Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Running on Empty

I'm a well and everyone wants a dip.

I know this many sound like I'm the gal in my high school who my Grandmother said was "looking for adventures" but that's not what I mean.

I went to a women's conference last week called BoldHer. One of the amazing speakers talked about how most women/mothers are wells that are depleted over the course of the day. ( I'm not exempting men from this because most of you work so hard, still mow the lawn and coach your kids' sports teams). 

But think of the "woman as well" analogy.

Your husband needs his shirt ironed for a 9 a.m. meeting. It's 8:47.  Dip.

Your best friend is in tears because her man won't commit and she needs to talk out her feelings via Skype. Dip.

You're asked to bring a veggie platter for your moms' group?  More dipping.

Even your house dips you because it needs to be cleaned and the church you love volunteering at takes a dip because now they need you to write an article about Sunday School for the newsletter.

Your kids need lunches made/homework help/for you to find the marble they lost two weeks ago.  Dip. Dip. Dip.

Now all of this  is just life but it all has one thing in common.  Not one of the tasks you performed above was for you.  You do so much for others that by the end of the day, the well is depleted.

I think that this is why, more than anything, I want to be left alone at the end of the day after I tuck my little ones into bed. I don't want to talk on the phone.  I don't really want to talk to anyone. I want to read, write or revel in my aloneness.  I often find myself resentful of anyone wanting to corner me into a conversation or event, expecting me to be charming or understanding.  Don't they get it?  I've BEEN ON ALL DAY!

I've been patient. I've been hard working. I kept it together when the kids took all the couch cushions off, not once but THREE TIMES.   I cooked three meals, assembled nutritious snacks and did all dishes. I did laundry for four people.  I paid all the bills, made all the beds, shopped for groceries and arranged play dates for my kids where I may have been trapped in an uber-boring conversation about window treatments. My "luxury" if you can call it that is that I snuck out for a 25 minute run at 6 a.m. as to not be missing when any of my family members are awake.  I am tired.  I accepted that I didn't get to write today, which is my lifeblood, because everyone else's needs came first.   And I know that most moms did as much as/ if not more than I did on this particular day and THAT WE DON'T MIND DOING IT.  It's right there, under the job description of mom. It's cool with us, right, doing and giving as we do? 

But.

But. At the end of the day, the well has run dry, and I am resentful of anyone's demands on me.

And this is a problem.  Bringing it back to the  speaker at the conference, this is a problem.  If I had more in my well, perhaps it wouldn't run so dry at the end of the day.   The speaker suggested that each of us fill up on "love fuel" each day by doing something for 20 minutes each day that is just for us.

I was flummoxed.  Do I do anything each day that is just for me?  I racked my brain.  I take a karate class with a collection of lovably awesome weirdos each Saturday.  But that's not a daily thing. I love spending time with my girlfriends and laughing our heads off but that's usually a couple of times a month, if that.  Of course I love taking my kids to the beach and on picnics and generally spending time with them but the conference speaker said you have to do something just for yourself every day.

Oh and you're not supposed to feel guilty about it.

It could be meditation.  It could be watching General Hospital. It could be exercising or relaxing with a cup of coffee and the newspaper.  It could be anything that it JUST FOR YOU.  Just 20 minutes so you can add a little extra energy into your tank and you won't feel so empty at the end of the day.

I'm not sure what mine is yet.  I think it's writing but it's been hard enough to write this weekly entry. The entire time I've been writing, my 2 year old has been wound around my neck like a feather boa, asking me, repeatedly, why coconut yogurt tastes so yucky and begging me to take her on a ferris wheel.  Yet I know I need to make the time do it, even if it's 20 minutes a day, because I'll be happier.

And then you were supposed to look in the mirror and tell yourself 5 things about yourself that you love.  Physical, spiritual, mental.

Holy Cannoli.

I have never done this before in my entire life.  It was really hard and it didn't help that I was cracking up in the middle of it.

But here's what I came up with.

--Physically I love my eyes and my legs.
--Mentally I love my knack of expressing myself through the written word and my wicked sense of humor.
--Spiritually I love that I'm oversensitive because it actually makes me more sensitive and compassionate towards others.

If there are any others reading this, will you try this exercise?  Share what your "love fuel" is...something that you do for yourself every day and...if you are truly brave...please share five things you love about yourself.  Can you do it?  I can probably name five things I love about anyone reading this blog and yet we all seem to have such trouble doing it for ourselves.

And let's get our wells up to overflowing so when the dipping begins we have plenty for everyone and even some extra (not leftover) for ourselves.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Goal?

Where I live, sports are king.  KING.  Some parents hold their boys back from kindergarten so they'll be better at them. It's not unusual for an 11 year old child to be in rec soccer, travel soccer and travel baseball all at the same time.  A dad I know just hired a private lacrosse coach for his 6 year old and many kids toil away at camps in the dog days of summer, running suicides to buff up their endurance. 

Although I'm not a huge sports fan (I'm not sure I could name 5 active professional football players...I love throwing football parties...not watching the game) I also think sports are very important.  Our generation's children's addiction to iPads and Xbox (coupled with their love for fast food and soda) seems to be creating an army of squinting, marshmallow-like children who have no idea how to sit still in a restaurant without a phone in hand, let alone carry on a conversation. 

So, while I would never force my child to do a sport, I also don't feel comfortable letting him skip any and all athletic activity, allowing him to sit home and play Minecraft to the extent that his head actually turns into a square block.

Sports are awesome because they teach teamwork, they inspire friendships and more important than that they provide physical fitness and exercise. It's great for self-esteem and the pizza party at the end of the season is oodles of enjoyment. Sports create a safe haven where you can be competitive and they offer the thrill of victory while also serving up the hard-to-swallow but mandatory pill of defeat.  Sometimes an amazing coach can impact a child in ways that perhaps parents and teachers cannot just by the sheer fact of being willing to volunteer their precious time and energy with a group of children who are not their own.  And here's the critical advantage of doing sports -- it's fun.

Some children are born with a natural aptitude for athleticism...like my 2 year old daughter, who zoomed into the world, crawled at 6 months, walked at 10 and has been climbing everything in sight since then.  She loves baseball, soccer and basketball and has been pouting for the past week because she's not allowed to partake in her brother's soccer practices. 

Speaking of my son, he is not the most athletic kid I've ever seen.  At this point in time, if I had to choose a team where he'd fit in the best, it would be the Bad News Bears. Big A has the desire to play but lacks both the aptitude and, as of yet, the skills.  He reminds me so much of myself as a child it's sometimes creepy.  But because I had the desire to play, and I had a dad that loved baseball and volunteered as a coach, I was able to learn what didn't come naturally.  I played first base for a number of years and had a decent batting average. I also played field hockey, another sport that did not come naturally to me, but with hard work came an eventual hat trick.  My parents and coaches marveled as the transformation I made from being truly hopeless to a contributing member of the team.  That's the beauty of sports.  If you practice, you can see measurable improvement.

So Big A had his first real soccer practice last night and it was as disturbingly comical as I thought it would be. At just 6 he is one of the youngest members of the team and he's had no training to prepare him.  He asked his father to teach him this past summer and surfer/basketball player looked terrifyingly baffled.  He eventually took him out to the backboard and began teaching him how to shoot 3 point shots with the soccer ball. Nothing but net.   

Big A doesn't really know how to kick the ball. Nor does he run very fast.  Nor does he know how to dribble the soccer ball in any manner that doesn't make him seem like a malfunctioning robot.   At one point I swore I saw him kicking the ball towards the wrong goal.  And what's more, he missed. He didn't just miss the goal, he missed the ball. Altogether.  The other boys, in their high florescent socks seemed bigger, faster and a thousand times better.  Before practice started I urged him to watch the older boys on his team, and learn from them.  But I had no idea that the learning curve would be so steep.

When Big A ran off the field after practice, I'm not what I was expecting. But it wasn't a sweaty, exhilarated child gulping water and smiling.  "That's was great!" he exclaimed.  He seemed really proud of himself despite his non-prowess on the field.  "I think I'm getting better," he said thoughtfully as we walked to the car.  "And I might need to get some of those bright-colored socks.  Why do we wear such high socks in soccer?"  I had no idea. 

I released the breath I was holding.  Since sports are so emphasized where we live, I guess I was worried that my son's (non-existent) skills would be holding him back.  I totally forgot the real reason why Big A has decided to use his free time to play soccer -- because of the fun, fitness and friendships.  To learn as he goes and enjoy it.  If anything about rec soccer is stressful at age 6, then something has gone terribly wrong.

As I tucked Big A in, he chatted to me about his first soccer practice. 

"Coach asked what the first rule of soccer is.  Guess."  he said

"Don't touch the ball with your hands." I replied.

"No, that was what I guessed. But that's the second rule.  Guess again,"  he said.

"Don't dump Gatorade on your coach's head?" I ventured.

"MOM! No that is not the first rule of soccer,"  he admonished me.

"Well, what was it?" I asked.

"Coach said the first rule of soccer is HAVE FUN," my exhausted child murmured as he rolled over and went to sleep,

Such an important thing to remember yet it was so easy for me to forget. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Working Girl

Last Saturday evening, I found myself at my sister's kitchen table throwing back strong margaritas and scooping up a to-die-for corn dip whilst my bro-in-law grilled and kept whipping up ever more margaritas.  He delighted my kids by setting off a number of illegal fireworks as my sister smiled on from the kitchen (translation:  threatened to call the cops if he didn't stop, LIKE NOW!)  Hot fudge brownie sundaes (that I couldn't possibly fit, so full was I, but at which I enjoyed gazing) topped off a night where my sister was having me over to say thank you.

She was thanking me for watching her children (my niece and nephew) one day every week because she works full time.  My sister acts like I am doing her a big favor to watch two tweens who are extremely sweet, delightful and well-behaved.  My young children adore their cousins and it is an absolute pleasure to spend time with my sister's kids, knowing that soon, as they inch towards adolescence,  I won't be "the cool aunt" anymore but rather an embarrassing adult whose hugs they will want to avoid in public.  These four kids together make me laugh (they all hold hands, four across, in parking lots) and sometimes make me cry (because they still all hold hands, four across, in parking lots.) 

I am in awe of my sister, (and all working moms, actually) because they are making the amazing yet difficult sacrifice of taking time away from their kids in order to either contribute financially to their household by necessity or they are continuing a career for which they studied and worked hard.  I am always inspired when a mother works full-time in that their children see that they are equal partners to their husbands (or sometimes the main breadwinner) and it sets a good example for their children.

 The job of "stay-at-home mom" has its own difficulties, its own frustrations and its own insanity...and worst still, you're not even getting paid and there's no dental! But to think our sisters in the workforce have it easy is about as realistic an assessment as the notion that stay-at-home moms spend their days watching soaps and popping bonbons. Working moms do get "a break" from their children, I guess, and I admit they can go to the bathroom without an uninvited two year old insisting on accompanying them.  But generally, they still have to do everything stay-at-home moms do like helping with homework, making lunches, dishes, laundry and rushing to attend their children's sports/violin/archery events. 

There's an image (unfair I think) of a woman who is so consumed by her career that she happily shakes off the shackles of her children, relieved to get away from those pests, and struts off to work where she can sneak off at lunch and get a pedicure.  This is laughable.  And yet there's still a perception that working mother can't possibly be as nurturing as a stay-at-home mom.  I find this untrue if not bordering on ridiculous. (Is an unemployed father better than an employed one?  He's certainly more present)

When I had Big A, I owned a marketing company. I worked until the day before I gave birth.  I was a machine.  And then, with the birth of my son, everything changed. I changed.  Post-baby, I hated going into the office to be away from him (and I didn't much like marketing anymore). A job that used to make me feel happy, satisfied and proud was becoming a huge source of resentment. For a year, I waffled and grappled...I was unhappy being away from my child, but the company I built was doing so well. 

Ultimately  I decided I was willing to sacrifice financially because I wanted to be home with my 1 year old son. I had the luxury of quitting even though it meant we'd have to push back moving to a new house and I'd still be driving my PT Cruiser for a while longer (I did love that car even though it was like driving a go cart). Many women either don't have this choice or have come so far in their careers that they are truly committed to staying in a job they love and that's fulfilling.  Why should that even be questioned?  No one expects a man to quit a job when he becomes a parent. He's supposed to work more...make more money...but that's a blog for a different day.

So this image of a working mom as cold and ambitious is laughable.  Every mother is pained to be away from her children all day.  Do I even need to say that?  It seems so obvious.  (Except when said children are fighting over who gets to hold your car keys and incomprehensively slapping each other and shrieking like howler monkeys.)

I was a at soccer game with a fellow mom who works full-time and we overheard a mom we didn't know complaining about her children.  Her beef was that although they were begging not to be enrolled in camp all summer, she was "forcing them" to go because she needed her alone time. Sigh. As a closet introvert and voracious book worm I totally understand the need for "alone time" especially as a way to recharge.  But since her (6 and over) kids are in school all day ten months out of the year I was just wondering how much "alone time" did this woman actually need?  The mom I was sitting with began to tear up.  I know what she was thinking...that she would be grateful for even one afternoon a week to not be at the office and take her kids to the beach.

I think a lot of other mothers who work full-time feel exactly the same way.  The working mom genuinely desperately misses her children all week. I think it crushes her that she can't spend more time with them...but especially during the summer when they're not in school all day.

So this is my plea to the stay-at-home moms who are exhausted and harried.  I'm the jerk adding yet another item to your (well...our) to do list. Give your working mom sisters a hand. Next time the working mom you know can't meet you at the spray grounds on a Thursday afternoon with your collective kids, maybe you can suggest a Sunday afternoon get together at the park.  Maybe if her child has to miss yet another birthday party because he's staying with Meemaw that day and Meemaw has no idea how to get to iPlay America, maybe you could offer to chauffer and supervise her child. 

But please don't think a working mom's love isn't as deep, her caring any less powerful or commitment less certain just because she's away all day.



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Lost

The tunnel cave is a little creepy. 

In this Alice In Wonderland-esque creation it's very dark, everything is black-lit and it opens up into a maze of giant playing cards that even I find a little confusing.

Naturally, my children love this bizarre attraction, one of many at adorable amusement park Storybookland where we visited yesterday.

Another little girl around 3, however, did not share their opinion.  She was terrified by the tea party scenes, dark lighting and scary cave.  She was screaming for her mommy and terrified, shaking as she trembled in the mouth of the cave.  She was pitching a fit and sobbing.

Big A, my 6 year old, began yelling "Where's this girl's Mommy?" as my 2 year old, Little D, looked around worriedly. 

I'm the only adult in the cave so I hold out my hand and say "Should we go find your mommy?"  She nods in relief, takes my hand and we exit out the mouth of the cave where we all came in.

I stand out there with a few moms but no one seems to recognize the girl.  I point to her and yell out, (sort of like an idiot)  "IS THIS ANYONE'S CHILD?"  Nothing. "Really?" I ask, apparently to no one in particular. I ask the child what her name is.  It's Brianna.  She doesn't know her mother's name.

"What does she look like?" I ask Brianna.

"She has hair" is the response this little cutie gives me.  I am still holding her hand.

A few of the moms begin looking around but there's no sign of Brianna's mom.

"Okay," I say to her. "Your mom is here somewhere.  We're going to find her right away."  I figured we should walk around to where the cave spits you out into the maze of cards and perhaps her mom was waiting for her there. I was scanning the park for a park worker, hoping they would know the protocol for a lost kid.

Brianna, simply happy to be out of the cave,  walked along with me, hand-in-hand.  It was a little scary how much she trusted me.  She would have gone with me anywhere.  It makes me realize how trusting and vulnerable most children are. It scared me a little.  A fleeting thought hit me that if I didn't find a park worker soon, maybe the mom would think I was trying to steal her daughter.  So we kept walking towards the cave exit as Big A asked every passing woman "Is this your kid? Is this your lost kid?"

"Don't worry," I told Big A.  "We'll know who her mommy is the second we see her."

"How?" he asked.

"Because she'll be sprinting," I said.

5 minutes had passed.

5 minutes.

5 minutes can seem like 5 years when you've lost a 3 year old child. You imagine far-fetched scenarios of horror.  It brought me back to when Big A was around that age and we granted him the privilege of walking back to the pool from the beach by himself for the first time.  Clearly drunk on his newfound freedom, he chose to instead "wander around the beach looking for kids with cool toys." (That's what he told us later on.) 

Those five minutes of racing around the beach, trying to find a small child that couldn't yet swim, as the bright sun mocked me, were (besides his emergency hernia surgery last year) the worst moments of my entire life.  I was praying the whole time that he was okay.  When I finally caught sight of him, I was filled with relief and strangely, anger, in equal parts. I hugged him so hard I may have bruised a rib.

I knew Brianna was fine because she was with me. The person I was really feeling for was her mother. By now she would have realized that Brianna was missing and she was probably in her own personal hell.  At that moment I spotted a frantic-looking blond woman in a blue tank top. 

"Can I pick you up?" I asked Brianna.  She nodded happily.

I yelled across the park as I held up her child "Looking for this?"

Brianna's mom's face flooded in relief as she began running towards us.  She leapt over two chained off areas and through the Beanstalk Bounce as she raced over to us, grabbing her daughter and holding her tight as she fought back tears.

"I couldn't find you anywhere!  Where did you go?!"  she demanded in an anger I understood completely.

"Are you okay?" I asked her "I know that just took ten years off you life."

"20 years!  But I'm fine now," she said, squeezing her daughter.  "I'm sorry!  I took a phone call...a work call...just for a minute..when I turned around...she was gone.  I can't believe this happened." 

I explained where I found Brianna and that she was upset but that she calmed down as soon as I said that I'd take her to find mom.  The mom thanked me profusely and apologized again.  She was as terrified and embarrassed as I felt when I lost Big A 3 years ago.  I said "you're welcome" pretty quickly and walked away with my kids as not to prolong this mother's humiliation.

I totally got it. It's the worst feeling in the world. 

I hope that Brianna's mom enjoy the rest of the day and eventually forgave herself for simply being human.  Over-extended parents get distracted. Small children sometimes wander off.  It doesn't make her negligent or uncaring. 

As with everything I'm not sure I would have understood this if I hadn't already been though it. 

And as for Storybookland the kids went on the roller coaster 6 times and I maintain this cute little family-owned theme park still has the best funnel cakes I've ever tasted.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Boys will be boys...if only you let them

My 2 year old, Little D, is a bit of a tomboy (WARNING:  UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE CENTURY).  She is a fearless climber, runs roughshod over her older brother and loves any sport that you can ever imagine.  She does not enjoy tea parties or dress up and even though she seems to like pink (if it's a pink monster) and is very snuggly and sweet I often find her sneaking into her older brother's room to try on his clothes, especially if they feature a picture of a basketball.   Little D's tomboyish ways are perceived by the general public to be charming, winsome and cute. Memorable statements include "Look at how she zips up the shelves in your pantry!  She's as tough as nails!  And what a throwing arm!  She's bleeding from the mouth and not even crying!  Wow!"  There's something about a tough little girl that enchants people.  Fine.

Yet my 6 year old, Big A, although traditionally "boyish" in his interests...(Minecraft, American Ninja Warrior, anything that explodes) also enjoys musical theater.  I mean, HE REALLY enjoys musical theater.   He sat like a delighted statue during 3 hours of Mary Poppins, (including intermission) when he was just 4.  He is not at all particular when it comes to enjoying any kind of live performance though.  Broadway shows to the local college productions to the town's middle school variety show all enthrall him equally. 

When the flyer came home to announce his school's talent show he begged to enter.  He marched around the house practicing for a week singing "She's A Grand Old Flag!" and since he couldn't quite grasp the line about the "emblem of", he just belted out twice in a row "THE LAND I LOVE!  THE LAND I LOVE!" as he waved mini flags and did spastic-looking karate kicks here and there. Finally, I broke the news to him that he wouldn't be able to enter until he was in second grade.  He was crestfallen but just said he would have more time to practice.

When I got ready to take him our local middle school's talent show, my husband came out of his end-of-the-week fog long enough to ponder uncertainly "Do we have any kids in that school?" 

"No," I responded as I helped August write a "Break a Leg" note to an older friend who was performing.

"Why are you going then?" he questioned.

"Because I want to go," Big A piped up. "Mommy and I are supporting the arts."

Big A had a ball watching all of the performers and their songs, dances and joke-telling.  He did standing ovations, screamed his approval and occasionally danced in the aisles.  He enjoyed the concession stand. In short, he had a ball.  He was singing at the top of his lungs in the car as  I dropped off my niece (who, as an amazing competitive dancer had been deemed a worthy escort in Big A's supporting of the arts).  A passing neighbor I'm acquainted with saw my son belting out show tunes worthy of Ethel Merman and busted out laughing.  "OH MY GOD!" he cracked up.  "You need to get him into baseball. Like now."  I know that this guy was only joking but it's not the first time a boy's penchant for something traditionally considered feminine has come under fire.

 I just don't get it.  When Little D mimics traditionally masculine features of athleticism, fearlessness and toughness she is praised.  But somehow, if a boy likes music or is sensitive then that's somehow demeaning?

It brings to mind my nephew's nursery school Spring Show a few years back.  One of his classmates was doing a dance about flowers growing that involved a big purple pompom that was supposed to be a crocus.  He tossed it up, caught it behind is back and grinned cutely as he shook it high and low.  The kids father shifted in his chair uncomfortably while his mother was heard saying in a nervous stage whisper to a friend "He IS REALLY into his hockey league, actually!"

What are we so afraid of here?  There are enough little boys out there who turn everything into a gun (ahem, my son is currently going through this stage), who despise girls and look down on anything female-related and who relentlessly hit, push, bully or otherwise take on the worst traditionally "male" characteristics in existence.  Shouldn't we be supportive, not discouraging of any little boy who expresses his emotions easily or wants to enjoy an artistic pursuit? Are those characteristics somehow lesser because they are traditionally female? Why discourage or even close those doors to him?  What are we really saying here?

As we sat in the theater watching the previews for Malificent (which just so happens to be a movie with a strong, courageous female lead in addition to kickass special effects) a trailer for the new Annie starring Jamie Foxx and Rose Byrne came on.  As "Hard Knock Life" blared in the background my niece whispered "I want to see that!" 

"Me too!" Big A said. 

"You do?" I couldn't help but ask dubiously.  (Last year Big A deemed Max & Ruby as "a girl show" and stopped watching it, cold turkey. Now he wants to see Annie?)

"It looks hilarious" he said as the trailer revealed that Jamie Foxx's character was wearing fake hair and is actually as bald as Daddy Warbucks.

"And they sing.  Can we see it after we see Planes: Fire & Rescue?" he asked hopefully.

I could have told him what an odd choice that movie is for him. I could have told him Annie is geared towards girls and none of his friends would probably want to come with us (which may have also been completely off the mark...who knows?) I could have said any of that, reaffirming male stereotypes and pointing him towards a more "appropriate" movie.  But what's the harm?  I kind of want to see Annie myself.

But instead I told him that yes, we can definitely see Annie. And I got to tell him the story about how when I was in fourth grade I got to be a one of 8 little girls chosen as a chorus orphan in a regional production of the show. 

"Were there any little boys in the show?" he asked.

"Nope," I said.

"Can boys act in plays though?" he said with a furrowed brow.

"Yes," I said, "Little boys can do anything they want to do. And so can little girls.  Remember that."

He seemed to give this a great deal of thought, in what I assumed was an attempt to make sense of it all.

And then he asked "Remember the time I threw up right in Daddy's face?"

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

You're Doing The Right Thing

Something must be in the water lately because there seems to be a record number of tantrums going around. 

I don't know if the kids are embracing their summer freedom or simply testing boundaries but as Jerry Lee Lewis may have once observed there's been whole lotta shakin' (screaming, screeching and stomping) goin' on.

But I'm less concerned with the tantrums and more concerned with

a. How parents are handling their kids' tantrums and

b. How other parents are reacting to tantrum-handling parents

In the first scenario I witnessed, a little kid, (we'll call him Bucket Boy) kept dumping water over the head of some random little girl. Bucket Boy's Daddy told him repeatedly to stop or he'd take the bucket away and when he didn't stop, Dad eventually took the bucket away.  Cue tantrum.

A shrill, high-pitched, thrashing-about mortifying tantrum that caused everyone to stare at him, including me.  You're cringing right now because you've been there.  Me too.  Dad was embarrassed. He moved to give the bucket back to his little boy but he was stopped, unbelievably, by another, random mommy with red curls piled on top her head.

"Don't" she said, gently laying her hand on his forearm.  "Don't do it."

Daddy wavered as Bucket Boy screamed for his bucket and began kicking dad in the shins.

"Don't be embarrassed. Are we embarrassed?" she gestured to the rest of us moms.  We shook our heads.  We were not embarrassed.

"I've been where you are," said another mom sitting there.

"Me too!" I piped up.  "Hold firm...you're doing great"

Daddy held the boy at arm's length, protecting his shins from kicking as his son cried and screamed for his bucket.

"It's okay," coached Redhead "You can do this."

"But he's freaking out!" Dad protested. "SHHH!" he said to his son who took that as a cue to increase his volume.

"True," Redhead said, raising her voice louder to be heard.  "But if you give him back that bucket, you've taught him that this kind of behavior is effective...and will be rewarded...do you know what I mean?"

Dad swallowed and nodded.  He looked in dismay at his beet red, hysterical toddler.  He tried to wrap his arms around his son to comfort him but that filled Bucket Boy with renewed fury.  In a move that I thought was both incredibly humble and courageous he helplessly asked "What should I do?"

"Take away his audience," I spoke up, emboldened by this red-haired mama guru.

"Yes," Redhead agreed.  "Take him over by the lockers and sit him down, turning your back to him until he rides this out. Let him have his emotions.  If he can't calm down, maybe even take him home.  He will learn that if he behaves this way he will not get the desired results."

Bucket Boy's screaming had reached a fever pitch as he pounded his fists into his dad's chest.  He was now screaming "I hate you Daddy!  I hate you!  Give me my bucket NOW!"

"Leave the beach?" the dad said doubtfully. 

"Yes," she affirmed.  "That's what I would do. Even if you gave him back the bucket now, it wouldn't even calm him down...he would just know you don't mean what say. Scary thought huh?"

Dad took a deep breath and hauled his son away.  The four of us moms left behind started yelling our support. Emboldened by Redhead, I added "Good job Daddy! You're doing the right thing!"

The dad gave a little smile at us as he hauled off his tantruming son.  I don't know what happened after that.  Maybe Bucket Boy learned that tantruming doesn't equal getting your way. Maybe it took ten more times of being removed from a situation until he learned it.  But I know, for a fact, that that father walked away feeling supported by a community of parents. And I think that he may have realized that he doesn't have to give in to his child's whims or let his child run the show in order to "keep peace" in front of other parents.  I don't think he felt judgment and I think he was an open enough man to accept help when it was being freely given.

"Are you a child psychologist?" I asked Redhead who was so powerful and serene in the face of this melee.

"No," she responded, surprised.  "I'm a mom."

In Scenario 2, I was at my niece's birthday party when a little girl had a meltdown because she wanted to sit in a certain seat when it was time to eat birthday cake and another little girl was already in that particular seat seat.   At first, to try and dtop the meltdown in its tracks (and because we were in public) Meltdown Muffy's Mom tried to get the other little girl to change her seat as to pacify Meltdown Muffy. (And don't judge, because we've all pulled that at one time or another...I know I have.  That's when I'm all "you have to pick your battles as a mom!" But I know in my heart how bad it is for my kids to indulge them and reinforce their bad behavior.)  But the other little girl wasn't budging and Muffy refused to sit in the other chair towards which her mother was directing her.  So Muffy, who is 5, began screaming so loudly, and with such a high pitch, it sounded like a giant tea kettle had come to kill us all. Windows began shattering (author is taking artistic license here and downright lying) and the Mom grimly set her mouth and said "Muffy, I am taking you out of this party!" 

The mom looked so embarrassed that I thought she was going to cry. I wanted to cry. Because she had nothing to be embarrassed about. The other 5 moms in the room weren't judging her...we were supporting her. I had to get this across.

And I was going to take a page out of Redhead's book and go for it. 

I put my hand gently on her arm.

"You are doing the right thing," I said.  "You are an amazing mother!"  (I chose this because it is, in my opinion, the holy grail of compliments.  I'll never forget when I asked my sister Vicky, at the bar of Casa Comida 5 years ago, what she would write on my tombstone.  She began with "Natty....devoted mother-"  and I interrupted her and said "Stop right there. I don't need to hear anything else.  That's all it needs to say."

"Yeah, right," Muffy's mom scoffed, as Muffy's screaming droned on and her mom began to pull her out the door.

"For real," I affirmed "We are all admiring you! What you're doing, right now! We've all been there at one time or another with our darlings!  Can I get an Amen?"  What I got was a silence, due to the fact that I was in a roomful of non-believers, but I could tell by the looks on their faces that they agreed with the gist of what I was saying.

One mom even added "Muffy, you need to listen to your mommy. When she tells you to sit in a certain seat, you need to do it!" she admonished the girl gently.

It turned out even some time in the hallway couldn't calm Muffy down. Her brave, caring mama decided to take her home rather than teach her to be an impatient, entitled child who would get to sit wherever she demanded if only she screeched loud enough. And without a goody bag to boot!  Burn!

I wish more moms spoke up to help and support when one of us is in trouble. I wish less moms judged this kind situation, conveniently forgetting that their own children can sometimes be just as irritable/unreasonable/gargoyle-like. And I wished that even more moms were open to the love and support that can come from other moms when you're in a tough spot and you need some reinforcements rather than being insulted anyone would dare question the utter perfection of their child.  I wished so hard that it so happened to me!  ( I told you tantrums were going around!)

And then...Scenario Three.  

My son and daughter went to a play date last week with a new family where there was conveniently another brother and sister combo who were exactly their age.  My son and his friend hit it off like Gangbusters, playing happily for about an hour. During this time, my daughter was being off-the-charts obnoxious. She wouldn't share. She demanded to sit in my chair, whining and trying to push me out of it. (But I didn't budge.) She would get huffy if the other little girl would pick up a toy even if she herself wasn't using it.  She wouldn't dress up or dance and her only happy moment seemed to be knocking Barbie dolls onto the floor with a smug grin.  She shot dirty looks at her friend, whenever the friend put on a another yet cute tutu and I admired it.  My daugher also kept doing gymnastic tricks and muttering to the other little girl what I swear sounded like "you can't do that" under her breath. I'd like to blame her horrible behavior on staying over Grandma's the night before and being pumped full of sugar, but the truth is, even the most angelic child can sometimes act like a complete brat (even if they haven't eaten the contents of Grammie's sugar bowl).  I was trying to "roll with it"  because I didn't want to have to shorten my son's idyllic play date.  But ultimately, my daughter's behavior forced my hand.

After my daughter aggressively yanked an entire game of Hungry Hungry Hippos out of her friend's hands scattering marbles everywhere (and had the audacity to then begin wailing like she had somehow been the injured party) I hit my breaking point. I made my apologies, tucked my squirming screech owl under my arm, yelled to my son that it was time to go, and began trying to load my angry, freaking out jellyfish into her car seat. I explained to her (as I would do many times that day) that we where leaving because she was not behaving like a gracious guest, what with the tantrums, grabbing, not sharing and general rude behavior. I explained to her that home would be the best place for her to express herself and her emotions. That enraged her more. Her protests about leaving were so loud they broke the sound barrier without an airplane and believe you me, I was MORTIFIED. I apologized to my gracious hostess as best I could over the din and dejectedly skulked away, feeling like a failure because my sweet little 2 year old had behaved like a spoiled little bully.

And then I heard the sweetest words as I felt a hand being placed lightly on my forearm as I walked out my new friend's front door.

"I think you're doing the right thing.  And you're a great mom."

Music, sweet music.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Overheard

When I've been asked the question "What superpower would you rather have -- invisibility or the ability to fly?" I ALWAYS say the ability to fly. Invisibility? I think I would be crushed to hear all/any of what people say about me behind my back.  Please, lie to my face.  Because I've always firmly believed that what other people think/say about me is none of my business.  

This point was driven home the other day when I when I overheard two moms I'm acquainted with talking about me behind my back...DUN DUN DUN! While they were standing in the lobby of (EDITED FOR CONFIDENTIALITY SAKE) I was in the bathroom with my 6 year old, waiting for him to finish his constitutional, unbeknownst to them. And get this, they were talking about MY BATHING SUIT. My bathing suit.

My bathing suit.

I love my bathing suit.  This suit I so enjoy wearing is incredibly functional (since I like to be in the pool or the ocean with my kids), it's vaguely retro looking and it's hot pink.  It provides maximum coverage for my figure and yet I still feel sort of like Esther Williams (does anyone get this reference?) when I wear it.  So it's not like I'm prancing around in a thong bathing suit with my chest tumbling out of my tiny top.  I'm a mom, wearing a very respectable suit.

The two moms were talking about how it's THE ONLY SUIT I EVER WEAR. 

I take exception to this.  Once in a while, I wear a similar suit that is deep green except it's a halter top.

But more than that, I take exception to the fact that of all the fascinating topics under the sun (pardon the pun) these two ladies could be discussing, the one that they are discussing is....(wait for it) the frequency with which I wear my bathing suit.

It was horrifying/sort of interesting.  They both acknowledged I was "really nice" and had a "great sense of humor"...which was strangely gratifying (although I was miffed they didn't comment on my exceptional cooking and baking skills).  One also added the tidbit that I'm a book reviewer, as if all of this helped to negate my faux pas of always wearing the same suit. 

So their conversation wasn't entirely mean-spirited ( I mean, I DO often wear the same suit) but it caused me to start thinking.

The reason why I wear the same bathing suit is because I love it and I love how it makes me feel.  Yes, I generally wear only one suit but you'd be hard pressed to find someone who takes better care of her bathing suit than I do.  I also only wear one suit because I hate waste and excess and I've been embracing a minimalist lifestyle where my family tries to buy/have/use ONLY what we need and let go of/donate everything else. If I didn't believe in this so deeply, I wouldn't be writing a book about it.

But the truth is, there's nothing excessive about having more than one bathing suit and I'VE BEEN MEANING to buy a new suit that's equally pleasing to me now that I've lost a few pounds -- it's just that I haven't gotten around to it.  So these ladies would soon be in for a treat.  They would soon see me in a WHOLE NEW SUIT...and thus they'd have something even more exciting about which to talk.

Although it was uncomfortable to overhear someone talking about me, there's not one person reading this blog (or writing this blog) who hasn't discussed or otherwise even criticized others behind their backs.  It's something we all know goes on, but we don't really want to experience it firsthand when we are the topic of conversation.  Either I'm JUST that fascinating (I'm not) or these girls need to focus their brain power on more meaningful topics of conversation then the frequency with which I don a particular piece of swim wear.

And you know how when you catch someone talking about you, you think you'll sweep in with a raised eyebrow and smug grin, saying "Interesting conversation, ladies?" or some kind of brilliant, cutting remark. That's not how I've ever experienced the rare times I've been in this situation.  I honestly found myself feeling bad for them and not wanting to embarrass them when they realized I heard them. When I came out of the bathroom with my (now eliminated) child, their faces turned white.  I genuinely felt awkward at their discomfort so I just smiled warmly and said "Hey guys" and moved along.  My friend Stephanie always says that "the air is freshest on the high road".  So true.

However, the downside of this situation is now when  I buy my coveted new bathing suit later on this month, they'll think it's because of what they said. Rats.