Thursday, December 19, 2013

O Christmas Tree

Last Saturday morning I was busy rearranging bins and boxes in our basement (supposedly cleaning out, but mostly moving around) when I realized that we didn’t have a Christmas tree yet. Christmas was just two weeks away and the Christmas decorations were still snug in their boxes. How had Christmas slipped up on me like that? And more to the point, why hadn’t one of my three kids said anything?

For the very first time, no one wondered where the advent calendar was, never mind the brawl that normally followed in the debate over who got to hang the first ornament. The tiny, ugly fake tree that was the “pet’s tree” was still where I’d tossed it last January on top of the furnace. The wooden crèche scene I had managed to bring upstairs earlier that week sat on the side board in the kitchen, all the wooden shepherds and kings and lambs still in a pile in the back of the stable. No one had bothered to assemble the scene (or rearranged it because their sibling had gotten to it first). The nesting dolls and nutcrackers and Countdown to Christmas chalkboard had yet to be unpacked from the box I’d lugged upstairs a week ago.

For a very long moment, I wondered if decorating this year was even necessary. I mean, after all, I’d just be taking it all down again in two weeks. Sighing, I shoved the boxes back from whence they came, grabbed one of the big bins of ornaments and hot-footed it upstairs yelling, “Hey, it’s time to go get a tree!”

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Me on the Shelf

“I feel like I put myself in a box on a shelf for 16 years and now I’ve just taken it down and opened it again.” I may be the writer but my husband said it perfectly. I’d been having this odd feeling similar to when I went away to college or moved in to my own apartment the first time. This feeling of expansiveness, as if anything is possible.

Lately many mornings when I run, I’m conscious of an overwhelming feeling of transition. I thought it wouldn’t happen until my last kid left for college. This year my youngest entered sixth grade. He doesn’t need my assistance getting ready for school so my mornings are no longer consumed by finding shoes, tying laces, packing lunches or buttering anyone’s toast but my own.

Other than chauffeuring, laundry, and a few meal services, my kids operate very much in their own worlds now. My oldest is on the brink of getting his driver’s license, so I will be out of one of those jobs very soon. I try to pull together dinner a few times a week, but with practice, rehearsals, meetings, and games, my kids can’t always make it. They are busy. I’ve become more of a spectator than a player in their lives. Sure, they still need to be reminded to do their chores (now much more than when they were younger and more compliant), but they rarely need my help with homework, hobbies, or their social lives. They got it, Mom. Thanks for the offer. It is usually best if I just stay quiet.

Friday, November 1, 2013

I Hate Crazy Hair Day

I hate Crazy Hair Day. Can I just say that? Every school year we sail along smoothly and then sometime in October, Crazy Hair Day rocks the boat. For most kids Crazy Hair Day is a fun day. They turn their locks into masterpieces – spikes, colors, decorations, gel-engineered creations that look painful. My older two children were full participants, dreaming up hairdo’s that could only be perfected in their imaginations and crushed when their mother couldn’t fulfill their dreams with her curling iron and hair spray. Still, the day was one of laughs and squeals and smiles.

Crazy Hair Day seemed completely harmless until I had a kid with no hair. My youngest child has Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes his white blood cells to attack his hair follicles. At age 4 he became completely bald and has been ever since. He doesn’t remember having hair so early elementary years he was relatively unaffected. It was just the way he was. Some kids have big noses or green eyes; Ian has no hair.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

WARNING: Your Children May Require You to Endure Never-ending Embarrassment, Pain, and Worry

Last week I spent ten hours driving back and forth to the high school. I’m not kidding. An entire day. If I had any advice for new parents it’s this – buy a house across the street from the high school. Or better yet, right next door (that way you don’t have to worry about your child crossing the street). In the course of six days I took twenty trips to the high school and back. Marching band, play practice, Quiz bowl, forgotten instruments and uniforms, meetings, and PSATs. Each trip was valid (except maybe the mad dash over to the school with the oboe that was forgotten on the counter so that Child #2 could practice her solo with the orchestra before the concert next week).

We do a lot of things for our children. Some are things we never imagined we’d do. Like capturing and releasing a bat from my oldest child’s bedroom as I did one night this summer. Or volunteering to be the PTO president of the Elementary School because no one else wanted the job. Freezing (or roasting) on the sidelines of countless soccer games, getting up at 2am to meet the bus to retrieve a returning child from an overseas adventure, or doctoring the bleeding wing of a beloved chicken that survived a fox attack.

We joke about dirty diapers, baby barf, and potty training, but every parent knows that’s coming when she signs up. What we don’t anticipate is the rolling eyes, the disrespectful words, the outright rudeness. I remember shouting at one child, “If my friend treated me like this, I wouldn’t be her friend any more!” To which, the wise child replied, “You’re not my friend!”

Friday, September 27, 2013

Just a Simple Thanks

Just a simple “Thank you.” That’s all I want. Sometimes I think it’s all anyone wants. In the last month I have
cooked probably twenty or so meals. It would be thirty, except my hubby cooks fairly often and we have “Fend-For-Yourself” nights at least once a week. In that month I can count on one hand how many times a child has thanked me for one of those meals. In fact, I can tell you when they happened.

Last week my daughter brought home a new friend for dinner. She was polite, tasting everything I cooked and joining in on the competitive conversation that tends to fill our dinner table. When she got up from the meal, she turned to me and said, “Thanks for dinner.” I was charmed.

And then last night two of my children hollered “Thanks for the chili!” as I walked out the door while they sat down to eat their favorite chili I’d made twice in one week. It was laziness on my part – I couldn’t think of anything else to do with the ground beef I had on hand and I needed  a crock pot meal since I had an evening engagement. Still, their appreciation warmed my soul as I headed out in to the chilly night.

When I was younger I worked part-time breaking yearlings for a race horse farm. The assistant manager at the farm supervised my work. Many days she complained about the long hours, the hard work, and the bad pay. One day after hearing her litany of complaints, I asked her, “So why do you keep working here?” At that point she’d worked there for several years. She thought for a moment and then she said, “Because every day when I tell my boss that I’m finished and headed home, he says, “Thanks for all your work.” A simple thank you kept her returning every day to a job that was not easy.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pushover Parent

I’m a wimpy parent. I hate that about myself. I talk a big game, but when the whining and explaining and
bargaining begins, I cave like a Florida sinkhole. I wish I didn’t. Now that my kids are in their teens, they truly have the upper hand. I’d like to think that they don’t, but I am smart enough to know that I’d be kidding myself.

When they were little, it was so much easier. I made a rule. They followed it. Rare were the times when they didn’t and when it happened, my disappointment in their lapse was generally punishment enough. There weren’t a lot of time-outs in this house. Maybe that’s why I’m suffering now. They learned early on that I wasn’t very interested in punishing them. They interpret most of my actions as depriving them. And truly that is the only power I hold. I withhold junk food, cable television, game systems, and worst of all – the wifi.

For the most part, they’ve figured out ways around their deprivations. They jump at any offer of junk food from friends and strangers, indulge in cable tv on the internet, play game systems in other homes, and utilize the wifi at school and public places. The result is that I don’t have much leverage. I’m watching the events play out in Syria and I see the US government in a similar position.

What my kids tend to forget when they are complaining about their backward mother is that I almost always allow them to invite friends over. I have an open door policy. I don’t mind a gaggle of kids swarming my house. When they want to create something in the kitchen, I tell them, “have at it, but clean up after yourself.” If they can cook it, they can eat it. My daughter has perfected a brownie in a cup recipe she can whip up in the microwave in mere minutes. My oldest survives on popcorn pretty much. He’s not always so great about cleaning the popper, but I figure it’s a better habit than cheezits.

My kids are spoiled in other ways also. They want to learn the oboe? Fine. Drums? Sign him up. Fencing? Sure, I’ll drive to the other side of the city twice a week and sit in a smelly place to watch people cloaked in white thrusts skinny swords at each other in silence. They sign up for all manner of afterschool clubs and teams necessitating that I ferry them to and from the school multiple times a week. Does anyone ever tip, let alone thank, the cabbie? Not on your life.

Only in a country like America could my children feel they lived a deprived life. I hear my daughter inform her friends, “There’s no food in this house.” And my oldest son’s friends who congregate on our porch several times a week generally show up with food and drink in hand. If any of you have ever tried to keep teenage boys fed for more than two hours, you know that the fact these kids arrive with snacks is something for which I am exceptionally grateful. I do want to point out though, that there is plenty of food in my house. There just isn’t a plethora of junk food.

Back to my point at the beginning of this meandering essay, I am a pushover parent. But I am also an incredibly lucky parent. My kids, while they might not appreciate all the ways in which I indulge them, don’t generally take advantage of my lack of authority. They are good kids who offer most adults a modicum of respect, at least in public. I read stories, and hear other parents tell tales of kids who have no respect, who take full advantage of their parents’ lack of leverage, and push limits beyond what is safe. I listen intently and have nothing to offer. I believe you should hold kids accountable, and yet sometimes I can’t help but rescue my own.

Parenthood shouldn’t be a battle. I want that to be true, but I know that for some parents it is a battle. I suppose one way to look at it is to remember that these children are learning to leave their nest. They won’t leave if there’s no reason to. Hopefully the reason they leave is because better opportunity and adventures await them on their own and not because the oppressive regime becomes too much to bear.

I try to remember that it is my job to equip these kids with values, manners, and skills that will help them navigate the world without me. That’s the overall goal. That, and to love them so that they know how to love. Maybe my pushover parenting is teaching them that when it comes to loving people, especially the people in your own home, sometimes it's good to cut people some slack. So I’ll cut myself some slack for not always towing the line and for bending a few rules. As we get closer to the finish line, flexibility is the key. That much I know.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Mother I Never Intended to Be

There seems to be an ever widening margin between the parent I intended to be and the parent I am. As my oldest bears down on the end of his years at home, I am painfully aware of the many things I hoped I’d do and be as a parent but have yet to achieve.

I wanted to be much more gentle and patient. I was going to be the all-accepting parent who fed their dreams and defended their right to be whatever and whomever they wanted to be.

But then personal responsibilities overshadowed free-spirit. There are things a young person must do. Education, society, their health, and my sanity require it. It does matter what kind of grade comes home. As much as I want to bristle at the busy work and chafe at the unimaginative essay assignments, they must be done. Hoops must be gone through. Clothes don’t necessarily have to match but they should be clean. Same goes for hair, teeth, and fingernails. Sure, I’d rather have ice cream for dinner too, but no one can live on a diet of sugar. And while I love their very essence, sometimes I need a little space between their edges and mine.

I tried to explain to my distraught teen who had put off the summer assignments until the night before school started that no, it didn’t matter if either of us felt some of the work was silly, that didn’t mean it wouldn’t have to be done. I explained (badly and somewhat over emotionally) that this work had to be done so that the teacher knew my child was a serious student so that my child could be successful in his class. Then I laid out why it was important to do well in the class and in school for that matter – and here’s where the mother I never imagined I’d be regressed to saying, “so you don’t live in my basement all your life.”

Monday, July 29, 2013

Vacation? What Vacation?

When you come home from vacation with your kids do you feel rested? I don’t. I feel relieved. We made it. Nobody got hurt, lost, sick, or too upset. I also feel stressed. Now we have to pay for that! Mostly I feel tired as I look around at the gardens gone wild, the horses filthy with old sweat, the chicken pen that is beyond ripe, and the living room carpet that will now need to be shampooed multiple times to remove the smell left from our incontinent aging dog who stresses out whenever we are gone. (Actually I’m just glad she’s alive – that was one of my biggest worries while we were away.) And then of course, there’s the laundry dumped from bulging suitcases, the mostly empty refrigerator (except for the Tupperware containers hiding on the lower shelves holding frightening concoctions left from weeks ago), and the endless messages and mail to process. Ugh.

We just returned from two weeks in California for long-overdue visits to family, hikes in the Redwoods, and kicking around San Francisco. It was quite a production to get the five of us fed, housed, transported, and entertained for two whole weeks on the road. I still can’t quite believe what it costs to feed three teens (the youngest may not be a teen, but he eats like one). Someone recently passed around a cartoon on Facebook that had a beleaguered mom sighing, “Again? But I just fed you yesterday!” That’s how I felt. They eat and eat and eat and then we get in the car and have gone only twenty miles when one of them declares, “I’m starving! Do we have any snacks?”

I sorted through the pictures last night and felt defeated. The age of digital cameras is a good and bad thing. It’s great because you can take all the pictures you want, never worrying about wasting film, but it’s bad because 1200 pictures is entirely too many to digest in a sitting. That’s nearly 100 pictures a day. Was it really that exciting? Granted these are the pics from three cameras and the youngest just discovered that he “loves” taking pictures. His subjects and angles are actually quite brilliant, but mostly blurry and hilarious.
I am confident that with time, this vacation, like childbirth, will seem worth it. I’ll be glad for the memories, the bonding with relatives, the new worlds discovered. But right now I’m thinking vacation is not vacation for most mothers. It needs a different name. 

It seems ridiculously arrogant to be complaining about vacation. I do appreciate that. I’m grateful that we can afford to take the trip we took. I’m just pondering, while it’s painfully fresh on my mind and heart, if it is worth it. Call me a homebody, but I might be just as happy to stay home. I like my home. I like my quiet days in the garden and at the keyboard. I like cooking in my kitchen and lingering on the porch over dinner. I even like the stolen moments playing games on my phone while I wait to chauffeur a child to yet another game, practice, lesson, or gathering. I like the routine. Maybe going away is necessary once in awhile if for no other reason than so we appreciate home. I’m going to go with that.

Vacation is defined by Webster as “a respite.” The definition of respite is “an interval of rest or relief.” Hmmm. We all need a respite. I’m not sure that’s what you get on vacation, at least not if you’re traveling with kids. Or with anyone for that matter. One person’s respite is another person’s torture. I’d consider it a respite to sit in a beautiful, quiet place with a glass of wine and a good book, with a cat curled up beside me. Or to hike all day until my legs quiver with exhaustion before floating in a lake and eating anything cooked over a fire. I doubt my kids would go in for more than a few hours of that kind of vacation. They were happy with the days that involved water of some kind – beach, pool, stream, hot tub. Our vacation had plenty of water. But they are also happy with a vacation fueled by a steady stream of junk food, screens of any kind, games, rides, and cousins. Not me. The cousins were great, but the rest not so much.

So this was one for the kids. Like much that I do as a mother, this was a vacation for the children. It’s a time in my life. Someday I’ll get my respite, but until then I’ll just count my blessings and sort the pictures.

This is "Zabu" the cat that came
with the cottage we rented.

The Redwoods - at a an angle.
The photographer
A Redwood from an 11-year-old's perspective
This pic just cracked me up. My kids are such
country bumpkins!
Trying to rearrange the California coast.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Use Parental Judgment

I have spent my life surrounded by nerds. I don’t say this as if it’s a bad thing. In fact, I prefer nerds. They are honest about who they are and unafraid to be true to themselves. That they are maligned by the popular crowd is not lost on them. It registers and I believe it does inflict some pain, but not enough pain to compel them to seek fashion advice, join a gym, or start watching mindless television. And we all know that the nerds win in the end which is what matters most.

When I was younger my brothers played a game called Dungeons and Dragons. They played it for hours on end. My friends and I found it odd, but we didn’t ask questions because the mainstream Christian establishment had labeled it the devil’s game and to our teenage minds that made it kind of cool.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


I was nine months pregnant one hot June Sunday when I walked out of church with an elderly member of our congregation. She had raised ten children herself and inquired as to how I was doing in the heat. I told her I was scheduled for a C-section in three days and she shook her head at “technology today.” Then she asked, “What number is this one anyway?” It took me a minute to understand that she was referring to what number child I was due to deliver. I told her it was my third and she said, “That’s the back breaker honey, good luck!” before ambling off to her car.

I puzzled at her remark, but a few weeks after I returned home from the hospital with my new baby, I understood exactly what she meant by "back breaker." I have never been as exhausted as I was in those days. For some reason going from two kids to three kids was an exponential jump rather than simple addition. Suddenly I didn’t have enough hands or laps or food or time or energy. And it certainly hasn’t let up. I don’t know how she managed ten. I was done at three.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Breaking Records, Getting Famous, and Naked People on a Roller Coaster

Can you believe what this guy did?” asked my ten-year-old as he recounted another amazing feat he’d discovered in The Guiness Book of World Records. He went on to regale me with the astounding accomplishments of the individuals with the “most stuffed bears,” “largest ball of twine,” “furthest distance of squirting milk out your eye,” and wait for it – “the most naked people on a rollercoaster!” I remember my own fascination with Guiness. I believe its main audience hovers right around age 10.

I must have been seven or eight when I decided I would break the Guiness record for continuous swinging. It was a long, endless summer day ripe for adventures like becoming world famous, so I marched determinedly out to the swing set that my father had installed in the woods on the edge of the yard. I don’t remember if I told my mom of my plans. Odds are she was long gone to the tennis courts by then.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

CAUTION: Student Driver

There are many aspects of parenting that are fun, exciting, rewarding even, but teaching your 16-year-old to drive is not one of them. It is necessary and important and I’m confident it will eventually be less of a nail-biter, but the first month is definitely a test of your parenting chops.

As I tooled around our town early this morning, my son at the wheel, I considered how we would survive the 60 hours of mandatory supervision required of all young drivers seeking a license in Pennsylvania. Thankfully, the learning curve has been steep for my child, but I still find myself holding my breath at intersections and concentrating on keeping my mouth shut as much as possible. As you can imagine, this is not easy for me.

Friday, June 7, 2013

What's That Smell?

There is a distinctive smell to my house that I’m only aware of in the first few moments when I walk in the door after being gone a few hours, but even more so when I come home from a few days away. It smells like “home”.

On a day to day basis, I never notice the smell, but after a time away it is a precious bouquet of safety, comfort, and love. I’ve tried to pin down the smell. There is a faint scent of baking bread, with overtones of Murphy’s soap and lavender. When I breathe deeper I smell grass and wood and animals.

My teenagers have a potent aroma all their own, a blend of hormones, sweat, and hair products. It’s especially overpowering first thing in the morning or seated beside one of them in the car. When they were babies I craved the scent of them. It was a sour, sticky, sweet perfume. On nights when their frightened cries or my own fears drove me the nursery in the dark center of night, that familiar scent calmed me. Snuggling the sweaty, limp body close I would breathe in deep and wish that I could bottle it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

When Did It All Stop Being So Funny?

My 16-year-old son has a shirt that says, “Fear the Couch.” It’s one of his favorites. He came home with it after Quiz Bowl practice one afternoon and said it was their official shirt. Something about whoever was sitting on the couch usually won the round. It’s one more example of the teenage silliness that fills my house. That and the plethora of rubber chickens, the pirate metal (yes, it’s a genre) music blaring on the ipod speakers, and the sign on the fridge which says, “This Freezer is Not Out of Control.”

I remember being silly myself when I was a teen, saying and doing odd
things just because it made me and my friends laugh. I’m sure, like much of the humor that I find around my house, it wasn’t quite as funny to the adults around me.

One time, on a trip to the Capitol for a Youth in Government Seminar, a friend and I stood in front of the elevator doors in the Senate Building with a camera, waiting for the doors to open. When they did, we snapped a picture and ran away giggling. I’m sure if you tried this today, you would be tackled to the ground and your camera confiscated. Things were different then. The funniest part of the picture is that when we finally had the film developed (remember when you had to wait for your pictures?), Ted Kennedy was in the back of the elevator! All of the well-dressed people, plus one service person in a gray jumpsuit, looked very surprised. I wish I knew where that picture was now.

Our other elevator stunt (we lived in a small town and there weren’t many elevators to play in) was

Friday, May 3, 2013

What If Everyone Had Cancer?

When my youngest son was four years old he lost all his hair to an autoimmune disorder called Alopecia Areata. Over the course of a month all of his beautiful red curls fell out, then his eye lashes and eye brows. My heart broke on a daily basis. But he was four, and hair to a four-year-old is not necessarily a concern. When a classmate at the snack table in preschool asked if he’d gotten a haircut, he looked confused until another classmate spoke up and said, “Nah, Ian’s hair fell out.” Everyone went back to their juice and animal crackers unalarmed.

As a parent you begin imagining your child’s life when you first see those two pink lines, perhaps even earlier if you’re a true romantic. I couldn’t imagine what elementary school would be like for my newly bald child. Or maybe the problem was that I could imagine it – teasing, bullying, heartbreak. For a few months we stayed in, but then it became obvious that the hair would not be re-growing so we resumed our life with our three kids, but I hovered close to my youngest ready to defend him at the slightest provocation.

While my husband was traveling, the kids and I ventured out for dinner one night at the local pizza shop. We snuggled into a booth and I tried not to notice the obvious stares of the other patrons. The kids were oblivious to anything odd and happy to be out to dinner for the first time since Ian’s diagnosis. When it was time to pay, I left the kids in the booth and went to the cashier. She told me not to worry, our check was already paid. I didn’t understand, but she assured me another patron had taken care of our check and wished my little boy well. I stumbled back to collect my children and made for the exit. Driving home it finally dawned on me that the kind person who paid our check must have thought Ian had cancer.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Protesting the PSSAs

Last night as he crawled in to bed one half hour early, my ten-year-old said, “Pennyslvania’s super stupid assessment,” with a grin on his face. It’s that time of year. PSSA tests. That’s two weeks in which my children will learn nothing new, will consume all manner of junk food at school, and be given extra recess almost every day. Anything to keep the little darlings motivated and happy. Motivated and happy kids do better on standardized tests.

Lucky for us our school typically fairs well in these tests. But I’m somewhat concerned that our streak may be coming to an end. At the onslaught of these illustrious tests mandated by “No Child Left Behind” the very ambitious and inclusive goal of 100% proficiency by 2014 was set for students in math and reading.

Back at the turn of the century it seemed very noble to shoot for 100% competency in our kids. And the date was so far off – 2014, so everyone applauded the all-inclusive goal. But now that we are on the cusp of reaching that date, just how many schools will meet the goal? I can’t imagine any will unless they follow the lead of the schools in Georgia whose teachers systematically cheated on the tests.

Here’s the painful bottom line. Not every kid is going to pass. And this has nothing to do with teacher
competency, curriculum, or healthy snacks during testing. I don’t mean to be cruel or pessimistic, but it ain’t gonna happen. The world needs people to work at McDonald’s. That’s a very crass way of saying that not everyone’s brain is capable of retaining math concepts. And some people struggle with reading for reasons that may be physical or emotional. I’m not saying throw in the towel on these students. Quite the opposite. Most likely they excel in other areas, but we’ll never know that if we judge them solely on their math and reading scores.

What’s wrong with these tests and these goals is that too much hinges on them. Schools who do poorly receive less funding. Teachers whose students struggle will lose pay over this. And lets not forget the kids who spend a too large portion of their school year preparing for and taking these tests. They should not be this important.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Disregarding the Fish

Sorting through the mess accumulating in my hallway this morning, I came upon a pile of stuffed animals abandoned in the giveaway box. We keep this box in the hallway outside the kids’ bedrooms so it is conveniently located when they determine that an article of clothing, a book, or a toy are no longer needed in their lives due to physical or emotional growth (and sometimes due to the wax and wane of teenage culture). My ten-year-old rarely contributes anything except for clothing he received for Christmas, so I was surprised to find a collection of once treasured stuffies in the bottom of the box.

I admit that my eyes got misty when I spied the colorful fish amongst the other animals. The fish was my child’s first Webkin. I’m certain that Webkins will someday be what Smurfs are to my generation – a relic that causes a mixture of nostalgia and embarrassment when they appear in present day media or in the back window of someone’s car. My two younger children amassed a sizable collection, which is impressive considering those were the days of dial-up.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Talking to Toddlers or Teens

My toddlers

When communicating with toddlers, you have to speak literally, basically channeling Amelia Bedelia and thinking carefully about every word you use. You must be clear as a freshly washed window.

And when listening to a toddler, you have to search for the unsaid words, while simultaneously sorting through the garbled interpretation of the language presented. Many times what a toddler says makes no sense, especially out of context, which is typically how a toddler talks. He might say something like “Today I was dinosaur and kitty was up there. I had the yellow one.” And what the toddler is referring to is sometime last month when there was a kitten in the neighbor’s tree and he was wearing his favorite dinosaur t-shirt and carrying his yellow bucket.

I would give anything to go back to the simplicity of communicating with my teenagers when they were toddlers. It was much easier.

This afternoon my daughter arrived home from school. “Hi!” I said brightly. She continued to rummage through the cupboards without acknowledging me.

I’m used to this because my oldest has ear buds permanently installed in his ears. It’s necessary to physically get his attention. I must clap or yell (just like our 15-year-old dog who can’t hear either).

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Home Alone

Home alone. Lately it seems to be the story of my life.

Having a husband who travels frequently for his job has its pros and cons. Mostly I’m thinking cons. When the kids were young, it was tough because all the diaper changing and long nights fell to me. The unrelenting toddler talk and constant baby carrying simply wore me out, body and soul. These days the children are big enough to bathe themselves (but apparently not big enough to pick up their wet towels or carry their dirty clothes to a hamper), yet the exhaustion can still be overwhelming. I’m the only one who can help with homework, wash the pans, chase down the errant dog, or locate the form that was supposed to have been signed yesterday. No one but me can be trusted to lock the doors, turn off the lights, and throw the cat out at night. The game pieces, dog toys, and snack leftovers will lie where they are on the living room carpet until I pick them up. No one else feels responsible for their whereabouts.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"Fat": A Lifelong Label

The school sent home their BMI reports last week. These reports inform parents of their child’s weight, height, and body mass index. They also let us know where our kids fall on the scale of underweight to obese. I’m assuming they also share this information with the government and that’s how states track their childhood obesity rates.

When I was a kid, schools did something similar although BMI had not been created. They did make us line up in the nurse’s office to be measured and then checked our spines to make sure they were straight. I hated this day. Well, actually that day never registered on my radar until after third grade. Third grade was the year the doctor informed me that I was fat. It was the year my mother started watching what I ate. It was the year that food became an obsession. Prior to that, I didn’t have any real memory of what I ate or whether it mattered.

When I look back on my childhood pictures, I did start to look a little chubby around third grade. But I wonder now, if that isn’t normal. Kids seem to begin to grow wider faster than they grow taller in the years before puberty. I have to wonder whether my doctor did me a disservice by labeling me. I wonder if I had been allowed to continue on my course, if my weight wouldn’t have just leveled out on its own.

Instead, his pronouncement set me on course for a life time of dieting and obsessive exercising, interspersed with periods of weight gain in which I would throw in the towel and remind myself that I’ve always been fat. More than that it gave me a new picture of myself: I was fat and therefore according to our culture I was unattractive. That fact colored my adolescence and undermined my confidence. These days my weight falls in the top of the healthy weight on the BMI index, but that number does nothing for my mental and emotional assumptions. I still feel fat. I think I probably always will.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


“UNKNOWN NAME, UNKNOWN NUMBER” reads the caller ID. Do I pick it up? I do. But only because my beloved is traveling on the other side of the planet at this moment and all his calls come in with this title. The calls from credit card companies, non-profits in need of my financial commitment, and energy companies enticing me to make the switch also come in with this label. During the school day I feel compelled to answer these calls because my children’s schools come in under the heading of UNKNOWN NAME, UNKNOWN NUMBER. As you can imagine I field more than a few solicitation calls. It tries my soul.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Odd Kid (and Parent) Out

“How come we don’t have cable TV?”
“Why won’t you buy Doritos?”
“How come I can’t have a game system?”
These questions are most commonly followed by, “Everyone else has them!” and sometimes, “Why do you have to be so weird?”

I’ve given up imparting my reasoning for all of these parental decisions, because my kids have heard it before and all it elicits is groans and eye rolls.

My husband had a conversation with my daughter this weekend that led to the unveiling of a reason even more compelling than my desire for my kids to grow up physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy. To my mind, these are perfectly logical reasons for cleaning the cupboards of junk food and not allowing someone else’s idea of “entertainment” in to my home, but to my children they are simply more evidence of my questionable mental state.

This weekend, frustrated by the snack and entertainment options, my daughter cut to the chase and asked, “Why do we always have to be so different?” My brilliant husband replied, “Do you want to be like everyone else?”

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When Your Child Dumps You

When your children are small and snuggly and clamor for your attention you can’t imagine there will come a day when they will ignore you, dismiss you, or outright avoid you. But the day comes. And I don’t care how sweet and loving your child is, or how close you are or how openly they share their hearts with you; one day they will shun you. I promise. And it’s a good thing. Even if it doesn’t feel like it.

I looked up the word parenting in the dictionary and it says: “the rearing of children.” And what is “rearing”? I, being a horse person, of course thought of that moment when the horse lifts its front end off the ground and attempts to set you on your butt. But says, “to take care of and support up to maturity.” Huh. So there’s some comfort in knowing that once they are mature I don’t have to support them anymore. I know a few parents that would find that knowledge welcome relief.