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?"


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..."


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.

" 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.

A concerned mother

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


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…"