Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Star Is Born

Move over, Honey Boo Boo. There's a new girl commanding the stage today, thanks to science, speeders and show and tell.

 My 5-year-old niece has two older brothers, and is constantly trying to be heard. She can speak loudly and clearly, and articulates her ideas well. She'll tug on your shirt, yell your name when you're in the middle of a conversation, and tap your arm relentlessly until you stop what you're doing to listen. She is not shy, and she is never at a loss for words. It's getting an audience that seems to be her biggest struggle.

But all that changed when Kate entered kindergarten this fall and discovered the wonder of show-and-tell. Apparently, once she understood how the whole thing was going to work, she knew she had found her calling. Now all she needed was the show.

Living alongside a nature preserve, Kate is used to seeing deer running around in the back yard. But when one was hit by a car outside her house, the journalist in her seemed to take over. Or maybe it was just the macabre. Either way, after the accident, Kate insisted on going out with her mom for a closer look.

The investigation turned up a piece of antler, a bloody leaf and a part of the car that had hit the poor animal. She also checked on where the deer had ended up (it ran into the woods), and confirmed its subsequent demise. Now she was ready for her close-up.

Her mom, however, wasn't too sure her kindergarten class was ready for such graphics. A teacher herself, my sister-in-law pictured seashell collections, pretty feathers and fossils found during summer vacations that the other students would be showcasing. She was wary to let Kate horrify her classmates with her breaking news story.

But when they ran into the teacher at the grocery store, Kate laid it on the line and asked if it would be OK. The teacher gave her the green light.

The other night, I got to hear Kate tell me about how her first show-and-tell session went. She relayed the whole incident very matter-of-factly, like a polished television news broadcaster, describing the leaf, the antler, the car part and her detailed story of how the whole thing happened right outside her house, just as she had told her class.

"Did anyone ask you questions after you were done?" I said to her, picturing a classroom of stunned (and possibly sobbing) five-year-olds, feeling like they had accidentally stumbled onto a late night news channel and had their innocence shattered forever by my sweet little niece.

"Yeah, but we're only allowed to answer three," she said confidently.

"Oh, did you have more than three?" I asked.

"Yes, but a bunch of people asked the same questions, so I got to answer extras too."

When I asked her if the teacher asked any questions, she said yes, but couldn't remember what they were. Clearly, she already knew how to shut down the pushy paparazzi when she needed to.

"Did anyone ask for your autograph when you were done?" I said when she was through with her story.

She looked at me kind of funny and shook her head 'no'. But as she headed back to her seat, she had a thoughtful look on her face, and I can only imagine that she was trying to figure out *why* no one had asked for her autograph, and what she could do differently next time to make sure they would.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Compassionate Corners

Every day I am amazed at the parallels between my fuzzy boy siblings and my verbal boy siblings; it's as if they are riding in the same car on a roller coaster, one pair behind the other, watching for cues on how to behave.

When I say 'behave', I don't mean how to stay out of trouble. I'm talking about compassion.

My two little guys, Ben and Flash, have both been struggling lately. With Ben, it's a little easier because we can talk to him and get some answers to help find out what's going on. But Flash is a bit of a mystery.

Some days, he'll eat and others, he won't. He gets sick often, but not much. He sleeps fine, but seems sluggish at times. Is he in pain? What's bothering him? Does it help to eat or make it worse? We're just not sure. It's trial and error.

One day last week, after power had been restored, we had to go out for a while, so we put Flash into his large crate with food, water and his bed just like we always do when we go out. I came back a couple of hours later to discover an incredible mess of the whole cage: dishes flipped, wet and soiled bed... it's was as if Flash just went nuts. We couldn't figure out what went wrong, but we did have to throw out his bed. We gave him a big stack of blankets to sleep on in the meantime, until we can find a replacement bed. It hasn't been cold, and so we figured he'd be fine and comfy.

Apparently, we were wrong.

Since then, Flash been sneaking into Bailey's bed when Bailey's getting a drink of water or is otherwise preoccupied. It's big and fluffy, and seems more plush than the stack of blankets. At first, Bailey would whine to us until we went downstairs, realized what was going on and put Flash into his own bed so Bailey could lie down.

Lately, though, as Flash has been moving more slowly, Bailey has changed his behavior. Instead of whining, he just goes into Flash's blanket pile instead. In fact, even when I get Flash out and tell Bailey to come lie down in his own bed, Bailey seems loath to move. As if he's saying, "It's OK, mom, he needs it more than I do."

Meanwhile, on the upstairs level of the house, Ben has been having a hard time with a lot of things lately. He gets frustrated, we get frustrated, and the tension is rising all around. But Jacob knows the situation, and that Ben is doing the best he can. Rather than blow up at him as, honestly, I would expect to happen when Ben gets like he gets sometimes, Jacob just rolls with it. And I can't help but think of Bailey, the compassionate "big" brother downstairs, doing what Jacob is doing: staying patient, keeping the peace, letting it roll off his back because he knows it's bigger than just this very moment.

I don't know how much of it is instinct, how much is personality or how much is learned, but for all the struggles going on in this house right now, I could not be more proud of how all the siblings are caring for their own.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Hypothetically Speaking

The other day, my older son took a break from his homework and came to me while I was making dinner.

"Hey Mom?"

"Yes?" I answered a little distractedly, hands in the meatloaf mixture I was combining, figuring he had a math question.

"What would you do if you got cancer?" he asked instead.

I stopped mushing the meatloaf mixture. Now, I'm not very good at algebra, but at least I took the course (we won't say how many years ago), so there is SOME foundation that I can reach back to when he is seeking answers. But this? How do you answer such a question? Let alone to your child?

To me, the moment played out in slow motion, which I found very interesting on many levels. First of all, I have come to learn that when my son asks me hypothetical questions like this, it's usually because of something he's read in a book. So I usually turn it around and say, "Why do you ask?" just to see where it's coming from. But the fact that cancer is in my genes--I have lost five family members to it already and have a relative going through treatment for it right now--is something that has weighed on my mind more and more as I've gotten older. This knowledge distracted me from asking my usual question of the source of his inquiry.

"I would seek out the best doctors for their advice, and then fight it with everything I've got," is what I told my son.

The true answer that came, though, in the hour or so that I thought about it after his asking, is I don't know.

I've reached the age where everyone I know has been touched by cancer, either through their family, friends, co-workers or community. Sadly, the illness is so prevalent and varied that the only thing we can be certain of is we're not alone when it happens to us.

I know all the facts are out there about cancer, the odds, the heredity. But we're all going to die; none of us knows when or how. Is it better to try to plan and prepare emotionally for something that may never happen? Or to live in the moment, be as present as we can with our children, keep standing and doing and loving until we can't?

It may be a level of denial, but I've decided to go with the latter choice. Saying I'm far too busy to take the first route may be a cop out, but I really think it's what we all do until we're forced to do otherwise. Hopefully, Jacob's question will forever remain a hypothetical one that never has to be answered.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Brain Freeze

This week, I attended two inappropriately-named "Back To School" nights. I say inappropriately-named because as soon as the teachers started talking, I realized that what happens in my children's schools is no where near what happened in the schools of my youth.

Rubrics and spirals, formulas and labs...as I sat in my 5th grader's classroom, my head spun listening to what my child does all day. The teacher danced around the room picking up various math tools, puzzles and books, then jogged back to the head of the class where he poked at a 'Smart Board', the new blackboard. I cursed myself for sitting in the back, making all the other parents turn around to look at me every time I had a question. And I had a lot of questions.

Since the teacher is young and dynamic, I tried to tell myself that the fact that he's a grad student is what's confusing me about all this. He's talking about everything he's learning and employing in the classroom, and trying to do it in a short period of time. The truth is, the job of educating our youth is a much more complex and nuanced undertaking than I ever realized. Not that I ever thought teachers had it easy (OK, maybe that whole 'summers off' thing upsets me a bit), but this shined a new light on a teacher's day for me. And it was pretty glaring.

The revelation of my ignorance didn't stop there. In the middle school, I met six of my 8th grader's teachers and learned how hard my older son works, moves and juggles all day. And that's aside from tennis, Boy Scouts, fife and drum, newspaper club and chorus. Now I didn't just feel stupid, I felt exhausted.

These two nights of glimpsing into my children's days taught me several things: today's kids work incredibly hard in school, no matter how young; teachers are phenomenal balls of energy who exude both patience and passion in the job they do every day. Sadly, I also learned that, no matter how much I try to deny it, I am old. Not only don't I have what it takes to be a teacher, or even a middle school student, I don't have what it takes to be a fifth grader. Let's look at the facts: I can't remember what I had for breakfast, what I did this weekend or the name of that mom I ran into at back to school night, although I've known her for years (thankfully, this last one came to me about 10:30 that night). At first, I was worried I had some form of early-onset Alzheimer's. But on further reflection, I think my mind was just overwhelmed by everything I was learning in those short hours at school. All that enlightenment gave me brain freeze.

My respect for my children has grown, and my faith in their chances in the world post-schooling has increased exponentially. As long as I can get them do their homework,  and even if they just retain a portion of what they're being taught, they'll be just fine. But just in case, I'm going to up the frequency of brain foods like salmon and avocado servings in our house, for all our sakes. It's the least I can do and, very possibly, the most.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

My Sous Chef is a Rat

When my kids were younger, getting them to try new things wasn't always easy. I wouldn't pull out my tap shoes and top hat to get them excited, but there was definitely more song and dance involved with mealtimes than I care to admit. Even now, when they are more open-minded and have less fussy palates, adding vegetarian dishes to their menu takes a bit of persuasion.

So when my lovely neighbor-with-the-big-vegetable-garden gave me three zucchinis, each the size of my calf, I knew I had some work ahead of me. The zucchini bread was a big hit. A recipe from my brother-in-law's ex-wife, it's full of cinnamon, sugar, butter and other cake-type ingredients that likely all but cancel out the benefits of the zucchini. But I figured it was a start. Next up, I tried the zucchini and spinach gratin recipe I found online. No sugar, more savory and a perfectly acceptable vegetable side dish, the kids were willing to try a bite. One. Thank you, one is enough.

So tonight, I'm enlisting the help of a dear, animated friend. He has the utmost respect of my children; in fact, they quote him often. For those of you who are not acquainted with Pixar, I am speaking of Chef Remy, the culinary whiz of a rat from the movie Ratatouille. His experimentation/spin on the dish of his kitchen hero, the movie's title, saves the day. So I was thrilled when I found Ratatouille's ratatouille recipe online. I was even more excited when I told my kids I was making it for dinner and they actually cheered.

OK, so we'll probably watch the movie tonight for the umpteenth time, just on principle. And we'll probably even eat dinner in front of the television, a special treat usually reserved for Superbowl Sunday and snow days. These are small concessions, in my opinion.

The good news is that, even if they don't love the dish, they're likely to be so engrossed in the movie that they'll continue to munch away until--look at that!--the dishes are clean and it's popcorn time.

Cheers, Remy. Here's hoping your ratatouille saves the day at dinner time in my house too.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fresh Starts

Ever since they were babies, I've liked to tell myself that, when the kids do something less-than-appealing, and do it repeatedly, it's a stage they are going through. After all, when someone develops an annoying new habit, why should I torment myself by thinking the behavior is here to stay? Labeling it 'temporary' in my mind helps me deal with it on a daily basis without going berserk. It's how I survived Ben's entire first year of life when he wouldn't nurse for more than five minutes at a time or sleep for more than 20 minutes in a row. Every night, I told myself, "Maybe this is the night when he'll actually sleep. Yes, it's just a phase, and this may be the end of it." 12 months later, I was right. See?

Now that school has started, I can pretty much anticipate Jacob wanting to stay up late to show how mature he is, so he can watch television with Dad (up till now a no-no on school nights) and having a nightly debate with me over it. I also expect that the next two weeks with Ben will be filled with daily tears, battles and general frustration with life as he adjusts to the new demands being put on him at school, and the emotional juggling that goes along with beginning a new school year. Happens every September, and it's always temporary. Breeeathe.

The dogs, however, are another story. Aside from Flash's annual rolling in the snow game in winter, and Bailey's fall and spring allergies driving him and the rest of us nuts with the scratching, sneezing and forcing allergy pills down his throat, not much changes with them. Not much, that is, until now.

I don't know if it's repercussions of their kennel visit, their re-adjusting to being in the house, or just feeling the tension as we ease back into the school-year routine. But last night, Bailey barked for hours because, I assumed, of the thunderstorms. He's got a sore throat, but that didn't seem to keep him down. Never heard a peep from Flash, of course. And today, Flash has been barking relentlessly at... what? It's a mystery. The wind? The humidity? The errant leaf on the road? The scent of a dog that walked down his street yesterday? I have no idea. All I know is that Bailey is trying to nap to make up for lost sleep last night, and Flash has not shut up all day.

I could let it drive me bats, and it wouldn't take much. Bailey did have me up most of the night after all. I could throw him out on the run in the yard and close up the windows. Or I could just tough it out and tell myself it's a phase. Whatever is running through his little doggie mind is, must be, a passing thing. Just like Ben's start-of-school-year tantrums and Jacob's constant rule challenging. It must be. It just can't be permanent. So we'll get through it. Yes, it's just a stage, and we'll get through it, just like we always do. I just pray it doesn't take a year.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Vacation: The Aftermath

There's an energy in the universe, a powerful buzz that constantly works to keep your life in balance, so you don't go getting all, "I'm so totally cool! I've got life all figured out!" This energy is the source of sayings like "no good deed goes unpunished" and "payback's a b*tch." And there's no better time to see this energy in action than at the end of a week-long vacation.  

Think about it: if you don't use a travel agent (we didn't), there is a lot of planning that must go into a vacation. And if you are driving, things become more detailed and complex. Leaving the country too? Heap on another bunch of considerations. Bringing the kids? Strap on your seat belt, honey, you're going to be riding the Internet for many weeks to map this trip out. 

And that's exactly what I did.

Our plan was to drive nearly 1,000 miles, visiting six cities in two countries in seven days. We had two kids, lots of music, books-on-CD, snacks, DVDs, hotel reservations, pre-purchased event tickets, spreadsheets of targeted performances scheduled, and weather contingencies and back-up plans in place. Add four new tires, an oil change and tune up, car wash and charged GPS, drop the dogs off at the kennel and we were ready to hit the road.

The result? Our vacation rocked. The timing of every planned stop and event worked out perfectly. The weather was fantastic. Everyone was friendly, the car performed as expected, traffic was a dream and we took a million pictures. This is why I knew that, when we returned, the energy would find us. We unloaded the car, picked up the dogs, got milk and dinner supplies, and started the washing machine. And then the energy crawled out from under the porch and slipped under the door, as if it had been waiting for us to get home.

Before the night was over, there would be squirrels in the eaves, a barfing dog in the basement, another hoarse, barking dog with an apparent sore throat and a kid on the toilet with diarrhea, vomiting.

Welcome home. Love, the Universe.

We're taking it all in stride though. The way I see it, our vacation was fabulous, a perfect escape from the daily routines of life right before school and work start up again. Better to be reminded now of what those  routines hold in store for us, with something like a sharp blow to the head, before we are back in the full throes of them again. Sure, we're standing here stunned, sore and a little humbled. I certainly didn't account for any of this in my planning. But we're also better prepared to deal with life, in all is messy glory, when it starts up in full swing again. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Suite Vacation

This summer's family vacation is the first pet-free trip we've taken in several years. In fact, the last time we had a pet-free vacation, we only had one dog. So the decision to put the dogs in a kennel was not one made lightly, especially because Flash, our newest member of the family, had never been in a kennel. I don't mean since he's lived with us. I mean in his whole life.

Flash's previous owners, when they traveled, would either take Flash with them or hire a pet-sitter to come stay with him at their home. This means that Flash never traveled without his parents, and when they traveled without him, he never had to leave home. He just stayed in bed, watching television and woefully waiting for their postcard.

We researched several kennels in the area before choosing one that had a lot of room for running around, offered reasonable rates and, most importantly, had a suite available so that Flash and Bailey could board together. Bailey, while never happy about staying in a kennel, at least knows the ropes. To stave off my worrying about them both, I imagined a potential  conversation between the two dogs after their being dropped off at the kennel:

Flash: "Whoa! It smells amazing in here! I think I smell a poodle I haven't seen in years! Bailey, do you smell that? Can you smell Ginger?"

Bailey (to himself): "Weird. I don't remember this place. At least I'm not getting that nasty vibe I get at the vet's office. Hm. I wonder what it's all about..."

Flash: "Um, hey, where's Dad? Bailey? Did you see which way Dad went? I can't smell him anywhere."

Bailey: "Aw, crap. I know what this is."

Flash: "What? Waddya mean, 'aw crap'? What's going on, man? Where's Dad? I mean, it smells great and all, but I'm starting to get a little freaked out here."

Bailey: "It's all right, Flash. Calm down. I know what this is. They're gone."

Flash: "GONE? What do you mean, 'gone'? Oooooh! We have to live here now? But what about my bed? And my toys? Wait, Bailey? Is this because I threw up again yesterday? I didn't mean it! I just, I couldn't help it! And why you? What did you do? How could they just leave us? I thought they LOVED us! I didn't even get to apologize! I didn't even get to say good bye! WAAAAAAHHH!!"

Bailey: "Dude, relax. They're not gone forever. They just, they leave us here to play with these other dogs and stuff, and then they come back in like 10 minutes or 15 years or something and pick us up. I never did figure out how long they're gone when they go anywhere. I think it's to, like, make us appreciate them more or something. But hey, it's OK. Don't cry. At least we're together, right? Aw, are you gonna be OK?"

Flash: "Ooh, I think Ginger is in the NEXT CRATE! I call dibs!"

Bailey: "Alrighty then."

Yeah, I know my imaginary conversation between them sounds a lot like the way my sons talk, but it's what I know. Besides, the four of them are more alike than most parents can boast, so it's probably not really that far from the truth. But I'll send them a postcard just in case.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Less Is More


You know how, when you're feeling lousy, you want nothing to do with anyone? How you just want to do the bare minimum needed to get through the day and all your dealings with everyone until you can go collapse into bed and avoid the world?

Well apparently so did my dog. I just wish I'd realized it sooner.

We've had our beagle Flash for about a year and a half, and have known him for several years. Of course they say you never really know someone until you live with them. In the beginning, Flash seemed down, which we attributed to his having lost his owner, his house and his king-of-the-hill doggie status. It seemed to take forever to train him, and even though he finally seemed to 'get it', he never really seemed happy and relaxed.

Last month, Flash started feeling lousy. He was eating less, and not keeping down his kibble when he *did* eat. So we took him to the vet. Long story short, he had three visits, nine hundred tests and a final diagnosis: enlarged prostate and bad teeth. After some serious discussion with the vet, it was decided that Flash would go under the knife. The surgery removed five rotten teeth and two problem-causing testicles. I swear he probably lost a couple pounds that day for all they took out of him.

It's been a few weeks since the change, and in the last couple of days, the whole family has noticed something about Flash: he actually seems really happy. 

This is what we've seen: he no longer has any trouble eating (the vet said his teeth were probably hurting him, so chewing was likely a problem). He no longer has trouble doing his 'business' (an enlarged prostate presses on pretty much everything, causing stomach cramps, urinary and bowel function problems). But most importantly, Flash is playful. He seeks us out for scratches, pets, games and attention. It may sound ridiculous, but he never did that before. It was so puzzling that I actually used to wonder if dogs could have some form of canine Asperger's because he seemed so socially detached. Considering he was used to being alone all day in his own home when his owners would go to work, and now had someone around to play with pretty much all day (either human or canine), we expected him to be reveling in his new companions. But he never did. Until now.

It occurred to me that he probably had pain in his body, mouth and maybe even suffered from headaches too. Maybe all the petting and attention we tried to give him only made him feel worse instead of better. But now that he can romp and play and get lots of lovin' without pain, he seems thrilled.

So yes, Flash is a little less manly and a little more handicapped in the mouth department. But considering all he's lost, I'd say that for all he's gained, it was more than a fair trade off. Best of all, we've gained a happy, loving and carefree dog. Win-win!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sweatin' Like An Oldie

This week, we had a rather unexpected heat wave in NY. It's only mid-June, but for the last three days, the temperatures have been in the mid- to upper-nineties, with a heat index (that is, what it actually feels like) in the 100-105 degree range. In a word, brutal. Some schools districts that don't have air conditioning dismissed school a few days early for the summer because, they figured, why torture everyone? No one is learning anything now anyway.

So leave it to me to drag my kids to a sporting center for their final day of after-school sports. Think 'giant warehouse with multiple rooms'. Think 'high ceilings'. Think 'completely impossible space to air condition'. Yes, on the second to last day of school, with the temps in the upper 90s, I dragged my kids to said location to wait for the teacher, who was running late. This gave the kids ample time to run around inside a building that had no cross ventilation, no windows and just a couple of ceiling fans about 40 feet above them circulating the hot air in the room. This helped them to work up a sweat so that, by the time the coach arrived, they were nice and slippery and oh-so-ready to wrestle with other equally slippery, sweaty kids.

I told myself it was the last day, the classes were already paid for, and we were going for ice cream afterward so they could tough it out. I schmoozed with other parents to take my mind off the fact that I was sweating profusely and becoming downright offensive myself, even more so than usual. And I looked at my watch every four minutes or so to see when class would end.

Ultimately, the kids did great. Sure, they finished the class more flushed, dripping and uncomfortable than usual. But they wrestled, played soccer and ran around like kids should, which is all I wanted. Honestly, once they got started playing, I don't think they even felt the heat. OK, maybe they did, but it didn't stop them, bless their little hearts. In fact, they didn't once say to me, "Mom, can't we just skip it today? It's soooo hot!" It never even occurred to them.

It occurred to me though. Truly, the last thing I wanted to do was sit there sweating on the sidelines while they ran around for an hour (OK, maybe that was the second to last thing. Doing what they were doing was the last thing I wanted to be doing). But they never suggested blowing it off. So I did the right thing and kept my mouth shut, rather than walking into the building, declaring it way too hot and giving them permission to cut class. As much as I wanted to, I thought staying would send a better message. Their choices and chances to cut classes will come soon enough, and I'll likely never know about it when they do it. Why encourage it now, when it's not even an option on their radar?

When we finally dragged ourselves outside, the temperature had dropped to about 86 degrees. There was  a hot wind blowing. But after being inside, where the temps were probably closer to 112, it felt like a cool spring day in comparison.

And the ice cream only made it better.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pharm Dogs

Getting old stinks. Just ask my dogs.

Bailey, even at age 11, still acts like a puppy: he loves to play, and will go pick a toy from his basket and drop it in your lap to get you off the couch and running around chasing him. But he has seasonal allergies, not unusual in Labradors. As he has gotten older, the "season" has gotten longer so that it now runs from March until about September. It's also so severe that, unchecked, it will cause him to scratch himself until he's raw and bleeding. Even a cone doesn't seem to help. After experimenting with various diets, vitamins, shampoos and medicines, we finally got him on Claritin and that seems to be doing the trick. Take twice a day with food.

Flash, at 12, has always had plenty of energy. When he started slowing down and eating and drinking less, we attributed it to his getting older. But when he started vomiting every day, I took him to the vet. Several visits, questions, and tests later, we have him on antibiotics for an infection and anti-nausea for his stomach. We're to keep watch on his enlarged prostate (is NO aging male immune?) and take necessary steps if that progresses as well. Two meds, twice a day with food.

Like a caretaker in a doggy nursing home, my mornings go something like this: wrap doggie meds seperately in bread crusts. Dip into some gravy-like substance to add appeal. Insure bread ball/meds have been swallowed. Mix warm water with kibble and serve immediately after meds to insure proper digestion. As soon as all kibble is consumed, walk dogs, preventing them from eating grass as much as possible so that medication stays down. Repeat procedure at dinner time.

Having the kids grow up watching these dynamics helps them to understand the responsibility involved with owning a pet, and caring for them as their needs change. But at the same time, having your kids become more independent at the same time your pets are becoming more dependent is a tricky path to walk. Just as I am starting to enjoy the benefits of having my kids step up around the house and need less of my attention, I have to increase my attentions to the dogs, as well as the time spent cleaning up when they are sick or incontinent in the house. The meds help with symptoms, but the pets are still getting older. Looking toward the future, I know that if it's not one thing, it will eventually be another. It's not easy and, while I'm not exactly a member of the 'sandwich generation'--adults who are caring for their young children and aging parents at the same time--I can kind of relate to the juggling involved and the mixed emotions that go along with it.

I have to sigh when I think of generations past, when an aging pet would suddenly be gone from the home, and the kids told "he went to live on a farm" to spare them the pain of hearing that their pet had died. As sad as it is to think about, though, the alternative seems rather bittersweet: today, through the wonders of medical technology, our pets can stay at home much longer--aging and ailing--because we can bring the 'pharm' to them. If our pets could talk, what would they think of all this?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

It's A Girl Thing

I grew up with a brother, and three male cousins lived next door to me as a child, so it should be no surprise that I was quite the tomboy. Being a late bloomer only lengthened the phase so that well into my teens, despite being one of them, I understood nothing about girls or their mysterious obsessions with makeup and dresses, boys and gossip.

As a result, I felt ill-prepared to rear girls, and was very thankful to have had two sons. It made me feel more equipped to handle the things that would come their way, without the drama of girls and all their intricate complexities. With boys, you know where you stand. 

Beginning in early January of this year, my middle-schooler, Jacob, worked very hard for many weeks with his drama club at school. In March, we got to witness the club's wondrous stage production of Fiddler On The Roof. During rehearsals, the mom of one of the cast members had taken head shot photos of the cast, and they were posted--8"x11" black-and-white-Broadway-Playbill-style--outside the auditorium for attendees to see. This terrific idea became a source of pride for the cast members, and the photos were left in place even after the show had closed.

Then one day, Jacob came home to tell me that he was outside the auditorium and saw a crowd gathered around his photo. As he approached them to investigate, he saw that his photo had been defaced and maligned: red marker had been used across his face and a vulgar word had been written across the top. Jacob was crushed.

He reported the incident to the administrators who promptly took the photo down, but told him that because no one had witnessed the incident, nothing more could be done. When Jacob told me what had happened, I hugged him and we talked about it, and later I contacted the administrator for any other details. There were none, so I told Jacob I supported him, how sorry I was about what had happened, and that I would try to contact the photographer to get another copy of the photo made.

I should mention here that Jacob has always been drawn to art, theater, music, anime and manga, and is a real culture- and academics-loving kid. As such, he proudly calls himself a 'nerd' and has a group of like-minded friends that have formed a club, of sorts. They call themselves N3RDS, and are united against bullying. They've all experienced it, and do their best to speak up if they see others suffering through it because they know how painful it is. So, although it hurt, I'm sad to say that harassment was not new to my son.

Why, then, was it hitting me so hard? Harder, it seemed, than it was even hitting Jacob? Being the only female in the house had never been an issue for me. Until now.

Suddenly, I was emotional. Protective. Angry. Sad. As the next few days went by, I found that I could not even let myself think about the incident for any length of time. Whenever I did, I feared I would burst out crying. I'm embarrassed to say that I’m not sure what bothered me more: my son's situation or my (seemingly) irrational, emotional inability to handle it. I felt like a big crybaby. For god's sake, I was behaving like a GIRL.


To think about how Jacob must have felt to have been targeted, singled out so maliciously; how he must feel to have to walk by the auditorium every day and see the empty space where his photo used to hang, while all the others remain, unscathed; how hurt he must be that someone in his own school and age group could be so cruel, thoughtless and at the same time cowardly with such a pointed, yet anonymous, attack; how frustrated he must be that nothing could be done, broke my heart with sadness. 

What if he was being harassed every day and just not telling me? What if he was silently suffering because he didn't want to upset me by telling me about it every time it happened? Every subsequent day that I sent him off to school, I felt sick with fear and worry that something would happen to him. When my husband asked why, I cried, with visceral certainty, "Because this is how it starts!"

Bullying has been in the national news for years. We read almost monthly about the sweet, quiet, talented kids who finally snap after years of abuse at the hands of their tormentors. These victims end up feeling alone, friendless and with no escape from the pain. I know Jacob has the support of his friends, when they are around. But after seeing this act of singling him out, I couldn't help thinking that this is how it starts, that every bullying story with a tragic ending had--at some point in time--a beginning, and that it likely looked something like this.

Surely this is what fed my fears. That is not to say they were unfounded, but I began to wonder how much of my own emotion I was projecting onto my son who, to be honest, seemed fine after a couple of days. Maybe, I thought, the problem is mine. Maybe it is a girl thing, this emotional reaction, this drama that I never knew how to handle in others. Maybe I need to stop trying to protect him.

I decided to do my best to stop stewing, and to take my cues from Jacob.

Then a few days ago, Jacob came home with something in his hand. He told me it was hanging in place of his missing photo, among the other cast members' pictures. He held it up for me so I could read the 8"x11" note, hand-written in neat, blue marker:

"Don't let haters tell you different, Jacob, you are the N3RD NINJA." 

It had a picture of an anime character underneath, from the Soul Eater manga and anime series. Jacob is going to play the main character, 'Soul Eater Evans', in a video he and these friends are in the process  of producing. The four friends signed their characters' names on the bottom. Friends, I came to find out later, who are all girls. Girls with heart, emotion, sympathy and understanding. Caring girls who were there for him where I couldn't be.

Jacob had on a crooked smile, and was obviously proud to have received the note. "Jacob, that is so great," I told him as I hugged him, and he explained about the friends and the video.

"But don't you want to leave the note up where it was, so others can see it? Maybe even the person who ruined your picture, so they can see what great friends you have?" I asked him.

"Nah," he said. "I don't want anything to happen to it."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Eating Glue

Some couples connect through shared hobbies, others through shared histories from school or work. My husband and I have always connected over food. I know people who can sit and watch a movie together when they've been busy and missing each other, and it's enough. Others need a weekend away together. My husband and I just need to go out for a good meal.

I realized a few weeks ago that it had been far too long since we'd done this.

The signs were all there: I was cranky and nitpicky; he was distant and overworked. We missed each other, but every time we were together, it was to heap to-do lists on each other, vent our day's frustrations or argue about these things. How can you communicate when you can barely exhale in each other's presence?

This usually happens in the spring. The kids are overloaded with after-school activities, tax season is looming and we're all moving at a frenetic pace just trying to keep up. Fortunately, spring is also when our birthdays and--more importantly--Hudson Valley Restaurant Week roll around.

No matter how busy we are, my husband and I always make time to go out for at least one meal during HVRW. We pick a restaurant we've wanted to try but perhaps isn't particularly kid-friendly, or even one that  looks good but is otherwise geographically undesirable. This year, we chose X20 Xaviers on the Hudson, a restaurant in Yonkers that was all three. The goal each year is to use HVRW as an incentive to get there and get there *alone*.

The waterfront in Yonkers has been undergoing a transformation, with the experts' hopes that it will revitalize an otherwise troubled city. The neighborhood is not one we'd want to travel through at night, but the restaurant and its food are equally breathtaking and worth the trip. Lunch seemed the perfect option.

We drove down during the day while the kids were at school. We met the owner and chef. We talked with him about the fact that his family and my mom's family had grown up together in Yonkers. We got a table by the window and took multiple pictures of the view from the restaurant. I made copious notes in my book on each dish. We talked about the food, our kids, our jobs, other diners, the neighborhood, our own childhoods and friends we haven't seen for a while. We shared bites from each course, we laughed, we reconnected. It was fabulous.

While I sometimes wish that we were one of those couples who like to go biking or skiing together, I think that even those things can sometimes get pushed aside when life gets crazy. But we all have to eat, no matter what else is going on. Good food is the glue in our relationship because it's not really about eating. That's just the beginning. Sharing a good meal together works, for us, like a dash of salt: when it's added it brings out all the other flavors of our life together through conversation and laughter. And it reminds us why eating together is so important: it nourishes not just our bodies but our hearts and souls.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I Had A Dream



I would like to state categorically that I love my children and would do anything for them. This is not a disclaimer. In fact, it seems to be my problem. As my children have gotten older, their capabilities have grown. But I haven't really given them room to exercise those capabilities. Though I am realizing this is due mostly to habit, something tells me it's time to change it. Something, that is, other than my husband.

I am a "doer" and always have been. I have worked since I was 12 years old, and have loved every moment of it. When my children came along, I left my full-time job to become a full-time mother, a job I knew would be challenging and constant. Suddenly, my days were no longer filled and organized around meetings and clients, commutes and reports. There's no need for PDAs when everything is scheduled around NAPs. It was as if I had been building up momentum for 20 years only to come to a sudden, screeching halt.

After a while, I got used to the pace of motherhood and we fell into our routines. Over the next 10 years, my job of nurturing, encouraging and caring for my kids became very full indeed. As infants, they need everything done for them; as toddlers, they require constant stimulation and vigilant attention. But once they enter school, they begin to learn how to care for themselves. Sure, it happens slowly and in small increments--washing, carrying a backpack, doing homework, cleaning up after themselves--but it happens. And each year, those skills are built upon and expanded.

At least, they are at school.

Although my children don't need me to do as much for them as they did when they were small, it doesn't mean they don't want me to. For example, my 'tween is perfectly capable of washing his own clothes and cooking small meals. And my 9-year-old can empty the dryer, fold and put clothes away and wash dishes. Great! you might say. I would say it too, except that they don't do any of that stuff.

Why? Because I still do all those things. They were part of my original job description as stay-at-home mom.  Sure, over the last few years, my job has been downgraded to a part-time position, but I've still been continuing to work it full-time. In all my years of working--regardless of the job--no one could ever accuse me of being a slacker.

All this drudgery, of course, takes away from my writing time. And I know it's my own fault. But I think my brain has had enough, and is ready for something more stimulating than laundry after all these years. And this is why:

I had a dream the other night that I was working downstairs in my house, and found an unused room that had a beautiful old writing desk in it. My eyes lit up when I saw it, and I immediately started plotting where I could move it to so that I would be able to use it all the time.

But as I approached the desk, I realized that someone had made changes to it. The writing area was no longer made of wood, but had been converted to an electric, glass-top stove. And when I tried to open the cabinet below, instead I was met with a large, pull-out drawer that, I realized upon closer inspection, was not just an oven: when not in use for cooking, the drawer doubled as a bassinet.

I woke up screaming.

OK, not really. But what this dream made me realize is that for far too long, I have been putting my own desires aside to care for my babies, even though they are no longer babies. Instead of doing all that full-time work for my kids, I should have been using those extra hours to take back my desk.

So I've been making plans for change. Next week, the boys will be on vacation. But just because they won't be in school doesn't mean they won't be learning. It's time for some real life lessons; time to get their responsibilities off my plate and onto theirs. And then have them wash those plates.

I plan to be busy writing.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Multi-Tasker

From the time he was a baby, Jacob was fascinated by *everything*. Books? Cars? Grocery shopping? Conversation? Music? Art? Animals? Oatmeal? Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. I'm happy to say that, aside from his getting taller and more verbal, not much has changed. Except for the fact that he has to go to school.

School takes up a lot of time, so Jacob has to squeeze in all his interests after it's over. He's been in the Living History Club, Boy Scouts, chorus, drama and newspaper clubs, just to name a few. But as the homework and scheduling conflicts have increased, he's had to prioritize. Or at least try to.

I was sorry to see him drop the newspaper club this year. He's a natural-born interviewer, in my humble opinion, and really seemed to enjoy the club last year. But it meets the same time as his drama club, so he told the teacher he'd have to say goodbye.

Last week, though, he was telling me about a story he'd done.

"I had interviewed two people, and I just wasn't happy with either one. But at the last minute, I was able to find this person who was available, and interviewed her. It came out great."

"Wait, for English class?" I asked, confused.

"No, for newspaper club," he said.

"But I thought you weren't on the newspaper anymore because you couldn't go to the meetings?"

"Oh, I still don't go to the meetings," he said offhandedly. "I'm just freelancing."

And right then I realized I have to stop worrying about Jacob's time-management skills. Because it became very plain that he would find the time and find a way to do all the things he loves.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What's Cookin', Hot Stuff?

So there we were, Ben and I, at a school science night. Because of its popularity, the organizers split the kids up into numerous groups to keep things flowing well. One little girl, who was in Ben's class last year, was in his group. Together with two other kids, they went from station to station doing hands-on experiments and learning about science. 
Like most of the adults there, I did my part by following closely along, taking pictures and chatting with other parents. But I also had a chance to eavesdrop on the kids' discussions and conversations, something I don't get to do during the day. And let me tell you, that was a lot more educational for me than the demonstrations. 

While Ben and his friends learned about things like CO2, water filters, yeast and dry ice, I learned that Ben is quite the charmer, and not just at home. For one thing, he managed to plant himself right next to the little girl in his group at every station. If there were no more chairs, he'd stand next to her. As we arrived at the 'make your own ice cream' demonstration, she was already seated. I got behind her chair to be able to take some good pictures, just as Ben slid into the seat next to her. This didn't surprise me. But what came out of his mouth, did.

"Hello, Isabelle," he said with great flourish, as if they hadn't seen each other in weeks. 

And then his voice dropped, romance-movie-star style. 

"We meet again."

It's so fascinating to see the different sides of our children, the people they become in various situations, and how the dynamics of their personalities change. Fascinating may not be the right word. Maybe 'stunning' is what I'm thinking.

Fortunately for me, the demonstration hadn't started yet, because after picking my jaw up off the floor, I doubled over laughing. Since I was probably the only person who'd heard him, besides Isabelle, everyone looking at me likely thought I was nuts. 

"I may seem crazy," I wanted to turn to them and say, "but not nearly as crazy as I'll be when he's 15."

Because I have a strong feeling that, by then, I'll be crying.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Can We Talk?

Perhaps it's the nature of my field that drives me to urge my kids to talk about everything. I suppose it could be the pendulum swinging back from the way I was raised, which followed the philosophy of, "Unless the topic is the weather, DON'T TALK ABOUT IT AT ALL." Or maybe it's just what I am: one of those horrible people that insists we lay everything on the table, ask the questions and get the answers.

Ben is not averse to thinking things through, and his vocabulary rocks. In fact, I've had some pretty interesting conversations with him on a variety of topics. But he also has this little quirk: if there's something he doesn't understand or know how to do, rather than ask about it, he just avoids all situations that may bring his shortcoming to light. And he clams up.

Here's an example: Ben loves fuzzy things. If he could wrap himself in a mink bodysuit, he would wear it day and night, all week long. Knowing his passion for plush, I bought him a super-fuzzy robe this winter. It's black with white skulls and crossbones (must be a boy thing), deep, wide pockets, and both an inside and outside belt to keep him securely swathed in luxury and warmth. 

When I presented it to Ben, he said 'thanks' and put it aside. At shower time, I asked if he wanted to dry off and put on his new robe. He said no, so I hung it in his room. On the next chilly weekend morning, when he shivered and said he was cold, I suggested he put the robe on. 

"It's like a blanket with sleeves!" I said in my best infomercial voice.

"NO!" he said. "I don't want it!"

After a few more episodes like this, I finally got Ben to admit he would never wear the robe. He suggested I just give it away. I was shocked, then hurt, then started thinking about who might fit into the robe instead. 

Then I remembered who I was dealing with.

"Ben, can you tell me what it is about the robe that you don't like?"

"I just don't like it."

"Is it not soft enough?" 

"No, it's super-soft."

"Is it the color? Do the skulls and crossbones creep you out?" (I was sure this was it).

"No, it's cool."

"Then can you tell me why you don't like it? I won't be upset," I assured him. "I just want to know so I don't buy you something else you don't like that's the same."

"I just... it's too hard to tie!" he blurted out. 

I suggested we do a little lesson because I know those double belts can be tricky. First we did the inside, to close it up. Then we did the outside in a nice, simple tie to keep him securely snuggled. Then he tried it himself. He was hooked. 

Tonight, as Ben was putting his robe on after his shower (and purring with joy at its softness), I commented on how close we had come to giving it away, all because of a misunderstanding. I decided to use this as a teachable moment about why it's important to talk about things.

"Wow, remember we almost gave this robe away just because you didn't know how to tie the belt?"

"Yeah! Close one!"

"I know! So it just goes to show you that any time you have a problem, communication is the best way to resolve it, right?" 

At this point, I imagine the hairs on the back of Ben's neck stood up, alerting him to a lecture brewing.

"Any problem can  be solved if you just talk about..."

"I still don't have a million dollars. Let's talk about that," he deadpanned.

Mission accomplished: lecture averted. I was laughing too hard to go on. Ben may hate to ask for help, but he knows me well. And he got my point.

I don't think this episode will turn him into a Chatty Cathy, but I do hope that conversations like this will eventually make him less reluctant to talk about things. Hopefully before he starts dating.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When It Rains, It's Barf

Photo credit BHG.com 
All homeowners know that, to make your home beautiful and inviting, changes and work are always required. Whether it's painting, adding new trim, changing a light fixture or going whole-hog, we do what we can to beautify our surroundings. It's part of nesting and a way to balance the stress in our lives: having a home where we're relaxed and free to exhale and spread out is something most people crave.

This past year, in addition to adopting a second dog, and having my brother-in-law move in with us, my husband and I finally had someone come in to remodel our kitchen. We had saved pictures of styles we liked, kept notes on what we wanted, determined our budget and interviewed contractors. It was an arduous process, but not nearly as challenging as moving all of the kitchen's contents (and our lives) out of the room for eight weeks. The transition phase was, like labor pains, happily forgotten (or at least the ugliest parts of it) when we moved into our new kitchen and began to reap all its benefits. 

Happy as clams, we decided this month to have our 40-year-old shag carpet ripped up and the wood underneath sanded, stained, polished and buffed. The carpet covered the entire upstairs living area, except for the kitchen, so this was no small task. Like remodeling the kitchen, this project required emptying of furniture, moving of piano, couch and more, and relocating ourselves to the basement area and half-kitchen setup down there. It's been bumpy, but tolerable the first couple of days, and slower-moving than I'd have liked. But it will take less than a week, and it already looks better up there.

My kids, dogs and I are cramped downstairs, using makeshift tables and chairs and rearranging our stuff as needed. It helps that they go to school during the day, and though the clutter and boxes EVERYWHERE drives me mad, I keep reminding myself it's a temporary situation. (My husband is, brilliantly, at a conference out of state this week). 

Just after I got the news today that the project will take five, not three days, I sighed and said OK. (What else could I say? Poly has to dry, and each coat takes a day). Shortly thereafter, I sat down to eat. I had time for a yogurt and fruit before my son's bus was due home. The dogs had been tied up in the yard all morning so they wouldn't be in the way of the contractors, so I decided it was time to let them in since the day's work was done. Not seconds after I sat down, Bailey barfed up the worst mess I have ever seen from an animal. On the downstairs carpet. In front of me. 

After throwing him out of the house and having a crying fit, I cleaned it up and THEN sat down to my yogurt. That's when Bailey, back out in the yard, started barking. I looked out to see some folks taking pictures of my house. "Great," I thought. "They heard me yelling and are going to report me to the humane society." It'd be perfect, right?

No. This was better. 

With my house in a worse disarray than the weekend I moved into it, I walked out to say hello and met the lovely woman who had grown up in my house. She lives down south and had not been back for 14 years. Until today. What could I say? Of course, I insisted she come in.

She and her husband were very sweet. They walked around taking pictures, and I told them the stories of the neighbors changing over, the paneling in our house coming down so we could paint, the kitchen remodel and the current state of transition.

As they got ready to go, I begged her to trade email addresses with me. She was going to send the pictures she'd taken to her father; her grandfather had built the house, and she wanted him to see what had changed and what had not. I, of course, wanted to be able to send her "real" pictures when our work was done so that her parents didn't think they'd sold the house to hoarders.

While I know that change is a part of life, and that without some pain (read: packing), there can be no growth (read: renovations), I think getting through this week is going to be harder than getting through the summer of the kitchen remodel. Maybe it's because I'm alone with the kids, or maybe it's because of dog barf and previous owners arriving at the house's least attractive moment. Either way, there is definitely a full moon this week, because I don't think it could pour any more misfortunes than it already has.

But I'll keep toughing it out, because I can't wait till it's done and I can clean the entire house.

And then email the pictures to my new friend. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Who's Packing?

Ben is a very physical kid, always has been. He's a sensory learner: show him how to do something and he'll do it and remember how forever. But give him written or verbal instructions and the outcome could go either way. He also loves to move. Running, jumping, gymnastics, wrestling with the dogs, wrestling with his dad, wrestling with his brother (much to his brother's chagrin) all make Ben happy. This is why we decided to sign him up for wrestling last week.

Before this year, he was too young to be able to handle an evening class, but this month we felt he was ready and in need of just this type of sport. He's been there three times now, and seems to enjoy it more each time. I'm thrilled because I know he'll be good at it; his brother's thrilled because Ben has another outlet for his energy. No more living room Half Nelsons.

In yesterday's class, the kids did an exercise without their t-shirts. As they took off their shirts and lined up against the wall, one of the moms near me remarked, "That kid has a six-pack."

"Where?" asked another.

"There, in the sweats."

"That's Ben. Hey, your son has a six-pack?" they asked me.

"Um, yeah. I thought every skinny little kid his age did."

Apparently not.

I'm not really surprised, I guess, knowing that Ben does push-ups and pull-ups on any piece of furniture that will support him, just for fun. Backs of chairs, coffee table, piano bench--nothing is off limits. And I had to admit that, standing next to the other 5- to 9-year-olds, he looked pretty cut. I also had to admit it was strange.

Hopefully, Ben will stick with the wrestling, using his strength and outstanding physique to intimidate his opponents. But knowing Ben, if that doesn't work, he'll tickle them and tell jokes until they collapse on the mats.

Either way, as long as he's enjoying himself, I won't care. Though I do dread his teen years, when no doubt all the girls will start calling once they see his six-pack.

"What, this old thing?" he'll tell them nonchalantly. "I've had this for years. Just ask any of the moms."

Saturday, February 25, 2012

There's A Ninja In My Kitchen

My pre-teen has become obsessed with ninjas. He watches them on television, reads books about them and even dresses like one (well, on Saturdays anyway). He folds origami ninja weapons and ties knife-carrying cloths to his calves. Maybe this all stemmed from his love of sushi or an introduction to anime and manga cartoons. Whatever the source, it has spread to my kitchen.

I know little about the lives of ninjas--things like what thread-count their sheets are, who does their laundry or if they keep pets, for example, are not readily apparent in the books or movies about them. But assuming they were like most non-eating, non-sleeping, non-laundry-washing cartoon characters, I considered my kitchen pretty safe from a ninja invasion. This was fine with me, as all those sharp little stars and swords would surely wreak havoc on my new cherry wood cabinets. 

But all that changed this week when, on break from school, my son picked up a copy of The Manga Cookbook at our local library. 

Suddenly, he's dressed in full ninja regalia and following me around asking if we can make Onigiri and Nikumaki, and I'm thinking they are characters he saw in a book and wants to draw. "Sure, Jacob. You know where your drawing tools are. Go for it." 

"No, mom, they're  dishes. Manga dishes that you eat."

"We don't have any mangoes, but I think there's an avocado in the fridge."

"No, mom, MANGA. It's ninja food. Please?"

He handed me something that looked like a softcover comic book, and I was skeptical. But when I flipped through it and saw (translated) recipes for rice balls and meat and vegetable rolls, and ingredients like pork and asparagus, string beans and carrots, I decided to seize the opportunity. I may not fully understand the magic of manga or the draw of anime, but if it will get my pickier kid to eat vegetables, I'm willing to give it a try. 

"Sure, Jacob. We can make some of these this weekend," I offered. "But you need to eat them when we're done."

"Duh, Mom. Why else would I want to make them?"

"Fine. But you have to wear an apron over your uniform, and *I* will supply the knives."

I waited for him to balk, but he just smiled. At least I think he did. It was hard to tell with the ninja mask on his face.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

You've Gotta Be In It To Pin It

A librarian friend recently told me about this new site called Pinterest. Knowing that I spend far too much time on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, she knew I'd be as fascinated with it as she was. But Pinterest isn't about socializing, not really. There's no talking, poking or games, and very few words. The site is a bunch of virtual pinboards where you can post pictures. Pictures of what, you ask? Practically anything. I've often referred to the site as crack for the visually inspired.

What's so interesting is how much more I think Pinterest says about who I am than my Facebook page does. Sure, on FB I list my interests, favorite artists, post pics of my family and make jokes or comments on other people's statuses. But those things are easy to do or not do. You can be as hip, fun or reserved as you want to be on FB, and what you post says a lot about the type of person you are.

On Pinterest, it's purely visual. And you're not limited to the boards/criteria that Pinterest dictates. You can create a board, call it whatever you want and pin whatever you want on it. I've seen boards that only have pictures of teapots or vases. Others have just shoes. Some have pictures of tropical vacation sites, or pictures of the European countryside. I have one for geeky book stuff, one for humor, one of architectural designs I admire, one of craft projects I find inspiring, and one of different outfit styles I like. But the other day I stood back and looked at all my boards together and thought, "wow, when you add all these together, they really show people who I am."

It was amazing.

Since then I learned that Pinterest, with gajillions of photos on almost any topic you could think of, is run by a staff of 16 people out in California. That's why you need an invitation to join, I imagine. It's the company's way of putting a bouncer at the door to keep the site from becoming a fire hazard (read: potentially crashing). It's brilliant and, sadly, privately held.

If you are of a visual ilk like I am, I urge you to check it out. Especially if you have lots of time on your hands. Trust me: you'll need it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Au So Chic



First, it was the Tiger Mother, a Wall Street Journal article about the brilliance of the Chinese style of parenting. In continuing its efforts to educate and chasten American parents, WSJ most recently published a piece on why French parents are superior. I'm personally starting to think just about anyone would be a better mother than I. (How strange, when I've had so much confidence up until now. *cough* *cough*) So I've decided to beet the WSJ to the punch on their next piece. 


10 Reasons a Croissant is a Better Parent Than an American

10. Can flaunt a deep, golden tan without sending negative health messages to children.

9. Is light but doesn't hover.

8. Has staying power (mainly on the hips).

7. Its flakiness is a good thing. 

6. Promotes, rather than provides, indulgence.

5.  Is ΓΌber-rich for its entire existence.

4. One word: butter.

3. Is not very sweet, and doesn't need to fake it.

2. Able to conceal chocolate without guilt.

And the number one reason a croissant is a better parent than an American, 

1. It’s French.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

To Do: Laundry, Dishes, Worry

Anyone who starts off a story with, "when I was a kid," is immediately tagged as old. The very phrase sets them up for ridicule because it inherently implies that things today are so vastly different from what they were 'in the good old days' that not only are today's kids in dire straits, but there's no way of saving them. The speaker is always, surely, one of the last surviving members of a generation that safely grew to adulthood without dying, a fact purely due to his or her own wits.

That said, I have a bit of a dilemma. When I was a kid, my parents weren't really involved in my schooling or social life, at least not from middle school up. There was no such thing as a 'helicopter parent' in those days; moms worked, dads worked, and on the weekend they enjoyed time with their friends. We played in the neighborhood with cousins and friends, rode our bikes, delivered newspapers and did our homework. Was middle school fun? Ahem. Well, let's see. Smoking, being bullied, declining grades, cliques and math. No, I can pretty safely say that middle school was a thumbs down for me in every way. But I didn't report it to my parents. We didn't talk about any of it. In those days, it was my life to deal with and I just got through every day as best I could. Did I learn a lot? Eventually. Like, 20 years on I processed a lot of social rules that I guess I had internalized from those days. Did it do me any good during middle school? Absolutely not.

But I was no different from any other kid.

So why am I waking up at 5:30am worrying about my middle schooler? He's on the high honor roll every marking period. What is there to worry about? you ask. Oh, let's see. Is he still being bullied? Will he be all right when his best friend transfers to private school next year? Is he too stressed to learn anything academically? Does he feel like a total misfit? Are there things stressing him out that he's not telling me? SHOULD he be telling me? I'm on the PTA, I take him to chorus, all-county chorus and drama club rehearsals. I support him in the newspaper club as well as help to supplement his artistic and musical interests. Should I be doing more? Could I be doing more? Which all boils down to the same question that haunts every parent I know:

Am I a bad parent?

I have stacks of parenting books on how to raise 'tweens, teens, boys, exceptional kids and every other category you can think of to stick a kid into. Have I read them all? Of course not. Who has time? But I wonder if I'm letting my son down by not making the time.

I'm not a helicopter parent by any means. I'm available to my son and he knows it. I'm involved in his school and he knows that too. We talk, and he knows I love him. But I also have a life and interests of my own. What I'm doing for him *feels* like it should be enough. So why am I waking up in the middle of the night worrying?

I'm starting to realize, it's because I'm a parent. And parents worry. No matter how much we can control, and no matter how much we *can't* control and so force ourselves to let go of, we still worry. I'm almost 45 years old and my parents still worry about me. I'm starting to think it will never stop.

The best I can do to ease my own mind is to liken parenting to teaching my kid to cross the street. If I hold his hand and we walk together, he'll learn to look both ways. Eventually he'll be able to do it himself, with me standing there watching and worrying until he makes it safe and sound. If I carry him across the street every time, I'll never have to worry because I know how to cross the street. But by the time he's too big to carry, all he'll know is that I'm not strong enough to carry him anymore; he won't know how to walk across himself.

I suppose that's my answer. I'm not a bad parent until I stop worrying. Because the day I stop worrying is the day I stop caring.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

If you had asked me 10 years ago whether I'd be a good dog owner, I'd have said 'sure!' because I knew very little about caring for dogs, even though we had a dog growing up. With a fence around our yard, all I had to do was open the door and let Lady out or in. Mom fed her every day, and when we went on vacation, my aunt and uncle next door took the dog while we were gone. As far as I knew, there was no work involved--just fun.

As a young twenty-something, I thought of babies the same way I used to think of dogs. Lots of fun, no real work except changing the occasional diaper. Yeah, I know. I was clueless about a lot of things back then.

My husband and brother-in-law often tell me that I let my children take advantage of me. Sure, I make threats to get them to do what they're supposed to, and I try to follow through, but come on. I also have to make dinner, walk the dogs, update my blog and a million other things. If they're still watching cartoons instead of doing homework, even though I threatened to take television away for a week, well how can I get anything done if I actually *do* that? The fact is, I can't I *need* the availability of television. Why can't they just do what they're told??

I never really put the ideas of dog ownership and parenting together in the same thought before. But this morning, I realized that not only am I sending the wrong message to my children, I'm sending the same message to my dogs.

After a morning walk, our beagle, Flash, likes to wrestle with Bailey, our lab. Despite being only half Bailey's size, Flash is relentless in his pursuit of entanglement. He'll chase Bailey, jump at his neck, roll over in front of him and attach himself to Bailey's heel, following him around in circles and barking ceaselessly until he gets some attention. Bailey, to his credit, will often play. If he's in the mood. But sometimes, he's just not, and I totally get that. When this is the case, he'll growl at Flash to make him go away.

It doesn't work.

So Bailey growls louder, more deeply, more menacingly. Flash remains unfazed. Ultimately, Bailey will bark a bark that would make a junkyard dog run the other way. It's downright scary to hear.

But not to Flash.

I keep waiting for Bailey to take a nip out of Flash, to really get the message across. "That would teach him," I think. "Let him know you mean it, Bailey!" I cry.

But Bailey just walks away. And in that moment, I see myself. Yelling louder, hurling ever more dire threats of, "You had betters..." and "Ooh, I'm gonnas...." and then leaving and ignoring the lack of compliance.

They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step in fixing it. Thanks to my dog, I realize I have some parenting skills to work on. Otherwise, like Flash, my kids will never take my threats seriously. Maybe we can do it together, Bailey and I. Like exercise, these things are always easier with a friend.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Distraction Faction

I am a mean mommy. I don't let my kids play video games, handheld or otherwise, on school days. On Fridays, I let Ben bring his DS to play on the school bus. His friends bring their game players every day, something Ben often points out.

But Ben has also accepted this rule of mine. Maybe because I choose prime moments to explain my motives. For example, one night he was playing Wii for about 45 minutes before dinner. When it was time to shut it off to come eat, he got loud and combative. When the answer was still "time for dinner. Turn it off," he got whiny. And so, like any good mother, over dinner I explained the connection between his jumpy, crack-addict behavior and what the light-speed action on his video game does to his brain. To have to go from dodging speeding dragons, cars and other flying objects all while trying to capture gold coins and not die, to a quiet family dinner is like slamming your brain into a brick wall. (Some may offer that sitting down to ANY family dinner is like slamming one's brain into a brick wall, but that's another post for another day).

He didn't like the answer, but one thing about Ben is that he's very attuned to his body. When he feels *that* uncomfortable, but can understand a possible connection to a cause, he'll go with it.

No, I don't offer any scientific studies or stats for my argument. It just seems logical to me, and I guess it seems logical to Ben because he doesn't question it. Even if it's not about understanding his body, I think he at least likes having an understanding of why his mother sets such stupid rules.

So on a recent Wednesday, I picked Ben and a friend up from school. I handed each of them a bag of Transformers fruit snacks, which they promptly opened. DS game in his lap, his friend asked me why Ben isn't allowed to bring is DS to school.

"I am allowed, on Fridays," Ben answered before I could. Then he commented on the character his fruit snack was and asked his friend which character he got.

"I never really notice the characters," he said.

And that made me smile. Because Ben notices EVERYTHING. He always has, and still does. I can't say for certain that it's because I withhold video games. But knowing that he doesn't have something in his pocket to distract him from his world all the time is enough scientific proof for me that I'm making the right choice. No matter how mean a mommy it makes me.