Monthly Archives: October 2012

Son’s Trip Benefits Worrying Mom

When I got the letter in May, my heart sank. I didn’t get a spot. I had wanted to chaperone the two-night field trip that my son would be taking this week. He admitted he couldn’t wait to go without me. My heart sank a little more. My baby, OK my oldest, was growing up. As much as I needed him to need me, he just didn’t.

I think mothers and fathers differ greatly in how much they worry about their kids. In some families maybe the dad does all the worrying. But I think there must be some balance. One parent has to worry so the other can have some sense of reason. The other can say, “It doesn’t matter how many hours you obsess over pajamas. He isn’t going to wear them.”

In our family, I am that worrier. For the past five months, I have worried about everything from my child falling off the mountain his class will be hiking on to not drinking enough water. In some sort of cruel, maternal way, I worry that my son will miss me.

I have lost sleep over things that could go wrong, causing migraines and stomach issues. The chaperones will keep an eye on my son. I know them. They are great parents, but they’re not me. But I have to trust my son and let him go. Despite a few jitters, he’s ready for this even if I’m not.

My son has always been the kind of kid who jumps into things when he’s ready and not a moment sooner. I try to remind him about all the things I won’t be able to when I’m not there—use your manners, change your underwear—but I shouldn’t overwhelm him. My gut says to back off. I know if he forgets, it’s not the end of the world. This independence will be good for him, boost his confidence. On the parenting scale of free-range to helicopter, I find I’m pushing myself more to the middle these days and this trip will benefit me too.camp gear

My husband will start to think about packing the bag days before. I have been thinking about it for two months, worrying about the best way to pack three outfits, sweatshirts, gloves, extra shoes, a pillow, a sleeping bag, sheet, and just extras in a way that my son can carry them from bus to lodge in one load. I’ve always been a planner.

I won’t be able to drop my son off at school the morning of the trip. Even though I’ve been preparing him for this independence, I haven’t really prepared myself. I can only put my brave face on for a short time before I turn back into Mom at the stroke of 7 a.m., and I don’t want him to see that: a quivering lip, me lingering for too long, turning back for just one more hug.

I’m proud of him. Some kids won’t go without their parents. He’s a little nervous, mostly excited. I know he’ll have a great time.

I’m embarrassed of me. I won’t sleep. I’ll worry every second. And when he gets off the bus brimming with details of the trip, I’ll tear up in relief. I’ll shed the worry like a heavy coat.

My months of worry will have been for nothing. But for both of us, it will have been a practice run for the many more times I’ll have to let him go.

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When Dining Out Becomes a Workout

We often dine out one weekend night with the kids. With four of us, it’s difficult to find the one restaurant that makes all of us happy. You would think we would learn our lesson….

Where do y’all want to eat tonight?

Pizza!

How about Mexican?

Blah, I hate Mexican.

I don’t really want Mexican.

We just had pizza Wednesday.

So?

We could go to Elizabeth’s.

No, we always eat there.

What about Mellow Mushroom?

I don’t like their pizza.

It’s pizza. What don’t you like about it?

It’s too saucy.

What about the deli?

No, Daddy won’t eat there.

Mimi’s?

We ate there last weekend.

Pastabilities? They have macaroni and cheese.

It’s too cheesy.

There’s no such thing.

Well, if we can’t agree on anything, let’s just eat at home.

Ugh, you are so picky! You ruin everything!

Fine! I’ll go to Mexican.

I don’t want a taco!

Well, neither of you wants Mexican. Don’t yell at her for being picky if you are being picky too.

Let’s just eat at home.

(Tears. Kids run away. Sigh.)

(Quiet.)

What do you want to do?

We could go someplace new.

Where?

I don’t know.

(Quiet.)

How about Mario’s Pizza? Everyone likes that.

We can see what the kids say.

If everyone agrees on Mario’s, we can go out.

Yay!

(Everyone smiles and gets into the car.)

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School Picture Day Captures the Awkwardness of Time

We, or I, picked out clothes last night. I sifted through stacks of T-shirts in my son’s dresser until I found something that didn’t have a picture of a Star Wars character on it. A Polo shirt would do nicely.

My daughter’s wardrobe proved easier: Dresses in many shades hung in a mad jumble in her closet. Brown with stripes would look good for fall.

School picture day is the one day a year I get to pick out clothes for my kids to wear. It’s an unwritten rule in this house. My day. So this morning my son put on his royal blue Diary of a Wimpy Kid T-shirt and threw on a white button-down over it. If he sits the right way, the words “Are You Ready to Rock?” show through his shirt, which will probably make him look washed out anyway. I didn’t feel like fighting it so early in the morning when everyone still had puffy eyes and bedhead. My daughter walked in wearing a charm necklace displaying giant baubles in a rainbow of colors and geometric shapes, sure to cast bright reflections in every direction. She adds her own touch to everything.

I will hate those pictures. I’ve just dished out $40 for pictures I will hate, at least for now. I buy school pictures every year and when they come home in my kids’ backpacks, I open them with fingers crossed, hoping this will be the year I love them. But no. My son’s hair has always been combed straight down over his forehead even though he wears it to the side. One year my daughter’s lips dried and curled up on her gums, disappeared entirely from the photo. My kids grimace, smirk, strain, or look like they can’t wait to get away from whomever stands on the other side of that camera. Just who do they send to take school pictures anyway?

It’s funny now to look back at the older pictures and say, “Oh yeah, that was the year you lost your front teeth,” or to my son, “That was the year you wanted long hair. Don’t try that again. It was a bush.” But 20 or 50 years from now, what will we think?

The thing is, when I look back at my own school pictures, they mark a passage of time, the same pose year after year. When you have them all together, nothing shows my transition from elementary school to middle school to high school better. Some pictures are cute, hideous, sad, but they are all me. They all mark my awkward progression through time. And as a mother, I really want that time line of my own kids for myself.

school pic

Muddled sixth-grade kid making her awkward way in 1986.

When the kids bring their school pictures home, I send them to family, put them in a scrapbook, and we wait. In ten years, those pictures with their tousled hair, missing teeth, giant baubles, and T-shirts will have documented more than I could have ever imagined. Maybe I’ll notice something I didn’t see before when I’m searching for something that I miss.

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The Reality of Adulthood Doesn’t Live Up to Childhood Dreams

I remember as a kid I couldn’t wait to be a grown-up, when I could do whatever I wanted. The future was a blank page, waiting for me to fill it with dreams, goals, and, more importantly, my own set of rules. I couldn’t wait to be my own boss and not have someone telling me to eat that despicable broccoli. The only way that tree with its overcooked stalk was going down was if I smothered it in cheese. As a grown-up? I wouldn’t even put it on my plate. Forget that, I didn’t even have to buy it.

My kids and I have the same battles: I tire of repeating myself. The kids act like I don’t know anything. Oh, I know a thing or two.

Then. When I was a kid, being a grown-up looked so cool. Grown-ups can wear whatever they want. No one raises their eyebrows when your shorts inch higher every year. No one makes you zip your coat when it’s cold out. You don’t have to hide the fact that you’re wearing eye shadow without permission because all the other seventh-grade girls’ eyelids and capris share the same pastel colors.

Now. I could wear whatever I want, but “mom clothes” was coined for a reason. Plunging necklines mean kids get a sneak peek at mom’s bra, a thickly padded curiosity.

Then. Having to go to bed when everyone else was still up just wasn’t fair. I could hear dishes clattering, voices chattering, and my God, the TV! What did they do at night, throw a party? Adults could do anything. Stuck in my twin bed with only a teddy bear as company, I dreamed of the day I could stay up all night. I would never be tired.

Now. I wish I were the one being read a story and tucked in every night, but clothes need to be washed and dried. Permission slips need to be signed. I fall onto the couch in exhaustion and just hope I can make it through one favorite TV show. Not exactly the all-nighters I dreamed about.

Then. I could fill my future with catalog dreams. I’d buy whatever I wanted: the coolest toys, the fastest car, a thousand Cabbage Patch Kids dolls.

Now.The coolest toys happen to be a vacuum that works and an immersion blender. A van covered in crumbs and goo gets me here and there. And savings in the bank means more than any collection.

green food, yikes

Who put this green stuff in my food?

Then. Meat loaf, pork chops, green beans, peas. Blech. Why couldn’t we just eat ice cream and potato chips and brownies for dinner anyway? I swore I’d never, ever make meat loaf.

Now. Guess what? I make meat loaf. My kids hate it. It’s the circle of life or something. I even like mushrooms and avocado and other slimy things I gagged at as a child. My six-year-old self is watching and sticking out her tongue. Traitor.

Little did I know then that when you become a grown-up, you sometimes like vegetables. You pay for all that junk food with something called indigestion. Those clothes your mom wouldn’t let you wear? You gain the sense that no respectable girl would wear them. Staying up late? All day all you want to do is go to sleep for lack of energy. Little did I know when I was a kid that I had it good then.

My kids often say, “I don’t care.” They don’t care that they’ll be tired in the morning. They don’t care that vegetables will make them big and strong. They don’t care what anything costs because Christmas or grandparents will come soon enough. They don’t care that they’ll be cold when it’s 40 degrees out and they insisted on wearing shorts to school.

Some things need to be learned the hard way. I smile. I remember the way I saw the world too. And I know one day, they’ll see it the way I do.

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Miscalculating: I Never Thought I’d Need Math Again

“I hate math! I wish it never existed. I’m no good at it. Ugh!”

Though that’s something one of my kids could have shouted over homework, those thoughts actually came from my math-incapable brain while editing a math book last week.

Always glad to have some freelance work, I shudder when I see pages of fraction multiplication staring at me. Immediately I recall splintered desks, stuffy classrooms, heavy eyes, and groups of numbers that could be anything from a top-secret security code to a phone number to a long division problem crawling across my page. The teacher spoke mumbo jumbo, a complex language that lulled us creative kids right to sleep so all the math whizzes would learn her special secrets.

I have a secret that my own kids don’t know: When my dad tried to show me why I was using the wrong algebraic and geometric formulas, I writhed and squirmed like a child getting a tooth pulled. I just wanted him to do my homework for me too, for it to be done. I didn’t want to learn it. I wanted to be put out of my math misery just like my kids do—and that was in high school.

Miraculously, I made it through algebra, geometry, and pre-calculus. The probability of that has to be one in a million, or something. In college I majored in journalism, never to look back at math again, but I failed my one college math course and had to repeat it. My parents started doing some math of their own. I figured that equation out just fine: no pass equaled serious trouble.

So who knew that in a career focused on words, the copy editor job I took before I had my son would require me to know math? Who knew that? In some sick, twisted joke, I worked for an educational publisher. I had to not only edit worksheets for elementary kids, but also make sure everything was right. Someone has to check answer keys, you know.

calculators make quick workLast week’s fractions have been quite the refresher. Quick, what’s 2/3 + 5/8? You can bet I know the answer. What’s 8 x 1/5? I am convinced the sole reason I had that job was in preparation for helping my kids with their homework. While they squirm and say, “I don’t get it,” I do. Even my husband, one of those math people, says, “Multiplying fractions, I’m not sure I remember how to do that.”

Sometimes what I edit is harder than fractions. Sometimes I’m thankful I’m not a fifth-grader anymore. I edit. I squirm. I think, “How are kids supposed to figure this out if a nearly 40-year-old woman can’t do it?” I walk around. I try again. I scribble all over scraps of paper. Nasty thoughts swim through my head. I sigh. I rethink the problem. Maybe the editor did it wrong, not me. No, I’m sure it’s me. “How in the flip flyin’ floo do they come up with this stuff? Grrrrr!” I ask my husband to do the problem. Of course he gets it.

Sometimes I have to cheat, working backward from the answer key. These people pay me by the hour. Surely they can’t afford me being slow to grasp a concept. And I am so happy to get problems that can be done with a calculator. I’m not sure fraction calculators existed when I was in school, but there they are on the Internet. Hallelujah!

One thing is certain: One day my kids will realize my math limits and for homework at least, I’ll be off the hook.

Problems to ponder:

1. It takes Muddled Mom 8 days to nibble a 6-inch chocolate bar. How much of the chocolate bar does she sneak each day when her kids aren’t looking? Ah, to hell with it. Eat the 6 inches in 8 minutes. That’s more likely, right?

2. Muddled Mom spends 4 hours a day editing a math book. Two-thirds of each hour is spent pulling out her hair. How many hours does Muddled Mom spend pulling out her hair? The bigger question: Does Muddled Mom have any hair left?

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Awakened: Reliving My Childhood

The moment my kids began to explore their surroundings, I began to see the world clearly. Like seeing through much-needed eyeglasses for the first time or a dirty window wiped clean, my view finally came into focus.

Maybe I just hadn’t noticed the details in all the years since I was the young one running around barefoot chasing fireflies, sifting dirt between outstretched fingers in search of writhing earthworms, or staring in wonder at a line of ants marching like soldiers across the driveway.

Maybe as a child I never saw baby birds learn to fly. Witnessing this as an adult, I sat in the same wide-eyed wonder as my kids watching fluffy black pom-poms bounce through the grass, chirping at their mother. One by one, they flapped their wings and took off to the branch above. I couldn’t help but wonder if I were a child with no mother making me watch, would I? Were there better things to do? Is this why I missed so much as a child?

I take my time now, no rushing about. Before I had kids, I didn’t know much about outer space. No one asked me about Mars and evidence of water there, so I didn’t need to know. Now my spirit fills with wonder in a slightly different way than my son’s must when he looks at the sky and wonders whether spaceships full of Stormtroopers dart overhead.

A snail edges along a crack in our driveway and my husband could tell me for the tenth time to come in for the night. This creature hefts its top-heavy spiral shell to the side to make great strides, grasping bits of straw with its foot. I could watch it all night.land snail

A snow day from work used to mean housework, maybe a movie. Now it means bundling up in triple layers and heading outside before caffeine pulses through blood, our breath a blanket of fog as we pull sleds down the path looking for signs of deer. We make the first footprints in silvery snow that is like a fresh sheet of paper, ours to write the story of our day. I make sure to take turns on the sled too. The kids can’t have all the fun. I’m pretty sure I scream the loudest, slide the farthest.

I wedge myself in too-tight spots like a crayfish under a rock because hide-and-seek has tough rules in this house. On the field, I throw like Tim Tebow half the time, but the other half I am Drew Brees, throwing spirals 30 yards to a four-foot receiver who always makes it to the end zone.

Storytime started as a way to read to the kids but I look forward to it with such anticipation that I am the child most of the time, hearing books I never cared about when I was younger. Oh, I love that Laura Ingalls. And Bilbo Baggins, why did I shun you?

I don’t remember seeing the world through a child’s eyes all those years ago. I was so focused then on everything but. Having children to show the world to has opened up a universe of excitement, beauty, and joy to me that melted away during my 9-to-5 days sitting behind a desk.

Now that I have kids, I have an excuse to enjoy my childhood again. It’s like staying up late with your best friend, sneaking Skittles from the candy jar, and telling secrets about your brother—the best time of your life.

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