Brothers and Sisters OR The Bounce Zone (Gratitude – Day Nine)

Today, I am grateful for brothers and sisters. And the Bounce Zone. Both. Equally. Because "with their powers combined" (Captain Planet? Anyone? Anyone? Alrighty then.) those two things made for a happy and easy Friday morning for this mama. 

I grabbed a large coffee, a couple Groupon passes to the Bounce Zone and prepared for the worst. Why? Because our Bounce Zone experience in the past has included:

  • Weird Smells – Indoor play place for tiny humans. Need I say more?
  • Weird Air – Some of the equipment has previously been in questionable condition, so there are holes, and air from the compressor just pours out. Like weird subway air in the city.
  • Big Kids – I hate kids who are bigger than mine. Their parents don't watch them because they're all "my kids don't need me to supervise." Okay, maybe your kids don't need you, but I could use a little help when your kid is using my kids' heads as stepping stones to the top of the big slide. Yes, you with the iPhone, I am talking to you. Jerk.
  • Power Struggle – My kids rarely, if ever, leave the bounce zone nicely. And it's a loooong way to the parking lot. It is a miracle no one has called social services as I drag my kids out of their by their arms. Well…maybe not. They're too busy with their iPhones.

Also, T and A have been going through this phase where they are the stereotypical brother and sister. "Stop touching me. OW. Moooooommmmmm." Multiplied by a GAGILLION times every day. So today I was dreading the Bounce Zone visit, but I sort of thought about it out loud in front of the tiny humans and then I was stuck. I was prepared for the worst. Instead, it. Was. AWESOME.

It was as if they declared a ceasefire. For one moment in time – or, more accurately, 90 minutes in time – they ran around the bounce zone like BFFs. I think there was even hand holding. It was weird. And awesome. 

And as I sat in the middle of the Bounce Zone floor with my iPhone (don't judge me, there was no one else there so my kids were NOT bullying other kids) I thought to myself, "I am so happy they have each other. Otherwise, they might expect me to climb in that weird smelling slide, like last time."

So tonight I raise a glass to brothers and sisters and the Bounce Zone. We really desperately needed a morning like this morning. Cheers!

Second Chances (Gratitude – Day Eight)

Today, I am grateful for second chances with the tiny humans. Which super-sucks and is NOT what I had in mind for today at all.

It snowed last night. T woke up at 5 am SO EXCITED about the snow. And didn't fall back asleep. Even so, I was excited for him and excited about the snow. As a true lifelong New Englander, I get excited at the beginning of every season – first day warm enough not to wear a coat, first beach day, first "brrr it's cold enough for a sweater and hot cider" day and, yes, first snowy day.

I ceased to be excited about the snow 'round about the time he shoved his oatmeal away from himself at the table with a declaration that "it smells funny." I hate it when my children refuse food – especially food they asked for five minutes previous – because there are so many children in the world who have none. It makes me irrational.

A quick peek at the clock let me know that we were running late for ballet and school pictures. Awesome. I find myself in this situation often, and I rarely handle it with any type of grace. So this morning, like many mornings previous, I morphed into "mean mommy." There was yelling (me), there was crying (them), and there was avoidance (R). It was ugly, and it totally killed the magic of the first snow of the season.

In my mind, I wanted today to be "First Snow (Gratitude – Day 8)." I wanted to listen to Christmas songs on the way to school (too early? NEVER!) and make plans for playing in the snow in the afternoon and show the tiny humans that I was as excited about the snow as they were.

It didn't happen that way, and the morning was rough all around. T made it to school pictures on time, and A to her activities on time as well. I walked around with a yelling hangover, feeling guilty for ruining everyone's morning.

Then A fell asleep early for her nap, which meant I could leave her with R and pick up T all alone. He was thrilled to see me, and we talked about presidents and the snow and school. When we pulled into the driveway he said, "Mama, can we play in the snow NOW? "

Usually, I would say "sorry kiddo, I have to work while A is napping. Maybe when she wakes up." But today, that wasn't good enough. The snow had turned to sleet and was headed toward rain. I knew by the time A woke up, it was unlikely there would be much snow left to play in.

Instead of working, we played outside. We scrambled around and made snow angels and a (kind of sad, leaf and grass covered) snowman. We played until the sleet was definitely rain and we were soaked all the way through. Then we made hot chocolate and watched President Obama's acceptance speech – at T's request. A-mazing, all around. 

 

So today I am grateful for second chances, and that the kids are at ages where they are still sweet and forgiving. They don't hold grudges on the days that we have a rough start. They are gracious when I apologize and overjoyed when I make it up to them with something fun. I know my days are numbered with them being so forgiving, and wanting to be with me at all. I am trying to soak them up. Most of the time, my work can wait. But my kids' childhoods won't.

Coparenting (Gratitude – Day Five)

Today I am grateful for my husband and a favorable balance of work and coparenting. Today. Not every day, but today.

People often look at me funny when I mention working with my husband – as in, we co-own our marketing agency – I get it. It usually goes like this:

"So what do you do?"
"My husband and I own a marketing agency that powers online growth for small to medium sized businesses."
"Wow. So you work together…all the time?"
"Yup. And most of the time we work from home, which is easier for me because I can work around the kids' schedules."
"So you spend a lot of time together." 
"Oh yes. We are together. All. The. Time." 

I would say most of the time the conversation ends there, and about half the time is met with the same reaction as if I said "well I am legally his first wife, but he has a few other wives and children that live with us as well because it really does take a village to raise a child and all that."

Is working with my husband easy? No. Did it take a looooong time to figure out how to work together without yelling (him) or crying (me)? You bet. But it works for us, and here's why – we believe in coworking and coparenting. He helps me with the kids more than 99% of the dads I know; I help him with the business more than 99% of the wives I know.

There are times where I think we are crazy. I miss having coworkers to grab coffee and gossip with. But I am endlessly grateful that when we had the kids, he listened when I said I wanted us to raise them the majority of the time and we found a way to make that work. And at the end of the day, I love working with my husband and coparenting with him because it feels like there is someone who has my back. All. The. Time.

Especially on days like today, where even though it was my turn to get up with the kids, he did. After the first full day of daylight savings – and we all know the second day is worse. Today, I am grateful for that.

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If you are considering working with your husband – and we have friends who have asked our advice on this – keep these things in mind.

  • Know Your Limits: This is probably the most important thing – I know married people who love each other but their relationships often benefit from time apart. Most people need time to breathe and be on their own. For many people, that means going to work and having a professional life completely independent of a spouse. If that's you, do NOT consider working with your husband or wife.
  • Leave It At Work: It is important to leave work stuff at work. This is a "do I say, not as I do" tip. We are horrible at this one, and I hate to admit how many nights we have dinner out or fall asleep at night talking about work. But with two tiny humans running around (see above, working from home) sometimes that is the only time we can get an uninterrupted word in. But try not to do it. Seriously.
  • Don't Take It Personally: It took us (me) the longest time to figure this one out. Any time R criticized me about something work-related, I would cry. And he would be like, "seriously? Crying? Have you ever cried when a boss yelled at you before?" For me it was a challenge, and for him the challenge was speaking to me like a coworker and not his wife. And we both still slip, but we have gotten exceedingly better at it.

Working with my husband is often work and always a work-in-progress. But it is the right choice for us, and for the tiny humans, right now.

Grandparents (Gratitude – Day Three)

This one should have been yesterday, but being a little bit behind is pretty standard for me. I found myself looking at the date – November 2 – feeling like I was missing something all day. I HATE that feeling. But I am in my thirties. There are countless dates that were important for one year in time – bachelorette parties, weddings, baby showers – and then not again.

Turns out, November 2 is not one of those days that was only important for one year. My Pepere passed away on November 2, 2001. I feel so old when I say things like this, but I will say it anyway – I cannot believe it has been eleven years. I cannot believe all the life I have lived – the best parts of my life – in those eleven years.

So today I am grateful for the opportunity to pause and reflect and miss my Pepere. And while I'm at it, my Memere, Grampy and Grammy. I feel honored to have known three of them for my entire childhood, when I really needed them. I mean that figuratively and literally. I was such a horrific baby that I am pretty sure without my Memere and Pepere driving 2 hours one way almost every day in the early days to give my mom a break, we would not have made it.

And while my Pepere was never very talkative, I think "I love you so much I will walk around this house in circles for hours on end holding you while you cry until you finally fall asleep" says a lot more than words ever could.

Or my Memere, who would cook separate breakfasts for my sister and I like a short order cook and wait on us hand and foot and take us to Stuart's for a special toy at the end of every visit. That is love.

Lastly, I am endlessly grateful that out of 14 grandchildren, I am the only one who got to dance with my Grampy on my wedding day. It was one of the highlights of my life.

I am grateful for these people who raised my parents and helped make us all who we have ended up to be. And while I would love to have had more time with all of them, it has always been comforting to know that when each of them passed I had nothing I felt I needed to say. They knew how much I loved them, and I hope they were and are proud of the mama I have turned out to be because of the things they taught me.

November 2 – a day for remembering my Pepere. (Writing it down. In my calendar. The iPhone one, so I really can't forget.)

Attitude of Gratitude

A few people on my Facebook newsfeed have been posting things they are grateful for – one each day – in anticipation of Thanksgiving. It is a nice change from the constant political updates and seems appropriate in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to focus on the positive. Most of us are so lucky, and have so much, when compared with 90% of the world.

I have decided that instead of posting what I am grateful for on Facebook, I will write it down here. I am secretly hoping that it will help me write more often. But, because I am me, and I am busy, I am already a day behind. So today will be double-gratitude.

November 1: I am grateful for my sister. She and I are 11 months apart, and we have not always gotten along. Beginning in our teen years, we finally did get along. When we were in our early 20's she went through some things that were heartbreaking and sad and ugly and hard. On her. On our family. On all of us. And I thought for a long time I might never have a sister – not the way I wanted, not the way we talked about when we were teenagers.

And then she came back. And we accidentally (her) on purpose (me) had kids at the same time. Very recently, she met someone and it seems like it is going in a good direction. My fingers and my toes and everything in between are crossed hoping for this person to be her person. She deserves it, trust me. (And someday, I think maybe we will write a book about all the people who were not her person and why Internet dating – while often successful in the long run – can be so, so sketchy.)

So yesterday we went to Target with A to update a few necessary wardrobe items (yeah, we're fancy Target shoppers) and wander aimlessly up and down the aisles. It occurred to me afterward, "that was nice. I am glad we are able to do that. Because there was a time, once, when I thought we never would."

November 2: I am grateful for my dad. My dad is thoughtful in little ways that make a big difference. He realized recently that he spends a lot of one-on-one time with my nephew, and he has been spending some time with just A and I while the boys are at school, but he never spends any one-on-one time with T.

Today he took T out to breakfast, then to the fire station*, then to Target to pick out a toy. T had a great time, but I think the gesture meant way more to me than it did to him. It is never easy to balance things when you have multiple children or grandchildren, and because of complicated family dynamics things don't always feel like they are coming out even.

So today, I am grateful to my dad for realizing that and making an effort to get to know my kid better.

* The trip to the fire station, while fun as a standalone, was really to make up for my shortcomings as a mother. A few Fridays ago, a fire truck came to T's school and even though he doesn't go on Fridays I said I would bring him to school to see it. But first we had to run errands, and T and A threw a stage 5 tantrum in the checkout line at Target (seriously, a woman suggested that I go home and drink wine. It was 10:45 am.), and we were four minutes late. And the firemen were ten minutes early. Which meant that we missed the freaking firetruck. Worst. Mama. Ever.

More tomorrow. And the day after that. And so on until Thanksgiving. HOPEFULLY.

That Girl

Our first child was a boy. My husband felt that way all along, and I wasn't really sure. But when he was born, and we knew, it seemed right. "Of course we had a boy first. It's what I always wanted."

When I was pregnant the second time, I knew immediately that it was a girl. Maybe it's because I thought I could will that baby into being a girl or that I really believe in positive thinking and actualizing. Either way, when she was born and we knew, it was the same. "Of course she is a girl. It's what I always wanted."

But she was difficult, our girl. She came out screaming at us and it seemed like she didn't stop until she was nine months old. The only time she took a break was to nurse, or to cat nap in the Moby wrap on my shoulder.

Looking back I wonder if she knew she was a second child and decided she was going to get the same amount of cuddles and adoration that her brother – as an only child – had received before her. Smart girl. I can say confidently that I held her as much as, if not more than, I did her brother.

These days, they have switched it up on us. She is the easy one and he is the tough one. I anticipate this will be the first of several swaps as they grow up but I appreciate that so far they have the decency to balance each other out. I doubt they will be so kind to us in their teenage years.

For now, I am enjoying seeing my baby girl become a little lady. Every time she picks up a Barbie doll or wants to wear a Cinderella dress to the grocery store or demands three wardrobe changes before lunchtime, I think to myself "she is mine. She was meant to be mine."

I have never given much thought to nature vs. nurture, and both my kids had a pretty even balance of "girl", "boy", and "gender neutral" toys until they starting choosing for themselves. Now T's room is wall-to-wall action figures scattered all over the floor and under his covers while A's floor is littered with discarded clothing and accessories – hers and her dolls'.

I think these tiny humans are who they are. It is my job to help them and guide them, but I am loving who they appear to already be on their own. One of the great joys of being a mom thus far has been sitting back and watching them become the people they were meant to be.

Not the Kind of Mama (Vol. 1): The Crafty Kind

There are a lot of things that I am not as a mom, which is why this is titled Vol 1. I bet there are more volumes to come.

So…Pinterest. I was early to the party, so I have been a member for awhile. But like a really good party, it isn't any fun until your people start showing up. And over the past month or so, my people are arriving in droves. So I've been pinning, and it's more than a little bit addicting.

(For those of you who don't "pin", Pinterest functions like a virtual pinboard that your followers can view and "repin." And because of this Pinterest algorithm, pins that get repinned "go viral" rather quickly.)

It is also a helpful planning tool for my SIL's upcoming baby shower, the kids' upcoming birthday party and Valentine's Day. So today, more than a little tired of hearing the sound of my own voice I enlisted the tiny humans for a little Valentine's craft-time-slash-dance-party, inspired by Pinterest. (My small people and I – we like to dance. It lessens the yelling.)

So, it turns out that this craft has been described (via Pinterest and also on my Facebook news feed) as a "great way to upcycle broken crayons." But I am not the kind of mama who keeps broken crayons lying around waiting for an upcycling craft project. Let's be honest, I am not the kind of mama who keeps anything lying around waiting for a potential craft project. Which meant that to complete this project, I had to purchase a box of new, perfectly good crayons to break and peel.

This may not sound like a lot of work, but I assure you, it is a giant pain in the ass. Especially as T & A are much better dancers than they are crafters (I mean, they are mine, so I am not shocked). But I soldiered through, and I am pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Here are a couple of tips I learned along the way:

1. Know your fellow "pinners." That way, when they tell you about a "quick and easy craft" you can adjust your expectations accordingly. That smiley girl you went to high school with who was a member of about a gagillion clubs and currently has 1224 Facebook friends? She's not a good candidate for repinning. Neither is the "stay-at-home mom" who also employs a full time nanny or daycare provider. Just saying.

2. Crayons are easier to peel if you break them first.

3. Multicolored mixed media crafts are great for hiding things – flaws, dog hair, and blood from paper cuts, in this case. (Just kidding about the last part.)
 

4. Pay attention to instructions for things like sizes. I ended up using about 2x as many crayons as necessary because I bought large-sized heart baking sheets. If I had bought the ones with a dozen instead of a half-dozen hearts per sheet I wouldn't have needed to break the new crayons up – I had enough slightly-used-but-definitely-not-broken ones. The silver lining? These heart shaped crayons are like the everlasting gobstobber of crayons.

 5. Preschool Valentines are not about the children. They are about the parents, trying to define what kind of mamas and dadas we are – or are not. And this year, T's mama is sending him with homemade – and pretty freaking awesome – valentines, wondering if it is one of those situations where you "fake it until you make it". Because I might not be the kind of mom who "crafts" yet, but if Pinterest has anything to say about it, maybe I will be someday.

 

Hoping for the Best –

There is this saying, "Hope for the best, expect the worst," which I have always found annoying and pessimistic. Perhaps it is because I am what my husband calls "overambitious" – not with everything I undertake, only with things that involve our children and "outings."

He will look at me as I am on my way out the door, off for my latest "adventure" with our children, and just kind of smirk. Like, "Really? You think this will go well for you? Good luck!" And these are not overly ambitious adventures. I am talking about going to the mall. Or the grocery store. Or the Children's Museum.

And it is not that my husband is an asshole – sadly, he is often correct, which I am reminded of a few hours later when I return home. It looks a little like this:

Me: "NEVER again. Do you know what YOUR CHILDREN DID? Are you aware of how they behave in public? Horrible. It was horrible. They were kicking (each other) and screaming (mostly at me) and people were STARING.

Him: "Where are they now?"

Me: "WHAT? WHO? Oh, THEM? They're in the car, in the garage. I ran in to pee by myself before I get them."

Him: (Trying – failing – to suppress a self-righteous "I told you so" smirk) "I see. I'll grab them."

Here's the thing. I get these ideas in my head of the things I *should* be doing with the children. Like taking them out and teaching them how to behave in public. I feel pressured by Facebook frenemies and their annoying pictures of their perfectly well-behaved children; by mommy friends who make their own organic Play-Doh; by mommy bloggers who seem to have it a lot more together than I do.

I don't want my kids to feel like they came up short in the parent lottery because I am not the kind of mom who buys Moon Sand (too much cleanup) or bakes with them (I prefer booger-less baked goods, athankyouverymuch) or smiles and says "it's okay, love" no matter what they have gotten into (anyone who knows me know that I can be shrill – okay, I yell). And one thing I got from my own parents was that there are a lot of things you can do with kids to make up for the other stuff. So I keep trying, dragging them out into the world, and failing miserably.

But maybe I am not, in fact, failing miserably. Maybe I need to readjust my expectations – hope for the best and expect the worst. That way, the day we make it through the checkout line without temper tantrums and pitying looks, it will feel like a tremendous success. And there are days where I am reminded of a different perspective when T says to me, "Mumma, this was a really fun day." He doesn't remember that I yelled, or he screamed, or A threw a tantrum when it was time to leave. He remembers only that we did.