Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Has Your Kid Ever Had a Bad Day?

Nicholas had to write a story based on the concept of the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  He had to describe a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day of his own.

I help with the Writer's Workshop in his class so I had the good fortune of reading his story as he was writing it.  I was confused with his story because I'm pretty sure his brother didn't push him down the stairs and I know I've never grounded him for an entire week.

When I asked him about his made-up story he said, "Mom, I had to make up my story because I've never really had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day."

Wow.  I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

I was secretly thrilled that he couldn't conjure up a day so terrible that he remembered every detail.  But, I wondered if it's OK that his idyllic life thus far hasn't presented him with any problems necessary for some serious introspection.  OK, he's only eight, but still...

It reminded me instantly of the Modern Family Tree House episode where Haley has to write about the biggest obstacle she's overcome for a college application essay.  Only, she can't remember any obstacles she's had to overcome and blames her mom for fostering a boring, sheltered existence.

Of course Haley blames her mother in the TV episode and I'm sure my kids will blame me for whatever misfortunes they think they have endured or will endure.  But, would it be the worst thing in the world if I were blamed for fostering a boring, sheltered existence?

I'm not so sure.

There are plenty of opportunities ahead for my kids to have bad days.  There are plenty of opportunities ahead to overcome obstacles.  His idyllic days won't last forever.  I may resemble the overprotective Claire Dunphy now, but I will allow my kids to fail and I will allow them to experience heartache.  They will never know their full potential if their mettle isn't tested a time or two or ten thousand. 

But, for the time being, if my eight-year-old hasn't experienced any terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, I'm OK with that.   When I was his age my parents were divorced and I was getting in trouble at school, among other things.  I can think of several horrible, very bad days before I even turned eight.

I read stories every day about kids living in homeless shelters, getting in trouble with the law, hampered by a learning disability, or worse.  I'm saddened by stories of kids who grow up too fast without parents who provide boundaries and love.

I much prefer that Nicholas has to make up a sad story rather than live one. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My New Kindle Fire

I never thought I would be an e-book reader.  I pooh-poohed all of the hoopla surrounding e-book readers like the Kindle and Nook because I have plenty of magazine subscriptions that are delivered to my house and plenty of books I can curl up with on the couch.  I can be a little old-school when it comes to all of the new technology available.  It took me awhile to come to the texting party.  I just recently started to Skype.  But, I still refuse to bank online.  I will continue to write checks out of my little checkbook, putting a stamp on my envelopes to send in my bills.  I'm proud to support my local post office!

So, when my husband asked me what I thought about a Kindle for my birthday my first response was...no thanks.  No need.   I am firmly ensconced in my habit of stacking my magazines on the kitchen counter and pulling one out when I have a few minutes to sit and read by my lonesome.  Or, if I am so inclined, I stop by my local library to check out a book I've been meaning to read.  I'm proud to support my local library!

I heard from several people who love their Kindle that they couldn't imagine life without it.  Which made me think back to when I told my husband several years ago "no thanks" on an iPod because I don't listen to music when I work out.  I walk with a friend in the morning or do yoga DVDs and when I'm on my treadmill I'm catching up on past episodes of Bill O'Reilly.  Again, no need.  My husband bought me one anyway and I was ready to return it until I found out I could listen to my iPod through the car's FM radio. Now we're talking!  I was getting tired of making music CDs for my kids to listen to in the car.  Presto! Bammo!  Now I had an entire music library to choose from and could play whatever songs my little ones requested with the click of a wheel.  Our car rides became more bearable and the kiddos were happily singing along in the backseat.  I have upgraded since my first nano and now have the iPod Classic because my music library exceeded the 8 GB nano capacity.  Who knew?

Still, I wasn't sure I should jump on the Kindle bandwagon.  So I started investigating.  As it turns out the Kindle Fire is much more than an e-reader.  I'm not in the review business so this isn't going to be a "Kindle Fire is better than the Nook because...." post, but let's just say I was intrigued by Kindle Fire's capabilities.  I didn't know you could browse the web.  Or email, stream TV and Video or play games. I didn't know you can e-mail documents - including Word, PDF and more - directly to your Kindle so you can read them anytime, anywhere.  I didn't understand the cloud storage of all my Amazon content.

Once I realized the Kindle Fire was much more than an e-reader I regretted telling my husband I wasn't interested in a Kindle.  Shame on me for being so close-minded about new technology.  It wasn't the first time and certainly wouldn't be the last. 

Lucky for me I opened my birthday present and saw a Kindle Fire in my hands.  I realized my husband did an investigation of his own and predicted, as he did many years ago with my iPod, that I really would use this device in many more ways than I could possibly imagine. 

And he was right.  Again.

I love my Kindle Fire!  I'm still learning about all of its potential, but I think the coolest thing is that I can peruse the Amazon bookstore, click a button and poof!  A book is delivered to my Kindle.  Just like that.  It's magic! I'll probably be laughing a few years from now when my Kindle library exceeds even my wildest expectations. 

Lesson learned.  Never say never!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Your Words Mean Something

When I was in 6th grade I got the most hideous perm.  Why I permed my already wavy, full-of-body hair is beyond me.  I suppose I begged my mother to perm my hair because all the other girls were perming their hair.  Anyway, my perm was a disaster.

I was mortified that my already voluminous locks were now even more voluminous. I didn't really fancy the idea of going out in public looking like a mushroom.  Knowing that a perm was, well, permanent I knew I would have to live with that hairstyle for a long while.  I cried.  I began planning ways to join the circus or at the very least come down with a bad case of the six-month flu so a tutor would have to come to my house.  How could I ever show my face at school again?

As it turns out school was the least of my problems because I promised my sister I would go roller skating with her and my Dad had no intention of letting me break my promise.

I didn't want to peek my head out of my front door let alone go to the roller skating rink on a jam-packed Saturday afternoon.  I would have preferred sticking a hot poker in my eye than hanging out with all the popular kids sporting their back-pocket combs used to run through their beautiful, perfectly placed locks.  Nope.  No assortment of rainbow-colored, fuzzy pom-poms with silver bells could have enticed me to leave my house.

But, my Dad insisted I go roller skating.  I promised.  It didn't matter to him that I was a highly vain 11-year-old.  He didn't care that I was embarrassed.

"You promised your sister you would go roller skating with her.  You need to keep your word."

I was dragged kicking and screaming out of the house, but I went roller skating with my sister that day.  I made a promise and I had to keep it.  I've kept every promise since.  Once it's ingrained in you that what you say influences how you're perceived, you work a little harder to make good impressions.

When Christopher tells Nicholas he will play catch with him in the backyard, but then gets a better, more interesting offer to play on the swings with the neighbor, guess what he chooses?  If you guessed he chose to play catch with his brother you'd be wrong.  But, he has to play catch with his brother anyway because he said he would.  He has to keep his word.  Of course better offers come along every day, but we don't get to just dismiss a promise or dismiss our family because we changed our mind. We learn in our house that you don't get to tell someone you will do something and then not do it. 

Even I have to live by this rule. 

Christopher had a bad case of the hiccups.  We tried everything to get the hiccups to go away to no avail.  Finally, I told Christopher I would give him $5 if he could hiccup again.  I cursed myself as soon as I said it  because I should have said $1.00 or something smaller, but out of my mouth came the $5 dare.  He hiccuped again and now I owe him $5.  Rats.

I wonder today if when I'm waiting with my kids at the park for friends to meet us and no one shows up if those friends were ever dragged kicking and screaming to the roller rink against their wishes.  I wonder if they were every held accountable for keeping promises made?  The ones who were held accountable will call and tell me something came up and they can't make it.  They might even drive to the park to tell me they couldn't get a hold of me on the phone and didn't want to keep me waiting indefinitely, but they need a raincheck.  The ones who were not held accountable will brush it off as no big deal and go off and do something else without any explanation.

My roller skating/perm fiasco wasn't my only lesson in the importance of keeping promises.  It took many other reminders and crying fits about cause and effect over the years for it to finally sink in that my words mean something. 

The one thing I know for sure is my kids will be dragged kicking and screaming into many situations they don't want to be in.  I will hear excuses and curses and pleas.  But, I won't let them off the hook, just like my Dad never let me off the hook. 

One day they will look back on their own roller skating/perm fiasco story and laugh when they realize how much impact one tear-filled afternoon actually had.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

My Long Weekends Magazine Article

The Fall/Winter 2011 edition of LongWeekends magazine is on the newstands and my article about feeding the adorable Chickadees at Kensington Metro Park Nature Center is on page 44.

LongWeekends is a regional publication serving the Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania and West Virginia areas so if you live locally you can pick up a copy at your local Barnes and Noble bookseller.  It's a great magazine that lists tons of fun stuff to do in our region (like the Kids Gotta Play showroom in New Hudson I wrote about last year).

If you don't live in the region you can go online and peruse the digital version here. All you need to do is click the lower right-hand corner to turn the pages.  When you get to page 44, click on the Chickadee Chow article and it will zoom in so you can see it better.

The Chickadee in the picture is perched on Christopher's hand.  Yep, those are his little fingers!


Monday, September 26, 2011

Support Local Museums Before They Disappear

I was heartbroken to read in the Detroit Free Press on Saturday that the Detroit Science Center was closing temporarily  to evaluate the museum's financial operations.  The goal of the two-week closure is to review the financial operations to plan for long-term viability.  A Science Center spokesperson said they hope to reopen but can't "make that promise."  Sheesh.  No Detroit Science Center?  Say it ain't so.

Our family has been Detroit Science Center members for several years.  Our membership allows us to experience incredible hands-on exhibits explaining how rockets work or teaching us how much effort it takes to burn the calories equivalent to eating a cheese burger and fries by propelling a wheelchair or walking on a treadmill.  The boys have played bass guitar and drums as they rocked out to Ike and Tina Turner and learned about engineering accomplishments on the Mini Mac Bridge, an 80-foot-long pedestrian bridge modeled after the Mackinac Bridge. The list of exhibits goes on and on and on.  Every trip uncovered something new.

It didn't matter how many times we watched the DTE Energy Sparks Theater shows explaining how electricity affects the world, we were mesmerized every time someone's hair stood on end from too much static electricity.  We learned about coral reefs and Mount Everest in the Chrysler IMAX Dome Theater and about an Olympic kayaker who designed and built the world’s largest man-made whitewater rafting park in the Toyota Engineering multi-media 4-D Theater.  The Kids Town area kept us entertained with a diner where the boys pretended to be cooks or waiters, serving food and counting money.  We always took part in the art activity of the day where crayons, paint, tissue paper, glue, sparkles and other items were available for the boys to create whatever artwork their hearts desired.  We never left Kids Town without a trip to the water table or a quick costume change for the boys to dance on stage.

The best part about our Detroit Science Center membership was the reciprocity agreement with other science centers in Michigan and across the country.  We took advantage more than once of 1/2 price admission to the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills and the Ann Arbor Hands On Museum in Ann Arbor and free admission to the University of Michigan Exhibit Museum of Natural History in Ann Arbor and the Impression 5 Science Center in Lansing.  We even took the whole family to the South Florida Science Center for free when we were visiting the grandparents.  Our Detroit Science Center membership has served us well in our never-ending quest to find fun, imaginative things to do as a family.

I hope the Detroit Science Center can figure out a way to stay open.  The problem is they rely on ticket sales and memberships among other individual donations to stay open which means people have to use the service they are providing.  People have to go to the science center and support its mission to "inspire visitors to pursue and support careers in engineering, technology and science."   One woman quoted in the Free Press said, "I heard good things about it," along with "It's a shame if they close because we need places like that in Detroit."

It sounds like she never took advantage of the incredible resource right in her own backyard. And that is a shame.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Day of School Woe

Gosh, it's quiet in my house.

The school bus just pulled away with my baby on board.  Oops.  I mean my 6-year-old.  Wait a minute.  How did he get to be six already?  The operative word here is "minute."  That's about how long it took to give birth and send my precious babies off to school.

I have written here before about how grateful I am to be a stay-at-home mom and how wonderful the past eight years have been for me (six years home with the oldest before he started school and two extra years with my youngest ...now headed to school full-time).  I've touted the glories of part-time Kindergarten that enabled my kids to learn at school but continue our other activities like museum trips and park play dates -  during which learning took place on a whole different level.  I've even shared my horror stories about how my kids turn into the Incredible Hulk at the very tender age of six.

I've had to navigate the crazy, constantly-changing, anxiety-producing stages of babies, toddlers and preschoolers.  It seems like just when I get my groove on and start to understand a certain stage, it changes.  They grow and change some more. Nothings ever stays the same.

And so in my too-quiet house I have to come to terms with the fact that I no longer have babies, toddlers or preschoolers running around.  I have a 1st and 3rd grader who will keep me busy with school volunteer opportunities and sports practices.  Our lives will change, yet again, with our brief conversations over breakfast before the harried morning starts and our brief conversations at dinner before we head out the door for practice.  We won't get too many opportunities for sleeping in late or making homemade granola together.  Oh sure, on the weekends maybe, but that would have to take place in between soccer games and playing outside with friends.

I love that the boys are excited about school and eager to get back in touch with classmates they weren't able to see over the summer.  They were all smiles as they got on the bus today.  Their first day of school is an exciting time of new teachers, new friends and new opportunities.

The first day of school for me is a head-scratching, teary-eyed, reminiscence of two boys who were babies just a minute ago.  As they move forward toward independence, I cringe at the the thought of another year passing by so quickly.

So, I'm just going to sit here today and feel sorry for myself.  I will probably cry a little (okay, a lot) and then I will look forward with anticipation because our lives are changing, yet again. Change isn't always bad, right?   More often than not it brings unexpected potential.  What will this new change bring to our house?  Dunno.  But, I'm open to the possibilities...after I spend my day looking through old photo albums and feeling sorry for myself.  And crying.

I'm not sure my tears can drown out the tick-tock of my family room clock.  Who knew it was so loud?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why I Won't Go Back To Work Full-Time

I had a job before I had kids.  When Nicholas was born I quit working to stay home and have not regretted that decision for one nanosecond.  Before you have kids you think, oh, I'll just go back to work when the kids are in school but you soon realize that being a mom is a full-time "job" all its own.  I'm sorry to put "job" in quotes as if being a stay-at-home mom isn't a legitimate vocation but let's be real.  If I had a dime for every time someone asked me "what do you do all day?" my husband could quit working, too.  I realize now what I didn't know before I had kids.  I'm not willing to sacrifice what I do for my family to go work for someone else.

Between school homework, school events, sports, piano, and just getting a decent meal on the table every night, our time is limited.  I'm not sure how I could squeeze another job in there unless something else suffered.  Now that Christopher will be in school full-time this year people always ask me "what are you going to do with all of your free time?"  What free time? 

I volunteer in the classrooms and am involved other in school committees and events to stay informed and get to know the personnel who spend seven hours with my kids every day.  If there is an opportunity to get involved I usually raise my hand because I want to say in the loop.  I've told my sons that if they ever think about doing something they shouldn't do or saying something they shouldn't say to watch out.  I have eyes and ears everywhere so whatever indiscretion they choose I'm liable to find out about it.  I have a deal with other parents that we'll watch out for each other's kids.   I couldn't be involved at the school if I worked full-time.  I couldn't know all that I know about my son's friends if I didn't spend time at the school to decide which friends he should be hanging out with and which ones are potential bad seeds. 

If I worked full-time I couldn't get dinner on the table every night and eating dinner as a family is extremely important to me.  Between sports and piano schedules I have to start cooking by at least 4:00 so we can eat before the event.  I refuse to send my kids off to practice with just a quick snack and then expect them to eat dinner at 8:00.  And, we don't eat dinner from a box.  I cook all of our meals from scratch.  Believe me when I say it takes a lot of time to cook  healthy meals for your family.  Between planning the menu and shopping, prepping and cooking the food, I feel like all I ever do is think about food.

Once 4:00 rolls around and the kids get off the bus it's non-stop until bed time.  If I didn't have time during the day to accomplish everything that I need to do I would have to complete those tasks after work which means something else isn't getting done.  Dinner suffers, homework suffers, bedtime reading suffers and the list goes on. 

I want to be with my kids in the morning when they get on the bus and waiting for them when they get off.  I want to see my kid's eyes light up when I walk in their classroom and I want to hear the pride in their voices when they point to me volunteering at the Fun Run and say, "that's my mom."  I want to have time to go to practices, help with homework and read bedtime stories without worrying about what I might need to do at work the next day.

I am forever grateful to my husband who works so hard to provide for his family.  He works hard so I can stay home and be the kind of mother I want to be.  I have a job and my job is to take care of my family and raise my boys to be responsible, well-mannered, articulate, educated, hard-working members of society.   I give credit to working mothers everywhere who can do both, but I'm not one of them.

So, when people ask me "what do you do with all of your free time?" as if being a stay-at-home mom evokes images of soap operas and bon-bons, I won't bore them with my whole litany of  to-do's  between the hours of 9:00 - 4:00.  But I will smile politely and say, "what do you do with yours?" 

When they try, and fail, to recall their last moments of free time we can have a good laugh and agree that "free time" is pretty hard to define.  For all of us.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Summer Entertainment Schedule (a.k.a. Camp Mom)

When spring rolls around many moms are busy perusing camp schedules trying to figure out which camp(s) will best fit into their summer schedules.  Should Billy do Lego camp or Science camp?  Should Suzy try Dance camp or Princess camp?  I've looked through the brochures and I know the the camp possibilities are endless.  But, I've never sent my kids to any organized day camps because we have way too much fun checking out all there is to see and do in our area.  I tell my kids they are officially enrolled in Camp Mom for the summer because we have the time to do things, together, that we can't typically do during the school year.

I am dreading the day they are too old and too cool to hang out with Mom anymore so I take these summer schedules seriously.  As long as they are not embarrassed to be seen with me, I will continue the Camp Mom tradition of filling our schedules with fun outings.

So, what do we do all summer?

Mondays start out visiting Rocky Gardens CSA.  We pick up our share of delicious produce and either work an hour or two at the garden or venture off to another stop.  If I'm planting lettuce or spreading mulch the boys are checking out the chickens, riding the John Deere tractor toys or figuring out which garden row is Kale and which is Swiss Chard.  A few hours of fresh air surrounded by beautiful gardens is the best way I know how to start the week.  After our "chores" are done we are free to stop by Indian Springs Metropark and ride bikes, play in the splash park or see if the tadpoles have turned into frogs.

Tuesdays find us at the beach.  We pack our beach gear, especially the shovels, and meet our friends to build sand castles and swim in the lake. A day of sunshine and surf tires rambunctious boys out like nothing else I know.  The day speeds by too fast and we find ourselves packing up when it seems like we just arrived.

Wednesdays start out at the library for Nicholas's math tutor.  Nicholas listens to his tutor about 1,000 times better than he listens to me so why not pay someone else to help him keep his math skills sharp over the summer months?  It's a no-brainer.  His tutor helps him complete his summer math workbook and Study Island which, in turn, helps him prepare for the MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) test which he will take in 3rd grade.  Math is not my forte so it's money well spent.  Christopher practices spelling words or reads or writes during Nicholas's tutoring time so he gets some homework done, too.  Win-win.  After an hour of math homework and spelling drills we are free to ride bikes, run errands, turn on the sprinkler in our backyard or whatever the heck we want to do. Work is done so it's time for play!

Thursdays and Fridays are open for whatever.  We've enjoyed an outdoor kids' concert at Marshbank Park, checked out Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum, toured the Ford Rouge Factory, had tea and scones at Greenfield Village, gone for a dip in our friend's pool, and picnicked at the park.  We spend many days at Greenfield Village during the summer because every visit uncovers something new.

Of course I have to clean my house so if we go out on Thursday I clean on Friday or vice versa.  The boys are required to help because it goes much faster and they are learning to do more things for themselves.  Each boy has to hang his own clothes after I do laundry, dust  his bedroom, make his bed, pick up his room and clean his bathroom sink.  Does that happen without crying and complaining? Absolutely not.  But, I'm not backing down so the chores must be done.  I've threatened to shut down Camp Mom indefinitely if I don't get the cooperation I expect and deserve.  The thought of losing bike privileges or not being able to go to the beach keeps two little boys dusting and cleaning albeit through gritted teeth.  Besides, if we all work together our chores get done faster which means more time for play.

Our elementary school garden is doing great and the boys have been a big help with watering, pulling weeds and planting seeds.  I'm happy they will grow up gardening and knowing the difference between a sugar snap pea and a snow pea because I never did.  We are trying all kinds of new recipes with our fresh produce from both our school garden and the CSA.

Nicholas is also learning how to kayak  this summer.  When he's not discovering how to paddle and turn the kayak, he's jumping off Grandma and Grandpa's dock or tubing behind the boat. 

We still have plans to go to the zoo, catch a Tigers' game, run down the Sleeping Bear Dunes, take a leisurely ride around Kent Lake on the Kensington Island Queen II and explore more bike trails. That is if we have enough time.  It's hard to believe it's the middle of July already.

Summer is short here in Michigan.  I see the back-to-school items lining the shelves in the stores already.  But, Camp Mom is in full swing and we aren't thinking about school.  We are thinking about taking the fishing rods or nets down by the river to catch Bob the Bass on our next walk around the neighborhood.

Summer memories at their best.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Listen To Your Mother

So, I'm not the only one whose kids question my knowledge on virtually every subject imaginable.  I really tire of saying to my 8-year-old, "listen, kiddo...I've been around a lot longer than you have and I know a thing or two."  Apparently, he takes that literally to mean I only know one or two things.  Every other topic is up for debate.

"You know, Nicholas, you might make a few more outs if you move toward the ball instead of expecting the ball to come to you."   I get the you-have-no-idea-what-you're-talking-about looks and rolled eyes.  I need to dig out my old softball pictures to prove I was on a team and I used to catch pop flies and field grounders.  I'm not sure the picture would do any good, though.  I'm just a mom, after all.

"Mom, I really, really, really want those Nike shoes.  Can I please, please, please have the Nike shoes like Billy?"  I asked Nicholas what people usually do when they really, really, really want something.  After a period of reflection during which Nicholas's blank stare meant he had no idea what I was talking about, I answered my own question.

You work for what you want.  If you want something bad enough you will find a way to pay for it.  I'm not sure he really, really, really wants those Nike shoes enough to scrub toilets or pick up dog doo-doo in the backyard.  However, I know from experience that you appreciate things you work for more than you appreciate things given to you.  Of course my 8-year-old thinks I'm stone-cold crazy, but it's true.  He will learn this valuable lesson.  Someday. 

I have a lot of explaining to do.  I have a lot of repeating to do.  I also have a lot of role-modeling to do.  But that's my job.  As a mom I am required to take the guff that comes with raising self-reliant, independent kids. Because my kids question  me I know they are creating their own opinions and values about life that will prepare them for adulthood.  I might go insane in the process, but I look forward to the day when my kids figure out that I really did know what I was talking about.  I really did know more than one or two things.

Unfortunately, that day won't come until they have their own kids.  When Nicholas and I were disagreeing about something at the breakfast table, I start laughing and he wanted to know why.  "Because I can't wait until you are sitting where I am and arguing with your son.  You aren't going to understand a word of what I've just said to you until then."

When he's debating with his kids and throwing out a, "listen, kiddo...I've been around a lot longer than you have and I know a thing or two"  it will all become crystal clear.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

No More Second Chances

Why is it that we let Kid #2 get away with more than Kid #1 could ever dream of getting away with?  Is this why the first born is such a stringent rule follower and second-born children are typically more carefree?  Whatever the reason I am coming to the unfortunate conclusion that I've got some work to do making Christopher more accountable for his actions.  I've been lax.  I've made too many excuses (but he's only 3, 4, 5,...and...but just look at that face!).  I've been too permissive.  No more.

Christopher is out of second chances. 

This was the hard lesson he learned when he didn't get ice cream with the family the other night.  We were standing in line at the ice cream shop for Pete's sake and he had to go and do something we told him not to do. His father told him no.  I told him no.  And, he went and did it anyway.  No ice cream for Christopher.

He screamed and he cried.  The other ice cream patrons must have thought I was the meanest mom in the entire universe, but he made the bad decision and now he had to live with the consequences.  Period.  He tried to make it up to us.  Sorry.  He tried to state his case.  Not interested.  He tried to say he didn't hear us.  Nice try.  He was flabbergasted that we all walked around licking our delicious ice cream cones while he walked around licking his wounds.

Since then he's lost American Idol-watching, dessert, and other privileges.  What Christopher thinks is cute, charming or charismatic can be disrespectful.  What might have been humorous coming from a 3-year-old is not even remotely funny in a kid who just turned six.  Christopher is used to working a crowd and using his God-given persuasion potential to get what he wants.  And most of the time it works.  Until now.  I'm drawing line in the sand.  He will cross it at his own peril.

As hard as it is to see my kids suffer (I really did feel bad about not giving Christopher ice cream...not bad enough to break down and give him a cone...but bad nonetheless) it's harder for me to see kids who aren't required to take responsibility for their actions.  Christopher will be held accountable.  Neither one of us may like it because I'd rather not send him to his room or eat ice cream in front of him and he'd rather be doing what we do as a family instead of sulking off on his own, but what I say goes and no means no.  It's not always up for discussion. 

We all learn from our mistakes.  Let's hope Christopher learns from his that we will have a much more enjoyable summer if he gets it right the first time because he's out of second chances. 

Fingers crossed...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Finding the Silver Lining

I felt extremely violated when my email account was hacked into and messages from my hacker were sent to everyone with whom I've ever had email contact about me being stranded in Spain and needing money asap. It was laughable that my hacker thought my friends and/or acquaintances would fall for such a prank (these scams have been around for awhile although the location periodically changes) but even more absurd that he thought he could impersonate me by writing such a grammatically incorrect email.  I have not and will never write run-on sentences like his ridiculous email did or use a lowercase "i" in any correspondence ever.  Ever.  Even in text messages.

When I realized what was happening, I tried to lock him out of my account. Only every time I locked him out, he would sign on and lock me out.  He added his name and email address to my email account so I couldn't change anything without him receiving notification that I was changing something.  As I was sending email messages to my friends telling them to disregard anything coming from my Hotmail account because I really wasn't in Spain, he was sending those same contacts emails saying it wasn't a prank and I really was in Spain.  The nerve! 

After about an hour of locking each other out of my account, he won.  I was locked out completely and unable to get back in.  Luckily, before his final lock-out I managed to do a quick export of my contacts so I didn't lose every single email address in my address book. 

I called Microsoft and received no help.  I was told to run a virus scan on my computer and try to log back in.  I was transferred from department to department, my calls were disconnected at least five times and I was put on hold for untold hours.  I opened support tickets online, sent emails to abuse@hotmail.com and searched the Internet for answers.  I came up empty-handed.  I spent at least 8 hours trying to fix my problem until I finally gave up.  I was exhausted.  I was defeated.   No amount of support tickets or phone calls could get this guy out of my email account. 

You never realize how far-reaching your email address is until you have to change it.  I set up a new email account and began the time-consuming process of connecting my new email address to everything from my own contacts to school and sports databases to travel websites to software registration sites to... you name it.  I'm still making changes.

Almost five days after my hacker took over my account Microsoft finally sent me a new password and I was able to temporarily change my old password to lock my hacker out of my account.  Realizing I had very little time before he potentially started his lock-out routing with me again, I signed in to Hotmail, perused my multitude of folders and sub-folders for pertinent information and transferred some sensitive emails to a dummy account.  I didn't want to transfer anything from Hotmail to my new email address in case he followed me there.  I transferred some emails to my dummy account and then transferred those emails to my new account.  Talk about labor-intensive.  I then deleted my Hotmail account for good.  Goodbye kbernard53@hotmail.com.  We had a good 12-year run.

As annoying and outrageous as this process was (actually still is) I have to admit I found a silver lining to the rather dark, ominous cloud hanging over me.  I was mad, no doubt.  I felt violated, yes.  But my hacker did for me what I should have done for myself a long time ago. 

My hacker made me take a good, hard look at what was important or essential information and what wasn't. Email subscriptions I was signed up for were clogging my account.  Every morning I was greeted with numerous emails in my Inbox requiring my attention to read, delete or unsubscribe from.  Writing newsletters, shopping discount coupons, free digital scrapbook downloads, travel deals, newspaper headlines, etc.  I was so afraid to miss out on "important" information that I was practically suffocating myself in the process.  My elevated heart rate and shortness of breath every time I opened my Inbox should have indicated to me the information I thought I needed to process really wasn't doing me any good at all.  I should have deleted those subscriptions a long time ago.  Thank you hacker-man for forcing me to get rid of all of that useless information by forcing me to delete my Hotmail account altogether and start anew.

I deleted my Facebook account.  I hated Facebook anyway and rarely signed in for fear of seeing the posts of the most relentless narcissists who insist that I care one whit about what they had for breakfast.  I never added a status update and only posted the occasional picture, so what good was Facebook to me?  I decided that if I needed to share my occasional pictures with friends and family I could just as easily open a photo-sharing website.  Spending so much time fixing my email problems forced me to prioritize how I really feel like spending my time and Facebook ain't it.  Thank you hacker-man for helping me see the light.  Goodbye useless waste of time.

I used to check my email from my phone.  My Hotmail account was connected to my Samsung Instinct and that little blue, blinking star beckoned me to open my email every time a new message was delivered.  It became something of an obsession.  I was constantly checking for the blue, blinking light.  Was checking email on my phone absolutely necessary?  Absolutely not.  I have yet to set up my new email account on my phone and I doubt I will.  I will now answer emails when I have the time not because of that damn blinking star.

Getting rid of nonessential information has done wonders for my heart rate.  I am breathing more deeply than I have in a long time.  I don't have 20 folders with sub-folders of saved emails in my new email account.  My Inbox is not clogged with useless subscriptions.  My phone's blue star doesn't blink.  I am free of Facebook.  I am starting over with a clean slate and it feels g-r-r-r-r-e-a-t. 

Ask me if I felt great two weeks ago and my eyes would have shot hot, scorching daggers directly at your heart just before I emasculated you with a sling of blistering barbs.  These last two weeks have not been fun.  But they have been enlightening.  In our world of 24-7 access to just about everything and everyone I realized I don't want to be that accessible and I don't want to drown in useless information.  No more.  I've had enough.

Thank you hacker-man.  In the beginning you may have sabotaged my precious time but in the end you forced me to reclaim it. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why Being Smart Isn't Enough

I often hear other parents talking about how smart their kids are.  They enlighten us about their kids' test scores and reading levels like the rest of us talk about the weather.  While I'm happy that Billy is getting all A's, has read War and Peace six times and has memorized the Periodic Table of the Elements, my main concern is that he doesn't say hello when passing by or can't even look me in the eye when he does choose to speak to me. 

The measure of of someone's success isn't always wrapped up in IQ scores.  The most successful people are usually the ones who get along well with others, don't have a sense of entitlement, work hard for what they want and have a positive attitude.  Some smart people I know have these characteristics, some don't.  But, without these characteristics, their intelligence level is of little matter.

So, while I obviously want my kids to get good grades, I want them to learn how to get along in the world even more. I want them to take others' feelings into consideration before speaking or acting.  I never want them to feel entitled to anything.  If they are not willing to work hard for something, it's not worth having.  These are all characteristics they learn at home, by the way.  My husband and I are responsible for teaching our kids to be the best human beings they can possibly be. The school isn't responsible.  My in-laws are not responsible.  I am.  I want responsible human beings far more than all A's on a report card.

If I teach my kids that it's OK to complain about everything that doesn't go their way or to blame someone else for the decisions they make that didn't turn out as planned I will be setting them up for failure. If they get everything they ask for just because we (or Grandma and Grandpa) can afford it, they aren't learning about the value of a dollar or setting monetary goals.  If they get all A's on their report cards but can't take responsibility for their actions or get along well with others, I haven't done my job.

Intelligence doesn't always determine success. When I hear about Billy reading War and Peace please know that I'm not impressed.  I would be far more impressed if Billy said, "good morning, Mrs. Murray" while looking me in the eye or stood up for a friend in need.  I might stop breathing momentarily and pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming but I would think to myself, now there's a kid who's going places.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Things I Will Miss About My 5-Year-Old

Christopher will be turning six in a few weeks and I'm really, really, really going to miss him being five.  

I will miss the sweet words with r's that aren't pronounced quite right like "fuhst" (first) and "puhson" (person) and "buhd" (bird).  I videotaped Christopher reading a book with these words in it because I know pretty soon he won't say them like this anymore.  I don't ever want to forget his little voice or the way he says these little words.

I will miss the agreeable, sweet, always-smiling 5-year-old who, on the verge of his 6th birthday, is argumentative, sometimes nasty and beginning to clench his teeth in fits of anger.  I remember his brother started turning into the Incredible Hulk when he got mad...right after the six-year mark.  What the heck is it about turning six?

Up until now I've been able to call the shots and rattle him with my "don't-you-even-think-about-it" looks that stop him dead in his tracks.  Not that I had to do that very often because Christopher is my agreeable one.  He never used to argue, always did as he was asked and rarely got upset.  Now he's arguing.  A lot.  I do want my kids to be independent and I do want them to think logically for themselves, but not at the expense of my sanity for Pete's sake.  No one told me I would have to choose between sanity and independent kids.  Now I know why I used to think my mother was a little bit crazy.

I will miss five because my 5-year-old thought I knew everything.  My almost 6-year-old questions my definitions and motives.   My 5-year-old tells me to wear lip gloss because it makes me look pretty and my almost 6-year-old grunts when I dive in for a kiss.  Can't I just stop time and keep my agreeable, adoring, 5-year-old for a little while longer?  Does he really have to cross that threshold into a challenging, opinionated and very stubborn little man?

I will  miss my 5-year-old because the days of us spending all of our waking hours together is coming to an end.  He will be in school full-time in the fall and I already know what life is like when that happens.  I will get to see him for a few minutes after school and at dinner in between playing with friends, homework, sports and piano practice.  When Nicholas crossed that threshold, I still had my baby at home.  Now that my baby is crossing that threshold, I'm left to wonder where the hell the time went.

So, I want to hang onto five a little longer because it was an amazing year.  I will keep a special place in my heart for the year we had so much fun together and thoroughly enjoyed each other's company, just the two of us.  We've made the most of our time together, had some great adventures and equally terrific conversations. I'm not saying we'll never have another adventure or another great conversation after he turns six, but we'll never have the innocence and simplicity that we do right now.

When life interrupts and years go speeding by and Christopher matures even more, I will miss the simplicity of my 5-year-old the most.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Dropping Anchors

 I like her because she smiles at me and means it.  ~Anonymous

When I was younger I had a lot of friends.  My self-esteem was tied to how many people wanted to be in my company and I made the mistake of measuring my worth by the number of friendships I had.   I must be a really great person if so many people like me!  Unfortunately, I've learned over the years that not everyone I considered a friend had my best interests at heart.  People will befriend you for all different reasons, but it's important to differentiate between those who serve you well and those who don't.  Now I understand the quality of friendships matters far more than the quantity.  I've redefined my friendships several times over the years and continue to do so as I progress from one phase of my life into another.  In other words, I've dropped some anchors.

I still have a lot of friends, only now I nurture the friendships that are important to me and don't spend a whole lot of time on those that aren't.  As Dr. Phil often says, "we teach people how to treat us."  In my youth, I taught people that it was OK to be phony, narcissistic or spiteful because I based my self-worth on whether or not they liked me.  Now, I choose to be treated with dignity and respect and surround myself with like-minded people.  I never knew that I would feel better about myself with fewer friends than I ever did with more.  I'm pretty sure turning 40 had something to do with that.

I feel so bad for that younger version of me who put up with so much nonsense from people who were never that important to begin with.  I endured jealousy, half-hearted concern and selfishness in the name of so-called friendship. My younger self didn't know that her life was all about choices.  My older self knows that I don't need anyone's permission to do what's best for me.  I make better choices now. 

Do you have relationships that drain you?  Have you tried dropping the anchors?  Just look for the friends who smile at you and mean it. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Children Learn By Example - Duh!

Children learn by example.  We all know this. (You do know this, right?) So, while your saying, "duh, yeah, I already know this" I challenge you to take a look at your own life and examine how your children are learning by your own example, good or bad.

I'm sure you can pick out the parents who namedrop and spend too much time obsessing about labels.  Their kids are judging their peers by the name on their tennis shoes and labels on their jeans.  Trust me when I tell you that kids whose parents don't care about labels aren't interested in scrutinizing their friend's clothes and accessories. But, if Suzie walks around school bragging about the specific brand name of her sweater or shoes or makes comments about your kid's attire, rest assured that mom and dad (well, probably just mom) are too.

Do you know the positive self-esteem parents?  Don't criticize your children!  Everyone is a winner!  You are special!  UGH.  Why didn't these parents get the memo explaining that life isn't fair?  Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose.  Sometimes your kid does well and sometimes he doesn't even try.  In the very simplest terms, some of life's best lessons come from disappointment so if your kids aren't experiencing disappointment they aren't learning anything.  I'm sure you can pinpoint the parents who gush about their children's accomplishments like you and I talk about the weather.  I'm all for self-esteem, but in the real world not everyone is going to think my kid is so great.  So, while I do tell my kids when I think they've done a good job, I've been know to throw out a "you know, that really wasn't your best work" when asked about a piano performance or a baseball practice.  My criticism is usually followed with a "how about practicing some more and trying again?"  The onus is on him to want to do better, not wait around for pointless praise.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Negative Nelly parents.  Their toxicity radiates so far that you need a Hazmat suit just to get within ten feet.  They pass onto their kids that being mean or complaining about everything is a way to get noticed.  These kids don't stand a chance. 

Do you know a rude kid?  The parents are rude, too.  Do you know a kid who drops f-bombs in class?  The parents swear at home. What fascinates me is how these parents are oblivious to their own involvement in their child's behavior.  As I've shared before, I yell.  Therefore my children yell.  I'm not proud of this characteristic but I know that my kids haven't picked up on this terrible trait by watching some stranger on the street corner.  I've shown it to them and I repeatedly do it and cringe every time.  I'm aware of my behavior. I'm also aware that my kids are picking up on my perfectionist tendencies.  I have to make a concerted effort to own up to my blunders and let my kids know that I make mistakes, too.  I'm not good at admitting mistakes (in fact, I hate it), but I'm doing it for their sake. 

I have no tolerance for parents who can't imagine why junior is lazy and unwilling to work for anything.  His parents gave him everything he ever wanted.  Why would he have to work for anything when Mom and Dad have provided without question all these years?   I refuse to raise lazy, unmotivated kids so my kids are required to earn their privileges. Christopher has to take the trash out on Tuesdays.  Just because I can buy Nicholas a lift ticket at the skiing hill doesn't mean I will.  He is learning to ski this year with his school ski club, but it's an expensive sport.  How about cleaning your bathroom and picking up dog poop to earn some skiing privileges?  Nicholas grumbles every time I ask him to clean the toilet or get out his pooper scooper shovel, but he eventually does it.  There is usually some yelling involved (hey, I've already admitted my shortcomings) before the job is complete, but he is learning that his Dad and I don't just stand there with an open wallet handing out dollar bills.

Here are the examples I try to set for my kids:
What are your children learning from you?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Why I Exercise At The Crack Of Dawn

Finding time to exercise is hard.   I'm aware of all the reasons exercise gets sidetracked because there are so many things vying for our attention at the end of a day.  Do laundry, make dinner, pack lunches, stop by the grocery store, pick up a birthday present, wash the dog....the list goes on and on and on.

We all start off with good intentions like when we joined that cool, new gym or bought that really cute workout outfit.  We promise ourselves that this week will be the week we start exercising.  Excuses be damned!  But, it's too hard to walk past the pile of laundry and too hard to extract any sort of motivation after dinner. Lethargy kicks in and the exercise regimen is put on hold once again.

That's why I exercise at the crack of dawn.  The only excuse I have to fight at the beginning of the day is the urge to sleep in. Take it from me the urge to sleep in is far easier to fight than the other one million excuses I can find at night.  I used to try to find time to exercise in the evening and failed miserably night after night.  Something always needed to get done.  By the time my to-do list was complete it was time for bed.  I figured there had to be a better way.

When I turned 30 I quit smoking and made a plan to get healthy.  I decided the only way I would consistently exercise was if I worked out in the morning.  I didn't really want to get up before work to exercise because I was never what you would consider a "morning person" but I needed to do something.  I tried and failed and tried again and just kept trying to get up with that damn alarm.  You know what happened?  It finally worked.  No more excuses.  I was in a groove and not only did I find time to exercise, I developed a habit that has continued for 11 years.  Yes, it was hard to get used to at first, but like any other habit, it's now a typical part of my day.

Some mornings I want to throw the alarm clock across the room when it goes off at 5:15 am.  I'm not always eager to get up and start my day before the birds (or any other living creature) are even awake.  But, I always feel better after I do. I always feel better knowing that I'm starting my day off with one thing already crossed off my to-do list - one thing I've done today just for me. 

Getting up at the crack of dawn to exercise isn't for everyone.  But if you are struggling to find time to exercise, I urge you to set your alarm early and see what happens.  You might just develop a morning exercise habit, too.  It's not as bad as you think.  When I'm done exercising and the house is still quiet, I grab a cup of coffee and take a deep breath. Ahhhh.

Let the day begin.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Can You Hear Me Now?

When my sister and I used to tune my mom out because we were far too busy to listen to her or we just didn't want to hear what she had to say, she would repeat the same two irritating sentences over and over again.  She would shout in the most infuriatingly sarcastic tone, "Am I speaking in a foreign language?" and "Did a train just go through this room?" as if our selective listening was a result of our obvious inability to understand English.

Oh, we understood English.  We just chose not to respond.  Yelling typically ensued as my sister and I rolled our eyes in an only-a-sibling-would-understand kind of way while we watched my mom morph into a ranting, crazy woman.  I would clear my throat self-indignantly and say to my sister, "I will never yell at my kids like that."  Clearly I thought there was a better way to handle children than yelling so hard every blood vessel popped in your face. I mean, what was she so mad about anyway?

OK, so I get it now.  Kids don't pay attention.  She yelled because my sister and I weren't listening to her.  I yell because my kids don't listen to me.  I've tried to uncover the secrets of zen motherhood by trying scream-free parenting techniques, deep breathing and repeating mantras ("I will relish the simple moments with my children") but sometimes they just don't want to listen and I just want to scream.  When I've exhausted all of my resources and I want my kids to do what I'm asking them to do, I end up with a wicked case of ranting, crazy woman and yell ""I'm not talking for my health here, people!"

My younger self promised that I never would, but I scream at the top of my lungs sometimes because that's the only way to get my kids' attention.  When I enlist the help of my deep, guttural - can you hear me now- voice that even scares me sometimes, they stop in their tracks.  Oops.  Mom means business now.  Did you see her blood vessels pop? 

I used to think I was failing miserably as a parent because I yell at my kids.  Talk to any number of mothers, who are honest about it anyway, and you'll find that most of us scream a lot more than we want to.  Whew.  It's not just me.  If you aren't screaming at your kids I give you kudos but please know that  I secretly think either you or your kids are part Android. 

The rest of us are just human, that's all.


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