Monthly Archives: January 2012

A Word About Trophies

Throughout my entire childhood, I earned four trophies. The first I received in kindergarten for being friendliest girl. (It was always my favorite.) The others included one for my seventh-grade class spelling bee, one for softball, and I have no idea what the fourth was for. I’ve long since thrown them out.

I can’t imagine why I got a trophy for softball: maybe for being worst player, maybe for most comedic plays, maybe because I had guts to come back after the debacle from each previous week. Whatever. I was no MVP.

A very busy boy lives here.

My son just earned his twelfth trophy. He will be nine soon. When kids play sports, they automatically get a trophy for participating. We don’t have room for all of these golden figures, let alone the big head our son now has because of them.

Before my son participates in anything, he first wants to know whether he’ll get a trophy. And it’s not his fault. Why do places like the Y give trophies to every kid? Why did parents demand it in the first place? Sure, it’s tough when your kid isn’t the star athlete, doesn’t make lots of baskets, doesn’t score the goals. But I don’t know, does my kid really deserve a trophy for learning a sport, deciding whether he even likes it?

My kid gets so excited to get those golden statues, but I don’t play them up. When he scores a goal, makes his first basket, makes a good play, or has a better game, that’s something to celebrate. I’d be OK with earning a trophy for sticking it out three seasons. It at least teaches patience. And it’s not just him. The other kids who only showed up half the season, they get trophies too.

My son has won awards on his own merit. I tell him those are the ones he should be proud of, not the ones you get for signing up. He placed first in his Scout den and second in his whole pack for the Raingutter Regatta, in which he had to build and design a boat, then on race day use a straw to blow it across a raingutter against competitors. His concentration and technique were solid, no nerves getting in the way. And unlike the other kids, he didn’t chew on his straw, causing slits for all that hot air to pass through.

Recently, the golden gem of all, he won his third-grade class spelling bee. When they announced the bee, I told him he could nail it. He didn’t even care about it. What? This is a kid who can look at a word once and know how to spell it forever. He knows football players’ names and states, just for fun. I pushed him to simply look at the list. He came home a winner…but no trophy.

During round two to determine the school winner, he was up against fourth and fifth graders. I’ve never seen my son work so hard at anything. He studied every night. He made an effort and he pushed himself. All things I feared he wasn’t capable of because he always takes the easiest approach to just getting by without failure. He doesn’t like a challenge.

He didn’t win that spelling bee. He bombed on one word out of a list of 400 words that he practiced all week and ranked in the middle. I told him I couldn’t have been prouder. I’ve watched him stand around on fields with his hands in his pockets and let someone else make the play, and earn a trophy for that. But now I’ve seen him put his best foot forward and not make the win.

Do I need to spell it out for him? This means more than any of those golden trophies.

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Filed under Boy Stories, Everyday Life

Boys Will Be Beasts

Some days after school, I let the kids play on the playground with friends. It’s a welcome change from our usual routine of coming home, fighting over who gets in the door first, shoving food into mouths, and rushing outside where I am the coach, referee, shortstop, quarterback, or freezing cold icicle who monitors the kids in the street.

On the playground, I still shiver and freeze, but I learn something as I watch the boys. The playground is much like the wild, where male animals tangle and butt heads to decide a leader or the victor of some great territory. Like them, the boys need to assert their power, find their rank, or prove they can take the hits. Here they learn to tackle, wrestle, and fling each other around like beasts, but they do it with snaggle-toothed smiles, chocolate milk breath, and dimpled giggles.

We parents on the sidelines watch, flinch, and think, “Oh, was that jab all right?” only to see the boys dart away covered in mulch, panting and laughing, and chasing the next boy.

They are wild beasts, a species I don’t fully understand. What is the appeal of having someone throw you to the ground? What makes them beg each other to wrestle and kick the crap out of each other? I keep my eye on things, and I keep a safe distance from these wild creatures.

I do not have the wildest of sons. I trusted him alone with his newborn sister at the age of two and peeked around the corner as he simply read and talked to her. Now when the urge to wrestle strikes before his dad comes home, he begs her to take him on. But he takes whatever pummeling she gives him with giggles and smiles. He knows when to back off. He flinches when a herd of players stampedes his way during a game, but he does his best to keep up with the pack. He doesn’t deliver a wallop of a punch, but he likes the interaction.

Even as a mom whose urge is to protect, I understand boys need that craziness they call play. I’ve read a lot about boys needing to play rough. It’s good for them, even if it’s absurd to me. We parents on the playground sidelines scratch our heads, but we all come to the same conclusion: It’s what the boys seem to need.

Getting physical helps my son release his energy in a positive way. He can be physically close without being mushy. Boys just don’t hold hands or hug a lot the way girls do. He learns not to be too rough with others (though sometimes a punch in my husband’s groin goes too far). And this type of play helps him learn how to read other people: Is he making them mad or are they playing? Being around other beasts his age seems to help him learn the rules of the playground kingdom. Everyone gets to be It. They pick each other up and dust each other off. Then the chase and tackle resumes again.

I’d rather see my son do it with other consenting beasts than with his sister or me. And it sure saves me a lot of bruises.

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George Lucas, We Need to Talk

When Star Wars grabbed my son’s attention, it didn’t take hold like other phases he’s skipped through. He didn’t just buy all of the books he could find and get all of the Star Wars Lego sets that holidays would allow, then move on to the next big adventure. No, he’s settled in long enough to know those books inside and out. He lectures me with details of characters whose electric-colored skin and snakelike hair only flash on the screen for half a second, long enough for a little boy to want to know who that character is and where he can get one.

His mania has lasted long enough for him to spend hours with bricks, instructions, and nimble fingers to create replicas of spaceships and scenes. Movies need to be watched, pages need to be read, and pictures need to be sketched of the insanely ingenious creatures.

I have a feeling a battle is about to begin....Ewoks, get ready.

Like many families around the world since the 1977 reveal, we have been knocked into space with no map and there’s no escape hatch. No Wookiee will rescue us from the dark side of clever marketing aimed at every eight-year-old boy and up. We are simply doomed. Star Wars has become part of our life.

At breakfast, we get to hear all about the new Lego sets coming out. After all, someone is turning nine soon. Bits of paper lay scattered around the house with odd beasts penciled onto them, dreamed by a boy with an imagination sparked by the likes of shape-shifting bounty hunters, giant aqua monsters, and funny-talking Gungans.

Did George Lucas know what he was doing when he created this other galaxy? Surely, he had no idea how big Star Wars would become. That boys, big and little, would spend hours on the toy aisle considering which character they should add to their collection. Thankfully, there are hundreds. Did he know moms would brandish light sabers, choose the Force or the Dark Side, and fight their children in battles of good and evil across pillows and couches, or do spot-on Chewie impersonations even though they were secretly terrified of him as a child? Does he hear about it every waking minute of the day from an obsessed eight-year-old? Does George Lucas ever play Star Wars? What is his favorite character? I’ll let him have my son for an afternoon to discuss it.

When your son takes your daughter’s barrette with long purple braids attached, snaps it into his hair, and announces he’s a Jedi, you know you have a problem. “Padawan, there is much to teach you. Controlled Jedi are. Use the force they do. Roll around like an animal they don’t.” Hmm, maybe I could use this to my advantage.

"Listen to your mother you will."

It’s said George Lucas drew from his childhood love of Flash Gordon, among other things, for Star Wars inspiration. I can only wonder what my son’s current Star Wars obsession will bring to his future. Will he create beloved characters for a new generation based on his love for Star Wars as he says he will? Or will he use his imagination for something else in brand-new ways? As a parent, I never know how all of the weird, nonsensical stuff my children do will one day play out in their future. But I know it’s my job to let them imagine, create, and have fun, to feed that curiosity. It’s also my mission to keep them away from the dark side.

 

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A 6-Year-Old’s Guide to the Opposite Sex

“Mom, I don’t get it. He’s getting on my nerves, but I still want to play with him.”

That’s what my daughter observed between hunks of banana while her brother entertained himself by snatching her ring and running off with it, calling her weird—“No, I said, ‘Weird Beard!’ ”—and engaging in a string of annoying eight-year-old boy mischief.

If that doesn’t define my whole life with the opposite sex, I don’t know what does. She’s pretty smart for a six-year-old.

I remember the first boy who ever liked me. I was in fourth grade and he was in fifth. He came over one day to ask me to go steady. The poor boy wrestled me, covered my head with a pillow and sat on it, and farted on me, all in some grand gesture to woo me. Despite his odd courting display, I did like him, but I just didn’t want a boyfriend. I was a bit young to settle down. I let him down gently and watched him walk home, kicking the gravel rock on our drive, perhaps thinking the farting was too much?

The realization that this lies near in my future is a bit hard to deal with actually. I can’t see my son calling a girl or asking one out, but I can see him being dumb enough to sit on her head. I’ve told him many times to please ask me for advice when dealing with girls to save himself from bra snapping, hairstyle mussing, and wet willies. These are not ways to win a girl’s heart.

But I can see that he’s practicing the fine art of boyhood courting already on his sister: grabbing her possessions and throwing them across the room, calling her pet names like Weirdo and Chubby Butt, and giving her noogies.

Still, as a mother I have a job to do. For the sake of future girl friends, girlfriends, and a possible wife, this little boy needs to turn into something resembling a catch by the time I’m done with him.

He does like snuggles and having a sister has made him somewhat sweet, so I’m hopeful it’s not too late. There is nothing more precious than seeing your son helping your daughter zip her jacket or snuggled up next to her when there is a whole couch to spread out on. Sometimes I think he’ll be OK. Then he runs off with her favorite doll, laughing like a kid with candy coursing through his veins, and I know we have a long way to go.

But then I remember that Mr. Muddled Mom was a little boy long ago. And he snuggles on the couch and plays with my hair. He can be very sweet. Then he throws a giant blanket over my head. And my daughter is so right. Sometimes he gets on my nerves, but I still want to play with him.

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Bedtime Stories

Whether we’re tired, it’s late, or someone has stomped up the stairs and slammed the door in a very bad mood, every night I read to each of my kids. Even when my daughter melts down because she can’t get the toothpaste on or my son gets a second wind and bounces on his bed like a super ball on a linoleum floor, it’s just our ritual.

Often it is the part of our busy day I look forward to most, one on one. For ten to twenty minutes, it’s just the two of us, curled up and lost in a story. Sometimes I read longer, wanting to see what happens next just as much as my child does.

This has always been our bedtime routine, and I plan to do it as long as they will let me. Many years ago I read that it’s important to read to your children long after they know how to read themselves. High school I think. It sounds crazy, but even at that age, hearing someone read with passion benefits them.

If I read to them, they want me to go on and on. If they read to me, I fall right to sleep.

I’ve read to my kids since they were babies. My son read to his sister the day she came home from the hospital because I told him that was a big brother’s important role. Now he listens as she reads to him and helps her with words she can’t pronounce.

When my son was less than two years old, he made us read the same book to him like a CD stuck on repeat. I would beg him to pick another book. As soon as the last word was read, he’d say, “Again,” and I wanted to cry. But when he was able to speak well, he squeezed between the couch and end table and “read” those books to himself. He memorized every word of every book. I had no idea that’s what he was doing.

When my kids learned their letters and letter sounds, I taught them to read. Seeing my kids read their very first sentence was cooler than the first goal, the first pop fly, the first bike ride without training wheels. Reading is the foundation for their whole lifetime of learning, and there we sat, cheering at each word formed, shock that it had happened. No teacher could take that glory from us. It was our moment.

Many times the kids writhed in agony and yanked at their hair as words became harder, and I clenched my fists to keep myself from doing it. But we pulled through and they read to themselves often.

And now, every night, I am theirs and they are mine. We laughed till we cried when Greg’s dog licked itself, then slathered kisses on his dad’s face in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days. We ponder the mystery of the intruder in Nathaniel Fludd. I itch to tell my son whether Snape is friend or foe in the Harry Potter books. And we learn about life through the decades thanks to the American Girl series. Afterward, my kids talk to me about their day, spill their problems, or give me an extra-long hug.

I have taken our reading away as punishment in times of desperation, knowing they still have their father’s turn to look forward to, but the kids are so fond of this time together and it breaks my heart too. I’ve learned to find other consequences.

I know there will come a day when my kids will end their nights with phone calls, studying, or more important things. But I hope it will still include me, even if our stories don’t come from a book.

I’ve been reading The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma about a daughter and father who promised to read every night for 100 nights, then 1,000, and then kept going until she left for college. They began in fourth grade. If I read to my son every night until he leaves for college, by my count, we’ll have read more than 3,000 nights. My daughter, more than 4,000. We do skip when someone is sick or if the grandparents are in town. To me, it’s not about the contest; it’s the bond that matters. No matter what kind of day we’ve had, I’m still there. That’s the moral I hope my kids take away from our story.

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Filed under Everyday Life, I Love Those Darn Kids

Time for a Quickie?

Some days, the phone rings right about lunchtime, just as I’m getting out a plate and starting to make lunch or right when my leftovers have been warmed to gooey perfection and I’ve sunk my fork in for the first bite.

Rrrrriiiiiiing!

I know who it is. The conversation often goes something like this:

“It’s your Mu-THER,” the voice on the other end sings.

“Yes, it is,” I say.

She calls on her lunch hour from work. I watch as my lunch grows cold and stiff. My stomach growls like a ravenous bear waking from its winter nap.

She wants to know what I’m doing.

“Eating lunch,” I say.

“Well I won’t keep ya.” Then she chats for a bit, and then she wants to know if my husband is coming home for lunch. He often does.

So the other day, she said, “Gosh, Karen. Y’all could have a quickie at lunch.”

No. She. Didn’t. I could have thrown up the empty contents of my stomach. Just ew. It was quiet on my end. My mind goes blank from there. We must have hung up quickly.

I relayed the conversation to my husband. “You should have asked if that’s what she and your dad did,” he said.

“Gross! She would have told me. I don’t want to know about that!”

“Then you should have told her we were,” he said.

“Then she would have asked about it or something,” I said, still trying to shake the horrible sentence from my head.

Mothers and daughters and talk about a lunchtime quickie do not mix. If I hear the word sex from my mom’s mouth, I revert to teenhood when I prayed she wouldn’t bring it up. I pretended not to know about it and I pretended parents never did it. Approaching 40, my mindset hasn’t changed, and if the conversation comes up, I must fight my gag reflex, put hands over ears, and scream “la la la la la la la la la la la” at the top of my lungs. Just ew.

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Filed under Can't Get a Break, Everyday Life

Taking Care of Business

I’ve been sitting on this award for quite some time. The holidays got the better of me and I am long overdue to thank not one, but two lovely bloggers who bestowed on me The Versatile Blogger Award.

Shoes on the Wrong Feet and Worrywarts Guide to Weight, Sex, and Marriage both honored me with this award before Christmas, and I got bogged down with holiday hoopla. I appreciate any recognition, and I adore these fellow bloggers.

So here is some info about me that I am supposed to divulge, that you may or may not want to know:

1) My kids never sneak candy out of our pantry (seriously, they always ask), but when they aren’t looking, I shove handfuls into my mouth. Bad Mommy.

2) I thought I would get married when I was 30. At my first job out of college, I met a man, fell in love, and we were engaged within four months of our first date. So much for plans. We’ve been married 14 years.

3) I can never remember my age. Most of the time I ask my son. I still feel like I am in my twenties. If you are as old as you feel, that is a good thing. I think I’m 38.

4) I do not own a scale. I know I’ve gained weight if my pants feel tight and I’ve lost weight if they are loose.

5) I am a bit shy and I’ve always had jobs that force me to interact with lots of people. I’ve been a cashier and a reporter, and those two jobs have taught me more than anything else I’ve ever experienced. Being around lots of different kinds of people is a gift. I went into homes and neighborhoods that I never would have otherwise, talked to people I would never have talked to. People are people. Some are great. Some are idiots.

6) The strangest interview I had was at a huge, plantation-style house. I thought it would be gorgeous inside. It was nasty, with 70s-era shag carpet and velour furniture. The man threw his legs over the side of the chair and the woman talked away. At one point, the man lifted up his rear and farted. It took every ounce of strength I had to stay composed.

7) I slept through my son’s birth. I went in to be induced and they gave me a sleeping pill. I went into labor on my own and they had to wake me up to break my water, give me an epidural, and for each push. On the video, I am holding my son and dozing off…a sweet moment.

And now for the blogs that deserve some recognition…(Pass the award along if you wish, or just enjoy a mention. I think you’re great.) Readers, check these blogs out:

The Life of JWo

When the Kids Go to Bed

Young American Wisdom

Sunflower Girl

Lesley Carter

Belfast Dad

This Woman’s Work

And now on to another award. The Life of JWo gave me the 7 x 7 Link Award. The first post of his that drew me in was about his wife’s panties, the fact that she has about, oh, nine times more than me. It made me seriously re-evaluate my underwear drawer. He then hooked me with his admittance to a Walmart shopping addiction. A man who impulse-buys more than I do—or any woman I know for that matter. Good stuff.

For this award, I get to tell something about myself that my followers don’t know. I think I safely covered that above. I also get to share seven of my posts that fit the following categories. Read these if you haven’t:

1) Most Surprisingly Successful: Whoopee! perfectly describes my husband and me. I can take the toilet talk and he can’t. I’m the one you’ll see snickering at eight-year-old humor.

2) Most Underrated: The Boys’ Bathroom: Sometimes You Don’t Want to Know…this needs no explanation. Read it if you haven’t.

3) Most Popular: A Santa Surprise was a big draw. I didn’t get a good photo of my kids with Santa, but I’ll never forget the lady I saw there. I can’t spoil the surprise. Go read it if you didn’t.

4) Most Beautiful: Little Hands shows how the little moments of the day touch me unexpectedly. Silly little things move me, make me cry. One day my son’s hands will be all furry and big, not so cute really.

5) Most Helpful: Confessions of a Germophobe is helpful to know about me, to know why I may flinch if breathed on in winter or why I may go through a lot of disinfectant, even though my cleaning skills must need some work (refer to number 7).

6) Most Controversial: All was quiet on the comment front when I published No Elf on This Shelf. Very few friends responded to this one and I knew I probably stepped on some toes. Just statin’ why I couldn’t get one, that’s all folks.

7) Most Prideworthy: My Friend, the Neat Freak is one of my favorites, along with Bedroom Basketball. I’m not a perfectionist and that basketball game shows what most nights in this house are like.

And the 7 x 7 goes to seven worthy bloggers…

Orange Spice Drop

Mommy Said a Swear Word

Sunflower Girl

Lesley Carter

Worrywart’s Guide to Weight, Sex, and Marriage

Shoes on the Wrong Feet

Bluebird Blvd.

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