Monday, February 27, 2012

The Lenten Sacrifice

Lent is a big deal for us Catholics. We are supposed to give up something important to us for 40 days. Let me tell you, THAT is a really long time. Not to minimize the whole wandering in the desert for decades on end but me giving up anything for 40 days is difficult. I usually try to give up Diet Coke. That is a double-edged sword because then everyone else around me is suffering as well. Our priest back home had a great idea for the kids. Have them give up something different each week. I love that idea for Sara. It gives her the experience of making a sacrifice but, come on, 40 days for an 8 year old is a lifetime. It's even longer for the people living with her. We let her pick what she gives up (within reason). I'm always proud of her. She thinks about it and chooses carefully. Her first sacrifice was her Nintendo DS. That was a big deal for her. But she stuck it out. She didn't ask for it once or try to change her mind. This week she has chosen to give up some of the precious stuffed animals that she sleeps with. Correction- the animals that protect her from monsters, bad guys, bad dreams, etc. while she sleeps. So, she is putting her faith in God to keep her safe for a whole week while her animals have become 'sacrificial'. Gotta love the irony.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mom vs TV

I am not a perfect woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister or friend. Ask any of my friends or family. No one was more shocked than I when the hospital sent me home with a small, defenseless newborn with no professional or adult supervision. But somehow, by the grace of God, she survived. Everyone around me had an opinion to offer. And they all contradicted each other. I knew the basics - keep her clothed, bathed, fed, safe and comfortable. We baby proofed every inch of our house. Back then, I had a "friend" with a child the same age. She had an 'opinion' on everything we bought and did. Our car seat, stroller, car, clothing, sunscreen, sleep patterns and food choices were wrong. Apparently, the way we sliced bananas was playing Russian Roulette with our child's life. Update - she survived and still eats bananas. Everyone around me seemed to have a handle on this parenting thing but me. Was I doing everything wrong? What are the odds that every single thing we did and bought were wrong? I tried to shrug off the comments but they were always there in the back of my fried mommy brain. This was a good friend, I thought. She wouldn't say these things just to upset me, right? Sara seemed healthy and happy. We knew about the evils of TV. It sucks the IQ points right from their little brains and turns them into terrorists. Our solution was simple. We gated off the TV room and she never knew what she was missing. Things changed when she turned 3. We started loosening our rules about TV. She was allowed to watch a cartoon while I took my "mommy shower" - 'the 5 minute soap and shampoo everything at once and hope it all gets rinsed off-shower'. Or sometimes I turned it on if I needed to make an important phone call and the other person didn't want to hear her sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" 11 times like her grandfather. When she turned 4 and her little brother was born, the reins got loosened even more. She could watch TV before school if she got ready early. She could play on the computer so I could take a 30 minute cat-nap. Somehow, super-mom/friend got wind of this and 'gently' reminded me of the evils of TV. Ironically, at the same time, Sara was tested for giftedness and has an amazingly high IQ. We didn't change our viewing habits, but my guilt about it increased.

The kids are older. I'm older and wiser. We moved away and I learned that my "friend" was no friend at all. Friends help each other. Friends make each other feel good. Friends help each other. Friends don't judge. They sympathize and support.

I know that a little TV isn't going to kill them, rot their brains or turn them into criminals. I monitor what they watch very closely. We control how much they watch. I'm sure our babysitters would love to plop them down in front of the TV and text their friends. They all know that is not allowed. When they are sick, I struggle with how much TV to allow. Christian is fighting a cold, cough, fever and runny nose. His coughing is keeping him up at night and messing up his naps. He is tired and cranky. I've been letting him watch a cartoon or 2 so he will sit on the couch and rest. Some might say that I am a bad parent because I think that a sick kid needs to veg out on the couch and watch some Elmo. And those people need to mind their own business. And I need to toughen up and not let them get to me.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Velasco Hospitality

"It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission." I have improved on that cliche. "Don't ask, just announce." Works for me 9 out of 10 times. What can I say? Most (all) people are better mannered than I. We invited (ordered) some friends from back home to visit. They complied. We rolled out the red carpet. Ok, they got clean sheets and towels. Paul cooked for them. He even cooked their favorite pasta. We even named it after them. But, we also gave all of them nicknames, too. She is now known simply as "The La". My kids pounced on The La and held on for dear life. She is the most patient teenager ever. She played 1,478 games of Candyland, read 621 books, cheered our potty-training son on, and put both kids to bed. We drove to Chicago and spent the day at the Museum of Science & Industry. My kids dragged her through each exhibit, made her pose for pictures and fought over whose hand she held, who she sat next to, etc. We dragged The La and her dad (I'm not allowed to divulge his nickname) all over the city of Chicago. We even took them to the top of the Hancock Building so they could see just how much of the city we covered. We toured the American Girl and Lego stores. We took pity on them and let them sit and rest occasionally. To show the full extent of our hospitality, we took them to Ed Debevic's for dinner- a restaurant notorious for the rudeness of the waitstaff.

When friends visit, they pretty much know what to expect. They will be cuddled, fought over and put to work. But, they will also be well-fed. Just not by me personally. And, really, after living next to us for 9 years, they really should know what to expect from us by now.

It was a fun and tiring weekend. I think next time they visit, we will party Amish-style in Shipshewana. Show them a more laid-back lifestyle. Complete with barn raising and buggy rides.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Date Night

When you get married you promise to love, honor and cherish each other. Then comes the baby carriage. You still love, honor and cherish each other but being husband and wife takes a backseat to being mommy and daddy. Work, kids, school and life take over 24/7/365. You are still a team but there are fewer and fewer "date nights". I always hated that term. I found it cliche and trite. Until I started needing date nights with my husband. Lately, we have only gotten "out" for work-related functions. Faculty dinners, awards functions, school-related events do not count, in my book. I want dinner and a movie. Heck, I've settled for dinner and grocery shopping together, kid-free. So, not looking at the calendar, I made dinner reservations, bought theater tickets to a local performance and lined up a sitter. Then notified my date of 'our' plans. I failed to realize that he would be at the daddy-daughter dance last night (a very important date and I didn't mind the competition). Today he was up at the crack of dawn to drive to Chicago and back for work. And fighting a cold. But, we agreed to have our night on the town. We had a great dinner and headed to the theater. We weren't expecting Broadway. We weren't expecting Julie Andrews but I've seen better acting when Sara is trying to stay home sick from school. And we still haven't figured out the plot (if any) of the play. So, exchanging looks and the secret language that all married couples use, we ducked out at intermission to head home, put on pajamas and relax. Not exactly the festive, culturally stimulating night I had in mind but I got to spend a few quiet hours with my husband.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My New Title

Tonight, Paul and I had dinner with a visiting faculty member. For the non-academics reading this, a visiting faculty member is a professor so talented and intelligent that they are asked to spread their knowledge over many universities. They are so brilliant at their profession that other universities seek them out and pay them to leave their sunny locale and brave the February wind, cold and snow of South Bend to share their wealth of knowledge with other academic nerds. And they readily agree to it. Maybe they aren't so smart, after all.

So, I lined up a sitter, put on dress pants, Spanx, makeup and jewelry and headed out. This professor is very charming, kind, intelligent and gracious. I've met him many times and was looking forward to the night. He does not have an arrogant or rude bone in his body. Otherwise, I would have been in my jammies and watching bad re-reruns while Paul schmoozed with academia aristocracy. Nope, I suited up and planned to enjoy my free meal, thanks to the Notre Dame expense account. "We" sipped wine and chatted about business practices, executive education and corporate strategy. Ok, I'll confess. They chatted about those things while I studied the specials menu. The professor turned to me and commented, "Paul tells me that you are a writer. What do you write?". Gulp. "I write a blog about my life - parenting challenges, being a stay-at-home mom, sibling rivalry, potty training, homework. What does your wife do?". His reply? "She is a dean at (insert fancy university name here).". Conversation screeched to a halt. What could I possibly say to that without sounding like the world's biggest moron? (I really want to know because I know this situation will happen to me again). Ok, I didn't just fall of the turnip truck. I attended and graduated from college. I worked in professional capacity for 10 years. I wore suits, attended meetings, collected a paycheck, had billable hours and gossiped around the water cooler. But, for the last 8 years, I have been changing diapers, making bottles, telling bedtime stories, playing Barbies and Legos, and reading "Goodnight Moon". Maybe next time I am asked what I do, I will reply that I am the Dean, Director, CEO and COO of the Velasco organization. I'm in management and everyone else is in labor. And they better not even thinking about going on strike. And maybe I'll the twice before agreeing to a "free" dinner.

All Ears!

Listening is not Sara's strong suit. Imagination, intelligence, creativity, humor, sweetness she's got tons to spare. Listening is not a skill she has mastered. Throw in an impatient and overwhelmed mom and it is a combustible situation. Some days are better than others. Today was a great day. When she came home from school, she put away her shoes and coat and washed her hands WITHOUT reminding! She politely asked if she could play on the computer. I agreed but reminded her that we had a lot to get done before we need to leave for CCD tonight. When her time was up, she shut off the computer, no questions asked, no arguments. At this point, I started to wonder if aliens had invaded her body but I didn't want to look a gift horse in the mouth so I rolled with it. She did her homework without fidgeting, demanding snacks or potty breaks. She was amazed at how quickly homework CAN be done. I decided to seize the opportunity to have her shower. Amazingly, the bathroom wasn't flooded AND all the shampoo, conditioner and soap got rinsed out. Next on my agenda were birthday and get well cards for various family members. Normally, she would take the cards to her room so she can "create" and they are never seen again. I still have my 17 year old niece's incomplete 12-year birthday card. She disappeared into her room for about 10 minutes. She emerged with 2 very nicely written cards (with illustrations). To summarize, in less than one hour, my easily distracted almsot 8 year old completed homework, a shower, 2 cards and decorated her Valentine Box for school. I told her how proud I was of her and pointed out that now she has time to herself before we have to leave. She is taking a much deserved break with her coveted DS. And I am bragging on my blog about her. It's been a good day for all.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Puppy Love

My kids fight like cats and dogs. Now, they play like them, too. This weekend, they invented a fun yet disturbing new game. Sara is the "puppy" and Christian is her "owner". They set out a bowl of "bones" (Scooby graham crackers) and water for the puppy to eat. The puppy has also learned to perform tricks. She rolls over, plays dead, shakes hands (paws) and begs. In return, her owner pats her on the head and gives her a bone. Somehow this game works for everyone. They have a blast playing it. Any game that gets my kids playing together, I am a huge fan of. Not sure if it sends some warped message about male-female dynamics but for the sake of sibling bonding, I'm going to say that this game rocks. And it makes me giggle to see my 3 year old walking his 7 year old sister. And it keeps them from asking for a real dog.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Birthday Blues

Sara is turning 8 (going on 28). We decided to throw a birthday party this year. This, of course, comes with all sorts of questions and landmines. What kind of party? Where to host it? Who to invite? Who not to invite? Such all-important decisions can cripple a highly imaginative yet remarkably indecisive girl turning 8 - ask this girl what she wants for breakfast and you will still be waiting for an answer at dinner time. Being a winter baby in the Midwest, our house is not an option. I refuse to clean my house twice and have a bunch of crazed, hyped up on sugar girls running around my house like Gremlins after dark. She wanted a roller-skating party. Affordable and easy. Except, my daughter wearing roller skates looks likes Bambi trying to stand on the ice. So, roller-skating is out, despite the song "It's My Party and I'll Cry If I Want". Call me Nostradamus but I foresee lots of tears from the birthday girl when all the other girls are channeling their inner Mary Lou Retton while she is sprawled on the rink like a speed bump. Sara loves food, especially dessert, so we decided to throw a cooking/baking bash at the local grocery store. Except, it is a more expensive party. Do we keep the number down to the minimum or maximum? Sara's answer, since it isn't her dime, is to invite as many girls as possible, including her nemesis. (Sara is a firm believer in buying friends). I'm proud of her because she hates the idea of anyone being left out but there are approximately 45 girls in the 3rd grade classes and I have dreams of my kids going to college. So, knowing you cannot please all the people all of the time, we have made our decision to invite the girls from her class only. I know girls will be hurt and disappointed. I know Sara will feel bad about not being able to invite everyone. But, it seems like the most reasonable and democratic solution. And, being the meanest mommy on the planet and hater of goody bags, I'm not passing those out, either. They get a sugar high and that's it, folks. I would like to meet the person who decided that kids get a bag of stuff just for attending someone else's birthday party. I wonder what other idiotic ideas he/she has.