Funny Girl

How cool as a kid
To make your dad sincerely,
Genuinely, laugh.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I fancy myself funny at times. Not always, but many times I am able to get giggles from people.

Therefore, I take special pride in (and way too much credit for) the fact that my 9-year-old daughter, AP, is getting a good sense of humor.

Case in point. Tonight started our end-of-school-year search for the library books that never got returned. Each year about this time, we get a nasty-gram from the librarian about some book that everyone is sure was returned but for some reason wasn’t. AP complained that the book in question was lost because  “Dad threw it off the bed when he came to sleep with me the night I was scared”.

Frank, with some skepticism in his voice, said “When I threw it, did it enter another dimension?”

AP dead-panned: “Yes, yes it did.”

Later she went upstairs to make yet another pass at looking for the book. In my house when something is missing and the searcher does a pathetic job looking for the object and neither looks under or behind things, we call this ” ‘looking’ like a man”, a slam against most men who refuse to do more than peer helplessly about them in hopes the missing item will jump into their field of vision unaided.  I must admit that in my house, the women folk are worse about ” ‘looking’ like a man” than the men folk are, so keeping this in mind…   A few minutes later AP returned to the dinner table and declared she still couldn’t find the book.  Frank, again skeptically given her history of inept searches, said “You know what will happen when I go upstairs to look for the book, don’t you?” And AP, without missing a beat, said “Yes… it will magically appear from the other dimension.”

I couldn’t stop laughing.  That’s my girl.  Not only was her comedic timing perfect (which the retelling here really doesn’t do justice to), but it so beautifully explained all the other searchers where she came up short but Frank was successful. He has special access to another dimension giving him powers we women folk don’t have.

I must use this excuse myself…

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Oh, Great… New Guilt (flavored with Gratitude)

(the following haiku must be spoken in your best wrestling announcer voice…)

It’s a G word fight!!
Guilt v. gratitude… cage match!
The victor? Stay tuned…
………………………………………………….

I work full-time and my husband stays at home with the kids (one in school full days, one in half days). He manages the household – laundry, cooking, grocery, a little cleaning, home and car repair. I bring home the bacon, manage the finances, do some yard work and also clean house when I’m sufficiently motivated (e.g. when company is coming).

This set up has been working for us for about 7 years. In those seven years, I’ve become thoroughly experienced in a variety of guilt:

– how much I like my job
– 7am conference calls that mean I don’t see the kids in the morning
– 8pm conference calls that mean I tuck the kids in at bedtime
– That between 7am and 8pm conference calls, I don’t give Frank as much attention as he deserves and I want
– How I don’t contribute very much to the non-financial aspects of this family
– That I can’t recall the last time I made it to a dentist appointment for the kids
– That the kids more or less like him as much as me now
– That he doesn’t get much time with people over 4 feet tall
– That when I get home from work sometimes all I want to do is hide under the bed and not talk to anyone or do anything, which means he never gets a break.
– Working out since I’m already not seeing the kids much

Well, friends, I have something new to feel guilty about, and it is an interesting role reversal guilt: Frank has gotten a job.

We’ve always known this would happen. Long ago we decided that once our youngest started full-time school, Frank would return to work. We need the income to support some choices we’ve made (namely private school). And it would be nice to take a vacation to someplace other than my parents’ house. And our savings account is quite dusty… You get the idea.

But now the time has come. He job hunted, found his engineering skills still very marketable, and has a great new job starting in a month. The kids know that he is going back to work. Here is just a sampling of what I’ve heard them say over the last few weeks:

–         But who is going to take care of us (because clearly we are now going to just leave them home alone…)
–         But I’ll miss daddy
–         But daddy has always been the mom
–         But I don’t want him to go back to work

So now on top of all the other guilt that I’m experienced in, I now get to add the “I don’t make enough money to fully support us and now the kids are sad because dad has to work” guilt. Wow, that’s a fun one. Now, no one is making me feel this way. Frank hasn’t overtly said: hey, would you please make more money?  But would he rather not have to get a job that makes $XYZ and instead do something that makes some ill-defined amount of money and is super flexible? Sure he would.  And the funny thing is, I would too. These last few weeks, as we’ve managed kid and adult sickness, job interviews, extra yard work, new spring activities for the kids, doctor appointments, etc etc., it has become very clear to me how much I’ve come to rely on his flexibility and the work he does around the house.

I’m also feeling a wee bit guilty about the nugget of resentment I’m realizing I have because him going back to work is going to mean more “work” for me, too. (that has to be the most bizarre sentence structure ever) I’ve truly benefited from him handling the daily stuff and now I’ll have to handle some of it too.  Laundry, picking up around the house, grocery shopping, post office visits, and on and on.  (Again, I’ve always “known” how much he handles at an intellectual level, but the last two weeks I’ve felt it “real time”.)  The concept of taking what little discretionary time I have in the evenings and dividing it up across more chores is not a thought I enjoy lingering on.

Part of me keeps snarking at myself: you have a great job that you love, your kids are healthy, your husband is a saint; boo hoo hoo, you have to work around the house some more so you can have your private school/vacation cake and eat it too; cry me a river.  I get that. I respect that. All good points.

That’s why I’m pleased the majority of me has been realizing how much gratitude I feel for Frank.  He graciously, and with almost no debate, pulled himself from the workforce to do right by the kids and our life during the last 7 years.  He doesn’t complain unreasonably. When I’m beat and want to hide under the bed when I get home, he diverts the kids’ attention so I can do just that. He reminds me that we are a team… I have my role and he has his, and together is how it all gets done. And now that he is the one having to change it up (again!) he’s been totally cool.

So I think it is time to end the G word versus G word battle raging in my head these last few weeks, and remind myself what my friend Lynette told me many years ago – guilt is a useless emotion. (I’ve also really enjoyed reading Becky and Susan’s posts over at Working Moms Against Guilt about their recent transitions – very inspiring; so nice to know I’m not alone.) Instead, I will keep gratitude high in my awareness and enjoy watching this family explore new routines and responsibilities (the kids have no idea that they are going to get tapped to do more around here… announcing that should be fun…). We’ll figure it out.

I Strongly Dislike Paleontologists (#2 in the Bastards series)

Complex dino names
Roll off his tongue like ice cream
While I stammer, lost…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I am mother to the most adorable, sweet, kiss-filled 5-year-old boy in the entire universe. Yes, he is just like your 5-year-old boy, just a wee bit better. (I must confess that last week he showed his boy parts to the entire playground on a dare, so he is way more normal than my first sentence might lead you to believe. For those of you who don’t believe this is normal boy behavior, you are either parents to only girls or not familiar with my son’s father, whose history includes chasing his cousins and sister around, boy parts in hand, threatening to pee on them… last week when he was a kid… so, you get the picture. Apple, tree, blah blah blah.)

Back to my son.  AB is completely enamored with all things dinosaur. Right now, he is watching one of the 7,000 Netflix series on dinosaurs – Walking with Dinosaurs, Eating with Dinosaurs, Stalking Smaller Prey with Dinosaurs – Reptile edition, and so on.  These all include very realistic, computer generated dinosaurs that simply walk around looking for things to chomp on. Oh joy.

This fascination with dinosaurs started ages ago, and for some reason I have yet to recall, I purchased an enormous book about dinosaurs entitled The Complete Guide to Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Reptiles, “a comprehensive look at the world of dinosaurs with more than 250 superb illustrations,” by Chris McNab.

Complete Guide To Dinosaurs

image from Amazon.com. Look at the cool green guy with the enormous claws - he's my favorite!

Let me start by saying this is actually a very, very good book. It is readable (although given its size, not very handle-able). AB understands the concepts it presents about how life began, evolution, and the theories about why the dinosaurs all died. (When I say “understand” I mean he doesn’t pester the crap out of me with questions.) Having read it through now, or at least looked at the pictures and names and details of all the dinosaurs, many, many times, I can say that it is still interesting and I notice new things each time.  This isn’t my issue.

My issue is with the paleontologists – the SOBs who named these beasts. What in the hell were they thinking? Is there some secret pact they all take whereby they promise to name the things the most ludicrous, hard to pronounce, obtuse selection of letters possible?  Let me illustrate:

Ericiolacerta (eric-ee-oh-LA-cherta). First off, where is the “saurus” in this name? Rule #1 – all dinoSAURS need to have a SAURUS in their name, right? (I’ll allow for -ceratops as well since those are pretty cool.)

Coelurosauravus (SEEL-oh-ro-SAWR-ah-vus) Coel = SEEL? Then spell is that way, why don’t you.

Planocephalosaurus (PLAN-oh-KEF-al-oh-SAW-rus) I kid you not, his name is longer than his body if the pictures are to be believed.  Rule #2:  the name has to be shorter than the body. And it must not exceed 5 syllables (Rule #3).

Eurhinosaurus (YOOR-i-no-SAW-rus).  Again, eurhi is not a combination of letters found in the real world. If you must resort to dead languages to put together a decent name, then you are working too hard and need to stop.

Dromiceiomimus (droh-MEE-see-oh-MEEM-us).  Too many vowels. Rule #4 – a limit on the number of sequential vowels.

Saurornithoides (saw-ROR-ni-THOI-deez). This is just a freakishly hard name for me to pronounce. Mr. Paleontologist, do you understand that each time my son asks me to read this I stutter through this word like I’m concurrently having a stroke, until I give up and turn the page? It’s embarrassing.

Opisthocoelicaudia (oh-PIS-tho-SEEL-i-CAWD-ee-a).  Too many syllables and again, where is the “saurus”?  Rule #1 and 3 opis-ed away.

Leaellynasaura (LEE-el-in-a-SAW-ra). No comment. They hate me.

Psittakosaurus (si-TAK-oh-SAW-rus)  Rule number 5: no silent letters. Period. If you cared enough to name it something, say it all out loud.

Tuojiangosaurus (toh-HWANG-oh-SAW-rus).  This one makes me giggle, at least the pronunciation guide does. It sounds like something Bevis and Butthead would snicker about, or drunk men would take to mean something else:  “Did you see me toh-HWANG-oh-SAW-rus that blonde? She won’t soon forget me!”

Related, I’d like to commend the following, for these people used naming conventions that I fully support:  let your kid name it, name it after where you found it, name it after your job or yourself and make it pronounce-able.

*

Albertosaurus – Albert Smith found a saurus. When he did, he said “oh”. Well done.

Rhabdodon – Rabbi Don Issac found this specimen in the limestone near his Temple, many years ago.

Bactrosaurus – Not many people know that Alexander Flemming not only discovered penicillin but was also an amateur paleontologist, digging in the fields near his home in his spare time.

Lambeosaurus –  Jessica von Meyer, a well know Canadian paleontologist, allowed her toddler Mary, a fan of nursery rhymes, to name the last dinosaur she ever found. Bravo.

Silvisaurus – Silvia Readdy, an English women who lived on a large manor near the coast, dug this up in her garden and took the easy route to naming it.

Montanoceratops – Jeffrey Millery, a rancher in – you guessed it – Montana, thought one of his bulls had died. He was wrong, but he got to name a dinosaur instead. Easy. Done.

*

None of these violate any of the rules, except for the syllable count in Montanoceratops, but given its easy naming convention, I’ll give it a pass.

So a word to you paleontologists out there.  I’m begging you, please, the next time you dig something up, call it Bob. Or just number it – Dino #493. I know it seems boring, but the whole “name it such a complicated thing and prove my prowess as a bad-ass digger” is just so last century.

I would be forever grateful.

PS: Alas, I must admit, everything between the two *’s, other than the actual dino names, is completely made up.

Shift Eating

The sound of the whine
Drills into my brain, turns left,
Rappels down my spine.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I like to make a nice meal for Sunday dinner. It was something my mom always did (still does), and as often as I have the energy and inclination, I try to do the same. Today I had a special treat in mind – leg of lamb. The kids will eat lamb, so we make it every so often. Tonight it was paired with home made mashed potatoes, pan gravy and some vegetables. I was having fun being domestic.

And then my little boy, AB, aged 5, started. “Mom, I’m hungrrrrryyyyyy,” went the whine. I offered several snack options but none seem to meet his desires (shocking). For 45 minutes he kept on me but I stayed firm: “You can have more fruit, but that’s it… no, that includes no hot dogs, I’m making a nice dinner.”

And at 6:45 I pulled the lamb from the simmering oven where it was setting up, cut its little string bag open and discovered it was half raw. Now, I like rare lamb, but there is a distinct difference between rare and raw; this was still very much on the raw side of that line.

So a decision was made: we’ll eat the potatoes and veg now, give everyone a bath, and then come back for meat and dessert. (Meat and dessert, now there’s a restaurant idea…)

And the whining continued. “I don’t want any meat… I just want dessert”… “Do I have to take a bath?”…  “But I’m fuuullllllll!”  Even my 9 year old girl joined the whine fest.

And it hit me: Now I know why people feed their kids at 6pm, put them to bed and then have a civilized meal without children. I’ve always known about such practices, but just had never fully appreciated the benefits of such tactics. (As usual, I judged them just a wee bit as inferior parents who don’t really like their children.) Now I felt a reluctant kinship with these people. Here I was in the middle of an awkward meal mishap. Why in god’s name didn’t I shove chicken nuggets down their gullets at 6pm and save myself the pain and frustration of a two shift meal with reluctant diners.

We’ll see what happens… Frank has the kids upstairs bathing them. I’m tending the roast and making cookies, armed now with my meat thermometer and a few bites of raw cookie dough, hoping that once the roast sets up the temp will rise. They better damn well eat at least a bite of the blasted lamb.

Post script: Lamb was perfect and yummy. Kids enjoyed it. They are now in bed… ahhh, the silence.

Dad, Now I Understand

My parent’s wisdom:
fits better with age, although
acknowledged too late.

………………………………………………………..

The title of this posting is one of the hardest to see in writing. Who wants to admit their parent may actually have a valid point? Granted, it is far easier to acknowledge in my 40’s than in 20’s, but still, it ain’t easy. This one especially…

me and dad - no stress here! I love you dad!

One of my least favorite memories as a child (and there are very few of these) was when my dad, completely frustrated by the fact that I wasn’t ready for school yet and we were very late, left without me. My recall of this event centers on me trying hard to get ready, but being foiled by my inability to fasten my sandals: the strap was the type with the holes in it, and you had to push the floppy pin into it and thread the end of the strap through the buckle. Know which I mean?  The single most complicated system for children who are struggling with fine motor skills, the inventor of which was a complete dick? Anyway, I was really having a hard time, almost in tears because I couldn’t make it work, and he walked out the door.

(Before you scream child abuse, my grandmother lived with us… I wasn’t alone or in danger.)

Again, my recall of this event, which is shadowy and tortured because, well, I was 6, is a little dodgy. I believe (but am not sure) I walked to school, which was 3 blocks away through residential neighborhoods; I had to cross two streets (again, not complicated or dangerous). I was exceptionally responsible, even back then — even if I couldn’t get my shoe on, I knew that not going to school wasn’t an option, so I made it happen. And in that moment, my little 6-year-old brain vowed to never, ever leave my kid like dad did.

Flash forward several decades to the early years with my first-born, AP. I recall being at the mall and hearing other moms bribe their children into attentiveness with the phrase “I’m going to leave without you, Stephen! Get over here now!!”. I would stand there, judging these moms, disdainfully thinking to myself how horrible they were for promising abandonment. I told myself that I would only ever threaten that which I would actually do, and I would never, ever leave my child.

Flash forward again to the present and this first-born is now 9 years old. She is a highly capable young person. She has 2 arms and 2 legs. She seems to do well in school or has learned how to bribe her teachers into saying so (either of which indicates a fairly high level of thinking/problem solving skills). She is potty trained and regularly feeds herself. And yet, she seems incapable of getting her god damned shoes and socks on without being told one thousand, two hundred and sixty-six times each effing morning.

You know what’s coming… I almost left her the other day. I was beside myself pissed off. We live 2 minutes from school – and my husband can easily take the kids on mornings I’m not able to – but when I plan on it, and she is huckity-pucking around petting the dog or counting the rice crispies that fell on the floor during breakfast… well, let’s just say my patience runs a wee bit thin.

That morning, in a seething fit of “through my teeth” talking (would.you.get.your.blasted.shoes.on.now!), I realized with a pang of horror and remorse that I, gulp, now fully and completely understood why my father had left on that day so many years ago. I now believe that had he not left he would have done or said something horrid. Something that I was fully prepared to say at that very moment.

In the end, I took a ragged breath and stood up straight (I had assumed a hunched monkey position, so that I could look her in the eye with that “don’t eff with mommy today” look). I slowly turned, walked out the back door and went to the car. “Walk out and she will come, walk out and she will come,” I thought to myself. And you know what? She did.

And then she left again because she had forgotten something.

I let out an anguished scream as she bolted for the house; lucky for her she was back in a flash (the car was already in reverse).  And after my little “in the rear view mirror so you only see my narrowed eyes and furrowed brow” speech about her responsibility-each-morning-old-enough-to-handle-this-without-being-told-a-million-times, we came to an understanding. So far, so good — or I should say, so far the required number of shoes and socks reminders hasn’t exceeded the low double digits.

I still have a hard time with the “do this or I’ll leave you” approach to child behavior management as it really pangs me to think about it from the kid’s perspective. But I now have far more compassion for my dad’s actions in that moment than I have had for the last 38 years.

Am I being replaced?

Sitting here jealous
of homework and puppy walks.
I don’t wanna work.

”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

The change has been quite subtle… My daughter would run to Dad as much as me when she hurt herself and needed comfort. And then the kids would call me Dad (granted, they would call him Mom).  But a few weeks ago was the hardest blow… my stay-at-home-dad-husband did a very mom thing. He was thoughtful. As in “full of thought”. He thought ahead, planned and did something for one of the kids that officially granted him entry into mom-hood.

I was devastated.

I’m ok being called Dad. Hell, I go through a rolodex of names when I talk to my kids too. But I always saw myself as occupying unique space as “The Mom”. I thought ahead enough to buy the birthday gift before day of the party.  I realized that my girl was sad and needed comfort before the tears arrived.  I was sensitive, I was interpreting what was important and I was acting to avoid a problem. And dammit if he didn’t do just that.

If I were honest with myself, I’d admit that I was hoping this would happen. It can be exhausting being the only one who thought this way and I often bemoan (in my own petty little head) that he “just doesn’t get it”. But I’d be lying if I didn’t take some martyr like satisfaction from thinking no one could do this job but me; that no matter what, I am mom and therefore better. And slowly now I’ve had to get used to sharing the spot light.

When we both worked, no matter what, I was still the chief parent.  We only had the one kid then, and she preferred me; I made a lot of the rules; I made a lot of the kid decisions (yes, some exaggeration, but not a lot…I’m not a wench, it just mostly works out that way when you’re the mom, right?).  And then, he became chief parent, he was in charge most of the time – and I tumbled in stature.  It was very hard for me to get used to.  Still, I lived off the fact that both kids would prefer to hang out with me rather than with dad if given the choice.  And I was sure I still had a unique skill set that the Y chromosome was incapable of duplicating.

Snf snf. I was wrong. I’ll get over it.  Statistically speaking he was bound to do something like that at some point, and it hasn’t happened again since then so there’s still hope. But there’s no going back.  Right now, and likely for a while, this is the right choice for our family, all things considered. My life is blessed and I’m more settled right now then I’ve been in a while, much in part to how wonderfully this set up is working.  It’s just that the view is different from this position and I’m not sure I’ll ever be totally ok with that…

Puppy Pirates – the Art of Conversation with a 5 year old (Part 2)

There are no pit stops
On McTalker’s race track: just
Go fast and turn left.

———————————————————

Thanks for coming back to read part 2 of Puppy Pirates.  First, how have tactics one and two been working for you?  The Last Noun Volley and Big Muscle Maneuver can be quite helpful so I hope you give them a try.  And since it is fairly obvious from those first two tips that I’m not up for Mother of the Year again this year, I’ll continue with my final tactics, 3 and 4.

Tactic #3 – Character Acting

Pretty straight forward, this one is:  talk through the toys. AB got several Imaginext Dinos for Christmas (pause for a review – they are wonderful! Highly recommend). The velociraptor’s mouth opens and closes – the only one which does that. So when AB wants to talk and play and play and talk (and all I want to do is veg out, but realize I haven’t spent any time with the little guy), I grab this velociraptor and use him like a puppet.  Moving his mouth and talking at the same time can be highly entertaining.  I get to be someone else – kind of cranky and dino-like (sooo unlike my normal character) – and I get to amuse myself being witty. (Pathetic, I know…)

These types of conversations are never as funny or interesting in the retelling as in the moment itself, so instead, let me capture the critical elements:

image from Fisher-Price website

  1. Repeat to your kid something annoying they always say to you, in character. “No, I won’t wanna do that; I wanna do this! Stop touching me! Mine!”
  2. Build in an inside joke with your husband as you speak through the toys… engages the “trying to be clever-er than you” part of your brain, which likely needs some exercise anyway.   You can also try some double entendre (wow, what that hard to spell) with him, unbeknownst to the kids, and double the fun.
  3. Let your shadow side peek out. My velociraptor is part Eeyore.  He complains a lot. Doesn’t want to participate. Goes off in a huff sometimes.  Watching my son employ all the same approaches I try with him when he’s in a mood is great affirmation that he’s at least paying some attention.

I forgot to mention that tactic #3 is actually fun – way more so than just picking up a dino and moving it around… Taking over the character requires more adult brain, plus I get to mess with my kid, which is never bad.

Tactic #4 – Silent Treatment/Change the Subject

As the mothers of boys reading this know, our angels can sometimes be a little gruesome. The other day while in the drugstore (that place brings out the best in him), AB was singing about Frosty the Snowman… “with a button nose and two eyes made out of blood”. I’m not kidding. Where in the hell does he get this? I asked, and he said someone at school said it. (Yeah right, I’m thinking…). Anyway, after a polite request to not say that because it is gross, I was rewarded with higher volume during the next chorus.

Employ tactic #4: the silent treatment. Ignore him. We all know this, but I too often forget that this is such an easy way to move the conversation forward. Only takes about 30 seconds. And then you pop up enthusiastically about another topic: So, when are you going to play puppy pirates again?

And he’s off again…. Flapping and fluttering at 75 mph.  Truth be told, I’m happy to be along for the ride, even if it is exhausting.

A few last points.  If you are the mother of girls, you are probably frightened by all this. I’m sorry. I was too as my first is a girl and I was totally unprepared for mothering a boy. I promise you I will do my best to raise a wonderful man, but you have to get through the high energy, sometimes-gross boy to get there. Leave it to me…   Also, don’t tell anyone, but some of these same tactics (especially number one) work beautifully with the self-centered friend who always calls you to see how you are and then hogs the entire conversation.  Wait for the breath, repeat the last noun, and she’ll be off again, no worries; you can get back to the crossword.  And lastly a caution: I’ve also tried this same tactic with my husband (see this post) with less success because frankly he’s usually looking straight at me and able to read the visual clues, thus figuring out that I’m totally not engaged. Oh well, worth a try.

Puppy Pirates – the Art of Conversation with a 5 year old (Part 1)

Lightning McTalker
Speeds round the conversation
Leaving me in dust

**********************************

I picked AB up from the gym child care one day last week. He was hunkered down in the far corner with the only other kids in there at that time – two girls. They weren’t visible when I first walked in, so it was with a little hesitation that I asked him what they were playing.

“Puppy pirates mom.”

Really? What’s that?

“Well, it’s when you have a pirate and then some pink puppies come along and after a while the boat isn’t going anymore because the sail is messed up, but a dinosaur came over and handed them apples so they had dinner, but then the snow monster came over and created a real problem until the puppy pirates melted him.”

Got that? Talking with him is like trying to watch a hummingbird fly. Just impossible to keep up. As such, I notice I employ a few tactics in my efforts to master the art of conversation with him.

Tactic #1: Last Noun Volley

This one is really easy to do, requires a minimal understanding of the actual flow of the conversation, but does mean you have to listen for the breath as that is when you can insert yourself into the conversation. Example:

AB: So I was pretending to be the yellow power ranger who is a cheetah and I was like pow but then he became a girl on another one and the table was heavy so it wouldn’t work anymore but the cheetah is really fast not as fast as a rocket but the movie wasn’t over yet so we went to the monkey book place where they were having snacks and some bananas. <pause for breath>

Me (quickly, before he gets started again): They had bananas? Really?

AB: yeah and then after that we blah blah blah blah blah blah……….. …………..blah …………………blah but they couldn’t wait until after the legos were picked up.

Me (again, with some immediacy): Did you like the legos?

AB: yeah and then we…

You get the idea. This tactic, also called the “last noun volley,” allows you to semi-listen to the stream of consciousness from your child and still seem engaged. You just wait for the breath and repeat the last noun he mentions in a question or statement (that’s the volley) — he then picks it right back up.  I’m not entirely proud of this tactic, but sometimes, after a day that starts with a 7am global call with a bad connection and ends with me forgetting an umbrella in a monsoon, it’s the best I got.

Tactic #2: Big Muscle Maneuver

This one requires not your brain to be engaged, but your body.   You see, every one of these conversations is coupled with an insane amount of body movement on the part of my 5-year-old. Remember the hummingbird reference? I wasn’t kidding.  What you do is simple: hold his hands in yours and get him to use big muscles.  He will continue to talk the whole time, but because your body is involved, he doesn’t need you to actually say anything.  Example:

What he says What his body does
So after the train sailed over the alligator pit…. While holding hands, does deep knee bends and then pushes up high in the air
The pterodactyl got caught in a tornado with some flowers and SnotRod… Dangles from your arms, pulling legs up to his chest using extraordinarily strong stomach muscles (on a separate posting I’ll describe his six-pack abs, not kidding…)
He’ll be alright through because Buzz Lightyear gave him that circle ball thing that let him fly… Flips head over tail while still holding your hands, falls down, manages to blurt “I’m alright mom” and is still able to return seamlessly to the plot (did I say plot?) of his story.

If you don’t have the muscle stamina to do this while standing, sit on a bed with him.  It will accomplish the same thing…

Position 1: sitting next to me, bouncing
Position 2: standing next to me, bouncing
Position 3: doing a seat drop onto the bed
Position 4: rolling off the bed by doing a forward roll
Position 5: picking up a stuffed animal and pushing it down my shirt
Position 6: leaning over to kiss me, while also grabbing the dog.

Again, all the while telling me about the new space car that uses poop for energy and how it likes to eat popcorn and applesauce…

In both scenarios, large muscles are used repeatedly, which in the case of my son, eliminates the need for me to respond verbally in any way to his story. I am merely a climbing frame that he happily ascends. This is a great one to do while on the phone (wireless headset required) or when talking with a friend, assuming the child’s volume is manageable. Some amount of agility and strength are required, but you might be able to count is as some resistance training for the day.

Stay tuned for the last two tactics.  I would share them here but frankly I’m clear that no one who has read this far has time to read any further (I count myself among this group!). A two parter seems prudent. In the meantime, practice these a little, but be gentle on yourself (remember stretching is important for tactic two). And please share any  approaches you’ve employed successfully – we are all in this together!

Making Choices – My 5 Roles

Embrace the choices:
They map your way forward and
Soothe the looks backward.

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I learned something a few years ago from an executive at my company that has helped me with my work/life balance. He (yes, it was a he) hypothesized that each of us can reasonably have 5 roles in life that we are committed to. A role is something like wife or mother or tennis player or gardener.  If we decide to take on more than 5 roles, and want to fully commit to those roles (meaning we want to do them well), then he claimed something or someone will suffer.

I’ve been experimenting with this concept for a few years now and I think he is right.  Once I started thinking in these terms, I quit beating myself up for not “doing/having it all,” a self doubt-a-thon that I think many working moms engage in.  Instead, I decided that “having it all” was as simple as focusing on these 5 roles such that I was doing them well. Not perfectly, not full on all the time, but in a consistent way, with focus.  If I am able to do that, then I count myself successful, consider myself living the dream, and cut myself some slack on the things I’m not doing.  How powerful would it be if we could all see 5 reasonably well-executed roles as cause for celebration.

That isn’t to say that this is easy. Take a look at my current list of 5 roles.

  1. Wife (this is purposefully first, because it is too easy to make it last; I still struggle to give him as much time as I’d like)
  2. Mother (there may be a time when I won’t need to have this on the list, but not for a long time…)
  3. Employee (another “not really a choice” choice for our family, but still, have to acknowledge it is a role and it takes time)
  4. Healthy person (writing it down gives me permission to choose a work-out over coming home early)
  5. Writer/Blogger (new this year, yeah! Finally made it to the top 5)

These may seem obvious choices, to you, but to help dimensionalize how hard it is to pick the top 5, let’s list some of the things that didn’t make my list.

Daughter. Gasp! Really!?!? How can I do that? First, it doesn’t mean I don’t call my parents. It just means than I don’t focus time and attention on cultivating that role. Time and attention would probably mean more trips South to see them; a regularly scheduled phone call; more emails; home-made videos of the kids, etc. But I haven’t made this choice. So we talk about every 2 weeks while I’m driving home from work or on a random weekend when I get a moment. There may come a time in the future when their health drives “daughter” right back on the list, but I’ll clearly know it can’t be an incremental role, something will have to go.

Housekeeper.  If you ever visit me you will find dust. And likely a floor that needs to be swept assuming you can find it under the toys. If you are lucky enough to see upstairs, then you’ll see unmade beds and likely a dirty sock on the floor. Get over it. It isn’t a priority – I don’t put money or more than minimal time against this role. We don’t live in squalor (don’t worry, the kitchen and bathrooms are quite clean, the clothes are washed – even I have standards), and I do clean the house on a regular-ish basis, but I’m sure there are those out there who would frown if they visited.

House rehabber. This was a role last year (when writer wasn’t on the list). That’s because last year was our first full year in this amazing 86-year-old house which requires a lot of time and attention (not to mention money). Last year we focused on the house. This year, we don’t need to as much.

Sister.  Just like my daughter role, I don’t make this a priority.

Friend. There is an amazing women’s group that I get together with once a month. But I don’t have “girl friend” time the rest of the month for the most part.  Facebook keeps us connected, but I don’t foster the relationships like I see other people do.  I work with people I consider friends, and I like the moms of kids at school, so the itch gets scratched in those ways, but that’s it.  Sometimes I miss this…

Are there drawbacks to these choices? Sure there are. If it were painless, then it probably wouldn’t really be a choice.   But what keeps me committed to this concept is this:  when I think about how (even more) stretched I’d be if I also tried to put effort against more than 5, I realize none would be done well, and that is something I’m not willing to sacrifice.

Do I do some things outside of my roles? Of course, but I recognize that they will get less investment and thus lower returns. Or, I rethink my definition of it. For instance,  I’m a girl scout troop leader. Is that a new role or a “mother” role? I did it at my daughter’s request, so frankly I think of it as something special we do together – mother role, check.   I also keep a garden in the summer – is that another role? If you saw my garden you would agree it was NOT a focus area for me. Instead, I get the kids involved (harvesting carrots this year was a riot) or I treat it as exercise (healthy person role).  Again, you might see this as cheating, but I approach it holistically and it makes it easier. This doesn’t need to be any harder than it already is.

Lastly, you might ask “where are you on the list”? Healthy person – that is broadly defined to cover all the things I do to take care of my mental and physical health. Sleep in when I can, no work in the evenings when possible, Pilates class, etc.  Make sure you have you on your list too.

Deposits and Withdrawals

“Mom… I don’t feel good”
A ploy? A ruse? The truth? Ack!
Who can ever tell?!

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There are days I seriously doubt my abilities as a mom, especially when my kids don’t feel well. I have this fantasy that in Little House on the Prairie days the mothers all had this 6th sense about their families.  A child would sniffle; the mother would go out back and find the root of the pine-prick bush and gently stew it with oaks leaves, dried herbs and tear drops to make a magic elixir that would cure the child.

Me?  My kid tells me her stomach hurts… her head hurts… his foot hurts… his eyes feel funny… what do I do? Two simple questions:

  1. Have you had enough water today?
  2. When was the last time you pooped?

That’s it. No magic elixir. No tear drop potion. I don’t even push on the offending body part to see if I can make the kid twinge.

Here’s the sad part. The kid in question usually drops his or her head and admits to either a lack of water or an under utilization of the toilet. He/She disappears and I never hear of the ailment again.

So, those MUST be the right questions, right?

I feel like the family in that movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding… “Put some Windex on it!”  Me? Make a deposit or a withdrawal… one will fix you. I’m sure this (among other reasons yet to be explored on this blog) is why I will never be mother of the year. Oh well.

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