"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Monday, March 31, 2014

I'm Over You, Judgy Mommies

I just read another article telling me how lame I am for entertaining my kids, organizing arts and crafts for my kids, and planning birthday parties for my kids. I only skimmed it, but it basically said: When we were kids, we played outside. When we were kids, birthday parties consisted of popping balloons, eating cake, and playing outside. When we were kids, there was no such thing as Elf on the Shelf and the Tooth Fairy left a quarter--if we were lucky….and then we played outside again.

I’m sure it would have gone on to say that the author played on rusty, metal playground equipment over concrete and Look at us! We turned out just fine!

You guys, I’m so over it.

I enjoy doing art projects with my kids. I LOVE planning their craftastic themed birthday parties. When they go outside, I go out with them. And, most of the time, I like playing with my kids, too. (Except for when we were stuck in the roles of Elsa and Anna for, like, two weeks and I lost my freaking mind.)

Sorry, not sorry, Judgy Mommy.

I’m so very lucky that I can stay home with my kids and play with them. I’m so lucky that I have the time, the resources, and the creativity to bring to life the birthday parties that they dream up. I’m so, so, so, so lucky to have a cleaning lady come in every couple of weeks to dust my baseboards, mop my floors, clean my ceiling fans, and make my bathrooms sparkle so that I don’t have to spend my time with my kids doing those things.

But can you mommies who don’t want to play or plan or craft or bake or photograph or blog stop trying to make me feel like the world’s biggest dweeb for wanting to? Or worse--that what I'm doing is potentially harmful to my kids' development? Ouch. I don’t think I’m a better mommy than you are, so stop acting like you’re raising better kids, who are going to know how to “create their own magic” by being left to their own devices more. Creating magic happens to be fun for me. It’s why I taught kindergarten before I had kids of my own. Being witness to and a part of that magic that happens naturally in childhood is the pay-off I get after dealing with my kids’ sleeplessness as newborns, their stubbornness as 2-year olds, and the demons they become when they turn three. It’s why I became a parent.

Live and let live, mommies. You’re setting a terrible example for your children when you criticize the way other families choose to spend their money or their time.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a fabulous Lego Movie Birthday Party to create.

Lesson Learned:
I've got to stop reading mommy articles, yet I'm a mommy blogger. I hate it when I have to be a hypocrite.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Diary of a Wimpy Kid....Evan is a Reader

He's always been a book lover. As a baby, he would sit contentedly in his pack'n'play with nothing but a stack of books to occupy him while I took a shower. While I cooked dinner, I'd pull out a book basket and never have to worry that he'd wander off and get into trouble. As a toddler, his favorite time was right before nap time, when he would sit on my lap with his binky, twirling his hair, and we would read and read and read. (He was my only baby, we had the luxury of time to read and read and read....).

His first "word" was actually a sentence. "Dat's a backhoe," he said, as he pointed to a picture (of, yes, a backhoe) in a book about trucks we were reading at the bookstore when he was two and a half.

He was eager to learn to read in the weeks leading up to kindergarten and took off reading like a pro once kindergarten was underway.

He's two weeks shy of his seventh birthday, in the downhill slide toward the end of first grade, and today, another reading milestone was reached.

Today, Evan disappeared for over an hour to read. And then, after a brief interlude with his Legos, he retreated back to his room to continue his book. Later, when I stole some quiet time in my own room to write, he came with me...cuddled up next to me and read silently beside me while I typed away.

At bedtime, instead of me reading a few chapters of his current read-aloud novel to him, he opted to read silently....while I laid next to him, reading along.

This boy....


...has discovered the magic.

Lesson Learned:
The Easter Bunny brought two books from the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series. Looks like I'm off to buy the rest of the collection.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Easter Eve Redemption

Today was one of those days that I wanted to call a Do Over before it was even lunchtime.

It was weird because it was the first day in forever (damn it, now I'm humming Frozen) that we slept in until 6:30. Still, the good mood gods were against us from the start. There was whining and bickering and crying and so....I left.

I've been writing. I'm going to have some articles published in a couple of different places over the next few weeks, which is awesome....but Max hasn't been napping and I've been obsessed with True Detective and House of Cards at night, so I haven't been writing as productively as is necessary right now. I went to the local coffee shop to pretend I was in college again and To Write.

I finished and sent off one article before the old man across the room started whistling. I'm not making this up. He started whistling so loudly, and so shrilly, and so terribly that I literally decided that I'd rather head back to whatever grumpiness awaited me at home than stay and endure any more.

And grumpiness at home there was.

There were more tears, more time outs, more sibling squabbles, and more whines (so now some wine).

It was a day that seemed destined for complete failure.

Sam suggested an outing. Parks and playgrounds were out....it's been miserably drizzling all day. Too late in the afternoon to go anywhere too far....we settled on the library.

We went in search of a book our neighbor recommended: Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, and Matthew Myers. We found it. It was worth the trip. Add it to your Amazon cart today. It deserves a spot on your permanent bookshelf. Along with Battle Bunny, we found some Fancy Nancy and Dr. Seuss, so everyone was content. Moods were improving.

Then, we came home for an art project.

***

The great part about celebrating a non-secular Easter, besides the fact that we don't have to outfit the kids in any uncomfortable clothes just to sit quietly for an hour and a half, is that you can make it fit your schedule. We'll be traveling on the real Easter and the week before is Evan's birthday, so we're celebrating Easter tomorrow. Easter in our house means a celebration of spring (color! new life! WARMTH!)...and sweets. The Easter Bunny will stage an Easter Egg hunt and he'll bring some sweet treats, new spring jammies, and a special something for each kid. Easter in our house, ever since Evan was diagnosed with an egg allergy just before his first Easter, also means painted eggs.

Sure, they're no Ukrainian pysanky...

File:Pysanky2011.JPG
photo credit: wikipedia

But every year, each of us paints a wooden egg. We display them around our house when we pull out our Easter decorations and the kids Love them. So do I. (Rechenka's Eggs by Patricia Polacco is another favorite book in our house, especially at this time of year.) I love seeing our collection grow......

Eggs from years past...
2014 additions
It worked. Art always does. We all felt better and the afternoon and evening were salvaged from the doldrums of grumpy kids. Tomorrow, we feast on jellybeans and Peeps!

Lesson Learned:
Tough day? Go outside. If you can't, don't be afraid to get your hands dirty and call a Do Over.


Happy Fake Easter!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mommy: a Great Noticer

When Evan was three, we signed him up for a soccer league. Not because he liked soccer, or was asking to play a sport, but because we thought it would be "good" for him. And, to be honest, it was because all of the other moms of three-year olds in our neighborhood were doing it, and I didn't want him (me?) to be left behind.

Not my best parenting move, I admit.

He hated it. Well, no, not really. He loved it when I was out on the field HOLDING HIS HAND and kicking the ball with him. But he didn't like anything else about it....not the drills, the other kids, the shin guards, nothing.

I kept watching him, feeling guilty for pushing him to do something horrible like Organized Sports. And feeling frustrated that he wouldn't just join the rest of the group of kids who seemed to have no trouble leaving their parents on the sideline. I saw him stand next to me, watching the birds instead of keeping his eye on the ball. But then, I saw him walk up to the coach. He said, "Coach John, I see a hawk. It's probably a red-tailed hawk because they live around here." Coach John followed Evan's pointing finger and saw the hawk. Instead of saying something vaguely dismissive like, "That's great, buddy, let's get back to the game!" he said, "Wow, Evan. I didn't even see that hawk flying way up there. You're a great noticer."

And he is. He always has been. He's a Great Noticer.

I love seeing my kids through other people's eyes. Other people are the Great Noticers of my kids. They see the things that sometimes get lost for me in the busy and the hectic and the "How many times do I have to ask you to PUT ON YOUR SHOES?!"

Max's preschool teacher texted me the other day from school. "Max is cracking us up right now!" she wrote. "He's doing 'Movie Surveys.' If you've seen the movie Frozen, thump your chest like a gorilla!" She noticed and laughed and took the time to share her, and Max's, joy with me. But Max does stuff like that all the time. "Molly! If you like Strawberry Shortcake say Too Too Ta-Doo!" And too often, my response is something like, "Max, can you please just finish your lunch? Let your sister eat."

Do I notice how clever and funny and sweet my kids are? Sure. And I try to capture their personalities and their senses of humor on this blog so I don't forget how they are now....and how they used to be.

But I've been making a point to Notice more, and to share it with them when I do.

I'm sure you've read, by now, the article that's been republished so many times I can't even be sure that I've found the original....but it's called "Six Words" and it's about the most important sentence you can say to your kids: "I love to watch you ______."

It's meant to express your joy in watching your child be. You're not just proud of his winning goal, you just love to watch him play soccer, whether or not he scores. It's also meant to instill within your child that the point of participation, in anything, should be for the experience, not the outcome.

Max and I went to a birthday party yesterday. It was for his best friend and all of the kids from his class were there....but it was at a party place, a little gym, not at her house. He was nervous. It took him awhile before he left my lap (because he needed me in the gym with him, not watching from the waiting room, like the other moms). But, ultimately, he left my lap. He ran and climbed and swung and danced with the other kids, smiling and waving to me from across the gym. And he had fun.  That night, tucking him in to bed, I said, "Max, I loved watching you play at the birthday party today." He smiled. "You were brave," I said, "and I love to see you be brave and find that new things can be fun." He nodded and said, "Yup. I sure was brave. I think I would say....I'm impressed with me."

I'm impressed with all three of them. All the time. Now to slow down and notice it more.

Lesson Learned:

I want to see my kids the way other people see them. I want to be a Great Noticer of my kids. I will be.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Moving Right Along

You know that feeling you get....when you're trying to get pregnant and you get your period, for instance? Or you spend just a moment too long before placing your Zulily order and someone snags that  last pair of 70%-off Toms right out of your cart?

Did she really just compare a baby to shoes?
Yes. But they're shoes with a soul.

Anyway...that feeling of an opportunity missed...If only the timing had been tipped a little bit more in my favor. You know that, if it's meant to be (and if you work hard enough, explore all options, keep an open mind, check those deal-a-day sites regularly, etc.), you'll someday have that baby in your arms or those shoes on your feet...but not today. And not tomorrow. And maybe not a year from now.

And the not knowing when or if or how comes rushing to you all at once and you feel overwhelmed and discouraged...and Sad.

I feel Sad today.
An opportunity missed.

I'm not trying to get pregnant, but this missed opportunity is bigger than a great deal on trendy (and conscientious!) shoes. Maybe someday I'll get another chance to make the could-have-been turn real...but it won't be today. And it won't be tomorrow. And it might not even be a year from now.

But maybe someday.

So, with great determination (and a pit in my stomach), I will move forward. I find I do this best by looking around me and noticing and appreciating those little things that have gone unnoticed and unappreciated lately.

Today, I find happiness in....

Late afternoons in mid-March, spent in the front yard with our favorite neighbors. A tease of seventy degree weather before one (hopefully) last blast of winter strikes later this week. Seven kids playing, six grow-ups sitting and chatting and drinking beer long past when toys should have been put away and hands should have been washed for dinner. A collective agreement to serve chicken nuggets or leftovers instead of what was supposed to be on the menu so that the last rays of evening sunlight could be savored.

The line that Evan is walking on, which separates Big Kid from Little Kid. He's inching further into Big Kid zone but he still wants me to tuck in his Bear at night, too.

Making vacation plans. In the next four and a half months, we'll be heading to the Outer Banks, Austin, and Montana and we couldn't be more excited. There will be a new baby to meet on one of the stops, too, which is adding to the anticipation.


Max's "Wacky Wednesday" outfit for school today, which was his typical after-school uniform: a princess gown fashioned from one of my old skirts, plus cat ears, a cat tail, and slippers. As we were walking out the door he said, "I just can't imagine anything wackier than a sleepy kitty princess!"


The fact that I'm done with dating. I mean, I know dating in real life is probably NOT like how it is on The Bachelor but, damn. I couldn't do it.

Talenti Gelato.

Jimmy Fallon's The Tonight Show. And Jimmy Fallon.

That burst of baby-lotion-smell that I get when I open Molly's door to check on her one last time before going to bed.

This blog. And the forum it gives me for getting these feelings and these thoughts out of my head, where they would otherwise sit and simmer and grow and threaten to drive me mad.

Lesson Learned:

....with thanks to The Muppets:
Moving right along.

Friday, March 7, 2014

make-your-own St. Patrick's Day sensory bin

I've always loved St. Patrick's Day....maybe because I was one of the few in my elementary school classes that could claim ownership of the day when we found green tempera leprechaun footprints on our desks....maybe because it's such a fun and fanciful, quick and easy, stress-free holiday...maybe because my half-Irish blood runs so deep that I can't NOT love it....

Or maybe it's because St. Patrick's Day, which falls just barely on the Lamb side of this bipolar month, marks the gateway into spring. I know that that's truer this year....the year of the bitterly cold, polar-vortexed, TEN SNOW DAYS, endless winter...than ever before.

And so yesterday....the 40-degree, first back-to-school day of the week, I decided it was time to start celebrating. Time to hang up the welcome banner to let St. Patrick's Day, and Spring, know that it's time. We're ready for you. Come on in.

Really. Seriously.

Come in, take off your shoes and get comfy. Stay for a nice loooooooonnngg while. 

***
First order of business in celebrating a new season in this house: A New Sensory Bin

I just love this St. Patrick's Day sensory bin.


We started by dying rice...TEN POUNDS of rice. 
In other words, my 1-month old baby nephew's weight in rice.
[That's a lot of rice. You'll want a nice big bin.]

We divided the rice evenly into 6 ziplock bags, so we could make rice in every color of the rainbow. We added a little squirt of rubbing alcohol and a few drops of food coloring to color the rice. Have the kids squish and shake the bag around until the rice is evenly-colored. Leave the bags open overnight to let the rice dry out.


Assemble the rest of the bin:
Wagon wheel pasta, which we had colored yellow, as the leprechaun's gold coins.
(Then Max found our "real" gold coins when we got out our St. Patrick's Day decorations bin....so we added those, too.)
Rainbow erasers, found in the party section at Target
Scoops
Funnels
Containers
Shakers

So pretty.

Molly was hesitant to mix the colors at first. 



I don't blame her. She probably felt like I did the first time I saw Evan mixing his Lego Ninjago pieces with his Lego Police pieces. You know....heart racing, palms sweating, shortness of breath...
I'm sure that's perfectly normal.


She preferred instead to scoop one color at a time...


Then I showed her how to take her finger and mix the colors....just a bit...

Baby steps to allowing chaos in play....she's getting there.
We both are.

Her first self-apointed task: Sorting.
Rainbows in here...


Gold coins in here...


Wagon wheels in here...


Everything in it's place.

***
There was a lot of talking during the 40 minutes that we played with the bin this morning. We talked a lot about colors (Molly knew them all...and was so proud to repeat them over and over), a lot about "shiny," a lot about "pour/dump/scoop," and a lot about "rainbows hiding" under the rice. This was the first time since Max was little that I had the chance to see how sensory play is such a language-rich play experience for toddlers. 

It's so amazing to see how the same activity can change so much from one month to another when the players are so little.

***

Beyond sorting and talking, there was a little bit of pouring...a little bit of mixing....

...and then we picked Max up from school.
Give this kid a sensory bin and about half a second?


Mission: Chaos in the Sensory Bin...
Accomplished.


Molly has such a task-oriented, methodical, fine-motor style to her sensory play.
Max tends to dive in, with an open mind and his entire body.

They work well together, though...Max encouraged Molly to do more pouring, scooping, and digging.
And Molly yelled "Uh-oh, Max!" every time a few pieces of rice fell out of the bin.

A girl after my own Type-A self.
Poor thing.

Lesson Learned:
The Spring Welcome Banner is officially waving.
I'm so over you, Winter.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

identifying, understanding, and labeling

Words matter.

****
I recently joined an online group of parents of "gender creative" children. Children who cross that created-by-humans line dividing boy things from girl things. Boys who like pink and sparkles and princesses. Girls who like trucks and slouchy jeans and short hair. It's a support group. For the parents.

But....
Who the hell would need a "support" group if their boy likes to play with dolls? Just let him play with the doll for christ's sake.

Let your kid play with TOYS! Who cares which side of the aisle your kid found the damn toy?!

Why do we need to label things like toys or clothes as "girl" or "boy" anyway? Toys are toys, clothes are clothes. Who cares what your kid picks to like? Stop making it such an issue.

Your boy pretends to be a princess? What's the big deal? My kid plays dress-up, too. Should I join a support group for THAT?!





But, see....that's not the point. This isn't a support group for kids who play with toys. This isn't a support group for kids who play pretend.

This is a support group for the parents of kids who say things like "I'm a girl kind of boy, is that okay?" or, "So, Mommy....when did you get to turn into a girl? Will I?"

It's a support group for parents who don't know anyone else who has ever been asked those questions. It's a group for parents to share stories and strategies and suggestions that make other parents feel like they're not the only ones walking guardedly, focusing half a block away, ready to ward off the starers, the snickerers, the pointers....

It's a support group for parents, like me, who just want to know that they're doing everything they can to make their kid's life just a little bit easier....to make them feel just a little bit more comfortable in their own skin.

****

When Evan was diagnosed with food allergies at 10 months old, the first thing I did when I came home was throw out 90% of the food in my pantry (because 90% of the food in my pantry contained one or more of Evan's 13 allergens). The second thing I did was to Google "support group for parents of food-allergic children." I found a great one, full of knowledgable moms (a few dads) who had been navigating the waters of Food Allergies for years. Moms who knew how to substitute for eggs in recipes half a dozen different ways....who knew what code words to look out for to determine whether milk--which could cause anaphylaxis in my child--may be hiding in that ingredient list (this was before the clear labeling laws were put into practice), who knew how to fatten up my string-bean of a kid without eggs or dairy or nuts or wheat or olive oil.....who taught me what to say to a prospective preschool to ensure my child's physical safety while he was out of my sight for the first time in his life.

That support group saved my sanity....and maybe even my kid's health. At the very least, the other moms made me feel normal when I hovered over my child at an allergen-laden birthday party the way other parents hover over their toddlers at the edge of the ocean. And they showed me that, even though life just threw me a curveball that I didn't see coming, I could handle it. And my kid? He'd be just fine.

****
But how did I find that support group--the one that saved me?

It started with a label: The Food-Allergic Child

And now, with this new kid and this new "issue" and this new support group, I've gone and done it again: The Gender-Creative Child

Yup. I labeled my child. I know they say not to....just let your child be who he or she is....they'll determine their own labels (or not) when they have the maturity, the psychological development, and the vocabulary to adequately do so. Be careful not to label! they say, or you'll be projecting yourself onto your child's undeveloped ego! You'll create a self-fulfilling prophecy that your child won't be able to live up to, or will want to rebel against!

Dude.

This is so not the same thing.

This is me finding a name for something for which I had no previous reference point. This is me Identifying a part of my child that is confusing and upsetting to him at times, and wanting to know how I can make that confusion go away. This is me using a keyword to search for other parents who are hearing the same questions I'm hearing. This is me seeking to gain the wisdom of those who have walked this path before me....so that I can learn from their successes and attempt to avoid their mistakes.

This is me trying to understand my child so that I know what to say to him (or to others) when someone mocks his dress, or asks him if he's a boy or a girl, or tells him that Tinker Bell is for girls.

This is ME.

This has nothing to do with my kid.
But it has everything to do with my kid, which is why I feel so fiercely protective over it.

We have never once called our gender-creative child "gender-creative." Sure, he'll see it when he reads this blog....which he will someday, it's why I print it out. And when he sees that, he'll also see that I've called him sweet, sensitive, hilarious, thoughtful, smart as hell, handsome, confident, imaginative, musical, artistic, talkative, limit-testing, patience-busting, and a lousy sleeper (although he is the best sleeper out of the three, so that'll count for something). He'll see all of these labels I've attached to him, written in post after post after post throughout his life. I can't help it. I make sense of the world through words. He'll read those labels and he'll know that he was, and will forever be, so loved...but maybe just as importantly? Understood.

Calling my child "gender-creative" is Mommy Shorthand.  It helps me convey a lot of information with just one term because, if you're familiar with the term, it simply means that Max does not adhere to "typical" societal conventions of what boys are like. That's it. We're not talking sex or sexuality or gender-identity.

Max's gender-creativity isn't MAX. It's just one little piece of him.

But it's the piece of him that causes him to ask questions for which I don't have the answers, which is why I was so thrilled to find a support group for PARENTS of kids just like him. It's the same reason that I found food-allergy moms to ask about the merits of Epi-Pens vs. Auvi-Q injectors in the treatment of an anaphylactic reaction. When you have questions, you seek answers from people with experience.

Max's gender-creativity is the piece of Max that I have questions about, too. For example: Should we "edit" his wardrobe selections in any circumstances? I find myself more comfortable saying "I'd like you to choose another pair of pants for the restaurant" to my gender-typical Evan than to Max because I don't want Max to think I'll be embarrassed by the pink jeggings...really, it's the grass stains ON the pink jeggings that make me cringe.

But how can you ask a question about something that has no name? So I read a lot online, and one really great book, and I found a name for it. As I've learned a million times over, it's the mommies with the answers, so I sought them out. And I found them by attaching a label to my child.

In doing so, did I create an identity for him?

Of course not. Just as Evan's food allergies do not make up his Identity, nor are they even his defining characteristic, neither will gender-creativity be Max's. This is just where we are, Right Now.

While I may have put the words together, I did not create this label for Max....I'm following his lead. Doing the very best I can just to keep up.......and using whatever resources I can to prepare myself for what we may face along this journey, knowing full well that this course we're on isn't charted beyond today.

Because that's what moms do.

Lesson Learned:
Words matter.
Words, when used in information-gathering, to identify, and to understand can be helpful.
Even when they're used as Labels.