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?

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.

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.

Of Love and Roller Coasters

Twenty years ago today, I met the person who would change my life forever.

I was 15 years old. Enjoying my final days as a freshman, I was finally feeling the groove after that awkward transition from middle school where you share the halls with 11 year olds to high school with its lockers and football games and 18 year olds who seem to have their whole worlds figured out (what little I knew).
I was a band geek. Have I mentioned this before? I must have. I played flute. Later, I’d move on to twirling the flags for marching band. Did it make me a nerd? Maybe. Did I love every minute of it? Yup. The freshman band took a fun field trip each year to an amusement park. I think it was the director’s way of making up for the fact that the 10-12th grade band went on a spring break trip each year to places like New York and Disney World. The trip was also planned for prom weekend, so it was a win-win for us lowly frosh with nothing better to do on the biggest social weekend of the high school scene.
A senior came along that year. A cute drummer who apparently was skipping his senior prom because the girl he took the year before had made up with her boyfriend the week prior to prom and he was suddenly a third wheel. With no clear girlfriend to take his senior year, he simply skipped and joined the young band director on the freshman band trip as a sort of chaperon.
Just typing this is weird. I feel like it should all start with “Dear Diary” or some other youthful affect.
So, this cute guy somehow is tagging along with our group as we head towards a roller coaster line. Come to find out, he’s got a bit of a fear of heights. I tease him about this mercilessly. Why not? A fun, easy flirtation with a cute guy? Someone who is older and won’t remember me in a week anyway? Might as well make the most of the trip.
I had a great time that day. I was young and confident and enjoying a warm afternoon with friends. I seemed to have the attention of a cute, older, more mysterious boy. I was several seats behind him on the bus ride home and must have stared a hole into the back of his head wondering if he’d turn around. Willing him to turn around. Wishing he would just turn around.
I saw him occasionally in school over the next few weeks. He was around the day I tried out for color guard. We hung out a bit at the combined bands end of year picnic. And then, just before graduation, he called and asked me out.
Twenty years later, I’m married to the man that grew from that cute, older, mysterious boy. I see glimpses of that boy in our two boys sometimes. A certain twinkle in their eyes. A slight dimple in a cheek when they laugh. A glance over their shoulders when they are laughing. They all bring me back to those early days of our youthful courtship, when everything was carefree and fresh.
It’s harder now. Life and kids make marriage a challenge. It’s not as easy as a mix tape and movie anymore. It’s scheduling time together. It’s heart to hearts in the middle of the night when all the distractions and emotional armor are finally gone. It’s babysitters and reservations.
The first time I hugged him, back at that band picnic in 1991 using some excuse like “good luck with graduation if I never see you again” it felt like coming home. There was something different in that brief and casual embrace that clicked inside my soul. Even now, when the days and weeks are hard, it only takes a hug for me to remember him, to remember the beginning, to remember that we’re in it together.
Funny that he was afraid of roller coasters – seems like we haven’t gotten off of one since that first day 20 years ago. And it’s been one helluva a good ride so far.

The Waiting Game

My sister is having her baby today. She went in for induction this morning. I had to be induced with both of my late babies, too, so I’m feeling both her figurative and literal pain. Luckily, my sister isn’t late and didn’t have to endure that unique form of psychological torture, but due to some minor complications, they did not want her to go past her due date.

The part that’s killing me is that she’s 400 miles away. I already have plans to go up for a week soon to help with the baby, but the fact that I can’t be there for her right now is driving me crazy. Of course, even if I was there, what would I be doing? Hanging out in the waiting room with my mom and my sister’s mother-in-law? I love them both, but drinking stale coffee from Styrofoam cups and watching bad TV while hoping my brother-in-law comes out with an update? Let’s just say, I’m okay with waiting for the occasional text while enjoying my weekend with my family.
Waiting on this side of things, however, does bring back a lot of memories. Peanut, my first, was 9 days late when I was induced. Our families both made the trip from North Carolina to Atlanta, arriving in the afternoon of the morning I had started my pitocin drip. By the middle of that night, with no real significant progress being made other than the fact that my water managed to break on its own, I was feeling guilty. I honestly felt bad that all those people were waiting and I wasn’t delivering. Talk about added pressure. I was inconveniencing all these people. They must be so irritated with me.
Finally, 30 hours after my pitocin started, I finally delivered my 8 pound, 13 ounce Peanut. Whew. Because my labor had taken so long, most everyone left town before we were even checked out of the hospital.
When it was time to have Pumpkin and the midwife decided we should go the induction route again, I was disappointed to not experience spontaneous labor, but was also able to call my parents to come down to look after Peanut without having to call in plans A, B, C and D of the what if I go into labor at this time or that time or when the moon is in the seventh house and jupiter is on vacation?
The second time around, there wasn’t anyone waiting. The rest of our families stayed in NC and my folks were occupying Peanut for the day. When the baby arrived, we had no one to go tell. It was a relief during the labor process to only have to make a few quick phone calls without having the hubby leave my side to visit a waiting room, but it was a bit of a let down not to have a room full of excited people. We did, however, get to spend a beautiful night just the three of us, moments that I still cherish.
Of course, today, my sister is doing all the hard work. Her latest text indicated that things were heating up, but there is still a ways to go. Me? I’ll just be waiting. Waiting to hear that everything is okay. Waiting to hear the news that my little niece is finally here. Waiting to see pictures and learn this little one’s name.
And I know that my waiting pales in comparison to the waiting my sister is enduring. But the payoff, that inexplicable moment when those strange little limbs that poked and prodded you the last several months from the inside are snug in your arms as you look into your child’s eyes for the first time? Totally worth the wait.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The Peanut has a birthday party to go to this afternoon and in true where did the week go fashion, we were standing in our local, totally awesome variety store trying to pick out a gift this morning between mama’s workout and lunch. Was I pushing it? A little bit. Did I have much of a choice? Not really.

Unfortunately, I was stroller-less having swapped the single stroller to the hubby’s car last week. As a result, I was attempting to wrangle a very curious 18 month old while also trying to focus a four year old into selecting a gift for his friend. Pumpkin became more and more touchy feely and thought it was a fun game to run down one aisle to hide in another. I had to pick him up.
Cue the screaming and the screeching!
Pumpkin has found his voice and when he’s angry, it’s typically on loud. The good news: he’s developmentally right on schedule with his tantrums. I tried my best to distract him, to shush him, to rush his brother along. But the screaming, the flailing. Oh, it was all just so public.
I placed him on the floor, occupied by a display of pinwheels so I could sign my receipt. He quickly found the candy display and began relieving it of roll after roll of bottle cap. I quickly scooped him back up as Peanut put the candy back and the screaming recommenced. Two older ladies were looking at cards between the register and the door giving shocked and awed looks at this screaming child. One muttered, “Oh, he’s hungry.” I responded, “Nope, he’s just 18 months old.” And we left.
But as I left, I realized I was in a lose-lose situation. Let the child free to do what he wants and I would have been the bad mommy who can’t handle her children. Keep the child from destroying the store and I was that mommy with the screaming child disrupting every one else’s shopping experience.
I try to be conscientious when I take my children out in public. I provide snacks, distractions, whatever I can do to keep them engaged with the task at hand and have perfected the art of a full week’s grocery shop to a slim 30 to 45 minutes (depending on the speed of the cashier). If I’m doing all that I can to make sure everyone else isn’t having to endure my sometimes cranky children, I wish all those ladies would give me the benefit of the doubt. Instead of “Oh, he’s hungry,” maybe a sympathetic, “We’ve all been there,” would have been more appropriate. I would have settled for “Can I get the door for you?” while I juggled a squirming 18 month old, a diaper bag, a gift and a four year old’s hand.
I, in no way, think that bad behavior by children should be tolerated in public. But when you see a mother doing the best she can do, maybe cut her a little slack. After all, her ride home and lunch preparation time will be filled by the same screaming that you endured for maybe 2 minutes. Trust me, that’s punishment and self-flagellating judgement enough without your dirty looks to add to her bad morning.
Okay, rant over. Off to find something to wrap this gift with since I left before buying any.

Filling in the Blanks

This morning was my oldest’s annual Muffins for Moms day at school. We were presented with hand made art, cards and the ubiquitous silly questionnaire – you know the one. How old is your mom, what is her favorite food, what does she say all the time, etc… Hilarity typically ensues.

Earlier in the year, since Father’s Day falls outside the school calendar, the class celebrated Donuts for Dads. I self-righteously commented at the time that I bet the mom’s questionnaire wouldn’t include the “What does Dad (or in this case Mom) do at work” question. Well, how wrong I was. In fact, today’s form did include a “When Mom goes to work, she…”
Peanut’s answer?
Wow. Talk about a wake-up call. I’ve tried to explain to Peanut that when Mommy writes that’s her work. He has a hard time understanding the concept since Daddy leaves every day and goes to an office for work at a company. I also don’t do a large amount of writing in front of him, so there are fewer opportunities to reinforce the idea of writing as Mommy’s work.
What bothers me, I realized, is less that Peanut doesn’t think I work, although that is part of it – I do want my son to grow up seeing both his mother and father contributing to the household as well as to society. Rather, the part that bothered me is that if I had to answer that question, I might say that I’m a writer, but am I?
In the past year, I have decided to put more focus on my writing. The problem is that I’m the only person to hold me accountable. When it gets hard or I get busy, it’s really easy to put the writing on the back burner. The fact is I have very little to show for my “work” right now. So the “nothing” on Peanut’s questionnaire was a bit of a slap in the face. A little too much truth from the mouths of babes.
A friend told me that no matter what, I am still a writer. Being a writer is something you just are, like being a runner (her excellent analogy, not mine). But that doesn’t mean that the words write themselves. Looks like it’s time to focus more seriously on making sure I have something to fill in that blank.
In the meantime, I am enjoying the fact that Peanut said I was 25 and when it was the hubby’s turn? He was 78. Like I said, hilarity ensues.

One Less Bad Guy

Last night, I watched in near disbelief as the networks reported in advance of President Obama’s remarks that Osama bin Laden was dead.

I admit, my initial internal monologue was a technicolor flashback to “The Wizard of Oz” and the munchkin coroner singing:

“As Coroner I must aver, I thoroughly examined her.

And she’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.”

Then a more complex set of emotions set in as the news became less speculation and more final. I felt elated and victorious for the troops that pulled off such a dangerous mission without casualties of their own or innocent bystanders. I felt sadness for those families whose loved ones perished in the very cause of searching out bin Laden and can’t share in the relief of this day. I felt fresh pain for those who lost loved ones on 9/11. And today, I am experiencing a profound loneliness that I am not in DC. I wish I could reunite with my former colleagues at 1909 K Street who huddled around TVs for days, sharing stories, offering comfort, walking in silence to church services, providing tissues for tears, filling the hours together as our work came to a standstill. It would be nice to be there with them today, closing the circle.

Jubilant crowds and burn, baby burn comments on Facebook pages have taken me aback. Taking a life is serious business – didn’t we all see that on 9/11? Rejoicing seems a bit too similar to al Qaeda trainees stomping on American flags, machine guns raised, celebrating the deaths of innocent Americans.

I’m not saying Osama was innocent. Far from it. In fact, I’m relieved that he isn’t sharing the same oxygen as the rest of the planet. Justice was served. And everyone is entitled to process today’s news in their own way. But justice and joy are two different things for me, and I’m not feeling particularly joyous.

Maybe that’s what’s bugging me most today. Shouldn’t I be happy that he’s dead? Shouldn’t I share in this swell of patriotism?

Instead, I’m having a hard time shaking the cloud that rose from the Pentagon, the silence that enveloped DC in the days following, the lump of fear that lodged itself in my gut that although diminished has never really disappeared. I feel that lump today more acutely. I feel the fresh loss of all those lives. I feel the heaviness of the knowledge a day like 9/11 provides.

After the president spoke and before I went to bed last night, I checked on the boys. I adjusted their covers, pushed their sweaty with sleep locks of hair off their foreheads and whispered my I love yous in their ears. I spent more time by their side than usual, relieved, as a mother, that there is one less bad guy out there to threaten my children.

And that’s something.

In the absence of my ability to buy a beer for all of the armed forces serving our country or to travel door-to-door to hug every family member of each fallen soldier and 9/11 victim, I will pray that our children never know the fear of 9/11. May they never choke on the ash of a disintegrating building. May they never have the horrific images of a plane disappearing into a building burned into their brains. May they always see heroism in helping one another. May they always see patriotism in dissenting opinions. May they always have hope in the face of any challenge.

May they sleep more peacefully at night knowing that there is one less bad guy.