Category Archives: Family

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.

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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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Road Trips: Arriving at Our Destination

Twenty-eight hours. Seven days. Those numbers may not amount to anything big, but to me they equal progress. After ten years of trips with kids, my husband and I finally have progress. No shushing whining kids, doing acrobatic maneuvers from the front seat to reach a dropped toy. No hearing, “My shoe come off! Ha, ha, ho, ho!” Silence and then an ear-piercing scream. No more potty breaks on the side of the road (fingers crossed). Can I say it out loud now? We have arrived. We are finally at the point with our kids where we can take cool trips. We can venture further away from home. We can start to show our kids the world.

I know. People out there, they do this. They pack up their tiny tots and pack and plays. They tour and do naps on the road. That has never been us. That was always hell. And I’ll admit that I don’t think being cooped up in a hotel room for a week with my kids is ever going to be easy. A five-year-old boy thing is to jump on the hotel bed. Did you know ten-year-old boys still jump on the bed? Back and forth over both of them, at least mine does. I fear in ten years I’ll still be telling him to stop jumping on the bed.

I forget easily my own shenanigans as a kid: Fighting with my sister in the car. Not being able to sleep in a room and bed that weren’t my own. My sister not wanting to sleep with me because I always draped a leg over her in the middle of the night, which got a bit awkward when we were teenagers.

But even those are the memory makers, getting from point A to point B. The nights when you slept in luxury and the nights when you prayed bed bugs wouldn’t come out of their hidey-holes.

On our recent Maine trip, we made the best of these moments. We enjoyed beautiful scenery, a bit of history, and good food, though my daughter does prefer the plain pasta I make at home. We could leave our hotel in the morning and stay out all day.

There were the occasional head scratchers. “That restaurant was goo-ood!” heard after my child ate overpriced boxed mac and cheese. And, “Dad? Is that rain?” as a downpour brought cars on I-81 to a crawl.

But my family just spent 28 hours together in the car. No screaming, no scratches, no tears. We spent seven days in four hotels up and down the east coast. Aside from someone still jumping on the bed, we’ve come a long way.

It was worth it.

It was worth it.

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Mother’s Day: The Everyday Moments Are the Greatest Gift

Mother’s Day—underneath it all, it’s just an ordinary day. This one, though, is wrapped up with a pretty bow. Get up, ooh and ahh over the effort of pancakes for breakfast that I know husband really put forth; ten minutes in, tell someone to stop saying stupid; decide that going to a park for the day would be the greatest way to spend a beautiful day because that’s what we normally do. Hugs from my kids, now those are the moments I really cherish.

Gush over the cards the kids made, the ones husband gently urged, then nagged, and then threatened them about for weeks. Daughter made hers with plenty of time to spare. Someone else slapped six words to paper and called it done. After a week of battles, who can blame him? I forced him to practice the dreaded recorder. I made him go to bed at a decent hour. I told him to please for the tenth time put his dirty underwear in the laundry room. He called me lazy and that didn’t go well, followed by a very long reminder of who washes his underwear and makes his dinner every night.

A dozen questions this week started with, “I know you’re going to say no, but…” And then I did.

The kids still give me presents, ones that teachers made them do at school but they are proud of nonetheless. Things my kids took care to hide from me, to surprise me with. I love every drawing, every bit of glue and string and paper. After, their part done, my kids run off to play Legos or get ready for the park.

Mother’s Day is just a day. For me, it’s more about the moments that aren’t forced. The times when one of the kids buries a head in my soft gut and reminds me he isn’t too old for me just yet. When I sing “You Are My Sunshine” to my daughter and her eyes fill with tears every single time. When I walk into my room and find a note that says, “Mommy you’re the best!” When the child who would never hold my hand now grabs it and doesn’t let go. When in the quiet of a new day, a sleepy boy snuggles up to me and doesn’t need to say a word.Mother's Day

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