For Your 10th Birthday, 10 Ways That You Amaze Me

Dear son, today you turn 10. And while every birthday is worth celebrating, this one is particularly poignant.

For ten whole years, I’ve held you, fed you, hugged you, entertained you, laughed with you, cleaned you and cleaned up after you, answered your questions, dried your tears, high fived your achievements. I’ve spent hours fretting, researching, discussing, wondering about how you’re progressing socially, cognitively, biologically, emotionally, academically.

I’m often telling you to quieten down, slow down, clean up, hurry up. I may nag, I may yell, I may sigh with frustration. I discipline and punish. I lay down tough rules. And yes, I make you empty the dishwasher, pick up your stinky socks, turn off your device, do your homework, eat your vegetables, flush the toilet, and play nicely with your sister.

Because this is all part of the contract I made with my heart when I became a parent. Its design, other than to protect my sanity, is to show you the path to becoming a good person. Because I consider that job number one.

But mostly, throughout this past decade, I’ve admired you. You, Gabriel, amaze and inspire me, and here’s why:

  1. You are high on life. You are always 100% in the moment (even if that moment only last 60 seconds before you are on to the next moment!) You grab each day with gusto and joy, extract from it as much delight as you possibly can. May your lust for life and joy always be with you and rub off on the people around you, so they can light up the room, like you do.
  2. You are creative. Your inquisitive and imaginative mind, sharp, curious eye and lithe fingers compel you to express yourself through detailed sketches, funny doodles, paintings, sculptures and, oh so many, fantastic origamis. There’s no doubt you have an innate talent. I hope you continue to explore and challenge your art because when everything is grey and dull, your creativity will bring color and energy.
  3. You are a book worm, a reading ninja. You surround yourself with all kinds of books from Captain Underpants to National Geographic. Almost every evening, as I tiptoe into your room to kiss you goodnight, I have to first peel from your cheeks the pages of the book you were reading as you fell asleep. Please don’t ever stop reading. It will feed your brain, your imagination and your sense of adventure.
  4. You are sensitive. Grandma always said you have an “old soul.” This past year you’ve dealt with some tough stuff – your beloved dog died and you were in a frightening car crash. You cried, you hurt. You were scared. But you worked through it all with more maturity that I ever imagined a nine year-old could. I’m sorry that sad and scary stuff happens. I wish I could protect you from it all but it’s part and parcel of life and I’m proud that you are sensitive and brave enough to show your emotions. Because it’s always OK to feel all your feelings. Except the cold. Please put on a coat when it’s cold.
  5. You love animals and nature. You cried when we had some trees removed because you were worried the birds would lose their homes. If there’s a moth or spider in the house, I want to crush them, but you insist on saving and releasing them outside. You want to pet every dog you meet. Maybe you were a golden retriever in another life. It would explain a lot!
  6. You make friends with ease. You are so personable and easy to know. With kids and adults alike, you interact with confidence. I hope to continue to pick – and be – the best friend. Because we need friends, in good times and bad.
  7. You are generous (you get this from your father.) Just last week, you spontaneously made an origami for the waitress at a restaurant. This past weekend you told me you’d saved enough money to buy your sister a Christmas gift. Generosity is so important; it keeps you ever mindful of the needs of others. But remember, generosity is not just about things: it’s about being generous with your time, your attention, your skills. And it demands no reciprocity. It just is.
  8. You are funny. I always say you’ll be the next Conan O’Brien. Your teachers think you are hoot. But please remember there’s a time and a place for your hi-jinx!
  9. You have an amazing metabolism. The sheer volume of food you can consume in a sitting is crazy yet your body remains lithe and lean. You enjoy being active and understand what comprises a balanced diet – even if you have the wickedest sweet tooth. Just keep everything in moderation and keep moving.
  10. You love your family. Grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles and especially your cousins (especially Emma!) You are always so sad when it’s time to leave them. Remember family is everything: your roots, your anchor.

I can’t believe how time has flown and I’m so excited for the next ten years. OK that’s not entirely true. I’m terrified of the puberty years. Of hormones. Of teenage temptations. Of you learning to drive! But I’m also confident that you have the building blocks to show you the way.

Happy birthday Gabriel, I love you.

And don’t forget to wear a coat when it’s cold please.

And turn off your bedroom light.

And no, you can’t have a third slice of birthday cake.

Gabriel

 

 

 

How I Measure the Passing of Time

The sheer volume of Cheerios that can be consumed in one sitting

They still hold my hand

How quickly his buzz cut goes from sharp to disheveled

Her diminishing fear of auto-flushing toilets

They want their privacy

Volume of homework

Discussions waver at any given moment between poop, Pokemon and deep questions about religion, life and death and right and wrong. Also tooting.

Kids portions at restaurants are now too small (for him)

She still wants to snuggle with me at bedtime

Their beautifully expanding minds and vocabulary – including awareness of curse words

The escalating pencil marks and dates on the kitchen wall

Chapter books and intense reading sessions

The tooth fairy visits more often

Their bed times and mine are getting closer and closer

They need me less and yet they need me more

Wanted: Distraction Management (For Kids and Parents)

This post had several working titles including “Mommy’s Sorry She Has To Go To Work,” and “Your Focus Needs More Focus.” Either way, there was some serious working Mom guilt combined with a heavy dose of standard parental frustration going on this week.

Weekday mornings require the usual routine for all parties, including basics like getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth and getting assorted necessary items for the day in their designated places (lunch box, backpack, shoes, jackets…) My kids have been doing this all their lives, with varying degrees of support depending on their ages at the time. Currently, they are old enough to do it all for themselves. The drill has been practiced over and over and over.

And yet.

Pavlov’s dogs perform better than my kids.

Distractions are everywhere. And I’m not talking screens, as we don’t allow them in the morning. Physical distractions (oh look, it’s a Lego/book/cat/brother/sock — insert pretty much any given noun.) Mental distractions (staring into space). Emotional distractions (I’m so happy I’m going to skip around and around and around).

Because T eats her food molecule by molecule, a simple bagel can last a lifetime. (Pretty certain she would not survive in the wild.)

Because G cannot move three feet without finding a random Lego to build or a piece of paper from which to make his latest Origami creation.

Because T cannot brush her teeth without getting lost in the vacuum of her mind while staring at the mirror. If I don’t disrupt her, she could be rooted there for hours. (I’d love to know what she’s thinking, but even she doesn’t know.)

Because when I send G upstairs to turn off his bedroom light (for the third time), next thing you know, he has a nose in a book. (Not a bad thing, I know, but a distraction when the school bell will ring in less than five minutes. And school is more than five minutes away.)

You get the picture.

I suspect I am not alone in this quest to figure out how to handle the distraction management with grace and without completely losing my cool.

Which is what happened earlier this week, prompting lashings of working Mom guilt.

It wasn’t quite the standard morning. We actually needed to leave the house earlier than usual, as I had an appointment and, since my husband was away on business, my kids had to accompany me. We’d had the pep talk the night before. We agreed that we would cooperate, focus, get it done — even if it meant eschewing some playtime because our time was more compressed than on a “normal” morning. We even agreed that they could buy lunch at school instead of making their own lunches like they usually do — a rare “treat.”

And yet.

The morning was a complete clusterf**k. In retrospect, I should have seen this coming, prepared ahead logistically and steeled myself emotionally. But, reminder after reminder turned into nag after nag and eventually escalated into yell after yell. It culminated in us running anxiously to the car, all breathless and on the verge of tears. I promptly informed my kids that I was very disappointed in them. They had made me late.

Ugh.

The second the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. There was shameful, sad silence from the backseat. My beautiful, creative, high-spirited son hoarsely whispered, “We’re sorry we made you late again.” His sister, the whimsical one, tearfully echoed, “Yes Mama, we’re very sorry.”

I hate myself.

I’m the one who should be building them up, showing them how to roll with life’s challenges, how to “shake it off” or “let it go” (depending on whether you’re a Taylor Swift or Frozen fan). Instead, here I was squashing their spirits, trampling over their egos. I’m not setting a worthy example. Instead, I’m mandating that their innate need for creativity, free play and imagination be set aside to accomodate my timelines, my needs. I disgust myself.

And yet.

I have to get to work. So does my husband. As we move through our weekday frenzied mornings, our minds too are elsewhere — on deadlines, to-dos, on our smartphones and laptops. We, too, are distracted. Emails, texts, news feeds, tweets, calls. For me, as a working Mom, my actual work day starts the second I awake. This is my self-imposed tradeoff for the luxury of not physically getting into the office till 9.40 a.m. (since school drop-off is at 9 a.m..)

It’s all rush rush and we are all distracted. No surprise then that it’s a formula for stress and disappointment. Often, by the time I make it to my desk, I’m already exhausted.

And yet.

It’s not just the mornings; the evenings are similarly compressed and distracted. Shoes and jackets and backpacks are kicked off and discarded. Toys find their way to the dinner table. Unfinished homework needs finishing. Emails need answering (since I left the office at 5.20 p.m. to pick up the kids from their after-school program.) Dishes. Bath time, teeth brushing (cue shenanigans, bickering). Finally, bed and reading before they descend into the peace of slumber. More emails, unfinished work, deadlines to get a head start on. Fishing into their backpacks to discover a form that needs a signature, a party invitation. Who knows how long they might have been there.

My whole day — outside of time at the workplace — is spent trying to conquer all of these endless distractions and competing forces. How long can we continue this pace? I wonder. Is there an art to the distraction management that will make it all work better?

Because we could ALL use a little more zen.

(This article originally appeared on Huffington Post and on Medium)

 

Dear Apple & Facebook: Your Egg Freezing Perk is a Disgrace

Have you read that Apple and Facebook are now offering female employees a $20,ooo perk to freeze their eggs, so they can delay baby-making and make the most of their career paths without the distraction of raising children?

I find this abhorrent, for many reasons, which I’m trying to sort through. Here’s where my head is at:

I forge my own path. I decide when I have a family. I am responsible for my own career success. I may bitch about the challenges of being a working Mom but it’s my decision, my choice.

Motherhood is not a “perk.” It’s not a reward for going above and beyond at the office. It’s not an incentive. Egg freezing has no place as part of the “package.” Eggs are not a tool for negotiation.

Making the choice to have kids is an intensely personal decision. And getting pregnant isn’t always as easy as they say. And it gets riskier and more expensive the longer you put it off.

Dear Apple and Facebook, why not take that budget and use it to create more supporting work environments and schedules for working parents? How about a daycare facility at the workplace? Here’s an idea: how about subsidizing childcare, after-school programs or camp costs?

Now that is what I’d consider a perk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Mama, I Have No Underpants!”

I’m sure you’ll agree that this is not what you want to hear on an already-nutty school day morning. Yet, it happens with shocking regularity when, for some reason, yours truly hasn’t kept laundry-doing apace with children’s general daily dirtiness. Oy.

The answer they usually get from me is: “You’ll have to fish yesterday’s out of the hamper and turn them inside out.” Gross though it may be, it’s either that or free-breezing as there’s certainly not enough time on a week day to get a laundry cycle done before it’s time to take the little darlings to school.

This morning, a conversation with my 7 year-old revealed part of the problem.

Mama, this is my last pair of socks,” she pointed out while getting dressed.

Well then, what does that mean?” I inquired, hoping the she’d realize the obvious.

It means that there must be clean, folded clothes downstairs that need bringing upstairs.

Ah, there’s the problem.

My children believe that somehow the dirty laundry that they deposit into the hamper upstairs magically transports itself downstairs, into the washing machine and drier, and is then neatly folded by the laundry fairies.

Ah.

Today this changes. Today, starts the beginning of a new chapter in the Annals of My Children’s Laundry. Henceforth, the onus is on them to do the following:

  1. Pay attention to when they are running low on key clothing items. Low is the keyword here. This is surprisingly challenging for them.
  2. Bring the laundry hamper downstairs. Bonus points for no eye rolling or dramatic sighing. Or fighting over who does it.
  3. Put dirty clothes into washing machine. Bonus points for actually adding detergent and switching it on (which I taught them today.)

If items 1-3 are performed dutifully, regularly and with the appropriate attitude, then there’s a strong chance that I may actually see the laundry through the conclusion, even folding their dry, clean clothes for them. (Because, ssshhhh, I secretly enjoy doing the laundry but don’t tell the little people.)

However, if items 1-3 are not performed, then it’ll be back to fishing yesterday’s smelly socks or skivvies out of the hamper.

A New Way for Parents to Problem-Solve: Are You a Rock, a Cotton Ball or a Rubber Band?

Guest post by Rebecca Bell

I recently attended a fascinating parenting seminar entitled, “You’re not the boss of me! Help your child be a flexible thinker (by being a flexible thinking parent).” The presenter was Donna Shea, who runs the Peter Pan Center in Ayer, which provides social, emotional and behavior coaching for children. She acknowledged that the following collaborative problem-solving framework came from Ross Greene’s book, “The Explosive Child” (a misleading title, in Donna’s opinion, because it implies you need a “problem kid” to benefit from these strategies, which is not the case.)

  • Plan A – adult (meltdown causing) – Rock
  • Plan B – Both (problem solving) – Rubber Band
  • Plan C – child (meltdown prevention) – Cotton ball

Plan A is to be used sparingly, mostly in matters pertaining to safety. Some things are non-negotiable. On these matters you are an unyielding rock. You do not debate these things with small children.

“No, you may not ride your bike without a helmet.”

“You must hold my hand in the parking lot.”

When you really need to use plan A, be firm but not angry – try not to yell. We lose ~30 IQ points when we’re angry, so the goal is to avoid full on screaming meltdown mode. You do not have to attend every argument you are invited to. Pick your battles, but then don’t negotiate. If your kid continues to pester, you can reply, “You already asked and I already answered.” Use Plan A in moderation, but be firm when you do.

One of the big revelations I had during the evening was when the presenter said, “Remember, if your child is complaining but still complying, you won – tune it out.” I know I have a tendency to keep cajoling when my kids are whining while completing a task, because I would rather have them perform it willingly and happily. But sometimes I simply need to settle for begrudging compliance and stop talking!

Plan C involves saying “Yes” to your child whenever you can, when the answer is of little consequence and you can truly not be resentful of the outcome. This may take work on your part!

“Yes, you may wear the tutu and the green striped leggings to the grocery store.”

“Yes, you can spend your allowance on another stuffed animal.”

Saying “Yes’ to kids is fun – do it whenever you can, instead of your default response being, “No.” It can be easy for me to get in a rut of assuming that everything my kids want is unreasonable, when in fact that is not the case.

Plan B involves 3 key steps:

1) Verbally express empathy for your child’s perspective. Repeat/reflect their words back to them.

2) State the position from your perspective. It’s important that this comes second, after you’ve expressed empathy. If you do step 2 first, you’re on Plan A. I know my natural inclination is to assert my parental authority first, and I need to work on being empathetic to my child’s perspective before stating my own piece.

3) Invite your child to a problem-solving party. This can take place immediately if you have time, or at a later time when the problem is not currently happening and everyone is calmer.

Don’t waste time in a prolonged yelling match when you could be using that time to teach negotiation, flexibility and compromise. Recognize that skill teaching is hard work, messy and time-consuming. But once it becomes second nature, it will get quicker and easier. Be a problem-solving detective and look for solutions that make everyone reasonably happy.

Finally, don’t compare your strategies to other parents. The real question is not, “Is this right or wrong?” but, “Is this working for us?” If it’s not, then it might be time to change something.

Useful links:

http://peterpancenter.com/

http://www.amazon.com/The-Explosive-Child-Understanding-Chronically/dp/0061906190#

 

Rebecca is a world traveler, a singer, a Scrabble addict, and a mom to two children. She’s a Brit who now lives outside Boston, MA.

Rebecca Bell

My Inevitable Back to School Blog Post

My favorite part of back to school – other than, you know, the obvious – is prepping all their supplies and backing them into fresh, crisp, clean new backpacks. Pencils have been deftly sharpened. Labels have been lovingly affixed. Everything is neat and organized.

For now. Because we all know that these backpacks will only stay fresh, crisp and clean for a few days. They will soon enough transform into disorganized, sticky receptacles that you are scared to dip your hands into for fear of yuck.

But today, I smile. Because they look like this. Ready to accompany my little darlings back into the land of academics, structure and the inevitable social nirvana/angst.

photo 2 (1) photo 1 (1)

Now, this wouldn’t be a self-respecting back to school blog post without some photos of the little darlings, heading off to seize the day. I’ve used the Shuttersong app to embed their voices into the images and really capture and save the memories of their enthusiasm for school at ages 7 and 9!

You can check them out here:

http://a.sso.ng/1/704494ea4ec2

http://a.sso.ng/1/da50e6a02a16

http://a.sso.ng/1/d2043325aa90

Happy Back to School!

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Invasion

They are everywhere. They are taking over. No surface is spared.

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When you remove them from one room, they appear in another.

photo 1

And then back again.

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On floors.

photo 1

On chairs.

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Everywhere.

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Transformers. Bionicles. Hero Factory. Chima.

Well done, toy manufacturers, well done.

12 Things I Won’t Miss About Summer Camp

I’m not ashamed to say that I can’t wait for summer camp to be done. We have One.More.Day. Tomorrow, with a boatload of glee and relief, we’ll be putting the kids on the bus for their last day of YMCA summer camp this year. They have had an awesome awesome summer but it’s definitely time for everyone to resume the structure of the school year. Of course, while there are many reasons to love summer camp, there are also quite a few things I will not miss …. until next summer rolls around.

  1. The compressed, fractious mornings: no matter how early we all get up and how organized we are, the last few minutes of getting ready to get out the door is always high drama and stress
  2. Mud in  lunch boxes and backpacks
  3. Stains: there are regular stains and there are summer camp stains which require either boiling or disposal
  4. Having to wake up my daughter early: an ugly preview of what her teens will surely be like
  5. Damp, stinky towels that have been dragged through dirt and then stuffed into backpacks
  6. Lost items galore
  7. “Hey mama, I have to wear red all week” (she has no red clothes)
  8. The constant warring over whether Pokemon cards, devices and “guys” (Hero Factory/Chima characters) can go with them to camp (answer: no)
  9. The discovery of said contraband being snuck into backpacks
  10. Gimp
  11. Dirt bombs in their hair that take more than 2-3 showers/shampoos to remove
  12. Torture by “this is a repeat-after-me” camp songs

I know, I know. In a few week’s time, I’ll be all involved in homework, PTO guilt and all that school stuff and will long for the “carefree” days of summer camp. But right now, I’m so very glad that it’s almost over.

 

 

 

 

A Little Silly to Start the Day

There’s a lot of nasty in the world right now: it can suck your spirit. My weapon to guard off the negative? A healthy dose of silly, especially when it includes my kids.

Now, you can’t force the sillies. They gotta happen spontaneously.

This morning, I snuck into bed with T shortly after her alarm went off. We were talking sweet nuthins and I can’t remember how or why but suddenly we were messing around with words and landed on the fact that ‘waffle’ and ‘awful’ kind of rhyme, especially when you pronounce ‘awful’ like ‘offal’.

“Waiter, this waffle is awful” I stated, and we both fell into a crazy heap of gut-busting giggles. The kind of giggles that set you up for the day with a smile on your face.

But it got even better.

Guess what papa had made the kids for breakfast?

Yup, waffles. T and I looked at each other gleefully and plotted.

She took a few bites then turned to her father. “Papa, this waffle is awful!” she giggled.

I giggled. We all giggled.

Silliness rules.

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