Falling In Love with My Life Again

A friend recently shared her favorite advice for keeping her marriage strong. Her method doesn’t involve sexting or Kegels or kinky sex positions. Instead, whenever she’s feeling disillusioned in her marriage, she literally walks outside of her home and looks in the window at her husband, as if she’s getting a glimpse of a stranger’s life.

While I suspect she’s a wannabe voyeur, she swears this technique helps her fall in love with her husband again.

At first, this exercise sounded like a lot of work to me, what with leaving the house and all, but after a particularly difficult afternoon with my own family, I needed to look at my life with new eyes, so I took her advice.

I stepped out our back door and slammed it as hard as I could, enjoying both the dull thump of door rejoining frame and the brittle rattle of wooden blinds bouncing off the adjacent window.

The incessant hum of the nearby air conditioners provided a cocoon of white noise, the ideal backdrop for my peeping-tom activities. The warm mid-September air still held traces of summer’s musky scent, like the lingering smell of sunscreen on skin after a shower.

I counted to ten, willing myself to forget every pre-existing frustration with my family before looking through the kitchen window.

As the late afternoon sunlight cast stripes on his lean face, I watched a man with a freshly shorn crew cut and soft crinkles around his eyes slicing a cheese pizza into small squares. The man had an easy looseness about him as he moved through the kitchen pouring milk into plastic tumblers and piling grapes in a bowl, abiding by the five-second rule on dropped food.

Two young girls, years apart in age and build, played separately across the room.

The younger child, wild brown curls tumbling across her face, appeared to be playing school. Looking up over the edge of a clipboard, she cocked her head and paused for an answer from imaginary pupils before drawing a red check mark on her notebook.

The older girl sprawled on a couch nearby reading a book, her long legs wrapped around a striped pillow. While she read, she fidgeted her toes to remove the bright pink socks covering her feet, then threw them at the younger girl, hitting her on the head and launching a firestorm of muted screams.

Moments later, when the family gathered around the counter for pizza, I wondered what the man was saying to earn his children’s rapt attention. (Perhaps he was making up a story about a strange woman who skulks around looking into people’s windows?)

The father pulled his fingers back and blew on the tips as he divided the steaming slices onto three plates. (Three? I resisted the urge to knock on the window and remind him to save me some pizza or never see me naked again.)

He helped the younger girl cut her pizza into small bites and gently brushed a sticky curl off her cheek. The older girl tapped the younger one on the shoulder and pointed down the hall, snatching a piece of pizza off her sister’s plate when she wasn’t looking.

The younger girl, bug-eyed with anger, curled her lips into an Edvard Munch-worthy scream. Even enraged, this child with spindly arms and an unusually wide mouth was strangely adorable, reminding me of a hairier version of E.T. And from a detached distance, the older girl’s actions seemed more of an awkward, playful attempt at connection rather than as mean-spirited instigation.

The father walked around the counter to give both girls a hug, stealing pizza off his older daughter’s plate and eliciting a stream of playful screams and giggles.

I glimpsed my smile reflected in the window and felt a surge of gratitude for this spirited bunch. Mission accomplished.

They're trouble but they're all mine.

They’re trouble but they’re all mine.

A Decade of Parenting Lessons

Parenting Tips, Parenting Advice, Free Parenting Advice, Parents

This summer, our oldest daughter, Ava, turned 10. That means I’ve officially been a parent for ten years.

With a decade of parenting lessons under my belt, I now qualify as a parenting expert. At least in my own mind.
Some lessons I’ve learned the hard way, like how it’s not a good idea to give your kid silly putty before she goes to bed.
Others, I’ve learned the very, very hard way, such as there is no way to protect my daughters from experiencing pain or sadness or disappointment, no matter how much I try.
In honor of our daughter’s 10th birthday, here are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned about being a parent so far:

1.  Screaming at your kids to get them to stop screaming is counterproductive

Go figure. Every few weeks I test this one just to be sure it’s true. Trust me, it is.

2.  Parenting is like watching your heart walk around outside your body

Watching those four long legs (two per kid) walk into their first day of school last week broke my heart. Thankfully my heart healed quickly and was soon jumping for joy.

3.  Stop trying to be the perfect parent

I tried for too long to be a perfect mom, regularly raising the bar of perfection to keep me on my toes. What did I get in return? A healthy dose of resentment and martyrdom. Brilliant strategy, no?

Now I strive to be authentic with my kids, to show them the real me. Am I too real? We won’t know for a few more years when the therapy bills start pouring in. Our kids’ future therapy appointments will go like this:

Our Kid:  Feelings, feelings, feelings, that’s all my mom cared about when I was growing up. She didn’t hide any of her feelings, and she encouraged me to express all of mine!

Therapist:  How did her obsession with feelings make you feel?

Our Kid:  Torqued and cranked. Why couldn’t she have pretended she didn’t have any feelings? Like normal parents. Would that have been too much to ask?

4.  If you think you’re in control, think again

I want my kids to express all their feelings, needs and wants and feel safe doing so, but I’d prefer it to be on my timeframe.  Preferably when I’m rested, fed and have finished using the bathroom by myself. Is that wrong?

Unfortunately, my kids couldn’t care less about my agenda, preferring to express their beautiful (aka loud) feelings as we’re trying to get to school on time or on the rare occasions my husband and I are both feeling amorous. They are giving that way.

5.  White lies don’t count if they keep your kids safe (or make your life more convenient)*

For years we’ve warned our kids about the imaginary snapping turtles that live in the pond behind my in-law’s home. Our girls never went near the pond without an adult, and we didn’t have to watch them every second they played in the backyard. A twofer – safe and convenient!

*Caveat:  I assumed our ten year old had figured out the truth by now, but this summer, after fishing on the pond with her uncle, she expressed relief at not catching a snapping turtle. Really? I can only imagine that future therapy session.

6.  Make peace with your kids’ disgusting habits (and await the positive power of peer pressure)

I spent months trying to curb my oldest’s nose picking habit when she was four or five years old. I tried to trust she would grow out of it, but mostly I tried to convince her it was a disgusting habit. She kept picking. By age six or seven, she’d stopped on her own, likely because her school friends teased her mercilessly.

I rarely notice when my youngest daughter picks her nose. She prefers to pick at home in the privacy of her bedroom (and to leave her boogers on her bedpost). I may have to wait a little longer for peer pressure to do its magic this time. At least until we start allowing sleepovers.

7.  Accept the things you cannot change (aka put down the whip you use to self flagellate) 

Our daughters are five years apart in age. I’m a different parent now than I was ten or even five years ago. Which one of my kids got the better parent? How badly did I screw up my first kid? Why hadn’t I learned to relax and trust way back when? Why am I even asking these questions? Our daughters “get what they get and they don’t get upset.”  (At least until they have a therapist on their own payroll.)

8.  Make peace with the “H” word

I don’t freak when my kids tell me they hate me. I try to remember that hate and love are kissing cousins. And I hate them too at times. Yet my love for my daughters is more intense and real than any other I’ve had in my life, even the love I had for my husband early on in our relationship. Lucky for him, I’ve also learned to hate him too at times.

9.   Look in the mirror

Our kids reflect our best and worst qualities. Both of our daughters are loving, kind and responsible. They’re creative and dramatic, bright and persistent. They’re also impatient, stubborn, opinionated and dictatorial. From their dad’s side.

10.  Stock up on support & self-care

I get by with a little help from my friends. And when I say “a little” I mean the daily, near constant, sanity-providing support I get from my peeps, spiritual groups and overpriced therapist. I credit them with the rare glimpses of sanity I string together. They remind me to put the oxygen mask on myself first and make time for myself and dates with my husband a priority.

None of this parenting stuff would work without support. And babysitters.

What are some of the best parenting lessons you’ve learned? Although I’m now a certified parenting expert, I’m entering the tween years, so cough up the good stuff in the comments. 

Nine Clues that I’m Angry (Or Will Be Soon)

Anger. It’s an emotion at least as American as Fourth of July parades, cookouts and flag burnings. While some people are attuned to the twitches in their bodies that alert them to angry feelings, I need more concrete notifications. As a public service to my loved ones, I offer the following clues that Mr. Hyde is on the loose and should be avoided at all costs.

  1. Anyone other than me is whining.
  2. I’m rushing. And no one else is.
  3. My eyes are open. Moments earlier they were closed and enjoying a sexy dream starring me and Jason Bateman, but now a certain little person’s stuffed lamb fell off her bed and MUST be rescued immediately as evidenced by the screams emanating from her bedroom.
  4. The playroom that took two hours to clean and organize stayed neat for seven minutes instead of the usual 22.
  5. My shopping cart contains five pints of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby instead of the usual one. You know, for my husband.
  6. I need toilet paper stat and there’s none in the bathroom and no one home to blame.
  7. I can’t find the sales receipt for the oh so cute, oh so slightly expensive sandals I bought that fit at Macy’s but pinch like a horny Italian the minute I wear them outside.
  8. The tone of my voice is calm yet tight as I form the words, “Fine. Go. Have fun,” when my husband is invited to yet another last-minute sporting event.
  9. Our kitchen floor is clean. (The only time our kitchen floor gets washed is when I’m angry, so if you visit us and our floor is spotless, you’ll know my mood going in.)

Each of my nine “tells” belongs in the category of “sweating the small stuff.” They also guarantee that I will a) lose my shit within moments or b) act as if everything is fine, but silently seethe, shooting daggers at anyone within ten yards, including the lovely woman at the dentist’s office who didn’t say thank you when my five year old held the door open for her or the kind gentleman at the grocery store who advised me to “smile” as we passed each other. (Should any of my readers have access to the surveillance videos at either of these fine establishments, please note that I regret resorting to stealth middle finger salutes in both cases. I know. I know. Speaking up would have been classier, but the bird can be strangely satisfying.)

While I do save some of my anger for the serious social injustices in the world, mostly I’m angry when I don’t speak up for myself or don’t let others know what I want and need. And when I’m extra surly, mostly what I need is a hug, especially when I’m too stubborn or too far gone to ask for one.

Anger (640x483)

I’m participating in Yeah Write’s 31 Days to a Better Blog program. We started yesterday, but it’s not too late to join in! Today’s assignment is to write a List Post. And, yes, I’m open to feedback!

Yesterday’s assignment was to write an “elevator speech” to describe your blog. Check out what I came up with and let me know your thoughts. Thanks!

I’ll Be the One Screaming: Around the Bonfire

I am one of those people. The type who on the outside looks pulled together, in control, on top of things in life. And sometimes, I am. Mostly on Tuesdays. The rest of the time, my calm exterior hides a riot of emotions ranging from anxiety to joy, with buckets full of anger sandwiched in between.

Although I’ve shared about anger in posts like Anger Looks Good on Me and Making Room for Chaos, I’m taking a leap of faith today and guest posting at Gigi Ross’s Kludgy Mom about how we’re navigating anger in our family. My post, Screaming With My Daughters, is part of Gigi’s weekly “Around the Bonfire” series, and I’m honored to be there.

If you don’t know Gigi Ross and her insightful, hilarious blog, Kludgy Mom, you’re missing out. And we all know how much I you hate to miss out. So check out Gigi’s site and join us today (Wednesday) from 12Noon to 1 pm (Central) for a live Bonfire Chat  to discuss anger – yours, mine and ours – and how we’re teaching our kids to express this complicated emotion. Hope to see you there!*

*That’s a lie. I’m terrified to do this webchat and secretly hope no one shows up or my computer crashes. But then I’ll be sad and angry. So either way, it should be a good time!

Around-the-bonfire

Place Your Bets: The “L” Word

Cuddled on the couch with my boyfriend, his sturdy chest a pillow for my head, I was enjoying a lazy Sunday morning reading the The New York Times and licking Cinnabon frosting residue from my fingertips. Sedated by the sunshine and carb overdose, I felt all shades of happy, the two of us the picture of young, uncomplicated love.

Life was good. My new job was proving to be challenging and promising, my relationship of four months, steady and fun, and most importantly, my previously too tight jeans, loose and comfortable, the result of a bonus new relationship weight loss. I had it all.

“I’ve read this article on Iraq invading Kuwait twice, and I have no idea what I just read,” I said.

“I told you Cinnabons were dangerous. All that sugar is rotting your brain cells,” he replied.

“Do you even know where Kuwait is?” I said.

“I did before I ate those two buns.”

Laughing, I enjoyed his warm embrace and scratchy day-old beard on my cheek.

“God, I love you!” I said.

I gasped aloud as his body stiffened and my breathing stalled. Did I just say that out loud?

Several moments passed as I registered the horror of my words. Denied an exhale, my lungs burned and the hairs on my arms stood up in declarations of danger.

Maybe he hadn’t heard me.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

Oh, he heard. Shit!

My mental tailspin was as immediate and unstoppable as a bullet tearing through flesh. I’d done it – used the “L” word first. It was a rookie mistake, and I no longer qualified as a rookie.

“I meant to say, ‘I love this.’ This. Spending  Sundays with you. This,” I stammered. My face grew red as my discomfort expanded in lockstep with my lie. The moment for me to shut up was right then.

“I love this too,” he said, his tone imperceptible to my ear.

The sound of blood rushing in my head blocked out everything except the wall-rattling, soul-jarring noise of the El train rumbling past my apartment at its appointed quarter-hour. I couldn’t turn around, couldn’t look at him. If I’d had a bookie or any savings, I would have placed a substantial bet then and there on the outcome of our relationship.

Hey, Ace, put ten grand on Over Within a Month to win, place and show.

Place Your Bets! Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Place Your Bets!
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Instead, I erupted in uncontrollable giggles, either from lack of oxygen or complete humiliation. Or both.

Without turning to face him, my back still against his chest, I announced, “Yes, I said I love you, and now that it’s out of my mouth, I want to take it back. But I can’t. So deal with it.”

His response? A deep laugh and a bear hug.

There, I thought. Now we can move on. Right?

I would have lost my shirt on Over Within a Month. Turns out, Two Weeks was the winning bet.

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.