Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 30, 2011 ~ Day 202
She's My Sunshine

I'm sitting in our daughter's bedroom watching her try to stuff a wooden train into a water bottle... wondering just how far she'll get with it and if I'll end up needing to operate on the bottle later to release the train back into the wild.

Not long ago, I came upon her in the bathroom cheerily stuffing two full packages of baby wipes, one little wipe at a time, into the toilet. She'd just about filled it to the top and was preparing to flush.

"Hi MOMMEEEE!" she grinned as she stuffed in one final baby wipe. "'Prise!" (Surprise)

Hmmmmmm.... surprise indeed!

Actually, not so surprising.

Our daughter is two years old, and it turns out that her new job is to vacillate between incredible cuteness and extreme naughtiness. She's got the formula worked out very precisely - she always seems to know just how much misbehavior my husband and I will tolerate... without overstepping to the point where we actually get upset.

Right when we're about to get annoyed, she switches on that huge smile and says something adorable or throws her arms around our legs and says "ILUyoo" (I love you)... and of course, we both melt.

It's clear that she has already outwitted us.

Less than a month ago, I spent an entire day and a reasonable amount of money recovering our dining room chairs with new upholstery material. They looked great, almost brand new.

Approximately 26 days later, two of those four chairs have now been 'decorated' in black ballpoint pen, a voluptuous swirling design that reveals the exuberant character of its two year old artist. The fabric has also been splashed with red and brown marker, just for contrast.


Did I mention that the chairs now form a perfect match to the white wall and wood floor near them? That the red ink has also graced my bedspread, cabinets and clothing?

That my daughter's infatuation with art is costing me any semblance of a well-kept house?

Just when I'm about to be truly cross with her, she'll say something like: "Look MOMMEEE, I dwawing! I do pwitty dwawing!!! I dwaw my peeture!" and show me one of her 'creations' on the wall or the floor, reminding me that she is only two years old and doesn't actually understand the need to confine her creativity to a piece of paper or a coloring book.

If only we owned the house, we might actually be able to DO something with her artwork - create entire montages around it. Paint a mural around her scribbles. Instead, every time she points out another masterpiece that she has stealthily made while we were busy cooking dinner or using the bathroom, I kiss a little more of our security deposit goodbye.

Still, our resident graffiti artist is a pretty fantastic character.

Recently our girl has started to sing. She makes up her own melodies, and sometimes tries to imitate her brothers by singing "La-la-la" in melody as her own version of the "A-B-C" song.

Yesterday afternoon right at a moment when I was about to discipline her for throwing her older brother's Luke Skywalker action figure into the toilet, she began to shake her little legs and sing a song to the tune of Twinkle ~ with her own lyrics which we found to be so funny, the entire family began laughing out loud.

"Happeee Happpeee My BUTT-BUTT!" she belted out.

"Um, honey - did you just sing a song about your bottom?"
I clarified.

"YISSS!!!!!!!!!!! I DID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" she giggled uproariously. "My butt-butt!!!" Then, just to make sure I really understood, she wiggled her rear.

Her father and brothers could not have been more proud. The little boys went into hysterics for about ten minutes and made her sing her song for them over and over again. "Our sister said BUTT-BUTT!!!" chortled the four year old.

* * * * * *

I'm learning so much about little girls from my daughter, just as I've learned about little boys from my sons.

My daughter teaches me daily that girls are incredibly resilient. She has shown me that they can be fearless and funny, tender and loyal, mischievous and genuinely kind. She has shown me a kind of strength of character that is totally unique, unlike anything I've experienced with our boys.

This child does not know the meaning of backing down. She is inventive and resourceful, pulling up furniture three times her size to reach food of all kinds... especially pretzels. She yanks plants out of the ground for fun and squishes insects. She eats dirt, much to the chagrin of my mother, which gives me joy because I believe it will provide her with a much stronger immune system someday.

She will make eye contact with any stranger and wave, "HI!" and has no compunction about walking straight toward a street or a parking lot. (Not my favorite trait.)

Yet despite all of her independence and audacity, she is also the first child to give me a hug if I stumble and bang into something while carrying groceries. She is the first one to jump on my lap and give me a big kiss on my forehead. Recently, she has even begun articulating in plaintive tones the words that are surely precious to any mother: "I want my mommeeeeeeeeee!"

Yesterday I took my daughter into the pediatrician's office for her annual physical, the good ol' two year old checkup. Lo and behold, our little preemie who entered the world six weeks early at a scanty four lbs plus change... continues to measure in the 97th percentile for height for all children her age. In fact, she is now only a few inches shorter than her four year old brother. "She's in wonderful good health," complimented the doctor. "She's doing great."

What a miracle.

There isn't a day that passes in this house where I don't give thanks at some point for my three children (and probably also throw my hands up to Heaven and wonder how we're going to survive their childhood!). Having a daughter, especially a powerful daughter who is so unlike me in temperament and personality, is one of the sweetest gifts life has ever sent my way.

As I often sing to her, courtesy of The Temptations, she is my Sunshine on a cloudy day.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 29, 2011 ~ Day 201
Happiest Place On Earth?

I am really frustrated right now, and trying to sort out whether or not I have the right to these feelings.

In two weeks my eldest child is going to turn six years old, which to me seems like a pretty big deal - maybe because we've worked so darn hard to get him this far.

I'm excited for him, and also genuinely thrilled that he has turned a lot of corners this year. With every passing day he grows more resilient, confident and outgoing. Today when I picked him up from his summer camp the instructor told me,

"Your son is so sweet. Today he helped one of the girls, Juliana*, clean paint off of her arm when she'd spilled it everywhere. We just love him."

For a while now I have been looking forward to his birthday, and trying to plot and scheme my way to taking him to Disneyland for the very first time for his celebration.

I've done just about everything I could think to do. I've contacted AAA, checked into our credit card points, looked for coupons and online discounts, put the word out with our friends and relatives, and prayed a bunch to be in alignment with the right birthday plan.

At the moment, it is still looking out of reach for our family of five.

My son always says, "That's okay mommy, we don't need to go to Disneyland for my birthday. I'll see it someday..." which just makes me want to take him more. He's so genial, philosophical and understanding about the whole thing.

Tonight I broached the subject with my husband again and we tried to crunch some numbers, none of which looked great. He has some serious concerns about wasting $300 on tickets for a single day at a theme park with children small enough that they might not even remember it in the future, and I know that from a financial standpoint he has reason on his side.

Why, then, am I so discouraged by all of this?

Why exactly do I feel like I need to take my kids to a big fake fantasyland where a mug or mouse-eared hat probably costs $20, and where grown men and women walk around wearing costumes with large plastic heads? Where we wait in line for two hours to take a ride that lasts for two minutes?

Am I nuts?

Where does this deep yearning come from?

Does it come from my own childhood, when my parents took me to Disneyland about once a year and I looked forward to it for the other 364 days?

Does it come from my lifelong exposure to the ongoing Disney marketing campaign which informed me 33+ years ago that Disneyland was the happiest place on Earth... much as I don't actually believe as an adult that downtown Anaheim is truly my dream destination?

Is it because I feel deficient as a parent if I cannot provide my children with the same childhood that I experienced in the 1970s and 80s?

(If so, this really isn't a fair comparison because by the time I was ten years old I was the only child left at home to support financially and my father was sixty... close to retirement... so he'd had a lot more time to save up $ toward family adventures! We are in our mid-thirties with three small kids, and a really tough economy.)

Why do I have this compulsion? Is it something native to my personality or something societal - where I feel like part of my role as a red-blooded American is to pack the family up and take them to experience Disneyland?

Or, is it something deeply personal, ingrained in my personality from years upon years of watching the Disney channel as a little girl?

Just how much am I a product of the marketing that has enveloped me throughout my life?

Is this trip really about my son? Or is it about me?

These are all the thoughts that are racing through my mind right now.

The thing about that cliched "American Dream" which often feels out of reach to us... the really frustrating thing... is that my husband and I both DID all of the things we were told to do along the way. We each took every single step that was supposed to bring us to a joint future that would equal greater success and financial stability than what our own parents had experienced.

We studied hard in school, got into a great college, passed all of our courses, earned our degrees, and devoted ourselves to careers that we are passionate about. We waited until nearly 30 to get engaged, get married, have kids. We've followed our hearts (and the footsteps of our own parents) to keep one parent at home raising our young children - first my husband, now me.

Like most parents we know, we've made huge personal sacrifices to give our children a stable life with healthy food, medical care, excellent education and extra-curricular activities. To make this happen, we both routinely work 12 to 16 hour days.

I feel like given how hard we work we should at least be able to take our kid to Disneyland for his birthday.

It frustrates me that this is even a question.

At least we're not alone. I know that lots of our friends are in the exact same boat ~ perhaps if not in the exact same way ~ in many similarly frustrating ways.

All families have their own struggles and I guess it is pathetic that I am moaning and groaning about not being able to take my kids to a theme park when other people have REAL troubles - like how are they going to pay their kids' medical bills, etc.


If they're going to market Disneyland to me as the happiest place on the planet, I really think the corporation should set up a scholarship fund (have they???) for all of the extremely deserving kids out there who are forced to watch magical-looking commercials and previews for the theme park... and hear about it from all of their friends... yet know by the age of six that their family cannot afford to take them.

My kid has worked so hard this year and come such a long way, both emotionally and academically. This kind of adventure would mean so much to him. I'm not giving up yet, there are two more weeks left before his 6th birthday and there has GOT to be a way to let him spend a single day in the fantasy park of his dreams.

*Name changed to protect the privacy of this individual.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

June 28, 2011 ~ Day 200
Out of the Blue

Today just as my three children were jumping on the couch and trying to make loud seal noises (which sounded like screeching pigs) the telephone rang.

"Hi, this is Mrs. Raymond* from the church Mothers group. We spoke a few months ago at one of the meetings? I've been so busy this Summer but you've been on my mind and even though our group doesn't meet again until September, I just wanted to check in and see how things are going."

"Oh, wow! Hi!"
I yelled into the phone to be heard over the chaos in the living room. "Great to hear from you! Let me just move into the next room!"

Mrs. Raymond is a lovely woman in her late fifties or early sixties. She is very honest and straightforward about her life and grown children, and very committed to the church and helping young mothers. She has really gone out of her way to be kind and friendly to me and the other new group members, and I always appreciate her candor and compassion.

A few months ago we had a breakout session from our Mothers Group meeting to discuss our prayer requests and I broke down with a request for prayer over the stress our family was experiencing at that time in terms of friction between my sons and my feeling of exhaustion and overwhelm. One of my sons had badly hurt the other one the prior morning before school, leaving me feeling numb and like a failure.

Prayer requests are made at the end of all of our Moms meetings and they always give me an incredible reality check. Just when I feel like I'm the only one holding the world on my shoulders, other moms sitting at tables near me ask us to pray for hospitalized parents, children and best friends. They confide about moments of struggle and heartbreaking loss ~ and ask us to pray for strength for them to get through it.

Usually by the end of listening to other people's prayer requests I feel only gratitude in my heart for the chance to pray for these other women, and also gratitude for the life that I am lucky enough to live.

After our prayer requests are wrapped up we also give thanks for answered prayers, in the form of praises - and some of the praises are so sweet and so real they just melt your heart.

Like the praise from the woman who was at last pregnant with a much longed for baby, after finally getting a single night with babysitting so she could go on a date with her husband for the first time in months.

Or the praise from the woman whose best friend had just been declared in remission from cancer!

Once or twice, we've shared grief and supportive thoughts over the passing away of a loved one.

I've gotten into the habit of participating openly in prayer requests and praises with the group, despite my native inclination to be shy and embarrassed. The other moms are never going to get to know the real me if I don't just bite the bullet and put myself out there.

So, on that particular day months ago ~ feeling as shaky as I was ~ I wept a little as I asked my group for their prayers to help my little boys develop a stronger relationship with each other and grow beyond their bully/victim dynamic.

Mrs. Raymond happened to be facilitating our breakout session that day and she gave me a great big verbal hug as she recorded my prayer request.

"I really have to hand it to you young moms," she said, "Raising kids isn't easy and for the ones who take their job seriously it is even harder. The parenting landscape is so different today than it was when I was raising my kids. My hat is off to you."

She went on to describe a handful of the major troubles she had experienced with her own two children as they grew up, and ended by passing me her telephone number and saying, "I'm a woman born to be a mother and grandmother... but so far without any grandchildren of my own. Anytime you feel like you need a friend or mentor, someone to lean on when you are feeling that you have nowhere to turn, please know that you can always call me."

Clutching the little paper with her telephone number on it, I suddenly felt less alone.

"She's been through this already," I thought, "and she lived to tell the tale. Despite their individual challenges while growing up, her kids are in their thirties now, and she knows how their family got through the tougher moments along the way. I'm sure she has a lot to teach me."

I fully intended to call her and reach out to see if she felt like having lunch sometime.

Not long after that day, my husband and I started to get some really concrete new parenting strategies from our play therapist to implement at home and the rest is history. Household life is about 200% better today than it was just a few months ago. We reached out and finally got the help we needed to reframe our situation and make it better.

Thanks to the significant improvement in our family dynamic (along with the 3 month Summer hiatus wherein we mothers take over for the local school system as the Summertime chauffeur/entertainer/cheerleader/activity planner and teachers...) I never availed myself of the opportunity to telephone Mrs. Raymond.

In fact, I had forgotten until today that I had her number.

What a surprise then to receive her call out of the blue, and to realize with a little burst of gratitude that she has been busy praying for me and the other young mothers in our group all of this time. "I'm so sorry it has taken me so long to call you," she told me. "I have been traveling out of the country and volunteering a great deal... but you have been in my thoughts and prayers."

"I'm sure your prayers have helped my family," I affirmed. "I am so grateful. Thank you."

We chatted for a few minutes and then agreed to keep in better touch throughout the rest of the Summer. "Do not hesitate to call me if you need anything at all," Mrs. Raymond said as she was hanging up.

What a blessing to have hopeful thoughts and good intentions coming to us from a woman of pure heart who empathizes with our stage of life, who hopes only to share a little support or encouragement along the journey!

My incident with the now-fired babysitter yesterday may have reminded me that people we barely know can bring negative energy into family life; but the telephone call today from Mrs. Raymond reminds me that virtual strangers can also bring a world of good into your heart with their genuine intentions, prayers and support.

I am so grateful to her for reminding me ~ especially at this moment! ~ of all the sincerity and absolute kindness that does exist out there.

*Name changed to protect the privacy of the party in question

Monday, June 27, 2011

June 27, 2011 ~ Day 199
Um... You're Fired.

When we moved to our new neighborhood in February I set about finding a new babysitter for our family, which turned out to be a little harder than I'd anticipated.

Even though we have many friends in the area, most of their children are now in college and have not required a babysitter in years.

I know this, because in many cases *I* was their babysitter ten or fifteen years ago.

After a month or so, I found a sitter from our local University who was smart and hard-working.

She had outstanding references from several mothers and her old youth group leader, in addition to excellent grades and a warm, loving family of origin with several younger siblings.

Our kids took to this new babysitter right away and we appreciated how responsible and kind she was, it really made going out for the evening feel like a "date" since I didn't have to worry about whether or not my sons and daughter were ok.

Unfortunately for us, the academic year came to a close all too soon - and our babysitter returned home to a different part of California for the Summer.

One month has passed since that time, and it has been a long, Long, LONG month. School let out for the Summer at our house too... so I actually have less of a break and more stress than before, with fewer respites.

Then last week I received an urgent message from the woman who oversees my work at my husband's company, letting me know that she needs me to write 9 articles in the next 2 weeks.

Without kids at home, this would be completely possible. With all three kids at home, it's more laughable.

Still, my husband needed me. Or rather, his company needed me. Time to step up and meet the challenge!

I suddenly had the brainstorm to contact our babysitter and ask if she could recommend a college friend that might be interested in babysitting until she returned in a few months. After all she is such a smart, outstanding young woman, her friends are surely great too.

To my delight, our sitter replied immediately. Yes, she had a friend that she trusted. Yes, her friend was interested in the job.

Moments later, I received an email from her friend. She was excited about the job! She was willing to meet up first, provide references, get a background check - whatever I needed. She was up for the challenge.

Thrilled, I hit reply.

"Normally I would say yes to all of the above and check your references very carefully," I wrote. "But since you are a close friend of Sonya* our babysitter, and since we have such a high opinion of her and trust her opinion, why don't you just come over on Monday afternoon and we can give it a trial run?"

After all, I reasoned, I would be in the house all afternoon writing content for my husband and thus able to hear my children and know if they needed me for anything. It seemed like a perfect scenario.

* * * * * * *

Fast forward.

Monday night, around 8pm. Our new babysitter just left.

Overall, I really liked her! She seemed to have a good sense of humor and also a nice rapport with my kids. There were a couple of question marks - like the fact that she didn't start cooking dinner for them until I asked her to; also didn't attempt to bathe them or put them to bed.

Still I felt happy and lucky that she and the kids hit it off and that she seemed to have natural child management skills. I'd already asked her to come back again for date night on Thursday, her first time alone with the kiddos.

The only thing that threw me off, just a little, was her spontaneous confession at the end of her time with us that a person she was close to had just died ~ a manager at her part-time job. She was clearly distraught and confided that she had been very depressed, adding that the "reason" she wanted to babysit was to take her mind off of her sorrow.

She then showed me a tattoo she had gotten in honor of her departed friend, and mentioned that she hoped tattoos would not be a problem for me.

"Of course not," I laughed - "My husband was in a rock band before we had kids. We used to have lives..." I added, "before we had (little) lives. Tattoos are fine."

Yet once she left our home, I felt a creeping discomfort with the scenario and how she had described it. "Why am I so uncomfortable?" I wondered. "It isn't her fault that her friend died young. I wonder what happened to him?"

The weird feeling remained in my gut though, so I decided to do a google search to see if I could find any more information. There was just something about the way in which she talked about how depressed she'd been recently - which made me feel a little weird about leaving her alone with my children.

Google.Com has been my true friend in a host of important life situations, and I have to say, it came through for me today as well.

I did not find anything about her friend's untimely death - but I did find her personal Twitter feed.

"Oh, this is perfect," I thought. "I'll get a chance to see what she is like in her own life, away from work." Without reservation (after all, I was entrusting this woman with my three most precious treasures!) I clicked on her public feed.

Imagine my disbelief when I read her most recent Tweet:

"Ahhh TV is wonderful haha. Too bad they're only allowed 1.5 hrs of tv a day!" ...along with A PICTURE she'd taken of my children watching television while she was supposed to be babysitting them.

Seriously? Are you kidding me?

There were so many things wrong with this scenario - I didn't even know where to start.
  • First, it is totally unprofessional to be texting or tweeting while babysitting children who are still awake and sitting right next to you.
  • Next, it is unacceptable and potentially illegal to photograph my children and put their images on the internet without my permission.
  • Finally, are you f(*ing kidding me? She's tweeting about them not being allowed to watch enough TV? Did she really expect me to pay her $$$ for watching them sit in front of our television for hours on end?

But that wasn't all.

There were three more tweets about my children, including one that read: "Note to self: don't have more than 2 kids!"

Um... you're fired.

* * * * * * * *

I got in touch with her immediately and explained briefly and candidly why I was firing her. I included a link to her "twitpic" of my children. I asked her not to have any further contact with my children, and CC:ed our original babysitter on my message.

"What if Sonya doesn't want to work for us anymore, now that you are firing her friend?"
my husband asked.

"Sonya is a smart, caring person who will understand how unprofessional this behavior was," I replied. "But if she doesn't want to work for us because I fired her friend for doing something like this then she isn't the right sitter for our family. I'll just find someone else."

Within 30 minutes I had received a response from the now-fired friend. To paraphrase, she:

-Was sorry
-Didn't mean her tweets in a bad way
-Could understand how I would read them and take offense
-Saw this as a wake up call about how she uses the internet and posts things online
-Had already taken down the tweets and photo

She also thanked me for giving her the opportunity to watch the kids.

* * * * * * * *

I appreciated her email, but I'm not going to reply. It changes nothing.

There are some lessons we have to learn the hard way. Today I learned the hard way that technology has changed what it means to invite a person into your life or family, even for just one afternoon.

When I was a small child, cell phones did not exist and any babysitter that wanted to take my photo and share it with friends would have had to (a)bring a camera, (b)pay $$ to get film developed, and also pay for stamps to (c)mail the photos to their friends in envelopes.

By the time I was 20 years old and babysitting other people's kids as a side-job, cell phones did exist but friendster, myspace, Facebook and all the rest did NOT exist. Twitter had not yet been invented and my friends would have thought it very odd for me to take a photo on my cell phone of children I was babysitting and then send it to them in a text message.

Today, I learned first hand that a perfect stranger can take a pristinely clear photograph of my children with a telephone the size of a credit card and upload the image within moments to a feed that can be viewed by hundreds if not thousands of people instantly.

I guess I've just gotten my first taste of how challenging it will be to shepherd these three precious beings through their childhood in a age of wireless Internet, easy access, over-exposure and cyber-bullying. Wow.

By the same token, today our babysitter learned the hard way that when you make bad choices on the job that jeopardize the privacy of children, you get fired. Instantly.

Hopefully this lesson will stay with her in years to come and help her to monitor her "private" social networking activities more carefully so that she doesn't lose out on the job of her dreams down the road thanks to ill-advised photos or crude language spread all over her personal pages. HR departments DO check that kind of stuff. So do families who hire you to watch their kids.

From here forward, our paths will separate and in my heart I do wish her well.

It's interesting though that we met for only one day and yet in that brief time had such an immediate, important and lasting impact upon each other's lives and perspectives.

I'm sure the Law of Attraction would have a lot to say about that!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 26, 2011 ~ Day 198
Saving Date Night

As the parents of three small children on a limited budget, we don't get out of the house alone together very often. Date nights, when they happen, are like small miracles where within the span of just a few hours my husband and I have the opportunity to reconnect and remember why we made these three children in the first place :-)

One thing I've really learned from parenting is how precious it is to get time alone with your life partner - not just alone in the house watching a movie when your kids are in bed - but really alone. Just the two of you, walking along a seashore. Holding hands in a movie theater. Sitting across the table from each other at dinner. Laughing.

If I ever took time with my husband for granted as a single person, believe me, after six years with children those moments are sacred.

This may explain why I've been looking forward to tonight's date night SO MUCH over the past week, using it as a life raft or buoy to get me through some of the more challenging moments.

For example, as I waited in the pediatrician's office to get my son's pneumonia diagnosis and antibiotics four days ago I consoled myself with the notion that if I could *just* make it until Sunday I would have a real break from pressure when my husband and I went out on our first real date in about a month.

Our college age babysitter, who left town for the Summer, had contacted us to say she would be in town on Monday and did we want babysitting on Sunday night for a date.

"YES!!!!!" we replied without hesitation. "YES!!!!!!"

"YES!!!!!!" cried our children. "YAY!!!!! HURRAY!!!!! YES!!!!" They love their babysitter, especially our eldest boy who appears to have a massive crush on her.

Every day since we made these plans, my children have asked me if *this* is the day when their babysitter will come to play with them.

Every day I have replied, "Not quite yet - but soon!"

Every day I have reminded myself, when dealing with their fights and tantrums, "Not quite yet - but soon!"

This morning as I helped them get dressed I was finally able to tell them that TONIGHT was the big night. Date night! Babysitting night! Woo Hoo!!!

* * * * * *

I'm sure the writing on the wall was there to see in plain view.

I'm such an optimist though, I honestly didn't see it.

But, you can guess what happened next.

Here is the email I received this morning from our much-appreciated, much-missed babysitter:

Dear Mrs. ___________,
I am so sorry this is last minute, but I have a family emergency and I
won't be able to make it tonight. My boyfriend's grandfather passed away
so his mom has to leave to Mexico immediately and she asked me if I could
stay at her house to take care of his little sisters. I am so sorry again
for canceling last minute.
Talk to you soon,

My official response:
Of course we understand!!! Best wishes and condolences to the family!

My unofficial response:
Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :-(

* * * * * * * *

Now that I've gotten my immediate disappointment out of the way though, it's time to dust myself off and figure out how to save our evening. I'd love to make it a big success despite the lack of babysitting.

After all, most of success in life is how you respond to the surprises and misfortunes (even small ones) that Life flings at you!

I think it is important to set a real example for my children about how to roll with the big and little punches, and how to get back up and try again.

So, my job now is to let go of our plans for dinner and a movie... and instead, to focus on how I can make time at home with the kiddos and my husband as sweet and fulfilling for all of us as possible - without feeling resentment.

* * * * * * *

I think the first step is to try to figure out just *why* date night feels so relaxed and happy. Part of it is that we are paying someone else to discipline our children, meet their basic needs by feeding and bathing them, and avoiding the stress that often comes with putting three kids to bed.

If I want to night to be a truly great night then, my job is really to make sure that the evening schedule is so darn streamlined, there is no opportunity for the kids to spin out or tantrum away.

And I'm thinking the first thing I need to do is to plan dinner and make it - RIGHT NOW.

But it's only Noon, you might say. And it's a beautiful day outside. Do you really want to spend the afternoon cooking?

In all honesty, I don't want to miss either the beautiful weather or the opportunity to relax on my personal day.

That said, I don't want my children to be awake until 9pm because we got dinner on the table too late.

So the first thing for me to take care of IS their dinner.

Next, I can get things moving a lot more effectively for the evening if I lay out their pajamas and get their bottles and stories ready right now. In fact, if I put a kit together at this VERY moment for each child - one including their towel, toothbrush, jammies, story and (empty but clean) bottle - it will probably cut 30 minutes off of the evening routine!

Here's the lowdown...

If I spend a single hour right now preparing dinner and getting bedtime kits ready, then our three children may conceivably eat dinner at 5:30pm and be in bed at 6:30pm.

Did you hear that?

In bed at 6:30pm!!!

With our kids in bed at 6:30pm, my husband and I - while still lacking true privacy - may share a relatively quiet dinner for two at 7pm and then watch a movie together (or play a board game, or plan our little Summer getaway trip) until 10pm.

In short, we can still enjoy a date. In fact, it will be a date that involves a lot less money than we'd planned on spending.

Which is wonderful!

Saving money tonight means that we'll still be able to afford babysitting for a future date night, perhaps not too long from now.


I have the feeling that my husband will be truly surprised and pleased to have our evening orchestrated in such a clean and seamless way. Perhaps this initial babysitting disappointment has actually provided me with a simple way to build our family *and* our relationship.

Disappointments are normal. In the end what matters is how you respond to them.

Having moxie and a positive attitude can salvage the soggiest situation and often turn it into something special!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

June 25, 2011 ~ Day 197
How To Spot A Treasure

Yesterday morning at 8:30am, our telephone rang unexpectedly.


"Hello! This is Mrs. Jackson*, the mother of Mikey Jackson* who was one of your (eldest) son's kindergarten classmates. Mikey has been pestering me ever since Summer vacation started to have a playdate with your son. By any chance is he free today?"

"Wow! Hi, Mrs. Jackson. I'm so happy you called. Yes, actually I believe today would work for a playdate."

(My son, in the background: "Mom, who is it? Who is it? Is it Mikey? Is it Mikey's mom?" He began to giggle happily.)

After a few pleasantries and exchanging of street addresses, Mrs. Jackson and I agreed upon a time for our children to get together and agreed that she would come to my home to collect my son in approximately three hours time.

"Well honey," I smiled when I hung up the phone. "You'd better start thinking about what toys you want to bring over to your friend's house to share today."

my son sang out. He'd turned from a pale shade of bored to rosy and excited. "Mikey's house!!!" Leaning in to confide in me, he added - "Mikey really likes me. He always wants to play with me and be my friend at school."

"That's great, honey! That's how friendship should be."

As he showered and dressed, I prayed silently that he would have a great time and come home happy. We've had too many playdates and birthday parties in years past when my son has left our home elated to be going to play, and returned home a few hours later sullen and sensitive, with hurt feelings.

To give my boy proper credit, on many of these occasions he *wasn't* the source of the tension on a given playdate. A lot of times he went to a friend's house and tried to be nice only to find that the kid had already invited another friend over and the two of them weren't too nice to him... or he arrived at the park excited for a "park playdate" only to find that the friend in question might rudely ignore him for an hour.

Even some of his "best" friends have in the past been a bit unkind to him on playdates, leaving him feeling lonely and cast out.

A lot of things have changed though, since we moved to our new neighborhood in February. My son has really bloomed and come out of his shell. He seems more genuinely at ease and happy. He is more confident, and more assertive about his own desires - rather than sulking in a corner feeling frustrated. "Today will go well," I assured myself.

Mikey's mother picked my son up from our house at around 12:30pm. At 3:30pm I gave her a call and we agreed that I would collect my boy at her home, just a few blocks away from ours, at 4pm.

"How is he doing?" I asked. "I hope he has shown good manners and treated Mikely nicely."

"He's lovely,"
she replied. "The two of them have been playing all over the house and yard for hours without a single altercation."


Indeed, when I pulled up in our Nissan Pathfinder across the street from the Jackson home I was thrilled to see my son bounding upstairs after his friend laughing hysterically, as they played with some kind of nerf ball machine.

"They've been having a wonderful time," smiled Mikey's mother as she welcomed me into their beautiful house. "I think they may have played with every toy in this house, along with riding bikes and scooters in the back patio."

"Thank you so much for having him over, we look forward to inviting Mikey over to our place as well."

"Oh, it's just great to see how happy they are and how nicely they entertain each other,"
she smiled.

"C'mon honey, time to go!" I called upstairs.

My son and his buddy raced downstairs and perched themselves on the front steps of the house. As I exchanged a few more pleasantries with Mikey's mother, I couldn't help noticing that Mikey and my son had begun to sing in chorus.

"Wow!" I thought, as I watched my son belting out a song I'd never heard him sing before, in perfect harmony with Mikey. "That must be something they learned in school!"

This kid sitting on the front steps of Mikey's house - this confident, ebullient, joyful, singing kid... this was MY kid!!! The same one that used to hide behind trees and run away from all of us when he was sad.

Just watching it really knocked my socks off.

I thought to other recent playdates with children who have grown frustrated with my son for not playing "their" way, or children who have come to our home with our close adult friends... who didn't end up wanting to interact with my children. I remembered how disappointed my son has been on a variety of occasions when he has put his own best foot forward and been met with rejection.

To see him now, singing happily with his arm flung over the shoulder of one of his good school buddies and the buddy grinning from ear to ear singing too... it actually brought tears to my eyes.

The purpose of this blog has always been to leave my children with a taste of my perspective on the various meanings of life.

Today's post has a meaning so important to me, I want to make it extremely explicit so that my boys and girl cannot miss it.

Do not waste your time or energy on people who don't see the good in you, and who don't value you for who you are.

Instead, lavish your love and energy upon those who treat you well, and who recognize right away that you are special.

I'm not sure why, in life, we are so often drawn toward people who don't feel as strongly for us. Whether friends, family members, or romantic partners... it seems to be a trait of human nature that we often desire things that are just outside of our grasp.

In my 35+ years I have slowly learned that nothing you could ever want should be a battle to get - not a best friend, not a lover. Nothing.

If you have to prove yourself, again and again, to win the interest or affection of someone who piques your interest, they are probably not a good fit for you in the long haul.

I know this goes against what most movies will say... wherein the boy (or girl) meets a crush who doesn't notice him (or her) and they have to go out of their way to curry favor.

My message here is that the movies are wrong, and that true and solid relationships of any kind do not have to come from struggle. That is, struggle on its own does not make friendships or romances more profound... or more lasting!

(Not that you shouldn't be willing to work hard to build a friendship or relationship, and make it stronger... but be wary of those situations that are an uphill climb from the very start.)

Value and appreciate the friend who just wants to sit on a step with you and sing loudly by your side... rather than the friend who snaps at you that you're "not doing it right!!!" and bosses you around.

If my children can learn just this one lesson - just this one simple thing about who to appreciate among their friends and romantic partners... and where to invest their energy and time - they will lead much happier, easier, more-fulfilled lives.

*Names changed to protect the privacy of the people in question

Friday, June 24, 2011

June 24, 2011 ~ Day 196
Love Is Love Is Love Is Love

When I first read the headline, Gay Marriage Legal In New York State! tears began to slide down my face.

Another major event I wish my father could have lived to see.

My father was born in 1926 to a Republican family in the mid-western state of Nebraska. Although he did not realize it as a baby, he was lucky enough to be a Caucasian male.

The difference between his life and, say, the life of a Black female baby born in Atlanta in 1926 would be significant.

He would enjoy opportunities and privileges that a large percentage of his age peers only dreamt of at that time - taking as a matter of right the ability to walk into any store, eat in any restaurant, get an education, apply for jobs.

When the War came, my father would enter the armed forces as an Officer... and ride out most of the conflict at a midwestern college being groomed to join an elite group of ~ you guessed it ~ Caucasian men who would be in charge of other servicemen.

Did my dad dream of Civil Rights at this time? Did he dream of equality for women, minorities and gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender friends?

I have no idea. My honest guess is that he didn't think about these things much as a kid in Nebraska. He lived a good life, an honest and solid life where you accepted things the way they were. I don't imagine that in his relatively privileged world he had need to question the laws of the land.

Were the laws fair? They were fair for him, and that is probably all that mattered to him.

* * * * *

By the time I met my father in 1975 as his own Caucasian infant born in California into a relatively privileged life, a lot had changed.

Thanks to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Californians were well aware of equal rights. I grew up listening to dinner table conversation about Rev. Jesse Jackson and affirmative action. My father had been deeply impacted by the lives and work of John F. Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and he had become a "liberal" Democrat - whatever that meant to him.

He believed in equality and voted Democrat. During my childhood Dad proudly voted for Jesse Jackson as a presidential candidate - making what he felt was a strong political statement. His favorite comedian was Bill Cosby, and his favorite athletes were Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.

According to my mother, he had few close friends but the people he was close to were of diverse culture and ethnicity. "Your father was a fairly private man," she said, "But race never played a role in determining his friendships." In particular, Dad felt very close to Japanese and Chinese people, along with musicians of all background throughout the world.

In the end, race was pretty much a non-issue for him.

Then there was the issue of homosexuality.

Dad never spoke of sex, not any kind of sex. In fact, he once threatened to wash my mouth out with soap when as a pre-teen I called him a jerk for not letting me go shopping with my friends.

"You clean your mouth, young lady!" he yelled at me. "Don't you KNOW where that word comes from?"

I asked. "There's nothing DIRTY about saying Jerk! All of my friends say that."

When I *did* find out where the word 'jerk' came from, I laughed out loud. "Oh Daaaaaaddddd," I consoled. "We don't mean it like THAT!!!"

As a fairly naive but rebellious twelve year old I used all kinds of language which shamed my father - all of which, turned out to have a sexual connotation. My girlfriends and I chatted on the phone for hours saying things like:

"Wow, that really sucks!"
"What a jerk!"
"Oh man, I totally screwed up."

You get the picture.

My father bemoaned my 'dreadful' language and implored my mother to reason with me so that I would learn to speak like a 'nice' girl.

Mind you, these were simply words. I never DID any of the aforementioned things as a girl. I didn't even know what I was talking about.

All this to say that, while I don't actually know what his private stance was on matters of sexuality, I know that it was a powerful trigger for him - and that he had a pretty low affective filter for things he perceived to be shameful.

* * * * * * *

When I was seventeen as a gift celebrating my graduation from high school, I flew to New York City to visit my two elder brothers who shared a place in the upper West Side. These men, my father's sons, were my idols. (They still are!) They were so kind, funny and good to me. They took me *everywhere* - to shows, musicals, museums, ballets. They took me shopping. They took care of me, their baby sister.

At some point over coffee and dessert with one of my brothers, he shared with me a little bit of what his life had been like with my father as a kid. Apparently our Dad had been quite the lothario. Women passing through their home like a revolving door. "I had to knock before entering the front door to make sure I wasn't interrupting anything," my brother confided.

So apparently, whatever my dad's views on sexuality may have been - he was a big fan of sex in general. (As a seventeen year old, I found this news to be pretty 'gross'. Now that I'm thirty-five with three children of my own, it strikes me as hilarious.)

Both of my father's sons, adults at the time of his third marriage to my mother and my subsequent birth, were technically old enough to be fathers themselves. Perhaps this explains why they've always treated me a little bit like their own kid. Never in my life have either of my brothers fought with me over whose turn it was in the bathroom or who got to choose what was on TV... but often have they counseled me over failed relationships and life choices, often have they shared resources and support with me.

Perhaps most meaningfully of all, neither of these brothers have ever judged me. Whether I was making a terrible choice or a great choice, they've always just accepted me for who I am and treated me with affection. They've been proud of my successes but never harsh with my mistakes.

In short, my brothers have really given me that kind of unconditional love usually shown only by parents.

And obviously, I adore my brothers.

As it turns out, as it turned out - both of my brothers are gay.

This is something I did not learn until my mid-twenties. Their individual stories are also not mine to share. Suffice to say that both are amazing people and that they've fallen in love (and out of it) with different people over the years, just like everyone does.

My brothers waited a long, long time to share this news with our father. I'm not sure why. Maybe they were concerned about how he might respond... and maybe they had reason to be concerned.

Who knows what my father may have said, or even thought, about homosexuality as a younger man.

All I know is that our entire family rejoiced for them when they 'came out'. Including my father. He loved his sons so much, all he ever wanted for them was true happiness. Whether or not it had occurred to him that their happiness would be found with women or men, at the end of the day (and at the end of his life) he simply wanted them both to be happy and loved.

* * * * * * *

One of my brothers married his long-term partner in a legal ceremony in California in 2008, in a gorgeous seaside wedding, surrounded by both families. It was a beautiful, emotional day for all of us. Our father was present, less than a year from his death.

When my brother's partner asked our father for his hand in marriage, our Dad thought for less than a second before replying, "CERTAINLY!" Despite his frailty, Dad even helped my brother with his tie before the ceremony.

This proud paternal affirmation meant so much to everyone.

For me, the most crucial part of their breathtaking wedding was that my own two sons were there to see their Uncle exchange vows and marry the great love of his life. In fact, it was the first wedding that either of my boys ever attended.

As a mother, this was the most beautiful gift I could have wished for my children. From their youngest age, their understanding of marriage has been very simple:

Love is Love.
When you Love someone, you marry them if you want to!

A few months later, voters in our state of California invalidated the law that legalized the marriages of people like my brother. The will of the people could not actually invalidate his marriage, given that he and his husband had entered into it legally, but the majority of voters in our state decided that in the future, everyday citizens like my brother didn't have the right to marry the person of their choice.

I could go on and on about how angry this turn of events made me, and how WRONG I feel it is to legislate who can enter into a private and sacred commitment with their life partner that will be honored by the state and federal government.

In the end, I chose not to tell my sons about the change in the state law.

"Why do they need to know that?" I wondered. "How can I possibly explain to my children that some people don't think their uncles should be married? By the time they grow up, it WILL be the law of the land that anyone can marry any consenting adult over the age of 18 that they love. I believe it."

I want my three children to grow up in a world where anything is possible. A world where equality is real.

Which explains why, when I first read today's headline, Gay Marriage Legal In New York State! tears began to slide down my face.

My father grew up in a time when it meant *everything* to be a heterosexual Caucasian American male of means.

His grandchildren are growing up in a time when ~ at least in the great state of New York ~ the individual potential of a human life cannot legally be limited according to race, gender OR sexuality.

Their uncles can now legally marry anyone they want to - and so can these precious kids when they grow up.

In other words,

Love is Love is Love is Love is Love.

God bless America. New York, I Love You!!!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 23, 2011 ~ Day 195
Why Not? Anything Is Possible

Stuck at home this morning with two healthy kids bouncing off of the walls and one exhausted, coughing kid on the couch I suddenly realized I felt like cooking.

Maybe this is some ancestral, inherited trait.

Whenever I was sick as a kid, my mother cooked for me. She made homemade chicken soup with onions and vegetables, pancakes, toast with tea - anything she could manage to entice me to eat.

The old adage "Feed a cold, Starve a fever" didn't hold much weight with my mother. "Eat!" was her loving mantra - or rather, "Try to eat AND drink something if you can, sweetheart."

For this reason, or perhaps just because I haven't cooked anything fancy for a while and I didn't want to sink into a worried funk over my sick son, I pulled out all of our recipe books and started looking through recipes with my children.

"What sounds tasty to you?" I asked my son. "What do you think you may want to eat later?"

"Ummmmmmmm.... chicken. And pasta."

yelled his big brother.

I smiled. "Let's find the perfect dish. The only thing is, we need to make it gluten free."

"So you can eat it too, Mommy?"

"That's right."

We were scanning through a book called Barefoot Contessa At Home, which despite the images of royalty in bare feet is actually a cookbook with some darn good recipes... when my son saw a photo of a Chicken Piccata.

"OOOH!" he smiled weakly. "Chicken with lemons! I want that one."

Scanning the recipe I realized that it would be very easy to adapt to a gluten free diet - simply switch out the regular flour and seasoned bread crumbs for gluten free alternatives.

"Great. We even have the bread crumbs already!" I agreed.

"Can we have noodles too, Mommy?"

"Of course," I nodded - but deep down, I wondered how I would make this request possible without just boiling up a pot of normal wheat fettuccine. "Pasta sounds really good."

Which is how it came about that I spent a goodly part of today searching for a gluten free pasta without rice flour... nearly impossible to do.

I went gluten free in 2007, embracing the lifestyle with gusto and a strict adherence to the diet. It actually seemed pretty easy, given that many companies now make a rice-based alternative for any gluten containing goodie you might want. Cinnamon rolls, breads, pie crust, bagels, doughnuts, pizza - all of them can be found in a gluten free rice-based form at any local health food store. Many of these new spins on the old foods actually taste great too.

What I didn't know back then, which I'm a lot more aware of now - is that if you eat ANY food too much (like, for every meal - 3 meals a day - for 3 years) you can develop an allergy to it that you never had before.

So when I started getting really weird physiological reactions in 2010 any time I ate rice or a product made with rice, it didn't occur to me that the rice could be the problem. After all, wasn't rice supposed to be the most non-allergenic of all grains?

A few months later I saw an allergist to try to get to the root of my rashes, itching, burning sensations and stomach aches after eating meals. They ran skin patch test for about fifty different items, including common allergens like shrimp, peanuts, strawberries, etc.

To my surprise, two things showed up higher than all the rest for a "real" allergy... although I turned out to be allergic to about 9 substances. The biggies though, were soy (which I had always suspected) and rice. "Rice?!? Really?"

It turned out that living gluten free without rice was a lot more complicated than just living gluten free. Since soy, rice and flax had all been banished from my diet by the allergist - along with their apparently nearly-as-allergenic counterparts nuts and seeds (alas, my almond butter!) finding a decent loaf of bread or package of pasta suddenly became near-impossible.

Over the last year though, I've made do and gotten to know other grains and starches pretty well... quinoa, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, tapioca, arrowroot, corn and gluten-free oats.

None of them are as easy to work with as wheat or rice, but so far I'm managing.

Which brings us back to tonight's dinner.

"Can we have pasta too, mommy?" has become a challenge... almost a trick question.

My typical answer is "Yes," and my general attitude is to simply cook up a vat of regular wheat spaghetti, tortellini, ravioli or what-have-you for my husband and kids and just not eat a grain myself on those evenings.

Tonight though, when my son asked for pasta - some part of me whispered,

"Oh, that sounds delicious. I'd love to."

The challenge had been thrown, and I decided to conquer it. To own it.

Start with the experts, I decided - so I went to the source my husband calls my "oracle"...

"gluten free pasta no rice"
"gluten free noodles without rice"
"pasta no wheat no rice"

weren't getting the job done, so finally I came up with "gluten free egg noodles" and suddenly, we were in business. Apparently there is a kosher brand that makes egg pasta with potatoes, not rice. "Manischewitz?" I laughed. "I thought that was wine or something!"

However, there were no local retailers that showed this particular gluten free product - so I decided to call a local authority on the matter.

"Whole Foods Market, may I help you?"

"Um yes, I'm searching for...."
and I gave the guy my schpeal about the pasta.

"We don't carry that particular product at this time of year, I'm sorry."

"Oh, well could you recommend anywhere local that might?"

"Actually yes, why don't you try (BIG BOX CHAIN STORE). They have an enormous Kosher section."

"Really? Great, thanks!"

A short while later, thanks to the graciousness of my husband who agreed to work from home and keep an eye on our little son while I got his two healthy (energetic) siblings out of the house, three of the five of us were on our merry way to the big chain store.

Our adventure there was somewhat lame and simultaneously nondescript. Suffice to say, they DO have a great Kosher section AND they did *not* carry the product I was searching for. Every single one of the many, many Manshewitz products on the shelf contained wheat.

Oh well!

The writing on the wall had become clear and fairly easy to read, even for my five year old son.

"Why don't you just make the pasta, Mommy?" he asked. "You're a good cooker. You can do it."

"I appreciate you saying that, hon."
I tried to recall the ingredients I'd seen listed on the one recipe for gluten free egg noodles I'd seen on Google.

"Tapioca, potato, corn, xanthan gum..."

"What Mommy?"

"Nothing. Ok. Let's do it!"

We stopped at a local store carrying those kinds of flour on our way home. "Hmmmm...." I mused to my kids. "It would have cost us less than $5 to buy a package of noodles to cook; but getting these flours and starches is going to run us about $25."

"You want noodles, don't you Mom?"

"Good point."

$25 worth of fancy Bob's Red Mill products later, we were on our way home - ready to make the best darn homemade gluten free egg noodles the World had ever seen. At least, that's what I told my kids.

"We're going to make the best darn homemade gluten free egg noodles the World has ever seen!"
I announced cheerfully.

* * * * * *

Two hours later, I'd rolled out the dough from the gluten free recipe and begun to slice thin ribbons of pasta into equal lengths.

"Wow hon," my husband nodded approvingly. "That actually looks pretty good." (He's not a big fan of breads and desserts that don't contain wheat.)

"We'll see..." I put a large pot of salted water on to boil.

* * * * * *

In the end - and I'm being totally honest here, because why not? - my homemade pasta from that recipe did not turn out well at all.

The noodles were too thick. Their consistency was too chewy. They had no basic flavor.

"Um... they're almost like dumplings!" my husband noted. "This dough would really be okay for fried dumplings!"

"Yeah, I see what you mean,"
I agreed.

"More pasta, Mommy!" yelled the two year old - but she was the only one... and she's addicted to carbs.

"Probably not my finest hour in the kitchen,"
I smiled, "but they definitely have potential. I'll have to work with the recipe for a while to get it right."

"You should,"
my husband supported.

And that was that.

The thing I really loved about this experience though - the part that struck me powerfully before we cooked the dough, when I was just rolling it out and slicing ribbons from it with a sharp knife - was the feeling that ANYTHING is possible.

I've learned this so many times over the last few years - and I just love this life lesson / feeling that I get every time it's proven again.

Anything is possible!

So what if I'm allergic to the ingredients in most basic foods. I CAN figure out a way to eat - and eat well! - with patience and persistence. There is always a way. My days of lasagne and pie are NOT over :-)

In life no matter how challenging your situation - there is usually always someone else out there who has either traveled the same road as you, and can give meaningful advice; or, someone walking your path simultaneously... offering comfort and companionship.

Just like the person who wrote that recipe on Google - the one we tried tonight, the one that wasn't too great. Wherever he or she is out there, the inventor of our dinner pasta ~ they've probably already regrouped and found a totally new way to make the original recipe better.

And if not, I can do it myself - and share the results with others like me!

I love it.

They say "Where there is a will, there's a way." I not only believe this, I've lived it. I know so many people who are living it right now.

And let me tell you,

The view from the top of Anything-Is-Possible ~ even the view of dinner ~ is pretty awesome.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 22, 2011 ~ Day 194
It's A Choice

I have to be so careful with my thoughts.

Right now, my four year old son is running a fever for the second time in nine days and it would be so easy to blog, yet again, about the anxiety that strikes at any mother's heart when her child is under the weather.

Yet I've made a commitment to follow the teachings of the Law of Attraction and I realize that my focusing on his health is unlikely to either (a) make him healthier, or (b) make me healthier.

Not that I'm taking it lightly. The instant I realized that he was feverish again, I was on the phone to the pediatrician's office... and they kindly squeezed us in to see his doctor tomorrow afternoon to check his lungs.

For now then, there isn't much to be done. He's sleeping relatively peacefully in my bed flanked by his favorite Star Wars spaceship on one side and a sippy cup of water on the other. He's been coddled and read to, loved and given reassurance and good night hugs and kisses.

At this moment, the only thing left for me to do would (typically) be to worry about him.

I love this kid with my whole heart - but this time, I'm not going to worry.

The Law of Attraction says that by fixating on things we give them our energy and we may even draw them to us ~ either by yearning for them or by yearning NOT to have them.

The lesson is to find a "downstream thought" - a place you can focus on that brings relief, where you can allow positive things to flow into your life instead of paddling upstream trying to solve all problems by yourself.

Even if you don't buy into the whole Law of Attraction thing, from a purely stress based level it makes sense to relax yourself during a crisis and stay calm. When your body is less tense or uptight, it is more likely to heal ~ and your brain more likely to think clearly. There are lots of scientific studies to back that up.

My little son and I are closely connected to each other, and when he feels me worrying or stressed out, I have noticed that he worries more too. "It's okay, mommy," he consoles me, "I'm going to be okay..." but his little brow furrows and he grows paler with darker circles under his eyes.

This is almost like when your toddler stumbles in front of you and looks immediately to your face in order to assess just how "hurt" they actually are. My kid looks to me to know how sick he is, and when I worry, he feels sicker.

So, by bringing myself to a more peaceful place - I not only empower my own body to stay healthier - I manage also to create a more restful and relaxing atmosphere for my son to heal in. What blesses one, blesses all - as my mother would say.

With this in mind, I treated tonight as a normal evening. We had stories and baths, I didn't get hysterical about my son not eating dinner but just encouraged him to drink fluids. We did our "happy thoughts" before bedtime.

Now that my three children are sleeping, it's time for me to seek out some nice "downstream thoughts"; ideas that will rest my mind and bring me to a place of relief from the stress of my day... which involved much scrubbing and cleaning, multiple hours of driving/chauffeuring around children, swimming lessons, taking the kids out for burritos (which weirdly made them cranky, rather than happy) and lastly dealing with his unexpected illness.

What are my downstream thoughts, I have to ask myself? What feels good to think about right now? Well...
  • There is a book I've recently read about on that sounds really interesting, and I made a mental note to either find it at the library or buy a paperback copy. Author Laura Munson chronicles a challenging time for her family and how she handled it ("This Is Not The Story You Think It Is"). I'm always excited about a good read, especially when it tells the true story of a wife and mother around my age...
  • Cars 2 the movie comes out this weekend and I can't wait to take my kids to see it! I've been planning to make it a real holiday outing complete with ice cream from Cold Stone, yay! The love of movies is something that everyone in our family shares, even my husband, and he's going to join us for the festivities - which should be really fun! Even though this one hasn't gotten the rave reviews of the original, my kids are going to love it and I'm sure we will too.
  • In other good news, I found a backup babysitter today! Our great sitter from the local college returned home for the Summer, and we've been missing date night... plus I need some quiet hours to write content which is hard to do with three kids at home. Today I got the inspiration to email our sitter and ask if she had any trusted local friends who might want to sit for us. Within an hour, I'd heard from one of her friends who sounds fantastic - and she'll be coming next week to meet the kids! So that is awesome!
  • Our two year old has suddenly begun to talk up a storm, and is now using words like "princess" and "downtown". Best of all, I'm actually understanding most of what she says - and she is speaking in complete sentences! (E.g. "Mommy I'm hungry. I want yummy cake and pretzels!" LOL!) So, all of those long months of her *not* talking turned out to be simply her way of observing and preparing to participate. Now that she's actually talking, I'm laughing all of the time at her sassy sense of humor.
  • My husband and I may actually be going out of town for an entire weekend later this Summer - our first time away from the children in three years. Count them... THREE years. I am soooo excited to spend 48 hours feeling "young" and having fun, relaxed in the knowledge that they are in great hands with their grandparents. We might even be able to sleep in on one of those days! Wonderful!
  • The student I just tutored intensively over the past week to help him through finals ACED his work and was told that his oral presentation was the "best" of the day. So awesome! He's come a long, long way in six weeks and I am so proud of him.

These are all positive, downstream, peaceful thoughts which, the longer I focus on them, make me feel a lot more 'chill' and calm than I might normally be at a time when one of my children is hurting.

Obviously this doesn't change the fact that I'll be checking on my son all night long. To be perfectly honest, it doesn't yet come easily to me to look for the positive thoughts. Even now I can feel my gut churning a little, trying to tear my focus away from good things and plunge me back into worry.

But deep down, I do believe that *choosing* to focus on all that is good in our lives can only help, not harm.

Monday, June 20, 2011

June 20, 2011 ~ Day 192
Oranges and Apple Pie

As I settled into the couch with my laptop to (at last) begin writing today's blog post, my four year old son popped his little head around the corner.

"Mommy -"

"Honey, what are you doing awake? It's almost 10pm! Your daddy put you to bed a long time ago."

"I can't sleep."

He grinned a little mischievously, and held his cup out to me. "I'm thirsty."

"Hmmmmm.... buddy, you know how much I love you but this is the LAST cup of water you're going to have before bedtime. Okay?"

Happily he scampered over to the couch where I half-sat, half-lay and sat next to me.

"I missed you tonight, mommy."

"I'm sorry I was gone this evening honey. I was tutoring a big high school boy. Did you have a nice time with your dad?"

"Yes, we had a very great time. We ate a lot of cake!"

"Oh, I see..."
I twinkled. "That's nice. How is everything else going for you right now? Are you liking your new school?"

"Yep. It's good."

"Are you making friends there yet?"

"Yes. Today I played with Lily*, the one from my very first school."

"Oh, that's nice. Does she remember you?"


"Well I'm so glad you had a good day. I missed you tonight while I was tutoring. It's really good to hear that you had a special evening with your dad, brother and sister."

"It was good mommy. But don't worry, I still love you."

"Well of course, honey. I wasn't worried about that. I still love you too! You know, you and me - we're like peas and carrots right? Or was it pancakes and syrup?"

he shook his head.


"No mommy. We're like ORANGES and APPLE PIE!"

"Oranges and apple pie? Really?"

"Yep! Oranges and apple pie. My favorite."

"I see. So which of us is oranges, and which of us is apple pie?"

"You are the orange, mommy. And I am the apple pie!"

He snuggled his little body into my side and gave me a big, big hug. I breathed in his scent of shampoo and hoped I would always remember those genuine, sweet moments of connection.

* * * * * * *

I really appreciated this small slice of heaven tonight, because lately I've sensed a shift in my relationship with my little guy.

The shift is natural, and it's called Growing Up.

A year ago when my son had only just turned three years old, he relied upon me for everything - not just his hierarchy of basic needs (food, water, shelter, clothing) but also the more intangible but equally vital needs - entertainment, conversation, information, playtime and Love.

He'd always been particularly attached to me, perhaps in part because of his elder brother's clear and frequently stated preference for my husband. From the beginning of our younger son's life and entrance into our family, the two brothers sort of "divided" us up - i.e. "You get Dad and I'll take Mom", and for a long while that is how it was.

My husband and I did not even tacitly agree to their agreement, but try as we might to keep things 'even-Steven', they stuck to their guns. Each of them had a parent preference. The little guy preferred mommy.

I suppose it makes sense - he'd never really been away from me or had the chance to experience the world on his own. I was his lifeline to the outside, the conduit to all of his one, two and three year old dreams. "You are my princess, Mommy!" he would say. "And I am your prince!"

Over the past year though, our son has been asked to make a number of significant life changes very quickly. He'd only just potty trained himself when it was time to start school. This was a big deal for him - leaving me for the entire morning every day. For the first several weeks he'd felt and expressed jealousy toward his little sister who got to stay at home.

Just as soon as he'd fully adjusted to preschool and made three "best" friends, our family moved to a new neighborhood (that we love!) where we assured him that his new school would be outstanding. Amazing. The Best Ever.

We made a lot of promises around that second school (Note to self - never do that again!) with the hope that they'd all come true. Unfortunately, as noted in many previous blogs, the new school turned out to be a terrible, expensive letdown and our son languished there for four months. Sure, he made a few friends and did a lot of art projects; but all in all, it was a huge bummer.

Just when he'd mainly adapted to his second school, we gave him the chance of trying out a third - totally different - school. He tentatively tried it, loved it, and now we are entering our third week of summer school at this new, third facility. Getting there involves a long drive on the freeway twice a day... an hour total spent in the car. It is a long time for a little boy to sit still.

All this to say, that my little 'tied-to-the-apron-strings" buddy has been forced by circumstance to mature quickly. Over the past year he's become so adaptable and confident - a totally different child than the clinging, Mommy-centric boy of the past. He's learned how to make friends - again, and Again, and AGAIN - to the point where he if we run into a buddy at the park... he can no longer remember where he knows them from - everyone is just 'a kid he knows from somewhere'.

Since he started attending school, a whole lot of new things have been added to his vocabulary. We hear a lot of "No!" now, coupled with a lot of potty jokes and hysterical giggling. He has started to disagree with my perspective pretty frequently, and to argue back loudly when his father or I ask him to help with a chore or do something he doesn't feel like doing.

He isn't a pleaser either. If I say, "Hey, could you please go get me a diaper for your sister," he'll flat out deny me.

"Nope, I'm too busy coloring and I don't feel like doing that right now," he'll say matter-of-factly.

We've also gone head-to-head lately about being responsible for messes... for example, when he leaves crud or messes on the bathroom floor and expects me to clean it up. "You're four years old now," I find myself saying, "and I am not your maid."

"What about Sonia*?"
he asks.

"The housecleaner is not your maid either. Grab a cloth and clean this up, buddy!"

"FINE!" he shouts, grumbling all the way.

I love this kid to pieces and when I see his little face these days, I can't help but notice that it's losing its chubby baby cuddle and taking on the definition and cheekbones of an actual boy. A growing child. Someone testing his own limits - and ours.

Recently I overheard this son playing with his little sister.

"Let's play bum-bum Star Wars!" he smiled. "Bum bum, like where your poop comes out."

"Bum Bum!" his little sister laughed.

"We don't play with our bum-bums," I called out. "That isn't polite."

he retorted, annoyed. "We're not REALLY playing with our bum-bums or our poop. We're only PRETENDING. It's just what we WISH we were playing right now."

Soon however he accommodated me and changed the theme. "Sister, get out of that corner!" he giggled. "There are spiders over there! Darth Vader spiders! But I am the dragon, and I will save you, princess!"

Smiling, I took a deep breath and realized that I am no longer my son's princess-in-shining-armor, but rather some benevolent but strict Queen from whom the real princess, his little sister, must be rescued and taken on adventures.

Just as it was meant to be.

I'll always be his mommy though... the orange to his apple pie.

*Name changed to protect the privacy of the people in question

Sunday, June 19, 2011

June 19, 2011 ~ Day 191
He Opened His Heart

This morning in honor of Father's Day a close friend of mine recounted on Facebook an important life lesson she had learned from her dad, and then asked her friends to share lessons they'd learned from their own fathers.

I really liked her post, and commented in response: "I learned from my father that it is never too late to start fresh".

Her question has been on my mind over the last ten hours... thinking about fatherhood and what it means to be a good dad.

I will never be a father myself, but I have learned a lot about what it takes to be a great father by watching the various dads in my life 'in action'. Beyond my father there are so many dads I've learned from and admired - my older brother, many of my close friends, former co-workers, my father-in-law and ~ above all ~ my husband.

A few people close to me (my mother, for example) grew up mainly without a dad, and while each of these people have turned out just fine there is no question that they felt the lack of their fathers acutely especially during their childhood and adolescent years... and were deeply sad to miss out on having that relationship. Many of us at this point, now in our mid-30s and beyond, have lost our fathers.

(There are also just a few dads I've known - none of whom I've been close to - who may have sired children but aren't worthy of the title "Father". My friend's ex-husband for example, who almost shows up for the weekends when he is supposed to have custody of his beautiful daughter... and ignores her when they are together. Or, the father of one of my first third grade students (ten years ago) who shot his entire family and then himself. Tragic.)

As a wife and now a mother, I have gained a totally different perspective on fatherhood by witnessing the gradual transformation of my talented husband from a single musician touring the country with his rock band - to the settled, devoted father of three.

In honor of both Father's Day 2011 and my husband, I'd like to share a few of the memories I have of watching my much loved guy become "Daddy".

  • When he learned that we were going to have a baby, my husband grew very emotional - nervous, excited, overwhelmed by the enormity of the change. He wept (happy, anxious) tears for about 24 hours. He definitely wanted the baby and to be a dad... but given that our pregnancy was unplanned, it was a lot to digest. He let the news really sink in and permeate his entire self. Within thirty-six hours, he was radiant. "I'm going to be a father!" he glowed to all of the people we told. "I can't wait!"
  • After a 60 hour labor, our eldest son was born in distress after having swallowed? inhaled? meconium during birth. An entire team of pediatric physicians was waiting next to my bedside to suction him and rush him to the NICU. Given that I was strapped down and literally being sewn back up, my husband was the first family member our son saw on this planet. He cut the cord and literally ran with the "ped" team down to the NICU. During this time, they formed an instant bond.
  • When I went back to work 6 weeks after that delivery, my husband shared all bottle feeding duties with me. Our baby boy was sensitive and cried often, and never slept for more than two hours a at a time for months. (He didn't sleep through the night until he was 7 months old.) My husband and I slept in shifts during this time and my guy spent many precious hours in the middle of the night, watching the Tour de France while bottle feeding our baby and rocking him. Heart-meltingly sweet.
  • During that first year of our son's life, I routinely worked 80 hour weeks. My husband switched his schedule so that he could work part time from home, and did much of his software coding work with our infant son playing next to his desk in either a baby stander or laying on a blanket covered with toys and books. Some days he even took our son with him into his actual office. We also employed a babysitter but at least half-time that first year, he was a 'stay-at-home' dad.
  • Thanks to my husband's intense involvement in our son's early life, our child strongly preferred men to women as a young child and was what his grandfather called, 'A guy's guy.'. He loved anything to do with a ball and bat, took his first steps in front of his daddy at 11 months old, and went for many a run with daddy in the jogging stroller.
  • With the addition of two more babies - a boy and a girl - he has only grown wiser and more patient as a daddy. And though we've switched roles - with him working long hours and me the stay at home parent - my husband still makes as much time as he can to be with his children. He still puts our sons and daughter first, and I know he loves them more than anything in the world.
  • As part of his daddy duty, my husband also routinely takes our children to doctor's appointments, helps make their lunches, washes and folds their clothes with me, plays soccer and wrestles with them, reads them bedtime stories and drives them to school.
  • While a single man, my husband experienced many adventures of his own around the world. These days, he's dedicated to sharing the joy of adventure with our three kids - and often takes them to do wonderful fun things that require courage and stamina. He's taught our sons how to bike and play sports, introduced them to different kinds of music, taken them on important firsts - like "first airplane ride" and "first swimming lesson". He brings so much fun into their lives!
  • My husband and I were among the very first of our friends to have children, and I have noticed that many of his buddies now turn to him for wise counsel and guidance about fatherhood - what it means to become a father, and how to be a truly great one. This fills me with pride, to hear my husband sharing tips about teething, potty training, strollers and preschool. He wears his daddy badge proudly!

If I were to answer my friend's question about important life lessons learned from a father - but in this case, a father that happens to be my best friend and life partner - I would say,

From my husband I have learned that if you truly want to be a great father, you:

(a)Accept the weight and importance of your new role, embracing it for all that it represents;
(b)Throw yourself into the job fully, making sacrifices if necessary to really BE present with your family, and
(c)Never lose sight of the strong love you have for your kids - keeping them in the front of your heart always.

Not every kid is so lucky as to have a natural, adoring dad like this. I thank God for our good fortune every day.

Happy Father's Day, honey!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

June 18, 2011 ~ Day 190
While Shopping For Chocolate...

Nineteen days ago I wrote a blog post about the sinking feeling I'd had when I left one of my tutoring appointments ~ a sensation that something in the vibe was off... and I might not hear from that particular family again. After more than two weeks passed without hearing from the mother, I resigned myself to the uncomfortable notion that I hadn't been a good match for their needs.

As I described in this blog two days ago, I was then struck with the inspiration to simply ask for honest feedback about my initial visit with their family. "Maybe I'm rusty at this," I considered - "Maybe I wasn't as professional as I could have been." I decided that no matter what the feedback might be, even if the mother's response made me feel MORE disappointed in myself, it would be worth hearing and learning from.

Not wishing to put the mother on the spot with a telephone call which could intrude on the peace of her morning, I dropped her a short email.

I thanked her very sincerely for her time and then asked her for a brief candid review of the session. "I assume," I wrote, "since haven't heard from you in a few weeks, that I was not the right fit for your family. I would be so grateful for your honest opinion about ways in which I might improve as a tutor."

Relieved by the sense that I'd finally shifted the stagnant energy which had hung on me since our meeting on May 31st, I moved on.

Yesterday while tutoring another student in the early evening, I went into my online message center and discovered to my surprise that the mother had written me back promptly and quite effusively. "I'm so sorry!" she'd responded. "Not at all! We both LOVED you. We think you are a great fit for our family!"

She went on to explain how busy it had been in their home around the end of the school year, and that she'd thought she had told me that it would be a few weeks before we would make contact again.

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather - I was so surprised by this turn of events! Eighteen days is a fairly long time for a client to go radio silent, especially a client that you've met with only one time. I'd really convinced myself that it was time to close the chapter on that family, so that I could move forward.

Suddenly, I found myself 'back in the game' so to speak.

* * * * * *

This evening after finishing up tutoring another high school student I headed over to the fancy organic foods store to pick up some special ingredients for a special Father's Day gift my sons and I were planning to bake for my husband - a decadent dark chocolate and raspberry layer cake from the Bon Appetit website. (The recipe photo was jaw droppingly sensual, so chocolate-y and full of raspberry... we just couldn't resist!)

As I was wheeling my grocery cart down the aisle toward the store's bakery section to look for some frosting inspiration, I thought I heard someone call my name. Turning my head slightly toward the left, I glimpsed blond hair and a familiar looking face smiling at me. "Oh wow," I thought. "It's that mother! How funny that I would not hear from her for almost three weeks and then in 24 hours receive an email AND run into her at the grocery store!"

"Hi!" I smiled back. "Great to see you! I was so relieved to hear from you."

Swiftly but smoothly she cut me short. "It's nice to see you too! I'm very sorry that it took me so long to get back to you. We're looking forward to working with you...

I'd like to share one piece of advice with you,"
she added. "May I?"

"Of course!"
I replied, bracing myself. After all, I'd just asked her over email for honest feedback!

"Never assume the negative about yourself in any situation," she smiled. "There is NO-ONE out there that wouldn't LOVE you. You're fantastic."

She then went on to give me a more detailed explanation around the gap in our communication, and we talked pleasantly for a few minutes about travel plans, Father's Day and scheduling for the next appointment.

"Well, I'll let you get going ~ you have a cake to bake!" she twinkled, and then gracefully moved on with her shopping.

"I'm so glad I was wearing a decent, matching outfit," I exhaled - and began to rerun our conversation in my mind. Out of everything she'd said, it was her first phrase that really stuck with me:

Never assume the negative.

"Do I do that?" I wondered silently as I began to continue down the aisle with my cart. "Do I often assume the negative? Or am I just pragmatic, realistic?"

Examples popped into my mind about the many, many past occasions when I'd hoped for the positive only to deal with a harsher, less generous reality:
  • Job interviews where I'd been called back for multiple meetings only to have the offer slip through my fingers in the final round,
  • Boyfriends I'd tried to give the benefit of the doubt until forced to recognize that if you find silk panties under the driver's seat of their car that aren't yours... it's a pretty strong sign that the outcome of the relationship isn't going to be good,
  • Extended family talking smack about my lifestyle choices under their breath ~ yet plenty loud enough for me to hear every word...
  • Children falling ill right before major events like weddings, graduations, special parties, vacations... causing us to defer a lot of joys
  • Etc.

Over 35 years I've definitely come to a point where I try not to get my hopes up about much. While I don't typically think of myself as a pessimist, I try not to count my chickens until they've hatched. I don't like getting let down, and I'd definitely rather walk away first ~ especially if I sense that I might get hurt.

I suppose that approaching Life with this perspective violates the core principles of the Law of Attraction that I've been trying so hard to learn recently! I'm supposed to bring myself into alignment with all that I most want, until my entire body and spirit actually *feel* the sensations of joy and contentment that would come with achieving all of my heartfelt goals and dreams.

Today's surprise meeting at the grocery store seems like a prime example of Life reinforcing the core spiritual philosophies I've been studying lately, using this mother as a megaphone. "Never assume the negative about yourself," she advised. She might well have added:

Look for the best... and project *that* energy into the world.
Don't let fear of hurt or loss enter the equation at all.
Assume love, assume success -> and success and love will find you!