Friday, May 27, 2011

Concession (Or) Stand

Life is hard. It doesn't matter where you're from or whether you were born with a silver spoon or a wooden nickel in your mouth, your life is just a different kind of hard from the next guy's. But in the end, it's all relative.

What makes the difference is how we handle the roughest aspects of life. Much of what determines this is personality, but credit (or blame) also has to be given to parents, for the tools we give our children in everyday life. For example.

You're at a little league baseball game with your reluctant 8-year-old. Getting him into his uniform involved a lot of yelling and whining, and not just on his part. Getting him to the practice was, shall we say, a challenge. Getting him out of the car and onto the field caused the two of you to 'have words' and some of those words included, "I hate you, Mom."

Now that you have the backstory, we'll move onto the setting. It's about 87 degrees outside. You're late for the game (see previous paragraph). Your son's uniform includes knee-high tube socks, long polyester pants, a t-shirt and hat, baseball mitt and, er, insurance that I may someday be blessed with grandchildren. Yes, the 8-year-old has to wear a cup. We are sweating before we reach the field. The amazingly patient coach is urging your child into left field, the grassy area that has the most bugs to watch because, really, what the heck else would you do if you were an 8-year-old boy standing in a grassy field? Watch for flies (from home plate)? Yes, well mine looks for ants by his shoes.

So when a bouncing grounder ends up hitting him in the knee and the tears begin to flow, I stand up. the coach heads out there and tries to get my son to shake it off, makes sure there's no blood, he can bend his knee, walk around, etc. All good, no need to call an ambulance. The inning continues.

Once the team heads back to the dugout and I am summoned to see how he's doing, my son asks me, "Mom, can I go home?"

"Oh, Sweetie, the team needs you here with them."

"Then can I have an ice cream after, since I got hurt?"


I have to say right here that if this had been my firstborn, I would very likely have reminded him that a mom's kisses are MUCH better for healing injuries than ice cream, even if it is ice cream at 11:00 in the morning. It's close, but kisses are actually better.

And he would have very likely said, "OK" and taken two or maybe even three of those kisses and been fine. More likely, he would never have asked the question at all.

But this is my second-born, my every-aspect-of-my-life-is-so-very-hard, please-can-we-make-it-a-little-less-hard-with-sugar? boy. And one would think, having had this conversation more than one or two (million) times before, that he would know the answer, because he lives in the same house with the same rules as his older brother.

The problem is that he also knows his mother.

In fact, he knows his mother so well that he would never ask such a question of his father, because his father is not nearly as malleable when it comes to such things. That's a nice way of saying his father's not a pushover.

The day I realized I had in fact become one of those mothers who caves to her child's requests to avoid a fight, a scene, a screaming match that sucks all the life out of her, it was too late. And I knew it was too late because I almost didn't care that this is what had become of me.

But when I sat down to think about which came first, the chicken or the screamer, I realize the answer was probably 'the screamer.' Because I could handle resistence from my older boy: it was half-hearted, short-lived and manageable. And of course, his brother has been the complete opposite, so I was not only ill-prepared for his persistence, I was even less ready for the heights to which he would raise the stakes. A meltdown over a video game? A crying fit because it's not dessert night? Seriously? Handling this did not fall within my job experience.

The good news is that, though I recognize how I have been perpetuating the situation, I also said that I *almost* didn't care that this is what has become of me. And although 'almost' usually only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, it is enough to keep me in the realm of logical thinking. That niggling feeling that continuing this behavior on my part is only going to cause one of us to move out before my son turns 13 just never goes away. It's my reminder that things are only going to get worse, so what better time than now to try to turn the situation around?

"No, Ben," I told him. "No ice cream in the morning. We can always have ice cream after dinner tonight. Now let me take a look at that knee."

This behavior has been going on since Ben was born, so it's pretty ingrained in both of us now. But if standing up a little harder and longer than I ever had to with his brother will help tip things back into balance--where I'm the boss and he has to listen--I'm willing to give it a try, for both our sakes.

After a big "Awwwww!" of protest, Ben actually let the matter drop.

I exhaled, thankful that I could still make a stand, and that Ben was still young enough to accept it without trying to push me over. Maybe there's hope for us yet.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The 17 Day Crankpot

There's a first time for everything. Sometimes, that's a good thing. First crush, first chocolate milkshake, first kiss. But sometimes a first is reached out of necessity, desperation or fear. In my case, it's a combination of these three things that has brought about a first for me this week.

I'm forty-something years old, and am on my very first diet.

I know, I know, poor me. But think about it from my perspective. All my life, I've loved starch and dairy. Lived on it, in fact, even way before college. Seriously, I'd have made a great French woman. Every kind of bread, any kind of cheese, I was all over it, not to mention pasta, noodles, macaroni and anything of that ilk. I drove my mother insane, much as my son does to me now, by eschewing all "food" remotely produce-related, picking apart every meal that contained anything green, and drinking up to a gallon of milk myself each week. I wouldn't be surprised if my parents put me through college with the money they made buying stock in Ronzoni.

Despite my starchoholism, my weight has never been an issue. Good genes, high metabolism and a bit of luck kept me bony-thin till my 20s, with only the occasional spread. These rare shifts came, coincidentally, during stressful points in my life, with the stress leading to greater indulgences in red wine and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. But a couple of months of daily mountain-bike riding and I was back down to my old size. Ah, to be in my 20s again.

In recent months, I found my jeans fitting tighter and tighter, and then, much to my chagrin, not at all. Donning my 'fat jeans' and looser fitting kahkis, I attributed the change to immobility, stomach problems and hormones. But one day I stepped on the scale and found that I had gained 10 pound of hormones. I was smacked out of my denial.

Having no money (or desire) to go out and buy all new clothes, I decided to try the 17-Day Diet, a regimen two friends had recently started. One had lost 20 pounds, the other ten, in a matter of weeks. I had nothing to lose but weight, so I bought the book.

Day one was fueled by lots of salads, green tea and optimism. I followed the book to a 'T' and went to bed a little hungry, but confident.

Day two was mostly the same menu, but with a few tweaks to mix things up a bit. Cottage cheese instead of plain yogurt; salmon instead of chicken. Lots of water and green tea. By afternoon, I was lightheaded and tired, so I had more salad.

Day three found my confidence in the diet and myself wavering. I told myself my headache was due to allergies, even as I drooled while watching my kids fill their bowls three times at dinner with pasta and freshly made pesto. I drank another cup of green tea and soldiered on.

By day four, I was cranky, terse and miserable. Ready for french bread pizza and a big glass of wine, with a bag of Hershey Kisses for dessert, I instead headed for the scale. And was shocked to find I had lost four pounds. The number fueled my reserve, most likely because I was getting so little fuel elsewhere.

I made it through the first week and lost five pounds. This was enough to get me back--comfortably--into many of my favorite pants. I also noticed, though, that my stomach had stopped bothering me, my constant heartburn was gone, and I was sleeping better. This led to a better mood, which trickled down to the rest of my family and improved the dynamic between us overall.

Since then, I have switched to the exception section of the book (for those times of the month when you just can't say no to chocolate), and have found it much better for my lifestyle. And the weight has not come back.

The big test came when I tried on a dress from a friend yesterday and fell in love with the way it fit me. Looking ahead to an upcoming wedding in June, I smiled at the way the dress hugged my curves in an elegant, sexy way instead of a muffin-top, too many cookies way. And while I can safely say that I never want to have to 'diet' again, in the way that diet means starve myself and eschew those things that make me happy, I have also learned something. In eating, as in many aspects of life, we get into ruts. It happens slowly, as do the consequences. The shock to the system of cold-turkey shifts sucks. But sometimes, that's what it takes.

If nothing else, it's made me conscious of what I eat, and how often. But more importanly, I've learned how diet impacts the body overall, from mood to energy to size, and how it changes as we age. If one week and five lost pounds can alter all those things, as well as my perspective, then it was definitely the right diet for me.

And once was enough.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Nature of Spring

After a cold, wet winter and an even wetter spring, the sun came out and the air warmed up and things dried out and bloomed.

And it was bad.

At least, it was bad for us allergy sufferers. Still is, actually, but I'm not complaining this year. That's because after seeing Bailey's allergic reactions to the blooming trees, complaining just didn't seem right.

Allergies tend to be typical in Labs, and we went into this adoption knowing that he had them. That first spring, they turned out to be a bit more serious than I had anticipated (read: worse than mine). I just get a runny nose, sneeze a lot and sometimes my eyes itch. As we quickly learned, though, it's different with dogs.

First, they have zones. Allergy response zones. Around their mouth, nose and eyes gets very red. Their muzzle itches. Their ears itch on the inside. The skin on the inside of their legs and their private parts becomes very sensitive and itchy.

Worse, they have claws. So when these areas start itching, dogs can scratch them. Really scratch them. I was not trying on my British accent when I referred to Bailey this week as "a bloody mess."

See, when the itching got bad (i.e. he would scratch until he was crying), he had to don the cone of shame. the problem is that Bailey is a smart dog, and anytime I left him home, he either figured out a way to get the cone off (doing his drunken sailor routine and walking into furniture and doorways) or enlisted Flash to spring him. So the sooner he got it off after I left, the longer he was, shall we say, on parole.

It was during these short periods that he would scratch his face bloody, and then proceed to rub said face all over the (thankfully covered) couch corner, in between its pillows and along the carpet to try to ease the itch. Not pretty.

Fortunately, Bailey can't read. Because if he could, he'd likely peruse my bookshelves filled with the works of Plath, Hemingway, Woolf and others. He might see himself in their torment, and get the idea in his head that the only way out of his discomfort and misery is suicide.

Fortunately for us, Bailey can't read. And fortunately for Bailey, there are doggie drug cocktails available to help him. Now when he walks into walls, I attribute it to the meds, because he's no longer scratching.

As he gets older, he'll get itchier and it will start earlier and last longer each season. But we're anticipating this, and have ammassed a geriatric canine medicine chest for just such occasions. And we laugh, sympathetically, at how these days, spring gives a whole new meaning to the term 'scratch and sniff.'