Tag Archives: Family

I’ll Tell You When You’re Older

When I was a kid, I hated being the youngest. I always had to wait another year, another grade, a little longer. Pierced ears, staying home alone, R movies, adult discussions. No phrase rubbed it in more than “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”

If I had kept tabs on all the promises people were supposed to tell me when I got older, at some point in my life I was in for a windfall. The question was, when exactly was “older”? I waited and no one ever sat me down and revealed to me all the answers I had been waiting for. Why couldn’t I read Forever by Judy Blume? Her other books were OK. What did two numbers have to do with sex? Why did I have to leave the room during “Romancing the Stone”? Boy, being a kid just really stunk sometimes.

I remember my sister and her friend watching “Vacation” in another room one night. I was too young to see it. I could hear them laughing—howling. Then they kept talking about it. “Hey, remember the part about the aunt?” And they would hold their stomachs and laugh and gasp for air.

“What?! What?!” I’d say. “What about the aunt?”

“I’ll tell you when you’re older.”

It was the quickest way to shut me up and send me stomping to my room in a huff, laughter burning my ears.

And it wasn’t just my sister. Everyone did it. When you’re the baby in the family, no one sees your age. Aunts, grandparents, older cousins—no one wants you to grow up. They want you to stay young forever. Forget that you could actually know something.

I remember my dad talking to his buddies one night and he belted out a string of German from his time living there. I had never heard him speak so much German and asked what it meant.

“It means ‘none of your business,’” he said to an audience of laughter. “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”

But those answers never came. I had to watch “Vacation” myself one day. I had to read Forever in college one break to understand the hubbub when my mom found out my sister read it. And I could never remember the German phrase. It was all a lot of disappointment.

I did luck out once though. One time not asking anything at all helped a lot of things click into place. I fear I never would have learned the birds and the bees if I hadn’t pretended to be asleep at one of my sister’s sleepovers. When conversation got interesting, someone whispered, “What about Karen?”

“Oh, she’s asleep.”

I’ve never been so still for so long in my entire life. But I got an earful that night. I got the entire scoop via whispering tweens in our neighbor’s den.

As an adult, a parent, I think that still rings true. Sometimes the more you ask, the less you know, the more someone else holds back. Sometimes it’s best to let the answers come to you.

If I’m quiet enough, if I listen, I find that they do.

mominthemuddle_older

Still waiting on some of life’s answers, like does parenting get any easier?

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Don’t Look Back

Outside the kids tossed the basketball around. Between the bouncing and giggles, I kept hearing a man’s voice. I stopped my work, trying to figure out whether someone had dropped by. More giggles and squeals. There. That man’s voice again. And then it hit me. That voice, so odd and unfamiliar, was coming from my son.

We’re in transition. Play-doh has dried up in its rainbow bins. Crayons wait longingly to inspire their next rainbow or wicked creature. Pooh Bear is gone. He took the Playmobil and picture books with him. Bubble baths and bedtime snuggles have been replaced with showers and a kiss goodnight.

mom in the muddle pirate

It’s officially packed away…and it did break my heart a little.

Doors are closed now. And locked. Mirrors get used, not to mention skin care products and brushes. My brush and hair and skin care products are community now. I could share shoes with my son if I wanted—I don’t.

We have serious conversations about the agony happening in the world and the safety of home. We—I—have suffered through sex talks. I hear the “But I thought…” and “This is what Suzy said…” comments and will myself not to convulse at the words and ideas being thrown my way.

Bathroom graffiti is pondered. “You’d think they could at least spell it right.” As an editor, I agree that the spelling situation in society has hit quite a low. But maybe slang words for female body parts below the belt aren’t words we should care so much about spelling properly?

I hear dirty jokes that make me want to gouge my eyes out, but under no circumstances will I flinch. I just get punched in the arm then anyway because of some stupid middle school game I don’t know the rules to.

Bob the Builder and Strawberry Shortcake character names escape us when we used to know them all by heart. Now I’m asked character names in the shows I watch, then wonder why my child is sitting next to me and when this happened.

My kids aren’t babies anymore. Despite the eye-opening time we’re having here, I’m OK with that. I like not having to cover my mouth if a bad word slips out. I know my kids won’t repeat it. I like the conversations we have about how unjust the world is. I like trying in the smallest ways to help shape their points of view. And most of all, I’m thrilled beyond belief that my kids come to me with the things they hear, horrifying as they sometimes seem to me, and don’t at all seem intimidated to talk to me about them.

I don’t look back at what we’ve been through and long for those days. Bottles and naps and tantrums seem so long ago. I think I like where we’re headed. Sure, I know we’re in for some rough times—my kids are preparing me for that. But I’m finding the rainbow in what we build each day.

It’s hard. Some days I think I may not survive big kid problems and this evolution. But every day, I love seeing the people my kids are becoming. Through the angst, they surprise me with their sarcasm and wit, their intelligence, their insight, and sometimes the fact that somewhere along the way, they actually listened to what I’ve been teaching them.

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It’s Inevitable: I Will Embarrass My Kids

While dinner bubbled on autopilot and before the kale would scorch, I grabbed my keys and ran outside to back up the van. My son wanted to play basketball and needed more room to shoot. When I came in, my daughter took one look at my slippers and scoffed. “You went out like that? I don’t even know you.”

These days my mere existence is often the source of embarrassment for my fourth- and sixth-grade kids. Everything I do and say, which used to seem normal, now sets off alarms, panic, and looks of despair.

Evidently I tell too much. I give too many private details to friends, teachers. I should just say my daughter is sick. Nothing else. I should not talk to any parents about my kids. I can understand this. (But I am not convinced my kids aren’t talking about me too.) In general, they would just prefer that I nod hello and move on. If I tell a story about when they were babies or that they cried in a store once, I get “the look” and then I hear it the whole way home.

In the school drop-off line, my kids jump out while the car is still rolling. Isn’t getting tangled up in the seatbelt like a fly in a web more embarrassing than having a mom? All of the kids in the drop-off line get out of a car that a parent or caretaker is driving. I bet some of them are even wearing their pajamas. I at least put on jeans.

When I wear sweats on a lazy day, the kids want to give me fashion advice. I find this amusing since I spent the first half of my kids’ lives gently coaxing them—and failing miserably—through the “that army green shirt doesn’t go with red fleece pants in summer” phase. The “shorts to your knees and socks that meet them” doesn’t really count as winter attire phase was a lovely look in fifth grade.

My kids have walked out of the house looking like they couldn’t decide whether to be an athlete, goth, or nerd, and it would be a fun surprise to see what it all looked like in the light of day. I’ve been out with them like that and smiled as other parents told them their outfits were “interesting,” which we all know is code for “what the hell did you put together there?”

But I know where my kids are coming from, I do, because I was their age once. Only other people your age can give you advice. Parents don’t know anything. They don’t know anything about fashion or the latest trends or a good fit or what could be best for someone’s age or body shape. Pfft.

At that age you learn fashion rules and social behavior by observing, and that can take a long time in some cases. I remember realizing that being seen with my parents in middle school meant I had nothing better to do and no one better to hang out with, no social life. Walking through the mall on a Friday night with my parents and trying to distance myself from them was bad enough. Turning around to see them holding hands was like realizing I wore holey panties in the locker room. Please, don’t let anyone see!

This adolescent terror lasts for a long time. When I went away to college, finding out that my mom told my suitemates to hang around with me because I didn’t know anyone there was beyond mortifying. I had made my own friends my whole life! But I think at some point, you start to realize parents are just embarrassing. They mean well. And you accept it.

I know as a mom, everything I do is subject to scrutiny now. I’m trying to keep in mind that there’s a fine line between sharing too much that’s theirs and sharing what’s mine too. The trick will be teaching them to see the humor and love in it all.

ropes course

OK, sometimes we embarrass ourselves too. Hug that pole a little tighter, eh? A morning ropes course had me in tears.

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The Difficult One

He’s the difficult child. The one who makes me look like a bad parent. He doesn’t listen. I have to repeat myself a million times. He doesn’t come when called. He runs out into the street. He doesn’t play well with others. He spits out his medicine. He’s stubborn. When he’s done, he’s done. He digs his heels into the ground and I have to drag him away, tail between my legs, wondering where I’ve gone wrong.

He’s the dog. Until now, I’ve had it pretty good as a parent. My kids threw fits here and there, sure. A couple of bad ones in public. But I never felt like the parent everyone always scrutinized. Now, when I can even get this four-legged kid to go for a walk, pet parents look at me with disapproval when he misbehaves.

“Katy wants to play,” a woman beams as her panting dog bounds toward us.

Great. I’m trying to keep Rowan from barking or growling. “I’m not sure he’s interested,” I say and try to steer my unsure dog off the sidewalk. He doesn’t like big dogs.

“Grrrr!”

And there’s the look. At me. Like my kid just spat in her kid’s face. Let’s be honest. We’re out here to poop and move on, lady. Your giant, fluffy poodle is freaking my tiny terrier out. And me a little too if you want to know the truth.

We’ve had our dog, Rowan, for about ten months. He’s an anxious dog. We don’t know what kind of life he had before he came to live with us. We rescued him from a temporary home of more than 20 dogs. He was a stray before that. To be honest, some days we can maybe see why he became a stray. He’s made progress, slowly. He’s kind of the weird kid. He rolls in dead worms on the sidewalk. He’s the clingy kid who follows his daddy or me around every second. He doesn’t want to play with his kind.

He’s been a challenge. He channels Houdini, escaping his locked metal crate, bending the bars, losing a tooth in the process. He ate some blinds, a scone, lots of tissues, some holes in our bedspreads, probably some Legos, and he used to pant and shake when he knew we were leaving. The vet, a trainer, they both gave advice. Nothing seemed to help except what we felt in our gut. We had to medicate, quit using the crate when we left the house—every experience has been another story to tell.

With the kids, my husband never ran through the house in the middle of the night in his underwear frantic that they had run away in the dark. We never searched the yard in pajamas with flashlights calling their names, wondering where they had gone. (Though the teenage years are yet to come.)

I never consulted “experts” with the kids. I didn’t even read parenting books. But one day I found myself taking Rowan to doggie day care so he could socialize with other dogs. And as I left, I held my breath that I wouldn’t get any phone calls to come back, that he would pass and be allowed to return. He did. We watched him on a webcam as he ran from door to door that day, ignoring the other dogs and lifting his leg freely. Even now, we still see him misbehave on the webcam, doing the exact things he hates for other dogs to do to him.

As many times as we’ve threatened to get rid of him, Rowan has worked his way into our hearts—some more slowly than others. He makes us laugh at his speedy bursts of energy around the room. He makes us realize that we all come with insecurities and quirks and that none of us are perfect. And he’s challenged us to love when it hasn’t been easy.

mominthemuddle.com

It’s a good thing he’s cute.

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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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Guest Post: Little League Sports as a Dad and Coach

Larry Bernstein is a high school English teacher and freelance writer. His hobbies include writing, reading, and sports. He and his family live in North Jersey. He blogs at memyselfandkids.com.

Yesterday Larry ran my post on his blog. It was about my experiences sitting in the stands watching my kids play sports through the years. You can visit his site to read that post, I Can’t Handle the Little League Sidelines. Larry is having a different experience this season. Read on.

This past weekend was the big game. It was opening day of my 10-year-old’s first season of Little League Baseball. And it was opening day for me as a coach.

Yup, just another day on the calendar. Nope!

—–

My son, BR, came to enjoy baseball later than many kids. His occupational therapy issues leave him less coordinated than some others. His tolerance for not being good at something is not high.

In the middle of the 2012 season, he began showing interest in baseball. By last year, he was a certified fanatic. His interest, however, centered on statistics and highlights rather than playing.

When it came time for Little League sign-ups a couple months back, he decided he wanted to play. I was happy for his interest.  The league he was joining was perfect for a child just getting into baseball. It’s softball, coaches pitch, everyone bats, and excessive competition is de-emphasized.

Since deciding he wanted to join the league, BR has been asking to play baseball all the time.

He and I have worked on fielding. And I have fed BR instructions: step into the throw, stay down on the ball, get your body in front of the ball, use your glove, etc. Side note: The strings on my baseball glove, which I have had since I was about 12, have come apart.

He and I have worked on hitting. And I have fed BR instructions: eyes up, stride forward, bat off your shoulder, swing hard, etc.

This excessive practice time has led to some arguments between us. There have been some tears and periodic yelling. However, for the most part BR and I have been on the same page. Both of us have the same goal: Help BR become a better and more confident player.

And we have had success. BR has taken the instructions and done his best to implement the changes. His improvement is clear to anyone who has been paying attention.

More importantly the extra time together has helped us to bond.

That’s one victory before the season even started.

When a friend of mine asked me to coach with him, I was reluctant. Yes, I know the game. Yes, I like teaching. However, I wanted to focus on BR. My wife brought up my competitiveness. “Are you sure you can be calm?”

Sports bring out competitiveness in me like nothing else does. As the 4th son in a sports crazed family, I liked to blame the nurturing process.

Anyway, along with BR’s performance, I now had something else to worry about as opening day approached.

—–

Well, we are now post opening day.  And the results are in.

BR batted 7th and went 3 for 4. He hit the ball well each time. He knocked in some runs and scored a couple of runs as well.

In the field, BR played pitcher’s helper. He was involved in a number of plays in the field. He stopped most of the balls hit at him and threw some runners out at first.

Another victory.

I cheered for our team, offered encouragement, gave instruction as needed, and pitched well. Okay, I was a little loud once – but nothing too crazy. I enjoyed the coaching role.

Another victory.

Lastly, a team victory. Our team, the Valley Brook Veterinary Tigers, won 15-7. Every player on the team had at least one hit.

We at Me, Myself, and Kids are liking Little League.

Larry Bernstein

Larry and BR, courtesy of Larry Bernstein

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