Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Cracked Angel

Every December, my mom would go to town decorating for Christmas. She made ornaments. She actually cut and sewed little ornaments. I would sit by her side and stuff the cotton in them for her. She decorated the house and baked loads of peanut brittle to use as a peace offering to the teachers who had the joy, honor and privilege of teaching her little angels for 8 hours a day five days a week. She wrote out and addressed zillions of Christmas cards with the mandatory picture of all 6 of us lined up like little minions dressed in matching moon boots or ski sweaters. She decorated the tree with a mix of handmade ornaments, store bought ones and ones created by us in school. My favorite part of Christmas decorating was watching her pull out the creche. It's been in her family for years. Amazingly, she let us play with it, even rearranging the figurines in it. That would explain the animals' missing horns, the chips in the wise men's crowns and the crack in the angel that watches over Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. When I felt my kids were old enough to have it around, I started pulling it out at Christmas. Unlike my mother, I have a strict "look but don't even think about touching" policy. I am hoping it will survive long enough to be passed down to another generation. Every year, I look forward to setting it up, just like my mother did for all those years. I smile when I see the cracked angel and chipped figurines. That angel watched over my family for years and has the scars to prove it. I like to think, like the angel, my mom is watching over my family.

Santa, Spies and the Holidays

God is always watching. Santa is always watching. Mom and Dad are always watching. The Elf on the Shelf is always watching. Poor Christian just cannot catch a break. There are spies everywhere. 'Tis the season for spying and repenting. And defending one's behavior. During this holiday season, Christian needs some back up. This morning, we were talking about what it means to be "naughty" or "nice". He asked if he had been "mostly good" this year. We talked about what behavior he could change or improve. I told him that he needs to work on listening, not fighting or whining, doing chores, cleaning up toys, and saying nice things. God, Mom, Dad, Santa and everyone would be happier if he fought less, whined less, and listened more. But, overall, yes, he is a nice and good boy who makes Mom and Dad proud. After thinking (plotting) for a couple minutes, he came up with a solution that works for him. "I have an idea, Mom. Santa can just ask Grumpy (grandpa) about my behavior. Then I'll get lots of presents." Christian learned a long time ago that Grumpy is his all-time defender. Well played, Christian. Merry Christmas.

Friday, November 15, 2013

God Got Bored

Today, Christian was telling me that he 'finally' figured out how the world works. I knew this was going to be a good conversation. The world according to Christian goes something like this: So, God spent a lot of days and nights making stuff - like mountains, animals, oceans, trees, plants, forests and jungles. Then He took a nap. Then He got bored so He made a guy. Then the guy got bored and lonely and needed a wife or a mom or a sister - some girl to play with and eat with and help with chores. So, God made a girl person. Then the guy decided she should be a wife so they can have babies to take care of. The man and wife could not figure out who was the boss so they took turns telling each other what to do. The man did not have any money to buy a house or tools to build one so they camped in a garden. My mom says camping is when people go on vacation and pretend they don't have a house. Then the girl did something against the rules and God put them both in a time out NAKED! And He put a snake in the garden to scare them. Then, when the guy and girl were sorry, God let them out of time out and gave them some clothes. So, if you are naughty and your parents are not around, God has to put you in a time out. The gospel according to Christian.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Here Comes The Groom

Christian, age 5, has selected his bride. She is a middle-school cougar. He has planned their wedding down to the last detail. He wants a simple ceremony at church. He will have to leave partway through the ceremony to attend the children's liturgy. His bride will have to loan him a dollar for the offering basket. After the ceremony, he wants a small reception of pizza and hot dogs with pudding and M&M's for dessert. Dinner will not be followed by dancing. Instead, he would like a pool party. He has even picked out a small house for them to live in, in case she doesn't want to share his toddler bed with bed rails. She will have to learn to cook - mac and cheese, pizza, eggs and toast. And pack his lunch for school every day. He is not sure who will drive them everywhere until she learns to drive but love will conquer all.

I'll Miss You. Sort of.

Sara and I are packing for our big trip! We are heading to Canada with my aunt and my dad. Think "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" with French accents. Sara and I are big Anne of Green Gables fans so we picked Prince Edward Island. I also picked Montreal because it is bilingual and very cosmopolitan. It should fit her fancy sense of self very nicely. Since my dad and aunt go on a trip together every year, we decided to invite ourselves along for the ride. And plan the whole thing. Between the unpredictable weather, events and my daughter's "sense of style", packing has proved to be a bit of a challenge. First, she grew over the summer, so I have no idea what fits her. Second, she hates trying on clothes. She prefers the "just buy it and hope for the best" attitude. Third, we are going to "fancy tea" in Montreal, so this requires (in Sara's mind) a loan of Kate Middleton's wedding dress. And don't get me started on the number of shoes she thinks she needs to bring. My shoe criteria? Do they sort of match my outfit? Are they comfy? Since I know I will be stuck lugging her luggage all through Canada, I am trying to be efficient. We will be gone for 5 days. She has packed 11 outfits, 4 sets of pajamas, and 2 pairs of underwear. Christian was "helping" me pack. He jumped on the bed and threw clothes to me to add to the suitcase. He suggested a swim suit and a floppy hat. He didn't care that it will be 60 degrees. He asked a million questions. Where are we going? Why? Why can't he come? Will we bring back presents? What food do they have? He got quiet for a minute. He told me he would miss me. He brightened when I told him he would have Daddy all to himself. I asked if he wanted to do anything special with Daddy while we were gone. Watch Star Wars and eat at the new hot dog place. I will miss you, too, little buddy.

Friday, August 30, 2013

I Promise

I did not watch the VMA show. But I heard enough about Miley Cyrus's "performance" to check it out. I felt like I needed a shower after watching it. And someone needs to give that girl some boundaries. And a makeover. Thankfully, my daughter will never see that strip tease. I would not even know what to say about it. It was disgusting, horrifying and nauseating. I will promise this to my daughter: Because I love you and want what is best for you, I will watch over you, guide you, encourage you. I will also teach you to use you talents to engage people- not shock and titillate them. I will make sure you dress and act in a way that demands and shows respect for others and yourself. I will never let you prance around like cheap tart in trashy underwear. I will never let you bring home trashy clothes or makeup. I will make you change your outfit and wash your face if you do not look like the beautiful, smart girl that you are. I will not let you leave our house looking cheap or trashy. If you look cheap and trashy, people will treat you that way. It is not cool to degrade yourself in public like that. If you want to be a singer or dancer, then take lessons and practice. Show your skill, not your booty. Show your style, not your skin. Show your beautiful smile, not your butt cheeks. Use your personality, humor and charm to attract people to you. You don't need to shock and reveal yourself in public. People will not admire you. They will pity you or objectify you. Value yourself and people will see your worth. You will never dress like that. Ever. You will never dance like that. Ever. You will be a lady. Not a sex object. This I promise you, my beautiful daughter. If you follow these simple rules, you will not be mocked, degraded and pitied. You will be seen as a strong, talented and graceful person. Or I will ground you until you are 40.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

If I Ran The Zoo

We recently trekked up to the Lincoln Park Zoo. It is a very cool zoo and it is FREE!! The kids loved it. We roared at lions. We tweeted at birds of prey. We raced the servals. Each kid has a favorite animal so we made sure to spend lots of time observing those. Sara is fascinated by all big cats so we spent a lot of time in the big cat house. Christian wanted to see giraffes and polar bears. Unfortunately, the polar bears were not to be found but he was fascinated by the giraffes and their creepy, long, purple tongues. As we strolled over to the bears, I mentioned that my dad frequently sees bears on his fishing trips. Christian, being 5, brilliant and frugal, said "Grumpy should just come here to see them". Then he thought for another minute. "And he can bring us and buy us lunch". You have to admit that kid has a point. Later, I told my dad about my son's brilliant plan. My dad's suggestion? When he is old enough, my son can go on fishing trip with my dad and see the bears for himself. Ummmm, I've heard stories about them having to dump their lunches and JUMP into a plane to escape an approaching bear looking for a meal. I think I like the idea of my kid observing the animals from a safe distance with a large barrier between the beasts and my kids. Everyone survives and we can have ice cream after. On my dad's dime.

That's The Way The Scone Crumbles

I have taken my kids out to eat (on my father's dime) since they were 3 weeks old. Occasionally, they were loud or messy. Frequently, they were both. The trick is to be polite, apologize, tip well, and eat at kid-friendly places. A military wife recently took her kids to a cafe and ordered scones. Not my favorite food. Basically, it is a bad knock off of a donut. It's dry, crumbly and tasteless, in my humble opinion. But, to each their own scone. Apparently, this military wife/mother was sitting with her 1 and 3 year old kids, quietly eating their scones when the owner freaked out about the mess they were making. The mother was told to never come back with her kids. They were not loud or disruptive. They were sitting quietly and eating the food they paid for. Seriously? Crumbs??? The mother was so embarrassed that she immediately left. The owner then posted a picture of the "mess" and complained about messy customers. Crumbs on a carpet. This owner was worked up over some crumbs. Has anyone, regardless of age, been able to eat a scone without making a huge mess of crumbs? I know I can't. I can guarantee my 9 and 5 year old could not. My kids have spilled milk, soup, coleslaw, to name a few food items. One kid even threw up in a restaurant. I rushed out and left my father to pay the bill and apologize. The waitstaff was completely understanding about the situation. I should post pictures of my kitchen floor after every meal. That restaurant owner would have a stroke and pass out on her "messy" floor. Last time I checked, crumbs are pretty easy to clean up with this nifty newfangled contraption called a vacuum. I'll loan her mine after I clean up the breakfast remnants at my house. The owner should have been happy to have 2 well-behaved kids eating in her restaurant. She should have thanked the military mother/wife for her family's sacrifice and comped the meal. If I lived in that town, I would never enter her establishment. Though, I would be sorely tempted to come and order a bunch of scones and let my kids having a shark feeding frenzy. Just to see her reaction.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Queen Bee

One of Sara's school assignments was to create an imaginary island - complete with vegetation, food, animals, etc. She was thrilled. She got to create, write and use her amazing imagination. This was her dream homework assignment. Her imaginary island rivals the early Roman Empire. She drew elaborate pictures of the food, plant life and animals. She created mountains, marshes, beaches, savannahs, even tide pools. She declared herself queen of the island. Everyone she knows has a title and a role to play in her fiefdom. Paul is her king. Christian, her little brother, is the court jester. My father is the island cook. Her Aunt Angie is her lady-in-waiting/advisor. Her other aunts and female cousins are princesses. All her uncles and male cousins are palace guards. My role in her little fantasy world? Servant. Yup, a basic, low level, on call 24/7 servant, a lowly serf. I am going to seek political asylum and go to someone else's island. Maybe I'll get a job as a cocktail waitress. Or beach comber.

Birthday Blues

My baby is turning five. Finally. He is very offended that his friends had the audacity to do it before him. Now it is his turn. He has been planning the bash of the century for months now. He invites anyone and everyone who crosses his path - Paul's coworkers, Target cashiers, priests, lifeguards. Paul will be traveling for work on the day of the party so I needed reinforcements. I needed to hire someone with actual skills to entertain a house full of 5-6 year old on a sugar high. "We" agreed on a small party at home. Basically, I changed the subject every time he mentioned Chuck E. Cheese. I would rather fly everyone to Vegas for a show than enter that filthy Petri dish. Once we agreed on a venue (our house) and a guest list (a small group of friends), we needed to select entertainment. Face painting is out. He begs for his face to get painted, then ignores my reminders that it itches. Once the masterpiece is created and admired, he demands it be removed immediately. Picture the Shakespeare scene "Out, damn spot, out!" Balloons freak me out. I am always just waiting for the damn things to pop. Once they do, there is the inevitable fall out. So, forget the clown and balloon animals. So, I solicited ideas from those around me who are smarter and have been around the birthday block a few times. A magician! Brilliant. I can feed the group of hyper 5-6 year olds some cake and snacks and let some guy in a cape captivate and distract them. I asked Christian what he thought about having a magic show. He thought for a minute and shook his head. "But, I want a Star Wars birthday." I explained it is still a Star Wars theme - cake, decorations, invitations, etc. Then he thought some more. "But I don't know any magic, Mom." Poor kid. What kind of mother expects a kid to work his own birthday party. I quickly explained that a real magician comes and does it. He doesn't have to perform. Once he realized the pressure was off him, he was excited. Now he wants a cape. Not sure if he wants to be Batman or a magician. Probably a magical Batman.

A Five Year Old's Existential Crisis

Christian turned 5. This was an event months and months in the making. Every time a classmate had a birthday, he got upset that yet another kid was gaining on him in the age department. He plotted and planned his party for months. Anyone he met got invited - his pediatrician, his father's co-workers, the Target cashiers, etc. We explained over and over that his party would be the day AFTER his birthday. The day BEFORE his birthday, he woke up from his nap giddy as can be. He skipped down the stairs, yelling "I am 5 FINALLY". It killed me to burst his little bubble but he had to wait one more "sleep". Crushed by this devastating blow, he muddled through the rest of his day. At the crack of dawn on his actual birthday, he bounced into our room, announcing gleefully, "I am FIVE FINALLY for real". He climbed into bed to cuddle and plan his special day. Then he climbed back down and went into the bathroom. He came back, looking crestfallen. He told us, "I don't FEEL five. I don't LOOK five. I don't SOUND five. How do I know I am really five now?" Poor kid. He was finally five but didn't believe it. We assured him that he looked and sounded older. He accepted it (grudgingly) and ran down the hall to remind his sister that he was 5. It's hard being 5 if you don't look, sound or feel 5.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Preschool - No Place For Wimps

In the name of all that is good and holy...... I have a newfound respect and admiration for preschool teachers, especially those honored to have my son in their class. That must be the longest 2.5 hours of their day. Don't get me wrong. He loves preschool. He runs out the door when it is time to saddle up and buckle up. But, a whole classroom of 4-5 year olds at once? First, they scatter like cockroaches. It's like trying to herd cats. They arrive like they are storming the beaches of Normandy. They descend on the smiling teachers en masse. They are bursting with all sorts of random news to share - anything from pooping on the potty to fighting with older sister. We know there are no secrets from the teachers. I can tell by their sympathetic smiles (smirks) when I am brave enough to enter the classroom. I have no idea how they corral those kids into submission but they do. The kids take off and hang up their coats. They pot their backpacks on the assigned hooks and pull out their folders. I am happy of my kid takes off his shoes and does NOT throw them at his sister. Then they congregate on the "circle". Putting international diplomacy to shame, the teacher referees between Cole and Christian about who gets to sit on the "C". They play games, sing songs, play outside, have snack, do crafts and actual work. Somehow my kid has learned how to spell his name, learn his phone number and do simple math. I am happy I got him to start flushing the potty. Maybe I need to "aim" higher. The kids take turns having "jobs". These are powerful positions that come with great responsibility - calendar, snack helper, line leader, and caboose. These kids become drunk with power and wield their lofty titles with the smugness of Napoleon. Visiting the classroom is not for the feint of heart. When you enter, you are besieged by small people grabbing at you and climbing on you. They will not all be related to you. They will treat you like a visiting royal dignitary. You are offered a chair, a coveted spot on the circle, a snack, etc. They try to bribe you with books and puzzles. You are the blood in the water and they are hungry sharks. The teachers need the diplomacy skills and patience of the Pope and Mother Theresa. These kids have no boundaries. They share anything and everything. They tell you the most intimate details of their home life. I sit there paralyzed with fear because my son loves to over-share our dirty laundry. His friends know more about me than my own husband, probably. Their teachers have to referee every argument, sooth hurt feelings, heal real and imaginary boo-boos. They do it with joy and an amazing amount of patience and grace. After a visit, I come home and thank God Almighty that I survived. They take a brief lunch break and do it all again with a new batch of eager beavers.

Play Ball!!!

It seemed like a good idea to sign Christian up for T-Ball. Now he is running around swinging an aluminum bat like a cave man. He was so excited for his first practice when we headed out to the field. Here is out it went: "Grab your mitt, Buddy. Why? So you can catch the ball. Wait, they are going to throw it AT me? Yes, just like Sara's games. I'll just tell them to throw it at someone else." His coach has his work cut out for him. First, we had to corral 12 4-5 year old boys into a line. Fundamentals came next. We started with a breakdown of first, second, third base and home plate. They scattered like feathers in the wind. Loud ones. Catching and throwing will take a while to master, I am guessing. Batting involved much spinning and falling down. Some kids ran from first to third base. Cutting out the middle man, I guess. One kid ran to first and back to home plate. My kid ran to first and kept going in a straight line. We are going to need a giant STOP sign like Forrest Gump. I have enormous sympathy for the coaches. They have their work cut out for them. They have to get the kids to sit still, listen , wait their turn and follow multiple commands. The kids are learning how (when and where) to throw the ball. They are practicing how (when and where) to swing the bat. They are learning when and where to run. And stop. They don't even try to catch the ball. It is way more fun to chase after it with everyone else on your team. They swarm that little ball like locusts. It takes 2-3 throws to get it to it's destination. Or anywhere near it. All vital parts of baseball but Herculean skills to master for 4 and 5 year olds hyped up on adrenaline. His favorite things about baseball are the following: Peeing on a grassy hill. Waving to his friend, Owen from first base. Or the outfield. Or anywhere, really. His "creepy" jersey - (very nice Radiology practice is sponsoring the team so the shirts have skulls with baseball eyes). Snack time, depending on the snack. He has a picky palete, I guess. His way of keeping score is......unique. All the kids bat and run to each base every time another player hits. So, in Christian's brain this means everyone gets a home run. And, there is a LOT of crying in baseball. Sorry, Tom Hanks. They cry when it is not their turn to bat, miss the ball or get told to stop picking flowers in the outfield. Why is there an outfield in T-ball??? It's going to be a long and entertaining summer. Play ball!!!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Packing Up

We are attending a family wedding in North Carolina. This is a very big deal for everyone. We get to fly on a "real" airplane. And, most importantly, we get to see family we have not seen in a long time. In fact, it will be the first time the whole family on Paul's side will be together in 13 years. The packing and preparation for the whole trek is making me think it would be easier and more efficient to just MOVE to North Carolina. Christian and Sara are in the wedding party. This is a dream come true for Sara. She has been begging all our friends and family to get married so she can be in a wedding, wear a fancy dress, dance and eat fancy cake. Christian's role is to "supervise" the ring bearer down the aisle. I can already picture the America's Funniest Home Videos clip now. First, we went dress shopping. Then came dress alterations. Then came suit shopping for a 4 year old. We decided to leave him out of the whole selection process and treated him like a mannequin. His suit had to be altered. This was quite a confusing process for him. "Why I wear a daddy suit? Am I going to Daddy work? Am I getting married? Is she going to give my pants back to me?" Now comes packing. It would be easier to list what I am NOT bringing. Packing for 1 woman and 2 kids is daunting. Too many shoes, shorts, socks, jammies, shirts, medicine, underwear, plane activities, snacks, etc. We could be gone for a month or a weekend. Luckily, Paul is driving to the wedding with his mom so we can load up the family truckster. I am flying with the kids because he suffered through a drive to Disney with me riding shotgun and vowed to never drive more than 3.5 hours with me again. Smart man. Sara has her own backpack full of supplies for the 2 hour plane ride - homework, books, drawing tools, and her Ipod. She keeps packing, unpacking and repacking. She assures me there is a method to her madness. Christian and I are sharing a backpack. He keeps putting "important" things in it. I keep taking them out. I am amazed at the number of toys, games, etc. that he "cannot" live without. Airport security is going to have a good chuckle over the contents of my backpack. Christian wanted his baseball bat, glove and helmet, snow pants (really? It's May in North Carolina). His other essential items include but are not limited to - a deck of playing cards, 2 plastic dinosaurs, 1 plastic superheroes, 3 crayons, no paper, toddler scissors, dried out play dough, whack-a-mole, just to name a few. My packing essentials? Earplugs. I have been reassuring Christian that, yes, the pilot knows how to get to North Carolina. NO, we won't crash into any clouds. Yes, he can wave to God if he seems him in the sky. If God is watching, please help me out. I will outnumbered. I am afraid the kids will stage a coup and end up flying the plane.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Sara is turning 9. She is counting down the days, hours and minutes. She is growing up. She is spreading her wings. She is developing her own social life. She lives for sleepovers where they stay up way too late and giggle all night. When she asks questions, I find I can explain in more detail. Her questions are more perceptive and thoughtful. I can also explain that some things are just too grown up and none of her business. Over the last 9 years, I have methodically charted and recorded each milestone. I know the dates of her first smile, tooth, doctor visit, even her first haircut. I know when she rolled over, sat up, said a word, walked and slept through the night. I have meticulously recorded each stage of her young life. But, it is impossible to pinpoint the bigger milestones. How do we mark when she first learned how to make a friend? How to soothe herself? How to keep trying when faced with something new? She is smart, funny, perceptive, thoughtful and independent. She is still my little girl. She loves to snuggle and cuddle. Most of the time, she acts like a little teenager. She is obsessed with music, dancing and fashion. But when she snuggles up next to me, I think back over the last 9 years. My arms still hold her. My eyes still watch over her. My ears still listen for her laughter and tears. She has survived bullying and come out stronger and more compassionate. She has survived moving away from her friends and family. She is learning to think and do more for herself. She is learning to listen better. She is learning that responsibility and independence are earned over and over. She is discovering that trust and respect are vital to the person she wants to become. She needs to earn and give respect in equal parts to everyone around her. I have changed over the last 9 years of being a mother. I have survived illness, shots, temper tantrums, bad dreams, potty training, first days of school and 2 very frightening trips to the E.R. I worry about different things. I don't worry less. Somethings are bigger. Some not so big. I am learning to be flexible on some matters. I still worry about what kind of people they will become. I have learned that they see and hear way more than I do. I learned I am a stronger mother than I ever thought. I might even be a pretty good one. She is becoming a whole, separate person with needs and wants. She is coming to us less and less about the little things. She is learning what is important and what can be ignored. She is figuring out more and more on her own. She is becoming a person figuring out her place in the world. I am enjoying conversations with her on a whole new level. She is interested in everything. She has an amazing perspective on the world. She eagerly embraces new challenges. She is always up for an adventure. She is willing to try, fail and learn. She is not afraid of what people think. She knows who she is. She always wants to learn and do more. With each milestone, she is growing into an amazing young lady. But, she will always be my baby.

Beauty Is....

I am always unhappy with my hair, makeup, skin, my overall body. I wish I had prettier hair that did what I wanted it to do. I wish my skin was even and flawless. I wish I was thinner. I wish..... I want..... I know that who I am on the inside is what really matters. But, wouldn't it be great if my exterior was as fabulous as my interior? And if my posterior was (a lot) smaller? I am careful not to put myself down in front of my kids, though. I want to raise self-confident, happy children. My self criticism is (mostly) internal. But it is always there, a running negative commentary about how I don't measure up to the lady next to me. I am jealous of people who are thinner. I would love to have long, flowing hair, or even short, sassy hair. I wish I looked fabulous without makeup. I wish I had more stylish clothes. I wish I could wear fabulous boots all day without hobbling or tripping. Well, apparently not everyone finds me to be lacking in the same self-deprecating way I do. Yesterday, Sara and I were washing our hands in a public restroom and she told me my hair looked really pretty. I stopped in my tracks. Really? I hadn't even washed it, much less styled it. I looked in the mirror again. I saw a frumpy, overweight mom in a faded T-shirt and baggy jeans. But my daughter saw a beautiful woman. I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. To my husband and kids, I am beautiful. I felt beautiful all day. Sara sees the best in everyone she meets. She always sees the positive in people. I need to look at myself more through my daughter's eyes. Beauty comes in all sizes, forms and shapes. Beauty is all around us. If we choose to look for it.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My Little Helper

I am all for raising independent and self-sufficient children. I am giving our 4 year old more responsibilities. I figure, if he has jobs at school, then he can earn his keep at home. He has chores and jobs. He has to set and clear the table. He has to clean up his toys, put his dirty clothes in the laundry and put his clean ones in the proper drawers. He even helps make his own lunch sometimes. He can get things out of the cupboard and fridge to help make lunch and dinner. He likes to make his own sandwich. He makes a mean ham and cheese sandwich. Here is the recipe - 2 hams, 2 breads, and 1 cheese. Lay them out, pile them up and smoosh them together then eat. I did not realize how bound and determined he was to make lunch today. I walked into the kitchen to find the refrigerator door open. Not unusual. I thought he was getting the bread, ham and cheese. But, I noticed I did not see his little feet under the door. He was IN the fridge digging in the back to find all the ingredients for his lunch. Guess he was really, really hungry. I pulled him out of the fridge and explained that maybe I should help get the hard to reach stuff. He proudly suggested he use a chair next time. What can I say? The kid is a real problem solver. So, we have 2 new rules in our house. One, no climbing in the fridge. Two, if you cannot reach it with your feet firmly on the floor, ask a grownup for help. Each day brings new challenges. And new rules.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Sara's Sleepover Manifesto

Here is Sara's list of approved activities for a sleepover. A girl must be prepared at all times. 1. Make pizzas. 2. Chocolate fudge cake 3. Alvin and the Chipmunks Squeakuel with popcorn 4. Dance party! 5. Fun time 6. Talent show 7. Stargaze outside (with iPhone). 8. Bed 9. Girl party (at midnight) 10. Wake up (at 8:00) 11. Breakfast (pancakes) 12. Paint nails To all interested and potential parties - she can be packed and ready to invade your home in less than 10 minutes. Her luggage will include a sleeping bag, a pillow, assorted stuffed animals, multiple costume changes (enough to last a week), books, toys, and games. Her costume and wardrobe changes will take into consideration any all climate changes, any possible events and a few backups for emergencies. But, you must provide all the food and activities. She is just the cruise director. Activities and food can be added but not subtracted. She is willing to negotiate (within reason). Pretty ambitious for a girl who falls asleep at 7:30 p.m.

Career Strategies of a 4 Year Old

Christian is already career oriented. His preschool assigns jobs weekly to the kids. Their glitzy and glamorous jobs can be snack helper, line leader, caboose or calendar helper. Naturally, some jobs have more glamour and prestige than others. Some come with great responsibilities. Some are more highly coveted than others. Christian's favorite jobs are snack helper, line leader and calendar helper. He loves being snack helper because of the power associated with the position. You get to dole out snacks, ring a bell and tell people to sit down. Calendar helper is an equally powerful job. It involves a pointer. You get to stand in front of your seated classmates and tell them the day, week, month and weather. It's a great responsibility and he wears it well. He needs to exercise a little more caution with the pointer but even Walter Cronkite started somewhere. Well, line leader. Need I say more? It's being the lead dog during the Iditarod with the added perk of ringing a bell and ordering your subordinates to line up. He likes to take initiative and jazz it up. Sometimes, his line does the conga. Sometimes they hop. Sometimes they skip. But, alas, the lowly job of caboose is not a coveted position. In fact, he came up with a brilliant career strategy. He outsources the job. If he is picked for caboose, he simply assigns it to a friend. His friends love being the caboose. They clamor for the role. They try to bribe him. Again, the power goes to his head. But, at age 4, he knows where his strengths lie. And, he discovered, as the caboose, the view never changes. He has decided he is a leader, not a follower. His teacher has decided the sheer brilliance of it makes it amusing to watch the substitution replacement selection process.I applaud his creativity. I also fear what jobs he will try to outsource at home.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Testing, Limits and Boundaries

Sounds like a road test for a car. But I am actually talking about parenting a 4 year old. My son is bound and determined to test my limits and his boundaries from the minute he wakes up until he goes to bed. I am not unrealistic. I want respect and listening. But this little guy is determined attempt to challenge, argue, negotiate and debate anything and everything. To say that I am stubborn is an understatement. I will NOT negotiate with a 4 year old. He is slowly realizing what little power he has in this house and he is attempting to claim more daily. And he is failing. But, as each new day starts, so does his fresh new resolve to see how many ways he can test me. His first order of business is to put on clean underwear. Each and every pair must be picked up, examined, considered then discarded. Then the Herculean task of choosing breakfast. I am not running a Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet. I give him 2 choices. Without fail, he tries to choose option C, not on the menu and over my dead body. He will eat but must be reminded multiple times to face forward so he does not fall out of his chair. When he does fall, this is suddenly MY fault somehow. Not receiving any first aid or sympathy, he climbs back up and eats his food. Slowly. I could feed a barracks full of soldiers 3 hot meals in the time he takes to eat one cup of yogurt. Ironically, he clears the table and cleans himself up with no fussing or reminding. Getting dressed is my next unreasonable demand. I am greeted with a "not yet". He is given the choice of getting his clothes on or sitting in a time-out in his underwear. Sighing heavily, he is dressed. This is a slightly speedier endeavor. Hair and teeth are brushed without complaint. I don't know why or care. I take the gift and race upstairs to dress myself. Putting on 1 coat and 2 shoes takes my son longer than Scarlett O'Hara took to primp for a party. Off he goes to school, where I am told he is an angel and a delight. Lunch is consumed with the same lack of speed. Nap time approaches. I did not know it was possible to climb stairs THAT slowly. Sometimes, he even ends up going back down! Faced (daily) with the loss of books before nap, he shows some hustle. I have read all the parenting books. I don't negotiate. I don't cave. I give a few choices to give him the illusion of power. I explain the events that will occur and how I expect them to occur. When he fails to follow the simple, basic and reasonable requests made of him, the consequences are explained. When he is faced with the consequences, he has the audacity to look shocked. Then he tries to plead and bargain. "Give me one more chance" falls on deaf ears. People assure me that this is a natural part of development and he will grow out of it. I hope for both our sakes that he outgrows it soon. This kid needs to learn that I am older, tougher and already survived this with his older sister. He doesn't stand a chance.

Plugged In and Disconnected

I took the kids out to breakfast last weekend. Paul was out of town for work and I had no desire to mess up my clean kitchen. The kids colored and we chatted while we waited for our food. A father came in with his 2 kids, each was fully armed with an electronic. Both kids immediately whipped out their personal Ipads. He pulled out his phone. All three were glued to their screens the whole time they waited for their food. Even when their food arrived, they ate while staring at their screens. Not a word was spoken. No eye contact was made. Next to us, a middle-aged couple was doing the same thing. No conversation, no eye contact. They may as well have been dining alone. While we ate, we talked about school, friends, plans for the weekend. We told bad knock-knock jokes. My kids asked a million questions. I made up a million answers. They opened up and I listened. I love my electronics as much as the next person. My kids love to play on the Ipad or Wii. But, we do not allow electronics at ANY meal - at home or in public. We set firm limits about when and how much screen time is allowed. We are all so busy that sometimes meal time is the only time we have to connect. At dinner, we learn what jobs Christian had at preschool. We hear about what Sara did in art class. We hear about Daddy's day at work. We talk about an upcoming family wedding. While Christian eats lunch during the week, I sit with him and read books to him. When Paul and I dine out, we will glance at our phones to see if the sitter has called. That is all. I felt sorry for the father and his kids. Here was a perfect opportunity to talk and connect. Instead they all chose to connect with their technology instead. Ever since Sara was a newborn, we had lunch with my father weekly. She learned to sit through a meal before she learned to sit up or eat solid food. She threw food, ate food, colored or people-watched. It is sad when a family cannot turn off the screen time for facetime. I had a rewarding and enjoyable breakfast WITH my kids. They ate food while sitting next to their family.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Puppet Master

I recently signed Sara up for a puppet making class. She thinks she has the world on a string already so I thought it would be fun for her. When Christian and I dropped her off, the instructor invited Christian to stay and participate. He was beyond giddy for a chance to run with the big dogs. He was confused when he saw a pile of mismatched socks on the table. "Mommy, did you bring our socks to share?". Both kids jumped right in, making mouths, choosing eyes, noses, ears, beards, and eyebrows. Sara's puppet is elaborate and fancy. She has a ponytail, bright red lips, and feather eyebrows. And she is not complete yet. I'm guessing she will have a whole outfit with accessories. Her puppet is named Nature Girl. She loves fashion and saves any animal in trouble. She can fly, swim and climb trees. Christian spent more time choosing, discarding and rearranging his puppet. By the end of class, they got to name their puppets and create entire personalities, including voices. Christian's puppet is named Grumpy, after my father. He is 624 years old. He is a superhero. He can fly, fight bad guys, shoot fire and make it rain and snow. Silly me, I though my dad's only superpowers were reciting random bits of Shakespeare and letting the kids stay up too late. My kids and their imaginations never cease to amaze me. They have these incredible minds that soak in everything around them. They told amazing stories with their puppets. I was concerned Sara would be upset about her little "bother" encroaching on her turf but she was so excited for him to be allowed to participate. She encouraged him, helped him choose pieces, and even made suggestions. She looked out for him in class. I was proud of her. Every time he added a piece to his puppet, he had to show her and ask her what she thought. She was very supportive and encouraging. When the puppets got to "talk" to each other, Sara picked Christian to talk with. He was thrilled. They had a long, rambling conversation. Their puppets joined forces to embark on a mission to save the world from bad guys. It was nice to see her being considerate and encouraging. He loved being a part of her world. He often gets dragged along to Girl Scout meetings, art classes and science fairs. He felt like a big kid doing something she was doing, too. The 4 year age difference can be a challenge. She is bored with things he likes to do. He has no desire to play "girly" games with her. Occasionally, we hit a happy middle ground. And it involves socks, a glue gun and alter-egos.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Friendly Skies

I like to think of myself as a positive person. I usually am. Until I get anywhere near an airport. Then my inner-what is wrong with people-self comes out. Something about air travel makes the IQ of the general public drop several points. First, you must attempt to park somewhere near the airport. All the arrows and signs give conflicting orders and suggestions. Not to mention the yahoo in the Hummer or the grandma with cataracts driving the wrong way you must swerve to avoid. And even the smallest car feels obligated to take up 2 parking spots. Then you get to lug all your worldly possessions on the grand trek to the airport. Once you enter the airport, you must dodge the family reunions and school trips congregating in the middle of the airport. Then you must wait in a 2-mile long line to check in. In front of you will be people who don't speak the language, people trying to cash their light bill and buy a lottery ticket from the check-in clerk. There is always someone who is surprised they need to produce a valid plane ticket and photo I.D. Once you prove you have a ticket to ride, you get to wait for 6 months to get through security. People now have to strip naked, unload every stick of gum and fork over every electronic. Amazingly, this process takes longer than childbirth. If you are a Type A OCD personality, you still have hours to kill so you wander around the airport shops. You contemplate paying way too much for crap you would not even glance at anywhere else. Then you lurk around your gate until "boarding time". Your fellow passengers clearly flunked out of preschool because not a single one of them will be able to follow the simple instructions given repeatedly to line up according to rows. People form a CIRCLE around the door. Then they are shocked that the ticket agent can read their seat assignment and sends them to the back of the "line". My kid, at age 7, could figure out the line up process faster than the guy next to her in the Brooks Brothers suit. And people in the middle seat always "mistakenly" hunker their over-sized selves in my aisle seat. And they are surprised when I "politely" refuse their "gracious" offer of their middle seat. Last year, Sara and I flew to Minnesota. I'm clearly sitting next to my 7 year old. We had side-by-side window and aisle seats. While I sometimes would like to pretend my kids are not mine in public, this was not one of those times. A man actually asked if I would switch seats with him 4 rows back because he doesn't like the middle seat. Excuse me, but who DOES like it? I was tempted to slip Sara some chocolate covered espresso beans and a Big Gulp and take him up his offer to teach him a lesson. Then you spend the entire flight with someone's head in your lap because they feel the overwhelming urge to "recline". When this happens, I channel my inner-Calvin and Hobbes. I need to open and shut my tray compulsively, cross my legs repeatedly, get up and down a few dozen times. I also throw in a few coughs and sneezes for good measure. Usually, I win the turf war and they decide to spend the rest of the flight in their full upright position. Sara, on the other hand, loves traveling. Everything must be explored. Everyone must be met and interrogated. If there is a delay, she is happy to wander the airport shops. I need to take a page out of her travel log book.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fun and Games Until.....

We have been cooped up at home for 2 days. Between MLK Jr. Day and a Snow Day, we are prisoners in our own home. We've played games, watched a movie, done crafts, performed a puppet show and read books. And fight. The kids start out playing nicely until someone does something and someone gets hurt. Then the crying, blaming and defending begin. I separate them and attempt to discover who is the victim and who is the culprit. There is never one clear answer. So, after the 3rd injury in 1 day, I built a Chinese Wall. They cannot play together or be near each other for the rest of the day. I calmly explained to them that it clearly isn't safe for them to play together. Someone keeps getting hurt. No matter where or what they play. I can ignore squabbling and fighting over toys, turns, snack size, etc. But when injuries occur repeatedly, I have to draw the line. Right down the middle of my house. Anyone have a brilliant solution to keeping an 8 year old girl and 4 year old boy safe from each other in their own home - that doesn't involve a jello pit and a cover charge?

Can Do Attitude

Do we do too much for our kids? Isn't is easier, faster and neater to do it ourselves? Especially when we are trying to rush out the door, upstairs for bedtime, etc? I am extremely guilty of this. I am a self-confessed control-freak with a raging case of OCD. I like order. I detest chaos. I get into a routine of putting on their clothes, shoes, socks, coats, etc. And the kids are perfectly content to be waited on hand and foot. I got wise one day when I picked up Sara, age 3, from preschool early. The teacher told her to put on her coat and boots. She raced over to the coat room and got dressed with a speed that most fireman would envy. I just stared. The teacher laughed and explained that most kids "forget" these life skills when they are with their parents. Two years ago, I realized that most girls her age could shower themselves, including washing and conditioning their hair. I'm not running a day spa here. We had a couple rinse and repeats but she got the hang of it and seemed to enjoy her independence. I resigned myself to mopping up the bathroom floor after Shamu's water show. It was easier than showering her myself. Then I realized I could toss some towels on the floor and let her play Cinderella and clean up her own waterworks. Two jobs off my list and on hers now. A couple years ago, a friend and her son visited, I watched in amazement as her 7 year old cleared the whole table without being asked. Another job Sara should be doing. She had been setting the table for a while but it never occurred to me to trust my fragile dishes to a 7 year old who twirls everywhere. She liked being given more adult jobs. As she turns 9 next month, we keep giving her bigger jobs and responsibilities. I credit her school for encouraging this. Her school does an amazing job of teaching responsibility, accountability and time management. I no longer tell her what to do to get ready to go somewhere. I ask her what she thinks she needs to bring. Her backpack, homework and lunch are her responsibility. As her responsibility and accountability improve, we add jobs that she enjoys. She is getting to help more with cooking. She has even asked to help put her little brother to bed. He loves it and she enjoys spending time with him without fighting. Christian proved to be a little more stubborn. He whined and moaned about putting on his own socks and shoes. He whined about putting on his coat. I remained steadfast. I learned to start the leaving process early. I let Sara sit in the car listening to the radio while he waged a losing battle of the wills. I am older and way more stubborn, my barefoot little friend. Over the last few months, I started testing the waters with Christian. I started asking him to do more little jobs. He sets and clears the table. He gets his breakfast and lunch things ready for me to assemble. He clears the table. He cleans up the toy room with no direction from me. I remind him that he is a big kid now and big kids have big jobs. Luckily, he has not asked about his big paycheck. He can mostly shower himself. He can pick out his clothes, dress himself and brush his teeth. He moves slower than molasses while doing these Herculean feats but I like to think I am laying the foundation so my future daughter-in-law does not return him for a full refund because he is defective. I do not want to be waiting on my children hand and foot when they should be waiting on me hand and foot in my old age.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lothario or Stalker

My 4 year old son is in love. With many ladies. He likes the cougars. According to him, he is engaged to a 12 year old named Maggie. For their nuptials, she has to make him a Spiderman wedding cake. She is allowed to share his bed but there will NOT be any kissing or sharing of his teddy bear. Or dancing. Ever. He will wear a tie to the wedding - maybe. But, he is also planning on running away to college with her older sister and camping out on her futon. So, his affections are torn between two sisters. The fact that Katie has a serious boyfriend does not slow him down in the slightest. He just gives him the stink eye or pretends he does not exist. He is very secure in Katie's love for him. "Mommy, she can like Joe but she LOVES me." He has branded a girl closer to his own age as "My Hannah". They had one failed date at McDonald's. Not his finest moment. He ditched her in the playland for a male classmate who has light-up sneakers. And he he tried to steal her fries and toy. I'm hoping she gives him another chance. And I have to mention the little girl in his class. He likes her "because she has curly hair and brings good snacks". A strong foundation for a long term relationship. Then there is the other object of his affection- my husband's co-worker. The fact that she is already married does not sway him in the least. He doesn't even acknowledge his "competition". He invents reasons to go visit her. At the office Christmas party, he staged a failed, short-lived hunger strike until she sat with him. Alas, the temptation of cookies proved too much for him and he caved eventually. And does he know how to play on her affections? He writes her notes, draws her pictures, and makes her crafts. Basically, he has marked her cubicle as his territory. I'm waiting for him to paint a creepy self-portrait like the creepy brother from "Wedding Crashers". When he busted his lip open (twice), he wanted to show her how brave he was. He proudly showed off all the stickers he conned out of the nursing staff. Now, at bedtime he insists on made up stories. He picks the topic and we have to invent an engaging tale. Shakespeare had time to come up with his tales AND got paid. This is improv bedtime storytelling. His latest story involved "Miss. Corky" as a damsel in distress who needed rescuing. Not happy to be a mere knight, Christian declared himself Hero Christian. The rescue plot was complicated with many twists and turns and obstacles he had to overcome. I wish he showed as much perseverance and advanced problem-solving skills when it comes to putting his shoes and socks on in the morning. I'd love to see what he would do when faced with a suit of armor. I have a feeling that his princess would have to be very self-reliant and come to him while he waited for mommy to oil up his metal suit and stuff him into it. He does have some sweet, sure-fire pick-up lines for the ladies, depending on the situation. "I has daddy tie" is appropriate for formal events. "I have 2 blue eyes" is an all-purpose winner. Occasionally, he will resort to fancy tricks to snag the ladies. His dance moves are legendary. Or, only out of sheer desperation, he will resort to shooting the ladies with his "Spiderman webs". Watch out, ladies.

Knitting Lessons

Sara is teaching me how to knit. Yes, my 8 year old is teaching me. You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Slowly. I've always wanted to learn to knit. I think it's a crafty skill I have a slim chance of "mastering". I love the idea of being able to actually make something. And I really like the idea that I can do it anywhere- sitting on the couch, on long car trips, in the doctor's office, during Sara's swim lesson, etc. If I can convince Paul to let me knit during faculty dinners, I might actually behave. Or at least sit quietly and not bitch before, during and after the event. Sara likes teaching me something. It's been a good experience for our relationship. She is very proud of her new found skill. I love how proud she is of the pieces she has made. She is so excited to make things for her friends and family. All her stuffed animals have hats, scarves, eye masks and blankets. I like having something we can do together. We sit together, knit and chat. She isn't begging to play on the Wii, my phone or the IPad. She is great company. We talk about school, her friends, new knitting tricks she has learned. Her knitting is coming along MUCH better than mine. My knitting pieces look like lopsided Swiss cheese. I think it's important for Sara to see me embrace new challenges. I like that she sees me struggle and fail. She sees me get frustrated and keep trying. She also sees that is is ok to ask for help. I want her to know that sometimes it is hard to learn new things. She gets so excited when we pick out new yarn and talk about what we are going to make. So far, I have not "made" anything except large pieces with gaping holes. But, she is discovering that not everything in life comes easily to everyone. I am showing her that it is ok to struggle, make mistakes and start over. I want her to keep trying new things, not be intimidated. I'm learning how to knit. But I am teaching my daughter so much more.

Putting the "Christ" in Christian

For grins and giggles (and embarrassment), we like to take Christian, age 4, to church. When he was an infant, he was an absolute angel. He sat in his car seat and slept peacefully. Then he got older. And more mobile and vocal. So, we took a break from purgatory. When he was 3, he attended his cousin's baptism. About 15 minutes into the service, he yelled "I'm bored. Can we go?". He was sitting next to a NUN. During Communion, he yelled "Yay! Snacks!". It was the longest hour of my life. He was not filled with the Holy Spirit. I was filled with mortification and dread. Now we attend church (pretty much) weekly. He attends the "Children's Liturgy of the Word". There, very nice ladies break down the Mass so the little ones can understand it. I have helped with this endeavor. The teacher does a Scripture reading and asks the kids questions about it. My son raises his hand to provide an answer. Once he has a captive audience, his imagination is off and running. The teachers assure me that he is very informative and entertaining. I just say thank you, make the sign of the Cross and ask the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to either turn a blind eye or forgive. Whichever is easier. When he makes the sign of the Cross, he says "The Father, Hen and Holy Spirit". If he behaves during Mass, we go out for donuts. Hey, don't judge. Pavlov was a genius. Reward the good behavior. And, let's be honest. My kids will do just about anything legal for a donut. When they call the children up to receive a blessing before marching out, he runs up to the priest and stares at him, clueless about what to do and where to go. Picture Forest Gump in just about any situation. The priest politely hugs him and turns him around and sends him marching out with his cohorts. When they return 15-20 minutes later, he has completely forgotten where we sat and what we look like. He looks around for us or some other nice family to sit with until Mass is over. We usually have to go collect him. Sometimes, they let the kids bring up an offering. My little sainted angel runs up the aisle, waving a dollar bill like he is in Vegas. Last week, as Fr. Bill was coming down the aisle, Christian tried to leap into the aisle and block his way using his all-purpose Spiderman pose. Fr. Bill swiftly dodged him. I used the mom-patented 2-finger vulcan death
grip. Then Christian did the 2 finger "I'm watching you" thing to him. It was the celebration of the baptism of Jesus Christ. Christian did not appreciate his unexpected "shower". "Hey, why are they throwing water on me? I don't need a bath. I have my clothes on!" All these were said in less than a whisper. I wasn't sure if people were laughing at him or pitying me. As we walked out, he asked if he gets a donut because "I was pretty good, right?". Define "good".