Saturday, February 28, 2009

Growing Pains

My husband is always complaining that I do too much for my kids.

"Let them put away their own laundry."

"But it sits there for a week when I do that."

"Why are you changing his sheets?"

"Because it's hard to get into the back corner."

"He can get breakfast himself."

"But he can't reach the bowls in the cabinet."

And on and on. Part of it is, I know, the way I was brought up. Mom was the caretaker and we let her do it all. And I'm sure part of why I do it is because I can. As an at-home mom, my job is to take care of the family. So I do the big and little things to make their lives easier, finish my jobs more quickly and keep everyone on schedule. But this week I had a reality check, courtesy of a neighbor.

The neighbor, who has four children ranging in age from seven to 17, was helping her son get his art college applications and portfolio together and submitted. While she feels he would benefit from another year at home, he made an offer that made her reconsider.

"I'll stay home if the only chores I have to do are take out the garbage and make my bed."

Huh? Indeed, if this were to be the case, he should be BEGGING to stay home, not making it his ultimatum. His mom and I both feel that, at age 17, this boy should be doing a lot more around the house. But like me, she has always taken care of things. Hm. A preview of things to come? Frighteningly, I see now that this is a very real possibility.

Of course all parents know that children need to do chores in order to learn to take care of themselves and their stuff, as well as handle responsibility. Even the Obama girls have to make their own beds, even though they have staff members to do it. But what's a mother to do to garner interest, or at least cooperation, from the LEGO and train fanatics?

It'll take an adjustment on my part, for sure. I need to be able to let the laundry sit, clean and folded in the hampers, in their rooms until they want something specific that isn't clean anymore. I need to make sure no dessert is served until the table is cleared and the dishes have been put in the dishwasher. And I am not above bribery and blackmail.

"Jacob, did you change your sheets yet?"

"Not yet. I'll do it later."

At bedtime: "Jacob, did you change your sheets?"

"Oh, dang. I forgot."

"You're sleeping on the floor tonight."

"WHAT???!? Wait, I can't. There's no room because my hamper full of clean clothes is in the way."

"OK, then go sleep with the dog in the living room."

Yeah, right. Then I'll wake up from that dream and close his door on the way to the kitchen so I don't have to look at the piles of laundry and the unmade bed.

As parents, we have to pick our battles and I admit I'm a wimp. This is just a battle I choose not to pick, usually because it's less aggravating to do the jobs myself. I know that the longer I take to make chores a part of their daily life, the harder it will be (see note on neighbor). And yet it always seems that tomorrow will be a better day to turn over a new leaf than today.

Maybe I should write to Michelle Obama for some tips.

Bedding by Boodalee:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Minor Cuts

There's something about being a parent when you have things cut out of your body and biopsied that makes you a little queasy. More than the pain, the discomfort and even before the results come back, there is the 'what if?' factor. And it is perhaps the worst part of all.

I have a high tolerance for pain, and try not to think about the negativity of such tests, just like I don't panic about air travel until we are taking off. Then my knuckles turn white, I look anywhere but out the window and hum until it's over. Medical procedures aren't much different, except I'm staring at ceiling tiles instead of baggage compartments. I don't deal with the fear until I'm in the moment. It's not that I'm a pro, but I'm no newbie either. I've had enough procedures to teach me how to deal, but not so many that I'm immune to them. And yet.

When I was young and single and these things came up, I'd tell my parents and they'd be there. I knew they'd take care of anything that needed taking care of if I couldn't do it which, fortunately, never happened.

But when you're a mom, things are different. It's not that it isn't about you anymore. Rather, it's all about you, at least as far as your kids are concerned. You need to be around, to stay around, for them. You are a ubiquitous presence, as necessary and constant as the air they breathe. It raises the stakes. The 'what if?' is still there, but what follows is different.

I don't talk about this to be melodramatic, but because it's been on my mind this week, what with the various tests I've been taking. And while I have a high tolerance for pain, I can't say I'm as sure about my level of grace under pressure. I know mothers who have battled cancer and are in recovery. And I know others who have lost. Thankfully, I am still only in 'what if?' mode, and hopefully will stay there.

They say a woman is like a tea bag: you don't know how strong she is until you put her in hot water. Of course it's good to know how strong you are. But if I have my druthers, I won't find out just yet.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Boy Toys

Question: What do a croissant, a LEGO brick and a piece of rope all have in common? Answer: They can be turned into simulated guns. Whether this is a phenomenon that occurs only in my house or is a representation of the single-minded imaginations of all boys, I don't know. But between the four or five Nerf dart guns floating around here and seemingly every other item my children pick up these days, I've heard myself utter the words "put the gun down, it's time for dinner" just a bit too much lately.

What is it about guns that so fascinates boys? While girls tend to act out every social scenario from tea parties to entire cotillions with their dolls, stuffed animals and pets, boys seem to make everything about conflict. Don't get me wrong: I'm not anti-guns. I have friends who are hunters, and I used to own a handgun myself, going to the shooting range every couple of weeks for target practice. But that was just a small part of who I was, one aspect of my interests. And it became a part of history even before my sons were born.

I admit I shy away from conflict. This is a carryover from my childhood, I realize, but thankfully, there is not yet much cause for it in my life. When I have teenagers, I'm sure I'll get plenty of practice, but until then I'm enjoying my peaceful bubble. At the same time, I realize conflict is a part of life, as are guns. Strangely, I'm in the middle of reading a novel (which I don't usually read) and it's the second novel in a row I've picked up that deals with school shootings (this was unintentional. The first book, The Hour I First Believed, was by Wally Lamb, an author I enjoy. The second, 19 Minutes, is by Jodi Picoult, a favorite author of a friend. I thought I'd give it a try). What gives?

There is plenty of ugliness in the world that my kids don't know about yet. The other day, my 9-year-old was reading over my shoulder and saw an advertisement on Facebook suggesting I "pimp my page" and asked me what the heck it meant. I told him it meant to make the page look fancy, but good grief, who coined that term from such an ugly origin? At least I didn't have to go into detail about pimps.

But for some reason, guns seem to show up so early in their lives. They're in movies, video games even cartoons. After much thought, I realized that guns are useful for helping kids play out good and evil, right and wrong, good guys and bad guys in their play, and I'm all for that. We teach them, they practice what we preach, it becomes ingrained. Isn't that what parenting is all about?

So I'll keep my mouth shut while they chase and "shoot" at each other with whatever is handy to them. But the next time someone points a loaded croissant at me, I'm going to have to host an emergency tea party, whether they like it or not.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I Remember Sick Days

Back in my corporate days, I used to get paid to be sick. That is, if I went to work, I got paid. But if I got sick and stayed home in bed, I still got paid. Talk about a sweet deal.

Fast forward 10 years. Mom wakes up, feels great, goes to 'work' taking care of everyone. Doesn't get paid. Next day, Mom wakes up, feels like crap. Dad gets the kids up, dressed and fed. Mom still makes lunches and snacks, figures out dinner and walks the dog after Dad goes to work and the kids go to school. Still doesn't get paid. I'm not complaining. I'm just saying.

The irony of the situation is that we all want to be indispensable in our jobs. There's a special feeling that comes with knowing no one can your job better than you can. But of course, when you're sick, you just want Mom to take care of you like she did when you were little.

This may be why my kids don't seem to understand that Mom can actually get sick. How can she? She's Mom--she can't be sick and take care of herself at the same time. One of my favorite Ben-isms was one I overheard one evening. I had served the kids dinner, and went to lie down with a headache and an upset stomach. My husband came home and asked where I was.

"Mom's lying down."

"Oh. Is she sick?"

"No, she's not sick. She just doesn't feel well."

So there you have it. There is a line, somewhere between 'not feeling well' and 'sick' that Moms just don't cross. Or perhaps the perception is that, no matter how lousy Mom feels, she just keeps on keepin' on. Things get done, people get fed, dogs get walked and stories get read. And when everything is taken care of, Mom will go take a nap, or pick up her medicine or visit the doctor, as long as she knows no one will need her in the meantime.

But I think the truth of it lies deep down inside each mother: we don't want to miss a thing. We know all too well that the years are flying, and our kids need us. So we're not going to let a couple of wimpy germs keep us from any of it. Hey, I was able to function for close to a year on almost no sleep after my youngest was born. What's a bit of congestion?

Pass the tissues and break out the homework!

Photo by ladyhawk365:

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Identity Theft

My kids have stolen my identity. I used to be me, individual with a professional life, goals and responsibilities. I had meetings and peer groups, business trips and a staff. But over the course of the last 10 years, my business cards expired, my palm pilot died under a pile of dust, and my Rolodex became a paperweight. And somewhere along the line, I began introducing myself as "Benjamin's mom" and "Jacob's mom."

A couple of years ago, that wasn't so terrible because I was editing a local parenting magazine, so I had a reputation that still trumped my sons'. "Of course I know you! I loved your last editorial!" people would tell me. Ironically, since quitting that job to spend more time with my children, people now know more about my children than they do about me.

Just last week, I walked into a birthday party for a first grader in my son's class and introduced myself. I spoke my own name, and then said, "I'm Benjamin's mom."

"I know," came the response from a woman I'd never met. For a split second, I thought she recognized me from the picture that used to accompany my writing, but she quickly popped that bubble of delusion. "I could tell as soon as I saw you. You look just like Benjamin."

This doesn't often happen with Jacob, who looks more like his dad. But I have had people approach me after hearing my name and ask, "You wouldn't be Jacob's mother, would you?" When I say yes, they proceed to tell me who they are, how they know Jacob and a story about him. It seems a lot of people have Jacob stories.

Sometimes this is a good thing. We all have our "under the radar" days when we just want to blend into the background. And really, when you think about it, parenthood is all about the kids. Ideally, we leave behind the selfishness, the laziness and the bad manners we espoused as young singles and morph into the people we want our children to emulate. Because while having kids is a physical feat, raising them demands a bit more.

I suppose, in looking at the whole picture, that my kids haven't really stolen my identity. They've just rounded it out, improved on it. I'm still the same person, but my job description has changed. The things that used to matter just aren't that important anymore. And truly, my performance reviews are much more enjoyable than they ever were. Granted, they come while someone is brushing their teeth or while I'm in my pajamas, curled up and reading Harold And The Purple Crayon for the umpteenth time. But whenever I hear, "Mom, I love you," spoken spontaneously, I know I'm exactly who and where I'm supposed to be.