Making Room For Chaos

I’m having one of those days. An agitated, pissy, every shade of bad mood kind of day where each whine from my kids rubs against my insides like a potato over a box grater. A day where every question feels like an intrusion; every request a resentment in the making. My insides feel messy and chaotic, and I’m convinced my skin is sewn on wrong.

For those of you following along at home, these visceral emotions translate into angry, lonely, hurt and sad on a standard feelings chart. I’m also feeling a smidgen of jealousy. Just for fun. Actually, the smidgen is a big win for me. Usually, I like my jealousy in big heaping tablespoons.

Photo courtesy of www.thisnext.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.thisnext.com

We’re big on identifying and expressing feelings in our family. Although my husband and I aren’t aligned on every parenting issue, we both value and are committed to teaching our kids that all feelings are welcome in our home.

But just because we say we value feelings doesn’t mean we know what the f**k to do with them when they show up uninvited and without a hostess gift. Did I mention how much I’m hating being a parent today?

As someone who pushed all my feelings down deep into the dimples of my thighs for much of my life, learning to express my emotions while teaching our kids to express theirs is a big, messy experiment, similar to mixing Pepsi with Mentos. Feelings mean chaos, even and especially the happy ones, and I don’t do chaos easily, even after nine years as a parent. And more than five times that as a human.

I would prefer emotions expressed on my timetable.  When it’s convenient for me and I’m feeling loving and receptive, bring ‘em on. I’ll love myself and my kids through the hardest ones.

Other times, I want to fix and manage and get through those feelings in record time. Ok, kids, double time now, get those pesky emotions under control. Tick tock.

There’s a scene in the fabulous Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, which resonates with me on many levels. The characters sing a tongue-in-cheek song about the value of pushing down unwieldy emotions, pretending they don’t exist and choosing not to feel anything painful. The catchy, upbeat lyrics to the song, “Turn It Off,” go like this:

“When you start to get confused because of thoughts in your head, don’t feel those feelings, hold them in instead. Turn it off, like a light switch, just go click … What’s so hard about that?”

If only that worked.

Teaching my kids to express their feelings responsibly means looking at and accepting my own. And today may not be a convenient day for me. I don’t want to deal with other people’s emotions today. I don’t want to listen to screaming unless it’s my own. I want to be the only one who gets to be angry and pissy and pouty. Is that too much to ask?

Unfortunately, when I don’t express my own anger, my kids act it out sideways. This morning, as my own pissiness peaked, Rhys (4) hit Ava (9) on the leg with a glittery magic wand.

Although I reminded Rhys that we don’t hit other people and helped her hit pillows instead, I was aware that I wanted to whack someone with that wand too. On the head.

Maybe I should thank Rhys for expressing my frustration for me. Or not.

Instead I need some self-care and some time with the punching bag in our basement. Mostly, I need a hug. When I’m feeling this out of sorts, my instinct is to push everyone away, to prove to myself that my feelings are toxic and hateful. But in reality, I’m human and every cell in my body is screaming for connection and love. And that’s the hardest lesson of all.

There Will Be Blood

Do any young girls react positively to the news that they’ll bleed for several days each month for the next forty-plus years?

When I recently explained the basics of menstruation to our daughter, Ava, she cringed and moaned in disbelief, throwing her hands up to cover her face before warning me that she might throw up.

I wanted Ava to hear the details from me, before she heard them from a stranger at school next week during a Health & Human Development seminar. Although Ava is unlikely to start menstruating for at least another year or two, a few girls in her fourth grade class have already begun. I’m grateful her school addresses the subject, but I knew my daughter would be devastated hearing these life-altering details for the first time during a class with her peers.

Although I was prepared to explain to Ava the blessings of a fully functioning female anatomy, the truth is I’ve always dreaded getting my period and hated its personalized accoutrements:  bloating, exhaustion and flash anger. It’s only recently, now that I’m galloping toward menopause, that I’m grateful to feel the pang of cramps every month. (My appreciation is momentary, only long enough to swallow enough ibuprofen to shock Lance Armstrong.)

And at least one of us is terrified of her growing up. In my mind, menstruation signals the loss of “little” in my little girl. I don’t know how to navigate the pain of this inevitable part of parenthood. Or how to help her celebrate this routine rite of passage.

Even with my reservations, I envisioned sitting with my daughter for a mother-daughter chat worthy of an Oprah magazine feature article. I even wore my favorite flannel Scooby-Doo pajamas to lighten the mood.

But as Ava freaked, I choked, unable to find any sugar with which to cloak the facts.

I tried focusing on the future baby angle, but Ava was too far gone.

“I’ll only bleed once, right, Mom?” she said, peeking out from behind trembling fingers.

I wanted to lie, to restore some semblance of order to her world, to reassure her that yes, a period is a one and done gig.

“Mom?”

“No, honey, you will bleed once a month,” I said, looking around the room for stray sharp objects.

I may as well have told Ava she will gouge her eyes out with a Sharpie twelve times a year. And who could blame her?

“What happens to boys?” she asked, once her breathing returned to ragged.

“Boy’s bodies go through lots of changes too,” I said. “They get hair on their chests, under their armpits and around their genitals just like girls do. Oh, and their voices get deeper.

Her face twisted in astonishment.

“That’s it? Are you telling me that girls get breasts and bleed and boys get sore throats? I’m going to throw up.”

Maybe I should have softened the news with Oreos. Or tequila. Remind me to bring both when we have the sex talk.

Step, Step, Slide

As I wrote about in Life Patterns, our four year old has a new fascination with patterns. Her face routinely breaks into a smile as she spots a series of colors or shapes and gleefully shouts, “I see a pattern, Mom! A pattern!”

Yesterday during one of our afternoon dance breaks, both of us swaying to the “Grease” soundtrack, she said, “Mom, do you know our step, step, slide dance is a pattern? Step, step, slide.” (Better she focus on our dance pattern than the words to “Beauty School Dropout,” one of her favorite songs.)

As I danced with my daughter in my arms, awed by her wonder and joy, I mused on the patterns I pray she develops, ones that will sustain and enrich her life, like the patterns of believing she is beloved and of accepting herself flaws and all.

Step, step, slide.

I found myself wishing I could warn her future self to look out for patterns that will hurt her, like pleasing others instead of herself and attaching to people who don’t treat her with adoration and respect.

I considered making her a video of patterns good and bad. Or perhaps a vision board detailing my hopes for her. No pressure.

Step, step, slide.

I felt a momentary rush of fear, aware that lecturing her on life will be easier than witnessing and supporting her as she grows, develops her own patterns and finds her way.

As I breathed in her just-out-of-the-shower scent, I prayed for guidance on our journeys and acceptance of ourselves along the way.

The best I can do today is show her through my actions how to embrace all the patterns life offers, ask for help around the ones that don’t serve me and trust the process of life, love and joy. I can model reaching out my arms for love, and letting the world unfold its beauty in front of me and inside me. Gifts await. For all of us.

Step, step, slide.

Patterns For Life

Patterns For Life

What patterns do you hope your children embrace and avoid?

Parenting Through Tragedy

I had the opportunity last week to attend a workshop at my daughters’ school about talking with kids about tragedy in the world and its portrayal in the news.

I chose not to go; convinced my husband and I were already doing a fine job protecting our daughters from the onslaught of media attention surrounding national tragedies and processing our own emotions so they didn’t come out sideways with our kids.

I was confident we had this parenting topic nailed. At least for now. And what were the chances anything would come up again soon?

I got a pedicure instead.

Photo via Good.is

Photo via Good.is

On Monday afternoon when I picked up our daughter, Rhys, from preschool, I was prepared to be a responsible, loving parent. Or so I thought. After tucking her safely into her car seat and listening attentively to the details of her day, I flipped on the radio and was horrified and riveted to hear about the Boston Marathon tragedy.

I listened for a few minutes, praying my daughter wasn’t paying attention, but too caught up in my own emotions and morbid (albeit human) fascination to care. Finally, I shut off the radio and turned to check on my daughter.

She was attentively feeding Goldfish crackers to her stuffed animal, Knufflebunny, and appeared happily ensconced in her own little world. Relieved she was blissfully unaware, we went about our errands. I swallowed the pit in my stomach and resisted my visceral need for information, knowing I’d have time later at home to devour the media coverage surrounding this tragedy.

When we picked up my older daughter, Ava, an hour later, she bounded to the car and eagerly spilled her news, “Mom, mom, did you hear about Boston? School was so scary today.”

Surprised and concerned, I encouraged her to tell me what happened, but urged her not to mention any details in front of Rhys.

“Mom, we heard about the bombings and all the people that got hurt. What happened? Will you tell me what you know?” she asked.

“NO. Not now,” I snapped. “I don’t want to talk about this in front of Rhys. Tell me what happened in school, but don’t mention the b-o-m-b-s.”

Ava’s precious little face fell at my scolding. I was peripherally aware of my hypocrisy, but more willing to try to control Ava’s need for information than my own.

Ava explained that during U.S. Studies, a boy in her 4th grade class read about what was happening in Boston on his iPad and immediately announced the details aloud to their teacher. One of Ava’s friends started screaming and crying that her mom was running the Boston Marathon. Ava and her other friends lovingly comforted the young girl as their teacher made phone calls trying to get information on the mom’s whereabouts. Thirty minutes later, the teacher was able to confirm that the young girl’s mother was safe and accounted for.

“Mom, I told [my friend] that bad things only happen to moms in Disney movies and fairy tales, not in real life,” Ava said.

Relieved that her friend’s mom was safe, I didn’t address Ava’s naive comment but simply smiled and told her I was proud of her for comforting her friend. Ava beamed. I breathed, knowing Ava and I would have more conversations about this topic later, out of Rhys’s earshot.

Moments later, Rhys asked, “Mom, what about Auntie Rita? Did the bombs hurt her like they hurt those other people?”

My intake of breath was sharp and audible. As tears filled my eyes, I realized I had forgotten all about my older sister who lives in Boston. And Rhys hadn’t missed a detail, Knufflebunny or not.

I wept openly as we dialed my sister’s number, unwilling and unable to control the emotions that had built up in me over the past few hours.

So much for protecting and influencing the flow of information in my children’s lives. So much for processing my own emotions before talking with my children.

At least I have pretty, mint green toes.

My sister is fine, unharmed. I’ve forgiven myself for my parenting mistake and have been processing my own terror and sadness along with the rest of the country. My daughters and I have had several conversations about this most recent tragedy.

Talking with my daughters about violence and those who transact it is not a parenting skill I ever intended to get good at. Unfortunately, it’s become a necessity.  And I’ll be in the front row at the next workshop.

Our Tax Preparer is AWOL

Our tax guy is missing. Vanished. Without a word or a farewell tax tip.

Hector, a fixture of our family’s April finances for the past twelve years, hasn’t returned dozens of calls, emails and texts, forcing my husband and me to scramble to find a new tax guy this year. While income tax prep was a side business for Hector, our new preparer works on income taxes only. He’s found some mistakes Hector made on past returns – all in our favor, of course, or we’d be forced to hire someone else.

I’ll admit I don’t understand everything I should about our income taxes. Although I handle our family’s day-to-day finances, I was happy to let Hector take charge and hide my head in the sand until April 16 every year.

But I was never completely comfortable with Hector and questioned his decision to leave a corporate tax job a few years back and test his luck as a casino card dealer in Reno. Who does that? I mean other than someone with mob ties. But, hey, Hector was cheap and rather flexible interpreting tax code to our benefit.

Now I’m convinced he’s been convicted of tax fraud and is busy playing “duck, duck, goose” with Lucky and Dutch in Sing Sing. And we’re headed there to share a cell with them all.

How long would I last here?  Photo via Wikimedia Commons

How long would I last here?
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

I considered hiring a private detective to find Hector, but since he’s AWOL I can’t ask him if it would be deductible.

Instead, I’m putting my years of cheap detective mystery reading to good use scouring the Internet and America’s Most Wanted for clues to Hector’s whereabouts. The next logical step is to case his house and rummage through his garbage for information (or the suitcase full of money he likely ditched as the Feds closed in on him).

It’s conceivable our tax guy entered a witness protection program after singing like a canary to the Feds and is acting in porn to support himself while he hides from his old mob cronies.

Of course, Hector could be dead, which would be sad for him, but could ultimately throw the Feds off our trail. Let’s hope they don’t find him at the bottom of a river wearing concrete boots. So tacky.

Until I know for sure, I’ll have to assume he’s busy in prison doing the warden’s taxes, like Tim Robbins’ character in the movie, Shawshank Redemption. Too bad that movie’s already been made. But ours would be even better. I can see it now – we’ll get Johnny Depp to play Hector. And George Clooney and Jennifer Lawrence would be dead ringers for my husband and me.

There could be simpler explanations for Hector’s disappearing act. He could have died a violent death at the hands of an enraged client or the husband of a secret mistress. Or been kidnapped by a south-of-the-border drug cartel and held for ransom.

If his kidnappers are reading this, please don’t bother calling. We’re broke and likely headed to Sing Sing soon.

 

What Do You Remember From Your Childhood Vacations?

After spending a lovely, expensive week on Florida’s Gulf Coast, I was surprised to hear my children talk about the vacation memories they’ll cherish.

For a glorious week, we slept in, swam in the pool, played in the ocean waves, fought like the Kardashians, built sandcastles, read great books and spent time with family and friends. We even visited Winter the famous, tailess dolphin at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, something we’ve been wanting to do ever since watching the movie Dolphin Tale.

Will my kids remember Winter?

Will my kids remember Winter?

What did my kids say they enjoyed most?

Ava (9 yo):  Playing with my cousins and having a TV in my room.

Rhys (4 yo):  Having a TV in my room and playing with my cousins.

Basically, they would have been happy at home. After a trip to Costco for televisions. Good to know.

TVs are more memorable than this? "Yes, Mom!"

TVs are more memorable than this? “Yes, Mom!”

My strongest memories of family vacations as a kid involve swimming pools and free sweet rolls at a little pancake restaurant called Wolfie’s. No matter where we went, as long as we had a pool (and free mini cinnamon buns to wash down my pancakes) I was happy.

A good friend recalls traveling as a child with her parents to European cities many of us would consider dream destinations. Her most vivid memory?

Frosted Flakes.

She clearly remembers the sugary cereal she wasn’t allowed to eat at home. Apparently, hotels around the world are familiar with Tony the Tiger’s innumerable charms.

Photo courtesty of Kellogg.com

Photo courtesty of Kellogg.com

What memories stand out to you from your childhood vacations?

A highlight of this family vacation for me was unexpectedly running into an old friend on the beach …

I haven’t seen Laura since she moved away to the Chicago suburbs years ago. She has three beautiful children ranging from 11 to 6 years old who I haven’t seen since they were babies. Imagine walking on the beach in Florida and running into a long-lost friend. Serendipity!

Laura and I caught up on our non-spring break lives while our kids built sand castles together. Laura mentioned that her son, the oldest, asks her to hang out with him at night before he falls asleep. She doesn’t always want to, but because she knows he won’t be asking for much longer, she’s says yes. And she’s discovered they have their best conversations as he’s drifting off.

Her words really stuck in my head. I’ve been saying no to Ava a lot lately when she asks me to hold her as she falls asleep. We read together every night and by the time we’re done, I’m usually ready to have my own down time. Reasonable? Of course.

But last night when she asked me, I remembered Laura’s words and said yes. We cuddled and for a few minutes I experienced one of the purest joys of motherhood – cuddles and kisses from my not-so-little girl.

Soon my daughter won’t want me around as much. I already see her wanting to spend more and more time with her friends. I celebrate and support her friendships, yet I’m more aware of the precious, fleeting moments we spend together. At least some of the time.

My kids are so much a part of my life today I can’t imagine a time when they won’t want my undivided attention. But that time is quickly approaching. And I plan to enjoy every moment we have left.

So, move over, kids. Mama needs to cuddle.

From my favorite daily affirmation site:  Notes from The Universe (www.tut.com)

From my favorite daily affirmation site: Notes from The Universe (www.tut.com)

Thigh Master

I was good last week. I didn’t eat any bread, and I asked my mom to make me a salad with lemon juice instead of dressing, just like the book says. My face still squeezes up at the lemony taste, but the beauty book I found in our basement says I’ll get used to it soon.

As long as I keep doing everything the book says, I’ll have skinny thighs and be more beautiful in 21 days. Eileen Ford promises. She should know. She wrote the book.  And she has skinny thighs.

Photo via Amazon,com

Photo via Amazon,com

Only 15 more days to go.

If I stand on the bathroom counter and bend my knees, I can see my thighs in the mirror. When I looked yesterday, I stood up too fast and slammed my head on the ceiling. Good thing I “have a hard head” as my dad likes to say. He says our house has “low ceilings,” but all I want is to see if the leg lifts are doing any good.

I don’t see any difference yet.

The pictures in the book make the exercises look easy. I’m supposed to do 45 leg lifts on each side every night. I do 75 so my thighs will get extra skinny. I wish my thighs looked like the pictures in the book. Or like Alison’s, my best friend. She’s 11 years old like me and her legs are as long and skinny as a grasshopper’s. She thinks her legs look like string beans but I think they look perfect, exactly like the legs in my book. I wish my thighs looked like hers.

The book says to eat grapefruit for breakfast, cottage cheese for lunch and broiled chicken with lemon for dinner. We don’t have any grapefruits but my mom drinks grapefruit juice every morning before breakfast to help her poop, and I’ve been drinking it too. I think it’s helping, but my mom keeps making stuff like pasta and fried eggplant for dinner and packs me ham and cheese sandwiches and cookies every day for lunch. I wish she would buy cottage cheese.

I throw my lunch out in the cafeteria garbage can every day and drink a bunch of water instead but sometimes I peek at the cookies before I throw them away. Sometimes my stomach growls during art class. I don’t mind feeling hungry as long as my thighs get skinny.

I don’t know what “thunder thighs” are but I know I have them. Mike Cherback says so. He laughs at me every day in gym. Mom says I have her genes. Not the kind of jeans like my favorite pair with the rainbow stitching up the leg, but the kind you’re born with in your blood that give you chubby, hairy legs like mine instead of “slim” legs like the models in my book.

Mom says my legs will grow soon, but I can’t wait. I want to be pretty now. I’m gonna do 100 leg lifts tonight. Just to be sure.

Linking up with Yeah Write this week. Click on the badge to read some wonderful writing from people who have made peace with their thighs. Come back on Thursday to vote for your favorites.