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Herding Cats

October 9, 2015 Leave a comment

I am now the mother of two teenagers.  I can scarcely believe it myself.  It all happened so fast and now I’m keenly aware of how little time I have left to parent these people.  And by parent, I mean the daily influences and guidance, because I know the give me money and buy me things part of parenting will never, ever end.  But when I look at these two, I see this:

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Not this:

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Back then, I was new.  I was struggling, I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep.  But I kept the faith.  I knew it would get easier.  When the baby sleeps through the night, it will get easier.  When they can bathe themselves, it will get easier.  When I can leave the house without juice cups and pull ups, it will get easier.  Sooner or later, I will catch on to this mom thing and it will get easier.

Well, all things in perspective.  It is easier in that I don’t have to lean over a bathtub and wash little people’s hair.  If I don’t feel like cooking, they are old enough to feed themselves.  I did catch on to the mom thing, at least a little.  I know what to do about teething.  I can handle nightmares, loose teeth and learning how to read.  The problem is that I don’t need to know any of those things anymore.  Parenting is chasing a moving target.  As soon as I get a handle on a thing, I don’t need that thing anymore.  And bonus points for me for having a two children who have not one thing in common and have required a completely different mommy skill set since the day my sweet girl laid eyes on her fresh baby brother and then refused to so much as look at me, so great was the betrayal.

So, teenagers.  We have passed that stage of me telling them what to do and how to live.  (I do ask that no one ever share that with my daughter, who is well-known for demanding that I stop telling her how to live her life.  The only reasonable response to that is, “That’s literally my job.”)  The way I see it, the foundation has already been laid.  Now it’s my job to guide rather than to issue orders.  Please don’t misunderstand, I will not hesitate to issue orders should it become necessary,  It’s just that at the ages they are now, specifically my daughter, who is a mere two years away from leaving my home and going out into the world by herself, they should be, and need to be, capable of making responsible decisions for themselves.  This requires me to relinquish a certain amount of control.  That is not in my wheelhouse.  This is hard.

My son lacks a certain amount of self motivation.  He will do what is asked of him, and do it well, but he’s not putting anything extra out there.  Example.  He recently finished a research paper and got an outstanding grade on it.  Then, each student was asked to do an oral presentation on that paper.  It could be as simple as reading the paper or as elaborate and creative as they desired.  But, here’s the rub.  It’s not graded.  Little guy (sorry, I know he’s not little anymore, but he has always been, and shall always remain, my little guy) decided to just read the paper.  Because it’s not graded.  I recommended that he put forth a little effort.  He resisted.  I backed off.  After all, there’s no grade.  However, I heartily disapproved and I had a long talk about forming habits and striving for excellence and how an average effort produces an average life.  And he still declined to put forth more effort.  And I backed off.  I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt me to do that.  Every fiber of me wanted to force that boy to sit down and get to work.  But I’m not always going to be there to push him that extra step.  He has to be capable of making that decision for himself.  He has to choose to be exceptional.   I walked away from that conversation pretty confident that my feelings on the topic had fallen on deaf ears, but hey, I’m nothing if not persistent.  I can voice my opinions as many times as necessary.

That being the case, I could not have been more shocked and proud the next day when he reported to me that not only had he decided to do a PowerPoint for his presentation, but also while he was at school that day he had taken tests in five subjects, then completed twenty-five extra pages of math work.  Now, THAT is what I call striving for excellence.  He was listening, after all.  And he made a smart and responsible decision.  Most importantly, he did what I wanted him to do and if there’s a greater accomplishment for a mom, I just don’t know what it is.

Look, I’m bossy.  That’s a great quality when the kids are little.  It’s much harder now that I have to parent with restraint and subtlety.  But I might be starting to get a handle on it.  In the next couple years, I might even become an expert at it.  Just in time for them to go to college and need a whole new kind of mom.

herding-cats

It’s Mathtastic!

August 16, 2012 10 comments

I am an intelligent person.  I took all the advanced classes in school. I made good grades.  I function well in life.  I am almost able to beat Hubs at trivial pursuit.  I can correct grammatical errors in a flash.  I can spell well, I have well-developed logic and I have a mind like a steel trap.  In short, I’m no dummy.

However, I hate math.  I am capable of doing math, but since I’m grown and I have access to Google, calculators and live with two males with numbers in their brains, then I have the option to avoid math.  And I do.  I sooooo do.  If the kids need help with their math homework, they’d better find their father, because I’m having no part of it.  My kids, obviously, are aware of my aversion to math.  They come to me for help with English, Writing and History.  Sometimes Science.  I do not swear at Science (okay, on occasion I do, but that’s another post for another day).  I do swear at math, all the time.  It’s evil and tricky and it’s out to get me.   When I first discovered letters co-mingling with my numbers, it was the worst kind of betrayal.  Numbers are like a foreign language and they don’t even make a number-to-regular brain dictionary.  So, even though I can do math, I have no love for math.  Unless I need to figure out a tip or double a fraction in a recipe, I’m leaving it alone.  I’ll ask my ten-year-old to figure out simple math problems for me.  There’s no shame in my game.

via knowyourmeme.com

My daughter also has a rocky relationship with math.  She does pretty well, but it doesn’t come easy for her.  I have always been careful about my approach to math around her.  After all, who wants to propagate that ugly stereotype that girls suck at math?  Not me.  Girls don’t hate math.  I hate math.  And by nature or nurture, Cutie dislikes math, too.  We like things that make sense, like words.  But, for her, at least, it’s a cross that must be borne, at least until she finishes school and gets a lucrative enough job to move out of my house.  With the new school year upon us, we had a conversation last night about math.  It went something like this.

Mom: I got good grades in Algebra, but I never liked it.  You know what I liked, was Trigonometry.  That was easy and pretty fun.  Now, Calculus, ugh.  No one should ever take Calculus.  It’s of the devil.

Cutie:  Mom, I thought you had to be really smart to get into classes like Trigonometry.

Mom:  Well, those were the advanced…wait a minute.  You just called me dumb.

Cutie:  I did not!  You are the smartest person I know and also really pretty and young and thin.

Okay.  That’s not what she said.  That’s what a good child would have said.  What my kid said was this:

“I didn’t call you dumb.  I just meant, I thought you had to be REALLY smart for those classes.  I mean, like, really good at it.”

Yeah, yeah.  She called me dumb.  Cutie better recognize.  Not only am I smart enough to breeze through Trig, I am also smart enough to know when to wave the white flag at the Calculus that’s kicking my ass.  Further, I am smart enough to avoid all math forever after.  I’m even smart enough to birth a child to do my math for me, a human pocket calculator, if you will.  To Cutie’s credit, the backpedaling was immediate and furious, and to no avail.  She’s going to be hearing a lot about Mom’s stupidity, for a long time to come.

Mind like a steel trap, you know.

When Mom Goes to the Beach

August 5, 2012 4 comments

As you may have surmised from my last post and my recent lack of rambling posts about nothing, we just got back from vacation.  It was a magnificent time at the beach and it took me back to my childhood vacations in many ways, with one big difference.  This go ‘round, I’m the mom.  A day at the beach is a lot different when you’re the mom.  It’s not exactly a day at the beach. (hardy har.)  Here are five ways being the mom makes the beach more complicated.

Beach Supplies

Remember when you would grab a beach towel and a trashy novel and hit the sand?  Those days are gone, my friends.  These days I’m packing a cooler with two kinds of beverages and three varieties of snacks, stuffing a beach bag with band-aids, extra goggles and three degrees of sunscreen and juggling beach chairs and umbrellas onto the sand.

Bathing Suits

Hats off to the moms who have reclaimed their pre-mom bodies and rock the bikinis on the beach (I am not one of those.)  However, even the most slender, fit mom has to consider some things other than color and form when she selects her suit.  Will this suit allow me to race after a child on the beach?  Can I dive under the waves to rescue a child without coming up topless?  If I wrestle a child out of a tantrum, am I going to flash the entire east coast?  No matter what your figure, Mommy bathing suits have to be made of sturdier stuff than the eentsy weentsy bikinis of our yesteryear.

Beach Naps

Is there anything more sinfully indulgent as a hazy nap on the hot sand, with the sun soaking into your skin?  That’s a serious question, because I honestly have no recollection.  Every minute that my children allow me to escape to the sand, I am on constant watch to be certain that no one has been sucked into the ocean, eaten by a shark, or joined the wrong family on the beach, probably because they packed better snacks than I did.

Waves

My kids love to go out deep into the ocean and float along with the waves.  This is all fine and good, until the occasional big kahuna breaks right on top of your head, and the ocean knocks you down and tumbles you merrily along the ocean floor.  You know what’s terrifying about this? I mean, aside from the fact that the ocean is trying to swallow me up… I can’t see my kids now.  I know I am unlikely to be killed or swept away by a rogue wave, but every minute that I don’t have eyes on my children in deep water is just a heart attack waiting to happen.

Sunburn

I believe that children, at least my children, should have special application instructions on sunscreen bottles.  Waterproof for eighty minutes, my ass.  I don’t know what we’re doing wrong, other than refusing to acknowledge that my children are so pale as to be nearly transparent, but we have to reapply more like every fifteen minutes.  And I’d better have aloe and Solarcaine waiting back at the hotel anyway.  Because I will miss a spot (or five).  Wriggling, over excited children and full coverage sunscreen do not a happy combination make.

The essentials via dinodirect.com

I don’t mean to grumble about the beach, though, nor about my kids (although I do a lot.  Just keepin’ it real.)  There are some ways that my kids make the beach even better than it was when I was a beach towel-toting, nap-taking teenager in a strapless (strapless!!!!) bikini.

Sand Castles

I don’t care who you are, you look like a fool carrying a pile of primary colored buckets and shovels onto the beach.  Unless, of course, you’re accompanied by a kid or two.  Who among us doesn’t love to build a sand castle?  Kids give us an excuse to stock all the appropriate plastic tools and implements without looking silly.  They’re also always willing to run to the ocean to refill the water bucket and are truly outstanding moat diggers.

Drinks and Snacks

Remember that cooler full of drinks and snacks that you had to lug to the beach for the kids?  It’s pretty nice to have after a couple of hours of burning calories trying to keep your footing in the ocean.   Just don’t let the kids see you with your face in a bag of Goldfish, cookie-monster style.  It’s hard to maintain your dignity in those moments.

Seaweed

When you’re swimming in the ocean and something suddenly wraps itself around your ankle, you may understandably commence a convoluted routine of shrieking gyrations to free yourself.  Take heart in the fact that your kids also probably wandered into the same seaweed garden with a similar reaction.  While everyone is staring in alarm at the shrieking child, you have time to collect yourself and say, very calmly, “Don’t worry, dear.  It’s just seaweed.  It can’t hurt you.”

Sharks

Sharks don’t always eat people, but when they do, they prefer people whose mothers aren’t watching. (No, there is no end to the variations on this commercial.)  I have never seen so much as a shark fin in real life, but I am ever vigilant.  I know exactly what’s circling in the water and when we’re going to need a bigger boat.  This isn’t the best defense against sharks, but it does come in handy if a jellyfish floats by, or if the guy down the beach loses his hat in the water.

Broken sea shells

No one on earth appreciates the beauty of a broken sea shell like a child.  I have, at this moment, an enormous pile of broken sea shells at the bottom of my beach bag, all collected by children who have found beauty in what I consider to be essentially sea-trash.  There’s something about this that tugs at my heart and reminds me to stop being so cynical and just enjoy what we have at this moment, even if it’s not whole and perfect.

Our vacation was not perfect, but it was no broken shell.  Each day began on the beach and ended with ice cream and it’s hard to go wrong with that.  (Also, our house did not burn down while we were away.)

My toes in the sand. Bliss.

 

My Gigantic Children

July 15, 2012 7 comments

Okay, yes, yes, my kids are growing up and getting old.  Awfully fast.  This is not news.  I’ve spoken of it before, but no parent on earth needs to be told about it, because you’re living it, too.  While I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how smart and independent they’re getting, I have overlooked one important thing.  They are getting huge.

Yesterday I had to order new sparring gear for my ten-year-old son.  For those that don’t know, you have to measure head, foot, hand and shin for the proper fit.  With tears in my eyes and a catch in my throat, I ordered my little boy a size adult medium.  ADULT MEDIUM.  Out of sheer curiosity, I made him hold his hand to mine and I discovered that his beefy little palm is very nearly the same width as mine.  And I am not a small girl.  This boy is well on his way to being a behemoth Shaq-sized kid.

Now, if you’re tempted to chalk this up to his boyness, I need to tell you about a time when my daughter was about ten and we had a blissful summer when she wore the same size shoes as I did and my flip-flop collection doubled.  I was giddy with the idea of sharing shoes.  (It’s not gross, she’s my kid!)  Then she outgrew them.  Oh, yes, you read that right.  My daughter wears bigger shoes than I do and, again, I do not have small feet.  I wear an 8 1/2 on a good day if I don’t mind pinching my toes a little.

So, after I have so recently made peace with the idea that my kids are half-grown and I’m about to have a teenager, I now have to deal with the fact that, in a few short years, I’m going to be dwarfed by both of my children.  I’m pretty tall for a woman and I have big feet and I’m used to being above average size.  (I’m talking about bone structure.  I’m not going to discuss my fluffiness today.)  When I had a baby boy, I figured he would one day be taller than me and it was kind of cute and funny to think about.  Well, now that it’s staring me in the face, it’s not so cute anymore.  And it’s really not cute to know that my daughter is likely to pass me up, too.  I’m going to be the shrimp of the family.

I place the blame for this squarely where it belongs, with my husband’s freakish Scandinavian genetics.  You want to talk about some big kids…they grow some BIG kids.  I don’t know why I thought I would be immune or why I thought that my own genes would even have the slimmest chance to shine through.  This is a family in which cousins look more alike that most siblings do in normal families.  If you put all those cousins in a room and tried to match them to their parents, you could never do it.  They all look alike.  (Luckily, they’re all stunningly beautiful and I swear I’m not biased.)  The spouses are just along for the ride, we really have nothing to offer to the gene pool.

Anyway, to my point, Hubs family are all very tall and all the boys and men are built like linebackers.  My children are no different and they’re growing into their genes faster than I would like.  In some ways, it’s nice to know that they won’t be fragile and dainty.  But I’d be lying if I said I weren’t alarmed by the fact that my twelve-year-old has, maybe, two more years of literally looking up to me.  I’m worried about what’s going to happen to my grocery bills when my son hits his teenage growth spurts.  Oh, I remember my nephews at that age.  I remember looking in my sister-in-law’s fridge with my mouth hanging open at the sheer volume of milk, hot dogs and bologna to feed three boys for a week (or less).  I’m nervous about being the “little one,” because I never have been and I don’t think I’m going to like it.  I am already unnerved to stand on tiptoe to hug my nephews.  There’s nothing quite so bizarre as being called “Aunt” by someone who stands a good foot taller than you.

I’m glad my children are growing tall and strong.  This has, obviously, always been the goal.  They are healthy and beautiful.  I just don’t want them to get bigger than me.  Is my mama voice going to work on a kid towering over me?  How effective is that “you’re in trouble” look going to be if I’m looking up?  Since they’ve got me beat in size, I guess I’m just going to have to increase my meanness now, while I can still take them out.  There is no better argument than, “You might be bigger, but I’m meaner.”  Also, I’m your mama.  I win.  Maybe I’ll just grab the silver lining and make them carry groceries and move furniture for me.

 

My Kids are OLD!

April 9, 2012 Leave a comment

On Easter Eve, we traditionally dye Easter eggs.  I am showing my bad mommy-ness by admitting that this is not an activity I particularly enjoy, but it’s something I’ve done every year because my kids LOVE IT.  I mean, they love it with a passion that defies explanation.  This year, though, something different happened.  They did it by themselves.  In my defense, that was just fine with them, because hubs and I weren’t hogging any of the eggs.  They had thirty-five (yes, one cracked) glorious blank canvases on which to display their Easter love.

My kids have been doing things on their own for a while now, but this was a biggie, because there were a bunch of little cups of permanent dye involved.  They didn’t even spill any!  My babies are growing up.

Sometimes it's hard not to miss these days, but now they can empty the dishwasher!

There’s a part of me that’s sad about this.  Of course, I miss my tiny little darlings who needed mommy every step of the way.  On the other hand, they needed mommy every step of the way!  There’s a much bigger part of me that celebrates their growing  up.  It’s not just because my life keeps getting easier and easier, though I’d by lying if I said that wasn’t a factor.  After all, who wants to spend their evenings bathing children and making them stay in bed?  Really, it’s more that I so much enjoy seeing them grow up and grow into themselves.  I get to see the people they’re becoming and it’s exhilarating.

I can do things with them that I actually enjoy, instead of sitting on the floor pretending I like Candy Land or playing Barbie.  My daughter bakes with me.  My son runs with me.  We watch movies as a family that we all really enjoy.  We read some of the same books.  They make me laugh unexpectedly and surprise me with their insight and creativity.

Ever since my children were born, everyone told me to enjoy every minute because it passes so quickly.  This is sound advice, because it really does happen in the blink of an eye.  I wouldn’t trade the experience of their babyhood and toddler years for anything.  But you know what?  This part is just as good.  This part is when I get to see who they really are.  They’re not a reflection of me and hubs.  They are their own individuals and I rejoice every day that I am blessed enough to be their mother.  Do I sometimes miss holding a sleeping baby?  Of course I do, I have a heart, after all!  But I would much rather sit down and have a meaningful conversation with my children and hear the opinions that they have. 

My babies are growing up and mommy is growing up with them.  We keep changing together and, while it’s okay to get a bit sentimental from time to time, we embrace the moments that we have.  You know, it will pass in a blink of an eye.

Thoughts from the Maid

March 26, 2012 3 comments

It’s Monday and that means it’s housecleaning day.  Not only will I be cleaning the house, but I’ll also be harboring all sorts of resentment and low-grade anger at my family.  Always multitasking.

Let me be clear.  I work full-time, I just happen to have Mondays off.  The rest of my family has Saturdays off, like regular people.  While I’m at work on Saturday, they do Saturday things, enjoying their down time.  When I get off work on Saturday, I rush into the house and clean up the kitchen so we can cook dinner.  It’s become glaringly obvious that I truly am the only one who can load the dishwasher. The few times they have tried, they have done a wretched job of it.  I have my suspicions about that, but I’ll get to that later.  My point is, I work 50 hours a week.  I don’t have tons of time for myself.  On Mondays, when I truly have a chance to enjoy some things just for me, I am cleaning the damn house.  This is not my job.  We all live here.  We all track dirt on the floors, eat off dishes, use the bathroom and leave our things lying around.  This is a job for all of us, but again and again, it falls to me.  Naturally, it pisses me off.

Problem one – they don’t care much about clean.  The house has to get to a truly awful state before anyone else cares very much about cleaning it.  I have, for years, been told that I’m some kind of freak because I insist on weekly cleanings.  I think this is normal, yes?  Once a week floor and bathroom cleanings and dusting and such?  If anything, it might be a little on the lazy side, because some weeks my floors horrify me and anyone else who wanders into the house.  And some weeks, I don’t dust because I just don’t feel like it.

Problem two – they suck at cleaning. This is likely a result of problem one.  My family seems not to see dirt, so therefore they can’t eradicate it properly.  After years of trying to teach them to sweep a floor, I’ve given up.  I’ve tried to teach them to load the dishwasher, to no avail.  My husband and kids are all highly intelligent and capable people and I refuse to believe that they can’t learn to operate a mop.  I have suspected for years that they’re doing it on purpose.  If they do a crappy job, I will eventually stop asking.  Or they can protest, “I’ll do it, but it’s never good enough for you.” (insert pout)  No, it’s not good enough for me, so just do it better.

Problem three – I am easily distracted.  I might wake up one Sunday morning and announce that we’re going to clean the house today.  Everyone immediately comes up with a hundred more fun, interesting, relaxing other things that we should do.  I do enjoy spending time with my family and this is the only day I have to do it, so it’s not hard for them to derail my plans.  In addition, while it will only take us maybe an hour to get the house clean, it’s going to take me at least three hours to get everyone involved and most days, it’s just not worth the effort.

Right now I’m waiting for my floors to dry so I can finish cleaning, then go outside and mow, trim and dig in the dirt, which is something that’s necessary, but also something that I enjoy a whole heck of a lot more than dusting.  I also made a reckless promise to make chocolate orange  brownies today and you can bet the hubs is going to hold me to it. (I’m a stupid girl like that sometimes.)  What I need, what I am desperate for, is a solution to my cleaning conundrum. I am not the maid and I’m tired of feeling like it.  I’m tired of cleaning up after everyone and I’m tired of resenting them for it.  How do you keep your house clean?  How do you convince your family to pull their weight?  After all, I’m not the one who dripped a popsicle through the whole damn house, but I am the one mopping every floor.  In addition to the normal frustrations of cleaning up after these people, the popsicle dripper had the cojones to tell me yesterday, “This floor is a mess, Mom.  You need to mop today.”  What what what?!!!  This situation has clearly spiraled out of control and I owe it to this tiny beast’s future wife and family to rectify this now.

This is my cry for help.  Please deliver me from these slobs that live in my house.

Judgey McJudgerson and the Merry Band of Moms

March 19, 2012 Leave a comment

There is no shortage of judgemental people in the world, I’m sorry to say.  But there is no group more vicious, hurtful and destructive than judgemental moms.  Moms are doing a very hard job and most of us are pretty sure, in our heart of hearts, that we are screwing up our kids beyond repair.  A big part of why we feel that way are the moms standing by with stern looks, telling us that we’re doing it all wrong.  From our prenatal vitamins to childbirth to how we choose to feed our babies to whether we choose to work outside the home, some would have us believe that we’re screwing up at every turn.

I know something about maternal insecurity.  When my eldest was born, I immediately knew I was doing something wrong because my baby wouldn’t eat.  After meeting with a lactation consultant and fighting the nurses who wanted to give her a bottle, she finally decided to nurse, after a worrisome day and night.  We never did quite gel on the whole nursing thing, but I managed to get in a good three months with her before she flatly refused to nurse anymore.  You see, back then I didn’t know about nursing strikes.  I know now that if I had persisted, she would have come around and we could have continued breastfeeding as long as I liked (which, by the way, would have been way longer than three months.)  To this day she is more susceptible to illness than her brother, whose first birthday weaning was reminiscent of a junkie breaking a bad smack habit.  I am sure that I made a bad decision in my inexperience.  I also know that I made the best decision that I could and no real harm came to my baby.  In short, I forgave myself for not knowing everything.

Now imagine an internet full of superior moms pointing their virtual finger at me during that heart-wrenching time.  It would have completely broken me.  Yet there are plenty of moms out there who are itching for the chance to tell their sister mommies all the reasons that their way is not only the best way, but the only correct way.  This is the most despicable behavior I’ve ever witnessed.  Really, how dare you?

I believe that it really does take a village.  We owe it to each other to share our experiences, our beliefs and our advice.  There’s a fine line between advice and judgement and we must tread it carefully.  I am a woman of strong opinions and I admit that I have had moments when I strongly disagreed with things that I’ve seen other moms do.  The critical decision that I make, every single time, is to keep my mouth shut.  It is not my place to raise anyone else’s children.  My job is to raise my own children in the best way I can and allow every other mom to make her own decisions, based on her experience, her priorities and what is best for her family.  It’s just not my business.  The odds that I really understand all the factors that led her to those choices are miniscule, anyway, so how dare I presume to judge?

I am certain that there are moms out there who disagree with the things I do.  I have seen a few of them staring at me in Walmart from time to time.  Fortunately, I have developed a couple of skills over the years to protect my delicate mommy ego from such attacks.  The first is the “who do you think you are” look.  This has never failed me.  The second, though, is more important.  It is the knowledge that I’m doing what I believe is right for us, all the time.  I know that I won’t always do everything right, but I know that I will always do the best I can.  My kids are old enough now to know that, too.  As long as I hold onto that, there is no snooty mom acting out on her own insecurities who can tear me down.

There are as many different ways of raising our children as there are different kinds of kids.  There is no right way to do it.  All there is, is the right way for YOU.  Find your way and carry on.  Nothing anyone else says or does matters.  You do yourself a disservice if you allow it to matter.  And if you catch yourself behaving like a McJudgerson, stop it and ask yourself why.  Why do you care so much everyone else’s kids?  Wouldn’t your attention be better focused on your own parenting?  We would all do better to abide by the lessons we learned in grade school.  Mind your own beeswax.