Sunday, July 31, 2011

Drama Queen

And the Oscar for a female lead in a dramatic role goes to ....... Sara Velasco in "My Terrible Life As A 7 Year Old".

Sometimes I cannot believe the things she gets worked up about. How does she think up these little dramas? When will she learn that the only thing her over-the-top dramatics get her is trouble, punishments, and loss of privileges? And it doesn't get her attention (negative or any other kind). When she flips out, we put her in her brother's room where there are no distractions until she calms down. Contrary to what she says, this is NOT cruel and unusual punishment.

Last weekend while Paul was working, I was busy entertaining 2 kids during a heat wave. We went to the zoo, rode the little train and had an early dinner. She got to play in the bathtub and a have a little dance party in her room. Her horrible, therapy inducing, call child services moment was invoked because her "favorite" dance outfit was in the laundry. Apparently, suggesting alternative dance outfits was a completely ridiculous idea that spun her into a frenzy. My solution? Close her door and inform her that she can come down when she is calm and rational. Then I went downstairs to play trains with Christian. Anyone curious how long it took her to calm down? Way too long. I'm not known for my patience in any situation. Put me in a room with a 7 year throwing a hissy fit for no valid reason and I have no patience. I gave her motivation for calming down. We've been trying a reward system for her. If she shows good behavior, treats us and her brother with respect, and does her chores, she can earn some rewards - seeing the Smurf movie, having a sleepover with me, watching a new DVD. Guess what? The new DVD is still sitting on the counter. The Smurfs movie remains unseen. The sleepover has not occurred. This week (so far) has been fairly drama-free. Maybe we will see a movie and have a sleepover this weekend. Unless one of us throws a temper tantrum.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Playing dress up

As a stay-at-home mom, I rarely get dressed up. Which is fine with me. When we celebrate our birthdays or anniversary, I will put on a dress, makeup, and jewelery. The other occasions that warrant playing Barbie dress-up are faculty functions. It's hard to get excited about showering, shaving, applying makeup, putting on a dress, heels and jewelery when I know I have an evening of awkward chit-chat ahead of me. Can you imagine the conversation between me (a STAH mom) and a business/econ faculty member? Not a lot of common ground to discuss. The debt ceiling debate? My kitchen ceiling has spaghetti sauce stains on it. My daily debates involve convincing a 3 year old boy to eat his dinner with utensils instead of his hands. The health care crisis? I forgot to pick up my kid's antibiotics. Global economics? Did I remember to give my 7 year old her allowance? Do I have money to pay off the babysitter? As much as I miss the real world and conversing with adults, I find my frames of reference extremely limited. My goal for tonight? Playing nicely and not spilling anything on anyone. Wish me luck.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Big Sister Warrior

I took the kids to an indoor play area today for lunch. For once, my kids were not the ones running around wild and terrorizing everyone else. When the other kids started picking on Christian and getting in his way, his big sister/warrior, Sara stepped in, defended him and protected him. She asked them nicely to leave her brother alone because they were scaring him. When they ignored her, she tried again, more firmly and louder. Again, no result. She came down, approached their mother and informed her (politely) that her kids were bothering and scaring her little brother and could she please tell them to stop. I was very proud of her. She looked out for, defended and protected the same little kid who steals her toys, hits her and generally torments her. This afternoon, we ventured out to a sprinkler park/playground. Note to moms - slippery 3 year old becomes a flying projectile on a slide. My poor toddler went flying down the slide, airborne then landed hard on his back with a loud and sickening thud. Sara was the first to rush to his aid, hug him, help him up and check him for "owies". Sometimes she surprises me in the best ways. On the way home, I told her how sweet she was to her little "bother", as she calls him. She replied, "He's my baby brother. I will always look out for him, even if he drives me crazy. I guess I love him."

At dinner time, we try to ask everyone their favorite/least favorite part of the day. Today, I had 2 favorites. My least favorite? Trying to shower sand off 2 kids in 1 shower at the same time. I could form a nice little sand trap in my backyard for the golfers after today.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Like mother, like daughter

Sometimes my daughter is so much like me it scares me. We are both bookworms. After we dropped Christian off at camp, I asked her what she'd like to do with our free time. She wanted to go to the library. I love going to the library with her. We set off to our appropriate sections and hunt for books. Then we meet up, snuggle into a chair and read until it's time to pick Christian up again. It's a wonderful 2 hours - just us girls, quiet, peaceful, no arguments or battles. She is getting more and more independent. I love seeing her book choices. While I look for my books, she explores the kids' section. If she has a question or needs help, she asks the librarian. Her choices are as eclectic as she is - tigers, fairies, mysteries, etc. If time allows, we even share a snack. It's the best 2 hours of my day.

Priceless jewelry

I admit it. I am a sentimental fool when it comes to the crafts my kids make for me. My biggest concern when the packers were packing up our entire household? The clay flower pot Sara painted for me when she was 4. Today, I received the most priceless piece of jewelry I own- a plastic bead bracelet made for me by Christian. The presentation was less ceremonial than I had hoped. He raced into his day camp, grabbed it, hurled it at me and yelled "Here, Mommy. I made for you all by myself". Then he ran away to play trucks with his buddy. I am proudly wearing my colorful plastic bracelet. And I look good in it, too. This is one of those things that I will keep for years and embarrass him with when he is older. I loved seeing his proud face when he showed it to me. He was so excited to see I was wearing it when I picked him up. Forget diamonds and emeralds. I have plastic beads. It is a one-of-a-kind piece.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Toddler Two Speed

My 3-year-old son seems to have two speeds - too fast or too slow. Why can't we be on the same page? When we need to get out the door to go someplace, he moves like molasses. When we are in a crowded store, playground or parking lot, he moves like the Tasmanian devil. What gives? How do we switch gears? I try to allow enough time so I'm not barking orders like a drill sergeant but somehow he invents new stall tactics - poopy diaper, grabbing his sister's shoes and running away, finding a lost toy to play with. Forget trying to leave his day camp. He becomes the ultimate immovable force. He MUST play one last time with the class guinea pig, finish an art project or clean up toys. Not that he is keen on cleaning up toys at home. I spend my days saying "slow down" or "hurry up". I feel the same way about his growing up, too. Some days it feels like a blur and I want to keep him this sweet, cuddly age forever. Other days when I've changed 100 poopy diapers, calmed 99 temper tantrums and cleaned up 98 messes, I wish life had a fast-forward button. Talk about mixed messages!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Garage Sale

Yup, I finally broke down and decided to have the dreaded garage sale. Somehow I convinced myself to rummage through my house, collect useless stuff and try to sell it to unsuspecting and naive strangers. Moreover, it was a devious plot on my part to get the garage organized and cleaned out. Paul has all these tools, gadgets, machines and contraptions that he swears are vital to our everyday existence. I have no idea what they do except take up large amounts of space in my garage. And this wonderfully profitable event is taking place during the heat wave of the century. No wonder Paul was balking at lugging heavy things up into the attic. Being the devoted wife, I have him a Big Gulp of water and kicked him up the broken ladder. (He survived).

Having no experience in operating a successful garage sale, my friends took pity on me and showed me the ropes. They told me to put up signage because osmosis and mental telepathy are not effective sales and marketing techniques. They delivered tables. Apparently you need surface on which to display all your worldly possessions. Good to know. I also learned that you must smuggle out any toy your child ever played with. Otherwise, you will scar them for life because you are selling their most favorite and beloved possession ever. When you point out that it was boxed up for the last 4 years or sitting untouched in plain sight for 2 years, they still claim you are ruining their lives by selling this vital part of their childhood. Even if I don't make a million dollars, it's been a good learning experience.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Is It Just Me?

I know kids are supposed to test us, push the limits and explore their boundaries but must they do it all day, every day? Sara seems to be taking great pride in doing all these all day every day. Between the sibling squabbles, talking back, not listening and challenging every thing I say, I feel like I am at the end of my parental rope. I try reasoning. I try taking away privileges. I have rewarded the good behavior. I have resorted to yelling. Nothing works. How much is normal 7 year old behavior and how much is me failing as a parent? Are we too much alike? Is that why we butt heads so much? How do we break this cycle of back talk and punishment? I wish my mom were alive so I could ask her if I'm handling this wrong or if I'm overreacting. I'd also like to profoundly apologize to her if I put her through this nightmare of female dramatic meltdowns. I'd like to think I was a perfect, well behaved, helpful and obedient child. But, I seriously doubt it and my father will correct me with detailed examples of my very long and annoying stretch of puberty (that lasted 23 years, according to him). My daughter is bright, creative and funny. I'd love to see more of that side of her and less of the sassy, defiant and argumentative side that thinks she has a say in everything going on around her. I want her to learn how to cooperate, listen and obey without squashing the imaginative, bubbly part of her. Some days I feel like I'm failing in both regards - getting her to listen without arguing and failing to boost her active, energetic side. It's a difficult balancing act and I'm constantly falling off the high wire with her. Or maybe she is pushing me off. If life is this hard with 7 year old, what chance do I have with a teenager?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Where do babies come from?

It's OK for kids to ask this question. It is NOT OK for adults to ask the following nosy and inappropriate questions to a pregnant woman or new mother. I'm including (to me) the appropriate responses.

Were the twins natural? No, we made them out of recycled materials.
Was she/he a surprise? No, we fully expected a human male or female.
Are your kids all from the same marriage? Dunno, we found them on our doorstep and felt sorry for them.
Are you breast-feeding? No, my husband is. We like to be trend setters.
Is he/she a good baby? Yes, we think he/she may go pro. Or, No, he/she is terrible and we are looking into an exchange.
How was your delivery? It was the most relaxing, pleasurable experience of my life like getting a facial and a massage.

People, we all know where babies come from. How is it any of our business how or when someone conceived? Or how they plan to feed and care for the child? We all hope for happy and healthy babies. Please, for everyone's sake, think before you speak. Ask yourself if you'd like to answer those questions. Here is a good rule - if you wouldn't ask your mother-in-law, then don't ask anyone else.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Yup, I'm a sucker

Sara loves big cats. All big cats. She is a wealth of knowledge that would impress most veteran zoologists. At the library, I have to limit her to as many books about lions and tigers as she can carry. This weekend, as we were driving home from Cleveland, I decided to surprise her and take her to Kalahari Resort. They provide the chance to meet and have your photo taken with a baby tiger or lion cub. She was so excited she could hardly catch her breath. Was the photo op over-priced? You bet. Was it totally worth it to see the look on my child's face as her dream of holding a baby tiger came true? You bet. It was a chance I couldn't pass up. She will remember it for the rest of her life. So will I. I am a total sucker for a Kodak moment. As a child, I loved looking back at our childhood family photos. I guess I still do. I try not to let my camera-frenzy take over but I do like capturing some moments. My family may groan and gripe when I whip out my camera but they smile and ham it up for the camera. I take the photos. They mock me. They ask for copies. I mock them. Everyone ends up happy. And I have the photos to prove it.

Thank you notes

When did writing a thank you note go out of style? Growing up, we wrote thank you notes for all gifts - birthday, Christmas, First Communion, graduation, Confirmation, engagement, bridal, wedding and baby shower gifts. My children are 7 and 3 years old. They both know they are expected to write thank you notes for gifts they receive. Admittedly, I help my 3 year old with his. I write the text and he scribbles his name. But he is getting the idea that when someone goes to the thought, effort and expense of sending you a gift, the least you can do is acknowledge it and thank them for it. Sara, age 7, knows that she must write a thank you note within 3 days of getting a birthday or Christmas gift. My dad and aunt recently went on a European cruise. They brought back beautiful gifts for her. I told her she must write the thank you notes before she can play with the gifts. She was excited to play with her new treasure but I've learned that without a deadline, the notes would collect dust on her desk, half-written.

In this fast-paced, immediate gratification society, people have decided they are too busy for common decency and courtesy. Call me strict. Call me old-fashioned. My kids are learning to say please and thank you. I want them to grow up knowing how to express their gratitude and appreciation. My kids love getting mail. I remind them every time they balk at writing a thank you note. Tis better to give than to receive. But, in our house, if you receive then you better give a thank you note.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is The Grass Really Greener On The Other Side?

I need to keep reminding myself that no one has a perfect life. All around me I see these mothers with fabulous bodies, beautifully kept homes, seemingly perfect husbands/marriages, and well-mannered children. Is it really how it seems? I was recently (falsely) accused of having a neat home. I reminded the accusers that they have only been in my home on scheduled visits. Show up unannounced on my doorstep at your own peril and watch your step. I provided enough photographic evidence of the path of destruction, chaos and mayhem that runs through my house on a daily basis that they vowed to give proper notice before showing up at my home.

And those perfect bodies? Maybe they watch what they eat, exercise daily and have good genes. I envy them a little but I don't begrudge them. I wish I could wave a magic wand and wake up looking like that but I'm realistic. I know that, no matter what, I'm never going to be a size 6. I also know that it won't change my life much. My husband and kids love me no matter what size my jeans are. My friends still like to hang out with me even if I'm not parading around the pool in a size 4 bikini.

The perfect spouse/marriage? Maybe he is a workaholic who never spends time with the kids. Maybe he ditches them every weekend to golf or watch football. Maybe she nags him so much he hides in his man cave.

What about those well mannered children? Maybe they whine, fuss, sass and fight like cats and dogs at home. Maybe they are horrible sleepers and keep their parents up night after night.

Every time I've found myself envying someone's life, I discover some obstacle, some difficulty or some challenge they are facing. I'm reminded that no one lives a perfect or easy life. We simply do the best with what we have.

We only get a glimpse into the lives of people around us. We never get to see the whole picture. I certainly hope no one thinks they know me, my life or my kids based on what they see at the park, pool or grocery store. I'm not raising devils. I'm not raising angels. My husband and my marriage are not perfect but we are happy. We love each other and our kids. We are raising normal kids (I hope).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mother/son time

Sara is attending chef camp this week. It's a 2 hour class where the kids learn about cutting, dicing, measuring, recipes and cooking. Christian and I used the time to have a date. I've never done this with my 3 year old son. We sat in the grocery store's cafe and shared a muffin and a drink. We had a great time. We chatted and laughed. We had actual conversations. I'm home with him all day and usually sit down with him when he eats but this was different. We had one on one, face to face time. At home, he is usually too busy running around, playing with toys, doing puzzles or we are reading books. I have to say, he is a charming date. I look forward to many more dates with my little gentleman. I did get stuck with the check but I also got a hug and kiss at the end of the date.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Man's best friend

Sadly, dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, or anything else with fur is not my best friend. I am horribly allergic to pretty much any household pet. This is not to say that I don't like animals. I wish I could have a pet. If I had a dog I would never have to clean up my kids' crumbs. I would have an excuse to take daily walks. When my kids tire of playing with each other, they could play with the dog or cat. It would be a creature in my house that doesn't talk back or need diaper changes. I think pets are a wonderful addition to a family. They teach love and responsibility. They provide comfort and emotional security.

When I go to someone's house and my allergies flair up, this does not mean their house is dirty. This means there is a furry animal that sheds. Studies have showed that there really aren't hypoallergenic animals. At best, they cause slightly less severe allergic reactions. I've learned how to cope. I take medicine before I leave the house. I find chairs that don't have fabric to sit on. When we come home, furry clothes go right in the wash and we all bathe.

My allergies are not a case of mind over matter as some people have suggested to me. I take shots and pills. They help marginally. That is to say, I can be in your house for a while but have to go home, my whole family has to shower and change clothes. Then I spend the next 2 days in a Benadryl coma and clutching a Kleenex box. Luckily, my family and friends understand this and are more than willing to let me host family dinners and play dates. My house is messy (often dirty) but pet-free.

When people learn I am allergic to most animals, they think I'm not an "animal person" and that I don't like animals. This is not true. I like animals. Being around them is difficult for me. I've been told that my allergies "aren't so bad". Really? Try spending hours sneezing, blowing your nose, and rubbing your watery, itchy eyes.

I feel terrible every time my daughter asks for a pet. She knows I'm allergic and tries her best to find animals that I'm not allergic to. No such luck. Her latest suggestion was a boa constrictor. She could tell from the look on my face that it was a no-go and quickly dropped the subject. She comes home from friends' homes with tales of playing with their dogs, cats and iguanas and begs me to find a way to make a pet work in our house. So, we compromise. She can have giant stuffed animals sleep in her bed. She can play for hours on end with other people's pets. When she comes home she has to settle for the stuffed variety. This weekend, Paul's brother stopped by for a visit with his 2 dogs. I don't know who had more fun but they played outside for 4 straight hours. She was kind, patient and gentle with them. She made sure they had lots of water and snacks. It was nice to see her get much enjoyment out of playing with them. She showed a high level of responsibility, maturity and consideration. I was very proud of her. I understand that not having a pet is not the worst fate a child can endure. However, I feel bad that my allergies are the reason she cannot have one. She is clearly an animal person and would love to have a pet. She has already announced that the minute she becomes a grown up she is going to have 2 cats, 2 dogs, 4 horses, 1 bird, 1 guinea pig, iguanas and a pet rabbit. Guess I'll be hosting family dinners for a very long time.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Follow the rules

Sometimes I cannot believe the rules I have to make. I don't know if my kids are just overly creative or trying to drive me crazy. Here are some of our newer and stranger ones:

You must wear underwear (at all times)
You cannot keep rocks in your shoes
Our coffee table is not a climbing wall
You cannot steal your sisters clothes and hide them
You must sit in your own car seat/booster seat
You cannot paint each other (with anything)
Hairbrushes are for hair only
Toothbrushes are for teeth only
Marshmallows are not breakfast food
Steps tools with lids are not actual toilets

While I find it absurd that I have make these rules, I do insist they are followed. My kids think these rules are negotiable. My life seems like one giant ancient Chinese proverb- may I live in interesting times.

By the book

I joined a book club recently. I thought it would be perfect - reading, chatting and food. My 3 favorite things. So, what is the problem? We only meet once a month and everyone else seems to have known each other since gestation. It's hard to get to know people when you only meet once a month. As far as discussion goes, I enjoy it pretty well. Everyone has a different take on the books we read so I'm getting more out of the books I'm reading. But, it doesn't feel like I'm making friends yet. So, do I stick with the book club and accept it for what it is or give up, take my shiny red nose and leave to their reindeer games?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

All or nothing

We are having a lazy week. No camps, no outings. Just relaxing at home and avoiding this crazy heat wave. My kids are either playing loudly which includes chasing, screaming and tackling or fighting like cats and dogs which, ironically, includes chasing, screaming and tackling. Why can't there be a middle ground? Their playing and fighting sound very similar so I'm constantly rushing into the room to see who is torturing whom. When the fighting gets out of control I separate them. They react like one of them is going to war never to be heard from again. Heaven forbid Christian wants to play with his older sister when she isn't in the mood. Word to the wise, little buddy - screaming and crying for her won't entice her to come down and play with you. Maybe it is the 4 year age difference. Maybe it is the gender difference. Maybe it is just because they are siblings. But it seems like there is a very fine line between playing and fighting. How do I tell the difference?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Get over it!!

Paul returned home from a 10-day business trip last night. The family went out for dinner and ice cream. We watched a movie together and gave the kids showers. We put the kids to bed then chatted about the last 10 days. This morning we had a family breakfast, went to Home Depot and the grocery store. I put Christian down for his nap then announced sheepishly that I'd like to go to the pool by myself, relax and read a book. Paul gave me a kiss goodbye and headed upstairs to fix a toilet. So, why did I feel guilty about escaping when 1 child was sleeping and 1 was helping dad do some plumbing? Neither child cried when I left. Heck, one didn't even notice. Over the last 10 days I was home to put my kids to bed 9 nights. I had a sitter 2 times. They were not exactly neglected or abandoned. I took them to the zoo, the pool, the park, and the county fair. So, what rational woman feels guilty for stealing 2.5 hours to relax poolside after doing single parent duty for 10 days? Me, apparently. Note, Paul said "bye, have fun, wear sunscreen". This crazy and unjustified guilt was entirely from within. I know men who work all week, go out for a beer after work and hit the golf course on the weekend. They don't waste a minute feeling guilty about any of this. What is their trick? How do mothers get rid of the mommy guilt? Why do we do it to ourselves? I am a stay-at-home mom who spends every day with my kids. We have family dinner most nights. My child-free excursions are the gym, monthly buncko and an occasional girls night out. Rationally, I know I'm being ridiculous feeling guilty but the mommy part of my brain still tries to tell me that I'm being selfish. Sometimes I wish my mommy brain would just keep quiet.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Test - Pass or Fail

Christian just turned 3 and loves to test us. These are pass/fail tests with no wiggle room. We tell him to do or not do something. He looks at us with big, blue "innocent" eyes then decides if he will listen or not. If he doesn't listen, he wins a one-way trip to the corner. I guess we are testing him, too. We wait to see if he will listen. So far, his average score is 50%. He decides listening and obeying is a better choice half the time, if we are lucky. These tests are important for all of us. He needs to learn to listen and do what he is told. We need to be consistent and follow through so he knows we mean business. I was never a great student and an even worse test-taker in school. But, when it comes to raising children, we are always being tested and we need to pass more often than we fail. I just wish there was a way to cram for these tests.

Today, Sara and Christian were having a dance party in the family room. He kept getting in Sara's way and throwing little cars at her. I 'calmly' explained that if he threw the car again then he would go to the corner. The little bugger stopped, looked at me, considered then chucked the car with an aim that would make a major league pitcher jealous. Then he has to the nerve to look shocked when I followed through and put him in the corner. I guess I passed the test. Final score today - Mommy 1, Christian 0. There are no make-up exams in life. But, you can try again later.