Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Let's Go Crazy

This past weekend I found myself smoking a cigarette that had, only seconds previously, been smoked by someone else's left nostril.

And I don't smoke.

But maybe I should back-up a few days.

Generally, I am a homebody.  I love being home with my family.  I love cooking, wine and conversation. And I love reading books and watching indy movies. I watch a lot of old Batman episodes with my kids. That's pretty much it.  If I can do all of these things at the same time, I really have no need to leave my house or do anything else. 

I'm not a party animal.  I don't hang out at bars. It's rare I go to a concert.  I love date night with my hubby or going out with my friends but we enjoy meandering dinners or brunches out, not wild nights of boozing. (Unless it's someone's birthday)

Becoming a mother has changed me. Mostly into someone so boring and sleep-deprived I want to be home even more than I usually do. I'm totally okay with this.

But this weekend something unusual happened.  My sister offered to take the kids for a sleepover and my husband and I went out for sushi with another couple, Curt and Kris.  At these sushi nights it's all very dignified. We generally eat a ton of sushi, have some laughs and go home to relieve the babysitter.

But there was no babysitter that night. 

There was nothing but a long empty space in front of us that we could fill with the illusion of being young and free again.  After the last of the sake was slurped down, we went to a local lounge where:

I accidentally spilled my entire drink into Curt's loafer.

My husband convinced 3 women visiting from Tennessee that he was a circus performer.  (He gets shot of of the cannon, apparently.)

We ran into a third couple with whom we're friends and poured ourselves over to The Wonder Bar where at Kris' urging, I staggered up on the stage with the band only to bust out some really bad dance moves.  I pray there is no videotape of this occurrence because let's just say it wasn't pretty.

My husband and I went home about 4 hours past our usual bedtime satisfied that, if necessary, we could still party with the best of 'em.  We crashed into the house giggling, unworried about trying to look passably sober for a babysitter or waking the kids. 

But that wasn't all.

The next night (along with my sister and bro-in-law) were offered tickets to the Rutgers-Penn State game and invited to tailgate.  Rumor had it that the tailgate would include a tent, wings, unlimited margaritas and A TEN FOOT SUB!  TEN!  So after a day of being parents again, what with going to our son's soccer game, having some of his friends over and baking cookies for all we packed the kids off to Grandma's house.  They were thrilled to be having ANOTHER SLEEPOVER and off we went to the Rutger's game.

It was pouring rain and we were with some of the craziest yet most fun loving fans I'd ever seen.  At one point I was pouring Tequila into people's mouths, making sure not to neglect my own.  There was dancing and chili and twinkle lights and a man in a Penn State spandex suit.  The cigarette situation occurred. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. Someone would yell "POLAR BEAR!" and the guys in our group would rip their shirts off and shotgun a beer.

When it was time to actually go into the game, two young drunk guys (age 25, TOPS!) were in two of our seats.  One of them was so insanely intoxicated  it must have taken ten years off my age and he started hitting on me.   We will call him Drunk Youngin'.

"PLEASE TELL ME NEITHER OF THESE GUYS IS YOUR BOYFRIEND!" he said as my brother-in-law began encouraging them to get out of our other two seats. My husband was seated on the other side of me.

"I CAN TELL YOU WITH ALL HONESTY, NEITHER ONE OF THEM IS!" I yelled over the din as I tried to wrench my hand away.

"GET OUT!" my brother-in-law yelled at Drunk Youngin'.  But Drunk Youngin' didn't budge.

My hand was still being clenched by Drunk Youngin and I was trying to pull it away before my hub saw what was going on.

"YOU DIDN'T PAY FOR THESE SEATS!" my bro-in-law continues as he gestures for Drunk Youngins to vacate our seats.

Well, to be fair, neither did we, but this was the principle of the thing. I tried in vain to yank my hand out of this drunk kid's sweaty mitt.

"HOWEVER!" I yelled "THAT GUY IS MY--"

Before I could say "husband" the man I am married to slowly got up.  The gentle giant drew himself up to his full 6 ft. 5 feet and glared at Drunk Youngin'  His eyes traveled slowly downward to Drunk Youngin's hand wrapped around my own.  I was actually scared for the well-being of Drunk Youngin'.  You know the phrase, "Drop it like it's hot?"  Luckily Drunk Youngin' had the sense to do just that.

Here was my brother-in-law glaring at him and my husband icily staring him down from 2 feet above his head.

"You.need.to.leave."  my hubby said quietly.

"Get outta here." my bro-in-law added menacingly.

My sister looked impressed.

As the Drunk Youngins gingerly but quickly scampered out of our row my sister and I looked at each other.  Our husbands had just thrown two ruffians out.  We are just so used to these tender dads tucking in kids and cheerfully coaching sports teams that it was a change to see them acting so...so...MACHO.   I thought we might swoon.

Granted Sunday morning was painful and it was an absolute pleasure to spend the day snuggling with my kids, reading books, playing the Wii and hanging out at the park with them.  But to have some adventures, get a little out of control and feel like something of a party peep felt surprisingly liberating.

There's a lot of responsibility that comes with being a parent.  We don't want out kids to ever see us indulging in too much booze, dancing badly on a stage or pseudo-threatening a silly drunk.  Especially not smoking the once a year cigarette or cigar.  And I don't want to make a practice of this either. 

But once in a while letting loose a bit makes you appreciate the comforts of home, boring though they may be, all the more.    

Alright, I'm out.  Many of you may be finding my mothering skills lacking at this point, but, je ne regrette rein!

That means I regret nothing.  See, I also speak French. Maybe I'm not so boring after all.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

1st kid versus 2nd kid

Today I experienced a strange sense of déjà vu when I dropped my daughter off at her first day of nursery school at the same school where my son went 3 years earlier.   She posed in front of the same sign as I snapped the pre-requisite "backpack shot" and popped it on Facebook.

But everything else was different.

Let us compare and contrast the first day of nursery school for my first child three years ago and my second one today.

Backpack Preparation

1st Kid: Though he would only be there for 2 hours I packed a water, an apple and some goldfish crackers, JUST IN CASE. I packed extra pants, socks and underwear should he have an accident. I included an extra page with my cell phone number, my mom's cell phone number and our pediatrician's office information.

2nd Kid:  Her backpack (comprised of the Hello Kitty sack that usually holds her sleeping bag) was completely empty. A mere prop for photos.  I'll send in her extra clothes by the end of the week.  If I remember.

Walking Into School

1st Kid:  My husband took off work so we could walk our son in together. I made an effort to suck up to the teachers and engage the other mothers standing around.  I waited in a conference room down the hall for the first hour in case my son needed me, nibbling cookies and trying to make charming conversation with other parents. After all, these would be the parents of my son's lifelong friends. 

2nd Kid:  I skipped the refreshment room altogether just in case some accidental friendly eye contact would lead to a birthday party invitation that we couldn't possibly fit into our calendar.  I sped off in my car as soon as possible, preferring to go home and fold laundry without it being dumped on my head by my two year old while I had the chance.

 Drop Off

1st Kid:  I sob in the car all the way home, get home and sit with my son's trains and listlessly run them back and forth on the track as I miss him and wonder how my baby got to be three years old.

2nd Kid:  I cry a few tears in the car, then begin singing Boyz2Men's "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" and then start cracking up at how my voice sounds. I think this might be a good song to belt out on my sister's work voicemail, especially if she is picking up her messages on speaker. I do so.

Pick Up

1st Kid:  I arrive back at school 15 minutes early, nearly knocking over another mother as I careen breathlessly back into the school, panting.  As soon as I see the teacher's aide I shriek "How was he?  Was he okay?  Can I see him?" like a complete maniac.  She looks at me strangely and grimaces at the fact that I seem to have zero awareness of just how ridiculous I am.  My son runs to me and I burst into tears once again, picking him up and squeezing him to my ample bosom, so grateful am I to be reunited with my child after the eternity of 2 hours has passed.  "I missed you!" I cry dramatically, acting as though he has just returned from 3 years in the Civil War

2nd Kid:  I rush home to frantically do as many dishes and as much laundry as I can, cursing the shortness of her nursery school day.  "Damn," I think when I realize its time to leave.  I didn't even think of my daughter once or wonder what she was doing, so thrilled was I to have an hour alone to do housework. I arrive 5 minutes late.  Her teacher exclaims "She did great!" I look at her strangely thinking "Like I care" but instead I mumble "Of course she did."

Post-First Day

1st Kid:  I take my son out to lunch and pelt the poor kid with questions all about his first day. Who did he play with?  Was the teacher nice?  What did he learn?  When we arrive home I've surprised him with homemade cupcakes in the shape of little apples with green stems made from an organic pureed fruit rollup. I field calls from every aunt and grandmother who ask me about his first day. I save his paper apple nametag and tape it on the fridge.  I claw at the papers in his backpack (with such an interest that one might think they hold the secrets to the universe) and pour over his upcoming schedule memorizing when he has Show and Tell and what time to arrive for the class tip to the beach in a month.

2nd Kid: I throw some chips, baby carrots and a tub of hummus at my daughter and put away the laundry. No one  in the family calls to ask me how it went because I don't remember even mentioning she was going today.  I think one of the grandmas saw it on Facebook and called me, a bit put out I kept this vital information from her. I think Little D's backpack was left in the backseat. I throw away her red apple nametag. I still haven't asked her how her day went.  I'm sure it went well. She seems fine.

I don't think I'm being neglectful here, it's just that with my second child I tend to be way more laid back.  I think it's good for her that I'm not hovering about her, freaking out about her every move. I tend to let her be and  Little D is extremely well-adjusted and happy....a far cry from the bundle of nerves and emotions her brother was at this age. (He was really just a mini version of me). I think he was feeding off my anxiety.  It took a while for me to reign myself in and become a more relaxed parent (and to dial Big A back along with me.)   If I could I have been more chill with my first child, it only would have been to his benefit. 

But c'est la vie.  Live and learn.  A least he got the specially made apple cupcakes.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Step Right Up

I'm not an animal rights activist.  I've never even owned a dog or a cat. While I love vegan food I do not identify as such and I have, in the past, owned a leather belt.

But when it comes animals performing in a circus. I just can't.  I can't. I know the idea of a circus brings up visions of acrobats, snow cones and clowns pouring out of a tiny car but it's not for me.  I know a lot of other people who took their children to see the Cole Brothers Circus when it came to my town last week. But I simply couldn't bring my children to something that I couldn't stomach myself. Something that seems so wrong I can't believe it's still in existence in 2014.

Cole Brothers has been condemned with a slew of animal mistreatment violations over the past decade, many of which resulted in thousands of dollars of fines and at least 4 years of probation.  They are too heartbreaking to detail here (any google search will pull up their proud track record of animal abuse) but they include failing to meet the minimal standards of care and they were cited repeatedly for having dangerously underweight elephants.  Oh and for beating up baby elephant.  Come and bring your families!

According to the AARF:

Violent, physical abuse remains a common method of training and controlling elephants and other animals in the circus. In 2013, the Cole Bros. Circus was traveling with several elephants under the control of trainer Tim Frisco. Mr. Frisco is infamous for undercover video footage that captured him beating elephants with bullhooks and shocking them with electric prods. In the video, Frisco is heard instructing other elephant trainers to, “Hurt ‘em! Make ‘em scream! … Sink that hook into ‘em … When you hear that screaming, then you know you got their attention!” The disturbing video is widely available online.

You will not see that video here.

Elephants are not big dumb lumps.  They are one of the most magnificent, compassionate and fascinating species walking out planet. I didn't want my children's first exposure to these amazing animals to be at a circus. This is the same reason I don't take my children to zoos. I just feel so bad for all of the animals trapped in them.

I don't think Orcas should be locked in a tiny pen for 44 years like Lolita in Miami, her skin blistering with sunburn because she's given no opportunity for shade.  It kills me to see a depressed lion laying around his tiny enclosure at Great Adventure's Safari.  I don't understand why it's important to have elephants stand on their hind legs so we can ooh and clap when they would never do that in the wild.

Maybe animals aren't here to amuse us. Maybe animals shouldn't be beaten or shocked in order to get them to lift their leg for our entertainment.  I don't think bears should be made to ride unicycles and nor do I get why human's enjoyment of a baby elephant should trump the baby's need to be with it's mother. Elephant calves stay with their mothers for close to 13 years.  It's a fascinating bond.  Elephants are thinking, feeling creatures.  They grieve when a member of their herd is lost.  Go to http://elephants.com/  to learn how riveting these animals are.  Tennessee has an elephant sanctuary dedicated to letting long-captive elephants live out the remainder of their lives in peace.  Because it's a sanctuary, it's not open to the public. Nor should it be.  These animals have gone through enough.

And more than anything, I don't see why this cruelty to animals is both sanctioned and supported by so many loving families I know, many of whom have rescued dogs from horrible conditions and literally made them part of their families.  I wonder how they would feel if their pet were ripped away from them, denied food and zapped repeatedly with a cattle prod until they could balance a ball on their nose.   If they only knew the conditions for animals at Cole Brothers Circus I doubt they would want to give these individuals their money or expose their children to such depravity.

 "Why aren't we going to the circus?" my son asked me when he realized a few of his friends were. 

We had to pass the circus several times over that week. There was no way to avoid it since it was set up literally blocks from our house.  As they spotted the striped big top both my children (plus my niece and nephew) pointed excitedly and yelled out "Circus!" 

I pulled the car over in front of the circus.  It was very quiet since it was only 11 o'clock in the morning.  By some miracle, we had a vantage point that lent us a view of what should have been a majestic animal. It was a bony elephant with eyes downcast slumped in the corner of it's cage.  My 2 year old's visceral reaction was to be troubled. 

"Why him in jail?" she asked.  Even she knew, on some primal level, it was wrong.

I explained to them that this circus was "naughty". I explained to my children, in terms they could understand, that this circus had been found guilty, several times, of beating animals as well as not providing them doctors when the animals were sick, letting them go hungry and leaving them out in the rain all night to sleep without a tent.

I said I thought that capturing animals and forcing them to live in cages and perform tricks was wrong and I didn't want to be any part of it. I said that if everyone decided that circuses were archaic, cruel and downright animal abuse (and would stop buying tickets) then circuses wouldn't make any money and eventually people would stop capturing, breeding and torturing animals for humans' enjoyment.

They all were quiet as they gazed out at the circus taking all of this in.

Little D was the first to speak "That Circus NAUGHTY!" she declared.  

Big A shook his head "Mommy, I DO NOT want to go to that circus". 

Where I was expecting whining and protest for missing out on such a fun event their friends were attending, what I got was disgust at the animals' plight and complete understanding. Kids are different than adults.  They haven't yet learned to convince themselves to accept things that are clearly wrong just because everyone else is doing it.

For the week the big top was up and we drove past, my children would point and out the window and yell "Naughty Circus!" I grinned each time, proud.  And scratch the Bronx Zoo (or any other zoo, for that matter) off my list because my kids won't be going there either.  Sea World?  Nope.   There are so many marvelous things for children to do in this world that don't involve the subjugation,  exploitation and suffering of animals.

I know I can't change the world.  I am only one person.  But I am one person.  My family makes 4. 

And we ain't going to the circus.


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.