I’m Contributing to a Book – What the Hell?

So, this isn’t exactly an official blog post, but I finally can share the news: I’ve been asked to contribute to a book project.  While in its very early stages, the book is “Becoming Mother: Narratives of How One Becomes Two,” by Sharon Tjaden-Glass. You can view the project on the blog: www.becomingmotherblog.wordpress.com and see my contribution: http://becomingmotherblog.wordpress.com/other-true-stories/bailey-how-could-i-be-a-mom/. I’ll be featured in the “Other True Stories” section.

This may just be that first small step into a writing career. What the Hell?

Relishing the Boring Stuff – What the Hell?

My addiction to Disney movies is not something I’ve ever tried to hide on this blog. So, it should come as no surprise that this blog post is inspired by one of my all-time favorites: Up. The beginning love story sequence makes me cry. Hard. Ugly, shoulder-shaking, snot-sucking crying. It’s bad. I don’t even have to be looking at the screen. As soon as I hear the music, I know what’s happening, and I start to cry right around the time that they are in the doctor’s office. Again, regular readers will know why. There is just something about the whole movie that gets me. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve had students like Russell, or if it’s because the love between Ellie and Carl is timeless, or if it’s because I’m just a sucker for Disney movies.

Anyway, there is one line in the movie that hits home with me every time. Russell is talking to Mr. Fredricksen about being a kid and says, That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.” (Don’t send me a nasty email if I misquoted that a bit. I’m not so good at quoting movies; that’s my husband’s claim to fame.) As a mom, I try, at the very least, to make each day fun. They’re not all smash hits, but if we laugh and smile and spend time together, then I’m happy. The rest of the tribe seems to be, too.

I see all of these moms on Pinterest and Facebook planning these elaborate day trips and play dates, and to be honest, there are times when I wish I had the creativity and the patience and the time to do half of those things. I envy their energy and their enthusiasm and their eagerness to be perfect moms. But, then I stop and wonder if that just makes their kids expect every day to be a grand gesture. Would they even appreciate the “boring” things that our family does? That’s when I realize I’m glad that we have that boring stuff. That’s the stuff of real life, and that’s what makes our family… well, us.

I like our nightly pillow fights and tumbling shows. I was thrilled when the big kid asked to help me make a chocolate chip banana bread yesterday, but “this time without the volcano.” I love knowing that I’m going to get the little guy out of his crib each day after his nap and see his smile and answer that daily question, “Daddy home?” And the next daily question, “Brother home?” And the one after that, “Turtle game?” We may have our boring routine, but there is comfort in that schedule. We know we will be together and play each late afternoon and evening. We know the Phillies game most likely will be on after bath time. We know we will make our wishes and read our books and talk about our days, head-to-head on the pillow. I even love knowing that we go to our favorite family dinner spot so often that they know what to bring us to drink and that we don’t need menus; knowing that we can leave with a screaming little guy without insulting anyone is kind of awesome, too.

So, yes, the boring stuff is the stuff I will remember the most. And, I hope it’s the stuff our boys will look back on and remember with fondness. We may not have done something awesome every day, but we did spend time together, as a family. When I figure out how to pin that and update that, I will. In the meantime, I’ll check out what those other moms are doing, and for once, I’ll be able to think I may just be doing something right. What the Hell?

My Son’s Other Woman – What the Hell?

I’ve written about it before: the unbelievably tight bond between my older son and my mother. It’s something that amazes me, warms my heart, and makes me jealous, all at the same time. That’s tough for me to admit, but it’s the ugly truth.

This past week has been rougher than most in the he-likes-Gatoni-more-than-he-likes-me category because he is crying for her every night. This is very unusual; typically, he cries once a week for her, the night after his super-awesome sleepover at her house. This week he’s having a rough go of it because he knows she is going on a little vacation in a few days.

I was worried about her dogs and her house. I was very worried about fielding all of the phone calls from my grandmother and my grandfather and my brother; I swear they call her twenty times a day, each. I was worried about having to answer all of the questions about where she is and when she will be back and why she isn’t available to get my brother groceries. I was worried about what would happen if I didn’t remember how to follow that one recipe or how to deal with the latest little boy ailment: the usual reasons for my twenty phone calls a day.

I wasn’t prepared for my kiddo to have himself all upset about her leaving. And, I’m really not sure how to make him feel better because he’s never really had to miss someone before, let alone his person. I’m sure I won’t live up to his super-awesome weekend expectations. I’m sure I won’t come up with the most fun games ever. I’m sure I won’t indulge his every whim. And, I’m sure I won’t fill that hole in his little heart when he can’t see his Gatoni for four days.

But, I’m his mom. And, even though it hurts my heart to see him so upset and sad because he’s anxious about losing his grandmother for a few days, it hurts me more to know that he’s not seeing it as an opportunity to spend more time with me. I was expecting to feel this when he got a girlfriend. I never thought I’d have to deal with this at age 5. What the Hell?

Another Injury – What the Hell?

My boys are not delicate flowers. If they were, I’d be very concerned because I was a tomboy and I don’t really know how to do quiet games and sit still for long periods of time. Unless it’s to read a book, but I’m usually scribbling furiously in the margins or taking notes or highlighting or writing as I read, so that doesn’t really count. Anyway, because of their rough-and-tumble natures, my boys look like they’ve been in some sort of horrible accident. At any given time, I can find a bruise, a brush burn, or a scab with little effort.

I’m starting to worry, because as they grow older and bolder, their injuries are becoming larger and much more noticeable. My immediate family at least has learned to stop asking, “Oh, honey, what did you do?” and start asking, “What did you do this time?” And, bless my pediatrician because he looks them over and says he’s glad we are so active and outdoors so often at our house. I haven’t had to worry about a call from CYS yet, thank goodness.

But, I am noticing that the boys are starting to be more daring in their escapades. The five year old is climbing trees and jumping out of his clubhouse, which is attached to the swing set. He won’t yet jump off a swing, but I’m sure that’s going to happen soon. He is running and jumping into the swimming pool, going down the slide into the water, and, just recently, flipping off the diving board. Most of these activities are harmless and there is always a throng of people ready and waiting to catch him, ask him if he’s okay, or pick him up if he falls a little too hard. He has more bruises and scrapes to prove his bravery, but I don’t make it a point to tell him that they are badges of honor; though, I know at some point in his little boyhood another rough-and-tumble kid will tell him that’s what they are. I don’t curb all of the flipping and running and jumping, but I’m certainly not going to make it a show of honor yet.

The two year old’s latest trick is to jump off the love seat and land on one of our bean bags. We now are on our second set of bean bags because the first set is as flat as pancakes from the big kid’s shenanigans. We use them as buffers along our hearth, and it’s a system that is working well so far. The problem with the little guy’s jumping routine is that he sometimes doesn’t jump out far enough from the love seat, and I’m afraid he’s going to hurt his leg. Last night, though, he was launching himself so far that I used a second beanbag as a “safety net.” I was having heart palpitations because my baby is turning into an acrobat before my very eyes, and I wasn’t ready for his bravery to kick in yet.  Chalk it up to yet another way he’s growing up that Mommy isn’t ready for. When he slid down the indoor slide right into his brother’s head while I was picking up toys (I really can’t take my eyes off them for a second at this point), there were a few tears but no blood. I felt better because the big kid wanted me to rub his noggin and check his head, and the little guy wanted my husband, his Nuk, and his Lovey.

I guess these boys are growing out of their Sesame Street toys and Little People play sets. We are moving on to tumbling mats and trampolines soon, I fear.

I will patch up the skinned knees and put Aloe on the brush burns for as long as they want me to. I will hug them and hold them when they get a little too wild. I will warn them to “Be careful,” even though I know I should save my breath. I’ll willingly offer them comfort after a tumbling accident as long as I can. But, when the day comes that they don’t come running to me with an injury, I will not be able to handle it. Somebody will have to give me a hug because all I’ll be able to think is, “What the Hell?”

The Potty Battle – What the Hell?

I know it’s been all over the internet on Mommy blogs and parenting sites and Pinterest: people are potty training their kids in a matter of seconds, and they are celebrating with awesome displays of balloons and parties and domino rallies.  Every time I see one of those jubilant faces, I want to yell, “Bullshit!” with the same gusto I used in high school when I learned how to play the card game.

I can’t take any credit for potty training our first son.  It was a battle of the wills, and I lost.  Two stubborn people are not usually good together under any circumstances, and when you add puddles of urine and stickers that aren’t being put onto the cute homemade chart that took one of the two parties HOURS to put together, a disaster ensues.  We had potty chairs that he chose at the store, proudly holding them in the cart on the way to the checkout aisle.  We had stickers with his favorite characters to put on that damn chart.  We had candy dispensers when I finally resorted to sugary bribes.  We had those special potty-training pants with his favorite characters on them.  We had underwear with his favorite cartoon guys on them, waiting in the drawer for when he was a big boy.  And, I had a headache and he had a warm stream of pee running down his leg.

I don’t know what my mom did to finally get him to use the potty on a regular basis, but she worked her grandmother magic somehow.  I think it involved lots of peeing on trees and into metal buckets, but whatever worked for her eventually worked at our house, and I didn’t complain about her spoiling him during the potty-training process.  I worked the chart into our daily routine, and enough stickers earned him those coveted trucks from the store, until he was peeing and pooping on the potty like a champ.

Somehow in the years between child one and child two, I forgot how awful it is to try to force a small person with different equipment down there to pee on a potty.  I forgot how cold the bathroom floor can be when you sit on it for endless stretches of time, just praying for one little tinkle into that potty so you can high five and dance and sing and give chocolate to a kid who has no real concept of why what he did is as awesome as you’re making it seem.  I forgot what it’s like to watch a clock and put a tiny body on a potty every fifteen minutes and pray that you’re not somehow scarring him for life; I don’t even want to know just how much will those therapy bills cost later on in life.

This time around, it’s worse than the first time.  This child wants even less to do with that stupid potty chair.  This child will not even look at the potty chairs at the store because he’s too busy screaming, “POTTY, NO!” at the top of his little lungs.  This child knows that every single person in his life uses the potty but him, and he’s just fine with that, thank you very much.  This child, who will normally do anything for chocolate, will not even look at the Hershey bar being dangled under his nose when he gets near the potty.  This child is going to be the death of me.

I know you’re not supposed to push potty training with kids who just aren’t ready, especially with boys who just aren’t ready.  I’ve discussed this with fellow parents and my parents and our pediatrician.  They all say to give him some time.  And, trust me, I’d be more than happy to give him time because I know I’m looking forward to the whole process less than he is.  But, the diapers are no longer containing his rivers.  We are changing his clothes top to bottom – yes, even the socks – at least once a day.  I’ve tried all kinds of diapers.  Different brands, different styles, different sizes, different everything.  I’m convinced they don’t make a diaper for my child because his body IS READY for the potty.  It’s his little mind that isn’t.

I don’t know how I’m going to get him to do this.  I don’t think my mom wants to put another child through her potty-training boot camp: especially this child, because for all of his adorableness, his nickname isn’t TROUBLE for nothing.  I can’t keep washing his clothes and our carpets and his crib as often as I am, or everything will just disintegrate some day soon.  Of all of the times I’ve wished for a magic wand or just one wish to be granted by the big blue genie from “Aladdin” during my lifetime, this is the time when I want someone to pay up.  One of us isn’t going to survive this potty battle.  What the Hell?

Broken Promises – What the Hell?

I broke a promise to myself yesterday. I swore on my old Girl Scout honor that I would write and publish a blog post every day since I started more than a month ago. There were days that I barely hit “Publish” by midnight, and some days that I had to accept hitting that button a few minutes after midnight, but I always made it. Until yesterday.

I was crazy busy with a project for the job that pays the bills, and because the little guy didn’t sleep for two minutes after I got home from my satellite work location (that’s my cool new term for my parents’ den), I couldn’t write when I got home. Then, there were all of the Mom Duties: changing diapers, playing the Wii, playing with trains, pouring milk into sippy cups, filling the Ninja Turtle cup with water when he realized he wanted it instead of the milk, getting the iPad to do whatever it was he wanted it to do, cleaning up, ordering pizza, paying bills… well, I think that just about paints the picture. Once everybody was finally in jammies and in bed, I cleaned up some more and sat down to continue that crazy-busy project. Until 4:15AM.

I’ll admit that I looked at the clock around midnight and felt like crying. Maybe it was the combination of the frustration I was having with the internet and the long list of things I still had to do before going to bed, and maybe it was the realization that I can’t remember the last time my husband and I hit the sheets at the same time, but the tears were ready to fall. I didn’t give in to those salty pests and continued to plug away at my list. I’d like to be able to say that I didn’t turn on the waterworks because I realized that crying over a missed blog post would have been silly and juvenile, but I think what stopped me was knowing that my keyboard would get wet. Anyway, the fact that I broke a promise to myself still bothers me this morning.

As a kid, I made promises all of the time. And, I kept them. If my mom wanted me to do something, she would ask me to promise; it worked better than a guilt trip because even at a young age, I knew that a person’s word was supposed to mean something. I can remember looking at my dad as he was rushing out the door after work, on his way to a meeting, and asking him to promise he’d be home before I fell asleep. He wouldn’t promise if he knew he wouldn’t make it. I remember being very young and asking my mom to promise she wouldn’t make me eat steak one more time because I hated it. She promised, and I still don’t eat steak.

I didn’t intentionally teach our big kid to say “promise” when it came to matters of the utmost importance, but that’s another thing he’s picked up from his mama. It hit me last night – well, this morning – while I was finally trying to fall asleep, that he uses promises the same way I do. If he really wants something, or if something really matters to him, he makes a promise with me. He doesn’t use promises for silly situations: I’ve never heard him say, “Promise me I can eat ketchup tonight.” And, I’ve never heard him say, “Promise we’ll never go to the dentist again!” because he knows that I won’t make promises that I won’t keep. But, he will ask me to promise that I won’t check my phone when he wants to show me his new tumbling moves. And, he asks me to promise that I’ll make his favorite Yummy Chicken soon. The funny thing is, when he wants his brother to do something, he doesn’t ask him to promise; he knows that little guy isn’t capable of sticking to his word.

I believe in teaching by example, and I got all warm and fuzzy thinking about how I’ve already instilled the value of a person’s word in my son. Don’t get me wrong: he still fibs and tells lies every now and again, but he’s at least on the right track with following through on a promise. He doesn’t know that Mommy has a blog, so I won’t tell him about my little slip. But, I promised him that I’d play with him when I got home today, and I will. That next blog post will just have to wait. I may break a promise to myself, but I’ll never break a promise to my children.

I’ll probably be up until the wee hours of the morning again, though, despite the fact that I promised myself I’d be in bed by 11 tonight. What the Hell?

12 Signs You’re From a Small Town – What the Hell?

I’ve lived in four houses my entire life, all within the same county in PA: the two that are the farthest apart are separated by only 18 minutes, on a good driving day. I’ve been eating at my favorite local restaurants at least once a week for as long as I can remember, minus the time I spent away at college. I have a category of people in my life who are “mill customers:” I don’t know their names, but I know they have been buying at our family feed mill since before I was born, and I know them on sight. My family doctor went to school with my mom; they even traded homework in an alley before school in the morning (Mom did the English, and he did the math). I’m a small-town girl, and I’ve decided there are 12 signs you’re from a small town, too.

1. Everybody knows your name.

Well, they may not know your first name, but they know that you are so-and-so’s daughter or son or so-and-so’s granddaughter or grandson and you look just like her or him.

2. When you hear a train coming, you know at least two alternate routes you can take to avoid the train all together.

That first whistle is just a warning. You know you have exactly 90 seconds to turn around, head down a side street, and jump the tracks because the lights are flashing but there aren’t any bars coming down across that crossing. And you feel a little bit like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit while you do it.

3. You hear “mom ‘n’ them” on a regular basis.

Okay. Maybe this is just a colloquialism from my particular small town, but it’s something you hear regularly around here. If it’s unfamiliar to you, picture this: you’re standing in line at a store, and you hear the people beside you say they had to pick up some Pepsi for “mom ‘n’ them;” you ask somebody to come for dinner this weekend, but they say they can’t because they’re going to be with “mom ‘n’ them.” It’s absolutely horrible. I’ve never said it. But it’s a part of the vernacular around here.

4. You don’t know street names because you reference everything by “where so-and-so used to live” or “where such-and-such store used to be.”

I hate it when people from out of town ask me for directions, because I have no idea what the streets are called around here. It’s only been 33 years; don’t judge me. I’m always fascinated by the college kids’ ability to deliver pizzas in this small town. I’ll bet not one of them knows where the old Kmart even used to be, but they’re successfully delivering pizzas nonetheless.

5. You know where everybody’s grandparents live.

Part of growing up around here meant spending time at your friends’ grandparents’ houses, not just your friends’ houses. Whether it was Sunday visits or trick-or-treating or just to drop off a clean casserole dish, you visited grandparents almost as much as you visited friends. The nice part was, you had a whole group of grandparents you weren’t related to but who still treated you like one of their own.

6. People have their own booths and tables and barstools in the restaurants and bars, and you know people are going to catch hell if they’re sitting in them on the “wrong night.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s the local family restaurants or the local dive bars: you can guarantee people will show up and immediately get pissed off if somebody else is in “their seat.” I’ve seen people march over to poor, unsuspecting patrons and tell them to get out of their seat. I’ve also seen people sit and pout while staring at the offending ignorant eaters because they didn’t have the guts to confront them. There even are a couple of waitresses in town who are nice enough to warn people about sitting in certain spots on certain nights.

7. If you can’t find somebody, you know which restaurant to find them in on a Friday night.

There is a whole culture of diners who eat in certain places on Friday nights. These people make up the majority of the people in #6 who have “their spots.” I’ve heard my parents say they weren’t going to call so-and-so because they just knew they’d see them at dinner that night. They didn’t have dinner plans together, and they weren’t going to eat together; they just knew they’d be there having dinner. In their spot.

8. Your mother and grandmother refer to all of the girls within five years of your age by their maiden names, and it doesn’t sound weird to you.

We’ve been to the weddings. We’ve seen the pictures of the ones we weren’t invited to attend. Everyone around here knows when one of “the kids” gets married. But, even though the majority of the girls take their husbands’ names, your mother and grandmother never get the memo or take notice of the new address labels on the thank-you notes and Christmas cards. You will forever go by your maiden name to those mothers and grandmothers, no matter what.

9. You see your friends’ parents and they still treat you like you’re twelve.

This probably has a lot to do with #8, too. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a wonderful development with some of the best families around, and those moms and dads watched out for us when we rode our bikes and played flashlight tag. I don’t know for sure, but whatever the reason, when I bump into those same moms and dads now, they look shocked to see that I’m old enough to be married with children (even though their kids are, too) and they still use that tone of voice they used when I was in elementary school. How are yoooou? What have you been up toooo?

10. You hear certain last names and know they’re trouble.

Right or wrong, fair or not, people are branded in a small town. Certain names and places carry stigmas, even if the current generation is made up of college graduates and success stories. It seems like the oldest generation in town is the most guilty of doing the labeling, and there is a subset of teaching families who shares the blame, but certain last names earn people the ire of many community members. And, the people who are the targets of the ridicule are aware of it and perpetuate it: “Oh, we’re not part of that clan. Our last name is spelled differently.” I’ve even heard people change the pronunciation of their last name, just to disassociate themselves from the rest of the clan.

11. You can list every sport the kids in certain families played.

Small towns like to cheer on their kids, and certain families are known for raising football players, basketball players, soccer players, baseball/softball players, and even 4-Hers. If a kid chooses not to participate in a sport that made his or her family famous, everybody wonders what’s wrong with him or her. It’s like the town expects people to follow suit and not break tradition; when it happens, they’re not sure how to handle it. On the other hand, when a new generation of a family begins, everybody starts purchasing sporting gear in the “family sport” for the new arrival. Baseball gloves for newborns are common baby shower gifts around here.

12. You expect to be able to park for five hours on one quarter.

There are some perks to being from a small town. You’re practically guaranteed a parking spot, and when you get one, you know you can spend the better part of the day parked in town on a single quarter. It’s funny when we go out of town and are expected to pay more than that for parking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people complain about parking fees in the surrounding communities because we are spoiled here.

I’d like to be able to say that my small town is exactly as I remember it from my childhood, but it’s not. I described my dilapidated memories of some of the places that made up my childhood in an earlier post, and after I did that, I realized that even though things don’t look the same, they often still feel the same. Some days, that’s a comfort; other days, it’s not. I don’t know if I want our boys to be able to write a list like this thirty years from now. There are some advantages to this small-town life, but I often wonder about the things I missed out on by living in a big city or going out West somewhere. The hardest part is realizing that our boys are going to have to make that decision for themselves some day, and I can’t handle thinking that my small town may not be their small town. What the Hell?

Vacation Anxiety – What the Hell?

We’ve finally done it. We’ve finally taken the steps to book a vacation, even if it is just for almost three whole days and our lodge is less than two hours from our house. This is a big deal, so don’t roll your eyes and groan. We haven’t been anywhere together other than our honeymoon ten years ago; we figured it’s time to go somewhere, in honor of our tenth anniversary.

My husband and I don’t come from families that traveled often. When I was little, my parents never took a trip without my brother and me in tow. And, our trips consisted mostly of day trips to local attractions, visits to my aunt and uncle in Hershey, and an annual summer trip to the Jersey Shore. The biggest trip of my life happened the summer between fifth and sixth grade, when we went to Disney World. I was twelve and too cool for the Dumbo ride, and while I enjoyed the trip, I’m not sure that I appreciated the time with my family in the most magical place on earth as much as I should have. Chalk that one up to that pesky adolescent phase.

So, I did the only thing a less-than-worldly traveler can do when she wants to go on vacation with her husband: I took to Facebook and put out an all-call for destinations within reasonable driving distance that are not too outrageously priced. Suggestions came pouring in from friends, and I was astonished by how many people actually travel. We got so many wonderful ideas from so many people who encouraged us to get out there and not feel guilty about leaving our children for almost three whole days that I made an Excel spreadsheet and started researching potential destinations.

Long story short, we are going to an outdoorsy spot close enough to home that I could rush back to a kiddo with a scraped knee and still make it back in time to hike with my husband. I didn’t mean to pick the spot that’s nearly closest to our home base, but I just couldn’t bring myself to be too far away from our little guys. Some day, I’ll be able to travel without the guilt and anxiety associated with being Mommy. That day is not today.

I’ve talked my parents into staying with the boys, and it didn’t take much arm twisting at all. (No regular readers of this blog should be surprised by that!) We officially are heading to the great outdoors, complete with a suite fitted with a fireplace, hot tub, and private deck. We’ve booked some adventures with local outfits, and I truly am looking forward to not cutting someone’s meat and lugging three bags full of iPads and trains and trucks to dinner. I can’t wait to talk to my husband without being interrupted every other word with such important issues as a broken truck or a turtle whose arm won’t move or a movie that won’t start. I’m looking forward to being able to do things after 8PM, for goodness sake.

And, now that I know our reservations are set and our confirmations have been received, I am starting to feel that old anxiety creeping in every time I give a thought to our upcoming anniversary getaway. What if the baby won’t sleep without his dad being the one to put him down, because he’s the one who puts him down every night? What if somebody’s asthma flares up and I’m not there to notice the first signs of wheezing? What if the five year old doesn’t transition well to his preK class and is having issues with getting out of the car and up the steps to his classroom? What if the two year old can’t find somebody who understands the new word he’s trying to say?

And, my anxiety is not limited to all of the imagined problems at home. I’m starting to think about all of the things that can wrong on our trip, too. What if there are bears that roam a little too close for comfort? What if we encounter bed bugs, even though I researched our lodging site and followed up with references and made sure that it’s the cleanest and friendliest place to stay? What if the bathroom is scummy and small and has hair stuck to the shower drain from the last vacationer? What if there are annoying people staying near us, with their loud talking and their door banging and their question asking? What if there are SNAKES? What if there are more mosquitoes and ticks than there are in my own backyard? What if I can’t relax enough to just have fun?

This is a problem. I don’t even have to worry about these things for more than two months, and here I am. It’s already been keeping me up at night. I’m sure that as the departure date draws near, I’ll be more excited than anxious. I’m sure I’ll hug my boys and have trouble keeping back the tears, all the while knowing that they are in the best second set of hands they could be. I’m sure I’ll look at my husband apologetically and hear him sigh when I check in with the homefront for the twentieth time in one day. And, I’m sure that when we return, I either will want to book another trip right away or never think about traveling again. Or, at least until our boys are older and begging us to just go.

I’m going on a three-day anniversary getaway in October, and I’m already freaking out about it. What the Hell?

I’m Jealous of My Children – What the Hell?

There are not many occasions for me to be jealous of my children.  I can read better, write better, think better, reason better, speak better, drive, cook, order things online… and they can’t.  There are so many aspects of being young (and don’t even get me started on adolescence and the teen years and those dreaded twenties) that I don’t wish to revisit and that I hope to be able to guide my children through relatively painlessly while still letting them learn their own lessons in their own way and in their own time.  But, as I watched them this past week, two themes kept recurring: pure joy and jealousy.

My mind has been on so many personal and worldwide problems in the past few days that I’m not sure I have been as present as I’d like to be; because of that, I tried to be very cognizant of those moments that I was playing with the trains and turtles but caught my mind wandering to other issues.  When I felt that happening, I forced myself to snap back to reality and truly observe my children for a few seconds before rejoining the fun.  I saw such innocence, such naiveté, such purity, and it helped me to relax and enjoy the moments with them even more.  But, it always was followed up with a pang of jealousy.

And, there was some guilt attached to those moments as well.  I think I’m having trouble coming to terms with the paradox that exists: catastrophic world events took place this past week, and I keep seeing the images on television and in my newsfeed that I have no words to describe, yet my family is able to play inside and outside with barely a thought to our safety.  I did not spend one minute playing with my boys this week without thinking about how fortunate we are to live where we live and how we live.  And, yes, there is guilt associated with that, whether there should be or not.

Yesterday, my husband and I took our two year old for lunch.  The biggest problem we had was that he played with his train a little too roughly and knocked it onto the floor a few times.  It clattered very loudly and I was afraid we may have been disrupting our fellow diners.  When my husband returned to the table after paying the bill, he set down some dinner mints in front of our son.  His face lit up and he breathed, “Oh, wow!”  That was all it took.  Four mints.  Pure joy.

Last night, our five year old spent the night with my parents.  When we met up with them today, I took him aside and told him some of the things that we had done while he was away having the time of his life.  When I told him that I had homemade chocolate chip cookies waiting in the cookie jar for him, he threw his arms around me and said, “Thanks, Mom!”  A huge smile and a hug, and then he ran off to jump back into the pool.  All because I spent an hour making cookies.  Pure joy.

At that same pool, our two year old was continuing to learn to swim with the help of one of the best kid’s swimming aids I have ever seen.  We stayed within arm’s reach of him, but he truly was swimming all over the pool without needing our help (unless the big kid jumped in and made a few waves that ended up in his nose or mouth), and we encouraged his cautious independence.  He swam over to the sliding board, put his head directly under the waterfall that spills over its edge, and screamed with delight.  He threw his head back and laughed.  Pure joy.

I could go on and on about all of the moments that made my boys light up and smile and laugh and hug and kiss over the past few days.  We don’t get to spend every minute of every day together, but the time that we do get to spend together is precious.  As the adult, I am very aware of the fact that we may not always have this time together.  But, I need to get better at balancing my worries about everything else with spending time joyously with my family.  Right now, my boys just get to have fun and play and laugh and learn; I realize that’s as it should be. I will bask in their joy as long as I can. But, I’m still jealous of their ignorance.  What the Hell?

On Becoming My Mother – What the Hell?

I don’t know exactly what it was that caught my eye, but I started staring at my hands while I was typing the other day.  My fingers were flying over the keys, as usual, and I was in the middle of a brainstorming draft session, and my attention suddenly shifted away from my thoughts and settled on what my hands looked like.  It took me a few seconds, and then I came to a startling realization: I was staring at my mother’s hands.

I’m not a doctor, and I’m certainly not up to speed on anatomy and physiology – probably because I’ve never taken an A&P course – but there certainly are some similar structures and looks to our hands.  I won’t describe them very well at all, due to my lack of knowledge about the technical terms for body parts, so please forgive me.  I just know that when I reach for the space bar, there is something about that bottom knuckle in my left-hand thumb that reeks of my mother’s thumb.  If I hadn’t fallen back into that old terrible habit of chewing my fingernails while thinking and writing, my thumb would look exactly like hers.

I don’t think my mom and I look alike at all.  I have had some people tell me that they can tell I am my mother’s daughter, just from our physical appearance, but I don’t see it.  Other people have told me that we have the same laugh, but I don’t hear it.  I think that’s why it struck me as so unusual that I saw her hands in mine.  The way the skin scrunches under my pinky when I extend my fingers.  The way there are four straight, raised lines branching out from my fingers and into my hand when I spread out my fingers to stretch them.  The way my rings never fit my finger the right way; they always seem to be turned to the side.  The way my knuckles, when my fingers are fully extended, look like my boys’ bellybuttons a few days after they were born.  The way we have deep crisscrosses all over the tops of our hands and fingers.  I got it all from my mom.

Most people say with a great deal of derision that they don’t want to become their mothers.  I’ve heard my mom say it about becoming my grandmother, and my brother and I tease her about how her driving is pushing her ever nearer to being Nana.  My dad used to tease me about becoming my mom, and I always shot back: “That will NEVER happen!”

But then I became a mom.  I needed my mom from the very second we brought that first precious little life home; with all of his eating issues and food allergies and my “touch of” postpartum depression (as the midwife so kindly described it), we needed her more than any of us ever could have imagined.  I watched her soothe my screaming baby who violently vomited after every feeding by wrapping him in a blanket and carrying him outside to show him the world.  Those hands pointed to the trees and the sky and clouds and my baby calmed down and slept.  Those hands helped me bathe the baby after my husband had to go back to work and some nights had to work until closing time, leaving me feeling alone and scared and helpless until my mom showed up and saved the day and the night.  Those hands took care of things when mine couldn’t.

I don’t simply see physical similarities in our hands; I see active similarities in our hands.  These two sets of hands have cared for both of my children.  They have changed diapers, felt for fevers, dried tears, applied bandages, and held little boys.  They have put battle gear onto Ninja Turtles and made Thomas the Tank and Friends go down the hill without tipping over.  They have stirred macaroni and cheese while getting milk into a sippy cup and not letting fish sticks burn.

I’ve learned so much about being a mother from my mom, and it’s funny how most of that learning happened through watching her hands.  I guess I have become my mom.  Or at least my hands have become her hands.  And I could not be happier about that.  What the Hell?