Posts Tagged ‘separation anxiety’

The Sneaky One

Wednesday, March 19, 2014
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One of the great advantages of having friends who are a few years older than me is that they usually have children that are older than my children, have more experience than I do and can offer an entirely different perspective on parenting.

One of the disadvantages is that they have every right to scoff at the pronouncements I make.Yellow_Dude__Sneaky_1_preview

Take, for example, my recent comment that I only have to worry that one of my children will take risks behind my back.

One friend warned me that any adolescent can make poor decisions.

Another told a story about cleaning around an object in her teenage son’s room only to learn years later when he was an adult that the object was a ladder he hung out of his two-story window at night to escape.

And one friend told me “You never know really know which child is the sneaky one.”

She was right. The sneaky one really fools us.

And while I will never admit to ever having my own sneaky tendencies, I know that at least one member of my family does.

Her name is Skitty, and she’s fat, furry and feline. She is an indoor cat who pretends to be afraid of going outdoors, but that is simply her sneaky effort to lull our family into a sense of security.

At times, she provides hints into her true nature when she lurks around an open door leading onto the back deck or stares longingly out the front bay window. But normally she pretends to only be interested in eating and sleeping.

We never would have learned about her true nature if she hadn’t repeated the same mistake on multiple times.

The first time she escaped, no one noticed she was gone until my son yelled, “Mom, I can hear Skitty, but I can’t find her. Since Skitty likes to hide, not being able to find her wasn’t unusual. But she normally only meows when she’s hungry and demanding food. Right in front of one of us. In a very obvious and demanding manner.

But after a search of the whole house, we still couldn’t find her. That’s because she wasn’t in the house at all. Instead, she was in the backyard and had apparently gotten quite hungry, hence her meowing.

None of us knew how Skitty had gotten in the backyard, but we weren’t too worried. We figured one of us had left the door open.

We hadn’t.

The next time Skitty escaped then meowed from the backyard, I started getting suspicious.

The third time she got out, I conducted a thorough search of the house and could find no escape route.

My daughter is the one who solved the mystery. She was in her bedroom when Skitty entered, jumped onto the window sill, pushed the screen out and jumped out of the two-story window over an asphalt driveway. She was able to survive because she still had a few of her nine lives left. That, and she jumped at an angle, landed in the bush next to the backyard fence then jumped over the fence into the backyard.

We fixed the window screen, and Skitty was once again confined to the house. But we were all a bit more aware of her whereabouts, the potential risks to her safety that she was sure to ignore and the outside interests she had worked so hard to hide.

In hindsight, I’m glad Skitty created that heightened awareness. It was good practice for me. As the mother of two adolescents, those skills will come in handy.

Fortunately, I have yet to discover any night-time escapes or truly bad behavior. But I am on the look out for it. Unfortunately, after my friends’ warnings and my cat’s escapades, I’m just not very confident I really know which kid, if either,  is “the sneaky one.”

Love Lessons

Wednesday, February 12, 2014
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This April, I will celebrate the 16th anniversary of becoming a parent. Since I was already in my thirties when that life-changing event occurred, I am now what  my children consider absolutely ancient. In  the world of adolescents, I am clueless, especially regarding matters of the heart.

That’s in their world.

In my world, or at least in my mind, I have enough experience to render my insights about love worthy of attention.heart

I am under no illusions that my children will even acknowledge my wisdom, but I don’t care.  As Valentine’s Day approaches,  I feel obligated to once again share ten lessons I’ve learned about love:

1. You can’t truly love someone else unless you love who you are. And who you are is an imperfect person who makes mistakes, gets mad and will sometimes say and do very stupid things. Love yourself anyone. How you handle your mistakes and flaws is more important than trying to hide them.

2.  Love is only genuine when you are being true to yourself.  Don’t pretend to enjoy something when you don’t. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t compromise. You should. Love requires a great deal of compromise. But compromise doesn’t mean you should pretend to be someone you’re not.  If you do, you’ll wind up being miserable.

3. Love isn’t a competition, and you can’t make someone love you. You will always be loved for being the unique person you are and not because you are prettier, smarter, funnier, sexier or nicer than someone else. Therefore, you should never worry about what others are doing to attract attention or affection. Being yourself is enough.

4.  You don’t fall in love. That indescribable feeling of “falling in love’” is usually a combination of infatuation and physical attraction. Love is something that is grounded in mutual respect, grows slowly and doesn’t necessarily bloom as much as it thrives.

5.  Love isn’t about romance. It’s about experiencing someone at their very worst and realizing that walking away would still be more devastating than dealing with a tough situation.

6. Love is about having passion in your life – but not necessarily in the way you might think. Never invest so much of yourself in a relationship that you don’t have time for everything else you love. Be passionate about a hobby. Be passionate about a cause. Be passionate about your family and friends. And also be passionate about your love.

7. True love means you aren’t worried about what other people think about your relationship. If you spend time worrying about what others are thinking or saying, you likely have concerns yourself. If you’re confident about your relationship and the integrity of your significant other, you won’t care what others say. Always stay in tune with your inner voice and be honest with yourself.

8. Love means saying you’re sorry. Unlike the quote “love means never having to say you’re sorry” made popular in the 1970′s movie “Love Story,” love means that you’re willing to let go of your ego. Admit when you are wrong or when you’ve said or done something hurtful. And when you are in a relationship, you will say and do hurtful things at times.

9.  Don’t expect love to always feel exciting and new. Just like life, love can sometimes be dull and boring and predictable. Relationships are like roller coasters: sometimes they can be difficult and sometimes they can be easy and fun. But being able to work together during the uphill battles is what makes the downhill ride so enjoyable.

10. People do change, and that can affect your relationship.  Our experiences shape who we become. The person who you fell in love with several years ago will probably be different from the person you know today. And you will be different too.  Many times, you can join hands while you grow.  Sometimes, you drop your hands and grow apart. Often, the decision is yours, but sometimes it isn’t.

As I share these lessons, I realize I learned most of them the hard way. But I also realize that those experiences have made life more interesting. Which leads me to one final lesson about love: it doesn’t make life easier, but it does make it more meaningful.

Unsettled

Monday, September 16, 2013
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ekm painting

Elizabeth K. Meece (1963)

Good friends of ours recently moved into a new home.  Mike, the girls and I took a housewarming gift to them last weekend, in exchange for a much anticipated tour of the place.  It’s situated on a quiet cul-de-sac lined with oak trees and manicured lawns.  There are sweeping views of acres of green grasses that glisten in morning light.  It’s perfect for them, and for a while, I had house envy.

Perhaps it’s because my kitchen is nowhere close to being finished. But my patience is.

I love my house.  I do.  Our daughters love it and use every square inch for dance and play. So do our two destructive, demonic dogs. It’s where we’re supposed to be, with or without countertops and food disposals. Yet the work never ends.  Fences have to be repaired or rebuilt, air conditioners need new relay switches. Furnace filters are no longer available for the temperamental unit that warms our house with the smell of burnt dust in the winter.  The list goes on and on.  Well, make that Mike’s List goes on and on…

Then, there’s my aunt’s house, which is now our house since she passed away.  Six months ago, Mike and I vowed that we would enjoy this little fixer-upper-summer-project.  We decided over artisan beer and pizza that we’d rip up carpets to expose hardwood floors, scrape wallpaper and paint the surfaces a nice beige-gray color from Pottery Barn.  We’d landscape the sidewalks with English boxwoods and cut back wild bushes to reveal pretty stonework on the foundation.

Yeah, right.  I haven’t lifted one finger, other than to wipe tears off my face because I can’t stand to be in my aunt’s house. It’s as if I’ve had some type of delayed reaction to her death that makes it nearly impossible to be around her things.  I walk into the living room, spot one of her many watercolors soaking up dirt on the walls, and I walk right back out. There’s something about parting with her belongings that makes me feel like I’m getting rid of her memory.  But I don’t need another china cabinet. I don’t need two more bedroom suites or another chest of drawers from the 1950s.  I don’t want to haggle over them in an estate sale, either.

I’m just unsettled.

Houses are a funny thing.  They’re a burden of bricks and mortar, but a solid presence that stands for something much more than an address.  Whenever I look over at my aunt’s house, I feel like she’s close by.  She’s still here, even though I know she’s gone there. 

So now this house has become a monument that makes me feel both safe and sad.  It also makes me feel sick when the home owners insurance and tax bills are stuffed in the mailbox on the same day.  It makes me feel greedy to hold on to a piece of property that would make a wonderful starter home for a young family, or a retirement home for an elderly couple (or single).  It feels wasteful to continue paying utility companies to keep the life on in the house.  It also feels like I’m spoiled for having a second home to rely on when my kitchen is in shambles or the cooling system freezes. It feels immature to have a garage full of toys and hobbies, a space Mike has come to call his frat house.

Yet this cottage isn’t full of fond memories. This is the place associated with her illness. It’s the place that served as a type of assisted living with two caregivers located directly next door. When I do peek into the TV room, I see a new, leather lift chair that carried her from a sitting to a standing position three or four times.  I see the indentations on the carpet where the wheels of a hospice bed were stationed. I hear the clicking, ticking sound of an anniversary clock, an eerie reminder that she bought the house two years ago this week.

And because of these things, I’ve decided to sell.

No, dear readers and neighbors, I’m not ready to show the house.  But I’m ready to part with it.  I’m ready to let go of the weight that’s holding me back.  I need to remember that my aunt was a real estate agent and she bought houses as investments and sold them for profits. These structures were places to hang her hat, not her heart. During the brief moments that I’m feeling more confident, I imagine her saying, “Sell it, honey. Get what you can and get out from under all this trouble!”  I can also hear her chanting, “Never fear! Auntie’s near!” She would sing this line into the telephone whenever I called to complain of losing my way.

But now, I need to find my way back across the sidewalk into my home, where my family lives and loves. I need to see her place for exactly what it is: a ranch-style house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, situated on a large lot with access to leading schools and city conveniences.

It’s said that we can’t take any of this stuff with us when it’s our time to go, but I’m grateful that my artist auntie left more than a few paintings for me to hang on the walls of my TV room.  And when I glance at “The Old Homeplace,” I’ll have no fear.  Auntie’s near.

 

 

 

 

Moving On

Monday, September 2, 2013
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IMG_0089Friday, August 23

This afternoon, I was folding laundry on a piece of plywood that serves as a temporary countertop while our kitchen is being renovated.  I have to be careful not to snag good shirts on splintered wood, which leaves stab marks in the palms of my hands whenever I try to wipe crumbs off the surface.  But those wounds don’t hurt half as bad as watching a little girl grieve…for her sister.

Maryn walked into the room and wasn’t amused by my fight with a fitted bed sheet.  She crashed into my waist, wrapping herself in the fabric still warm from the dryer.

She began to cry.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.  This isn’t our dramatic child, so when she gets upset, we know it’s for a good reason.

“Ava won’t play with me.”

Where is she? I inquired.  And then I heard her.  She was on the iPad, FaceTiming a friend from school.  There were squeals and giggles that symbolized a close friendship between two tweenage girls.  A duo.  But three’s a crowd.

Maryn’s heart was breaking.  ”She doesn’t want to play anything with me anymore,” she cried.

I walked over to the couch and awkwardly pulled Maryn onto my lap.  Her hot cheeks were soaked with tears.

“She played with you all summer.  Every single day,” I began.  ”You got attached to her, didn’t you?”

She nodded.

“Then she started school and became the teacher’s helper, which means she doesn’t even ride with you anymore because she has to be there so early.”

She nodded again.

“Now, when she comes home from school, she goes to her room,” I continued.  ”After a while, someone calls for her on the phone or the iPad, and she talks to them instead.  Am I right?” I asked.

She fell back into my shoulder and cried harder.

“And you miss her.”

I didn’t notice a gap between my girls once they were in school together.  Ava, age 10, and Maryn, age 7, have been inseparable since the day they were introduced.  Now, it’s the first of many breakups.

Ava is changing. I expected this. What I didn’t expect was Maryn’s grief. I never imagined her feeling so lost or so left out in our own home.  I was an only child, so I never had a brother or sister to play with. I never had anyone to idolize.  I never had that connection.

“What would you like to play?” I asked her.

“Anything,” she sobbed.  ”Barbies.  School.  Anything.”

Maryn sniffed and wiped her nose on my shoulder. She breathed in hard and let out an exhausted sigh. A lump hardened in my throat.  She’s slowly losing her best friend, for a while I assume, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I lifted Maryn aside and told her I’d be back in a second.  Downstairs in my office, Ava was on the computer developing a PowerPoint presentation. (Hey — at least it’s school related FaceTime!).

Ava said goodbye to her friend when she saw my expression.

“What….?” she asked, sheepishly.

“Maryn is upstairs, crying, because she wants to play with you,” I told her.  ”And she’s very sad because you haven’t been paying any attention to her lately.”

“Oh,” Ava said, her shoulders slumping.

“You’re getting older.  You’re in fifth grade.  You have your own friends and your own fun,” I continued.  ”But she misses you, and all she wants is to have a little of your time.”

Ava sat there for a moment.  ”Am I in trouble?” she asked.

No.  You’re in a different stage of life, I explained.  There’s no fault in that.  It’s just part of it.

But Maryn doesn’t understand.

“A half-hour would mean so much,” I prodded.

Ava nodded again and walked upstairs.  I heard her call Maryn’s name and then I heard two feet hit the hardwood floor and pound across the room.

That’s when I sat down in this chair, closed out of PowerPoint and opened up the blog site to write this post.  I had to capture the moment that my oldest child took another step forward, rather invisibly to her mother, who doesn’t understand sibling rivalry or sibling bond.  Yet, I envy those girls.  Even on their worst days of bickering and tattling, I envy their love.

Next August (possibly July), Ava will attend a different school.  She and Maryn won’t be together again until her senior year.  Then, it will be Ava’s turn to take the gigantic step away from home. Away from all of us. When this happens, I’ll be stationed at the same kitchen counter (which better be made of quartz by then), crying over a much lighter load of laundry.  But I feel certain that Maryn will be right there with me.

Fake it till you make it

Monday, August 13, 2012
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The return to school is like New Year’s Day.  As much as I love summer, there’s a certain level of excitement about starting new projects and accomplishing new goals. Change is good, and a fresh start is incredibly inspiring.

OK.  Enough of that crap.  You know I’m feeling sentimental about vacation’s end.  I hate making my girls go to bed before dark and fall out before sunrise.  I absolutely dread the crying jags that hit just as we’re locking the front door.  The thought of fourth grade Math makes me sick to my already nauseated stomach.

But, I can’t let my daughters sense these anxieties.  I have to fake it.

You may be thinking, “Oh, come on!  Stop dwelling on the negative! School is fun!  Kids love it once they get there!”

Really? Did you?

The reality is they have to go.  School isn’t an option unless I like the way I look in an orange jumpsuit.  As thankful as I am to be in a school district that provides my daughters with a top quality education, I still wish I could homeschool them.  My daughters wish I could homeschool them.  But I know that idea isn’t in their best interests, because they need exposure to other kids (I guess) and they need to learn how to deal with different and difficult personalities (unfortunately).  They need to learn how to be away from me, and how to manage on their own.  They need some breathing room to find out what they like and who they really are outside of my critical, parental stare.

It is well documented that my daughters and I are close.  Some people may argue that my extravagant emotions border on what’s called an unnatural attachment. Others may state that I’m a spoiled parent. Gossips will whisper to one another that my nostalgia is as annoying as my blog. I ask commentators to hold those thoughts.  My day is coming. When my “babies” become teenagers, I may experience something completely different.  My mother and I endured a six-year war that ended in a weary truce when I left for college. She deserved the Purple Heart for putting up with my smart mouth and bad attitude.  I’m prepared for the day that both daughters hate the sound of my voice, which is why I’m cherishing time with them now.

Ava and Maryn haven’t had a babysitter since June.  Mike and I went out for dinner only once this summer.  That’s a lot of togetherness, especially when two of those weeks were spent in the aftermath of a land hurricane that took away both electricity and water.  Yet we never got tired of each other.  Tired? Yes.  But not of each other.  I loved working before they rolled out of the rack and after they’d go to bed so I could have the best part of the day with them.  We spent hours at the pool and the bookstore, and we watched entirely too much TV.  We walked off cartons of frozen yogurt at Ulta, playing with makeup and trying on so many different perfumes that we had to air ourselves out in the parking lot.  We sat on the patio and danced to One Direction songs (over and over and over again), and we watched a few outdoor movies on a paint tarp thrown over the side porch.  We made our annual pilgrimage to the Outer Banks, where we ate enough shrimp to turn ourselves a permanent shade of pink (or was that sunburn?).  Did we do anything particularly special?  No, but it was special anyway.

However, all good things must come to an end. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to have six hours to myself — or to clients — and I’ve forgotten that I can run to the grocery store without whines of protest.  I can take a three-mile walk around the track without panicking when two blonde heads drift out of sight.  I can catch up with a friend at lunch without having to search for a sitter, and I can put away toys and clothes and know that they’ll stay in their proper places for more than 15 minutes.  I don’t have to watch annoying cartoons while I eat some sort of boxed breakfast, and I don’t have to listen to the Wakey Blakey Show on Radio Disney.  I can start writing my second book wherever I feel like it, as opposed to the basement that kept summer hours of 6 to 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. to midnight.

It seems unfair to make kids bid farewell to summer in the middle of August and in 90-degree heat (although we adults have to do it).  I loved it when school started after Labor Day and wrapped up in early June.  We didn’t forget multiplication facts or how to read and write.  We were never that bored, because we lived outside and next door to kids our exact age.  Nevertheless, it’s not right to pass my insecurities, wants and needs onto my children.  But they’re a lot like me and I can’t do much about it.  We have a nice, little life in a comfortable little home, and above all else — we’re safe (as long as that massive, dead oak tree stays in the ground).

This Friday, reality strikes and I’ll have to play pretend.  I’ll get up in a ridiculously chipper mood and shout “BIG FIRST GRADER!” as I pull back the covers and shake summer out of little shoulders. Then, I’ll make a big fuss about the 9-year-old’s cute outfit, and announce how pretty her longer hair looks.  I’ll stuff backpacks with lunches I know they won’t eat, adding that we’ll go out for dessert that evening to celebrate the new year.  We’ll take a dozen pictures by the front door, by the car, and in front of the school.  I’ll walk them in on the first day to make sure they get to the correct classrooms; waving enthusiastically to kids they haven’t seen since the end of May.  “There’s Jack! You remember Jack, right?!”  We’ll reach the door; I’ll give them a gentle nudge to keep their feet moving, and remind everyone (teachers included) that I’ll be on the pick-up lot at 2:45.

And then I’ll run like hell.

A School of Thought

Monday, January 30, 2012
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Finding my happy place.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the different themes in Nanya Friend’s column, “Do you leave or stay in W.Va?”, as well as Philip Maramba’s story, “Some of us stay behind to build something.”  Both pieces stemmed from a blog post written by Jason Headley, who confesses to up and leaving West Virginia for no real reason other than because he could. Now that I’ve properly cited all my sources, I’m ready to give my own thoughts on why “kids” leave home, and why some of them (like me) return.

When I was growing up, I held on to the same dream:  Succeed Joan Lunden on Good Morning America.  I wanted to become the lead anchor on the news desk at a major network and own a fabulous apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  I had no plans to marry and no wishes for children.  I wanted to work hard and live well in front of a camera that promised millions of fans across the country.   That was my life’s ambition through the age of 18.

Today, I’m a freelance writer in Charleston, working out of a basement office between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., which is when I have to stop for a few hours to pick up my children from an elementary school situated a stone’s throw away from our traditional, two-story home.

Dreams derailed? Not at all.  That grass simply wasn’t greener on the other side.  It was just a different patch of grass.

When I was a high school student, I believed that I couldn’t become a true reporter unless I graduated from Ohio University.  I applied to one school and was accepted, thankfully, but I didn’t stay long.  After one month of classes, I learned that I missed my mother more than I wanted a degree from the prestigious Scripps School of Journalism.  I didn’t care that I was one of 12 students welcomed into the broadcast program.  I wanted to go home.

I enrolled at the University of Charleston through the help of an academic scholarship and picked up where I left off in the mass communications program.  I returned to the small TV studio that I worked at during my junior and senior years of high school, and I returned to my small bedroom in the back of my parent’s Kanawha City cottage.  I never regretted leaving O.U. or becoming a commuter student.  I regretted letting myself be influenced by other people and other places.  I didn’t follow my heart.  I followed everybody else.

And my parents watched me do it, even though it was costly.  ”I had to let you go,” my mother told me during the trip back to Charleston.  ”You would have always blamed me if I hadn’t let you try it, but I knew that it wasn’t the place for you.”

Where is the best place for our kids? With us? With someone else? Here or there?

Less than a week after our daughters were born, my husband made appointments with a financial adviser to set up college funds.  As soon as we got them home from the hospital, we started thinking of how to send them away! It’s ironic, really.  We work so hard to bring healthy children into our lives, but then we have to plan to let them go.  It’s often called giving them roots and wings.

Both of our daughters want to become teachers when they grow up.   At age 8, Ava is adamant about becoming a kindergarten teacher so she can help children learn how to read. Maryn, age 5, wants to be an art teacher so she can “draw like her daddy.”  Both of them have said that they want to go to the University of Charleston so they’ll never have to leave us.  ”I’m going to sit on this couch forever,” Maryn told me one night.

We’ll see about that, little one.

Deep down, I want them to stay.  I know, I know…ask me how I feel about this when they’re teenagers with smart mouths and bad attitudes.  But, I have to admit that I don’t think it’s necessary for the girls to attend UCLA to become school teachers.  What they want to do in life (even though they’re young and most likely going to change their minds 10 times), can be done here.  They can have a good life here.  They can be happy as Mike and I are here.

But even deeper down in my heart, I know that I want them to see new places and try new things.  I want them to have experiences that are full of life, as opposed to full of caution.  I played it safe.  I stayed close to home and avoided change almost every time opportunity presented itself. I was afraid to fly too far away from the nest.  No, I don’t want that for my girls. But, in the end, what I want doesn’t matter one bit.

Could I have been Joan Lunden?  I don’t know.  I suppose life in the Big Apple didn’t mean that much to me, or else I would have stuck with it.  However, I’ve done well professionally, and I’ve certainly “got it all” personally. I’m glad that I chose to return to West Virginia, but had my loved ones been in Wilmington, NC or Napa Valley, CA, I would have found my way back to those places, too.  A physical address didn’t factor into it.  I wanted to be near my mother, who was both a person and a place to me.  She was home.

 

 

 

 

The Help

Monday, September 5, 2011
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The mother load.

About six months ago, I blogged about not knowing how to fill my days once both daughters were in school full-time.  I wrote about having 25 more hours in the week to do something, anything I wanted.  If you recall, I bought a dog.  But after I got puppyhood under control, I realized that I still needed something to do.  So, I jumped into every volunteer position I could find, and now I find that I’m on the brink of being in over my head.

In case this blog is read by my fellow committee members or directors of organizations, remain calm: I do not plan to quit.  However, I do plan to quit saying YES to everything presented to me.  Saying “NO!” to my children comes naturally; saying “NO!” to friends and business aquaintences isn’t as easy.  Being self-employed is worrisome at times, because I feel as though every connection might turn into a billable project.  Freelance writers are everywhere, and if I can’t do the work or can’t be reached (especially if it’s an emergency deadline), someone else will be called. Their ability to turn something around upon request means that I’m not as valuable anymore.  Relationships are the lifeline of my small business.

But being an active parent means that early morning breakfast meetings and after-hour cocktail socials aren’t possible.  I can’t mix and mingle and swap stories with decision makers at popular networking events and local watering holes.  I can’t go on retreats and sign up to attend business summits.  Being a mother is my job; writing is my income.  I have to find alternate ways to meet people and to develop work, and the only way to do so is by volunteering my time to get my foot in the door.

This year, I’m serving my daughters’ elementary school as first vice-president of the PTA, a position that requires me to plan or coordinate at least two major functions each month.  I’m also assisting an area preschool as a member of its advisory committee, and filling in as a substitute teacher.  I recently became a board member of a literacy non-profit organization, and I’m handling some of their marketing needs. And then I’m writing for The Mommyhood. Contrary to popular belief, I am not a paid staff member of The Daily Mail.  I am a volunteer blogger.

Why do I do it? Because my time is spent on good causes and for good people, and we are expected to serve others in this world.  I am active in PTA programs because I care about my daughters’ education and their elementary school experience.  I give back to my church’s preschool because the staff gave my youngest daughter a solid running start toward kindergarten.  I owe them for that.  I wanted to be a substitute teacher because I secretly regret not getting my English certification when I had the chance.  I joined a group that focuses on adolescent reading because I love books and feel that one-on-one time with children is absolutely precious.  I blog for the newspaper because it’s a great by-line, and I want to share my mistakes — one of them being spreading myself too thin.

A good friend told me that she’s searching for a red tee-shirt bearing Nancy Reagan’s face; a JUST SAY NO! slogan printed across the chest.  Indeed, I need to let something go…starting with my children.  They’re growing up, moving out of my grip, and I’m holding on to anything I can.  I’ve tried to fill the void of a semi-empty nest by distracting myself with special projects, and I’m determined to do a good job and to see things through, because my girls are watching.  Backing out of obligations is not allowed.

On a lighter note, I turn to the wisdom of a character on an old TV show — Designing Women’s Suzanne Sugarbaker — who warned delivery man Anthony to stop being so agreeable.

“Do you know what happens when you burn the candle at both ends? You end up with a very short wick!”

Change for the Better

Monday, August 22, 2011
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Beaten with the ugly stick?

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “a face only a mother could love.”  It’s a mean thought, but I admit that it has crossed my mind on occasion. Specifically, I think a few Hollywood actresses carry this card from time to time, such as Glenn Close. I’m terrified of her — from The Big Chill (an absolutely perfect title) to Fatal Attraction (which scared my husband to death), the woman’s face keeps me awake at night.

And so does Nanny McPhee.

Portrayed by Emma Thompson, 19th century-Nanny McPhee is decribed in a movie plot summary as “an unusual and hideous woman who arrives at the Brown’s home, introducing herself as a government nanny. By using magic, Nanny McPhee force-trains the children in her care to do as they’re told.  In similar form, with strict discipline and witch-like spells, she transforms the family’s lives. In the process, she herself is transformed.  However, the children foolishly attempt to play their tricks on Nanny McPhee, but gradually start to respect her and ask her for advice. They change into responsible people, helping their hapless father solve big problems, which makes Nanny McPhee less and less needed.”

The governess’ face is brutally hard to look at, but it’s what she says that holds my attention:

“When you need me, but do not want me, then I will stay. When you want me, but do not need me, then I have to go.”

Nanny McPhee haunted me on Friday morning when we took our youngest daughter by the hand and led her to kindergarten. “But I will miss you,” Maryn said in a low voice.  “I want you to stay in my school.”

But you’re a big girl now, I countered.  You can do this.  You’ve watched your older sister for three years.  It’s your turn.  You’re ready.

Even though I’ve worked as a writer and publicist since Maryn was three months old, I’ve been at home with her for 5 1/2 years.  Yes, she attended preschool, but we weren’t apart for long. By the time I dropped her off, it was nearly time to pick her up again.  But she has been homeschooled, more or less, to recognize letters, numbers, colors, shapes and sounds…as well as good and bad behavior.

Nanny McPhee makes yet another appearance, as she emphasizes proper manners and accepting the consequences of one’s actions. In her school of thought, there are five primary lessons to teach — each of which corresponds to her various unattractive physical attributes: gray hair, two large moles, a unibrow, and a snaggle-tooth protruding over her bottom lip (I only suffer from a headful of gray hair).  Nanny McPhee is as frightful as the children are hateful, but whenever a lesson is learned, one of her disfigurements disappears. (Spoiler alert: At the end of the film, she’s no longer old and ugly, but young and attractive.)

  • First lesson – To go to bed when you are told (and stop fighting)
  • Second lesson – To get up when you are told
  • Third lesson – To get dressed when you are told
  • Fourth lesson – To listen (and say please and thank you)
  • Fifth lesson – To do as you are told

Sounds familiar, does it not? These are the back-to-school rules — be in bed by 9:00 p.m. without protest, get up at 7:15 a.m. without delay, get dressed at 7:45 a.m. without argument, listen to your teachers and do as they ask.  When children are obedient, everything turns out…beautifully.

I’ve been rather hard on myself lately — analyzing mistakes, second-guessing decisions and poking fun at my own looks.  But when my older daughter, Ava, walked into her third grade classroom without shedding a tear (she’s our sentimental one), and when my baby girl sat in a classroom of unfamiliar faces without begging to be taken home, I realized that as their mother — I’ve done something right.  I’m proud of those girls.  They’re self-controlled, polite, kind and respectful. I understand there are no perfect children, and I am reminded each day that parenting is not a fairytale.  But for now, I’m simply going to enjoy knowing that the first part of my work is complete.

 

The Wonder Years

Tuesday, May 31, 2011
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Darn you, Fred Savage!

On June 10th, my daughter will turn eight years old. Normally, the 8th birthday is treated like the one before it or the one after it, holding back the fanfare of  a Sweet 16.  But Today’s Child has a reason to celebrate year number eight because it marks the moment he or she becomes a tween.

Like a mature woman’s biological clock, a child seems to have a tween instinct. I’ve been seeing hints of this in Ava, as she turns her head when we walk passed Gymboree and Build-A-Bear. But, the part that surprised me the most is what did catch her eye.

Fred Savage.

Last fall, I got so excited when I found a new station, The Hub, on cable. Old cartoons such as Strawberry Shortcake air during the day, and old family favorites such as Happy Days and Family Ties air at night.   One evening, I was late putting the girls to bed and they watched the opening credits of The Wonder Years.  The toothy grins and waving hands of Kevin, Paul and Winnie seemed to capture Ava in The Counter Culture’s tweenage haze.  Her eyes locked on the screen … and then I knew that she had developed her first crush. And it crushed me.

I tried to explain that Fred Savage wasn’t really a 12-year old boy living in the suburbs, but a married man as old as her mother with children of his own. Oh, and he became the voice of Oswald on Nick Jr., for one year.

Then, I had a flashback to the late 1970s when ‘my heart stood still’ each time Shaun Cassidy sang “Da Doo Ron Ron”.  I even slept on a Hardy Boys pillowcase. But I had to have been older, right?  1979…let’s see…that would have made me…six!?

Tween is playfully defined as the age and stage of a girl’s life that is “too old for toys but too young for boys.”  (Thank goodness.)  Tween is formally defined as “a period of life in which boys and girls first discover their own interests. (Oh crap.)

Tween behavior could be illustrated as a young girl who listens to Justin Bieber on XM’s Disney Radio while flipping her hair over the shoulder of a hoodie from Justice.  She uses slang language, like all the time, and she thinks everything is cool! — like a sleepover!

Sleepover?

The tweenage clock has triggered another alarm, because in the next hour, my Ava — soon to be eight — will spend the night at her grandmother’s house across town.  I know, I know…kids do it all the time these days.  Well, not mine. I just left my girls for an overnight getaway with friends this past February, and that was after nearly eight years at home with them.

Eight.  There’s that number again.

Before you post a comment on my blog telling me to Please, Mom, get a grip, I need to explain what these past years have meant to me.

I have loved every second of her.  I mean that — every second.  When she was irritable with colic, feverish with colds, and covered with bug bites; when she was worried about storms, finicky about vegetables, stubborn about bedtime, and tearful about school.  I have loved buying matching dresses for both daughters at Christmas and Easter, and I have loved snapping billboard-sized bows in her blonde hair.  I have loved belting her into car seats and turbo-boosters…and I have loved tucking her in at night.  I have loved knowing that she was right across the hallway — or even better — right across the pillow.

So, I’m grieving a little.  I’m getting all caught up in the romance of babyhood and early childhood, and I’m feeling sentimental about the first years that have gone by far too fast.

I’m not sure how I’m going to handle the changes in life that come with having a tween — or God help me — a teen.  But as Joe Cocker says, I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.

What I Learned in Preschool

Monday, May 23, 2011
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My daughter is wrapping up her last year of preschool at First Presbyterian Church, and I’m finishing my first year of substitute teaching.  I’ve concluded there are certain professions that everyone must try at least once in life to gain perspective and to give respect. Working with children is one of them.

For example, we all would be better restaraunt guests if we had waited tables and relied on tips for a month.  We would be better customers in stores if we had to work as a retail associate cleaning out dressing rooms during the holiday season.  We would be better Americans if we served in a branch of the military for a short tour of duty — at least experiencing a week or so of basic training.  And, we would be far better parents if we assisted preschool teachers — even for a half-day.

My oldest daughter, Ava, didn’t attend preschool because I didn’t see the point.  I gave up my career with a law firm so I could stay home with her, so why in the world would I send her out? And, since I did give up a well-paying job, how was I supposed to justify the expense of tuition?  AND, who could do more for her than her own mother? Isn’t a stay-at-home parent the equivalent to a homeschooler?  A playmate?

Well, that’s before I realized that kindergarten is the new first grade.  I had no idea that Ava would be taking spelling tests and working math problems.  I thought she would color for a while, build a tower of blocks, listen to a story, take a short nap, eat lunch, and go out to play.  That’s what kindergarten was in 1976!  Not anymore.

Thankfully, Ava is a bright child and I had worked with her for four years on letters, numbers, shapes, and colors.  She caught right on to the kindergarten curriculum, with the exception of social skills.  Her separation anxiety was worse than I imagined it might be, and she cried every morning until the last day of school.  Everyone was miserable, including her teacher.  It was exhausting.  It was also our fault.  Ava was overwhelmed by the number of kids and the process of kindergarten.

  • Criss-cross applesauce? We don’t play with our food!
  • Finger on the wall?  What happened to don’t touch?
  • Hips and lips?  Isn’t that a way to spread germs? Keep your hands away from your mouth?
  • Line leader? But I don’t know where I’m going!
  • Lunchtime?  You mean no one brings it to me?
  • Up at 7:30, out the door at 8.  You mean we have to do this EVERY day, every week, for nine months?!

I vowed not to make the same mistake with Maryn, who started preschool when she was three, attending morning classes two days a week. I learned my lesson with Ava, in addition to a few others since becoming a volunteer:

1) Kids can serve themselves (most of the time).  Forks and knives and tongs build fine motor skills, in addition to teaching table manners.  Would you please pass the milk? Would you please pass the towel?

2) Boys and girls can write their own names.  If not, they should try.  They know who they are.

3) Sanitizing sprays aren’t effective if you spritz and wipe.  You need to leave the disinfectant on the tables or toys for at least four minutes before wiping, or else you simply swipe the sterilizer away.  Leave it wet and let it dry.

3a) Plush toys can’t be cleaned all that easily.  Don’t buy them and don’t donate them. Mites, lice and germs live in the fibers.

4) Leave kids alone.  Let them play.  Don’t try to organize play or interfere with play.  Encourage them to have fun, and then back off.

4a) There’s nothing better than fresh air and running through the grass.

5) Turning off the lights gets their attention far more effectively than shouting at them to quiet down.

6) Routine. Routine. Routine. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

7) A book really is a child’s favorite toy.

8 ) Paint usually washes off.  Usually.

8a) Painting with a brush is great, but painting with a hairbrush is even more fun. Also, Bingo stampers make better designs than anything made by Crayola.

9) They’ll tinker with anything.  Kids don’t need a $50 toy; a container of what-nots will do just fine, and it encourages them to use their imagination. Mismatched toys are valuable to a preschooler.

10) Music, art, dance, books.  The classics teach them far more than technology.

They say parenting is instinctive; mothers automatically know what to do. Effective parenting doesn’t require a degree (but it’s helpful!).  So, for those of us who didn’t take classes in child psychology or study teaching techniques, fear not.  This particular mother also learned a valuable lesson (by accident) just by watching the movie, Michael, the story of an eccentric angel who changes the beliefs of a jaded reporter.

“Remember the words of John and Paul.”

The Apostles?

“No! The Beatles! All you need is love.”