Category Archives: Family

Letting Go Is Easier When Reflecting on Own Childhood

Summer camp. One week. Off on an adventure alone. No friends. My son was ready. The question, Was I ready? I never went to a true summer camp. Besides an emotional college good-bye, my first real adventure came when I was 21. And I don’t think my mom was ready either.

Three weeks in Europe. A friend and I were leaving after college graduation to tour major European cities. My parents and I waited at the Norfolk, Virginia, airport for my friend and her parents to arrive. She was late—really late. I called her house from a pay phone. They should be at the airport, her sister said. I quietly waited, thinking. When my plane started boarding, I stood up and told my parents good-bye.

“What? You’re going?” my mom said. I sure as hell was. I didn’t work as a cashier for five months selling cigarettes to an old man with pink fingernails and a dress for nothing. I didn’t max out my credit card and beg and borrow the rest of the money for my trip for nothing. I was going to Europe!

We hadn’t talked about or looked into another flight. Now there was no time. I was there. I was getting on that plane. I said I’d call when I arrived. I didn’t have time to think about what I’d do once I landed. I had only ever flown once before. I felt nauseous and tried desperately to sleep folded over onto the lap tray. When we landed in London, I had no idea where to go. Signs everywhere warned not to pick up unattended bags. What? Why? A crowd of people held signs with names on them. One of them was my driver. I made it to the hotel exhausted but couldn’t check into the room for two hours. I called home and I learned my friend got stuck in traffic and had caught the next flight. Relief.

We spent the next three weeks navigating centuries-old castles, picturesque gardens, bizarre hotel showers, and each other’s moods. Thankfully, she still talks to me. We found our way into an Austrian pharmacy to replenish my motion sickness medicine, using only my idiotic gesturing and Southern English to communicate. We ordered from menus with decent success, though for the life of me I could not remember to request still water and always ended up with fizz.

Though I yearned for home-cooked food and sheets not made from terry cloth, I was having the time of my life. My mom called one of the hotels looking for me, worried. On my end, there wasn’t time for phone calls.

I think as mothers, we dissect our kids’ situations. There is no big picture but little pieces. We find comfort in odd details to help us cope with those parts that really bother us. I knew my son going to camp would be hard, but he’s been away before. Baby steps. My mom found comfort in the fact that I would be with a friend, that she knew where she could reach me. I put a kink in part of that.

I filled out loads of paperwork for my son. He’ll have fun, I thought. I’ll worry. But at the end of the forms and phone numbers and descriptions of my son’s personality, a reminder: no phone calls. Panic. What if he needs me? More likely, what if I need him?

Like my mom then (and sometimes now), I just wanted to be able to hear it, one sentence even: “I’m OK.” But I take comfort in the fact that his camp is less than an hour away. In our same town. And he’ll probably have fun, even if I won’t sleep for a week.

As a mom, my experiences with struggle and independence and finding my own way are what get me through letting my kids go—even if it’s just to the other side of town.

summer camp

Ready for a week of fun…I hope!

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Elementary School: Six Years of Growth

My son finishes elementary school this week. Six years ago, I cried as I sent him through those doors and down the hall into a classroom with a wonderful woman who took him under her wing and taught him everything he needed to know about getting along in the world.

Back then, he was waist high and when he smiled, his cheeks were still round with baby fat. His chubby hands grasped a pencil the right way to practice letters and write sentences about field trips, his hermit crab, and how much he loved his family. I used to smile at his primitive spelling and stick-figure crayon drawings, filing every writing away to brighten up a later day.

He told me stories of the pill bugs that escaped the classrooms and were found all over the school. Or the boy who put his foot in the toilet in the bathroom.

He moved on down the hall. He made new friends. He struggled. He discovered the joy of a really good book. He learned that he loved math and science and that all someone had to do was talk about it and he absorbed it like a sponge. He learned that sometimes he had to work hard at something and it wasn’t always easy. And even if he threw his pencil across the room and broke it, even if he said a cuss word in the process, his mother loved him anyway.

He learned that sometimes his mother said a cuss word in the process too. Damn homework.homework mominthemuddle.com

He told me stories about the kid who hid under his desk every day and the teacher who chased them on the playground at recess as they laughed and screamed.

As he moved on down the big kid hall, he learned that sometimes kids are mean. He learned that he didn’t want to be the bad guy, but he didn’t want rocks thrown at him either. He can’t always be a pleaser. Sometimes friends aren’t good at their job. Sometimes he found they could make him feel bad about himself, like when he got new glasses. Sometimes friends challenged him though. If they read a book, he wanted to read it too. He discovered a love for J.R.R. Tolkien and Roald Dahl.

He told me stories about the boys’ bathroom and the boy who licked the urinal. He told me all about the first overnight field trip he went on—he had the time of his life while I stayed home unable to breathe.

Now in fifth grade, he jokes with his teachers. He doesn’t need to be coddled. He does his homework in his room and I see it only when he needs help or when it is returned home graded. His writings are about fighters and his friends, no longer sappy and sweet. He takes pleasure in trying to teach me new math lessons he has learned, thinking he’ll stump me. And he has.

He tells me stories about kickball and monkey ball and the things I would not believe the boys do at lunch. He tells me about the science experiments with tea bags and the mock stock exchange they’re doing in math that he loves.

Now in the last week of his elementary school career, he walks down the hall confident, smiling, knowing many friends. He stands at my shoulders, lean and broad, baby fat long gone.

Six years ago when he entered that school, he was a quiet, funny, scared kid. When he walks out those doors for the last time, I’ll still recognize that little boy somewhere inside. But I couldn’t be more proud of the countless ways he’s grown.

mominthemuddle.com note

A note my son gave me in first grade.

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We Learn From the Tough Stuff

It wasn’t the answer I was expecting. “I think you’re old enough now to make some of your own decisions.” I remember looking at my dad and thinking, “Are you kidding? Just tell me what to do.” I didn’t really want to make this decision, but my parents suddenly thought I was capable—at 13—right or wrong, whatever I decided was it.

It wasn’t a life or death decision, but tough on the social life of a teenage girl. I was deciding between going on a field trip that would last until late evening or going to a friend’s dance recital that same evening. I had already told my friend yes when we found out about the field trip. Of course I picked the field trip. Twenty-six years later, I still feel bad for letting my friend down.

I made other bad decisions. I shed some tears over them. I learned my lesson.

I faced many situations I wished I didn’t have to face. How could I deal with the girl who kept picking on me? Why did I admit that I liked Billy Bentley? Why did Tiffany seem to like Beth more, and what could I do about it? How could I face a boy who just broke up with me?

Those struggles helped me to be brave later. They helped me to know that I did have limits and I could stand up for myself. That sometimes a friendly smile is the best revenge after being dumped. That saying good-bye to a toxic friendship is the best cure. That I do have morals. That I actually could start over again and again.

But being the parent, taking a step back and letting my kids make their own decisions, it’s tough. I want to protect them. Sometimes the Mama Bear advice I want to give isn’t appropriate. But my kids know what they need to do just like I figured it out when I was their age.

All these years, it’s been the tough stuff that I’ve learned the most from. The lesson is just getting to a decision.

I’ve seen my kids make some tough choices, whether they knew it or not. A friend who makes fun of you maybe isn’t the best friend. When my son got glasses and his friend made fun of them every day, I noticed he hung around that friend a lot less.

My daughter had a tough choice this week: dissect a fish or don’t. And that left me with a tough choice: encourage her to do it or don’t. She worried the smell would make her sick. She thought it was gross and said she wouldn’t do it. Stress and drama overshadowed what I thought was a great opportunity for a third grader. I told her that maybe she could just leave the option open.

Where do I draw the line at encouragement and telling her to try, and being too pushy and making her decisions? I thought of all those choices I had to make growing up. Sometimes I didn’t want to make them. But I did and I did OK.

She knows in her gut what’s right for her. In the end, I told her to do what she needed to do.

This week, she did dissect a fish. She showed herself what she can do. She showed me what she can do—and I never thought removing an eyeball was on that list. I certainly don’t like watching the struggle, but the growth makes a mom proud.

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Two Can Ay-Play at This Game

There has been a lot of talk in my house lately that I just don’t want to hear. Your kids reach a certain age. They begin to understand certain things. They’re capable of using words in ways that you just hoped would never happen.

“Euss-gay at-whay?” my son says to me.

I cringe. He then rolls out an entire sentence without stumbling using the most annoying invention known to parents—Pig Latin.

Oh, yes. I know we’ve all experimented with it. We tried it. For most of us, we just didn’t like it. Too much work. My son likes the control. He likes how my shoulders jump to my ears every time he belts out a sentence or two, flawlessly. He loves that it seems to pierce my ears like nails on a chalkboard and blind my eyes like bright white sun.

Make it stop. Make. It. Stop.

If I hear it one more time, I’m going to eam-scray.

“Om-may, an-cay I-ay atch-way e-thay ame-gay?”

“I’ll answer you when you can talk the right way,” I say. Or I ignore him. Or I scream inside my ead-hay.

It’s been going on for weeks. I’ve heard it so often that I can sometimes decipher his long sentences with ease. And I don’t want to. This morning I found myself thinking in Pig Latin. Epressing-day. It is rubbing off on me. I’m afraid I’ll answer another mom at school or a client on the phone in Pig Latin. “I have an 11-year-old son,” I’ll say and hope that clears things up.

But I think I’ve come up with a solution. It’s going to take some practice.

Ewokese.

Yes, the language spoken by Ewoks. He won’t even know what I am saying but he’ll want to know so badly, it will hurt.

mominthemuddle.com

I have a lot of studying to do.

“Che womok! Na goo. Noot.” (Beware! Stop now.) And while he’s at it, “Amoowa manna manna seeg toma jeejee.” (You have a food on your face.) Because that’s just a given.

I think sometimes the suffering is worth it when you can beat your child at his own game, right?

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Life Through a Mason Jar

Everything had been picked over. Or claimed. Like birds had pecked at the flesh and picked everything clean to the bones, taken what they wanted and left the discards. I scoured her bedroom for something, a memory, a part of her. I took some earrings that I had never even seen her wear.

As the youngest grandchild, I had spent a lot of time with my grandmother. When my mother worked, I spent time in the big two-story house, certain that Chewbacca lurked behind corners. The fridge was always stocked with Nehi in every flavor. I grew up spending my Friday nights with her, eating at diners and making her laugh.

At 18 years old, I wasn’t ready to watch her die. I was still a kid, and I barely had the strength to say goodbye.

She always told me that when she died, a certain ring she wore would be mine. From the time I could talk, I always knew it. When she died, that was really all I wanted. It was the token I most associated with her.

When I see the ring now, it takes me back. But it’s not something I use every day. It sits tucked away. And so do the memories.

My grandmother’s ring was always on her hand. I used to sit on her lap and she’d ask me whose it was. I knew. She’d bounce me on her knees. She’d sing to me. She’d smile. I sing those same songs to my daughter. I remember.

But I found out quickly how sour things turn when loved ones die. People become greedy, wanting things for value or feeling others don’t deserve anything. It’s not about that. When someone dies, what I want is something that makes me smile when I see it. That takes me back to that time and that place and that sound and that smell. That moment in the kitchen when the snow was falling. That clink of metal when loose change hits a box. I want the one thing that will remind me of that person forever. And it could be a fancy ring, a cheap metal cross, or glass marbles. And every family member deserves that.

When my other grandmother died a year ago, I had a feeling dividing up the estate would be similar, bitter. I took one last look around her house while I could. I was rushed. I saw one of her old blue Mason jars and held it. She always had some near her stove, filled with tea or pasta or other basic ingredients. She was a cook like me. My grandmother had given me things through the years that she wanted me to have, but I wanted something that made me think of her when I saw it, something that evoked different memories. It didn’t need to have value. It just needed to take me back.

I’m glad I took the jar. It was the only token I got. The house is gone now. I know that with time, I’ll remember something and wish I had it. Something small like the milk glass that, after twenty-some years, I wish I had from my other grandmother. But at least I have the jar that spans my childhood memories of every kitchen that grandmother cooked in.

I hope that when I die, my kids don’t fight over things. I’d rather them bond over our time together and to think about the Mason jar: it appears old and empty, but through the glass I only see memories of a life lived.

jars mominthemuddle.com

I took this photo before my grandmother died because the jars reminded me of hers.

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The Magic of a Snow Day in the South

Snow day. When I was a kid, those words were like music to my ears. I didn’t hear them often growing up near the southern coast of Virginia. We didn’t have snow boots or snow pants or even a sled. When it snowed, we just put on tights under our jeans and played outside until our skin stung. I’d peel off wet layers to reveal cold, red legs that could only be warmed by pj’s and blankets and playing Barbies on my shag carpet.

When I was really little, I wore my Snoopy rubber rain boots in the snow, the ones that said “Good” on the left foot and “Grief” on the right, except I could never remember whether it was “Good Grief” or “Grief Good.” I wasn’t a Snoopy fan really. The snow was pretty deep one year and when I ran, those rubber boots stayed in the snow and my stocking feet came out. I guess I grew into those boots before I grew out of them. Later I’d just wear tennis shoes in the snow and I never remember the snow being higher than the laces most years anyway.

snowprints mominthemuddle.com

There’s nothing like making those first footprints in the snow.

We didn’t have hills to sled down. When we made a snowman, the trail the ball made exposed the grass in the yard. I always hated that. If it had snowed enough to even cover the grass, it seemed like a pretty good snow. It was something. A dusting was a disappointment. It could be all you got until next year and that was a long time to wait.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I saw a lot of snow. In the mountains, we got feet of snow and I loved it. There were hills for sledding. And trash bags and cafeteria trays made the perfect vehicles for getting down those hills fast. Sidewalks became ice slicks and the only way down was to crouch down low and slide or lie on your belly like a penguin and laugh because who knew getting from there to here could be so much fun?

As a parent now, snow day sometimes means other things, like dread. And that’s a shame. It’s a shame I sometimes, for a moment, forget about the magic of snow. I want my kids to have the same fun I did. In the South we don’t get snow very often. We certainly don’t get a good snow every year. It’s a gift. So we miss a few days of school. (OK, so we miss a few days of school for an inch or two of snow.) But there is nothing better on a cold gray day than watching snowflakes fall, hearing the excitement in your kids’ voices, and knowing you actually can go out in the snow and play with them.

Today they are waiting to play in the accumulation we got yesterday that barely covers the grass. “Will we be able to sled?” We’ll sure try.

Yeah, I hate the cleanup. I hate the slushy puddles on the floor when we come in. But I love that I can get my work done and run upstairs and play a game with my kids or snuggle and watch a movie while we thaw. My husband has an hour to play in the snow before he has to brave snowy Southern roads and go into work. We’ll sled. We’ll throw snowballs. We don’t get this chance every year. And even if it disrupts grown-up life for a little while, we have to remember to get out there and be kids again. That’s part of the magic too.Southern snow mominthemuddle.com

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Remember the Christmas…

I couldn’t tell you what I got for Christmas in third grade. Or for most Christmases for that matter. Sure, I remember the big stuff. The Cabbage Patch Doll that I hoped I got because I knew they were flying off the shelves. The black-and-white TV set that got me through the grogginess of many migraines with the help of “Dallas” and “Love Boat.”

But year after year as we pull out the box of ornaments for our tree, Christmases past come sweeping back. The green beaded ornament that my kids don’t really like has always been one of my favorites. My grandmother bought us grandkids a special ornament every year for our packages. She picked them out at craft shows and we all got something different. That ornament reminds me of Christmas Eve at her house—a velvet Christmas dress and itchy tights with a crotch that hung near my knees. I remember looking for the lighted Santa on someone’s porch before we crossed the bridge, and coming home and climbing into bed with my sister, the only night of the year I was ever allowed.favorite ornament

Many ornaments on our tree tell a story. There’s the fancy beaded ball my mom made that used to hang on my childhood tree. She used beaded pins to hold sequins and beads in place. Our tree stood in the living room then and I remember a Christmas long ago when my sister picked out a snowman soap for me. I loved snowmen. I loved that soap and it sat on my dresser for years, unused and gathering dust. I think I finally threw it out as a teenager. More than anything, I loved that my sister bought me something she thought I would like.fancy ornament

There’s a golden wreath with a picture of my sister and me dangling from the center. We’re teenagers and I remember that my hair looked decent that day, a true accomplishment. There’s a wooden Revolutionary soldier on a red horse and that’s the first ornament I ever remember being mine. My sister and I fought every Christmas over who had the red one and who had the white one and, more importantly, who would hang which on our quickly dying tree. My parents finally got smart and taped our names to the backs.

When I married, I brought my box of ornaments with me. My husband did the same. And his ornaments tell stories too. His grandmother gave him a new ornament every year, and those were always from some kind of craft venue too. The lid of his box lists each ornament and the year she gave it to him. There’s the little football player sporting a green uniform (no doubt an Eagles player), birds made from pinecones, and a simple Matchbox car with a yarn hanger.footballornament

Every year our kids hang those ornaments on our tree along with the ornaments their grandparents have given them. And while they sometimes make fun of our old, crusty ones and root through the bin in search of “better” things to hang, I know one day the kids will look back at all of those ornaments and have stories of their own.

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Some Big, Tail-Wagging Changes

If you read this blog regularly, you probably know that I am a planner to the nth degree. I am not a spontaneous person, but lately I did something a little spontaneous.

We got a dog. And I say a little spontaneous because we’ve been thinking of getting one for a few months. But the spontaneous part comes in because I didn’t do much as far as reading about training or caring for this creature we have just adopted. We have just taken a huge step and I’m in fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants mode.

As a parent, I’ve never been into parenting books. I’ve never once finished one from beginning to end. And what I’m realizing is that this dog ownership thing is a lot like having a baby or a toddler in the house again. I can’t tell you how many times my husband or I have already said to the dog, “Ugh, just tell me! What do you WANT?”

And that first night home? (And the nights after that?) The dog is already sleeping in our bed. Tsk. Tsk. Everyone knows he’ll never get out of it. Sometimes he cries and whines and paces, and we just want some sleep. He settles down a lot quicker than the kids did though.

The dog we got was a rescue dog. He’s under 2 but no one is certain just how old. He’s housetrained. He’s sweet. He loves to play and cuddle. But this is a new home and it requires some new training. He’s had some accidents. I feel like I’m following a toddler in training pants around again, wielding carpet cleaner and Febreeze. I have to make sure he doesn’t put things in his mouth, even though he looks adorable running around with an oversized stuffed animal that is too nice to be torn apart. And I certainly don’t want to hurt his feelings by being too tough. This guy needs lots of love.

He doesn’t like his crate. He doesn’t want to be alone. I have places to go. It’s brought back lots of separation anxiety flashbacks. Thank goodness he can’t hug my legs and beg and never let go. And now I have three creatures following me around throughout the day, at least once school is out.

I’ve found myself outside at 10 p.m. in my bathrobe, long johns, and big winter coat. And I really don’t care who sees me. I just want him to poop already.

My kids take turns walking him, or running, whichever the dog prefers. And seeing them like that, it makes me smile.

He’s quiet. He’s smart. He listens. And he’s doggone good. In time, we won’t know what we had ever done without him.

Meet Rowan

Meet Rowan

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Adjusting: Peanut Allergy Diagnosis at Age 10

Sometimes the body just knows. It turns out my son’s did. For nine years. When he was a toddler I gave him peanut butter and he smeared it on his face. He got a rash and I waited another year to try again. He wasn’t so interested in peanut butter after that. In fact, for the next nine years, he thought it was stinky and waved his hand in front of his nose and pretended to gag when he smelled it.

He didn’t care for granola bars, the kind with dried fruit and nuts, but he tried them and nothing ever happened. He didn’t like peanut M&Ms, but he ate the chocolate and left the peanut. He ate everything he wanted. Some things touched a peanut, like those M&Ms. Some things included nuts, like pesto. Some things were nuts, like pistachios.

But one day recently, he wanted Pad Thai, a dish that traditionally includes peanuts. I was hesitant. All those years of not wanting peanuts I knew probably meant something. I had thought about getting him tested, but he had eaten so many things in his lifetime. Was I being overanxious as usual? Was I ready for this moment?

“It has peanuts in it, you know,” I warned him.

He looked at the dish and deemed it satisfactory. I put a little on his plate. I almost told him no, to eat something else, but I didn’t. Remember all he’s eaten? I kept an eye on him as he ate it. One bite, two.

“How is it?”

“It’s good!”

Instead of relief, I felt jumpier. I couldn’t eat. I kept watching him. It didn’t feel right. There. He was doing something funny with his mouth, like he had taffy over every tooth and he couldn’t get it off.

“What are you doing with your mouth? What’s wrong?” I asked.

“My mouth feels numb,” he said.

I felt weak. “Stop eating,” I said. I grabbed his plate and began a string of questions. Can you breathe OK? Let me see your tongue. Can you breathe OK? Does anything else feel weird? Can you breathe OK?

He coughed a little. He got the hiccups. I stood there, choked, wondering, “Do I call 9-1-1 now? Is this just the start of a severe reaction?” But I kept it together on the outside. I kept asking questions and watching him. He drank water. I did what I always do and referred to Google. He appeared to be having a mild reaction and Benadryl would help.

He seemed to be getting better, except for the hiccups. He had heartburn. The numbness was wearing off. I called the doctor’s office, which was closed because it was a Saturday. The nurse told me the same thing I had read online. By then my son was outside, running in the yard. I could breathe. He could breathe. I knew we were lucky.

At an appointment last week, my son’s peanut and tree nut allergy was confirmed. After nine years of avoiding peanuts, he suddenly also has to avoid things he has always comfortably eaten: almond extract, pesto, Honey Nut Cheerios, pistachios, and many other things.

Why he chose to eat that dish on that day, I’ll never know. But I’m thankful it played out like it did, in our home with a quick and happy ending. I’m thankful it wasn’t worse. If he ever has another reaction, it could be.

Pieces of a puzzle have begun to fall into place. I checked our pantry, scanned ingredients lists. Granola bars and cookies he’s never liked revealed the words: contains peanut ingredients, peanut flour, may contain peanuts. I could never understand why he didn’t like these treats. In fact, he’d often tell me they tasted like peanuts when I couldn’t see or taste anything.

All this time, he knew. peanut butter

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If This Summer Is Any Indication of My Future…

A few years ago, when I’d sit outside to watch my kids ride their bikes after school, I’d see the mom down the street from me drive by. She’d drive by again. Ten minutes later, she’d drive by again. In the course of an hour or two, I’d see her car go by many times. In summer months, her car never seemed to stop coming around the corner. I’d look up from my reading. She’d always smile and wave.

I think I know what she was smiling about. Not a neighborly smile, but a knowing smile. An “enjoy that chair and carefree afternoon” smile because your time is coming. With four kids, she was always picking them up from different schools, then taking someone to soccer or who-knows-what.

Now things have changed. Some of her kids are driving themselves to school and practices. Now I don’t need to sit and watch as my kids play outside after school. But I’ve moved on to something else.

All summer I’ve been dropping off my kids and picking them up. Basketball, gymnastics, Harry Potter, and horseback riding camps. Friends’ houses. Sewing classes. Their social schedules are wearing me out. Between these times, I manage to find an hour or two here and there to meet deadlines and make phone calls for work I actually have. I try in vain to get some writing in because my creative juices can only be bottled up for so long before they expire. Reading blogs and keeping up has gone to the wayside. When I’m on the computer, even for real work, my family says, “Mommy’s on her blog again,” but they use an annoying nasally tone and roll their eyes like being creative, having a hobby, and staying connected aren’t productive. Pshht.

I’m tired of my van. I’m tired of going back and forth. I’m tired of jerks riding my tail and others not moving over when I’m trying to merge. I’m damn near ready to cuss someone out for that. I’m not cut out for speeding around town trying to make it to the next activity or timing one kid’s play dates with another’s camp times. There’s always some lag time for me and I end up sitting (in my van) or going to the store for the third time in a week.

My kids have had an awesome summer. They’ve experienced some great new things and kept in touch with friends. I’m worn out. And I’m scared to look down the street and see what’s ahead.

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