Messy Mamahood

April 30, 2010

What if?

"The screams of the 4-year-olds inside the kindergarten could be heard out in the street. When people ran in to investigate, they found what one witness said was a scene 'too horrible to imagine' — blood everywhere as a knife-wielding man slashed 29 children, two teachers and a security guard." (MSNBC)

This story sweeping the Internet from Beijing, China is horrific, but it's not the only of its kind if you read the article. Mentally unstable people are prevalent in China. And there's no shortage of them in the United States. Something like this could happen anywhere. And it does. This is what scares me most being a mom. That I won't be able to protect my children from the "what if's" in life.

Have you ever sat down as a family and created a plan of escape in the event of a house fire? We have. But I still obsess over it. How would I get all the kids to safety when their rooms are spread across the house? Who would I grab first? What would I do if one were trapped? I lie awake some nights running this over in my mind.

And that's not all. Every horrible scenario you could imagine has run through my head at one time or another - kidnapping, molestation, drowning, robbery, carjacking, hostage situations or one like the China incident. How would I protect my children in each of these events? What if our car went off the road into a lake, how would I get all three of them out before we drowned? What would I do if the ice cream man took off with my daughter (first of all, I never let her near those creepy trucks). I mean, I could go on and on about the frightening situations my brain conjures up.

It's a scary world we live in and we are fighting to protect our children and keep our sanity at the same time. And trying to do all this without terrifying our kids. It's a fine line we walk between preparing them and scaring them. And one thing I'm trying to pound into my own brain is that I can only protect my kids so much. And I can teach them to protect themselves as much as possible. After that, I have to let go and trust that the Big Man upstairs is watching over them. Otherwise, I'll drive myself insane.

What are some of your fears? How do you handle preparing your kids for the "what if's" in life?

April 29, 2010

Time to Make the Donuts

Working forty hours a week is difficult, at best, when you don't have another adult in the household to share the responsibility of pick-ups, extra-curricular activities, making dinner, homework, baths, quality time, bed time, chores, etc. And those are just normal day-to-day activities. Taking time off work for doctor's appointments, field trips, parent-teacher conferences, early dismissals, late starts, President's Day, MLK Day, and such makes it near impossible unless you have a very understanding and cooperative boss. Remember this commercial? Doesn't single parenting sometimes, scratch that, most of the time feel this way?

I was a stay-at-home mom until my divorce in 1998, when I was shoved back into the professional world. My son was three and my daughter was just eight months old. It was devastating for me at the time. I couldn't imagine my kids in daycare 40+ hours a week. But you roll with the punches. And I did until 2003, when I was laid off from my job just a few days after I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter. As a single mom, being laid off is possibly one of the suckiest situations. One income to no income. But it ended up being a hidden blessing. I was able to drum up enough clients to freelance for the first two years of Blane's life. It wasn't a picnic, but we scraped by. In 2005, I went back to work full-time until two months ago, when I was laid off again. Are you kidding me?!?!

So, I'm on the hunt again for full-time work with a couple of freelance clients to tide me over. And, thankfully, I have enough savings to get me through the summer, if necessary. It stinks to be in this position again. But you know what I've learned? To treasure this time I have with my children. It's a gift that was given to me, for some reason, and I plan to take advantage of it. The things that were so difficult when I was working full-time - field trips, extra-curricular, early dismissals, cooking dinner and even homework - are now things I can't wait to experience each day because I have the time to enjoy them.

But you know what else I've discovered? That even when I go back to work, I have to find a way to make these times just as special as they are now. Because I want my kids to remember all of it, not just the fun they had when Mom was out of work.

I don't have any answers as to how to do that without feeling like Fred the Baker, but I'm searching. How do you all do it?

April 28, 2010

Noel, Noel...

Clara and Lucy came to us about two years apart. Clara's mama was rescued by another family from our school and Santa surprised the kids with a tiny kitten on Christmas Eve. Hence, the name Clara, from The Nutcracker. Clara, our Christmas kitty. She's four now and definitely my cat. She'll tolerate the kids, but she's my girl. Wherever I am, she's there. Even if it's sleeping on my head at night.

Lucy's sister was adopted by Keile's friend. So, of course, Keile insisted that we adopt Lucy. Did I ever mention that my daughter is a sucker for, I mean has a heart for, ALL stray animals. She tells me that she's going to live with me forever and that we're going to be cat ladies together. Over my dead body. I love my cats, but c'mon. Anyway, Lucy is a tortoise shell with one bright red spot in the middle of her forehead. Lucille Ball. She's everyone's cat and no one's cat, very independent.

Last Christmas, Keile wanted, as one of her gifts, to buy items from PetSmart and donate them to Wayside Waifs, a local pet shelter. I found her request so incredibly unselfish and I was happy to comply. This girl understood the true meaning of Christmas. So, the Monday before Christmas, I took Keile out of school and the two of us headed to PetSmart. A hundred dollars later, she felt she had what she needed to make enough puppies' and kitties' wishes come true. Then we made the trek out to Wayside Waifs. I had specifically scheduled our visit on a Monday because I knew that was the one day they didn't do pet adoptions. I was no idiot. I was not about to be coerced into another mouth to feed.

We were met by the community relations director of the shelter who gratefully took our donations, then led us on a tour through the facility. We stopped first in the cat house where some were roaming and some were separated in little rooms with screen doors. Keile went into one of the rooms and sat down on the floor. This sweet little thing named Ashley immediately started rubbing up against her and crawled into her lap. The kitten wasn't about to move and looked up at me with eyes that said, "I dare you." The director lady was brave enough to break up that little party and led us into the dog area. Welcome to the Jungle! Wow, I had never heard so much noise. I don't know how they ever got any sleep. We saw the rest of the building and, before we left, Keile wanted to say goodbye to Ashley.

She sat back down in the little room and I could hear Ashley purring from inside the screen. "Whew, it's a good thing we came on a Monday," I whispered to the director. I was so proud of myself. "You know what," she might as well have blasted over the loud speaker, "We can make an exception for you!" My daughter's head popped up from nuzzling Ashley's fur. Ashley's eyes said, "I've got you now." And that's how we ended up with Noel (Ashley), our second Christmas kitty.

Who did I say was a sucker?

April 27, 2010

Run-in with the lamp post

It was bound to happen sooner or later. I just didn't expect it to be "sooner." My 14-year-old had his first wreck. Yep, took out the lamp post in front of our house and cracked the bumper on my Jeep Liberty. $450 to replace the bumper and no idea what to do about the lamp post which is bent to hell with electrical wires exposed to the elements. Anyone know a good electrician?

Well, I let Taege drive home from his friend's house and he was doing really well. Didn't even hug the curb like he usually does. The girls were in the backseat and thought it was awesome that big brother was behind the wheel. He turned left onto our street. I told him to slow down and turn into our driveway, forgetting he hadn't done this before. He over-turned the wheel to avoid the huge sycamore tree to the left of the driveway (good move), but turned too much to the right and forgot to brake (bad move) and ran right over the lamp post. Thankfully, he missed the garage door or the front of the house. "Oh, God!" he shouted. "Taege!!!" the girls yelled. I just kept saying, "It's okay, it's okay." At least no one was hurt.

We got out of the car and I got in to back it up. Taege looked at me through the windshield after he saw what he had done. Fear. "What is Mom going to do to me?" I could tell he was thinking. Then Blane started hollering at him, "Look at Mommy's car! Look what you did! That was horrible! You're a horrible driver! Horrible!" She sounded like an angry little mother, so I calmly kept telling Taege it was okay, that accidents happen. I think Keile was in shock. Blane continued her tirade, which became rather humorous, so I started laughing. I couldn't stop. Yes, my bumper was cracked, yes, the lamp post was ruined, but those are just material things. And again, no one was hurt. The neighbor across the street saw the whole thing. He just smiled and shook his head. He probably thought I had lost it because I was laughing so hard.

As we walked into the house, I asked Taege if it had scared him. He replied, "No, it's just that I did so much damage. More than just the two plates I broke at Dad's house." Ya think?

April 26, 2010

My princess, the pre-teen

My 12-year-old daughter, Keile, and I have always been very close. She has some wonderful qualities I really admire. One thing I've always cherished about her is her tender heart for young children, animals and those less fortunate than her. She's also extremely loyal, deeply sensitive, dependable, generous, encouraging, funny and very loving. She has always written me little notes of her love for me. I treasure these. And I love the fact that she, to this day, says she's going to live with me forever. She has our future together all planned out.

As she's starting to enter her teen years, I've explained to her that our relationship will go through a lot of strain as she's trying to find herself and assert her independence. I've told her that there may be times when she feels like she hates me, but that I will always love her and be there for her, no matter what. I want her to be prepared when those feelings start hitting her. She replies, "I could never hate you, Mommy."

I hope she's right because I'm not ready for that. Even though I know it's just a stage teenagers go through, the thought of my sweet princess becoming someone I don't recognize frightens me. Already, she's gone from talking to me about everything to shutting down completely when I try to talk to her about puberty and the changes her body's about to go through. She vehemently wants nothing to do with these conversations.

On the other hand, her friends talk to me a lot about the changes they're going through, and especially about boys. Keile just looks mortified when they bring up these topics. I know she's not interested in boys yet. I know why. And I know why she doesn't want to talk about any of this. My little girl is simply not ready to grow up. She's not ready to leave her childhood behind. She revels in being my princess and doesn't want to lose that.

I remember when Blane was a baby, Keile came to me in tears one day and said, "Mommy, I miss being a baby." Why? I asked her. "Because I was so little and cute, and I could cuddle up in your arms while you rocked me." I immediately took her in my arms and started rocking her. "You'll always be my baby girl," I whispered in her ear.

So, as frustrating as it may be when our teens start shutting us out, we have to remember that (whether they admit it or not) they're afraid, too. They're afraid of losing their childhoods, much like we're afraid of losing our youth when we turn 30, 40, 50, etc. And they're terrified of losing their place in our hearts as that little girl or boy we treasure so much. Our job is to make sure that never happens. To ensure they know we'll always see them that way. The best things we can do are continue to treasure them, support them, encourage them, hug them, tell them we love them and thank God for them each day.

April 25, 2010

Santa, sex and a frog?

It was the Christmas season of my 14-year-old son's 4th grade year. We had finished decorating the tree and my daughter had fallen asleep beneath it. Taege sat on the sofa next to me writing his list for Santa. I was writing in my journal when he looked at me and asked, "Mom, is Santa real?" Oh, crap! I was not prepared for this conversation. But I'd sworn I would never lie to my kids when this question inevitably arose. So I asked, "Well, what do you think, baby?" Pretty good psychology, huh? He would answer "yes" and I'd say "Then if you believe he's real, that's wonderful." See, no lie involved and I'd be able to avoid the talk for another year or so. Christmas magic would continue.

But no. Instead, he looked down at his lap and said, "I think it's either some really nice man or..." and he looked me square in the eyes, "'s you." Double crap! I was trapped. "Which of those do you think it is, honey?" I asked. With tears in his eyes, he said, "You?" My heart broke. I felt like I had betrayed him in some way. I explained the concept behind Santa and let him know that "playing" Santa was one of my greatest joys as a parent. That I reveled in seeing the excitement on his face Christmas morning. We talked more about it and about the true meaning of Christmas. I swore him to secrecy with his sister. Then all of a sudden, he got this wide-eyed look on his face. "Mom, if you're Santa...then you can make Christmas come early!!" Um, no. Very nice try, but no way. He continued trying to convince me with all the reasons why I should move the holiday up by weeks, but I wasn't budging.

Then came the bombshell. "Well, if you won't make Christmas come early, then can you at least tell me why Uncle Dedo's dog was hugging my leg last week?" Really?? Yes, we had seen my brother's dog getting fresh with Taege's leg and, yes, we had laughed. But when Taege asked what Bernie was doing, I had said, "He's just giving you a hug, honey." He knew I was lying. And now he was paying me back. So, what did I do? I had handled the Santa thing pretty well, so I had the brilliant idea that now would be a good time to talk to him about the birds and the bees. Yes, I was that stupid. So, I started explaining about eggs and sperm and how babies grow in the mommy's tummy. "How do the babies get in the mommy's tummy?" he asked. Well, I had the good sense not to talk about mommies and daddies doing the nasty. He was only in 4th grade, for Pete's sake. So, I had another brilliant idea to use the animal kingdom as an example. Good ol' Bernie. I explained that when mommy dogs and daddy dogs love each other and decide to have puppies, they have this thing called "sex" to make the puppies and it looked kind of like what Bernie was doing to his leg. The look on his face told me I had truly confused him. Then he asked, "What does a sperm look like?" Well, it looks like a tiny tadpole, I told him. To which he replied, "So, Bernie was trying to put a frog in my leg?!?!"

And there you have it. I could write a book about what not to do as a parent. Thankfully, a couple years later I got another chance at the birds and the bees talk with my son. Believe me, I rehearsed that time. And now he teases me about the "Santa, sex and a frog" talk. I'm certain my great-grandchildren will be hearing this story some day. If nothing else, I can make them laugh.

April 24, 2010

The Tasmanian Devil

Blane's Daisy troop braved the rain today and went "day camping." (So sorry I wasn't able to volunteer for that field trip!) Anyway, it was the perfect opportunity to tackle the mess in her bedroom. Why, oh why, was I only blessed with one neat freak like me - Keile? It's not fair. But off I marched to the trenches with two trash bags in hand.

When I opened the door, I felt like turning and running the other way. There's nothing worse to a neat freak than a room that looks like it's been hit by a tornado. Honestly, I don't understand how people live like that. I sucked it up and stepped into the mess. Where to start? I decided to tackle her stuffed animal corner first. Seriously, why were these things ever invented? I know some kids get hooked on a "special" one, but not Blane. She sleeps with a different fuzzy thing every night. And I swear they breed when we're not looking. There are so many of them! I told my mom and dad if they ever give us another one, I'll make sure they never see me or the kids again. They just laugh. Paybacks are hell, I assume they're thinking. I'll have the last laugh - I get to choose their nursing homes.

So, I finished and moved on to the closet - dress-up capital of Kansas. It's like Paris Hilton's closet - without the slut factor. And pompoms - really, this girl could outfit the Dallas Cowboys' cheerleaders. Isn't one pair enough? Tutus and purses and boas, oh, my! I finished the closet and started on the doll house and Barbies. By that time, I'd filled up the two trash bags, so I headed downstairs to get another. And Butterfly Barbie had it out for me. Have you ever stepped on a Barbie? Holy Mother! My foot still aches. Moving on, I made her bed and cleaned underneath it - aha, that's where I find half her winter clothes that she discarded instead of putting them in the laundry. Now I had to pull out those boxes again.

Finally, I was ready for her dresser. Really? All I can say is Tasmanian Devil. Every time she pulls out a shirt or a pair of underwear, the rest of the clothing panics and runs after it. Serious separation anxiety. So, I stacked everything up neatly again. Right. Like it's going to stay that way. I looked at the clock - wow, I'm good. It only took me an hour and three trash bags to defuse this bomb. And nearly cost me my sanity.

I heard the doorbell ring. One of the mom's crazy enough to volunteer for today's field trip is dropping Blane off. I'm trying to think who got the sh*% end of this stick - me or her. Blane ran upstairs and I heard her scream. She ran back down and threw her arms around me. "You're the best mommy in the whole world!" I think I got the good end.

April 23, 2010

Until death do us part...

Do you remember taking your wedding vows? "For better for worse. For richer for poorer. In sickness and in health..." Well, when we divorce a spouse with whom we have children, we forget about those vows, except for one - "until death do us part." Yep, when kids are involved, we're in it until the end. (Single readers, this should make you think long and hard about the person you decide to marry.)

We may divorce one another, but we don't divorce our children. And, like it or not, they need both parents in their lives. It took me a while to understand that. I thought since my ex-husband was an alcoholic, a drug addict and a cheater that he wasn't worthy of having a say in our kids' lives. Thankfully, he's been clean and sober for several years now. But at the time of our divorce, I felt I was the only parent capable of raising Taege and Keile. And I fought for them, tooth and nail. I also believed I was pretty good at hiding my contempt for my ex, but I wasn't, and I know my children saw it.

What I've come to realize though is that even though we may not see eye-to-eye on some parenting issues, my ex is a good dad and he loves our children as much as I do. And it's nice to be able to work together parenting our children, to be able to talk about decisions that need to be made without any underlying tension, to attend their events together, to share memories and funny stories of them and to ponder their future.

Let's face it, depending on the ages of our children, we're going to be with our exes through soccer games, parent/teacher conferences, recitals, first cars, first dates, proms, graduations, college decisions, weddings, the birth of our grandchildren, and the list goes on. Wouldn't it be much easier to face those monumental moments in harmony? Sure, we could hold grudges that go on for years. But who does that hurt in the long run? Only you...and the kids.

Choose to live in peace!

April 20, 2010

And my son drives...

Well, I've entered the next phase of parenting - the driver's permit. I actually took Taege to get his permit last summer when he turned 14. He passed the test on his first try, no studying involved - the little turd! I took him out to a LARGE parking lot the first time and he did pretty well. Several months passed - 9 to be exact - in which he never asked to practice.

A couple of weeks ago, I was on my way out the door to drop Taege off at his friend's house and he casually asked, "Mom, can I drive?" I smirked at him and started to say "no," but then I realized that there was going to be some point in my life that I would be forced to get in the car with my son at the wheel. And it might as well be today. So I said, "Sure" and tossed him the keys. He stared at me like I had just sprouted wings. He was still staring at me as I got in the passenger's seat, but he jumped in, pushed the seat up to the windshield, put on his seatbelt, then asked, "Which pedal is the gas and which makes it stop." "Oh, sweet Jesus, will we live through this?" I thought.

He was nervous...not as nervous as I was, but still nervous. He hugged the curb as if his life depended on it. And let me tell you, that boy could stop on a dime - literally. When the guy behind us honked at the stop sign, Taege jumped - "What was that?" "Just a very impatient person, honey," I told him. Geeze, I sounded like my grandmother. We arrived at his friend's street. "Slow down and turn left," I said. "Up or down?" He meant the blinker. As we pulled into the driveway, he slammed on the brakes. Whiplash. When he got out of the car, I realized I hadn't been breathing the entire ride. My heart stopped beating so quickly and I smiled as I saw him jump in the air and yell, "Yeeesss!" That was worth it.

This afternoon, I let him drive home from the Village and he did much better, except for hugging the curb again. But he's getting there. And he'll be taking driver's ed this summer, which is a good thing because I don't think I could take him on a major road or highway yet. I'm in no way prepared for that nightmare. It's a frightening thing to put your child behind the wheel of such a monstrous machine. Okay, I know I exaggerate, but do you understand where I'm coming from?

April 19, 2010

Cooking up a little love

"Mom, what's for dinner?" Those are the four words I've dreaded every evening. Whether I've been at work all day, running the kids all over kingdom-come or working around the house, those words make my stomach sink. "I just fed you yesterday," I think to myself. "You're already asking me that same question again?"

Part of my disdain for the question is that I simply don't like to cook - unless it's for big occasions like birthday parties, holidays, etc. My mom raised us on macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, and frozen pizzas. Not a very creative culinary upbringing and not what I want for my own kids.

But I find it so difficult to cook for such picky clientele. Keile loves pasta dishes (my specialty) - the other two don't. Blane will only eat apples and grapes from the fruit family and asparagus, carrots and lettuce from the vegetable family (I know, strange, isn't it?). Two of them dig spicy food, but the little one not so much. Taege and I love seafood but the other two won't touch it. But Blane is definitely the pickiest by far. She'd live on peanut butter sandwiches and chicken nuggets if I'd allow it, which I won't.

What I've realized about the question itself though - "Mom, what's for dinner?" - is that it's not so much the WHAT as the MOM. It seems to me that my kids are asking the question, whether knowingly or not, to make sure I'm still there, still paying attention, and still taking care of their needs. I like to think of it as their security check for the day. They look forward to our family time at dinner, to having mom focus on them in the midst of all the craziness of the day. And I've learned to get past my dislike of cooking because I know that what I'm creating is more than a meal. It's another way to show my children I love them each day. At least that's my take on it.

April 18, 2010

Stung by the honesty bug

So, I’m trying to find something to wear this morning and am so sick of looking at the same tired items in my closet. I’m in a never-ending battle with my weight, so I have many different sizes represented on my hangers. I hate this. I finally found something I thought would do. I got dressed and looked in the mirror, unsure if I looked presentable or just plain dumpy. So…I did what I swore I’d never do – I asked my 12-year-old daughter if I looked fat. I know, I know – just when she’s entering puberty and will be starting to face her own demons (fat will not be one of them, I’m certain). But I had to know. Of course, never one to hurt someone’s feelings nor one to lie, Keile looked at me and then at the pants and insisted that they didn’t make me look like a cow (my terminology, not hers). But I saw that second’s hesitation!

So, I moved on to my 6-year-old, whose honesty is still rock solid, untainted by peer pressure or the overwhelming urge to play nice. “Yes,” she replies to my fat question. And there you have it. This girl has a future on “What Not to Wear.” This is why I love shopping with her. We’ll go into the dressing room together and just rip through the items – “That’s ugly, Mommy.” “No way.” “Haha, you look silly.” Or, my favorite, when she just busts out laughing at something I’ve tried on. Not only do I save money on these shopping trips, but I’ve also developed a pretty thick skin.

I love how different my girls are from one another. And I love to watch Keile teaching her little sister, too. When Blane told me I looked fat this morning, Keile looked at her disgustedly, to which Blane replied, “I’m just kidding.” She’s learning…but I hope she doesn’t succumb totally to the pressure of niceties. I cherish her honesty, even when it stings a little.