The First (3rd) Day of School.

We carefully selected her socks yesterday morning.  The uniform rules don’t leave a ton of room for variation, but we thoughtfully chose among the white and navy anklets and knee socks.  I brushed her hair and placed the blue bow off to the side, while she watched in the mirror to ensure perfect placement.  Then we were off.  It was the first day of school.  But not really… it was her third day back to school, but my first day to see her go.

Last Friday I was still away for work. This Monday I needed to leave early to stand in front of a judge (thankfully I was not the defendant).  Last Tuesday, I was there with a camera in one hand and tissues (just in case) in the other, for her older sister’s first day of First Grade. But there was nothing I could do last Friday–short of quitting my job, and the thought did cross my mind–to be there for the first day of Kindergarten.  So, I did something I have done many times before.  I made yesterday the “first day” with full knowledge that it was not.

When I went back to work after my oldest was born, things were tough.  They’re tough for every mom that has to go back to work.  To be honest, though, I was not racked with overwhelming guilt that I was leaving her.  I was sad, to be sure.  I was jealous of the nanny who would get to stare all day at my sweet baby’s beautiful face.  I was nervous about keeping track of dirty diapers, and ounces of milk and dwindling supply of said milk.  I was sad to say goodbye to the daytime television that I had grown so attached to…Ellen.  My dear, Ellen.  I miss her to this day.  And 90210 on Soapnet.  Reliving Brenda’s pregnancy scare and Kelly’s mama drama.  (Lest I forget the antics of Steve–the very prototype of bro-ness, the brototype, if you will.  I failed to fully appreciate him the first time around in 1994.)

Then again, I was happy too.  I was looking forward to getting back to work.  I was sure about that.  I was not sure about…well, I wasn’t sure of just about anything else.  But I’d made a choice. One influenced by economics and ego, by a desire to be an example to my daughter and a head full of feminist faith.  A choice I did not intend to regret.

I had full confidence that I’d done my best to find the best caregiver I could.  I interviewed a roster of pre-qualified and background-checked potential caregivers.  I called references.  I posed ridiculous hypotheticals. I only scheduled interviews for the witching hour(s)–the hours during which my sweet doll-baby of a daughter turned into a bonafide bedeviling baby witch.  She screamed her head off every night from 4 to 6 causing those around her to wish they no longer had heads themselves.

The evening we met the woman who would become such an important part of our family, I handed the 3 month old red-faced screamer to her.  She took this baby that even a mother had to try very hard to love from 4-6, and held her close. She deftly bounced and walked, rubbed her back and somehow managed to talk–answering all of my questions with as much care and attention as she was giving the baby.  She was better than me at this.  She was going to be awesome.

And she has been awesome.  Of course, there have been bumps in the road.  We long ago had to get over the fact that she would not accept our instructions as gospel.  With her endearing Polish accent, her favorite way to respond to any request she disagreed with was “Hmm…’Dis is my proposal….” Her proposal would follow.  And we followed her.  Her advice, her lead.  We followed.

She hates technology so while so many of my friends receive texts and pictures during the day, for 6 plus years I’ve had to wait to get home to get the day’s summary.  She doesn’t like play dates and refuses to schedule or attend them.  She can’t wash a dish to save her life, and I’m pretty sure that she is the primary Oreo cookie eater in our household.  She believes in being outside as much as possible, even as snow falls and the mercury falls below zero.  And she tells the kids stories about communists that lead to all kinds of interesting bedtime questions.  But it works for us.  She has helped to raise our three fantastic kids, and her tolerance for their kid-witchery (it has only gotten worse since those early witching hours) is only matched by her love for them.  They are her children too, and I’m okay with that.  I’m more than okay with that.

She also understands how I feel.  She knows from personal experience what it is like to have to go work and not be home with her own children.

She was the one to first give me permission to reinvent the “firsts.”

When my oldest daughter took her first (the real first) steps, I was at the office.  When I got home, she asked me to come to the living room.  She said, “You are going to see her first steps.”

I dropped my bag and ran.  I saw my baby in the living room, holding on to the couch as she had done for weeks before, and then I saw her let go and take 3 steps.  She fell and smiled.  We cheered.  Then it occurred to me.  Those weren’t the first steps.

I turned to my partner-in-mothering and said, “Those aren’t her first steps are they?  She’s done it already.”

She looked at me and said firmly, “No.  Those were her first steps.  Nothing happens the first time until you see it.”

I cried and she hugged me, and we’ve operated under that principle ever since.

So, yesterday was the first day of Kindergarten with my sweet middle child.  It was a great day.  And I was so happy to be there to see it.

***

For the sake of the children, I add the following blanket disclaimer to all Goodbye Chicken posts: Any story about poop and any other gross or weird stuff done/said/experienced by any child referenced therein is entirely made up–so future friends, employers, lovers and voters shall not use said story against them.  Of course, any story, or part thereof, about children who are awesome, smart, beautiful and kind or otherwise good is entirely true.

Mommy's first day of Kindergarten.

Mommy’s first day of Kindergarten.

Proof of Good Parenting.

So many nights I feel like I’ve had the crap kicked out of me. Some nights I feel like that because I’m so physically exhausted that even the thought of getting up off the couch to get myself too bed is just too much. Sometimes I feel like that because I have actually been kicked, hit, elbowed and/or body-slammed, intentionally or not by my kids. And sometimes my mental (and physical) exhaustion is actually about getting crap out, just not out of me.

The other night it was the double whammy of kiddie constipation plus kiddie ninja warrior injuries.  As my mouth filled with blood, I thought I smelled poop.  I smiled, looking  like a sated extra from True Blood, and then laughed quietly thinking about what my life had become.  I also thought: Man, I am a damn good parent.

I’ll let that image linger while I backtrack a bit…

There are so many things that surprise new parents. Everyone says that your life will completely change. They say things will never be the same. That you will place their needs–their existence–ahead of your own.  (We can debate the appropriate reaches of this concept another time.) Despite all of the advice and words of prospective caution, the reality is full of surprises. So many surprises. There’s the lack of sleep, lack of sleeping in on weekends, lack of money in the checking account, and lack of time for friends, and work, and books, and exercise, and prime-time television (watched on its original air date), and personal hygiene, and lawn maintenance (of the real and colloquial variety).

For me, however, the biggest surprise was all the poop.  There is so much poop.  Poop everywhere, in inconvenient locations like a restaurant, or a highway going 70 mph when you just took a pit stop 4 minutes ago, or on your suit sleeve 6 hours after you left the house that you only notice as you go to shake the hand of a new client.  Poop all day, every day, in all its pooptastic poopertinence.

But sometimes there is no poop, and that’s a problem too.  The other night was about a lack of poop.  My toddler hadn’t pooped in days.  They say a kid can go up to a week without pooping, but I picture their little insides clogged up like a–well, let’s just say clogged.  The longer it lasts, the worse it gets.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Poop hurts, followed by a reluctance to poop, leads to holding in poop, results in poop hurts. It’s sad and uncomfortable–for them and for us.  People of Starbucks: Nevermind my kid pressing his hand against his rear and screaming at his poop not to come out.  Nothing to see here. Move along.

Anyway, my kid hadn’t pooped in a couple days. He was exceedingly uncomfortable, he couldn’t sleep because he kept being awoken by the pressing issue. He was weepy, and all-around the saddest sack of a kid I’d seen a while.  It was 2 am and I was rocking him in his darkened room, waiting for the adult dose of laxative to kick in, and I was exhausted. He would fall asleep and then wake up to complain and clench, then fall asleep again. The kid was putting up a valiant fight but I knew (and he knew) he’d lose eventually. At one point he sat up and looked me straight in the eye and said, “No poopy, not now. I busy.”  Let’s forget the implication that he’s heard any adult say “not now, I’m busy” and focus on the kid’s will power here.

This kid is a marvel of mind over digestion. He is a champion poop fighter. He said those words, fell back asleep while sitting straight up and then collapsed forward, striking his marvelous mind (surrounded by hard skull) directly into my mouth.  My tooth sliced in to my lip and I immediately tasted blood. I thought about getting up, but he was asleep. And he needed sleep. If I got up, he’d be awake and sad and angry all over again.

So I waited.

I rocked.

A few minutes later, I spelled poop.

The poop was coming and he was too tired to wake up and fight it, so I rocked some more until the deed was done. I laughed at myself. I laughed and marveled at the person I had become.  I was exhausted, but proud.  I’d put his needs ahead of my own.  He needed sleep and elimination.  I needed sleep, a boxer’s spit bucket and some frozen peas. I let him snooze for a while longer while we rocked in the chair before moving him to change his diaper and put him back to bed. He slept through it all.

This parenting thing is hard.  Your body takes a beating, along with your psychological well-being.  You think you’re not doing enough, or doing it well enough–then, you have these moments.  The moments when your dark circles and fat lip are big, swollen proof that you are able and willing to put their needs ahead of your own.  Proof that you are a good parent…no matter what the people at Starbucks think.

***

For the sake of the children, I add the following blanket disclaimer to all Goodbye Chicken posts: Any story about poop and any other gross or weird stuff done/said/experienced by any child referenced therein is entirely made up–so future friends, employers, lovers and voters shall not use said story against them.  Of course, any story, or part thereof, about children who are awesome, smart, beautiful and kind or otherwise good is entirely true.

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Look at them…ahead of me, always.

Old Yeller.

We rescued a dog this weekend from the shelter–our own.  She got out and was picked up by the po-po, then taken to the animal shelter.  This sweet dog had not been boarded in all her 13 years.  Her first ever night in a kennel, she was surrounded by incessantly barking biters and without the benefit of her old lady-pup meds to dull the pain.  When we went to pick her up, the kids thought we were walking in to a scene from Lady and the Tramp.  They were chatting about the cute doggies they’d be able to see until the shelter director said that there were “no other animals fit for interaction with children.”  I lied about the inevitable fate of those animals as we drove home.  Fail.

The dog likely went for her walk-about Friday night when I decided approximately 10 minutes before bedtime that a little Fro Yo would be a good way to end the week.  (I left the garage open.)  As I put the 2 year old into his car seat he gave me a grimace that said, I’m about to Poop with capital P.  I ignored it because the Fro Yo joint is just a couple minutes away and our minivan is a survivalist’s dream.  There are diapers, wipes, water, blankets and boxes of unrefrigerated (!?) organic milk with an inexplicably long shelf life. And if you’re feeling the need for a little vacation, the back row has a tropical beachy theme with floaties, sun hats and floor mats covered in a beautiful layer of Cheerio and cookie crumbs, resembling the fine sand and rock mixture of my beloved Hawaii.

Well, the bloom was off the tuberose ’cause there were actually no flippin’ diapers in the minivan on Friday.  When he exited the car, the poor kid’s diaper was so full his center of gravity was off.  He was crying (mostly from his own stench…”I so stinky!”) as we detoured into a drug store to pick up the necessary supplies to dislodge the growth from his rear, before we finally made it to the Fro Yo shop.  It was one of those pour your own and apply your choice of a million gross toppings places and I permitted each of the three angels to pile on as much artificially colored candy as they wanted to their previously, marginally healthy treats.  Three outfits were ruined and there were three sugar-coated melt-downs as I tucked them in and silently wished their beds came with restraints–but the minivan is restocked with wipes and dipes.  On balance, fail.

Around 10 pm that night we got a call from the shelter to say they had our dog. She was picked up at the midway point between the yogurt shop and our house. It was not until they called that I realized I hadn’t seen her in 3 hours.  It was too late for us to pick her up so she’d have to spend the night.  She was adopted from a shelter and survived the first weeks of her life alone on the quaint-but-mean streets of Long Island.  She’ll be fine, I just kept telling myself.  She’s a survivor, she’s a survivor, she’s effing Gloria Gaynor and Beyonce rolled into one fabulous dog form.  It didn’t make me feel better–but I’ve been singing Destiny’s Child songs for days.  Dog owner/parent/music lover fail.

In order to bust the dog from her cell, I had to promise the shelter warden that her one-month-ago-expired Rabies vaccine would be updated that day and I’d call later with the license number.  I did not take care of that until Monday morning.  I had a million other things to do on Saturday and had already spent an hour at a pet store getting a shiny new legible tag, guiltily buying toys for the other shelter dogs, telling the kids that maybe someday when they saved enough money they could choose between buying a hamster and going to college (the price tag may say $2.79 but that’s just for the hamster–everything else you need, cage, water bottle, wheel etc., costs $400,000) and otherwise whiling away the hours until the shelter would open at 11:00 am.  I hope the shelter lady who told me she “trusted me” when she let us go without following the proper protocol hasn’t lost her job and/or her faith in humankind.  What am I saying? She works at an animal shelter.  Her faith in humankind likely flew the coop her first day there.  (Ed note: I called to check in and apologize, she’s still employed and was genuinely happy to note that the vaccine was up to date. She and the others who do her job are amazing.)

You know what I left out from this weekend recap?  The yelling.  I woke up this Monday morning with a throat almost as sore as my heart from yelling for what feels like two straight days.  (The likely cause of sore throat is a late summer cold, but it in my pre-dawn haze I was sure it was the yelling.) We did a ton of fun things this weekend–parks, nature trails, a Halloween in August party for Saturday’s dinner, a trip down evolution lane at the natural history museum on Sunday, that Fro Yo thing…but it was the regular stuff that led to the yelling.  Grocery shopping with three kids, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, toy throwing, sibling sucker punching, teeth brushing, wound cleansing (the oldest took a header while walking our newly freed pup and split her knee open–unfortunately it looks like the inexorable scar will resemble Charles Manson’s forehead, but I kept that thought to myself).

I wasn’t all Joan Crawford or anything, but I yelled a handful of times.  “Come ON!” and “You have GOT to be kidding me!”  were my most frequent amplified phrases.  But I hate yelling.  I hate it (and myself) even as I hear the voice coming out of me.  I’ve read books instructing parents to whisper instead of yell.  I’ve read post after post on FB, HuffPost articles, Buzzfeed lists and Medline studies about yelling and its harmful effects.  But I’m human.  I was tired.  Sometimes it’s so loud between them and the dog that I have to yell to hear myself. (Ugh. That’s a stupid excuse.) I apologized to them and we talked about how moms make mistakes too…but still.  Parenting fail.

But this morning before work, my oldest was fashioning a cane from paper towel rolls and my middle was coloring at the table.  The 2 year old was running circles for no (apparent to us) reason around the kitchen.  I kissed their heads and said, I love you and goodbye.  The youngest stopped running and bowed before me.  Silently, he kissed my feet…straight up, Passion of the Christ style.  The middle ran over and gave me the heart she was coloring, “so you remember I love you today.”  The oldest waved her bedazzled new cane and wished me luck at work.

Okay, I thought.  They’re fine.  My oldest is earnest, helpful and crafty.  My middle is a dramatic little love bug with a mean right hook.  My youngest is a stark raving lunatic who loves his mama.

They’re fine.  Maybe I’ve barked them into submission and psuedo-religious expressions of love, but I don’t think so…. The good outweighs the bad and I (probably like you) need to cut myself some slack.  My kids are fine, better than fine.  They’re survivors…just like their pup.  And they all know how much I love them, whether I whisper or yell it.

Thumbs up.  You're doing fine, Mom.

Thumbs up. You’re doing fine, Mom.

The Last Day.

My children are 6 and a half, almost 5 and 2. They are not babies anymore.  I know, I know…it goes so fast.  Kids grow up.  From the time you are first visibly pregnant, strangers tell you to enjoy it. They grow up so fast.  They are right, of course, though the topic of unsolicited and largely unwelcome parenting advice is for another time (as is the topic of people asking if you are pregnant).   It does go fast–sometimes. Other times the clock feels like it is moving about half as fast as a century-old turtle in molasses.  The sleep-little nights stack up to a mountain of exhaustion and you feel like it is never going to end.

I have wished out loud more than a few times for time to speed up.  I’ve longed for the end of sore nipples and for the diaper deliveries to cease. For the irrational “no” to stop being the most common word that escapes my 2 year old’s mouth.  For meals in public and adult conversations that are not cut short by the behavior of tiny-tot tyrants. For a time when I no longer have to brush 3 sets of teeth before I brush my own in the morning.  I know I shouldn’t wish for these days to end.  Each day is a gift and [insert another e-card inspirational quote and/or phrase here].  There are truly so many wonderful things about babies and small children, but for every delicious first giggle there is a brutal first fit of inconsolable crying.  This parenting thing is wonderful, and it’s excruciating.

But the days inevitably go by without our prompting, and babies–they stop being babies.  A few days ago, my 2 year old chose to use a potty.  We’d placed the green plastic seat in his room weeks ago and I half-heartedly planned for a weekend of potty training that would take place later, when I was ready for it.  He had his own ideas though and didn’t wait for me to be ready.  I was changing him for bed and he said, “I use da potty.”  I smiled and plopped him down, and he immediately employed the receptacle as it was intended.  We high-fived and cheered. He shrieked, “I deed it! I deed it!”, while his sisters danced a happy potty dance around him (think the classic sprinkler move…with an imaginary toilet, and the arms are not spraying water…well, you get it).   The entire surface of his face was painted with joy.  I was watching him watch his sisters and committing his triumphant, scrunched-nose smile to memory, when it hit me.  He’s not a baby.  I don’t have babies anymore.

This thing that I had wished for in so many low moments had happened.  Time was speeding by and it was as bittersweet as the chocolate I used to console myself after they were all in bed that night.

If we are lucky, our kids grow up.  We get to see them change and learn new things about the world and themselves.  We get to sit across the table from them and hear their thoughts on caterpillars, friendship and why ancient cultures no longer exist.  We get to see glimpses of the kind and funny, sarcastic and athletic, cunning and creative adults they will be.  And, if we are very lucky, we get to see them actually become those adults.

It was his last day as a baby, but I wished for more.  More days with my babies in all of their post-diaper glory, dancing awkwardly in celebration of passing milestones.  More time with them not yet embarrassed by my hugs and kisses and still craving bedtime stories.  And more days spent enjoying the moment we are in rather than wishing for the clock to speed up.

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Me and first baby.

In Familiar Country.

I drove across the panhandle of Florida, heading toward a hotel that I had never been to before.  It was a chain that I’ve stayed in more times than I’d like to count, and could navigate blindfolded if necessary because they are all exactly the same.  The location of the front desk ahead and to the left. Tepid coffee and water for late night arrivals about 10 steps in and 3 toward the right.  I’d never been to this city before yet I knew that so much of it would look like so many other cities I’d been to. Miles and miles of trees, or corn fields, or desert, or mountains, then suddenly an oasis of chain steak houses, fast food, big box retail and those hotels that I know so well.  I don’t like to think about it too much because it’s depressing as hell.  Then again, the optimist in me thinks: Well, at least the kids who grow up here won’t be crippled at the thought of moving away for college or jobs or whatever, because wherever they go–it will be familiar.  Then I think: Nope, still depressing.

I’m a sucker for those airport and hotel displays of brochures from local tourist traps.  Without them, I’d just be stuck with trip after trip of the same hotel, same bed, same rental car smell and same steak house salad, and my head just might explode.  I was thinking about the kinds of unique visitor experiences this place might have to offer–would it be another handful of places designated as purveyors of the best bbq ever or, if I was lucky, some historical sites with on-site, costumed reenactors–when I called my dad.  I told him where I was headed and he laughed.  I know that place.  I was near there for training before going overseas and that’s the town we used to sneak off to.  He said “overseas” instead of Vietnam.

I’m not sure why it struck me the way it did.  I’ve lived in a lot of places and my parents (and their parents) lived in a lot of places before I came along.  There always seems to be some familial connection to any place I go to and, frankly, I don’t usually think much of it.  This time was different though.  I wanted to see this place my dad had been.

The sun felt like it was sitting on top of the car and the air conditioner was working hard.  I was looking at the low, dense pine trees as I drove. They seemed short to me, as if the weight of the place’s humidity kept them from reaching a full height.  I saw enormous dragonflies, the size of small birds.  I saw the landscape through the eyes of my 18 year old dad, far away from the urban environment he grew up in and not far from being sent to war.

Maybe it was my own fatigue and homesickness at work, but my sense was that this place, so hot and foreign, probably made my dad feel very alone.  In fatigues and homesick, staring down insects that could carry a small dog away from its yard, I imagined that he felt lost.  I didn’t and haven’t ask him about any of this and I don’t plan to (unless you read this, Dad, and want to chat, xo).  It was a lifetime ago for him.

Another 50 miles down the road and my mind was on the hundreds of children arriving at our southern border a day and how fatigued and homesick they must be.  The radio voices were assigning blame for the crisis and generally calling for them to be sent back to wherever they came from.  [As an aside and without an opinion about what should or needs to be done about the situation, I wonder how those words would feel coming out of the radio mouths if they were forced to use the word "children" instead of "them"...but I digress.]  These children come from places where people don’t have the luxury to ponder why the pine trees are short because they are too worried about whether their kids will survive.  I turned off the radio, rolled down the windows and listened to the voiceless air instead.

I am (along with so many others in this country) so unbelievably lucky to live in a place where I have the luxury to think about trees.  To live in a place where I, as a woman, can have a career that provides for my family and the ability to travel to strange and beautiful places within our own borders, largely without fear.  To live in a place and time where I am pretty darn confident that my children will not fall victim to a war, and will not have to fight a war unless they choose to do so for their country.  To live in a place that so many others see as a promised land.

I drove by the military base that my dad was at so long ago.  There were just enough chain restaurants that it probably feels familiar to anyone stationed there now.  I optimistically thought about how a foot-long sub from a familiar restaurant might make a city kid far from the subway feel at home, at least for a little while.

I didn’t get the chance to see any other local sites.  I chose a late night flight back so I could see my girls, my very lucky girls, off to camp in the morning.

Being a Mom without a Mom.

You can’t compare the grief of two people.  You can’t measure sorrow.  The list of ways it could be worse is endless.  There is war and famine, there are parents holding dying children as I type this digital missive and others alone, lost in a world without love.  These are the tragedies that flood my thoughts when I suddenly realize that I’ve spent the whole day with a catch in my throat.  All day with eyes aching to unleash tears because, for some reason or other, this day of all days, I can’t shake the sadness of missing my mom.

My mind seems to jump to this parade of horribles in an effort to put my feelings in check–as if to ask, “how dare you be sad when there are so many others who are really sad right now?”  It never helps.  It only loosens the levee.

I lost my mom a few years ago.  Her absence is palpable and touches virtually every aspect of my life–though none more than my experience as a parent.   She was here for the first couple years of my oldest daughter’s life.  She saw two more granddaughters arrive after that, then left us as those girls were about to turn 1. She imparted tremendous parenting wisdom to my sister and me in those short years she was here as a grandparent, and even more in the years before.  But it wasn’t enough.  The parenting questions I still have to ask and mommy confessions I have to make…to her, only her, are innumerable.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve got plenty of people in my parenting village. People who love me and my kids and whose advice and help I rely upon.  It does, in fact, take a village and my village rocks…it’s just that sometimes it feels like I’ve got a DJ and not the live band at this party.  [No offense to DJs.]  I can listen to the records and maybe even dance to the covers played by other talented musicians, but my favorite, original artist is gone.

I’m sorry to be a downer. I’m afraid I just don’t have a quippy, feel good conclusion to this post in me.  There’s only a rankled refrain on my soundtrack today:  Being a mom without a mom sucks.

[I'll be right back.  I need some ice cream...]

[Ok. I'm back.]

Yes, I know it could be worse.  But I don’t have to measure my sorrow to give myself permission to feel it.  She told me this once a long time ago.

For those of you reading this, and thinking that your grief, your situation, is worse. You are absolutely right–because it is yours.  Go ahead, cry about it.  I’ll cry with you.  And then we can count the reasons we have to be happy together.  Those are the things worth measuring.

[This mint-chip coated conclusion is brought to you by Häagen-Dazs...and my mommy's wisdom.]

600.8 Miles from Home

We were outside.  Really outside, a long way from home.  In a state park, carrying fishing poles, hiking through the rain and meeting wildlife sometimes too closely.   I was repeating “stop,” “slow down,” “hold my hand” and “be careful” like a broken Gregorian chant record, if the monks were chanting warnings of physical dangers rather than spiritual.  We were soaking wet, and I was emotionally on edge from trying to keep three kids under 6 from meeting a river-swept end and arguing with my husband who had forgotten to pack the rain gear. [I made the list, he executed on it...he swore I didn't include those items on the list. I swore too and hoped the sound of the raging waters muted the swear words before they reached my kids' ears.]  A thought clung to me as tightly as my soggy, not-at-all-suited-for-this-adventure Anthropologie top: I’m an ass…and not just because of my clothing choice for today.  This dirty, sodden, spider-filled day was probably the best day of my kids’ lives so far because it was wild.  It was a real-life, wild adventure and I, and my grown-up ill-packed baggage, needed to get out of the way.

I needed stop letting my frustrations and fears interfere with their adventure.  I needed to shut up and let them explore.

But my half-Catholic, half-Jewish brain was stuck in a death spiral of worry and guilt, and concern over our lack of sufficient snacks.  Would they get sick from being so cold and wet? Would they slip/fall/drown/be bitten by a brown recluse or rattlesnake or black bear or West Nile-carrying mosquito or Lymey tick?  Would their confidence be shaken if they couldn’t make it to the top of those daunting rocks or catch a fish?   Would the ice cream truck in the parking lot at the end of today’s adventure have mint chip? [Okay, that one was more about me than them.]  Just name anything that could make their little, sweet faces crumple into tears, and I was worried about it.

I knew that most of those worries were nonsense.  Sure, some were valid (especially the snake thing), but not a single one of them warranted my compulsion to pick them all up and run.  So I stopped.  I stood back…a bit. And I let them run wild.

I told myself what most of us already know.  Kids need to get dirty.  They need to be scared once in a while.  They need to fail.  And we need to let them.

So 600.8 miles from home, over the course of a week spent where Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania meet, my kids got very dirty.  They were scared riding horses for the first time and frightened by the sounds and sheer size of the nature around us.  They failed to catch a fish…and didn’t care one bit.  They had a blast.

The long drive home was filled with talk of what they will do next year when we return to meet Grammy and Granddad at the house in the woods.  My 6 year old made a list.  They will go on long trail hikes, eat ice cream every day, ride really big horses and go fishing again, maybe this time from a boat.  And they will remind their parents to bring the rain gear.

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I Won’t Say a Thing About Your Parenting. I Promise.

2014 fireworks

I didn’t let my kids hold sparklers on the 4th.  But I did let eat them eat grapes…uncut ones. Popcorn too, they regularly eat those crunchy little choking hazards with very little supervision.  There are other things I let them do that other parents scoff at.

  • I let them watch cartoons and drink chocolate milk with breakfast.
  • My six-year old wears shoes with a one-inch heel on special occasions (despite the fact that she’s already about a foot taller than her peers…but who am I to height-shame her?).
  • They all slept with me (well, on me) for the first couple months of their lives.

The list goes on.  There are so many things I did and do that other parents and non-parents think are terrible.  There are also lots of things that other parents let their kids do that mine do not get to enjoy.  There are those hotter-than-the-sun-flame-popsicles affectionately referred to as sparklers, for one.  I’ve also convinced them that they are allergic to soda and that Disney World is not real–it’s only something other kids talk about when they want to make their friends jealous.   But guess what? They’re my kids, and my husband and I know what we’re doing.

Still, that doesn’t stop the parenting police.  It didn’t stop the woman one non-flame-retardant blanket over on the beach from trying to convince me IN FRONT OF MY KIDS that the sparklers are fine, I’m being over-protective and I should just let them hold them.  It doesn’t stop the sleep training specialists, EBF evangelists (that’s exclusively breast fed for the uninitiated), the “I may not be a doctor, but I’ve read some internet articles about vaccines” peeps or the uppity “babies don’t belong in bars” folks from shouting “You are doing this wrong!” on otherwise-friendly social media platforms and in grocery stores, parks and local watering holes.

So let’s make a deal, all of us parents and non-parents alike.  Unless we’re talking about a kid alone in a hot car or some other immediately life-threatening behavior, let’s keep the unsolicited personal parenting advice to a minimum.  I don’t mind a Facebook post, every now and then, that attempts to debunk (or perpetuate) some myth about nutrition, the causes of autism or the safety of household cleaning products.  For the most part, that’s a well-intentioned attempt at a generic public service announcement–one we can all take or leave, without feeling like we’ve been slapped in the face while sitting in a quiet corner of a bar, nursing a single, delicious midday beer as our baby sleeps soundly in her carrier nearby.  But the personal messages directed at people who are not your friends and/or have not asked for your opinion, the other mom in the park who just can’t help but tell me that the slide is too high for my 2 year old, the lady pushing fire into the until-now-unmarred-by-flame hands of my 6 and 4 year olds…those can stop.

I know how to parent my kids.  At least I think I do.  And we all know that confidence is half the parenting battle, so please don’t undermine mine and I promise, from this day forward, not to undermine yours.  Really.  Your kids can breastfeed until their 5th birthday before moving to an all orange soda diet, as far as I’m concerned.  I won’t say a word (to your face).  I promise.  This parenting thing is hard enough without comments from the peanut-free gallery.

Flags, Ketchup and Dinosaurs.

“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”  -Ronald Reagan.

We were at the table talking about food and how delicious the zucchini sitting on our plates smelled, when my 4 year old announced with all the force of an Executive Order that she would, from this day forward, only eat foods that were white (sugar, bread, ice cream, the inside of chicken nuggets after the brown is scraped off and mozzarella cheese) and sometimes red (strawberries, watermelon, ketchup and pizza sauce).

The 6 year old told her she should have one more color, to make it look more like the flag.  Blue! Blue would be good, so she should add blueberries to her diet.  The 4 year old agreed with her big sister, “Yes, so my plate looks just like the French flag.”  Here’s how the rest of that convo went:

6: “I meant the American flag.”

4: “Oh, okay.  [Good-natured, chuckle.] Good thing they are both red, white and blue.”

6: “Hmm. That’s strange.  [Picks up fork, then puts it down.] Wait a minute!  The England flag is red, white and blue too.”

4: [Hasn't touched her fork in 15 minutes.] “I know why they all use the same colors.  It’s because they only had those colors back then.”

6: “I think you’re right.  In olden times they only had primary colors and didn’t know how to mix them yet.”

4: “Yup. [Finally chewing...something white.] Wait.  Then how come the dinosaurs were so many different colors?”

6: “That’s easy.  Because they were extinct before there were people and when they were dead their bones were just white, so the people didn’t get to learn from the dinosaurs that there were so many different colors.”

4: [Pushes forkful of zucchini I'm holding away from her face.] “That’s too bad.  People could have learned a lot from dinosaurs.”

Me: “Yes, they could have learned to eat green things.”

4: “Don’t be silly, mama.  And, I don’t need green to eat vegetables.  I like ketchup.”

Me: “Reagan isn’t the President anymore to the great sorrow of many, including, apparently, you Miss Sassy. [Confused stares looking back at me, so I change direction.] Well look at that. While we were busy discussing flag colors and extinction, your little brother ate all his zucchini.”

4: “That’s because he’s too little to know what tastes good.”

6: “Hey! I like zucchini too!” [Fork dropped. Hands on hips.]

4: “Well, you’re too BIG to know what tastes good!”

6: [Hands still on hips, chest now puffed out.] “I’m big enough to know that you can’t just eat primary colors and survive.  You need to eat all the colors…ALL of them!”

4: [Rolls eyes and sighs audibly.] “You sound like a dinosaur.”

***

We have lots of great change to anticipate in America, if for no other reason than dinner takes roughly 3 hours in our house every night.

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On Siblings and Fairness, and Cupcakes.

Nothing is fair in love and war…or cupcakes and siblings.  Try as we might, we can’t provide the same childhood experiences to each child we may be blessed with (and I use the term blessed with all due respect owed to whomever and whatever Creator, omniscient being, doctor, partner, scientist, birth mother, surrogate, stork or dumb luck fairy you might believe it is owed).  I remember reading an article once about how these two kids who grew up with the same parents, in the same house, had drastically different recollections of certain of childhood events.  I remember thinking, “of course they did!”

We all approach each situation with different eyes and expectations.  We look at the same exact thing and see different things.  Eyewitness accounts vary greatly when people are interviewed after a crime is committed.  One saw a 6 foot ten, pasty twenty-something.  Another saw a red hat on a kid of about 5’ 7”.  Another saw a knife with a black handle and nothing else.  It is it any wonder that kids in the same house, experiencing the same thing recall it differently?  I have a sister.  She and I have not compared notes, but I am as sure as my face is freckled that my sister has a different recollection of our shared childhood on a number of major points. Continue reading