Posts Tagged ‘behavior’

Where I Come From

Friday, April 10, 2015
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past-present-futureAt some point during my formative years, I began asking “where did I come from?”

I wasn’t curious about biology and human reproduction. Well, that’s not exactly true. I was curious about biology and human reproduction, but I was even more curious about my family history.

Perhaps my interest was piqued by peers who proclaimed they were descendants of famous historical figures. I was convinced that my family tree was a common Elm while everyone else’s was a Giant Sequoia.

All these years later, I’m inclined to think my classmates had active imaginations and an innate ability to stretch the truth. But at the at the time, I just wanted to be related to someone famous.

“Your great-grandmother was a Houston, and you’re related to Sam Houston,” my mother told me. That wasn’t a lie. I am related to Sam Houston. I’m just not related to THE Sam Houston. My pedigree, or lack of it, had been confirmed. I was a mutt.

Decades later, before the birth of my son, my interest in family history was renewed.

There is something about babies that binds us to our past. We realize that our existence is completely dependent on previous generations and that we will forever be connected to people we never met.

As I began to pursue my family’s history, so did my husband, although he had an unfair advantage.

His uncle Jack was so passionate about genealogy that he actually wrote a book about the family patriarch who moved from Bavaria, Germany to the small village of Shepherdstown, West Virginia only to be thrust into battle during the Civil War. It was a good story, and my husband took pride in his Bavarian roots. So much so that he was excited when he submitted his DNA to his surname family group in Bavaria. He knew he would discover even more about his family.

He did find out more – just not in the way he expected.

“Your DNA doesn’t match anyone in this group,” he was told. “Do you want us to expand the search outside of the surname and the region?”

He agreed while still insisting that he was German. When the results came back indicating he had roots in Denmark, he blamed the Vikings.

“They pillaged German villages all the time,” he said. “Denmark borders Germany. I’m sure the Vikings  invaded a Bavarian village and that’s why I’m showing Danish and not German blood.”

I tried to politely suggest that one of his grandfathers had been adopted or that maybe, just maybe, one of his great grandmothers had fooled around a bit.

He wouldn’t hear of it. The paternal side of his family was German, and no one would convince him otherwise.

Even when his mother bought him a Viking hat for his birthday, he refused to see any humor in the discrepancy between what the family tree said and what his DNA indicated. He may have Danish blood, but he will always be German.

He has a valid point.

DNA may provide the genetic code for the color of our eyes, our skin tone, and even our predisposition for medical conditions, but the core of who we are is so much bigger than that.

Just as none of us would be whom we are without our DNA or ancestral heritage, neither would we be whom we are without people who gave a piece of themselves to us.

I am a compilation of all the people who believed in me, challenged me and, most importantly, loved me.

The person I am today came from the elderly neighbors who provided a refuge when I ran away from home on a regular basis as a child. The person I am today came from the teachers who chose to see beyond my academic performance and also wanted to nurture my creative and empathetic tendencies. The person I am today came from all the people who hurt, betrayed and abandoned me and from the people who encouraged, supported, and loved me during those same times.

The person I am today could never give a simple answer to the question “where did I come from?” No biology lesson or family tree can even begin to describe where I came from. Only my relationships and the stories I pass on to my children can do that.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

The Tooth Fairy

Tuesday, March 31, 2015
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There are some parental roles I never mastered.

Playing the Tooth Fairy is one.

I should have known it was going to be problematic the day my son lost his first tooth.

He literally lost it.

He was on the playground in kindergarten, and I never got the full story about exactly what happened. The tooth (2)tooth may have fallen into a pile of mulch while he was on the swings, or he may have swallowed it while going down the slide. I don’t know. I suspect the latter because when my husband and I tried to convince our son that the tooth fairy would find his tooth anyway, he wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea.

That was the start of my short-lived and very spotty career as the Tooth Fairy.

Losing a tooth was never a big deal for my children because it likely led to disappointment.

Sometimes, one of my children would put a tooth under his or her pillow. More often, they didn’t.

They knew that sometimes the Tooth Fairy remembered to replace the tooth with money and sometimes she didn’t.

When I did remember to take the tooth, I never knew what I was supposed to do with it.

Other parents told me that they kept their children’s baby teeth, but that seemed kind of disgusting to me. I couldn’t imagine a day when I would look at a tiny tooth and get all nostalgic.

That was back in the days when I didn’t realize how quickly the years would fast forward to a time when the cost of college tuition was a much bigger concern than how much the tooth fairy should pay. That was also back in the days when I didn’t give any consideration to the fact that I would someday have to seek professional assistance to remove my child’s teeth.

Last fall, when our dentist advised me that my 16-year old son needed to consult an oral surgeon about having his wisdom teeth removed, I was sure he was going to add “in five years.”

He didn’t.

And so, a few months later, I was trying to get my son to wake up after his first experience with anesthesia.

I could poke fun at how he behaved, but he really didn’t act much differently than normal. He wanted to sleep, and he wanted his parents to leave him alone.

The only surprising moment occurred as we were leaving.

I was handed a small paper envelope and told that it contained my son’s wisdom teeth.

“He wanted to keep them,” the oral surgeon said.

I stuck the envelope in my purse and immediately forgot about it. I certainly didn’t think that my son wanted his teeth so he could put them under his pillow in hopes that the Tooth Fairy would make one final appearance.

He and I both knew that my dismal performances as the Tooth Fairy were a thing of the past.

We didn’t realize I had one final curtain call.

A couple of months after my son’s surgery, I was checking out at the local grocery store when I was asked for my bonus card. I keep it attached to my key ring, which I had misplaced somewhere in my purse. I put my purse on the ledge by the debit card scanner as I searched. When I pulled out my keys in triumph, two large obviously adult human teeth popped out and onto the conveyor belt.

I couldn’t look at the clerk’s face as I scooped up the teeth and threw them randomly back in my purse.

I couldn’t look at her face as I handed her my key ring.

I couldn’t even look at her face when I paid for my purchase.

The only thing I could do was try to regain some semblance of pride while assuring the clerk that I wasn’t a complete freak.

“Being the Tooth Fairy can be a messy and sometimes embarrassing job,” I said as I walked away.

I didn’t need to look back. I knew the young woman couldn’t understand.

But someday, in the rapidly approaching future, she probably will.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

Flights and crying babies

Monday, March 23, 2015
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As I sat in my compact aisle seat, turning my phone on airplane mode, I heard it – the cries of a baby. And this one was producing shrieks so high and shrill they were previously thought impossible for human ears to detect. I heard heavy sighs and mumbles around me from passengers, lamenting their bad luck to be stuck on a plane with a baby.

That day’s plane ride ended up going fairly well. The baby only shrieked at the beginning and end of the flight. I was headed out of town for work, and was already missing my own little one. I was thankful the baby behaved well – not because I shared the same exasperated feelings as my fellow travelers, but because my own defenses were unnecessarily built up. I had prepared myself for one of my neighbors to make a sly comment about that baby or her momma, and I was ready to stand up for that mother in any way I could.

I know I am in the minority in my view on this topic, but crying babies (or toddlers) on planes do not bother me. Yes, there has been a time or two when a particularly horrific tantrum has set me on edge, but I try to hide it, because I don’t believe in being rude about babies on planes. Here’s why:

First of all, empathy is a marvelous thing, and showing some can help us be more understanding when we hear those cries. There are at least two people who need empathy in this situation: the baby, and his or her parent(s). In the experience relayed above, we were on a 7 a.m. flight. I asked myself: how many people are sitting on this flight, grumpy, tired, and/or going on a trip they’d rather not take? We all get a little cranky by the time we get on the plane, and babies are no exception. A crying baby is no worse than the rest of us, we as adults just keep our grievances silent (or, worse than crying, we sometimes take our grievances out on those around us).

Second, the mom, dad or whoever is with said baby deserves some empathy. I know some people think they would put a stop to such “bad” behavior, but I’ve never pretended I would know what to do with a screaming toddler. And anyone that is judging and has young children of his or her own…that’s just asking for bad karma. I know it’s not always the case, but I believe most parents are trying everything they can to keep their child calm, and it’s not like they can walk to another room.

Others might think that parents who know their child will not do well should not take them on a flight. Many may assume that if someone is on a flight with a child, they are going on vacation. That is far from true. I’ve learned that people fly for business, for pleasure, for duties and because of tragedies. You never know when someone is flying to bury a relative, or visit a sick friend. BUT, say those parents ARE going on vacation – families can take vacations that require flights too, and shouldn’t have to think about whether or not it inconveniences someone else.

And that brings me to my third and final point. Flying, while expensive, is a form of public transportation. And public transportation is not ideal when it comes to comfort or privacy. Flying comes with many inconveniences, all of which can be avoided by seeking alternate transportation.

I have not taken my baby on a plane yet. When the time comes, yes I will be stressed out. Yes, I will care what other people will think. And yes, I will expect people to get annoyed, and even make comments, if she starts to cry (see comment above – the price to pay for taking public transportation). But you won’t find me passing out candy and headphones to everyone on the plane. I’ll try my best to keep my child calm and happy, and if she throws a tantrum, I will be the most upset person on the flight. Those thoughts are what help me remain calm when I hear the cries of someone else’s baby on a plane.

The Personality Test

Wednesday, March 18, 2015
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I was feeling a bit stressed when my cell phone buzzed.

I gave it a brief glance thinking I wouldn’t answer. Then I noted that my 13-year old daughter was calling.

The clock showed 2:45, and she normally doesn’t call as soon as school lets out. I knew something had happened.

In that short span of time between noticing the caller i.d. and actually answering the phone,  I racked my brain for what I had, or hadn’t, done that had caused my latest parenting fail.

I expected drama on the other end of the phone. Instead, I got excitement.

My daughter was actually bubbling over with enthusiasm.

“Mom, she said, “we took a personality test in class today, and I’m an INFJ.”

She then regaled me with the positive and negative traits of her personality.

I was impressed. She WAS describing herself.

When she finally took a breath, she asked, “What are you?”

While I’ve taken the Myers Briggs test on more than one occasion, I couldn’t answer her question.

“I don’t know.” I said.

She was silent for a moment then said, “I thought you’d taken this test before.”

“It’s complicated,” I said.

I thought that put the matter to rest, but as soon as I said goodbye, my phone started buzzing again.

This time, I was receiving a text message from my husband.

“Your daughter and I are diplomats and your son is a virtuoso. Me – INFP; S- ISTP; K – INFJ.”

Despite my busy day at work, I felt compelled to text back.

“You bunch of introverts,” I replied.

My husband’s response was  predictable.

“What are you?”

I responded. “I forget.”

Here’s the thing. I hadn’t necessarily forgotten, I simply didn’t know.

On each occasion I’ve taken the Myers Briggs personality test, I’ve gotten a different answer.

That isn’t supposed to happen.

Personalities are supposed to be as stable as DNA. People are who they are. At least, they are who they are except for me.

While some people might think my inability to hold on to a defined personality means I’m unbalanced, I prefer to think that I’m a complicated individual who has a difficult time answering a question in a concrete manner.

There’s  always an “it depends.” It depends on the situation. It depends on my mood. Mostly, it depends on how much attention I’m actually paying to the questions being asked.  My mind has a tendency to wander when it comes to details.

My family wanted the details about my personality anyway.

I hadn’t even closed the garage door after arriving home from work when my daughter was already thrusting the computer at me. She insisted that I once again take the test.

As I did, she sat perched by my shoulder commenting on every answer.

The Question: “You usually think a lot before you speak.”

Me:” Disagree somewhat”

My daughter: “STRONGLY DISAGREE”

The Question: “You do not let your emotions show, even with close friends.”

Me: (I don’t have time to answer before my daughter yells).

My daughter: STRONGLY, STRONGLY, STRONGLY DISAGREE.

I began to think my daughter should just take the test for me, but instead we forged on together.

Later, I went back and took the test by myself. The result was the same.

For the moment, I’m an ENFP (Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving). Apparently, that  means I have “extraverted intuition with introverted feeling.”

I have absolutely no idea what that means.

I’m hoping my daughter, the INFJ (the Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging) can explain it to me.

If not, I may just have to continue to stumble through life just being myself.

That has, after all, worked fairly well for the past 48 years.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

The fun stage of baby

Monday, March 16, 2015
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AJ turned 7 months old last week and we’ve officially entered what I consider to be “the fun stage.” The last couple months have been downright fun. She’s grown from an infant into a real baby; a little human being with her own distinctive personality.7 months

As I’m writing this post, she’s sitting on our living room rug, “talking” to herself, looking at her hands, and rocking back and forth on all fours. Any day now she will take off across the floor. Just in the last two weeks, I’ve watched her learn to move to things out of her reach, usually through a combination of scooting, rolling and army crawling.

Everyone has his or her favorite stage of “baby;” for me things keep getting better the older AJ gets. The newborn stage was wonderful in its own way, but it also was challenging, emotional, exhausting and overwhelming. A newborn baby does almost nothing yet needs constant care. And, because of the traumatic experience of childbirth added with the never-ending cycle of sleepless nights, I felt like a shell of my real self.

Now, at 7 months, motherhood is still challenging, emotional, exhausting and sometimes overwhelming, but I’ve gotten more used to my new life. I feel like myself again. AJ still needs constant care, she’s a baby after all, but she is responsive, appreciative and loving.

A baby around this age starts reaching some of the really fun developmental milestones, physically, mentally and socially, which means every day brings something new and exciting. This is around the time when babies learn to crawl, pull up and sit on their own. It’s when they start to form syllables that will turn into words. It’s when they start eating food and learn to drink from a sippy cup.

Although AJ certainly can’t talk, and my dreams of teaching her baby sign language have been pretty much abandoned, she communicates with us. She changes her facial expression to show she’s happy to see us. She puts her arms out for us to pick her up. She bangs the tray on her high chair when she wants more food. She knows her name and (I think) is starting to learn other words.

And she LOVES to play. I had no idea how much fun playing with a baby could be. She wants to explore everything. You can see her mind working through the concentration on her face.

This stage does come with new challenges. I worry about her food schedule and if she’s eating enough. I worry about her development and if I’m encouraging her learning enough. It’s harder to take her places now because she doesn’t like to be constrained, and constantly wants to be entertained. She gets in to everything she can (and I know it will only get worse!). I’m always busy with all the tasks that need to be done for her.

Although I look back fondly on the time when AJ was a newborn, it was rough actually going through it. Not every day is sunshine and roses now, some days I feel like I’m doing all it takes just to survive, but I’m having fun. And I’m optimistically confident that as she continues to grow, life will continue to get sweeter and more fun.

Kelly Weikle and her husband Chris are navigating the uncharted road of parenthood with their infant daughter, AJ. Kelly shares the ups, downs, laughs, and cries of new motherhood on The Mommyhood every Monday. When not discovering what everyone else who has a child already knows, Kelly works full time in corporate communications.

The Button Box

Wednesday, March 11, 2015
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The button box wasn’t actually a box. It was a round basket in a strange shade of orange and gold.buttons

Despite its shape, we never called it the button basket. It was always the button box.

Growing up with a mother who wasn’t a collector of much of anything, the button box was magical to me.

If the weather was stormy or if I was stuck in bed with some childhood illness, I could spend hours going through the only treasure chest I knew. I would take off the lid, dip my hands into the jumbled contents, and let the buttons spill through my fingers as though they were precious jewels.

After admiring the contents, I would sort the buttons by color, size, and shape. Then I would create designs with the buttons while I imagine why they had landed in the button box. I became an archaeologist digging up my mother’s history by uncovering a small remnant of a favorite coat she no longer wore; the eyes of a stuffed animal from her childhood or the small pearl button from her high school prom dress.

I never wondered why my mom had collected so many buttons. I never even considered the possibility that she had an emotional attachment to the objects. She was a practical woman, and buttons were useful.

Except, most of the buttons in the button box weren’t very useful at all.

There were a few sets of buttons still packaged with price tags that were more reflective of the 1950’s than the 1970’s. Some buttons matched, but most were singularly odd: a red heart, a large black square, a plaid, cloth-covered disc. I couldn’t imagine my mother would sew them onto anything she was making or mending.

On  rare occasions, Mom would take out the button box, riffle through it, and pull out what she needed. More often, however, she went to the store and bought the exact buttons she wanted

And yet, she kept that box and saved those buttons because she considered them valuable. Then, she shared her treasure with me because she thought I was valuable too.

And that’s the magic of motherhood– the appreciation that the greatest gifts we pass on to our children aren’t the ones that cost money but instead are the ones that require us to give pieces of ourselves to the next generation.

The magic of childhood is appreciating those gifts.

And the magic of family is appreciating why those gifts are so important.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

When Being Cold Became Cool

Wednesday, March 4, 2015
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My car dashboard indicated that the outside temperature was only two degrees, but the students streaming into the middle and high schools seemed almost oblivious,

Most were dressed in jeans and hoodies with no coats. A few of the boys  wore shorts, and a few girls wore skirts with no tights or leggings. Even in my warm car with heated seats, seeing those bare legs made me shiver.

Not one student wore a hat or gloves, although some had their hands shoved into pockets as they walked to school from a nearby neighborhood.

My own two children were only wearing light jackets, but at least they were wearing some type of outerwear, which was more than most of their peers. I felt a swell of parental pride as I dropped each of them off at their respective schools. They might not be wearing hats, but at least they both had enough sense to wear long sleeves and long pants.

Based on what most students were wearing that frigid morning, I’m guessing parents and common sense have an equal amount of influence over teenagers’ clothing choices. Gone are the times when we had could protect our children from harsh weather elements.

The day after my son was born in early April, I was preparing him to leave the hospital and head home for the first time.

The nurse charged with monitoring our departure was obviously displeased. Before I nestled Shepherd into his car seat, she intervened.

“Your not letting him go outside like that?” she asked with a distinct note of disapproval.

I looked at my son and simply nodded.

“There’s a chill in the air,” she declared as she picked up a blanket and tucked it around Shepherd with an expertise I was sure I’d never have.

I felt as thought I’d already flunked Motherhood 101. I hadn’t known that exposing my son’s bare face and hands to 60 degree weather was cause for alarm. If only I could have flashed forward almost 17 years, I would have been laughing at both the nurse and myself.

Babies are tough. Kids are tougher. And parents have to be the toughest of all, no matter what the weather.

We may have to be tough, but we don’t have to be cool since being cool apparently requires enduring frigid temperatures while pretending to be unaffected. I’m perfectly content to be the weird mom who covers herself in coats, scarfs, hats and gloves.

I have no need to be cold and no desire to be cool.

I do, however, have a burning desire to ensure my kids make decisions based on their own well-being rather than on the prevailing styles.

The light jackets they wore on that incredibly frigid morning indicate that I just may be making slight progress toward that goal.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

The Great Snow Shovel Showdown

Wednesday, February 18, 2015
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snowmageddonI am once again braced for the drama that winter’s harsh storms bring to my neighborhood.

My caution doesn’t stem from concern about breaking bones when I slip on ice – even though that is a likely outcome every time there’s a snow storm. I’ve broken bones in both of my hands and still have scars from a shattered wrist, a result of my general lack of grace on ice.

Nor is my concern about getting into a car accident – although I have had numerous close calls on snow-packed roads.

Instead, I am on high alert with the realization that I MUST be the first in my neighborhood to clear the driveway. Anything else is an indication of my failure to accept my neighbors’ challenge for a snow shovel showdown.

My husband claims that I’m imagining such a competition and insists I’m using it as an excuse to once again indulge my tendency to be a bit obsessive.

While I admit to being obsessive, I am also very observant. Since I walk my German Shepherd every day before dawn and again after work, I know the rhythm of the neighborhood. I know who goes to work early, who works a strange schedule and who doesn’t work at all. I know who takes meticulous care of their yard and who takes shortcuts. I know who is friendly, who likes dogs and who pretends they have no neighbors at all. I also know which  neighbors are avid competitors in the snow shovel showdown.

They are the individuals who keep close tabs on the latest weather report to determine the precise time they should tackle their driveway. Their mission? To ensure their driveway is black asphalt bordered with piles of snow by the time the first car drives by.

A few years ago, some neighbors tried to gain an unfair advantage by purchasing snow blowers that created perfectly straight lines along their driveways rather than the uneven mounds of snow. Since no one in my neighborhood has a particularly long or unwieldy driveway, the straight edges of snow never gained any respect.

What does gain respect is the sound of a snow shovel scraping pavement.

I woke to that sound the other morning after a recent snow fall and immediately recognized it as a call to arms.

I should have known my next-door neighbor would be out before me.

The night before, I had heard a strange noise and asked my husband to verify my suspicions. I called him to the bedroom window to peer into the quickly fading light and watch my neighbor walking up and down his driveway.

He was getting a jump start on clearing his driveway by using a leaf blower to remove the snow as soon as it fell. A leaf blower wouldn’t leave the evidence of cheating hat a snow blower does.

I lay awake most of the night listening for any additional sounds of someone getting a head start on their driveway until I finally fell asleep to the sounds of the city snow plow. I actually dreamed about shoveling snow, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to wake up to the sound of scrape, scrape sound of metal on asphalt.

While I would have preferred to wrap myself tighter in my blankets and stay in bed, I am just too competitive.

I jumped out of bed and pulled on tights, leggings, wool socks, two shirts, a coat, gloves and a hat. I was prepared to tackle the driveway in five degree weather.

Rodney, the German Shepherd, had other ideas. He was prepared to go for his normal, morning walk. Since the kids didn’t have to go to school and my husband didn’t have to leave for work until much later in the day, I didn’t want Rodney whining and barking, And so, I took him for a short spin around the neighborhood. Unfortunately, that drastically set me back on my driveway clearing schedule.

By the time we returned, my neighbor’s driveway was already cleared.

I didn’t see him gloat, but neither did I see any cars drive by.

If I hurried to clear our driveway, no one would know what had transpired.  Neither would they know that I already have my eye on this weekend’s forecast for more snow. I’ve always been a really early riser on weekends.

Game on.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

Motherhood Test Anxiety

Wednesday, February 11, 2015
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Being a mom is like constantly suffering test anxiety.test_-_multiple_choice1

I should know.

Back in my student days, I hated taking tests. I always considered myself horrible at exams. That belief stemmed not from the scores I received but from the emotional turmoil I experienced before, during and even after tests.

Generally, I paid attention to lectures and completed most of the required reading. I usually studied and would actually feel fairly confident before a test. At least, I was confident until I took the risk of talking to other students. Their concerns about failure would immediately become mine. Then, the day of a test, I would listen to my classmates as they reviewed potential questions. If there was something I didn’t know, I could feel a sense of panic come over me. Even worse, if another class had already taken the same test and reported that the questions were unfair and impossible, I immediately became a nervous wreck.  Even after the test was over and I had done my best, I would second guess at least one or two answers.

My anxiety was never relieved until I actually had the results in hand.

Being a mom isn’t much different except that I’m never actually provided with the results. Instead, I feel as though I’m constantly preparing for a final exam that is always a day away.

No matter how much I think I know, it’s never enough. I often find myself listening to other moms talk about  how they handled a specific situation, and I feel like I’m that student who realized she studied for all the wrong questions. Even worse, the questions keep getting more difficult with time.

I remember years ago, when my son was just out of diapers and my daughter was still in them, the mother of two teenagers had an office next to mine. Instead of decorating with recent photos of her children, she had numerous photos of her son and daughter when they were very young.

Since I was at the stage when I was constantly bringing in updated photos of my children, I didn’t understand. So I asked.

“Those photos remind me when being a mom was so much easier,” she said. “They remind me of a time when I probably worried more about making mistakes but, in retrospect, the decisions I had to make were so much simpler.”

Now, more than a decade later, I completely understand.

Even if I had read every book and magazine article about parenting, I’m doubtful I would feel any more comfortable with some of the parenting tests I face on a regular basis.

As a mom, many of these tests are the same ones other parents face. But let’s face facts: cookie cutter approaches don’t work when it comes to our children. They have different personalities and different temperaments. Decisions I’ve made for my son are often the completely wrong decisions for my daughter. To make matters even more difficult, my children are reaching that age when their decisions, not mine, will define the direction of the rest of their lives.

All I can do is set parameters, try to help steer and hope for the best.

Those feelings will probably never go away entirely. My mom, who has been a mother fifty years this April, still expresses doubts about some of the parenting tests she faced.

When she does, I usually tell her that my brother and I turned out fine. We aren’t perfect, but we are well-educated, productive members of society. We may not live our lives exactly as she had hoped, but neither did we land in jail or become cruel, unkind people. The people that we did become are partly a result of genetics, partly a result of the parenting we received and partly a result of life circumstances. Mom only had significant influence over one of those factors.

While I think nothing of reminding my mother of that, I have to remember to be as kind to myself.

Being a mom isn’t a science, and each child is born with his or her own challenges. Most moms are just trying to help our children become the best people they can be.

If and when that happens, we shouldn’t consider ourselves deserving of an A plus grade. Instead, We should simply consider ourselves fortunate.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.

Three’s a Crowd

Wednesday, January 28, 2015
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Here’s a secret about being a parent: sometimes we say the most when we say nothing at all.

The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve recognized that what I value most wasn’t inspired by words but rather by unstated expectations.

For example, I don’t remember my parents ever telling me I should go to college. I just knew that’s what I should do after I graduated from high school. I also just knew that I shouldn’t get married until I was capable of supporting myself. I never believed I should define myself by a relationship or that money mattered more than kindness.

And I never, ever believed I should have more than two children.

My husband, Giles, thought otherwise.

Perhaps our difference stemmed from the fact that I grew up in a family of two children and he grew up in a family of three.

Whatever the reason, he thought we should have three children. Since I’m the one who got pregnant and gave birth, my opinion ruled.

Maybe that’s why he decided that, since I had put my foot down about the number of human children, he should have the final word about the number of furry children in our home.

He knows how much I love animals and about my desire to adopt any stray that shows up at our door…or in the neighborhood… or in the park… or on the side of the road.

And so, he made a rule that, unless we moved to a farm, we could never have more than two pets at one time.

Having grown up in a family that never had more than one furry child at a time, I thought his decree was more than fair  (even though I did attempt to circumvent it a time or two).

Ironically, Giles is the one who broke his own rule.

Initially, he was irritated when I called him before six in the morning. I was attempting to walk our German Shepherd Rodney when a black and white kitten approached. Unlike most cats, especially our fat, grey tortoiseshell cat Skitty, the little kitten actually seemed to like Rodney. And that was the problem.

It wouldn’t leave us alone, so I called Giles.

“Just walk away from it,” he said.

“I can’t,” I replied. It won’t let us. No matter where we go, it follows us.”

“Where are you now?” he asked.

“In our driveway,” I said.

When he said “O.K.,” I assumed that meant he was coming out to help.

I was wrong.

I called him again.

“Where are you now?” he asked.

“Still in the driveway,” I answered. I heard him sigh, but eventually the garage door opened.

If our lives were movies, romantic music would have swelled in the background when he first saw the kitten. It was love at first sight. He scooped her up in his arms and told me to walk Rodney.

By the time we got back from our walk, Giles was asking me to call the vet to make an appointment.

Several months have passed since Artemis joined our family. She’s still cute, she still loves Rodney and Rodney still loves her. He’s especially delighted that tiny Artemis not only acknowledges his presence (unlike her feline older sister Skitty), she is also willing to  roughhouse with him (completely unlike Skitty).

And therein lies the problem.threes a crowd

Before we adopted Artemis, Rodney and Skitty had come to understanding.

Skitty couldn’t stand Rodney, and Rodney knew it. Because of that, he didn’t bother her.

But now that one cat will play with him, our German Shepherd thinks the other one should too. He has become that annoying younger brother who constantly teases and provokes his older sister.

Giles and I are now breaking up fights between the fat grey cat and the large, overly enthusiastic dog several times a day. He pokes at her, she hisses back and chaos ensues.

At these times, I am reminded of my insistence to only have two human children. Maybe I was reacting to more than just an unstated expectation from my parents. Maybe, just maybe, I realized that life would be much more difficult if Giles and I were out-numbered.

In my family, sometimes three really can be a crowd.

Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering or writing, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.