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'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 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


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.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Another Year

It's bittersweet surrender. -- Big Head Todd & The Monsters

Big A turned 6 today.  It was a wonderful day that began with his dad's famous oatmeal-chia-flaxseed-coconut oil pancakes ( I only pretend to eat them as to spare my husband's feelings because...gross) but Big A, not knowing any better, thinks they're great. We gave him two small gifts of the Lego and Angry Bird variety and decorated his kitchen chair. He spent the day at the beach with Grandma, his cousins and few other beach club friends, smashing a piƱata, swimming in the pool and topping the whole thing off with a Cookie Pus. (If his father was present, it would have been a tower of fruit.  As Big A gobbled down Cookie Pus's delicious nose, he MUST have been thinking "Okay now what were those CRAP pancakes my daddy served me this morning?")

So he's home now with a big smile on his face.  But for me, it's a little more complicated.  I feel sort of like the sister from the movie Poltergeist.  After her contribution of giving the finger early on in the film she's pretty much absent the entire movie (and throughout all of the possessed hijinks) only to arrive late in the movie and scream, at the top of her lungs, "WHAT'S HAPPENING????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

What's happening here, Big A?  How are you 6?  How did this happen?  Where did the time go?  You were JUST BORN.  I remember your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th birthdays like they just happened yesterday. How did you get to be 6?  I'm truly am baffled about how time could zip forward so fast.  Didn't you just smash your cake with your fist as everyone cheered?  Didn't you dress up like a tiny leprechaun for Halloween with a little green hat?  Remember when you couldn't say your "Fs" and you were obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine? Remember the time you fell asleep in your high chair and woke up only to scarf down two bananas?  Now you're so analytical, you crack sarcastic jokes, you empathize with others.  You hate bananas.  And you're just so....tall.

We celebrate birthdays for our children with joy, love and fun.  But sometimes I don't want to celebrate another year in the can.  It reminds me that with every year that passes I am closer to losing you.  Which isn't even fair to say. I'll never lose you. I can't "lose" you anymore than I could lose my own finger prints.  You'll always be with me, ingrained on my soul and tucked deep inside of my heart no matter what happens. But your birthday reminds me that you are growing up, (which is sort of the idea here) but it's also a sobering reality check that with each year that passes I will be one year closer to having to let you go.  Our time is so precious...what is it they say about parenting small children?  The days are long but the years are short?  If these 6 years zoomed past like so much rain slipping down a dashboard how fast will the next 6 years fly by?  Sigh.

Except for the conception part, nothing about motherhood came easily or naturally to me.  Listen Big A, I've finally got the hang of this whole out-of-control madness and it seems you are on this (totally normal) path of growing up...a path that will eventually lead you away from your father and me. Every birthday is a bittersweet reminder that you're another step closer to sleep-away camp, a driver's license, going away to college and then moving out for good.

But let's celebrate!  You with your friends, your cake, your presents. Me, trying to figure out a way to be at peace with the passage of time, as all of the mothers before me have done and as all ones who come after me will do.  Happy Birthday my dear one, thank you for making me a less selfish, more caring person than I was before you came to me.  Thank you for choosing Daddy and I as your parents.  Thank you for humbling me by granting me the privilege of experiencing a love that is extraordinary, overpowering and completely unrelenting.  I will honor what I have been given by letting you go when the time is right.  But not before. Dammit.

So until then, I'll be the one pretending there's something in my eye as your blow out your candles.