Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best Christmas Present Ever

I can't believe Christmas has come and gone already and we are getting ready to start a new year.  And a new decade!  Life is passing by at warp speed and I don't see it slowing down anytime soon.  Where does the time go?

The boys were good this year so Santa brought them some special gifts.  Nicholas is so enamored with his new Nerf-N-Strike Stampede ECS blaster that he actually sleeps with it.   He carries it downstairs with him in the morning and every attempt to bring it to the breakfast table is met with, "please put the Nerf blaster down until you're finished eating."   He carries it upstairs, he carries it downstairs and he carries it everywhere in between. 

Christopher's puppy dog Pillow Pet fits in nicely with the other five or six puppies he has piled up on his bed.  Christopher is all about the puppies.  If our 10-year old dachshund actually paid any attention to him it would send him over the moon.   Unfortunately she doesn't so he is satisfied with the love he receives from his stuffed animals.  When he's sleeping and snuggled up with his Pillow Pet the content look on his face is priceless.

Other fun presents were found under the tree but I was as surprised as the boys to find that Santa left the Best Christmas Present Ever outside on the front porch Christmas morning.  As the boys eagerly tore open the huge plain brown boxes, each one found a Flexible Flyer sled and a note from Santa asking him to share his sled with mom and dad.

We love to sled and we have some great sledding hills by our house.  Over the years we've tried different sleds like saucers, foam sleds with slick bottoms and other plastic types.  While those sleds are OK and do the job, none of them is as good as the Flexible Flyer.  Made from birch wood and powder-coated steel, the Flexible Flyer lets us cruise down the hill at high speeds using the flexible steering bar for control.  While all the other novice sledders are crashing into burms, sledding backwards or flying off mid-hill, we sail by with complete control over our direction. Yes, I am now officially a sled snob.

These Flexible Flyer sleds are built to last so hopefully our kids will enjoying using these sleds with their kids one day.  The times we spend together sledding are some of my best memories and hopefully will be some of their best memories, too.  When we are out on the sledding hill we are enjoying each other's company, having fun and getting some much-needed wintertime fresh air.  We are also taking turns, encouraging each other and helping carry each other's load when someone gets too tired.  It's teamwork at its best. 

When I hear other people lament about how cold it is outside or how drab and dreary winter is here in Michigan I'm convinced they've never been to the sledding hill.  When you're sledding, you get to act like a kid again.  Kids don't pay attention to things like cold or dreary - they just have fun.  I rarely see anyone on the sledding hill who isn't having fun.

So, when life gets so busy that we can't even remember which day it is, we will take our sleds out and spend a few hours zooming down snow-covered hills.   Our only worry will be whose sled went the farthest.  In those few hours we will create special memories for years to come. 

Thank you, Santa, for reminding us that the best present is the gift of time spent together.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Year of Forgetting Things

I used to remember stuff.  In the good 'ol days I got by without a day planner, a Google calendar or email reminders.  I dashed between meetings while putting the finishing touches on projects and answered phone calls and instant messages at the same time without - get this - forgetting a single task!  I think back to the days when I used to juggle what I thought was an excessive amount of to-dos and got everything done in a timely manner.  Who was that girl?

That girl was obviously not a mom.  She had the advantage of pre-baby brain cells that were still multiplying.  No one tells you that after you have kids your brain cells diminish at a rate far faster than they used to increase.  In other words, you start forgetting things.

I remember being pregnant and forgetting things.  I blamed my forgetfulness on my hormones because everything was out of whack.  Then I remember taking care of babies and toddlers and forgetting things.  I blamed my forgetfulness on lack of sleep.  Now that my kids are both in school I am forgetting far more things than I actually remember.  What gives?

I write things down on the calendar and still forget.  Christopher had a soccer game that started at 10:00 am.  Both of my calendars and the official schedule hung on the refrigerator listed the game as 10:00 am but for some reason my brain was convinced the game was at 12:00.  Needless to say, Christopher's team was minus a player that day.

I received numerous emails from the media specialist at Nicholas's school reminding us about the Scholastic Book Fair.  I was told many times that Nicholas's class was shopping on Tuesday.  I remember reading all of the emails and thinking, Tuesday-book fair-got it.  Wouldn't you know that Tuesday came and went with nary a thought from me about the book fair?  I need more help remembering.  From now on, it's up to Nicholas to remind me when he's scheduled to shop at his book fair.  It obviously doesn't matter how many email reminders I get.

I have to continually apologize to Christopher's Kindergarten teacher because he doesn't bring in his library book or turn in his homework on the right day.  I chalked my forgetfulness up to getting used to our new school schedule, but it's well into December and I'm still forgetting.

I was especially upset at my forgetfulness when Nicholas auditioned for his school talent show.  I volunteered to help at the auditions so I signed Nichols up for a slot 1/2 hour after he got out of school thinking he could just walk down the hall to my volunteer table, change into a more presentable outfit and maybe have a few minutes for a quick practice.  I told Nicholas repeatedly not to get on the bus because I would just meet him at the school. Mark would pick Christopher up from his school and meet us for Nicholas's audition.  We all knew where we were supposed to be.  Everyone knew the plan. Or so I thought.

The one person I forgot to tell all this to was Nicholas's teacher.  Because she didn't have a note from me letting her know that it was OK for Nicholas to stay after school, she directed him to the bus - which was the right thing to do (I almost stopped at Nicholas's classroom before the bell but figured he knew what to do so why check in on him?) When he didn't meet me at my volunteer table, I assumed he got on the bus but it didn't dawn on me why until I saw her in the hallway and immediately thought - crap, I forgot to tell his teacher!  I called my neighbor to meet Nicholas at the bus stop, called Mark and rerouted him to pick up Nicholas after he picked up Christopher and head back to the school.  Nicholas's audition was at 4:30 and they managed to walk in the door at 4:25.  Whew

Nicholas didn't get to change his clothes or practice before his audition and was flustered from all of the miscommunication, but he handled himself with much grace under much pressure.  He rocked his audition and did it with a smile on his face.  I, on the other hand, was cursing myself for forgetting the most important detail of the day (I will never forget to tell his teacher about his after school plans again) and trying really hard not to cry.  Will this forgetfulness fog ever lift?

I could blame my absentmindedness on lack of Vitamin D or lack of sleep or some other malady.  But, the truth is, we all make mistakes.  I've made more mistakes in this Year of Forgetting Things than I care to admit, but I'm learning that I can't do it all.  I can’t volunteer or take the lead on every project or be in two places at once.  I have to learn to say no more often.

I've also decided that next year will be The Year My Kids Became More Responsible. In order for me to forget less I will hold them accountable more. I will let you know how all that goes, if I can remember.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Trust Your Instincts

I'm not sure how long it will take me in this lifetime to learn to trust my instincts, but let's just say I'm still working on it.  Hindsight being 20/20 I can see where my instincts or first impressions were usually spot on in the past, so I have concrete evidence of my ability to make a good decision.  But why do I fight those first impressions so hard?

After 41 years on this earth I've learned a thing or two about myself.  One thing I've learned that never, ever changes is that I have to make every project I undertake about 10,000 times harder than it has to be.  I am a glutton for punishment.  I must...MUST...spend inordinate amounts of time obsessing over minute details and internally debating my choices.  If I had to choose between two paths, one that said, "take this path if you trust your instincts and you'll finish faster" or the other that said, "take this path if you want to second-guess your decisions, change your mind 956 times, berate yourself and develop stomach ulcers," I will always, without fail, choose the second path.

We had some rooms in our house painted this week and choosing colors was hard.  Damn hard.  Every time I thought I narrowed it down, I noticed a color I hadn't seen before and started obsessing over that color.  For those of you who trust your instincts choosing paint colors would be no big deal because you would say, "It's only paint.  If you don't like it paint it again."   But we were paying someone else to paint so I pretty much had to nail down my choices or risk paying double for making a color mistake.  For a Type A, anal-retentive obssesor like me, choosing colors was more monumental than building the whole damn house. I wanted my choices to be right, perfect and flawless.

I had color swatches from Sherwin Williams, Benjamin Moore, Valspar and a host of others.  I plotted color combinations on my computer using Photoshop and compared magazine layouts to my rooms to determine whether or not I should use one or two colors, an accent color or some other faux-finishing technique.  I spent weeks (not days) going over every possible color combination.  I narrowed down my choices and felt confident until I asked for other people's opinions.  Big mistake.

Not that the opinions received were bad ones, it's just that other people have other ideas.  Not good or bad, just different.  I knew what I wanted my rooms to look like and I had an idea of colors in my head, but each time I saw another magazine article or listened someone else's advice, I started second-guessing my choices - which pushed the project back because I was tortured with indecision.

When I finally decided that enough was enough I chose the colors I was originally drawn to when I started this project.  If I had just trusted my instincts in the first place I could have saved some serious time and stomach pain.  I can't get those hours or minutes back, but I can mark this is a lesson learned. 

My rooms turned out beautifully. I couldn't be happier.  I made good decisions.  Maybe next time I can spare myself the stomach ulcers and shave a few weeks off of my project time if I remind myself that I don't need to obsess.  I don't need to chase perfection.  I just need to trust my instincts.

A girl can hope.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What I'm Thankful For

I know Thanksgiving isn't until next week, but I'm sure I will blink my eye and it will be next Thursday.  So, I'm going to share what I'm thankful for a week early this year.  Time goes by so fast these days that I seem to lose track of months.  September?  Don't even remember it.  I know October made its appearance because I have a ridiculous amount of Halloween candy to show for it.  Aside from Halloween, I don't remember much else about October.  But, I never, ever forget November because that's when we usually go to Disney,  it's my birthday month and Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

The biggest thing I'm thankful for is my family, of course.  What did I ever do without them?  As hard as it is to be a mother sometimes I wouldn't trade my job for any other.  I'm pretty lucky because I get to spend my time with a couple of great kids. I'm also thankful for my husband who is the kindest, and funniest, man I know. When I think back to some of the greater accomplishments of my life like graduating from college, backpacking solo through Europe or climbing the corporate ladder, none of them is as valuable to me as finding the one man who encourages and supports me no matter what.

I'm thankful that another year has gone by and I am still in good health.  Even though I will be 41 I still feel like I'm about 25.  I am thankful that I'm not 25, because I don't think you could pay me enough money to go back and do my twenties over again.  But, I am thankful that I feel so much younger than my actual age.  I am thankful that I can run, jump, skip and hop anytime I want to. 

I'm thankful for my friend, Lisa, who gets up at 5:15 am with me to walk three miles every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  I'm thankful for my spinning instructor who has the best music play list on the planet.  I am thankful for my yoga instructor who never criticizes.

I am thankful for all of my friends who don't bother to correct me when I repeat myself.  I repeat myself often.  I just forget who I've talked to about a particular subject so some friends get to hear me talk about the subject more than once.  Oops.  I'm usually halfway through the conversation before an eerie sense of deja vu sets in and then I get sidetracked trying to apologize but most of my friends pretend like they are hearing my story for the first time.  Thank you, friends. 

I have so much to be thankful for.  I could go on and on and on, but what I know for sure is that the things I'm most thankful for aren't things.

What are you thankful for?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Lullabies Aren't Just For Babies

When my kids were babies I used to rock them to sleep while singing lullabies.  It didn't matter if they fell asleep after the first or second song because most nights I would just continue singing until the CD finished.  It was a time when I could sit for an hour doing nothing but rocking and listening to the sweet sound of my baby's breath.  I remember the stillness of the nursery and how nothing in the outside world mattered.

My boys still listen to their lullaby CD's.  Not every night, but the lullabies are in the CD rotation right next to the Curious George soundtrack, Skippyjon Jones stories, Captain Banjo ukulele music and other favorites.  Some nights when Nicholas or Christopher is having a hard time falling sleep I will play a lullaby CD, lay with him in bed and sing some songs as I listen to the sweet sound of my now little boy's breath.  Nicholas usually asks if we can move to the glider chair and rock back and forth while we listen to the Suo Gan (old Welsh) or Waltzing Matilda (Australian) songs from Susie Tallman's Lullabies for Sleepy Eyes CD.   Unfortunately, the rocking chair doesn't work too well anymore since Nicholas is getting so tall and lanky.  We barely fit together.  How I wish I could rock him to sleep and get back just a moment of those nights when he fit in my arms.

We make do without rocking and after a few songs I sense that sleep is near because I can feel the tenseness disappear and the heavy breathing set in.  Both of us are transfixed on the music and like a form of meditation we become one with our breath.  For all the nights of reading logs and homework and discussions about the day's events, it's nice to go back to that place of stillness.  Nothing but music and soft breath.

I put our lullaby play lists on my iPod and we listen to the songs occasionally when we are on a long car trip or we've been overwhelmed by the day's events and need some downtime.  If the boys are fighting in the backseat or yelling over one another for my attention, a simple round of Golden Slumbers usually calms us and returns us to our sane place. Sometimes I even listen to the songs when I'm all alone. 

My days of rocking babies to sleep are gone.  But lullabies aren't just for babies.  We elicit special memories every time we hear our favorite song so we continue to play those lullabies.  Because our lives are busier and more complicated now, it's even more important that we slow down wrap our arms around each other and synchronize our breath to the songs that bonded us so long ago. 

What is your favorite lullaby?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Give It Your All

When I play a game, I play to win. I don't like to come in second or even tie for that matter. I like to win. I don't see any reason to play a game if you are not playing to win whether it's a competitive sport like baseball or a casual dice game like Bunco. If a winner is announced at the end of the game, I want it to be me.

As much as I would like to, I don't always win. Sometimes I lose. But I'm OK with losing if I know that I gave 110% in my effort.  I tried explaining this concept to Nicholas who is learning that it's no fun to lose.  He likes to win, too.  But he has to understand that his effort is more important than the outcome.  If you give your best effort and lose, you still gave your best effort.

Nicholas's soccer team lost its game on Saturday, but it was the best game Nicholas has played so far.  He worked hard.  He ran hard.  He played the entire 60 minutes because the team was down a few players and his coach needed him on the field.  The best move of the whole game was when Nicholas blocked one of his opponent's goals. Imagine seeing the opponent racing down the field, the crowd is cheering and the opponent kicks the ball straight toward the goal.  The ball is hurling steadily toward the net.  All of a sudden, Nicholas appears out of nowhere from the side of the field running toward the ball.  He jumps, soaring through the air like a bird, just in time to block the goal.  The opponent and his crowd look confused, not too sure what just happened, and our side bursts into applause.  I've never seen anything like it.

Nicholas was so hung up on losing that he didn't hear people praising him for his efforts.  He didn't praise himself for his efforts.  We had a long talk that night about how losing is a part of life but how you handle that loss makes all the difference. 

Berating yourself for losing isn't going to make you a better player.  You can't be number one at everything.  You can't always win.  But, you can learn from the losses, correct mistakes and try to do better the next time.  Nicholas needs to take pride in his accomplishments and in his improving skills.  Sometimes the scoreboard will go in his favor and sometimes it won't.

I always want my boys to play to win.  If they aren't playing to win they shouldn't be spending time out on the field.  I'm not one of those parents who thinks it's okay for every kid to get a medal just because he was on the team.  If Nicholas didn't even try and lost the game as a result, I would be upset. But, he gave his best effort and that's all that anyone can ask for.

Better luck next time, kiddo.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

It's Just Stuff

I think I have a pack-rat in the making.

Nicholas is so attached to his "stuff" that it's difficult for me to remove items of his from my house.  He has seven drawers in his dresser and only two have clothes in them.  Every other drawer is filled with trinkets, papers, baseball cards, broken pencils, stickers, etc.  You name it, it's in there.  Last year he used to forage through the recycle bin looking for things I threw out.  Of course, he would see a Math paper or piece of homework of his and have a fit.  "Mom, I worked so hard on that!" he would scream.  I have to discreetly move papers to the recycle bin and bury them so deep that his peering eyes cannot see them. 

How much stuff am I supposed to keep?

I started an Elementary School file for each of the boys so I can keep some of the precious artwork (self-portraits!), written stories or other priceless things (mother's day cards!) they bring home from school.  I do set aside several things to put in their file.  The rest has to go.  We only have so much room.

I have gotten better about purging as I get older.  Because it's up to me to make sure our house is in order  I'm the one who goes through like a tornado every once in awhile whisking things into trash bags, Salvation Army bags or To-Sell bags.  I can't stand the clutter anymore.  It's too much.

I  wish I could keep every piece of clothing the boys ever wore.  But I can't so I set aside a few pieces of clothes from each of their first five years and plan to make a quilt.  Other clothes, toys, high-chairs,  pack-'n-plays and miscellaneous items I've sold at Mom2Mom sales. It's tough to get rid of the Leap Frog toys that remind me my boys are no longer babies or even toddlers.  I get a little teary-eyed when someone walks off with the aquarium the boys used in their cribs.  But, the boys are getting older and some other little boy can get some good use of it.  I don't want to end up like the Hoarders.

I've obviously learned over the years that it's all just stuff.  It's not easy, but I keep what's necessary and part with the rest.  I believe the boys will get much more out of the letters I write to them at the end of every month and the scrapbook albums showing our family vacations than they will ever get remembering the helicopter toy or school bus phonics set.

I will let Nicholas keep his drawers-full of stuff because as long as it's out of sight, I'm not really bothered. If it was up to me I would clean out the drawers completely, but I don't want to emotionally scar him for life so I will have to give a bit on this one.  Maybe he will eventually learn how to purge and make room for the new things he will find interesting and worthwhile.

Nicholas was sobbing the other night because I told him I planned to sell the glider chair in his room to make way for a new, smaller-scale chair.  This was just a cheap-o glider chair I bought when Nicholas moved out of the nursery.  I don't think he's actually sat in that chair for four years, but he's convinced his life will not be the same without it.  Nothing I said reassured him that he would, in fact, be OK.

Christopher chimed into the conversation and said matter-of-factly, "you know Nicholas, sometimes life is difficult."

Well said, little brother.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

You Gotta Have Goals

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

My goal to be a published author is coming true.  I'm taking baby steps and little by little I'm getting a piece published here and a piece published there.  I've spent the last two years immersed in writing websites, reading books about writing and learning the craft.  I've followed writers whom I admire, asked tons of questions of those who have come before me and compiled a list of rejections along the way.

I still have quite a lot to accomplish on my goal list, but the point is I have a list.  When my kids tell me they can't do something or are not capable of accomplishing a task I say, "baloney."  Figure out a way to make it happen.  You want to be a better baseball player?  Play catch every chance you get.  You want to improve your piano skills?  Practice, practice, practice.

They are learning that I will never say, "you're right it's too hard. Forget about it." Instead I will say, "the only limitations are those you place on yourself."  I get lots of eye-rolling and dirty looks, but eventually they will learn that success is a journey, not a destination. If they can learn to set goals they are that much closer to achieveing them.

I have two more published credits based on my goal list.  Check out my article in the Fall/Winter edition of Long Weekends magazine:  Perennial Playtime.  Also, I had my essay A Boy and His Shovel published on the This I Believe website.

What are your goals?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

And Then Came The Tears

Christopher started Kindergarten and I was fully expecting tears.  My tears, not his tears.  But, my  independent, scared-of-nothing, little guy got a little scared.  And he melted into a puddle of sobs after I left him in the classroom on his first day.

I've seen mothers ripped away from their kids' death grip outside the school every morning.  It's horrifying to watch a sobbing child being dragged away from his mother.  I was always so thankful that I never had to experience the horror of walking away as your child is crying, "please mommy, don't leave me!"  Until now.

Lucky for me, there is no death grip.  There is no dragging.  Christopher walks up to his classroom with no problems.  But, once inside the classroom, the tears begin and his little voice tries to spit out, "but I will miss you mommy" amid gasps and sobs.  Can't I just take him home and forget about this whole Kindergarten thing? I  miss him, too.

On a deeply disturbing level I'm glad he misses me.  I've raised two boys that, thus far, have had zero problems when I'm not around. Neither one has batted an eye when I've gone out of town, dropped them off at Grandma's or left them at a play date.  Christopher never shed a tear when I walked out of his preschool classroom.  I'm a little bit happy that Christopher is sad that we're not together every day anymore.  Is that so wrong?

He can miss me and he can be sad, but he can't cry and tug at my heart strings when I leave him at school.  He has to get used to the fact that he now has a job and that job is going to school.  I think once the routine sets in everything will be OK.  For now, we are still adjusting.

We read The Kissing Hand last night in an attempt to bypass the tears at school this morning.  We discussed how it's OK to feel sad and it's OK to miss mommy but he has to go into his classroom and let me go home or I won't be able to walk him to his classroom at all.  I kissed his hand so he knows he can touch his cheek and feel my kisses throughout the day.  

When we got to the classroom door this morning his lip was quivering a little bit.  I told him that I loved him and that I was proud of him for doing such a great job this morning.  I said goodbye and he went inside.  As I walked away I heard his little voice yell, "mommy" and I turned around.  He came out in the hall and asked if he could have one more hug.  "Of course," I said.  I squeezed him tight, told him that I loved him again, and asked him if he would kiss my hand, too.  I figured I could use a few of his kisses throughout the day also.

Christopher didn't cry today.  As we hugged goodbye we both knew that we would miss each other terribly but we would be OK.  He went on his way and I went on mine.  What Christopher doesn't know is that his separation from me is just beginning.  He will be sad today, but he will relish in his independence as he gets older and the tears will become a distant memory.  My sadness is just beginning as I realize today and every other day that he is growing up way too fast. My tears might never end.

Life is funny like that.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Loud and Proud

My son Christopher is loud.  His loudness defines him.  Anyone who knows Christopher knows that his decibel level is at least 90% higher than everyone else’s, including screech owls and little girls.  Some people can’t appreciate his volume and ask me to quiet my son.  Have you ever tried to quiet a happy, expressive, full-of-life, creature who beams with joy?  Who would want to?

Christopher’s 5-year-old brain knows that having fun is the only thing that concerns him.  Having fun means squealing with delight and shouting from the rooftops that he’s here and he’s ready.  Please don’t ignore him because he will keep asking for your attention.

Being quiet is as foreign to Christopher as an introvert suddenly breaking out in song at the family BBQ.  It just isn’t in his genes.  I can relate.  When I’m talking animatedly to my husband about the crazy lady counting her pennies in the grocery store check-out line ("she took forever!") or the obnoxious driver who cut me off on the highway ("son-of-a-bitch changed three lanes without looking!"), he sometimes put up his hand like I’m breaking his eardrum and says, “I can hear you.  I’m right here.”   I know what it’s like to be loud and to be hushed.  I don't want to do that to my son.

I appreciate that Christopher lives his life with the zeal of twenty people and has a personality to match.  He will not only break out in song at the family BBQ, he will add some funky dance steps and tell a joke without skipping a beat.  Some people long for that kind of personality.  Christopher has it in spades.

I know I have a happy child and that’s all that matters to me.  To see Christopher’s antics and fun-loving ways is to witness a child who is truly happy in his own skin.  Christopher doesn’t care if you don’t like his dance steps.  He will do it for the next person who pays attention.  If I had an ounce of Christopher’s confidence I would be a better person.

I'm sorry, dear neighbors, if Christopher's volume has offended you in these summer months while all the kids played outside.  I've asked him to take it down a notch.  I've requested that he not scream so loud when he plays hide-n-seek.  But, it's pointless.  He might quell his enthusiasm for a little bit, but when the seeker eventually finds the hider all bets are off!

Christopher, I love you for who you are and all that I know you can be.  I don’t care if you are too loud for the masses, your decibel level is welcome in my house.  It won’t be too long before your 5-year-old brain turns into a 15-year-old brain who is worried about what other people think and is too careful not to offend.  For now if you continue to squeal with delight, so will I.

Your beautiful voice is music to my ears.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Summer, Why Do You Have to Be So Short?

We've had a busy summer.  I can't believe it's the middle of August and we only have a few days left until school starts.  Wow.

Our carefree days at the beach are winding down and I had to take my kids school clothes shopping.  I need to start thinking about pencils and backpacks and glue sticks.  I can't believe I'm making phone calls already to plan events for the school's welcome back picnic.   How did summer pass us by so fast?

I have so enjoyed having Nicholas home this summer and spending time with my boys at Greenfield Village, the playgrounds and biking around town.  We are out and about most days just finding fun things to do. I know a lot of people like to hang out around home without a schedule, but with two rambunctious, energetic boys, I find it's easier to get out for at least a few hours each day.

I have to admit, though, that my job as entertainment coordinator, picnic packer, band aid supplier, laser-gun finder, sand vacuumer, dirt and grime washer, writing journal prompter, library-book gatherer, bike chain fixer, baseball catcher, and fight breaker-upper (among other things...what have I forgotten?) has taken its toll.  I think summer is so short so we don't take it for granted.

If summer were much longer I might not have as much fun.  I'm exhausted!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Need a Vacation From My Vacation

We just got back from a fun trip to Lake Michigan.  As much as I enjoy getting away every once in awhile, a "vacation" for me is a lot of planning and a lot of work before, during and after the trip.

For starters, there's the trip planning.  Where to go and what to do?  I'm not the kind of person who can wing it on vacation.  I need some sort of plan.  I'm not naive enough to think my plan will go off without a hitch (it never has) but at least I have an outline of things to do and see.  For our trip this summer we decided to go to Michigan's Adventure, bike riding and the beach in Grand Haven and the Great Lakes Naval Memorial and Museum.

After the trip planning (make hotel reservations, buy discount tickets to Michigan's Adventure at Meijer, gather list of things to do in Grand Haven, verify museum admission prices and hours) there's the packing part.  We decided to take our bikes since Christopher is now riding a two-wheeler so I had to remember to pack the bike helmets.  Also, since we were going to the beach I had to remember to pack our bathing suits, beach towels, goggles, the beloved shovel, sunglasses, sunscreen and hats.  Of course this is in addition to our regularly needed items like clothes, underwear, socks, toothbrushes, combs, etc. 

I knew there was a state park in Grand Haven and I happened to see that the library was offering a free one-day state park pass for any state park in Michigan, so I put that on my list of things to do before we left (the park pass is only valid for one week).  We decided to pack lunches for the trip so I made PB&J sandwiches, grabbed some apples and veggie sticks and threw in some granola bars (Blueberry for Nicholas, Strawberry for Christopher).  I also remembered to pack the DVD player for the car (don't forget Fox &Hound DVD!) and grab the blankets from the boys' beds so they could get all cozy and comfortable while watching their movies in the car. 

What am I forgetting?  I am constantly asking myself, what am I forgetting?

Once on the road I feel like I can breath a sigh of relief.  We are on the way!  When we get to our hotel, the first thing I hear is "so, what's on the agenda?  What are we going to do?"  I feel like Julie McCoy, the cruise director on The Love Boat, who sole purpose in life was to make sure everyone was having a good time.  I have my handy-dandy list of things to do, so I suggest we go into town and grab a bite to eat, maybe walk around a little.  But, all the boys want to do is swim in the hotel swimming pool.  We have a multitude of choices and they want to swim in the hotel swimming pool.  We compromise by saying we will go out for a bit and come back later to swim.

The rest of the weekend went pretty well.  We managed to do and see everything we set out to do and see amid constant questions of "what are we going to do now?" and "what time does this open or close?" or "where are we going to eat?" The entertainment coordinator job is a never-ending one!

We had a blast at Michigan's Adventure, although I won't go back until Christopher is tall enough to ride everything.  I really don't want to spend any more time with Christopher in the water park wading pool while Mark and Nicholas go on the water slides.  Mark and I switched kids after awhile and I managed to talk Nicholas into riding the Funnel of Fear with me which is shocking since it was listed on a scale of 1-to-5 as a 5 which means, "Agressive Thrill" ride.  Neither of my boys has an affinity for roller coasters or any ride with any kind of large drop.  So, I give him kudos for riding with me. He was scared, but he did it.  In the future if my boys don't outgrow their fear of roller coasters or heights I may need to rent some kids to go on rides with me at the amusement parks because my husband doesn't like roller coasters either.

Riding bikes along the boardwalk in Grand Haven was great.  Christopher kept up like champ.  Lake Michigan was awesome and we had a fun-filled day at the beach .  I spent my summers swimming in the ocean in Cape May, New Jersey but I gotta say the waves on the lake could definitely compete with the waves in the ocean.  Plus, we didn't have to worry about stinging saltwater, jellyfish or sharks!  The boys spent the entire day in the water.  We were pooped by the time we got back to our hotel.

"Have you seen my sunglasses?" my husband asked.  "Mom, where's my Power Ranger?"  UGH!  How is it that I'm responsible for everyone's stuff?  After awhile I just said, "I'm not in charge of the sunglasses or water bottles or toys."  If they get lost, they get lost.  I can't keep track of everything!

The naval museum was incredible.  We got to tour a real WWII submarine, the USS Silversides, which sank 23 ships and damaged 14 during her service. She ranks third highest among all World War II U.S. submarines in ships sunk, totaling 90,080 tons. The Silversides is the nation's most famous surviving submarine.  The museum itself was an amazing collection of WWII exhibits.  I would love to go back again.

I was definitely tired after our trip.  We accomplished a lot and had a great time, but after getting home and unpacking everything I packed, putting everything back in its place, getting the car cleaned out and doing laundry, I feel like I need a vacation from my vacation!

Anyone who has ever traveled with kids knows that it's challenging.  And frustrating.  And tiring.  But, I will do it all again and again and again because this is what my kids' memories are made of.  When they say, "mom, remember when we were on vacation and we walked on that pier and saw that cool lighthouse?" or "remember when I ate perch for the first time at that restaurant on the marina?"  I won't remember the frustrations.  I will remember, like they do, the great time we had together as a family.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

How Much Help is Too Much...Or Not Enough?

I continuously struggle with the notion of how much "help" I should provide my kids knowing full well they are capable of doing some things on their own.  When do I step in and offer assistance and when do I let them figure it out on their own?

I was at the park the other day when Nicholas starting climbing the monkey bars.  He got stuck in a spot and shouted for me to help him.  He wasn't that far off the ground so I said, "Just let go.  You can fall to the ground."  He kept yelling for my help and I kept telling him to just drop to the ground.  He was much closer to the ground than he thought he was, but he decided to work his way around the bars back to the play structure base instead of dropping.  Nicholas snorted like a mad bull and his pursed lips and lowered eyebrows clearly let me know that he was not happy with my decision not to assist him.  If his eyes could shoot out fire blasts he would have singed a gaping hole right through me.   

I felt a little guilty.  Oops.  Maybe I should have helped him?  Maybe I'm a rotten mother who would rather sit on a park bench and chat with my friend than help my son figure out how to maneuver the monkey bars.  Well, before you think I'm the worst parent in the world, consider that Nicholas has maneuvered these monkey bars numerous times before.  Consider that he is capable of dropping to the ground from these monkey bars as he's demonstrated numerous times before.  Consider that Nicholas loves to blame me when things don't go his way.

I'm at a tricky stage of motherhood where I need to allow my children to be the independent beings I've nurtured without racing in to provide help at every turn.  They need to make choices and learn about the consequences of those choices, good or bad. We all have to make those choices on our own, eventually.  I will help with the moral choices or the choices that present new challenges, but I'm not helping a 7-year-old drop to the ground from monkey bars he's conquered before.  He made the choice to work his way back to the platform instead.  The point is, he evaluated his options and he made the choice.  

Nicholas likes to blame me when he doesn't get his homework done or when he doesn't finish a project he started.  He doesn't like to make mistakes (I can't imagine where he got that from) so instead of owning up to doing something incorrectly, he stops trying altogether and blames me for not finishing.  I know that I can't help him if my help prevents him from ever trying it on his own and making his own mistakes.  That's how we learn.  We make mistakes and figure how to do it better or different the next time.   It's hard for me because as much as I want to help, I can't.  He needs to learn his own capabilities by stretching out of his comfort zone every once in awhile.

Part of making our own choices is dealing with the consequences of those choices.  Part of dealing with the consequences of our choices is learning not to blame other people if things don't go our way. As I said before, I will help with choices that present new challenges.  Like whether or not to tell a friend that another friend said something derogatory about him.   Nicholas chose to tell his friend about the derogatory statement thinking that his friend had a right to know what was being said about him.  I told Nicholas I didn't think that was a good idea because the only purpose it served was to make his friend feel bad about the derogatory statement.  The friend would never have known about the derogatory statement if Nicholas didn't tell him.  Nicholas asked me if what he did was "bad" and I said it's not "bad," it just wasn't a good choice.  A good choice would have been to tell the friend who uttered the derogatory statement that it wasn't nice or, better yet, ignore the comment altogether because it had nothing to do with him.

I explained that the consequences of sharing conversation details with someone who wasn't present for said conversation would be 1) his friends think he's a tattletale and 2) he can't be trusted with information.  Whatever issues his friends have with each other is none of his business.  He can be friends with other friends who don't like each other and respect each friend's privacy when it come to sharing details of conversations.  As in, don't share those details. Boy that's a hard lesson because even some adults have a hard time exercising restraint when it comes to sharing useless or harmful information.  

My heart aches each time I see my kids struggling with a problem, whether it's one they can figure out on their own or not.  I've been down these roads before.  I can see the outcome clearly.  They can't.  But, they have to learn, just like I did (and have and continue to do) that we have to take responsibility for our own actions.  I wish I could step in at every turn and help my kids with all of their problems.  But that doesn't produce responsible adults and I look forward to my kids turning into responsible adults.

Even if it means enduring the snorting bull whose glare shoots scorching, hot fire blasts.  Ouch.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Farts are Funny (Except in Yoga Class)

If you are the mother of girls, or have no reference to what young boys find amusing, you may just want to stop reading right now.  If you don't live with boys who think the departure of gas from either end of the body is side-splittingly, pee-your-pants, hilarious, probably won't find this topic very amusing.

I have to teach my boys manners and how to act civilly.  That's my job.  And, it's a damn hard job when toots and burps and other bodily functions that society (maybe it's just women) generally find offensive seem to be the highlight of my boys' existence.  I try to be stern and all, "that's not appropriate behavior" when they have contests to see who can fart the loudest or longest.  I remind them that passing gas is a personal matter and not something to which we draw attention.  But, sometimes their antics are just plain hilarious.  I can remind them to be polite and say excuse me and try to keep the passing of gas on the down-low when we are out in public. I will continue to demand respect and courteousness.  But we usually end up in fits of laughter because the hilarity is contagious.  

As the mother of boys I have figured out that I can't fight testosterone on some subjects and testosterone wins when it comes to gas.  Boys think farts are funny.  Period.  Not just little boys, but grown men also.  Ask a bunch of guys what they did on their fishing trip and your bound to hear some detailed, comical stories about someone cutting the cheese.  Most of the time I admit to laughing too because farts are funny.  Except in yoga class.  

An older gentleman in my weekly yoga class spends the entire 60 minutes burdening us with his flatulence. He expels gas every few minutes with each new posture for the whole class.  These aren't just little toots I'm talking about.  His long, drawn out gas bombs sound like demons being exorcised from his intestines.  His anal acoustics prevent me from enjoying even a sliver of my yoga experience.  And I pay good money to for that experience.

I don't even want to take my yoga class anymore.  I've had it.   I know it's not very yoga-like for me to be so intolerant of someone who is clearly incapable of controlling his gassiness, but why does the rest of the class have to suffer?  Maybe the yoga studio needs to add a new Old Farts class (pun totally intended).

Any book worthy of young boy's attention must have some reference to farts.  In an entertaining comic strip section from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-it-Yourself Book, The Amazing Fart Police swoop in and arrest unsuspecting tooters who fart in public.  In one scenario, The Amazing Fart Police arrest a boy whose aunt hugged him so hard a toot popped out.  The boy pleads, "but it wasn't my fault!  My aunt squeezed it out of me!"  The Amazing Fart Police said, "tell it to the judge, kid." 

Now, that's funny.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Wants Vs. Needs

How do you get your kids to understand the difference between wants vs. needs?  Some things we need like food, shelter and clothing.  Some things we want like filet mignon, a pool house and a Neiman Marcus credit card.

I understand the difficulty kids have in processing the idea that money isn't readily available anytime we want something.  After all, they see us whip out our credit cards and swipe it through a machine at every store.  What kid wouldn't think we could just use the credit card to buy whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted?  In the eyes of a child it seems so simple; have credit card, buy things.

I remember as a kid asking my mom for a toy or something that I really wanted and she said no.  As I continued to press her about said toy she told me she didn't have any money to pay for it.  I said, "just write a check!" as if money magically appeared from the mere act of writing a dollar amount in the little window. 

When we moved into our house I bought a new dining room table.  It was a 48" round wrought iron beauty with a glass top.  I loved the scroll design legs and table base and it fit perfectly in our kitchen area.  We didn't have any kids yet so little did I know that my glass top table would become the bane of my existence.  Fast forward three years to two kids, lots of smudgy fingerprints and gallons of Windex.  I came to loathe the table and all of its glassiness that was impossible to keep clean.  I wanted a new table and I wanted it bad.

The problem was that I didn't need a new table. The table we had was in perfect condition.  I hated trying to keep it clean, yes, but it technically was still usable and I couldn't justify spending money on a new table when we had other household expenses that required our funds.  I wanted a new table but I didn't need one.  How to solve the dilemma?

I told my husband that I would like to buy a new table, but I would use the money I earned from selling the kids' outgrown toys and clothes at a twice yearly Mom2Mom sale.  Each sale only netted a couple hundred bucks, but at least it was a start.  I also sold a few things here and there on Ebay so little by little my table fund got bigger.   Saving for a new table enabled me to choose the table I wanted without any input from the peanut gallery.  I perused catalogs, showrooms and even consignment shops.  I searched high and low for the perfect fit.

Fast forward four years.  Yes, it has taken me four very long years to save for my new table, but my perfect table ended up costing more than I anticipated.  Instead of settling for a mediocre table that cost less, I continued to save for the table of my dreams.  I finally reached my goal when I sold my current table on Craig's list.  I ordered my new table and breathed a sigh of relief.

I can't express how much I love my new table and chairs.  The chairs' scalloped details and contoured ladder backs are exactly what I was looking for.  The 48" round chestnut-colored pedestal table is just right.  But, I'm not sure what I love more.  The actual table or what it represents.

When the boys asked me over the years why I didn't just go out and buy a new table, I explained the whole wants vs. needs concept to them.  We've had the same conversation many times.  When I say no after they ask me for something they want, but don't really need, I remind them of how I had to save my hard-earned money for my new table. After many whimpers and moans and "but I really, really need it!" I ask my kids to figure out how to pay for what they want, like I did. I can always use a hand cleaning and taking out the trash.  Sometimes the need wasn't so monumental after all.  But, if the need was monumental enough to help me dust or scrub a toilet to earn a few bucks, it must be pretty special.

After all, the treasures we buy from our own hard-earned money usually turn out to be the things we love the most.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Toy Story 3 Delivers

I love the Toy Story movies.  I'm not big on sequels or third installments of a movie for that matter, but I have to say that Toy Story 3 was just as good as its predecessors.  Disney has a way of providing a great message for kids and usually enough entertainment for the adults.  Toy Story 3 delivered.

The great thing about Toy Story is its continual message of teamwork and looking out for your friends.  What a terrific bunch of toys.  Woody is a great leader who makes sure all the toys stick together.  Even though he's the favorite toy he never assumes that he's better than any of the others.  It would be very easy for Woody to boast and brag and make fun of the others, but he doesn't.  He treats everyone with respect and, for that, the other toys respect him.

What a simple and universal concept.  Treat others as you want to be treated.  Speak to others and you wish to be spoken to.  To have a friend, be a friend.  We could use more of the lessons learned from Toy Story in our playgrounds, schools and backyards. Maybe they should make watching the Toy Story movies mandatory in school.  Maybe make Woody the new mascot?

We have had a rule in our house since my kids were born; my sons are not allowed to be mean to their toys or stuffed animals.  If Puppy comes flying over the ballisters from the second floor, that is cause for an instant time-out.   If Puppy gets thrown through the air or twisted out of shape, someone is in trouble.  We don't hurt Puppy's feelings or hurt him physically.  Some people might think I'm flat-out crazy because it's just a stuffed animal, but not only does this teach the boys to respect their things it also teaches them about compassion.  Everyone has feelings that we need to be aware of.  Even Puppy.

I have always had a hard time getting rid of the toys with which the boys were especially enamored, but after watching this movie I may never get rid of another toy again.  I used to feel a twinge of sadness after rounding up the toys the boys outgrew because it meant admitting the boys were getting older.  Every LeapFrog or Fisher Price toy that I got rid of brought a new level of mourning for the babies who were no longer babies.  I felt a sort of punch in my gut as soon as I dropped off the very toys that made my toddlers squeal with delight more times than I could count.  It stings.

So, Puppy isn't going anywhere anytime soon.  He and Moosey and the Polar Bear and other puppy and the other puppy will always have a safe place in our home. I may do just like Andy did and save the toys Nicholas and Christopher have loved for another deserving child who will treat them with respect.  My boys have learned valuable lessons with their toy friends. They have learned how to be a friend and how to take care of their friends.  In return, Puppy and the others have been loyal unlike many others. 

Friends like that last a lifetime.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thanks Dad

Today was a very special Fathers Day.

I flew down to Florida to be with my dad this weekend and to hand-deliver a copy of the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad because a story I wrote about him was published in that book.  This story was special for two reasons.  1) It's about the greatest dad on the planet and 2) It was my very first published piece of writing.

My story, The Constant, is about how my relationship with my dad has defined my life. My dad has been my best role model, friend and ally.  For those of you who know my dad you will recognize the man I have always admired in the story.  For those of you who don't know my dad, my story provides a glimpse into the heart of a man who has always been the greatest dad a girl could ask for.

Thanks Dad for helping me realize my dream of being a published author.  I couldn't have done it without you!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Jumping Off Bridges

Remember when your parents told you not to do something just because someone else was doing it? In other words, use your critical-thinking skills to make educated decisions and not just follow someone off a bridge just because the other person decided it was a good idea to jump. Why do people keep jumping anyway?

The sheep mentality. I sooooo dislike it. People who act like sheep (sheeple?) and simply follow the crowd and do whatever the crowd is doing might as well follow them right off the bridge. Instead of looking into other options most people will simply do what the "majority" is doing. It's human nature.  And, it's easier.  If the majority thinks that it's a good idea for 5-year-olds to spend the equivalent of an adult work week in the classroom then, by all means, we should send our kids to all-day Kindergarten.  If the majority thinks it's okay to let your kids play video games for hours on end, then it must be a good idea.  After all, these kids are developing visual acuity and spacial perception as well as other cognitive skills (that's the spin anyway).  Most people will tell you that "studies indicate..." that this increase in academics or hand-eye coordination is good for the kids, but these people have never bothered to actually read the studies they are quoting. All they know is what their neighbor told them that they heard from another friend who misquoted a person they overheard talking about it at the PTA meeting.

When I was a new mom I was overwhelmed with all of the gadgets and toys available for babies and toddlers. All the sheeple I talked to had a Baby Einsten DVD or CD or some brain-based toy that was supposed to "encourage discovery" as if a DVD could do what a simple set of blocks couldn't. I remember knowing that I didn't want to put my baby in front of a TV but feeling a bit out of sorts because everyone else was doing the "Baby Einstein" thing. This was my first foray into the parenting-sheep mentality and I didn't like the feeling one bit. What was a new mom to do?

When I found Kathy Hirsch-Pasek's book, Einstein Never Used Flashcards, I was so happy to read that it was OK for my children to just play. She gave me permission to give my children simple blocks, kitchen utensils and other uncomplicated toys. Christopher's favorite thing to do when he was 2-years old was to play with pencils (unsharpened of course). He would take several pencils , sit on the floor and make shapes like houses or triangles or even, according to him, birds. He would be completely absorbed for hours. Nicholas had more fun with plastic cups in the bathtub than any other colorful bathtub paint or musical "must-have" toy.

Instead of watching classical music DVDs, my boys and I would turn on our stereo and dance around our living room. Our favorite songs when they were little were Shout by the Isley Brothers and The Hokey Pokey. Now, we have the Glee soundtracks that keep us all equally absorbed.  I use music to lessen the excruciating pain of Christopher's 5,000 questions asked during a routine drive to the grocery store.  "Hey buddy, do you want to hear the Glee version of  Don't Stand So Close To Me one more time?  Please?"

Don't get me wrong. We have (had) the newest and best toys. After all, the grandparents wanted to make sure our kids had the latest and greatest gadgets. But even though we had those toys they were not necessarily the boys' favorites. The most memorable times we have had include going out and exploring our neighborhoods, visiting museums, walking around the zoo, reading books or just hanging out and singing silly songs. The best playlists on my iPod include songs the kids and I can sing together.

A very hard lesson to learn at any age is that it's OK to disagree. It's not OK to be mean about it or disruptive or cruel. But it's OK to accept that you have a different viewpoint; not always better or more correct...just different. I gave up a long time ago trying to be "right" in the eyes of my peers.  I do some things differently, that's all.  No need to justify my decisions.

I see new moms struggling with the same things I struggled with in the past.  Am I doing this right?  Am I making the right decisions? Am I emotionally scarring my kids?  All I can say is do what's best for your family and shut out the noise from everyone else.  That noise you hear is just bleating from the sheeple who are teetering on the edge of the bridge.

I don't worry as much as I used to about doing things "right."  If it makes sense in my world, that's all that matters to me.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Never Pass Up An InvitationTo A Destination Wedding

We just got back from a wonderful trip to Cabo San Lucas. Mark and I made the trek for a family wedding and I am so glad we went.  Our first thought upon receiving the "save the date" card was how are we gonna swing this, but we finally came to the conclusion that it was important to be with our family.  So, we packed our bags, left our kids with Grandma and Grandpa and flew off to the southernmost tip of the Baja Peninsula.  It was paradise.

I had several reservations about going not the least of which was leaving my kids for five days.  I know they are in competent hands with Grandma and Grandpa but it's still hard to say goodbye and fly several thousand miles away to a foreign country no less.  I also worried about the cost of our trip and other logistics, but none of that prevented us from getting on the plane. I really felt compelled to renew relationships with relatives that I rarely see.  An added bonus was getting to be with some of my favorite family members in one location.

We had lots of laughs and lots of Mango Margaritas. We reminisced about funny events in our past and predicted possible outcomes of our various futures.  We relaxed in the sun and took walks on the beach.  We witnessed two young people beginning their lives together.  And, we got to know each other even better.  I couldn't even begin to put a price tag on that kind of reunion.

Time is flying by at an alarming speed and years go by in the blink of any eye.  It's a shame I can't see my extended family more often but I will take as many opportunities as I can get from now on.  My first instinct won't be "I shouldn't" or "I couldn't."   I won't hesitate when I receive the next "save the date" card because I will remember how important it was for all of us to be together, regardless of time or place. 

We did put a bug in the ear of all of our younger, single relatives, however, that a destination wedding to a nice, warm beach location would be most appreciated.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Talent Code

I recently read a great book called The Talent Code based on a friend's recommendation.  What I loved most about the book was the basic premise that all of us can achieve excellence if we practice our craft.  Whether it be music, sports, or basket-weaving, we all have the ability to become great at any given skill through repetitive practice. 

OK, so the book goes into much more detail about how the physiological aspects of our brain operate.  I'm in no position to try and summarize that here, but the mind-blowing thing about each and every case study was that it didn't matter if you were smarter, richer or better-looking than the next guy or girl.  Each one of the talented people outlined in the book came from different backgrounds.  Different countries.  Different centuries.  But the common characteristics in all of them were similar methods of training, motivation, and coaching.  To get really good at something you need to practice.  Not just practice once in awhile or every other week.  Practice daily.  Practice with passion.  You need to be motivated and care about the outcome.  You need to want to become more proficient.  And, you need a good coach, teacher or mentor.

Practice makes perfect.  How many times have you heard that?  We hear it so often because it's true.  We can't get good at something if we don't hone the skill, learn from our mistakes and keep practicing.  Nicholas and Christopher amaze me with their piano skills at such a young age.  But, they have a great piano teacher and they practice often (their Dad makes sure of that!).  Nicholas has been practicing for four years.  He has a lot to learn, but he sees the older kids in other classes who play so well and so confidently and he knows that one day that will be him.  For now, he is honing his skill.  He is getting frustrated and he knows that it's hard work but he's willing to put in the time because he knows he will only get better if he practices. 

Nicholas also likes to play baseball.  He asked me other day if I thought he would be a good pitcher and I said he could be good at anything he puts his mind to.  When I asked him what the essential element was to being a good pitcher he cocked his head to the side as if to contemplate this deeply philosophical question and said, "oh yeah, I know, practice!"  If Nicholas wants to be a pitcher, he needs to practice. Christopher is riding his bike without training wheels.  How did he manage that?  Practice.

My boys get irritated sometimes when I tell them that they can do whatever they want as long as they put in the time to perfect their skill.  The irritation comes from realizing that it takes work on their part.  Even if I had a magic wand that would instantly make them competent at any given ability I wouldn't use it.  Their greatest achievements will be those they have to work hard for.  By themselves.  Mustering  their own resolve.  Nothing good ever comes easy.  It usually involves a lot guessed it...practice.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Grass Isn't Always Greener

Comparing yourself to other people is a pointless ritual that does nothing but lower your self-esteem and create invaluable criticisms. People (women) do it all the time. We convince ourselves that so-and-so has a better car, house, husband, job, etc. and begin the ridiculous routine of second-guessing our own existence. Haven't we learned, finally, that the grass isn't always greener on the other side?

What we don't realize when we subject ourselves to these comparisons is that most of the time the comparison is not apples-to-apples. The surest way to ruin your self-esteem is to try to keep up with the Joneses when the Joneses are, in reality, unhappily trying to keep up with someone else. To whose level are people aspiring and why?

We don't know what goes on behind closed doors. We usually don't even have an inkling of what is going on in other people's lives. Sure, the Joneses have a new car and a new boat and well-dressed kids. But, maybe they are on the verge of bankruptcy and are buried under a mound of debt. I certainly don't aspire to be like the Joneses if it means they can't even afford all the toys they have.

Jane Doe might seem like the epitome of calm in the midst of utter chaos. Women marvel at Jane's ability to handle stress so well and wonder why they can't be more like her. Why can't I just let things roll of my back so easily and not sweat the small stuff? What we don't know is that Jane's calmness probably doesn't come from her innate ability to handle stress. Jane might hide vodka bottles in the linen closet or need medication take the edge off. Nobody is perfect.

Some people like to drop names, wear labels or constantly tell us how smart their kids are.  While these people can be annoying on so many levels, they deserve some pity, too.  I am convinced that they must be trying to fill a gaping hole in their lives they may not even know exists.  Why else would they try so hard to convince us that they are better, wealthier or smarter than everyone else?  What is really missing in their lives? 

That's why I don't care if someone else drives a fancy car, has a house with more square footage or takes exotic vacations.  I don't care someone else's kid read his first book in preschool or could speak three languages before his 5th birthday.  I'm not impressed by the continual barrage of greatness because too many people are trying to fill gaping holes.

If you are feeling less than stellar because you are surrounded by people who appear to "have it all," think again.  The grass isn't always greener. Sometimes you just have to take a closer look.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Are You Brave?

If someone asked you the question, "Are you brave?"  what would your answer be?

I used to think I wasn't brave.  I'm not the type to sign up for bungee-jumping off large cliffs or skydiving out of  airplanes, but bravery doesn't always consist of endeavors that push my physical limits.  Being brave sometimes involves the mental challenge of just getting out of my comfort zone.  Christina Katz, author of Writer Mama and the popular ezine, The Prosperous Writer, writes in her ezine about the 52 Qualities of Prosperous Writers.  Number 15 just happened to be bravery.

After reading Christina's take on bravery, I reminded myself that I am brave. Crossing a huge threshold of comfort to start and continue this blog requires courage.  Submitting essays to local, regional and national publications requires guts. My fear of rejection and ridicule is paralyzing but I continue anyway.  Why?  Because every other writer I know has the same paralyzing fears.

Christina says, "You have to be brave in your writing to say what you mean, not what you think others want to hear" and "It takes some serious chutzpah to present your work to industry gatekeepers like agents and editors."  If a successful author like Christina says it takes bravery and chutzpah, well, then, I guess my timidity has merit.  I also hear from every writer I follow that at one time or another (or even continually for some) they felt fear.  I can't read a book or a blog by a respected writer without discovering how they pushed through that fear.  When I realized that I didn't corner the market on "anxious new writer," I started writing.

I am still nervous when I hit the submit button.  What if the editor didn't get my analogy?  What if she thinks I'm too vain?  Did I follow a narrative arc or add enough dialogue?  The questions go on and on and on.  But, whenever a question about my ability pops into my head I recall past accomplishments in which I was called upon to be brave.  I remind myself that I have already tackled fear.  And won.  Like the time I backpacked through Europe by myself.  Or, the time I interviewed for a new job and negotiated a salary almost three times what I was currently making.  Or, becoming a mother.  If being a mother doesn't require bravery, what does?

So, I keep writing and I keep submitting. The only way to become a published writer is to write.  The only way to get better is to keep practicing.  The only way to combat fear is to read ezines, like Christina's, to learn about the industry and other writers' experiences.  To belong to writers' forums to develop a camaraderie and gain insight from like-minded people.  I learn.  And I learn some more.  And with each learning process the fear becomes less like Mt. Everest and more like a sand dune.  It still exists, but it's slightly more manageable.

If you think you aren't brave, think again.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Learning By Osmosis

I'm not the most patient person when it comes to teaching my kids things like how to brush their teeth properly, tie a shoe or ride a bike.  I know it takes time to learn how to do these things the right way, but my patience level wanes with every  "but it's tooooo haaarrrdddd" or "I caaaaan't dooooo iiiitttttt."  I'm aware that my kids are capable of tying the shoe and riding the bike.  Convincing them of their capabilities is another matter altogether.

But, what I find fascinating is that when it comes to learning about schoolwork such as reading or counting or rhyming or adding, Christopher is learning by osmosis.  He seems to absorb the information we talk about at the dinner table with his older brother, Nicholas, regarding his homework and somehow, magically, Christopher understands it.  He begins to repeat it.  And he learns it with minimal instruction or prodding by mom and dad.  Wow.  Who knew it would be so easy the second time around?

Christopher likes to read.  He wants to learn how.  We pick up beginner books and he sounds out the letters to form the words.  We shop at the grocery store and he says to me, "Mom, this says Taco" as he points to a box of taco shells.  He draws pictures for his brother and signs it "To Nicholas rot (wrote) bi (by) Christopher."  He doesn't ask me how to spell a word, he just tries to sound it out on his own.  I marvel at Christopher's ability and secretly let out a huge sigh that he doesn't fight me at every turn like his brother who wouldn't read a book before he started Kindergarten if I lined it with $100 bills.  I tried to get Nicholas to sound out words and learn a few easily identifiable ones like "the" and "and." He balked.  No interest.  Dug in his heels.  Funny thing is, Nicholas is an above-average reader now so even though he appeared to not want to learn to read, he really didn't want to learn to read from me.  He likes to do things on his own terms.  His reading took off like a rocket in Kindergarten when he learned the ins and outs from his adorable teacher.  And, his 1st grade teacher tells me she can hardly keep up with his reading progression.  Obstinance duly noted.

Christopher on the other hand is learning much more at an earlier age.  He is learning how to read.  He is learning how to tell time.  He is learning how to count coins.  I'm not saying he correctly identifies coins all the time or can tell me when it's quarter past the hour, but the information is seeping into him one of Nicholas's homework lesson at a time.  Because Nicholas is learning all of this in school, Christopher gets the added benefit of learning it too - and that makes my job a whole lot easier.

I have also learned a few new things along the way.  Like, it doesn't matter if a word is spelled wrong it only matters that the correct sounds are present.  It doesn't matter if the words in a book are memorized, that is part of the learning-to-read process.  And, if an addition or subtraction result is wrong, a simple, "try that one again" is all that's needed.  Christopher gets another added benefit of a mommy who isn't as worried about precision as she was the first time around.  Sorry, Nicholas.  Is it any wonder that firstborns always try to be so perfect?

Now, if I can just get Christopher to ride his bike without training wheels...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lessons We Can Learn From the Real Housewives of Orange County

Yes, I watch The Real Housewives of Orange County. Yes, I am ashamed to admit it. And, yes, we actually can learn valuable lessons from ladies whose sole purpose on this Earth is to love themselves more than they love anybody else.

The title of the show is slightly misleading because the Real Housewives of Orange County aren't "real" in any sense of the word. I have never witnessed a phonier bunch of women in one television series before. Oh sure, the ladies on any given afternoon soap opera are superficial and shallow, but they are acting. The Real Housewives of Orange County prove week after week that they are the ultimate narcissists.   Week after week we witness another crack in their moral foundation.  Week after week the train wreck continues.  What does it say about me that I continue to watch the show?  Well,  I think that's a discussion for another blog post, so for now let's stick to bashing the egotistical, brainless blonds (and brunette) from the O.C.

Lesson #1 - When it comes to parenting, do the exact opposite of whatever any of the housewives is doing.  (Or, I would rather stick a hot poker in my eye than take parenting advice from one of these broads).

Let's just start with the worst parenting moments ever witnessed on TV.  Lynne you oughta be ashamed.  Lynne's daughter is begging her to set some boundaries.  Begging!  How much clearer does she need to be?  I wish Lynne would stop acting like she is so clueless.  All we hear from Lynne is the same old tired cries of  "I want to be a good mom" or "I only want the best for my daughter"  or "Teenagers are soooooo hard."  Boo Hoo Hoo.  Stop you're caterwauling and step up to the parenting plate, Lynne.  If she cared more about her daughter's prolonged absences or blatant disregard for authority than she does about how much shorter she can wear her miniskirts without getting arrested, she might get a pass.  Actions speak louder than words, Lynne.  Get a backbone!

Alexis is a stay-at-home mom with a nanny.  I tune her out when I hear her talk about how hard it is raising kids, because she isn't raising them.  She can take them to church and she can drag them along on her mani/pedi outings (seriously, 2-year-olds in a nail salon?  Really?) and make it look all cute and like "I'm the most involved mom in the world" but she isn't pulling the wool over anyone's eyes.  She has a nanny and gets to work out and have mani/pedis.  Enough said. 

Lesson #2:  People Who Live in Glass  Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones
Vicki works and everyone knows it.  I'm glad she has a job that she loves going to everyday and that she is successful but she has a real problem with her mouth.  If you can dish it out you better be able to take it right back or else keep your mouth shut.  But, Vicki can't take in what she dishes out.  She cries.  Boo hoo hoo "these girls are so  mean."  Well, take a look in the mirror sister , you ain't no Pollyanna. 

Lesson #3:  Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer
Not one of these women is a friend to the other.  Not one.  I am sick of hearing about who has whose "back."  Each of these relationships is as fake as their breasts.  The only thing on the back of each woman is a protruding knife plunged there by her so-called "friend." 

Lesson #4:  Stop watching the show
Okay, this lesson is for me.  I'm done.  No more Orange County.  I'm not even going to comment on Tamra's pathetic marriage or Gretchen's belief that her boyfriend isn't using her.  I'm feeling nauseous.  I've spent too much time talking about these ladies already.  I need to stop watching a show the elevates my blood pressure and increases my heartbeat to unnatural rhythms.  I don't like these women and have no sympathy for them.  They sold their souls to be on a reality television show which is a pretty steep price to pay for fame.

Karma will come-a-calling.  It always does.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Procrastination Problem

I am a procrastinator.  I am not proud of the fact but I do try to tame the procrastination monster from time to time.  I do try to talk myself into getting the laundry ironed as soon as it comes out of the dryer or to wash the floor before the bottom of my kids' white socks start to turn brown.  I try.  But, I am not always successful because it seems like something else is always vying for my attention.

We all have tasks we don't like to do.  We all have reasons for putting off today what can be done tomorrow.  But, I have an extra incentive to complete my tasks promptly and efficiently; two pair of eyes watching and learning from my every move.

Because children learn by example, it's up to me to show my kids how I plow through and get my jobs done no matter how much I dislike a certain job (like ironing).  I can't whine or complain or whimper about why I don't like to iron, I just need to iron.  I shouldn't balk at the chance to wash my floor or offer reasons why I should wait until tomorrow (like, because my kids are having friends over after school and what's the point of washing the floor at all)  I just need to wash it.  The person who really wants to do something finds a way; the other person finds an excuse.

Nicholas is learning about the consequences of procrastinating and not completing tasks in a timely manner in 1st grade.  Because he is a natural observer he watches people and situations with great interest.  He is also very social.  While these traits may be admirable in certain situations, they are a deterrent when he is supposed to get in his seat before the bell or turn class assignments in on time.  Nicholas was making a habit of being the last student ready for instruction in the morning or the last student to turn in his work during the day.  Once Nicholas's teacher brought it to my attention, Nicholas and I sat down for a discussion.

I explained to him, in what I thought was a non-accusatory tone, that his teacher was concerned that he wasn't completing his assigned tasks in a timely manner.  He offered excuses about why he was late turning in assignments, but I gently reminded him that he just needs to pay attention to his work, not his neighbor, and submit his work in  a timely manner.  He got frustrated, offered more excuses and became increasingly agitated whenever I said the words, "timely manner."  I reiterated that I wasn't mad at him and he wasn't in trouble, I just wanted him to be aware that his teacher knows he is capable of doing his work and turning it in on time.  He just needs to find a way to do it.

Our conversation about his responsibilities continued over several breakfasts and dinners. We agreed upon ways to apply better time management skills at home.  Now, instead of me asking Nicholas to brush his teeth, make his bed and get dressed in the morning, I tell him he has 15 minutes to complete his tasks.  He has to look at the clock, tell me what time it is now and what time it will be in 15 minutes and finish his tasks by that time.  I also tell him if he finishes his tasks on time he will have extra time to play before we leave for the bus.  Play is a great incentive. 

I told Nicholas that I would follow up with his teacher to make sure he was using good time management skills at school.  Nicholas tried to offer more excuses about why he couldn't get to his seat on time (the bus was late) or why his worksheet wasn't complete (his pencil broke), but I finally told him what my boss used to tell me, "I don't want to hear excuses, just show me the results." 

I did follow up with Nicholas's teacher and she told me after about a week that his performance improved.  I will keep getting periodical updates from his teacher just to make sure he continues to be aware of his student responsibilities. I will, in turn, continue to make sure I am setting a good example and keeping my procrastination monster at bay.

It wasn't until I overheard Nicholas's younger brother, Christopher, playing tag with a boy at the bus stop that I realized how many times Nicholas and I must have had our conversation about getting things done on time.  The tagger wasn't chasing Christopher fast enough, but instead of asking the tagger to chase him faster, Christopher instructed him to "Chase me in a timely manner!"

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Getting Back on the Horse

So just when I think I've overcome my fear of doing the Yoga Handstand (see What Are You Afraid Of? post on 2/10/10) I went and dislocated the second toe on my left foot doing the very thing I have been trying to conquer for so long.  UGH.  Does this mean I'm going right back to square one?

The ironic part of dislocating my toe is that I was doing the handstand quite well last Sunday in my yoga class.  I got up on the first try with my feet balanced against the wall.  I managed to stay up for 15 solid breaths after which I came back down to the ground.  I heard the instructor say "five more breaths" and for some reason thought it was necessary to get back up again for those last five breaths.  Because I was still kind of wobbly from being upside down for 15 seconds, when I tried to vault myself back in the air I lost my balance and came down the wrong way on my toe.  I heard the most horrific cracking sound and looked down to find my toe bent in an unnatural, completely abnormal way.  My toe was actually turned toward me.

I packed up my yoga gear, hobbled out to my car, (barefoot in the Michigan winter, no less) and headed to the emergency room.  I was convinced my toe was broken and I would have a disfigured, crooked toe mocking me for the rest of my life every time it peeked out from a pair of summer sandals.  Can you believe my first thought was that I better not have a crooked toe peeking out of my summer sandals?  To my huge relief, the ER doctor reassured me that my toe was merely dislocated, not broken.  She popped it back into place (yes it hurt like a son-of-a-bitch) and I was on my way. 

The whole time I was driving to the hospital I kept thinking that I shouldn't have done that stupid handstand anyway and that I would never try it again.  Ever.  I clearly have issues with this particular pose and I thought this was surely a sign from above that the yoga gods were excusing me from ever doing a damn Adho Mukha Vrksasana (ah-doh moo-kah vriks-SHAHS-anna) again.  I swear I could hear their sarcastic whispers in the far off corners of my mind teasing me as they speculated about my inability to do such a simple thing.  I  convinced myself by the time I reached my destination that I may not even do yoga again at all.  Period.  I was talking myself right out of ever doing another silly downward facing dog or triangle pose.

When I found out my toe was dislocated and not broken, I sighed with relief that foot would not be grossly disfigured and I would, indeed, wear my sandals this summer as planned.  As I thought more about my morning however, I realized that I needed to find a silver lining to this story instead of vowing to swear off yoga forever.  I had to find a good reason to get back on the proverbial horse. 

As I replayed the morning's events I realized that I was obviously mad about hurting my toe but I never gave myself credit for getting up on the handstand for 15 seconds in the first place.  I only chided myself for not accomplishing my task the second time around and managing to damage a toe in the process.  I really didn't need to attempt the second handstand.  My bad.  I know better now that I should only get up once and however long I stay is my measure for the day.  I need to be cognizant of that incredible accomplishment and give myself credit where credit is due.  My dislocated toe might not have been a sign from the yoga gods to quit altogether, but rather a warning to quit pushing myself past natural limitations.  The more I thought about how far I have come in my yoga journey over the past several months the more I appreciated what my body is capable of doing, not what it isn't.  

So, I took this week off from my usual workout routine to let my toe heal.  I slept in a little bit later each day.  I enjoyed a little extra TLC from the hubby and kids and I gave myself a break.  I won't be going to my yoga class this Sunday, but I will go next week.  I promise I will get back on the horse and this time I will try to keep myself moving at a slow trot and resist the urge to sprint into a full gallop.

My toes, and I'm sure the rest of my body, will thank me.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When is it Okay to Lie?

Some lies are a necessary evil.  There I said it. Some of you might think that I'm off my rocker because you assume that any form of lying is wrong and I used to believe that, too.  But, if I didn't censor some of my more scathing thoughts with an occasional, complimentary little white lie, I might be friendless.  I choose not to be friendless so I lie.  How do I justify lying even if it's to protect someone's feelings?  Because I'm lying to protect someone's feelings...duh!

Don't for a minute kid yourself into thinking you don't lie or that other people aren't lying to you.  You do and they are.  How else could we live in a semi-civilized society?  I have the utmost respect for someone who tells the little white lie to help ease the awkwardness of questions like, "does this make me look fat" or "do I sound like my mother?"  When I was pregnant I remember receiving over-the-top compliments like, "you can't even tell that you're pregnant!" or fibs like "you're legs really aren't that swollen"  Those unsubtle liars need to come clean right now and admit that I clearly resembled a Weeble (Weebles wobble but they don't fall down!) and my bloated legs required their own zip code.

So, you and I lie now and then to protect someone's feelings.   We can rationalize it and condone it.  But what do we tell our kids who are, hopefully, learning that all forms of lying are wrong?  I can't very well separate a little white lie from a bold-faced lie and explain to an almost 7-year-old that it's okay to lie in one situation and not in another.  What kind of message does that send?  We are pretty clear in our house that lying is unethical no matter the reason and I'm sticking to it.  I am cultivating consciences here and those consciences need to know right from wrong.  I'm not giving any indication now or in the foreseeable future that it's okay to lie even if it is a little white one.

My kids will figure out on their own, eventually, when and if a little white lie is necessary. By the time their consciences are equipped with a compassion meter that allows them to protect a friend's feelings, they will have already developed a sensible moral base.  Until then, I'm going to continue my mantra that lying is wrong.  I am going to keep pounding it into my kids' heads day after day.  I'm going to keep acting exceedingly dramatic when Nicholas tells me that his friend lied about pushing another kid on the playground (What?!  That sounds horrible!  What kind of animal would do that?!) or that his classmate ate someone else's cookie at lunch and didn't confess when asked (What?!  He told a bold-faced lie...just like that...with a straight face?!  I know you would never lie like that Nicholas.  You know it would break my heart!).  I want him to notice that I'm terribly disappointed when I hear stories about other kids that lie so that he won't even consider lying when presented with the chance.  I am not naive enough to think he won't ever test his own moral values, but his capacity of knowing right from wrong will ultimately prevail.

Nicholas is understandably skeptical when I tell him that bold-faced liars will get their due punishment.  He doesn't have any solid evidence of that yet because some of his friends get away with being deceitful.  I continue to try and convince Nicholas that, in the long run, it's much easier to tell the truth and face your consequences. When he asks why I tell him simply - liars need good memories.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What Are You Afraid Of?

Have you ever heard the quote, "do something every day that scares you" by Eleanor Roosevelt?  The message is obvious that you must challenge yourself to do things you think you cannot do. I'm not sure I want to do something that scares me every single day, my to-do list is already long enough, but I am intrigued by the idea of getting out of my comfort zone now and again and pushing myself to cross over my self-imposed boundaries.

I'm scared of doing things at which I think I'm no good.  I'm scared of looking silly or doing it wrong, which often puts me at odds with myself because I want to try new things but my fear somehow gets in the way.  My older son, Nicholas, on the other hand, is scared of monsters and the dark.  He doesn't like to go in his room by himself or up the stairs by himself or anywhere where there is no light.  Even if he turns a hall light on he still doesn't want to enter his room alone.  Both of us are letting our fear dictate what we do and when we do it. 

I have been thinking a lot lately about doing more things that scare me.  Like, trying to do a handstand in my yoga class.  I have been going to the same Ashtanga yoga class for about six months and for six months I have avoided doing the handstand. Every time the class embraced the pose and walked or floated their legs up the wall,  I would wimp out and do a reverse table pose instead.   Week after week I convinced myself that I couldn't do the handstand because my wrist hurt or I would just fall back down anyway.  I didn't think I could get my legs up, let along keep them up.  So, I never even tried.

The one thing I like about yoga, or about how my instructor teaches it anyway, is everyone is allowed to feel comfortable at whatever level suits him or her.  For example, I don't feel bad that I can't do a boat pose because I know my core is weak.  I am working on that.  But, I still attempt the boat pose and modify it as necessary.  My instructor is very good about offering modifications and reminding us that we are okay wherever we are in our practice. He never pushed me to do the handstand and never belittled me when I didn't try.  But, that damn handstand was still haunting me.  Why was I so afraid to try it?  What was I avoiding?

A friend decided to join me for a yoga session and I convinced myself that I would do the handstand that morning.  She was new to Ashtanga and I assumed she would be watching me as she tried to understand the poses and twists and bends.  I figured that morning was as good a time as any to just put my fear aside and go for it.  When we got to the studio and found out that not only was my instructor not teaching that morning, but it was a "follow the yogi" class instead, I almost turned and ran.  I had no desire to do a "follow the yogi" class (what if I don't know the poses?) and I was not at all interested in doing a class with the owner and master yogi himself. Talk about intimidation. 

I didn't run.  I was scared, yes, but I took a deep breath and we went inside anyway.  I was uncomfortable, but I decided to push through it.  I know that the only limitations are those that I place on myself so I decided to cross over my silly, self-imposed boundary.  Why do I impose these ridiculous boundaries anyway?

It turned out to be a great class.  I learned a few new poses and came out of my comfort zone a time or two. The highlight of my morning, however, was finally accomplishing the handstand.  Even though my heart was racing and I was anxious, I planted my hands on the floor and pushed my legs up into the air.  I seemed to float effortlessly as I placed my feet on the wall, relaxed and took several deep breaths.   I stayed up longer than I ever thought possible.  As a matter of fact, the handstand was so easy that I was shocked I didn't try it sooner.  I was convinced for so long that I couldn't do a handstand only to find out it was much easier than I ever anticipated.

I wish Nicholas could understand that the monsters he manufactures in his head are much worse than anything real. He makes himself sick with worry and panic by creating an unrealistic vision of what lies ahead.  I can see that so clearly in him, but apparently not in myself.   I realized that morning in my yoga class that my fear of the handstand was completely unfounded. When I try to convince Nicholas that monsters aren't real, I need to practice what I preach.  My monsters aren't real either. 

I thought of all my Sunday morning yoga sessions spent fretting over something that turned out to be much simpler than expected.  Imagine if all of my fears were allayed by trying something new and finding out that my fear was worse than the actual task.  Imagine what I can accomplish if I choose to believe that I really am capable and let everything else fall into place. 

I am capable.  And, I'm going to start doing more things that scare me.  I am convinced now that I will be pleasantly surprised.


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