Is Silver Medalist Pikus-Pace a Role Model?

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AP Photo – Michael Sohn

Noelle Pikus-Pace’s silver medal win and choosing to share the moment with her family has drawn international attention. It is the sort of moment for which the Olympics are made. She is amazing. The moment was awesome. Who could help but be swept up in the moment of it all?  In a moving interview with Summer Sanders, Pikus-Pace’s new career as a role model was launched. Let’s jump on the bandwagon and celebrate an amazing moment and person but let’s also be clear about who our role models really are.

Pikus-Pace is a world-class competitor. She is absolutely a role model for aspiring athletes. You can look to her to see what it takes to be an Olympian: talent, exceptional strength, determination, commitment and sacrifice – arguably sacrifice being at the top of the list. What she sacrificed for her moment of glory, her once-in-a-lifetime achievement, is immeasurable. As a parent, I’m certain time with her family is near, if not at, the top of the list. Those sacrifices are real and heart-wrenching for her and her family. Her silver medal is a memorable, extraordinary moment for her, her husband and their children.

However, her achievement should not be confused for her being a role model to all kids, all women, all mothers, or all parents. While the qualities she embodies are important, and something worth teaching our kids about, she applied them for a specific purpose – to win a race, to reach her personal goal.  I don’t doubt the image that is being painted of her but she is being launched into famedom for being an athlete, not for driving the carpool or getting dinner on the table by 6:00 every night. We should be careful to draw the lines of comparison too closely between her and us mere-mortals.

It would be easy for me to look at Pikus-Pace and say, “Look at what she has done! I could and should do more! I haven’t done enough! I could set such an example for my kids!” I implore, let’s not use Pikus-Pace as another reason for women, parents, and moms to beat themselves up and feel a need to do more. Pikus-Pace is undoubtedly a remarkable role model for kids about hard work paying off and that it is possible to achieve outlandish goals. Yet, let’s not fool ourselves – my kids, most kids, don’t know about her or won’t remember her six months from now. I know some children idolize athletes or (eegads) entertainers. I’m all in favor of using positive influence, wherever it may come from, to help kids find motivation and fulfillment and be productive contributors to our world.

In reality, it is the people my kids interact with and watch everyday – parents, teachers, coaches and neighbors – who have a bigger impact on their view of the world and their place in it. Everyone is a role model, for good or bad, and parents are their children’s most important role models.

I am a role model because I show my kids everyday how to treat other people. They see how I talk to their friends, other parents, teachers, neighbors and strangers. I am a role model because my kids learn from me how to let other people treat them when I teach my kids to say to other children they don’t like being called names. I am a role model because I show my boys how to treat their future spouses when I take the time to hug and kiss my husband and listen to him talk about his day. My kids learn from me how to be a good friend when they help me cook a meal for a sick friend. I am a role model because my children watch everything I do and everything I say and learn how they are going to succeed (or fail) in this world. That is enough. I am doing enough. Let’s celebrate Pikus-Pace without making it a commentary on our own achievements (or lack thereof).

By all means, heap praise on Pikus-Pace as a role model for athletes, as an example of what can be accomplished with properly applied talent, commitment, sacrifice and determination.  Before beating yourself up about not making a difference or being a role model though, consider what you’re modeling and who’s actually watching. The next time you have the chance, take a minute to say something nice to a person who is doing something right, even if it’s just holding a door open for someone else. It’s not a silver medal but it’s the kind of recognition that really matters.

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Yelling Less Is Totally Worth It

I am 21 days into the Orange Rhino’s 30-day yelling challenge. Essentially, it’s 30 days of learning how to yell less at my kids. The good news is that my angriest moments have gone from exorcist-like temper tantrums to a more civilized yet firm (usually through gritted teeth) frustrated whisper. I had one totally ballistic, lose-my-shit moment yesterday that left me feeling horrible, small and stupid but compared to a month ago, I think I’m doing pretty ah-MAY-zing.

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More importantly, I see and feel a difference with my kids. There is less tension and anxiety. I discovered some good tools to diffuse our most-likely-to-cause-yelling transitions (getting out the door is much easier…bedtime still has some work to be done). I’ve spent time talking to them about how I am managing my anger and I see them practicing it, too. My five-year-old now regularly asks to “just be left alone for a minute while I calm down,” and it always makes my heart soften and get all mushy. Not only do I know that what I’m doing, showing and teaching is making a difference in our relationship, but he’s also reaping benefits by learning how to recognize when his emotions are getting too big for him.

A friend often tells me that I shouldn’t be so concerned – most parents yell at their kids. Maybe you’re thinking, “Yea, well, yelling is just part of parenting. Most people do it and those who don’t, well, they’re just holding it in and that’s not healthy either.” I could point to lots of articles that talk about the damage yelling does to the kid/parent bond but they’ll just make you feel bad and guilty and will likely fuel the cycle of anger that leads to yelling outbursts.

Instead, I’ll ask, “How do you feel after you yell?” I doubt you feel good. I bet you feel guilty. I bet if you really look at your kids in the moments immediately after you yell, the looks on their faces are not associated with the feelings for which you want to be responsible. I know, you’re probably squirming a little and considering not reading anymore. It’s easy to rationalize away why we can excuse yelling, but bottom line is that everyone feels bad -mom, dad and kids – when we yell so why not try to do it less?

The Orange Rhino has been a wonderful way to kick-start changing my bad habit (I don’t know her and am not promoting her for any personal gain). Great tools, great community and the 30-day challenge gives it some structure. But, it takes more than 30 days to change a bad habit and I found I was craving more information to better understand why I yell and find more tools to help stop. There’s a lot out there. A lot. Which tells me that, yep, lots of parents yell and lots of people want to stop. Most importantly, that it’s really hard to stop.  I found lots of articles with great info but three articles stood out as helpful, informative and digestible:

Q & A,” from Symbio’s newsletter (a lovely, realistic, forgiving look at the problem)

How to Handle Your Anger at Your Child,” by Dr. Linda Markam (a more psycho-analytic take)

Yelling Doesn’t Help,” from Parents.com (warning: this article has some parental shaming language in it – yuck! – but it has some good info.)

Here are some things I learned from these articles and the Orange Rhino:

  • Figuring out common circumstances that often lead to yelling (triggers!) and coming up with preventive measures and management tactics is key.
  • We are all human which means we have a fight/flight response that can be triggered by the small humans we call our children, despite their diminutive size (surprise!). It is in the heat of the moment that our reptilian brain takes over and makes it very difficult for us to manage our outburst response but it is possible with practice.
  • This fight/flight response happens to our kids, especially preschoolers, when they throw a tantrum which is why we feel so silly when we find ourselves acting like three-year-olds screaming nonsense over misplaced shoes.
  • As adults, it’s important to recognize when this reaction is happening and to be able to appropriately experience, manage and express those emotions.
  • Experiencing, managing and expressing emotions are distinctly different processes and each plays a role in these moments of anger.
  • I must remind myself constantly that I must learn to manage my response – this is different than repress. I must work to recognize the anger, experience it, appropriately express it and then move on.

I have a long ways to go and lots of work to do, but I feel better-prepared to tackle this bad habit. I don’t beat myself up about it as much because I know I’m human and I’m trying. Tomorrow is another day. I also have seen the difference my no-yelling has made to my kids. It’s worth it. Totally worth it.

Photo Courtesy of Martha Soukup via Flickr

Remember Flying Without Kids?

I remember when vacation meant a week of sleeping in, eating meals over the course of hours while enjoying a bottle of wine and long leisurely days laying on the beach. I long for those days sometimes but I generally love vacations with my kids, too. What I don’t like is flying with my kids. A friend of mine told me she’s getting on a plane this week without her kids. I’m so jealous. I’ve flown without my kids once in five years. It was the most glorious trip ever.  I didn’t have to feed anyone, get anyone down for a nap or worry that someone was going to be unable to equalize the pressure in their ears and scream bloody murder for three hours. It was awesome. Here’s what flying looks like before kids and after kids:

Before: Getting to the airport exactly one hour before my departure time because that’s all I needed.

After: I now arrive at the airport two hours before departure because we travel with an entourage made up of 7 suitcases, a stroller, two car seats and two children who only want to run in opposite directions from each other. Moving through the airport is like driving an 18 wheeler: long, slow, wide turns while constantly checking to make sure I haven’t run into someone or dropped anything/anyone off on the side.

Before: Sharing knowing, annoyed glances with strangers over the screaming child in 9B.

After: Dodging eye contact with everyone around me because my child is seated in 9B screaming his head off. Instead, I share knowing, sympathetic looks with the other people traveling with kids and gratefully accept the bag of half-eaten Cheetos from the mom across the aisle in hopes it will shut my kid up. 

Before: I would pick out a book just for reading on the airplane knowing I would have a chance to sit there for several hours, uninterrupted, able to totally engross myself in the characters and plot.

After: My reading material consists of something that includes  an illustrator listed on the cover or the Sky Mall magazine.

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Before: I ordered more than one drink without dodging disapproving looks from other passengers.

After: I order more than one drink but it’s usually for the six passengers seated around me who are being tortured by my kid crying or my kid’s movie that is inexplicably still audible despite him wearing headphones, and those who will need surgery for their herniated disc caused by my  kid repeatedly kicking their seat.

Before: I wouldn’t drink anything for an hour before the plane in fear of having to actually use one of those broom closets disguised as a bathroom.

After: I contemplate letting my kid pee in a bottle rather than taking him to the bathroom. I made the mistake once of scheduling a trip while  my kid was in the middle of potty training. Never again. You think airplane bathrooms are gross? Try being three feet tall with questionable balance. There aren’t many places to put your hands to keep from falling over.

The next time you are flying and seated near someone traveling with kids, offer to buy them a drink. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it as much as you.

Photo Credit: Chef Cooke via Flickr   

Five Things you Should Never Say to the Father of Your Children

Note from Jenn: Today’s guest post is from my husband, who I let out of the basement long enough to write this post. Enjoy!

Dear Wife,

You are an amazing mom. I am in awe of your patience and love every day. I also very much enjoyed your note “Five Things You Should Never Say to the Mother of Your Children.”  In the spirit of gender equality, I’d like to offer a few suggestions of my own: five things you should never say to the father of your children.

1.  “The trash needs to go out and the cat’s litter box needs scooping.”  I accept your statement of fact.  Oh, did you want me to do something about that?  I appreciate that you are trying to cleverly disguise your nagging so neither of us feels like I’m lazy and you are a nag but if you want something, ask.  If you are trying to make conversation, I hope two people who love each other and have so little time to talk to each other can find something else besides trash and cat poop to talk about.  Also, how old is the cat?  And…how long does the average cat live?  Just curious.

2.  “I know you think I just sit around all day drinking my mocha and watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”  No.  No I do not. Ever. If I ever actually say that to you, they’ll find what’s left of me in a dumpster down at Hunter’s Point.

3.  “Drop your pants and get to work.”  I get it – we rarely have a minute to ourselves.  And I’m a hunk of man meat that you just can’t keep your hands off. We have to seize the moment!  But, when I get home from work, I’m tired.  I’ve had whiny customers calling and interrupting me and all these executives with unrealistic expectations up in my business all day.  Sometimes I just want to be held.

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4.  “Is that what you do at work all day?”  This statement usually comes after some TV show includes a scene where a bunch of nerds at work are playing ping pong.  It’s important not to compare or keep score because our jobs are very different. Our workplaces are very different.  Besides, I play foosball all day at work, not ping pong.  Ping pong is for dorks.

5.  “Let’s have another.”  Another what? Baby?? No. No. Those three words should be reserved only for ordering drinks.  I love our two boys. Fatherhood and our life with kids is more fulfilling than I ever imagined. I love our life. Just. How. It. Is. Let’s leave well enough alone.

I love you and I know you love me but obviously there are going to be things we do that drive each other crazy.  If the list is only five long and we can tell each other how freakin’ annoyed they make us, I think we’re winning.  Now I must go, I could really use another…drink.

photo credit: Shelly S. via Creative Commons and Flickr.

Xmas Jammies Part Two: Shopping Advice From Your Husbands

I won’t reblog very often but I thought this was pretty funny. I think my husband just found his new best friend. A few tips for the wives out there who are wondering what to get their husbands for Valentine’s Day.

The Holderness Family

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Ahh, the magic of the holidays.  The happiness (and insanity) that happens when families get together… the look on a child’s face while tearing apart wrapping paper.

And, one of my favorite parts, the fake reaction you give your spouse when you open a clothing box and it’s something that you would NEVER wear.

“Oh, um, honey, I, uh, love it!”

Granted, this goes both ways.  10 years ago I bought my wife a pair of shoes that she has worn TWICE.  She won’t give them away or chuck them because of their “sentimental” value, but what was I thinking? Clothing is so incredibly personal.  What’s more, most of us would rather grin and wear it than disappoint our loved ones.

So, lets get it all out on the table.  Ladies, here is some shopping advice from the husbands who absolutely adore you, but haven’t had the courage to say…

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The Yelling Project

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I’m a yeller. I hate yelling. Yet, I can’t seem to stop myself. My Little Loves just push my buttons and then – WHAM! – nuclear Mommy meltdown and I start spewing forth all kinds of toxic loudness. It usually happens after I ask my kids 37 times to do something and it usually ends with me yelling some sort of Dr. Seuss sounding nonsense at them: “Time to go. Put on your shoes. Put your shoes on. Put your shoes on. Shoes on. Shoes on. Shoes on your FEET. Put SHOES on. Shoes go ON YOUR FEET. SHOES. Feet. On. GO. Feet. PUT SHOES ON! FEET AND GO!!!” And my head spins half way around my body and my eyes glow red all Exorcist-like.

I hate it. I feel horrible. My kids hate it. They feel horrible. Then I’m a Bad Mommy and I just feel worse and my patience is that much shorter making it that much more likely I’m going to lose it.

Bleckh.

So, I decided to do something about it and I found the coolest blog: The Orange Rhino (not a promotion. I don’t know this nutty lady. Just something I stumbled on in my search for help).  It’s awesome. The premise is to set a goal of number of days to stop yelling. The nutty lady set a goal of one year. And did it. Holy shitballs. A whole year of not yelling. At her husband. At her kids. At anyone. I was terrified and decided she was crazy and clearly had the help of tranquilizers, long child-free vacations and a live-in nanny. I dismissed it. Impossible. Liar liar pants on fire. A whole year is impossible. I mean, how did she make it through the holidays? How did she make it through a car trip longer than 30 minutes? How did she make it through a meal out at a restaurant? No way. 

But then I found out she was starting a 30-day challenge. I’m a sucker for challenges. I’m competitive. Ok. I can do 30-days. I’ll show you Orange Rhino Lady. Thirty days is nothin’!  I can do a month. 

So, here I go – 3o days of no yelling.  I’ve been reading up. I have my strategies. I’ve stocked the freezer and wine rack. I told my husband and kids (husband stifled a laugh but said he was on board and kids were genuinely excited). I’m telling all of you, so now I’m accountable. I’m nervous but excited. I’ve started rehearsing my song for “Put Your Shoes On” sung to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The kids love it.

This is gonna be hard but fun(ish).

Wanna join me?

Photo Credit: The Found Animals Foundation.

Five Things You Should Never Say to the Mother of Your Children

Dear Husband,

You are a wonderful father and husband. I thank Fate everyday that we crossed paths and managed to scare each other into getting married. You do the grocery shopping (usually with the kids!), help with bedtime, cook dinner at least two nights a week, and are home for dinner almost every night. You are a dream! How did I get so lucky?

But, there are some phrases you should just stop saying. Every time I hear them, I  contemplate a one-way ticket to Tahiti…for me. Alone. All by myself.  For starters, here are five things you should never say to the mother of your children:

We need this in our house.

We need this in our house.

1. “I need a couple of minutes to go to the bathroom.” Almost without fail you come home, say hello, kiss me on the cheek, get the kids riled up with excitement to see their daddy and then excuse yourself to go to the bathroom. Alone. With the door closed. And locked. You get annoyed when one of the kids tries to follow you in there, or worse, bangs on the door demanding to be let in. I get to go to the bathroom alone only when both kids are at school or in bed. That averages out to about 1.5 times a day. And in reality, usually during one of those times you are in the bathroom brushing your teeth. No, dear husband, you get to have an audience, complete with running commentary on all of your body parts. Prepare to be humbled.  And by the way, our three-year-old is potty training so show some enthusiasm!

2. “I thought you were going to _______ .” Yes, I had big plans for today, too. I thought I was going to get a shower. I thought I was going to call the plumber. I thought I was going to put the Christmas decorations away.  I thought I was going to make it to the pharmacy. I thought when I grew up I would  travel around the world saving children from orphanages but then, guess what?? You knocked me up. Twice. And now those little bastards are holding me hostage everyday making me do things I never dreamed I would do without someone putting a gun to my head. I do not control my days, let alone my hours or minutes. Yes, I thought I was going to do something today too, but alas, I only managed to keep our small humans alive just so I can live to tell of their tortures tomorrow.

3. “Have you seen my ______?” You are a grown-up. I am keeping track of my stuff and the humongous piles of crap that come with our two children. I cannot keep track of your stuff, too. Please do your part and find your own crap. And while you’re at it, pick it up and put it away, too.

4. “It’s been a while since we…you know.” Yep. And it’s gonna be a while longer (see #1 and #2). I am never alone. Someone is always touching, grabbing, licking, wiping, hitting or otherwise abusing my body. At 8:30 at night when that finally stops, the last thing I want is a grown-up touching, grabbing, or slobbering on me. To say nothing of the other thirty things that I didn’t get done today that I must now somehow get done between the hours of 8:30 PM and 11:00 PM. Yes, I miss you. Yes, sex is important but you knocked me up (twice, remember!) and now I have certain responsibilities. I should be free in 2018.

5. “I don’t feel so well. I’m gonna take a sick day.” I call this the Man Flu. I didn’t coin this phrase but it is so true. It doesn’t matter what the affliction is but men seem to suffer so much more than anyone else when they are sick. In the five years I’ve been a parent, there is only one thing that has made me take to my bed and it was a horrible case of mastitis (can I get an “Amen!”?). So, dear husband, not that you aren’t allowed a sick day but you aren’t allowed to then lay in bed all day, complaining of how bad you feel and summoning me to fetch you drinks, medications, and meals.The barely controlled chaos of my day tips into uncontrolled chaos with the addition of your sickly demands. The lives of the three other people in our house must go on. I get sick yet our kids still get to school. They still get fed.  I still wake up at an ungodly hour to snuggle our youngest so he doesn’t wake our eldest. You can take a sick day but don’t be surprised when I only manage to throw some Children’s Tylenol and a gummy bear vitamin at you as I pass by with a half-naked toddler.  Yes, that is probably poop smeared on your drinking glass because you summoned me in the middle of a diaper change. If you get sick, do what I do and Suck. It. Up.

I love you. I appreciate you. You are amazing. But please stop saying these phrases unless you want to  be forced to hunt me down on a remote island in the middle of the South Pacific.

Hm. I think my plan is about to backfire. <Sigh.>

In case you didn’t see it, my husband  posted his reply, “Five Things You Should Never Say to the Father of Your Children.”

Photo credit: Beautiful Freaks

The Silent Friend

A few weeks ago, my husband and I got a phone call that no parent ever wants to get. Our oldest son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. This post is not about him. There isn’t much to write because we don’t know very much. It is a complicated situation, as these things usually are. The tumor’s location and my son’s age dictate that we must wait to get a biopsy and, in the meantime, carefully watch its growth. Without knowing what type of tumor it is, treatment is impossible. We are reassured by his doctors that the tumor is slow-growing and we have every reason to think it is treatable. And so we wait.

In the days following my son’s diagnosis, I reached out to close friends and family. Partly out of necessity (somebody needed to watch our younger son while we made repeated trips to the hospital for follow-up) and partly because I was floundering emotionally and needed support. As I shared the news, I was amazed at the  range of reactions: complete anguish to absolute silence. Having never been in a situation like this, I didn’t know what to expect of others or myself and often found myself babbling, reassuring me as much as the the other person that, “we are fine.” I was overwhelmed and so grateful for the outpouring of support. Many people were seemingly boundless in their generosity and willingness to help. I was humbled.

(Yes, here it comes – ) But, there were many people I didn’t hear from. I was so buoyed by the support from others that I didn’t give it much thought initially but as days turned to weeks and I still hadn’t heard from some very important people in my life, I had to wonder, “Really?!?! I send an email telling you my son has a brain tumor and your response is to delete it from your inbox and move on with your day? Even after I send another email and message you on Facebook?? Really!?!?”  I have heard the phrase, “It’s times like this when you really learn who your friends are”. Mere acquaintances sent heartfelt notes of encouragement, dear friends offered warm hugs and shoulders for my tears. Yet, others said nothing and offered nothing.   Indeed, it’s times like these…

Then I came across an essay by Margaret Feinburg, “The Three Worst Things You Can Say To Someone Battling Cancer or Any Kind of Adversity…”   (I’ll save you the trouble: 1-  I’ll Do Anything To Help; 2- Been there, done that; and 3- Silence). Yep. Check, check and a big fat check. Amen, sister. There it was, someone else validating the dark side of sharing bad news. Yet, something bugged me about this list. I realized I had said the first two things to other people in the past.  Even though I cringe to think that words I spoke may have been insensitive or even hurtful, at least I said something. But the third reaction, silence, is just plain callous.

Then I thought of the reactions from my friends and family. I heard the first two phrases many times but I found I was not actually bothered by them. Most people are not purposely going around saying hurtful things to people going through a tough time. I like to think they are saying those phrases because they believe them to be true or maybe they don’t know what else to say.  Surely, they don’t intend to hurt or be insensitive. I know when someone says they would do “anything” to help they don’t mean it. They are not going to pay our medical bills. They are not going to entertain my son for four hours while we wait in the doctor’s office. “Been there, done that” is a poorly worded attempt to connect over a common experience. Even if it usually is a misperceived commonality, it’s still an attempt to connect.

Some of the hardest experiences in life are moments we must face and endure alone.  It is through meaningless phrases like, “I’ll do anything to help,” that we are trying to acknowledge the loneliness of hardship. I can easily forgive well-intentioned, if mostly empty, offers of support but I can not forgive silence, can I?

Then I heard from a friend who had remained silent in the wake of my news. She apologized for not calling sooner but she had just decided to leave her husband and was trying to navigate the initial stages of separation. She simply didn’t have the emotional capacity to talk to me. Soon thereafter, another silent friend emailed me and said she simply didn’t know what to say and so said nothing. Likewise, our son’s situation can evoke very real fears for other people. One friend told me she didn’t sleep at all the night she received my email because she was petrified something was wrong with her own child.

It was then that I realized two things: 1) a friend’s expression (or lack thereof) of support likely has very little, if anything, to do with me and everything to do with their own emotions or circumstances; and 2) lots and lots and lots of people are overcome with their own life whether it’s a million little things weighing them down or a couple of emotional catastrophes. The burden of my news might be too much for them to deal with at that time.

In reality, it’s not for me to decide if a friend’s silence is a legitimate reaction to bad news. Silence is a legitimate choice for them. It was easy for me to sit in judgment and say that if I could get up every morning and get my kids to school and plan Halloween parties while my son has a brain tumor, someone else should be able to send me a three sentence email. But each person’s ability to cope with their life circumstances ebbs and flows, changes and morphs, depending on all kinds of things I simply know nothing about. Sharing our devastating news, though it is our devastating news and our story to live, impacts those I tell, too. Even silence is okay.

“It’s times like this when you really learn who your friends are.” I’m not so sure about that. Friendship spans greater lengths of time than a single life-event. Someone may not be there for me now, but maybe next week or next year or when they live closer or after they change jobs or…or…or…the permutations of life circumstances are infinite. I cannot make or break a friendship on one life event. My list of friends is intact, growing even.  I have deep gratitude for the people in my life – even the silent ones.

Going Back to Work: Using My Powers for Good

My days of living in yoga pants, optional shower days, and comfortable footwear are coming to an end. It’s time for me to start the process of finding a paying job.

Working outside the home part-time or full-time or staying home full-time…this dilemma is one that most moms encounter at some point, sometimes repeatedly, once that little pink, squirmy, and warm bundle of joy enters her life. For me, I put work out of my mind with the arrival of my second child. It was a decision based largely on my complete inability to accept that I couldn’t be “the best” at my job. In the words of my eighth grade gym teacher, I’m a competitive little fart. I wasn’t sure I could handle the competing demands of a job and the needs of very young children. I chose to embrace the opportunity to be home with my kids while they were very young. I packed away my suit and high heels and invested in lots of stretchy black clothing.

Reality came knocking on my door this week. A friend stopped by to drop something off and during small talk mentioned she was waiting to hear back on a job interview. It was her first job interview in eight years after she also made the decision to stay home full-time. She related the challenges she was having in conveying to potential employers her viability as an employee after being out of the workforce for eight years. After she left, it hit me that I had not worked a paying job in almost four years. I pulled out my resume and immediately felt like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz left out in the rain too long. As I read my resume, I could hear the rusty squeaks of the wheels turning in my head.

Yowzer.

I’ve spent some time the last few days thinking about jobs I am interested in and whether or not I could go back to my previous career. I am reading about strategies for stay-at-home moms re-entering the workforce and everything I read says to start by considering what jobs I might be qualified for based on my experience. Thinking of the skills I’ve honed for the last five years, the stereotypical maid, chauffeur and cook come to mind but I feel like my days of full-time mothering are not useless. I brainstormed a list of potential jobs last night:

1- Bartender. Come 5:00 at the end of one of those days when my kids have done nothing but screamed at me and each other and there is no visible indication that I actually have hardwood floors in my dining room because they are covered in toys, blankets, crumbs and mystery stickiness, I’ve perfected the art of a 5:00 cocktail leftover from whatever I happen to have in the house. Red wine mixed with bourbon and coffee isn’t as bad as you may think.

2  – Sleep deprivation study coordinator. I can round-up twenty people in about two minutes from my group of friends and document the countless ways sleep-deprivation ruins your life. “Hmmm. I see…you haven’t slept for more than four hours at a time in three years. What effects have you seen? Hmmm…you lost your engagement ring three weeks ago only to find it in the fridge on top of the cream cheese. Mmmmhmmm. Yes, yes. Totally normal.”

3 – Server at some Fancy Pants restaurant catering to those with a sophisticated palette. Don’t laugh. This position can make six figures at some restaurants. Consider this scenario that played out at my house last week:

“Oh, I’m so sorry sir. Your carrot was cut in half lengthwise instead of chopped into thirds? I’ll be right back with a replacement carrot,” said me to my three-year-old. I could do this job in my sleep. My three-year-old hurls cheese sticks at my face on a regular basis because “it is cracking.” It. Is. String. Cheese. It’s supposed to do that. I handle all of these complaints with calm, detached indifference to the ridiculousness of my sons’ requests and continue to cater to their endless demands.

medium_29017384594 – Spy – Physical abuse? No problem. Days of sleep deprivation? Ha. That’s nothing. Try six YEARS of sleep deprivation.  Psychological torture? I’ve tortured myself over all of the ways I’ve screwed up my kids and all of the ways others are going to screw up my kids. Never mind the really horrible nightmares all parents have when they realize their  emotional Achilles heel walks around most of the day completely unaware of the dangers hurtling towards them at lightning speed: cars, trucks, kidnappers, earthquakes, tsunamis and the bully  next door. I can handle a little physical and psychological torture. You won’t break me.

5 – Hostage Negotiator – “Yes, yes. I hear you’re very upset that your brother threw your football onto the roof. Yes, I see that you want to strangle him and pound his head into the ground repeatedly. I think you can make a better choice here so that he doesn’t get hurt and you don’t get in trouble. Let’s talk about your options.” Rinse. Repeat. Everyday. My kids are still alive. I negotiate the preservation of their lives everyday.

6 – Presidential Scheduler – If I can handle the schedule of two adults and two children, I can handle one President. Yesterday I scheduled the exterminator to come to the house during a 30-minute break in my day created by me rescheduling a kid’s haircut and calling two moms to cover school pick-ups while I let the exterminator into the house. I get bonus points for not ripping the guy’s head off when he showed up 20 minutes late – coincidentally the exact time I originally asked him to come. I can handle a President and some annoyed foreign leaders, no problem.

7 – Professional Poker Player – The lies I tell my children to get them to do things without ever once twitching my eye, tugging on my hair or raising an eyebrow!  “Yes, I promise I will not eat any of your Halloween candy while you are at school.” Never mind that I know nothing about poker. I’ve got the game face down pat.Full house? Royal flush? Four aces? I’ll never give up my hand without someone giving up lots and lots of money.

8 – Jedi Night – There’s a scene in Star Wars where Obi-Wan says, “These are not the droids you are looking for,” and waves his hand in front of the storm troopers and the storm troopers trot off in the opposite direction. I do this every single day. “That is not the cookie you want to eat.” “This is not the child you want to play with.” “You love to eat broccoli.” “You will go to sleep now.” A small wave of my hand, magic words spoken at just the right time and in the right tone and miracles happen. These skills would be useful for anyone looking for help with a hostile corporate take-over or, even better, world domination. Surely there’s money to made there somewhere.  (Disclaimer: some days the wave of the hand is also accompanied by lots of screaming and threats of violence. I should maybe consider this position a “stretch goal.”)

9 – Ninja – Come on. This almost goes with the list of “maid, chauffeur, etc.”. I can sneak in and out of my kids’ rooms, put away clothes, rearrange furniture, change their sheets, undress and redress them without them ever waking up. I need to brush up on my steel  star-throwing skills but otherwise I’m set.

medium_10253833610 – Self-defense class assistant. You  know the people who wear those super-padded suits while students in the class practice hitting, kicking, biting and throwing techniques? I take that kind of abuse everyday from my three-year old just trying to get him dressed. I do my job without some sissy padded suit, too. I’m immune to that kind of punishment. “What? Are you hitting me? I can’t feel a thing. Go ahead, have at it. I’m just going to catch up on some sleep in here.”

Ah, yes. Feeling much better about my employment opportunities. So if you have any connections at the Jedi Knight Academy, I’d appreciate the introduction.

Photo Credits: Stolen Wheels and University of Denver

Fighting Words

In my previous post, I wrote that I thought I was the one in our family with the most anxiety about our oldest starting kindergarten. As it ends up, Boy Wonder had a lot of anxiety, too. He cried everyday for the first two weeks, clinging to my arm, leg, shoulder, neck – any part of my body he could wrap his little arms and legs around, begging me to take him home. Thinking back to my dream from my previous post, he was no longer happily playing in the water; he was drowning and screaming for me to help him and I had no (real) choice but to keep throwing him back in the water.

We weren’t the only ones struggling and I exchanged looks of sympathy with a handful of other parents with their own children velcroed to their legs. I was somewhat prepared for this. Actually, it went down about the way I expected it to with one little surprise wrapped up in a 45 inches tall, 50 pound package – a little boy named Anthony.

Anthony (not his real name) is one of those little kids I didn’t like from the moment I met him. Yes, I admit it –  I don’t like all children. All children are loveable (by someone) but Anthony is the type of child that makes me grateful for my own sons on their worst days. He is loud and rambunctious. He runs everywhere with arms flailing about, often running into and knocking down other children, sometimes on accident but usually on purpose. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him walk. Did I mention he’s loud? Really loud.  Worse, the words coming out of his mouth are often not the words that should be spoken loudly around children, especially when the person speaking them is a child himself.

On the second day of kindergarten as I knelt with my son in line outside his classroom, feeling his head buried in my shoulder and spilling hot little tears on my neck, Anthony stood in line in front of us. He turned around abruptly and said to us loudly (it’s the only setting on his volume dial), “You’re such a cry baby! Only babies cry like you!”

“Flick (Dylan Earhart) is tortured by school yard bully Scut Farkus (Calvin Whitney) while little Randy (Harrison Goyette) lays helplessly in the snow in A Christmas Story.I was stunned. I looked around for Anthony’s mom or dad, expecting them to step in with a quick admonishment (at least) and then model more helpful language (a hopeful long shot in most cases, I know). I scanned the parents standing around. Where were they? All of the other kids’ parents were there. No one stepped in so I ignored him and placed my body between him and my son. Anthony left us alone.

The next day I chose a place away from Anthony but he actually sought us out in line and he proceeded to taunt my son again: “You cried all morning yesterday. Are you gonna cry again today? Jeez. Such a cry baby! I don’t cry. My baby brother cries but I don’t. Quit crying already.”

I looked around again for Anthony’s parents, desperately hoping someone would intervene to say something to this child. Seeing no one, I felt my own anger, hurt and need to protect my child rise up like a red hot bowling ball from the pit of my stomach. My fight-or-flight instinct was kicking in and it was telling me to fight: “Who are you to call my son a cry baby! You little loud-mouthed runt! Step off or I will throw down! You think that just because there are a bunch of people around that I won’t? Just watch!”

Oh. My. God. I had just played out in my head what that fireball in my stomach wanted me to do. My body was preparing to take down a five-year-old! A kindergartner! He’s not even half my size! Horrified and embarrassed by my reaction, I swallowed the fireball, picked up my son and walked/stomped to the back of the line, certain everyone could see the steam coming from my ears and the lasers shooting from my eye sockets aimed straight for Anthony.

The next day, as we approached school, I felt my son tighten his grip on my hand and I started to feel my own anxiety rise. We were one of the first to arrive but Anthony was already there. He left us alone at first but inevitably he found his way to us and started hurling his insults at my son again. I swallowed my fireball and immediately knelt down and said in my kindest, softest mommy voice, “Anthony, it’s ok if he wants to cry. He’s feeling scared and sad and he feels better if he cries. Do you sometimes cry when you’re scared or sad?”

Anthony looked at me hard. I don’t know what he was thinking. Maybe he was thinking if he told the truth it would mean that he was a cry baby, too. And if he lied, well, then he was a liar. He didn’t say anything but instead turned to talk/yell at one of the other kids in his class. He left us alone.

The next day, Friday, my son and I were the first ones in his class to arrive at school. Anthony was the second. He walked right up to us and said at a volume that resembled normal, “Hi Mrs. Mommy. I brought my lunch today. It’s turkey.” I stood with my son on one side of me and Anthony on the other, instinctively feeling the need to protect my son, uncertain how this exchange was going to go.  As the three of us continued talking, I noticed Anthony stepping closer and closer until he was leaning against my leg.  Somewhere between telling me about his backpack and asking my son about his lunchbox, Anthony reached up and gently held my hand. He proceeded to have a very nice conversation with me and my son for the next couple of minutes before another child arrived. He let go of my hand and started talking/yelling at the other child, and my son started his routine of clinging to me tighter and tighter until we both enveloped ourselves into our little ritual to get him through the routine of walking with his class and into his classroom. But Anthony left us alone and has ever since.  I haven’t heard Anthony call my son a cry baby and Anthony almost always comes to say/shout hello to us when we arrive in the morning.

I can’t help but wonder and worry about Anthony. Who in his life is telling him it’s not ok to cry? Equally important, who is telling him it’s ok to treat others the way he treated my son? More importantly, how do I better prepare my son to weather these emotional attacks when I’m not around? What will happen when I’m not there to intervene? I hear my son stick up for himself in other situations and use the language I’ve taught him to use: “I don’t like it when you treat me that way. It hurts my feelings. If you don’t stop, I’m going to go play somewhere else.” I know he has no qualms about reporting to adults when he or someone else is physically injured; he’s probably closer to being a tattle-tale than anything else. Right now, I’m ok with that. He has time to learn more advanced social skills that will allow him to be more self-sufficient but he’s only five years old! He should still feel like he can go to an adult for help if he needs it. Maybe that’s exactly what Anthony was trying to do, and ultimately, it’s what he got.