Monthly Archives: December 2011

A New Year for Mom

My husband and I watched some home movies recently. My daughter was 2 and my son 4. Thirty seconds in, tears spilled from my eyes at the sound of my daughter’s voice. I hadn’t heard that baby voice in four years. I say I don’t miss all that, life when the kids were younger, but I realize now it’s just a coping mechanism.

What did I learn from watching those old movies? My kids haven’t changed much. Minus the baby fat, they look exactly the same. Between bursts of laughter, my husband and I agreed they still act the same too. They still do the same jerky roll-and-dance routine with ferocious concentration. The neighborhood dogs still howl when my daughter sings. My son still has a smart mouth.

“What did you do in kindergarten today?” I cooed into the video camera, waiting for a precious response I’m sure.

My son stared at me and sweetly grinned. “Sat on the pot all day.”

“Let’s be nice. What did you do?”

“Sat on the pot all day,” he said, erupting in giggles. This conversation could have happened yesterday. Even now I still haven’t learned when to quit.

As I sat watching through blurry eyes, I thought of how busy our life has become. Our days are governed by a schedule filled with school, homework, and shuttling to and from sports or Scouts or some Lego activity. And it’s up to me to make sure we fit everything in. Add in family time, meltdowns, confiding, and playing outside, and there isn’t much room to just be. The structured days make for a mom who needs to let loose more often and craves downtime with her kids.

I simply need to step back and enjoy my kids more. They may look the same, but life has gotten complicated. The kids’ problems go far beyond cookies and milk.

When my son revealed one day he’d been pushed around and punched in the gut at school, it was tough to be the adult, but I found myself having a very adult conversation with him about bullies, surprised at the parental mumbo jumbo spewing from my mouth. And then I had to sit back and let him take charge. Sometimes this parenting stuff is for the birds, all this letting go and letting them run their own lives.

When my daughter gets teased for sounding like a baby, I can’t promise her it will never happen again. I can only pretend I’m good at this mom thing and help her see that she’s a beautiful person and words hurt and she should never do the same.

Parenting is always about rules, guidance, and right and wrong. It wears a mom down. Some days now, there’s hardly ever room for the good stuff. I get enough of the aches. Why should I wait for grandchildren to have all my fun? I’m making room for it now.

I don’t usually set resolutions for the new year, but this year because the timing is right, I resolve to take a breath each afternoon and enjoy my kids more.

Some things never change, and some things should.

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Filed under I Love Those Darn Kids

A Santa Surprise

I didn’t think we’d visit Santa this year. Having a third-grader, I thought he’d deem telling his Christmas wishes to the man in the red suit too babyish. So when my son announced he did want a visit, of course we made a last-minute holiday dash. This, after all, will surely be the last year for him, and I couldn’t let the last opportunity to have both of my kids visit Santa together slip by.

At the head of the line, large signs displayed the rules: no personal photography. Now frankly, I’m cheap when it comes to buying photos of my kids. If I spend money, they better be good. I don’t want to shell out $20 for a picture of my kids on Santa’s lap even if it is for the last time. I’ve bought school pictures of my kids in hopes of quality material only to get squinty eyes and a goober grin that makes my kid look like a constipated, no-lipped goof. I don’t like paying for that mess. And I don’t like paying for Santa when I used to be able to snap my own unposed shots for free. I want candid photos of them talking to Santa or clamming up or whatever the experience may be.

I asked Santa’s helper whether I could snap a few of my own pictures because we always have. Sure, the girl said. Did I want to buy any? Um, no, not really.

So while my kids chatted with Santa, I vied for position with some other lady to get snapshots of them. There wasn’t a lot of time to spare, and this lady and her camera kept getting in my space. Angling for a better view, I was about to nudge her out of the way, those being my offspring after all, and I thought, “Why is she shooting pictures of my kids?”

She leaned toward me, beaming, and whispered between her own shots, “That’s my son.” I guess moms are proud of their kids no matter the age or what they do, and that includes being mall Santa. At least she didn’t have to pay either.santapic

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Filed under Can't Get a Break, Everyday Life

No Elf on This Shelf

I wasn’t going to join in on this whole Elf on the Shelf craze. I just wasn’t going to write about it. But here I am. The bandwagon rode by and I jumped. I’ve read the blogs. Some friends and I have talked about it. And if anything, my decision has been made that much stronger: I will not be buying one of those elves.

When some gal named Jen wrote about overachieving Elf on the Shelf moms on her blog (read here if you missed it), she got a lot of attention. People got mad at her. But some of the moms I know totally agreed with her. And they have the elf.

Real-deal vintage. No fuss, no mess.

You’re supposed to move the elf around at night when your kids are sleeping so they’ll think the elf went back to the North Pole to report to Santa and returned to a different post in your house. Simple. Some make their elf leave notes or move things, hang from the ceiling fan. It becomes a lot to keep up with every day and I don’t have the time or creativity to keep up with it at this time of year. It’s cute but it’s too much right now. Isn’t shopping, wrapping, baking, and partying enough to squeeze into an overloaded schedule? Evidently some people have taken it a bit far with elf behavior. Aren’t the kids supposed to be the naughty ones?

I told a friend I’m not getting an elf and I hoped my kids didn’t see the one at her house. “Oh, you’re getting an elf, Karen.”

No, I’m not.

Here’s why. I already have two elves who leave a mess everywhere and don’t clean it up. Legos multiply overnight. A flashcard rug covers my living room. (Setting the standard for the next big decorating craze.) And cars nearly send me spinning at the bottom of the stairs. I don’t think any of that is cute and fun. I also already have two elves who report to me when either child is naughty. As leader of this workshop, I don’t find that charming either.

The thing that sealed the deal on this no elf thing? As my third-grade son pointed out to his believing sister, “They’re not real. You can’t buy a person for fifteen dollars.” I just can’t argue with that.

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Filed under Everyday Life

The Holiday Party

All along my husband said the dress for the holiday work party at his new job was pretty casual, slacks and a blouse. Two days before the party he learned women would be wearing cocktail dresses.

“What? Cocktail dresses? That’s not casual,” I said. Panic set in big time. The outfit I had planned wouldn’t cut it. I don’t own anything that resembles a cocktail dress. That all went to Goodwill ages ago when my whole body shifted after having kids. Not to mention the fact that half the clothes in my closet have rotted on the hangers and shoes have literally busted on my feet. I still can’t escape the embarrassment of leaving a trail of one-inch rubber crumbs at my son’s first-grade play when my heel exploded the minute we got there. What’s a girl to do? I hoped the last big chunk would just hang on until we got outside.

“You can wear the dress you have. It will be fine,” my husband said. I’m no fashionista, but even I know that you cannot wear a sweater dress to a fancy shindig.

“You don’t want people to think you have a frumpy wife,” I said.

“But you’re my frumpy wife.” Uuugh!

I emailed my neighbor about my fashion crisis. Could I wear a skirt? Did I have to buy a cocktail dress? She said she would kill him. I raced to the nearest department store because I knew the ladies there would know what to do.

There I was, skirt and sweater in hand. No, no. That would not do, the lady told me. She walked me to the dresses. It had to be a dress. They all had flowers and ruffles. Things that are not me. Price tags that are not me. Where was a bargain rack when I needed one?

I grabbed some dresses, picking the saleslady’s brain about hose and boots and heels. I didn’t have time to look for accessories. Women spend weeks on this stuff. I had only an hour to shop. And nothing ever fits me. But something did and it looked pretty good. It was on sale, and by golly, I had a coupon!

When the big night arrived and we walked in the room, I saw a mix of all kinds of fashion, everything from fancy and festive to khaki and preppy. Apparently, not everyone got the same message. I could have worn any damn thing I wanted and played dumb.

But for the first time ever, my family was cleaned up and we planned to make an evening out of it. Though I prefer jeans and sneaks to hose and heels, and hiking trails to ballrooms, it was fun playing dress-up with the kids. And after a little wine, nothing much bothered me at all.

My son will be nine soon and seeing what lies under that layer of dirt with hair neatly parted and nice duds, it made me proud. He’s a handsome little man and I couldn’t help but sneak peeks at him, in wonder of the handsome fellow he’ll one day become. You don’t see it every day when your kid fusses at you, rolls in the dirt with a football, or tells a dozen fart jokes, but there’s a handsome, calm being in there and it’s a sight to behold.

My husband took my daughter to the dance floor and for many reasons, it makes you love the man you married a million times more and cherish your baby girl who will one day do the same with her daddy in a big white dress. I tried to drag my son out, but I think he feared I’d perform some of the same spastic dance moves I’m known for in the kitchen.

When most of the good songs were over and it was about time to go, we finally got both of the kids out for the Twist, and then my daughter and I did the YMCA song. I think I even had my C backward. A vision of elegance, I’m sure. No dignified foxtrots for us. But I can’t think of three dates I’d rather have, and it was all done in true Karen fashion.

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Filed under Can't Get a Break, Everyday Life

Tales From the Gridiron

I’ve never been a big sports fan. I’ve never been a star player. I don’t like watching sports on TV. I’m not the person to talk to about sports. Period. Having a son has forced me to make some changes. For one, whether I like it or not—and I don’t—my son includes me in one-sided conversations about plays, players, stats, the spelling of their names.

“Mom, tomorrow is Ronnie Brown’s birthday.”

“Who is Rodney Brown?” I ask. I don’t recall this kid from his class, but that’s nice that my son remembers.

“No, Ronnie Brown. He plays on the Eagles.”

Of course.

“Mom, who do you think will be in the Super Bowl this year?”

“Hmm, haven’t a clue,” I say. So many questions all the time. He’s good at that. (You can read more about that here.)

My son demonstrates the play-by-play of a game, then rewinds in case I missed the best part. “No, but did you see this?” he says as he swoops in with the ball, leaps through the air, and rolls on the floor for the touchdown. “It was something like that.” I don’t even know what to say. Ever. Just mm-hmm or wow when it could be a wrestling move for all I know.

I never thought I would spend cold afternoons on our street throwing touchdown passes and yelling “Hike” as my son rushes toward the end zone. I can’t throw very far so I have to run behind him as he runs so I can make my pass. I’m working on my spiral though. I’m impressed I even know what one is.

We shopped for football gloves the other day. Gloves? I didn’t even know they made those for football. “What are those?” my son asked, pointing to the white plastic bicycle seat-looking contraptions hanging below the gloves.

“Those are cups,” I said, hoping the conversation would quickly shoot back to the gloves or a player or anything but those cups.

“Cups? For what?”

“For protection,” I said, trying to play it cool as I examined the rubbery gloves a lot longer than I should have. Please don’t ask if you drink out of them.

“For your head?”

“No.”

“Ooooh!” His eyes lit up. He pointed between his legs. “Now I see why they’re all so big down there.” Forget the gloves. We quickly moved over to toys.

These conversations never happen to my husband in a public place.

As we rushed home so he could play football in the yard, he checked out his new football trading cards, reading all the stats to me in the car. “Mom, there is a Donovan McNabb card in here!” “Mom, Donovan McNabb’s birthday is the day after Thanksgiving.” “Mom, DeSean Jackson’s birthday was nine days ago.”

“Cool.” “Oh yeah?” “Wow.

He played outside with his dad for a few minutes and then ran back in. “Mom, did you see me make that touchdown?”

I’m not sure what part of our conversations suggests that I am a football maniac, but one thing is certain: My son is definitely in love.

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Filed under Boy Stories, Everyday Life

Mom with a Migraine

BoomBoom. BoomBOOM. My pounding, screaming head throbs with each beat of my heart. With migraine in full force, life as a mom has just gotten complicated. The afternoon whirlwind of kids throwing bookbags to the floor, fighting over who gets to wash hands first, snack orders, and relaying the day’s events tumbles through my head like rocks in a dryer.

I manage to smile, request quiet, and get them upstairs to play so I can crawl under the covers for a nap. Sometimes they play and leave me alone. Sometimes they need the toy at the tippy top of the shelf. And they need it now. Sometimes there is screaming followed by tears. Still, it is better than when they were young and I couldn’t nap at all. I lay on the floor in misery as my nine-month-old used me as a trampoline while I willed myself not to vomit.

For nearly 30 years, migraines have racked my head with pain and my stomach with unending nausea. I spent many Friday nights of my fourth-grade year in bed with a migraine. Many times I threw up. I gagged on horse-pill-sized extra-strength Tylenol, once coughing one across the room. I’ve missed out on countless events. The ones I suffered through, I missed out on in spirit.

I’ve spent many hours lying in bed with an ice pack on my head, pitying myself, wondering what I did to deserve this curse. I’ve bawled, wanted to bang my head against the wall. I’ve begged and pleaded for mercy and done everything short of making a deal with the devil for the pain to go away. There are certainly some things I would rather not have. Even when I was younger, I knew I’d rather go through a lifetime of this than have something far worse.

I’ve tried massage, biofeedback, and TENS, which is some kind of electrical stimulation that frankly just freaked me out. I’ve tried lots of medicines, and most don’t work. There are some I just won’t take because I still have to drive my kids around. I know my triggers: stress, weather changes, hormones. Things mostly out of my control.

Friends offer to take the kids off my hands while I sleep off the effects of the medicine, but I always say no. I appreciate it. Everyone has their own problems, their own days when they don’t feel well, and I can’t have people rescuing me every time I feel bad. It would be often and I’d spend all of my good days repaying favors.

I deal. I muddle through the afternoon, take the kids outside, struggle through homework, put something that resembles dinner on the table. It may be a box of mac and cheese and a bag of carrots. It may be some leftover limp pancakes. The kids know. “Mommy has a heddik.”

I wish my family didn’t have to deal with this several times a month. But this is my life and this curse has made me who I am. A curse can be a gift. For every head-splitting migraine day, there is a next day. And that day after, when I feel good, I don’t take anything for granted.

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Filed under About Mom, Everyday Life

The Holiday Card

Come hell or high water this year, I was getting a picture for our holiday cards. It was going to be good. OK, it was going to be decent. And I had to get it done quickly and with the least amount of tears possible.

In years past, it started out well: The kids suited up in coordinating outfits with hair neatly brushed. I had a host of clever tricks to distract them at the first sign of distress: sighs, groans, questions, slumped poses, sloppy smiles. I could manage.

If only the kids could pose as patiently as this guy.

Lately, the taking of the holiday card photo has been surrounded by high drama. Mention getting dressed for the picture and tears flow. Hair brushing is done at a quick trot. Before anyone has struck a pose, the mood is ruined. I admit it. I use bribes, lots of bribes. The kids have caught on. They do not like the holiday picture.

The kids used to sit patiently as I snapped pictures of them on the porch or in front of the holly bush.

A few years ago, things went terribly wrong. It was like choreographing the stooges. One kid smiled, the other collapsed the moment I clicked. My daughter kept making funny faces, closing her eyes. When she smiled, my son looked dazed. I knew I had a short window of time. My son now despised having his picture taken. I ended up with a series of blooper-style photos, and only one decent picture.

Last year, the kids were in tears before I took two shots. I mentioned the words “holiday card” and they lost it, knowing they were in for an hourlong modeling session.

I had already made one attempt at the picture this year at a festival. I made the mistake of saying, “Let me get your picture for our card.” My son smiled and my daughter quietly boohooed. I urged her to get over it so I could quickly snap a picture. It didn’t go so well. My son kneed my daughter for not cooperating. That saga ended in a family meltdown. Over a photo.

This week with time ticking away, I knew I had to get that photo. After school in a slow drizzle, I took the kids outside in their dingy, mismatched school clothes, stuck hats on their heads to cover unbrushed hair, and told them to sit on the fence. If I made the photo black-and-white, everything would look great. Maybe.

“If you’ll just cooperate and smile, it will be quick,” I reasoned with them.

They asked for a gumdrop afterward. “If you don’t whine or fuss through this,” I explained.

Game on.

I clicked away, urging them closer. My daughter smiled beautifully. My son gave a few smiles but mostly looked like a limp fish. After six shots, he started to get antsy. “Let me just get a good one for the card,” I said.

“This is for the holiday card?” he whined.

Great. I blew it. Things began to unravel. He wouldn’t smile. “The fence is hurting my butt,” he complained.

Then he tore off his hat and scarf and threw them to the ground. That’s OK. I can work with that. I would keep snapping. But he screamed, grabbed his mouth, and ran. He had bumped his lip on the fence. Game over.

When he came in, he still wanted his gumdrop. “Did you fuss or whine while we were out there?”

“No, not during the pictures,” he said.

“I meant during the whole process,” I said.

“Oh.”

Maybe I should have been more clear.

The pictures? Thankfully, I have something to work with. And in black-and-white, everything does match.

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Filed under Can't Get a Break

It Is a Wonderful Life

Twenty-five years ago I sat in an itchy brown chair in a brown paneled den, flipping through channels to escape the heat of a scorching summer day. I landed on a black-and-white movie that was just beginning, though I didn’t catch the name. Several minutes in, I was hooked.

Some kids were using shovels to sled down a hill, and one of them went too far and plunged into icy water. I had to see what happened next. I was instantly captivated by the scene’s hero, George Bailey. The movie turned out to be It’s a Wonderful Life. It also turned out to be my all-time favorite. Ever.

I can’t think of a movie that I have loved as long or that speaks to me as this movie has. Even then, as an awkward sixth-grader, wondering when boys would ever notice me (and they didn’t for many, many years) and dealing with friendship woes and other social plagues, I could see how life can get the better of you. I could see how a person who has so much doesn’t see the difference he makes every day, and how attitude and loved ones can pull you through life’s rough patches.

I spent an entire afternoon in that chair, running to the bathroom between commercial breaks or bolting to the kitchen for a bag of chips. I didn’t want to miss a second.

I pulled for George Bailey. I learned that sometimes life doesn’t turn out like you expect it to, but you roll with it and make the best of it, just like George Bailey did. He didn’t have much. But he had so much. The gift of family and friends, happiness and good health, and doing good for others. Wealth can’t buy any of that. It didn’t for Mr. Potter.

Each year, when George Bailey sees what a good life he has and runs through the snow-covered streets, I’m there, yelling, “Merry Christmas, George Bailey!” through teary eyes and a lump in my throat because it still moves me. Every year, this movie is a reminder that I have everything I need.

It is a wonderful life. Your family and friends are your riches, and life is what you make of it. That’s what a sixth grader learned on a hot summer day. Merry Christmas, George Bailey.

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Still Time for Adventure

“It’s real smooth,” he explained. And so was he, my brother-in-law talking me into riding a roller coaster over Thanksgiving break. The Alpengeist. I watched as it looped and twisted through the night sky, dozens of feet dangling in midair while hands braced the harnesses that kept occupants inside the car at all times.

I knew no one else would ride with him so I agreed. I like roller coasters, the ones that aren’t scary, but I really feel like I’m getting too old for this stuff. I don’t think my heart can take it anymore. I knew the ride would be quick. I just tried not to think any more about it.

As our turn approached, I made two requests: no front row and I had to have an inside seat. The less I saw of the ground and the fact that I was nowhere near it, the better.

When we boarded, two gray-haired men took the seats next to us. They were father and son. The son kindly tucked in his dad, put his hood on him, and asked, “Dad, are you OK?”

My brother-in-law turned to me and said, “Do you scream?”

I said something like, “Uh, you better believe it.”

I locked my eyes on the row in front of me and as the coaster started downward, let out a scream that lasted half the length of the ride. More screaming followed. Panic set in. I couldn’t tell whether we were up, down, left, or right. Could this entire ride be upside down? What was this? When would it end?

When we finally stopped, my trembling fingers couldn’t undo the harness. I could barely stand on gelatinous legs. As we walked to our family, the man who had been sitting next to me turned to me and said he was 87 and he just thought he’d try it. What?

If I hadn’t had a mouth full of cotton, I would have asked him a hundred questions. He seemed OK. And except for my screaming, he probably had a great ride.

My kids, mother, and sister wanted the verdict. “Mommy, did you throw up? We heard you screaming. We can’t believe you rode that.” Very funny. This ride is touted as “one of the tallest, fastest, most insane coasters in the world.” I’m convinced.

I’m not adventurous or spontaneous. I’m a hardcore planner and I painstakingly think things through. I don’t care for adventure that takes my breath away, but every now and then I can be talked into something stupid. There have been times when, through sweaty palms, knocking knees, and not being able to catch a breath, my prayers have included more than a few curse words. But I feel like sometimes you get a free pass when panic sets in.

Deep down, I know it can be a good thing to make sure there’s still blood pumping through your veins, that it hasn’t seized up like water in molten chocolate. I need to know my heart can take a jolt, especially with teenagers coming my way in four years.

So maybe I shouldn’t write off adventure yet. Maybe there will still be hope for me at 87, and my kids will still be able to talk me into a little something stupid. What will I have to lose? Maybe nothing but a pair of false teeth.

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