Tag Archive | parenting

Two Kids. Two Different Spring Breaks.

The best part of spring break so far: This.  Fucking this.

The best part of spring break so far: This. Fucking this. And for the record, this is not Switzerland or Park City.  It’s the park by my house in Chicago.  It was our spring break destination.

 

Let’s play a game.

Okay.  Sit up.  Put on your thinking cap, your listening ears and your big girl pants.  Think long and hard before you answer this question because valuable prizes await you.  Deep breaths.  Do a few push ups to really get your blood flowing.  Beat your chest.  Brush your hair.  Toss back a breath mint.

Ready?

Okay.

Question: What is the best part of having two kids with two different spring breaks?

If you guessed abso-fucking-lutely nothing, then you win.  Pat yourself on the back and tune in to QVC right now– whatever they are selling, buy it.  You deserve it.  Give them my credit card number.  My password is FckSprgBrk

Because spring break, can so suck it.  And I’m not even mad at the weather, though I have every stinking right to be.

Here’s how spring break is going down in my house.  Sadie went first.  Of course her spring break was really a winter break since it snowed every other day, but I digress.  (What the world needs now is a few more bloggers complaining about the weather.  Amiright?)  Anyway, each morning I had to drag her out of bed and explain that no, she wasn’t going to school, but Simon was and she had to get in the car with us.  Then, both of them would burst into spasms of devastation: Sadie because she wasn’t going to school; Simon because he was.

It made our normal, both-kids-going-school routine seem like a morning at my favorite spa, the one where Enya plays nonstop and some hot Cuban guy hands me fresh strawberries and cucumber water.

Oh the keening of my children for the other’s experience.

To survive the break, I planned wonderful activities for me and Sadie to do while Simon was in school.  As I explained those to Sadie, Simon choked on his own grief.

It was terrible.  All of it.

The good news is that we can relieve all of those special moments in two weeks when Simon’s spring break starts.  Extra bonus for all: Simon’s spring break lasts for two weeks.  Whatkindofschoolbreaksfortwoweeks?  When I think of ten more days of the uninterrupted strife I will endure as I try to parent two people who seem more like soap opera stars than little children, my mind goes blank.  Like that blue screen that shows up when your computer is trying to tell you to go fuck yourself  in its mute, computer-y way.

There must be a way to do this better.  But I can’t think of it.  All I can do is see that blank screen in my mind and feel my body shaking with dread so strong I think I might give myself shingles.

Someone please help me.

 

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Partner Travels During the Week? Lower Your Standards

Here’s a shout-out to all the parents whose partners travel during the week.   Jeff’s traveled since Sadie was about a year old, so I’ve amassed some advice to share.

Basically, I’ve finally learned to have two different sets of standards: one for when Jeff’s in town and one when he’s not.

Example: When Jeff is here, we do family dinner at the table and you are 99% likely to find proteins, vegetables and a whole grain starch on the table.  On those nights, we all sit in chairs and have discussions that begin thusly: “Sadie and Simon, what were your favorite parts of the day?”

However, on the nights when I solo parent, you are more likely to find me scraping food off the floor to serve to my children than to find a bona fide protein source that I cooked by hand.  I actually haven’t sat down to eat a meal since Monday night, right before Jeff left.  Come to think of it, Sadie ate her “dinner” while riding atop our rocking horse (which she dressed up like Yoda, because why not?).  Not to be outdone, Simon found his digestive bliss while sitting on the potty.  Me?  I stood at the island checking the weather, thinking that if a snow storm or weather system was on its way and likely to deter or delay Jeff’s flight, then I was going to make a run for it.  On foot.  In the rain.  Without a sports bra.

Mama, I'm hungry!

Mama, I’m hungry!

For years, I’ve tried to run the same ship when we were down one parent.  I’ve berated myself for being more short-tempered, for cutting corners, and being less playful when Jeff was gone.  The guilt of turning to the devices of Apple, Inc. to entertain the kids so I can get the dishes washed or take a shower before work has eroded pieces of my soul.  (And the soul doesn’t grow back overnight.  It’s not a goddamned earthworm.)

It simply doesn’t work to keep the same standards on the weeks that Jeff is gone. Period.

 And it’s Jeff’s fault.  If he were just a figurehead or a pop-in-right-before-bedtime dad, I wouldn’t miss him as much.  But he’s busy when he’s home: he does most of the cooking, half of the bedtime routine, half of the morning routine (and how fucking soul-destroying can that piece of the day be?).  Come to think of it, he does at least half of everything.  He’s not perfect– he’s not great with washing dishes and doesn’t seem to realize we have a dirty clothes hamper, but he’s super involved in the big stuff.  Like parenting.  He also must do all of lots of stuff I know nothing about since I am busy doing none of it.  See changing light bulbs, killing rats in the mini-van, explaining to the children how ice gets into the ice maker, and balancing the check book.

My point is that parenting is like a table and if two legs are knocked off it, then the table can’t stand up straight. It’s going to wobble and shit’s gonna slide off of it.  And that’s okay, because there won’t be anyone around to see you scoop stuff off the floor and serve it for dinner.

I Shared The Books of My Childhood With My Kids, But They Cried and Begged Me to Stop

All whipped up in a froth of nostalgia, I started sharing my favorite childhood things with my kids.  I pictured them embracing their history through the “antique” items that represented my youth.  Because they already know Blue Baby, they were right to be cautious about stuff from Mommy’s childhood.

How can my kids resist the toys from my childhood?

How can my kids resist the toys from my childhood?

But still, they’d come around on Blue Baby, so I assumed they would see beneath the scars of love and overuse to embrace the “new” toys I was introducing them to.

What actually happened is that they not only rejected half of the relics, but some of them actually seemed to distress and traumatize them.  The themes of the books I loved were troubling to their modern sensibilities.  Apparently, my kids don’t like stories about poachers or near-death-by-drowning or the arrogance of “Man” vis-a-vis the animal kingdom.  Where in the world did these radical children come from?  Commies.

It shouldn’t have hurt my feelings, but I confess I felt dissed.  Then I felt ridiculous when I heard myself saying, “Just ignore the part where Babar’s mom was murdered! Wait till you see him get married. It’s the coolest!”

Fine.  Your American Girl dolls are fancier than Blue Baby; your muddled and incomprehensible Dora stories are better than Babar.  I just hope I live long enough to meet my grandchildren and roll out the crap my kids think is so freaking awesome and timeless.  I will have the last laugh here, even if I have to live to 90 to get it.

To read about how my children reacted as we plowed through Babar, Curious George, and other classics from my 1970’s childhood, click here.

Not-the-Last Fight With My Four-Year-Old Daughter

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The storm started in a quiet moment when I was working a puzzle with Simon in that dead-zone before it’s time to get dinner ready but after all the positive energy of the day had been spent on school and surviving the afternoon.  “Look! I found Iron Man’s hand,” I beamed because even 40-year olds need victories after a long holiday weekend.  Sadie’s fury began to gather steam by the window.  She was trying, unsuccessfully, to tape a valentine to the window.  Her solution was to stomp her feet and sigh loud enough to get my attention.

So that’s how this is going to go, huh?

I told her in my genuinely calm voice that when she was ready to ask me for help, I’d happily help her execute her vision of taping the heart to the window.  With great effort, I focused on the puzzle and let her work it out.  If this escalated, it wasn’t going to be my fault.

Of course it escalated.

Soon I was using my fake calm voice, and she was way past discussion.  My words were like a match to her flaming fury and when she spat at me, I felt my own pilot light flare and surge with blue-white heat.

I should just absorb her rage– I’m the parent, the adult, the one with the therapist.  I should not be reacting.

She ran and I followed, the air crackling with dispensed rage.  When I reached her, I held her as she squirmed like a feral animal.  My instinct was to hold her tighter– not to hurt her but to let her know that I am stronger.  I am stronger than her rage and her fatigue and her boredom and her frustration at being little in a big person’s world.   I wanted her to know she could test me with all her might, but still, even though I was angry, I was still stronger and I could take whatever she was dishing out.

I wanted her to know. I wanted me to know.

I spoke first.  Real-calm had returned to my voice.  She sniffled, unenthusiastic about making eye contact.  I touched her chin, “Please look at Mommy.”  When she did, I tossed my script about appropriate behavior to the curb.  Instead I said, “You’re angry with me, right?” She nodded.  “I feel angry too.  We’re angry at each other and we had a fight.  That’s what just happened.  We had a fight.”

She smiled.  I’d finally made something simple instead of more complicated.  A parenting first.  “It was just a fight, Sweetie.  We gotta learn how to fight fairly, though, okay?”  She nodded.

The air moved with the pulse of our newly-won peace.  “We had a fight,” Sadie said, testing the words like she tastes a new food. Tentative.  Willing but unsure.

I looked at Sadie. “It probably wasn’t our last, Sweetie.”

Two beats passed.  “Definitely not, Mom.”

I felt closer to her when it was over.  There was an intimacy to all that rage.  But I still hated it.  I want to get along with my preschooler. I want to keep my cool. I want her deplorable and age-appropriate behavior not to trigger me.  I want it to be our last fight.

But it’s definitely not.  I’m struggling to make peace with that.

My Four Year Old Wants To Chop Her Hair Off

Mama can't let go!

Mama can’t let go!

The plan was simple. I was going to be a mom who knew which battles to pick.  That is, I wasn’t going to sweat it when my kids wanted to plaster the walls of their room with obscure German punk bands or vintage Ralph Macchio posters.  I also wasn’t going to power struggle over their clothing choices so long as their private parts were covered.  When it came to their bodies, my guiding principle was to let them be.  I was prepared to honor just about anything they did in the name of creativity and self-expression.

Then, my actual child started asking me for a hair cut.  My daughter, she of the lovely curls around which I had woven a bit of an identity, wanted a short, short hair cut. Like any good mother committed to honoring her daughter’s process, I ignored her.  I literally refused to engage in a conversation about her cutting off all of her curls.  I think the technical term is DENIAL.

Because she’s smarter than I am, she started pointing out people who had hair she wanted.  She held up a Harry Potter book and said, “This, Mama.”  In public, she voiced her desires, knowing I couldn’t very well ignore her all the way through Target.  And I couldn’t.

But I also couldn’t very well say to her, “No, honey, that’s not what you want.”  Rule numero uno in my parenting manifesto was (and is) Don’t invalidate children’s reality.  She wants what she wants.

Plan B was to hope she changed her mind.

It’s not working.  The only reason I have any solid ground on which to stand for not marching her over to Snippets Hair Salon is that sometimes she changes her mind.  Like when she begs for strawberry ice cream and then cries because she really wanted chocolate.  Or when she desperately wants to go to the park only to reach hysterics when she leans she had to forego a chance to take a bike ride.

She’s four.  She’s fickle.  I can’t very well take her at her word about something as drastic as a haircut, can I?

But I never wanted to be a mom that treated my kids like dolls to dress up and force to conform to my vision.  I also never thought a four-year-old girl would want to chop all of her hair off.

It’s a dilemma.  Next time she brings it up, I swear I will make an appointment and take her at her word.  I’ll let fate decide what happens to her glorious curls.  And if the end up on the salon floor, I’ll sweep them up and make myself a wig, since I’m the one who loves the damn curls so much.

For more on my curl quandary, clickety click here.

Newborn Babies and Book Manuscripts: Not Much To Look At But So Much To Love

This is beauty defined for a child born in Texas in 1973.

This is beauty defined for a child born in Texas in 1973.

When my first baby was born, I thought she was more beautiful than Lynda Carter in the TV series Wonder Woman, my previous standard for “most beautiful thing on Earth.” Other than a little birthmark on her temple from trying to squeeze herself outta my chute, there literally were no flaws.  I was helplessly, foolishly, blindly enamored with her.  I wouldn’t have changed one thing about her– not that high-pitched cry or her inability to sleep more than 3 hours.  Nothing.  I loved her; she was mine; we weren’t changing a thing.

And everyone agreed with me because that’s what you do with a new mother who has breast milk dribbling down her rotund stomach, and one eye shut from fatigue poisoning.

When I look back at pictures from that time and that tiny baby, I see that same newborn and admit that in a certain light, Lynda Carter had her beat in the looks department, mostly because in a lot of lights, newborn babies, including mine, don’t look very … human. Other people who were more human-looking than my newborn daughter: Steve Buscemi, Jared from Subway, and Yoda.  But as a new mother, I only saw perfection.  I had no idea how much better it would all get: She’d get more “normal” looking, I’d calm the fuck down, and eventually, we’d find a little family rhythm that allowed us to hum along in relative peace most of the time.

That’s how I feel about the book I’m writing.

That first draft was a newborn. Those hunky, wordy, messy pages.  Sure, I knew they needed work, but I still thought they were beautiful.  Maybe not Lynda Carter, but at least Linda Evans or Linda McNeal, my mom’s friend from the bowling league circa 1977.  I had the same helpless, foolish, blindness vision about the state of the draft and its beauty.

My first draft looked about as much like a “real book” as my daughter looked like a “real kid.”

Now I know that books start out about as beautiful as brand-spanking new babies, which is to say, they are definitely beautiful in their own weirdly wrinkled and scrawny way, but they get so much more accessible and gorgeous as they grow.

Like my daughter, my book had (and has) a lot of growing up to do.  So many changes and so much development still needs to happen.

I happened to look back at my early manuscript– handwritten pages of the opening scene written in April 2012.  Not so long ago, but long before half my characters were even born.  Before I knew about story arcs or plot points. All I knew then was that this thing was crowning, and I had to get it out.  Messy, bloody, uncomfortable.  Births are generally like that.  And while my children’s births were surgical, my book’s birth is vaginal– lots of pushing, sweating, swearing, pleas to be delivered.  It’s raw and it’s unmedicated (but only because I can’t find the epidural that lasts as long as it takes me to write a book) and it requires strength and stamina that I just can’t believe I have within me.

Those pages from the beginning, they started it all.  Almost all the words from that scene have been cut or changed (also, I’m not sure it’s actually a “scene”), but the seed is there.  Just like how I can see in those pictures of my daughter’s first days of life, the flicker of her spirit that I know and love today.  She was in there; she always was.  She just needed time and space to grow up.

Just like my book.

Making Every Mistake In “The Parenting Book”

 

open book

 

Am I going to have to make every single parenting mistake in the book? You know, THE BOOK, the one where sage wisdom is collected. It says stuff like “walk your kids back to their beds when they show up at yours or your lazy ass is gonna have helluva time getting them out.”  That BOOK.

According to the tests of the material in that BOOK, I’m an average student.  And that’s if you grade on a curve.  In reality, I’m sort of below-average and that’s a hard rock for this valedictorian to swallow.

As alluded to above, I have a small child that comes to my bed every night.  He comes when we are already asleep, which means he’s not interfering with “adult” time, but still.  It’s like sleeping with a windmill or an angry judo master.  Chop Chop Chop go his arms and legs all night long.  Jeff and I take turns acting like shields for the other when Simon crawls into bed.

Just walk him back to bed, right? Of course.  Except, that requires me navigating a flight of stairs.  And it’s cold.  And he won’t stay in his room without a battle royale, so screw it.  He says; we get bruised in our sleep.

Then, there’s schedule.  My kids are under five, so of course I know not to overschedule them.  But I did. Oh yes I did, because I got sick of lying around at home watching them fight over toys they ignore until the other one shows interest.  In addition to preschool, I’ve got them in soccer, art, golf, tennis, gymnastics.  It’s insane. It’s not recommended by the BOOK.  In my defense, I’m not building a get-into-college resume; I’m trying to survive the polar vortex.

The BOOK also suggests less snacking so kids will eat meals.  My kids have trained me to get them a snack to tide them over as they walk from the living room to the kitchen.  A twenty-foot walk.  Yessiree, I pack them pretzels or Graham crackers so they can walk to the other end of our modest townhouse.

Insane.

Bedtimes should be before 8PM? Um, not happening.  Toys should be rotated and selectively displayed for maximum enjoyment? No and no.  Parents should avoid bribing kids for good behavior and compliance?  Well, do stickers, candy and cookies count as bribes?

I’ve created all this. I’m the one who rolls over when Simon shows up at midnight.  I’m the one who signed my kids up for seven park district classes.  I too am guilty of indulging every snack whim no matter how many seconds before dinner they want a whole mango with some full-fat yogurt.  I carry around a cache of goodies with which to bribe them to get into (or out of) the car or to be quiet while I’m on the phone or trying to take a nap.

The mess is mine, all mine.  There’s no one to blame except myself and I gave that up for 2014.  So, I’ll just live with it and accept my mediocre grades.