Month: January 2013

If Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness, I’m Screwed

The stuff life is made of

The stuff life is made of

I’ve been on a domestic binge of sorts this week. I’ve been trying new recipes and actually cleaning my house. Wait. That sounds worse than it should. I do cook for my family and clean my house. I’m simply not June Cleaver. Life is too short to waste it cleaning. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if we live in squalor. Most people who come here would report that the house is mostly picked up and neat. I clean bathrooms and the kitchen. Dishes are done several times a day. I vacuum regularly. Dusting I do less often because I despise it, but I still do it. What I don’t do on a regular basis is pick up in areas that are not my problem. This means the basement, which is merely a huge Lego storage room with a small area carved out for Wii and Xbox matches, and the boys’ rooms don’t get much attention from me. You know that old saying that cleaning the house while the kids still live there is like shoveling snow in a blizzard? I subscribe to that school of thought. I just close the doors, and it’s out-of-sight-out-of-mind for me. Let the snow pile up.

While looking for something in Luke’s room earlier in the week, though, I had to come to terms with the fact that it was time for an intervention. When a single shoe goes missing from a pair that was worn this very day, it’s time to take action. So, for the past two days, I’ve been gathering and redistributing Legos, locating missing glassware from the kitchen, and throwing out broken toys. Yesterday I attacked the basement. Today I cleaned the boys’ homework room and their bedroom. In Luke’s bunk, I found three books, a couple Lego magazines, an entire set of clothing (jeans, two t-shirts, underwear, and a pair of socks), assorted Lego pieces, and about 15 stuffed animals. Luke’s bed also had seven (yes, seven) blankets on it. Luke sleeps like a rat in its nest, curled into a little ball amongst things he has gathered.

As I was moving items and returning them to their rightful places, I kept discovering things long since lost…Joe’s rubber fish that he got out of the prize box at the dentist’s office when he was 2 and has treasured ever since, a ribbon from Joe’s entry in the regional science fair, and a couple stuffed animals previously owned by my grandmother. While stacking things neatly into a closet, on a top shelf I discovered a camcorder box for the old video camera we used when the boys were young. I pulled it down out of curiosity and lo-and-behold there were about 10 recorded video cassettes. Eureka!

I wanted to watch the videos so badly but the recorder was out of batteries and the charger was also missing in the chaos of our haphazardly organized home. I spent about an hour rummaging through every power cord hiding space to no avail. (As I was doing this, it occurred to me that we have at least twice the amount of crap we actually need or use. It’s not quite an episode of Hoarders…yet. There’s a whole other blog in there, I’m sure, if I could just dig through enough junk to find it.) I finally gave up for a while and then I remembered where it might be. I ran to my office, which is also a room with a regularly closed door, and there it was under the Christmas wrap that I still haven’t put away.

So, tonight after dinner, we sat and watched the videos as a family. The boys’ first few years are on those tapes. Birthdays and Christmases, Joe’s first trip to the beach, our trip to Alaska, Joe’s first time crawling, and Luke’s first smiles…all captured and now waiting to become digital media. There we found our beloved dogs, Buddy and Machiah, who now wait for us on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. There is a snippet of video of my grandmother holding an infant Luke, a precious moment I was so grateful to relive and that made Luke tear up. And, even as sobering as it was to hear my youngest tell me repeatedly how young I look in the videos, I loved every minute we spent tonight showing our boys their infant and toddler selves, creating a new memory of the time Mom found all the videos.

It got me to thinking about the transitory nature of life on Earth and how time truly does fly. Our sons are growing up too quickly. We originally put the video camera down so we would spend more time living in the moment than watching it on a tiny screen. I don’t regret that decision, but it wouldn’t hurt for us to record a few memories of our family these days for posterity. Watching your life backwards on video certainly opens up some perspective. But, the greatest lesson I took away from today is that it might be a good idea for me to clean the house more often. If it’s true that cleanliness is next to godliness, I may be screwed.

I Don’t Miss Sleep Anymore

Safe haven

My three men…all wiped out together

The other night our double bedroom doors burst wide open at 1:03 a.m., startling both hubby and I awake. From the light in the hallway, I could make out that the perpetrator of our early morning wake up call was our youngest son, Luke.

“What’s up, Luke?” I asked, although I already knew the answer to this question.

Luke is our “good” sleeper. While his brother tosses and turns in the top bunk, Luke slumbers peacefully. He sleeps in cars, on planes, and in restaurants. When he’s down for the count, you usually don’t have to worry about him again.

“I had a nightmare,” he replied as he quietly closed the door behind him with sudden politeness.

“Really? What about?” I said.

As he began to climb onto our bed, he started recalling a dream wherein he was being chased in Roblox, which is some new video game he and his brother have been playing. He sat on the end of our already cramped, queen-size bed telling us about snakes (like Indiana Jones, he hates snakes) and death. He was visibly unsettled. Often he will just tell us about his nightmares, and then head back to his room. Sometimes, though, he needs real comfort. I could tell this was one of those times. Finished with his story, he finally crawled toward the top of the bed, pulled back the covers between me and hubby, and began to insinuate himself between us.

“So…sorry about this, guys,” he told us as he nestled in and began to settle down to get some more sleep.

When Luke was small, we experienced periods during which the only way he would fall asleep was in our bed. He slept in a bassinet in our room until he was four months old. He slept with us again off and on from 9 months to roughly 14 months. Sometimes he would fall asleep in our bed and we would transfer him. Sometimes we were so tired he ended up staying with us all night. When we would tell other people about Luke’s sleeping habits, most would cluck their tongues and tell us what a mistake we were making. We brushed it off.

In the house I grew up in, we were not allowed to sleep in my parents’ room. Ever. It simply was not done. My parents gave us our own rooms, and they expected us to be in them. End of story. When we had our children, I assumed that our kids would have the same experience that I did. But, our kids are not like my sisters and me. Our kids have vivid imaginations and stressful dreams. Joe sleepwalks. Luke, if aroused from sleep by an unexpected noise, is often unable to calm down enough to go back to sleep. We do what we can to get sleep when we can, and sometimes that only occurs when we let the boys sleep in our room. It is what it is. We have made our peace with it.

I flipped around as Luke was in our bed the other night, unable to go back to sleep. I could not get comfortable because what was once 20 pounds is now 55 pounds and takes up a lot more room. I was about to resign myself to taking Luke’s place in his bed while letting him rest peacefully with his dad when, out of nowhere, the announcement came.

“I think I’ll go back to my own bed now,” he said, grabbing his stuffed animal and climbing carefully over his father and out of the bed.

I walked with him down the hall and tucked him back into his bunk bed underneath his sleeping brother to make sure he was truly ready to settle down. He pulled his stuffed Husky dog, Shasta, towards him, curled into a little ball on his side, and closed his eyes. He was calm, and I knew I would not be seeing him again until the morning.

I’ve thought a lot about the way we “spoil” our kids by letting them do things like sleep in our room on occasion. Truth is that I don’t feel the slightest bit of remorse about it. I don’t think it’s undermined their confidence or made them any less capable of handling their fears. Instead, I think it’s allowed them to believe that when things get scary, they can turn to us. When they feel confident and relaxed, they always move forward without us. Sure. We’ve definitely lost some sleep with restless boys in our bed or on an air mattress in our room, but I think the trade off of knowing that they know they can count on us is worth it. Besides, these days are numbered. Someday they will be out of the house, and I will miss hearing that door burst open in the middle of the night and knowing that they need me. I’ll catch up on my sleep then.

Find Your Bliss Any Way You Can

Guess which set belongs to the lone female in this family.

At least I will be easy to spot.

“If you want to reach a state of bliss, then go beyond your ego and the internal dialogue. Make a decision to relinquish the need to control, the need to be approved, and the need to judge.”      – Deepak Chopra

Yesterday, in the peaceful falling snow of an early evening in January, the UPS delivery truck stopped in front of our house. As it pulled away, it left behind a box filled with things not meant for the snow at all. The large box contained snorkel gear for our entire family. I laugh at the absurdity of our family purchasing snorkel gear when we live in the middle of an already landlocked state, 1o00 miles away from the nearest beach which is a nearly 17-hour drive away in Malibu, California. We selected the gear while we were in snowy Steamboat Springs a week and a half ago. In spite of the wintery landscape there, we were absorbed with the notion that in two months we will be in Hawaii. So, in between cross-country skiing and trekking through a castle made entirely of ice, in front of a glowing fireplace we perused travel books and made mental notes of beaches we wanted to stand on. And, we ordered snorkel gear.

This morning, after an icy drive to deliver the boys at school, I took the next step in preparing for our upcoming spring break trip. I stopped to try on swimsuits. Buoyed by weeks of relentless work in yoga class, I felt fairly confident about my chances swimsuit shopping. I have a little less than two months left to finish whipping myself into vacation shape, and a swimsuit is exactly the motivation I need to keep my eye on the prize. I know it will be a bit odd to have it secured into place on the door of our stainless steel refrigerator in the middle of winter, but you do what you have to. For me, it’s yoga, fruit, and the fear of the suit.

And, as I stood in the fitting room today staring at my half-naked figure in the mirror, for the first time I faced the truth. My body is what it is, and what it is is a vessel that carried two children. It is strong and healthy. With nearly 45 years behind it and with a steady exercise routine, it endures more and is more flexible and balanced than it has ever been. It does things now that it couldn’t do a decade or two ago, like push ups. My body is powerful and capable. What it is not, however, is 20 years old. No matter how hard I work or how well I eat, I will never look the way I used to. Evolving over time, enduring childbirth and abdominal surgeries, my body has morphed to become something entirely different. It’s not bad. It’s simply not the same.

On the way home, I battled the negative self-talk that was bullying me into believing that I’m too old for the bikini I had just purchased. I told myself that as old as I am, I will never be this young again. And, if I am going to Hawaii for the first time and want to swim and snorkel in a two-piece suit, well…the rest of the world can suck it. I want to find bliss, and I will never find it if I’m judging myself or worrying about what others judge in me. I have only so much control over how the aging process will affect my body. Despite my best efforts, things will pucker and wrinkle and head in a southern direction. It’s inevitable. But, if cleaning grains of sand out of my navel makes me feel alive and happy, then that is what I must do. With each passing year I’m closer to peace and self-acceptance than I have yet been in my life. Maybe it’s blissfully naive of me to assume it’s not positively gauche for a woman of my mature age to appear in public in a bikini. At this point, though, I’ll take my bliss any way I can get it.

My Kids Aren’t Cheap Circus Ponies

Portrait of our family

Portrait of our family

This past Thursday, prompted by recommendations from not one but two special education professionals, we trekked to Children’s Hospital so Luke and I could visit with a psychologist and determine whether he might (like his brother) have ADHD. Honestly, neither hubby nor myself were 100% convinced that Luke would be diagnosed. We thought that if he perhaps did have some of the markers, his symptoms at this point were mild. But, when we learned that ADHD and dyslexia occur together up to 25% of the time, we decided it was best to cover our bases.

During the course of the hour and a half we spent talking with the psychologist, she asked innumerable questions. Most of them were about Luke, but some were about our family life. When she asked me about how we discipline our boys, the strangest thing happened. I drew a blank. The more I sat there searching for an answer, the more shocked I was to realize that we don’t discipline our boys very often. I couldn’t decide where to go with that realization in terms of answering the psychologist’s question. I decided to come clean.

“This is going to sound strange, but we don’t discipline our sons very often. We set clear, realistic expectations, and our boys most often meet them.”

“Well, when you do have to discipline, what kind of discipline do you use?” she inquired.

“Most often we take things away from them…their iPads and video games, opportunities to play with friends, that sort of thing. But we’ve never done it for more than a day or two. They respond to that type of punishment fairly well and typically avoid having to repeat it,” I told her.

She seemed appeased by my answer and moved onto another question. Quietly, though, I wondered if she thought I was either a) lying to make our boys sound better than they are or b) simply another overindulgent parent with little control over her children. The test came when she asked our boys to sit on the floor across the hallway from her office while she asked me some questions. She told them it would be 10 minutes and that they needed to be quiet. At one point during the interview I started to become uncomfortable because it had been too long and they had been far too quiet. When she finally opened the door, I checked the time. They’d been out there for 20 minutes. I peered my head around the corner to see that Luke was shutting down the Dragonvale app he had been playing on my iPhone and Joe was putting his homework back into its folder. I felt vindicated. My 9 and 11 year old sons had sat alone quietly on the floor in a dull hallway without any adult supervision for upwards of 20 minutes without incident. See. They are good kids, just like I said.

Maybe it’s because our boys struggle so much with their issues that we go easy on them with other things. Their rooms are messy. The number of chores they’re asked to complete is minimal. As they’ve gotten older, we’ve chosen to let go of some things so that they can be kids. Their school work takes such an enormous amount of effort that we cut them slack in other areas; it’s not right when they break down in tears because they’re overwhelmed and miss their friends. We do expect things of them. We expect their best effort on their school work, but not A or B grades. We expect them to be polite, most of the time. We expect them to be kind and to try to get along with others. We expect them to work out their own differences and to recognize their own responsibility in a disagreement. We admonish them if we feel disrespected. In exchange for these things, though, we’ve given them a voice in our house and our trust. We ask their opinions. We let them make choices. And, yes, we pick our battles. We’ve decided that it’s better to give in on the things that don’t really matter so that when we ask them to yield on the things that truly do matter to us we’ll have the backing to gain their easy compliance. They understand that as part of a family sometimes they get what they want. Sometimes they don’t.

I don’t expect that our boys will never need more serious discipline. They’re boys. They’re getting older. They’re going to make bad choices. We all do. When I make mistakes with my sons (which happens far more often than I wish it did), I openly apologize to them. I show remorse. I make amends. I am not the Queen of Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Do. I’m the Duchess of I-Try-To-Set-A-Good-Example. I told our boys the other day that my job is to make sure that they grow up to be the kind of men I still will want to spend time with, the kind I will invite into my home again once they’ve vacated. Discipline is important. My actual job as Mom, though, is to make sure they feel unique, important, and unconditionally loved, and not to ride them like cheap circus ponies. Just don’t tell them I said that. I’ll lose my edge.

Oh…The Things We Do For Our Kids

Little Luke with some of his menagerie

Little Luke with some of his menagerie

The best part about parenting is discovering who your children are, what makes them tick, and what moves them. Joe is intellectual. He’s our serious, deep thinking, curious boy who is perpetually looking to expand his horizons and study new things. He will spend hours perusing Google Earth, studying places he’d like to go. A while back he told me he’d like to visit Nuuk. I had no idea where Nuuk even is. Turns out it’s the capital of Greenland, the northernmost capital on the globe, and Joe had been visiting it virtually to check it out. I told him he could go there with his father and that when he wants to explore the Maldives he can take me. Luke, on the other end of the spectrum, is our creative, fun-loving sweetheart. He’s always up for a hug. He adores his older brother. (Yesterday he told me that if a genie gave him three wishes, he would ask for 3 boxes of each Lego set ever made. Then he would ask that his brother could have a wish. Of course, then he would ask the genie for more wishes. He’s not selfish, but he’s also not crazy.) His heart is gigantic with room enough for millions of people and animals. He once lost one of his favorite stuffies down a vent in our house. It turned into a life-or-death rush to rescue Woofy from the well and heal Luke’s breaking heart.

Last night, I went in to say goodnight to the boys and found Luke all misty-eyed. He was surrounded by stuffed animals on his bed. He had been crying. When I asked what was wrong, he said he was sad that he would have to leave all his stuffed animals behind when he goes to heaven. Earlier in the evening, we’d been having a serious-minded discussion with Joe about heaven and what it might be. Obviously, it had gotten to Luke. This is not the first time Luke has shared this concern with me. He’s mentioned it once before and at that time I assured him that heaven will be filled with the things and people we love and that if his animals are that important to him he will certainly see them there. It seems as if the same concerns surfaced for him again last night. I had apparently not yet finished off that dragon.

Unfortunately, my reassurances didn’t calm him down immediately. He told me that he didn’t have room on his bed for all his stuffed animals (sadly, this is true), so he felt bad that half his animals weren’t getting any love. He got sad eyed again. Oh…this kid turns my heart to mush. As he said that, I revisited all the nights I spent organizing every stuffy I owned on my bed before being willing to fall asleep. I would place them around my body from head to foot so that they formed a plush outline of little Justine. In this way I felt protected. I also knew that I was being a dutiful parent to these stuffed creatures by showing them equal love and appreciation. Like Luke, I had a big heart for stuffed animals. They would call to me from store shelves with their eyes filled with desperation. I couldn’t stand to leave one who called to me behind. I still have several of the plush critters from my childhood. I’m not ashamed to admit they are in my bedroom as an adult, obscured from immediate view but still close by and cherished. So, my heart filled with empathy for Luke’s truly legitimate concern, I did the only thing a mom can do in that situation.

“Would you like it if I took the other half of your critters into my bed and I slept with them tonight?” I queried.

Steve shot me a look to let me know I had lost my mind. I’m sure he wasn’t looking forward to sharing our queen size bed with twenty-some odd stuffed creatures and me. It seems there’s not enough in our bed for the two of us to begin with.

“That way, they won’t feel left out and you won’t have to worry about them,” I continued.

Luke pondered the situation for about a half a second and then nodded his head yes.

“Where are they?” I asked.

“The other half are in the bin in the other room,” he said.

“Okay. It’s settled, then,” I said as I got up from the edge of his bed. “I will take them in with me and cuddle with them tonight.”

Luke looked genuinely relieved. He smiled, rolled over, and told me goodnight. As I was about to exit quietly and leave him to peaceful slumber, he sat up.

“Mom?”

“Yes?”

Proof for the boy

Proof for the boy

“Joe’s animals don’t get enough love either,” he mentioned. “Maybe tomorrow night I can sleep with half of them and you can take the other half so they won’t feel left out either.”

“Good idea,” I said, garnering another look from Steve.

So, last night I slept with my patient husband and about twenty stuffed critters, mostly mammals but a few reptiles too. I kept Woofy, the chocolate lab, tucked into one arm crease and Motty-O, Luke’s most precious grey horse, in the other while I slept. For a few minutes before falling asleep, I thought about the silly things I’ve done for my boys over the years just to make them feel safe, loved, and secure. I glanced at the animals strewn across my side of the bed and smiled, knowing I had once again put some of my comfort aside just to be sure that my son was happy and peaceful. Oh. Who am I kidding? Those animals brought me the same peace and security they brought Luke. We both slept great.

A Mind Of Its Own

Gotta know where it is at all times.

Gotta know where it is at all times.

I am the mother of sons. Although I had no say in the matter, the truth is that when hubby and I decided to have children I made it fairly clear that I expected him to give me sons and not daughters. Now, I know we had no say in the matter given that the general rule of conception, at least at this current moment, is “you get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit,” but I’ve always been a girl who knew what she wanted. You see, I am the oldest of three girls. And, while I know my mom enjoyed having young daughters, I remember what I was like as a teenager. I remember how I treated my mother. Furthermore, I remember what it was like living in a house with three teenage girls. Frankly, that amount of estrogen scares me. So, I put that part of my life behind me and gave it a firm “no thank you” when I considered my future and potential parenthood. I was thrilled when the Powers That Be determined that I should have not one but two darling little boys. Apparently, someone up there either understood what I wanted or figured I should parent what I was least likely to strangle. I have always understood why some animals eat their young.

Being the mother of sons is an interesting proposition, though. On the one hand, I never have to share clothes, make up, jewelry, or zero-calorie soft drinks. On the other hand, I am the problem child when it comes to camping and long car trips since I wasn’t built with an external pee hose for convenient potty breaks. All in all, though, being the only female in the house has been an ideal situation for me up until now. Now, my oldest son is now firmly in the throes of being a preteen. Situations in which I am asked to demystify the male anatomy are becoming more frequent. This might freak some women out, but I am not squeamish. I’ve never talked to my sons with baby talk about body parts. I’ll bet I utter the word penis at least five times in any given day, and I’m okay with that. I’m the one who gave my sons their first (very simplified) “sex talk” because 1) they had questions and asked me, 2) their dad was not interested in discussing it yet, and 3) I determined it would be better if they got the details from me than from one of their little friends who has erroneous information. Quite honestly, it’s been fun to hear the things my sons will tell me.

“Please put your penis in its house,” I requested of a not-quite-fully-clothed Joe who was standing in the hallway wearing nothing but a towel after his bath.

He looked down into the towel. “It’s not ready to get dressed yet,” he replied matter of factly.

I closed one eye, cocked my head, and pondered why it might not be ready to get dressed yet. Then I shuddered. Oh Good Lord. “It will be fine. It will fit into pajamas. Get dressed. I may not have a penis, but I know how they work,” I claimed.

“Trust me, Mom. They have a mind of their own.”

So I’ve heard.

You know, my whole life I thought that saying was a cop out. Turns out that even 11 year old boys know it to be true. The best part about being a mom to boys isn’t what I expected it would be. It’s not that no one is hogging the bathroom while doing their hair or that no one is breaking down into weepy, hormone-induced puddles, although those are both good things. It is instead the education I’m getting being able to see the male experience as it happens from birth. It’s given me an entirely new perspective on the male species. I still don’t truly understand men, but I’m getting closer. Apparently, it really is all about the penis.

Mama Said

Two boys in a jogger stroller and a 75 pound dog on a leash? Yep. I got this.

Two boys in a jogger stroller and a 75 pound dog on a leash? Yep. I got this.

As I was exiting yoga today and walking towards my car, I noticed a mother with two young sons standing by a minivan. I’m not a highly observant person as a rule (ie., you would not want me to pick someone out of a line up), so it’s fair to say that the reason I noticed them at all was because her oldest son was mid-tantrum and wailing terribly. She was holding her younger son on her hip while the older son rolled on the pavement in the parking lot. Next to him were the spilled remnants of what appeared to be a large cup of fro-yo complete with toppings. She was talking to him in a stern voice in an attempt to quell the tantrum, but the whole thing wasn’t going so well for her. I knew she was having one of those Calgon-take-me-away moments to which all moms can relate (even if they don’t want to admit it). She was young, or at least younger than me, and she was beside herself and becoming increasingly frustrated. I averted my eyes lest she feel inadvertently judged, got into my car, and quietly thanked the heavens that my boys are no longer toddlers.

I don’t miss those days, although I do remember them as if they were yesterday. Like the mom today, I too bear the scars of dropped ice cream cones that gave way to full-fledged meltdowns in public places where passersby shot me derisive looks and shook their heads. I recall the amazement I felt when I realized I’d been reduced to a spineless, kowtowing dope by a 30-pound, 3 year old boy who was only standing on this planet because I dropped him here. Literally. It was a sobering moment. As I watched the mom struggle in the parking lot today, a part of me wanted to approach her and tell her she was doing a good job. I wanted to tell her that despite what all the books tell you some days being a parent feels more like a curse than a blessing. I wanted to let her know that I had been standing exactly in her shoes and that some day she would be standing in my shoes watching another mom struggle through the same situation. It happens all the time. But, I didn’t go talk to her. I didn’t say anything because I know that when I was at that point in my life, any comment about my parenting experience was like nails on a chalkboard. When people would see my young kids and tell me to “enjoy them because they grow up so fast,” I wanted to smack them for asking me to cherish something that was beyond unpleasant for me in that moment. I get it now, but then I was bitter.

When I think about my experience parenting over the past almost 12 years, what strikes me is how unfair I’ve been with myself. I’ve berated myself and belittled my efforts. I understand now that I’ve only ever done the best I was capable of at the time with the knowledge I had in that moment. Sure, in hindsight I made some stupid decisions, but I didn’t know any other way. I wish I could go back in time and tell that younger me, standing there in the parking lot at the mercy of my tantrum-enhanced child, that it was nothing more than a bad day. I would tell myself to relax. Ice cream gets dumped. Kids throw fits. It happens, and it doesn’t mean that you’re an overly indulgent parent or that your child is a spoiled brat. It simply means that gravity won that round.

Some days being the parent truly sucks, as the minivan mom in the parking lot of the Vitamin Cottage today can truly attest. Parenting books offer suggestions, but they don’t know you, your unique child, or your family circumstances. Some days you have to sing Kumbaya  and practice a trust fall with yourself, knowing that in the end it will all work out. Mama wasn’t lying when she said there would be days like this. What she failed to mention, though, is that you shouldn’t sweat it. You’ve got this.