Monday, April 27, 2009

Wow, this really IS what I wanted...

"If you had do it over again, would you have children?"

This is the question that was posed to readers in a famous Ann Landers article from the 1970's (check out the article here). The results were shocking. 70% of the readers responded NO.

What kind of a mother would ever have doubts about whether or not she should have had children? What kind of mother would think back to her pre-mommy days and miss them? What kind of mother would be jealous of her childless friends?

An honest mother.

Because I have done all of this at one time or another, and I know that most other moms out there have too--even if only for a second. Most of us just feel too guilty to admit it. We think that admitting any of these thoughts means that we don't really love our children...that we are not grateful for their existence. When really, admitting to any of these negative feelings has absolutely nothing to do with who our children are or how we feel about them, but has everything to do with us--who we are--and everything we are required to give up in order to be parents.

It has only been in recent years that women have started to open up more about motherhood and what it's "really like." It is almost as if it has been hidden beneath a veil of half-truths: "Parenting is the best thing that has ever happened to me." "My children are my life." "You don't know joy until you have a child." "It is so wonderful."

These are all true. But there is so much left unsaid.

I have had days when I have wanted to run away. Literally. (Fortunately, I am married to someone I like so damn much that I'd actually have to reveal my final destination to him so we can meet up.) I have cried. A lot. I have wondered why I ever got into this parenting thing, and whether I'm any good at it. I have mourned my old life. I am often so overwhelmed from the general noise, chaos, and chores required when raising two small children that I think I might have a complete and total breakdown.

But here's the thing:
I think if we were all to be more honest about parenting, about motherhood, about what it's really like...all the good AND the bad, then maybe we could all handle it a little bit better. If we knew more about what we were getting into, if we could turn to each other and cry/laugh/vent more honestly about how much it can suck sometimes, we would all be less frustrated, less frightened, less alone. Motherhood is not a competition. With very few exceptions, we are all doing The Best We Can. And if we can all admit that on the very best days, it's still work, then maybe we could start supporting each other a bit more. Then we could stop beating ourselves up for not feeling the way we're "supposed" to feel.

We took Ben to Sea World this weekend, and while we were sitting at the Shamu show, I was looking around and watching the families interact. I loved looking at the big screen replays of the moms, dads, and kids sitting in the front rows, laughing and squealing and being splashed by the killer whale. In that moment, the simplicity and joy of being a family was so evident. And I pictured us...the four of a few years when the boys are older, and we'd all be there, maybe huddling together in the splash zone too, and I felt so grateful to have them, to be a part of this family. I was almost taken aback by the certainty that came rushing at me at that moment that THIS is what I wanted. I am always startled by the moments that bring on this clarity. It always happens at the most unexpected, oddest times. I can never really explain why these slices of life trigger these feelings of parenting bliss and amazement, and to tell you the truth, I don't even care. I am mostly too relieved and ecstatic when these moments do happen to care that they are prompted by something as random as a whale show. Because within the doubts, complaints, frustrations, tears, and exhaustion that come with The Every Day, there is The Big Picture. What I Wanted My Life To Be. So when I can see myself, sitting there, content and happy, sure of my role as "Mama," I know that my answer to Ms. Landers' question would be a definite and certain yes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

You are invited to the Learning Center's Spring Show...

I have never been one of "Those Moms." You know...the mushy ones. The ones that have cute little kid stickers on the back of the minivan...the ones who get all teary-eyed when they insist that motherhood is "the best thing"...the ones who wear their Mom Badges 24/7. Not that there's anything wrong with all that. I'm just not one of them.
But then there's...Show Night.
It seems--much to my husband's amusement--that when Ben is in a school show, I completely lose my mind. I not only become one of them, I lead the parade and carry the "My Kid Rules" banner. But really, if you had seen him tonight, singing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" you would understand. Not to mention that he, himself, my Ben, was one of The Three Loud Ducks. Yep...the teacher chose him to be one of the stars. (Okay, maybe "star" is a stretch, but he was standing at the front of the stage, proudly waving a duck puppet in the air, hand on hip, quacking louder than anyone else as one of THE three loud ducks...)
I become one of those insane mothers on Show Night. I think about it all day. I plan his outfit (and mine). I charge the camera battery. I drive my husband nuts while we're all getting ready shouting out Estimated Times of Departure: "We gotta be outta here in 10 minutes!" I stress the entire drive there about whether or not we'll get good seats. I even strategize: "Hey honey, if we get there and the front is taken, should we choose closer up and to the side, or further back and in the middle?" Yeah. For real. I know. It's amazing the man sticks around.
And when all the kids start pouring out onto the stage and I'm scanning their little faces and spot MINE....? It is the absolute silliest feeling of satisfaction and excitement and pride. He sings for 2 minutes and smiles and waves and makes goofy faces and plays "Let's-step-on-each-other's-shoes" with his friend and I feel like my kid won the Pulitzer. The sense of pride is frightening. And, what, exactly, am I proud of? That he can sing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider"? That he was picked to be a duck? That he is happy enough at this little, wonderful school that he goes on stage, happily and readily with his friends to perform for his family? Yes, actually. All of that. But also, it is one of my first glimpses into His Life. A life separate from Mama and Dada. School is a place of his own, where he's made his own friends, where he's figured out his own stuff, where he's building his own little beginnings of himself, without us. And although that's scary, it's mostly thrilling because it's what I want, more than anything, deep down in my heart: a happy, independent, strong son. So when I see him there, on stage, singing and dancing, I could not be happier. It is, most definitely, one of my very favorite Mommy Moments. Because that little boy up there is my star, whether he's one of the ducks or not.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Parenthood: The Original Endurance Sport

My husband and I competed in a mini-adventure race this weekend. For those of you who don't know what adventure racing is, imagine an extreme off-road triathlon on an unmarked course. Adventure races run the gamut from 2-hour minis like this one to 7-day expedition races. Hubby's been doing them for years and anything under 8 hours is like a warm up for him. For me, this was another Life Experience...another adventure to add to my Do-One-Thing-Everyday-That-Scares-You List. We ran, kayaked, and biked for exactly 2 hours and 23 minutes. We came in 2nd place overall, so we did pretty darn good, but during the race I fell twice, waded through murky water, portaged a kayak through knee-deep shoe-sucking mud, and got bitten by a mosquito on my eye lid. I have scrapes and bruises I can not even account for, and aches and pains in muscles I did not know I had. But I feel AWESOME.

In the past, when we competed in any athletic events, we'd come home and just crash: shower, rent a movie, and eat our traditional "We Raced Today So We Deserve This" meal of pizza, wings, beer, and ice cream. We wouldn't move. Sloth and gluttony. It was glorious.

But then we had kids.

Instead, we found ourselves bouncing and jiggling a fussy 8-month-old and throwing foam blocks with a squealing, hyper 3-year-old...our muddy wet clothes still in the truck, my bloodied scabbed knees stinging, and both of us counting the minutes 'til at least one of us could sneak away for a shower. Wings and pizza were replaced by teriyaki chicken (one of Ben's favorite take-outs) and a bowl of cereal. And instead of a rented movie, we sat through "Monsters, Inc." for the third time. We were in bed by 9:00...only to be awakened 4 times during the night. Ben woke up with an ear ache and an attitude. Aidan with his usual random senseless wailing. I almost laughed...almost. At 3:00 in the morning, exhausted and aching, I realized that from now on, when we are thinking about competing in an athletic event, we have to take into account not only the race itself, but the "post-race requirements" a.k.a. Ben and Aidan. We simply do not have the luxury anymore of being too tired. We will have to know, going in, that after the strain, challenges, and exhaustion of the race itself, we will then have the strain, challenges, and exhaustion of parenting waiting for us when we get home.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rock On, Moms

I'm a rock star. See? I've got pink hair. So I must be a rock star.

I've wanted a pink streak in my hair for years...way before Rachel McAdams and Avril Lavigne. In fact, I think the first time I saw pink hair and thought: "How cool would THAT be?!?" was back in the days when Gwen Stefani was just a broken-hearted rocker chic in a little band called No Doubt. But I tossed the idea aside pretty quickly each time. After all, I'm not a celebrity (at least not in the real world). And over the last few years, I became (gasp!) a MOM. Moms wear sweaters. Moms have neat, manageable bob hair cuts. Moms do NOT have pink hair.

And then I thought: And why the hell not? Since when have I ever participated in the "Supposed To's" of life?

Maybe it's the fact that Aidan Kai is sleeping through the night and behaving more like a funny little person than an infant, but I'm starting to feel like my Old Self again. The person I was before I became pregnant with Ben and was again before I got pregnant with Aidan. I don't know...but there's something about leasing your body out for 9 months to another human being that totally seems to suck the sense of self right out of you.

And when I called my hair dresser up, she totally got it. I admit, I was a bit apprehensive when I arrived at the salon. After all, as much as I may be, as she said, "the artsy, creative type," I'm also the "type A, slightly neurotic type." Before the color had even been wrapped in foil, I had already had the first on-looker reaction: an audible gasp followed by "Is it really going to be pink?" A few minutes later as I was getting shampooed: "What is this?" And then, my favorite reaction thus mother-in-law who was pulling out of the driveway as I pulled in: "Ay! What happened?!? Is that permanent?!?" The funny thing is...the more people I startled and confused, the more I loved the pink streak. Yeah, I know, I need therapy. But I've always gotten a little kick out of shocking people just a tad. I've never been into blending in with the rest of the world.

A few ladies at the salon asked me before I left: "What will your husband think?" My husband...the true rock star of our so comfortable in his own skin that he can not even begin to relate to someone NOT doing something for fear of standing out or being judged. He loves it and, to quote him, thinks I'm "a bad ass."

I'm not so sure I'm a bad ass, but I know I'm a rock least in my own head. And really, isn't that the only one that counts?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What'd the Easter Bunny bring YOU?

Apparently, the Easter bunny has a sense of humor. Along with some chocolate eggs, he also brought double fevers, night-long coughing, at least a basket's worth of mucus, medicine-induced hallucinations, a desperate attempt at co-sleeping, and some projectile vomiting. And yet, troopers that we are, we still managed to host a bangin' Easter pool party.

Ever since Ben started preschool in November, we've been dealing with monthly illnesses. And of course, whatever Ben brings home, Aidan Kai quickly catches. This time, it was almost simultaneous. There is nothing quite like dealing with a sick toddler AND a sick baby. Infant Tylenol for one, Children's Motrin for the other. Hold one down for saline nose drops, chase the other one around the house forcing him to blow his "boogies." Two fevers to control, two noses to wipe, two cranky kids, two exhausted parents. Last night Ben's coughing had gotten so out of control, that he was literally hacking for hours. At one point I was sitting in bed listening to both of their monitors and it was like surround sound: Aidan's sad little coughs and sneezes and occasional "whaa's" coupled with Ben's body wracking coughs and grunts of discomfort. So I caved. I did something I NEVER do. I went against doctor's orders and I gave Ben some cough suppressant. (For those of you who don't have small kids and may not see what the BFD is: over the last couple of years, cough meds for babies and toddlers have become a big ask your doctor for a cough suppressant and he gasps and looks at you like you asked for some crack for the kid.) Well...apparently there actually IS some validity to the hype, because Ben got so wired that he was hallucinating. We're talking full blown nightmares every 2 minutes or so, yelling out, not responding when I'd come in the room, sweating...a whole lotta fun. And oh yeah, he was still coughing.
At about 1:00 in the morning, after 10 trips to his room, and 2 to Publix (one for honey, the other for Vick's Vapor Mist), we brought him into our room to sleep with us. This was our first official co-sleeping experience. I realize this may be shocking to lots of you out there, some who may swear by co-sleeping, and others who have gotten sucked into it somehow and aren't sure how to get out. If there is one thing Pablo and I are adamant about it is getting our kids to develop good sleeping habits, and that, for us, means sleeping in their cribs/beds. I'm sorry, but I needed to draw the line when it came to my bed. As a result of our "training," Ben has never wanted to sleep with us, not even when he's been sick. So I have to admit, I thought "Gee, maybe this will be kinda nice. Maybe it will feel cozy. Maybe I can finally see what all the co-sleeping hype is about." Um. No. Here's the truth about co-sleeping: the only one who actually sleeps is THE KID. His screams and wild restlessness and nightmares stopped almost immediately when we brought him into our bed, but they were replaced by snores that were so loud, I could not quite believe they came out of my adorable little 3-year-old, erratic and surprisingly aggressive kicks, and (purposeful?) pushes that practically knocked each of us to the floor. I had absolutely no idea that a boy that little could take up so much space on a bed that big. Fortunately, around 4:00 a.m., he simply turned his head, opened his eyes, looked at me, and stated: "Mama, I'm thirsty. I need water. And I don't like these covers. I want to go to my bed."
After getting about 3 hours of actual sleep, we had both families come over for an Easter Pool Party, complete with an egg hunt put on and planned by yours truly. (And for those of you who are taking notes on Bad Mother Decisions and would like to add "letting your sick kid go swimming" to "giving your kid cough medicine"...I checked with a doctor, thank you very much, but don't worry, I'm sure I'll screw up again very soon so keep your list handy.) As you can see by the pics, there was no evidence of the previous night...everyone looked pretty happy and cute, too, if I do say so myself. And tonight, after all the decorations had been put away, the food picked up, the kids bathed and in their PJ's, Ben on his last lullaby and Aidan on his last ounce of milk, when we thought we had pulled through the day and it was all pretty darn successful...Aidan did his thing...he coughed...and...gagged...and PUKED. All over the place. And so, as Pablo is on all fours uselessly scrubbing the carpet, and I am changing PJ's and mixing more formula, Ben and Aidan have gotten a second wind: Aidan is babbling and cooing and giggling like he just performed a party trick, and Ben is checking out his chocolate eggs and insisting he's hungry and wants to watch TV. And I am amazed...amazed by children's resiliency, by their ability to puke and move on (literally and figuratively), and amused at the stuff parenting throws at you, and how, when you have no other choice, you not only clean up the messes, but you actually throw a party in the midst of them.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Mornings suck

I hate mornings. No, no, I mean, I really hate mornings. If they could invent an anti-depressant medication that was only to be taken in the morning and would wear off after two hours, I'd be good. A nanny that just did mornings would work too. It doesn't matter if I wake up at 5:00 or at 9:00. For the first hour of the day, I am right on the line between suicidal and psychotic. (I know what you're thinking: My husband is a lucky, lucky man.)

This morning situation I've got going is not new. I've always been this bad. When I was in kindergarten, my parents tried everything to get me out of bed: gentle shakings, sweet kisses, turning on lights, throwing off covers, threats that the bus would leave me behind...but in the end the only thing that ever worked was making me pissier than I already was. So, my father would tease me about Eugenio. Eugenio was my classmate who ate his own poop and licked the bottom of his shoe during Circle Time. True story. Even at 5 years old, I was so borderline violent in the mornings, that only avoidance of this kind of parental harassment would get me out of bed.

One of the only differences between my morning behaviors then and now are that I married a man who just won't allow me to abuse him in the mornings. It's like he's talking to our 3 year old: "You can be cranky. But you can't be rude." He holds me to that, so I have no other choice but to hang my 36-year-old head in shame and say a polite "good morning" each day. We've kinda worked out an agreement through the years: if I behave like a human being, he will give me as much space as is possible on that day.

Before I had kids, I handled my a.m. handicap with an ongoing internal monologue: "All you gotta do right now is brush your teeth. That is all that is required of you right now. Just brush your teeth." Then, "All you gotta do right now is eat breakfast. Just eat breakfast." Unfortunately, I am NOT kidding. This is, for real, what was happening in my head in the mornings. I am already so bleary-eyed and disoriented simply from the act of getting out of bed that if I were to start thinking about the actual day ahead--good or bad--I would get even more flustered and overwhelmed. Whether I'm going on vacation or am going to work, there is only one thing I want to do in the mornings, and that is: Get Back In Bed.

Now that I have kids, well...ha. It's way worse. On workday mornings, my alarm goes off at 5:00 and this is still barely enough time for all four of us to get out of the house on time. There is no time for self-pity. And on weekends? Usually not much different...we take turns doing the baby's 5:30ish feeding, and then somewhere between 7:30 and 8:15 we are awakened by Ben's ever shrill, ever energetic, ever ready-to-start-the-day call of "MaaaaaMaaaa" or "DaaaaaDaaaaa." And then...oh, we're ON. "Let's play. Let's play! Let's PLAY!"
He absolutely, most definitely, does not take after his Mama.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

More of a "thank you" note than a real post...

At the risk of sounding corny (and possibly being laughed at), I must admit that I am moved. You guys are actually following this blog! How cool is that?!? I haven't posted in a few days...and never did I think that any of you would notice, much less call me out on my missing thoughts. C'mon, admit it. You missed me. I just went through all of the comments that have been posted, and some are not even from personal friends of mine who are obligated to humor me every once in a while. Woo hoo! Apparently, I'm sharing some stuff that some of you are actually relating to. And the coolest thing? I confess to you, and you confess right back. Ha! I'm NOT the only slightly insane, often overwhelmed, trying-to-stay-cool-and-keep-it-all-together mother around here...So thanks. If you keep reading, I'll keep writing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I could do it all...if only I could stay awake

My children are not my life. I have a life. Perhaps that is the problem.

The boys are a huge part of my life, but I have a whole lotta other things always going on. My mom, in fact, always says that I'm "always inventing something." I think she thinks that I not only have too much on my plate, I am constantly heaping additional spoonfuls onto it. I don't know if this is necessarily true, but I do know that I am Tired. Exhausted. Spent. All the time. Sometimes it's more a mental exhaustion than a physical one, and to be quite honest, that is even worse. I know a lot of moms who have told me that when they had their kids they took a sort of hiatus from their personal lives. They stopped going to the gym, going on trips with just their husbands, reading, scrapbooking, shopping, whatever...their hobbies and passions were put on a temporary hold until their kids got older. I can't do that. At least I try not to. I still work out, I still subscribe to a ton of fashion and athletic magazines (and yes, I read them...along with all the novels I read too!), I still watch my favorite shows, I still spend quality time (alone!) with Hubby, I still go out with my girlfriends. And now I blog (and TRY to get used to and accept the phenomenon of Facebook). And of course in addition to all of this, there is the endless list of everyday life's Must Do's: groceries, bills, laundry, cleaning, working, appointments...and somewhere in all of this? Sleep.

So yes, I have a life of my very own, in addition to being a mom. I'd like to say I've got it right. I've nailed it: the whole juggling motherhood and yourself. But sometimes I think it is the moms who have given stuff up who are wiser. It's certainly easier. Maybe they are happier. Maybe they aren't needing to wear concealer every single day of their lives just to try and cover the bags under their eyes. But I just can't do it. I know me. I would be miserable. I would feel like a sell-out to myself. I would miss Me. But as I've come to learn you really can't have it least not at the same time. So what I do choose to give up, I suppose, is energy. Calm. Time. Maybe that's not a smart thing to do. Yesterday I was at the doctor's for my annual physical. (Listen, I know what you're thinking...I'm complaining about having too much to do, so why not skip my physical? My doctor won't let me. Believe me. I tried.) I explained how tired I was all the time, how I crashed every single night by 7:30, how I never really felt 100% well.... Surely there is something she can suggest? Surely she can prescribe an extra special multivitamin for multitasking moms? You know what she prescribed? Exercise and sleep. Well, gee thanks. Got that. See you next year.