A Letter to Dr Seuss

Dear Dr Seuss,

Allow me to introduce myself: I am Sam. Yes, Sam I Am. For the last eight years, I’ve spent LOTS of time with your books and I’ve some things I need to get off my chest.

I have to confess that the first four years were torturous, truth be told. You see, my little ones were at that stage when they wanted to be read the same book over and over. And over and over. And over. I became sick and tired of Green Eggs & Ham, the Cat in the Hat, There’s a Wocket in my Pocket and others. I mean there’s only so many times you can read, and re-read and then read again, those rhythmic lines and words without wanting to tear your hair out or bang you head against something hard. Fortunately, these were also the years when my kids couldn’t yet read and were blithely oblivious to my skipping lines and even pages, which I would do a LOT just to expedite matters.

Then my kids become early readers. And I gradually realized the genius of your books, especially ones like Go Dog Go and Hop on Pop. Words cleverly assembled, rhymed, reversed and scrambled, forcing their developing brains to focus, sound out words, take their time. As my kids started to be able to read these books for themselves, I could see their pride forming and reading confidence grow.

Naturally, they started bringing home more of your books every week from the school library. Books they wanted me to read to them because they were complex, long, filled with ridiculously non-sensical words, creatures and situations. Find me a parent who, weary at the end of the day, really wants to put themselves through such tongue calisthenics? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE fan of silliness, creativity and all that is good and goofy but really, these book were too much for this tired, working mama.

And then we watched the movie, The Lorax. And a light bulb went off and my whole relationship with you changed! I saw your genius. More than just a wrangler of words, I realized you’re a philosopher, a commentator on society and, most importantly, a voice of inspiration. Your simple phrases make profound statements—better-sounding to me, quite frankly, than any catechism or sermon I’ve ever heard. (Here’s 30 of your finest quotes.) Your books are life lessons to the young and old, inspiring us to be who we are, think for ourselves, take chances (try new foods!), read, boldly forge our way in the world—and to care for others, no matter how small.

So, dear Dr Seuss, on this day, March 2, 2013, your birthday, I say thank you, thank you, thank you!

Love,

Sam I Am

Sweet Dreams

I didn’t realize, before I became a Mother, that I had the power to send you to sleep. That my words, proximity, sounds and rhythm held soporific powers.

As an infant, I would lull you to sleepyland with shushes, rocking, swaying.

As a toddler, I’d soothe you as you’d fight sleep tooth and nail, armed with fairy tales, lullabies and cuddles.

As a pre-schooler, I’d remove all specter of monsters and then rub your back in circles, over and over, until sleep snuck in.

As a kindergartner, we’d read, snuggle, have whispered conversations till you’d simply dismiss me, ready to welcome the excitement of your dreams.

As a second grader, you pretty much take care of business yourself, after a quick peck on the cheek, reading independently, falling asleep with your books askew on your pillow.

I have to admit that I miss the days of shushing, swaying, lullabies and stroking of backs and foreheads. Knowing that my touch, my presence was the drug you needed to transcend you from consciousness to a land of hopefully sweet dreams. It’s been an unexpected and heady privilege.

Good Night,Sweet Dreams

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Advice to My 16-Year Old Self

This morning, a tweet from MumClub asking “what would you tell your 16-year old self?” got me thinking. Often I can tweet a quick, snappy response but this I needed to mull over. So I stepped into the shower, and ideas kept popping into my head. Thanks to my waterproof Post-It notes, I wrote down the following advice to Samantha Stern:

  • Keep working on your writing and languages—they will be the foundation of your success
  • There is so much more than Duran Duran
  • You are not fat
  • Dating/kissing boys that are not Jewish will not be the end of the world
  • Friendships trump religious differences
  • Invest in your friends—you’re going to need them
  • Gary Morris may break your heart but there are lots of fish in the see—explore ;)
  • Red heads have more fun
  • Keep dancing
  • Go on blind dates (the last one will be the best one)
  • You are in charge of your future
  • Mum and Dad were right about many things (but not about only kissing/dating Jewish boys)
  • Find your own style
  • Keep traveling
  • Bacon is not evil
  • In two years, Mum and Dad will take you to see Les Miserables. It will change everything.
  • Try sushi: you’ll like it!

For the Love of … Loading the Dishwasher

I recently blogged about my love for laundry, how it feeds some deep-seated compulsion for order and organization, how much I enjoy converting a smelly disorganized hamper-full of dirty clothes into fragrant, neatly folded piles. A few of you called me weird. I get it, that’s cool. But it also sparked a lot of empathy and discussion among readers of the Framingham Patch (where my post also ran.)

And so this brings me to the topic of loading the dishwasher, another contentious topic methinks, especially among married couples. Raise your hand, readers, if you reload the dishwasher after your spouse does. My hand is raised. The Boston Globe even wrote about the marital strife that the dishwasher causes.

Bottom-line, I have a system and it works.

On the top deck:

  • cups and mugs on one side, handles all facing the same direction
  • big drinking glasses on the other side
  • kids drinking glasses in one row
  • bowls, lunch boxes and other random plastic items in the middle –  but arranged to make optimal use of space

On the bottom deck:

  • plates of the same size, stacked all in the same direction
  • silverware sorted by type
  • bowls, dishes, lids, other utensils around them -  but arranged to make optimal use of space

This, my friends, is not rocket science. Note the phrase “optimal use of space.” For the life of me, I cannot understand why some people throw everything haphazardly? There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to it. And while I’m pointing the finger mostly at you, men of the world, the fact is that I also know of some women who are dishwasher-challenged. (You really must check out this funny card on the topic!)

But let’s get back to the enjoyment factor. When the sink is full and the counter is littered with the detritus of dinner, I get deep pleasure from opening the empty dishwasher, assessing the mess and then methodically organizing and loading. It is always a titillating challenge to try to fit as much as humanly possible into the machine, while not overloading it and rendering the cleaning ineffective.

Equally pleasing, though at first mighty annoying, is opening the dishwasher to find that someone has already filled it, kind of. After an initial sigh, the process of reorganizing and reloading ensues and, lo and behold, another 50 percent more stuff can fit in there. And, because there is organization, the unloading and putting away process is equally efficient.

Call me OCD, call me a control freak. And I reassure you I am NO domestic diva. But I have this strong inkling that you get my drift, am I right?

Several months back, I wrote about the importance of teaching your kids resourcefulness (so that ultimately you can get them to do stuff for you.) My goal is to teach my son how to load the dishwasher efficiently. If I do it right, then not only will I have to load the dishwasher less but I’ll be setting him up for future household (and marital) bliss!

A Love Letter to my Father

Phew, at least Father’s Day is the same in the U.S. and the U.K. You’d think that’d mean that I’d be organized enough to get cards/gifts in time for both my Dad and for Devin. But not so much. But hooray for my blog where, even better than a Hallmark card, I can express in my own way, just how special my father is to me.

My Dad is one-of-a-kind. Brought up during World War II, he’s made of strong stuff, with a big heart and a firm grasp on the what really matters. My Dad’s feet are always on the ground. His needs are few. He is generous to a fault. His principals are steadfast and admirable. His smile lights up a room. His dedication to my Mum and his family unwavering. I may be an adult, making my own way in the world, but my path, character, confidence and my success are 100% attributed to what my father has taught me. Several examples include:

  • Picking yourself back up: After being laid off the first, or was it the second time, I was down and in a funk. One day Dad presented me with a twenty pound note, told me to go buy brushes and paints, and paint my bedroom. 24 hours later, I was like new. Focused, with a plan, a goal. 48 hours later, bedroom walls freshly painted, I felt accomplished, energized. Ready to go get the world again. Genius, Dad.
  • Determination and taking risks: As a child, I never fully appreciated just how canny a businessman my father was. Only as a parent myself, can I appreciate the dedication and effort he put into his self-made enterprise, and his employees, every single day. I try to mirror this in my life and career, which has caused me to stay true to my career choice, despite some bumps along the way, and to even forge my career in new countries.
  • Family first: My parent’s marriage has always been a joy to watch. My Dad is what I call an old-fashioned husband, his love is enduring, he is a romantic at heart, I’m sure. My father’s love for his family has extended and deepened as our family has expanded over the generations and there’s room in his heart for us all. What’s more, he’s diligently researching our family past and even finding long-lost relatives.
  • Don’t forget the silly: From jumping out the dining room window shouting “bunny bunny bunny” and cavorting across the lawn, to April Fool’s jokes and creating treasure hunts around our neighbourhood, Dad’s silly-side is often surprising, always effervescent.

Happy Father’s Day Dad. I love you!

10 Parenting Gratitudes

There’s nothing like a rainy Saturday for blogging. Especially when I am home alone with the kids all day. On days like this, I am usually challenged with figuring out what I am going to do to keep the little people occupied and entertained, rather than in front of the TV or computer. Sometime, if I am suitably motivated, I’ll research something going on locally or a museum trip and off we’ll go on an adventure. (However this requires a certain amount of energy and spontaneity that, in truth, I don’t always have on tap.)

Today is one of those days and I was fearful that we’d end up annoying each other with cries of “I’m bored” and bickering. However, much to my pleasure, the kids have been happily playing free-form imaginary games like “pretend I’m a Ninja and you’re a dinosaur and we’re stuck in a boat and there’s an evil witch on a sparkly rocket ship coming to get us ” or “pretend you’re Katy Perry and I’m Luke Skywalker and we’re on Tatouin and there’s a bunch of dwarf monsters after us but we have light sabers and the force is with us….”

And it struck me just how good I have it, especially at the ages that G & T are right now (7 & 5, respectively.) For this, I must remember to be eternally grateful. (I must also remember to revisit this post when the kids are in the throws of puberty and we all hate each other.) Like many others, I often find myself complaining, dishing out sarcasm or being wistful for life before kids but right now, I am the luckiest Mom on this planet and here’s why:

  1. I am grateful that G & T will happily play without me having to create/manage the game (or even participate, though I do of course from time to time.) They can occupy themselves for good chunks of time, either independently or playing together. Legos, puzzles, reading, board games, Pokemon, fort-building, dress-up, light saber fights, or torturing the cat. Long enough for me to take a shower or write a blog post without worrying about them killing each other, raiding the snack cupboard or getting up to other hi-jinx. If the result is a completely messed-up playroom with toys and legos distributed everywhere, then so be it – that’s a price for which I am also grateful!
  2. I am grateful that they are living in an society that is, for the most part, accepting of a broad spectrum of lifestyles and love choices. They do not question and are growing up without bias and prejudice.
  3. I am grateful that, in spite of the shocking cost of being a working parent, we can still provide well for them – but at the same time teach them that money doesn’t grow on trees; it must be earned and spent wisely. And that being charitable is just part of who we are.
  4. I am grateful that both my kids are learning to be open-minded (we have good days and bad days!) and that they are sociable, outgoing creatures who make friends and laugh easily.
  5. I am grateful, despite the fact that G won’t eat eggs and T won’t eat anything spherical-shaped or with a sauce, that they have good appetites, eat their vegetables, drink their milk and even enjoy fish.
  6. I am grateful that they are learning to be resourceful and self-reliant (which means they can not only do more for themselves but can also do more things for me!)
  7. I am grateful that they see their father as a man that contributes equally to the job of parenting and their mother as someone who follows a career.
  8. I am grateful that they know and love their extended family, despite that fact that we all live far apart. I am also grateful for the technology that lets us all be closer.
  9. I am grateful that, thanks to parenthood, I have met other parents and founded many wonderful friendships.
  10. I am grateful for their good health and active minds.

Beware Bitchy Mama

It’s been a long week and it’s not over yet. Been doing the working Mom/sick kid juggle a.k.a. trying to do it all and not doing much of anything well. I’ve been Worried Mama. I’ve been Sympathetic Mama. I’ve been Entertaining Mama. I’ve been Tradeoff Mama. I’ve been Sick Mama too. And today I’m Bitchy Mama. My patience has worn thin, I need uninterrupted sleep and to watch TV that is not animated.

These are the zero-tolerance rules that Bitchy Mama has set forth today for the kids:

  • Any sentence starting with “I want” is being ignored.
  • Any request that does not include the word “please” is being ignored.
  • All and any whining is ignored.
  • If you are yelling for me and I am in a different part of the house, you will be ignored. Come find me. Especially if it involves blood or other bodily fluids.
  • If you are fighting, do not expect me to moderate. Work it out.
  • Tattle-telling will get you nowhere, fast.
  • If you do not listen to me, there’s a strong chance I will yell at you.
  • If you need something and it is within reach, go get it yourself.
  • I am the boss of you.

Let’s be clear. These are not rules that were implemented for the first time today. They are a constant – kind of. There’s usually a fair amount of latitude and negotiation involved; some give and take. But today I was The Enforcer. And it felt really good.

Bitchy Mama will hopefully be replaced by Sweet & Loving Mama tomorrow. But the zero-tolerance rules will remain.

Parenting Payback: How to Get Your Kids to Do Stuff – for You!

I am by no means a perfect mother. I say ‘no’ a great deal, the naughty step is frequently used, I threaten to throw away all the toys that are widely distributed throughout our house, I bribe with chocolate and I’m not above feeding my kids a Happy Meal from time to time. I feel guilty when I put my work – or the next tweet or FB status – before their immediate need for x, y or z. My tolerance threshold for whining is very, very (did I say very?) low. There are many unanticipated realities of parenthood that keep me dazed and confused every day.

Still, there is a lot that I think I might be doing right. When I say I – I mean my husband and I – because it’s a team sport, this parenting business.

Right from the beginning, our wonderfully wise pediatrician told us not to become short order cooks for our kids. Dinner is what’s on their plates. Same thing for everyone. If you don’t eat it, it’s a long time till breakfast. We have tried our very hardest to maintain this policy, even when it’s meant our  four year-old daughter going to bed with an empty tummy and waking up hungry in the night. Call me mean, but the lesson is slowing seeping into her angelic and often quirky grey matter. Last week she voraciously ate swordfish! (Of course, this week she turned it down) It’s worked with my son too –  he now has a man-sized appetite and is (mostly) willing to try new foods.

Beyond the dinner table, we’ve taken this approach further. By that I mean that teaching our kids to do stuff for themselves is an everyday priority. Self-reliance, independence, resourcefulness – call it what you will, but teaching it to your kids from an early age is so important. It was tough for me at first. Being the control freak that I am, it was intolerably painful sitting by and watching my toddler figure out how to get into feety jammies and zip ‘em up by herself. Standing back as your kids pour cereal into their own bowls knowing that, at any moment, the entire contents of the Cheerio box are going to be avalanching out of the packet and cascading onto the floor. Waiting for your kid to figure how out to buckle their own car seat when you are already running ten minutes behind schedule.

The key, we discovered, was to drill this concept of self-reliance into them precisely during the “I want to do it by myself” stage (which starts around three) to the “teach me how to do it” and “can I help?” stages (which are roughly from four to seven – and who knows maybe longer.)

Patience, restraint and several large glasses of wine later ….  the rewards for teaching our kids to be resourceful is paying off. Not only are they doing more stuff for themselves (and feeling proud about it,) now they are finally doing stuff for me! See what I mean? Hooray!

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