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. 

Falling In Love With Boys

I haven’t spent much time with little boys. As one of three sisters with two nieces and two daughters, I’ve never even changed a boy’s diaper. So when I volunteered at my daughter’s preschool for Water Day, and the teachers assigned me to the boys’ group, I had no idea what to expect.

I have never seen so many penises in one place.

As I walked into the classroom, ten naked little boys jumped, whirled and rocketed across the colorful alphabet carpet like firecrackers exploding inside a box of Cracker Jack.

I didn’t know where to put my eyes.

Is it wrong to look at their little penises? I wondered, feeling as uncomfortable as if I’d wandered into a secret fraternity ritual.

I pretended to search for lip balm in my purse, digging like it was an oversized diaper bag instead of an envelope-sized clutch.

“Mary,” the teacher said. “Mary?”

I turned and registered the slight smirk on her face. “Just grab one and help him get his clothes on,” she said. Why was I waiting for her to add “Keep your eyes to yourself, perv?”

So I looked. Nine circumcised, one not.

What the hell is wrong with me? I wondered. First I don’t want to look at their penises, now I’m cataloging them for future reference. Talk about pervy!

But instead of feeling depraved, once I looked, I fell in love. Little boys are freaking adorable! Here were ten exuberant little people, so proud of their nakedness. So unwilling to get dressed. The glee and unfettered energy in that room could have powered the Northern Hemisphere for a week.

As I kneeled on the faded carpet, eye level with the sea of nakedness, a quiet, brown-eyed boy handed me his underwear in a plastic baggie marked “Henry” as two boys nearby danced a jig, their knees and naked bits keeping time with their giggles.

I held Henry’s tiny tightie-whities as he carefully stepped in, one foot then the other, his small hand resting on my head for balance. His and mine.

“I love water day,” one boy shouted, setting off a chorus of “I love” everything from popsicles to lightsabers.

“I love my penis!” a boy yelled, galloping around the room like a cowboy on crack.  The room devolved into happy chaos as I stared in awe, grateful I wasn’t in charge because all I could think to say was “May the force be with you.”

I could have sat there all day soaking up their contagious energy. Instead, I packed up the wet towels and swimsuits, feeling grateful for this glimpse inside a boy’s world.

That night, as I watched my husband undress for bed, I wondered what he must have been like as a little boy and if he ever wishes we could add a boy to our brood. I know I do.

Sisterhood Gifts

Author Unknown until now! If nobody else wants credit, I'll take it!

Author was unknown until now! If nobody else wants credit, I’ll take it!

I am blessed to have two wise and loving biological sisters and a group of beloved girlfriends whom I think of as my sisters. Together, these talented, intelligent, funny and generous women make up my posse. And while I possibly could make it through life without them, I hope I never have to.

My sisters mean the world to me – I’m a better person because of them. They laugh with me, cry with me, call me on my bullshit and cheer for me every step of the way. And they buy me great gifts. What more could a girl want? (Other than more gifts sisters …)

Speaking of gifts, I’m getting a big one today! I’m the featured blogger over at The SITS Girls, a sisterhood of more than 40,000 women connecting and learning the ins and outs of blogging and social media together.

If you’re visiting from SITS, welcome and thanks for stopping by! I started this blog just over a year ago to write about relationships – primarly those I have with my daughters, my husband and myself.

I hope you like what you see and will follow me herethere and everywhere. (You also can leave your gifts in the comments. Or send via Fed Ex.)

Those two glorious peanuts in the picture above are my daughters Rhys (5) and Ava (9). I hope they’ll stop fighting long enough to be blessed throughout their lives with the same rich, vital sister relationships I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy.  Here’s to the joys of sisterhood for all of us!

Let's hope these two always remember how much they love each other ...

Let’s hope these two always remember how much they love each other.
If not, let’s hope they find someone other than me to blame!

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

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?