Thursday, August 30, 2012

Here we go again...

Ah... back to school..  This is one of those times, like Christmas, that is both exciting and wonderful, but so much work-- and often anti-climactic.  The excitement of new backpacks, teachers, and a fresh box of colored pencils is gone by the end of the second day, and then it's just complaints about teachers, homework, and why can't I stay up til 9:00 like I did last week?  And it seems that each year my response of "because I said no" is harder for the kids to swallow.  As they get older and smarter, they seem to want to manipulate everything and, much to my chagrin, I've discovered that they often do.  Even when I don't think they have.
I have to admit I've often ridiculed those mothers who let their children win every battle.  Standing on the sidelines, it is easy to see how those mothers could be better parents and what they should or should not be doing with their children.  And I'm not talking about basic eating, tv, play habits.   I'm not even talking about homework policies and extra-curricular activities.  I'm talking about basic "send your son to school and let the teachers make all the rules into he comes home" policies.  Things that, as a child, I pretty much took for granted.  I didn't WANT my mother interacting with my teachers, since I knew that would only hurt me in the long run (and by "hurt me", I mean literally, on my bum, pain).  But somehow, someway, I have morphed into that mother that I swore I'd never be.  That "helicopter" mom that hovers over the school system waiting for the opportunity to swoop down and add my own two cents to the extensive education that our teachers and principals undergo before being hired.  Because, of course, how are they going to make the right decisions for our children if WE non-professionals don't intercede?
The real irony in this is that for the last four years I've been teaching at the college level on a part time basis, and for a long while my husband, in a futile attempt to help (and increase our level of income), would suggest that maybe I should get a job teaching at the high school full-time.  My over-emphasized reaction to that suggestion would always be "Heck, no!  I do NOT want to deal with parents.  EVER."  I would typically continue (while he nodded off in sleep or turned his attention back to the iPad) about how parents now days won't let teachers do their jobs and how children are being taught that their rights and privileges are more important than their education, etc, etc., and just how detrimental to society this trend was.  He was smart enough to agree with me, even if he didn't hear a word I was saying after "No"-- which is the only part of the conversation that mattered to him anyhow.  
And now I, however unintentionally it may be, have become one of those parents.
It happened gradually.  Last year my son had a problem with a teacher. It seemed serious, from his perspective, so I called a Parent-Teacher meeting.  I interceded.  Things got better.  I patted myself on the back.  I refused to believe that my son may have felt he had pulled something over on me or "won", and when that sneaky thought wiggled its way into my brain, I managed to convince myself that, well, it's okay if he wins sometimes.  It's for his own good.  I wasn't one of "those" moms.
Then, stage open, second day of third grade.  First day of math.  My son enters the house, scowl in place on his face.  I, ever the good mother attentive to his moods and needs, ask "What's wrong?" and get the angry "My math teacher is horrible!  Math is SO easy this year!  I don't WANT to be in this class!"  I try to reason with him.
Give it some time.  It's only the first day of math, I'm sure it will get harder.
NO, she said we would be doing this for weeks.  She said this was what this class did.  She said...
Okay, what do you want me to do?  (Parent mistake number 2 is asking)
Put me in a different class.
I can't do that.
You did it last year.
Uhmmm... well, that was different.  (Parent mistake number 3 is even considering this line of conversation)
YOU said I would be in a hard class this year, Mom.
(Parent mistake number 1 was actually having said this a few weeks earlier-- I was, to my credit, trying to motivate him, but with this child I should know by now to NEVER say ANYTHING that can be used in ANY way in his favor down the road... which, according to my husband, means never say anything.  Period.  My husband is often much better at parenting than I give him credit for.)
And the angry, upset Mason set in.  The "I'm going to act like this until I get my way" Mason.  The "I will make your life so miserable from this moment on and make you feel like the worst parent ever" routine.
And I started to fold. (Parent mistake number 4)  In justification, I had lectured for 7 hours the day before, had 4 office hours, and hadn't got home until after 10:30.  I was exhausted.
Okay, how about I email your teacher, asking her to please make the class harder and to move you to a different class if it turns out this class is too easy for you?
This worked.  Somewhat.  He wasn't thrilled, but he was smart enough to realize this was the best he could get.  Thanks, Mom.  You're the best.  Let me know what she says. (Parent mistake number 5 is letting yourself feel validated by things like this in situations like this)
And I did it.  I emailed the teacher:  "Mason says math is too easy this year; and because he is pretty good at math, I want to make sure he is in a challenging class.  Is this the best class for him?"  (Man, I'm a sucker.)
Within an hour I had a response back from the teacher starting with the very accurate:  "I have to laugh.  This was the first day of math class.  All we did was get to know each other.  It will- obviously- get harder as the year progresses.  If Mason proves to be advanced for this class, I will happily move him.  After progress reports.  Call me THEN."

God bless teachers who know how to deal with parents like me.

Feeling properly chastised, ashamed, embarrassed, and, well, fooled, I go up to Mason's room where he has already been put to bed for the night, curled up next to him, and said "I got an email from your teacher.  You'll be happy to know that she is going to make this class much harder for you AND if it's still too easy, she'll move you to an even harder class. All you have to do is get straight A's on everything for the next eight weeks."
Without missing a beat, Mason pops up in bed, scowls at me, and says angrily, "WHY would you DO that? I don't want to do anything harder.  I HATE hard work!"

I can't win.
Lesson learned.  God bless the Elkridge Elementary School teachers.  I'm just going to let you do your job from now on.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Dear Green Valley Market

Dear Green Valley Market,
I'm sorry.  I'm a shoplifter.  I think... maybe...  I'm not sure, which is why I'm writing this letter.  You see, well, it's this whole "Kids Month Club" thing you've got going on.  The rules say ONE slice of cheese, ONE cookie, ONE apple per month.  But who's keeping count?  I'm not.  Sure, it's a great marketing idea-- free cookies and apples are one of the primary reasons I shop at Green Valley versus Walmart (well, that and the fact that I don't have to worry about losing my children forever), but there's really no way for me to keep track of how many times per month I've gone into the store and whether or not I've hit my monthly allotment of cookies, cheese, and apples.  Well, no easy way that doesn't involve me remembering one more thing.

Let me break this down for you.  Simply put, the moment my children (I have four, I must admit) set foot through those sliding doors they ask "Can we go get a cookie?"   And pretty much every time I say yes.  The "get a cookie from the bakery" thing was standard with your predecessor, so that's seven years of habit, ever since we moved here, that's hard to kill.  And I know the cookies probably don't cost you a lot and they do keep kids happy and well-behaved-- and since happy, well-behaved kids mean content, relaxed mothers who can spend more time shopping, resulting in more money in your wallet- I see why you've kept this policy around.  Good move, GV.  Keep the free cookies coming.

And the cheese thing-- well, it's sort of a pain, so I seldom do that.  I don't feel like standing there at the cheese counter
- waiting for the deli person to not be busy
- trying not to feel like a starving moocher who can't feed her children and, therefore, must get free cheese from the deli counter
- trying to convince the children that "Yes, that IS cheese, even if it doesn't come in plastic wrap"
- trying to convince the children that continued begging will not get me to buy them a slice of meat also
- reminding the children that it's only ONE piece of cheese and NO, just because you thought green and red spots on the cheese looked pretty and now you find out it's disgusting, you may not have a different piece.
So, I seldom get cheese.

It's the apples.  Those delicious apples that make me feel like I'm stealing.  Sure, I know that you mark-up prices and that in the grand scheme of things you probably don't even notice the loss; but I can't help but feel guilty-- like all eyes are on me-- each time I let the kids grab an apple (most often a Golden Delicious or a rosy Pink Lady- they are so good!) and start munching as we walk through the store.  By the time we hit check-out they are usually down to the core, and I'm herding them through the line to wait for me on the bench, hoping the cashier doesn't call me an apple-picking thief or worse as she starts counting up apple cores in little hands.  (Cashiers intimidate me: I'm still a little traumatized from the time a cashier asked for my foodstamp card.  When I informed her I wasn't on foodstamps her response was "but you have four kids!".  On another note, I may have discovered what's wrong with our economic system.)

For a while, in order to not feel guilty about all the apples I was literally walking out of the store with I would buy a bag of apples to go along with the "once a month free" apples, but I've since discovered that my children only enjoy apples when they are fresh off the produce shelf.  Once home, they have little or no interest in doing anything with them other than dropping them to see how quickly they bruise, planting them to see if trees grow in laundry baskets, or watching them slowly rot in the fruit bowl on my kitchen table.

And please don't misunderstand my apple-stealing as grossly and intentionally irresponsible.  I do try to be responsible in my "free apple" abuse.  If I'm only running in for milk I don't let the kids get apples.  If I'm spending very little money in general, I don't let the kids get apples, calling it a "quick trip".  However, there was that time that I had a day full of errands, kids complaining of hunger, no time to go home for lunch and no money to eat lunch out-- so I stopped in at GV, bought a gallon of milk and told the kids they had three minutes to get from the produce to the deli to the bakery and back into the car.  Lunch served-- and a healthy lunch, at that.  That may be considered irresponsible, if you choose to look at it like that.

So, to sum it up.  By my count we probably take about 12 free apples out of your store each month when, by the rules of the Kids Free Month club we should only take 4.  Since we've probably only known about free apples for, oh what, six months?  --that's 48 apples, which probably equals to about $15 to $20.  Is my math right?  So I want to publicly apologize for that and also let you know, well, chances are good that by the end of the year I'll owe you another $10.

A loyal shopper

PS.  Thank you for moving some milk to the front of the store.  That's not such a great marketing idea, since you probably lose at least thirty bucks each time I run in for milk and actually JUST get milk, but it is kinder to my wallet and doesn't involve a walk past the produce stand.  So thank you.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Don't Poo in the River

A few years ago one of my good friends introduced me to the Gunpowder Falls State Park, just north of Baltimore.  As State Parks go, it's not my favorite, but it does have a beautiful River Beach-- soft sand, warm water, green shady trees-- and it has become a solid favorite for me and my children for a cheap beach experience.  So last week, the kids and I packed a picnic lunch, put on our swim suits, paid our three dollar admission fee, and spent the day in the River.  It was a gorgeous day, and the kids were having the time of their lives.  Even Micah and Kolbie were swimming around in their Puddle Jumpers, having the time of their young lives.

And then, of course, the expected happened.  As Micah and I doggy-paddled happily around each other, she looked at me with something akin to terror in her eyes, and said "I have to use the potty, Mommy".   Oh, geeze.  I knew it was bound to happen.  You can't go all day without going, but as I looked at my other three children scattered around the water, I realized it would take at least five minutes, possibly ten, to get all children out of the water, pack up my bag, and run to the bathhouse that I could see a few hundred yards away.  It was very likely to take longer than that, given the expected arguments such as "why can't I stay in the water while you take her?" and "If she gets to stay, why can't I?", Followed by sulky, plodding children who didn't want to be forced to come with me and will make me regret it as much as they can without getting in enough trouble to have me lose it and take them all home.

On the other hand, this was a river.  It had fish, algae, a hundred other people (most of whom had already peed in it at least once), and what was a little more?  So I did what many, if not most, other mothers would do in my situation.  I told her "go ahead.  You can go to the potty in the River."

To give her credit, she looked at me like I was crazy.  This is my two year old who has had drilled into her as long as she can remember that you "ONLY PEE IN THE POTTY".  So for me to be telling her to "go ahead and pee in the river" was a contradiction of her entire body of knowledge- other than "don't let the dog eat your sandwich" and "don't hit your sister".  But, as testament to the power of matter over mind, she decided to trust me and let go.  However, just when I expected a look of relief to cross her face, it was instead taken over by a look of strain, a tense gritting of the teeth, and --before I had a chance to react-- she looked at me and whispered "I pooped."

Not what I expected.

My mind froze.  We were in a river.  What was I to do?  Tell the lifeguard?  Would he clear the river until certain ph balances had been restored?  Not likely, considering I don't believe rivers have such chemical balances in place.  Telling the other parents "uhm... my daughter just pooped in the water, so.... you may want to swim upstream" would get me a lot of dirty looks and nasty comments and *may* get me and mine kicked out of the State Park.  So I nixed those ideas, and went into damage-control mode.  As disgusting as it may be (if you've been here, you already know. If you've not, I pray you never are.), I did what I had to do.  I pulled at her bathing suit, using my fingers to rinse it out, then grabbed desperately for the, well, poo, before it floated to the surface and acquired witnesses.  Why poo floats, I'll never know.  But it does.  Quite well.  Being in a river, I quite cleverly, I thought, decided to bury the poo under the sandy bottom.  Suffice it to say, it is impossible to bury anything under the sandy bottom of the river. I learned this the hard way as I struggled desperately to subtly dig holes with my toes, push the poo down, and recover it with sand.  Nope. Not going to work.  So, I decided to get rid of the evidence entirely and, with a smile plastered to my face and a steady stream of happy chatter to Micah-- "do you like the water?  ohhhh... isn't this fun?  Where's Kolbie??? happy happy happy!!!!"-- I went about disintegrating the poo between my fingers until it was no more.

Until I was painfully reminded of what we'd had for dinner the night before.  Yes.  Yes.  Corn.  Anyone who has ever changed a diaper after a corn dinner knows corn does NOT digest.  And there, floating around me and my daughter, were whole pieces of corn.  And they kept coming.  And they didn't sink, they didn't disintegrate;  they just floated around us like confetti at a parade.  *sigh*  So we did the only thing we could do at this point.  We swam away.

Okay, okay.  While some of you reading this may think this is the most disgusting story you've ever heard and judge me completely for my actions as a mother, others of you will grimace and say "ah, well, what could you do?".  But this story, while it IS completely disgusting, gave me some insight.  It became to me an allegory, if you will.  You see... we all have some corn in our poo.  We may think we can hide it, disguise it, let it disintegrate with the other dirt in the River.  But some things just won't go away.  Those disgusting, nasty parts of us that we think we can bury so deep that no one will see will be seen eventually.  If we have corn in our system, it's going to come out.  If the bitterness, the anger, the hate, the ignorance and disregard for others is there-- it won't stay hidden.  That prejudice that you think no one recognizes?  That lack of ethics that you think is justification for a bigger paycheck?  That's your corn, and those little pieces of corn will float to the surface eventually.

So let me say it this way:  If we eat corn, it is going to come out.  So don't eat corn.  Or, at the very least, don't poo in the River.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

30 Pieces of Unsolicited Parenting Advice I'd Give Other Parents (if I were allowed to give other parents advice)

True story.  I've been banned from giving parenting advice to my family members.  Actually, I've been banned from giving any advice, but "No Parenting Advice" was the primary issue.  I've been *told* that the problem isn't so much my advice, but my way of presenting the advice, as in "You should do THIS".  Personally, I don't know how else to give advice.  Isn't that the definition of the word?  Telling someone what they should do?  So, suffice it to say, certain in-laws won't speak to me anymore every since I suggested that one year may be too young to potty train (I was wrong- my fourth trained at 1), and others have specifically said "Don't tell me ANYTHING- I'd rather figure it out on my own" as soon as I started with "you know, maybe you should...."  So, I will oblige them and bite my tongue-- and use this forum to say all the things that I want to say but can not say to my sisters-in-laws, various other parents in my family, parents of my children's friends, other parents in the community who just happen to sit down next to me at the library, and all Facebook friends who have children and post related comments that I feel compelled to respond to even though I know it's going to p!ss them off.

1.  Immediately post-birth, everyone is going to say "oh, you look great!".  You may look great; but chances are good that, two weeks after having the baby, you will neither feel great NOR look great.  Just say thank you and smile anyhow.  If you point out your flab, the circles under your eyes, and the sweatpants you haven't changed in three days it will just be awkward for everyone.

2.  It's okay to believe that your child is the most beautiful child in the world.  Probably he's not, but you can believe that he is.  Every other mother is going to be believing the same thing about their child, even though they will probably say it about yours, at least for the first few months.  Truth is, very few newborns are beautiful (mine excepted), but you can believe whatever you want.  Which leads me to point #3.

3. No matter what they say, every other mom you know is judging you.  If you are doing a better job of parenting or your child is exceptional in some area, they will be desperately seeking ways to undermine what you or your child is doing in order to feel better about themselves or their child.  If they are doing a better job than you (or their child is exceptional), they will be gleefully pointing this out to whomever they can find who will listen.

4.  No matter what your child tells you, you know the truth.  You are NOT the World's Best Mom.  Chances are, at least.  I guess someone does have to be the world's best mom, so it *could* be you, but I doubt it.  But that's okay.  As long as your kids think you are the World's Best Mom, it's all good.

5. On the flip side, no matter what you think, you are probably not the World's Worst Mom either... although you may feel that way at times.  Luckily, most kids have short memories.  And Popsicles facilitate forgiveness.

6.  When you get frustrated and call your mom and she says something like "just do what you think is best-- you'll do the right thing-- you're the parent, and you know best".  That's bologna.  There's a pretty good chance that you don't know what's best and that you may do the worst possible thing ever; however, the good news is that you have a long long time to figure it out.  So if you do it wrong today, at least you'll know for next time.  Very few dilemmas in parenting happen only once.  Parenting is all about second chances (and forgiveness).

7.  In that vein, when you call your mom and she says "he'll be fine."  Well, I'm sure at sometime Dahmer's mom called her mom and her mom said the same thing.... so, maybe he won't be, but again, parenting is all about second chances. Just try to do better next time... and hope that he IS fine.

8.  Every time you call your mom crying, your mom is quietly gloating that you are getting your comeuppance.

9.  Every time a friend, a cousin, a neighbor, a stranger compares your children and your child comes up lacking (see #3) just tell them that you will revisit the subject when your kids are 40-- then you'll see who is the better/ more successful/ smarter/ etc. child.  If she actually calls you when your child is 40, well, she's crazy.  Concede defeat just to maintain your own sanity.

10.  The easiest way to potty train a child is to let them run around naked.  It may be the only successful way-- if by successful you mean getting your child on the potty before they've gone "all the way".  If by successful you mean keeping a clean house, well, find another method.

11.  Which reminds me-- it's not necessary to have a clean house all the time. Or clean kids all the time.  Some studies have even suggested that kids who play in dirt have higher immunity and fewer allergies. My kids are pretty darn healthy.  Enough said.

12.  Have lots of children.  The more you have, the better your chances of achieving perfection in one of them.  Michael Jordon (probably) didn't make his first basket.  Bill Gates' first computer (probably) didn't work.  I'm not saying not to expect alot from your first child, I'm just saying that the more practice you have at parenting, the better you'll be.  Theorists have theorized that you need 10,000 hours in order to become a pro at any thing (Malcolm Gladwell), which would imply that any mother of a one and a half year old is a pro, but we've all seen other mothers who ruin that hypothosis (#3 again), so I believe that the 10,000 hours actually applies to each *aspect* of parenting-- discipline, bedtime, school conferences, homework-- which means you're going to either need multiple kids in order to become a professional, or you're going to be keeping your only child around longer than the recommended 18 years.  The other aspect of having lots of children is that "Go spend some quality time playing with your sister.  She misses you." sounds a lot better than "Go away, I need five minutes of peace and quiet!"  Another benefit of multiple children is that you have more kids to clean up the more mess that more kids make.

13.  Don't fight with your spouse/ significant other/ baby's other parent in front of your kids.  HAHAHAHAHahahahahahahahaha (while I'm laughing, I'll add "don't yell at your kids" and continue laughing) HAHAHAHAhahahahahaha.  So after your disregard this advice, make up for it with lots of hugs and kisses and "I love you's"-- both to your spouse/ significant other/ baby's other parent AND your kids.   It really does make it all better.

14.  Make out in front of your kids.  Alot.  They think it's absolutely disgusting and may run out of the room screaming, but that could be a very good thing (as long as they don't run back in-- or you'll be the one screaming.)  If they don't run away screaming, it's a good balance for the times you break #13.

15.  Despite all the baby products that you *think* you are going to need, you will get along quite fine without any of them.  You've got everything you need.  Arms.  Boobs.  Okay, maybe you should get a crib and a high chair, but all the bopees, bepoos, bapas, bouncers, and diaper 1-2-3's.... uhm, it's marketing.  It's not necessary; so have fun getting what you want, but don't stress about what you *need* to have in order to be prepared for baby.

16.  Geeze. Let other people hold your baby.  Unless that person is *literally* sneezing on your child, chances are pretty good that they aren't going to get the kid sick.  And there is nothing worse than the mom who says "uhm... she's going to cry if I give her to you" or "I just got her to sleep."  Really? Okay, then.  I'll give her back if she cries, and if she wakes up... well, what's the big deal?  To say no, well... it's insulting and it's rude.  Very few people have actually ever dropped a baby.  And no one is going to try to steal yours-- despite your confidence in #2.

17.  If you call someone and say "I just can't stand my kid today", they will say "I know how you feel.  I've had that day too" (or something like that).  They will think "I can't believe she said that-- what a horrible mother she must be".  I'm just saying.

18.  Try, at least TRY to have a somewhat natural delivery for at least a few minutes.  By this I mean, let yourself feel the pain.  This is for your own good.  First of all, it's interesting to discover what your body can handle and the lengths to which it can go.  Second, it's imperative that you are able, at some point in time, to look at your child and say "I went through the pain of labor for you, and you can't do *this* for me?".  It's also useful ammunition against your husband at some point.  I'm not going to judge you (although you should probably read #3 again) if you can't make it all the way.  I screamed-- no, strike that-- I *whimpered* for drugs through 3 out of the 4 of mine and got those drugs for one of them (just in time to push).  And I only had four hour labors.  So, believe me, I can't be too judgmental. But at least allow yourself to feel some of it.  Besides, it gives you bragging rights.

19.  Breastfeed.  Not just because it's healthy, but because it's easy.  Whether you're a stay at home mom or a working mom, pulling out a breast or pumping milk twice a day at work is a lot easier than making a special trip to the store to buy formula, mixing that formula, getting the bottle the right temperature, cleaning the bottles, finding the bottles, etc.  You get my drift.  The only downside of nursing is a/ your breasts will change, but it's not like they still look 18 years old anyhow; and b/ you can't send your husband to feed the baby in the middle of the night.  But the upside to this is that now you have an excuse to sleep in in the mornings since you were up 2, 3, 4 times last night with the wee-one.  Use this to your advantage.  And yes, the first 2-3 weeks of breastfeeding are going to hurt like a B!t@h.  Deal with it.  Fight through it.  If you choose not to, I won't judge you (see #3), and I will not judge you if you actually have a medical issue that keeps you from nursing-- I'm not that horrid.  But breast-feeding is not just the best way (all doctors agree) and the natural way (you do have breasts for a reason), but it's the one thing that YOU and only you can do for your child... and there's nothing more amazing than the feeling you'll get from giving this form of love to your baby and feeling their little fingers on yours as they look at you, attached to you, part of you. Yes, I'm biased.  This is my blog.  I'm allowed to be.

20.  Hold your baby.  Someone out there has gotten really rich convincing moms that they need to buy strollers and baby carriers in order to hold a baby.  Uhm... You have arms.  Yes, arms.  Those things were made for carrying a baby.  I guess I just don't get it-- why would you NOT want to hold your baby?  Why would you want to spend more time looking elsewhere than looking into those little eyes that *only* want to look at you?  Aside from the psychological benefits and social awareness strengths that holding a child creates-- I'm sure your kid will get that eventually somehow-- and the upper arm strength you will develop, why oh why would you have a child that you don't want to keep in your arms the whole time you can?  There's nothing better than a sweaty damp cheek laying on your neck asleep... it's the most amazing feeling- and soon enough, they won't want you to touch them, so hold them now while you can.  Suck up that "amazing" while you have the opportunity to do so.

21.  Be present.  I'm not saying you have to follow your kids around. That would drive anyone (most people) insane.  But when your child wants to show you an ugly brown stick figure picture of yourself for the thirty-second time today-- take both eyes off the tv/ book/ computer screen/ ipad and LOOK AT IT.  And tell them how beautiful it is.  How amazing it is.   And after they leave it on the floor and run off to make you a thirty-third, throw it away quickly.  But always look at your kids.  There's nothing like the pain in a kids' eyes (or the strength of their rebellion) if they feel they are being ignored-- especially after they've put all that love, effort, and age-appropriate creativity into a really bad piece of art.

22.  If you just can't be present anymore- it's been one of those days that you just can't handle one more second.  Put down the phone (#17) and get out of there quickly before you lose it.  You do NOT want to lose it in front of your kids-- you will then revert to #5, whether in fact or theory.  Go hide in the bathroom, the garage, the back deck, the laundry room (a glass of wine helps) and give yourself a nice little break.  Believe me, the kids are safer unattended for those three minutes than they would be if you didn't remove yourself quickly from the scene.

23.  Parenting is a lot easier in conjunction with a little wine.  Kids are cuter, their songs make more sense, and bedtime is much easier to handle.  It is okay to have a glass of wine or a beer every now and then.  It is not okay for your kids to see you drunk. One of the many reasons this is a bad idea is because they will go to school and tell their teachers and their friends (who will tell their moms) that you were drunk last night and that's why their homework wasn't finished-- and now we're back to #3 again.   And that could make for a very awkward Parent-Teacher conference and may explain why little Johnny isn't allowed to play at your house anymore.

24.  Getting your child a dog will teach responsibility, compassion, etc.  But by the time your child is old enough for a dog you have probably already learned enough about responsibility, compassion, etc., so skip the dog.

25. Let your three year old dress herself sometimes.  And do her own hair.  And tell her she looks beautiful when she does it.  It's good for her self-esteem and independence.  Are you really that worried about how it reflects on you?  Believe me, it will make your life a lot easier if you just go with the flow sometimes.  This is also the time when people will most often look at your child and say "you know how to pick your battles" (take that as a compliment-- even if YOU dressed her this time, just go with it.)

26.  Recognize that while you may believe you have the perfect child, you don't.  And telling other people you have the perfect child is just going to either A/ annoy them, B/ make them think you are delusional or one of "those parents" who refuses to see that their child is the worst kid on the bus or C/ give them a reason to blatantly search for something/ anything to criticize about your child.  So, even if you *think* your child is perfect, no one wants to hear about it. I'm not saying don't brag on your baby.  In fact, I think you should brag on your child-- even occasionally when they don't know that you know that they can hear you-- but just don't tell other parents that yours is perfect.  Yours isn't.  Theirs is.

27.  Don't get offended when other people give unsolicited advice.  They do it because they care.  Take what you want- leave the rest.  It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet.  You're not forced to try everything, but it's always good to have the option.  Two-thirds of the people who read this will probably be offended by some part of it, and three-quarters of those offended will admit to themselves that I'm right, but still be offended--  but hey, it's advice-- you don't HAVE to take it.  Heck, you don't HAVE to read this (but now that you have, finish, please!)

28. Listen to the advice other people give.  I didn't say *follow* their advice, I said LISTEN to it.  No, they aren't experts, but neither are you.  And if they've already been there/ done that, you just *may* learn something from them. See #6.  And remind them of #6. Listen to them, but... #27.

29.  Say I love you.  All the time.  To everyone you love-- but especially your children.  "I love you" should fall out of your mouth so easily and so quickly that you are embarrassed every time you hang up the phone with a telemarketer.  You should, at least once, overhear your children's friends ask "why does your mom say she loves me?".  You should say it in front of teachers, friends, soccer coaches, and other parents.  As a result, you will look like an exceptionally good parent when your son runs past you on the soccer field, mid play, and yells "I love you" over his shoulder.  No one else's son did that.  MINE DID.  (#26, anyone?)

30.  Pray.  A lot.

Who doesn't love shoes?

There is a stereotype out there.  I don't know if it is true, but I definitely fall into it.  I love shoes.  I do.  I look at other women's shoes.  I dream of which shoes to wear with which outfits. I send my husband links to the shoes I love in hopes that he may oblige me.  I lust over pictures in magazines.

But then, well, here's where I guess I break from the stereotype:  I don't wear any of them.  I don't wear shoes.  Not really.  Oh, when I go to work I'll put on a pair of heels-- but typically the same pair all the time.  The comfortable ones with a bit of a heel, a bit of a style, but the ones that aren't going to make it a problem for me to walk across campus and then lecture standing for another two hours.  And when it comes to running errands and doing pretty much anything else it's either my one comfortable pair of sneakers (New Balance, of course) or, occasionally, my brown knit Uggs (gift Christmas of '08).  In summer, it's flipflops-  the $2 ones I picked up on my honeymoon in Cancun, most often, if I bother to put shoes on at all.  (My husband teases me (I think he's teasing) that my feet are blacker than his.)  And sure, I'll occasionally mix it up and throw on a different pair of flip flops or a pair of black leather boots for lectures, but most of the time, well, I'm a comfy shoes only type of girl.  Heck, I even got married barefoot.  My choices at the last minute were to either try not to slip and teeter down the pine needle-coated aisle in three inch white silk sandals (I got married outside-- we did not bring pine needles into the church) or to go shoeless, comfortable, and not have to worry about throwing myself at my husband's feet on our wedding day.  You know which I chose.  I'm not sure if my husband would have married me if he'd known I ditched my shoes last minute (thank goodness for long wedding dresses), but it's too late now.  

The irony is that, like many, if not most, women, I have a lot of shoes.  A LOT of shoes.  You see, not only do I love shoes, but my HUSBAND loves shoes.  Women's shoes, that is.  No, not enough to wear them (perverts), but definitely enough that this is his present to me--every single holiday/ birthday/ gift occasion for the last ten years.  

You see, I love to look at shoes, but knowing that I don't wear shoes, I am logical enough to not buy them for myself.  Prior to meeting my husband, I may have had five pairs of shoes, and most of them were ten years old, since I don't throw shoes away.  I still have a pair of Skechers from back when Skechers were the alternative kid's shoe of choice (one year in college, I think).  I'm saving them for when Kayton can wear a size 8.   

But when I met my husband, well, he decided to capitalize on the "my wife likes shoes, she says; I like shoes... I'll buy her shoes."  And buy me shoes he did.  

I haven't bought myself a pair of shoes in 10 years, and yet I have probably 100 pairs of shoes now. Here's where the problem comes in.  The super hot shoes that my husband and I both love in the magazines are not, well.... let me put this another way:  I can't push a grocery cart, walk a dog, and chase four children in four different directions, run up and down two flights of stairs with full laundry baskets and mow the lawn while wearing five inch platform slingback pumps.  Just not possible.  For me, at least.  Maybe for you, but not for me.  And that's all my husband buys.  The sexy shoe.  The hot shoe. The newest style shoe.  The (dare I say it?) "stripper shoe".  Not the sneaker/flipflop.   Either my husband has A/ forgotten that I am a 33 year old, comfortably dressed mother of four because I'm pretty darn sexy  or B/ is trying desperately to turn me from a 33 year old, comfortably dressed mother of four into something pretty darn sexy.  

And while sometimes I get a little depressed at the lack of surprise in opening gifts from him-- "Happy Anniversary, Honey!  More Shoes?  Yeah!  Oh-- these look SUPER sexy and uncomfortable. I'll definitely wear these next time you and I go out dancing all night like we did back before, well... uhm.... once..."-- other times, I appreciate his consistency.  

So this past Mother's Day I decided to, at least, use the holiday to my advantage.  So about a week before Mother's Day I sent an email to my husband, including a link to a pair of cutesy sandals with a flat heel but a decorative design, saying "these would look great with my jeans this summer".  Be preemptive without ruining the surprise, right?  And I waited.

Mother's Day arrived.  My husband showed his love for me by making me coffee for the first time in our entire relationship.  (I love him for trying.  I didn't love the coffee.)  And after receiving the variety of homemade cards and pictures and I love yous from the children, he presented me with a wrapped box and a sheepish "I got you a little something."  Of course, my kids insisted I close my eyes and guess what it was as I unwrapped the box... took off the lid... and, eyes still closed, felt inside.... hmmm... rope design (good start), strappy (cute),  aaaaannnndddddd...   Yup.  There it is.  The six inch heel.  

So I opened my eyes, thanked my husband effusively for super cute shoes that I absolutely loved, strapped them on, and toddled off to a soccer game, slightly too tall now to hold Micah's hand, unable to balance a cooler and a lawn chair, and convinced that each step would be my last, but looking darn good in my shoes.  My husband said so.    

Monday, May 7, 2012

Past, Present, and Going on a Date (No, not with my husband)

Something rather cool happened last week.  Dare I say, even, that it was exciting and, in some ways, a dream come true? Yes, yes, I think I do dare.  You see, last week, I went on a date.  And, no, not with my husband- with a man I've been infatuated with for fifteen years.  Yup, a date with a man who wasn't my husband. When I called my mother to tell her I was going on a date, she very quickly corrected me to say "Not a date, you are meeting a friend."  To which I responded, Well, call it whatever you have to to keep my marriage intact, but, based on the the immense amount of time I spent standing in front of my closet trying to decide what to wear, the even greater time I put into my hair and makeup, the nervous giggles I got when I thought about seeing my friend-- and the fact that it was a boy (well, I guess a Man now), I'm going to call it a date.

Even my husband thought it was a date.  As he sat on the couch watching me put on my make-up he was extremely helpful.  Yes, you look as good as you did in college.  (The fact that he didn't know me in college is beside the point.)  No, you don't look like you've gotten old.  Yes, ***sigh*** he'll think you're pretty.
At one point I realized how silly I was sounding and, in a somewhat inappropriate attempt at humor I asked JMahl if  "this is what it would be like if we had an open marriage?"  He responded by asking me if I was wearing my sexy underwear.  I'll keep the answer to that one between us, but I did advise him that since I had not shaved my legs, it was obviously just a fashion choice, nothing more.  I'm not sure that settled him, since I seldom wear sexy underwear (or shave my legs) for him, but he's a good man and he told me I was beautiful and to have a good time, before sending me out the door.

The impetus for all this nervousness and attempted sex appeal was a sudden, random aligning of schedules, times and countries which opened up the door for me to see an old  college friend for the first time in almost fifteen years.  To put my cards completely on the table (as my  husband required me to do), yes, there *was* maybe some *mild* interest on my part of some non-friendship nature back then, but that was fifteen years ago and college was a different time and yada-yada.  My husband then reminded me that his question hadn't been about interest, but had been about, well, something more. I was very honest with my husband, and I don't feel it's as necessary to be honest here, but suffice it to say "Maybe a little, but NO, not THAT... or THat... or That.. Ew. Gross!  I haven't even done that with you!"  Besides, it was fifteen years ago and college was a different time and yada-yada.  Right?


I don't know how many of you have ever had an "unrequited love", to use a somewhat cheesy, but accurate phrase; but I'm willing to bet most of us have had at least one.  And this guy was mine.  And I have found, 15 years post fact, that it is this never-returned; no opening and (therefore) no closure; this "what might have been that never had the chance to utterly destroy itself" that sticks in a mind more than any other relationship.      During the first months/ years of our relationship, when JMahl and I were still trying to get to know each other and find out things about each others past relationships, it was the ex's that we would ask about: Did you love him/her?  Why did it end?  Do you ever still think about _____?  No one thinks to ask about the people that you were infatuated with from a bit of a distance;  the people that you may have had a few encounters with, enough to feed your flame, but not enough to ever call a relationship.  And it is those that stick in your head and make you wonder about "The Road Not Taken"-- not the roads you took that turned into a wildfire behind you destroying any chance or desire to ever go back down that path.  I think one time I may have literally put a cigarette out on the end of that path, after dousing the entire path with gasoline.  Or maybe my ex did that... well, either way, those aren't the people for whom you get dressed in your skinny-looking jeans, put on sexy underwear, and plan out an entire nights conversation in your head. But the thing about these "unrequited" emotions and fictional relationships (you know, the ones you've played out entirely in your head up to your death bed proclamations of love) is that you never have the opportunity to set fire to them.  You've never fought horribly in a manner befitting Dateline.  You never made the decision to end the relationship because, well, there never was a relationship... So having never had a chance to ruin those dreams with a strong dose of reality, those dreams remain... well... dreams.

But back to my date.  It was horrid.  He'd gotten old and unattractive. He was dull and boring, we had nothing to talk about after the required "do you remember so-and-so?", and I couldn't wait for the evening to end, wondering what it was about him that had snagged my romantic fantasy in the first place.  After an hour and a half, having finished one drink, I thought it was acceptable to use the excuse "the children need me and my husband is waiting for me", and I left, grateful to be headed home to a husband who would be thrilled to see me and four sweet children sleeping soundly in their beds.

No, not really.  He looked just the same as in college- or maybe better.  He'd never married or had children, and he lived an extremely exotic life traveling the world for his job, taking trips that those who are married with children can only dream of post-retirement, and having amazing experiences that I had chosen to believe no one over the age of 29 could have.  He'd swam across the English Channel, is preparing to swim across the Atlantic Ocean, and was just all around Awesome.  Quite impressive, might I say?  I could probably swim all the way across my neighbor's swimming pool if I tried really really really hard.  He was just like I remembered him, and my heart flip-flopped like I was still a nineteen year old college girl on a date with her "dream guy".

And for a moment, I was.  For a moment (and by moment, I mean four hours) I was young, unattached, childless, and beautiful.  I forgot about my husband at home, my children who probably were not going to bed easily for him, my mortgage and my career.  I forgot about the bills in the account, the fight my husband and I had got into the day earlier, the housecleaning I had to do in the morning. For a moment it was as though I'd taken a step back and could still pretend to go down any road I wanted.  And it was a good feeling.  Really good. I could have spent all night... and the next day... sitting in that bar, with that guy, that night.

But ten years ago, it wasn't that guy.  Ten years ago, it was a different guy, a different bar, a different conversation-- but the same feeling.  That feeling of all the world ahead of me, but the only important part of the world right there in front of me.  Ten years ago, my heart flip-flopped at the sight, sound, thought, touch of a different man.  A man who I was madly infatuated with but who had yet to tell me that he felt the same.  Ten years ago I longed for that guy to look at me- only at me-- and I would drive home from the date wishing I'd said something different, worn something cuter, convinced him to keep me there with him, drink after drink, neither of us wanting the evening to end. And then, one night, the evening didn't end.  And our life together began.

Having those feelings again last week didn't make me regret the road I'd taken.  It reminded me of how beautiful my own road use to be.  Any thrill of newness is exciting.  Any one that hasn't seen you naked after four kids; heard you scream bloody murder because of dirty underwear on the floor; watched you make a fool out of yourself; taken your side in family arguments; believed you when you said one of the babies must have peed your bed last night... Anyone that you haven't screamed at for stealing the covers again; for making nasty bodily sounds; for leaving their dirty socks all over the house; for not calling to say they are going to be late for dinner... any one that you don't know and that doesn't know you is going to be exciting and thrilling and, well, enticing.  But there's something to be said about letting the newness go.  Something very valuable in knowing that I don't have to impress my husband in order to get his attention.  I don't have to be witty, look young, censor my words- he's still going to be here.  He has seen me through that thrill and excitement of new love into the sometimes boredom and habit of "old love".  He has watched me get older (get fatter)- dear God, he's seen me give birth.  Multiple times.  That's not something I want anyone else to see... not even in my fantasies.

And sure, sometimes I wish we still had stimulating conversations about religious theory and that he would look at me as though it was the first time he'd seen me in fifteen years and I was every bit as beautiful as he remembered (literary freedom here, people, literary freedom).  Sometimes I wish I could still wow him by walking into a room, and still have him see me as interesting when I expound on my beliefs on government restructuring and motivational theories.  But would I trade that for raising kids together for the last ten years?  He knows me, my theories, and my beliefs-- inside and out.  And while, I admit, I miss having my stomach flip-flop at the thought of seeing him.  I wouldn't trade it for the comfort of not being embarrassed when he sees my flip-floppy stomach fat.  And while there's something thrilling about that nervousness when waiting- hoping for a phone call to make plans-- I wouldn't trade it for the knowledge that he'll be home with me every night.  And while my husband may never swim across the Atlantic Ocean (or swim, period);  may not have a sexy British accent (only sexy to Americans) and will most likely never write a book (unless it's a rebuttal to mine), that's okay.  Because I can guarantee that the fantasies that result from a long ago unrequited love will never hold true in real life, but the reality of my life and marriage to THIS man is something that will.

So when my evening out with my friend ended, and we'd done the requisite hugs, good to see yous, good luck on your journey, don't let the sharks get you, I drove home to find my husband groggy from an inability to sleep, an "oh, your home?  Your turn to deal with THAT", and a very excited, hopping up and down, "MOMMY's HOME!" coming from my two year old who, I am proud to say,  not being used to her Mommy going out on dates, had not gone to bed at all.  Greeted thus, I quickly stripped off my sexy clothes, climbed into a bed overcrowded with father and baby, and fell into pleasant dreams that couldn't beat my reality anyway.

And if, in another fifteen years, the opportunity arises for me to see this friend again, I'll still probably stress about my clothes choice, put on sexy underwear, remind my husband that "he was just a friend"... and hope, hope, hope, I still get that same thrill.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

In Memory...

The fourth anniversary of my Grandmother's death came and went.  I didn't notice any posts on Facebook; I didn't spend any time in silent, tearful reflection of her life; in fact, I didn't even think of it.  And while I am, in a way, ashamed to admit that... I think that's how it should be... for me.

My Grandmother's death was the first death that I ever dealt with. I'd lost a great-grandmother many years previously, when I was too young to mourn.  I'd lost a dear neighbor-grandmother-type while I was in college, but a few tears and a few hours of mourning, and I moved on.  I'd known people who had died, but no one who I had loved.  So when G-Ma passed, it was a learning experience for me.  A time of discovering how to miss someone close to you;  how to love someone even after they are gone forever.  Most importantly, it was a time of figuring out how a family continues to move, rotate around each other, and grow without their Matriarch.

My Grandmother died in April, a time most often reserved for life and growth.  My third child, Kolbie, was three months old.  Because we were in Maryland and Grandma was in Florida, I had not yet had the opportunity to introduce Grandma to her newest great-grandchild, although she had already made herself an active presence in the baby's life.  Gifts in the mail (a blanket that Kolbie carries with her reminescent of Linus), new clothes, and, most fondly remembered, phone call after phone call during my pregnancy suggesting baby names.  I have to laugh when I think of some of her suggestions... but I can guarantee she laughed when she heard what name we'd chosen.  Needless to say, "Kolbie" wasn't on her list.

I missed introducing my sweet baby girl to my grandmother by a matter of hours.  We received the news that she had passed as we were boarding the plane at Dulles.   Although we weren't shocked that she was gone, I think there was also a sense of disbelief.  I know for me, I found it hard to believe that someone was dead if I couldn't see their absence immediately.  It wasn't until we arrived in Florida, arrived in the midst of mourning and funeral arrangements and family members moving around attempting to deal with their individualized pain that I think the non-logical aspect of her loss hit me.  But even then, I think it was primarily logic that caused me to mourn-- knowing that she was dead.  Or is it the knowing that she wouldn't be coming back?

For that, in truth, wasn't the time of most mourning for me.  I'd only seen her a few times in her Florida setting, so it was hard to miss her in a place I didn't know her.  But three months later, as the family converged at Grandma and Grandpa's lake house in New York, then the missing hit.  I still recall arriving at Conesus Lake, stretching legs and happy to have made the seven hour trip without succumbing to the desire to leave one of the children on the side of the road.  As we greeted family and shared anecdotes about the trip north with two little ones and a newborn, I kept sniffing the air for the absent smell of cigarettes.  I couldn't help but look in her chair and not see her.  That was where I missed her-- where I knew her.  Where she belonged.

I thought it was just me.  Just me who associated her so closely to that specific place.  But it wasn't until the following year at Conesus when my son, five years old then, ran through the living room excited to have arrived, stopped and asked me, confused, "I want to say hi to Great-Grandma!  Where is she?  She's not in her chair!", that I realized the concept of her death over a year earlier had never quite hit him.  He still expected her to be in that chair by the big picture window-- no matter where he was.

Four years have passed..  I-- and for all I know, others as well- still look in that chair each time we visit the Lake, not really "for" Grandma, but definitely in memory of Grandma.  It's not that I don't miss her the rest of the time, it's just that I didn't "know" her the rest of the time.  I could call her across state lines, but not being able to call her ever is, in some ways, the same as just choosing not to call her today-- or so it feels.  And many times since her death- often on the anniversary of, I think about calling Grandpa-- but I don't.  He'd never been the one who talked on the phone.  Oh, he'd be there, sitting on the second line, listening as Grandma and I would go on and on about what the kids were doing and how life was, but he wasn't a talker, only occasionally offering a comment on Grandma and my dialogue.  So I didn't call.  But maybe I should have.

When I lost my baby, I cried for days.  I moved around that Thanksgiving holiday, still holding that child in my womb, knowing it was dead, refusing to involve myself in the laughter going on around me.  I thought I would cry forever.  I thought that not a morning would pass that I wouldn't wake up, touch my belly, and remember.  But I was blessed with Micah and, while I still remember and mourn that lost child, it doesn't hurt as it once did. I have no memories that haven't been exchanged for better ones-- a kicking child, a live birth, a baby in my arms. I remember, but I don't mourn.  My mother lost multiple babies.  I call her on the dates of their birth, the dates of their death, when I recall them.  We don't speak of why I'm calling, what that date represents.  We just speak.  And we know what the other is thinking.  I didn't call my Grandfather because I argued "what would I say?  Do I mention it?  I never call him, we email (my moving-into-the-21st-century grandfather).  I don't want to bring up bad memories when he may be having a great day.  I don't want to cause him sadness today, when he must have so much more longing and missing after sixty years of marriage than I can ever imagine.  I don't want to interrupt a good memory with his new friend, if that's how he is spending this day...  but I know those are just excuses. Maybe Grandpa would have wanted that voice on the other end of the line.  Not saying anything, but saying everything I don't know how to say in the ringing of the phone itself.  So, I'm sorry, Grandpa.

Maybe I chose subconsciously to forget this date, this anniversary this year, refuse to assign it strength and power on my calendar because that's my way of remembering her.  If I don't make that phone call, she can't not pick up that phone.  If I don't see that chair sitting empty, I don't notice that she is gone.  There's no way I will ever forget my Grandmother.  No day that I won't, in some way, miss her and regret her absence in my life and the lives of my children.  But you can miss someone and mourn someone without assigning a time and date to it.  And I'd rather remember her in her chair, watching as her offspring... and their offspring... and their offspring... moved past her, around her, occasionally taking a seat next to her to fill her in on recent news or that day's events, if the seat next to her happened to be empty (which it seldom was).  I'd rather pretend she is still there... just waiting for the next visit from her family, then remember the day she died.

So, on that day, the fourth anniversary of her death, I thought of finding cleats for the soccer games and cupcakes growing stale on my counter, three pounds of crabs and a bottle or two of beer on the back deck.  I thought of my children, my husband, what laundry needed to be done and lesson planning....and I hope she wouldn't mind that she was missing all of that, since the lake is beautiful to look at this time of year from a soft pink chair next to a picture window.    

Friday, April 13, 2012

Letting go...

So, Micah turned two on Sunday.  This also happened to be Easter Sunday, which was fine for this year, but I can see becoming a problem down the road.  For one, we got so distracted with Easter dinner with family and friends that I lost track of time and neglected to make Micah a birthday cake.  I rectified this mistake two days after the fact and, safe to say, she didn't notice.  She blew out the candles like a champ- or maybe it was Kolbie... or Kayton... or Mason.... and her presents also got opened as though she'd been doing it for many years more than her two--although, again, she had a lot of assistance.

But birthday cake aside, her two year old birthday was even a bigger milestone for my sweet little girl than either she or I were prepared for.  You see, since her first birthday, I've been promising my husband (and my mother-in-law.... and my friends... and my own parents... and my other three children) that I would wean my dear sweet baby girl.

I am not a crazy nursing fiend. Personally, I can't wait to have my body back to myself and my sleep-time uninterrupted by a 5am nursing call.  Granted, it's been a few months since I've had to get out of bed to retrieve a crying child from her crib.  These days, I typically wake up sometime between 4 and 5 am to a little fuzzy head peeping over the edge of my bed, face even with mine, patting my face, softly saying "Mommy, nurse!  Mommy... 'ake up!  Nurse!"  If I am (and by "I am" I mean "they are") dangling too far off the bed she doesn't bother to wake me and just goes into nursing mode, standing next to my bed, half-asleep, but content--  reminiscent of what you would see if you visited a petting zoo.  Yes, some days I do feel like a cow.

And it's not just me that's ready for the nursing to end.  Many mornings JMahl has complained about Micah's half-awake attempts to find her source of comfort, patting him and pulling his chest hair to determine if... wait.. no, Mommy's not fuzzy right here and there's no milk forth-coming, so I must roll over, and... yes, that's Mommy... ah....  But the damage is already done.  JMahl is already fundamentally (and probably permanently) disturbed by either A/ the patting and groping hands in the early morning hours or B/ his inability to fulfill the needs of his youngest child.

I'm more disturbed by the fact that she's physically strong enough and mentally smart enough to discard any clothing I may have covering her goal, regardless of where we are.  And now she's vocal-- and by vocal, I mean she knows words-- alot of them-- although it's only six that really bother me.  "MOMMY, I WANT TO NURSE NOW!!!!"  Before she spoke, it wasn't such an embarrassing situation to nurse in public.  She'd cry, people would smile sympathetically and nod their heads understandingly when I would ask "you don't mind if I nurse her, do you?".  Now that she speaks, people look at me as though I'm nursing a nine year old.   My husband is concerned that I will be nursing a nine year old.

So, birthday number two was the designated "time to start weaning the baby" day.  And that day has come and gone.  Oh, I try, but weaning is not so easy as I thought it would be.  And yes, I did nurse my previous three, but Kayton and Mason weaned themselves, and Kolbie was easily weaned.  I clearly remember the first time I told Kolbie no.  She was about 22 months old, and I was pregnant with Micah.  She looked at me very solemnly for a moment, then turned around and toddled off to play with one of her siblings.  And that was that.  Weaned.  Micah isn't so easily distracted, although my husband says it's me and not her that is prolonging this issue.

And maybe he's right.  Maybe it is me; or maybe, Micah understands that I'm just not ready.  Physically, I'm ready.  Socially, I'm beyond ready.  Our society really doesn't approve of nursing past a certain point.  It's just "disturbing" to see a child nursing in her mother's arms, then sit up, buckle up the nursing bra, and in a clear voice say "Thank you, Mommy, that was yummy.  I'm going to go use the potty now, and then I'm going to read a book to you."  Yes, Yes.  I am definitely ready to avoid that situation.  But mentally... mentally, am I ready yet?

I have four children, and I know I will not have any more.  Micah is my last baby.  But it's not just about prolonging her baby-hood.  It's about, well, becoming unnecessary.  There is something amazing, magical, and , yes, prideful, in the fact that when I look at this child of mine, I can see that she is 100% the result of me.  She is, lives, and grows because of ME.  Every ounce of her body came from mine-- something that can't be said about children once they no longer nurse.  Then their body is made up of Daddy's sandwiches and Grandpa's cookies and the Cafeteria Lady's tacos and McDonald's chicken nuggets.  But Micah is still me.  And when she ceases to need me in this way, she not only ceases to be such a complete part of me, but I cease to be completely necessary.  Nursing is the one way that I and ONLY I can appease her needs.  Once she weans, she is an independent being, no longer relying solely on me for sustenance and comfort, but able to receive those from anyone who hands her a cookie or offers her a hug.

And maybe that's what this ultimately comes down to--- letting go of ME as the most important part of her life.  Once a child weans, they are independent.  They are their own person.  They steal cookies out of the cookie jar when hungry; they go to school and learn other people's ideas and theories; they listen to their friends' moms more happily than they do their own.  They become their own person.  And while there is something very wonderful about watching your children grow into their own bodies and their own personalities, there is something very heart-breaking in realizing that you are just now an addendum to their life--still an important part of their life, but no longer the Creator and Sustainer of that life.

But isn't this the ultimate goal of parenthood?  To create, to mold, to educate, to support, to love, to encourage, to promote the lives of our children, not our own?  We give birth to our children so that they will, in turn, give birth to progress, creativity, hope, a future.  We create them so they can create a better world, and very few people have been successful in this while still attached to their mothers.  Literally.

And while the desire to prolong this transition from "part of me" to "part of my life" is strong, I recognize it must come some day.  And it probably should come before my husband gives up sleeping in our bed altogether or I am completely ostracized from all polite society.  And I'd like it to come while there is still some chance that I can regain my pre-nursing body.... but that doesn't mean I'm not going to mourn this loss of my "baby", and it doesn't mean it's going to happen overnight; but it will happen, I'm sure of it.  At the very least, by the time Micah decides to run for political office, she'll know that she'll either need to quit on her own or do a darn good job of hiding it from the media.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Sweet Child of Mine

Maybe I'm not the perfect mother.  Maybe if I were perfect, I'd be successful at accomplishing all those goals that non-parents swear they will achieve post-parenthood (ie. perfect children, always clean, always well-mannered, spotless house).  And although I've never done a survey, I am willing to bet that the majority of parents do fail in at least one small area.  If you're my sister-in-law, that failing is somewhere along the lines of "well, we wanted to create a working solar system that rotated at a similar speed to the actual earth and operated off wind power generated from the windmill we created last weekend... but, alas, we couldn't get the speed proportionate to the size..."*, but if you're me, these failings tend to fall along larger lines-- "you mean I'm supposed to feed AND bathe my children daily?  I thought it was either/ or... whoops..."  

When it comes down to it, it takes a lot of energy and brain power to master a focus on all skills necessary in order to create exceptional children.  It turns out, much to my shock, that kids aren't just born perfect.  They are born with natural desires to take what they want, scream if they don't get it, and leave behind that which they want no more-- for some one else to clean up.  Despite my husband's wishes, children are NOT innately clean and well-behaved.  Or, at least, mine aren't.  

So, taking a page from the management book, I decided to draw up a list of goals for my children, including a SWOT analysis and strategic implementation design.  And then, realizing that attempting to fix all problems simultaneously would make life miserable, I prioritized.

Now, prioritizing is easy, to some extent, when you can rely on a few things happening automatically.  For example, despite my prior post, I have a relatively strong amount of confidence in the public school education here in Howard County-- so basic educational skills are taking care of and out of my hands.  (ie.  If I read to them nightly, that's only a plus on top of what they are already receiving.  If I am too tired to read one night, they will still know algebra by the time they graduate from High School.)

So I really had to determine what was the most important skill to teach my children- the one area in which I absolutely did NOT want to fail as a parent.  Initially I thought it would be good parenting/ marriage skills to include my husband in this project, but when, without even thinking about it, he said "CLEANING", I decided his opinion wasn't worth that much, and went ahead with my own theorizing.

Education is fundamental, but it's not an option in my family; so regardless of whether or not I succeed at teaching them "the importance of education", they are all going to college.  Cleanliness and taking care of self and pride in belongings-- also important-- but is it the MOST important?  (At this point in my musings I had to consciously ignore my husband screaming "YES< YES< YES< YES< YES" in my ear.) And I ultimately came to the determination that Compassion was the most important thing to teach my children.  What I've discovered since then, however, is not that easy to teach.  

Now, I've been told that I have sweet children-- something I directly attribute (for no real reason) to breastfeeding beyond the socially accepted time frame and my abhorrence for strollers and baby carriers, preferring instead to carry my children and look with pity on those poor toddlers sitting complacently (and unhugged) in their rolling 'ignore-mobiles'. (Are you picturing the hippy-mom from the movie "Away We Go"?  "Why would you want to push your children away from you?"  Yup, that's me.)

But sweet children are not the same as compassionate children.  And that is my goal.  After trying to enforce compassion in my children-- You WILL be nice to your brother, or else-- bribe it out of them-- I'll pay you to go read to Mrs. Patel for 10 minutes-- or demonstrate it to them-- see Mommy writing this big check to charity? (ok, not so big... but...), I've come to believe that a natural empathy with or sympathy for another person is something that is simply ingrained in some children and not in others.  I'm not saying that everyone can't be charitable.  That's just an action.  But I think there is a huge chasm between "doing the compassionate deed" and "being compassionate", and I'm not sure how to (or if I can) force my children to cross it.  And a part of me believes that it's not possible to truly have compassion for others until you can understand loss, pain, fear, absence-- something with which, gratefully, my children have no experience.  

So, taking the approach that setting an example is the only way to encourage these actions now and true concern for others down the road, I continued to give a few dollars to the 195 exit couple and the Shell Station Santa Claus each time I saw them.  I was careful to overemphasis my thank yous and pleases, and I took the children with me to visit my elderly neighbors, being sure to acknowledge and praise when they took the initiative to do something kind for someone else; and I continually preached "care for everything-- no matter how big or how small.  Everyone and everything deserves compassion."  

And then it all went out the window.   We got a new pet.  Our pets, I should say.  Many, many, many squeaky, little pets (although I've only seen one, the signs speak to many more.)  And all my "Care for other things.  Be gentle.  Be kind." talk went flying out the window with one of the dead pets as I gleefully jumped up and down screaming "I got one!  I got one!  YOU'RE DEAD, YOU BLOODY MOUSE!  AND I'M GOING TO KILL YOUR MOMMY, YOUR WIFE, AND YOUR LITTLE BABIES TOO!!!!"

My children stared at me.  Open-mouthed. Afraid to move.  Afraid to speak.  And then Kayton, with a tear in her eye, squeaked out "But, Mommy, you said we had to be nice to EVERYTHING!"  I put down the broom I was swinging (a near miss to Mason's head), put my arms around my eldest child, and told her with all the compassion I could muster, "Honey, I love that you care so much for little animals.  That's just wonderful.  But you don't understand.... some things just need to be killed."

Unless, of course, she improves dramatically on her Recorder and can Pied Piper these things out of here.


*I am always extremely impressed with the sheer skill my sister-in-law (and her children and husband) have when it comes to projects.  I envy her intelligence and ability (and patience).   

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Just what are they teaching my kids?

One of the many dichotomies of parenthood is that we stress about what we are teaching our children and question whether or not we are raising them the proper way- only to send them off, for eight hours a day, to be taught by people we have never met, a manner of beliefs and texts the content of which we may or may not be aware.  Basically, as much as we talk about "how we raise our children", a good chunk of that raising is being done by someone else.  And we don't really have a choice in the matter-- unless we want to home-school; and I, for one, would rather have the government brain-wash my children a' la 1984 than do it myself.  As much as I love my children, it's all I can do to enforce a 45 minute homework time every night.  There's no way I could extend that another six to seven hours and still maintain what little sanity I have left.

So, my children go to public school.  And we are blessed that Howard County is still ranked among the top public school systems in the country, so I should be able to trust that the education the children are getting is top-notch.  And I shouldn't have to wonder just what is going on behind school walls...  but I do.

No, this post isn't regarding the math homework that is two grade levels above the last math course I took in college.  That's old news.  There's no way I'll ever be able to help middle schoolers with math homework--  I struggle over the second grade requirements.  And fifth grade Language Arts?  Uhm... now, I won't swear that the terminology has changed... I may have just either A/ never learned it or B/ forgotten it.. .but all I can tell Kayton is... "well, did you read it?  ok.... what was it about?  ok.... uhm.... well.... what do YOU think that means?"   And when it comes to Social Studies I'm eagerly learning right along with them, since social studies in small-town VA circa early 80's is very different from social studies in "Hub of Diversity, Maryland, 2012".   But, no, that's not what this post is about.  That stuff I'm all ok with.  I'm proud of it, even.  I LIKE feeling as though my kids may end up smarter than I.  I sure wouldn't want them any dumber.

However, a few weeks ago Mason and I were driving through Baltimore on the way to a doctors appointment.  It was a nice day, so the windows were down as we drove, looking at the sights, listening to NPR Science Friday, and feeling like life was good.  Then, out of the backseat, comes:  "Mom, Am I colored?"

This was one of those moments when I longed for a good old crank window, since the automatic window wasn't going up fast enough for me.  This was not one of those conversations that I wanted drifting on the wind throughout Baltimore.  Plus, I needed time to think this through and giving Mason a "put your window up- it's getting chilly" command bought me a few seconds.  I got a few more seconds by asking Mason to repeat his question.  It never hurts to be safe, since answering the wrong question can be even more dangerous.  I lost moments of my life a few weeks ago trying to figure out how to answer Kolbie when she asked me why I ate Daddy's peanuts.  (Related-- my mother gave JMahl a huge bag of peanuts on our last visit home, and I ate them all.  Unrelated-- I now lock the bedroom door.)

But repetition didn't change the question, and Mason recognizes evasion when he sees it, so he just insisted on an answer. "MOM- am I colored!!????"
We don't say "colored" anymore. We say "black" or "African-American".
They do in school.
Well... wait... what?  They say "colored" in school?
Well, they said that black people were called "colored" in the olden days, so am I colored?

This, of course, led into an explanation of what is now proper to say (does anyone really know anymore?), but Mason would not be deterred.  He kept repeating it over and over-- and who am I to say he can't call himself "colored" if he doesn't want to?  As he pointed out, "colored" is a lot prettier to say than "black".  Since, again, this came from HIM, people aren't BLACK, they are either colored or NOT colored--"like YOU, Mom", says he, "although you're pink, and pinks a color, too, so you're colored, too."

Once we got the semantics out of the way, I still had to answer his question, which was not nearly as hard-- a simple-- "You're both-- lucky you!"  Then we got to what his real point was:  "So, is Kayton colored?"  (Mason, stop saying colored!!!!  Kayton is both, just like you!"
What about Kolbie?  Is she colored?  (I decided at this point that focusing on the word was what was keeping him going, so I just ignored it and answered, if a little annoyed, "Yes.  She's your sister, too.  So she is just like you.)
But not Micah.
Uhm... Micah is half-Daddy and half-Mommy, just like you, Kayton, and Kolbie-- so she's both too.
No, she's not.  She's the same color as you.
Well, her skin may be lighter like mine, but she's still half-both, just like you.
No, she's not, Mom.  Micah is NOT colored.

*big sigh*  Mason, Mason, Mason.  You are completely undoing decades of civil rights with this conversation.  HEY!-- look at that statue!
(diversion accomplished)

But, no, that was not the extent of Mason's public school education.  A few days ago at bedtime, Mason was not happy with having to go to bed, and decided to be in a bad mood.  (Yes, I firmly believe he makes a conscious decision to be grumpy sometimes.)  I had made the conscious decision to remain in a good mood regardless of his mood, so I put my arms around him to hug and kiss him good night and received a
"STOP!  You can't touch me!"

I laughed-- what do you mean I can't touch you?  I'm your Mother.  I can touch you if I want to.

No, you can't.  They said at school that if someone made you uncomfortable and tried to touch you when you didn't want them to, you had to tell them to STOP and tell someone.

Mason, that does NOT apply to mothers trying to hug their sons.

YES, IT DOES.  At school they said NO ONE could touch you unless you wanted them to.

Mason, they were talking about if someone touches you in a private place or if someone hits you.
Well, you hit me.

I did?  When?
You spank me, and that's hitting.

Well, Son, first of all, I don't spank you nearly as often as I probably should; and second, spanking isn't hitting.
Yes, it is. They said so at school.
Really? Well.  I'll spank you if you need a spanking, and I'll hug you whenever I want to, and you tell whoever YOU want to.  I'm your mother.

I"m going to tell my teacher!!!!!
Good.  Then she'll know that I love you and that I'm a good mother.  And I proceeded to hug him for an overly extended, obviously annoying, length of time, just to prove to him that I could.  Hugging making him uncomfortable, bah!!!  Tell THAT to your teacher.

But all jokes aside, I do have to wonder sometimes if the lessons our schools give our children may backfire on our parenting techniques.  I know everything they say and do is for the safety and health and education of  our children.  I do understand this, but I sometimes wonder if the lessons that need to be learned eventually are sometimes learned too soon; or if the safety techniques necessary to protect some children just cause more problems for the parents of others.

I remember as a child being absolutely terrified of my mother when it came to spankings-- I probably got spanked at least once a day, although my memory may not be accurate.  I also know for a fact that had I told a teacher about my spankings they would have assumed I deserved it-- and I'm quite certain I did.  Heck, I got spankings from the teachers in school-- although I'm still not convinced I deserved those, since it was normally Johnny Nichols getting me in trouble and NOT MY FAULT.  And this is not an argument for spanking or not spanking your children.  I'm not going to say "I turned out fine, so spanking's okay."  (although I did turn out fine-- I think).  And to clarify, I seldom spank my children.  I've spanked Kayton a few times, and it worked so well I haven't needed to spank her since.  Mason?  HAH!  I could spank him for three days straight and he'd get up, turn around, and do whatever he did again.  So, what's the point?

And I absolutely recognize that the versions of truth you get from an eight year old boy are not always the way things really were said.  Kids (especially smart kids) distort things according to their desired results; but I do worry about when a supplied education starts to get in the way of good parenting-- or just, well, when we parents don't KNOW what their kids are being taught.

Spankings and Hugs are one thing.  Diversity and Civil Rights education is another.  I firmly agree that our kids need to learn history, but I wonder sometimes if maybe we are starting this education too early.  At this age, kids see kids.  Recognizing differences is something that is learned from other people-- from parents, from teachers, from society.  Well, let me clarify.  In Howard County-- Hub-of-Diversity, Maryland-- kids are so used to seeing kids of different nationalities, races, ethnicity, and mixes of all the above, that they don't look at the differences.  It IS natural to them.  Is it possible that by teaching these "born into diversity" children about the past, about racism, about segregation, about "colored", that we are stripping them of that innocence before it is necessary?  They have the rest of their lives to learn that "sixty years ago people who looked like you (or looked like your friend) weren't allowed to -----".  Do they need to learn that today?

I don't know.  I don't know, so I trust those who claim they do.  I just go with the flow, answering the questions posed, clarifying the lessons as best I can.  But last night, when four year old Kolbie walked into the kitchen with a smile on her face and said "Hey, pretty white Mommy!"  I looked at my husband, said "You handle this one", grabbed my wine, and walked out of the room, smiling as I heard my ultra-diverse-raised-in-the-Hub-Of-Diversity husband trying to explain why it's not nice to call Mommy "white".

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Full Hands.

I used to get very annoyed whenever someone said the following phrase to me: "You look great--- for having four kids..."  (yes, those dashes were literary freedom.  I don't *really* think that was ever meant as an insult.) These days, I'd give much- around 20 lbs, at least, to hear that again.  I don't know whether I no longer look good (for having four kids) or if my blog is really that popular (since I frequently complained about that statement).  But now I have a new pet peeve statement.  Or maybe I'm just one of those people who always needs to have something to complain about....

Regardless, "you must have your hands full!" is now on my bad list.  To be honest, I'm not sure why this bothers me so much.  My husband says I just over-think everything and that people just say that to have something to say when they are done counting kids, but what I hear is "Are you crazy? How in the world do you handle four kids?  You must be so busy and so overwhelmed!"

Overwhelmed.  That's the word that really gets me.  A dear friend of mine was trying to explain to someone why she'd given my son a ride somewhere and described me as "she's just overwhelmed".  Oh, boy.  When she relayed this conversation to me, probably not realizing how I'd take it, I exploded "I am NOT overwhelmed!".  Her response:  But you must be!  You have four kids!

So this is my moment to clear the air, and explain to all you mothers and fathers of 1, 2, or even 3 children-- four children, well, it's not that different.  Oh, I get that it may be a little unusual for suburban America.  I recognize that there is a high population of people who believe in one child to replace each parent in order to keep our population from expanding too quickly... but that doesn't really make four kids that hard.  Or that crazy.  Or that overwhelming.

For one, I LIKE my children.  I actually, believe it or not, and despite my occasional under-my-breath grumblings of "oh, please, just go away", ENJOY being around my kids.  I like taking them places with me.  I like grocery shopping with them, going to the library, filing into church together.  Unless they are fighting or just being plain bratty (again, not something I say out loud to them), I really enjoy being around them.  All of them.  That's pretty much why I had them.

There are those people who have a whole lot of "oops" pregnancies.  There are also those who have children for ulterior motives (ie, welfare checks).  Those aren't me.  Well, I did have an oops pregnancy, but it wasn't the last one, so I don't count it as to why I have four children.  And if one more grocery clerk sees my trail of children following me down the aisle and asks me for my food stamps, she may just get some food-stamping that she's not looking for.  I had my four children because-- and here's the hard truth-- I WANTED four children.  I wanted a large family.  And guess what?  Four children later-- I still do!

When it comes down to it, the first child is the hardest.  That's the one that forces you to change your life, juggle your budget, make choices regarding your career and your parenting style, and intrudes on the one-on-one private time you are used to with your spouse.  And the second child-- well, that's the one that introduces fighting, squabbling, and "I'm not touching you!  I'm still not touching you!" into your life.  Numbers three and four are just extra mouths to feed, laundry to do, and hugs to receive.  And to be honest, if you're already cooking for a family of four, what's two more?  How much do little kids eat?  If you're already doing four loads of laundry a week, baby clothes are small, so it's now just four larger loads of laundry.  And, well, you do have to buy a bigger car (unless you already have a huge gas-guzzling, parking spot hogging SUV to cart around your one or two children....), but I needed a new car anyway.  College?  Listen, it WILL get paid for. Somehow, someway.  Student loans, part-time jobs.  No, I'm not worried about that.

I had four children (not three) for a reason.  I can always send one to play with another.  Oh, Mason is playing with Kolbie?  Then you play with Micah.  This may have worked out better if I had two boys/ two girls, but beggars can't be choosers, as my mother always said.  I had four kids because I love the fullness of my house in the evenings, when we're just together as a family.  I love having all six seats at the dining room table sat in. (I should have bought the 8-chair set when we got married.)  I love that when Kayton's off somewhere and Mason's off somewhere else, I still have two little girls playing at my feet.  It's not overwhelming, it's.. well... my idea of family.

Now, I won't say I don't get overwhelmed at times.  If you happen to live in my neighborhood you may or may not have heard me losing my mind at the top of my lungs on occasion.  Sometimes I forget my windows are open.  But being overwhelmed at times is not the same as "being overwhelmed".  And I am not overwhelmed.  I just have four kids. I am not so busy (if I were, this blog wouldn't be written)... I'm just a mom loving her life.

But, you're right, my hands are full.  One of them is always holding either amazingly soft and trusting toddler fingers that reach up to grab mine or a discarded toy or blanket (PLEASE hold this for me, Mommy- for just ONE minute!) from the four year old who always has so much to do.   One of them is always either reaching out to brush the nine year old's wild head of hair or grab the back of my eight year old's neck so that his hands don't fill up with trouble.
My lap is full whenever I sit down- someone always needs a book read, help with math homework, to nurse, or just to cuddle.
My arms are full at night as I go bed to bed to bed to bed saying prayers and kissing goodnight.
And my life is full.  Always full.

So, if when you say "your hands must be full" you mean "you must be overwhelmed".  No, I'm not.  But if you really mean "full of love".  Then yes, yes they are. And thank you for recognizing that.

But whether you are a parent with 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, or 8 children... I pray your hands are as full as mine.  As for those of you with more than 8-- well, you're just plain crazy.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Mid-Drift Crisis and New Year Resolutions

A few days before Christmas, while the kids were still safely in school but my husband was taking a few much-needed days off, he surprised me by volunteering to watch the kids for a few minutes while I ran out to get some coffee.  Starbucks gift cards still tend to be the Christmas present of choice from my husband's boss, despite the fact that he does not/ has never/ most likely will never drink coffee.  Her lack of attention to her employees' needs is my reward, since I can't justify the cost of Starbucks any other time.  The underlying issues of poor management and misguided attempts at employee motivation that are seen here are, selfishly, not my problem.  Well, not as long as my husband continues to go to work each morning.  So, with Starbucks gift card in hand, I ran out the door to enjoy a few minutes of peace, quiet, and rich, creamy mocha latte.  

What was not in my plan was the spontaneous stop by our local tattoo parlor.   Sure, I knew it was there, sitting next to a Mexican restaurant that I've also never frequented, but I'd never paid it much mind.  I mean, I am a 33 year old mother of four.  Some places are not intended for people like me-- well, not since I graduated from college, at least.  You see, I started college in 1996.  In 1996, computers existed, but they still cost a long discussion with the soon-to-be roommate over who would get the computer for the room, an entire summer's work worth of savings, and a special trip to the UVA tech lab to get internet installed so I could check an email that never received any messages since no one else in the world had email.  But I digress.  Computers were just coming into vogue-- and so were belly rings.  Back in 1996, a belly ring wasn't expected on the mid-drifts of sexy young co-eds (which I like to think of myself as back then, despite the fact that pictures will most likely prove otherwise).  A belly ring signified "alternative, different, mysterious, rebellious".  (Which is also what I liked to think of myself as back then-- just like 99% of other college girls.)  And one day, a few months into the semester, my roommate and I decided to do something alternative, different, mysterious, rebellious.... but not a tattoo- no, that was TOO much for us (that trip)-- so we got our navels pierced.  I'd say it was a bonding experience, and it most definitely was, but it was more than that.  It was a permanent scar on my poor stomach that has since then been further abused by the insertion and growth of four children.  Because while I could (and did) remove my piercing when I got pregnant with my first-- which, yes, I turned in to a mental ceremony of sorts-- a shedding of my old life and immaturity in preparation of a new life of wisdom and parenthood-- the scar remained.  

And that scar bugged me.  No, not every day.  I'd go months without even noticing it (I do make a concerted effort to not stare at my navel every day), but then, when I did notice it, it would bug me.  So on this day, with inspiring caffeine in hand and no children in the backseat, I spontaneously swerved into the tattoo parlor, marched inside, begged the piercer not to laugh at me, and had my belly ring reinserted.  Be warned, other nursing mothers who may attempt this, it is practically impossible to suck in your stomach without sticking out your chest, so I almost left there with a pierced nipple.  Regardless, the piercer did get a bit more than he was bargaining for since he had to strategically work around my four-kids worth of belly fat, six years worth of nursing breasts, and my constant verbal justification for why I was doing this while he attempted to insert the needle straight through the remnants of my past rebellion over fifteen years ago.

But my point is this:  that was an idiotic thing to do.  But because I'm stubborn and it cost $60, I refuse to remove it, despite the fact that Micah refused to come near me for a good four hours, pointing and screaming "out! out!" every time she saw it, and Kayton informed me that no "old person" should ever have their navel pierced.  Right on both accounts.

But the New Year is the time to make changes, right?  Time to look back on your life and take charge of the things you want to change-- time to remove the scars or, at least, cover them with something beautiful.  That's what we do this time of year.  We take stock of our mistakes, our lapses in judgement, our laziness, our "things that need to change", and we promise to change them.  While, chances are, we won't be successful, it's an evaluation time.  A time for a new strategy, a plan, an implementation of the new goals we've created for ourselves that we hope will lead to a greater success during this year.  A time to look at our weaknesses and the threats to our success and exchange them for opportunities to grow and ways to strengthen ourselves.  And so, I complied, by analyzing myself (my navel) and making the necessary changes.   

The thing about analyzing yourself is that YOU are only one perspective.  And, personally, while I think my perspective is the only accurate one, I am willing to acknowledge the need for outside consultants on this matter in order to avoid complete bias.  But this is where the real issues come into play.  Any of you that have friends and/or family members (and I hope you all do) know that every one of your friends and/or family members has an opinion on your life.  On your life, your marriage, your parenting skills, your career--that's sort of their job-- to sit back and subtly and surreptitiously critique your life, judge your actions, and then tell you what you should do- to be more like them.  (Something which we want to avoid since we've been sitting back, subtly and surreptitiously critiquing their life and judging their actions).  The problem with other people's opinions (other than the fact that they belong to other people and, therefore, can't be worth as much as my own) is that once you ask someone's opinion, you are obligated by politeness to acknowledge the value in it, then you must either A/ follow that advice (despite the fact that you don't want to) or B/ PRETEND to follow that advice while being careful to completely avoid it and any direct evidence that you have avoided it.  Of course, Option B often results in angry friends who want to know why you didn't just listen to them in the first place and (my favorite): "why ask my opinion if you weren't going to take it?"... uhm... because, well, I was curious?

Now, I'm no stranger to angry friends.  One of my neighbors was angry with me because my dog barked at Santa Claus (although I thought the barking less offensive to Santa than Micah's screams of terror and monkey-climbing to the top of my head to get away from him).  I have a family member who hasn't spoken to me in two years because she's angry at me.  I don't know the reasoning behind that one, and I've quit wondering, to be honest (although I do believe it has something to do with offered opinions).  My husband gets angry with me relatively often (typically when I promise to get out of bed to iron his shirt and then- accidentally- fall back asleep).  And one of my children is always angry with me about something- any given day, feel free to take a poll and see what results you get.  But what I've discovered is that people being angry at you is like an impromptu New Years.  It forces you to look at yourself, question your actions, and determine a course of action to improve in the future.  

Since someone's always angry at me for something, I am always being forced to question my decisions.  There's just something about Parenthood, specifically, that forces you to question every single thing you do, compare yourself to your child's friends parents, to your parents, to those parents you see on tv- specifically in Wife Swap or Super Nanny and, in absentia, on Jersey Shore (okay, we KNOW we have to be better parents than those parents).  But that's okay--because it's by questioning ourselves and seeking new ways to do things to cover those "scars" that we may or may not be inflicting on our children as a result of the things we choose to do as parents that we become better parents.  It's only by recognizing that we may have done something wrong, upset someone, made an error in judgement that we can improve and make changes.  And no, just because someone (spouse, child, parent, sibling, friend) gets angry doesn't mean we've done something wrong.  But it's a signal to evaluate.  And we should always be evaluating ourselves.  Not just at New Years, but on every New Day.  And that is my first New Year Resolution.  

The second is:  the scar on my tongue from the piercing that I had to take out when I started my first real job?  It stays a scar.