Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Security Breach

We got Bailey, our Golden Lab/Retriever mix, two years ago this month. Since then, he has become like our third child. So I decided it was time to start being a bad mother to him as well. After all, I didn't want him to feel left out, comparing himself to his brothers Ben and Jacob all the time.

To do this, I accepted a volunteer position at my local library for two mornings a week. To keep things fair (after all, the children came first), I sent the children back to school yesterday, after a 10-day vacation, but I didn't make Bailey suffer until today. After a brisk walk with my neighbor and his Beagle, with whom Bailey is good buddies, I brought Bailey inside, changed into work clothes and left for three hours.

He may have taken this as a personal insult, as I usually spend my days with him in the house. If I'm up and down the stairs doing laundry, he shadows me. If I am working on the computer, he sleeps curled up against the heater right behind my chair. Heaven help him when I go to the bathroom, because he seems convinced that there is another exit from the house in there; he cries and whines relentlessly from the time I close the door until he can see me again.

But my dog doesn't handle insults the way some do. Other dogs might pee on the furniture, lay on my bed or rip up my tablecloth while I was gone. Not Bailey. Bailey instead becomes very insecure. (Clearly there is no cat DNA in him.) First, he took the doggie pillow he sleeps on and twisted it up by swinging it around with his mouth. Then he humped it across the room. (Don't ask me how I know this. You'll just have to trust me.) After that he dragged his wool blanket downstairs to the front door. And finally, when I got back home, he ran and brought two different toys to me before I had even taken off my coat.

What is the answer? Quit the job? Doggie Prozac? I say nay to both. Call me selfish, but for the first time in over a decade, I'm going to relish the feeling of being fully appreciated, sorely missed and warmly welcomed when I come home. I'll reassure him by playing catch with him and taking him for a walk, and I'll give him lots of attention.

And then I'll throw throw his doggie bed in the wash.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Color Me Happy

Ben: "Mom, if oranges are called 'oranges,' why aren't lemons called 'yellows' and limes called 'greens'?"

Me: "That is an excellent question, Ben. What should we call bananas, strawberries and apples then?"

Ben: (silence) "Hm. I'm going to have to think on that one a bit."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

I Heart You

Call me old-fashioned. Because that may be the reason I just don't get all of this "it's so hard to find true love" talk that swirls at this time of year. Books, articles, Valentine's Day haters, bitter singles--it seems everyone spends today pontificating on the elusive, indefinable, different-for-everyone state of true and lasting love. The divorce rate is off the charts.

What's the answer? Are there just no more perfect mates out there anymore? Are all the good ones truly taken?

I say no. In fact, if everyone would read and follow this blog entry, there'd be a lot more perfect mates out there. That's because I've got the fix for everyone. Call it the Atkins Diet for love. Three simple rules.


1) Always be respectful of your partner. Treating someone with respect, even when you're mad at them or disagree with them or are frustrated with them, is not easy. OK, it actually stinks. Because you're forcing yourself to argue without being petty, mean, spiteful or cruel. But here's the thing. By working hard to do it anyway, you are being a better person. This argument will soon end, but your relationship will continue. Your partner will probably forget all about the argument down the road, but will remember how you treated them. Make that a good memory.

2) Give more than half. Keeping score of whose turn it is to scrub the toilets, who needs to apologize and who washed the dishes last time is a crumy way to live. Maybe if you're living with a slacker college roommate, it needs to be addressed. If that's the case, use a job chart. As for love, think of it this way: if you were alone you'd have to do these things all the time by yourself. So if you had to wash the dishes four times this week and your partner only did it three times, that's still three times less for you. Be appreciative. If you disagreed during an argument, chances are you both have room for improvement. Apologize. Maybe you did more laundry this week, but your mate took out the trash and cleaned up the dog vomit. Say thank you. And then let it go.

3) Don't hold grudges. Holding grudges is like going to bed without brushing your teeth. The yuck seeps down inside and starts doing damage. The longer it's in there, the more unhealthy you become. Did you know that tooth decay can kill you? In the same slow, painful way, grudges and resentment can kill a relationship. Take the high road. When the issue is resolved, leave the past in the past. You'll both be better for it.

That's it. Three rules. What could be easier? But, like love, by following these rules, you give a little but reap so much more. Kindness begets kindness. Being respectful inspires respect.

Life is hard. That's why it's so great to have a partner to help you through it. If you can let the little, petty things go, all that's left are the big things that keep us together.

And, as that Little Rascal Alfalfa once said oh-so-poignantly, that's what love is all about.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

On The Fence

As Jacob moves closer to adolescence, his behavior has become something I liken to climbing a fence.

Some days, he's still on this side. He wants me with him constantly: when he's brushing his teeth, he wants me in the bathroom with him. When he's done in the shower, he wants me to towel and blow dry his hair for him (he likes the warmth). At bedtime, he wants me to tuck him in and sit with him a while to talk about his day's trials and tribulations.

But other days, as he tries out the other side of the fence, I am an embarrassment, an albatross, an annoyance. Lately, for example, if I am singing along to a catchy tune on the radio while making dinner, rather than sing along with me as he used to, or even smirking at me, he will throw me a "get over yourself, Mom" look. It's a visual version of giving snaps, as if he wonders why I bother, for my voice could never trump his. A look that says I should know better than to show such displays in my kithen (forget about outside the house!), that I should just stick to cooking and leave the singing to him.

Unless he does something that is outright rude, in these situations I usually laugh at him or sing even louder. But this week, perhaps fueled by his performance at the school Variety Show (and the accolades that followed from friends and strangers), he envisions himself as the next Michael Buble, and actually had the nerve to tell me to stop singing.

'Tween or not, hormones or no hormones, I gave it right back to him.

"Dude, who do you think *gave* you that set of pipes, that rhythm, that musical ability you love so much? Toys 'R' Us? Noooo. Your dad? Noooo. He couldn't carry a tune if you put it in a backpack. It was ME, boy, singing to you even before you were born, using ASL to sign the words of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to you as a baby, paying for your piano lessons and showing you how to place your hands on the keyboard. All RIGHT then!" Now it was my turn to give snaps.

OK, so when I step back, I understand this is just the beginnings of Jacob's budding independence, his need to feel separate yet capable, confident and talented. And as a kid, it's all about putting himself above others to prove to himself he really does have worth.

I concede that maybe sometimes I respond more like a kid than necessary. Perhaps it makes me sad to think of my little boy growing up. But I find that, as he climbs that fence between childhood and adolescence, turning occasionally to throw rocks at me down on the ground, that this is the best way to get my point across to him. And if I can make both of us laugh in the process, hopefully I can slow his journey just a little bit, and the climb won't be any harder than it has to be, for either of us.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I'm With Cupid

There's something about the mystery of children that I love. Now I know some of you are saying, "mystery? What are you talking about? Kids are as transparent as puppies!" And maybe that's it. They are undying in their devotion, can't get enough of their mother's love and attention, and no matter how many times she yells at them, they remain unfazed and attached.

This, of course, only adds to the gobs of guilt that moms get to carry home, along with their baby, when they leave the hospital. One would think that, as we become more proficient in our roles as parents, the guilt would begin to dissipate. One would be wrong.

This guilt grows as our children grow, magnifying our imperfections like the flourescent lights in a women's changing room. Sometimes it's brought on when they cry over something we've said to them, like, "no." Conversely, it's also brought on when they accept what we say blindly, demonstrating their faith and trust in us, thus leaving us to our late-night brooding sessions (to replace the sleepless nights we had when they were babies), the ones in which we wonder endlessly whether we are damaging our children for life, and how much.

Even when we are acting with love, we blow it. Take today for instance. I wanted to blog about my kids' unending well of love, and the wonderful Valentine's Day card Ben made for me. I decided to take a picture of it to post with this entry. He heard the camera clicking and came in to the room asking, "Mom, what are you doing?"

"I'm taking a picture," I said, realizing at that moment that I may be doing something that wouldn't be well-received.

"Of WHAT?" he asked as he got closer. There was no hiding now.

"Of the beautiful Valentine's Day card that you made for me!" I said cheerily.

The tears started flowing and he cried out about what a terrible thing I had done. I had read it before Valentine's Day, and now it was 'ruined' and Ben would have to make a whole new one. And this one had taken him "like, FIFTY minutes to make!"

I tried to soothe him with, "It's OK, Honey, it's for my blog!" but he was completely uninterested in my motives.

Sigh. I swallowed my guilt, apologized and offered him some pink construction paper, glue and glitter in the hopes of inspiring some creativity (and yes, distracting him from his dismay).

It worked, he seems unscathed, and a new Valentine has been created, even before dinner is ready. Perhaps it's just youthful innocence, short attention span or a love of art. But I prefer to think of it as more evidence of that undying love which, guilt aside, will always remain a mystery to me.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Snob? I Wouldn't Say That

OK, I'm a writer, right? So friends send me things they've written and ask me to look them over, edit, proof and maybe spruce them up. It's something I'm proud of, as I do this in daily life (though I try not to do it when it's unsolicited), so to be asked makes me feel a little less like I'm being a word snob and more like my editing skills are valued. After all, everyone needs to read and write. Like any endeavor, don't we want to do so to the best of our abilities?

Apparently not.

I'm not talking about fifth graders here, or even adults with limited educational opportunities. I'm talking about professional adults in finance companies, college students who edit literary magazines and graduate students in writing programs in charge of the quarterly newsletters.

"Mr. X spoke with your wife whom stated..."

"It donned on me that if we want to encourage..., than it would be good to..."

"In this vain, we felt a strong..."

Commas where there should be periods. Capitalized words that should be lower case. Misspelled contributors' names in the table of contents. And these are just a few examples.

Am I being too nitpicky?

I suppose I'm really lamenting the decline of the publishing industry, with so many good writers and editors being let go in the name of saving money. Books aren't being published, not because they have no literary merit, but because they won't be blockbuster sellers with movie options. Newspapers are thinner, their articles more likely to contain errors (I've seen many as I am still a daily subscriber).

Perhaps this is a testament to the disorder of our priorities as a society. "It's only worthwhile if it makes money." "Quantity, not quality, is what matters most." It really seems that literacy is going the way of the payphone. With email, texts and tweets being the most common ways news is passed from person to person, is it any wonder we don't care about spelling or grammar anymore? Too many characters to worry about! Just get the jist of your message across!

Don't get me wrong. I love the new technologies that enable us to access and send information from anywhere in the world. It is now possible for even the laymen, in addition to paid writers and journalists, to share their words and messages with thousands of people at once. But to me, that's just one more reason why the message should be legible and accurate.