Thursday, August 31, 2017

MOM GUILT 101: An Inner Dialogue Almost 6 Years In the Making

Parenthood always presents itself with numerous opportunities to learn something new. I feel like this week I learned the quickest way to achieve Ultimate Mom Guilt: Send Your Child to Kindergarten.

The years leading up to the Big Day seem endless and exhilarating and sweet and exhausting. Milestones of going to preschool are, in a sense, a badge of honor. “My child is old enough to be left in the care of others and socialize with his peers. He even knows his colors and no longer drops heat in his underwear! We are movin’ on up in the ranks of childhood!” The haze of early baby-raising lifts like a fog and many, like myself, drop those beloved kids off at the doors of their preschool a couple of mornings a week with a quick kiss goodbye and then RUN LIKE HELL in the opposite direction to embrace every ounce of freedom there is waiting outside in the form of a Starbucks date with a gal pal, a shopping trip to Target ALONE, or simply a few quiet hours at home zoning out to Wendy Williams. Thanks Teach! They’re your problem now!  See ya in a few hours!  I gotta catch up on my Hot Topics!

We completely take for granted that these kids will be in our total control and care and that these early years will tick away even though the daily grind of it all feels like we’re stuck in a hamster wheel. We rely so heavily on our personal routines, our tiny social circles, and the concept that “the greener grass” of independence  is so far away. Even as June closes out of the preschool days, we parents get jazzed about the big transition ahead of us. A new badge of honor for the kids and US on the horizon. “Kindergarten next year- whoo hoo! We’re big kids now!  We know our ABCs and understand that making eye contact with others when they talk to you is more appropriate than meowing like a cat! Movin’ on up, I say!” Think of all the amazing things I am going to accomplish now that they are in school all day! I am going to the gym. Daily. I am going to be one of those hot, fit moms that actually wears the workout pants AND WORKS OUT! I am going to meal plan, prep, and cook organic clean meals. I will start a Freezer Meal Club. I'm gonna write more. I am going to start a Book Club. I am going to volunteer! I am going to wear makeup and dress like an adult! I am going to make eye contact with others in the grocery store and not use the term “potty” when talking with them!

As summer inevitably drags on and the kids drive us insane, we look forward to the day we can ship them off!  Is it September yet?!?!?!?

And then Back-to-School Season officially arrives.

I was excited for the teacher assignment to come in the mail. I was excited for the bus passes to be hung on the refrigerator. I was excited to add special dates to the calendar and prep the backpacks and lunch bags and first day of school outfits. And then I walked my middle son into his Kindergarten classroom for orientation and wanted to burst into tears.

Despite his palpable eagerness and confidence and genuine happiness to be right there in that moment, I physically felt the memories of his early childhood years get sucked away into a vacuum of time. A black hole of early childhood and parenting opportunities that I could no longer retrieve.
My Mom Guilt Meter went off the register as I sat in a tiny chair in the middle of Room 32. Meanwhile, he sat on a rainbow rug playing Legos with a total stranger he now referred to as “my new friend”. I didn’t do enough playgroups with him. I didn’t attend enough storytimes with him. I should have blogged more about him. I should have taken more pictures of him. I should have signed off Facebook and done more arts and crafts with him. I should have gone to more museums and parks and hiking trails in our free time. Every day was free time! Why didn’t I take advantage of it? I didn’t lay down on our own rug to play Legos with him long enough 

Kindergarten Orientation brought feelings to the surface that I hadn’t anticipated and the reality of one chapter coming to a close abruptly snapped shut in my face. I didn’t think I’d feel this overwhelmed by emotion, but as reality settled in, it dawned on me that when my beautiful, charismatic, spitfire of a child went through the doors of his first public school, he was no longer “mine” in the sense of what I had always known life to be with him. For 6 hours a day (essentially half of his waking hours), 5 days a week, he was in the care of other, albeit capable, adults that I didn’t really know. He would create a social life outside of the friends I chose for him because I got along with their moms. He would wake and eat on a different schedule. He would not have me there to tie his shoes or open his juice box or guide through unknown territory. He was my little fledgling taking his brave first flight and I would have to sit there and wait in my nest, with bated breath, to see how far he soared. It was a rite of passage that he so well-deserved, yet my unplanned heartache and regret filled the space in our home right where his absence was felt. I have loved him so deeply. But have I utilized and appreciated my time with him enough?

Perhaps I feel this form of grief and guilt more strongly with Ryan because when I sent his older brother off to Kindergarten, I had two “backup kids” at home. Ryan was in his first year of Preschool and I had a 6-week old baby literally attached to me. The sense of freedom and “greener grass” wasn’t even on my radar at that point. I was in a sleep-deprived state that welcomed any reprieve of being responsible for the older ones. And with Caiden, being the eldest, I DID do the playgroups and storytimes, music classes and museums… because I wasn’t so overwhelmed with being a parent to multiple children.

My middle child didn’t have the gift of being an only child for a few years. His gift was the companionship of his siblings. His gift was the opportunity to learn and see what life was like for older children up close and personal, as well as the hands-on training in being tender and understanding to children who were younger than him. Sadly, that still doesn’t completely soothe the sting of the guilt.

He’s so ready for this step, though. So INSANELY ready for this. For the past few days he has awakened extra early at 6:45am, dressed himself, and eaten breakfast with a giant fluorescent orange bus tag around his neck. And as I write this, I get it now. That bus tag, you see, that’s HIS badge of honor.

 “You see this tag? It’s my ticket to an amazing experience, Mom! I have got so many friends out there I have yet to meet! I can teach them all my crazy jokes and show them all my silly faces! I can show them how kind and funny and smart I am! I can show my new teachers how different from my big brother I am. This time away from you is not the end, Mom. It’s the beginning. It’s the start of the path to becoming who I really am and full of so many possibilities at every turn! Movin' on up! And, Mom, I am so happy that you have been here since the beginning to hold my hand. We’re buddies and nothing can ever change that. Let’s face it, a kid like me really isn’t created out of playgroups, music classes, and homemade play dough.  Seriously, Mom, give yourself a break. Grab a cup of coffee and take a breath. I’ll be back in 6 hours to give you a giant hug, tell you all about my day, and maybe, if there’s enough time, we can play Legos afterward.”

Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Society That Is All Black and Blue

During "rest time" this afternoon, I crossed a threshold of childhood with Caiden as I realized he was a bit to old to enjoy "Ella Elephant" and "Caillou". He was allowed to watch "Spiderman" instead and I walked away thinking, "Here is the bringing of a new era..."

He made this revelation even more concrete during dinner tonight. As Dan came in on his dinner break, the first thing Caiden noticed was the small black cuff worn around Dan's badge acknowledging the loss of fellow police officers killed in the line of duty. Year after year, sadly, it comes out. We saw it in 2012 after the deaths of Kevin Ambrose and Jose Torres. We saw it again in 2013 in honor of Sean Collier. And it has now reappeared at the close of 2014.

C: "Dad, there's something on you."
D: "I know, buddy."
C: "What is it?"
D: "Some police officers got hurt so I wear this."
C: "What are their names?"
D: "Officer Liu and Officer Ramos."
C: "How'd they get hurt?"
D: "Don't worry about it, buddy."
C: "Where'd they get hurt?"
D: "They were in a car in the city."
C: "How long did they get hurt for?"
Me: "It was very quick, honey. They didn't feel pain long at all."
C: "Did they go to the hospital?"
D: "Yes."
C: "I hope they were brave."
Me: "Yes sweetie. All police officers are brave."
C: "Yeah. Like my dad."

It was one of those moments in parenting where you feel like a deer in the headlights. We had a 5-year-old bombarding us with questions. He is an intuitive boy, an inquisitive boy, a boy who won't be appeased with a simple "yes" or "no" answer nonetheless an attempt to change the topic. Dan and I try to be as honest as possible with our kids without corrupting their innocence. Together, we try to open up these discussions to entertain his questions without gruesome details. We've crossed these wobbly bridges of kid-questions with discussions starting with "how'd you get that baby in your belly" and "what are all those rocks [headstones] for"?"  While at face value most people would think that tonight's conversation was a relatively sweet exchange in the sense of Caid's genuine concern for Officers Liu and Ramos coupled with his last sentiment filled with pride, I found little solace in it. In fact, it bothered me. Actually, to be completely honest, it angered me.

I have kept my opinions about the chaos that has saturated our country, dividing it into subgroups, fueling fires ignited by racial tensions, prejudices, and overall ignorance, to myself.  Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. ALL LIVES MATTER.  There is SO MUCH that we don't know about the Ferguson case, the Staten Island case, the cases we have yet to hear about because they just weren't "newsworthy" enough. To the general public, all we know is what we have been fed by the media- an outlet that thrives on drama and "who said it firsts"; an outlet that often releases partial truths in order to gain higher ratings; an outlet that can be biased based on any sort of demographic pending on who signs their paychecks.

Brooklyn is different though.

There is no arguing the senselessness of it all. There was no prior altercation. It was a public execution of two men who had dedicated their lives to serve others. Two men who were the first to respond when others cried for help. Two men with families who they most likely bid a casual "goodbye" to as they walked out the door that morning to begin their shift-- a gesture they, like so many, took for granted under the assumption that they would return.

Dan used to roll his eyes at me almost daily in the early years of our relationship when I would kiss him on his way out the door and say, "Be safe" (rather than "goodbye") as he left for work. After Caiden was born, he laid off the eye-rolling because he understood the stakes were higher. Even in a quiet suburb danger lurks. The longer he is on the force, the more he sees what craziness, recklessness, and danger can that can unfold. A simple road job directing traffic can easily turn fatal with one distracted driver speeding through a work zone while texting. There are the drunk drivers on the road and the angry drunks that want to fight when they are taken in to get booked. There are people who hurt so much they threaten bodily harm and are armed with the weapons to do so. We have drug dealings, domestic violence, robberies, and car chases in this little neck of suburbia. And then there are the other dangers that don't start out as malicious.  The house fires, the downed electrical wires, the natural disasters, the car accidents, the exposure to bodily fluids spewn by the sick (or, at times, deceased). The only night that I don't have that quiet ball of worry and anxiety in my gut is on "Night 4", when Dan is assigned to desk work.  And, in general, there is a sound that all spouses of police officers can identify a mile away and greet with a sigh of thanksgiving and relief: that of the thick Velcro being pulled apart as a bulletproof vest is being removed and hung up for the day.  It is THAT sound that lets me sleep in peace and breathe a little easier.  At least for a few more hours.

The men and women who have dedicated their lives and careers to helping others are a special breed. They see things and do things that most of us couldn't stomach or wrap our heads around. They put their own lives on the line each and every workday in order to make the rest of us safer, happier. Are their a few bad apples in the barrel? Of course. No profession or race or religion is without. But let me say this: Not every cop is killer. Not every African-American man is a thug. Not every priest is a pedophile.

When will this madness end?

When will the violence stop and the conversations start to happen? Not the conversations to argue "who did what" and "which is better", but the conversations to rally for peace and change and common ground?

When will my little boy be able to not have to worry whether or not his daddy will come home after work?

There are simply no easy answers. So in the meantime, I guess I will continue to let my son grow up and move on to more "mature" things at his own developmentally-appropriate pace. I will ease up the reigns of trying to keep him little and innocent and allow him to ask questions and answer them to the best of my ability, giving him truth without trauma. And I will let him understand and continue to believe that superheroes are real whether it be "Spiderman" on TV or the man who sits next to him at dinner.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A "Laundry List" of Blessings

It was a snowy morning in New England on this Thanksgiving Day. I was doing not much out of the ordinary. The dishwasher was busy humming. A load of laundry was tumbling in the dryer. My two older boys were outside playing in the first snow of the season with their dad. As I was busy quietly folding the mounds of clean laundry that seemed to accumulate over the past few days (You know the deal. You wash and wash and wash. The throw in the basket, decide to "get to it later", and then proceed to work out of said basket day in and day out for the next week.). The baby was at my feet, happily cooing up a storm on his activity mat, as I folded up the millionth onesie he would inevitably spit-up all over as soon as his chunky little body was squeezed back into it. It was no special task, but it did provide some time to reflect on the simple abundance that surrounded me.

On a day when proud Americans near and far celebrate all that they are thankful for, I couldn't help but take in all that has truly graced my life. I realized that I was thankful for the ability to fold a million onesies. There was a time in my life when doctors told me my babies would be a challenge to conceive. I was even thankful to fold the socks and jeans and underwear that shared the same basket, as all these things kept us warm and protected on snowy days like this. I was thankful that I have the ability to stay at home and do these ordinary tasks. Thankful that my husband has a job that he loves, that he has wanted to do his entire life; that can provide for his family and satisfy his career goals all while allowing me to stay at home with our three beautiful children. I am so thankful for our home. Not just because it provides us basic shelter, but because it is located in an amazing neighborhood chock full of people who genuinely look out for and care about one another. Our own little piece of "Mayberry". A street where everyone really knows each others' names; where kids can play safely in the streets; where families congregate on a weekly basis in one way shape or form whether it be a stroll around the block or a casual get-together over coffee; where you seriously can call up someone and borrow a cup of sugar, and then deliver a batch of completed cookies to their doorstep when they are cooled. I am thankful that this neighborhood is located in a country that bestows so many freedoms that I admittedly take for granted. A country that, although imperfect at times,  doesn't pay a second thought to granting women an education or the right to vote or purchase a piece of land or start their own business. I am so blessed beyond measure for the three amazing sons that I get to call "mine" and for the fact that they were all delivered in a safe hospital where access to the best forms of medical interventions was available at the staffs' fingertips when needed. I am thankful for the family that surrounds me. Not just for the members whom I was born to, but for those who I acquired through marriage, and those who have become my family through steadfast friendship and love despite distance and time. I am thankful for my church family. The people whom I have known for the majority of my life. The ones who "raised" me in a house of God and I now entrust my own babies to. I am thankful for the community that they provide and the support that they extend to others who seek refuge in a house of worship in a world where the rules of religion can be so flawed and cruel. I am thankful for the schools that my boys attend; for their teachers who lovingly nurture and inspire them each day when they are not in my care. I have seen how much each of my kids have grown and flourished in such a short amount of time during a monumental school year for them.

It really is amazing how all of these revelations poured out of me as I sat in my living room sorting and folding. And yet, that is really what grace is all about: Acknowledging the fact that, many times, the ordinary is, in fact, truly the extraordinary.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Doomsday Prep

If the Zombie Apocalypse were to occur tomorrow I think I could account for the canned goods, bottled water, and basic weaponry to ward off my undead enemies. I used to pride myself on my preparation skills. As a Type A personality, it is in my DNA. Naturally, motherhood has certainly thrown me many curve balls along the way and over the years I have learned to accept the fact that plans can easily be cast aside with tantrums in Target or a deficit of diapers on my person, but, for the most part, I have still managed to keep life in working order overall. I am not so confident in those skills anymore though. Sending my firstborn off to Kindergarten presented me with scenarios that nothing could have truly prepared me for.

We have read Mrs. Bindergarten to the point of memorization. We have practiced bus safety and attended informational meetings. We have perfected basic skills in at-home workbooks. We have explored the classroom at orientation. We have walked to the school and played on the playground to create a sense of ownership. We have discussed the changes in routines that were going to take place. We have talked about our feelings and expectations for what was ahead on this new educational horizon. We have stuffed the backpack, selected our outfits, meal planned for week, and set the alarm clocks.  All of this, in preparation.

Within my own mind, I had taken the time to process how going to kindergarten was going to effect Caiden. He would be excited for the most part, but certainly have a bit of nervousness with regard to being in a new environment. In addition, I took the time to process how it was going to effect me. I expected a sense of sadness as my firstborn stepped onto the school bus for the first time-- entrusting someone else to drive my most precious cargo off to a full-day program in which I wouldn't know the details of. I expected a sense of pride to well up inside simultaneously as he confidently took those massive first steps into public education. I expected the long hours to slowly tick away on his first day as I anxiously awaited his return with the high hopes that he would be able to tell me about this major milestone. (I also expected that this last expectation would really only consist of what he ate for lunch and the fact that he played trains at some point in the day.)

What I never took into consideration, however, was how this benchmark in Caiden's life would deeply affect Ryan. In a matter of minutes, once the bus departed, my middle child began asking when his big brother was going to come home. Throughout the day he ran to the door each time a landscaping, delivery,or dump truck roared past the house. He was desperate for his favorite playmate to return. At one point, he curled up in my lap with a rarely displayed look of forlorn on his face. I didn't prepare for the fact that on this high occasion for one child, another would be missing his best friend for the majority of his waking hours.

What I never took into consideration was the fact that my husband's work/sleep schedule would completely diverge that of a normal school day.  From now on, for the most part, five days out of the week, father and eldest son would only share the dinner hour together-- if that.

What I never took into consideration was the loss of impulsive excursions. That in, a melodramatic sense, "life as we knew it was over". Until summer vacation, our days would be dictated by the academic calendar and gone were the days of random park outings, picnics and road trips as a complete family unit.

What I never took into consideration was the QUIET. Granted, I still have two children at home. But the noise made by a 6-week-old and a 2-year-old pales in comparison to that of a 6-week-old, 2-year-old and a 5-year-old. (I am prepared for the fact that, in the months to come, as Mikey becomes more active this will change-- but still, it won't be the same...)

And yet, as I mourn the loss of a life that I had become so accustomed to knowing, I celebrate many things. We are entering a new phase in parenthood. No longer are we "newbies" to raising babies-- we, although fledgling, are raising "school-aged children". Playdates will morph into PTO meetings. Spontaneous adventures will morph into sports schedules. Free time and family time will taste so much sweeter. I also celebrate the fact that my other boys will gain some long overdue and greatly deserved one-on-one time with me at home. I look forward to learning about them the same way that I got to learn about Caiden when he was an only child. I celebrate watching Ryan blossom even more as he begins preschool in a few weeks. I celebrate the ability to grocery shop with only one kid in tow again.

Yes, the past few days have made me painfully aware of the fact that even I am not the most prepared at all times. But it has also reminded me that with great change comes the opportunity to appreciate how far you have come and, more importantly, look forward to where you are going.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Wading Into a Challenge

     Every week there are hundreds of articles trending on social media sites.  5% of the time I will read it if it has something to do with sports. 15% of the time I will read it if it has something to do with the environment.  50% of the time I will read it if it has to do with a celebrity (Yes. Sadly,  I do value my knowledge of pop culture more than what bizarre chemical is being added to my food.)  And 100% of the time I will completely AVOID reading it if it has anything to do with politics or religion.  Then there is that funny gray area of articles that friends post that peak my curiosity with comments attached to it like, "I dare you to read this and not cry" (Is that a challenge?  Bring on the abused puppies and fiery car crashes-- I got this.) and "OMG!  This lady had me in stitches!  It's soooooo true!  I am totally #27 on the list!"   (Seriously?  Like, if I read this, will I gain some sort of weird insight into your true psyche?  Do you think we could still be friends after I learn what #27 is?).

     This week many friends in my Facebook feed, however, linked an article from The Huffington Post that I am, sincerely, so happy I took the time to read.  In Moms, Put on That Swimsuit, author Jessica N. Turner broaches the topic that no mom really wants to entertain.  Shopping for a swimsuit is traumatic enough.  Wearing it under your beach coverup while sitting poolside is still a test for one's summertime insecurities. But to wear it out.  Like, IN PUBLIC?!?!  IN FRONT OF PEOPLE?!?!?   AND GET WET IN IT?!?!  AND ACTUALLY ENJOY YOURSELF IN IT?!?!

This truth has especially been the case for me this summer as it looks as though I have been smuggling my kids' beachball into my swimwear as their kid brother finishes developing within the walls of my thick tummy, under my flabby arms, and above my thighs that think "GAP" is simply a brand of clothing I usually cover them up with.

     With Baby #3 due the same week that our family usually departs for our traditional Cape Cod vacation, Dan and I decided on "buying in" to a local "beach club" (pond) this year (in lieu of travel).  It's been a fantastic investment thus far and June isn't even over yet!  Many mornings we have awaken, grabbed breakfast, packed a picnic lunch and arrive there to splash and sunbathe before the afternoon newscast airs.  The boys love the ability to play with their friends for hours upon hours on end, the location is a mere 10 minutes down the road from our home, there are lifeguards to keep a watchful eye over everyone, plenty of things to do to keep the kids entertained (fishing, sand toys, etc.), and did I mention public bathrooms within waddling distance?  (With 2 weeks left until my due date, that there is worth the price of admission alone!)  As the boys have been exploring the shoreline examining snails and small fishes day in and day out, I have maintained my "post"on the sidelines with all my other Mommy Friends-- each of us seated neatly in a row of Adirondack chairs, sipping our iced coffees and enjoying each others' company, while enjoying the fact that our children are having a blast in the water right in front of us-- safely-- but not with us glued by their sides'.

     But Ms. Turner rocked my world this week with her article and she was SO. INCREDIBLY. RIGHT. ON.  And so, in a similar manner of reading about abused puppies and fiery car crashes, I accepted her "challenge" to not only "put on that swimsuit", but actually put it to good use.  Life is too short, right?  Well life with your kids being little is even shorter.  What was surprising about this endeavor (and "endeavor" is NOT an over-exaggeration when describing the process of squeezing a 9-month pregnant woman into Spandex) was the almost INSTANTANEOUS repercussions it yielded.  The boys we ready, dressed, and waiting for me in the kitchen prior to our departure and as soon as Caiden saw me in my suit (usually hidden under a maxi dress) he said, "Momma!  What is that?!?!"  I explained to him it was my bathing suit and instead of him pointing out how big my belly was, he simply gave me a GREAT BIG HUG and said, "I would LOVE to go swimming with you!!!"  Perhaps it was an overabundance of pregnancy hormones coursing through my system or just the pure sincerity of his sentiments at the time , but it took my all not to burst into tears right then and there and feel a.) like this personal experiment was already totally worth it and b.) an overwhelming amount of "Mama Guilt" on every former situation in which I let my own personal anxieties trump the genuine, nonjudgmental joys of my children.

     I spent the early portion of this afternoon on the sidelines as usual.  (I am a woman who is always up for a challenge.  Don't confuse that with a woman who is a glutton for punishment.)  I needed to build up the courage to work my way into the water.  The first major hurdle crossed was to remove my coverup which I did immediately.  I then spent time talking to other Mommy Friends about The Huffington Post article.  For those of us who read it, we all agreed on how wonderful it was and how hard on ourselves we are.  Despite all of the mutual support and agreement around me about the overall message of the story, I still couldn't bring myself to make the move into the pond though.  My inner dialogue sounded a lot like this: "Maybe after lunch." "The water is probably too cold."  "There is not a single other adult in the water right now.  I would simply look like a creeper if I were to go in."  "The kids are perfectly content playing with their friends-- they don't need me."

     As the day grew hotter and our time at the pond grew shorter, I knew that if I were to do this it had to be sooner rather than later.  And then, like a woman possessed, I literally stood up and walked unto the water.  To my knees.  To my waist.  And then up to my shoulders.  NEWSFLASH: No one panicked.  The lifeguards did not shut down the beach.  "Save the Whales" was not deployed to pull me out.  No one seemed to notice me at all.

     Except my kids.

     Caiden immediately spun around, his little blonde head bobbing up and down as he doggy-paddled his way over to me saying, "Mommy!  What are you doing?!?!?"  I casually responded, "Swimming." and he, in turn, sported the sweetest, happiest smile.  Ryan was nearby on the dock and he, who is not one to go too deep into the water, quickly asked if he could jump into my arms and join us.  I caught my little one and he giggled, giggled, giggled!  The three of us swam together for quite some time and it was truly such a beautiful ending to a gorgeous, fun day. I wish that I could etch the memory of Ryan's proud face as he furiously kicked the water and chanted "I sim-nin' Mommy, I sim-nin!" or have recorded Caiden's boisterous chuckles when he told me "Momma, you need to come swimming more often.  This is SO AWESOME!!!"

     Thank you Jessica N. Turner for challenging me; For commanding me to "put on that swimsuit".  Your wisdom not only inspired me, but changed me for the better.  I can't erase my insecurities overnight, but I can certainly continue to rise above them and enjoy my kids in the way that they, simply, enjoy me.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Confessions of a Bad Mom (Pt. 1—Because, Let’s Face It, There Is Bound to Be More I Screw Up)

     I am a bad mom.  Frankly, there is an overabundance of reasons, including, but most certainly not limited to, my babies sleep in cribs with cute decorative bumpers (despite suffocation warnings), we eat at drive thrus far more often than I would like to admit, and the ratio of hours spent in PJs around here vs. the hours wearing “normal” clothing is actually quite alarming.

     While cleaning up the kitchen the other night after dinner, it dawned on me yet ANOTHER reason why I am a bad mom.  Perhaps it is early nesting instincts kicking in, perhaps it is the fact that springtime has (supposedly) arrived, perhaps it is because I missed the sights of my doors and walls and countertops and refrigerator front.  No matter the reason, I purged.  And I purged HARDCORE.  Not my dinner, but my kids “creative projects”.

     My name is Laurel and I am a bad mommy because I don’t save my childrens’ artwork.

     Now, in my own defense, my boys are not the “artsy” type.  Ryan is content scribbling over the same exact coloring page for 3 days in a row. To him, an old shopping list covered in his jagged lines drawn in a pencil unearthed from the bottom of my purse is “art”.  Caiden, on the other hand, thinks that “art” is a.) stealing a coloring page that Ryan originally chose and using one color—99.9% of the time it’s BLACK—to scrawl a half-assed scribble on it to claim his territory and/or b.) Handing ME a box of crayons with a blank sheet of paper and dictates what I should draw for him.  The only time Caiden really sits and does an art project is when he is asked to create it by his preschool teachers during a daily lesson.  Even then, he, admittedly, follows the instructions and goes through the motions, but only does the bare minimum required.  One day he came home from school with a piece of red construction paper that had a bunch of green felt squares glued on it.  In an encouraging manner, I asked him to tell me all about his picture.  “What did you make today?  Tell me about it?  Why do you think you guys did this project today?”  His response, “I dunno.  You can put it in recycling.”  Where I should feel bad about the fact that he demonstrates such a lack of care with regard to his work, I actually pride myself on his eco-consciousness…

     I go to my friends’ homes and see their kitchens and mudrooms and playrooms plastered with beautiful creations full of color, texture, and funny descriptions written on the bottom.  The parents of children that I work with “complain” about not having enough room for yet another project to display.  So I, in the vain attempt to keep up with the Jones’ (or the Picassos’ or the Van Goghs’) will hang up my kids’ work under a strict set of rules:
1.)    Seasonal art (ex: Valentine’s Day project) will remain on display for intended season.
2.)    Artwork will be allowed a 1-month-maximum residency on display.
3.)    If the artist doesn’t care about it, neither do I.  (Aka- “The Peace Out Felt Squares” Clause)

     If I am to keep my kid’s artwork, it must also fall into at least one of the following categories:
1.)    Contain a hand, foot, or fingerprint.
2.)    Feature a photograph of the artist.
3.)    Demonstrate a sincere amount of love, attention, and effort and/or hilarious description of what the piece of art is about.

     Perhaps it may seem to be incredibly insensitive, non-maternal, and downright mean of me to set these standards, but I simply cannot bring myself to try to organize and store this paper clutter especially if my children could care less about it in the first place.  And so this is how our home has been run since Caiden could pick up a crayon.  Our life full of crappy art was acceptable and under a peaceful agreement of control.  That is, until Caiden discovered the stark doors and walls and countertops and refrigerator front the other night.  He wanted to know what I was going to do with the giant stack of art projects in my hands...

(Insert MEGA amount of Mama Guilt here.)

“I—ugh—was going to—ugh-- recycle them.  You know,--ugh-- be good to the earth?!?!?”
“But Momma, those are my art projects.”
“I—ugh—thought you didn’t really care about these pictures.”
“But Momma, I made them for YOU.”

(Insert MEGA amount of SOUL CRUSHING Mama Guilt here.)

I quickly scanned the room to find a distraction—I mean, a solution—and saw my camera sitting on top of the baker’s rack.

“Here Buddy.  What do you say if we take pictures of your pictures?  Then Mommy can create a special book later of all your artwork.”
“Good idea Mommy.  But I have a better idea.  You can take pictures of me holding my pictures.”

And a better idea it truly was.  So now our home has a new set of working rules for artwork.  The pieces will be on display for their allotted seasons and when their month-long term expires, they will be photographed with their little artists—my own, personal masterpieces.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The (Anti)Social Experiment

     Any parent or childcare provider has done it at least once in their lifetime.  It’s that awkward moment when they insert baby talk, high pitched tones, or contributed an unhealthy exuberance in sharing useless information involving cartoon characters and plots into what is supposed to be intellectually stimulating adult conversations.  For me, it took place during a long-overdue night out with a group of childless friends.  I looked the part.  I wore heels and pants that didn’t consist of 100% Spandex.  I donned makeup and my hair was out of its usual ponytail.  The night was going to be full of sophistication and mature humor and maybe even a little political commentary.  And then it happened.  As everyone was getting ready to pack into their cars to head out to dinner I made the announcement, “OK Guys, before we take off does anyone need to go to the potty?”

     Legit.  I said “potty”.  In heels.

     Despite the fact that I know EVERY person who has ever spent an extended amount of time with kids has experienced a similar situation, I felt so incredibly ridiculous at that moment.  Later on I began to reminisce about my pre-kid days and wondered what happened to my former being who prided herself on scholarly vernacular and possessed opinions on worldly affairs that went beyond whether ketchup or BBQ sauce was better on chicken nuggets.  And then I reflected upon the daily conversations that I now partook in.  I seriously, have never used the phrases such as “poopy”, “boogie”, “snacky snack”, and “happy nappy” so much in my entire existence until I became a stay-at-home mom.  Now I would consider sentences incomplete without one (or all) of those phrases used.  Discouraged, this thought process then lead me to the following social experiment.

     I literally spent an entire week recording the bizarre and oftentimes disgusting things that are said in this household.  Just one simple week.  And this is what transpired…

(Child emerges from playroom)  “Why are you naked and where are all of your clothes?”

“What do you think you want for lunch today?  (Look into backseat via rearview mirror.)  Hey!  Boogers aren’t on the menu!  Get your finger out of there!”

“Knock that off and give that to me!  Toothpaste is NOT a condiment.”

“Where are your pants?”

“Please stop head-butting the dog in her rear end.”

Child sits in his father’s seat and starts speaking in a low authoritative voice.  “Hi.  I’m Daddy and I’m the boss.  If you are bad I will put you in time out.  But if you are good and eat all your supper I will give you a treat.”
I laugh and then say, “That’s pretty spot on.  What does Mommy sound like?”  (Pandora’s Box opened, Stupid!)
“Hi.  I’m Mommy.  And I’m the other boss.  If you are bad I will put you in time out.  But I’m meaner.”

(In what should have been a tender moment shared while quietly snuggling my 5-year-old, the following conversation emerged)
Child rests his head against my, albeit, pregnancy enhanced chest, pulls back and then looks quizzically at me.  “Momma, what are those?”
“That is my chest, dear.”
“Oh.  I thought that it was the baby’s feet popping out.”
(I thought this would be the end of this exchange.  I should have known better.)
Child then looks down at his chest, back at mine, and back at his.
“Woah.  Yours it a LOT bigger than mine.”
“Yes.  Yes, it is dear.”
(PLEASE, GOD let this conversation come to a close.)
Child stares back at me and then makes a coasting motion with his hand over “the girls”.
“Momma, these are like mountains.  BIG MOUNTAINS.  I am going to get my trains so can they chugga chugga up and down them.”
“Honey, I don’t think that is necessary.  Or appropriate for that matter.”
“Do you want a snack?  Let’s go get a treat.  How about some TV time?”

“You have been potty trained for two years--Did you seriously just poop your pants?”
“’Chuggington’ was on.”

“MOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!  Ry-Ry is nakey again.”
“Serously Child!  You are like the freakin’ Houdini of attire.”

“What have I told you about head-butting the dog in the rear?!?!”

Child sits in his father’s seat and starts speaking in a low authoritative voice.  “Hi.  I’m Daddy and I’m the boss.  I’m old.  I drink soda.  I drink blue milk not red milk [1% vs. whole].  I go to work a lot.  And I play video games.”
I laugh and then say, “That’s pretty awesome and TOTALLY spot on. “  (I learned very quickly NOT to open Pandora’s Box again.  Especially with this uncensored honesty in the air.)

“No Ry!  Put the potty back on the floor!  The froggy potty is for practicing how to tinkle and poop on the big boy potty—NOT for dumping bath water on your brother!”

     So after one week I drew my social experiment to a close and realized that all it proved was that there was no wonder why I say some of the things I do and I was bound to have anti-social conversations for the remainder of my days while raising small children.  That, and I live with a house full of aspiring pint-sized nudists.