Tag Archives: mothering

Now, THIS is crazy!

28 Jun

Image from Zazzle.com

It’s Father’s Day. I’m sitting with my Dad on the patio.

“How are you, Dad?” I ask.

“Not very good,” he says, looking down at his hands. I’ve never seen him this sad.

“Your mother rejected me,” he says and tells me, through tears, that my mother left him.

I start to cry, not knowing which is worse, telling my father that my mother died nearly four years ago or letting him believe she’s still alive and left him.

“Dad,” I say, as gently as I can, “Mom’s dead. She died almost four years ago. She would never leave you.” He looks up, confused. He’s confused nearly all the time now.

“You took such good care of her, do you remember that?” He’s trying. “She had emphysema and you took such good care of her. She was just too sick. We had to let her go, Dad.” I wonder if he remembers making the decision ending life support. He believes me. He believes and he’s sad, but he’s calmer.

I visit my dad every week these days, but I never know where it’ll be. Last week, it was Denver. He was waiting at his hotel, while my mother and grandmother shopped for houses. They’d come to Denver for a convention, something they did a lot. Traveling to conventions, that is, not traveling to Denver. He seemed anxious about buying yet another house, but he’d never really been able to say “No” to my mother. I told him I knew the feeling.

Another visit saw us in Hong Kong, having dinner with a group of executives my dad clearly didn’t like because they’d kidnapped me. Yet another visit saw us in Rochester at a bicycle factory. There was our visit in an undisclosed location in Romania, where my dad told me he was forced to sit on a minaret to escape the men trying to capture him in Saudi Arabia. Recently, my sister married the Shah of Iraq, so we have an Arabian theme going lately.

My dad’s delusions are nothing compared to the other residents. There’s the woman who gathers all of the baby dolls and stuffed animals and arrays them on a table. She dresses them all and sets them down to sleep then complains about how she has so many babies to care for. There’s the 105-year old woman who was once a singer. She still tries to sing but it comes out as screeching wails. There’s the woman who sits quietly and, when she catches your eye doesn’t say “Hello,” but “I’m afraid.” “Afraid of what?” I asked. “Of dying,” she replied.

It’s hard not to make the leap to The Snake Pit or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or whatever look-inside-the-loony-bin movie was popular in your particular generation. This, after all, is what crazy people are and do.

But I know better. My father and his housemates aren’t nuts. They have a terrible disease that literally eats at their brains, destroying the web that connects a lifetime of accumulated memory and leaving them with a stew of thought they continually try to make sense of.

No. They are not crazy; I am. At least, that’s what my society says. I have bipolar disorder; I am bipolar. I never know which description to use, so I use both. But no matter how I reveal my condition, I get a universal reaction, spoken or no. “That chick is crazy.” Someone even told me, “Wow. You’d never know to look at you!”

I suppose that’s a compliment; the self-harming, judgmental thoughts, over-spending and insomnia don’t show on my face. Of course, the medication helps. More likely, it’s an indication of how crazy Americans are about mental illness.

I happen to come from a family of crazies. Alcoholism, schizophrenia, drug abuse were things I learned about early. None of the crazies looked crazy. Well, ok, the schizophrenic lived in another state, so I didn’t see him very often and can’t really say he never looked crazy. Still, “you’d never know to look” at any of them that they lived with demons.

So, I don’t usually tell people I’m bipolar, though I’ve been doing it more often lately. Maybe it was the “you don’t look” it comment; maybe it’s my own growing acceptance. I’ve been more active in the blogosphere lately and the anonymity it affords makes it easier for crazies to hang out and connect with each other.

In America, you can pretty much tell who’s a flag-waving conservative by, well, the flags waving on their houses. I decided, some time ago, to take back the flag. This is my country, too, I thought, and hung the flag on our porch.

So, I’m taking back crazy. I’m a mom, a writer and a teacher. I have two great kids and the obligatory pets that go along with living in one of America’s most famous suburbs. I’m happily married.

This is what crazy looks like, people.

Battle Hymn of the Pussy Mom

3 May

In my continuing effort to assess the parenting book competition, I recently read “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” Lots and lots of people read the book; lots and lots of people thought the author, Amy Chua, a monster for how she treated her children. I’ll confess that I had an ulterior motive in reading the book, though. As the white European-extracted mother of a Chinese girl, I’ve been conflicted about how to raise her since the day I first bounced her on my hip. Maybe, I thought, I can learn something about raising a Chinese daughter from a Chinese mother.

Not that conflicted feelings about motherhood are something new. Second Guessing is the dirty little secret of every mother I know, right up there with buying print blouses not because they are pretty but because they can hide a boatload of baby spit up.

For me, Second Guessing started with giving my son his first bottle of formula. I remember filling the bottle, breast-feeding failure seeping out of me. The stuff smelled vile. How, I thought, could I feed this poisonous brew to my boy? What about his immunities? What about his IQ? Never mind his “failure to thrive,” which was obviously the fault of my faulty boobs, what about my mom cred? The little heathen sucked the stuff down like an alcoholic after a three-week dry out. Now, he’s seldom sick and his IQ is just fine, but I still feel like Bad Mommy every time I see a successful breast-feeder and her chubby offspring.

Bad Mommy still visits. Hell, I see her more often than I see my husband. She’s particularly active, where my daughter is concerned, around Chinese New Year. My husband and I have managed to cobble together a family life that incorporates his Jewish-ness, my Catholic background and a little sprinkling of Buddhism for flavor. We celebrate Passover using a haggadah we wrote ourselves that mashes together e e cummings, socialism and the traditional Passover stories. We have a Christmas tree that has some Chinese ornaments and Stars of David scattered among the bells, Santas and South Park characters. A statue of Buddha is the first thing you see when you enter our home. Well, that and a pile of shoes and backpacks.

But Chinese New Year? From an auspicious beginning of a party with like-constructed families, complete with dragon dance, we’ve devolved into dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. Sure, the kids get some money presented in a red envelope and I hang a string of fake firecrackers on the front door for ten days, but I’ll be the first to admit that our Chinese New Year celebration is pretty hollow.

Maybe, I thought, it’s pointless to try to celebrate holidays that I’m only familiar with through what I read on the Internet. We’ll go to Chinatown. We’ll watch the parade. We’ll go to that big, expensive banquet the Families with Children from China puts on every year. I made all these virtual plans forgetting that Chinese New Year takes place in winter and we have no money. It’s freaking cold in winter in Chicago. We’re broke. Hello, Square One.

Taking a different tack was easier once we moved to Naperville. One reason I chose this suburb is the concentration of Asians, Chinese in particular, who live here. The only area with more Chinese than Naperville is Chinatown. Since we came here for the schools and our son isn’t Chinese, we decided Naperville was the better option, though it still feels pretty foreign.

What I immediately learned on moving here is that celebrating Chinese New Year and eating Chinese take out every six months aren’t the essence of growing up Chinese. No, if my daughter was to truly feel Chinese, she’d need some Chinese parenting.

Chinese parenting, as I learned from my neighbors and Ms. Chua, is as exotic—and distasteful—to American sensibilities as thousand-year-old eggs.

When she was three years old, my daughter became fast friends with a Chinese girl being raised by Chinese people. My daughter’s friend took piano, dance, gymnastics and pottery classes. All day on Saturday, she attended Chinese school. My daughter took piano.  She practiced about 15 minutes each day, per my mother the piano teacher’s instruction. My daughter’s friend practiced 45 minutes each day; she was four at the time. Chinese Friend’s father, on hearing that I intended to let my daughter enjoy playing the piano and grow into a more ambitious practice schedule, said, “By then it will be too late.” He never explained what it would be too late for, but I left with the distinct feeling that I’d been Chinese parented. Bad Mommy kicked my shameful butt all the way home.

While Chinese Friend’s parents had nowhere near the ferocity of Tiger Mother Chua, they all had the same approach to parenting. Pushing a child to excel, accepting nothing but perfection and perfect obedience, creates successful adults. Failure is simply not tolerated. In contrast, my own parenting skills were downright destructive, guaranteed to produce complacent slackers and, eventually, the downfall of American society.

So, I pulled up my Tiger Mother undies and got to work. As it happens, I teach enrichment in math and English to a population of largely Asian children. I enrolled my daughter in the math program. We doubled her gymnastics lessons to twice per week. We grounded our son forever or until he is no longer failing American Studies, whichever comes first.

The result? My daughter whines about how hard her math enrichment homework is. We blow off the mid-week gymnastics lesson on a semi-regular basis. My son is home all the time, constantly complaining of boredom and boredom-induced hunger.

I am a failure at Tiger parenting. I am a pussy parent. I let my kids play when they might be practicing an instrument or completing extra credit. They have computers in their bedrooms. They go on sleepovers and have play dates. My son has had two girlfriends.

I wish I had the Tiger Mother’s selfless ability to let her kids dislike her. I’m going to have to be okay with my pussy parenting, though. My daughter makes straight As without prompting and according to Amy, only the piano and violin are appropriate instruments. My son plays the drums, guitar and can still fiddle around with a cello. So, while Amy’s daughters are studying into the night at Harvard, they’ll be listening to my son, the rock star, on their radios.

 

I know I have readers from all over the world. Tell me: are you a tiger or a pussy? What’s the prevailing approach where you live?

Does Motherhood Suck? Depends!

26 Apr

When I had younger kids, I read a lot of parenting books. I stopped reading them when I realized the only helpful advice I’d gleaned was that children meltdown when they are with you because they feel safe. Knowing my excellent parenting skills led to behavior my kids wouldn’t inflict on strangers was cold comfort. So I started reading vampire books. Somehow, it just felt right to read about being literally sucked dry at a time when my children were figuratively sucking me dry.

It wasn’t until recently that I started reading parenting books again. Ok, it was yesterday. I’ve been noodling with the idea of writing a parenting book so decided to check out the competition. I wasn’t able to check out all of the most recent tomes; I had to put Bringing Up Bébé on hold. But I grabbed I Was A Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

I thought I’d start with I Was A Really Good Mom. Brief synopsis: Trisha Ashworth and Amy Nobile, two new moms, discovered that mothering is really hard. They decided that no one was talking about how hard mothering is so they took it upon themselves to “talk to more than 100 mothers” about how hard mothering is.

And what did those moms say? That they were shocked to learn how hard mothering is. One said, “I thought having a baby would be like having a pet—oh, this will be cute. We’ll be this happy little family.” I’ll wait while you say, “Oh, my god! You’re freaking kidding me.”

Done? Ok, now it’s pretty obvious to me that that mom never had a pet because anyone who has ever had a pet knows they can be as challenging as children. Of course, you don’t have to send your dog to college, but your child will eventually learn to stop peeing in the wrong places.

“Babies are just human pets” was not the most unbelievable thing I read in I Was A Really Good Mom. The most unbelievable thing I read was the mom who allowed herself to be quoted saying, “…there are some days I don’t even have time to pee . . .so I wear Depends.” The woman wears Depends so she doesn’t have to stop running around like a maniac. Now, I don’t know about you, but the minute I started thinking that Depends would make my life easier, my ass would be in therapy not a diaper.

As astoundingly unbelievable as Depends Mom is, is the fact that Trisha and Amy thought no one was talking about how hard mothering is. Really? Not one person saw their pregnant bodies and said, “Just wait ‘til that little one pops out!” No one rubbed Amy’s tummy uninvited and said “Well, little mommy, life’s about to change for you!” I’m betting Trisha and Amy were so surprised that motherhood is hard not because no one talks about it, but because they weren’t listening.

Motherhood is freaking hard. Sometimes it’s grindingly boring, sometimes it’s physically grueling, sometimes it’s emotionally draining. Any one with half an ounce of hubris would look at the mothers around them and conclude motherhood is not for the faint. But somehow, Amy and Trish and their interviewees came to the conclusion that their MBAs, former executive positions and generally take-charge personalities would make mincemeat of an undertaking that has laid low many a woman before them.

I think Amy and Trisha should re-title their book I Was A Really Good Mom When I Was Childless And Self-Absorbed. Then the utter amazement with which they discuss the challenges of modern motherhood—should I hire a soccer tutor? Should we potty-train at two or three—might make sense. And while I agree wholeheartedly with their prescription for a more manageable motherhood, I don’t for a minute believe that someone who wears Depends so she can get more done in a day is really going to chill out and lower her expectations.

Maybe I’m forgetting my own anxieties over motherhood, but I don’t really think so. Sure, I feel like a failure a lot of the time. My son gets hugely horrible grades in subjects he doesn’t like. My daughter, who weighs 53 pounds at age nine, thinks her legs are fat. My house looks like the Blue Angels did a low fly-by through the living room. My yard has more weeds than, well, than any other lawn on the block. I got involved in the PTA and I’d rather swallow Drano than do it again.

Just as the times I kick myself are many, the times I pat myself on the back are too few. I’m working, writing, helping take care of my dying father and still managing to keep my children safe and healthy and my husband (mostly) happy. Despite all that, I calmly and successfully handled a teen crisis. I even get out to run at least twice a week.

Yes, mothering is a fabulous experience and nothing compares to holding a warm, sleepy child in your arms. But a lot of mothering just plain sucks and when it does, a wise mother just sucks it up.

Bras, Condoms and a Drive in the Country

22 Mar

In the past week, I went for a drive, shopped for extra-large condoms and bought a training bra, all in the name of helping others. Before you picture me doing favors for unfortunate strangers though, I should note that these were not random acts of kindness. Each of the others I helped is intimately related to me.

From the time I became a mother, helping others has been a primary focus of my life. Admittedly, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes I’ve even resented it. Babies can’t feed themselves, change their own diapers, move themselves from place to place. And they can’t control when they need any of those things done. They don’t care if you haven’t slept more than two hours at a time since they were born. They need what they need when they need it and, if you’re any kind of decent parent, you help them get it.

Aging parents are, indeed, like children. Right now, my dad needs help moving from place to place, dealing with toileting and even feeding himself. The difference between caring for him and caring for my babies? Dad does care about who’s caring for him. He knows it’s tough and apologizes regularly. I sometimes wish he wouldn’t, but in the middle of a night where he’s gotten up three or four times convinced he needs to get ready for a meeting with an architect, it helps.

Being cute is a baby’s way of making its care less onerous. Dad has a sense of humor and even when he’s not trying, provides ample amusement. He can’t seem to remember his surgeon’s name, so calls him everything from Dr. Ballerina to Dr. Bubbalongname. The doctor’s name is Billimoria, but Dad’s names for him make me laugh, so I call him Bubbalongname, too.

Amusing Dad is far more difficult for me than caring for him. He doesn’t read, can’t really walk far, favors watching golf over cooking shows and doesn’t want to learn how to knit. I haven’t lived in my hometown for more than thirty years; I have no idea what to do there anymore. Neither does Dad.

There is one thing Dad has always loved to do though: go for a drive. Since I was a child, Dad’s been driving. Vacations were spent driving from Illinois to Florida, a two-day trip that Dad relished. I realize now that the drive was probably the most enjoyable part for Dad and not just for the thrill of making good time.

Dad loves driving for the process, not the destination. He doesn’t care where he’s going, as long as he’s going. I am goal driven; I hate the process. At the end of a long drive, there better be something worth my while because I’ve just spent a good deal of precious time doing nothing. So, getting in the car and having Dad say, “Drive out Route 14,” then promptly fall asleep is my idea of hell. Still, I get on 14 and drive, passing numerous turnoffs that look to offer promising destinations. Dad needs help satisfying his wanderlust and I provide it.

Helping my son has become complicated and conflict-ridden. This brings us to the condoms. Sometime ago, I bought my son a box of condoms, intending that he would check them out in order to be familiar with them when the time—preferably far, far in the future—came. There were three. He took one to school, put it (wrapped) in a friend’s sandwich and enjoyed the hilarity that ensued.

So, there were two condoms in my son’s side table drawer for quite a while. And then there was a girl friend. And then there was one condom. That afternoon, I met my son in the driveway and said, “Get in the car. I need to talk to you.” “Why?” he asked. “Get in the car,” I said. “We’ll go get ice cream.” Maybe my Dad is onto something with the driving thing, but a car ride is my go to parenting tactic when I need to confront—I mean—talk to, my son.

In the catalog of things a mother doesn’t want to hear, I think “I didn’t use it because it didn’t fit” is way up there with “I didn’t know the gun was loaded” and “You can’t get addicted to heroin with just one use.” I still can’t figure out how a condom doesn’t fit, but my son was insistent and is gloating about it to his dad. I find this rather unseemly, but figure that’s between the boys. In addition to stern lectures and profound disappointment, I provided condoms that should be large enough for my son, ego included. If he doesn’t improve his grades, I suppose Porn Star could be his fallback career.

And now we come to the training bra. My daughter is perched precariously on the verge of puberty. She can be as smart-mouthed as her older brother one minute and talking baby talk the next. She’s convinced she’s beginning to bud, but her pediatrician and I disagree. Still she’s tremendously modest and I was reminded of this when her shirt obeyed the laws of gravity, revealing most of her upper body as she hung upside down from the neighbor’s monkey bar. We hustled off to Target and secured “bralettes,” which are actually more like cut-off camisoles than bras.

She was understandably and adorably eager to wear one when we got home. In her haste to remove her shirt, she got stuck with it half over her head. Helping her was so easy, I nearly cried; I untied the sash she’d forgotten about. She popped on the bralette, threw on her shirt and ran outside, shouting, “I’m wearing a sport bra!”

The day will come when I need help the way my loved ones do now. I hope it’s later, rather than sooner. When it does, I hope it doesn’t involve extra-large condoms and training bras.

Happy Boxing Day!

26 Dec

I have no idea why today is called Boxing Day, but I’m willing to take it as a reason for a day off. Many of you know that, in addition to writing this blog, I write a parenting column for Naperville Patch, an online newspaper that covers my city. Now, the idea of me as a fountain of parenting wisdom is pretty amusing and should be amusing to many who know me. Here, then, is a link to my column for this week: http://naperville.patch.com/articles/hanukkah-rebellion-smells-like-teen-spirit

Enjoy and Happy Seventh Night of Hanukkah.

Janice

God, Help Me! They Want To Help!

12 Dec

My husband calls me Thor. He does this partly because I am one-fourth Danish but mostly because I will try to do anything myself before asking for help. I move furniture. I haul wood. I reach for things on the top shelf.

I don’t have some “I am an island” complex, but I really would rather do many things myself. I like working hard and it feels good to be independent. Frequently, too, I’ve found the help people want to give doesn’t really feel helpful to me.

When I’m in the middle of making a big-deal dinner, say Thanksgiving, the last thing I want to do is find some job for someone to do. Someone comes at me with a “what can I do to help” while I’m in the middle of trying to strain the gravy and I’m likely to feel more irritated than grateful.

A friend pointed out to me, after asking how she could help with our Passover Seder preparations, that I was delusional. Preparing a seder, even a small one, is a lot of work. I said I did not need help. If my life were a western, this woman would be the rancher’s wife, ready to shoot marauding varmints right between the eyes. She looked at me with a “Puh-leeze” cock of her head and said, “You need help.” I felt her will seep into me and my head nodded in acquiescence. I accepted help. It was painful.

I’ve since developed a strategy that allows the helpful to help and me to keep my sanity. I plan in advance what tasks will be delegated and what things only I can do. Ok, that sounds really arrogant, but when I’m making dinner at my house, I get to decide who’s going to season the sauces and who’s going to set the table.

I helped around the house when I was a kid and I expect my own children to as well. Finding things they can help with that are truly helpful has been a bit of a challenge, though. My daughter believes it’s helpful to run a day spa in the family room on the weekend we’ve planned to decorate the house for Christmas. While my husband, son and I were moving furniture and digging boxes out of the crawlspace, my daughter and her best friend were coercing us into making massage appointments. An hour later, my husband was getting a massage in the family room, while I struggled and cursed to get a tree made of wire and green plastic bristles to look like something other than a tree made of wire and green plastic bristles.

When it comes to getting help, I may have painted myself into a corner with the boy who cried wolf. I’ve been so insistent that I don’t need help that I don’t get it when I truly do. Not too long ago, I was cleaning a particularly heavy and unwieldy fountain pump at the kitchen sink. Every summer, I convince myself that a fountain is exactly what our deck needs and I contrive one out of the variety of pots, tubing and buckets that proliferate in my garage.

While the fountains are usually charming, they generate copious amounts of algal slime. Cleaning the pump is, therefore, a rather nausea-inducing task. So, I was at the sink, attempting to clean the pump without regurgitating lunch. Pump clean, I transferred it from one hand to another while reaching for a towel. The pump fell on my big toe. It hurt. I have a particular string of profanities that I only utter under extreme duress. I’m pretty sure I uttered them.

Once the initial surge of adrenaline subsided, I assessed the damage. My toenail was crushed, awash in blood. I pushed aside the visions of blood and algae slime and found the calm center of my mom brain. Efficiently but painfully, I washed the wound, bound it with a clean towel and made an ice pack. I hobbled over to the couch to watch Food Network while I iced my toe.

I turned on the TV to find my son had left it in video game mode. Now, I could have hobbled over to the TV, fixed the viewing mode and hobbled back to the couch. No, I thought. There are people in this house, my toe hurts, those people can help me. So I shouted, “Help!” My son, I knew, was in his room listening to music. My daughter was in mine, watching Sponge Bob. I shouted louder. “HELP!” No response. “HELP! HELP! HELP!” I yelled. I yelled for about a minute. Finally, I gave up. I hobbled over to the TV, hobbled back to the couch and iced my toe while watching Paula Deen make something like pork shoulder donuts.

Later, I asked my kids, “Did you hear me yelling for help?”

“You were yelling for help?” my son asked.

“Yes. I was. For quite some time.” I glowered at him.

“My door was shut,” he said.

“You could have heard me,” I said. “I was yelling pretty loud.”

He covered his lack of concern by deflecting guilt to his sister.

“Well, what about her?” he asked and pointed out that the door to my bedroom was open the entire time. My daughter could well have heard me from the very first pitiful cry for help.

“Did you hear Mommy?” She looked at the floor.

“Yes,” she said. “But Mr. Crabbs was yelling at the same time, so I couldn’t be sure.”

“You didn’t think you should come downstairs to make sure Mommy was ok?”

“No,” she said. “I really wanted to see Sponge Bob.”

We had a talk about empathy, thoughtfulness, caring for others and being grounded.

This Thanksgiving, my son actually asked “What can I do to help?” He was serious; I was astounded. My daughter made our signature ground cranberry and orange relish, operating the food grinder by herself.

I’m not confident yet that I’d win out over Sponge Bob, but I’m holding out hope for the future.

Number Nine, Number Nine

24 Oct

My little girl is gone. The bashful baby, so cute she stopped traffic in the aisles at Whole Foods, has left the building. In her place is a creature who alternately cartwheels joyously around the house or howls in anguish over hurts imagined and otherwise. In short, my daughter has turned nine.

Actually, my daughter has been nine for two months now. I didn’t think anything of it while planning her birthday party. Granted, she wanted a sleepover party with a Hollywood movie theme. That seemed a little more grown up than last year’s Flower Power party with its gardening-related outdoor activities. But, she’s been having sleepovers for a while. Nothing portentous, then, in this year’s birthday extravaganza. I didn’t even make much note of the playing with makeup and pretend fashion show that were highlights of the festivities.

It was at work one evening that the enormity of my daughter’s age hit me. Three evenings each week, I put my very expensive Illinois state teaching credentials to work providing enrichment in language arts and math to children. I teach every grade level from Pre-K through middle school. By and large, I love my classes. The students are respectful, cooperative and, on the whole, a pleasure to teach.

There is one class I dread every week, though: the fourth graders. My third graders are a delight. My fifth graders are beginning to show the spirit that will mark them as adults; we have interesting conversations about the work at hand. My fourth graders are a disorderly lot of boisterous, impulsive, barely-controllable hooligans. Every class is a test of my ability to retain my composure while imparting at least some of the learning I am expected to deliver. I’ve developed a style of teaching them that owes more to fencing than to Piaget. I allow a certain amount of pandemonium, then lunge in with a bit of instruction. We continue this way throughout the lesson.

Recently, during an off-task moment, I happened to ask one of the students her age. “I’m nine!” she said. Well, gob smacked me. I was able to retain the outward appearance of a professional educator, but my brain was screaming, “She’s the same age as my daughter! How could I not have realized that!? How much time do I have before my daughter becomes a howling, uncontrollable hooligan?”

I didn’t have much time at all. As if aware that I’d been awakened to the true nature of her tribe, she began swinging from sweet to foul faster than a cup of milk left out on a hot day. Happily playing outside with the neighborhood children one minute, she’d come flying into the house in hysterics the next, howling incoherently as she ran to her room and slammed the door.

When she was little, my daughter would say some of the cutest things. At night, after being put in her bed, she would pretend to read herself a story, beginning each with “Once up a time. . .” My heart would melt. When she got a little older, her mis-sayings still had the ring of innocence to them. Dancing with me to some old disco music, she loudly sang out, “Shake your boob thing, shake your boob thing. Yeah, yeah!”

Now, she’s beginning to sound like an old soul. Her room is a disaster of epic proportions. She has taken to sleeping in the day bed in my office because she can no longer find the top of her own bed. I have cleaned her room. My husband has cleaned her room. My sister has cleaned her room. Within mere hours, her room looks like Japan after the tsunami.

“Mom,” she said to me recently, “my room is too small.”

“Why do you think your room is too small?” I asked.

“Because there isn’t enough room for all of my stuff.”

“Oh, but there is enough room for all of your stuff. Everything in your room has a home, you just never put things back where they belong.”

She sat still, looking down at her hands, considering my words. Without looking up, she said, “Maybe I have issues.”

One of the issues she has is a fascination with her ability to wail. Crying is no longer enough. Everything must be done on a grand scale these days, leading to fits of seemingly out-of-control sobbing. I say “seemingly out-of-control” sobbing because I now have admissible evidence that some, if not all, of her hysteria is histrionics.

This weekend, my husband and I determined that we would present a united front to our children over getting chores done. Never having succeeded with full family meetings, we held separate semi-family meetings with each of our children. Our daughter went first. We worked out her responsibilities and the consequences for not meeting them. For instance, anything she leaves on the kitchen table will be confiscated if not removed before dinner. She can buy it back for 25 cents per item. This sounded fine in theory. She was pretty upset about the execution, but I believe a consequence isn’t effective until I’ve seen fear strike their little hearts. Still, she left her conference calmly enough.

When her brother sat down for his and we engaged in a little pre-torture conversation about Batman, she insisted the three of us cut to the chase. “Get back on topic!” she shouted at us. We continued to talk about the Dark Knight just a few minutes longer. She exploded. “It’s not fair!” she howled. She howled, in fact, for quite some time. We ignored her, going about our meeting with our son. “No one’s making me feel better!” she wailed.

I ignored the caterwauling until I thought I heard two cats wauling. About a week ago, my daughter spent her allowance on a spy kit, complete with digital recording device disguised as a makeup case. What I heard was the sound of my daughter crying into the recorder then playing back and crying along with her own crying.

Ironically, my daughter has begun requesting that she be comforted in the midst of her meltdowns. At first, I resisted, not wanting to reward the behavior. I relented, though, and fought through the wall of wail. I held her in my arms, rocking her as I did when she was a baby.

Being a grown up is hard; becoming one is even harder. So, I’ll hold my little hooligan if it helps her. And I’ll pity my husband and son living with a tween and a woman struggling with menopause.

Happy Anniversary To Me

26 Sep

“Dear husband,” I said, “it’s been a year.”

“No!” he answered. “Really?”

“Yes. A whole year at the end of this month,” I said.

“But what about that time our daughter had a sleep over and our son didn’t come out of his cave for hours?”

“Oh. My. God,” I said. “It hasn’t been a year for THAT! And don’t tell me it feels like it!”

“Well, then I’m at a loss,” he said.

Normally, I’m the one who forgets anniversaries, particularly my wedding anniversary. I got married on either the 16th or 17th of October. Never can remember which. So, whenever anyone asks me when I got married, I say, “Saturday. It was a Saturday.” My husband has the PhD in History. He remembers the date and rolls his eyes when I don’t.

It has been a year since I started writing and publishing Snide Reply. At the risk of sounding like a Holiday Letter, I thought I’d go through some of my old posts and update you on some of the more popular. For those who jumped on the Snide wagon later in its run, I’m including links to the original posts.

I started running just a couple of months before I started blogging. At that time, I could run about 3 miles. I am writing this having run 9 miles this afternoon. Of course, I can barely get out of my chair to hobble to the kitchen and refill my teacup.

I still don’t have an attractive website. I have a really cool domain name and I have a website. The two shall not meet in my lifetime. See, the website is totally lame. I built it myself when I had no idea where my life was going. That happens when you make plans and life does that mice and men thing with them.

I have a better idea where my life is going these days so maybe it’s time to re-tackle the website. To my endless stupefaction and glee, I am now a parent columnist. Me! The self-admitted queen of parental immaturity. Ok, so it’s only been a couple of weeks, but a girl has to start somewhere. Look at Jenny McCarthy! Her parenting qualifications are . . .what?  Oh, yeah, she posed naked and had a baby. Do you think T. Berry Brazelton ever posed naked?

The worst I’ve done is go commando thought the pharmacist who knows has moved on to Wal-Mart. Actually, I may be going commando again soon. And my husband had to skip the briefs at least once. Laundry used to be his responsibility and lawn mowing was mine. We tried to get our son to do the lawn-mowing thing because he hated doing the litter box thing. He wanted nothing to do with the lawn because it was, as he said, “outside.”

“Look,” I said. “you either mow the lawn or you do the laundry.” Ha! I thought, now I have him.

“Cool!” he said. “I love laundry! Laundry smells awesome!”

So, now my husband mows the lawn and my son does the laundry. We have realized, though, that having a teenage boy with ADHD responsible for keeping us in clean undies was probably not our best parenting move. Many is the time a load made it into the washer and stayed there . . .and stayed there . . .and stayed there. Our son has learned that laundry only smells awesome if it makes it from the washer to the dryer in fewer than 24 hours.

The portal to hell is still outside our front door. The dog is still insane. The cat is on a diet. So far, so good. He hasn’t broken anything out of spite. He may have taken a nibble or two out of the fish, though, which is looking rather ragged of late. The end is likely near, as evidenced by his tendency to swim sideways. I predict he’ll go to the great toilet bowl in the sky before the end of the year.

I’m still a pretty bad Buddhist, according to my kids. My son pointed out to me just a few days ago that a good Buddhist probably wouldn’t call the driver who cut her off a “freaking idiot.” I’m better about the cyclists who fly past me on the prairie trail. I no longer mumble obscenities at them. I am saving my obscenities for the people who are treating the prairie as their personal cutting garden these days. My daughter suggested I try out a nearby trail that runs through an equestrian center. I’m pretty sure even Buddha couldn’t keep his cool running behind horses, but then again, it would definitely keep me mindful and aware.

As my episodes on the prairie illustrate, I still have anger issues. I still hate liver, read crap and get jealous, too. But, I haven’t taken a serious trip to Funky Town in a while. My son is ok with “Spithead” and no one has puked around here lately. My kids are still pikers when it comes to sibling rivalry.

I am overjoyed to report that the shed never went up. The cosmos aligned in a gigantic “I told you so,” when my neighbor hired someone to survey the property line. I left the hot pink flagging tape which proved the line did, indeed, fall exactly where I said it did as long as possible. We found, in fact, that we have a lot more property than we thought we did. My neighbor and I have entered a sort of cold war, though. He no longer speaks to me and his children run like rabbits whenever I come out of the house. I’m thinking it just needs a little more time and a lot more of me being the nicest, most cheerful person I know how to be. Stop laughing; I can be very cheerful.

I’ve made lots of people laugh in the past year. I think I’ve made some cry. I know I’ve hurt feelings, unintentionally of course. Still, I’m more careful about what I write and how I phrase things. There are certain things I’ll never write, at least not here and not as non-fiction. But I’ll keep writing and I hope you’ll keep reading.

Thanks, from the bottom of my heart, for a truly wonderful year.

My Kids Always Love Dad Best

19 Sep

I keep coming home from work to find my family in a great mood. The kids are getting along wonderfully. Maybe everyone is playing Monopoly. Maybe they are all in the kitchen doing homework together. Regardless, everyone is smiling and interacting beautifully.

It’s really starting to tick me off.

Not too long ago, we had dinner together every night. Studies showed that kids who ate nightly family dinners were less likely to drink, do drugs, smoke, get depressed, have eating disorders and begin reading sooner. If studies showed it, I was all for it.

So, I made sure we had dinner together every night. When we first started family dinners, I had visions of me in the kitchen, rattling the pots and pans, with the kids around the table, peacefully completing their homework. As dad entered our charming abode, the kids would put their homework away and promptly start setting the table.

I was delusional. What I get on the nights I’m home for dinner is my son popping down from his cave around 5 to ask what’s for dinner. News of the night’s meal is met with “Awesome!” or “You’re freaking kidding me!” Fried chicken? “Awesome!” Grilled salmon with a butter dill sauce? “You’re freaking kidding me!” He has learned to replace “You’re freaking kidding me!” with “I’ll make myself a pot pie.”

My daughter is usually either playing at her friend’s house, or, on a day when she needs a break, watching TV and scattering five million Littlest Pet Shop figurines around the family room.

Sometime between 6 and 6:30, I start dinner. I call my daughter to do her homework. I bang on the ceiling for my son to come unload the dishwasher.

Silence. I remain alone in the kitchen.

I call to my daughter again. I bang on the ceiling again.

Eventually, my son bounds down the stairs, growling, “What!?” if it’s a “you’re freaking kidding me” dinner or “Is dinner ready?” if it’s an awesome! dinner night.

“Have you done your homework?” I say.

“I’ll do it later,” he says.

“Then you can unload the dishwasher,” I say.

“Later. I have to do my homework.” And he’s off to the cave.

“It’s time to do your homework,” I say to my daughter.

“I don’t have any,” she says, plopping on the couch.

“I need you to clean up your Littlest Pet Shop things so we don’t have to look at the messy family room during dinner,” I say. Ok, I probably actually say something like, “I need you to pick up all of your things in the family room. I’m sick of living in a pig mess.” I give myself Good Mom points for saying “I need” instead of just going straight for “Pick those toys up before I throw them all away.”

At this point, we have a meltdown. My daughter begins crying that I am mean. I don’t particularly care if she calls me mean. With me, it’s all about tone of voice and my daughter has a tone somewhere between a car alarm and a banshee’s wail.

“Fine!” I yell. “Don’t clean up the toys, but I’m going to throw away these things you’ve left on the kitchen table if you don’t come get them right now.”

She doesn’t move; she doesn’t flinch. Eyes glued to the TV she says, “Ok.”

By the time my husband gets home, I have generally had two fights with my daughter over toys and homework. My son, being 16, is far less predictable. We may be laughing and joking when dad comes home, or I may have left the house, mumbling something like, “I bet Mexico’s nice this time of year.” I pretend I am so eager to see my husband that I had to come meet him at his bus stop. I’m sure he has an inkling that I’m eager to see him, but maybe not for the reason he’d prefer.

So, when I come home from work and find that dinner has been made and eaten with no fuss and the entire brood is happily doing homework, playing cards or just hanging together, I want to strangle someone.

I am convinced that my kids love Dad best and it’s not just the difference in dinnertime that provides my evidence.

Take, for example, how our son treats each of us. My husband is affectionately known as “Daddy Poo-pookins.” He gets head rubs. He gets hugs.

I am known as “Big Dumb Mom” and it is said in a voice something like the Hulk’s. I get woken at 6:15 a.m. every morning and told, “I’m leaving.” This is code for “Come downstairs and say ‘goodbye to me’ .” I do, giving my son a hug that he accepts standing completely still. When I kiss him, he turns his head so that the kiss lands not on his cheek, but somewhere between his neck and his chin. I tried not giving the hug, and just saying “goodbye” once. My son glowered at me, refusing to budge until I gave him the unreturned hug.

My husband wakes at 5 every morning and doesn’t get home until 7:15 at night. On the weekends, we let him sleep. This means that he stays in bed until 10 a.m. The children tiptoe past the bedroom door. When I tell them to “get your father out of bed,” they balk.

Recently, while I was taking a nap after getting about four hours of sleep the night prior, my daughter came skipping in the room, jumped on me and said, “Mom, you only have ten more minutes to nap.” Then she left.

Another recent incident gave me a window of opportunity into why Daddy Poo-pookins gets away with parenting murder while Big Dumb Mom gets the shaft. At the grocery store, my son snarls when I suggest a store-brand alternative to his favorite cereal. “It will taste like (insert disgusting noun modified by equally disgusting adjective).” Son and husband came home from the grocery store last night with store-brand frosted wheats. I snarled at my son.

When my son explained that Daddy Poo-pookins would get mad, I said, Big Dumb Mom gets mad. “But he really means it,” my son said, “you’ll change your mind.” And he’s right. I will change my mind, given a good enough argument. Throwing away generic frosted cereal has taught me that some things are worth a little flexibility. By the way, I’m looking forward to saying, “I told you so” about the cereal.

Siblings With Rivalry

29 Aug

I am mean.

Ask my children. They will tell you how mean I am. My daughter thinks I’m mean for any of a number of reasons. I’m mean when I won’t let her crash the neighbor’s family fire pit gathering. I’m mean when I won’t let her eat cookies for breakfast. I’m mean when I won’t let her spend her entire allowance on those stupid little Japanese erasers.

My son doesn’t tell me I’m mean anymore. Now, he uses more profane words, but I get the drift.

Maybe my kids are hung up on one parenting move I made, but it was for their own good. I swear!

We used to go to the pool a lot, almost every day, in fact. In Naperville, the big community pool is called Centennial Beach because they’ve dumped half a desert worth of sand at the shallow end. I would insist my children shower and change before getting themselves, and their sand, in the car.

My children continually forgot to put their beach bags in the car. Prior to leaving the house, I would remind them, very nicely of course, to put their bags in the car. Eventually, reminding them very nicely got old. They could remember their darned bags, I thought. I told them, “You are old enough to remember your bags. From now on, Mommy will not remind you about your bags.”

The first day of “get your own darned bags,” they forgot their bags. Two wet sandy children stood next to my car and expected me to allow them to ride home in it. I said, “No.” I found an old towel and a blanket in the trunk of the car and allowed them to wrap those around themselves.

The second day of “get your own darned bags,” they forgot their bags. Two wet sandy children stood next to my car and expected me to allow them to ride home in it. I said, “No.” They wanted me to get them the old towel and blanket. I said, “The towel and blanket are no longer in the trunk. They are in the laundry now because you needed them yesterday. You will have to go home naked.” They thought I was kidding. They were wrong.

All the way home, my son glowered at me, his hands strategically cupped over his naked boy bits. My daughter was still in a car seat, so had a little more coverage. She pouted, nonetheless. And me? I was doing my damnedest to keep from laughing out loud, all the while thinking, “I am bad ass! I am the MOM!!!”

My kids are nowhere near as good at being mean as I am. Siblings are supposed to be mean to each other, of course, and my kids have their moments. There was the time my son told his sister “I’m gonna kick your ass.” She replied, “I gonna kick you in da cwotch.” We all thought that was funny, even her brother. Probably not the proper response, but she was really cute acting all ninja-y.

A friend of mine says that her brother would wait until she was asleep, come into her room, grab her by the ankles and drag her out of bed all the way down the hall. We didn’t have much brother/sister antagonism in my house, other than my sister and me calling our little brother nasty names. He’s taller than both of us by at least nine inches, so we just call him by his own name these days.

The sibling warfare when I was growing up was mostly between my sister and me. We shared a room, probably a recipe for disaster. She was a neat freak; I was normally messy for a child. Ok, I was more than normally messy. I was a pig. Drove my mom and my sister nuts. Maybe that’s why my sister thought it would be ok to stick me with a pin. Or why, when we were in high school and had lockers next to each other, she looked at my outfit for the day, said, “You’re wearing that?” slammed her locker shut and left. I got back at her. One day I tickled her until she wet her pants, despite her screams that she was going to wet her pants.

My parents eased the situation between my sister and me by fixing up a downstairs room as a bedroom for her. With her own bathroom right next door, I thought it was really cool and was, of course, jealous. She felt like she was being exiled to the basement.

My husband and his sister went at it when they were young. One day, she was playing ball in the yard when my husband and his friends happened upon her. They grabbed the ball and played keep away from her. This was hardly fair, as they were four years older than her and she was only six at the time. She evened the odds by grabbing a big knife from the kitchen and chasing her brother down the street yelling, “Give me back my ball!”

The most creatively mean siblings I know, though, are my sister’s kids. They regularly insult each other, in a mostly affectionate way, of course. Primarily, it is my oldest nephew and niece who pick on their younger brother, calling him everything from an idiot to a diaper.

He gives back as good as he gets for the most part and specific instances are generally forgotten. He won’t forget, though, that when he was a little boy, his brother and sister had him convinced that he was from Mars and he was made of pooh.

He’s a young man now and most decidedly not a Martian made of doody. In fact, he’s quite handsome. Think Taylor Lautner, only better looking. That’s revenge enough, though his sibs continue to call him silly, insulting names.

I read somewhere that our siblings are far more influential on how we turn out than even our parents are. I like to think that the teasing, name-calling, pin-poking and knife-chasing are part of learning how to get along in a world that isn’t always kind. It’s Mom’s and Dad’s job to make home a safe, loving refuge. It’s our sibs’ place to ensure we’re tough enough to handle life outside that womb.

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