Why the Things My Husband Does that Drive Me Insane are Great for our Kids!

My husband is a fantastic father. But he’s still a guy, and he drives me insane. So this Father’s Day I am trying something new: Finding the good in the stuff he does that threatens to send me to the asylum. Why? Because I realize more each year that some of the stuff he does that I find absolutely asinine provides a different point of view for our kids. It gives them perspective. It balances out my crazy. It dilutes my anal retentiveness, reduces the impact of my neuroses, and lets them know that not everyone deals with stuff in the same way. We are all individuals, after all, and my way is not always the only way (did I really just admit that?). So here are a few of the things that get under my skin, make me shake my head, and ultimately bring balance to our attempt at parenting.

  1. What is with that get-up?

I am a bit of a clothes freak. I love to shop. I love fashion. This is one way in which I am a complete lunatic, and a slave to consumerism. My husband could not care less about clothes. Clothes are a necessity. His carefree attitude toward clothing has passed on to my boys, who put together the most (ahem) interesting combinations of clothing I have ever seen. The orange and black shorts with neon yellow t-shirt, gray socks, and high top Chuck Taylors is a sight that makes me grind my teeth. While I am happy my boys are comfortable in their clothing, why must they look like a Goodwill exploded all over them? Whatever is on top of the closest clothes pile is what they don. My husband cares not a lick. I try to stack the clothes in pairs when I put them away so they just happen to grab stuff that sort of goes together. I stack “outfits” together in their suitcase when we travel. As Yoda would say, “It matters not.” They somehow manage to put together the only two items that clash horribly. While this drives me to distraction, it is actually quite fabulous that they don’t care a bit. Why? Because, really, who cares? They are comfortable, they are happy, and that’s what matters.

My guy in his get-up.

My guy in his get-up.

  1. What the hell did they just eat?

I grew up in an Italian family, where mealtime was a freaking production. The food, the presentation, the fanfare…it was insane. As such, I have a hang-up about what constitutes a proper meal. “Mom, we had sausages cooked on a stick over an open fire for dinner!” Ok. What else? Were they on buns? Did you have condiments? A side dish? A salad? For the love of God, a piece of fruit? Of course not. Just some meat. On a stick. It just doesn’t seem right. In the same way that having pizza and a bean burrito for lunch doesn’t seem right. Why not pizza and some salad? A bean burrito and some fruit? I know I am a crazy freak, which is why it is so great that my husband is not tied to any rules about food, except that healthy food is good (but no need to be a fanatic). And while I grew up developing an unhealthy relationship with food that I battle with to this day, my kids see it like my husband does – it is fuel for your body and you don’t have to have three courses at dinner for it to be a meal. An apple and edamame for lunch? Great idea, daddy.

  1. Wait…you didn’t bring hand sanitizer with you to the playground?

I admit that I ignore all of the hype about how important it is for our kids to eat dirt to build strong immune systems. Why? Because, simply put, I hate it when they are sick. They have to stay home from school. They are disgusting. They barf. They poop everywhere. It is just plain gross and I would like to avoid it at all costs. I harass my boys about washing their hands, and using wipes or hand sanitizer, everywhere we go. Don’t get me wrong – my kids have been sick a crap ton of times. They were both daycare babies and the endless barrage of poop and puke started for both of them before they were a year old (plus, unlimited colds, ear infections, strep throat, hand, foot, and mouth virus, and many unexplained fevers of nefarious origin). It’s not like I make them live in a bubble, but my husband is far more lax about the whole “wash your hands before you eat” manifesto that I live by. As such, my kids are not completely neurotic about germs. This is really, really great, as I don’t want to raise germophobes. (Note: hubs is also way less freaked out by the barf and poop, which probably explains his take on the whole thing).

  1. Why are you an emotionless robot?

My husband is completely unemotional about most stuff. Sometimes I start talking to him about a struggle one of the kids is dealing with, my voice fluttering, face getting pink, and he just replies, “uh-huh.” That is, if he replies at all. Seriously. What. The. Hell. Dude. Just the thought of my son having a minor procedure that requires anesthesia, or dealing with a not so nice kid at school, makes my heart hurt. While he makes me want to scream, “why aren’t you more concerned about this,” it actually helps that hubby is like a robot about this stuff. The kids don’t need both parents to be driven by emotion. He brings the logic and the rational responses. As such, my kids are both pretty good about handling injuries, doctor visits, and jerky schoolyard bullies. They don’t throw fits. They don’t cry and scream. They pretty much roll with the punches, a reflection of my husband’s cool logic balancing out my bleeding heart.

What’s the lesson here? All the crap our husbands do that make us want to tear our hair out could actually be helping to balance out the crap we do that makes our kids want to tear their hair out. Our husbands are different than us. While endlessly annoying, it’s probably one of the best ways they contribute to raising healthy, sane children.

Here’s to fathers, and the balance they bring to the lives of our children.

 

,

Five Things to be Thankful For on Mother’s Day

Recently while showering in my new home I noticed the words “Happy Mother’s Day” written in steam on my bathroom mirror. I started to think about who had put it there for the woman who occupied this home before me. Was it her husband? Her children? And what were they thinking about when they wrote that lovely message?

It is likely they were thinking about all of the traits we think of when we hear the words “Good Mom.” Caregiving, keeping house, kissing boo boos, and nursing the sick. Driving to practices, games, recitals, and music lessons. Having the neighborhood kids over for pizza and sleepovers. Helping with homework. Putting the needs of the children above her own.

All of these things are wonderful reasons to celebrate moms.

But why not celebrate more than mothering skills? How about celebrating the smart, independent, hard working, passionate, sassy, silly, tough women moms are. I hope that someday my sons will have a deeper understanding of who I am as a woman, and recognize the things I did that modeled independence, individuality, and strength. I hope they will be thankful for this, and respect and applaud women who have their own lives, passions, hobbies, and jobs.

Don’t get me wrong – motherhood is the bomb. By all means let’s celebrate it! But it’s the non-motherly things that are silently shaping our kids. They benefit from seeing us dancing, playing instruments, working outside the home, creating art, volunteering, having friends of our own, traveling on our own, exercising, coaching, going on dates with our partners, writing books, mentoring…these teach our children invaluable lessons about being an individual, and working to succeed.

Here are five things I hope my sons will someday realize made me more than just the lady who made lunches, read books at bedtime, and nursed them when they were sick.

  1. My mom had a job that she loved, and she was good at it.

This one is especially important. I am NOT at all downplaying the importance of staying home with your kids, if that is your jam. But working mothers bring something to the table that cannot be undervalued – we teach our kids that it is ok to have a career outside the home, and to love it. Excelling in a career is something to be proud of. Contributing to society and using your education are good things. Follow your dreams, work hard, and you can have a career you love. What a message! Not to mention it helps our children understand that they are not the center of the universe, and sometimes we have to go to work even when we don’t want to. Yeah…that’s life. Get used to it.

  1. My mom had hobbies she enjoyed and it made her a happier person.

Sometimes the kids have to entertain themselves and let mommy get her rock and roll on! Just as I support their desires to play sports and video games, they should support my desire to play guitar. Why should our kids be the only ones that get to “play?” I would argue that finding time for a hobby teaches our kids about balance. It teaches them that finding things you enjoy is a healthy part of adult life too. I am not suggesting we ignore our children when they are in need so we can rock our favorite pastime, but it won’t kill them to have to wait for your attention while you enjoy 30 minutes of you time. After all, it makes us more pleasant moms if we take time to do something that doesn’t involve macaroni art or watching animated television.

  1. My mom took care of herself and felt good.

You can interpret this however you choose. It could mean exercise, eating well, doing yoga, or meditating. It could mean regular massages, gardening, or therapy. It could mean dancing with abandon or walking in the rain. It is different for each of us, but whatever it is you need to do to feel healthy in body and mind, do it. Show your kids you feel good about yourself. The healthier we are as women, the better we can care for our children. And feeling good about our bodies and our minds teaches our kids about healthy body image and self esteem. The better we feel, the less likely we are to put ourselves down. Exercising in front of our kids doesn’t have to translate into looking better, but simply feeling strong. Eating well doesn’t have to mean dieting for weight loss, but simply choosing to put nutritious foods into our bodies because it makes us feel strong. Who wouldn’t want to pass these values down to their kids?

  1. My mom loved her partner and it showed.

What better way to teach our kids about healthy relationships than to show affection to our partner. Hugging, kissing, saying kind words, and being helpful are all great ways to model what it means to respect yourself enough to be in a loving relationship. Sure, we all have days when we are frustrated and just want to be left alone. But the relationship with our partner is the template that our children will refer to when entering their own intimate relationships. If they never saw us smooch, and only heard us complain, how will they sustain a healthy, loving partnership? I am not condoning subservience, or accepting a bad situation just to save face. But when two people are in a happy, loving relationship they should show it in the many little ways that keep a relationship strong. I want my boys to be excellent boyfriends/partners/husbands some day, and how will they know how to do that if my husband and I didn’t show them?

  1. My mom was a unique individual.

If someone were to ask my sons to talk about their mom, I hope they would say more than just, “She was a great mom. She took great care of us.” While I would gladly take that compliment, it would mean so much more to me if they could express what makes me unique. I hope they have seen my personality shine through, and will appreciate that I was more than just “mom.” In my wildest dreams, it would go something like this: “My mom was a strong, independent woman. She was a teacher and scientist, loved to write, loved to run, and loved guitar. She was opinionated and not afraid to speak her mind. She was always willing to have a dance party, and loved the ocean. She sang.  She joked.  She taught us how to be adventurous, and always encouraged us to try new things and find our passions. She overcame her fears. She was a great woman.”

Is that too much to ask?

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, for being great moms AND for being great women.

Boys and Body Image – Yes, It’s a Thing.

I saw a Huffington Post blog today entitled, “How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Body.” While I am sick to death of the barrage of articles, blog posts, and discussions about how women and girls are so fucked up about their bodies, I appreciated her point that we, as mothers, should not be talking negatively about our own bodies, or other women’s bodies, or our daughter’s bodies. I loved her message of encouraging our daughters to do things because they are strong and independent and they can. To try things that are hard and scary. To run not to get thin, but because it feels good. To move their own furniture. I get it. I agree.

But I have one question:

WHAT ABOUT OUR SONS?

As a mother of sons I often read these posts and wonder if I am not allowed to join the conversation because I don’t have daughters, and therefore I can’t understand. Am I not invited to the table because boys don’t have these problems? And if my sons do have these problems is it fundamentally weird, or wrong?

Guess what? Our sons can be fucked up about their bodies too.

Just as not all girls have a negative body image, not all boys have a positive body image. Case in point; my nine-year-old son, who seems to be obsessed with lifting up his shirt and looking at his stomach while stroking it with his palm to make sure it has not grown an inch.

I kid you not.

The boy is very tall for his age. He is long and lean, what my grandmother might have called a string bean. He is a rock climber, and a piano player, and an adventurer. He also plays video games, watches TV, and likes to spend the weekend in his pajamas. He eats everything from salad to pizza to blueberries to ice cream and we don’t ever talk about dieting in our house. But this boy, who has not an ounce of fat on his muscular body, worries about getting fat.

We catch him checking out his reflection in windows, always focused on his belly. He tells me he doesn’t want to get fat because then it would be hard for him to adventure. He tells me he feels like his body is getting bigger all over, and it looks bigger to him. I tell him he is growing, as a healthy boy should, and that his body will get bigger as he grows, but that it is not the same thing as getting fat. When I volunteered on a field trip with his class this week, one of his classmates, a girl, told me my son is crazy, that he is always lifting up his shirt, and asked me why he does this. I had no idea he was doing it at school, but he is, and kids notice. I didn’t know what to tell her without talking to this young girl about body image (because, you know, we shouldn’t talk about bodies and body image with young girls).

But what about young boys? Do the same rules apply?

I looked through that blog post and asked myself if I had done any of these things the author warns against. We don’t speak much about our bodies in our house. I recognize my sons’ abilities in their chosen sports. I tell them they are healthy and strong. But maybe we weren’t always as careful about body talk as we may have been had our sons been born girls. Maybe they heard me lament my less than perfect body at times, when I thought they were out of earshot. These days, the perils of body image destroyers that face our daughters at every turn are beaten into our heads. Stick-thin actresses and pop stars, magazine ads with impossible standards of beauty, and mean girls who will ridicule them if they aren’t perfect. But I have not once heard this same message addressed to parents of young boys.

I know from experience, regardless of whether you have sons or daughters, kids, somehow, some way, pick up insecurities about their bodies. I don’t believe it is all our faults. I don’t know for sure if I ever said or did anything that triggered my son’s anxiety about his body. Should I blame myself because I run on a treadmill at home?  I admit I don’t have a perfect body image, nor am I in love with every aspect of my body, and I don’t know where my insecurities came from. But we live in a society that values beauty and perfection, whether it be in people, things, places, or our work. The perfect car. The perfect house. The perfect haircut. The perfect job. The perfect body. While I agree that we should never speak negatively to our children about their bodies, I don’t believe that what we do at home will completely insulate them from this madness of impossible standards. And I don’t believe that if my child asks me, “Mom, am I fat,’” that I shouldn’t respond with a resounding, “NO! You have a beautiful body.”

Because it’s true. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with telling our kids their bodies are beautiful, and amazing.

,

Mommy Kryptonite – What brings this mama to her knees?

Being a mom is hard. We never get a day off, and are usually the default parents, expected to manage all manner of domestic difficulty no matter what else is happening in our lives. Moms are amazing at stepping up, rising to the occasion, and handling all sorts of crap. From poop to boogers, whining and tantrums, PTA meetings, volunteering at school, supervising play dates, and tween heartbreak, moms often deal with the lion’s share of it, and most of us wouldn’t have it any other way.

But what if an inevitable aspect of motherhood caused a physical reaction, making it difficult, if not impossible, to step up? What if you had a sort of mommy kryptonite? Turns out, I do. Puke. Vomit, barf, upchuck. I know, nobody enjoys puke, but for me, dealing with puke is not just unwelcome, but a true anxiety that affects my ability to do my job as a mother.

This anxiety has a name – emetophobia – the intense and irrational fear of vomiting, vomit, or anything vomit related. This phobia is quite common but doesn’t get a lot of attention, as it hasn’t been researched extensively. In fact, up until last year I had no idea this fear of mine was a true phobia, and was convinced I was just crazy. I thought I was weak, and could control it if only I would stop being so silly. This feeling was often reinforced by my husband’s reaction to my fear, which could include eye rolling, sighing, and saying things like, “oh come on, it’s going to be fine.” Yes, it is going to be fine, but phobias and anxieties don’t work that way. You don’t simply tell yourself it’s going to be fine and POOF! – You’re good to go. Anxiety is a bitch. It pops up at the most inopportune moments, like when your kid is sick and needs your full attention. It wreaks havoc on your mental and physical abilities. In my case, all it takes is three little words – “My tummy hurts,”- and I find myself cramping up and running for the bathroom. Yes, it is that fast and yes, it is that real. I end up on and off the toilet until 1) It becomes clear that the child will not in fact be vomiting, 2) I have sufficiently emptied myself out and have nothing left to lose, or 3) The child starts vomiting and I have no choice but to get in the game and help that barfing boy.

As a rational human being, a scientist no less, I understand with complete clarity that statistically speaking, the likelihood of my child barfing on any given day is extremely low. In fact, over the past nine years of motherhood I have had to deal with full on barf-fests only three times. That is an average of once every three years, which ain’t much compared to all the other stuff us mothers have to deal with on a regular basis (think whining, back talk, bad attitudes, stepping on Legos, snotty noses, making lunches, and other annoying stuff). I know I will survive it when it happens, because I have before. But emetophobia is not rational. I think about barf every day of my life. Some days it is a fleeting thought. Others, I find myself wasting real time worrying. If my son isn’t hungry at dinner I fear he is sick. If he poops more than once a day I worry he has a bug. It is utterly exhausting and completely ridiculous, and I have absolutely no control over it.

Last weekend, my nine year old got hit with a stomach virus. He woke me at midnight to tell me he wasn’t feeling well, and by 1 am he had vomited all over his bed, down the side, and on the edge of his nightstand, splatter hitting the wall and making its way to the far recesses under his bed. I had never seen so much vomit. My husband slept through the whole thing (because for some reason dads don’t seem to hear this stuff happening the way moms do). And somehow, in between my own trips to the bathroom, I managed to clean it all up, and spent the entire night sitting with my sick kid, rubbing his back, emptying his barf bucket, reading to him, and being his comfort. This may sound silly, but it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. By 6 am, my poor baby dozing in his bed, I was exhausted and on the verge of tears. But I wouldn’t have changed a thing. See, I want to be there for my kids, no matter what, especially when they are sick. I know what it feels like to be waiting to vomit and feel scared, and I don’t want my boys to go through that alone.

And so, this emetophobe pushes herself out of her comfort zone, and finds a way to function in the face of her kryptonite. This doesn’t mean I am special. It simply means I am a mom. And the next time one of my boys says those three little words, I will no doubt panic, hit the bathroom…and get on with the job of being there for my sick kid.

, ,

Play Dates Gone Bad: What do you do when your kid’s friend is a thief?

What the hell do you do when one of your kid’s buddies is a teeny tiny thief?  A play date that ends with juvenile delinquency is definitely a play date gone bad.

I am torn, because, normally, (and especially, recently, with the holiday madness), my husband and I try to encourage generosity and minimal materialism with our kids. While we DO buy them gifts and they do have a LOT of stuff, we also try to instill in them an appreciation of what they have, and the understanding that we cannot and will not just buy them whatever they want, whenever they want. We say no to their requests for stuff quite often, and we require them to sift through their old stuff fairly regularly and choose items to donate, before they can get new stuff. While we are not poor we are by no means rich, and even if we were I would like to think we would control ourselves enough to not spoil the children into horrible, greedy little humans. I guess I would say, in terms of material stuff, they are pretty average for American children growing up in a middle class home. But even though we don’t want our boys to be driven by unbridled materialism, it drives me absolutely bonkers that one of my son’s friends comes over to play and always leaves my house with something that isn’t his tucked into a pocket, his backpack, or right there in his hot little hand as he’s walking out the door. Is it just me? Maybe it shouldn’t bother me but…WTF is that?

The ironic thing is that it all began with my son giving this kid a toy to take home. It was one of those hand held electronic LeapFrog Leapster game thingies, and I am telling you when I saw him hand it over to his pal and say, “Here, you can have this,” I was both beaming with pride and absolutely horrified. I mean, on the one hand, my six-year-old son was willingly and without being prompted handing over a material possession to another child. Score one for raising a cool kid! On the other hand, I had paid $75 for that thing, not to mention the many game cartridges I was also compelled to purchase, and my child was just handing it over as if it were a piece of gum. Granted, my son had not played with the thing in months, having moved on to a tablet (NOT an ipad, but a cheap version of a tablet), and chances are he was not going to ever really play with the Leapster again. Still…it wasn’t cheap, and I wondered if a day would come when the tablet was lost or broken and he would ask me, “Mom, where’s my Leapster?” Would he feel regret when I reminded him that he handed it over to his friend on a whim, or would he simply say, “Oh yeah,” and move on? And does it even matter? Maybe it would be good for him to miss it, and I could remind him of how generous it was to give something to a friend. Teachable moment, anyone?

After his friend left, I commended my son for being so generous and sweet, and said I was impressed at how easily he had given away a toy that he liked so much. Then I asked him to think carefully when he wants to give something away, and just be sure he is ok with not having it anymore because once you give something away you cannot ask for it back. Jeez…did I do the right thing? I don’t know.

But here’s the tricky part. Ever since then, every time this particular friend of his comes over for a play date, he leaves our house with his pockets stuffed. I mean, literally, the kid heads out our door with shit in his pockets, on his wrists, around his neck, and stuffed into his backpack. The first time he came over after the Leapster incident, he held up some toy and asked my son, “Can I have this?” I could tell my son was torn – his face was telling me he wanted to say no, but he struggled with saying no to his friend. I stepped in (maybe I shouldn’t have) and simply said, “You are welcome to play with all of the toys while you are here, but the toys stay here.” I could tell my son was grateful. That day, after his friend left, I reinforced with my son that he could say no when his friend asked to take his stuff. I told him that just because he had given him the Leapster did not mean that he always had to give him something. Since then I have tried to stay out of it, in the hopes that my son will find his voice and speak up when his friend tries to take things. But so far, all I have seen is his buddy rushing out the door laden down with stuff that doesn’t belong to him. And here’s the kicker: I volunteered in my son’s classroom recently and there was his buddy, wearing a wristband I had given to my older son as a birthday gift a couple of years ago. Somehow, he found his way to my other son’s stuff too! At the dinner table just last night my older son lamented this kid being invited to my younger son’s birthday party, asking, “Why would you want to invite him to your party? All he does is steal our stuff.”  Oh boy.

Am I crazy, or is this out of hand? I mean, the kid is a sweet kid.  Maybe his parents don’t know what he is doing. I hope they don’t, because if they do and are choosing to ignore it, well…I guess that explains a lot. If it were my kid and I knew about it, I would make him return every single item and tell him that pillaging his friend’s stuff is NOT the purpose of a play date. You know, that whole thou shall not steal business…it’s a pretty good rule after all.

I hope this pint-sized kleptomaniac is not causing my son too much distress. If I find out he is, I will have to decide whether to step in. Will I speak with the kid directly, again? Will I contact his parents? Or will I let it go and hope that my son will step up when it gets to the point that he cannot live with it anymore? I am not sure. Freaking kids, man.

But I am sure that I am proud of my son, either way. He is generous and kind and super kick ass…most of the time.  I hope to God he is not pilfering goods at any of his friends’ houses without my knowledge. Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants?

 

, ,

Five Reasons to Refuse Resolutions in 2015.

Resolution. The dictionary defines it as a determining, a deciding, a solving of a puzzle, or the answering of a question. To me, in making resolutions, we buy into the idea that there is a problem, puzzle, or question to be solved in our lives. In making new year’s resolutions we aren’t simply going to try and do something better, we are making a formal statement to change or transform something about our lives. To resolve something. Wow. Talk about pressure!

So this year, I am refusing instead of resolving. Refusing to make any grand statements, promises, or resolutions. Instead, I will recognize all of the stuff that is right in my life. And if along the way I choose to try something new, set a goal, eat better, exercise more, blah blah blah, well…that’s okay too. But I have a lot to be proud of, and I suspect you do too. Here are some of the reasons I don’t need resolutions this year.

The Top Five Reasons to Refuse Resolutions in 2015:

  1. I HAVE GOALS, HOPES, AND DREAMS.

Isn’t it enough to think about what we would like to do in the future, without putting an expiration date on our goals? “In 2015 I will…,” makes it seem like if it doesn’t happen this year, it never will. How about being proud of the fact that you are a person with aspirations, whether it is as simple as a home improvement project, or as grand as a career change. The fact that you dream about something means you will move forward…eventually. It might take longer than a year, but hey, nothing worth doing is easy! Keep on dreaming, hoping, and setting goals without all the time constraints that come with a new year’s resolution.

  1. THERE ARE PEOPLE IN MY LIFE WHO LOVE ME AS IS

It is easy to be hard on ourselves. We are our own toughest critics. But chances are there are people in your life who love you just the way you are, which means you are at least not a horrible person. No matter your job, your income, your body size, your hair length, your clothing choices, or your education – you have parents, children, friends, siblings, and family who love and adore you for you. And if you have kids, you have people who cannot imagine their lives without you, and depend on you for their very existence. Your daughters look to you as a role model of what it is to be a woman. Your sons see you as the woman to measure all other women against. Talk about being a V.I.P.!

  1. I AM NOT IN PRISON

This is fairly self-explanatory. With all the infuriating things you deal with every day, be glad you haven’t screwed up so royally that you are incarcerated. We all make mistakes, but yours are no worse than anyone else’s if you are still allowed to roam free among the masses. You make good choices and have self-control. Nice.

  1. THERE IS SOMETHING IN MY LIFE THAT BRINGS ME JOY

 OK, you may not be doing your dream job, have as much money as you would like, or be at your ideal weight, but there is something in your life that brings you joy. Your kids when they smile at you and say, “I love you Mommy.” When your husband does the grocery shopping, or cooks dinner, or puts the kids to bed so you can sit on your ass watching another backlogged episode of The Mindy Project on Hulu. Cocktails with your girlfriends. A glass of wine before bed. A good workout. A good book. A good orgasm. A new pair of shoes. A hobby (even if you only get to it once in a while). The view out your back window. A plan for a vacation. The smell of the rain. Even in the worst of times, there is something in your life that brings you joy. Embrace it!

  1. MY KIDS AREN’T TOTAL ASS HOLES

 This is big. Parenting is hard. It is continuously hard, and from what people who have kids older than mine tell me, it really doesn’t ever get easy. If it isn’t physically challenging (e.g., lugging a screaming toddler through Target, lifting a roly poly baby up off the floor a hundred times a day, chasing your very active sons around the park), it is emotionally draining (e.g., your kid’s first experience with a nightmare, a bully, self-doubt, a break up).   Ask yourself this: despite all of the demands of parenting, are your kids pretty cool? Chances are the answer is yes. Look, all kids can be a pain in the ass sometimes. They have attitude. They throw tantrums. They talk back, leave their stuff all over the house, call their siblings names, and just generally get on your nerves. But if they aren’t juvenile delinquents, then you have pretty much exceeded any goal you could ever set for yourself. Nothing is more profound than producing and raising good kids. They don’t have to be perfect, but if they are not total ass holes, you have done the seemingly impossible task of being a good parent.

So there you have it. Five reasons we should all stop resolving to do something different, or be someone different, and pat ourselves on the back for being us. How about making 2015 the year we keep doing all the great stuff we are doing!  And if all else fails, a cocktail and a good book couldn’t hurt.

 

, ,

Home for the Holidays

Do you remember that feeling of getting up Christmas morning and rushing out to the living room to find cookie crumbs on the plate of cookies you left out for Santa, a stocking full of tiny goodies, and a colorful clutch of presents under the tree? Do you remember how great it felt as a kid to sit amidst a pile of crumpled wrapping paper, cozy in your footie pajamas, and try and decide which new toy to play with first? Now, do you remember that feeling of utter despair when your parents said it was time to get dressed, pile in the car, and drive the hour and a half to grandma’s house? The agony of walking away from your new, shiny toys heaped in a pile of destruction around the tree, victims of a Christmas tsunami, was impossible to describe to the adults around you, who probably already thought you were an ungrateful, spoiled brat as you whined about not wanting to go anywhere on Christmas day. While I can fully understand how this scene could elicit thoughts of spoiled rotten children who should really just be thankful that they have any presents to begin with, I remember this feeling and sympathize with it wholeheartedly. That is why I am not berating my kids this Christmas season when they tell me they are not happy that my husband and I are dragging them off to Hawaii for the holiday when they just want to be in their own house. I get it. They just want to be home for the holidays.

A perfect Christmas morning in Tucson, 2010.  PJs, a tree, and presents.

A perfect Christmas morning in Tucson, 2010. PJs, a tree, and presents.

Some of you are probably thinking, wait, what about the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, and the religious significance of this day. I can admit that for me, Christmas is not a religious thing. While I did grow up in a Catholic family, and did attend church fairly regularly (along with religious education classes and retreats with our church youth group), religion did not take hold as one of my core adult values. I am more a disciple of the Treat Others as You Would Have Them Treat You philosophy. I think what purged the churchgoer out of me was the day I was sitting in the back pew at Christ the King church in Rochester, NY, (the church where my parents married, where I was baptized, where I had my first communion, penance, and confirmation, and where my father and both paternal grandparents were memorialized in lovely funeral services by the same priest who confirmed me), and a TV was wheeled onto the altar to show the parishioners a video about the importance of tithing. The message that in order to be a good Christian you should be pledging at least 10% of your salary to the church did not sit well with me. That day I found I was losing my religion. But Christmas, a supremely religious day, has always held its appeal for me, not because of the baby Jesus, or even the gift giving and cookie baking, but because of this feeling I so vividly remember from childhood. The feeling of togetherness, my parents beaming as I tore through my presents. The feeling of falling snow, warm fires, hot cocoa, and Christmas music playing on the stereo. The pure joy of no school for two weeks, and spending long, chilly days safe and toasty in pajamas, under warm blankets, discovering the new dolls, coloring books, and other treasures found under the tree. It was, and still is, a time of year that elicits a warm fuzzy feeling in me.

It was this feeling that was so rudely interrupted when the time came to get dressed up in our Christmas finest and make the long drive to grandma and grandpa’s. I always knew we would have to stop somewhere along the way, either to pick up something for the celebration or put gas in the car or buy beer, and I hated that too. I would sigh in the back seat thinking, for God’s sake, if I have to go out in the cold in my dress, tights, and patent leather Mary Janes, the least you could do is be ready to go! There was always a church outing at some point, and to a kid with a house full of new stuff just beyond their reach, well, that was a torture beyond words. (The one exception was the year my cousin Dani, a toddler at the time, yelled out Hallelujah at the top of her lungs during a silent moment in church. Come to think of it, I think she was wearing footie pajamas. It was awesome. A true Christmas miracle.) Don’t get me wrong, I loved the mischief my cousins and I would get up to. But being torn away from my little green house full of comfort and joy was a real bummer.

Now I live in Tucson, AZ where there is no hope of a white Christmas, snow falling outside the window while sipping cocoa by the fire, and the warm, fuzzy feeling is harder to grasp. As such, it made perfect sense for us to take advantage of the kids’ vacation time and hop a flight to Hawaii, where Christmas is green and bright, the sun to shine by day and all the stars at night. I mean, if it is going to be 75 degrees F and sunny on Christmas we might as well be on the beach, right? But I had forgotten how much it means to a kid to be in their own home on Christmas day, with nowhere to go and nothing to do but sit in the wreckage of unwrapped gifts clad in comfy PJs. Because I am not experiencing Christmas as I did in my youth, complete with reindeer footprints on the snowy rooftops and icicles glittering in the sun, I somehow lost, for a moment, the memory of that warm, fuzzy feeling and how important it is to a kid. I forgot that a desert Christmas is the Christmas my boys are growing up with, and to them, being in our desert home on a warm, sunny day is a perfect Christmas. They still want to wake up in their own beds, run to the stockings by our fireplace (even if there is no fire crackling inside), slide on socked feet across the tile to the vivid packages beneath the tree, and spend the day immersed in the joy of that happy holiday feeling. Nowhere to go, nothing to do but sit surrounded by family and new goodies, and discover the presents they waited all year to get. And this year I am doing to them the exact same thing I couldn’t stand when I was a kid. Our decision about Christmas plans was based on what we wanted, not what they wanted.

I realize this all sounds superficial. No discussion of the birth of Jesus. No church. Just a day of unapologetic materialism. But my kids do know the story of Jesus’s birth and why Christmas is even a holiday to begin with. They have asked me the question, “What does Santa have to do with Jesus?” A very valid question that is difficult to answer. Every year we make them sift through their old toys and choose stuff to donate to kids who are less fortunate than them. We give money to charities and we drop new, unwrapped toys in the collection bins around town. We try to do at least a little bit to heighten their awareness of how lucky they are. And this year we thought they were the luckiest kids on Earth going to Hawaii for Christmas. But you know what? Their disappointment is valid. Yes, it might seem spoiled and bratty, but to them, just like it was to me, Christmas is about that feeling. Not church, not Jesus, not even presents. That feeling of being home. And so, I promised my boys that next year, and for as many years as they would like, we will stay home on Christmas. No planes, trains, or automobiles on Christmas day. No beaches. Not even the short drive to a grandparent’s house. Just our pink and tan desert abode, surrounded by mountain views, blue skies, and cactus warmed by the sun.

It won’t be like the Christmases of my youth, but it will be perfect, because they will have that warm, fuzzy feeling that only comes from Christmas at home.

, , ,

Follow You, Follow Me.

Today, I watched helplessly as my number of followers on Twitter began to slowly dwindle. I watched the number tick down over the course of the day, and couldn’t help but wonder why it was bothering me.

Okay, here’s the situation. In the past few months I have gone from invisible geology instructor living in relative obscurity in Tucson, Arizona, to aspiring author putting her private thoughts on display while trying to gain followers that might actually like her work. It is fucking weird. Less than half a year ago I believed that nobody would ever be even remotely interested in anything I had to say. This feeling was not unfounded – try teaching a science class to a theater full of non-science majors with mobile device addictions. It is a strange feeling to care about how many people want to hear your stories, read what you write, and generally engage with your thoughts and experiences. While I am opinionated and love a good debate, even with a PhD in geology I defer to other geologists, believing that I cannot possibly have knowledge that they (or anyone else) want to hear. I mean, who the fuck am I?

But after my first meeting with a publisher, to discuss how to approach publication of my first book, a memoir, his suggestion was to build a platform. What the fuck is that, you might ask? FOLLOWERS! People who get to know you and your work and want to read more. A great way to do this is to blog, he said. My reaction was typical – why would I do that? Anyone and everyone has a fucking blog these days. Some of them are great, witty, fun, and well written. Others are utter garbage. Blogging seemed like the trendy thing for sassy women to do. It seemed predictable. Why would I want to be lumped in with every other woman putting her thoughts out into the world just because she can? I am a nobody, and I certainly don’t think I am a somebody (like many of these people must). Followers? Seriously. FOLLOWERS? This sounded like a cult. Like people in long, flowing capes swaying and chanting while drinking something dangerous (Kool-Aid?) out of paper cups. It all sounded hokey to me.

I am discovering that the truth is, when you have an unusual and amazing story to tell, if the story is interesting and well written, people might actually want to hear it. Chances are it will speak to someone. When I had that initial reaction, my inner skeptic had not yet realized the beauty of the blog – spreading ideas of all sorts to people far and wide to start a discussion, a movement, a support group, or simply a network of like-minded people to learn and share with. Not to mention being able to write, really WRITE, anytime, anywhere, and publish it for anyone to see and critique.  So here I am, several months later, with a blog and a twitter handle (what the hell does handle mean, anyway), and a separate Facebook page for me the author (not me the person), and a glossy preview card about my memoir that I can hand out to total strangers, and a link to a fictional short story I wrote that lays bare all of the fears and emotions of a 40 year old woman, and a stomach that flutters when I gain a new follower and drops when I lose one. Not because I think I should be followed, but because another potential connection was lost. As this semester comes to an end, a bunch of my students who followed me just for the exam hints I would post to my twitter account are unfollowing me. I totally get it, and it is fine, but I can’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment each time my number goes down. I seem to have become a fan of the Kool-Aid.

Look – all of us, at some point or another, have something interesting to say. We all have stories to tell. Some of us choose to write about them in gory detail, accepting that we are sharing some of our most private thoughts and experiences with complete strangers. Others choose not to share at all, preferring to keep their experiences to themselves. The beauty of human diversity is that we all have such varied experiences, and we all interpret those experiences differently. The way I felt during months living in a tent on the Tibetan plateau is completely different than someone else (say, my mother) might have felt in that situation.  I can imagine, for example, pooping on a mountainside while listening to the wind blow and staring at the stars, while liberating to me, likely would have terrified her into a coronary thrombosis situation.  Either way, great story.

And so, what I have to say about motherhood, career, science, being a woman in science, mid-life, marriage, adventure, and stepping out of your comfort zone IS worth saying. It may not appeal to everyone. Nothing ever will. But I know a thing or two about this shit. For all of us struggling writers, hoping to find an audience who will eat up our words, all we can do is put it out there, and have faith that someone, somewhere, will relate to our stories, and drink the Kool-Aid with us. It’s not narcissism. It’s not delusions of grandeur. It’s sharing the human experience, in whatever way works for you, and hoping your words will have an impact on someone. Maybe those words will spread some knowledge, joy, or just the feeling that we are not alone in this crazy little thing called life. I will share with you, if you will share with me. I will support you if you will support me. (Kumbaya…and all that shit).

I will follow you…will you follow me?

 

 

 

,

Babies or No Babies – That is the Question!

Tonight, I am reflecting on babies. Having babies. Not having babies. The right number of babies. The right mix of boy babies to girl babies. In America, we are absolutely fixated on all things baby. If a married couple doesn’t have any babies we ask them why. Or we simply ask them, when will they have babies? If someone has too many babies we put them on TV and make them superstars, regardless of their personal character, because hell, they had a bunch of babies. If we have two babies that are the same sex, people ask us when we will try for a baby of the other sex, because clearly we cannot be happy until we have at least one of each. If we are a “one and done” couple, people ask us when we will try for our second baby, as if having one baby is not an acceptable scenario. As soon as you share with people the most intimate of information, that you are pregnant, people want to know all the deets: Have you picked out names? Will you find out the sex? When are you due? Are you having a home birth or a hospital birth? Are you using a doula? (By the way…bad idea). Who’s your doctor? What is your birth plan? Will your husband cut the cord? Who else will be in the room with you? AAAAAAHHHHHH??? Why not just ask me if you can stick your head up inside my girlie parts and monitor the changes in my cervix for the next nine months?

Having a baby, or not having a baby, is such a deeply personal decision, and the fact that we, as a culture, seem to view having babies as the natural and expected step to take soon after marrying is passé, cliché, and cray cray! In this modern world of powerful women, strong women, working women, it is no wonder that women are choosing to wait and have babies well into their thirties, or not have babies at all, for all sorts of reasons. By the way, all of these reasons are valid whether anyone else thinks so or not! Education, career, travel, or simply wanting to be single, or a married couple without kids, are all absolutely valid and important reasons to forego having babies.

I have two dear female friends, who both made the conscious decision to never have children. Both married wonderful guys. Both are educated women with good careers. Both were in a great position to have babies, with stable incomes, job security, and good marriages. Both went through years of people asking them when they would have children, and undoubtedly both dealt with the varied reactions from people when revealing the ever so shocking truth that indeed they were not planning on having children. I have to admit, there was a part of me that wondered why they were not drawn to the allure of having babies. Like everyone else, I wanted to ask them why they were making this decision. But also, as their friend, I understood that it was completely their choice and perhaps it was the best choice for them. Then I had two babies and I started to completely understand the reluctance to jump into the world of parenthood. Being a parent is hard work and not to be entered into lightly. There, I said it. It’s true, and it doesn’t mean I don’t love being a mother. It just means we shouldn’t assume every woman wants to do this with her life.

Here’s the twist: Both couples did have babies after about a decade of marriage. One couple was in their mid thirties, the other both forty. I don’t know all the details of why they changed their minds. They have hinted at things such as worry of regret if they never had a child, feeling as if this was their last chance, getting over the fear of having a baby, and having an unexpected desire to have a baby appear as if dropped by a stork into their lives. One of the couples just had their first baby last week. They sent us a picture of their brand new, blissful little family in the hospital the day after he was born, baby resting happily on his mama’s chest while dad leans in and snaps their first family selfie. It was adorable and peaceful, and for a moment I remembered the joy of feeling that new little person sleeping peacefully on my chest. I had a visceral reaction to the memory of my son in my arms the night he was born, his little fuzzy head tucked up under my chin. For one fleeting moment I considered what it would be like to have another baby, maybe a girl this time (we have two boys, I mean, come on, we HAVE to try for a girl, right?). Then I came back to reality, to the memories of sleepless nights, endless ear infections, poop, puke, teething, crying, snotty noses, story time at the library, the first day of day care, more puke, more ear infections, potty training, tantrums, changing pissed on sheets at 3 am, endless pediatrician appointments, poop in the pants, poop running down the leg, poop everywhere but in the potty…and…fuck that. No matter what anyone else says or thinks, we are happy with our two perfect sons. We don’t need a girl. We aren’t having another. And anyone who decides not to have a child, we totally get it. Believe me…we do.

We love our boys more than words can say. I enjoyed them as babies, and I wouldn’t change a thing. But that was my path. It may not be someone else’s. Make babies, don’t make babies…it’s up to you. Just know that if you DO make babies, it’s your job to care for those babies no matter what. They aren’t cute accessories – they are loud, messy bags of bodily fluids with real needs, physical and emotional. They are a huge joy, yes, but they are also a huge responsibility. They are game changers.

The little game changers at 3 1/2 and 14 months.

The little game changers at 3 1/2 and 14 months.  The small one still wasn’t sleeping through the night. It sucked.  Good thing he was so damn cute.

So no matter how cute a little baby girl in a dress and a bow on her head might seem in my wildest dreams, this is one mama who is all babied out. Two boys it is! And I am totally ok with that.

 

,

It’s My Pity Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To.

My life is, by all accounts, a good life. I’m healthy. I have a job, a husband, great kids, a home, and good friends. I really have nothing to complain about. But guess what? Sometimes I like to throw a good old-fashioned pity party and be bummed out about stuff. Sometimes life is tough and I just want to scream, “What About Me?” I try to be reasonable and understand that there are bigger problems going on around me and my needs are not, in the grand scheme of things, that important. But truthfully, I sometimes just don’t give a shit, and like a stubborn toddler I want everybody else to put me first, support me, and celebrate me. Is that really so much to ask?

Yesterday (Sunday) I attended an awards ceremony of the Society of Southwestern Authors, a lovely group of local writers who were kind enough to judge two of my short stories worthy of writing awards. While this is fairly small potatoes in the vast world of writing, I was tickled pink to be recognized and wanted to revel in this achievement for, oh I don’t know, a day? Maybe two? But the universe decided that now would be a great time for several shits to hit several fans and make it difficult for me to simply enjoy this small personal victory. First, my husband was assigned the very first time slot for a presentation at the Geological Society of America meeting in Vancouver, which just so happened to be the Sunday morning of the ceremony. He had to jet out of town on Saturday, leaving me to play single mom. Normally my mother would babysit, but it also just so happens that she had to be out of town this weekend caring for a family member going through a serious surgery. A couple of days before the ceremony I heard that the buyers for our old house backed out of the deal at the 11th hour. On top of all that, we spent the two days before my husband left town cleaning up rodent shit at our family cabin, and upon returning home had to retrieve my mother’s dog from her empty house and bring her home with us, thus adding to our already chaotic household. I imagined Saturday as a down day, with me in my pajamas, doing laundry, writing, and sipping coffee while my boys stared at cartoons, played their electronic devices, and largely left me alone. Instead, my older son invited a friend over, which turned into a five-hour play date, and then took off for a sleepover, leaving me alone with my jealous and needy six-year-old who wanted to have our own slumber party. So much for writing and sipping coffee.

And so the day came. Sunday. Awards ceremony day. My day. Only it wasn’t my day. I woke up early to a squeaking dog that had to be quickly whisked out of her crate to the backyard before she urinated on my carpet. Next, feed the young boy, fetch the older boy from his sleepover, get them both dressed, teeth brushed, get myself showered, get both dogs fed, watered and out to piss again (which is quite a feat with my mother’s dog, who insists on wandering around my yard for twenty minutes sniffing the ground and eating rabbit turds but refusing to do her business), and drive the kids to a friend’s house. Amidst all of the chaos I simply could not revel in the moment. How was I supposed to find a way to let it all go and enjoy my small victory? How could I think about my tiny joy when someone I love was facing surgery? How could I take it all in when I had to find a sitter for my kids, take care of two dogs, set up a time to show my supposed-to-be sold house, and somehow make myself presentable? I wanted to scream, “What about fucking me?” Although it was nobody’s fault that all of these things happened on the same weekend, I felt like my little success was completely drowned out in the big, important goings on of everyone else in my life. Yes, this sounds petty, and immature, and extremely silly of me. But there it is. Haven’t you ever felt this way? I think sometimes we all need our little successes to be sacred. We need our personal achievements, even if they are not Nobel Prize caliber, to be recognized, revered, and allowed to flourish unimpeded. It just doesn’t always happen that way.

Look, I have wonderful people in my life. They support and encourage me. They are proud of me. They love me. But sometimes it feels like I am support staff for everyone else’s needs and desires, and my stuff just has to come last. I know this is not always true. But I think we all feel this way sometimes, that our own stuff gets pushed aside because it seems less important than what’s going on around us. Because life happens, and shit doesn’t always go down the way we want it to. It is perfectly reasonable to need to be the most important person in your circle of people sometimes. Especially when you have accomplished something you are proud of, and worked hard for. I have a great life, but I can still feel invisible, unimportant, and overextended sometimes. We all do.

It’s my pity party and I will cry if I want to. And then I will get over it, and get on with my fabulously chaotic life.