Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Change of Clothes

When I got to my sister's house in Tennessee, Meredith, her two year old, ran by me on tiptoe, wearing the same dress that both of my two little girls wore at that age. 

I have memories of them wearing that dress all the time; it had dark blue, pink, and yellow stripes and a hood in back. It was made of a stretchy, knitted cotton material and it had polka-dotted ruffles on the bottom of the skirt. When it was cold outside, or sprinkling, or the wind was whipping hard, both my girls would pull the hood over their heads and try to tell me they didn't need a coat--because this dress had a hood. It was one of those articles of clothing that becomes familiar because it was loved so much by the person wearing it. Both girls thought it was the most comfy play dress ever. 
We'd passed the clothes down, and now it is Meredith's turn to be two and wear that dress. She has dark brown hair, and my girls are blonde. But it didn't matter. Every time she tiptoed by in that dress, barefooted and bare legged, I was me again when they were two. I was looking at Meredith, but I was seeing little Rosemary, little Olivia. And they're cousins. They share the same big eyes, she has the same little sausage arms and legs that my girls had when they were two. Her hair is the same length my girls' hair was when they were two. Even her mannerisms are similar to my girls' when they were two. 

It was a strange, weird feeling. 

It was time travel. It was me, instantly transported to a different period in my life, me re-feeling the gush of love for a two year old and the stresses of parenting a little monkey all over again, all of the feelings happening before I'd given myself permission to feel them. Then, time travel again, something happening to jar me into the present--a realization, a remembering that those times are gone, that I'm in a new reality, that so much has passed, even when there is so much to come, even when there are so many more memories to make. 

I wonder if that's how it feels when you're a grandparent--you see the features that belong on your little girl, your little boy, but the child in front of you is actually your child's child. You see your child's movements, but the person in front of you is not fully your child.

How strange.

Dresses have been a theme for me for a couple days now. That feeling that comes from the passing down of clothes has happened more than once this week.

While we were packing for our big trip to visit my sister, I went on a mission to find a swimsuit for Olivia in our garage. I lugged out the two huge plastic boxes full of clothes--the clothes that Rosemary outgrew 3 years ago. I didn't find the swimsuit, but I did find loads of clothes that Olivia wanted to go through all morning while I was trying to pack. 

Today, finally, I let her put on one of those beloved dresses--a dress Rosemary cherished, loved with the kind of intense love a child can attach to a precious thing that she'll eventually leave behind. It was another play dress, stretchy fabric, pink and black paisley, ruffles. But, of course, very grown up, if you're 4. 

When Olivia put on that dress today, I had the same feeling I had when I saw Meredith in the dress at my sister's house. I was seeing Rosemary again at her younger age. Her movements, her expressions. And then that jolt again--this was my other child and it was time to say goodbye to that old vision of Rosemary. It's time to embrace this new, older version of my youngest teeny tiny baby...

Because my babies are still babies, will always be babies--but they just look and act different now, older. They're both older
It's one thing to time travel by holding up baby clothes and say, "Oh, look how little you used to be." But it's entirely a different experience to look at someone wearing those clothes and see a clone of your baby. And still different to realize that the clone of your baby isn't a clone at all, but that it's all an illusion that is happening only in your own mind. Because your second baby is her own person, too.

Has anyone else experienced this strange feeling when passing down hand-me-downs?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Lies We Tell Our Children

As Vacation Bible School Epic Bible Adventures teacher extraordinaire this week, I've had the coveted opportunity to LIE to children about many, many different things...ALL. WEEK. LONG. And I'm not inventing lessons here, people. I'm following the script put out by the official VBS company.

Lovers of controversy, I am not making any commentary on religion in this post. I believe in the Bible stories and themes, though they lose some authenticity and some accuracy in the 15 minute retelling, I guess. 

It's just that all through the lessons, you're directed to lie to kids in the process.

And they love it. In fact, the lies leave them begging for more. 

Think of the Tooth Fairy. The Easter Bunny. (Even my 7 year old isn't buying that one. "A tall bunny that brings eggs? Really, Mom? REALLY?" Yet she's as willing as anybody else to pretend he's real on Easter morning when there's chocolate involved.) Apparently, ever since baby Jesus was laid in the manger and Santa began making his first trip around the world in 2 hours, we've been lying to children and they've been loving it. 

Why do we love to lie to children so much? And why do they love to be lied to?

And now I'm doing it willingly in church. To make church more fun, I guess? 

Here's when I was most amazed--perhaps appalled--by the children's willingness to believe lies. We put on a skit where Esther bursts into the room and explains how stressed out she is that she has to go talk to her husband, the king, and admit that she's a Jew,  and then ask him not to kill the rest of her people. There was this dramatic build-up, and I'd set up a "throne room" in the closet across the hall, where the choir robes are. 

At least our "throne" looked better than this one. A little.

I kid you not. I put a "throne" next to a bunch of robes in a storage closet. I put some plastic swords on it and around it. I hung a plastic crown on one side of the chair, hung a purple shepherd's robe over the back of the chair like a sash, and put a plastic scepter in the seat of the chair. I put 2 flicker candles on the sides of the chair. (The VBS people LOVE flicker candles like they're their BFF.) This was our royal throne room.

We took the kids out to see the throne, had them look inside and tell Esther what they saw, describe the plastic swords, etc. Esther pretended to freak out and be nervous about the king being there, her getting killed on the spot, etc.

My point, restated: our throne room looked like a chair, some cheesy plastic swords, and some choir robes. Oh, and flicker candle magic.

By the end of the lesson, "Esther" left me and all the kids in the classroom and went alone to admit her secret to the "king," and we were pretending he was in the choir robe know, ruling the people (and, if he'd really been in there at all, pushing choir robes off his head). It had all the drama of "As the World Turns" meets "Days of Our Lives." Anyway, the kids were on the edges of their seats. 

Lookie! Woo hoo! Got the king's scepter, and that means I won't get boiled in oil. And now...let me do my soap opera stare before the next commercial break.
  "Esther" returned to the classsroom at the end of the lesson with the plastic scepter and told everybody that the king was going to listen to her. We clapped, and then I sent them to snack, crafts, games...wherever. I'm sure some of the more clever kids snuck a look in the choir robe closet on their way out.

3 nights later, the kids were STILL asking me what the king looked like, if he had shown up in the "throne room," what he'd decided. The last night, right before the group of 5th graders left, one kid stopped and asked why the king didn't show up to make his appearance before Bible school was over. They were genuinely disappointed not to meet the choir robe king but, like Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, he'd made a quick exit out of the building without being spotted by anybody.

Today, my 4 year old, Olivia, told me this elaborate story about something she'd done, and I looked at her carefully and said, "Olivia, did you just tell me a lie?" She responded, "Oh, no, Mommy. That's called PRETENDING. That's what I was doing."

I guess there's a fine line between pretending and telling a lie. 

Is it pretending if all the kids choose to believe there's a king who's about to come out of the closet at church? (This sentence makes me smile just typing it.)

Moral dilemma: When is it okay to lie to your children? Is it ever okay? 

photo credit: enelem via photopin cc photo credit: Javier Kohen via photopin cc

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Daddy is Yin, Father is Yang

A daddy lets his kids lurk late.
He teaches them to romp in the mud,
to slide into home plate in the rain.
He shows them how to use a sleeve as a napkin.
He induces giggles.
He tickles. He wrestles.
He growls like a bear, but never means it.
He lets them win.
He agrees to a movie night (again), serves ham sandwiches on paper plates for dinner,
lets them eat in front of the TV, leaves a pile of crumbs on the counter. 
He brings home everyone’s favorite candies, dishes out gallons of ice cream,
covers it with chocolate sauce…asks if they want more when they’re finished.
He carries them on his broad shoulders and lets them ride him like the world’s most amazing pony.
A daddy is physical, indulgent, and funny.

A father keeps his kids in line.
He teaches them to take care of their bicycles by bringing them inside,
to save their money and plan out how to spend it.
He shows them how to water the garden.
He provides.
He is responsible. He reminds others of their responsibilities.
He expects a lot, and he gets it. He growls like a bear, and we all know he means it.
He lets them experience natural consequences.
He worries about sump pumps and electrical outlets, leaky roofs and broken hot water heaters,
teaches his children character through his model, and knows “discipline” means “to teach”.
If he has to, he can even put his little girl’s hair into a ponytail, even when he’s never done one before—
because she has ballet or ball at 5, and mommy just isn’t available to do it this time.
He thinks about retirement and having a college fund for each kid, tries his best to make sacrifices so he can be present at ballgames, recitals, and “Doughnuts With Dad” at the elementary school.
He carries the weight of the family on his broad shoulders, lets them lean on him when they need to.
A father is diligent, reliable, and loving.

Rare is the man
who strikes that careful balance between the two,  
who can balance yin and yang.
Rare is the man who is both “daddy” and “father”.

Happy Father's Day to my husband, the "father" and "daddy" to my children, to my own dad, and to my father-in-law. Each of these men find their own balance between "daddy" and "father", and each does it his own way. I admire them all.
photo credit: Gruenemann via photopin cc

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Raising Up The Youngest

Since preschool let out, I've been spending time as a real, true stay-at-home mommy for Olivia, the 4 year old. She doesn't have preschool. She doesn't have ballet. She doesn't have her big sister, who's away at school during the day (1 half day left). She doesn't have any planned activity. She has time, and she has me.

And there have been moments we are driving each other crazy.  She wants attention and I want to get dishes done. I want her to help me carry on the workings of the house, she wants me to make two buttons talk to each other. She tries to build a tower with blocks, it falls over, and she screams as if she's being maimed by a rabid cat. These moments sometimes work together to give me a headache by about 2pm. Sometimes she misses preschool and I miss work, if we're being honest.

And there have been other moments, when it's just me and her and a stack of books, and she points to the page just one more time and says, "Mommy, I noticed something that we never noticed before on this page. Look!" When she's helping me fold socks and figuring out for the first time how to fold them over (so proud!). When she's putting away silverware with crazy enthusiasm I could never muster, or playing tic-tac-toe with me on the easel chalkboard and drawing X's inside O's to contrive a win...There are a thousand of those moments, and we've been home together (full-time) for maybe 2 weeks. I am realizing she's a totally different child when it's just the two of us for an extended period of time.

Here's the child she is when she's the little sister. She gets frustrated really quickly. She screams. She kicks her feet and squeezes her eyes shut and throws whatever is in her hands. She reaches down and grabs her shirt and bites it. Sometimes she misses and bites her own arm. 

"I can't believe they're going to the ball without me."
When she's the little sister, she waits for someone to tell her what to do...what to play, how to play it. She watches somebody else draw pictures because she can't draw them well enough herself. She plays games that are her big sister's idea almost all the time. She tries to pick up chapter books and pretends to read them, but gets quickly frustrated and bored. She gets into trouble while her sister is reading something that's beyond her, or if someone chooses to watch a show that's "over her head". She is forced to endure what's "over her head" so much more than Rosemary ever had to. 

These are moments she seeks attention. They're moments she begins to pester whoever happens to be nearest. She steals her daddy's hat and runs off with it. She finds something glass and breakable and waves it over her head. She sneaks into her sister's room and hides all her treasures in the bottom of her own closet. Or...she just leans over and whacks somebody, just because. No reason.

At the beach. Monkey see, monkey do.
But the Olivia who's no longer the youngest is a different person altogether, when she's able to take on a different role. Perhaps my views of her are too much affected by The Birth Order Book, although so much has been written about birth order and how it affects our personalities as they develop. An excerpt from this article by Frank K. Sulloway, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sums up my experience with my youngest completely, though. There seems to be something to the birth order research. Here's what speaks to me: 

The experience of the youngest
Youngest children are supposedly more able to successfully pace themselves against older siblings without experiencing psychological exhaustion as the middle child(ren) may encounter (Buckley, 1998). They are thought to develop good social skills fostered by constant peer interaction. Individuals occupying this position in family dynamics have been found to be secure, yet dependent, which has been attributed to having many caretakers throughout childhood. Difficulty in establishing autonomy has been observed in adulthood, with accompanying feelings of inferiority and concerns that they are not regarded seriously (Richardson & Richardson, 1990). This is compounded by the realisation that throughout childhood everyone else was stronger, older and more competent, and the worry that they can never compete on equal footing (Ernst & Angst, 1983).

I believe that it's important for me to create opportunities that allow my "littlest" to develop some autonomy. She does this in preschool, I guess, but I want her to develop it when she's with members of our family, too. 

The big kids are out of school after tomorrow, so I'm a little anxious about the "big kid/little kid" dynamic around here. 

Am I over-thinking again? What can I do to help my youngest realize that she can be her own kid, even when her sister is busy being her big sister? 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Spiderwebs in My Hair

“You have a spider web in your hair, Mommy!” said Olivia while we were driving. We were on our way to the doctor for Rosemary's poison ivy, and I was in the passenger seat. Olivia’s car seat was immediately behind me.

I was a little annoyed. Olivia loves to point out imperfections in me...moles, pimples, bruises. She notices everything that I'd like to pretend doesn't exist--and then talks about it. Often in public. She also makes up stories just to mess with me. I am forever paranoid. “Olivia, it’s not nice to tease Mommy about spiders in my hair. I hate spiders! I don’t want to have them in my hair!" Still, I had to ask: "Do I really have one in my hair?”
“But Mommy, you really, really DO have a spider web in your hair! Really, really!”

D.J. was driving, and I asked him to look over and check my hair for spiders when we got to a red light. He looked, and he got this grin on his face--the kind where your eyes are laughing, but you're trying not to laugh out loud because you might get slapped. “Oh. A gray hair. Sticking up right THERE...It does look sort of like a spider web.”

A spider may as well build web in my hair. I’m obviously a million years old and practically already decaying. If some maggots could please just come by and eat my flesh and make way for daffodils to grow, I'd appreciate it. I'm way past my expiration date.  (I'm also 34 years old! I'm pretty sure I have some usefulness left. I still have lots of stuff to do.)

Anyway, I imagine those are the kinds of thoughts my sweet little girls must be thinking when they see the spiderwebs in my hair, the parts of me that sag, the little changes that have happened to my body as a result of bringing them into the world...I'd like to tell them they're signs of a life well-lived. They're signs of a growing pool of knowledge, experience, wisdom, love. 

The funny thing is--I don't dye my hair, and I'm not planning to do it any time soon. It's expensive. I won't keep it up. I'll always be worrying about my roots showing. And last time I tried to do it myself, I got dye on the bathroom wall, which was a real bummer. I figure I should just age as gracefully as I can, be as authentic as I can. When they see pictures of me, though, I do wish they'd see a youthful, energetic mommy, rather than one who's haggardly, tired-looking, and old. 

But one thing's for sure: whatever I really am, that's what they'll see, with or without the hair dye. They see the good, they see the bad. They see it all. There are going to be more spiderwebs in my hair, whether I try to hide them or not. May we all learn to accept them--especially me. 

Can you relate? Drop me a line!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

I am She-Ra, Princess of Mommy Power!!

Rosemary as She-ra.
Yeah, I made that costume.
It was yet another moment
where I was a
Master of the Mommy Universe.
Yesterday, I was in a mommy funk. (Check that link if you get a chance, because I'm about to make reference to some things from yesterday's post.) 


Here are my accomplishments:
1. I got us out the door without seeming like a stressed out lunatic mommy. I believe it has to do with getting more sleep.

2. I ate breakfast, as promised. I DID finish my morning coffee, and didn't reheat it even once.

3. I cleaned up for company. (If Amy reads this, I'm sorry to announce that my version of clean--which I like to call "cleaner"--is what you saw. That's as good as it gets until the kids grow up and move out.)

4. We played with our company and had fun. We played outside in the rain, and that suited me just fine.

5. After company, I picked up my friend's little girl from morning kindergarten. I prepared snacks and drinks, and then I watched two sweet girls adorned in mismatched dress-up clothes dance to music from Olivia's preschool class. I made popcorn, and they watched something calm on Netflix. I helped make paper crowns covered in glitter glue. Like my friend said the day before, when we discussed me watching her little girl, having a friend over for Olivia got her out of my pocket for awhile.

6. I managed a dispute between Olivia and Rosemary about chalk. I don't mean to brag, except that I DO mean to brag. I was stinking AMAZING. By the time I was done, they'd talked the whole thing out and everybody was ready to take turns and play together again.  It was a moment of parenting awesomeness.

7. I cooked dinner, and everybody liked it! If you're one of my amazing Facebook fans, you might've seen that I made "Copy Cat Cracker Barrel Chicken Tenders" for the first time. Olivia said if they tasted like a copy cat, she wasn't eating them...but she totally ate them anyway. 

So...look how far we've come in one day! 

I have to run now--because it's 11:04pm, and I vowed to make an 11:00 bedtime. She-ra needs her beauty sleep!    

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I Don't Wanna Be Decapitated St. Francis!

This is how I have been feeling today. A bit like St. Francis after he's been used as a bowling pin. If you're wondering, that's actually how he got broken...Rosemary used him as a bowling pin one time too many.

If you want to know the truth about it, I've been Grumpy Mom (again) today. 

I didn't want to be, but it's just that there's always somebody who wants something from me. There's somebody making noise around me, at me, on me, in spite of me. I'm hungry and didn't eat enough because I was focused on feeding other people. I swear, I reheated my coffee in the microwave at least 4 times this morning, and I never did finish the whole cup. And somebody was following me around ALL DAY with her hand shoved in my jeans pocket, laughing a lot and saying, "I'm attached to you! I'm attached to you, Mommy!", or insisting on helping me cut onions with a very sharp knife, or neeeeeeeding me to play, puhleeeeeeeeeeeeez?! How about now? Now? NOW? (Nobody EVER plays with that kid. She's totally neglected, in case you're wondering. There's also NOTHING that says her name on it--"Olivia". And she never gets anything or gets to do ANYTHING. Can you imagine?)
And in spite of all that puhleeeeeez-ing, there's laundry all over my house, dishes piling up in the sink, and dirt on the floor. Oh, and rhinestones. There are always, always rhinestones all over my floors. We love sparkly around here.

My body and my senses are not my own today, and I'm keenly aware of it. I guess I'm not in control of anything, including my emotions. 

And what I really want today is to sit in a quiet room, look out the window, sip a glass of wine, eat chocolate and Cheez-its, read awhile, take a ridiculously long bath, and then go to bed in the bedroom I slept in when I was a kid--because my dad put me in the basement and sound-proofed it so that he wouldn't have to hear me practice my french horn. Oh, how I long to sleep there. It was always so quiet and so dark at night.

This post by blogging buddy Jessica Smock resonated with me today. It's about how we introverts shouldn't feel bad about our need to step away from constant social interaction and get our mothering mojo back. So I am trying not to feel so bad about wanting to escape to a rubber room, but I'm also trying to figure out what to do about the issues I am having.

And I've decided that tomorrow is a new day

For the next week, my plan is to focus on three things: food, water, and sleep. Cyber-audience, I hereby solemnly vow that I will eat breakfast every day for a week. You heard it here first. And I will go to bed by 11pm every night. Yes, every night. And I will drink more water and less sugary, caffeinated crap. 

And we will reconvene after that, and I will be transformed into the She-ra of the mommy universe. I will become as beloved as St. Francis before that big ball from Wal-mart took off his head. Or at least I'll be less grumpy and better able to function. I am not sure about how to deal with the noise in my universe, but I guess I'll figure out something.

How do you cope when your universe gets too chaotic?    

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Psychology of Mommy Guilt...and Hair

I am growing out my hair--because my girls need me to have mermaid princess hair instead of the pixie hair I wanted. Well, that's part of the reason. Also,  I believe my husband looks wistfully at pictures of me with longer hair, even though he'd never, ever, ever utter the words, "I wish you'd grow out your hair."

So those are the secondary reasons I'm growing it out. The main reason is that the shorter hair messes with my self-concept enough that I'm sick of doubting myself. Let me explain.

You see, I wanted Hermione Granger's hair--the cut after the Harry Potter movies. I wanted the hair of every girl in every picture on Pinterest under "pixie hair". And I got my pixie cut, and I was elated. I was ecstatic. I was edgy and daring--or at least my hair was those things. And I can "do" shorter hair. I believe I can pull it off. It took me less than 5 minutes to fix, and it always looked good.
Me after my pixie cut. Easy-peasy hair...
I was also freaking out that I might look like a boy, and wondering who the edgy and daring girl in the mirror was when I'm clearly still "feet planted firmly in her secure, stable, and often boring  life Jessica". I felt that I needed girly accessories and earrings all the time so that I'd look feminine.

One day this lady at preschool walked by and said, "Oh! Oh MY! You cut your hair! It's very...interesting." That didn't do wonders for the ole' self-esteem.

Months went by, and I continued to wonder what people thought when they looked at me, and if they weren't talking about why in the world I'd cut my hair, and wondering if they thought my haircut meant that I had left my husband and taken a girlfriend, or if perhaps I'd undergone chemotherapy and they just hadn't known about it, and of course now I was growing it back in. And I also wondered why half the posts on Pinterest under "pixie hair" explained how to grow it out. I mean, if it was a good cut to have, why was everybody getting rid of it? All of these excuses for growing my hair show weakness in me, but what can I say? I thought them, and I admit it.

And now my hair is getting longer and...guess what. I am thinking that perhaps I was better off with it short. It's starting to flip out funny, and I am remembering again how much of a pain the longer hair was to fix, and when I see pictures of it when it was longer, I keep thinking of how much more flattering the pictures of my hair shorter are. 
Anyhow, sometime in the middle of the moment this morning when I was looking into the mirror and loathing my hair, I thought of how so many of us look at the decisions we make as mommies in the same way I was looking at  my hair. We don't look at the decisions we make with acceptance, and we don't look at the decision-maker (ourselves) with tolerance. Instead, we pick at those decisions like we'd pick at a rough scab. We pick at them until they ooze.
Acceptance and tolerance: the cure for "Mommy Guilt"?
I guess that's called "Mommy Guilt". Why do we do this to ourselves? I've worked full-time with a baby, stayed at home with a baby and a preschooler, and worked part-time with my kids. And there's one thing I've learned: having kids makes it nearly impossible to achieve a life balance, no matter what setup you have. There are advantages and disadvantages to each setup, and no matter what you choose, you wonder what things would have been like if you'd have chosen differently.

And it's that way with more than the stay-at-home mom vs. working mom debate. We moms have to make choices about public school vs. private school vs. homeschooling, cloth or disposable diapers, the number of and types of activities our kids go to after school, how to allocate money for college, if and when we will allow our kids to have cell phones, who to leave our children to in our wills. 

I have spent hours second-guessing the choices I've made about my hair. I've spent years second-guessing the choices I've made as a mommy. I wonder if, in the end, I wouldn't be happier and everybody involved wouldn't be better off if I would just go with my gut--if I would just make decisions and stick with them. I wonder what it would take for me to stop looking back. 

But you know I'm going to grow my hair so I can get it cut again, and so do I. And then I'm going to grow it right back out again. 

And worrying over the decisions we make about our kids is one way that we love them.

Have you made any big parenting decisions and then second-guessed yourself later? Have you made any big hair decisions and second-guessed yourself afterwards? I'd love to hear about either one!

photo credit: sh0dan via photopin cc photo credit: Neal. via photopin cc

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

My Pretty Little Liar

We were about to go out the door, and I really didn’t have time to mess with her teeth , so I asked Olivia if she’d brushed them yet. “Yes,” she said. She didn’t miss a beat. “Daddy did it earlier.” I wish I could say that her voice took on a different, suspicious tone; or that her eyes looked extra wide, a grin plastered across her face; or that she looked away immediately after answering me. I wish that I could say that she’d given any indication that she was being a sneaky rat.