Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Time Of My Life

We celebrated my husband’s birthday over the weekend. It was a fantastic evening. The house was overflowing with people, kids were running around everywhere, the food was delicious, the conversation was upbeat and fun, and an overall sense of excitement filled the air. It was one of those nights thoroughly enjoyed by all.

My husband and I are experiencing a stage of life where our friends are almost all couple friends, meaning he and I are friends with both spouses of the other couple. For many years I had my group of girlfriends and he had his group of guy friends. On occasion we would get together with the other person’s friends, but for the most part our outings were separate. They were mainly Gils Night and Guys Night.

Over the course of the years a string of occurrences have taken place which have resulted in us losing contact with most of our separate groupings of friends and instead forming friendships with other couples. This is not a bad thing, in fact, it’s been a very natural progression as our life continues to change and evolve. Right now is actually a great time in our lives because most of our activities involve either our entire family or my husband and I together. Our couple friends have children as well so family activities are frequent. We host or attend pool parties, BBQs, birthday parties, sporting events, park days, game nights and the like on a regular basis. These gatherings are chaotic and crowded to be sure but they are also some treasured memory makers.

Engaging in such activities with my husband and children as well as with friends makes them all extra special. This means that a typical soccer game for my sons on Saturday has now also become a morning spent with friends, complete with conversation, playful banter and fun times.

I am blessed to count my parents and siblings in this group as well. All my siblings are married and all have kids, excepting one. My family is a consistent part of my life and we routinely all gather together.

Every phase of my life has been an important one. Every stage has held meaning and has prepared me for the one to follow. I am overjoyed as I embrace this particular time in my life, the young family stage. I feel so lucky to be where I am, to know such wonderful people, to engage with other families, to watch my kids grow and form friendships, to laugh with and be with my husband and our friends together, to share in life so fully with my entire family. It is such a treat.

Looking around the room the other night at our house full of people, all there to celebrate my husband’s life, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness. I am blessed with an amazing family and superb friends. This is a good phase in life, one of my favorites. May it continue for years to come. 

Click here to sign up for my free newsletter.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Keeper of my Children..... And Everybody Else's.....

As I write these words all I can hear are shrieks of laughter behind me, shrieks so loud they entirely drown out any other sounds competing to be heard in the vicinity. But they are indeed shrieks of laughter. I’ll take them. Even if it means barely being able to concentrate as I write.

My children and a neighborhood friend are the sources of these shrieks. They are engaged in some sort of game, I think this one might involve tickling. Today is a holiday and my children have been playing like today is the last day of play forever since about noon. It is now 7pm. We just finished dinner, our neighbor friend stayed to join us. But besides this break for dinner they have been going at it full-steam-ahead for nearly seven straight hours.

We are blessed to live in a neighborhood full of children close in age to my own. My boys think a day without play is akin to pure torture. Unless we have soccer practice they can usually squeeze in an hour or two with their friends most week days, in between homework and dinner (we always eat together as a family), on the weekends it’s usually much longer. I am with them for a great majority of this time. For starters my 20 month old daughter longs to be a part of the group. She (obviously) needs constant parental supervision so I need to be wherever she is. We have fabulous weather this time of year so the kids are outside 90% of the time, my daughter included, and by default, myself included. My daughter, bless her, tries her best to keep up with the “big” kids (they range in age from 4 to 7). She’s usually at least 20 paces behind. By the time she finally reaches the group they’re off to the next activity. No problem, she just follows along, and yes, so do I.

My boys are allowed to be semi-independent on occasion. The moments where it is impossible for me to be with them I give them a walkie-talkie to use. They are well trained in answering me when I call and informing me of their location every single time they move. It’s not the same as me being there in person, but it’s much better than permitting them to roam free (as a few of the other kids their age do). And by our neighborhood, I mean one street. We live on the back end of the development so there are zero through streets. Ours is the last stop, it’s a pretty safe area with very low traffic and all the kids know not to leave our street. Most of them comply.

Back to the shrieks. These kids operate under one volume: loud. This is normal for kids playing together, but there is a difference between happy shrieks and unhappy shrieks. Happy shrieks, though loud and somewhat interfering, I can handle, in fact I enjoy them. Unhappy shrieks on the other hand are unbearable. Fighting, whining, complaining….. Ugh! I either ignore it and let them duke it out on their own, which works quite well much of the time, or I intervene and appear as Evil Mama. Trust me, you do not want to cross Evil Mama! She does not mess around. (When you are the only parent supervising a group of at least 5 kids you can’t give an inch… or else you lose.)

Most of the time spent with our neighborhood kids is wonderful. The kids get tons of activity (bikes are a big hit) and use their imagination (army games seem to be “the” game at the moment, they’re always on some secret mission or other). And a few other parents are usually out there watching over their kids so the adults can congregate and converse as well. Yes, there are squabbles. Yes, feelings get hurt. And on occasion, yes, someone does get pummeled. But isn’t this part of growing up? Isn’t this where each personal character begins to take shape and is molded? Isn’t this how it’s supposed to be? All in all it’s a very safe place to grow up, not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well. Most of the kids come from loving families that do their best to instill values and raise healthy, well-adjusted children.

Unfortunately, there are a few parents who are rarely seen, some never seen. Nevertheless their kids are free to run the streets. For a while I was angry, and quite frankly, concerned by this lack of supervision. Like I said, the oldest of our group is only 7. I thought it unfair that only a couple of us care for and watch over all the children. I was upset that I was constantly out there alone (or accompanied by only one other parent), or their kids were constantly in my home, while they were doing who knows what (I honestly have no idea what some parents do while their children are gone for hours on end).

After a time of entertaining these thoughts I realized they were doing nothing but causing unnecessary negativity within my being. The situation wasn’t any different but I was becoming increasingly annoyed and irritated. I finally realized how dumb I was being and told myself to get over it already! I came to realize that I was actually being given a precious and important gift. I was (I am) able to be with my children, as their guardian, instructor and support all the time. I am involved with each of my three children almost every hour of the day. I am also very involved with their friends nearly every day. How great is this?! I am laying a foundation of trust and involvement that will stand firm (hopefully!) for the years to come. My kids are used to my presence and my involvement in their lives, without being overbearing. I give them independence... while keeping a watchful eye. 

My desire is for this closeness to take a firm hold within my children and flourish so that in the years to come I will be “let in” as they grow, change and mature, as they dive in to new phases and stages of life, as they experience new things and feelings (some good, some challenging). There won’t be a need to prove myself worthy of their trust, I’ll have gained it already through my years of consistent and constant “being there”. Who knows, I may even be honored with “being there” for some of their friends as well.

I no longer resent my position as one of the only supervising parents. I now acknowledge it for the privilege that it is. I strive to be a positive influence for them all, watching over them, helping fix their bikes or boo-boos, offering snacks or water, laughing at jokes, watching them perform a “cool move”, calming a dispute and every once in a while, when necessary, unleashing Evil Mama.

I am truly blessed and truly grateful.

Ckick here to sign up for my free newsletter. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I hate to admit this and yet I must face the facts. My 21 month old daughter has me (the mother!) very well trained. I feel like her pet animal that she has carefully and painstakingly groomed and trained over months of deliberate, yet secretive work. How in the world did this happen? Boy is she good! I am supposed to be the one doing the training, not her. She’s so sneaky…

I didn’t even realize this fact until just the other day. I was explaining to my neighbor what my daughter does and it hit me like a lightning bolt, she has me trained. She’s managed to teach me how to hold her for about 80% of the time she’s up and awake.

I lovingly (ok, sometimes after a long day not so lovingly) call her my little monkey because she literally clings to me like a monkey, a cute little baby chimpanzee. You can’t help but love one even if it destroys the house and throws poo at you. No, my daughter doesn’t engage in this behavior, thank God. But she clings! It’s surprising the amount of strength these little ones possess. Maybe she’s closer related to a baby kangaroo, always tucked safely and securely away in her mother’s pouch. If only I actually had a pouch to tuck her into so I could be hands free! (As a side note, tried the sling, she hates it).

My daughter, the chimpanzee/kangaroo, wants to be held by none other than her precious mama all the live-long day. I love her, I love her dearly, but man can she be exhausting. It’s to the point now where I almost feel naked if she’s not in my arms (ok, slight exaggeration). But you get the point, she’s in my arms way more often than not.

Here’s the part where she has me trained: if I dare to allow her dainty toes to touch the floor (heaven forbid!) she screams. And screams and screams and screams. Oh, and then just in case I didn’t quite get the message, she screams and screams again. If I fail to respond to this rational and polite request she will either 1. stomp her feet in place, crying and carrying on, 2. wrap her arms and one leg around my leg and latch on with a death grip, or 3. run over to the carpet and dramatically through herself down in complete and utter despair. Ay currumba! God save the poor lass. Woe to her and her pitiful state. If, after one of these episodes fails to get my attention, she will take turns and try each of them out, alternately.

She is my third child. I have experienced tantrums, belligerence and noncompliance many times before. This is nothing new. I’m a pro at ignoring, re-directing or disciplining unwanted behavior. I even wrote a book that touches on the subject. However, this particular issue is difficult. Re-directing, forget it, doesn’t work at all with this one. Ignoring, well I have, unfortunately to no avail. She’ll keep going. Disciplining, yes, she’s now at the age where she understands she is being naughty. I’ll have to explore this option further and see if it helps. I haven’t technically disciplined her yet because here’s the main dilemma. This is how I’m the trained mama: After removing her vice grip from my body and succeeding in setting her down, before I know it, she’s right back in my dang arms again! She’s like a reverse escape artist! She gets back in without me even realizing it. I tell ya, the girl has some skills. So many times I’ve been holding her and only after a few minutes realize that she’s right back up here after I set her down and said no more, mama needs a break. What the heck?

I think what happens is that in the madness of the moment I forget what’s going on and just pick her up again automatically, without consciously being aware of my actions. I usually go through my day at a hectic pace, constantly juggling all the differing directions I’m being pulled in. Within the chaos that is my brain I notice that there is a crying child at my feet and stoop to pick her up and soothe her. And viola! She’s back in my arms. Trained mama.

Of course the kicker is that all of the above scenario is completely null and void if she decides she’d like to get down and do something else on her own, such as ride her bike or play with the other kids. If this should be the case, then I better back off or suffer the wrath because she can do it by herself mama, thank you very much. Every so often Miss Independent decides to make an appearance and I get a break, well at least my arms do, the rest of me has to watch her like a hawk and make sure she doesn’t run down the street in the middle of the road chasing after her long gone brothers (yes, she’s done this), or climb on top of the freezer in the garage in order to reach the button that opens and closes the garage door (she’s done this as well, very nearly missing a nasty fall to the floor, got there just in time!) or rummage through the pantry in search of more fruit snacks (she would be one giant fruit snack if I let her eat all she wanted).

I know this is a phase. I know she’ll grow out of it. I know I’ll miss holding her later on down the road. I try to remind myself of this and manage without too much complaint, yet when you’re in the midst of hardship it can be a challenge to take such an objective stance, to remember this is temporary and in the grand scheme of things not even a big deal. In the meantime I’ll do my best to adequately care for my little chimpanzee/kangaroo.

Click here for my free newsletter.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Question

A conversation I recently overheard between my boys:

L is my four year old, my middle child. C is my oldest, he just turned 7 in December.

L: (enters the room where his brother is, energetic, chipper and cheery) Hey C, how are you today?
C: (distracted and aloof). Good.
L: What are you doing?
C: Nothing.
L: What did you eat for breakfast?
C: Cereal.
L: How did God make us?
C: Ummm….. (he looks up, for the first time vaguely interested in the conversation, he shrugs) With his powers.

Isn’t it fascinating how kids move from a simple ordinary conversation to a topic that leaves you speechless? This happens all the time. We’re sitting at the table or playing outside or driving in the car, really the location doesn’t matter at all, engaged in a typical back and forth of bickering (“Mama, it’s my turn now, I want it!”) or asking questions (“Mama, when can I play my video games?”) or the never ending pleading and begging for more food (“Mama, can I have a snack? I’m sooooo hungry.”); and them BAM! out of nowhere comes the deep, complex question, “Mama, why did Grandma have to die?”

After 7 years I should be more accustomed to these surprise attacks but they usually still catch me off guard. I make a point to have deeper conversations with my kids from time to time, but these ones are on my terms, after I’ve prepared for them, at least slightly. I think it’s important to broach subject matter of importance here and there. Of course these conversations are very one-sided and usually pretty short since the attention span I have to work with is approximately 30 seconds, if I’m lucky. But I want them to start pondering and thinking for themselves on issues of morality and spirituality and the like.

So when I’m brushing my four year olds hair in the morning and we’re both singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider I am quite taken aback when he abruptly stops and asks “But mama, how do you push the baby out of your tummy?”. I freeze for a split second and wonder, is this the time to fully explain the miracle of birth? Or should I skip it and offer a vague answer, hoping that will satisfy? I always vacillate about what and how to reply to these types of questions. My husband and I agree that we will be honest and open with our kids but exactly how open and how honest does the situation require? He’s four, should I explain in detail since he’s asking or is it better to prolong the gory details till he’s a little older? Sometimes I worry about how what I tell him translates when he repeats my explanation to others. Stories can easily get scrambled and I don’t want others getting the wrong impression about what takes place in our household. However, I don’t believe in intentionally and repeatedly keeping my kids in the dark either. A real dilemma…

I usually have this mental struggle (which lasts mere seconds) every time one of these surprises makes an appearance. And here’s what typically follows: Deep breath. Ok, let’s tackle this with words he’ll understand. I begin to painstakingly stumble my way through the complexities of childbirth. After a few seconds I feel like I’m making headway and miraculously doing a good job at explaining when I’m interrupted with “Mama, can I ride my bike?”

I have rarely actually finished explaining one of these deep, profound questions before my boys lose interest entirely and have already moved on to more pressing matters, such as riding their bikes or scheming new ways to terrorize each other. I should probably just give the simple, evasive answer and carry on with the mundane. It is, after all, what they seem to prefer. 

But I just know that one of these times they’ll be asking me for real, out of genuine curiosity and a desire to learn and contemplate. I want to be prepared and available for this time, open and honest so I can be there for them when it’s their time to grow and mature.

Click here to receive my free newsletter.