The Perfect Kid

I don’t want to brag, but I have the perfect kid.

Well, I would if only I could take the best parts from both and ditch the rest. If I could take a little splice of that one and a little slice of the other and stitch them together with pink thread into some sort of Frankenstein creature type of thing, zap it all with Mom juice and presto change-o, perfect kid!

If only, if only, if only!

If only I could take the philosophical musings from one and pair them with the confidence of the other. If I could take the calm, slow to anger personality of that one and splice it with the self-awareness of the other one and bolt it all together at the neck….

I’d take a dash of the big one’s humor and tailor it with the younger one’s affinity for puns. I’d dig up the small one’s inner drive and pad through the dead of night to steal some chutzpah from my first-born. I’d secure a little motivation from here and a little natural charm from there. Grab my darning needle and voila!

Perfect child.

I’d take the genome that apparently dictates whether or not you remember to flush the toilet and mix it with the ability to make the bed without daily reminders. The bit that drives one to brush his teeth without threats glued to the other’s ability to remember which day of a nine-day cycle it is at the drop of a hat.

I’d lay out one’s happy go-lucky nature and combine it with the other one’s leadership qualities. One’s patience with the other’s determination.

Oh, what a kid I could make if I could pick all the best and get rid of the rest.

But of course, I can’t. And honestly, where would the fun in that be? And plus, who am I kidding. I don’t have a darning needle.

So I’ll keep harassing the thirteen year-old to brush his teeth because he also never gets angry and I’ll keep calmly explaining to the ten year-old why he can’t spend his life in disgusting pajamas because he also does his homework in Greek, just for the fun of it, and I’ll overlook the last-minuteness of the older one because he’s a stellar friend and pretend I don’t mind the way the younger one whines sometimes because his heart is so big.

No cut and paste stitch together, lightning bolt perfect kid over here.

I’ll take them just the way they are.

 

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The Absolutely True Story of Our Family Holiday Card

Some people are really good at gifts, a knack for finding that perfect something. Others love to bake…hundreds of melty snowmen cookies and cute little Santas made from tiny pieces of dried fruit which must be cut with nail scissors they’re so small. I have a good friend (you know who you are) who makes gorgeous, elaborate ginger bread structures. One year she microwaved Jolly Ranchers to make stained glass windows. Not even kidding.

Me? I get paper cuts from wrapping and, like the Christmas goose, I’m getting fat. There are certainly no hay pennies to toss in this old woman’s hat by the end of all the gift-buying. But I have my own little piece of the holidays where I go over the top, down into the valley, and up the other side.

Our family holiday card.

You see, I may not love Christmas and all the trimmings, but every year we do a family holiday photo card. It started out with a picture of our eldest son in cute little outfits. Then it extended to include all of us. Now it’s morphed into a full-blown production.

I just got this year’s out and I’m already starting to stress about what to do next year.

Not really.

(But yeah, sort of)

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A friend said, when she got this year’s card (via email–postage in Denmark is ridiculous), “Oh, when I look at your card I think, I wish we were one of those families!”

I burst out laughing.

You see, the finished product is one thing. The process? That is something else entirely.

We are..most decidedly…not one of those families. And by those families I mean ones who actually measure up to the lives their holiday photo is portraying. Which is why we forgo the cutesy family pjs in lieu of something a bit less Rockwell and more…say…Parker family from A Christmas Story. More representative of us.

You know, the ones who are thinking of getting a crest with the family motto: Don’t be a dick.

****

I don’t tend toward anxiety, but when I do, it’s almost always about time. My kids are thirteen and almost ten and if it’s 7 pm and I know they haven’t had dinner I still get a knot of anxiety in my stomach. Getting to the airport is a nightmare, I can never get the timings right. This year, I knew the set up for the card was going to be time-consuming and time? Time, unlike my middle-aged spread, is in short supply this year. A traveling photographer, visitors, plans, more visitors, more traveling for the photographer.

Basically I had a 2 hour window to get it done.

Cue me, hurling clothes from the cupboard looking for a wig and the family Santa hats in an anxious fit which more accurately resembled semi-rage.

You see, this is what goes on behind the card. Not Happy Families. Snarky Ones.

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Things I do not do when shooting our Christmas card:

Xmas Card 2015 From The Usual Suspects
Gather my children round and speak to them in soothing, dulcet tones

Regal them with warm and fuzzy stories of the holiday season

Snuggle up next to them with hot cocoa and sugar cookies

Things I DO do

Threat, beg, plead, bribe

Swear never to do it again

Say things like “It’s doesn’t feel like the most wonderful time of the year, does it? For fuck’s sake, it’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year! Show some gratitude for the wonder!”

Thank the universe profusely when it’s over.

Here’s what the scene of shooting our holiday card really resembles:

Hours of prep work on my part. Hours of my husband (the traveling photographer) taking too long to get the lighting just right, the camera sitting precariously perched on a pile of books on an upturned stool on a jerry-rigged tripod. The kids getting fidgety about thirty seconds after I announce we’re good to go, at least thirty shots where everyone looks good….except one person. In years past we’ve spent an hour taking photos only to end up using the first one we took. This year, we ended up using the last one so there was some karmic retribution there.

Last year’s shoot was probably the worst. The fake fur rugs we were wearing kept slipping off. Wrapping paper swords were denting. We couldn’t decide on fierce or funny. The lighting wasn’t right. My photographer was getting frustrated. There was yelling and I think there may have been hissing.xmas-2016-christmas-is-coming.jpg

All witnessed by my mother and sister.

Not our best.

The card looked good though.

This year was pretty mild in comparison. The camera fell from its perch once and there was a collective intake of breath. Would it crack? Would the photographer be in a foul mood? Would we finish within our two-hour window?

It didn’t. He wasn’t. We did.

****

All for what you may ask?

Well, part of it is definitely memories. And part of it is the fun of the finished product. But I’m not going to lie. I’m….good at holiday cards. It’s become an annual challenge to come up with something quirky or different. I like giving my friends and family something fun or funny to look at each year. And buried beneath all of that, we actually are making memories.

They just have more swearing and less sugar plums than you’d think.

My holiday gift? My husband and kids indulging me in a ridiculously over the top tradition. It may be a silly tradition. It may be an over-the-top one. But it’s ours. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

 

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Behind the Scenes of a Stay at Home Parent

By now you’ve probably seen the video of Robert Kelly, the father whose children danced their way into viral stardom.…and his BBC interview. Children look for dad, mom tries to corral them out of the room, hilarity ensues. Well, for viewers anyway. I’m not sure if Professor Kelly’s wife Kim Jung A is a stay at home parent, but watching her on all fours trying to salvage her husband’s interview summed up what many stay at home parents do daily behind the scenes.

In this case, it just so happened that it took place in full view of a news camera.

Stay-at-home parents. Ridiculed, minimized, poo-poohed, satirized, parodied, endlessly mocked. A friend told me a story recently. An adult at her child’s school tried, unsuccessfully, to reach my friend on the phone. When she finally was able to take the call, she was asked, sarcastically, whether she’d been too busy at tennis or Pilates. The same was asked of her child. The answer was neither, but the anecdote illustrates the value many place on stay-at-home parents. That is, usually not much.

The truth is, the stay-at-home parents I know are running troops so that other people’s children can take part in Scouts. They are raising money for children in Syria, giving their time and skills to programs that help trafficked women. They are volunteering at school, heading up committees, ‘donating’ their professional skills in terms of expertise, experience, and time. Do some of them play tennis too? Sure thing. Pilates? Yup. But the idea of stay-at-home parents sucking on bottles of Proseco? Pfft.

That’s only on special occasions.

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You know the folks who wield the brooms in the odd sport of curling? The ones who move ahead, sweeping furiously, freeing the ice of debris and bumps so the stone can slide freely across the finish line?

Stay at home parents are those players, sweeping away all the crumbs and debris that life throws at you to help their family reach the finish line in as smooth a line as possible.

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It took me a long time to realize the value in what I do, to stop equating money in the bank with worth. Just because I’m not presented with a paycheck at the end of the month, I won’t minimize the way I am able to make my family’s life that much easier for them.

My husband wouldn’t have the job he has now unless we agreed to move overseas, which meant I gave up my job. My being a stay at home parent right now means he can travel when he needs to, stay late at work on a moment’s notice, not worry about the school calling him up when someone’s puking their lunch up, enroll in a Master’s course, and not worry about what to do with the kids during the 14 weeks a year when they don’t have school. Generally he is able to delegate most of the boring day-to-day stuff. To me. You know, the stuff everyone hates doing. The stuff which usually makes everyone’s lives immeasurably smoother.

Don’t get me wrong. I complain. Sometimes bitterly. I complain my college degree is wasted. That my kids are–right now–growing up without the role model of a mother who works outside the home (they don’t equate writing a novel or winning writing contests with work. Work to them means in an office, behind a desk). I complain about the huge portion of my day spent in the kitchen. But, my husband and I, we’re in this together. He couldn’t do what he does as smoothly if I was working outside the home. I couldn’t do what I do (right now that’s writing novel 2) if I was working. Despite the trade offs (and there are always trade offs), we make it work.

Do we miss the cushion of another salary at times? Absolutely. But just because it doesn’t result in a direct deposit into our joint account doesn’t mean my role in the family is worthless.

I am the sweeper. Rememberer of cards and buyer of birthday presents, scheduler of conferences and vaccination up-keeper. I am able to pick up the slack for those mothers I know who are earning outside the home, volunteering when they can’t, helping out on field trips and class events, things that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Stay-at-home parents are often the ones car pooling everyone else’s kids, standing in during emergencies, reading to another mother’s child at an open house because she couldn’t get the time off work. I’m not writing that to make working parents feel guilty. On the contrary, I am then able to point out that working mother as an example to my own children. Working parents have to figure out all of this stuff too, and it’s stressful. Our choice for me to stay home leads to less vacations, less dinners out, but it also leads to less stress for my husband and kids–and at times, more for me.

These are all the things going on behind the normally locked door while Mom or Dad is giving an interview to the BBC. Or going on in the house when Mum or Dad is in the office. Keeping the kids quiet, entertained, fed, healthy, play-dated, socialized, and out of the way so the working parent can do their job, do it well, do it with a little bit (or a lot) less stress.

I’m aware how lucky we are for me to stay home and be that sweeper. I know that for many, many families, they are playing all the roles at once. Sweeper, curler, coach, referee, stone, and hell, even the ice. I’m grateful for the opportunity, to stay at home, to volunteer, to write; grateful we’ve been afforded, quite literally, this chance.

But I also expect my family to be grateful for what I provide as well, both behind the scenes and out in front where everyone can see.

 

 

Tales From the ‘Hood

It’s always a good thing when you can look in the rearview mirror….and laugh at yourself.

Yesterday, I met up with a group of women (and one man–you held your own, lone man–you should know that we kept the labor and episiotomy stories on the back burner for your sake–) to pass one of the long, winter break days. While the kids threw themselves around in ball pits teeming with streptococci, we exchanged stories from the trenches. Tales from the ‘hood. And by hood, I mean, of course, motherhood. (And you, lone Dad).

These informal information sessions are one of my favorite parts of being a mother. They are, I’d argue, also one of the most important. You see, motherhood, much like writing, can be a lonely business and a lot more of it is done inside the confines of your own head than is good for you. But, just like I always feel better when I can get the ideas from the ping-pong ricochet in my head on to the page, I always feel better talking to other parents as well.

Sitting around and talking seems like a luxury, but really, it’s anything but. Aside from honing your multi-tasking skills (yesterday it was smearing some anti-bacterial cream and a band-aid on an injured knee while maintaining my conversation, drinking my coffee and fielding texts from the older child who locked himself out of the house), that village consciousness is absolutely necessary to healthy parental survival. Casual conversation among peers is an important aspect of checks and balances in the ‘hood. It’s a way to make sure you haven’t lost your ever-loving mind in the throes of infant sleep deprivation. It’s a way of finding your sense of humor again in stories of shit and vomit. Most importantly, it’s a way of connecting and feeling less alone during a time of life when, despite a child clinging to you at all times like a frightened koala, you often feel very much alone.

This time we were talking about the ridiculous things we did as first time mothers, when we were flushed with parenting righteousness and middle class, over-educated book knowledge. Many of us were determined to do it by the book, not realizing for years that kids don’t follow a book. You’ve got to figure it out as you go along. Nevertheless…when I think of some of the things I did, said, and believed those first few years, I cringe.

What a monumental ass I was.

Some people may shy away from that obnoxious ghost of motherhood past, let the over documenting, crazy mom of yore fade gently into the background.

But c’mon! Where’s the fun in that?

During my first two years of being a mother, I am guilty of the following (not a complete list, by any stretch.)milk

I was convinced my son might be suffering from Dwarfism because his head seemed too big in relation to his limbs; I also worried he was autistic because he didn’t respond to his name…at three months.

(I should also add I asked my OB/GYN if the baby was epileptic once. She calmly informed me it was hiccups)

Yelled at my mother not to make eye contact with the baby during the middle of the night “No Stimulation!” Actually, I probably hissed it more than shouted it.

Chased my son around the playground with a tofu hot dog to get him to eat. More than once.

Threw myself into the backseat of a moving car to feed the baby because “My God, you heartless fiend (his father)! You want him to wait fifteen minutes for his food?? He’s starving. Starving!”

Moved his bouncy chair every 20 minutes to give him something new to look at.

Kept a journal of how often he ate, pooped, slept.

Religiously clocked screen time allowance to meet American Pediatrician Guidelines, including commercials.

Yelled at my husband for using up all my hoarded ‘tv time’ on a Saturday morning.

Was in his face every minute of every day encouraging enriching behaviors like putting the square shape in the square hole.

Had panic attacks about his dislike of fruit, bread, bagels, pizza, eggs, etc. Incessantly worried he wasn’t getting enough vegetables. Hid vegetables in his food (though never stooped to making brownies with puree kale…even I had limits)

Requested (ok, maybe more like demanded…) sex neutral clothing and toys like school busses because busses know no gender…

Insisted, to my pediatrician, a trained professional, that a love of cars and wheels was the result of social conditioning and not innate preference.

Swore my child would never have soda, McDonald’s, high fructose corn syrup, video games, unsupervised screen time, toy guns.

Clapped like an idiot when he came down the slide.

Said things like ‘well done!’ for minor achievements like breathing and swallowing.

But perhaps worse than any of those forgivable moments of first mom neurosis, is that I know, on more than a hundred occasions, I was holier than thou about my own righteousness.

sad-girlSo, consider this little confession of smarm my bit of penance. A Hail Mary for my early motherhood sins of sanctimony.

Eventually you learn that your child doesn’t need to eat every fifteen minutes, that tofu dogs are gross, and most people grow into their head size.

What you also learn? That time spent trading stories from the ‘hood? It’s priceless.