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


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.