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.

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?

Gift Finding Vs. Fault Finding

The other night in Florida, out to dinner with my husband’s siblings at a popular oceanfront restaurant, we encountered an uber friendly, highly inquisitive (read drunk and obnoxious) gentleman in the open-air lobby.

A Left Coast native, he was intrigued by our Midwestern lives and long-term marriages and peppered us with probing questions.

After one too many inquiries, I checked out of the conversation and focused on more important things, like what sides I would order for dinner (corn bread and baked potato) and what the odds are of being eaten by a shark if I went into the ocean with a bleeding cut on my leg (according to Google, 1 in 100,000,000).

When I resurfaced, I caught the end of this conversation:

Obnoxious Dude (pointing to my sister-in-law’s husband):  So … you were college sweethearts. Why did you end up marrying this guy?

Sister-in-Law:  He made me laugh, had a good job and a great head of hair.

Obnoxious Dude:  Sounds like you made a good choice. And what do you bring to the relationship?

Sister-in-Law:  I’m very good looking.

After laughing at my sister-in-law’s cheeky response, I started thinking about how I would answer that question – what do I bring to my relationship?

While I am also very good looking, I’m usually more willing to point out my shortcomings (bossy, short-tempered, martyr-ish) than my gifts.

Photo courtesy of http://www.miscfinds4u.com

Coincidentally, a good friend and spiritual mentor had suggested I spend some time during our vacation making a list of all the gifts I have to offer, all the wonderful qualities that make me, me.

After resisting her suggestion for days (and knowing I was still at least 30 minutes away from that corn bread), I started making a list in my head at the restaurant.

The first few were easy:  funny, loving, warm hearted.

I quickly added honest, responsible and persistent.

After those, the going got harder:  organized, compassionate and friendly led to sensible, hard working, good speller.

Blah, blah, blah – in my head, all of these attributes added up to B-O-R-I-N-G!

Where were sexy, exotic and impertinent? Why weren’t unpredictable, brazen and audacious on my list? (And where’s a good Thesaurus when you need one?!)

The next day, when I called my friend to share my insights, she relayed to me a story from the Talmud (I’m paraphrasing here) about a man who upon his death tells God, “I’m sorry I wasn’t more like Moses.” God replies, “I’m just sorry you weren’t more like you!”

Listening to this story, something shifted in me.

I’m tired of fault-finding and wishing I were different instead of owning all the glory and wonder that is me. My friend helped me realize that instead of changing anything about me, I want to own, value and even celebrate everything that is me – my strength, honesty, courage, confidence, earnestness, authenticity and big spirit-ness.

I already have all the qualities I long for and admire in other people, some only need more exercise to reach their full potential, like the ab muscles I’ve neglected over the past several years.

I’m likely to relapse into fault finding, so I need fellow travelers on this gift-finding journey. Are you with me?

What attributes of yours will you celebrate today?

Ancient Chinese Secret

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I made the appointment with Dr. W on a whim. After more than a year of fertility treatments and three devastating miscarriages, I was desperate for fresh hope. Convinced by a pregnant colleague that Dr. W was a fertility miracle worker, I persuaded my friend Trish to drive me to his Chinatown office for a traditional Chinese medicine consultation.

When I pushed open the glass door to the waiting room, the musty, oily smell of burning leaves mixed with lemon Pledge overwhelmed my senses. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves held glass canisters brimming with herbs and tinctures.

“Do I need to believe in this witch doctor stuff for it to work?” I whispered to Trish.

“I doubt it,” she said, squeezing my hand.

A receptionist handed me pages of questions covering every facet of my menstrual and fertility history. “He is certainly thorough,” I thought, taking relief at the thought.

Two seats over, a young woman relaxed with a cup of earthy smelling brew. “It’s my first time. Yours too?” I asked, hoping for a friendly distraction.

“No. I’ve been coming three times a week for five weeks,” she replied. Dr. W gives me acupuncture and prescribed this tea and a bunch of herbs. I think it’s helping!”

I smiled in response and returned to my paperwork. “That’s some strong-smelling shit she’s drinking, but she seems normal enough,” I thought.

As a nurse led us into Dr. W’s bright, tidy office, I felt myself relax.

Dr. W reviewed my paperwork and circled several answers in red ink. “Show me your hands,” he said, breaking the silence. I rubbed my sweaty palms on my jeans before offering him my hands.

He scrutinized my palms, fingernails and cuticles. “I know I shouldn’t bite my cuticles,” I stammered. “Bad habit.”

Dr. W nodded and asked me to stick out my tongue. “Hmmm, not good,” he said. “Not pink enough.”

“What does that mean?” I asked as he shined a light in my eyes and directed me to look up, down and sideways.

“No babies. You’re too sick,” Dr. W said. “You’ll get acupuncture and herbs and maybe you’ll get healthy enough for a baby. Now, no.”

Too shocked to respond, I looked over at Trish. I watched her mouth form words my brain couldn’t comprehend as she asked Dr. W what sounded like questions.

After scheduling an acupuncture appointment and buying a baggie of ash-hued tea leaves, both of which I knew I’d never use, we left Dr. W’s office. Once outside, I let loose a year’s worth of rage, tears and frustration.

“Screw him!” I wailed. “I refuse to give up, and I am never coming back.”

The pungent smells wafting from the take-out restaurant next door preceded the wave of nausea that overwhelmed me as we walked to the car. Once the nausea passed, I was left with an unusually strong craving for a greasy, pickle-smothered cheeseburger.

Four weeks and three positive EPT tests later, I mailed Dr. W a thank you note.

I’m linking up with the wonderful community of writers over at Yeah Write. Click on the party hat badge to read some wonderful writing, then come back on Thursday to vote for your favorite posts.

Guess Who’s Having a One-Year Blog Anniversary?

I planned to write a wise, funny yet gripping one-year blog anniversary post featuring a riveting celebrity-type interview (think Vanity Fair or Oprah Magazine) of me (playing the celebrity) by my daughters (playing the adoring interviewers). Here’s how that worked out:

Plan A:  The Celebrity Interview-Style Post

Me:  “Ava, it’s time for the interview. What questions do you want to ask me about blogging for my one-year anniversary post?”

Ava (9 yo):  “What’s your favorite subject to write about?”

Me:  “Great question! I love writing about the lessons I learn from you and Rhys about …”

Ava:  “Mom, the right answer is ‘Ava.'”

Me:  “I love to write about you, honey!”

Ava:  “Good. Are we done yet? I don’t have any more questions.”

Me:  “None? Don’t you want to ask me what I love about blogging or when I started writing or what I wanted to be when I was a little kid?”

Ava:  “No. I really want to go back to reading my book.”

Me:  “Okay … Rhys, honey. You know how I told you it’s my one-year blogging birthday. What questions do you want to ask me?”

Rhys (4 yo):  “What is three plus three?”

Me:  “Six. What else?”

Rhys:  “That’s all, mama. You did great!”

###

Plan B:  Interview Myself (with some questions I stole from a celebrity interview in Oprah Magazine.)

Best Childhood Memory:  Jumping off our home’s front stoop and biting through both sides of my tongue. It didn’t really hurt, and I still remember all the sympathy, ice cream and Italian ice I scored.

Best Childhood Memory (not involving injury or copious amounts of blood):  My mom’s homemade chocolate/strawberry/whipped cream birthday cakes. Every year for decades. The best.

Best Childhood Memory (not involving injury or copious amounts of blood or food):  Let me get back to you on this one …

Best Hidden Talent:  Holding it in. But I’m working on it.

Best Karaoke Song:  Santa Baby (I can’t carry a tune, but when I turn on my pout-y, entitled gold digger persona, ain’t nobody got nothin’ on me.)

Best Surprise:  Feeling increasingly nauseous while in a theatre watching the movie Rabbit Proof Fence with my husband in late 2002, rushing to the nearest drug store for a pregnancy test and finding out we were unexpectedly pregnant with our first child. That and this red tandem bicycle.

gift fail, tandem bicycles, romantic gestures, inexpiable gifts

My Second Best Surprise

Most Memorable Holiday Moment:  Christmas 2002:  Telling our families that we were pregnant with Ava. I wrapped a book, “The Expectant Father,” and gave it to Mike to open in front of my family on Christmas Eve, then rewrapped and presented it to him again on Christmas Day with his family.

Best Escape:  Going to Costco or Target by myself. Or perhaps you meant travel? New York City. Or anywhere I can walk/sightsee/people watch with my husband or dear friends, be inspired by great art and theatre and get a massage.

Best Keepsake:  Curls from my daughters’ first haircuts and the many blankets and sweaters my mom lovingly knit for both girls.

Best Attribute:  Willingness to own my side of the street (eventually)

I Never Miss an Episode of:  The Good Wife with my husband (And we all know what kind of trouble that causes.)

Best Parenting Tip:  When in doubt, call 911.

Best Mom Skill:  Calling 911

I’m Proud of My Kids For:  Expressing all their feelings, speaking up for themselves and knowing & asking for what they want (I didn’t say I always like it, but …)

Most Prized Possession:  Other than my laptop for digital photos, this goose (which I am now aware is, in fact, a duck). I’ll write the story someday, but until then, I’ll tell you this goose/duck went with us to the hospital for both of our daughters’ births.

Duck, Duck, Goose

Duck, Duck, Goose

Anything Else You’d Like to Add:  On the one-year anniversary of A Teachable Mom, I’m beyond grateful for the love, acceptance and inspiration you all have shown me this past year. Thank you!

–As told to me by me.

Xo,

A Teachable Mom

Moms Need Play Dates Too

After a fun, relaxing overnight stay at a nearby resort with friends last weekend, I’ve come away with two overall lessons:  vacations look good on me. And more is better.

Before I left for my weekend, I had the following conversation with Ava (9) and Rhys (4):

Ava:  “Mom, why are you going away?”

Me:  “So I can be a better mom.”

Ava:  “How will going away for a night make you a better mom?”

Me:  “When I spend time with my friends, I come back feeling relaxed and grateful for you and Rhys and Daddy. I want to model for you that moms get to do all kinds of fun things, with our kids, with our husbands, with our friends. When you have kids, I hope you’ll know it’s good to get away every now and then.

Rhys (looking up from her syrup-soaked waffle long enough to mutter):  “I’m staying home with my kids.”

Ava:  “I’m not! I’m gonna have play dates! Even mamas need play dates!”

Me:  “Exactly! Mamas need play dates too!”

Have I mentioned my kid is a genius?!

I loved my time away last weekend. Loved it so much I was afraid to come home, unwilling to let that vacation feeling evaporate so soon. One night is not enough – two may have been perfect. (I may even be willing to try for three in the near future, but don’t tell my kids or husband.)

My weekend vacay almost didn’t happen. Our babysitter cancelled on Friday evening. The giddy feeling I’d carried for days tanked immediately. I was pissed. And devastated to have my weekend plans in jeopardy.

True to form, I started going into martyr mode, saying to myself:  It’s fine, I’ll go another weekend. If I stay home, I can get stuff done around the house. I’ll relax here at home. I don’t mind. I’ll get a pedicure and it will be almost the same as going away to a spa for a night with friends.

My bullshit meter was off the charts.

My bullshit meter:  off the charts.

Thankfully, my sanity kicked in within a few minutes – likely because I recently wrote about my martyrdom tendencies and wasn’t willing to confess a relapse to you all. (You saved my soon-to-be-massaged ass!)

When my husband and my parents offered to change their plans and take care of the kids so I could go away, I thanked them and didn’t look back.

I felt really taken care of the entire time I was away. One of my friends chauffeured me around all day. Other than being a decent roommate, I had no responsibilities, no drinks/meals/snacks to fetch, no toys to clean up, no fighting bouts to referee. Bliss.

After a heaven-sent massage, giggle-rich meals and a soul-satisfying sleep, my friend drove me home.  I sat in the car in front of my house staring at the door, unwilling to transition into mom and wife mode.

“Don’t send me back in there,” I said. “I’m not ready. I don’t want any responsibilities for a few more weeks hours. I want to see my family, give them hugs and come back out.”

Is that wrong?

My friend offered to drive away and go to lunch instead. Tempting. But I knew I needed to go inside, face my family and re-enter my life. As I was pulling my suitcase out of the trunk, Ava ran out the front door and threw her arms around me, welcoming me home.

When I saw my husband and daughters, my heart melted. While I can’t say I really missed them while I was gone, I was happy and excited to see them, to be welcomed into the warm, inviting bosom of my family, my life.

Reality has its perks. And there are always more play dates.

Joy & Parenting – Part III: Joy-Busters!

In Joy & Parenting – Part I & Part II, I wrote about an enlightening interview I recently heard with The Joyful Mother, Sigrid Kjeldsen, on the Great Parenting Show. As I mentioned in those posts, The Joyful Mother’s discussion of ways to bring more joy to parenting truly spoke to me.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about Joy-Busters, the insidious (formerly sub-conscious) ways I sabotage my own joy; strategies I employ to limit the amount of joy I feel, whether that joy comes through parenting or other activities. (My Joy-Busting skills used to be sub-conscious. Now they’re on the Internet. Progress?)

As a mom, my daughters watch me closely for signals of how to maneuver through the world. They mimic me in ways big and small, funny and endearing, encouraging and scary. I’m counting on the good stuff I model for them outweighing the crazy shit.  Given my tendency to Joy-Bust, I’ll let you know how that works out for us.

Here are my top three Joy-Busters. If you relate, I’d love to hear yours. If not, I’d love to hear how you manage to avoid my brand of crazy.

Joy-Buster #1:  Focusing on Outcomes

I’m writing this post for these reasons:

  • To keep my promise (In my last two posts, I promised Joy & Parenting – Part III )
  • To give myself the gift of joy today (I love to write. Easy joy for me.)
  • To cause all of you reading this to think I’m amazing and be blown away by my insight and genius (No, really.)

Oh, and also to inspire everyone in the world to follow my blog. That said, if everyone followed my blog, I’d find a way to quickly dissipate the joy I would feel. My head would likely explode.

So, everyone in the world, if you do not follow my blog, I’ll assume you’re doing me a favor by not overtaxing my delicate system. If you do, I’ll assume you’re hoping for a first-hand look at a head exploding from too much excitement. I’ll be sure to put the spectacle on YouTube for your edification.

Either way, relying on a specific outcome outside of myself to feel joy is Joy-Buster #1 for me. On the days I’m focused on how many Facebook followers my blog has/doesn’t instead of how much fun I had writing a post, I’m screwed. Not only is having expectations a set-up, it’s also a way to keep me closed off to the joy that is there … nothing less than my expectations will be good enough.

My Choice:  I want to model for my daughters the benefits of pursuing an activity that brings them joy just for the love of it, not for some arbitrary outcome. Today I choose to ignore my Facebook stats (or only peek at them with one eye). The immediate benefit:  My daughters get a happier mama today!  (I reserve the right to obsessively check my blog’s Facebook page stats tomorrow).

If Joy-Buster #1 isn’t efficient enough in killing joy, I can always fall back on:

Joy-Buster #2:  Attaching to Negatives

It would not be unusual for me to receive several loving, positive comments (about my writing, mothering, cooking, clothing, juggling, you name it) and instead choose to focus on the one slightly negative comment I hear. And by focus I mean obsess. No joy for me.

On a really good day, I have the rare ability to turn a positive comment into a negative. For example, “Your writing is so vulnerable,” in my head becomes “Are you crazy? You do realize this is on the Internet, right?” If only my joy-busting skills were marketable! Perhaps I could be a circus side-show …  

My Choice:  Today I’d like to practice attaching to positive comments, interactions, people, choices, etc. and let go of the rest. (As I only have another hour or so of consciousness left tonight, I’m feeling fairly good about my chances.)

 Joy-Buster #3:  Comparing & Pressuring

My good friend writes the wonderful, hilarious blog, Outlaw Mama. She’s brilliant and funny and insightful. She blogs daily, often many times a day. I do not. My writing process is slow and plodding. Hers appears effortless and magical. When I compare my process to hers, my heart gets small and Grinch-like. I want to pressure myself to hurry up and produce (“Go, go, write faster, damnit! Get to work!”) instead of accepting and enjoying my own pace. Comparing and pressuring myself suck all the joy out of writing for me. If I need a buzz-kill, I always can find lots of people who do things better, faster, more attractively. Such an efficient Joy-Buster, this one.

My choice:  If I must compare today, instead of comparing myself to others, I’d prefer to compare myself to myself. I wasn’t writing two months ago. I am now. Wow! I’m amazing! (Funny, when you roll your eyes like that you look just like my daughter!)

Those are my top three. There are more, but I’ll save them for another day. I’m turning over my Joy-Busting skills to you today for safekeeping. Please hold on to them for me for awhile. I’ll let you know when I want them back. Thanks. 

How do you sabotage yourself and medicate joy? Perhaps your ways are more subtle or creative? I’d love to hear!

P.S.  As my daughters grow and their responsibilities multiply, my wish is that they allow themselves the time and space to pursue the activities they love. I hope they choose joy. And let’s hope Joy-Busting isn’t contagious.