Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Rainbow Connection

For the past few days, I've had horrible jaw pain. I finally called my dentist yesterday when it was nearly unbearable. I was told the following: Take an ibuprofen before bed. Turn off the television/to-do lists/etc and massage the area between my jaw and ear for 15 minutes. I did. And although it's still a tad bit tight today, it's really a night and day difference.

I have admittedly been a bit stressed out this holiday season. Whether I'm working and not shopping or shopping and not playing or playing and not doing anything else, it always feels like the wrong thing. The good news, is that I have been trying. Trying to slow down and enjoy the moments that will be the memories my family remembers. The only drawback has been when I finish smelling the proverbial roses, I'm thrown right back into my stress spiral totaling up all the items I didn't do while I was taking a "break."

The jaw pain, probably caused from overnight teeth clenching because I'm apparently even stressed during my sleep, was a wake up call (bad pun was sadly intended, sorry). What difference does it all make? If I know anything about myself, it will all still get done. The work will be completed, the presents wrapped, the laundry done...eventually. Maybe it won't be according to my Type-A expectations or timeline, but it will happen.

So, today, while the toddler was at school and the five year old was home on his first day of Christmas break, we took care of two Christmas errands and then headed to the movie theater. Nothing like popcorn for lunch and the Muppets to put you in a good mood. Then, in the dark of the theater, towards the end of the movie, my little man reached for my hand. There in the quiet, it was just me and him. No to-do lists. No distractions. Just his maturing profile in the film's glow and his slender fingers taking up increasing room in my palm.

And that, my dear Kermit, was me finding my rainbow connection.

Well, that moment and the one where I laughed hysterically with him when Gonzo got Chris Cooper in the gut with a bowling ball. Cause if slapstick ain't a stress reliever, I don't know what is.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Home for the Holidays

In the 13 Christmases that have come and gone during our marriage, the hubby and I have travelled back to the city of our formative years and spent the holiday with our families 11 times. Only twice since we had kids did we actually stay in our own home.

The first time, Peanut was one or two and by 11 in the morning, the hubby and I were staring at each other wondering, what now? I'm not sure if that's why we decided the following year to go back up or not, but I'm sure it had something to do with it. Pumpkin's first Christmas, we stayed here, too. He was only a month and a half old and traveling with both kids was just too much for us to handle at that point. That year went much better. We were kept busy by caring for a newborn, enjoying Peanut who better understood Christmas and friendly neighbors who invited us to brunch with their family.

Then last year, we went back up again. As we packed up all the Santa presents in the dead of the night so that the kids wouldn't see them and struggled to fit everything plus all the kids' gifts from the family back into the trunk at trip's end, I turned to the hubby and said two words: Never. Again.

Yet, there I was this summer, looking ahead and figuring, maybe we should go back up again. The pull of my niece on her first Christmas was a powerful tug.

As Thanksgiving approached, we avoided the topic. We put it off. We constantly agreed to talk about it "later." When Thanksgiving passed and we entered into December, we finally sat down and talked it through. Pros. Cons. Reality. And decided to stay home for the holidays. Well, at least for Christmas day.

I heard Perry Como crooning "Home for the Holidays" today on the radio and I nearly felt that tug of guilt again. "See?" I said to myself. "You're supposed to want to go home for the holidays. The traffic sounds nostalgic. The pumpkin pie would be homemade...wait, what? My mom never made pumpkin pie."

Sure, we'll miss providing my parents with the Christmas morning magic that kids bring, but we'll be giving our kids the magic of Christmas morning in their own house. Isn't there something about waking up in your own bed while the moment dawns on you that this isn't just any other morning? Something special has happened. Something unexpected is awaiting. Sure, we'll miss my mom's excellent Christmas dinner, but I'll get to make these as a new tradition. And we'll see everyone, just a few days later.

So, yes, Perry, we will be home for the holidays. Although it feels a little bit selfish, what wish list to Santa isn't?

This year, we start creating the traditions and the magic and the laughter that will pull my children back home for the holidays when they are grown. That is, until they, too, have to decide it is time they stay home for their own sanity.

But I have a many more Christmases to go before that happens. And I plan on enjoying each and every one of them. Wherever we are.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas is Coming, The Mama's Freakin' Out

Christmas is already hectic enough between holiday school performances, class parties, adult parties, gift shopping, decorating, baking, wrapping, card addressing, hauling, traveling, outings...I do my best each year to really make sure all those things are still fun and enjoyable, because why else do them, really?

This year, however, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. Who knew that the holidays ARE a part time job? But they must be because my actual part time job has apparently taken that available time. I'm realizing that finding the time to accomplish the shopping and the organizing and the selecting is next to impossible when most of my free-to-just-me moments are occupied with work. Work I need to be doing. Work I want to be doing.

But I want to be working on Christmas ornaments with the kids, too. Only I haven't had time to go to the craft store for supplies not to mention figure out what we'd be making. And I want to be carefully thinking of my loved ones and what I want to select for their gifts. I really do love those eureka moments when you've found the perfect gift for the perfect person. This year, I can't even figure out what the kids are going to be getting - and they're usually the easy ones. I want to be wrapping pretty packages of cookies for the boys' teachers and creating family memories of warm apple cider and Christmas music.

I know. I know. I didn't have the Norman Rockwell fantasy even when I wasn't working, but at least I was attaining some level of postcard semi-perfection, if only for an hour here and there.

My strategy for the holidays, then? Anybody got any extra elves I could employ to either babysit my kids, do my shopping or clean my house? No? Or just not sharing? I suppose instead I'll make lots of lists, fly by the seat of my pants and practice my deep breathing. That, and do a lot of shopping online in my jammies once the work is complete for the day and the kids are in bed.

And if I find myself starting to freak out, I'll just pop in the John Denver and the Muppets album and boogie with the kids a little bit. I can't freak out when belting out "five golden rings" with Miss Piggy, can I?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

30 Days of Thanks: The Holiday Weekend

I've been so slack about my daily thank yous. Not that I haven't had anything to be thankful for, but between work and kids and strep throat and hosting Thanksgiving, sometimes the last thing I could do at the end of the evening was put my fingers on a keyboard and expect something coherent to appear.

In an attempt to make up some ground, here is what I am thankful for after our fantastic Thanksgiving weekend:

* Visitors! My kids were so excited that people were coming here. I think they realized how special that was. And not having to pack up for the fourth time in as many months to make the six hour drive north on I85 on Wednesday was definitely something for us to be thankful for.

* Nieces. My sister's six month old little girl is a complete and total munchkin. Watching her perfect sitting up and come perilously close to crawling while trying to keep up with the boys was so much more fabulous than the hour or two I normally get with her when we're in town bustling between her house and whatever commitments we have and visiting with our other niece and nephew. Having one on one time with any member of our family is a precious commodity and I truly value the opportunity we had this weekend to watch her over the course of several days and wonder at her perfection.

* Sisters. Let's just say last Thanksgiving featured pregnancy hormones and the Thanksgiving before that boasted my postpartum hormones and both led to some not-pretty sisterly moments. This year? It was back to the best of times and I had a blast. Particularly because I was able to see her in full on mommy mode and she is awesome at it.

* Parents/Grandparents. Maybe I'm weird, but I like hanging out with my folks. We have interesting conversations about politics and books and assorted randomness. It was nice to just pour a glass of wine and chat. On the other hand, I also love watching them with the boys. Reading stories, building blocks, playing games, watching movies, they are all in when it comes to their grandkids and I love it. And hearing my toddler refer to Grandpa as "Buppa" is just too cute for words.

* The Atlanta Botanical Gardens. If you live in the Atlanta area, please go see the Garden Lights this season. The whole family (and half of Atlanta) went on Friday night and it was just spectacularly beautiful. Walking hand-in-hand with my five year old through the pitch black rain forest house with the frogs chirping all around us and looking up into the vine draped canopy that was glittering in green laser lights was a moment I will hold onto forever. Trust me. You should go.

* Warm climates. We spent Friday at a local park walking and playing and chasing after Peanut on his big wheel trike. Then we spent that evening at the Botanical Gardens without having to bundle up in 5 layers to stay warm. Enjoying the outdoors as a family and walking off the previous days pies was a wonderful way to spend the day.

* Sunday. This morning, my parents stopped in between their hotel and their trip north. They hit the road at 10am and called about 4:15 to say they had arrived home. In that time, I finished a book, did three loads of laundry, changed the linens in the boys' room, emptied the dishwasher, and wrote four press releases for work. That doesn't include all the activities the boys have all been up to in that time. Not having to drive the six hours home from a family holiday was a unique moment for us, and one that I truly appreciate.

I hope your holiday weekends were as lovely and filled with thanks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

30 Days of Thanks: New Carpet

We moved into our Atlanta home seven years ago. It was quite a change from DC to Atlanta and even more of a change from our three-story, brand-spankin' new town home in the burbs, to a much smaller, 1952 ranch in the city. In the seven years that we've been here, our second bedroom has gone from my home office to a nursery to a bustling bedroom for two rambunctious boys. Our "keeping" room has gone from casual dining area to a casual dining area/office (see preparing for nursery phase) to a playroom.

Through it all, our den has sported horrible, disgusting carpet that needed to be replaced the moment we moved in. It was old, worn and stained with bleach by the sliding glass door. At first it was a financial decision to wait to replace it. We'd just moved. The hubby was in grad school. Then I was pregnant. Then we had a baby and only one income. Then we got a tax refund. Then we found somewhere else to spend that refund. Then we had another baby. Then we just figured crappy carpet is good to have with two messy boys running around. Then, we couldn't take it anymore and we bit the bullet.

Today, I am looking at a beautiful new, cushy carpet. I am also looking at a decluttered room. In the process of taking things out of the room for the install, I am realizing how little I want to bring back in. It's forcing us to take a harder look at how we live and how we can better organize it.

But I think we'll save the harder look for after turkey day, leave the boxes in the attic and spend Thanksgiving with our guests in a lovely, open, brighter space.

Monday, November 21, 2011

30 Days of Thanks: Support

In a weird upside down world today, the hubby stayed home with the kids while I went to work. The kids are out of school this week and the hubby took the week off thanks to some PTO he's got to burn. As a result, I was the one in her school clothes, laptop packed up and kissing kids goodbye at the door.

Throughout this whole adventure back into heels, the hubby has been nothing but supportive, emotionally when I need a pick up, and physically when I need him to take kid duty so I can get a few hours of work done. Even though they are far away, my family has been supportive, checking in, being curious and listening to me when I feel stressed. My friends have offered play dates if I need them for child care and have been patient when I seem scattered.

Without this support, I'm not quite sure I'd be able to do what I'm doing. I'm enjoying the work, the people are great and there is something incredibly confidence building about putting on "real" clothes and heading out into the world to use your noggin. But, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't hard. Inevitably, there are days with a deadline that my toddler doesn't understand. There are days when I feel pulled in 100 different directions and I'm in control of none of them. There are days when my messy house points out to me that I am not, in fact, "doing it all."

Those are the days when the hubby, my family and my friends are my lifesaver. Reminding me why I'm doing this, telling me that they are proud of me, urging me on. Today was not one of "those" days (thanks to the hubby being home with the young'uns) and yet there was my sister-in-law, in the midst of her own career-changing happy news telling me how great she thinks it is that I'm doing what I'm doing.

And so far all who have called, emailed or simply asked how it's been going, thank you. I hope I can pay the encouragement forward.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

30 Days of Thanks: Brothers

Strep's been making the rounds. The hubby fell after me and Peanut started sporting a ping-pong sized lump in his neck Wednesday that normally would have instilled panic in his mother, but with the dreaded strep germ plowing through the family, it simply meant a trip for a quick throat swab followed by the expected stop at the drug store for ye old antibiotics.

So forgive my absence but I've been alternating between resting, nursing sickos, doctor's offices, work and disinfecting the house.

Between the sick days and a few teacher conference days at Peanut's school, there has been a lot of together time around here. As stressful as all that indoor forced time has been, I have enjoyed watching the budding buddy-ship develop between my two boys. Not that there isn't still a lot of pushing, whacking and toy-stealing, but there has also been whispering, giggling and creating games together. Teamwork has started to emerge and I can see them try to please each other with silly antics or new ideas for train tracks/buildings/car races, beaming with satisfaction when the other one "gets" it.

The kicker was driving the boys home from something the other day and hearing Peanut start singing the ABC song for his little brother and Pumpkin joining in (there are lots of 'E's and 'S's in his alphabet). The sound of their sweet voices together in the car was enough to melt a mother's heart, but peeking in the rearview, I could see their little heads turned towards each other as they sang, smiles on their faces as they got to the "big finish."

I took a mental picture, memorizing the moment in my mother's soul. It's a moment I'll need to hold fast to and remind them of when their relationship is tested, when voices are raised, when life might take them to different corners of the world.

The moment I saw them as more than brothers, but as friends.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

30 Days of Thanks: Timing

There is no good time to be sick. Especially when you're a parent.

This time, though, I am thankful that if I had to get strep, at least I got it on a weekend. The hubby took care of the kids all weekend letting me get the rest I needed. He took care of dinners and waking up with the kids and keeping them away when I needed him to. I got to sleep in and take naps and stay in my jammies.

Sure, I'll need to take care of the grocery shopping y, and the laundry at some point this week. But being able to just be for two days and let my body heal instead of squeezing in rest time between car pool and play time on a weekday has been priceless.

I'm not 100 percent yet, but I'm definitely a lot farther along than I would be otherwise. And for that small luxury, I am thankful.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

30 Days of Thanks: Silver Linings

I have strep throat. And it sucks. You have no idea how much energy your kids have or how loud they are until you don't feel good and just want to lay still on a couch willing the antibiotics to work faster, much, much faster.

The last time I had strep I was a senior in college. One of my roommates and I drove ourselves to student health, both miserable, and left with two sets of antibiotics. Our third roommate headed for the hills (aka, her boyfriend's apartment) to avoid the germs. Lara and I took up positions on the couches under layers of blankets. There was lots of oatmeal, tea and Lifetime movies. We complained and laughed and in a few days finally felt well enough to disinfect the apartment so our third could come back home.

What was on the surface a no fun couple of days, now is one of my fondest memories of Lara. It was a few days where it was just the two of us. We talked about anything and everything. We commiserated over the pain of swallowing. We had nowhere to go and nothing to do.

Lara passed away seven years ago in a car accident.

So although I am once again prone on the sofa, about to see what crappy TV I can find as I snuggle under a different pile of blankets, I am thinking of Lara and all the silly, wonderful things I miss about her. The butter and sugar she loaded into her oatmeal. The episodes of "Walker, Texas Ranger" she could watch over and over. Her brilliant smile.

It sucks being sick. It sucks that my friend is gone. But thinking about her right now actually makes me feel a little bit better.

Today, Lara, I am thankful for you. I miss you.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

30 Days of Thanks: Moments of Quiet

The days I head into the office with not much on my agenda but some time to get work done in the presence of other adults always end up being the craziest days. So, it was much to my dismay that a friend texted about meeting at a playground in the afternoon. I just didn't think I could swing it with all that had suddenly appeared in my lap. Then, she offered to simply take the 5 year old for the afternoon so I could get some work done. An unexpected surprise.

What was a miracle was that the littlest guy actually took a nap. Since moving him into his "big boy bed" due to his crawling out of the crib antics, he has not been napping. He was beyond cranky as I tried to pull his lunch together after school today. I took him into our room and rocked him to calm him down. Much to my surprise, he drifted off to sleep.

After settling him into bed, I had an afternoon of quiet in front of me. Not only was I able to get work done, but I was able to do it without the stress of pulled focus.

The icing on the cake was Pumpkin waking up hours later in a fabulous mood. And my mood wasn't so bad either. It's amazing what a nap can do -- for both baby and mama.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

30 Days of Thanks: Moments of Beauty

In the every day hustle and bustle of herding children out the door, into the car, back into the car, back into the door and all that fills in the minutes, hours and days in between, I sometimes lose sight of what's right in front of me. The little things. The beautiful things.

A child might hand me a leaf or want to linger by a duck pond providing a moment or two of quiet reflection at the beauty in the world, but it's typically followed by a tantrum about leaving. Luckily, today, I had a longer moment. A moment that was mine.

I was doing crunches (ugh). Along with several other women taking part in today's workout class, I was flat on my back, lifting my shoulders to the sky, lamenting the fact that my abdominal wall might never actually meet in the middle again (or if it did, I will never see it due to that layer I prefer to call insulation). Then, I took a deep breath and saw what was around me. Well, more accurately, what was above me.

A beautiful blue sky. A wisp of a cloud. The warmth of the sun on my arms. The brilliant colors of the leaves. It was breathtaking and quiet and peaceful and I am thankful for being able to recognize that moment. Sometimes that's all you need.

Monday, November 7, 2011

30 Days of Thanks: My Dad

Today I am thankful for my dad. He's just been on my mind today. And I want to say thank you for being strong, thank you for being honest, thank you for walking through the tunnel even when you weren't sure where the light was, thank you for being braver than brave.

I love you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

30 Days of Thanks: A Good Foundation

It's no secret that having babies changes a few things. Many of them are wonderful, awesome changes. There is the new little person who loves you unconditionally. You get to witness them experience the world and all its sights, scents and textures. They start to say the most fantastically hysterical things. There are also the changes you could have done without. The hours of lost sleep, the ear infections, the smart mouthing.

And then there are the physical changes. The battle scars you bear for bearing your children. The stretch marks. The wider hips. The sag.

So today, I sucked it up, got remeasured and plunked down some serious change so that tomorrow when I get dressed, I will feel great from the inside out. And for that, I am thankful.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

30 Days of Thanks: Second Birthdays

Today is Pumpkin's second birthday. It has most certainly been a better birthday than last year.

For his first, I had the invitations printed, invited a handful of friends and our families and made the appropriate plans for a fun-filled first birthday party. Then, my uncle passed away. Party cancelled. We regrouped and decided to do an even smaller, immediate family only get together while we were in NC for my uncle's funeral. Then, Pumpkin got sick. The pediatrician did not recommend that we travel. Second party cancelled.  We have the saddest pictures of our sick little guy opening presents, just staring at the camera, expressionless.

I was excited to have this year as a do-over. And yet, somehow, it all got away from me. No play dates planned. No backyard barbecues. All were thoughtfully considered and then promptly pushed aside by the 13 other priority tasks at any given moment. Suddenly it was a few days before and I had to suck it up and admit that we weren't doing anything special for his birthday.

Typical second kid, I guess. Peanut has had some sort of celebration for each of his five birthdays. I'm 0 for 2 with Pumpkin. And yet, somehow, we've had the perfect day. Just the four of us. Our little nuclear unit. There were outings and presents and cake and giggles and hugs and kisses and just enough crazy to make it a normal day. And at the end of it, we tucked Pumpkin into his "big boy bed" for the first time.

A year ago, he wasn't walking. A year ago, I was still nursing. A year ago, we thought he had a milk allergy. A year ago, he wasn't talking. A year ago, he was still my baby.

Today? Well, today he's running. He's crawling out his crib so much that we had to ditch the front wall of it and transition it to a bed in an attempt to save our sanity. He's talking up a storm, exploding with new words this week alone. He's thoughtful and funny. He and his brother are working together more than ever, making up games, making each other laugh, making up when they fight (after some prompting).  He can count to three on his fingers, proclaiming a triumphant "YAY!" each time he gets to three. He loves books and animals and all things vehicular from trains to cars to space shuttles. His favorite color is orange and he always gets it right. His next favorite color is green, which he does not always get right, and purple, which essentially is anything blue or darker. Flowers and butterflies are "wubbies." Monkey and pumpkin sound exactly the same. He jumps. He wiggles. He sings. He is on the verge of boyhood.

Although we are on the precipice of those terrible twos, he is still my comic relief to the power struggles I have with the five year old. He's always one tickle spot and giggle fit away from melting away all my worries. His little "hi" makes me smile and is always impeccably timed.

Today, I am thankful for my not-so-little-anymore Pumpkin and all the joy and wonder he has brought into our family. Here's to another great year of discovery.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

30(ish) Days of Thanks

I can't believe it's been a month since I've posted here. To say I have missed this space is an understatement. I think of post-worthy material all the time. Between adjusting to work, my husband being gone on a seven day road trip, the not-yet-two-year-old learning to climb out of his crib and the resulting later bedtimes and lack of naps. There's been a lot to say and not a lot of time to say it.

Suddenly, it's November again. I noticed a bunch of NaNoWriMo posts on Monday night. Folks I know gearing up for the big 50,000 word count challenge. As crazy as last year was (and as dusty as that manuscript has become in my closet), I was jealous. I wish I could take November and devote it to reworking last year's attempt. Unfortunately, it's just not in the cards. I just haven't achieved that level of balance yet.

Then. The kicker. I started seeing friends and strangers posting 30 Days of Thanks posts. Wow. A little idea I had a few years ago that's blossomed beyond my imagination. And it seemed to be all happening without me.

In all the hustle and bustle that has become my daily life and with the promise of another hectic holiday season upon us, I need to take a step back. I need to remind myself that there is so much in my life that I'm grateful for. And although I know that and see that every day, I do need to be present in it. I need to acknowledge it. I need to come to this space and write about it.

So forgive me for being absent. Forgive me if my daily posts this month aren't daily. Forgive me if they are brief. Just know that I'm trying.

Let me begin this year's 30 Days of Thanks by catching up (after all, it is the third already):

1 - I am thankful for Halloween candy. I shouldn't be thankful for it based on my inability to squeeze in enough workouts lately, but when that toddler of mine decides to not nap and fill our afternoons with added cranky chaos, a Reese's peanut butter cup (or two) certainly helps dull the frustration for a minute.

2 - I am thankful for piles of leaves. Watching my boys frolic under a tree in the park with half the neighborhood kids in a  massive leaf throwing frenzy made me forget the deadlines and the dishes, if just for an hour.

3 - Today, I am thankful for this space. Thankful for a place where I can work out my frustrations, challenges, joys and pains with a community of readers who just may be struggling with a similar issue at that moment. Thank you for giving me this place and for honoring me with a few moments of your own busy days to read what I have put there. I am truly grateful.

Participating in this year's 30 Days of Thanks? You don't have to have a blog. Simply post a daily thank you on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Boss, Mentor, Friend

Steve Daley was my boss. He was larger than life. A big man with a big heart. He had a story for everything. He found out I went to UNC, he had a story about meeting Dean Smith. And not just, oh yeah, I met Dean Smith once. It was a colorful anecdote, full of details and humor and insight into the man with whom he spent maybe 15 minutes.

When I interviewed, I passed well enough. A colleague on his team wanted to hire me, but he was the group's manager and needed to approve the hire. He figured he could use me for a few things, too, and a couple of months later I started. He wasn't quite sure what to do with me, and I wasn't quite sure what to make of him. It didn't take me long to realize that he was the one I wanted to impress.

I sat in a cube outside his office and watched a parade of folks go in and plop down in his guest chair. It was a steady stream of conversations ranging from politics to sports to media strategy. Loud guffaws punctuated the banter. And I wanted in. I wanted to hear the stories. I wanted to make him laugh. I wanted to impress him.

A few months into it, he sent out an email to several of his pals at the agency, including the GM and others. I was on it. He sent along the article outing George W. Bush's DUI back in 1976 during that year's presidential campaign and included the crack: "I think I was drunk that day, too." I responded with: "I was nine months old that day." I heard him start laughing in his office and I think that was the beginning.

Slowly but surely, I proved myself to him. I turned in my first writing assignment and he didn't hide his surprise that I was decent at it. And yet, I wasn't offended. I was pleased, proud. I had earned a spot in the inner circle. 

Steve Daley was my mentor. Steve was a brilliant writer. He could turn a phrase that cut to the truth so subtly and with such sharp accuracy. He wrote a blog called Failed Talkers based on the Irish phrase that writers are simply failed talkers. But it was a misnomer. He could tell a story and hold an audience captive. I loved spending an afternoon in his office after a meeting hearing him tell some anecdote about bartending, life following politicians, his take on the big game the night before. He saw through to the heart of a matter instantly and had a hard time holding his tongue at a client's latest "this is the greatest thing ever, can you get us the front page of the Wall Street Journal" claims. He would respond, instead, with his mantra, "Compelling, if true."

When I left the company, it was complicated. I loved the people I worked with. I learned from them so much more than I could ever articulate. But the politics of the office were intense. I had to fight outside my group for assignments, for the all powerful billable hour and I was tired of having to prove my credentials to others. When I told Steve I was leaving, I was dreading it. But I wasn't expecting his reaction. He got angry. He was pissed. He was disappointed in me. I left in tears. I felt horrible. What had I done? Thankfully, he started to understand, or at least come to terms with it and realized I wasn't doing it to hurt him. He threw me the most fantastic surprise going away party. A night I remember with such fondness and love.

We stayed in touch, but it got harder as my life changed and I didn't live in DC anymore. Luckily, Facebook helped bridge the gap. I lived for his "likes." Any comment or endorsement of one of these posts shared there made my day. I knew if he liked a post, it was a good one. I tried to earn that every time, but he was judicious with that like button. I only got it when they were really worth it. And I am not quite sure what to do now that I won't have that. The Steve Daley seal of approval.

Steve passed away suddenly on Sunday. Since finding out Monday morning, I have felt a huge void. He touched so very many with his wit, laughter and words. It seems unfair that his pen has stopped when there were so many more things to say. I feel such sorrow for his wife, whom he loved so very much and everyone who ever met him would know since he had so many stories about her.

Selfishly, I never got the chance to really catch up with him about my new gig. It's sports related and I think he would have really gotten a kick out of what we're doing. I was looking forward to being able to call him up and say, hey, that article you saw, that's what I'm doing now, what do you think? I'm going to really miss that.

Steve Daley was my friend. We were supposed to get together when I was in DC this past winter, but a client conflict popped up. I'm really sorry we didn't have that lunch. So I'll have to hold on to all those lunches in the past. The ones that were quick, balancing styrofoam containers from the Greek deli on my lap as I listened to how we'd approach the strategy meeting we had that afternoon. The long, holiday ones at Morton's, where we'd all stumble back into the office hours later, tipsy and full. The spontaneous ones that he'd invite you on and you'd never say no, just so you could sidle up to a bar with him and listen. Listen to his stories. Listen to his laughter. Listen to the truth according to Daley.

Today, it's entirely too quiet.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

One Shirt Two Shirt Red Shirt...Guilt Trip

It's been a rough week in the mother guilt department around here.

Last May, I wrote about how we had decided to hold Peanut out of kindergarten this year. It was a decision that the hubby and I went back and forth on before making it. It was a decision that when the public school bus rolled through the neighborhood on August 8th and my little guy wasn't on it that I questioned again. Are we doing the right thing by keeping him out until 2012?

The kicker this week was this New York Times opinion piece. Friends were posting it on Facebook, other blogs were writing about it, it filled my Twitter stream.

And yes, I freaked the heck out. What had I done? Did we make a mistake? Was our child now going to be stupid and unsuccessful because we delayed his kindergarten start?

Then, I calmed down. I took a few days. I went back to the beginning. And realized a few things.

First of all, can we discuss the headline? "Delay Kindergarten at Your Child's Peril." Peril? Really? My trusty Oxford American Dictionary defines peril as "serious danger." Now, I understand their argument that holding kids back could backfire, but does it put my child in serious danger? After I calmed down and thought about it rationally, nope. Sorry. But it doesn't. The inflammatory headline did what it was meant to do - grabbed my attention. But how many parents like me is it confusing? I can't be the only one. I don't agree with the implication that a decision I came to thoughtfully will now set him on the road to ruin.

Second, the author's assertion that parents choose to redshirt their children to give them an advantage over their peers may be true for some parents, but not me. We chose to redshirt our child so that he wouldn't be disadvantaged, not so he can smoke the other kids out of the water next year. It's so much more complicated than the implication that parents redshirt their kids so their kids will be the best. I want my child to GET the best. And allowing him another year to mature felt like the best opportunity to make that happen.

I keep thinking about the kid Peanut met on the playground the other day, we'll call him C. He'll be starting the same kindergarten that Peanut will next year. He will be turning five in a week or two. He, by nature of the rules that a child be 5 on or before September 1st, was not eligible to start kindergarten this year. C and Peanut played wonderfully together. They were most certainly peers. If my child's birthday were just a few weeks later, I wouldn't have had to worry. I, like C's mom, would have been at the mercy of the school system's regulations. Instead, I was forced to make up my own mind.

I have plenty of friends with kids who turned five in May, June and even July who are happily ensconced in kindergarten classrooms and doing just fine. I also know a mom who sent her summer birthday boy to kindergarten last year and halfway through the school year regretted it. I have yet to meet a mom who redshirted her child and had reservations once they started big kid school. In the end, we all make our own choices and then try to do the best by our kids as those decisions settle out.

Instead of telling parents that the decisions they made carefully for their child's best interests could make them failures in their future academic and labor market pursuits, create the opportunity for conversation. There is a reason a lot of parents hold their kids out. Explore those reasons. Discuss the classroom social dynamics with educators. Open a dialogue with schools. Adjust the cut-off date to make it less confusing for parents. Help us. The last time I checked, my parenting manual is still MIA.

I'm glad this is out there, giving voice to the other side of the argument. I simply wish the authors of this piece had approached it with slightly less implied judgment. I also wish they had addressed the issue of holding kids back a grade once they start. How does that impact a child's future academic success? They discuss the benefits of accelerating students, so if my redshirt child ends up skipping a grade then it's okay?

These things may be addressed in the book they are promoting. We'll have to see. Until then, I will do my best to make peace with my decision, continue to challenge my child and remember that one size science doesn't fit all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Balance Myth

The flexible work arrangement I have has been ideal so far. I work when I can, whether that's at 6am, 9pm or somewhere in between. My mom always asks me "When are you working this week?" And at first I wasn't sure why she didn't seem to get it. I work when I can work. I get the job done and that's that. Then I realized that our mothers' generation never had much of a choice when it came to flexible working arrangements. I'm sure my mom would say that the first law firm she worked at when we were in elementary school offered flexible arrangements simply because they didn't complain when my sister or I tagged along to work when we were mildly sick or without childcare on a teacher workday.

Since then, women have been fighting for a work-life balance. We've searched out jobs and companies that tout family friendly jargon and, in an ideal world, on-site daycare or other perks. We're far from there. I read Opting Out this summer. I get it. It's easy for a company to claim family-friendly practices and still subconsciously mommy-track their employees or make flexible schedules nearly impossible to implement. The balance appearing impossible to achieve with one side of the equation always more weighted physically, emotionally or both.

I realize I have lucked into a perfect opportunity - part of what it made so difficult to pass up - and so far it's been worth it. Challenging work, ease of schedule and very understanding colleagues. Not to say that it isn't hard. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the chores that aren't getting done when I'm working, brainstorming messages while building Lego space ships with the 5 year old, missing the hubby when he's spending his Saturday shepherding the kids around town so I can have a quiet house to work in and feeling guilt about all the posts that bounce around my brain in car pool instead of actually making their way into this space.

That's when I realized that the work-life balance is a myth. We can never achieve true balance. I think if you take both mothering and working seriously, you will always be worried that you aren't giving enough in one or both areas. Or at least I would. Shoot, I felt like I wasn't giving enough when I only was focused on one area, not to mention two. Perhaps it's the nature of motherhood or womanhood - always wanting to give the best of ourselves and feeling less than when we feel we don't measure up.

Note I didn't say when we actually don't measure up because I think many of us have a problem accepting good enough as good enough. We want perfect. And perfect is damn hard to achieve under the best of circumstances not to mention when refereeing the WWF match that just broke out in your playroom while you're trying to simultaneously make dinner and change the sheets.

What I have noticed that works for me is less working on balance and more working on presence. When I'm working, I am working. When I'm mothering, I am mothering. When I'm with the hubby, I'm listening as attentively as I can before I fall asleep. It doesn't matter how much time I'm spending on each when I'm in that moment, it's about doing the best I can do at that time. So far, it's made me more productive when I'm working and less distracted when I'm playing trains with the boys. It isn't perfect, and yes I'm checking email on my phone in between Uno hands, but it helps to remind myself that there is work, there is play, there are chores, but they all can't get done at the same time.

Take this post, for example. I had time while the 5 year old watched a TV show and the little one napped. Is it perfect? Nope. Am I missing probably half the thoughts I had about it? Probably. But his show's ending and it's time to focus on the next thing. And so I'll let this go and move on.

Legos anyone?

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Each year, September 11th quietly sneaks in a back door. I wake up to it. I feel it deep in my bones. I take a moment to hear the silence. I watch planes glide in clear blue skies, safely making it to their destination. I hug my kids a little tighter. The hubby hugs me a little tighter. I move through our day, remembering, but enjoying the present life I have. Seeing it with eyes that understand the alternative.

This year, September 11th has been coming at me hard and fast and teary for the last week. The 10th anniversary has resulted in documentaries, interviews, rebroadcasts. I have avoided most of them. I turn the channel. I avert my eyes. I change the subject.

Part of me desperately wants to be in DC. I'd like to walk the sidewalk in front of my old office building where National Guard stood. I want to sit inside the church where my colleagues and I clutched each other's hands, passed Kleenex and prayed the following day. I want to watch planes take off from Dulles airport where they were silent 10 years ago. I want to hear the comforting voices on WTOP. I want to cross the Roosevelt Bridge out of the city and not see a black cloud towering into the heavens. I want to be in a place that understood the quietness of chaos, the taste of fear and the resolve to rebuild the gaping maw in the side of the Pentagon.

My own memories are also colored by guilt. My experience is nothing compared to those who lost loved ones, friends and colleagues. My day leaving the city was not the selfless act of first responders running up the stairs. My tears ran down a clean face, free of the ash and debris of a fallen tower. My voice mail was absent of goodbye messages from a lost plane.

10 years is such a long time. And yet the scars of 9/11 run deep and still ache easily. For me. For New York and Washington. For a nation.

My five year old is currently obsessed with playing good guys and bad guys. How do you explain the kind of bad that I couldn't even fathom until I watched the second plane hit? How do you explain that not all the good guys made it? How do you teach your children to be aware without passing on the fear?

I won't avoid the coverage forever. Tomorrow morning I will get up. I will watch and observe the moments of silence in the morning. I will pray at church. I will remember what I need to remember for me. Then, I will bring the five year old to a friend's birthday party and joyfully watch the small flames of five birthday candles flicker with the two very gifts of our freedom the terrorists most wanted to take away: hope and promise.

Despite the pain, despite the fear, despite the sadness, as long as we have hope and promise, they didn't win.

And when I go to sleep tomorrow night, that will be what I remember.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Costume Changes

Things are a bit different around here. Suddenly my one year old is in a parents' morning out program two days a week. My body clock is totally confused as I attempt to kick my brain into thinking gear at hours it normally took a break with bad reality TV, Facebook or a real book. Conversations with the hubby are jam packed with new schedules, concerns and the occasional pep talk. But we're working on the new normal. Whatever that is.

On Tuesday, it was this:

Breakfast with the kids. Everybody dressed and diaper bag packed. Library books searched out and into the library tote. Shoes found and on feet. Out the door to the library to return the books and load my shoulders down with a new stack. Walk down the street from the library to music class. Clap and dance and otherwise make a fool of myself under the guise of teaching Pumpkin the joy of music while also chasing down his older brother who had to tag along since school hasn't started yet. Cajole everyone back into the car for the ride home. Herd everyone back into the house while carrying diaper bag, library bag and whatever previously abandoned toys from the car that Peanut insists need to be brought back in the house. Feed everyone lunch. Change into skirt, blouse and heels. Kiss hubby bye as he comes home for lunch so I can attend a last minute press photo shoot. Take care of photo shoot, rush back home to send hubby back to work. Change back into shorts and t-shirt. Get a few things done during Peanut's quiet time. Play Lego's, games and read the morning's library book haul. Throw together dinner. Change into another shirt and denim skirt. Kiss the boys good night as they head for the tub. Run next door to neighborhood board meeting. Get the info I need for next neighborhood newsletter then beg out of meeting a little early. Cut through neighbor's yard, hop in the car and head out to book club. Wine, cake, conversation. Home at 11 PM.

Whew. I think I might still be recovering. But this is it. This is my new life. It's energizing and exhausting at the same time. I'm struggling with making sure that the boys and the hubby are okay, that their quality of life isn't changing. Sure, they might have to add a few tasks to their lists, but I want to make sure that I'm neglecting chores and not time with my boys. I want to avoid having to say "in a minute" or "not now." Yes, they might have to wait for mommy to finish what she's working on, but I want them to see that there is time for work and play. That mommy has special skills beyond what they experience. That doing a good job is important.

The balance is making sure that they don't ever feel that they are unimportant. Because that's not it at all. In choosing this, I am simply showing them that I am important, too. I want them to see in a day that sitting down and reading them library books is important. That daddy going to work in the morning is important. That mommy finishing a press release is important. That eating dinner together as a family is important. That mommy and daddy having time together is important. That hugs and kisses and family are important.

No matter what I'm wearing, I'm still, and will always be, their mom. And that's the most important.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I pounded the pavement hard for my first job out of college. I was moving to a new city and lacking in personal and professional contacts. I networked when possible, I scoured the relevant trade want ads and, finally, came across what ended up being my first professional job.

After that, my professional moves were all part of the it's not what you know but who you know cliche. And boy, did that make life easier.

Here I am, five years removed from the working world and that who you know thing still rings true. A friend convinced me to meet with her husband, whose start-up company is growing quickly and in need of some PR help. She assured me he was interested in someone part-time, was open to a work at home arrangement and all I had to do was hear him out.

I walked into that meeting expecting one of two things: it would 1) be a few writing assignments here and there and a great way to keep my toes in the water or 2) be a bad fit - no harm, no foul.

What ended up happening was me walking out of an office building, my head spinning at the incredibly exciting opportunity that was presented to me.

Now I find myself, a few short weeks later, employed again. I'm knee deep in babysitter interviews and background materials. I'm floundering my way through how to organize my day and wondering if the laundry will ever be folded again.

The thing is, I wasn't planning on going back. This was supposed to be the year of ramping up to the on-ramp. The year of planning and exploring and deciding. Instead, I find myself thrown back into the deep end.

And the strange thing about it? I am loving it. Sure, we've only just begun, but it's exciting. It's new. It's challenging. It's mine.

The most awesome part of the whole thing has been the overwhelming support I've received. My family and friends have encouraged me, talked me off the ledge when the panicked "what abouts" came up and stoked my confidence when it wavered. Knowing that I have such a fantastic network of support (lead by the uber supportive hubby) to back me up made taking this leap of faith a lot easier.

So if I'm a bit absent from this space, be patient. I'm sure I'll have lots of new stories to share as I navigate this new work/life tightrope. And for all of you experienced working mamas - feel free to share your best bits of advice for me. I could use all the help I can get!

In the meantime, I'll be dusting off my heels. Time to put them back to work.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Dear Peanut:

This morning, you woke up five years old.


Five years ago, I snuggled your mushy littleness under my chin and breathed you in. Today, you wrap your gangly arms and legs around me. Five years ago, you whimpered. Today, you demand, and sometimes sweet talk. Five years ago, you sighed. Today, you chatter. Five years ago, you lay, swaddled and small, still but for those newborn snuffles and gasps. Today, you are in constant motion. Five years ago, I had no clue what to expect. Today, I have no clue what to expect.

You are willful and smart. You hate not being good at something, but beam pride when you finally master a new skill. You are a coloring fool lately. You constantly have your nose in a book and have pretty much taught yourself to read. You love games of all kinds. You are currently obsessed with hide and seek, but you lack any kind of patience in hiding and will giggle and wiggle loudly until someone finds you. You are your brother's teacher, which is adorable when you take him by the hand and attempt to teach him a new word, not so cute when you show him how to blow bubbles in his milk at the dinner table or tease out screams in the middle of the grocery store.

I have so much I want to say to you, but somehow can't piece together to say to you tonight. This week has been full of distractions and I feel them cluttering my mind. So instead of attempting to write my typical sappy birthday love note to you, I am going to log off, sneak into your room, move the books piled up in your bed, straighten the sheet you manage to twist into a knot, push the hair off your forehead and whisper another "I love you" in your ear. It's all I can think of to say. It's all I can think of to feel. It's all I can think of to do. To love you.

Because the you of five years ago and the you of today are the same you, the essence of you, the soul of you. Despite the struggles, the daily frustrations, the butting of heads, the you that is you is the you that I will love five years ago, today and forever.

Happy Birthday, Peanut.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Living a Dream

Back in high school, we all had ambitious dreams, didn't we? As teenagers, life looms large and long in front of us. It's our time to dream big, enjoy life and consider "consequences" the result of a missed curfew.

At the same time, it's one of the most difficult times in our lives. Reality is starting to sink in. We recognize flaws in ourselves and the adults in our lives. We begin to question why and find that the truth we so desperately seek often hurts and disappoints. We might dream our big, fantastic dreams, but there is a part of us that is calculating college choices and realizing that accountant, restaurant manager or cubicle resident might be closer to reality.

Last week, I had the opportunity to see an old high school pal. We were in band together. He was a drummer. You could just tell he was simply passing through school to get it over with. He wanted to be a musician. And we all saw it in him. Although, part of me probably wondered if it wasn't another one of the dreams we all dream that will eventually get shelved while we're busy looking for something to do to pay the rent.

But, you see, he dreamed bigger than I ever could. He had a passion. One that he never lost sight of. One that allowed for opportunity. One that rewarded him. Fast forward 17 years to last week: I watched someone I have known for so long I can't remember when exactly we met live a dream like it was just another Thursday night. Only it wasn't. It was a packed venue, screaming fans, an album that was number two on the Billboard charts. I watched as he played that drum set with passion, vigor and pure joy. Happiness bubbled up in me in a way I didn't expect. He did it. He spends each and every day living his dream.

Before seeing him in the concert hall, I ran into him this past April in the grocery store when I was back home. He had his little girl with him who has the most beautiful, infectious smile that you couldn't help but feel pure joy in its glow. When he's not touring and being a rock star, he's a stay at home dad, a self-professed Mr. Mom. He's done what I try each and every day to have the courage to do - be a parent while pursuing a dream.

As I watched him on stage, the same infectious smile as his daughter's on his face, I was inspired. Inspired again to follow my own dreams. Inspired to not let reality kill the passion for writing that lurks in the shadow of my day-to-day mom life. More importantly, I was inspired to be a parent who will support my children to follow their own dreams. To live the life they can only imagine. To do whatever it is that will illicit the genuine joy smiles I witness on their baby faces.

Whether it's being a musician or an accountant, a thinker or a doer, I am inspired to be the parent who delivers them to their dreams so that I never, ever lose sight of those smiles.

So congratulations, Matt, on your success. And thank you.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Low Moments in Parenting

I admit that I have had my moments of judging other parents. Noticing a kid under a certain age drinking a soda might make me cringe. Watching a consistently rude child on the playground might make me wonder if they're the kid of the dad/mom/nanny on his/her cell phone oblivious to the scene around them. Seeing a child swatted publicly makes me uncomfortable and I wonder if it's more than spanking at home.

Is it right? Recognizing parenting behavior that contradicts my own style and disagreeing with it is certainly okay. The judgey, sometimes sanctimonious "well, I'd never" that I admittedly feel in those situations, yeah, not so good. But we've all been there, right? I'm fairly confident I'm not alone in taking a modicum of pleasure at someone else's parenting nightmare's least it's not my kid throwing all the groceries out of the cart. (Tell me I'm not alone in this.)

But lately, it is my kid.

Pumpkin has a horrible habit of randomly screaming. More accurately, of screeching a sound akin to getting your hand stuck in a door while biting ants nibble at your ankles and pigeons peck at your hair. It's a blood curdling, no spinning it, scream.

It's bad enough at home where a screech might pierce the air when his older brother takes a toy. Lately, however, it's become very public. There was the restaurant while we were on vacation where I spent most of the meal outside with the toddler so his overtired screams would not disturb the other diners. There was leaving the Children's Museum where Pumpkin voiced his displeasure at leaving with bursts of screeches I so desperately tried to ignore while hustling us out the door.

Then, this morning, there was the botched set of errands. The library visit was chaotic, with screaming ensuing every time I tried to distract Pumpkin from pulling a set of Caldecott winners off the shelf or running through the vertical blinds at the picture window. Perhaps my first mistake was thinking a change of scenery would help, but we braved the trip to Party City to pick up a few supplies for Peanut's upcoming 5th birthday party.

It started so well. I kept my energy level high. A nice grandmotherly type complimented how cute the kids were as we strapped Pumpkin into the cart. Then, at aisle two, the screeching commenced. I heard someone gasp. The same grandmotherly type said something to the effect of "He's not messing around." I tried to distract. I tried to cajole. I firmly told him no. And then he screeched on aisle three when he couldn't reach the balls, then screeched when he dropped the ball, then screeched when I tried to hustle us to the next stop in the store. Finally, the store manager peaked down the aisle and asked if everything was okay.

Needless to say, we got the heck out of dodge. We were in the store for a total of 10 minutes.

I drove home in tears.

What do you do when you're that mom of that kid? How do you explain that you've tried time outs? You only run errands when the kids are well rested, fed and normally happy? You do everything you possibly can to make the experience pleasant and the kid screams like that simply because he sees a baseball across the store and I turned the cart the wrong way? I'm at the point where I want to beg those people for help. If you know so much better, then please, tell me. Help me. Make it stop.

But I can't. Or I don't. Instead, I simply feel defeated every time I strap the kids back into their car seats, my errands incomplete, my dignity shuffling along a few paces behind. It makes me question whether I've got the right stuff for this gig.

I know this too shall pass. Eventually, I'll figure out what works or Pumpkin will grow out of it or he'll start a new trend and everyone will start screeching like banshees at random moments in public (the next flash mob trend anyone?). Until then, I think I'll stock up on earplugs and become a hermit since we obviously can't leave our house.

On the upside, I'm providing a public service. Some other mother at the library or Party City might have been having a bad day today and instead left thinking at least that's not her kid.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sand, Water, Repeat

Nearly two weeks ago now, the boys and I tagged along with the hubby to see the final space shuttle launch. The hubby was covering it for work and had prime viewing from the Kennedy Space Center press site. We, however, stuck close to our hotel to avoid the crowds and watched from a Cracker Barrel parking lot about 15 miles west of the launch pad. Gotta say, it was still awesome, inspiring and breathtaking. I'm so glad that we did it and that the boys can say they were there for such an historic moment.

One of the hubby's pictures of liftoff from KSC.

Since we were already in Florida, we took the opportunity to spend a few days at the beach after the launch. Once we had lugged all the gear two kids and two adults appear to need for a few hours of fun in the surf and set up the sun tent and applied all the sunscreen, we had a blast. At one point, I simply leaned back on my elbows, my toes digging down into the warm, sun baked sand and watched.

I watched as my boys were digging moats, building roads, running in the surf, peering in crab holes, examining shells. There was endless entertainment and all they had at their disposal was sand, water, a shovel, a bucket and their parents. I didn't hear "I want to go home," "I'm bored," "what can I dooooo?" or the killer, "when can I watch TV?" These thoughts never crossed their minds. They were in love and having a blast.

My dad and his six siblings, grew up in a small New England mill town. My grandfather repaired sewing machines. Certainly he wasn't pulling in the big bucks and providing for seven children couldn't have been easy. And yet my grandparents had a "place" on Martha's Vineyard. Granted this place was not much more than a shack and didn't have hot water, but my aunts and uncles all have fond memories of summers on the island.

As a mom of two active boys, now I get it. I get why my grandmother would have packed up a summer's worth of stuff, ridden a ferry and committed to caring for seven kids alone with only her husband as back-up on the weekends for the long stretch of summer. Outside play all day, tired bodies in bed at night, kids using their imaginations to create fun, making new friends, appreciating the simple, yet majestic, aspects of nature.

I wish that little shack was still in the family. I wish I could pitch a tent on a tiny square of its yard and live the summer in a state of hazy, salty glee with my kids. I wish my toes were still in the sand.

In the absence of a small fortune to buy some beach front property, I'll just have to settle for planning another trip to the shore in a few months.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Raising Men

With two boys and a husband, I am most certainly outnumbered in this house. It's not usually a big deal - trucks and Legos are a-okay with me, getting dirty is no big deal and not having to buy into or struggle against the princess thing is a total plus.

There are some issues, of course, mostly related to privacy. The Y family changing room is a bit of a challenge after pool time and women's public restrooms are nearing awkward as Peanut closes in on 5.

I am also conscious of stereotypes, particularly when it comes to reading and the creative arts. I don't want my boys to ever hear that it's okay that he doesn't try in English because reading is just not a guy thing. Instead, I do my best to encourage books and storytelling, the craft cabinet is always available to Peanut and no task or job has ever been labeled just for boys or girls in this house.

Surprisingly, the toy catalogs that arrived at Christmas time posed a bit more of a challenge. The traditionally labeled boy and girl toys were designated by blue or pink tabs on the page layout. Sure, most boys would probably pick a Thomas toy over a Barbie doll, but the play kitchens or building sets? Who is to say that a boy can't whip up some pretend cookies or that a girl can't design a fabulous house out of an erector set? I hated Peanut flipping over to the play house pages and saying "That kitchen is a girl's toy. See, it's on the pink page." That took some explaining, but the fact of the matter is I can't monitor every message that enters his world.

Peanut is still at that happy age when all things are equal, when society and history and cultural influences haven't colored his thoughts about the opposite sex or skin pigmentation. I want him to hold onto that as long as possible, to see the soul, the good, the person and not the trappings of a society that so often decides who can be good enough. I struggle with this when he says things like, "Daddy's work and mommy's stay home" simply because that is what I'm doing now. We talk a lot about mommy "working" on the computer (when I'm actually writing, not when I'm sneaking a Facebook status). The pressure of raising future men that will respect women as equals in their classrooms, relationships and workplaces is real to me.

So earlier this week, we watched the USA take on France in the World Cup. He cheered, he chanted USA, he was thrilled that we won. Today, we sat down as a family to watch the finals. We talked about how fast the women were. How much time they must practice. How hard they were playing. We cheered them on and were disappointed when they came up short.

Although it was a heartbreaking loss, for a moment, the US was focused on women's achievements, and we weren't surprised to be doing so. We marveled at their skill, their physicality, their teamwork. The game was remarkably respectful with fantastic sportsmanship on both sides and little evidence of personal ego. It was a joy to watch.

Yes, I am glad that girls around the country have strong, female, athlete role models to look up to. I just hope that it's okay if my boys look up to you, too.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Self Defined

I am many things to many people. On the top layer I am wife, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law, friend. I have been worker, commuter, traveler, producer, sales person, account manager, colleague. In the minutia I am dishwasher, laundress, chauffeur, dresser, diaper changer, schedule wrangler, maid, chef, errand runner, UNO dealer, night-night kisser.

The word that defines me the most, the me me, the inside dreamer soul me is the word I am most unlikely to utter. The word that has whispered to me in the dark since I was seven years old. The word that has most inspired, scared, thrilled me. It is the word I have been holding onto since I stopped working. The word that lingers, tempts and pulls me forward through the day-to-day drudgery that often makes up the stay at home mom life.

I worry that I sometimes put too much pressure on the word. That I've put all my faith in my future accomplishments on it. That somehow I use it to give my ego a crutch at this time in my life when I don't have the external, third party career successes to provide that self-esteem boost.

And then, I fell into a conversation with a stranger at the nail salon as we both waited for our pedicures to dry, our feet propped under the fan bar. She, too, has two boys, now 33 and 36. She asked if I worked. We joked about boys and their energy and the life of a stay at home mom. She admitted how going back part time when her youngest started kindergarten was a life saver for her. And then, I took a deep, conscious breath and said it. Out loud. I tried it on and owned it. For 10 minutes. To a stranger. And the result was a fascinating conversation that buoyed me for the rest of the day.

I am a writer.

It is the truth. It is a dream. It is me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Silver Linings

After nearly five years at this parenting gig, there are a few things I have figured out. Picking your battles is paramount. Your child's behavior typically has a source - hunger, boredom, fatigue, frustration (to name a few) - and the quicker you can figure it out, the better. And my children are always their best selves when they spend time, as much time as possible, outside.

Living in Atlanta is certainly a positive when it comes to outside time during the dark days of winter. The mild weather allows us to take advantage of our neighborhood's playground and area parks throughout the year. The trouble with summer, however, is that it can get too hot. If we don't play outside somewhere in the morning, I don't have it in me to tackle the playground in the 90+ degree afternoon heat.

This afternoon, I had to pack them up for a quick grocery store run before dinner. When we returned, Pumpkin was practically pulling me down the hill from our front walk to the playground across the street. Even though they'd had some great playground play this morning, I decided to suck it up, put my own tired bones aside and off we went.

Balancing two kids with two totally different skill levels at the park can be tough. We tried some frisbee action in the field, but pretty soon Pumpkin was having none of it. I managed to convince Peanut to join us on the playground, where he promptly fell off the monkey bars. Mommy was there to pick up the pieces and put his confidence back together, once it was apparent there were no major injuries, but I was contractually bound to watch whatever jumping game he had just devised.

And while Peanut was mid-bounce, that's when I heard Pumpkin start crying. It wasn't the hey, mommy, pay attention to me cry. It wasn't the somebody help me cause I can't reach cry. It wasn't even the I was running too fast and fell down cry. It was the I. AM. HURT. cry.

I immediately rushed to his side and couldn't see anything obvious at first - he was standing, there wasn't any blood, all his limbs were attached. Then I saw it. A small red dot near his temple that was beginning to swell around it.

My baby's first bee (wasp? something?) sting.

He's fine. Mama's fine. But our impromptu attempt to get through the witching hour despite my better instincts? I want to say it was a fail, but to be honest, the outside time, albeit brief, helped their moods immensely. And when I was done putting the baking soda paste on Pumpkin's head, Peanut came over and gently gave his little brother a kiss on the head.

That certainly took the sting out.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

If These Walls Could Talk

I'm not sure if it's my father in me or the writer in me, but I love houses. I love the stories behind them, in them, of them. It pains me to see homes torn down to make way for new buildings. I know it's necessary and certainly, a lot of times, warranted. But I can't help but think of the lives lived within those walls, the phone calls to friends, tears shed over losses, the slam of the door as someone rushes home to celebrate triumphs, the sweat shed pulling weeds or painting bedrooms, the dents in walls caused by overzealous children, the quiet shuffling steps down halls with new born babies.

When we lived in New England (before my dad was transferred to NC when I was five), we were friends with the "O" family. Their daughter, D was my age and we had numerous play dates and family gatherings. When I was in first or second grade, D got on the phone during one of our mothers' touch base phone calls to ask me to be her pen pal. It was for a school project, ostensibly to practice their handwriting, but we kept it up through high school. I dropped in and saw her one summer when we were in New England visiting family and I was still in college, I think. Thanks to Facebook, we're back in touch after losing contact somewhere after college. She has two boys, too, and lives on the west coast now.

D recently commented through Facebook on this post. She was apparently preparing for her annual summer trip with her kids back East. I jokingly told her to say hi to the old house for me. She did - by posting a picture of the old homestead on my wall:

After a quick search on Zillow, I realized the house hasn't changed hands since my parents sold it in 1982. It looks better than it did the last time we drove by, several years ago. And so I have been wondering who bought it? Did they raise children here? Why the recent updates (other Google sleuthing shows a dumpster outside the house during the Street View shots - apparently renovations done relatively recently)?

The house was originally built as a fire station in 1888. And so I have been wondering when did it become a home? How many different families have lived inside its walls? How fleeting of residents we were, compared to its long history.

My first real memories were in this house. I remember big events, of course, like cutting the tip of my finger off during the "sandbox building incident," dripping blood on the kitchen floor, waiting for my parents to grab the car keys to take me to the ER. A few errant drops permanently stained a few places on the floor by the back door. The time a car took the turn at the corner and a little girl fell from the moving car (always lock your doors and make sure your kids are in their seat belts, people) and my mom rushing to help.

I remember having a conversation with my dad in the back yard one fall while he was doing yard work, concerned that Santa would not be able to fit through the tiny chimney from our wood stove. I remember hiding in the thickness of the blueberry bushes in the backyard, and picking fresh berries for blueberry pancakes. I remember mom cursing the bunnies who kept eating the strawberries we planted. I remember wiffle ball games in the back yard. I remember squishing caterpillars on the blacktop driveway. I remember "men falling from sky" (we could see the parachute exercises from the nearby Army base).

I remember dressing like a clown one Halloween and my mom reminding me to keep my heavily made up face away from the couch and then promptly falling asleep, my rouged cheek staining a spot (oops). I remember following my dad and Uncle B up to the "bell tower" attic (the turret where the bell once hung for the fire department) and my uncle making some joke about bats in the belfry, only I didn't get the joke and forever was afraid there were actual bats in our house. I remember my bedroom with the red curtains (the first two windows on the second floor on the right hand side), my dad's closet of a home office with his drafting table crammed in it so that you couldn't open the door all the way if he was sitting in the chair.

I remember "shaving" with my dad in the home's one bathroom. I remember painting Snoopy paint-by-number Christmas ornaments with my mom while my infant sister was taking an unprecedented nap. I remember watching "The Wizard of Oz" one night with dad while my mom was working nights. I remember the wide curved wooden stairs. I remember sitting at a window on the stairwell and realizing that my eyes actually moved inside my head, that it wasn't just my head moving (weird, but revolutionary revelation for a four year old).

If I remember that much about a short time living in a house, I wonder what my kids will remember of this house? Our current house is not our forever house. It's entirely too small for two young boys as it is, not to mention two raucous school-aged boys and (help me) two teenage boys and their gaggle of friends. We have no plans to leave now, but occasionally, I find myself fingering the dent in the wall a thrown train made or remembering the spot where Peanut took his first steps or realizing how the step on the front porch has been home to waiting for daddy, popsicles and last night's water bubble contest (might as well put our eldest's obsession with blowing bubbles through a straw to competitive use, no?). I try to mentally snapshot these memories so that when the boys grow up and say "remember when..." I, too, will fondly remember the first house that they do.

I hope we are doing this house proud. Despite it's failings and my constant desire to knock down walls or refinish surfaces or add on, it's more than a house. It's part of the family. It's home.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fever Phobia

Peanut's had a cough for the last couple of days. It hasn't been too frequent, he's had no other symptoms and he's been acting normal.

Then, this morning, he started running a low grade fever.


Fevers for me make me question every little thing about my kids' behavior, attitude, activity level, food consumption, etc... I think it stems back to my parents typically taking the line that you're fine unless you have a fever. So when my kids have a fever, I tend to think, oops, something must be WRONG. I do this with myself as well and am constantly asking the hubby to check and see if I feel warm when I've got a bug. And, probably 90 percent of the time, I don't.

Most of my fever paranoia was dissipated during Peanut's toddlerhood. He was constantly coming down with mystery fevers that had no other symptoms. He was once diagnosed with a "fever virus," whatever the heck that is. During that time period, my pediatrician comforted me with the wisdom that a fever means a body is fighting something, it's a good sign and is not, in and of itself, cause for worry.

So, this morning, armed with the knowledge that my kid's fever was only in the low 99s, I put him in his swim suit and took him to swim lessons.

Does this make me a bad mom?

All I know is that he was acting fine, wanted to go and actually did great during his swim lessons. To make myself feel better, I did speak to the nurses line at my pediatrician's office later and they think it sounds like a tiny cold and unless he's at 101 for 3 days in a row, we're doctor's-office-visit free.

Meanwhile, I'm restraining myself from checking his head too often and whipping out the thermometer too many times. The last thing I want is to give him the idea, by asking too many times how he feels, that he can use that as a ploy to get out of stuff in the future.

It's bad enough kids are like petri dishes passing along all their germs, I don't need to add to the equation by passing along my own phobias.

And yes, Y parents, barring any increase in symptoms and/or fever, we'll be back in the pool tomorrow. After all, he probably caught it from one of your kids anyway.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dreams of Summers Past

Summer often makes me nostalgic for my grandparents. Growing up 700 miles away meant we didn't see them but once a year. BUT, once a year, we spent a week or two there in the summer, often just my sister and me. I don't know if the 24/7 nature of those visits made up the distance difference, but I felt close to my grandparents. Maybe because I loved their place as much as they did.

My grandparents lived in a nondescript house on a pond in Tiverton, Rhode Island. I loved everything about it. The crunch of crushed clam shells in the driveway. The rickety tire swing in the front yard. The splotches of dehydrated moss on the boulders bubbling up in the back yard. The damp, dusty scent and clammy painted cement floor under my feet in the basement. The picture of one of my aunts as a teenager in a bathing cap, up on water skis, a smile as big as joy itself on her face. The sliver of beach and splintery pier perched on an outcropping of rocks. I loved the carefreeness of spending our days in the water, on the boat, in the sun. It was coffee ice cream before dinner, Red Sox games on TV and my sister, cousin and I taking turns with the mousse and curlers in my grandmother's hair (always the night before she was due to have it done at the salon). There was a satisfying heaviness that would overtake our bones at the end of the day as we finally crawled beneath the nubby white comforter on the bed.

This place spoke so much to me and I still am not sure why. Was it simply the beauty of place? Was it that I was away from the routine, the mundane? Was it the company of cousins? Was it the ever present sound of laughter? Was it the unconditional love and "go outside and play" attitude of my grandparents?

My grandparents have been on my mind a lot lately either because it's summer and I'm nostalgic for our yearly trips, I want to share the magic of their place with my boys, or if it's my heart's annual tug towards the water.

It could be because today would have been their 70th wedding anniversary. They made it to their 62nd anniversary before my grandpa passed in 2003, my grandma not long after in the summer of 2004.

Whatever it is, there is a part of my soul that yearns for Tiverton, for childhood, for raucous family clam boils, bawdy jokes shared in whispers amongst the "adults" that ended in gales of laughter traveling across the pond, clam cakes and lobster rolls at Evelyn's, days spent without television, the smell of pond water in my hair as I drifted off to sleep.

My grandparents and summer days spent at their house were my lighthouse growing up. They somehow showed the way back to a quiet part of me that often got lost in the noisy day-to-day. I always felt at peace and whole after a trip there. My parents recognized it and sent me there as a college graduation gift. My husband recognized it and we often planned vacations that included a trip to New England.

Although I've been to visit family in New England in recent years, it's been a long time since I've been back to the pond. In fact I don't think I've been back since my grandmother's funeral. Maybe this pull I'm feeling is my grandparents silently lighting the beacon for me again, shining the way to stillness. With all the changes in the last six years, my inner me yearns to recalibrate, to dip my toes back in the murky waters of Sawdy Pond, to watch the light play on the water for awhile, to listen to the sound of children's laughter roll down the lawn. Only this time it would be my children.

Looks like it might be time to check the fare sales.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mama Needs a Business Trip

After a week away with the boys, I came home chanting: "I need another vacation." Once you have kids, the current wisdom says, you don't really have a vacation, merely a change in location. While adults can easily blow off daily routines or postpone a meal or simply lounge on a beach all day, the kids don't react well to too many skipped naps, meal times are sacred and to be adhered to at all costs and lounging? Ha!

Although there is something to be said for a change in location. The boys loved all the attention, exploring new things and playing in a different environment. Mama, however, was exhausted after juggling a variety of visits, entertaining the kiddos and trying to keep them out of the way of the contractors working to reassemble my parents' kitchen. I had a great time, but R&R? Not so much.

As the sibling squealfest during dinner reached decibel levels that should require protective ear wear, I announced that I needed a vacation without you know who and who. Then it dawned on me, I don't need a vacation. I need a business trip.

An unplugged plane ride with US Weekly, dinner and drinks with interesting people talking about a variety of topics (I was lucky to have great clients), an expense account, a quiet hotel room where someone else makes the bed, no one to raise an eyebrow at my mindless TV choices, coffee and the newspaper in the morning without interruption.

I never would have thought that one day, a business trip could feel like a vacation.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vacation from the Ordinary

I am in the midst of a week in NC with the boys. By myself. At my parents' house. Which is in the throes of a kitchen renovation. And my folks are at work all day. Did I mention I was by myself?

I dubbed the trip "Camp NC" for Peanut and we made t-shirts and a travel journal for him to fill with all the fun things we're doing this week. We have included a trip to the Asheboro Zoo (where mama got to feed a giraffe!) and various play dates and meals with family around town.

Although catching up with everyone is crazy and remembering to wash out the sippy cups in the bathroom has been challenging, I am having a blast with my boys. Removing myself from the day-to-day tasks of laundry and meal planning and meal making and cleaning up and car pooling and Twitter and rewrites, I have found the fun again. There is just time for play. No distractions.

Sure, I have play time with the kids during a regular week, but there are mental to-do lists piling up while I deal the seventh game of Uno with Peanut. Or there is the (ahem) "play time" in the laundry basket with Pumpkin while I'm folding laundry. Or the "just give me a minute" responses when I'm trying to finish that last email or make one more phone quick call.

This week, it's just been travel bingo, soccer balls, playgrounds, jokes, checkers, cuddle time and giggles. I haven't felt the need to yell once. I'm watching the boys learn to play together in a way that is new to them, too. I recognize it as the way my sister and I would play at my grandparents' house. No matter how entrenched in a violent cycle of sibling rivalry we were in during the car ride up or at home for weeks before ever departing, we would silently put aside those differences and enjoy each other's company making up new games, boating with Poppa or playing hide and seek with our cousins. My boys are so little it's not sibling rivalry they are putting aside, but more accurately, they are finally recognizing the playmates they have in each other when all their own distractions of home are missing.

I'm so glad I decided to make this trip. I'm even happier that we timed it when we did. The last day of school was last week and the summer stretches out long in front of us. Perhaps the lessons we are learning on this trip will inspire the rest of our summer. More play. Less worry. More focus on the moment. Less looking ahead. More joy in each other. Less looking for the flaws.

If this week is any indication, I think it's going to be a great summer.

Although, according to Mommy's Law, I probably just jinxed myself, didn't I?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Confessions From the Mall

I had to go to the mall yesterday. I really try to avoid the mall as much as possible. At Christmas, I consider it a defeat if I have to go to one. I'd much rather shop online in my slippers than battle the traffic, the crowds and the awful fitting room lighting.

I, like most of my peers, spent my early teens hanging out at the mall on any given Saturday afternoon. It was how we girl-dated: spending time with our pals, test-driving different styles at a variety of clothing stores, comparing musical tastes at the record store, stopping for a snack at the cookie place or Orange Julius, checking out who else was there and whom they were with.

I spent my later teen years working at the mall. The retail life is where the mall officially lost its luster and mystery for me. Anonymous dressing rooms where you could try on a different personality in just your size were now dressing rooms I had to clean. Rows and rows of pretty colored tops were now my responsibility to fold. Necklaces and earrings that provided endless giggles in front of mirrors as we dangled them in front of our chests and ears were now my job to untangle.

There were moments of relative fun. The guys at Subway new my regular order. I always got the first look at new merchandise before it hit the floor. I was a pro at recognizing the tricks of the shoplifting trade and although I never caught a particular "customer" (I use the term loosely since she wasn't actually buying the clothes she attempted to procure) she figured out I was on to her and moved her operation to another store down the hall. The record store across the aisle from one store I worked at would crank up the music after close. There were many a night that cleaning and closing out receipts was made more enjoyable by a bit of ear splitting Prince or Bon Jovi or Janet Jackson.

Now, however, the mall is simply a symbol of all my insecurities. The post-babies body makes fitting rooms a nightmare as I need three sizes in every item to see which is going to fit. There is either no consistency in my body or stores are just trying to mess with my mind since I haven't been one size since my last maternity sized "M" 18 months ago. Then there is the sticker shock insecurity. I had no qualms buying nice clothes or splurging on a hand bag when I was making my own money. Now that it's the hubby's paycheck that's keeping our finances afloat, I have a hard time justifying spending on myself, even when it's something I actually need.

And then there is the quandary of my day-to-day SAHM style? I find on gal's night out or date night I'm typically stumped on what to wear since everything I own is either Target/Old Navy casual or much fancier fare that's not quite movie and cocktails appropriate. Old Navy and Target seems to suffice on most days, until I see a classmate's mom looking fabulous in her head-to-toe designer outfit while I'm rocking the generic Target T and overworn Gap jeans.

Yesterday, however, I had to suck it up. I needed a few decent tops that weren't boyfriend T's and was looking for a few special pieces for a personal project I'm working on (more on that later this summer). Somehow, I handed over my credit card on pieces that I still think are somewhat ridiculous (although not enough to bring them back). How dare I spend this much of the hubby's money on outfits for a potential project? Was I being egotistical? Is it hubris to put the cart before the horse? Was I attempting to buy confidence?

These are all questions I pondered as I sat across from my bag of purchases, munching on a salad from a cafe near the Crate & Barrel (if there is one thing I like less than malls, it's food courts). Maybe it's time I stop ignoring the holes in my wardrobe and make an attempt to define myself. There's got to be something between the suits I used to wear and today's t-shirts and jeans.

They say to dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

Now, if only I could figure out what that was.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Team Redshirt

The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go" has been on repeat in my brain. Oh so much more than an earworm. It's been a constant back and forth, back and forth since Peanut was three and started preschool.

Should he start kindergarten when he was eligible in 2011 or should we hold him back until the 2012 school year?

His birthday is August 10th and in these parts, his birthday consistently lands during the first week of school. Technically, a child need only be 5 on or before September 1st. Peanut meets this requirement by a couple of weeks. But this year, school starts on August 8th. He would be 4 when school starts. It just didn't sit right with me.

And, then, I read "Outliers." Yikes!

It's not uncommon for folks, especially where we live, to keep their barely five year olds out of kindergarten for a year. Yet still, I waffled. Peanut is academically ready for school. He has a natural interest in letters and numbers and excels in this area. I have no doubt in my mind that he'll be reading before he sets foot in our school's primary center if we hold him out a year. We haven't pushed him in this area, we simply followed the lead on his interests and here we are. Maybe we should send him so he can continue to be challenged? Would he be bored with another year of preschool? He should definitely go to kindergarten.

But socially? Emotionally? Well, that's another story. This kid is nowhere near ready. He's not bad. He's not a disruptive student. He's simply him - a four year old boy. He focuses when he needs to, but in the downtime between tasks or while walking down the hall, he's all over the place - along with most of the other boys in his class. He's fidgety and doesn't always want to wait his turn, especially when he knows the right answer. He likes to try to tell other students how to do a project. He should definitely not go to kindergarten.

Yes, he's confident, and I love that about him. He's naturally curious and quickly grasps new concepts. But what if we send him and his inability to sit still makes him a discipline problem? Would this stifle his curiosity? Would this bias a teacher negatively towards him? Would he be able to make friends with students who are older than him, or will they bypass him for slightly more mature play mates? And what about when he's in older grades and barely 14 going into high school?

Ironically, one of the first projects I did for the PR firm I worked for was a story for the National Institutes of Mental Health on whether children were socially and emotionally ready for school. I love it when my working life and my mothering life intersect in such a concrete way.

Our parental instincts, our son's preschool teacher recommendations, my educator aunt's perspective and my experience with the NIMH report all pointed us in one direction: we are holding Peanut out of kindergarten this fall. He, and most of his summer birthday preschool classmates, will attend a special pre-K class designed for these older kids at his preschool. He's got the rest of his life to spend in school, what's one more year of preschool and afternoons of playtime?

Do I still wonder if maybe he would do okay in kindergarten next year? Sure. Do I think we're making the right decision anyway? Definitely.