Monthly Archives: September 2012

When Date Night Goes Wrong

My husband and I rarely go out as a couple. When we get the chance for a date night, we snatch it up like kids grabbing candy from the Halloween treat bowl. So when grandparents come to town, we accost them and beg for a few hours away from our kids. The thing is, for years I just never found any sitters I liked—until now. To celebrate my husband’s fortieth birthday, I hired our new sitter and spent weeks anticipating the night out with my aging husband.

In the past, some date nights we’ve been granted have been spontaneous. A grandparent mentions, “Feel free to go out tonight,” and my husband and I are out the door within minutes. No time for chitchat or wardrobe changes—we make plans in the car. We have a habit of dining early, joining the older crowd for the early bird special. Or we go later and get seated by the couple with the screaming kid. As much as I try to ignore this, I’ve left my screaming kids at home so I can enjoy a peaceful meal for once. A meal that doesn’t involve someone squawking, “I don’t like this food!” A meal where some child isn’t climbing out of her seat and the parents are at wit’s end. I get a little deflated when that battle happens right next to me. I think, “I’ve been there lady, I really have, but I’ve been on this dating side so much less frequently lately. I’m a little more sympathetic to me right now.”

Having the luxury to plan date night is pretty rare. Saturday everything was going seamlessly. I actually dressed up for the finer establishment, switched purses even. The kids’ dinner came out of the oven just as the sitter arrived. My husband and I were walking out the door and my daughter ran to me, frantically pointing to her mouth. “What is it?” A mouth full of vomit, that’s what it was. My husband rushed her to the bathroom. I told the sitter to run home, away from our germs. In the kitchen my son bawled over his dinner. “I don’t like it when people throw up,” he sobbed. He shivered with fear, thinking of the last stomach bug that swept over our house two years ago that made him sick for ten days. Knowing a virus had entered our house again terrified him.


Ready to go on the date that never was.

My husband and I put our crummy clothes back on. Like forecasters calling for snow, we were parents predicting a wave of stomach terror. It was time to stock up on Gatorade, crackers, and disinfecting wipes. We needed to run to the store for sick supplies in case we were unexpectedly shut in like last time when the virus took my husband and me down in the night within hours of each other.

Instead of the delicious dinner we dreamed about, we ate stale leftovers and spent our date night a little nauseated, pondering our indigestion, and wondering whether every grumble of our stomachs meant we would be next. We prepared for the storm, turned out the lights, and went to bed early, not knowing how many times we’d be up in the night.

But my daughter made it through. She nibbled Cheerios at breakfast and announced she felt fine. Now the rest of us wonder who’s next. We sit and wait. And for now, date night will have to wait too.



Filed under Can't Get a Break

Email Saves Me From My Phone

I don’t like to talk on the phone. I can hardly think of anything to say. If I do, after ten minutes, I’ve said all I can think of and squirm in my seat like a kindergartner doing schoolwork. I remember a dozen things I need to get done and try to quietly multitask. My neck gets kinked severely from holding the phone to my ear with my shoulder.

As someone who has always been able to put thoughts into written words more easily than spoken ones, email saves me. I’m a writer. When I have a moment to sit and reflect, I can remember the things that happened over the past two days: My son jumped on his bed instead of brushing his teeth last night after too much birthday celebration. My husband got mad. I quietly giggled.

My daughter melted down over her math homework. She couldn’t make the connection between the last problem and the previous nine. They were all the same. Why was that one different? I began the verge of a meltdown myself while she fussed at me. Sometimes homework really stinks and I want to cry too.

Those are the things I say in emails that I can’t think to say in a phone call that has caught me off guard. When my mom asks what’s been going on, I say, “Not much.” In the moment, I’m put on the spot. Nothing comes to mind. I need a keyboard to help the words flow.keyboard

I’ve always found emails to be a quick way to connect during the day. A moment to save if I wanted, not like a good phone call (when I have one) that’s gone as soon you hang up. Those good emails, I keep them to savor.

When my kids do something funny, I shoot my husband an email to brighten his day, like the time my son was cracking up because he heard the phrase “booby trap” and repeated “booby” over and over. Or the day my daughter saw a convertible and said, “Oh cool! That car has no lid!” Or when my son drew marker around his mouth, denied it, and then confessed he wanted to be a clown.

When my niece was born, my sister began emailing me every day, updating me about life with a baby and then life with a toddler who demanded twenty kisses every night before bed. Stories I laughed at and loved. When my son was born two years later, I shared my own: the time I walked by the bathroom and my three-year-old son was washing his hair in the sink, the time my son helped my daughter get dressed, the time my daughter said she didn’t love anybody because she didn’t get a bedtime snack. My sister and I have commiserated over the loneliness and heartache that is motherhood and shared each other’s joys.

Our phone calls to each other now sound more like war zones than a conversation: kids screaming, kids in desperate need of a snack right now, kids who can’t find the toy they haven’t played with in three years. We can’t even finish a sentence. But our emails help us stay connected.

And emails don’t interrupt, like when both kids need me at once and the onions are two seconds away from burning. One child has just fallen and scraped her knee and the other just slammed the door and yelled something, tipping you off that he is the one responsible. The phone always rings at just that time.

Sometimes I’m just better at conversation through email anyway. When I talk on the phone, I’m not always good at witty banter or saying what’s on my mind. I’m tired. There’s no awkward silence in email. My thoughts sound good in my head, but when I say them, I realize maybe I should have gone through a few drafts and revised before I said that out loud. At least typing can be deleted. And after the day I’ve had, I go through a lot of revisions.


Filed under About Mom

Forty Is Just a Number

My husband turns 40 this week. He’s not thrilled about his milestone four decades of life. I think he feels kind of old, lost his youth, you know. If he drives up in a convertible and I have to put up with ten years of a midlife crisis, I’m not sure what I’ll do. Go along for the ride? As long as there isn’t a blonde in the passenger seat, I think I can handle a little change.

I’ve just never cared much about age. Forty doesn’t scare me, but I’m not quite there yet either. I still have two years (one and a half) until I say good-bye to my thirties, and they’ve been really good to me. Maybe by then I will be a weepy, wrinkly, achy mess.

For most of my adult life, I haven’t been able to remember my age. Twenty-something. Twenty-three, no seven? After I was legal, I really didn’t care. Now that I have kids who can speak and who are good in math, they don’t let me forget. “No, you’re 38.”turning 40

I think having kids helps me maintain a youthful spirit. When you play chase in the yard, pretend you’re Padme Amidala, immerse yourself in dolls and Harry Potter, and hear fart talk 24/7, it rubs off on you. My dad always says, “You’re as old as you feel,” and I agree. I look forward to a Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Little House book as much as my kids do. I let my spirit decide my age. The actual number can’t get me down.

But seeing my husband as he approaches 40, living with someone almost as youthful as I am who plays with the kids and lives this same life, I’m starting to see his perspective. I’m starting to get it, to feel it.

My mind may still feel young but my body is aging whether I want it to or not. Every winter now, my joints swell and ache. My fingers become stiff and the morning cold greets my body with a shock of reality. I’m sure it’s arthritis but I don’t want to take a multi-pill regimen every day. I’m too young for a day-of-the-week pill pack.

My eyes deceive me. For the rest of my life, I will always hear the story of the time I pointed up to the tree at the zoo and told my kids to look at the pretty bird. It happened to be a red panda, and I happened to be the butt of many jokes that day.

I fall asleep on the couch on Friday nights mouth gaping, tongue lolling, and mumble “I’m awake” from time to time. I’m cold from August through June. I always need a lap blanket because it’s so darn chilly. As I sweep the hair off the bathroom floor every morning, I wonder who will go bald first—my husband or me. It looks like we’re both regular contributors.

I hope once 40 passes, it will be just another number to my husband, to me. I hope it won’t crush my spirit, and loud music and Star Wars will always be fun. I hope my husband and I get a second wind and embarrass our teenagers by staying out late, holding hands, and partying too much.

But regardless of what we do, how old we really are, and what time we go to bed, I’m glad we spend all of our birthdays together. It will lessen the sting when 90 approaches.


Filed under Fatherhood

Two Siblings and the Bond They Made

When I became pregnant with my second child, nearly overriding the joy and excitement was a spark of fear that sat in the pit of my gut: How would my son react? I knew it would tear me apart to know my son was jealous, to know he felt unloved or unwanted when his sister was born. I wanted them to be close.

I told him what an important job a big brother had. Even at age 2, he understood. He could read to his sister, sing to her, hold her, kiss her, hug her, love her.

He took those words to heart. From those early days, I could trust him alone while his newborn sister lay on the floor beside him. I’d stand outside his room and watch through the cracked door as he talked to her, read to her, stroked her foot. She gripped his finger. Their eyes met. She searched his face. I could nearly see the strength of their bond forming. I knew then it was something separate from me, an understanding between the two of them that would always be loving, hard, easy, complicated, like a delicate web constantly weaving itself back and forth every time they play, fight, laugh, and cry.

They have always been close and connected. He induced her first laugh. My husband was goofing off and then my son imitated him. My daughter kept a stone cold face as my husband leaped around the room, but when her brother did it, she let out a giant belly laugh. To this day, he can still bring forth that same laugh from her in a way no one else can.

Through the years, he has helped her get dressed, read her books, wiped her rear, and played countless hours with her. They snuggle together to watch TV when an entire couch extends to either side. They await Santa’s arrival under the same warm cover and whisper about the bounty they’ll find the next day.

As we walk through a park, they hold each other’s hands. At ages nine and seven, their days flow with routine and their seasons hold traditions. They have a system.

When one child doesn’t want to play, the other ends up in tears. The rejection stings like a scraped knee. She woke up ready to face the day with him. Most days they play, taking time to set up plastic figures just right and hours to play. Then they move on to the next thing. She’ll play Star Wars and he’ll play house.

They have taught each other to compromise and share, about self-control, and that sometimes the people you love hurt you. And they have taught each other about forgiveness.

They have learned to sympathize and empathize. They are still learning to stand up for themselves and pick their battles. They teach each other about the human spirit and kindness and giving up and giving in for someone you love. It’s the little things, like throwing a game so your sibling won’t cry, learning to admit you’re wrong without being told, and never staying angry for long.

They don’t like to admit it aloud, but they love each other. When one goes away for the night, they hug each other, unprompted. That’s what families do.

One day, they will learn that they are best friends too.


Filed under I Love Those Darn Kids

I Don’t Know Why I Say Good-bye or Hello

“I’m Karen. Nice to meet you.” Only it’s probably not, at least, not in that moment. I’ve probably said something strange, put my foot in my mouth, rambled on entirely too long, or sounded like a complete moron to someone I’ve just met. They’re scratching their head or anxious to just get away from me. Maybe not, but that’s the kind of first impression I think I leave. I stumble over words though usually not my own feet at least.

Good-byes aren’t any better. When to exit a conversation? My timing for leaving an evening of fun could use some smoothing out too. I mill around awkwardly. Should I jump in while these two are talking? “Hey, I’ve got to run.” Maybe it was rude, I don’t know.

Sure, I can carry on a lively conversation. It’s usually just the beginning and end I have a real problem with.

I think most of the time people don’t notice my awkwardness, but inside I’m a jumble of conflict. If I don’t have time to think about what to say, it’s even worse. When I met my son’s teacher, she introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Mrs. Smith.” I shook her extended hand and introduced myself as Mrs. Who says that? It’s not the 1950s. And I could have saved it by then coolly throwing in my first name, but my mind had already gone into panic mode and I’m not even sure what she said after that because I was busy mentally bashing my head against the wall. My only hope is that she met so many parents that day, she quickly forgot. That or she’ll forever think I like to be called Mrs., which I loathe, and call my son Beaver behind my back.

I’ve been as awkward as a teenager on a first date on my own interviews, the first day of the job, and on the playground as a mom. After school I often keep to myself because moms huddle around talking, and I’m not sure what the etiquette is on interrupting their conversations. Sometimes I say hello, join in, and things get really quiet. Hmm. And which group do I walk up to? Are they discussing something private or important? It’s too much to think about during my afternoon slump when I could really use a nap. Sometimes it’s not easy.

Meeting my firstborn didn’t go so well in fact. I’d been given something to help me sleep the night before. Unfortunately, it helped me sleep through the entire epidural, pushing, and birth of my son. And when I met him afterward, there I am on video, looking at him in my arms, smiling, and nodding off. Who does that?

Now that I have two kids, I try to set a good example during social situations. I don’t want them near my social awkwardness for fear it could be contagious. When I blow it, I just keep smiling or laugh and hope no one notices. But when I really blunder my words, who wouldn’t notice? When the host says, “Thanks for coming,” and I say, “You too,” it’s a bit of a puzzle. I lean to my kids and ask, “What did she say?”

Sometimes I nail it, that tough first hello after a fight and then everything settles and I can breathe again. Mostly I fumble and struggle with words and grace. So often I complicate hellos and good-byes that, honestly, I just hate them. Besides, it’s all that happens in between that I like best.


Filed under About Mom

Teaching My Kids the Value of a Thank-You Note

I’m a modern gal but sometimes I find certain parenting principles a bit overrated. For instance, I cringe when other people’s kids call me Mrs. Grossman. I get that they need to learn manners and respect and all that, but I feel like I’m missing my strand of pearls and bouffant hairdo.

I am still old-fashioned when it comes to some values, and my kids are the ones cringing when they hear the words, “You need to write your thank-you notes.”

Though we’ve embraced the electronic age in this house, a quick thank-you email just won’t do, even though the kids always ask. Schools may be leaning away from cursive, and maybe away from handwriting in my kids’ future, but I think my kids should know the value of a handwritten note sent through the post. They experience the thought put into a letter that was held by their grandmother, written in her unique penmanship on a card she picked out just for them to make them smile. She told them about her hermit crab or about the wildlife in her backyard. She took a minute to connect. She tucked in a swatch of fabric to show what the new doll bedspread will look like or maybe a few dollars to spend. My kids know this joy because someone put the time in to do it for them. Why shouldn’t they return the thoughtfulness? Not all of that can be done through an email.

When my kids sit at the table to write a thank-you note, they get out their colored pens and make every word a rainbow or they draw a picture of a roller coaster they rode together over the summer. Handwritten notes come from the heart. They’re personalized and sometimes a little too honest. They can be kept forever, the handwriting a testament to a child’s age at the time.thank-you notes

Reading what my kids write in them can definitely be a laughing matter. When my son received a dictionary from his grandparents for Christmas, his thank-you note stated, “Thank you for the dictionary. It makes a good ramp for my Matchbox cars.”

My daughter recently had a birthday. Seven seems so grown-up. I realized just how much when I read my daughter’s note. “Thank you for the gel pens. They work just perfectly.” To the giver of two Lego sets she wrote, “I put both sets together and they both look great.”

The giver doesn’t need to know that my kid stomped around for an hour in a sour mood before sitting down and letting that syrupy sweet prose flow from her pen. Givers don’t need to know that I eventually hound my kids for days to write their thank-yous and make idle threats in extreme cases. It’s like lighting a fire to damp wood, not impossible if you know what you’re doing.

The fact is, my kids learn by example. They try to write something meaningful by imitating the thoughts they’ve received in notes. It may come off as cute and a bit amusing now, but down the road I know my kids’ writing skills will be more heartfelt, spot-on, and exactly what the recipient wants to hear: that my kids appreciated being thought of. I know my kids are learning. They say their thank-yous in person to me. No fumbling, no fuss, just straight from the heart.


Filed under Everyday Life

Reasons I’m Glad Summer Is Ending

We had a great summer. Carefree days with endless possibilities ended up filled with trips to the beach and Hersheypark, dozens of books, swimming, a seventeen-mile bike ride, and lots of great food and friends. But every good thing has to come to an end. For every wonderful part about summer, plenty of frustrations kept me on edge.

1. I have to say I am ready to pack away my swimsuit and let my gut do its thing. I’ve been tired of sucking it in all summer. Now that Labor Day has passed and pools are closed, it’s time to hang loose.

2. I’m ready to not have to be so consistent with my shaving, so things might get a little hairy. Don’t worry. I don’t let it get out of control to the point that my husband thinks he’s married to a yeti.

3. Bugs will die soon. They will not die soon enough as far as I’m concerned. Mosquito bites in out-of-reach or forbidden places can be unbearable. One can only resist the urge to scratch an unfortunate boob bite for so long while standing in line at the grocery store. As I tell my kids, once you give in, you can’t stop the scratching. Really, it scares away the customers.

4. What’s the point of showering every day to then walk out the door and immediately sweat, stink up your entire self, and become stickier than a bug trap strip? During summer, you’re clean for a daily total of about five minutes.

5. My son lost his goggles this summer. He borrowed my daughter’s because she never wears them. Guess who decided she suddenly wants to wear goggles? Guess who has a second pair of perfectly fine goggles, which are pink but supposedly too tight? The kids have fussed over that one pair of goggles all summer. I am over goggles.

swim goggles

Dad caved and bought new goggles. He is a nice daddy. I am a mean mommy.

6. Humidity gives me migraines. It’s humid a lot in the south.

7. Humidity makes my hair poof up to about four times its normal size, a giant mass of frizz. I’ll be glad to regain some control over this eighth Wonder of the World.

8. I will not miss having to load up snacks, a pool bag, and the car. I won’t miss chasing the kids as I slather sunscreen on them, telling them I’m not finished yet, and still trying to rub goo all over their faces as they inch away from me and turn their heads in fifty directions. I won’t miss finally jumping into the pool only to see a black cloud close in and hear, “Thunder! Everyone out of the pool!”

Now I can settle back, look forward to cooler fall weather, and listen to my husband sing every week, “Are you ready for some FOOTBALL?” Only seventeen-plus more weeks of that, but who’s counting?


Filed under Everyday Life