Tuesday, October 20, 2009

To Do Today: Eat

When I was young (I found out much later), my parents were worried that I had an eating disorder. I preferred white food overall (milk, pasta, rice, bread, crackers) and produce passed my lips rarely and often against my will. It's a wonder I reached average height, in my opinion. Of course to me, food was not something I thought about unless I was hungry. There was always a book to be read, a diary to write in, a cousin outside waiting to play. Food was a necessity, but I gave it little more thought than the air I breathed.

So I shouldn't be surprised that the apple...OK, the noodle...doesn't fall far from the tree in my house. Jacob is my parents' revenge on me, doing to me exactly what I unknowingly did to them.

Cereal for breakfast. Bagel for lunch. Pasta for dinner. No juice, milk. Dessert? SURE! Fruit? Veggies? Eh, not so much.

Lately, Jacob has been bringing home just about his entire lunch from school. Apple intact, bagel whole, sans one bite. Milk money and dessert are gone (no surprise), and it pains me. How does he get through the day without eating?? How will he grow if he doesn't eat?

I ask him and get no answer other than "I ran out of time," or "I wasn't that hungry." So I ask other moms.

"They are so busy chatting that the 25 minutes they get for lunch disappears before they realize it! My kid does the same thing!"

Ah.

So there it is: we're moving into the 'tween years, when socializing takes precedence over eating, and relating and navigating the social order is more of a necessity than food. Like in my youth, food is important when I want it, but otherwise eating is a poor use of time.

I understand it. But oh, how different things look from this new perspective of adulthood.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Chew On This

The second saddest thing in the world is the foodie who can't eat anything with his usual exuberance because he's got his first, hyper-sensitive loose tooth. The saddest thing is that this tooth has arrived right before his birthday, limiting what would be the usual, yummy celebratory nosh options.

And the most frustrated person in the world would be me, trying to figure out what to do for dinner on Ben's birthday tomorrow that won't cause him pain yet will still be fun.

More than that, I'm trying to calm his fears each day. What if I swallow my tooth? Will the tooth fairy use her wand to get it out of my stomach? Will it hurt? Will my tooth bleed when it falls out? What if I lose it? What if it doesn't come out until Christmas? What if it falls out at someone else's house and I can't find it? Will the tooth fairy still give me a Bakugan? (Yes, the tooth fairy gives a small toy if preferred in this house. We just shoot her an email before bed, and Mommy keeps a stash of favorite toys on hand for emergencies).

But I must admit that, when the rest of us are worrying about the recession, job security and terrorism, it's nice to know there are a few fears that we can help alleviate. Especially when all it takes is some chocolate cupcakes and pretty sprinkles.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

No Better Praise

OK, I admit it. I'm not a planner. I'm more of a go-with-what-feels-right, see-what-comes-up kinda gal. That's all well and good until it's your kid's birthday and two weeks before, you still haven't figured out a party day, location or guest list.

Thankfully, this year the movie makers helped me out by turning one of Ben's favorite books into a movie, and then releasing it two weeks before his birthday.

Six kids, bottomless popcorn buckets, a family restaurant complete with games and gelato across the street, and a rainy Sunday turned out to the the perfect way to celebrate turning seven.

Hyped up on sugar, snacks and excitement, Ben was a bit beside himself when it was all over, and rather quiet during the car ride home. But after a few minutes of silence (which I realized later was quiet reflection on all the festivities), he said, "Today was a great day."

Whew.

Next year I'll start planning earlier. Definitely.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sanctuary

Ben, in the bathroom: "Mom! I have something ksalhfgjfk."

Me: "You have what?"

Ben, walking out of bathroom: "I have something to free...Oops. It flew away."

Me: Sigh.

Bugs love our house. My husband is a huge fan of nature shows, and my boys are big fans of, well, bugs. If they do catch a bugger in the house, they take it to the nearest door and sing Born Free while releasing it. We don't even own a fly swatter, and I think word has gotten out in the insect world. "Cold? Head to Ben's house. Hungry? I know a great little place where you can eat without worry of being squished." We are, for nature-sensitive critters, a sanctuary.

The above was just the most recent of many similar exchanges that happen around here. I've given up, and just laugh about them now. And check my drink glasses before sipping from them.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cherishing The Now

What a difference six years make. When I last had a newborn, I couldn't wait until he was sleeping through the night, because I was certain there was nothing worse than extended, indefinite, severe sleep deprivation. Then he got older and started sleeping (kinda) and I looked forward to his being old enough to play games with his big brother so they could enjoy each other's company and I could get something done around the house. This was at a time when I was sure there was nothing worse than playing with a preschooler while trying to entertain, feed and change a toddler from sun-up to sundown. When he reached that milestone, I was excited for my oldest to start school so I could spend some one-on-one time with my youngest, because I just knew there was nothing worse than shortchanging one child because of the needs of the other. When both boys were in school full time, I counted the days until summer when I could have them both home with me to read, play, go on adventures and enjoy some unstructured time together.

Well. Both boys have been home now for three full weeks. They fight, yell, cry, hit each other and generally can't wait until school starts. I'm trying to make the last days of summer fun, but it's hard. They're bored. And when they do spend time playing, there is one thing that puts me on edge: they are LOUD. Yes, I know, it's a surprise only to me. Did I mention I grew up under a rock? Boys are loud. Really frickin' loud. And they're loud all the time. Whether they're fighting, playing, laughing or just burning energy, they are CONSTANTLY, CONSISTENTLY, RELENTLESSLY, DEAFENINGLY L-O-U-D. For a writer, this is not a good thing. And when school doesn't start for another week, this is not a good thing for any of us. They're sick of each other. They're sick of me. And I'm sick of summer vacation. But mostly, I'm sick of the noise.

What brought this incredible realization into stark relief was spending a day with my cousin and her newborn. I should mention the newborn is a girl. She's very quiet. I realize this isn't only because she's a girl. But even when she cries, she's quiet. And she sleeps. A lot. As newborns tend to do. But of course, she does wake up every two hours or so to eat and change her clothes and diaper (as girls are also apt to do). All day and all night. And as a result, my cousin is constantly, completely, unendingly sleep deprived. The funny thing is, I am SO ENVIOUS of her that it makes me laugh.

I suppose what this whole experience has taught me is to enjoy the moment. Don't wallow in the negative, praying for the current situation to end so that things will get better. They will change, and some things will improve, but other things will go downhill. This is not unfair, nor does it mean we are doing something wrong as parents. This is life. Change is the only thing we can count on, and there will always be a mix of joy and frustration. Until, I suppose, the teen years when it's just a long, slow ride through hell.

I have a pen pal who ends every email with the line, "Cherish the now." I finally understand how right he is. And I'm glad I got it before it was too late.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Title Change

I've decided to change my job title from Mom to Housekeeper/ Childcare provider. It seems Westchester puts more monetary value on the latter title. Case in point, an advertisement I saw the other day:

Housekeeper/childcare provider available: dedicated and very reliable, will keep your house so clean you can eat off the floors, do all of your laundry, will run your errands and take kids for haircuts, doctor’s appointments, the pool, park, etc. Speaks English, has valid international driver’s license (and her own car) and has never called in sick one day in 4 years. Prefers live-in but will consider live-out. $550/week cash.

As soon as I saw the 'has never called in sick one day' I knew this was the job title for me. What mom ever gets a sick day? This describes my job responsibilities almost EXACTLY, though it omits paying the bills and walking the dog. But I'll consider that a trade off for keeping the house so clean you can eat off the floors (unless you are said dog).

I guess what gets me every time I read this type of ad (which is surprisingly often) is the thought that always runs through my mind: why do some women have children if they end up outsourcing every aspect of the job?

Now, working moms, don't get your panties in a twist. I know that working full-time and being a mom full-time are mutually exclusive positions and that no one can do it all. Hey, I'm an at-home/part-time-work-from-home mom and I still have help from my community, other moms, babysitters, etc. I get it. Really.

The thing is, there is so much flexibility in jobs today--thanks to the wonder of technology and the family-friendly nature of most companies--that I wonder if these moms are actually choosing to not take advantage of these options. That they are instead deciding to let someone else do the grunt work of motherhood, and keeping the fun stuff for themselves.

OK, fine, so maybe I am a little jealous. Who of us wouldn't want to outsource the chauffeuring, cleaning, laundry and housekeeping portion of our jobs? As my late sister-in-law once said to me about full-time motherhood, "the drudge factor is off the charts." Yet even with that warning, I really had no idea. In fact, when I think about the time I could spend with my children if I wasn't so busy cleaning, cooking, driving and doing laundry (oh, kind of like when they were newborns?) it makes me realize that I've been going about this job all wrong.

I need to find someone to pay me to raise my kids. You know, like a sponsor. Then I'll be able to do a better job as a mom, and at the same time, outsource all the work that's keeping me from doing said job well. Who knows? I might actually get to do it FULL TIME, as my current title implies.

Hey American Academy of Pediatrics! What do you say? Jacob and Ben would make great cover kids!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Burn, Baby, Burn

Anyone who knows Ben or has read this blog at any length knows that he is forever in motion. Even when he sleeps, he moves around. And when he needs to move and can't, he lashes out at his brother, just to expend some energy.

So, being the thoughtful and sensitive parents we are, we decided to eschew a two-hour flight to our beach vacation this year in favor of a 12-hour drive. That's if you don't hit traffic. Which we did all through New Jersey, and then again in the area surrounding Washington D.C. in northern Virginia.

The first 1/2 of the trip, to Richmond, took nine hours instead of 6.5. For you non-parents, this is, to a six-year-old, an earthly version of hell. For Ben, it was the equivalent of being put into a straight jacket and strapped to a chair. For a year.

By the time we reached the hotel at 7:30pm, Ben was WAY done with the car. We took five minutes to drop our bags before going for dinner. We returned to the parking lot to drive to the restaurant up the road, and when Ben realized we were getting back in the car, he actually started to cry.

Trouper that he is, he agreed to come along, and kept it together long enough to get dinner down. Then, refueled, he was up. He crawled under the table, out into the room and started doing push-ups. People at other tables were laughing and pointing, likely assuming David was some sort of punitive, military dad like the one found in Pat Conroy's The Great Santini. To which David said loudly, "Drop and give me twenty!" Which Ben did, happily.

But 20 push-ups was not enough to burn the pent up energy this kid had after a full day in the car, so when we got back to the hotel, Ben took matters into his own hands. He raced his brother up and down the hallway several times (and won every race). Then, in the room, he devised a game of jumping--no, flying with reckless abandon--from bed to bed. He did this over and over, working up a sweat, and was finally able to fall asleep shortly after 10pm. And David and I laughed and laughed until we were tired enough to fall asleep too.

What did we learn from this little episode? Not much, apparently, because the next day, before driving the remaining five hours, we made sure to sugar Ben up with a bowl of Froot Loops and some toast with jelly. But once the caffeine kicked us into parental mode, we made notes for next time:

-hotel pool would help a LOT
-don't count on anyone napping in the car. They are as excited as we are, and haven't moved in hours.
-for all of my resistance to kids' reliance on technology, a dual screen, portable DVD player is the best 75 bucks I ever spent.
-pack Cheerios

And most importantly, always, ALWAYS carry the camera and spare batteries. Because traveling with Ben is always an adventure, and always funny.

Friday, August 14, 2009

YOU Do The Math

Isn't it funny how differently kids' minds work? I mean, when they're in first grade, they kind of think the same way as other first graders: farts are funny, dark is scary and knock-knock jokes are silly even if you tell them a hundred times in a row. But when it comes to personality, putting two brothers to work on the same project can really shine a light on where the biological similarities end.

"Hey Jacob and Ben, I need you to go out in the yard and collect all the apples that have fallen from the trees. Fill up the bucket, take it over and dump it across the street and do that until the apples are all gone."

Ben: "OK! Where's the bucket?"

Jacob: "Are we going to get paid?"

Granted, they are three years apart, but wait. There's more.

Jacob: "Mom, there's like a million apples. I'd better get ten bucks for this."

Ben: "Mom, how about if I count how many I collect, and then you give me five cents for every apple?"

Now, my kids get their math savvy from their father. Case in point: when I hear 'pay me ten bucks to do this job,' my first instinct is, 'dream on, kid.' But when I hear 'pay me five cents an apple,' I'm thinking, 'five? That's nothing! I'll give you ten cents an apple!'

After all, what's a measly dime for each apple?

I should point out that, after surveying the yard, I realized there were a couple hundred apples blanketing our lawn. Even at Ben's reasonable rates, I was looking at at least ten dollars per kid.

But seeing that entrepreneurial (some might say crafty) spirit in Ben--the one that made me eager to offer him even more than he suggested to do the job--showed me just how differently these guys look at the world. Well, that and the fact that I'd better brush up on my math skills.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Famous Last Words

Like all mothers of more than one child, I learned the hard way (i.e. through a second labor) that your second child is never anything like your first. For example. Riding in the car to camp one day, Jacob and his friend were arguing over the correct name of a particular Pokemon character. As the discussion got louder and louder, the friend finally said, “Wanna bet? I’ll bet you two dollars!” And Jacob replied, “NO! Gambling is illegal in New York State for people under the age of 18!”

Silence.

I peeked in the rear view mirror, and his friend was looking right at me with eyes that said, "are you a ventriloquist?"

And I looked back at him with eyes that said, "Dude, I swear he was born this way."

Seriously, how many nine-year-olds talk like that? And he's been like that for, oh, his whole life.

When he was three and got a new teacher at pre-school, the energetic young man tried to put Jacob at ease with the transition.

"Hey, you know we have something in common. Your name is Jake and I'm Mr. Jake!"

And Jacob responded, and I am not kidding,

"Actually, my name's Jacob."

ALL RIGHTY then.

Now let's take Ben. Last night, he filled up on vegetables and could only eat half of his cheeseburger for dinner. So this morning, I jokingly suggested he have the rest of it for breakfast.

"I can do that?" he asked.

"Uh, sure! Do you really want it?"

"Yeah!"

And so there I was, packing bologna for lunch and heating up a cheeseburger for breakfast. When he finished and was still hungry, I sent him out to the yard with a little container. He picked as many raspberries as he could find, then brought them in a devoured half of them.

What did Jacob want?

"Rice Krispies. No fruit."

Right. Like night and day.

So I shouldn't have been surprised when I arrived at camp to pick them up at camp one day and a young counselor-in-training came up to me and said, "Albert wants to talk to you about Ben."

Uh oh. What did Mr. Unpredictable do now?

"Hi, Albert. Is everything OK?"

"Well, yes, but I have some bad news about Ben."

What I asked was, "Is he OK? Did he hurt someone?"

And as my mind began to race, what I was thinking, but didn't say was, "Is he going to be expelled from camp? Are broken bones involved? AM I GOING TO NEED TO HIRE A LAWYER??"

Looking around, I still didn't see Ben anywhere. Truly, at that moment, anything was possible.

"He's fine, it's just..."

At this point, right before I really started to worry, Ben marched up to me with a down-turned mouth. On the verge of tears. In his socks.

As he buried his head in my stomach, Albert continued,

"...Ben took off one of his shoes and threw it in the latrine..." (this is scout camp. Translation: Ben threw his sneaker into a dark, smelly, 20-foot-deep hole in the ground where people, well, you know).

Blink.

"...and he was worried you were going to be really mad at him."

Blink blink.

Mad? He thought I was going to be mad? I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. Did Ben then convince some other camper to climb in and retrieve the sneaker for him, leading the kid to get stuck down there? Did he throw someone's backpack in after the sneaker? That can't be the whole story. Can it? I mean, Ben's not a toddler. Throwing his sneaker in the toilet must be just the beginning. FOR GOD'S SAKE, HE'S A-SOON-TO-BE-SECOND-GRADER. Where's the drama? I held my breath.

Perhaps my silence seemed to Albert to be the calm before a storm. "We, uh, didn't try to retrieve it," he added sheepishly. "The other one is in his backpack."

Wow. That really is it. Silent exhale.

"Uh, OK. Thanks."

The archery coach, another counselor, the camp's assistant director, Ben's brother, another counselor from a different den and, well at that point I lost track, all came over to see if Ben was OK and ask if I'd heard the story. Apparently everyone in camp--like 50 people--knew about this. I mean, it was a big stinkin' deal. And the thing is, while this is so completely unlike anything Jacob would ever do, it is so typically Ben.

So there you have it. The only thing I learned about how to parent Ben by having Jacob first was how to change a diaper.

Let this be a message of enlightenment for those of you in love with, and feeling like a parenting pro of, your first-born. If you're saying to each other, "Hey! This is a piece of cake! We should have, like, eight more!" just keep this in mind. You weren't the first to utter those words. And you won't be the last.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ms. Fix-It

Not long ago, a friend was telling me about her what-turned-out-to-be-disgruntled washer repair man. The short story is that she had a problem with her washer and suspected what was causing it. But the repairman wouldn’t listen to her theory. He misdiagnosed the problem. He changed out the wrong part. The machine still didn't work. My friend had to call and request that the repair man come back again.

Mr. Maytag, his man-pride likely hurt after being emasculated by one who was not only a non-washing machine repair person but also a WOMAN, started giving her a hard time about it over the phone. So she did what any self-respecting customer would do: she hung up and called his boss. AFTER WHICH THE REPAIR PSYCHO CALLED HER BACK AND YELLED AT HER BECAUSE HE HAD TO COME BACK AGAIN TO ACTUALLY FIX THE PROBLEM. I'm sorry, did I offend you by insisting that you do what I'm paying you to do?

Look, I was in customer service for about 20 years, but regardless, I'm thinking most people would see this action as not-very-customer-friendly. And now my friend had to let this guy back into her home? While she was alone with her kids and her husband was at work? What is the world coming to when you feel threatened by the Maytag repair man?

Suffice it to say that the supervisor took care of the “personnel” problem as well as the washing machine problem. But the whole thing got me to thinking. In this day and age, when we tell our kids not to talk to strangers but are willing to let people we don’t know into our homes, there’s something to be said for being able to take care of these things yourself. Especially if you don't have a gun permit. Cost savings aside, the last thing you want to worry about when an appliance is broken is whether your repair man is going to turn out to be Mr. Fix-It or Psycho Killer. I love my journalist friends, but not enough to sacrifice myself for their headlines.

And of course, there’s the bonus feeling of accomplishment when you CAN fix something yourself.

For example, last year when my washing machine started acting up, I did some research to find out what it would cost to get a repairman to come out, diagnose and fix the problem. When it turned out to be roughly twice what we paid for the machine itself, I decided to do even more research. It seems my agitator wasn’t agitating. I’m a mom, so I know from agitation. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I was able to look up pictures of the agitator’s insides, diagnose which piece wasn’t working, figure out where to buy it and print out step-by-step instructions for replacing it.

Yes, yes, I know. But I figured if it didn’t work, all it would cost me was an hour of my time and six bucks in parts.

The good news is, it worked. My machine was once again as agitating as my children. And the best part about it was not actually telling my husband how much money we’d saved. It was swinging my tool-belt-laden hips in a come-hither way while waving my cordless power drill and telling him I had fixed the washing machine myself. The POWER! The ADRENALINE! I was ready to change the oil in both cars.

And, now that I no longer own a gun, the fact that I didn’t have to let some strange man into my home was also a plus. Of course, once the washer was fixed, I had to go back to doing laundry again… But I’ll take that over fear of bodily harm any day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Fourth Dimension

I noticed this weekend, when we took the kids to a movie, that many of the new kids' movies coming out now and in the future (according to the previews) are being made in 3D. This was interesting to me, mainly because of the dichotomy of the whole quaint, retro, 3D-theater experience that our parents enjoyed in the 1950s when they dated as teenagers and the INCREDIBLE AMOUNT OF MONEY IT COSTS TO GO TO SEE A 3D MOVIE TODAY.

Granted, both of my kids are old enough now to actually sit through an entire movie together, so we've just started doing this family movie night thing. And I had finally become OK with the $7 per ticket admission fee. But 3D movies automatically tack on another $3 per ticket, and matinee prices no longer apply. Nor do children's prices. And you don't even keep the glasses--in the interest of 'going green' there is a recycling box for the glasses outside the theater. So. Let's recap.

Large, buttered popcorn: $7.50
Tickets for two adults and two children at a matinee: $40
Total: $47.50

I'm no mathematician, but that seems like a boatload o' money for just a two-hour movie. Did I mention it was animated? They didn't even have to pay the actors a bajillion dollars each to make this one.

Not for nothing, but babysitter fees have gone up five-fold since I used to hold that gig, and that's a killer on its own. Today, taking the kids to a movie for two hours is the same price as hiring a babysitter for five. It just adds a whole other dimension to the question of the best way to spend quality time together. I love my kids, and I love being with them. But I also love my husband, and these days can only dream of spending five hours alone with him. It's a tough choice for parents to have to make.

I'm not complaining. I'm just saying.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mommie Dearest

Ever have one of those days at work, even at a job you love, where you just do everything wrong? You know, you spill coffee on the boss, accidentally delete that important file that was due yesterday, schedule two critical meetings for the same time, lose your cool with an important client and basically wish you'd get fired just so you could be put out of your misery? Yeah, well, that was my day today. When you're a mom wishing you'd get fired, you know you're either really tired, really PMS-ing or worse, really both.

And if that's how YOU feel, think about how you're making your KIDS feel. Right. Well, that's hard to do in the (choose any crappy) moment, which is why now, hours later when my kids are in bed, I'm weeping onto my keyboard as I realize what kind of day THEY must have had with me.

Take a bad night's sleep, mix it with PMS and add a whiny, clingy child who insists on staying home from camp and filling your day with challenges, tantrums, tears and demands. Top it off with some pouring rain and two hours of round-trip driving to drop off and, later, pick up the other camper and you've got a recipe for an eight-hour battle of wills, which no one will win.

Indeed, if motherhood involved employers, I'd have been fired today. And escorted to the door. By security.

The funny thing is, I wouldn't have ended the day wracked with guilt and filled with tears. I'd have headed right to the nearest bar and ordered up a Cosmo over which I could read the want-ads and soothe my bruised ego.

But that doesn't happen in motherhood, because it's not just a job. It's life, and for better or worse, it is always going to be filled with passion. That's why we love it on some days and hate it on others. That's why I keep coming back for more.

So here I am, taking a rain check for that Cosmo. I figure I'll use it to toast whichever son comes out with his best-selling memoir first, right after he toasts me for giving him so much great material.

Monday, July 20, 2009

It Was A Dark and Stormy Night

On a typical camp day, I headed out a little bit early to get to the cub scout camp in the woodsy mountains about 25 minutes from my house. My boys had been there for the day, and in the afternoon, just before I was to leave the house to pick them up, it started to rain.

As I gathered my things and looked for an umbrella, the thunder started. My dog hates thunder. BOOM! (bark! bark! bark!) BA-BOOOM!! (BARK! BARK! BARK!) I imagine that, to him, thunder is some big, invisible truck banging down our street. He always barks at loud trucks, but the fact that he can't see this one pisses him off, so he just keeps barking and barking. I was happy to leave.

I began driving and the rain got heavier, the lightening brighter, the thunder claps louder and closer together. I was beginning to feel like Pavlov's dog owner because (I realized) every time the thunder rolled, I waited for barking to follow.

Further up the mountain, the roads get narrower and the rain was now teeming. Even with my wipers on 'high' I couldn't see 10 feet in front of the car. Higher and higher the car climbed as I downshifted into second gear to maintain traction. Looking up, I saw lightning crack down toward the top of the hill RIGHT WHERE I WAS HEADING.

Before reaching the final dirt road that leads into the camp, I rounded a bend and squinted: is that something in the road? Something large? WAIT. IS THAT A FALLEN TREE ACROSS THE ROAD, BLOCKING ALL ENTRANCE AND EXIT TO THE CAMP ON THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN WHERE MY CHILDREN ARE TRAPPED IN A RAGING THUNDERSTORM??? Yes, the answer turned out to be, and beside it were a couple of downed wires for good measure, just in case I was entertaining the idea of trying out the off-road feature of my Subaru.

I turned around and drove down the road until I found a clearing where I could pull over and make a call. Who should I call? I thought to myself. My husband is in New Jersey. I don't know the number of the camp, or the Boy Scout Council office, where there might be someone who could contact the camp. Hm. Maybe I'll call my den leader. I hope I can hear her with the rain coming down so hard and loud on my car, I worried. I needn't have worried. I had no cell signal.

Beginning to feel as if I was in a Stephen King novel, I took a few deep breaths. "Suddenly, a shot rang out!" No, not really, but wouldn't that fit in perfectly right here?

After driving back down the mountain to get a cell signal (thumbs down for T-Mobile), I called my den leader. Through some unfortunate twist of fate, she was in the pediatrician's office at that very moment with her son. She had picked him up from said camp some time earlier because he had fractured his wrist. Because the camp had called her cell phone, she had the number with her.

I assured the camp leaders I was on my way. I told them about the tree. I got alternate directions. And I finally arrived to find one of the large canopy tents had blown down--posts and all--onto the pavilion at the camp, the pavilion under which all the campers were sitting and watching reptile man introduce a snake.

Two and a quarter hours after leaving my house that afternoon, we arrived home safe and mostly dry. By then, my biggest concern was making sure the boys washed the snake germs off their hands while they told me the wild stories about their thunderstorm adventures.

And thank goodness. Because when you're a kid, isn't adventure what summer should be about?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dynamic Do-Over

Parents like to think that we run things in the house, that we orchestrate how things will go based on how rested, fed and healthy our kids are. This may be true when they are infants, but there comes a point when it's actually the firstborn child who holds the key to a happy household. Especially when there are siblings involved.

After school ended and before summer camp started, my kids spent two weeks at home together with no set schedule. We took day trips here and there, but the rest of the time, they were at each other's throats. And the noise! I couldn't hear myself think. I had had it up to here one day with the poking, teasing and tattling, and when I heard, "Mom! He's breathing my AIR!" I knew that someone was not going to survive the summer.

Fortunately, it wasn't long before day camp began for both boys. Jacob had been to this camp before, but Ben had not. I could tell Ben was anxious when I dropped them off: he didn't know anyone in his group, but Jacob knew at least three kids.

"Jacob," I said, pulling him aside, "if Ben gets upset or anxious today, can he come to you? I think it would help him to know that he could."

"Yeah," he answered grudgingly.

Such heartwarming enthusiasm was sure to ease Ben's mind (read: Jacob answered in the affirmative), so I went over to tell him before I left. No sooner did I reach him than Jacob was beside me saying, "Ben, I know you're nervous, but I had a great time at this camp last year. It's lots of fun and you'll make a lot of friends. I'm here if you need me."

That was a turning point in the day for all of us. Jacob stepped up and acted like the big brother that Ben was always longing to look up to. He made me proud to know that he could show such genuine kindness and understanding to his brother. And it continued even after they got home. Jacob set the table, helped his brother with various games, offered to help me cook and cleaned up afterward. He even checked in on his brother after Ben had gone to bed but was calling for me with a question.

I pointed out to Jacob that, when he acts as he did that day, it changes the dynamic of the entire family. Being nice to his brother makes Ben happy and kinder. That leads to no fighting, which makes me happier and means less yelling. That makes dad happy when he gets home to find a harmonious family waiting for him.

And Jacob holds the key to it all.

"So, I'm like the first domino," he said. "If I fall, we all fall, but if I stay standing, we all stay up."

Exactly.

There comes a point when our children begin making conscious choices that impact the rest of the family. Teaching them how they can support the 'team' by being their best and helping out gives them the power to control the level of happiness in the house. But it also makes them feel like a valuable member of the family, and ultimately society.

Ooh, and did you hear that? I'm pretty sure I just heard a pin drop.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Conditioning

I know many moms who lament that, back in their days before children, they were beautiful. Thin, sexy, smokin' ladies. A couple of kids and too many chicken nuggets later, we're all buying treadmills and trying to get back to our younger, more fit selves.

Part of it, of course, is for us--we want to feel good, and looking good makes us feel good. And part of it is that we don't want to give our husbands any reason to let their eyes wander elsewhere. We also hate swimsuit season, and recognize that all those ladies' nights of two-for-one martinis are catching up to us. Why is it that the older we get, the faster time flies and the slower fat burns? I'll bet a man made that rule.

Thanks to my dog, though, I'm still a hot mama. Well, for this week anyway. No, not because I walk with him briskly several times a day. And not because I take him to the park and run around with him, the kids and a ball. I'm hot because every time someone lights a firecracker outside, my dog starts barking loudly enough to wake the dead (or, in this case, the sleeping child down the hall). So I have to run around and close all the windows, and then quickly run downstairs and call him so I can close him up in the basement. I am such a hot mama. Seriously, I'm sweating.

I suppose I should be happy that he doesn't puke or pee all over the house or, as my cousin's dog used to do, curl up behind the toilet bowl in the basement until it ends. That's because she was rescued as a stray from the streets of New York City by some friendly policemen when she wandered into their precinct and my uncle decided to keep her. I'm sure she thought fireworks were gunshots.

All dogs are different I suppose, depending on their history. Some call it conditioning. Personally, I could go for a little conditioning myself right now. Air, that is.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Brain Candy

It seems to me that our society values children as a demographic only, and markets to them as if they were miniature adults. In a way, it's a step back in time to the days when children as young as three were put to work on the farm, given tools, chores and responsibilities and were preferably seen and not heard. This explains why, in all those old-fashioned family photos, no one is ever smiling.

But that was before television and newspapers, before Sunday comics and Cartoon Network. In today's comics pages alone, which my children love to read, there were two strips that raised my eyebrows. One talked about their child asking questions about sex, and the other used the word "damned." Ironically, I read them and thought, WTF?

When I occasionally stroll by the television when the boys are watching, I sometimes catch them viewing a cartoon that has a scantily clad, big-boobed female character who is not a superhero. And since when did cartoon characters start using words like 'stupid,' 'crap,' and 'moron'? One of my favorite cartoons as a kid was The Pink Panther, and that had NO DIALOGUE AT ALL.

I used to love to watch PBS with my kids when they were small. Their spongy, SpongeBob-less little minds would soak in all those songs about colors and numbers--heck, I could still sing most of them because I learned them when I was a kid. At what point does educational television become too babyish, forcing kids to other channels that push sex, bad language and poor manners under the guise of "entertainment"?

At least, I comforted myself, they both love to read. And now the comics are following suit with television. As publishing continues to tank, it's as if everyone is grasping at straws to sell, sell, sell (and everyone knows, sex sells). But to children?

That, then, is the point. When it's animated, kids assume it's for them. Sadly, so do many harried parents. School-age children are now viewed as 'tweens- and teenagers-to-be, ready to learn life lessons before they hit second grade, as long as those lessons are couched in animation to soften the blow. Cartoonists see kids as mini-adults, turning today's cartoons into the kind of 'educational' television that I'd rather my kids not learn from.

I may have grown up in the oh-so-dangerous 70s, before technology, but I turned out OK. So I'm revoking the brain candy this summer and encouraging my kids to eat sugary Good Humor ice cream instead. I've shipped my oldest off to the Adirondacks with his dad for a week of sleep away camp, and my youngest and I are off to the lake with friends.

Call it "roughing it," but we're going to spend as much time outside as possible this summer, bugs and UV rays be damned. I mean darned.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Pack Animals

My dog has a problem with luggage. I don't mean he owns too much of it, or that he has a sudden urge to bite someone when he smells an alligator bag. But it seems he's smart enough to know that luggage=change.

When duffel bags show up with my parents, he knows they'll be staying for a while; the pack will grow, the food dish will be moved, the schedule will vary. This happened last week, and it took him a day or so, but he adjusted. And then yesterday, out came the bags from the guest room, and the pack subsequently shrank again. Dog dishes were moved, and at bedtime he was once again relegated to the basement.

Yet he seemed content this morning: his own pack was here--kids, parents and no one else--and things seemed to have gone back to normal. But then my husband pulled out a list and a big backpack. Bailey immediately started pacing and whining.

"Wait, now YOU'RE leaving?!?" he seemed to cry. "What the (fill in doggie expletive here)?!" I truly believe if he had hands, he'd throw them up in despair.

And yet as anxious as he is about my husband and son leaving for sleep away camp, I know that he will be the only one of us whose behavior will subsequently even out and be most consistent for the week. He'll keep me on schedule with his walks and meals, he'll wrestle with Ben when he's missing his brother, and he'll cuddle with me when I'm missing them both. He seems to know better than all of us that there is safety--and comfort--in numbers.

We may be at the top of the food chain, but there's something to be said for animal instinct.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mercury Rising

In the same way that Jacob has always made everything easier--parenting, fun, learning--Benjamin has always made things more difficult. I don't mean to say that it's intentional. It's just a fact.

Many years ago, a friend made a comment to me about having children. He said, "the first one turns your life upside down. The second one turns it inside out." When I think about how incredibly accurate that statement is now, it strikes me as both funny and sad. For how many of us are able to stand on our heads with relative comfort and ease? We gain new perspective, experience new feelings and see the world in a whole new way. Yet how many of us can turn ourselves inside out and say the same thing? Right.

As a baby, Ben cried a lot, slept very little and the rest of the time wore a frowny face. By the time he was a toddler and we started branching out into the world again, dealing with our new dynamic, he was sleeping better and eating and smiling more. But somehow, he still made things difficult.

The Sunday before the last Thanksgiving for which my sister-in-law and dear friend would be alive, Ben came down with a fever. Not a low-grade-maybe-it-will-pass, maybe-he's-about-to-have-a-growth-spurt, maybe-he'll-be-better-by-Thursday fever. It was 104, the kind that stops him in his tracks and removes his appetite completely. For Ben to stop moving and eating, he's got to be really sick. The fever persisted, yet I held out hope that it would run its course. On Thursday morning I finally had to concede that I was staying home with Ben, and sent my husband and older son off to Thanksgiving dinner without us. I cried all day.

Things have gotten much easier with Ben since those days, though I wouldn't call them a breeze. We can actually make plans now and do things as a family more often than not. For that I'm thankful, and it helps me forget those tough, early days.

This weekend, my dear father-in-law passed away after a long illness. The funeral is this morning in less than an hour. Family members and friends will converge on my in-laws' house with well-wishes and hugs soon after. Why, then, am I sitting here writing on my blog? Because yesterday afternoon, Ben developed a fever.

Yes, I'm upset that I can't go to the funeral, sad that I am at home when my place is with my family. But one of the many things my father-in-law taught me was that each of us is just a piece of the bigger picture. We all play a part in building the future by caring for each other and by teaching and nurturing the next generation. In my mind, my place is with my husband and mother-in-law today. But in Ben's mind, my place is with him. We each need to be comforted, but Ben needs it more.

We will lose people we love. That is inevitable. But parts of them will live on through the rest of the family, because that's what family is. A continuation, a legacy, of love and life. And that is why I'm here.

Thank you, Jack. We love you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Generation Moi











OK, so maybe 10 years old is a little young to be given the job of Person In Charge of the World. And maybe it's unfair to expect them to have true global awareness and be thinking of others when hypothetically asked what they would do with such power. But I was pretty disheartened to read what the 5th graders who are graduating from my son's school had to say on the topic, and it's likely because I was hoping for more.

If I Were In Charge of the World...

"I would cancel school; I would make playing video games an every day holiday."
"I would make video games cost less; I would let kids get paid for going to school."
"I would make a holiday where you get free video games; I would make recess all day."
"I would make a national Video Game Day; I would cancel school."
"There would be more video games; there would be grades no lower than a 'B.'"
"There would be a 2-hour subject where you played video games."
"I'd make homework a myth; I'd let us learn to play video games in school."

"I would put a mall in everyone's house; I would make recess all day."
"I would make the school a mall; I would end school early."
"I would go to the mall every day."
"I would turn the world into a mall; I would buy one million things."
"I would make every store an Abercrombie."
"I would make all things at the mall free; I would make summer longer."
"I'd have a mall the size of Boston."

Can you guess which were the boys and which were the girls? Can you see my concern over the direction these kids are heading? Can you believe how many examples there are?

Granted, there were some standouts in each class who wanted to cure all diseases, stop animal cruelty and end global warming and world hunger. But they were few and far between.

I guess my complaint is that these kids are on their way to middle school next year. Isn't that kind of a big deal? Shouldn't their parents be teaching them about the world, how to understand important issues, the responsibility that comes with power and the idea that they can change the world someday?

I know, I know, they're only TEN. But they already sound like self-centered, materialistic teenagers. Why? How is this happening? Someone is feeding these passions they have, and from the sound of it, it isn't their teachers.

Some may say it is my fear talking, my worry that my own child will sound like this next year. I prefer to think of it as a wake-up call. For all of us.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Good Cop, Bad Cop

I used to rail against parents whose kids would break the law, do something to hurt someone or just be plain old bratty in public, while they stood by and let them get away with it. "If you don't make them take responsibility for their actions, how will they ever learn to change them?" I'd squawk. Consequences, consequences.

Well, today I was called an enabler. At first, I was indignant. But then, as I considered the situation, I realized that it wasn't as black-and-white as I had first perceived it.

Jacob claimed yesterday to have "only a little" homework. What this means in 'tween speak is 'I have a ton of homework, but in only two subjects.' So once he started it after dinner and worked on it until bedtime without finishing it, I informed him I'd be waking him early to get the job done.

When the morning came and he suddenly had a mysterious stomach ache and his jaw hurt, I said "nice try. You're still going to school" and made him get to work. But after 1/2 hour of working over breakfast when he still hadn't finished, I told him I would drive him to school (rather than make him take the bus). This would buy him an extra 30 minutes of time in which to finish the work.

I did this because I've been there: work not finished, teacher to face, spring fever making me not want to do it, sudden, strange illness to get out of facing teacher, etcetera, etcetera. It doesn't happen every day, and it has not been a habit or a pattern.

Yet my husband and parenting partner protested. "You're enabling him. Let him go in with the work undone and answer for it. Why are you bailing him out?"

But I didn't see it that way. I saw it as poor planning and sudden regret. I didn't let him stay home. I didn't give him a note asking the teacher to excuse him. I didn't tell him to lie about it. Granted, I didn't tell him 'get on the bus and deal with it' either, but didn't I find a happy medium? I made him face the problem, but helped by giving him the time in which to tackle it rather than evade it.

Yes, kids need structure, rules and the chance to make mistakes and learn from them. But they also need understanding and a chance to fix mistakes if they can. This doesn't mean they won't still learn from the experience. It just means they'll learn that mom can be flexible and (holy cow) even helpful sometimes, and that maybe she'll be a good person to take my problems to when I'm older. Maybe she'll help me figure out how to solve them when I can't do it alone.

I don't know if that makes me the good cop or the bad cop, but if it means Jacob will be willing to confide in me when the REAL problems arise, I'll answer to whatever title you want.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Passing

In another of life's great rites of passage, this morning I had to tell my sons that the goldfish we won at a preschool event four-plus years ago, and who had grown to be five times his original size, had died.

Surprisingly, they took the news rather well. Jacob checked the empty tank to see if I was telling the truth, then said 'oh' and asked me to pass the cereal. Ben wanted to see the body.

Perhaps the novelty had worn off, or they felt they had graduated from fish ownership when they moved on to the bigger, warmer challenge of owning a dog. Regardless, I still harbored some guilt.

Nemo (nee Curly, nee Goldy, nee Mike Wozowski) had been sick for some time, showing signs of Ich (fish disease) which I treated with medicine. He had suffered through this before, and responded well to treatment. But then his tail began turning red, a symptom of too much ammonia in the water. I treated this with ammonia lock and water and filter changes. (Goldfish are notoriously filthy fish, and require extensive cleaning of tanks and changing of water and filters--caveat emptor). Yet no matter how hard you try, it never seems to be enough.

I didn't try very hard. I admit that I had begun to resent the fish after about two years when I had my living room re-done and wanted my sofa table back from beneath the 10-gallon tank we got to house the little sucker. Did I harbor a death wish for him? No, but let's just say that, with all the things that needed to be cared for around here, Nemo was at the bottom of the food chain. Which is why I laughed when I asked my husband to take care of the corpse this morning and he informed me he had put it in the refrigerator. (I think he feared it would clog the toilet).

The whole incident reminded me of the time I was 10 or 11 and my hamster died because I forgot to feed it. Repeatedly. Sure, he was cute and all when I got him, but hamsters are nocturnal (didn't know that), and he turned out to be quite dull. He hid under his wood shavings during the day and ran in his squeaky wheel all night. I named him Jack LaLune because all he did was exercise while the moon was out and sleep during the day so that I couldn't play with him. The novelty wore off fast. And as everyone in my family knows, don't mess with my sleep or you will be sorry.

I really believe Nemo is in a better place now, a place where they won't change his name every time a new Pixar movie comes out; a place where newspapers and crayon boxes aren't stacked up next to his windows, making him think that Donald Trump has bought the rest of the sofa table top and put up condos around the tank.

And if Ben has his way, Nemo will come back again in a different form, perhaps that of a frog. With my luck, it will be one of the tadpoles out on the deck that we recently rescued from the pool cover. Perhaps I shouldn't pack the tank up just yet.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Brave Thursday

Today was a banner day for Jacob. He competed as a finalist in the 4th grade spelling bee (ironically getting knocked out on the word "congratulate"). He got to have sushi for dinner (his favorite, because we were so proud of him) and played some great tennis at his last lesson for the season. All this put him on top of the world, it seems, because tonight after dinner, he called a girl. Who he likes. To ask her to the movies.

She said yes.

It was hard to sit here and look at his blushing, freckled face as he shyly gave his name and asked to speak to her. It wasn't just because he's my firstborn, my love, and the whole episode brought up flashes of his future social life--shaving, dates, proms, a wedding. And it wasn't because, though I know I'll always be his first love, I'm no longer his only love.

The hardest thing was, when he got off the phone, resisting the urge to tell him how cute he was. Because to me, he was cute. But to him, he was courageous. I am convinced by the bedside conversations about this girl that he and I have had for the last three nights that he has been thinking about this for a long time. Today was so full of achievements and high points that I really believe it fueled his nerves enough to help him make the call. So I didn't tell him he was cute, despite how much I wanted to.

I told him I was proud of him.

He will always be my little doll, but what he needs to hear now is that he's becoming my young man, that I'm here to help him however I can, and that I'm happy for him. Even if I'm sad to see my baby disappearing, and even though I am still compelled to do everything for him but force myself to let him do for himself. Because he is, and he can. And this makes me happy. Really.

These are tears of joy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Language Barriers

After gymnastics today, I was told in no uncertain terms how not to speak to my 9-year-old's friends. As he and a classmate came out of class, I said hello to Frankie, 4th-grader style:

ME: "Hey, F-Man! What up?"

JACOB: "MOM!"

ME: "What? I'm just saying hi to Frankie."

JACOB: "You are NOT allowed to talk like you're cool."

ME: "Oh, well excuse me. Hi, Frankie. I'm Jacob's mom. How are you?"

FRANKIE: "You're Jacob's mom?"

ME: "Yep."

FRANKIE: "Jacob, that was rude."

Frankie, my man. He gets me. Regardless, Jacob went on to try to compensate for my lack-of-cool by explaining that I am a writer and editor. Frankie seemed duly impressed. Jacob smiled. But this was not over between us. Oooh, no.

Over dinner, I started throwing some French out at Jacob to illustrate that, just because I am forbidden from using tween-speak, I know other languages. And I'm not afraid to use them against him.

ME: "Bonjour, mon ami! Comment ca va?"

JACOB: "Huh?"

ME: "Oh, je suis tres bien! Merci beaucoup!"

JACOB: "What is that, Mom?"

ME: "It's French!"

JACOB (intrigued): "Really? What else can you say? Can you say the days of the week?"

ME (getting cocky): "Let's see. Lunes, Martes, Miercoles... uh, no, wait. I think that's Spanish..."

JACOB: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

OK, so this is where I started getting confused. Granted, it's been about 30 years since I had any language lessons. And truth be told, since becoming a mom, my brain has turned to mush.

Also known as bouillie.

The point is, if my kids aren't going to let me speak their language, I'm not going to let them have the last word. If you can't dazzle 'em with tween-speak, baffle 'em with French. That's what I always say. Well, maybe not always. But at least since this afternoon.

The fact is, all too soon I'm going to be crying in a quad somewhere and bidding my babies au revoir. So I'm going to revel in this time of their lives for as long as I can, while they enjoy my company (even when I embarrass them) and are still willing to talk to me. Now if we could just settle on a language, we'd be all set.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Location, Location, Location

Poor Ben. Until yesterday, he thought he had three sets of grandparents. Leave it to Mom-the-killjoy to dispel all fantasy worlds.

We were at my in-laws' house, speaking about how old a coin was, and Ben--ever the mathematician--said, "In sixteen years, my Grandpa is going to be 100!"

"That's right, Ben!"

"Not this Grandpa, my other grandpa."

"Er, you mean PopPop?" I asked.

"No, I mean my Grandpa in Massachusetts." My in-laws have a summer house in Massachusetts, and we spend long weekends there with them when school is out. Clearly, Ben didn't quite make this connection--different house, same grandparents. I tried to figure out how to break it to him gently.

"Um, Ben? That's the same Grandpa that's sitting in the dining room right now."

(pause, eyes moving, brows furrowing, wheels turning...)

"You mean..." I braced for tears and confusion.

"...you mean they own TWO houses???"

OK, so maybe 'poor Ben' isn't really accurate. He had split his grandfather into two people in his mind--the summer, Massachusetts Grandpa who made pancakes, and the rest-of-the-year Grandpa in New York who doles out silver dollars for the found pieces of Afikomen at Passover Seders.

Once I realized that his six-year-old brain had no trouble assimilating this new information (indeed, the next words out of his mouth were, "I want to own two houses!"), I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then I steered him back to the money talk, figuring he'd need it if he wanted to own two houses one day.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect

This morning I began the serious task of doing things to completely mortify my children in front of their peers. I'm not much of a planner (ask me what's for dinner any given morning, and I'll tell you to check back with me at 3pm), but I can see that I'm already on the right track for when my kids become teens. It seems I have a knack for it.

Ben had a field trip today to the town library. I knew this. I had the flyer and it was also written on the calendar. But Jacob had a trip on Tuesday, and he has another tomorrow, and I was up till 1am last night... Suffice it to say the flyer was buried under other papers and I didn't look at the calendar, remember the trip and pull out the instructions until the school bus had pulled away.

Quickly emailing Ben's teacher about my faux pas, I hoped for a reply along the lines of, 'no worries. We're not leaving until 9. Just drop off his water bottle and library card before then.' Instead I got nothing. So after getting Jacob on the bus and the dog walked, I gathered up what Ben needed and headed to the school, fingers crossed.

Of course, the class had already left the school and their library tour was well underway by then. I zipped into the parking lot and ran up to the locked front door of the library (because it was still closed to the public, of course. How else could I fully embarrass anyone if it weren't?). Scarf flying, plastic bag with Ben's name on it and library card in hand, I knocked on the glass doors as soon as the class, teacher and librarian came into view. "I HAVE BEN'S CARD!" I yelled as I held the card up against the window while frantically pointing at the group of kids.

Everyone turned to look at me, and the children's eyes grew wide. Unable to recognize or comprehend this mad woman banging on the glass, the librarian (likely in an effort to keep me from frightening the children) pointed me toward the other entrance of the building. She met me there, and I gave her the items with explanation and apologies. "It's OK," she kept saying, as if to calm me. "It's OK." I left without looking back.

Later, when I went back to the library to return some books (because I'm a glutton for punishment), I asked the same librarian how the first-graders had done with their tour. She very professionally assured me they did fine, that they were adorable and well-behaved and seemed to enjoy themselves.

But did she just emphasize the word well-behaved? Is she stifling a smirk while checking out my Sylvia Plath book? So before my face grew any redder, I made my second quick getaway of the day from her, again to avoid knowing exactly what was going through her mind. I figure by the time my kids are teenagers, I'll have this public embarrassment thing down to a science.

I just hope they appreciate all I do for them.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Just Say No

I would like to have a word with the people who bottle children's medicine. I have to assume that they are not parents themselves. If they are, they are the kind of parents that show up in the news: clueless, not forward thinking, bordering on dangerous.

At 2 a.m. there was a small but persistent knock on my door. Jacob had woken with an incessantly runny nose and headache. No cough, no fever, no sore throat, no mucus. OK, sounds easy. Into the bathroom we go, and open the medicine cabinet.

As I stood there with my astigmatism by the dim glow of the nightlight, the only thing I could see clearly was Jacob's worried face out of the side of my eye. I moved each bottle of medicine--cough, fever, mucus, allergy--close to my face, then farther away, then close again trying to read the 7-point font. Several of them were written in pink or green, perhaps to make them seem like more kid-friendly products. Once I was able to determine the right medicine, I had to rub my eyes a bit and move on to the dosage chart.

Does that say under 12 or over 12? Is that age or weight? OK, 1-2 teaspoons. No, tablespoons. No, teaspoons. Right. Now to pour it into the dosage cup.

Clear liquid filling a clear cup with clear, raised markings and numbers, also in a size 7 font, did not make the task any more reassuring. (At least they're consistent). My own head hurt by the time I got it all straightened out.

Finally resigning myself to the fact that it would probably be safe because it was less than half the bottle, I handed the cup to Jacob. He took it hesitantly, as children do when they know they're supposed to follow instructions but are beginning to doubt the source, and drained it. I didn't hear from him for the rest of the night, which I would normally consider a good thing. But I found myself sighing with silent relief when I saw his light on this morning, aware that I had not overdosed him and therefore would not have to wake him and send him to school in a drug-induced fog.

So to the people who bottle medications for children, I would like to request the following:

-Consider that 99% of children get sick in the middle of the night

-Consider that the majority of parents these days have their children later in life and are therefore likely to need reading glasses before being able to read the bottles.

-Consider that most reading glasses are not kept in medicine cabinets.

-Consider that, though parents have trouble seeing tiny print in the middle of the night, they are not really blind by traditional standards. Raised, clear numbers and markings on dosage cups are all but useless.

-Tiny, pink and green fonts do not show up well in sunlight, let alone in a windowless bathroom at night.

In short, USE BLACK. WRITE BIG. All medication must go through the parents to get to the children. Serve us well and you will provide much better care to the children.

Sincerely,
A concerned mother

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Memories

I try to write everything down so that when my kids grow into obnoxious teens who want nothing to do with me, I can go back and read--through my tears--about the way they used to love me. Ben reminded me last night, after having a bad dream, that we used to rock together in a rocking chair in his room to help him fall back to sleep after such episodes. I'd sing a James Taylor song to him, changing the lyrics to "Rock-A-Bye Sweet Baby Ben" instead of Baby James. It worked from his infancy right up until he was five. I had forgotten all about it.

How does that happen, that we forget all those wonderful little gems, even the ones we did for years with our children? Signing with them as babies; stacking blocks for them to knock over every morning; their waking up singing in their cribs; the silly names Ben had for everyone before he could pronounce words clearly. For God's sake, this is the stuff I need to hold onto to get me through the rough days, the days when reality scores so high on the suck-o-meter that withdrawal is the only option.

Today, for example, after getting up at 5:30 (thanks, Ben) and staying up to get Jacob ready for a class trip, I sat on the couch with my bucket of coffee thinking about my first day home alone with Jacob. He was just a couple of weeks old. It was a cold, rainy morning and I was scared out of my wits, on the verge of hormonally-induced tears, sure that I would somehow mess this up. As if to spite me, Jacob was a dream baby all day. I still remember the song that was playing on the radio as his dad left for work, and to this day consider it 'our' song.

Daydreaming about this helped me to ignore the dog humping his pillow, the hamper full of laundry that needs washing and the piles of books to be edited and bills to be paid, despite my fatigue and nagging headache. People knock delusions, but sometimes it's nice to live in the past. So here's another deposit in the memory bank, for later withdrawal. Literally.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Art of Motherhood

There is nothing quite as wonderful as the grammatically incorrect, typo-filled, sloppy, eraser-marked, strange and unedited professions of love that a mom receives on Mother's Day. Yes, breakfast in bed (my first!) was fantastic. Coffee in my Jane Austen mug; mango smoothie and ham, egg and cheese sandwich on an english muffin were just what I would have asked for, had I been given a menu. First dibs on the Sunday comics? Unheard of every other Sunday of the year. But oh, the art, the heart that went into those handmade cards!

"Dear Mom
you ar speshul to me becoas you fid (feed) me and you take care of me. your Love Ben"

He is my love. I call him my lovey all the time. This wonderful note surrounded by pink smiley faces (38, to be exact) clearly took more time to make than he spends in the bathtub.

A laminated bookmark has a poem written about me.

My Mom
by Ben

A lover
A hugger
A kisser
A golfer
A water drinker
An eater
A coffee drinker
A great mom
An awesome mom

When I think of our bad days together, I am very lucky to see what Ben chose to write when creating his list. It could have been rather damning. Let's face it: motherhood is often artless, graceless and ugly. It's messy, embarrassing and brings out our worst just as easily as (if not more often than) our best.

The beauty of these little creatures who make it all possible--the ones who drive us to the brink, who made us mothers in the first place, changing us irrevocably into something we cannot ever remember NOT being--is that they see only the good stuff. They latch onto it, store it away to pull out in those low moments.

When it's time to make lists and cards for mom, they don't think about her full glass of wine, her mumbling under her breath as she picks up everyone's stuff around the house, her revoking the Nintendo DS, her yelling until she's hoarse. Instead, they remember the goofy, gross songs she made up for them about ear wax and boogers; her teaching them how to make armpit farts; the picnics in the yard and trips to the donut and ice cream shops 'just because.'

They remember what makes them feel good, the things they love about me, just as I do with them: their angelic faces when they're sleeping, their silly giggles, funny jokes and heartwarming hugs.

There's a saying that when you're a parent, the days are long but the years are short. Perhaps that's how it is for kids too. When they are suddenly all grown up and on their own, we remember all the good things and conveniently forget the bad. Perhaps they will continue to do the same, just as they do now.

At least until they decide to write a memoir.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Flick Chick

My nine-year-old is obsessed with all things sci-fi. Star Wars, Star Trek, it doesn't matter. Books, movies, LEGOs, toys, food: if it's got one of these logos, it's all good.

With the release of the new movie Star Trek, I'm torn. I know Jacob would love it; that he would revel in seeing a non-cartoon movie for a change, and my husband--also a sci-fi guy--would love to take him.

The problem is, it's rated PG-13.

Part of me says that Jacob is already exposed to a lot of things in the world that should be rated PG-13, if life came with situation ratings. Riding the school bus with older kids. Hanging out at recess with younger brothers of middle- and high-schoolers. He hears thing, sees things. I'm not stupid.

But, he also is not getting this info from me, or with my endorsement.

Movies are art, and they are entertaining and educational. Yet what does it say to a kid when his parents take him to a movie with lots of violence, the "f" word and partial nudity in it?

Everyone is quick to judge, and a mother making a decision about how to raise her children is prime judgment real estate that starts before our kids are even born. Natural birth or epidural? Home or hospital? Breast or bottle feeding? Attachment parenting or not? Gender-specific or gender-neutral toys? Spank or not spank? Co-sleep or own beds? Harvard or Yale? It never ends.

And as any mother (or anyone who reads the newspapers) knows, it's easy to find "bad mothers" everywhere. Some throw their kids out of the car for fighting. Some even write books about it when their so-called 'bad parenting' becomes a hot topic of debate. And no matter how many people yell that these mothers are terrible parents, there is an equal amount of people who agree with and support their choices.

So truly, the decision must be up to my husband and me. We are damned if we do and damned if we don't. Regardless of what we decide, I doubt we'll end up on Oprah. And the best case scenario is the movie will spark a new passion for art and film in Jacob, and he'll grow up to be the next George Lucas.

To all you parents who struggle with decisions about your kids (are there any who don't?), may the force be with you.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A GPS Could Help

Ben: "Mom, only six more days until our chicks hatch!"

Me: "Where are the chicks going to go after they hatch, Ben?"

Ben: "They're going to stay in our classroom until they grow up, and then we're going to set them free."

Me: "Well, that could work with a mouse or bird, but chickens don't live in the wild. They live on farms."

Ben: "But when we set them free, they can walk to a farm. Oh, wait, maybe they won't know where there's a farm…"

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mr. Bubbles

While in the tub the other night, Ben mentioned that he is afraid of water. He said whenever he sees water, he's afraid he's going to fall in and won't be able to swim and will get water up his nose. I was glad he confided this, and told him he would likely learn to swim at camp this summer so he wouldn't need to be afraid anymore.

"You'll start out by blowing bubbles. That's how your cousin Sarah teaches kids to swim. You know, she's a lifeguard."

"Mom, I already know how to make bubbles," he said.

"You do? That's great. Can you show me?" I sat there proudly, waiting for him to bend over and stick his face in the water, but he just sat there looking at me with a goofy grin on.

Then I saw bubbles rising up in the water and he laughed out loud at the look on my face when I got the joke.

Ya gotta love boys.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Inventory

When I was younger, I carried a purse with the essentials of a younger woman: wallet, journal and pen, keys, lipstick, mascara, tissues and emergency phone call quarter (this was in the days before cell phones).

Not long ago, I realized that my large purse, while no longer needed for hauling around diapers and baby toys, weighed almost as much a my six-year-old. So I decided to scale down to a smaller size. I figured the limited space would help me avoid accumulating the unnecessary 'stuff' that finds its way into larger bags, much in the same way cosmic debris finds its way into black holes in space.

My new bag is 8 inches wide by 8.5 inches tall. Cute, sassy, chic. This morning, I decided to clean it out. Here's what I found:

wallet
keys
lipstick
journal
checkbook
14 receipts
cell phone
train schedule
sustainable seafood guide
8 handi-wipes
3 lollipops
2 bottles of hand sanitizer
3 pens
1 deck of cards
Twizzlers
1 granola bar
tissues
tic tacs
popcorn
Bandaids
KI pills (in case of nuclear attack)
toothpicks
1 package of wasabi
2 packets of soy sauce (thankfully, no sushi)
9 Dunkin' Donuts napkins
LEGO Darth Vader figure
neon plastic alien
two marbles

Either the laws of physics cease to exist inside my purse or I truly have become a magical mom, able to carry any number of food and entertainment items with me, regardless of purse size. I feel like a modern day Jesus. Instead of loaves and fishes, I'm ready to sugar up the pint-sized masses with Twizzlers and lollipops, then play a quick game of Crazy Eights before the train comes. I know we have time, because I have the schedule with me, you see.

Apparently all those cub scout meetings have finally made an impact, their message sinking in to my tired, frazzled brain: be prepared.

The funny thing is, I'm rarely out with my children for any extended period of time anymore. Instead, they are at school, gymnastics, tennis, piano lessons and den meetings. My job now is merely to get them there.

I suppose I could downsize again and get rid of all the kiddie-oriented, no-longer-needed stuff. Maybe I can even go back to my own bare essentials. Think of how light my purse would be!

Of course, that would mean letting go of a lot more than just a few lollipops. I'm not sure I'm ready to do that just yet.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Relative Age

"Mom, this penny was built in 1971."

"Oh yeah? Well now it's 2009. So can you figure out how old it is?"

"Um...."

"Count up by 10s from 71."

(Ben's eyes look up to ceiling while calculating)

"38!"

"That's right!"

"And Dad's older than that, and he's not dead, so it'll be a long time before this penny dies."

"Let's hope."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Whine List

Ben is a homebody. He loves to sit around in his pajamas, all day if I'll let him, and just eat and play and cuddle and read, occasionally jumping on the couch or bed to burn some energy. On the weekends I call him Hugh (as in Hefner) because on the rare days we don't have to go anywhere, he will remain in his pjs from the time he gets up until it's time for bed.

Normally, this is fine with me. He's good to go when he knows we have plans, and he's happy to stay home when he can. In fact, it's only a problem when vacations end. Of course, no one wants to get back to the regular routine after a vacation (OK, so maybe I do, but that's just because school vacations are actually more work for me). But Ben, as much as he loves school, still seems to struggle mightily. The worst part is that I am always blindsided by it.

"So, Ben, how was your first day back at school?"

"GREAT!"

"Really? What was so great about it?"

"Everything!"

"That's terrific! Shall we go to the library?"

"Yeah!"

And off we go, happy as clams. Ben gets to play on the computer. He gets his very first library card, and picks out a book for his brother. Life is good. Until we get home.

"Mom, can I play DS?"

"Well, why don't we have a snack and check out your homework folder first?"

"Nooooo, I don't waaaaant to do homework!" (italicized because there is no 'whine' font).

"Tell you what. If you finish your homework, then you can play DS until dinner time."

"Nooooo, I'm hungry nooooooow! I can't waaaait for dinner!"

And so it continued until it was time to pick up Jacob at scouts, Ben interspersing his whines with tears, tantrums and other fits usually reserved for the toddler set. Hello? Where did my happy boy go?

After picking up Jacob, Ben began asking for another snack (his fourth) in the car. I told him I had no food, but we'd be home in minutes and he could eat some veggies then. He let loose. Of course, there's nothing like a captive audience in a small space to help you make your point. By the time he yelled that if he didn't eat something nooooow, he was going to starve, all I could think was, "at least then you'll be quiet."

Suffice it to say that nothing was right with the world anymore. If Jacob was sitting in a chair, Ben wanted to sit in it. If he had to use the bathroom, Jacob was in the bathroom he wanted to use. The only vegetable he wanted to eat was the one we were out of, and so on.

After an hour and a half of trying to curb the whining and getting nowhere, I figured I had two choices, the legal one being a personal timeout with a glass of wine.

Then it hit me. First day back after nine days home with Mom. 'Alex, let's go with Vacation Withdrawal for $200.'

I got down on one knee and opened my arms.

"Ben, I really missed you today."

"I missed you toooooo!" Finally, the dam burst. Tears, hugs, kisses, cuddles and more hugs ensued. And then....

It was done.

When I tucked him into bed later, smiling, he noticed that I'd set his radio to play for 90 minutes before shutting itself off.

"Well, I hope you won't be awake to hear it the whole time, Ben."

"Why not?"

"Well, it's 7:20 now. If you stay awake for 90 minutes, what time will it be?"

"Um, 8:50!"

"Wow! That was great! How did you get to be so smart?"

"S-H-O-O-K. No, wait. S-H-O-O-L."

"Close enough, school boy. Good to have you back. I'll see you in the morning."

"'Night, Mom."

Thank God there are no more vacations before summer.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Stimulus Package

You would think that I wrap my kids in bubble wrap, the way my husband talks. Granted, Jacob is almost 10 years old and until this past week, would not let us take the training wheels off his bike. He can't swim the crawl, and he can't ride a skateboard or scooter. Heck, just getting him to remember everything he needs before getting in the shower is a challenge.

OK, I know I'm overprotective. But I haven't forbidden him to do these things; I just haven't actively encouraged him. I don't want to be one of those parents who pushes her kids to do things because *I* think they should be doing them. But I will concede that swimming and riding a bike are things a boy needs to know how to do. I gently encouraged him, suggested he take the bike out on sunny afternoons, even offered to hold on to the back to help him feel more steady. Apparently, this was not enough.

How to encourage our kids without being overbearing? It's something I've struggled with since my children have become old enough to learn independence, and independent enough to push back. With all my psychology background, I couldn't find the right balance.

Fortunately, my husband is a man of logic and intelligence. To help me with this challenge, he drew on his parenting skills along with his own background of, well, being a boy. As they say in Vegas, money talks, bullsh*t walks. He told Jacob that if he could ride his bike without training wheels by the end of spring vacation, he'd give him 20 bucks.

Needless to say, within an hour, Jacob's training wheels were gone and he was pedaling, albeit unsteadily, up and down the block.

I have never been above bribery, and can see the logic, especially in Jacob's case: he covets LEGOs, and they are expensive. He's too young to have a job. His birthday and Christmas don't come until the end of the year, and they are the only time he gets gifts. So when he's given a task that will earn him some money, it's pretty much guaranteed that the task will be accomplished and, more than likely, a lot sooner than you would expect. It's a win-win: we get what we need from him, he gets what he wants from us. What's not to love about such an arrangement?

I'll continue to preach to my kids that you can't just throw money at a problem, because they also need to learn problem solving and frugality. But inside, I'm composing a list of things for Jacob to do, and doing quiet little cartwheels on the way to the bank.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Guilta Fish

My father asked me point blank the other day whether I was trying to kill the fish. He was referring to the goldfish in the tank in our dining room, the fish that will be 5 years old in October, the fish that is bigger than my hand and that I am convinced is part cat, because it has survived so many near-death experiences. I didn't have an answer for him.

My dad was alluding, of course, to the fact that I want my sofa table back. The fish is in a 10-gallon tank, atop my sofa table, taking up lots of space. Once the fish dies, I get my table back. When I'm in decorate mode, I hate the fish. It's a living thing, though, and I would never do anything intentionally--should I say consciously?--to hurt it, like pour bleach in the tank or something.

I admit that I do pour a lot of other chemicals in the tank though, mostly to keep the fish alive. There's Insto Chlor to remove chlorine and chloramine, on the rare occasion that I change the water, at least partially. There's Clear Water, to remove odors and cloudiness when I actually don't have time to change the water, even partially, and Nemo has to swim around in his own, er, debris for a while. We've also got Ammonia Chloramine Eliminator, to remove ammonia when his tail and fins start getting red, indicating that the levels are too high because he has been swimming in his own debris for too long. And of course, Maracide, for when Ich and other external parasites set in, along with my guilt. When it's time for Maracide, it's usually time for an intervention. Some type of fishy CPR.

No, I didn't major in marine life in college, and no, I didn't learn all of this at the cub scout trip to the aquarium last month. I learned it through experience. You never really know a fish until you live with it, as the saying goes. Nemo and I have been through a lot. The funny thing about fish is, even though they don't need to be walked or played with or even taken to the vet for shots, feeding them is not enough. I didn't really realize this until actually acquiring a fish. Feed it, clean its room and keep it warm is not a lot to ask, but sadly, I don't even do all those things as regularly as I should. So it's a wonder to me that Nemo has lived so long.

But he keeps on keepin' on, making kissy noises on top of the water at mealtimes and when he sees us playing with each other and the dog. He's one of the animals we feed each day, and though not as snuggly as the others, he does his best to participate with us. The sofa table, from where he can watch us eat and talk and play, is his world and through its window he watches us, its inhabitants. He seems to forgive me my transgressions and lapses in his care, by bouncing back to health every time.

Granted, it may be because he can't hear me joke to visitors that when he gets big enough, we're going to fry him up and eat him. But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Besides, even though I'd love to get my sofa table back, I wouldn't eat anything that lived in water that dirty.