Friday, September 28, 2012

Shifting gears

Great. Now I have a new annoying mantra running around in my head.

You'll remember this pithy little phrase that I adopted from that guru of self-help himself, Dr. Phil:

You don't have to want to do it, you just have to do it.

Ugh. I should be grateful for the number of times that phrase has gotten me into my running shoes and out the door, or helped motivate me to get the laundry folded, or forced me into going to the grocery store so I could...I don't know... feed my family, but I'm not. Nope, that grating southern drawl ringing in my head still does nothing but annoy me... but it does get me moving sometimes.

Now, thanks to a friend's inspirational quote on Facebook, I have some new words of wisdom making me want to kick something, or maybe just take a nap.

If you really want to do something, you will find a way. If you don't, you will find an excuse.


I'll confess my first inclination was to deflect the convicting tone of this message from myself and point it straight in the direction of my kids.

Oh, that is good. My kids need to hear this. I'm going to put that right on the refrigerator message board. They will read that and be instantly motivated to get their homework done, write their college essays (um, that was directed toward one kid in particular but I won't say who), clean their rooms and then learn a second language in their spare time. This is going to be a game-changer, that's what!

The refrigerator message board is one of my favorite tools of communication. I have it on good authority that my kids treat notes on that board as gospel. I haven't actually ever heard them say this but I imagine a little voice in their head saying something like, "Wow. I had not thought of that before. This is really something to ponder... How did I get so lucky to have a mother so full of wisdom? Where is my journal..." 

Aren't I inspirational? Can't you see why they love my messages so?
But as I was daydreaming of all the ways my children were going to be motivated to adopt a "no excuses" lifestyle, another voice intruded on my thoughts. And this voice was the one that is really worth listening to.

Why do you notice the splinter that's in your brother's or sister's eye [or your kid's], but don't notice the log in your own eye?

Ouch, again.

I've been making a lot of excuses lately.

Excuses for why I can't seem to get to the multiple closets in my house that desperately need to be cleaned out and organized. Excuses for why it takes me three days to get around to making one phone call. Excuses for why I haven't scheduled my mammogram yet (I swear, I'm getting to that one!) Excuses for why I am chronically a minimum of three weeks late sending out birthday cards and gifts to my nieces and nephews. Excuses for extending my no-more-than-one-day-without-a-shower rule to two. Excuses for never wearing anything other than workout clothes whether I have exercised or not (full length yoga pants are considered a dressy day). Excuses...excuses...excuses...

Some of those are issues worth exploring and some of those are peanuts in the grand scheme of thing, but the biggie that has been inspiring a whole host of excuses lately is my continued failure to meet my goal of having my family sit down to dinner, around the dining table and eat a meal together at least four nights a week. That has not been happening.

I could give you my list of excuses and, believe me, they are good. It's a long and exhaustive list but the bottom line is, do I really want this or not? Because apparently, according to the Facebook quote gods, if I really want this I will find a way. So, do I?

Honestly, I don't know.

I know I want to spend lots of time together talking as a family and being together as a family and enjoying one another's company. But, frankly, we do all of that really well even if it rarely involves sitting around the dining table. Is a meal eaten while perched around the breakfast counter, spent debating replacement refs and the Huskies 2012 potential any less of a family meal than one with proper place settings and softly, glowing candles? Maybe... but it sure feels like family time to me.

So, I'm backing off my goal of four family meals a week around the dining table and counting kitchen counter meals as "good enough" for at least two of those four meals. Let's shoot for two meals in the dining room each week. Probably no one is going to want to write a book about our minuscule attempt at "FAMILY DINNERS", but whatever. We aren't auditioning to be on a reality show, this is our reality. 

But I know I'm still going to need a push to get that table set and candles lit even two nights a week, so here we are back to that annoying motivating little message mentioned previously. I thought about putting it on the refrigerator message board but I knew that my kids (and possibly my husband) would take that to mean that it was aimed at them. And it's not. This has got my name written all over it. So instead, I put this on my bathroom mirror. 

This one is just for me.
And on the infamous refrigerator message board, I put this:

And this one is for them.
I'm sure they will want to journal about this too...
 Life's a journey, sometimes you gotta shift gears.

Look at me- spitballin' my own inspirational quotes... That one is goin' on the refrigerator right after Sunday dinner. I don't like my kids to go more than about two days without having a chance to bask in my wisdom.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The stories we tell

Families are full of stories. I feel very fortunate that both the family I was raised in and the family I am raising have been blessed with mostly good stories. Some are funny, some are quirky, some are touching, but most of them are good. That is something to be thankful for.

The thing about family stories though is you never know which ones are going to stick. My experience is that the most enduring family stories are usually ones that were never meant to be remembered at all. They just happened and something about that moment in time became forever lodged in a child's mind to be forever repeated, with hysterical laughter, around the Thanksgiving table long into adulthood.

This is one of the realities of family life that I keep reminding myself as I move forward through this year, this year of preparing to launch my firstborn. Because so few of those intentional moments and memories you try to create as a parent are going to be the ones that stick. And that's not to say that it isn't worth going out of your way to try to build special family moments or celebrations, you just have to be prepared that what your kids might take away from your artfully presented four-course dinner marking the changing of the leaves was when Tim fell out of his chair for no apparent reason, or when the dog (yes, let's blame the dog) let out a major stinker in the middle of saying grace.

Once, when the boys were young, I decided we should have a special Epiphany dinner complete with crowns, served on our best china, with small, symbolic gifts reminiscent of the gifts the Magi brought to Jesus. Isn't that sweet? Aren't I a good mom? Perhaps, but if you asked my boys they would have absolutely no recollection of that incredibly touching memory created by their mother completely on their behalf. None. I should know, I've asked them.

What they do remember is the time when I was holding baby Annie up above my head making her giggle and wiggle with glee when in her joy she blurped up her last meal which then landed in my mouth. They love to tell that story to anyone who will listen and the hilarity never seems to end. I'm certain that will be the story they pull out to regale the other senior citizens while visiting me in the nursing home. They are sweet, sentimental boys...

You really don't get to choose which stories stick.

At 7 years old, Annie is still in the process of building her repertoire of family stories, but already I have noticed a pattern. The stories that seem to embed themselves into her young memory are generally of two genres; either they are really funny, or they are really scary. Without putting labels onto my daughter who still has lots of time to grow and change in all sorts of ways, Annie can be a bit of a worrier and is rather easily frightened. We guard carefully the images that go into Annie's young mind because otherwise we know we will have a lumpy, sprawling visitor in the middle of our bed that night (and the next night, and the next night, and the next night....)

So, given Annie's dramatic leanings and tremendous fear of being alone, it would stand to reason that one of the stories she has begun to repeat (and repeat often) is the time she inadvertently ended up lost and alone for 15 minutes, in the dark of night, while we were on vacation in Hawaii. Not exactly a family story I intended to create.

Okay, so here's the thing... I have never claimed to be a perfect mom. In fact, I'm pretty willing to admit all of the ways I fall short of my own ideals. But if there is one thing I've been pretty darn consistent with over the years it is that I really, really try not to lose my kids. That one is always high on my parenting priority list. But once again, sometimes kids and their annoying tendency to act so childish have a way of thwarting our plans.

Here is the quick version: Annie, the boys and I were standing at the movie rental kiosk in the lobby of our hotel. Having made their selection the boys declared they were heading back to the condo. 30 seconds after they walked away, Annie asked if she could go with them. They had just disappeared from view so I told her, "okay, but if you don't see the boys right when you turn that corner you need to come straight back to me." Given her high level of fear of being alone, I felt pretty safe in assuming she would do just that. She didn't. Leave it to an unpredictable kid (a slightly fearful, anxious one at that) to pick that moment to try and earn her courage badge. Annie did not see the boys but felt confident she could find her way back on her own. Turns out she couldn't. Meanwhile, I arrived back at the condo, heard the boys watching TV in their room, started chatting with Superdad when suddenly my inner red flag went up. I asked quickly, "Where's Annie? Did she come back with the boys?" In about 10 seconds, after some frantic yelling toward the boy's room, we all determined that she wasn't there and everyone proceeded to fly out of the condo. I took the elevator, the boys all took the stairs and amazingly I hit the ground first. I raced back toward the lobby not knowing what else to do, frantically started looking around the outdoor restaurant when a waitress caught my crazed eyes and apparently knew exactly who I was and who I was looking for.  She pointed toward the bar and said, "She's right there." And there was my sweet girl, sitting on a bar stool sipping a lemonade. Hugging and weeping commenced. Thankfully, after having made a not-so-good choice (venturing out into the night alone) Annie made a very good choice once she realized she was lost. She went back to the place where she knew there were adults who could help her and we would be most likely to find her. Praise the Lord, seriously.

So, there you go. High drama. An exotic location. Live music in the background. It's a story just tailor-made to become etched on a child's psyche for all of eternity. Super.

But maybe, every once in awhile, we get a chance to change the narrative on what otherwise looked to be an indelible childhood memory.

Annie has been having a somewhat rocky start to her school year. Her perfectionist personality combined with somewhat anxious tendencies can make school a daunting place for her. She is a highly capable student with lots of friends and a teacher that she loves, but that doesn't stop her from imagining all the ways her day could suddenly, irrevocably go wrong. And those fears can spill into her home life where her once peaceful existence is now fraught with angst.

She was having one of those angst-driven moments when I took the occasion to try and remind her of all the blessings in her life. As we counted them together I offered, "And look at all the people who love you! Mommy loves you. Daddy loves you. Oma loves you. Your brothers love you."

She shot back, "My brothers don't love me!"

Of course I disagreed and we went round and round with the usual "but they tease me" and my explanations of "that has nothing to do with the fact that they love you, that's what brothers do"... all to no avail.

Then, I had a flash of inspiration. It was a risky flash of inspiration, but it was inspiration nonetheless. I weighed the potential downfall of bringing up her most painful memory to date and decided to boldly take the chance at putting a new spin on an old story.

I said to her, "Do you remember when you got lost in Hawaii?"

Her eyes widened in fear, shocked that I would initiate a conversation about that horrible night when usually I was trying to get her to forget it. She nodded mutely.

I went on, "Well, remember when I found you? Do you remember who came running up right behind me?"

She thought about that for a minute and answered slowly, "Ummm...Daddy?"

"Yep, and who else?"

Again, she paused and then said, "The boys?"

I nodded and told her quietly, "That's right. And you know I just realized that you don't really know that part of the story. What you don't know is that when we all figured out that you were missing your brothers dropped everything they were doing and ran out of that condo as fast as they could. They didn't even put on their shoes. They told me later that when they took the stairs it hurt their feet because they were jumping down them four steps at a time trying to get to the bottom as fast as they could. But they didn't care. All they cared about was finding you."

Unable to control herself, Annie's face transformed from one of fear to one of undeniable joy and contentment. The pleasure of this new memory was enough to quiet all of the anxiety and drama she allowed to build in her heart and give her peace.

A few days later, I overheard Annie talking with some of her friends while working on an art activity at Sunday School. I don't know how the conversation started but I heard Annie say, "You know what? One time when we were in Hawaii, I got lost and my brothers ran SO fast to find me, they didn't even put on their shoes!" Her friends were visibly impressed with her tale of heroism.

And I smiled, hoping that maybe this family story really does have a new ending now. That forevermore, when Annie reflects back on that night when she felt momentarily scared and alone, she will no longer remember it as a story of fear...but instead, a story of love. It was the night when her brothers raced out into the dark, with pounding hearts and bare feet, intent on only one thing- finding their little sister.

Hopefully, she will never again lose sight of the truth. That no matter how many silly ways they might tease her, or how often they seem disinterested in her little life and her seven year old ways... they will always come to her rescue.

And that's a true story.

The End

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ostrich Parents

Last night I figured out what kind of parent I am (yes, it's only taken 17.5 years to put my finger on it...)

I know...I know... I said I hate labels. I know... I said I particularly hate parenting labels. And without exception I still stand by my previously professed hatred but the thing is, my label is just too perfect. So, I hereby give myself an exemption from my aforementioned ban on parenting labels. You can do that when you are living in a single-person dictatorship. It's a tricky balance holding all the power and yet being oppressed at the same time. It's a wonder I can sleep at night.

Anyway, last night was Curriculum Night for all three of my kiddos. That, too, was tricky since I am only one person and Superdad was not available to act as my alter ego for the evening. Even a split-personality-single-person-dictator has their limits and time travel is mine.

So, I had to make a choice. What I really wanted to do was to just attend Annie's 2nd grade Curriculum Night. Why? Because her school is two blocks away, and I work as a substitute teacher there so I already know her teacher and the curriculum quite well. In short, easy peasy. Nothing scary, no surprises.

But, for those very same reasons, I knew that where my presence was really required was at the high school both of my sons attend. I'm quickly discovering that Senior year is a never ending string of forms, dates, deadlines, "don't forgets" and late night panic sessions. And while I have done the Freshman year thing before, it's amazing what you forget in three years and Tim has some different classes then Jack had so prudence suggested that I get on board with the 9th grade curriculum as well (you know, that Prudence is always suggesting stuff... no offense, but she can really be an annoying busybody).

So, I got myself into my car and drove the 30 minutes to my boy's high school only to leave two hours later feeling slightly nauseous and missing my pants because they got scared off me during Block 1 of my eldest son's schedule.

In looking at the boy's schedules I had to decide which of their classes I felt were most critical to attend. Because, as I mentioned, I am only one person and have not mastered time travel. The one class of Jack's that I knew for sure I wanted to attend was his cohort class for his Senior Thesis.

Does the word "thesis" not immediately make you get a metallic taste in your mouth? No? You're lucky then because I thought I was on the verge of a stroke as soon as I started reading through the Thesis requirements.

I was so proud of Jack when he told me he wanted to take the Senior Thesis cohort the first quarter of the year so he could "get it over with". This was one of those times when I thought Prudence had interjected her thoughts and we were all the better for it. I'm starting to wonder if Prudence was just looking to set me up for a big fall (I've always suspected Prudence of having passive-agressive tendencies...).

I guess I was under the impression that the Senior Thesis was due at the end of the year and that you could take the cohort class any of the four quarters. I guess, now that I think about it, that doesn't really make sense. As it turns out, your Senior Thesis is due at the end of whichever quarter you've opted to take the cohort class. What does all that mean?


Oh lordy... my mouth tastes like pennies again.

So, after I peeled myself up off the floor in Jack's Block 1 Senior Thesis cohort class the rest of the night kind of went downhill from there.  Not because anything I heard the rest of the evening was anywhere near as terrifying as the Senior Thesis due date but because I felt like it was all a never ending litany of everything that was going to come along in the next nine months to wreak havoc on my otherwise happy, peaceful home. A single-person dictator really doesn't care for feeling out of control, it's in the job description.

And so that's when it came to me. I'm an Ostrich Parent. I want to stick my head in the sand and ask someone to come along and tap me on the rear when the school year is over. Hopefully by that time I will get to re-enter the world only to find out that Jack has graduated, been admitted to college, and has started remembering to wear his retainer on a nightly basis. In addition, I will be delighted to discover that Tim made the high school soccer team, continued his academic excellence, grew three more inches and got his braces off. And Annie... well, now I'm going to miss watching her grow up over the next nine months. But an Ostrich Parent has got to do what she's go to do. Hopefully she won't have grown so much that I won't recognize her and she will still ask me every single day, "Mom, what kind of dog breed do you want to be today?"

Now you know where to find me if you need me. I'm the one with her butt up in the air and her head in the sand. It may not be flattering, but it's way less scary.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Quit Worrying, Take a Nap

All these years of reading parenting books that have only served to make me feel guilty, confused or inferior and now I come to find out I had the right idea all along.

Available here, unless you are too lazy to read in which case maybe you can find an audiobook. Or, just skip the whole thing and take a nap.

Full disclosure: I have not read this book but the title alone gets my highest endorsement. 

I remember a hysterical conversation I once had with another mom who was clearly NOT an idle parent. The conversation was hysterical to me because I try not to take myself too seriously and have no trouble acknowledging my faults and foibles (I can email you a spreadsheet with them itemized and categorized if you are interested, it's only 3-4 pages depending on the day). However, the mother I was speaking with clearly did not find our conversation hysterical. Or, if she did, she kept her hilarity really close to the vest because she barely cracked a smile.

She was discussing her two son's various activities (sports, piano, pottery, skydiving, leaping over tall buildings in a single bound) and how on top of that everything in their lives was 100% great.

That's super, really. I am not a fan of complainers so the last thing I enjoy is hearing a lot of moaning about how "busy" (by choice) parents are and how miserable it is to be a parent. However, on the other hand, there is an element of bonding that occurs between parents when you offer small admissions that life is not perfect and neither are your kids. I'll be the first to admit, it can be a fine line. Nobody likes a whiner but the everything-is-perfect-everyday-all-the-time person can be tedious, too. And if you are in the parenting club it is never more annoying than when speaking of one's children. A little humility goes a long way when conversing with other parents.

I could see we weren't going to have a lighthearted love-my-kids-but-they-aren't-perfect conversation so I tried to inject my own brand of humble humor.

I listened politely for a bit and then laughed a little and said, "I really admire you for getting your kids involved in so many great things. Honestly, I'm just too lazy to maintain a schedule like that. I keep hoping that what they say about the "good enough" parent is true!"


Nothing like a full thirty seconds of radio silence to tell you that you and your current partner in conversation are not on the same page.

Lucky for me, I have plenty of other people in my life who do share my love of relaxed parenting (I prefer "relaxed" to "idle", don't you?). My sister and I frequently talk about our desire to write our own book titled The Lazy Parent's Guide to Raising an Okay Kid. Of course there is the small problem that we are too lazy to actually sit down and pen this future bestseller. Instead, we are content to text or email one another small tidbits from our lives in which we regale one another with tales of our brilliant lazy relaxed parenting. We also commiserate with one another when our kids fail to cooperate with our lazy parenting (I'm too lazy to keep saying relaxed instead of lazy).

For example:

-they want to eat dinner every. single. night.

-they occasionally express the sincere desire to participate in a particular activity/sport/hobby and the guilt of saying no is too much to bear.

-they have a preference for clean clothes (although teaching your kids to do their own laundry takes care of this one...)

-they tug at your heartstrings with requests of wanting to spend time with you doing non-lazy things like bike riding, playing catch, swimming, or anything that can't be done while seated on the couch. We find this tactic particularly unfair and obviously must come straight out of a book for kids titled How to Get Your Lazy Parent Off the Couch.

I'm not sure I'm going to find the stamina to actually read the aforementioned book but the title alone has given me cause for hope. My usually relaxed style of parenting has taken a bit of a beating lately with all of the hyperventilating over college prep/applications/SAT's/GPA's etc... and I'm trying to find my way back to a more zen all-will-be-well frame of mind. And even though I've made it clear that I generally don't care what so-called parenting "experts" have to say, I confess that hearing that lazy idle parenting can have its advantages, makes me breathe a little easier.

And if you've been following along since the beginning and wonder how my lazy parenting philosophy fits in with the goals in my countdown challenge... the answer is...

...not very well.

Update: See my comment below... Apparently the ideal lazy parenting book has yet to be written...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Back to School

Aaaaand... they're off!

Today marks what I consider the first official day of school in our household as it is the first day in which all three of my children are out the door and off for a full day of school.  Annie technically had her first day yesterday, but it was a half-day and with the boys still hanging around watching TV and asking, "what's for lunch" it didn't quite feel like the school year had truly begun.

I will say though that yesterday was beginning to have all the trappings of school days ahead what with Timothy having to pound out the three page paper that accompanied his summer reading assignment and Jack explaining to me all the reasons he is certain he is ready for his summer reading test and couldn't possibly do anything more to prepare himself. is here.

If you sense a sigh lurking behind that last statement then you can consider the possibility that you are clairvoyant, or perhaps just mildly perceptive.  Take your pick. Either way, you'd be right.

I'm sure it says something about me that I find myself secretly bemoaning the start of school as much as my children do. I try to keep my back to school blues under wraps in the interest of being a positive role model for my children, but I suspect they pick up on my ambivalence from time to time. Say, when my 7 year old inquires as to whether or not I have purchased all of her school supplies, two days before school starts, and I tell her, "Not yet, honey. There's still lots of time." Or, when I pull out her uniform skirt at 6pm the night before school starts and ask her to try it on to see if it still fits. What was I going to do if it didn't?? Or, when I sit at the dining table with a stack of forms to be filled out on one side of me and my checkbook on the other and I proceed to lay my head down and sob, while pounding my fists on the table crying out, "Why, oh why, oh why????"

Okay, maybe that last one didn't really happen. Well, it did...but only in my head.

So, yeah, I'm sure it says something about me. Probably something not so good. Probably something along the lines of how I take too much of my children's stress and struggles to heart and so therefore I find the school year (inevitably far more fraught with stress and struggle than summertime) to be a much greater test of my strength and stamina than those lazy, sun-soaked days of summer. Probably something like that...

Or, maybe it is something much simpler.

Like a 7 year old who is growing up too fast and keeps us all on our toes as she still spends her days playing with her stuffed animals but also worrying about her clothes and her hair. A second grader who has already experienced tricky recess social dynamics and has had to try to find a way to put a protective barrier around her otherwise very tender heart.

Or, the 17 year old heading into his Senior year with so many unknowns ahead. Emails arrive daily about senior meetings, graduation expectations and work to be done toward college applications. It's the first day of school and already I feel we are running hopelessly behind schedule. And yet, I tread carefully because I can see that he too feels overwhelmed and vacillates constantly between trying to maintain a safe, cynical distance from everything that feels too scary and trying to step up to the plate and get the job done.

And then there's the 14 year old, the Freshman just starting out in the high school. He's more than ready on all fronts but given the fact that he was up at 6am this morning, a full hour before he needed to be, I know there are some nerves going into this day. I worry the least about him, my tenacious jungle cat who always lands on his feet, but I still want the best for him.

I'm sure it's all of those things and even just a quiet sort of melancholy that always accompanies the start of school and early fall for me. Feelings tied up in memories that are now 9 years old but still have their place in my heart and in this season.

But, while it's all of those things, some perfectly valid, some totally unnecessary, I'd also like to think...on a lighter note... that some of my reluctance toward the start of school is simply that I like my kids. Because I do. I like having them home. I like the low pressure days of summer when we can just hang out, or talk about sports or puppies or cars (depending on the child) and eat meals at the breakfast counter and spend lazy days together at the lake. I like getting to just be and there is so much less time for all of that once school and sports and real life charges up again.

I know it can't be like that all the time. I get it. I'm an adult living in an adult world. But I like those times and knowing they can't last forever makes them all the more precious and all the more difficult to let go of.

Even now, as I sit in the quiet of my house making lists of all the things I need to accomplish for both my job outside the home and my job here, I feel myself starting to settle back into this routine. It has its advantages for sure. There is a lot that needs to be done that I left undone in the interest of enjoying our summer. And once I start tackling those tasks I know that I will rediscover the joy that comes with seeing a project through to completion and not having a closet that looks like it has been recently ransacked by pirates. Those are good things, too.

But it was a good summer, and I'm sad to see it go.