Monthly Archives: August 2011

Don’t Pick Up Strange Creatures

Every now and then, I think it’s important to be put in one’s place. I’d prefer it be gently, of course, but I don’t get to choose. Last week, I learned a lesson: Don’t forget to practice what you preach. Sometimes I just need to shut up and follow all that advice that I’m always dishing out to my kids. It’s tough when you open your eyes and realize you’re just as guilty and annoying and senseless as they are.

Example one: I ran a red light. Thankfully, I realized it as soon as I was about to sail through it, but screeching, skidding tires was a worse option than slowing down and maneuvering through safely. There were two stoplights yards apart from each other, and I was focused on the farther one. Neither my kids nor the lady entering the intersection even noticed.

Example two: My daughter dressed herself in a pink-and-white-striped shirt and a skirt with diagonal stripes of blues and purples.

“Honey, the shorts that match that shirt are right here. They’ve just been washed,” I offered, wanting her to wear the outfit that I liked. “Do you want to wear those instead?” Man, I tried, I really did.

“No thanks,” my daughter said.

“What your mother is saying is that doesn’t match,” my husband blurted out.

“I don’t care,” my daughter said. And she didn’t. She wore it all day, out in public, in places where I saw people I knew, even after I had asked once more if she wanted to change before we left. It was tough. Cute to mismatch at 4, not so cute at 6.

Example three: At the pool, just as I was about to sit down, I noticed what I thought was a yellow and black worm on my towel, on the part where my rear was about to go. I gently plucked it from the towel only to feel excruciating, piercing pain in my finger. “OW, OW, OW!” I yelled as I tried to fling it off. It stuck to me like a burr and left a nasty sting. Fool that I am, it was no worm but the rearend of a yellow jacket.

“Don’t pick up strange creatures,” my husband scolded as he handed me an ice pack. I should have known better.

As I pouted, trying to numb my burning finger, I thought about my week and what I did. I thought about what I am always telling my kids, and I did learn some things:

1) Pay attention! How many times do I have to say it?
2) Mind your own business. Worry about how you are dressed.
3) Think before you act. Don’t pick up something if you don’t know what it is.

Lesson learned.

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Filed under Can't Get a Break

Slow Down, Birthday Girl

My daughter, my baby, barely needs a stool to help in the kitchen anymore. She stands at my side rolling out dough, perfectly placing cookie cutters like puzzle pieces to cut as many cookies as she can. She does this without prompting. “Mommy, I can do it,” she says. I stand back, reminded all too often these days of how much my kids can do alone and how much less they rely on me. They yearn to be older and independent and capable at times when I just want to hold their hands and show them how and want them to need me.

My little girl is turning 6 this week. It’s not a monumental birthday. It’s not a special age when anything big happens. Turning 5 was huge because kindergarten is a milestone, a turning point from that preschool life of naps and cuddles and sippy cups to homework and adjustment and real problems, to independence. To life away from mom.

But 6? What’s so hard about 6? We survived kindergarten. We did great. Now it’s on to first grade. That’s the problem. From here on, it zips by. The baby fat slowly melts away. By the end of this year, it will be gone. Already taller and thinner, she hardly looks like my baby anymore. I stare at her in amazement and wonder which night it was that she sprang up. When did I miss this?

I can’t buy her those cute Mary Jane shoes anymore. They only make them in toddler sizes and she’s just outgrown that. Everything looks too grown-up for a first-grader, too teen.

She barely fits in my lap now. Her limbs dangle off to the sides like a rag doll. Her head no longer fits neatly under my chin, and we nearly have to sit side-by-side for comfort. I can barely lift her without a lot of grunting and bending my knees first in preparation for her weight. It’s such a workout, and it never used to be.

I’ll admit, this is the age I’ve waited for. When my kids were babies, I was drunk on love and that warm baby smell. But I spent a lot of time dreaming about the wonderful things we’d get to do together when they were this age. Camping, crafting, reading together. I love, LOVE, doing those things with them. I love talking to them and teaching them. Oh, it’s challenging and I want to pull my hair out sometimes, but I never quite adored the baby stage. I had enough of the wiping and the crying and sleep deprivation. I’ve waited for this. Making cookies with them. Choking on my breakfast when they announce my husband’s super long stray ear hair to half a restaurant. Babies’ surprises usually only involve bodily fluids.

Now that we’re here, in this wonderful long-awaited era, I’m pretty damn scared. I feel like a houseful of unexpected guests just arrived and I’m running around in a panic because I’m not ready. I don’t want to miss it. And I want it to slow down. When I secretly wished the whole baby part would speed up just a smidge, I openly beg for this time not to. Because I know this is the best time of my life. Greedy, I know. But they’ll get to have their fun. Before long, my kids will be older and have wonderful lives and experiences, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. They deserve that and I look forward to seeing who they become. But, no hurry.

For now, hearing my kids say, “Hey, let’s pretend…” is music to my ears and there are still a lot of firsts to be part of. That first soccer goal. That first sleepover. That first trip whale watching that I can’t wait to take them on. We still have lots to look forward to. I still catch a glimpse of that baby in there somewhere, in a coy smile or a sideways glance. It lasts only a second, but it fills my heart.

So happy birthday to my baby girl who is turning bigger this week.

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Filed under I Love Those Darn Kids

Pick, Pick, Pick

I have a confession to make: I am in love with food. I might even go as far as to say I am obsessed with it. Really, I am probably obsessed with food. I like to cook only because it is a means to this food that I love. My days revolve around food and what I am going to eat or cook for my next meal or even the next day or next week. I am always reading recipes. I’m kind of obsessed with those too.

So imagine my joy when my son turns out to love food as much as I do. Even as a toddler, he ate anything I put on his plate, squeezing okra and calling the seeds “eyes.” He ate platefuls of the stuff. He’ll try anything once.

My daughter, however, is my challenge. My beautiful, picky daughter. It breaks my heart that I cannot share this love with her. Cooking she loves. She’ll sidle up to the counter and measure and pour, even taste a little. But put it on a plate in front of her and the battle begins. We’ve tried all the tricks. Everything. None of it works. Nothing.

We have well-meaning friends who offer up advice. Make her try it. How do you make anyone do anything? They don’t know what that would involve, prying open a clamped jaw with my hands and trying to force lasagna down her throat. How to get her to swallow? Rub her throat like a dog who won’t swallow a pill? I can see it now, the looks I’d get in a restaurant…and the escort out.

Or how about making her sit there until she eats it? Yeah, I have better things to do for a week. Do you? Because you can come sit with her until she eats it. Feel free.

The thing is, those things bring tears, yelling, and a whole lot of stuff I don’t want to bring to the table. And believe me, I’ve had to leave it many times. It all leaves me feeling bad. I can’t imagine the damage it does to her. Food should be a pleasant experience, with warm memories like grandma’s kitchen.

The best advice I’ve gotten? Don’t make dinnertime a battle. Put out healthy food and let her make her own choices. Amen. From our pediatrician who raised his own picky eater, who is now a chef. That’s right, a chef.

My daughter eats from all food groups. She loves fruit and often, but not always, prefers homemade to processed, meaning mac ‘n’ cheese and bread aren’t things I can just whip up. A speck of parsley or pepper in her food stresses her out. There’s just not a lot of variety in her comfort zone. I have faith that she’ll get bored with that. I have to trust that she’ll outgrow it. And she’s starting to come around…painfully slowly.

Take, for instance, the grilled cheese she tried recently. Growing tired of her meager menu, she decided a grilled cheese sounded safe. She likes bread. She likes cheese. It felt a little daring to put the two together. Nervously, she licked. I couldn’t bear to watch and paced behind the counter, ready for defeat. My son gave me the play-by-play and quickly announced it was all over: She had eaten the entire thing…and she wanted more. I couldn’t get cheese between two slices of bread fast enough.

Once that one was devoured, she pondered what had just taken place in her mouth. “I didn’t really like that cheese,” she announced. Hmmm. This usually means she doesn’t really like it. But here’s how I get around it: You eat it once, it’s on your menu now, Missy.

“We’ll work on it,” I said. Many tries later, we still can’t get it quite right, but she’s still willing.

I love her, pickiness and all. “You’ll make some man very happy with your high maintenance one day,” I tease. Check in with me in 20 years. I bet she’ll be a food critic. She’s getting good practice.

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Filed under Everyday Life

My Friend, the Neat Freak

I don’t profess to be a perfect housekeeper. My home is lived in and looks it. I can’t keep up with the clutter and frankly, I get tired of asking everyone else to pitch in. When I know no one is coming for a visit, I can live with certain things, like globs of toothpaste cemented to the kids’ bathroom sink and a little dust here and there…OK, everywhere. I don’t love it, but I can let it slide a few days or a week if I need to. I simply don’t look at it. And I have a set list of friends whom I’ll allow to witness the filth. Don’t get me wrong. If I know someone may drop by, I straighten up a little, clear the unfinished crafts off the kitchen counter, put the dirty dishes in the sink, push piles of toys into a bin. You know, hide stuff.

When the kids are in school, the house passes code. I have time to scrub the toilets and dust the fans and wipe who-knows-what from the walls. But sometimes, life still gets in the way and it’s so hectic that my choice is either to cook dinner or clean. Well, I like my food.

So today, while at a friend’s house, I notice that everything is white-glove clean. It always is. I wasn’t even a totally expected guest. Even upstairs, in the kids’ rooms, the playroom, everything is spotless.

“Do you clean every day?” I asked.

Yes, she spot-cleans some. “And I vacuum every day,” she said. Even her closets.

What?

“I have a problem, I know,” she said, but she didn’t seem bothered by this syndrome. Her other friends tease that she never has footprints on her carpets.

Every day. Man, this summer at my house it’s been more like every other week, but I don’t dare admit that to her. Her son was just at my house. She probably had to shower him off when he got home in case he rolled around on my floor.

She showed me new furniture in her bedroom, like a magazine spread where nothing is out of place, not a thread, a hint of stray lint. My dresser always has random bits of paper, jewelry, and receipts spread across it. Magazine articles sit in piles on the floor. But my bed is always made at least. Always. I look on her floor and see I have left a trail of footprints in her carpet, impressions of my bare feet. They stick out like a weed in a Monet.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “Now you have to vacuum!”

It’s all right. She does every night, before bed, after she turns down and smooths the sheets.

Well, I’ll be thinking of her vacuuming tonight as I relax on my couch, toys strewn across a floor covered in hair and dust and probably some boogers, eating a crunchy snack that will leave crumbs that I will probably vacuum up sometime next week.

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Hang On to Summer

The end of summer is around the corner and I have mixed feelings. Usually around the first week of August, I’m pulling my hair out. My kids are driving each other mad and me with all the “Stoo-op! Don’t touch me! Get off me” business. But this summer, as my time with them starts to dwindle, I dig my heels into the ground because I’m just not ready for our summer to end. The summers when the kids actually want me around are numbered, and I feel guilty for any missed opportunities. I fill our days with a whirlwind of games, activities, crafts, and cuddles, a party of sorts for a mom who knows she has one last hurrah before her freedom is gone and that union between student and school takes over. Soon it will be homework and soccer and not a lot of time for being carefree. Two-plus weeks and counting here until school begins, and I’m squeezing it in: creek time, detective adventures, a birthday party, more crafts, a sleepover…OK, so maybe I’m going a teeny bit overboard.

I’ll admit there’s some good and bad to school starting again, and here’s the way I see it:

Pros
1. I don’t have to sneak handfuls of chocolate chips, slivers of brownies, or other assorted treats. It is all mine for the taking and I can overindulge as much as I want. No one will be around to judge or beg.
2. I don’t have to bring my kids to the doctor with me, sit in a tiny room, and resist the urge to pull my eyeballs out while they ask for the millionth time when the doctor is coming because, God help me, I’m about to find him and yank him down the hall by his tie and ask him the same question.
3. I don’t have to hear another person talk, scream, wail, whine, or fuss for seven and a half hours of my day if I don’t want to.
4. I don’t have to wipe anything on anybody but myself, at least until 3:00.
5. The only questions I have to answer are “Where do you want to meet for lunch today, Dear?” and “Is your credit card company offering you the best rate…?”

Cons
1. There are suddenly a lot of places to be, a lot of things to do, and a lot of PTA people looking for me.
2. Homework…and the accompanying fussing for 30 minutes (or more on a very bad day) until they finally give in and do it and realize it takes more time to fuss than to actually do their homework.
3. I have to get up when it’s still dark.
4. Did I say homework?
5. I will miss my kids like crazy.

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Filed under I Love Those Darn Kids

Motherhood: I’m Just Along for the Ride

I have a motto as a mom: It’s just a phase, it will end, and I’ll get through it.

For many months, I’ve been tested on every level known to mom. My eight-year-old son yearns for independence of the college set, wanting to do everything his way with none of that motherly advice thrown in. He pushes my buttons like he’s operating a remote control car and I just try to hang on.

We’ve been butting heads over any issue, big or small. I tell him to stop doing something and it’s like telling a two-year-old he has to take a bath during Barney. I have literally been tiptoeing on eggshells.

Many thoughts have raced through my mind: What is going to set him off next? Is it hormones? At 8? Heaven help me when he’s a teenager. And he’s such a sweet kid. Where did my sweet boy go? Something must be wrong with him. Is this normal?

Just what do you do when you tell him to stop and he says no again and again? By gosh, he’s too heavy for me to carry to his room anymore and he knows it. Yelling makes things so much worse. I tried to stay calm, but that was a big test for me. I screamed inside…and what I said was not very nice. For months, it has been up and down, and I’ve been waiting, knowing my motto has always held true. Is this what my next ten years will be like?

And then, just when I was at my breaking point, the ride ended. At least, I think it did. Do the phases just get longer as kids get older? They certainly get harder. But surely they do end.

Walking through a parking lot the other day, my nearly six-year-old daughter and I held hands like always. Surprisingly, my son grabbed my other and in that instant, life was really good. He said, “I love summer,” and gave my hand a light squeeze.

“Yeah, me too,” I said over the lump in my throat. We kept walking and I thought, “I can make it through any bad day for this tiny moment.” I held on as long as I could. As long as he’d let me.

And just when I started to enjoy the calm and started to relax, my daughter, who has been syrupy sweet all these months, entered a phase. There’s no rest for the weary and it’s time for me to buckle up again. Hopefully it will be a short ride.

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Filed under Can't Get a Break, Everyday Life