On Giving Thanks

Confession: Our family does not go to church.

That’s not to say that we’ve never gone to church, it’s just that we aren’t regular church-goers. Heck, we aren’t even annual church-goers. To be completely honest, we’ve been to church together as a family once. It was Christmas Eve and my sister thought we should  “try it out” for something different to do. It was as though she were suggesting we prepare a roast beef for dinner as opposed to our usual glazed ham.

“Why not?” And since none of us had a good enough answer, we went.

Our church experience that evening was neither good nor bad, but with the lights and the stage, the cushioned chairs and the Christian rock band, it was nothing like the church we remembered.

We haven’t been back since.

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I mean, I don’t think our visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City counts. Does it?

Fairly early in our marriage, I realized that my husband and I didn’t exactly share the same religious beliefs. I would say that I’m two-thirds spiritual and one-third Christian. My husband? I would call him agnostic, which is why I was a little surprised when not that long ago, I suggested we start saying grace at dinnertime, and he wholeheartedly agreed.

What I was proposing wasn’t necessarily religious. I’d been listening to this podcast with food writer Michael Pollan about conscious eating, and in it, he suggested that we take time to really think about where the food on our plates came from: Think about the farmer who grew that lettuce, the animal who provided the meat in your hamburger, the chicken who laid those eggs.

If I wanted our family to begin a practice of saying grace, this sounded like a good place to start, and it is how we initially introduced the idea to our kids. Still, the end goal wasn’t to raise children who were just more conscious of their plates, rather to raise children who were more conscious of their world.

I’ll admit, right from the start, my husband was better at remembering to say grace than I was. By the time I had prepared the meal, served it, and sat down, I was often on my second or third forkful when my husband would “a-hem” and begin, “I’m thankful for…”

Our girls quickly learned to give thanks for everything on the table. From slaughtered salmon to sacrificed broccoli, there was not a grain of rice nor a garnish of parsley that wasn’t included in the litany.

Still, if we wanted to encourage our children to move beyond just talking about their food (and we did), they were going to need some better modeling.

Giving thanks is an act of appreciation that needs to be practiced, but, according to Happiness Coach Andrea Reiser, “gratitude goes beyond good manners—it’s a mindset and a lifestyle.”

It was this mindset, this lifestyle, I wanted to foster.

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Studies have shown that cultivating gratitude results in living a happier, more satisfied life. It can also increase self-esteem, optimism, hope, and empathy.

I’d witnessed this empathy recently when I chaperoned a field trip with my daughter’s fifth-grade class. They were headed to the Reno municipal court to learn about the legal system, but first, we’d taken the children to a nearby park to eat their bagged lunches. It was here that they encountered several of the area’s homeless sitting by the river and napping in the sunshine. Unbeknownst to their teacher, some of the boys in the class had decided to give their lunches to them.

“Had they asked me first, I would have told them no.” Their teacher said. “That’s probably why they didn’t ask me,” he chuckled.

On our way to the courthouse, I ended up walking behind these same boys. As they passed by the people to whom they’d donated their food, the men called out their thanks. “God bless you. God bless you.”

The boys waved, and walked a ways in silence before one of them remarked, “That made me feel really good and warm inside.”

“Yeah, it made me feel good… but also, kind of sad.”

“I know what you mean. I’m glad we gave them our food, but I’m sad that they don’t have anywhere to live.”

I wondered if those boys would think differently about their dinners that night, or about their warm beds when they went to sleep. I imagined they would.

Fundamentally, gratitude is about being aware of who or what makes positive aspects of our lives possible, and acknowledging that.” Children especially have a hard time recognizing these things. I hoped that through the act of saying grace, my children might hone their awareness.

Because in some way or another, we’re all blessed, and it serves us well when we recognize that.

We’d been giving our thanks to pigs and chickens and cows for months, when finally, one night, right before we ate, my oldest daughter said, “I’m thankful for people like my mom who care about education, and I’m thankful for the nice people who write books for other people to read.”

This, I thought. This is what I had hoped would come from a ritual of saying grace.

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According to Brené Brown, “What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” My children are certainly privileged—more than some, and less than others– but I don’t ever want them to grow up feeling entitled. Saying grace is one of the many ways we can combat that, but there are so many other benefits to living a conscious life.

We still don’t go to church, and we occasionally forget to say grace before we eat, but a few times each week, we remember to pause and reflect upon our blessings, and for that, I am thankful.

What are you grateful for today?

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The Dads Who Do

I’d like to give a shout-out to the dad in Safeway at 8:45 Saturday morning walking straight to the donuts with two kids following behind like baby ducklings. They were all in pajamas, and while they had shoes on their feet, no hair had been brushed and you could still see the sleep crusted in their eyes.

I hoped that there was a mama at home who was getting a little break. Maybe she had gotten the chance to sleep in that morning. Maybe she would wake up to a steaming cup of coffee and one of those donuts the kids were carrying in their clear plastic bags as they all shuffled towards the check-out line. Whether they were gone for twenty minutes or an hour, I knew she’d relish that time.

This one is for the dads who do.

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Dads, like my husband, who volunteer to referee the Saturday soccer games even though he himself was never a soccer player. Dads who chaperone field trips, fill up flat bike tires, and don a gigantic hair bow at the JoJo Siwa themed birthday party. Dads who watch The Little Princess on a Friday night and shock their daughters when he cries at the ending. Dads who learn how to braid hair, help with math homework, and don’t complain when they spend an entire afternoon of their vacation at The American Girl Doll store.

You may not think we always see you, but we do.

We see you playing a game of keep away with a football on the living room rug while we read our book. We see you having sword fights with foam noodles on the front lawn while we decorate the house for Halloween. We see you packing school lunches and folding the laundry, and we couldn’t love you more if we tried.

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For all the times you remembered to hide the tooth fairy money or to move the elf on the shelf, saving us from self-inflicted mom-shame, we owe you more than just a sheepish grin and a whew. For all the times you thought to snap the picture–a picture that shows us really being a mother, in all its strength and tenderness. For all the times you told the children, “your mother is right.”  You might shrug it off as no big deal, but to us, it means the world.

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Those nights when we end up crashing before the kids’ bedtime and you keep them quiet so that we can get some rest. Those nights when we head out for drinks with our girlfriends and you give us a kiss as we leave, telling us to have fun. Those nights when you clean up the kitchen after supper and suggest we go take a hot bath.

For all the foot rubs and back rubs. For all the nights you stopped at the store to pick up a bottle of wine on your way home from work. For all the times you watched This is Us despite still not knowing what happened to Jack…

This mom thing is hard. This full-time working mom thing is even harder. Adulting day-in and day-out while simultaneously keeping small humans alive is the toughest work we will ever do. The best gift you gave was the acknowledgment of that fact by giving us a break. Whether it be a time-out or a time to ourselves, whether it be entertaining the children so we can get a chore done or taking over a chore we would normally do ourselves, you strengthen our super powers so that we can go back to being the super-moms our children believe us to be.

For all the dads who do, we thank you. We wouldn’t want to do this without you.

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My Children Will Never Know

When I was in junior high, my mom saw a bunch of boys that I was friends with buying Trojans in the local grocery store. Even though many of those pimply faced teens would never get the chance to use those condoms until long after they had expired, my mother panicked.

Deductive reasoning told her that if the boys in my grade were purchasing rubbers, then…

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We hadn’t had “The Talk” yet, and so, like a mad woman, she raced home to find me, only I wasn’t there.

As any bored thirteen-year-old would do on a Saturday afternoon, I had hopped on my bike and pedaled to a friend’s house. I’m sure I left a note of some kind, albeit one that didn’t reveal my destination since I often didn’t have an exact end in mind, but these were the days before cell phones, the days when it wasn’t unusual for kids to spend whole afternoons in the fresh air. Yet seeing how I didn’t live in a neighborhood so much as in the middle of a potato farm, my boundaries were less-defined. My mother could yell for me till the cows came home, and cows might literally show up before I would.

In this instance, my mother had only two choices: to wait for me to return (mind racing, envisioning worst-case scenarios) or to track me down like a bounty hunter.

With the determination and paranormal instinct that only a mother can possess, she got in her car.

I was a whole town over when she pulled up alongside me. By the time she had stopped and rolled down the window, my mother had worked herself up from a low simmer to a full boil.

“Get. In. The. Car.”

I’d heard that tone many a time: I was in dangerous territory.

“But my bike.”

I didn’t know what I had done, but I reasoned if I could ride back home, I’d buy myself some time. Hopefully, it would allow for my mother to calm down enough to realize that killing me wouldn’t benefit either one of us; instead she popped the trunk.

I struggled to fit my ten-speed in the back while she waited inside the vehicle, and once I had buckled up, it didn’t take long before she broke the silence.

“I saw those boys you’re friends with buying condoms at the store today. Condoms! What were they buying condoms for, Sara?!”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“Mom, I’m not having sex if that’s what you think.”

“I know you’re not having sex. You know how I know? Because I’m your mother. I know everything.”

“The Talk” ended up being fairly short– the gist of it being that I was never, EVER, to have sex with those boys. I was able to reassure my mother of my virtuous ways (“Ew, Mom, gross!”), and seeing as how she didn’t really want to have “The Talk” any more than I did, we dropped the whole conversation, that is, until my sister came home later that evening and I got to retell the story over dinner in a dramatic rendering that left us both laughing. (Mom did not find my reenactment all that funny.)

Still, this is more than just a story about my mother’s psychic abilities, which I still believe she possesses today. Rather, this is a story about an experience that defined my adolescence.

Last year, my oldest daughter began sex-Ed in school. She was traumatized by some of what she learned, refusing to play with the boys at afternoon recess that day because, as she put it, “It’s just weird now, it’s like, I know their secrets.”  After she came home, and in the weeks that followed, there were lots of questions. I guess, in many ways, we’ve already begun “The Talk.” Still, if they are fortunate enough, my children will never know what it is like to have me hunt them down and find them with only sheer will, maternal instinct, and a little bit of luck.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of all the experiences that today’s children will never have.

Fewer and fewer kids are making mud pies or playing outside till the streetlights come on. When my children start roaming farther from home and I want to know where they are, I’ll probably just send a text. And by tracking their phones, I could know exactly where they are, letting a GPS take me there turn by turn, a thought that terrifies the teenager I used to be.

On the flip side though, my children will also be able to text me when they need a ride. They won’t sit outside the dentist’s office for hours plucking at the grass and wondering when their mom will finally remember she was supposed to get them. They won’t wait outside after play rehearsal watching one by one as their friends leave, the occasional mom or dad calling out from a minivan, “Do you need a ride?” They won’t hoof it home after swimming at a friend’s house, walking for miles in damp jean shorts that chafe the inside of their thighs, turning them an angry red. No. With phones at everyone’s fingertips, my children will probably Uber before they’ll scrounge for a ride.

Technology has made it so my children will never know what it is like to go to 7-11 in order to find out where the party’s at. When the parking lot of Sevs was empty, we didn’t get FOMO. We got Big Gulps. Then, we got back in our cars and drove from beach to beach trying to find the party for ourselves.

When I was a teen, we didn’t have group messages, we had three-way calling. If you were lucky, your family had a portable phone. If you weren’t, you stretched the cord from the kitchen to the bathroom to talk in privacy until your mother picked up the other line and told you to hang up.

We weren’t drug dealers or doctors, but nevertheless, we carried beepers and sent our boyfriends the first numeric text message: 143. And when our best friend stayed home sick, we took a quarter to the pay phone in school and dialed one of the many numbers we knew by heart to find out how she was.

We waited all night for the radio to play the perfect song to record on the mixed tape we were making for our Boo, and waited all week for our pictures to get developed at Genovese Drug Store. Out of an entire roll, we were lucky to get two or three good ones, pictures that wouldn’t go on Instagram, but ended up in our scrapbook next to collages we had made from Seventeen magazine. That was our #aesthetic.

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My children will never spend the first week of school making covers for their textbooks from brown shopping bags. They’ll never know card catalogues or what it’s like to find information without Google. They’ll never peck out their first papers on a typewriter, feeling the agony of every mistake. While I would much rather write a research paper today than when I sat at a microfiche machine, there are some things I experienced growing up that I hope will remain the same.

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I hope my children will know what it’s like to have someone ask them out face-to-face. I hope they will know what it feels like to hold a sweaty hand in a darkened movie theater, wondering if tonight will be their first kiss.

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And even though I work in a public high school and vomit a little in my mouth each time I witness a make-out session in the halls, I hope they will have someone who waits at their locker and walks them to class someday. They don’t need an elaborate promposal, a grotesque gesture designed to get the most likes on social media, but a simple, heartfelt request that makes their cheeks blush and their heart flutter before they answer yes.

I want my children to see their friends’ faces illuminated by bonfires, not screens. I want them to know what it feels like to spend hours on the phone talking with a loved one. I want their relationships to take place in real life, but fewer and fewer these days do.

Still, when I recently chaperoned the homecoming dance at the high school where I teach, I realized, as more and more kids showed up to dance the night away, that it hasn’t all changed. As I watched the awkward encounters of boys and girls and listened to the shouts as the DJ played a favorite song, their movements becoming more frenetic, the gymnasium hotter, the air less sweet, my friend yelled over the music to me, “I’m glad they still do this. I’m glad that technology hasn’t taken away everything.”

Looking out at the sea of bodies on the dance floor, I thought about my oldest daughter who in four short years would be here, singing along with her friends to the song that marks the end of every dance. As the students swayed, belting out the lyrics of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, I couldn’t agree more.

 

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The Mom Bubble

A marvelous idea for an invention came to me the other morning as I attempted to meditate.

The moment I settled onto my cushion and closed my eyes, my cat sauntered over to paw at my lap. In case you’ve not had the pleasure of this experience, it’s rather difficult to focus on your breath when your inner thigh is being kneaded like the soft dough it resembles. No matter how many times I shooed him away, he returned purring louder than before with those tenacious claws. Perhaps this was the real test. To reach Zen, I must maintain my calm whilst swatting at the world’s most persistent pet.

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Just when I had finally managed to rid myself of the feline, my five-year-old wandered out of her bedroom and plopped herself down on top of me. First startled, then annoyed, I tried to shoo her away too, but she threw her body on the rug and cried.

And cried.

And cried.

It was in that very moment that the concept for The Mom Bubble was born. The Mom Bubble would not only come in handy during meditation though. There are a variety of uses that make The Mom Bubble a must-have for every mother.

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Would you like to be able to have a phone conversation where you only communicate with the person you called? Then The Mom Bubble is for you. You’ll no longer hear, “I’ll let you go. It sounds like you’re busy,” from the person on the other end.

Why, just the other day I was on the phone with my cousin when she asked, “Did you just go poopie?” I was about to answer when I realized she wasn’t asking me. Perhaps the sing-song of her voice should have tipped me off, but The Mom Bubble can help avoid embarrassing situations like these.

As a mother, it’s inevitable that you’ll get a farewell leg-hug from your toddler when you’re headed out the door in a pair of slacks fresh from the cleaners. If you’re lucky, you’ll notice the snail trails your child left smeared across your thigh before you exit the house. With The Mom Bubble, gone are those days of being used as a human Kleenex. Now you can go out in public without accessorizing in dried boogers.

Projectile vomit? No problem! Watch those chunks slide down the outside of The Mom Bubble while you stay safely inside. As an added bonus, the putrid odor that once sent you retching towards the toilet is guaranteed not to enter your sphere.

Speaking of odors: The other night while watching TV, my youngest said she wanted to sit on my lap for a second.

For a second? But you’re right next to me.”

Then it dawned on me. Her intention was to fart on me. As if sitting right next to me and breaking wind was not enough, she wanted to actually place her buttocks directly on me to let one rip. It’s no coincidence that Pink Eye outbreaks are at all-time high in my household, but The Mom Bubble will keep you out of harm’s way.

Not only would The Mom Bubble protect you from kid farts, but dog farts too. Imagine watching your family gasp and cough while you enjoy the sweet-smelling air of The Mom Bubble. 

Do you have a little one who likes to climb in your bed at night? Sleep in The Mom Bubble and you’ll never have to cling to the edge of the mattress like you do your sanity. Those elbows, feet, and knees will find another body to disturb while you get the rest you deserve.

Lack of personal space got you down? Just because your offspring once inhabited your womb, does not earn them the right to hang from your body like baby orangutans. The Mom Bubble gives you the ability to say “I love you, but please don’t touch me” without actually saying it.

Now I know you’re probably thinking that what you really want is a little peace and quiet. Equipped with noise-cancelling technology, The Mom Bubble will make it so that you won’t have to listen to another ear-shattering temper tantrum ever again.

With The Mom Bubble, you’ll quickly realize that letting them cry it out is a great parenting strategy when you don’t have to hear it. And your darling child will likewise cease having quite as many fits once they find that when you’re inside The Mom Bubble, you’ll never cave to their 87th request for Fun-Dip at 6:30 A.M.

Equally important is the autonomy your children will develop when they can no longer ask you to pass them their cup of water that is literally sitting RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM. Imagine the peace of mind that will come from knowing that The Mom Bubble is as much of an investment for them as it is for you.

The Mom Bubble: The best thing to happen to motherhood since the epidural. Coming soon to a Target near you. Look for it near the wine aisle.

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Request Denied

“Mom? Can you do me a favor?”

This was the voice of my nine-year-old.

“When you fold my laundry, can you turn my socks so that they are the right way for when I put them on?”

I paused to consider the request.

Three beats was all it took before I said, very simply, “No.”

In my mind, though, this played out quite differently. There was an actually buzzer, like that which signals the end of a basketball game, like the dreadful X when a wrong response is given on Family Feud, like the handheld noise-maker for the game Taboo (the only game my brother-in-law will agree to play and only if all he has to do is auditorily tell players that they have erred by sounding the buzzer in their faces. Think Sissy Spacek in Four Christmases.)

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Hearing my curt “No” crushed my daughter. She had asked so sweetly and had been so brusquely denied. She looked crestfallen, and for a moment, I considered granting her request if only so that I didn’t feel like a total biatch, but then I remembered that crucial moment when my mom made me start washing my own laundry. And I remembered why.

I was in the fifth grade—one year older than my daughter. My mom had told me to clean my room. So I scooped all the clothes, dirty or clean, and threw them in my hamper.

Clean room?

Check!

Later, when my mother went to do laundry and saw that there were clean clothes, still partially folded, tossed in the hamper, she cracked. She very calmly told me that I would henceforth be responsible for washing my own clothes. For. The. Rest. Of. My. Life.

“But I don’t know how!” I argued.

And then she taught me. And she never did my laundry again.

Well, until she retired. Now all she does is laundry. My step-dad jokes that he only needs three pair of underwear. Doing the wash is kind of her hobby these days, so when she comes to visit, my washing machine doesn’t quit, which feels like an apology…And I accept.

But back to my daughter.

I guess she wasn’t asking a lot, but something about her request, much like when I heartlessly tossed clean clothes into my hamper, made this mother crack. Each person in my family has two feet, and there’s four people in my family, times that by seven days in the week (or perhaps five since at least twice a week my kids try to wear flip-flop, even in January). If each sock took two seconds to turn right-side-out, that’s…

I don’t really do math unless I have to, but what I do know is this:

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Every mother in America will tell you that there is never no laundry to be done. There are always clothes in the dryer that someone forgot about, and sometimes clothes in the washer that also got forgotten about, clothes that now smell like mold and cheese that need to get re-washed.

My mom may have been on to something when she decided that one decade of washing my dirty (and sometimes clean) clothes was enough.

For my oldest child, time is running out.

Meanwhile, round-the-clock laundry marathons continue every weekend. I may even start a load or two during the week. I continue to fold my children’s clothes and provide them with clean underwear. But about those socks…

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The Perfect Christmas Gift

It’s that wonderful time of year where my children view every retail destination as if it’s FAO Schwarz. Whether we’re food shopping in Walmart or making a restroom stop at a gas station, they’ll hold up some toy they’ve spied and give me their best Puss-in-Boots eyes. Usually, by the time they sit down to write their letters to Santa, they have forgotten most of the things they had pleaded for, which suits me just fine. However, this year proved otherwise.

With the help of her big sister, my five-year-old wrote out her Christmas list rather early. Among other things, she’d written down an American Girl doll, a giant Beanie Boo, a Kindle, and lots of Legos. But it didn’t end there. On and on and on it went. Everything from sneakers to pajamas to hair bows. She took inventory of her sister’s room and recorded anything she’d seen that she herself didn’t own. She wrote till the construction paper ran out and the marker went dry. She may as well have scribbled the lyrics to “Santa Baby” while she was at it.

“You have a lot of expensive things on that list.” I told her.

“Mom,” she sighed as if I were the five-year-old, “Santa doesn’t buy the presents, he makes them.”

I couldn’t help thinking that my five-year-old was outsmarting me at Christmas, a sure sign that we were in trouble.

“You know,” I told her, “You’re only supposed to ask for three things: something you want, something you need, and something to read.” I later found out that something to wear is also included in this minimalist version of the Christmas list, but she was getting the gist.

My nine-year-old was suddenly curious. “Really? Is that like, a rule?”

“Well, it’s not a rule so much as a guideline.”

My five-year-old, in all her wisdom, pointed to her list. “Something to read: Kindle.”

I’m certain I rolled my eyes.

I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the consumerism that is Christmas. This year, I felt it more than ever when I couldn’t find a single gourd for my Thanksgiving table yet poinsettias were aplenty. We hadn’t even carved our turkey and they were selling me fruitcake.

As a parent, I struggle with not wanting to spoil my children at Christmas, while still hoping to dazzle them with the magic that Santa brings. But this year, Santa was already exhausted, and he hadn’t even started shopping yet.

In an article humorously titled “Christmas is Ruined by Children,” Trevor Mitchell states, “parents these days are time-poor and over-compensate for this by indulging their offspring.”

Mitchell may be right; when it comes to time, there isn’t even a jingle in my pocket. And in Christmases past, I had indulged my offspring. While staring at the piles of wrapped boxes, I would often ask my husband, “Do you think that’s enough?” No matter his answer, I would find a way to sneak in an extra trip to Target for a few more stocking stuffers.

This year, however, I just can’t Christmas.

Sure, my tree is up and there’s lights on the house, but every time I set foot in a store, I have a visceral reaction that makes me flee.

Take a mother’s mental load and add in a major holiday where children’s happiness is at stake, and it’s a recipe for a spontaneous midlife crisis. It’s no wonder that I often find myself having a psychotic break come Christmas.

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My psychotic break, unfortunately, does not resemble this scene from Bad Moms 2.

As I tucked my kids in the other night, I pulled Once Upon a North Pole Christmas from the bookcase for their bedtime story. Dot, our Elf, had delivered it as a special treat the year before. In it, the grown-ups are grumpy and tired, “trying too hard to make Christmas too perfect or running around everywhere.”

A story I thought was intended for children, turns out, might have been for me.

Shoot, even the Grinch comes to realize a few things before his book is through.

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The truth is, when I came right out and asked my kids what they were most looking forward to this Christmas, my oldest didn’t hesitate. “Spending time with family” she said, and then after a brief pause, “and eating quiche.” Despite her long list, even my youngest rattled off a good three or four things before any mention of gifts.

And so, this Christmas, rather than going to ugly sweater parties and standing in check-out lines, I want to stay in my pajamas and abuse Amazon Prime. Rather than feverishly baking cookies to exchange and sending out Christmas cards, I want to order pizza and play Parcheesi. Rather than giving more presents, I want to give more presence. If I can figure out how to do that, I think it will be the perfect Christmas gift for everyone on my list.

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A Mom Has A Dream

Parents: Let us not wallow in despair.

While it is true that we have not slept past 7 AM for many, many years, and while it is also true that we have been continually anointed with the bodily fluids of our children, while our voices have gone hoarse from repeating the same simple instructions every day only to have them fall on deaf ears, and while the laundry mounts to dangerous heights, I say to you today, my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow…for the next eighteen years–give or take– I have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in every parent’s dream.

I have a dream that one day, my home, a modest three-bedroom containing two young children, a couple of dogs and a cat, will remain neat and tidy for at least twenty-four hours. A dream where my words, like stones in a river, will sink into my kid’s heads and they will act upon them. Parents and children will live together in unity knowing that there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place.

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I have a dream that one day, I will walk into the bathroom and find all the toothbrushes standing at attention. Globs of toothpaste will not sit like fat slugs on the bathroom counter nor will the remnants of that which was spit from their mouths encrust the sink. No longer will I twist the caps back on to multiple tubes of toothpaste since one child insists on only fruity flavors while the other demands mint. One day, my children’s sensitive palates will unite in harmony.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, in the dining room, my children will sit down together at the table and eat their food. We will not barter for how many more bites one must take. All servings–whether poultry or fish, spinach or rice–will be treated as equals. No speck of parsley nor dice of tomato will be pushed aside. And during this time, expelling gasses will cease, water shall not be spilled, and they will lean over their plates so that food does not tumble to their laps and onto the floor with every bargained bite. There will be peace at suppertime.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that my children will not find a new pair of shoes to wear each time they leave the house, but will put the same pair on that they took off earlier and left by the back door, the couch, or under the kitchen table.

I have a dream that one day, last night’s pajamas will make their way to the hamper. Dirty socks will not hide in the shoe bin nor under the bed but will instead be carried to the laundry room and deposited next to their kin with dignity. Clothes, when neatly folded and left in a pile on the child’s bed to be put away will not topple to the floor, but will be carefully laid in the appropriate drawers—drawers which shall be pushed in!

This is my hope, and this is the faith that I go back to their bedrooms with.

With this faith, we will transform ballads of nagging into melodies of praise.

I have a dream that one day, children will look upon their mothers, and their lips will not be dripping with the words of “clean up this mess.” One day, right there at home, little girls and little boys will be able to join hands as sisters and brothers and set the table or feed the dogs without arguing over who did it last night.

And when this happens, when the children have finally learned to hang up their wet towels after the shower, and to put their toys away, when they are able to flush the toilet every time they have used it so that the dog stops lapping up their pee, when they not only clear their plate from the table but also stack the dishwasher, their moms and their dads will be able to join hands together and sing:

                Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

 

 

 

I Used to Have Patience…And Then I Had Kids

Tell anyone who is not a teacher that you are, and they assume patience is one of your virtues. They’re not entirely wrong either. Maintaining composure in my classroom is easy, even when I’m asked the same questions a half dozen times in a row: How many paragraphs does this have to be? When is this due? Do we have to finish this for homework? Even if I have repeated myself ad nauseam, even if the answer is also posted on the whiteboard directly behind me (It is), and even if the reason I am being asked to echo myself again and again is due to the asker having been playing with a fidget spinner or checking their Snapchat, I never lose my cool.

I’d love to pretend I possess the same tolerance with my own children; unfortunately, my patience dwindles considerably when I change hats. Some days, it’s gone before 7:00 A.M.

Case in Point: One morning my youngest was brushing her hair when I asked if she’d like me to style it. She nodded. I proceeded to pull the top half up in a ponytail before securing the rest of the hair into a low bun. Minutes later, she’s sobbing.

“I wanted a bun!”

“You have a bun. Look, there’s a bun.”

“But I didn’t want that bun. I wanted a different bun!”

“Did you ask me for a bun?”

“No, but I wanted a bun!”

“YOU HAVE A BUN!”

Mornings can be tough though, so I try to forgive my children for their meltdowns, and I hope they forgive me mine. If patience has a kryptonite, it is fatigue. Some days, they are more tired than others. Some days, I’m more tired. But even on the most frustrating of mornings, I’m able to brush those feelings off when I step inside my classroom, leaving me to ponder why I can handle everyone’s children but my own.

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Her granola bar broke when she opened it.

Unflappable in the face of my students’ questions, my endurance is tested by the inane inquiries my little one tosses my direction.

“Mom, what does TNT stand for?”

“What?”

“TNT…What does TNT stand for?”

“Dynamite.”

“What’s that?”

“Explosives…like firecrackers.”

“So they are crackers that are hot?”

“No.”

“Mom? When are we going to buy popsicles?”

“I don’t know.”

“Mom?”

“What?”

“I think I want to be a bird so when people walk by I can poop on their heads. But not your head because you’ve already been pooped on. Right Mom?…Mom?…MOM?!?”

“WHAT!?!”

“When are we going to see the fireworks again?”

“I don’t know. Probably the fourth of July.”

“When is that?”

“THE FOURTH OF JULY.”

“Yeah, but what day is that?”

These are the moments when I know that I will be pouring myself a glass a wine with dinner to go with the glass of wine I poured myself before dinner.

Sometimes my inability to be a more patient parent leaves me feeling less-than. I convince myself that other moms are holding hands with their children, singing Kumbaya, and answering all their questions with a smile. But then I’m sitting at gymnastics when another mom snaps at her son after his fourth or fifth “mom” and I am reassured. She sounded just like me.

Like me, she just wanted these forty-five minutes to scroll through social media, to zone out, or to read a book without the constant pestering. Thank you, Real Mom of Gymnastics. We should be friends.

When parenting—especially parenting young children—patience can melt faster than a soft-serve ice cream cone at the beach. It’s perfectly normal to feel like there isn’t enough oxygen in this ecosystem for all the deep breaths you’ll need and it’s not wrong to want to give yourself a time out.

I once received text messages from a mom-friend who was hiding in her closet from her children and not because they were playing an awesome round of Hide-and-Go-Seek. I had to remind her that she wasn’t a terrible mother; she was wise to go in there (and wiser still to have brought an adult beverage with her). After all, what mom hasn’t gone to the bathroom and locked the door under the guise of needing to poo if only to get a five-minute reprieve? Sometimes the overstimulation of being poked and prodded and needed and questioned is too much. Nerves get exposed and every whine or cry feels like a root canal minus the Novocaine. If hiding in the closet means you regain your composure without losing it on your kids, more power to you.

After a long week, even Family Game Night requires me to tap into my depleted patience reserves. A few hands of Uno feels more like Chinese Water Torture. This one needs to get a snack, then that one needs something to drink, the dog scratches at the door to go out, then there is an attempt by a five-year-old at shuffling the deck. The dog scratches to come back in. The cup of water gets spilled. The nine-year-old is tap-tap-tapping her cards on the table, and I’m looking at my phone every five minutes to see if it is time for bed yet and cursing every Draw Four card that gets played.

Sometimes I think I could hang onto my sanity if only everyone would kindly just shut up. My youngest has been talking since she was born. You couldn’t quiet her unless there was a nipple in her mouth and we used that binky way longer than we should have. Still, I don’t enjoy feeling like the Grinch looking down on my little Who-Ville complaining about “the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!” I get why he freaked out though.

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Dr. Ray Gaurendi, author of the book Back to the Family, says “Patience is an ideal to strive for. It is not a day-to-day reality.”

It’s certainly not my reality most days, but then there are those other days, the ones where I don’t just tolerate the clamor, I enjoy it; where the silly line of questions amazes me; where instead of hiding, I want to immerse myself in the chaos of these crazy kids, my crazy kids.

Let’s face it, if you are around your children enough to be irritated by them, you’re doing a good job. And if you lose your shit from time to time, remember to cut yourself a little slack, too. We can’t be Stepford Moms all the time. If patience is the ideal, I’ll keep on striving.

 

This is Nine

For my daughter’s ninth birthday, she asked for three things:

  1. To be allowed to ride in the front seat of the car
  2. To walk to and from school by herself each day
  3. A laptop

To celebrate turning nine, she invited some friends over for a slumber party. It was at this party, during the Spin the (Nail Polish) Bottle game, where I learned that there are girls and boys in the third grade who mutually “like” one another.

As she and her friends talked, I frantically tried to assist with the nail painting even though none of them wanted my help. With each revelation of who liked who, my eyes grew. I tried to send messages with them to my husband who was reclining on the couch pretending that there weren’t 60 fingers grabbing six different fluorescent polishes on our living room rug. Had he been able to interpret what my eyeballs were screaming, it would have sounded something like this: Boys! Already?!? Did you know about this?!? And then, as another glob of nail polish dropped onto the thin plastic table-cloth I had put down as a shield, Shit!

Instead, he sent back his own message that read: What? I Don’t Know What You are Saying. Why Don’t You Speak Words Like a Normal Person? He did, however, come join me on the floor in my mission to, at the very least, teach the girls how to wipe the excess polish off the wand before applying it. Only when the talk of boys stopped and the farting and giggling began was I mollified.

This is nine.

As the mother of a nine-year-old, I have developed a new super-power: I embarrass my daughter in public. When I dropped her off for Art Camp and learned that their day would start with creative movement, she was mortified when I demonstrated a few of my own moves. She physically tried to restrain my arms as she pleaded for me to stop and then literally pushed me towards the exit.

Sometimes, it takes much less: At a restaurant one morning, I signaled to our server to wait a second as I finished chewing my food before requesting some apple juice for my daughter.

“That was so embarrassing, Mom.”

“What was?”

“The waitress was staring at us.”

“She was waiting to see what we needed.”

“It was embarrassing.”

Or rather, I was embarrassing.

Along with my new super-power, she has acquired a talent of her own: The Eye Roll. This eye roll goes into full effect several times a day. At the dinner table, in the back seat of the car (the one I painfully still make her sit in), and whenever my husband and I say anything remotely funny…which is pretty much all the time. Occasionally, she will substitute the eye roll for a one-sided upper lip snarl that could rival Billy Idol. At nine, she emphasizes every last word she utters. I did not-tah. Leave me alone-na. Sometimes resorting to dramatic sighs and guttural noises to express her general displeasure with members of her family.

The one wordless communication my husband and I have mastered is the look we give each other when visions of this Tween-To-Be appear before us. For now, it is accompanied by a smirk as if to convince ourselves that this is all very funny. Ha Ha! Look at how she is acting. Oh boy! We’re in for it soon. But soon isn’t now, so we foolishly laugh. Only deep inside, I cringe.

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Each time she tells us that she’s basically a teenager, we remind her not to grow up too fast. But more and more, I notice that she doesn’t always want to play with her little sister, that My Little Pony has been replaced with Girl Meets World, and that when she wakes up in the morning, she stays in her room and goes on her tablet rather than coming to snuggle with me.

Despite that she refuses to hold my hand as we walk through a parking lot and her bedroom door is closed more than it is open, there are still times when she lies across my legs and asks me to rub and scratch her back, there are still moments when she nestles under my arm as we watch TV, and still occasions when she looks at me and randomly tells me that she loves me before planting a kiss on my lips, an act that, for now, still requires that she stand on tip-toes.

These days, time is fleeting. I feel it more poignantly than I ever did when she was a baby. The little girl juxtaposed with the pre-teen. Moments where she is goofy and carefree are shadowed by ones where I am reminding her to not be so sassy. There’s a moodiness about her that makes me ask her what’s wrong on a regular basis. Her answer is always “nothing.”

This is nine. It’s the way she forges her own path as we walk, but also stops to pick a dandelion for her sister. It’s the way she begs for her independence yet still asks me to tuck her in at night and sing her “Oh My Darling.” As she dances in the living room, I see some of the same spastic moves she performed with as a toddler, yet there’s a gentler swaying in her hips and her legs are lithe and lean. Next year in school, she’ll experience the joys of Sex Ed. Her innocence having slipped through my fingers like grains of sand.

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This is nine. It’s the start of middle childhood and the end of baby teeth. The last year before she hits double-digits. A straddle year…with one foot rooted in her yesteryear and one that’s all-too quickly growing towards tomorrow. And it’s only just begun. With all the door slamming, the sibling bickering, and the “Stay Out” signs posted on her bedroom door, I hope that we’ll survive…after all, we’ve still got her adolescence to look forward to.

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Love and Loss: What Children Learn from Having Pets

The last time we took the whole family back to New York, my children were handed money and gifts wherever they went. Grandparents and great-grandparents were making it rain and when my husband and I protested, they would insist. “We never see them! Let them take it and buy something they’ll like.” We returned home and what they liked was a dwarf hamster.

“You’ll have to wait to ask your father,” I told the girls as we left the pet store that afternoon, and since their father didn’t get home from work till after they were asleep, I thought it was entirely possible they would forget about it.

The first words my youngest spoke that next morning were, “Daddy, can we buy a hamster?”

Whereas my husband owned pet hamsters while growing up, I did not. I had heard many a tale of how whenever his aunt came over he would pretend that his hamster was in the plastic running ball. He would shout for her to look and then he would throw the ball (sans hamster) down the stairs resulting in his aunt having something resembling a coronary attack.

“Please, Daddy. Can we? We’ll take good care of it.” I knew he would say yes.

That afternoon, our girls pooled their money and we came home with a dwarf hamster they named Sugar and all of his accoutrements.

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I did a little research and learned a few interesting tidbits about dwarf hamsters. In addition to finding out what fresh foods we should and should not feed him, I also learned that they run the equivalent of four marathons each night. If it weren’t for their stubby little legs, they would be one of the faster species on Earth. Our hamster preferred to begin running whenever my husband and I settled down to watch Netflix at night, often resulting in having to disable his wheel until we were ready to retire to bed.

The other thing I learned about dwarf hamsters is that the average life expectancy is only about two years. That didn’t seem very long compared to, say, my cat whom I had for nearly seventeen. Not knowing how old the hamster was when we got him, I often found myself peering hesitantly in his cage during the day, looking for signs of life. Was his fur moving? Could I see the rise and fall of his little belly while he slept? I hadn’t studied a sleeping body this closely since I first brought home a newborn. They both seemed as fragile. 

While there are other hands-on methods for checking for life, there was no way that was happening. As a member of the rodent family, there were some strict rules regarding the hamster. 1) Mom doesn’t clean its cage, and 2) Mom does not touch it. While I thought it was rather cute, it wasn’t cute enough to make me want to cradle the thing in my palm. If the kids wanted to hold him, they’d better ask their dad. And other than that one time that the dog knocked over its cage and I was forced to trap the hamster before it ran under the couch, I stuck to those rules.

We are a home of many animals, but I’m not really an animal lover. My husband acts shocked if he ever catches me petting one of our two dogs. I loved my cat, but cats are assholes, which is probably why I prefer them. You can leave them alone and most times, they’re okay with that.

We got our first dog when our first born was about a year old, and most of why I agreed to it was because I believe that pets are good for children. They teach them so many things: responsibility, kindness, companionship, discipline, and most of all–they teach them about love and loss.

Over the course of my children’s lives, they’ve said goodbye to several goldfish, a crawdad, a hermit crab, and two cats. One cat “ran away” to live with another family; I suspect a family of coyotes, but I didn’t share that part with my then three-year old daughter. My cat, Milo, was put down the Christmas Eve before last. It was difficult saying goodbye to a companion who had witnessed nearly two decades of my life. He had seen me marry and have children. He had let those children pull on his tail and decorate him with tiaras and beaded necklaces. We all loved him, and he had loved us back.

Recently, when my husband mentioned that Sugar had been awake all day, running on his wheel, I thought, that’s strange. In hindsight, that day of running must have been his last hoo-rah, the sudden burst of energy and alertness one experiences at the end of life. The following day, when I told my daughter to clean the cage, she took it to the counter in the kitchen, opened the door, and lifted the little house.

“Sugar must be really tired,” she said.

Shit. 

Peering in at him, his fur was not moving; there was no rise or fall in his little belly. It had been about two years, and our hamster had died.

My little one cried. In between giant tears, she lifted her head off my chest.

“Mommy, I want a guinea pig.”

Oh, hell no! Now a kitten on the other hand…

Later that evening, we each said a few words about Sugar before my husband buried him in the flower garden. The word my youngest chose was family.

I never wanted my children to grow up not knowing about death. Things we love leave us. Sometimes that happens at the end of a life, but often times, it just happens. Dealing with loss may not ever get easier, but in having pets, my children will grow up knowing that when you love something, you do all you can to give it a good life, and at the end of that life, if you can say that you’ve done that, then you’ve done your best. No one can ask for anything more.