around the corner, and three playgrounds and a library within a 10-minute walk. In the fall, we can hear the high school marching band practicing; in the spring we can hear countless children running and playing up and down the street. It's lovely, really. Exactly what we wanted.

But. We have a gigantic mortgage that makes me cringe with each monthly payment. We have three bathrooms to clean, four bedrooms to dust, and a house full of hardwoods to mop. We have a lawn to mow, a wrap-around garden to weed, and countless trees to prune and rake up after. In addition, this week we have a garage door opener to fix, a laundry drain to unclog, two sinkholes to fill, a sump pump to unstick, an electrical outlet to tighten, a piece of siding to refasten, and a lawnmower that needs yet another overhaul. All of this costs money that we really don't have...because of the giant mortgage. We also have a retired next-door neighbor with yard-work OCD whose "helpful" comments sounds much more like criticism; I often interpret "You can do that with a screwdriver" as "You're an idiot and a lazy slob."

As I gaze through the window at our two-foot high lawn this evening, I am considering putting a sign on the front lawn that reads, simply, "We're sorry, neighbors," and sneaking off into the night with a backpack and a tent. Suddenly, that two-bedroom apartment sounds so sweet.