Round and round we go

Snuggled in my blankets I hear him enter the room sobbing.

“Mommy,” he says and wiggles right in next to me. “Sister called me stupid.”

Seconds later, my daughter enters also in sobs.

“Mommy,” she says and snuggles up to me on the other side. “Brother kicked me.”

I say nothing. They try to grab more of me than the other one and sob harder. I keep them apart. I cradle one in each arm and just breath.

My eyes have not even opened yet and here we are again. This fight is so familiar that I could almost script the entire rest of the conversation. I wait for it to come. Two minutes pass.

“She never lets me teach her anything. I am supposed to be the big brother and she won’t let me do my job.” Sobs.

Silence. Two minutes pass.

“He always tells me how to do everything and it makes me feel stupid. I never get to teach anyone anything. I hate being the littlest in the family.” Sobs.

This exact conversation happens about once a month. I never know where. Sometimes it’s in the car on the way home from school. Often it’s at bedtime. Today, 5:30 a.m. in my bed.

They are at that breaking point again with their roles in the family and they push each other to this point of frustration. I have tried many different tactics; lecturing, sending them to their rooms, yelling, storytelling. This morning I just let it be. Let the words hang in the air.

Five minutes pass.

They start reaching across me to each other in a loving manner. Then my boy climbs over me and snuggles right into his sister.

“I wuv you wowa” he coos.

“I wuv you browver” she coos back.

I take another deep breath, get out of bed and head for the shower.

When I come out they are both under the covers singing at the top of their lungs:

“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.

Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat.

If you haven’t got a penny, a hay penny will do.

If you haven’t got a hay penny, God please you.”

Peace, silliness and love. Until the next round…

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The Big, Fat Turkey Lie OR Why I Have Always Hated Thanksgiving

First thing I heard this morning was my husband chuckling as he climbed back in bed.

“Go check out the kids,” he said. “They are snuggling for Thanksgiving.”

I tiptoed down the hall and peeked into my daughter’s room. They were, indeed, snuggled up in her bed but it wasn’t all cuteness. I know when those two are plotting something and I smelled a rat…two mice actually.

“Hi guys,” I said entering the room. “What are you planning?”

An eruption of giggles told me that I was right.

A mass of messy hair pops up and screeches, “I don’t want to tell you” and then darts back under the covers in hysterics. The blankets wiggle all around as they whisper conference about what to do. Both heads pop out with wide grins.

“We are mice,” my boy says. “We have underwear under the bed that we were about to put on our heads.”

“Socks for our hands too,” added his sister. “We were planning on sneaking cheese from the fridge.”

“I guess you aren’t interested in trying my homemade cinnamon rolls,” I say and walk away as they quickly converse and decide that sounds a bit better than sneaking cheese.

This is my family. We are silly, quirky and sometimes ridiculous. I love my family more than anything in the world, but this is the first Thanksgiving that I have not hated.

Thanksgiving has always felt like a big, fat lie. It has always left me feeling disappointed and sad.

Growing up I didn’t understand why we couldn’t have the Thanksgiving of the movies. You know the one, right? It starts with a long drive as the family happily sings “over the river and through the woods to grandmothers house we go.” Or maybe it’s a long plane ride to some beautiful city that is blanketed in snow. Once there, you are greeted by smiling family that remark on how much you’ve grown and how much they miss you.

The dining room is set with a large rectangular table with an elegant tablecloth, matching napkins with real silverware, platinum turkey place card holders with names written in calligraphy, gorgeous dishes in an assortment of fall colors and the centerpiece is a real cornucopia spilling out the most splendid fall produce. It would all make a Pottery Barn catalog jealous.

A large assortment of friends and family would arrive bringing homemade goodies for all. Everyone would look beautiful and would be so excited to see each other. The head of the family would carve the turkey and make a speech about being thankful and everyone would be filled with the Thanksgiving spirit. Then the family would all do the dishes together and head outdoors for a family game of football.

This is the Thanksgiving I’ve always been promised. This is what I’ve always imagined. But, for me, it’s a big lie.

Growing up it went like this: drive 20 minutes to my grandparents’ house, hear how we never visit and how much they are disappointed in us, enjoy a slightly awkward meal and then watch TV.

I thought that it would be like “Father of the Bride” and I’d marry into this amazing family that would host an elaborate Thanksgiving. It would be great.

Nope. Didn’t happen. No big family Thanksgiving.

After our wedding my parents divorced and my grandparents both died. Any hope I had of at least having a multi-generational Thanksgiving died with them.

The last 14 years I have spent silently hating Thanksgiving. I fake it pretty good. I always smile, cook, do all the dishes and even try to focus on being grateful. It’s been interesting:

*Our first Thanksgiving in our tiny studio apartment included a turkey that only halfway cooked because the oven only halfway worked. Served bloody turkey and stuffing. Yum.

*We were married Nov. 20, so we spent our first married Thanksgiving on honeymoon at Disneyland. We ended up getting room service because the crowds were terrible. Food was actually pretty good but cost like a million dollars.

*When our boy was four-years-old, we spent the entire day fussing over him as he ran an increasingly higher fever. Debated about going to the E.R. Did not go, but then found out days later he had strep. Poor kid.

Thanksgiving has never been horrible. Not even close. We have our little family and our health. I should be grateful. I should not be comparing and feeling sorry for myself. But I have spent so much time dreaming of that “perfect Thanksgiving” that real gratitude has eluded me.

It’s the EXPECTATION that has been killing the day for me.

After spending time last weekend at dance class dealing with letting go of expectations, I decided to put that into practice and let it ALL GO. I decided that I was going to embrace the day in whatever form it came. I didn’t even know when we would eat. Just figured when it was done we would eat.

Guess what? Today was great. Really, really great.

thanks1*The homemade cinnamon rolls and cranberry sauce (both firsts for me) turned out fabulous.

*Ended up riding bikes with both kids in the street followed by a surprise visit from my mom. There is nothing like your mommas hug to brighten your day.

*Watched the parade on my bed with some yummy cheese and salami. I was beaming with pride that my kids love the Broadway dances as much as I do.

*Took another, longer bike ride with my boy to see the neighbors on “Christmas Street” putting up their decorations. We rode and yelled, “would you look at that” to each other.

*Watched the national dog show and laughed my head off at how many times my kids said “he is soooo cute!”

*A family hike that was highlighted by holding my husbands hand and seeing three frolicking deer.

I had so many moments today that I just felt happy. I felt lightened of the burden that I’ve carried for so long. Today we had Thanksgiving our way and it was perfect.

Here’s to letting more expectations go and just living my life.

One hand and then the next

“Mommy,” she whispers as she gently taps my nose with hers. “Wake up. I need my Pippi braids.”

I open my eyes and look at the clock. 5:30 a.m.

“Go back to sleep,” I say in the nicest way I can muster.

“Mommy,” she whispers again gently running her fingers through my hair. “I need my Pippi braids right now. It’s important.”

I open my eyes and look at her. She is dressed in her new favorite Pippi Longstocking outfit and is holding the hairbrush and four rubber bands in different colors.

“I need more sleep,” I manage. “Just 30 more minutes.”

“OK,” she says with a sigh. I hear the disappointment, but it’s 5:30 a.m.

Thirty minutes later my alarm goes off and she is standing right next to the bed waiting. She is still holding the hairbrush and rubber bands. I’m sure she did not just stand there for 30 minutes waiting. Right? I’m sure she played or something.

I sit up and try to be as pleasant as I can. I spray her hair with detangler, which she had thoughtfully placed next to me in bed. I brush her hair carefully making sure that I don’t pull or hurt her. I use her favorite parting comb, the pink one with the sparkly handle, to gently part her hair into two. I use the pink rubber band on one side and the yellow on the other for pigtails. Then I braid each one.

“Blue rubber band on the pink side and red one on the yellow side,” she says.

When I’m done she skips off and puts all the brushes and spray away.

“Thanks mom,” she says. “See you downstairs.”

After dragging myself through my morning ritual of shower, picking out the lest objectionable of my clothes and running a brush through my hair, I head downstairs.

My girl has made us all breakfast of cereal, toast and juice. Brother is there and dressed too. I think I might be dreaming. They both smile.

“What did you do with my children?” I ask.

They giggle and we eat.

“Today’s the day,” she says.

“For what?” I ask.

“You’ll see,” she says.

I pack lunches and do the morning dishes as they pretend that their bouncy balls are pigs. The pig race gets a little out of hand, but we make it out the door on time.

The ride to school is filled with talk about the pig race and plans for building a more elaborate race track and making prize ribbons when we get home. I tune in and out as I sip my coffee. We drop brother off and head to her school. I look back at her in the mirror and she is beaming.

“What is going on?” I ask her.

“You’ll see,” she says again.

We pull into the school and she is literally bouncing in her seat. She bolts out of the car, grabs my hand and we head straight for the monkey bars.

monkeyShe has been dreaming of making it across the monkey bars for over a year. It was only in the last week that she started really trying. Every day she would just hang on the first bar and then drop. Over and over and over. She never seemed to get tired of it.

We spent hours the previous weekend and several more after school all week with her reaching across a few bars. She could make it about halfway now.

After a few attempts, we developed a cheering agreement. I was not allowed to say anything until she dropped. No clapping or encouragement.

“It makes me nervous when you say something,” she told me.

So I would just watch and nod. When she made it farther than before she would come over and say, “you can cheer now” and I would.

I take my normal standing place at the end of the monkey bars and watch her face. The look of determination was fierce. I was silently beaming with pride. When this girl wants something, she will get it.

Then she took off. It was slow and deliberate. One hand then the next. Her face was filled with concentration. She made it past the halfway part and I had to bite my tongue to not scream out with happiness for her. She kept going. Slow and deliberate. One hand over the next. Finally she made it to the last bar and dropped.

“I did it!” she screamed and ran so fast to me that I almost fell over. The look of pride, excitement and joy was so wonderful that I almost cried. “I knew it would happen today. I just knew it! You can cheer now mom.”

I did. I cheered for this accomplishment and for all those that will come her way. Look out world.

Battling giants and stomping the floor

10274147753_73b9312e43_cThe children were playing on the edge of the woods when then heard loud sobbing. Although frightened by the sound, the children gathered their courage and found a lonely dragon crying. Each tear turned into a precious stone as it hit the ground. The children befriended the dragon and he no longer was lonely.

For years the children would return each Autumn to the woods and visit the dragon. He would give them one of his tears to keep. As the children entered the darkness of winter, these precious stones would serve to remind them of the love, light and friendship they share.

But this year something dreadful happened. A horrible, mean giant stole all the tears. This giant prefers darkness, fear and loneliness and he loves to scare little children. You must sneak into the giants home while he sleeps and steal back the dragon tears one by one. You will need to gather your inner-strength, courage and light to lead you through the task. Good luck.

This is the story that I and others read to the children on Saturday at our school’s annual Harvest Festival. The children would then sneak into the giant’s house and grab a stone.

I watched as one by one they did, indeed, gather their courage and enter the house. The giant was making sounds and shifting in his sleep. He would occasionally wake or say something scary. The children did it. They loved it. Some came back multiple times to conquer their fear.

As I watched this play out over and over, I realized how much I am running from my own fears. My giant is my fear of rejection. My fear that when people get to know me they will leave. My fear that when I speak my truth I will be laughed at. My fear that allowing myself this space and time to heal is selfish. My fear that I will never be happy because I don’t really deserve it.

So I’m facing these fears. I’m walking right up to them. The giant is making lots of sounds but I’m moving forward anyway. Inner-strength, love and light are my weapons.

Sunday was another dancing morning for me and I went thinking about fear. I went with the intention of releasing some of it. What came out was anger. Lots and lots of anger.

At times I stomped the floor so hard that my feet hurt. My hands kept clenching into fists. I realized that I was holding so much anger and resentment. After several hours it started to release its hold. I could feel the anger melting off. By the end of the session I was smiling. Really smiling.

There is still so much work to be done, but I’m feeling lighter.

I spent the rest of the day yesterday with my family. We went to the park. I played catch with my husband. I’m so afraid of baseballs. I saw my mom get her lip split open as a kid and the balls scare me. But I got to the point of actually catching some with my eyes open.

“You are not rooted to one spot,” my husband said. “You can move your feet to meet the ball.”

I watched my daughter try over and over to conquer the monkey bars. Her determination is wonderful to see. She is no longer afraid of falling and can make it halfway before losing her grip. No frustration or tears. I’m in awe of her.

My boy spent his time building with sticks and leaves and floating his creations down the creek. He would throw it off one side of the bridge and then watch it come out the other side. Over and over.

After the park, we all went bowling and then out to dinner. Laughter. Silliness. Balloon animals. Ice cream. Kisses.

Best of all, I was there. Really there.

Stupid, bad mommy

Holding her hands back as she attempts to punch me, I forget about her feet and one connects with my side. Hard. All of her limbs are in motion with the intent on doing damage. She is still small and I can handle her blows.

It’s what is coming out of her mouth that feels like I’m being repeatedly stabbed with a rusty knife blade soaked in poison.

“I hate you!”

“Your a bad mommy!”

“I wish I’d never been born because your so bad!”

“Your a stupid, ugly mommy!”

Each hurtful phrase is followed by a scream that comes from deep inside. It shakes her whole body and seems painful. I hold back my tears and try to remember…she is only 6. She is in pain.

But it hurts.

It feels like I’ve failed at the most important job in the world, being her mother. I’ve failed to give her the tools to handle things.

My poor sweet, sensitive girl.

From the time she started talking it was clear she has strong feelings and emotions. She thinks about things little ones should not and comes up with phrases that often leave me speechless. She is always concerned with how people feel and is often brought to tears when hearing a story about someone sad.

For those reasons, and many others, I have to be careful of what she is exposed to. We limit media and she attends a Waldorf school. But I can’t shield her from every hurt and, truthfully, I don’t want to.

This “I hate you” stuff is new. This is the first full week of school and 3 out of the 4 evenings have ended with an outburst (each getting progressively longer and meaner). After the rage comes the real tears and we get to the hurt and pain. Then, most horribly, it ends with guilt.

“I’m a bad kid.”

“Your a good mommy and I’m just awful to you.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Those words twist the knife and I want to run out of the room sobbing.

The truth behind all this pain is that my girl wants a best friend. She is obsessed with the idea of having someone she can count on. Someone she can trust. I’ve explained that it takes time to build friendships and that she just needs to play with everyone right now.

“Time is all you need.”

“Just keep being yourself and people will line up to be your friend.”

“You are awesome. You are amazing. Give people time to see that.”

I even brought out the old Girl Scout song:

“Make new friends

But keep the old

One is silver

And the others gold”

She wants it so bad that every interaction becomes “is she my best friend or not?” Then she decides the answer is no and is as heartbroken as she will be when her first boyfriend dumps her.

I’m not stupid and can see the correlation between her pain and my own. I know that even at age 6 she can feel her mothers depression. I am not whole right now. I’m broken and I can’t help but feel that she senses it.

How can I expect her to be strong, resilient and confident when I am not?

I hate this.

I want to give her skills that help her find meaning and love.

I want her to feel whole and confident.

I want her to stop freaking out and saying mean things, because this mom can’t take much more. Words freaking hurt.

How can I do all that? I have no clue.

I know some of the answers can be found by seeking Gods help. It keeps coming back to that. We read her book about guardian angels last night and she found some comfort in that. I’m talking to her more about prayer and we are going to start praying together.

My daughter is amazing. I am certain she is destined to do something great with her life.

I only wish I could fast forward through this hard stuff. But, of course, this is the stuff parenting is made of. The hard stuff.

I just hope I survive.

My boy

The events in Boston are still on my mind. As I wrote this post about my boy, the significance of the 8-year-old that was killed was present with me. I had a hard parenting day and needed to write about it, but I realize that I’m very lucky to have this problem. Damn lucky.

I’m losing it. I’m losing him.

He just won’t listen to me.

Although he is now getting out of bed in the morning, thanks to an alarm clock, he is still not getting dressed or coming down to breakfast without repeated pleas that end in yelling and me threatening to send him to school without food.

No carpool this week because he has created a story of Teddy and Mousey, two of his stuffed animals, that has taken on a life of its own. It involves lots of exploding cakes and moldy cheese. Its been going on since September, but we’ve all had enough. Really. ENOUGH.

In class today I witnessed him ignoring his handwork teacher. Then he was making sounds during the quiet moment she asked for. Cat sounds. Loudly. Followed by giggles.

His karate teacher had to tell him repeatedly to stop daydreaming and to pay attention. When he comes out of class he says, “I had the best chamber kick recoil.”

He was supposed to be brushing his teeth, but instead I find him banging two toothbrushes on the counter, shaking his butt, singing to himself and watching all this in the mirror.

Annoyance.
Anger.
Fear.
Embarrassment.
Disappointment.

I’m not supposed to feel that way. His behavior is not supposed to reflect on me. I try to stop the tirade against myself that I know is coming, but I can’t.

Am I failing him? What could I have done differently? I wasn’t present enough. He didn’t get enough protein. I should have been more patient. Did he get enough sleep? I should laugh more. Give more hugs. He is only 8. Lighten up! He is just a kid. But is he turning into a brat? Is he becoming that kid you don’t want your kid around? Am I that mom? I don’t know what I’m doing. Panic.

Then it’s bedtime. We read two chapters of book eight in the Lemony Snicket series. He begs for one more, but I say it’s late. I’m tired.

He pulls my face toward him. He gives me my kisses. Forehead, both eyes, cheeks and chin. Nose rubs followed by eight kisses on the nose and one big smooch on the lips. I return them in the exact order. He looks at me with his glasses off. His eyes red and tired.

“I love you mommy.”
“I love you too.”
“Did you hear me?”
“Yes.”
He grabs my face.
“I love you mommy,” he says again.

Melted. Renewed. Reassured. Everything is going to be OK. We have another day together and it’s everything.

Summer’s coming

I discovered a love of camping last year. This isn’t something I did growing up, but I wanted to give it to my children.

There is something magical about building a little homestead away from home. Finding the right spot to put the tent. Smoothing out the tarp, unrolling and positioning the tent and driving in the stakes. Listening to the kids run wild and find treasures. Making our little beds all cozy and warm. Gathering wood.

We hike, swim, eat and play. There are chores, but they seem so less mundane in this other world. Watching my boy start the fire. Smelling the sweet smoke and feeling it sting my eyes, as it seems to follow me wherever I sit. Marshmallow goo stuck on both of their faces they run around screaming until the woods embrace them and they find their calm again.

The boy whittles wood. The girl makes fairy houses and crowns.

We are alive. Connected.

Cuddling together in the tent the giggles start. They reposition themselves over and over and we laugh until our sides hurt. Then I read our special goodnight book, “Step Into the Night” by Joanne Ryder. We listen for the sounds outside the tent. Crickets. Water. People talking. Laughter. Campfires. Life.

I’ve never “really camped,” I’ve been told. Never having backpacked into the middle of nowhere. Never having felt the isolation and wonder of being alone in the woods. Someday. Maybe.

We always camp with and near another people. We can usually see our car. It’s not perfect.

Dad stays home. He hates camping and no amount of being sad and longing will change that. So we go without him. It makes me heartbroken that he will miss out on this time with our kids. It often brings me to tears, but it’s not changing. So, I except what is and we go without.

I get VERY grouchy during the packing. Preparing the meals, gathering all the clothes, camping gear and packing the car. It turns me into a crazy person running around yelling at the kids that WE WILL NOT GO IF YOU DON’T HELP. I stress about all the details and feel like canceling about 1,200 times during this part.

Once the car is packed and we get in, I can breathe. Calmness washes over me. We take our “on the road again” picture. We are a team. We talk, laugh and sing. Looking forward. Moving forward.

As I start planning our summer camping trips I can’t help but be excited. Leaving the daily school commute behind. Saying goodbye to just seeing my kids before and after school. No more rushing to karate class and yelling at them to get up in the morning.

I will yell. Get stressed out. Cry that they are driving me crazy. But I would not change our summers together for anything. They are not perfect, but they are ours. Only 61 days until school is out. I can’t wait.

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