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."


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


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.