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
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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.

The River

I am sitting on the banks of a river watching my five-year-old boy swim and play in the calm water. He dives underwater, exploring, inventing a new game every few minutes. His water games take him further and further away from the bank, until he drifts away, too far for me to reach him. I stand at the edge of the water bellowing for him to swim to me and come back. Too far away to hear me, he is happily swimming and playing, blissfully unaware of the possible danger and my panic.

And I wake up.

medium_3577182683It’s 4:30 this morning and after regaining my senses I’m disappointed in the transparency of my subconscious. My dream is uncreative in its reflection of what is going on in my life. After much (too much?) deliberation, we decided to enroll our oldest in kindergarten and he starts next week. We not only started him in kindergarten but we chose a Spanish immersion program at our neighborhood public school. After attending an informational meeting last winter and being blown away by the fifth graders in attendance who easily moved between speaking English and Spanish – and had a degree of maturity and confidence that surprised almost everyone in the room – we were sold. We entered in the lottery and were elated when we received notice this summer that Our Boy would be enrolled.

Reality hit hard this week. Much like millions of families across the country this week, we started the back to school shuffle: gathering school supplies, filling out paperwork, buying new clothes and running endless errands. I was fine. I was more than fine! I was excited and relieved to be starting this new chapter. I couldn’t relate to the many Facebook posts from friends sending their little ones off to kindergarten amidst tears and sadness. We had a great summer and I was ready for school to start and so were my kids. Our Boy was showing all the signs of being excited for school and it thrilled me to see him happily exploring reading, writing and math on his own.

We were ready.

Our boy went to his assessment and reported back to us (we weren’t allowed in the room) that the teacher only spoke Spanish but he figured out what she was asking and answered in Spanish when he knew the Spanish words (his numbers and colors) and in English when he didn’t know. He seemed unaffected. I was thrilled for him. But, I was unnerved when I learned the teacher would not speak English in front of the children. Period. I panicked. How was I going to talk to her? She didn’t offer an email or phone number (hopefully that’s coming). I was told by another parent that a separate appointment is needed at a time when the child isn’t present. The logistical nightmare became obvious and I started to worry but took comfort seeing how comfortable Our Son was with this new landscape. He was unphased.

A couple of days later we had Kinder Round-Up, a meeting at school giving kids the chance to meet their teacher and classmates and see their classroom. The teacher, speaking only in Spanish, invited the kids to sit on the carpet with her and read a book.  Predictably, Our Boy sat at the very most outer-edge of the carpet and he kept one eye on the teacher and one eye on me. About half-way through, he finally gave up and came and sat on my lap. The teacher invited him to participate and he refused. He didn’t cry or get upset but he withdrew. He has shown no other real signs of stress (yet) but I couldn’t help but panic a little more.

This panic took grip after the kids went to bed. I eventually fell asleep but then woke at 2:30, never to return to sleep for the night. His little bit of withdrawal threw me. Seeing the teacher interact with the kids only in Spanish threw me. The looks of confusion on the faces of almost every child threw me. I started to think we had made a mistake.  I carried this suspicion with me the entire day. We headed to a playdate organized by the school with other parents of kids in the Spanish immersion program. I sent the kids off to go play and immediately set out to find a parent who could answer some questions:

“Did your kid freak out?” “What happens when they lose it?” “Will the teacher speak to them in English?” “What about in an emergency? Will the teacher speak to the kids in English then?” “If the teacher won’t speak English in front of the children, when will I talk to her?” “Was this a mistake?” “Should I just pull him out and put him in traditional kindergarten?”

I found a group of moms with kids who had been in the program for at least a year. I happened to know one of them and elbowed my way into their circle. I got half-way through my first question before I felt the pinch in my voice that gave me away that I was about to lose it. The mom next to me said in a surprisingly reassuring voice, “He’s going to be fine.”

In my mind, I replied, “No he’s not.  Fear, confusion and intimidation are going to squash his confidence and curiosity. He’s gong to become a shell of his former self, start listening to heavy-metal, death-rock music, completely withdraw and start torturing bugs and small animals. I’ll have to check him into rehab at the age of eight and surrender him to the state before he’s 10. I’m making a colossal parenting mistake. The biggest of my life.” In my mind, the fragments of my dream were starting to form. I could see water swirling around Our Boy and it was dark and moving faster and faster. I swear I could see alligators and sharks circling him, ready to eat him up.

She repeated it again, “He’s going to be fine. Like most things, this is a lot harder on parents than the kids. He’s going to be confused and frustrated for a while but he’s going to be fine.” The other parents nodded in agreement and offered their own stories of sleepless nights, doubt and oaths to “just pull their kid out.”

After talking to these parents, I realized that my anxiety was all about my fears. I’m not afraid because he’s afraid. I’m not panicked because he’s panicked. He’s not losing any sleep. He doesn’t know the difference; he doesn’t know what it’s like to go to a kindergarten class where the teacher speaks English. He doesn’t know that I’m going to have a communication barrier with his teacher and, even if he does, he doesn’t care. He wants to play, learn and make friends. And he’s going to do exactly that.

He needs to play and drift from shore and be oblivious to my shouts for him to come back. I need to stop panicking. Instead of shouting for him to come back, I need to smile and wave and tell him to have fun and go explore. I’ll be right here on the banks of the river, waiting for him to come home and tell me all about the wonderful things he discovered in the water.

Teaching Mommy

I am the only female in my house and I’ve learned a few things about boys in the last four years. Here are some things I learned this week:

1. Louder is better. Preferably in the car but anywhere in close proximity to other people. My youngest literally screamed at me today, “MY MILK IS WHITE AND COLD!!!” Yes it is.

2. It is one of life’s cruelest ironies that I ever have to decipher the difference between smeared chocolate and smeared poop.

3. Don’t tell our pool but I would pay my son’s weight in gold for swimming lessons. Yes, I know my oldest does not love swimming. I see you other parents looking at him with pitiful eyes as he clings to my leg before he gets in the pool. I am still going to forcefully peel him off my leg and insist that he get in the water because he will actually go to sleep before 10:30 p.m. if he gets to play in the water (which he happily does – once he’s in the pool). I will actually get to watch the season premiere of Mad Men I’ve been waiting three months to watch. If. I. can. just. get. him. in. the. water. Oh, yeah, and that whole water safety, swimming thing is important, too.

4. Rocket ships need a lot of cookies.

5. I know why there are stupid warning labels on seemingly hazardless things or obviously risky things. This morning, while I was getting breakfast ready, my youngest did a handstand on the breakfast table with his feet propped up on the wall behind him. The table moved. He bashed his face into the side of the table. (He was fine.)

6. We have reached the stage where the greatest threat to my sons’ survival is not me but each other.  My two boys were in the driveway riding bikes/trains/rocket ships. I was inside fixing dinner. What happened next as reported by my four-year-old: “Little Britches turned my train (bike) into a rocket ship and then bashed his dump truck (wagon) into the launch pad (basketball hoop). There was no way for the train engine (bike/rocket ship) to get back to the train station (garage). So I threw a brick at him.” Yes, my oldest grabbed a brick and hurled it at my youngest, hitting him right in the middle of the forehead. Yes, it will scar but I consider that lucky.

7. Our country should consider adding emergency room physicians and nurses to the list of people it is customary to tip.

8. Never teach your children to change the batteries in their toys. Ever. Likewise, never give them access to the battery charger. Ever. I’m all for creating independent children but this goes too far. If I have to hear Thomas the Tank Engine say, “I’m the number one blue engine!” one more time I’m going to poke my eardrums out with a pencil.

9. Privacy means nothing to a three-year old. When I found my three-year-old trying to properly use my tampons on himself, I decided I needed to redouble my efforts in enforcing a closed bathroom door policy.

10. If I had external genitalia, I’d find it pretty fascinating, too. What I don’t understand is why men never outgrow this fascination.

I Love House Guests

I freaking love house guests. I know that some people find this bewildering, including some of the people who have stayed with us (I know I don’t exude Martha Stewart-esque hospitality), but I really do love it. Especially family.

Really. I’m not lying.

Reasons I love house guests:

1. For about 24 hours my house and life appear to be out of the pages of Sunset or Parenting magazines. My house gets super clean and organized. Even if it’s only for 24 hours.

2. We eat and drink waaaaay more…and better.

3. It gives us an excuse to get out those funny things that we never use in day-to-day life but seem so much more necessary (and cool!) when we have others around to see and use it. (We always get the margarita glasses down from the top cupboards in the kitchen that require a real ladder to reach.)

4. When there’s an audience, I do my best impersonation of a patient, loving, knowledgeable mommy and somehow my kids fall for it and become darn near perfect (hmmmm…are the two connected? Probably not.).

5. Our kids are better behaved. Or maybe someone else is paying attention to them so I don’t notice them as much.

My brother, sister-in-law and nephew spent the last week with us and it was awesome. My perfect house lasted about 10 minutes into their arrival and then it took on the personality of a fraternity house: there was spilled juice (and beer), broken toys, screams, laughs, tears, tantrums, smooshed food on the floor and lots of pushing and rough-housing in the name of fun. Three boys under age five is not for the faint of heart. And I loved it. Partly because I was no longer the sole referee but mostly because I had a better excuse to have an evening cocktail a little earlier.

But the really great thing about having house guests is we finally go do things that we’ve been wanting to do for a long time but always put off because they seem like too much work, too far away or even too special to do when it’s just the four of us. Of course we always try to play it off to our house guests like, “Oh yeah! Every weekend we are doing something equally interesting, adventurous and fun!” When in reality we are doing dishes, laundry, screaming at the kids to leave the cat alone and generally wondering how everyone else is having more fun than us.

So when I happened to hear that the tide was going to be low during the morning and midday last Thursday, I took off my Martha Stewart apron and put on my dictator mustache and announced to my brother and his family that we were going to the tide pools at the Marine Reserve in Moss Beach. I confessed that I’d never been and had no idea what to expect but I assured them it was awesome (gotta sell it!).

And it was.

IMG_2061 In my typical half-assed way, I failed to actually plan anything but getting there. I had no idea that it was almost a half-mile hike in (great for my pregnant sister-in-law and three kids under five who can’t go more than ten steps without saying, “I CAN’T walk. Carry me!”). Never mind that while I remembered to pack swimsuits, towels, lunch and sand toys, I did not plan on how to get them all to the beach. So we (I mean my brother) did our (his) best interpretation of a Sherpa and lugged all the stuff up the bluff and down the stairs that rivaled the steepness of the north face of…ummm…any mountain (because I can’t remember the names of any mountains right now. I know. I’m an embarrassment to native Coloradans everywhere).

But when we got there, we were rewarded with an amazing, inviting little strip of sand and water. Indeed. It. Was. Awesome. (Insert me doing the “I Told You So Dance.”) The magic took over and we all became lost in our new-found world.

IMG_1241The kids didn’t hesitate to wade into the water and instantly found all kinds of little creatures. We all wandered along the ocean’s edge, poking at shells, picking up sea glass, chasing fish and soaking up the wonder of it all. It was a warm, sunny day and we had this part of the beach mostly to ourselves. It was one of those days that all the planning in the world could not have made it any better (well…a lunchtime cocktail would have been nice).

IMG_2067There is something about tide pools that turns our family into a big group of kids. We stared at crabs, let snails slide and suck on our fingers, gently prodded mysterious squishy things attached to rocks and jumped back slightly when they moved. The only discernible difference in the behavior of the adults versus the children was we adults sometimes hesitated to touch something or warned a child to not step on something that might be dangerous. To the kids, the water was a huge bathtub to explore with nothing to fear. And to the adults, this enthusiasm was muted by our knowledge and experience.

Years ago my brother was stung by a man-of-war jellyfish that washed up on a Florida beach during our spring break vacation. We all learned of the dangers that seemingly innocuous and enchanting sea creatures can hold. I think of that every time I go to the beach. That and my irrational fear of sharks. I can’t help it.

IMG_2086My kids eagerly, openly and, at times, exuberantly, explored. And I was filled with a mixture of delight because they were so at ease and fearless, and sadness because I couldn’t be. Almost, but not quite. As a parent, I struggle to truly relax and let them go without thinking of (and often verbalizing) the dangers of which they are wonderfully unaware. Ok. So there weren’t any jellyfish or sharks but someone has to make sure we put on sunscreen, eat lunch and clean up after ourselves.

IMG_2093

When it was time, the adults put out the blanket, wiped off sand from hands and feet, set up lunch and sat back while the kids refueled. And when they finished, we packed up and finally convinced them to leave. We headed back up the stairs and down the trail to our car.

On the drive home, the kids snoozed in the back and the adults were quiet, tired but relaxed and fulfilled. Being a grown-up isn’t as fun as being a kid but on days like this one, it’s pretty darn close.

It was one of the best days of my life and it wouldn’t have happened without house guests.

Everyone is gone and the Rowes are starting our usual week of preschool, chores, baths, naps and snacks. And I’ll be doing some touch-up painting, a lot of laundry and scrubbing mystery substances off of floors, walls, and couches. And I’m not even a little bit annoyed by it (ok, maybe a tiny bit). The toys are back in their bins and the house is back to its pre-house-guest state. I’ve resumed yelling at my kids and they’ve resumed yelling back.

Thankfully, we have more house guests arriving next week.

Pro-tip if you go to the J.V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve: there is parking in a neighborhood with a much shorter walk to the stairs. No need to park at the park trailhead and walk in (Cypress Ave/Beach Way intersection). The one caveat is if you go this time of year and want to see baby seals, park at the trailhead and go right after the bridge and up the hill to the overlook. It mostly makes up for the crabby, wailing kids on the walk/hike in.

Awesome Moms on iPhones

A blog post, “Dear Mom With an iPhone” has been making the rounds and every time I see it my hackles raise up like a porcupine cornered by a hound dog. Yes, I’m feeling defensive because I am absolutely That Mom. My iPhone and I make regular appearances at the local park. So…here I thought I’d give it a different take:

Dear Mom on the iPhone,

You are awesome. Seriously. Take a minute to revel in your awesomeness. You are juggling 52,532 things on any given day all while being accosted, battered, verbally abused, and ignored by the very people whose schedule of feeding, bathing, entertaining, enriching and otherwise caring for, your entire existence revolves around – Handsome Little Devils and Perfect Princesses that they are. Oh…and you have a spouse, probably aging parents and at least one high-maintenance friend or relative who also demands your attention. God, you’re amazing! Oh, you have a job outside the home, too? You just doubled the number of balls you’re juggling because you have a second family to manage. Holy crap. I just died of exhaustion thinking about that.

So yes, you are thrilled that they have taken a break from pummeling each other over the last yellow Lego to push each other down the slide. You are thrilled to have ten minutes that don’t require your complete attention and adoration so you can see if your doctor has called you back to schedule that appointment you haven’t been able to make since….well, whenever your post-partum check up was because you haven’t had time to take care of your own health because you’re driving to the pediatrician’s office every other week to fish out a Lego from Handsome Devil’s nose or have the doctor look at Perfect Princess’s ears to see if that recurring ear infection has gone away, yet. <Gasp for air>

Oh, look, your kids just jumped off the swings and they are yelling at you, “Look Mom! Look what we can do!” And it’s amazing. And you should take a second to verbally acknowledge what they did. But, guess what? Your mom just called and she needs you to call her right away to help her decide what dessert to serve at your sister’s baby shower. And there are three emails waiting from parents from school who want to know if you can help work the bake sale on Friday. Oh, and you still haven’t called back your best friend who is passing through town tomorrow….oh crap, that was yesterday. Never mind. At least that’s one less thing to do. And your boss needs you to review the 123rd draft of his power point by tomorrow and wants to know if you have time for a “quick” call at 3:30 (when you’re supposed to be picking up Handsome Devil from soccer and taking him to the dentist).

Oh! Perfect Princess just made it across the monkey bars all by herself! That’s incredible. She’s never done that. Huge accomplishment in her short life. It is. Make a big deal about it at dinner tonight with Dad. But you have about three minutes left in your ten minute window before Perfect Princess decides to dump a bucket full of sand on top of the head of the cute girl in the pink flower dress. So, in those three minutes you better text your husband to tell him to pick up milk and cereal, find your son’s shoes that mysteriously disappeared in the sand, call your sister back and tell her you can’t watch her kids Friday night because you are now manning the bake sale table and call the mechanic to get your car scheduled for a service.

You can do it! Because this is what you do everyday and you are awesome at it!

Remember, as a parent, we get to witness amazing feats and accomplishments of our children every day. It is what inspires us, endears them to us, and keeps us from totally losing our minds when they fill the toilet full of Play-Doh. But you will miss a lot of moments in their life, big and small, and that is ok. Repeat after me, “That. Is. OK.” They know you love them. They know you support them.

Because, while you did not play with them at the playground, you did play a marathon game of Chutes and Ladders yesterday and didn’t say anything when he went up the slide instead of down and won the game just because you love the big smile he gets when he wins.

Because you stayed in her room late last night and helped her turn the scary shadows in her room into magical sleeping fairies.

Because when he was sick, you laid down with him in his bed rubbing his back until he fell asleep.

Because you made her favorite snack when she came home from school and told you her best friend didn’t want to play with her at recess.

Because you dug 11 holes in your flower bed to find him 20 worms to add to his snail and worm collection.

Because you taught them to have confidence in their own abilities and pride in their accomplishments – and not just because you do.

So, go ahead and take the last minute of your ten minute window to try another level of Angry Birds because your kids are going to be just fine.  You need a minute to let your brain rest and not think about those 52,532 balls (or 105,064 balls if you have a paying job). You love your kids and you are awesome.  And they know it. And that’s all that matters.

Love,

This Mom and her iPhone

And with that, I’m down to 52,531 balls.

The Bird Lovers

My wedding vows were woefully incomplete. My poor husband had no idea what he was getting into when he married the daughter of a veterinarian.

Don’t get me wrong, Justin loves animals. He comes from a family that loves animals. My dad was his family’s veterinarian. He knew he was marrying into a furball-and-feather-friendly family. But he couldn’t possibly have known what would be asked of him. Over the last twelve years Justin has certainly earned his furry halo and wings. But the last two months brought ample opportunity (re: plenty of legitimate grounds for Justin divorcing me) for us to polish our halos and wings.

It all started in December when Justin’s family came for an early Christmas. Justin’s parents, his sister and her boyfriend came with expectations of delicious food, temperate weather, exploring northern California and lots of fun family time. Everything was going great until Justin discovered on day two of their visit one of the chickens, Eleanor, bleeding profusely from her mouth. By the time I came home from taking the kids to school, the poor bird was in bad shape, still bleeding and unwilling to stand.

I called the feed store where we bought the chickens to inquire about a vet and they stifled a snicker before telling me, “I don’t know of a vet. Why don’t you just kill it? It won’t be worth the trouble of fixing the bird.” Clearly, I didn’t preface my question with the right information. On the next call I made it clear that this bird is a favorite pet of my kids and I did not want to scar their memory of Christmas 2012 as the “one when Mommy killed the chicken.” I got the same response as the first phone call but I also got a referral to a vet 30 minutes away in San Francisco. I called and they could see me right away.

Great. I hopped in the car with the dying bird and drove to San Francisco, the whole way playing out different conversation starters for telling the kids Eleanor died but that we were still going to celebrate Christmas the next day. I felt sick to my stomach. I was certain that was where this little story was headed.

I arrived at the vet only to find the office in a busy part of San Francisco and there was no parking…for blocks. I parked and hauled the bird cage out of the back of the car and carried it the three blocks to the vet office. None of the two dozen or so people I passed on the sidewalk even looked at me. What?!? Could they not see that I was carrying a bleeding, dying chicken? What’s not to stare at? Clearly, I was in The City where just about anything goes.

When I walked into the office, the vet took Eleanor right away but I wasn’t allowed into the “trauma room.” It felt like a scene out of a movie when the vet looked at me gravely and said, “She’s in bad shape. We’ll do everything we can to save her. I’ll be back as soon as I have anything to report.” Now, as the daughter of a vet, I have witnessed plenty of animal trauma in my life – cats, dogs, and cows mostly. But even I wasn’t prepared for such a dramatic encounter over a chicken. I mean, it’s a chicken. Were they going to start an I.V. and hook her up to heart monitors? When the vet said she would do “everything she can” I wondered if I should have signed a “do not resuscitate” order or, better yet, a living will on the chicken’s behalf? Would Eleanor want extraordinary measures taken to save her life? I didn’t know. She’s a a chicken. Yet, everyone was acting like Eleanor was my daughter.

As I waited for the vet to come back, I had plenty of time to talk with the Bird Lovers in the waiting room. There was Bill, an older gentleman and owner of a homing pigeon who had suddenly stopped eating, and Marcy, a sassy older woman with a baby parakeet with a bladder infection, and the hipster city couple Ben and Jules with a cockatoo who had lost her voice (no joke). They were all “oo-ing” and “ahh-ing” over each others’ birds and their ailments: “Oh my. That sounds painful. How did you know?” or “What would cause that in a bird?” and “You must be so worried.” I initially feigned concern but inside I was thinking, “You are all a little crazy. These are birds!” Yes, as their owners we have a responsibility to care for them and ease their pain if possible, but let’s not pretend these birds are human.

But I was curious. How did Marcy discover the bladder infection? What do you do for laryngitis in a bird? And the Bird Lovers were not feigning concern. They really were moved by each others’ plights.

When they finally got around to asking me what  my deal was, I told my story and Bill said, with a look of bewilderment, “Really? You brought in your chicken? Why didn’t you just kill it and have it for dinner?” Once I explained that the dinner he spoke of would be Christmas and the chicken was my sons’ favorite pet, there were small utterances of understanding but I could tell that even among the Bird Lovers, there was barely room for chickens. Bird Lovers, with an asterisk.

The vet called me in and explained the injury was to Eleanor’s beak (probably from one of the other chickens attacking her) and only time would tell if it was salvageable. In the meantime, the chicken needed to be kept inside, fed soft foods, and given an injection of antibiotics and painkillers twice a day for two weeks. Ok. Two questions. First, “What do you mean by inside? Is the garage ok? I have a house full of guests for Christmas and every room is taken.” (Implying if Justin’s family hadn’t been visiting I would have put the bird in the kitchen? No.) Second, “How long does she need to be inside?”

The vet explained Eleanor couldn’t be in a garage – a horrible place for birds because of all the fumes and chemicals – but the chicken should be in the house, preferably the kitchen because it’s generally the cleanest place in the house and poses the least risk for infection. Not a chance. Justin’s family already thought I was crazy for saving the chicken. Asking them to help fix Christmas dinner while ignoring the chicken in the corer was too much to ask. (Again, implying that had they not been visiting that the chicken would have moved into the kitchen? Again, no.) The vet further explained Eleanor absolutely could not stay in a bathroom. Fine. They’re all occupied anyway. The basement was out, too, because Eleanor needed warmth and natural sunlight. And Eleanor needed to be inside for as long as it took for her beak to heal – at least two weeks.

What!?!?!? My furry, veterinarian daughter halo and wings were instantaneously incinerated by the murderous thoughts that flew into my head. A chicken for Christmas dinner was sounding just about right. It would be easy. I was at the vet already. The vet could do the hard part and all I’d have to do was make up a story about Eleanor going to the big farm in the sky. It would be so easy…so easy.

But I couldn’t. I put Eleanor back in the cage and took her into the waiting room to hand over half of what we had managed to save for Carter’s college education. And then it happened. A collective sigh and “ooooo” and “ahhhhh” from the Bird Lovers in the waiting room. “She’s GOR-geousssss!”, “Oh my! What a beautiful bird!”, “You didn’t say she was so unusual looking!”, “Oh poor girl…cooooo….cooooo…”, “Oh wittle gul…you need some wuv don’t you?”, and “Well, of COURSE you would save a beauty like that. Christmas dinner…certainly not!”

I. Was. In. Or, rather,  Eleanor was in.  Her beauty was all it took to convince the Bird Lovers. She was “Miss Universe.”  And so I left with a beautiful, drowsy, but revived bird and the adoration of the Bird Lovers.

I called Justin on the way home and explained our instructions. With only one audible sigh, he was on board and would explain everything to the kids and the rest of his family. I was certain he would do exactly that and then pick up the phone and call a divorce attorney.  I returned home and Justin helped me lug the cage up the stairs and into our office.  I made Eleanor a bowl of oatmeal, Justin gave her her medicine, and we fixed a little nest of towels and rags for her to sleep on. No mention of divorce. I was in the clear.

Eleanor stayed in our office for a month, enjoying her soft meals and warm spot in the house. We adjusted to our new housemate, with the one exception being that Justin gave up working in the office at night because Eleanor’s unpredictable wing flapping and clucking were distracting and startling. I rather enjoyed her morning crows (yes, chickens will crow, too), but they sometimes started a little early.

Over the next month, I made several more trips to the vet, made friends with the receptionist and even ran into Bill and his homing pigeon again. Every time Eleanor and I arrived and departed the vet’s office there was a chorus of “ooos” and “ahhhs” over Eleanor and her beauty. And I realized that not only am I a Crazy Bird Lady but I am the Reigning Queen of the Bird Lovers. Parakeets and cockatoos (and even homing pigeons) are so bourgeoisie. But a chicken, our chicken, is special. And she better be. For what we spent to save her, we’re expecting her to lay a golden egg any day now. Seriously, any day would be nice!

(Photos by Ezra Gordon)

Uprooted

Our days in San Jose are down to the single digits and there is the predictable mix of emotions. Of course, excitement for the new house and some panic that we aren’t going to get it all done before Tuesday. But lying underneath it is also sadness for the friends we are leaving and affection for the great memories we have of San Jose and the time we spent here. We are definitely feeling uprooted – in limbo…no longer planted in San Jose but not yet planted in Burlingame.

My dad spent a great deal of energy teaching us kids about the natural world around us and how to be gentle, sympathetic and caring to plants and animals. There were the obvious teachings like “Don’t pull the cat’s tail – it hurts them!” but the more subtle, curiosity inducing, “I wonder how plants feel when it rains?” As a child, when I was helping my mom plant flowers in her flower beds,  we would pull the small flowers from their plastic containers and I could hear their thread-thin roots snapping as I pulled them out. I couldn’t help but wonder what that felt like for the small plants. Clearly, Adult Me knows that plants don’t have nerves and don’t feel anything (right?) but Child Me always winces a little bit when I see a broken tree limb, or a snapped-off flower head.

And so, as we pack up our last boxes, take pictures off the walls, eat one last breakfast/lunch/dinner at our favorite local places, I can hear our own little thread-like roots breaking and snapping. And I don’t have to wonder if it hurts, because I know that it does. It’s hard to leave. San Jose is where we embarked on our first real adventure as a married couple, determined to “give this California thing a shot.” We also knew this is where we would start our family and “put down roots.”

Our time here was only seven years but our roots are snapping nonetheless. We will miss countless people, places and things – friends from Las Madres, friends from Explorer Preschool, priceless and wise nannies, the Rose Garden, the Norman Rockwell-ian tendencies of the neighborhood during all the holidays, the folksiness of Zanotto’s — But really, most of all, the roots that are hardest to hear snap are those of the friendships we are leaving behind – not that all those friendships will end (though some undoubtedly will as that’s just how it goes) but friendships are never the same when geography changes.

These early years of parenthood have been amazing but difficult. It did not come easy for us. Like all major obstacles in life, despite the emotional and physical pain one endures while getting over and through those challenging times, one can’t help but also form strong attachments to the people who got you through it. To the other moms who helped me navigate the transition to motherhood and the families who supported us through the early months of becoming a family of four – to all of you we are eternally grateful. I don’t know how we would have made it without you.

Yesterday, as I stood in the new house in what will be Mitchell’s room, looking out the window at the back lawn where he and Carter will play and cross off many of childood’s major milestones, the sound of roots snapping in my head subsided. And I started to imagine what those little transplanted flowers in my mother’s garden must have felt like after their roots snapped – wilted and bruised, but then their bare, raw roots were placed into the warm, wet earth, free to reach and extend as far as they wished.

We are uprooted but our new plot of earth is waiting for us and we are ready to dig in.