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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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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This One’s For My Mom

Well, I did it. I ran that 10K that I promised I would back when I posted Return To The Gym, and as with any accomplishment, it felt pretty darn good. It was even better that my sister ran it with me. We chose Moms On The Run for our 10K debut, a local charity event that supports women in our community battling breast cancer. While we are fortunate to say that breast cancer hasn’t personally touched our lives, cancer has. And being women, there isn’t a day where I don’t realize the possibility which exists.

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Held annually on Mother’s Day, a few years ago we participated in the 5K. My husband pushed our youngest in the stroller while I pushed my oldest to keep running every time she wanted to quit. My sister was there then, too; in addition to running her 5K, she took a Walk of Shame to retrieve my oldest when I lost her in the chaos of the finish line. We were all frantically searching when she heard the call from the MC asking for Peyton’s mom to please come to the grandstand.

We didn’t lose any kids this year (#MomGoals) and we were both proud of our race results. But more than that, even though our own mother was almost three-thousand miles away, it felt as though she was with us as we ran. So while we couldn’t take her out for brunch for Mother’s Day or all go get pedicures, it was a great way to pay tribute to the most incredible woman we know.

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Growing up, our mother was a runner. My sister and I were not. There’s a classic story of how when my sister was in high school, she and her friend decided to go running with my mom. They were found literally writhing in the driveway…at the start of the run. That’s right. They ran to the end of the driveway and collapsed.

By the time my sister and I were both out of college, we began joining our mom at various 5K events. She would pay our entry fees so we felt obligated to attend. It was only slightly embarrassing to have our mom, who was then in her 50s, beating us by a landslide. She’d usually place in the top 3 for her age group, and while I managed to place once for mine, it just so happened for that race, I was the ONLY one in my age group.

It was the worst race of my life. A hell-like cross-country run in the middle of summer. Every step, my feet sank into the soft Long Island sand. The sun beat down on me, sweat stung my eyes, and my sides cramped as though I was being impaled by the very bamboo that lined the endless trail I was trapped on. To stop running only meant to succumb to swarms of blood-sucking mosquitos. It was 5K, Survivor-Style and I desperately wanted to be voted off. When I finally emerged at the finish line, I sat in a patch of shade, red-faced and out-of-breath. When they called my name to retrieve my medal, it was a true WTF moment. Oddly enough, it still felt good to have won something.

At Moms On The Run, we were approached by a camera woman from a local news station who asked us some questions: Were we running as a family? Were we running in honor of anyone? Did we want to say a few words on camera? We graciously declined the interview; however, as I was running, I replayed some of those questions in my head.

I was running for someone. In fact, I was running for a lot of people.

For starters, I was running for me. Every time I was keeping pace with another runner and they stopped to walk, or they surpassed me, I told myself that this wasn’t about how I compared to anyone else. This was my challenge. This was my race. As my own biggest critic, I could let the critic win—the one who tells me that I can’t, or I could listen to that other voice, the one that affirms all that I am capable of and motivates me to do more.

I was running for my girls. I was running to show them that when you set a goal, you don’t give up. I was running to teach them how important it is to be healthy, at every age.

I was running to support other women whose lives and whose families had been affected by cancer, knowing that if ever I was there, I would need the support of my community as well.

And I was running for my mom. A woman who taught me how important it is to care for our bodies, our minds, and our souls. A woman who tells me that she is proud of me, but may not realize how proud it makes me to have her as my mother.

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A candid shot of my mother (which knowing her, she’ll hate) after having placed at a 5K.

When I was young, my mom would attend aerobics classes at night. She’d arrive home after my sister and I were already in bed, but she would come to tuck us in. She’d give a little piece of her chewing gum to our dog who would attempt to chomp on it in such a way that it would leave us in fits of laughter, falling asleep with smiles on our faces.

I remember her lifting weights, coining herself “The Ironian” (pronounced: eye-ron-ian)—a woman made of iron. To this day, “The Ironian” remains my Superhero.

She’d take us on long bike rides, over the Ponquogue Bridge, to the ocean and back. A drawbridge with a 55-foot clearance, I wished I owned a 10-speed like my sister. I pedaled my fourth-grade legs on my banana-seat bike knowing that once we reached the top, we would have an adrenaline-pumping thrill on the way down, but would have to work to do it all over again on the return.

Everything my mom did was hard work, but she never viewed it that way. Her running wasn’t working to stay in shape; it was a way to eliminate stress, something that mothers (single mothers especially) have plenty of. Exercising was about growing stronger, to be there for us as the best version of herself, because quite frankly, she was our everything.

Being a mom involves sacrifice. Ironically, the most selfless thing you can do for your children is to care of yourself—for them. This is what my mom taught me, even if it took me 39 years and this 10K for me to realize it.

As I crossed that finish line, I could almost hear her voice in my ear, encouraging me and cheering me on. For a woman who likes to tease me about the paybacks of motherhood, this was my opportunity to pay it forward…to my mom, for all she’s shown me, and to my girls, so that maybe one day, they’ll run races of their own.

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Like Mother, Like Daughter

There are a million reasons why parenting is exhausting. From infants who need to eat every two hours to waiting up past midnight for your teenager to come home safely from that party. There are middle of the night vomit sessions and days where all you seem to do is discipline. Breakfasts. Lunches. Dinners. Load after load of laundry. Scheduling dentist appointments. Back-to-school shopping. Recitals, games, and birthday parties.

The most exhausting of all though is that you are always, always being watched. I’m not talking about when you’re sitting on the toilet, although there are often eyes on you then, too. Rather, your behavior and the words you speak, the way you live your life– our children are learning from us every…single…day.

I have parenting moments that I am not proud of. My children have witnessed me send a quick text while driving. They have seen me lose my temper and they have experienced my bad moods firsthand. Curses fall from my lips like candy from a piñata. But have they noticed those moments when I look in the mirror and frown? Have they ever heard me question my husband about whether a certain pair of pants makes my ass look fat?

Raising daughters, living in a society hyper-focused on appearances, I worry: What have they learned about body image from me, from the media, and from others? As they grow, as their bodies change, as they deal with the influx of hormones and all that results, how will they perceive themselves? Will they be able to stand firm in their belief that they are beautiful?

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In the eighth grade, I would come home from school every day and make myself a bowl of ice cream. Seated on the kitchen counter, I would indulge while my sister’s boyfriend would tell me that I was going to get fat. By the ninth grade, when my family took a trip to visit my grandparents, I had acquired my first freshmen fifteen. Stepping out of the car in the hot Florida sun, my grandmother was waiting to embrace us.

Oooh, Chubby Checker,” she teased.

Growing up, I had aunts who would constantly ask me if I thought they were fat. They weren’t. In my eyes, they all resembled movie stars, yet nothing I said could convince them of this. No sooner would they finish bemoaning their size and shape, I would be handed a bag of hand-me-down clothes.

I learned early on that to be a woman was to be body-conscious, and a body could always be improved. My high school was filled with girls who were dieting, or taking pills, or starving themselves, or binging and purging. This behavior was not only commonplace, it was considered normal.

Approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape. Unfortunately, only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media. (DoSomething.org)

There are days when I love my body and all that it is capable of. I have given birth to two healthy babies. I exercise regularly and feel stronger now than ever before. I am conscientious about what I eat, while at the same time, allowing myself the pleasure of enjoying the occasional craving. Nothing makes me happier than picking up my daughter from preschool on a warm, sunny day and surprising her with a trip to 7-11 for a couple of Slurpees and a bag of Doritos.

This is a judgmental society though. One where to be fat, or to be skinny, results in criticism and attack.

You look good. Did you lose weight?

Somebody needs to give that girl a cheeseburger. 

She has such a pretty face. It’s too bad she’s so heavy.

Real men prefer women with a little meat on their bones.

I will admit it: I’ve placed my body on the continuum of those that surround me at the beach or the water park. I’ve eyed up other women at the gym and worked a little harder as a result. Ultimately though, it is not about comparison. It is not about skinny or fat or skinny-fat. It is about self-esteem. It is about self-acceptance. It is about self-love. It is about self-worth. And now that I am the mother of two girls, it is more important than ever to lead by example.

Dr. Christiane Northrup writes, “Each of us takes in at the cellular level how our mother feels about being female, what she believes about her body, how she takes care of her health, and what she believes is possible in life. Her beliefs and behaviors set the tone for how well we learn to care for ourselves as adults. We then pass this information either consciously or unconsciously on to the next generation.”

I had wanted to do a cleanse for some time, so when my mother bought a book that included recipes for a 10-day green smoothie detox, I decided to give it a try. I wasn’t looking to lose weight; I just wanted to kick-start some healthier habits. I measured myself before and after, but more so to validate if the cleanse worked rather than simply trusting how I felt.

My daughter, looking at the book on the counter and watching me drink sludge-colored smoothies day after day, asked me if I was on a diet.

“No. I’m just trying to be healthier.”

It was important to me that she not think that what I was doing was about weight.

On day three of my cleanse, I took my daughters to the park. It was a sunny day, so we packed a picnic: turkey sandwiches, barbecue potato chips, and green grapes for them; baby-poop-like smoothie for me. Still in my exercise clothes from my morning visit to the gym, I sported a tank top that read: I Hate Running.

“Mom, do you hate running?”

“Pretty much.”

“So do I.”

“But you know what? Even though I hate it, I do it anyway.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s good for you. And even though I hate running, I love being healthy.”

Would conversations like these be enough?

Later that week, I came across a zippered bag containing leftover Halloween make-up that had found its way under my daughter’s dresser along with the dust bunnies and run-away socks. Despite that it was discovered in her sister’s bedroom, my youngest daughter desperately wanted it.

“You can have it,” my eldest told her.

Since nary a day goes by that my youngest doesn’t try to wear, at the very least, some lip gloss, this was hard for the little diva to fathom.

“You don’t like make-up?”

“I like it, I just don’t need it. I like the way I look just the way I am.”

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Even as I acknowledge that she may not always feel this way about herself, I pray that she will. While I cannot control the culture in which we live, I can control the messages that I impart on my children. As their mentor and role model, it is my duty to ensure that it’s a positive one.

As their mother, it’s my duty to love myself just a little bit more.

Dear Pinterest, Maybe we should break up

Someone recently told me that magazines today cost about nine dollars. Could that be true? When was the last time I even bought a magazine? I made it a point the next time I was standing in line at a grocery store to check.

There was a time when I read magazines. I even had a few subscriptions in my life. As an adolescent, I read Seventeen where I learned to apply make-up and chuckled at reader’s most embarrassing moments. In college, Cosmopolitan explained everything I needed to know about the opposite sex and gave me fashion tips. I used to get Cooking Light when I was newly married, and after the first baby, Parents Magazine faithfully arrived every month.

I remember my mother always having a stack of magazines lying around. Back issues of Shape would be piled high in a basket next to her bed. As a single mother of two, I don’t think she got to read much of them. And while reading is an important part of my life, (I am an English teacher after all) at the end of the day, I’d rather lose myself in a novel-escaping a little from my everyday life-than thumb through a magazine where I’ll be forced to compare myself to skinny models, enticed to buy products I don’t need, and too tempted to put it down when my husband turns on the television.

Yet while magazines have exited my life, Pinterest has entered it. I enjoy Pinterest. I’ve gotten great recipes and lots of DIY project ideas off of it; however, I’m starting to realize that I have a love-hate relationship with Pinterest.

I’m a compulsive person. I’m a perfectionist. I’m a list-maker. While I can lose myself, and time, scrolling through Pinterest feeds, when I am finished I end up with more on my to-do list than before. As a full-time working mother of two, there is enough to do every day. But now, not only have I wasted thirty minutes where I could have been doing laundry or grading papers, I’ve just added three more things to my list: I’ve got a new recipe to try with another trip to Safeway to buy the needed ingredients, a project to do with the kids, and a scheme to make over some part of my house previously thought to not need renovating.

That might not be so bad though. I’ve created some pretty neat things thanks to Pinterest, but what really gets me is the way it makes me feel about myself as a parent.

While I used to compare myself to girls in magazines, I now find comparison in the hordes of stay-at-home mothers on Pinterest.

A half-hour spent on Pinterest leaves me questioning: Do I fail as a mother because I didn’t make my daughter a bento box for lunch? I didn’t cut out shapes from watermelon and organic cheese slices. Instead, I shoved a frozen Uncrustable and a drinkable yogurt in her lunch tote at 6:45 A.M. I don’t have a list of 100 things to do this summer neatly written on a homemade chalkboard in my kitchen or a theme for every day of the week. I’ve never blogged about 25 things to do with your toddler either. If I tried, I would probably get stuck after number 3 or 4, and number 5 would certainly be “put them down for a nap and pray that it lasts at least two hours.”

Years ago, I remember watching an episode of Oprah where this mother had died of stage-four lung cancer. She had two children: a daughter and a son. While she was ill, they went to Disneyland, Palm Springs, and Vail. It was like a family bucket list of sorts. In the end, Oprah asked the daughter what she remembered most about those last months with her mother. The girl replied that it was sharing a bowl of Cheerios at two in the morning. Not Disney. Not Palm Springs. Not Vail. A late-night bowl of cereal.

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A forgettable moment becomes the one we cling to.

So I wonder: with all the projects to do with the kids, the indestructible super-sized bubbles and homemade Kool-Aid Play-Doh, what will they actually remember? All the time spent planning, organizing, buying supplies and documenting the experiences, is this what they will recall as being most special about their childhood?

My kids are the happiest when we’ve stayed in our pajamas way longer than usual and snuggled in bed, when we’ve sat on the floor and played Candyland, when hotdogs and beans is what’s for dinner, when we spontaneously take a bike ride around the block.

Driving down the road the other day, I saw a license plate frame that read, “Yes, I am Super-mom.” If being super-mom is so important, surely there are other roles that aren’t being fulfilled. Isn’t Super-mom going to be super lonely when her Super-kids are grown up and no longer need her to make their lunches or when they are no longer interested in doing the 31 activities of October?

I believe that my mother was one of the best mothers a girl could have, but she didn’t cater to me or my sister. She had a job and hobbies of her own. She did things with us and she did things without us. She was not trying to be Super-mom, but she was a super mom.

The other night I came across a Pin for miniature pancakes on lollipop sticks and I was outraged. Of all the stupid ideas in the world, this one belonged on the list. What a waste of time, energy, and sticks! How many pancake lollipops would one child have to eat to equal a satisfying breakfast? Wouldn’t they all be cold by the time they were ready to be served? I’m certain that if the mother making those pancakes poured a bowl of cereal instead and then spent the rest of that time she would have been standing at the griddle  either reading a book with her children or taking them outside to play, they would like that a whole lot more. And yet, even though I know all this, on some level, I still feel the need to compete.

As parents, we try not to compare our children to each other. Every child reaches developmental milestones at their own pace. As our children grow, we encourage them to be individuals, to not conform to their peers—yet as an adult, I have difficulty doing the same for myself.

Years ago, my life was simplified when I quit Facebook. There were times that I missed it, but whenever I considered returning, the cons outweighed the pros. Sometimes I wonder if breaking up with Pinterest wouldn’t be the right thing to do too. When I don’t have Super-moms to compare myself to, I feel like I am doing a pretty good job raising my children.

Not every moment has to be perfect or planned. For in the end, it’s the bowls of Cheerios that matter most.