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

Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Year...or, Not So Much

This was going to be My Year.

For the first time in over eight years I was to have time for myself that didn't not require the Putting To Sleep of a Child. Free time! ME time!

For seven hours each week, all three of my children are in school. Seven HOURS! Imagine what I could accomplish in SEVEN hours!

I was going to do yoga four times a week.

I was going to broaden my dinner repertoire to include more and different recipes that my whole family was going to love.

I was going to meet friends for coffee and conversation.

I was going to catch up on the laundry.

I was going to read. Books. Lots of them.

I was going to drink a cup of coffee, straight through to the last drop, still hot.

I was going to write.
...not just on this little blog.
...not just on other blogs...
...but really write...the collection of stories that have been swirling around my brain and in my heart for the last two years.

But I'm finding that I don't, actually, have seven hours to myself. Not really.

I rarely drop Molly off at precisely 8:30 and, even if I do, I nearly always stay to chat with her teachers for a bit. (6 hours 45 minutes)

I signed up to be a volunteer in Max's kindergarten class during Guided Reading because kindergartners are the greatest kinds of human beings on the planet. (5 hours 45 minutes)

I also signed up to be a volunteer in Evan's art class because third graders are, well, um...also great? And art is super fun. But mostly because how the hell else am I going to know anything about anything that happens in third grade what with the whole Evan Is Less an Open Book and More a Locked Diary thing? (4 hours 45 minutes)

And, also, I signed up to be the Room Mom for both classes because ha ha ha ha ha! No seriously. Had I had a drink or two before Back to School Night or something because What? Who does that?! (3 hours)

So, basically, Tuesday is a total wash. There's still Thursday for the yoga and the cooking and the reading and the catching up with friends and the writing, right?!

Oh, right.

Then we got a puppy. (Negative 1,000 hours)

This isn't the year I thought it would be for me, but it's okay. I love volunteering at school, I love this puppy (yup, more to come on this, but I'm smitten), and my friends understand because they're all just as busy or busier than me. The books will eventually get read, the dinners won't get eaten regardless of how long I've spent preparing them so I might as well just bake some more chicken, and the stories in my head and my heart can marinate a bit more before hitting the screen.

But you know what can't wait? What doesn't understand? What does need to happen Right Now and doesn't care that we have a new puppy?

Christmas.

Christmas used to happen during nap times, which are long gone. Or after the kids went to bed, which is now Puppy Time. Or while Sam played with oblivious little kids in the backyard while I made like an elf in the makeshift Santa's Workshop of our basement storage room...not anymore: they'd be on to us.

It was December 12 and I was Not Ready for Christmas. I know for most of the world, this would not be a problem. You still have 12 days, you're thinking, 13, really. But I'm not like most of the world. I am so Type A when it comes to Christmas that our Christmas Lists have lists and they live in Excel. I'm so Type A that I re-decorate the tree after the kids have had a first pass at it. (There are roughly 4,000 limbs on that tree, Molly. You can use more than the bottom 15.) I start baking and freezing Christmas cookies the week after Thanksgiving. My Christmas shopping is done early, save for some wiggle-room in the budget for last-minute, magic-making, wish-fulfillment. Presents are wrapped, little by little, over the course of December and I coast into the holiday, organized, prepared, and as stress-free as a Type A introvert can be leading up to the Biggest Holiday of the Year.

At least, that's how it usually goes.

And I needed to get back to that serene place, in which I felt festive and fun rather than stressed and short-fused.

So I did what I always do when I reach my max...I demanded some alone time.

I sent Sam and the kids and the puppy away for a day. I sent them off with packed lunches, snacks for days (just in case), and an alibi: I have some writing to do, kids, so go visit your Grandmother and Grandpop with Daddy!

I had about six hours. That's it. But it was enough.

I went to the grocery store.
I baked a batch of molasses-ginger cookies.
I drank a cup of coffee in one sitting.
I finished painting the rainbow fairy peg dolls for Molly's stocking.
I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies.
I ate lunch while sitting.
I watched Love Actually.
I wrapped ALL the Christmas presents.
I assembled the one Christmas present (a million-piece Playmobil set, of course) that had a shipping label stuck directly to the box, thus blowing the whole damn made-in-an-elfin-workshop charade. (Thanks for nothin', Zulily.)
I made the dough for Sunday's sugar-cookie decorating extravaganza.

And then...I waited around for my family to come home.

Six hours. It was all I needed.

I can breathe again. I'm ready for Christmas.

At least...I would be if it wasn't 75 degrees outside.

Lesson Learned:
When I get overwhelmed, when I feel like I can't breathe and I can't possibly accomplish the Something that needs to be accomplished, I often find that the solution can be found in me running away from or sending away my family.

It's not that they're the problem...it's me. It's me needing space and solitude (and, when it comes to Christmas, secrecy). I take my space, I remember to inhale fully, and, when the Something is Done and we are again reunited, it feels good to have missed my family. And to have checked something off one of my Lists.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Science of Parenthood: A Q&A with the Authors

Of all the things I love about blogging, one of my most recent favorites is that I've had the opportunity to meet some of the People of the Internet, whom are creating the excellent Content of the Internet that I've been liking and favoriting and sharing for years. What's even better, is when these people take their internet brilliance one step further...outside of the cyber-confines of the internet and right into my own hands.

Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler have taken their internet brilliance and hilarity beyond their blog and onto the pages of this deeply scientific and highly relatable parenting manual: Science of Parenthood



By "deeply scientific" I mean not really at all scientific.

But by "highly relatable" I mean that Norine and Jessica have put into words and pictures the moments of parenthood you have managed to survive, even if you haven't been able to tell about it. From pregnancy and childbirth, through potty training and the hell that is picky eaters, all they way up to homework and tweenaged angst: if you haven't experienced the joys of parenthood described in this book then, hold onto your hats New Mom, you will.

Read on to learn more about Science of Parenthood, straight from the authors/illustrators themselves.

*********

What’s Science of Parenthood all about?

Science of Parenthood started nearly three years ago as an illustrated humor blog. We use fake math and science to “explain” the stuff that puzzles parents every day. Things like ...
Why are broken cookies “ruined?”
Why does it matter what color the sippy cup is?
Why can’t you put the straw in the juice box without your kid having a melt down?
Why will a kid whine-whine-whine for a toy, then lose all interest in that toy once they have it? 
Where the eff is my phone?  

We’ve come up with some pretty hilarious theories.

Our book, Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting Situations, is like our blog … but like our blog on STEROIDS! We utilized the blog to road test--perhaps we should say “field test”--material, and now the book contains the kinds of cartoons and writing that fans love to find at Science of Parenthood, along with all new cartoons, infographics, flowcharts, pie charts, and quizzes that we created just for the book. About 90 percent of the book is brand new material.

Divided into four sections--biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics--the book lives in the chasm that exists between our collective hopes and dreams and expectations of what parenting will be like … and the brutal, slap-you-upside-the-head reality of what parenting actually is. We cover all aspects of pregnancy, birth, and the hilarious frustrations that come with early childhood (tantrums, picky eating, diaper blowouts, illness, sleep issues, play dates, toy creep, homework battles, and encounters with crazy parents (not you, of course, we mean other parents). And you know what? You don’t even need to be a scientist to “get” it.


Our goal is just to make parents laugh. Because when you’re a parent, you NEED to laugh. Humor is a survival tool. After your tot has gotten the top off a jar of Vaseline and smeared every surface within reach--as happened to our friend Gail--or tried to “help” you paint a room and ended up covered in blue paint--as happened to Norine’s sister Shari--you have to laugh. Or you’ll end up sobbing. Or wearing one of those fancy white jackets that buckles up in the back.


Is any of the book autobiographical?

Pretty much all of the book reflects through our experiences as parents. Take the piece “Experimental Gastronomy: A Study in Potatoes” from the Chemistry section. It’s written like a scientific paper about an experiment in which a researcher tries to determine if a preschooler who likes French fries will eat mashed potatoes. Raise your hand if you can hypothesize the outcome (see what we did there?) The piece is completely based on Norine’s inability to get her five-year-old, who loves fries, to even taste mashed potatoes. Says Norine: “I tried everything! I even offered him extra chocolate for dessert, and he still refused to take even one tiny nibble.”  




Why science? Are either of you scientists?

Not at all. We’re moms dealing with the same kind of crazy stuff everyone else is. Science just makes a great metaphor for the frustration, exasperation, and humiliation that comes with everyday parenting. Think about Einstein and how he explained his theory of relativity: “Sit on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour; sit with a pretty girl with an hour and it feels like a minute. That’s relativity.” Well, that’s parenthood too. One minute you’ve got a newborn covered in goo and then next, you’re watching teary-eyed as they skip into kindergarten without even a backward glance or a kiss goodbye. And yet, when you’re into your third hour of Candy Land on a rainy day, time seems to stand still. (If you haven’t played Candy Land with your toddler yet, trust us on this. The scars never really heal.)

Where did you get the idea for Science of Parenthood?

Our “eureka” moment came when Norine’s son, Fletcher, came home from school talking about one of Newton’s laws of force and motion: An object at rest stays at rest unless acted on by an external force.

Says Norine: “That instantly reminded me of Fletcher with his video games. He’d sit on the couch and play games all day if I didn’t confiscate the iPad. I jotted down, Newton’s First Law of Parenting: A child at rest will remain at rest until you want your iPad back. Later, I posted that on Facebook. It got a good response, so I started posting other parenting observations and giving them a math or science twist, like Sleep Geometry Theorem: A child will always sleep perpendicular to any adult laying next to them. Both of these are fan favorites and two of the very few cartoons we pulled from the blog to include in the book.

“As a writer, I’m always looking for new ways to tell stories. And in that eureka moment, it struck me that math and science make fantastic metaphors for telling the universal stories of parenting. Like scientists, we parents are always fumbling in the dark, searching for answers, wondering if we’re on the right track and second-guessing our methods. And because a picture is still worth a thousand words, I knew that these science-y quips would be a lot more popular on social media if they were illustrated. So I called Jessica and asked if she wanted to illustrate a book of these funny observations.

“Jessica was the one who saw that Science of Parenthood could be much bigger than a single book. She saw the potential for a blog and a social media presence and ancillary products. She quickly secured a domain name for us and created a Facebook page and Twitter feed. She began illustrating the observations I had already banked. Two weeks later, we debuted on Facebook; a week after that we rolled out the blog. Now we’re three years in, and along with Science of Parenthood, the book, we have mugs and magnets and posters featuring our images. Earlier this year we published two collections of humorous parenting tweets—The Big Book of Parenting Tweets and The Bigger Book of Parenting Tweets.  


Where can readers find Science of Parenthood?

Science of Parenthood is available on Amazon and in bookstores.

And you can always find Science of Parenthood on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.


About The Authors

Norine is the primary writer for Science of Parenthood, the blog, and Science of Parenthood,the book. A longtime freelance magazine writer, Norine’s articles have appeared in just about every women’s magazine you can buy at supermarket checkout as well as on The Huffington Post, Parenting.com, iVillage, Lifescript and Scary Mommy websites. Norine is the co-author of You Know He’s a Keeper…You Know He’s a Loser: Happy Endings and Horror Stories from Real Life Relationships (Perigee), Food Cures (Reader’s Digest) and a contributor to several humor anthologies, including Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding(Demeter Press). She lives with her husband and 9-year-old son in Orlando.



The daughter of famed New Yorker cartoonist Jack Ziegler, Jessica is Science of Parenthood’s co-creator, illustrator, web designer and contributing writer. In her “off hours,” Jessica is the director of social web design for VestorLogic and the writer/illustrator of StoryTots, a series of customizable children’s books. Her writing and illustration have been published on The Huffington Post, Vegas.comInThePowderRoom.com and in Las Vegas Life and Las Vegas Weekly. Jessica was named a 2014 Humor Voice of the Year by BlogHer/SheKnows Media. She lives with her husband and 11-year-old son in Denver.

Together Jessica and Norine published The Big Book of Parenting Tweets and The Bigger Book of Parenting Tweets earlier in 2015.

If you'd like to learn more about the Science of Parenthood Book Tour with Norine and Jessica, click here.
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Lesson Learned:
In full disclosure, I did receive a copy of this awesome book from the authors. The views expressed in this post, however, are my own. So go pick yourself up a copy of Science of Parenthood. And one for a friend. You can find it on Amazon here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

That Time I Ugly-Cried Over School Folders

Sam and I are pretty normal, as far as parents go. Maybe not in every decision we make, but in the way that, after so many Critical Parenting Moments, we look at each other and say, "Shit. Did we just blow that one?"

We are our own worst critics and it sometimes feels like when it comes to raising our children we can't do anything right. 

And then something happens that makes me realize We're Going To Be Okay.

The kids? They're fine. Better than fine, even.

That something happened today.

After school the kids grabbed snacks and one device or another and settled in for some down time as I went through their school work. Notices from school, check-marked homework assignments, assorted classwork...the usual, but with an unexpected Jackpot at the end of the pile: an entire semester's worth of kindergarten writing workshop stories.

Kindergarten writing is My Favorite. I love the drawings, the invented spellings, the absurdity of the plotlines as they develop over the course of two whole sentences (Prisses Kate is runing away for a reesin. Froo the nite she ran and it was day agen. The End.). But really, I love how writing, for any age, is a little open window into the heart of the writer.

My heart burst when I read this next story. Maxwell's wide open heart, spilled out over the pages of a Kindergarten Writing Workshop writing frame.

My Family
by Max

I love myself because I don't want to be someone else.

And the tears filled my eyes. I continued to read.

Molly and Evan are the best. We all like the same things.

As I flipped the page and read the next words, the tears, they ran hot.

I love my mom and dad. They can do anything.

...and I was ugly crying.

I love my family. No one is better.

...over a school folder.

Lesson Learned:
We're not perfect parents. His perfect heart, however, reminds me that we're doing okay.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Change of Heart

It is no secret that Evan, who is now at the ripe old age of eight and a half, has always had some pretty big emotions. He feels even regular, everyday things (both emotionally--frustration, sadness, anger; and physically--hunger, fatigue, sock seams, shirt tags, and "spicy" food) on a very intense level. He works very hard to contain these feelings and to express them in an appropriate and constructive way when he is out in the world. His teachers, his friends' parents, our extended family, and people who just happen to cross his path all say the same thing, "He is such a sweet, caring child."

And I smile and thank them. "He is," I agree out loud. In my head, though, I can't help it: "Oh, you have no idea." He is, it's true, rarely sweet or caring at home. After working so hard to keep it together at school, for his teacher and friends, he lets it all out once he gets home. It's not that he's never nice: he and Max can find a good groove and play together for an entire afternoon. But more often than not, one or both of them ends up in tears or Taking a Break. And yes, he'll let me cuddle up next to him and read Harry Potter before bed, tickling his back after I turn off the light.

But when I say "I love you," he says, "Okay."

When I kiss him (and it has to be on the top of his head) he shakes it off.

When I hug him, he stands rigid, refusing to participate and be the other half of the hug.

Lately, I've been feeling as though it is just not my lot in this life to be able to experience his affection. And I'm okay with that, because as long as he is a kind and positive contributor in the outside world, as long as he treats his siblings with love and kindness and his dad and me with respect, and as long as he knows that there's nothing he could ever do or say to earn an eviction notice from this family, we'll be fine.

A few months ago, I started to notice an unmistakable trend: Evan is at his very Best, his kindest, his most compassionate, his most tender, around babies and dogs. People actually stop and watch him interact with these perfect, faultless beings. He's something of a Whisperer, that Evan, and it's a beautiful thing to see. But we're not having any more babies. And I am NOT a dog person.

They shed.
They slobber.
They chew.
They bark.
They are filthy.
They are expensive.
They are time-consuming.
They are Not My Thing.

But...
If I can't be on the receiving end of Evan's unconditional love and affection at this point in his life, it sure would be great to be able to witness it...

A tiny seed of a thought would float into my brain, Maybe we should get a dog.... My brain would swiftly and unapologetically sweep the thought aside with a pragmatic, Don't be ridiculous. We are not a Dog Person. But then we went to a play date, where Evan ignored the kids to play with the dog. And the seed-thought would return, Maybe Evan is a Dog Boy. Again, though, my brain would send the thought packing, Dogs are like destructive newborns. You're not thinking this through. Then he started jumping the fence in the backyard to play with our neighbor's dog. "Mom! Reese is out! I'm gonna go play fetch with her!" And that damn seed-thought started to sprout We should get a dog.

Last week, something flipped and my brain stopped trying to quiet the sprout of thought. On Monday, the thought entered and started to walk around a bit. A dog would be so good for Evan. Molly would adore it! It might be good for all of us, really! By Wednesday, it pulled up a chair. A dog would help teach compassion and responsibility. It would be a great way for Evan to practice expressing affection. A boy and his dog....such a pretty cliche. On Friday, it sat down and made itself at home. We're getting a dog. Time to tell Sam.

Sam is a Dog Person. He grew up with a dogs and even had a dog when we got married. It was a great dog. But it was a dog and I am not a Dog Person.

He came home for lunch last Friday afternoon.

"You're going to think I'm crazy but I have something I want to say."

I'm not usually one to throw a curveball, so he continued to eat. "Okay, what's up?"

"I think we should get a dog."

He stopped, mid-chew. He slowly turned to face me, not sure what prank I was trying to pull.

"I'm serious," I went on. I started to list the reasons why I think a dog would be a good fit for our family, a great fit for Evan.

He didn't let himself get too excited. He knew that I could pull the plug on this train of thought at anytime. "Let's think about it," he offered.

That evening we had settled on a breed and found some relatively local breeders. We knew we wanted a puppy so the kids could grow up together, form an early bond.

The next morning we were (secretly) admiring the dozens of dogs we saw on our hike and I was starting to get really excited about the prospect of becoming a dog family.

That night, just 36 hours after I breathed word of my Crazy Thought to Sam, we told the kids.

Max and Molly squealed with delight.

Evan was shocked. He stopped asking for a dog years ago after countless "We're not getting a dog" responses from me. He looked at me with a mixture of disbelief and hope and I nodded, "It's true, buddy. What do you think?" His eyes actually twinkled. A smile spread across his whole face and he yelled, "I call Fetch Duty!" He hasn't stopped talking about Our Dog since.

A boy with his dog. I can't wait to see it.

Lesson Learned:
Believe me, I know it's not going to be perfect. I know it's not going to solve all of our problems. I know it's going to be more work and more frustration and more money than I can possibly imagine. But I also know that it could be great. It could be just what he needs. It could be just what WE need. We're ready to work hard and accept the challenge. We're ready for our puppy.

Also, we're picking up the dog on Friday, three days before our entire family descends upon us for Thanksgiving week. Because what's one tiny puppy in a house of 20, right?

This might just be the biggest regret of our lives.

Or it could be the best decision we've ever made.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Spread the Good News

This morning was a shit show. Max was singing loudly on purpose just to piss off Evan. Evan was chasing Max just to make him squeal.  The noise level was off the charts and my head was pounding by 7am. I said “Brush your teeth” at least seven times and I’m not sure if anyone actually did. Neither of them had packed their backpacks and the clock was rapidly ticking towards Departure Time. Max looked me in the eye and pushed play on my iPhone after I said, “Take out the headphones. You can listen to more music after school.” Evan, with a blanket over his head, jumped out at Molly, scaring the shit out of her, melting her into a puddle of Hold Me Mommy tears. Meanwhile, his library books were nowhere to be found...because no one was looking for them.

After much nagging, voice-raising, and threat-making, I kissed the tops of their heads and shooed them out the door, zipped, packed, and ready for school, more or less on time. I closed the door behind them and, had it not been for the 3-year old standing beside me, I may have added, “Have a great day at school, assholes!”

Kids can be jerks.

I know this is true because I have them. My friends do, too, and they agree. My kids are good kids. They are kind to their friends, they are respectful toward their teachers, they are hard-workers. But still, they’re kids. They don’t always listen, they aren’t always kind to their siblings, and they don’t always have a respectful tone or attitude with us, their parents. I know that we’re lucky that our kids save their most obnoxious behavior for us, but it can be exhausting and disheartening to see the worst of my kids’ behaviors.

Sam and I have had a lot of conversations lately about the People we are rearing. The days of night-waking, potty-training, and toddler tantrums may be (mostly) over, but as our Little Kids morph into Bigger Kids, this parenting gig is getting harder. People tried to tell me this when I would struggle with weaning or nap schedules: Little kids, little problems; Big kids, big problems. They would say. I would roll my eyes and ignore them because, in the moment, getting my little baby to sleep was a Big Problem.

But I get it now. My concerns for my kids are no longer about this moment right now...they’re Big Picture concerns: Will my children grow up to be compassionate and positive contributors to their communities? Will my children be Good People?

When I see the way my kids can argue and fight with each other, when I hear the way they can speak to me and Sam, when I notice the selective hearing they seem to possess, it doesn’t always feel like we’re doing a good enough job as their parents.

A few hours after our shit show of a morning (and after a few phone conversations with Sam about how we can Do Mornings Better), a friend of mine wrote on my Facebook wall.

“Today, I was volunteering in art class. Addie couldn’t see the teacher and your sweet, sweet Max gently took her by the shoulder and gave her his spot. Inclusion at its finest! I may just never stop crying these tears of joy!”

Addie is in Max’s kindergarten class. Addie has Down’s Syndrome. Addie’s mom had Big hopes and dreams before sending her daughter to kindergarten: That Addie would be included as one of the group in her classroom. That Addie would make friends. That children would be kind to Addie. In short, Addie’s mom had the same hopes and dreams that all parents have before sending their kids out into the world.

Today, she witnessed her dreams coming true.

Today, she shared with me a beautiful story about the gentle, kind nature of my child. Today, she publicly complimented my child on a behavior I otherwise wouldn’t have seen. She didn’t know how hellish our morning had been. She didn’t know how my husband and I had been saying to each other, just moments before, “What the hell is wrong with our kids? Why can’t they just be helpful in the mornings? Why can’t they just Be Nice?!”

It’s because they’re kids. They’re not perfect. They’re certainly not perfect in the safety and comfort of their own home. But when it counts, they are Good People. I’m so thankful that my friend thought to remind me of what I knew deep down in my heart to be true.

That Facebook post struck a nerve with me; a proud, Mama Bear nerve. I watched the number of Likes the post received climb. Good News travels fast and my heart swelled because my kid was at the center of that Good News. It’s a feeling I want to share with other parents. 

Spreading Good News: This should be our new Parenting Trend. 

When I see a child do something nice for someone else, when a child is polite and respectful in my home, when I see a kid kick ass at a performance or a classroom project while I’m in school volunteering, when I know a mom has been struggling with her child’s attitude and he smiles at me and says “Hi, Mrs. Harris!” I’m going to tell her.

My compliments may not always be public, they may not always be on Facebook, but they will be when it’s appropriate. To hell with public-shaming, let’s start public-praising. I want to be a spreader of Good News. I want to remind parents who may have the same self-defeating thoughts that I have that they are doing a good job, that their kids are Good People.

There’s a parenting article that has been circulating among my moms’ groups lately. It’s called If My Kid is Being An Asshole, I Want You To Tell Me and I’m sure you’ve read it. If you haven’t, you should because it’s perfect. It’s perfect because it acknowledges the likelihood that at some point, my friends (or their kids) will see my kids acting in a jerky, reckless, or dangerous way. It’s perfect because it acknowledges that none of us is perfect and we parents need to stick together...with no judgement, only support.

I want you to tell me if my kid is acting like an asshole. I also want you to tell me when my kid shows you his Best. It may be a side of him I don’t always get to see...even though my Mama Heart knows that it’s there.

Lesson Learned:
Look for the positive. When you find it, share it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Tale of Friendship: in haiku

She has a new friend:
an imaginary friend.
He's quite real to her.

He lived in my room,
I mean, "The Swamp!" Until she
came to his rescue.

He's small and he's green.
He has a long tail. He is
an alligator.

She said, "I'm Molly,"
and, with a grin, he replied,
"I'm Starshine Lewis."

She brought him back home
and offered him food. He said,
"I mostly eat meat."

Molly was happy
to share her meals, as she's a
vegetarian.

She has a new friend:
a carnivorous friend! And 
they're a perfect match.

When she goes to school,
her friend goes, too. He stays safe
tucked in her pocket.

"Good, little 'gator!"
she whispers to him, as she
pats him on the head.

She never reveals,
to the kids in her class, her
friend, hidden away.

And when they come home,
she lets him out. He's ready
to run and to play.

They play Swamp Monster,
(it's a swampy game) made up
by Starshine Lewis.

Watch out! A monster!
Jump from pillow to pillow
across the room swamp!

As I make our lunch,
she calls to me, "'Remember!
He mostly eats meat."

She has a new friend,
but he won't stay forever.
He's temporary.

The magic will fade,
though he's welcome to stay as
long as she believes.

She has a new friend--
a magic friend--and his name
is Starshine Lewis.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tim Gunn, Get Out of My Kitchen

I came downstairs this morning, as I usually do; showered, dressed, and ready to start my day with a smile. "Good morning!" I cheerfully greeted my boys who were, as they usually are, already at the counter, eating breakfast. My cheery smile soon faded, however, as my 6-year old looked me up and down with nothing short of sartorial scorn.

"Ohmygah, Mom. What are you wearing?"

I looked down at my clothes to ensure that I had, in fact, put them on. I had. I was wearing my nice (non-holey) jeans and a black tee, topped with a plaid shirt, casually unbuttoned. And, okay, it's true, I'm not usually a Plaid Person, but it was a beautiful October morning: I was rockin' fall, y'all.

"What?" I said, "This?" I gestured toward my shirt.

"Um. Yeah, " he said, with a hint of a sarcastic snicker. "What is this: Dress Like a Boy Day or something?"

I looked at him incredulously. He, in his unicorn tunic and patterned leggings, was one to talk. Besides, not that it matters, but this shirt fit me perfectly.

"Max. Seriously? How many times have we talked about the fact that ANYone can wear ANYthing that makes them happy and comfortable. Clothes are for Everyone."

He laughed gently and patronizingly: "No, it's totally fine! I mean...just...did you get that shirt out of daddy's closet or not?"

My dear boy. It's time you learned something: Tim Gunn wants his Fashion Mentor 'tude back. And Plaid is a Classic.

Lesson Learned:
Oh, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in his kindergarten classroom after I came in to volunteer today: "Guys, about my mom...Sorry you had to see that. She's so 1990s."

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Sweet Shop Birthday Party

When I first broached the subject of Max's 6th Birthday Party with him several weeks ago, I wasn't surprised to learn that he already had some Big Ideas about what he wanted:

A Sweet Shop Birthday Party

I jumped immediately on board...I mean, look at this sweet face...


How could I not?

 I followed the same simple formula as I have for all birthdays past:
Simple Decorations
Simple Games
Simple Treats

Here are some of the highlights!

Welcome to Max's Sweet Shop


I made wrapped candies out of styrofoam balls and tissue paper for our party backdrop.
Table decor was a white plastic table cloth with a polka dot wrapping paper runner, topped with clear containers of candy.


I already had a few glass vases but I purchased most of the other containers from Oriental Trading. You can find the ones I purchased here. (Note: they are made from thin, flexible plastic that is not water-tight. Perfect for holding candy, not to be used as a vase.) I found the rainbow swirl lollipops and candy sticks at Oriental Trading as well. I really wanted classic Candy Shop treats and was having trouble finding them locally.

As the kids arrived, I directed them to the table where blank party favor bags and sticker sheets were waiting for them. The kids decorated their bags while we waited for all guests to arrive.


Stations
I had a few "anytime" stations set up. These were simple play activities that the kids could do at anytime in the party...after they finished decorating their party favor bags, while waiting for the next game to begin, or if they chose to sit one of the games out.

Station #1: Froot Loop necklaces


I pre-cut the string and wrapped one end of the string in blue painter's tape for easy cereal stringing.

Station #2: Candy Land play mat


Max helped me to design and create this "map" of Candy Land, complete with "Lollipop Meadow," "Licorice Forest," "Coach Gingerbread's Playground," "Gumdrop Grove," and "Mount Red Hot," in addition to the Candy Land path. We set up our new fairy houses and fairies around the play mat as the characters and their homes.

Station #3: Birthday Cake Playdough


I found a great playdough recipe that looked and smelled just like birthday cake batter. You can find the recipe here. To complete the station, we added silicone cupcake holders, candles, large sequin "sprinkles," drink umbrellas, and mini cookie cutters. 


I made a double batch so I could send some home with each guest in their party favor bag. In addition to the playdough, each child received some paper cupcake liners, a candle, and an umbrella for at-home cupcake-making.

Station #4: Candy Land


It was the inspiration for the party, after all!

Station #5: Jelly Bean Estimation Jar


This was one of my favorite activities to watch, and such a flashback to my days as a kindergarten teacher. As a generalization, Kindergartners are Not Good at estimating large numbers. Of the 12 kids at the party, only my third grader wrote a number other than a round number. The closest guess was a three-way tie of 100. There were more than 100 jelly beans in the jar, though, so we had to do a second round of the kids who guessed 100. I told them to think of a number bigger than 100 and the answers included 1009 (one-hundred and nine) and 10028 (one-hundred and twenty eight). 

I love estimating with little kids. I'll bet if Max's birthday were later in the school year, the answers would have been a lot closer. So much number sense develops this year!

Games
In addition to the stations, we did have some organized party games. 

Stick the Gumball in the Machine

 

No party would be complete without a Pin the Tail on the Donkey variation. For this game, the object was the stick the gumball in the black "tray" not in the glass jar. After all, a gumball that has come down the chute is better news than a gumball still in the machine.

Candy Bingo


I made this game with clip art and my laminating machine. Buttons make great Bingo Markers!

When Max's kindergarten class plays bingo, every time you get 5-in-a-row, you say "B-B-B-B-Bingo!" Play continues, however, until your whole card is filled in. Since that's how his beloved teacher plays, that how we play, too. The whole group loved this game. Some of them got it out after we played together to play on their own.


Ring Around the Lollipops


A simple yard game, this was created using craft paper, skewers, and ribbons. I made two sets so the kids didn't have to wait too long for a turn. This game was another big hit. 

To make the rings, I cut the middles out of paper plates and wrapped the leftover rings with this thick, beautiful yarn I found at Michael's. I think it was Isaac Mizrahi brand?


This game was so popular, I had to pry some kids back inside with the promise of 
a trip to the Candy Bar.

Candy Bar


Hoooo, boy. The Candy Bar. The kids came up, two at a time, and filled a small candy bag with as much of whatever they liked as could fit in the bag. 


To say this was the star of the party would be an understatement. We had: rainbow lollipops (round and swirl pops), candy sticks, candy buttons, jelly beans, Sixlets, M&Ms, Twizzler bits, gummy bears, and Starburst. We chose candies based on Max's favorites and appearance...We wanted the bar to be colorful and festive. It was. Hoooo, boy, was it ever.

After the trip to the candy bar, it was time for more sweet treats.

Max originally wanted to combine his love of Sweets with his longtime goal of working in a bakery. He wanted to bake cupcakes at his Sweet Shop birthday party. Call me a party pooper, but the idea of 12 kids baking in my kitchen sounded less like a Good Time and more like hell on Earth. 

Instead, I let them decorate their own (slice-n-bake) sugar cookies.


I think they went over just as well.


Lesson Learned:
I think it would be prudent, at this time, to offer my sincere apologies to the parents of the party guests. I'm sorry I sent your children home with bags of candy, giant lollipops, and tummies full of candy-topping-laden sugar cookies just three weeks before Halloween. 

But, sort of...sorry, not sorry. Would you look at this kid? Happiest 6-year old on the block.


But seriously, thank you for sharing your delightful children with me. These were some of the kindest, happiest, most polite kids I've ever seen in my life. I'm so proud of Max for choosing such wonderful friends, and I'm so happy they chose him back. There was so much love and friendship in our home last Saturday.

Life is sweet.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Maxwell: Six

During what would be my grandfather's last trip to visit us in Virginia, we had some Big News to celebrate. We had just had our 20-week prenatal ultrasound and found out that our baby was healthy and growing steadily. We also found out that our baby was a boy.

"That's wonderful news," beamed my grandfather, himself the father of five boys. "But tell me, what's his name?"

"Maxwell," I said, decidedly. We knew for sure. We had always known. "But we'll probably call him Max." 

"Max Harris," my grandfather said, tracing the name across an imaginary billboard in front of him, "I see that name in lights! Destined for greatness, that Max!" 


My grandfather didn't get a chance to get to know Max. They met on the several occasions that we went to visit family in New Jersey after Max was born, but Grandpop passed away just after Max turned three. Even we didn't know Max then. Not really.  


But somehow, Grandpop knew Max even before he was born: That Max? Destined for greatness, indeed. He's changing the world, you know. Maybe just his own little corner of it, maybe the whole damn thing, but he's changing this world for the better.

And, in case you're wondering, he's not changing the world with his wardrobe. He's doing with his heart. His heart is so, so big. It is wide open, full of light, laughter, and love. And he's not shy about sharing it with everyone he meets. "He's like sunshine," his preschool teacher's aide once said about him. "He comes in and lights up the room!"


He's all heart, that Max. He's smart, too. I know, I know, I'm his mom...but anyone would agree. He's super wicked book smart, which is great, but his emotional intelligence is off the charts. This kid experiences and can express All The Feels. All of them. Every single one. All the live long day. Don't ask him how he's doing or how his day was unless you have an hour or five to sit and chat. 


His self-awareness of intricately nuanced shades of emotions astounds me. He's Inside Out, in Real Life. And he can read other people like he's hanging out with the Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger in their minds. As an introvert who mostly keeps the Outside, In, I'm a bit envious of his ability to self-express. You can't teach that kind of awareness and I'm so thankful that he possesses it.


But it's not all Deep Thoughts with Max. He can be an easy, breezy, breath of fresh air. He is creative and playful...


a bit of a goofball...


and always, always, dancing to the beat of the song in his head.


You might not know this about Max, but he's a bit of a risk-taker. 

Seriously. This dog was enormous. An enormous baby, but still. Huge.

He rides down the hill in front of our house at full speed. He's our resident Taste Tester...he'll try anything and loves just about everything. He likes fast roller coasters and high heights and riding in the car with the windows down. [What? That's not a big deal in your house?]

So, yeah: He can be brave when he needs to be...


...but mostly, he's a lover.

He's a snuggler, a hand-holder...


...a personal space invader.


But that's just our Max and we love him for it. 


We love everything, Every Thing, about you, sweet boy. We are loving getting to know You and we are so fortunate to live in a world that you've had the chance to touch with your Big Beautiful Heart.

***

It happens all the time. People see Max, the way he presents himself to the world, and then they look me in the eye: "You're such a great mom," they say. I'd like to think that I am...but not for the reasons they imply.


When they get to know him beyond his sparkly, bright exterior, they get to know the sparkly, bright warmth of his heart. They get to know the funny, whip-smart, imaginative kid I know...and then they look me in the eye: "You're such a lucky mom." And I know that I am.


Lesson Learned:

Close your eyes and make a wish. Make it big. Make it grand.


Make it come true, my Love. May all of your dreams always come true. And that name? I wouldn't be surprised if we do, someday, see it in lights. That Max. I just love that kid.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Your Server's Gender is None of Your Business

I'm sure you've all seen the Facebook post written by a transgender waitress that recently went viral. In the post, the waitress applauds her customers, parents of a young girl, for asking her whether she is a boy or a girl, as their daughter wanted to know and they "couldn't tell."


I understand the message here (that the parents wanted to tell their daughter what the waitress refers to herself as and not to speak for her) and am glad that this exchange seems to have been regarded as nothing but positive on all sides. I have to wonder if, in the same situation, I would have made the same parenting decision.


The short answer: Nope.


Here’s why: The waitress’ gender has no bearing on her ability to serve this family lunch. Quite frankly, her gender is none of their business.


Now, I can certainly see the scenario playing out differently, but resulting in the same outcome. For instance, if the waitress approached the table and the young child blurted out “Are you a boy or a girl?” I’m sure most parents of young children have experienced a situation where their child asked an inappropriate question or made an impolite observation. In this case, I might cast an apologetic glance at the waitress and say to my child, “I think a more polite way to get to know someone would be to start by introducing yourself.” Then, if the waitress wanted to share her story, she could, but would be under no pressure to.


Then, privately, I would have a conversation with my child about how some people don’t like to think of themselves as “boy” or “girl” and asking them to pick one or the other might make them feel uncomfortable.


Then, we’d order our lunch and leave a nice tip like usual, because damn: Waitresses have to put up with some seriously annoying shit from their customers.


Maybe I’m a little sensitive about the issue. Maybe it’s because, as the mother of a dress-wearing son, I just want people to be nice and respectful towards each other and not worry so much about the information that exists behind the scenes, so to speak. 

"Are you a boy or a girl?" Max, who is only five, gets asked that question all the time. It doesn’t bother him now, and I hope it never does. It’s other kids who ask him and he handles the conversation with ease and confidence: “I’m a boy, but I wear skirts because I just like to!” I don’t mind it when kids ask him, just as the waitress didn’t seem to mind the young girl's question. Kids are curious. Kids have lots of questions. Grown-ups know this about kids and we can let their social indelicacies slide.


What does bother me though, is nosy grown-ups.


“How did you know he was into princesses and girly stuff?” Um, well, probably the same way you figured out your boy was into Star Wars.


“Do you think he’s gay?” I think he’s five. He can decide who he finds sexually attractive when he’s older.

“Do you think he’s 'trans'?” I don’t know. What I do know is that we will be here to love and support him no matter what. We love our child. We’ll let him figure out who that child will become.


So my bottom line is this: kudos to the parents who make everyone, at every point on the gender spectrum, to feel welcome in their child’s world. Kudos to the parents who teach their children that all people, regardless of color, shape, size, religion, ethnicity, hairstyle, clothing choice, or gender deserve respect and kindness. But everyone deserves to have their privacy respected, as well, and maybe THAT is the lesson worth teaching.

Lesson Learned:
A friend recently told us that her 7-year old asked if Max preferred to be called "Evan's brother" or "Evan's sister." I'm thankful that our friend thought to ask us rather than just assume one or the other. I let her know that Max calls himself "brother," and "boy." He uses masculine pronouns. But that conversation has stuck with me. I wonder if I answered the right way (I had wanted to say, "Max...he's just Max. Let's just all call him MAX!"). I had to wonder if I am doing right by my child. 

Aren't I violating my own children's privacy with every blog post I write? I don't want Max to become someone's teachable moment. I don't want him to become a story exploited for it's uniqueness and diversity in our small town. But I do want our community to know him...to understand him. It's why I write about him. Sometimes I think, by writing about him, I'm creating and sending little warriors of love and protection into the world for him...that people who read this will feel like they know him a little bit and they'll look out for him. (It's happened before...virtual strangers sharing with me Good News stories they've witnessed at school, kids sticking up for Max and for all little boys who love pink.)

And in the larger sense, I really just need this whole world to become more understanding and accepting in time for Max to get to middle school. Is that too much to ask? Is it overly ambitious to want this little blog, my own little corner of the internet, to change the world in the next six years?

This blog will inevitably change. I'm not sure where, when, or how I'll draw the line on sharing, but I'll follow the leads of my kids. I'm already pulling back on what and how much I share about my oldest, who is starting to exert his own ideas about his public and his private lives ("Mom, you can email that picture to Mom Mom and Pop but don't put it on Facebook!"). I ask him before I post. The same will be true with Max. So, in case this is the last time I write about Max's gender-nonconformity, here's a bottom line: Just be nice to each other. Be kind. Be respectful. Everybody's got their something that makes them feel like an outlier. Be an includer.