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.

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.

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!

The Pleasures of Date Night (not Balls, part 3)

Date night’s reminder:
“Oh, so that’s why I like you”
She says with a smile
.
At a long week’s end
Four words bring joy when uttered:
“Tonight is date night.”
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I find date night so important that it deserves 2 haikus. You see, we were married for 9 years before we decided to have children. We were “dual income, no kids” and loved every minute of it. Then one night in bed, I looked at Frank and said “Honey, I want a baby”, and neither of us laughed, so… we began our journey into parenthood.

I have zero regrets about having children. It suits us. We love them. They tolerate us. The dog hasn’t run away. Everyone gets along as much as 4 people who are forced to eat and travel together can. All good signs that we’ll make it through.

The key to our success as parents (and by success I mean that we haven’t harmed each other yet) I think lies fully in our decision when our first was 5 months old to have date nights about twice a month. It is a glorious opportunity for me to remind myself why this man – who makes mind-bending noises and emits smells that cause my eye lashes to molt – would be worth picking again.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no picnic either. I believe I’m being coy when I ask “So, what did you do today?” when I really mean “What?! You haven’t started dinner yet?” But all memories of that which drives us crazy about each other melts away when the back door clicks shut, and we scurry to the car to make our escape.

So, here are my words of wisdom gleaned from 9 years of date nights:

  • Keep it simple. A cheap meal and walk around the mall holding hands is sometimes the best.
  • Don’t always do a movie… you can sit in the dark and not talk anytime.
  • Have it start early enough that you still get home in time to get a decent night sleep, or whatever you might want to do.
  • Don’t over plan them. 80% of our date nights are decided in the driveway before turning onto our street. We have a few options, decide at the last-minute and don’t sweat it. I tried for a while to plan elaborate date nights (anything that requires a ticket in advance is elaborate for me), but my life is already full of responsibility and decision-making… date night shouldn’t be.
  • Don’t stop. We took a break from date nights after our second child was born – boy did we miss it.
  • Pay for a good sitter. You won’t worry and that’s worth a ton (nothing dulls a date night more than fretting about the kids). There have been times when the budget was such that all we could afford to do that night was pay the sitter – we didn’t care. Our sitter is the best ever: one of our kids’ prior day care teachers who has children of her own, knows CPR and I trust with my kids unquestioningly. As Visa says: Priceless.
  • Related, make the expense a line item in your budget. If you asked me “date night or housekeeper” or “date night or no new purse for 2 years” I would pick date night without hesitation (and then get my mom to buy me a new purse). I plan to be with Frank for the long haul, and I don’t want to be one of those couples who, when married 30 years, does nothing but bitch about each other to anyone who will listen (jokes about body functions don’t count). Date night will prevent this.

Alas, if you were looking for something about how date nights have kept our love life wonderfully alive and hot-hot-hot, well, you missed the part about us being married for nearly 19 years and having 2 kids. That isn’t the point. The point is: I love what we were before we were parents enough to keep tending it.

And so the balls trilogy comes to a close.

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