Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Half Way There


            Congratulations! You’re halfway there! If you’re asking “halfway where?” I’m guessing you don’t have children. Today is Wednesday and it is officially the halfway mark of Christmas vacation. In the earlier (and jobless) days of my parenthood, I always smugly remarked that you could tell the parents who spent a lot of time with their kids from the ones that don’t. It’s pretty obvious when they’re out at a mall or a museum or anyplace people take their kids when they’re desperate to find some way of entertaining them. 
            I’m not so smug about it anymore for a couple of reasons. Primarily because my children are now in school most of the time. I put them on a bus around 8:25 each morning and they get dropped off around 3:40. It’s a long stretch of time where they are now in someone else’s care. So I am no longer as used to having them around as I once was. It’s amazing how quickly we get out of practice.



Besides, they do a lot of changing once they get on that bus in September. School is a lot more structured than hanging around the house. The summer after my son Owen completed a year of full-day kindergarten. He would follow me around the house asking, “What are we going to do now Mom?” This was a kid who always entertained himself—building towers from blocks, spaceships from cardboard boxes, and armies from Play Doh. Now he wanted direction. Fortunately, after a few weeks he realized I wasn’t going to type up an agenda for him (or course, then he went back to school).
I’m a lot more empathetic about other people’s parenting skills and styles these days. This parenting job isn’t easy and there is no single perfect formula for being a good parent. And everyone has bad parenting days—and they usually happen at the mall or the grocery store during school vacation weeks. One of the most even-tempered moms I know confessed to spanking her son at the supermarket a few years back. She was sure she was going to get a call from a social worker that night.
When Owen was two and a half and James was a baby in a Snuggli. There was an afternoon that I realized we were about to get snow—a lot of snow and I was almost out of milk and diapers. Like most small children, mine were at their best in the mornings. I usually ran errands in the mornings before they morphed into afternoon/early evening unpredictable creatures. But I didn’t  that day so there was a stand off in the middle of Stop and Shop with Owen—he wanted to get out of the cart and walk. I wouldn’t let him. The snow was already falling and I knew the shopping would take twice as long if he was walking. Also, I had the baby in the Snuggli and I wouldn’t be able to pick up my giant two-year-old and get him back in the cart without the baby getting squished or kicked in the head. There was screaming and crying—some of it from my children and some of it from me. I felt like everyone in Stop & Shop was staring at us. My normal course of action when my children acted up out in public was to simply take them out of the situation. Unfortunately, we needed milk and diapers. It wasn’t one of those times where you nip out to get your favorite cookie to satisfy a craving. No matter how demonic my children were behaving I had to get my shopping done.
            Eventually the three of us calmed down and I managed to get everything we needed into the cart and headed for the checkout. I started to unload my groceries onto the belt. This is a very tricky operation if you’re 4’11” and have an infant strapped to your chest. I had to sort of stand on my toes and hold the baby to one side and lean on the other side to get the stuff from the bottom of my cart. Suddenly, an angel appeared. A beautiful, professionally dressed woman behind me said, “Can I help you unload your cart?” It was a simple gesture, but I was so grateful for her kindness that I nearly cried. It only took a moment of her time but it helped me so much.
            I think of that woman when I see a parent struggling. Is there something I can do? Maybe I can pick up the sippy cup her toddler has dropped for the tenth time and the mom looks like she’s about to hurl it through the window. Distract the four-year-old who is whining in the line at the bank by telling her I like her bright pink snow boots. Hold the elevator door open so the frantic dad doesn’t have to wait for the next one as his hungry baby screams. It doesn’t take much to make a big difference to someone who is exhausted, hungry and running out of ideas.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Afterglow

            I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear that I love Christmas. But this year I find myself enjoying the day after just a little more. The last few weeks have been a frenzy of baking, shopping, wrapping, food preparation and socializing. Today is all about unwinding. It helps that we’re having some serious snow around here. It started snowing around 8:30 this morning. We have blizzard warnings starting at noon today (Sunday) and extending until 6:00 Monday night. I couldn’t go anywhere if I wanted to—my car is terrible in slippery conditions.
I can’t think of a better day to be snowed in. I made prime rib for Christmas dinner and now the bones are simmering on the stove with veggies and herbs to make beef and barley soup for tonight’s supper. I have all the necessary provisions people scramble to acquire on a day like today: bread, milk and eggs. I also have some not-so-necessary things to make the day special like red wine, apple pie, proscuitto, good cheese, cookies, dark chocolate, and Knob Creek bourbon.
I have plenty of things to keep us all entertained. We have a couple of movies from Netflix that I didn’t have time to see over the past few crazy weeks. I can spend some time figuring out how to work my new GPS (thanks Santa!) and reading my new Sookie Stackhouse novel (don’t judge! I just finished Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections—I deserve a little brain candy). Not to mention the fact that I got Rock Band Country for the PS3. Video games aren’t really my thing, but I’ll take just about any excuse to sing. Move over Carrie and Martina—here comes Vickie!
My kids have been hopping from one new toy to the next since 6:30 yesterday morning—science experiments, Legos, magic tricks and video games. They jumped at the chance to play in the snow this afternoon. You know what I love about snow? It exhausts the kids! A couple of hours in the snow followed by some hot cocoa and a movie and they’ll be worn out.
There is even a Patriot’s game on TV this afternoon. It’s in Buffalo, where strangely, it isn’t snowing. So there is something for everyone.
Normally I work on Sundays so today is particularly special for me. I’m not going anywhere beyond my own yard at least until tomorrow. My boys could conceivably lure me outside to help build a snow fort later on. Right now they’re content on their own so I can read, write, play and relax. I hope you get the chance to do the same. If you’re one of those people who has a job keeping the rest of us safe—firefighters, police officers, medical professionals, and snow plow drivers—thank you and stay safe. I promise to stay out of your way.  Happy day after Christmas everyone! 
The snow before the BIG snow.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Getting My Act Together...


...or why I don't watch daytime television

             I had Monday off from my job in the wonderful world of retail. With Christmas only a few days away I had planned to use the time to “get my act together”. I made a discovery. It’s important when putting your “to do” list together on Christmas week that you be a lot more specific than “get your act together”. I got a few things accomplished, but I sure don’t feel together!
            One of the things I managed to get done was the wrapping. I gathered all the gifts, paper, tape, labels, etc. and plopped down in the living room in front of the Today show. I rarely have the TV on during the day. I might have it on when I’m ironing—but how often does that happen??? So the Today show had loads of ideas about Christmas—gifts to give, food to cook and ways to decorate.
            The first segment I saw featured two families who were each given $150 to pull together a festive dinner for eight people. It seemed like both families spent the majority of their budget on décor and the food was almost an afterthought. Clearly, these people are no relation to my family! One family only spent $75 on their decorations and dinner. Each person was given a cookie with his or her name on it—festive right? That served as napkin holder, place card, and dessert. They only spent half their budget and dessert was a cookie… ONE cookie. You call that a Christmas dessert? They had $75 bucks left over—hit the packie* and the bakery with the left over cash! Geesh!
            The next segment I watched was one in which someone gushed on and on about gifts you can buy your pet for Christmas. For real?  I love my cats but it seems to me that being a cat in a good home is already one of the best lives a creature can have. All your meals are taken care of, you don’t work (except for the occasional mousing but they really seem to enjoy that), and you spent half your time sleeping in sunny spots and getting petted. They need a stocking too? Bah! Humbug!
            Finally, someone whose title was “Lifestyle Editor” came along and talked about unique ways to wrap oddly shaped presents. That really caught my interest, because every once in while tips like that can be really helpful. Her first idea was a large barrel-shaped container in which you can “wrap” a kid’s bicycle. A bicycle? Wrap a bicycle? Whose lifestyle was she editing anyway? I clearly remember the first bicycle I got as a Christmas present—it was a royal blue Schwinn. I was probably in second or third grade and I was thrilled. Unwrapping it wouldn’t have made it any more special. Not to mention the fact that the container she was wrapping it in costs forty dollars. In my lifestyle, forty bucks is the cost of an entire gift. Here are some other uses for forty dollars: two hard cover books, several bottles of wine, classroom supplies for your kids teachers, Godiva chocolates for the bus driver, a chili dinner for twenty of your closest friends, two nice Lego sets (or one awesome one), a nice bottle of whiskey, two $20 gift cards to Dunkin’ Donuts for the mail man, or a half-hour massage for someone who has been wrapping gifts all day.
            I turned the TV off after that. I’ve come to the realization that the last thing I need a couple of weeks before Christmas is more ideas. I’ve already come up with enough things I’d like to do but won’t have time. I hate to sound like a Scrooge, but Christmas is wonderful enough without making yourself nuts. Christmas is a time to see people you don’t get to see all the time and indulge in a few once-a-year treats. It isn’t a time to make yourself crazy trying to please everyone. By the way, I got a bike for Christmas this year myself. My company gave every single one of its thousands of workers a mountain bike. It didn’t come wrapped and it needs to be assembled and it was an awesome gift.

*Translation from New Englandish: Liquor Store

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Oh Fudge!

            I had my annual physical this morning. You’ll be happy to know I seem to be in excellent health. I don’t even need blood work this year because last year’s tests results were so good. I’m thrilled because of the fasting involved in blood work—skipping breakfast makes me VERY cranky. Unfortunately, I was informed that I need to drop 10-15 pounds—which wasn’t really a surprise. I have not been getting my butt to the gym as obsessively as I was last year and I haven’t altered my diet to account for the drop in exercise.
            So I did what anyone else would do after getting news like that. I went home and made a few pounds of fudge. It’s not for me! I make “goody” baskets for my sister-in-law and brother-in-law and their families at Christmas. Today was the day I set aside for making all the treats. I made Cookies & Cream Fudge (aka crack—only tastier) and Chocolate with Walnuts both from the Nestle website for the second year in a row. Last year I made Alton Brown’s recipe for peanut butter fudge and the flavor was pretty good and it was ridiculously easy—but the texture was somewhere between chalk and paste. So I decided to try something new. After perusing a number of Peanut Butter Fudge recipes I cobbled together this one I want to share with you.

One of my famous care packages from a previous year.


Vickie’s Fabulous Peanut Butter Fudge

You will need:

3 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 1/4 cups of brown sugar
1/2 cup milk or evaporated milk**
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 Cup of Peanut Butter*
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Line a 9x9 baking pan with parchment or foil.

Place confectioner’s sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and set aside.

Combine milk, butter and brown sugar in a saucepan and mix over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir constantly for 3 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter and vanilla extract.

Pour over confectioner’s sugar and mix until thoroughly combined.

Spread in pan and chill for about 2 hours or until set.


*I use all-natural chunky peanut butter from Trader Joe’s. Don’t groan! Even if you don’t like the natural stuff in a sandwich, it makes WAY better fudge. Think of all the sugar and fat we’re going to be adding.

**I prefer evaporated milk because I keep low-fat milk in the house and I certainly don’t want anything low-fat going in my candy!


            Now I know a lot of bloggers include step-by-step photos with their recipes. But I didn’t know that this fudge was going to so tasty that I’d want to share it with you. Plus, I’m not so sure I’m skilled enough to cook and click at the same time. Next time I’ll show you the pretty way I package up the fudge. Enjoy!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sick?


            I think my son is allergic to school. If you’re a regular reader, you may recall a warm and fuzzy post a about me playing hooky with my son last week. He was coughing up a storm at school, but his symptoms mysteriously got better by the time I picked him up. I really enjoyed spending time alone with him and truthfully I didn’t feel like being at work any more than he wanted to be in school.
            The next day was Wednesday and he seemed perfectly healthy so I packed him off to school. I was feeling less warm and fuzzy when I got another call from the school nurse. He was coughing uncontrollably again. It sounds like he’s faking doesn’t it? That’s what I thought too. But then the nurse told me that he had begged her not to call me. He figured I wouldn’t let him go to the Cub Scout holiday party that night. And normally I wouldn’t—but he seemed so perfectly fine a few hours later that I let him go.
            Thursday morning he woke up bright and early. He certainly didn’t look like a kid who was too sick to go to school. He looked like he was ready to take on the world and eagerly got his jacket and backpack when it was time to go. Guess what happened? I love the nurse at the boys’ school, but I do not like seeing her number come up on my cell phone. When I picked him up, she told me to have him seen by his pediatrician.
            So as soon as my older son got off the bus, we headed across town to see the doctor. She thought he seemed pretty healthy too and said that maybe it was an allergy. We left with a prescription for Zyrtec nasal spray and tablets. She told me it might take a few days to take effect.
            I shouldn’t have bothered sending him to school on Friday. I should have just let him hang out with me while the Zyrtec worked it’s magic. But I just couldn’t bring myself to keep this perfectly healthy kid home from school. My bad. I picked him up at 1:00. The nurse and I agreed that maybe the medicine just needed a little time to work. Once again, I took him home.
            We had a great weekend. His grandmother is in town and we went to Edaville USA with the Cub Scouts. Even spending Friday night outside in the bitter cold, he had no more than an occasional sniffle or cough—nothing like the uncontrollable spasms he had at school. 

Look Mom! No symptoms!

            So I packed him up and sent him on his merry way Monday morning. At 10am I was out Christmas shopping with my mother-in-law. Guess whose number came up on my cell phone? I offered to come over to the school and just get him outside into the fresh air for a while and bring him back in. She thought that was a good idea and said she’d do it. Then she thought perhaps she could try sending him to a different classroom—maybe there is something about the particular room that’s aggravating him. She called back about 15 minutes later—fresh air, a cough drop, and a bottle of water did nothing to help him. I picked him up around 10:30. His school days are getting shorter.
            He’s finished all of the schoolwork he brought home and was sitting at the computer playing on the PBS website by noon. He hasn’t coughed all day, hasn’t needed to blow his nose, and doesn’t have a fever.
            I left a message with the adjustment counselor at school. Maybe there is something going on that’s bothering him. I’m getting paranoid that I’m going to have to home school this boy. I wouldn’t mind, but then I’d have to home school his brother—that would be ugly. I love him without end and he is one of the smartest, most ethical people I’ve ever known—adult or child. But he’s wired so differently that I get a little crazy just helping him with his homework. As usual, I’m over thinking things and getting ahead of myself. I really wish the adjustment counselor would call me back. James may not be going crazy, but I’m pretty sure I am.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Grammie's Coming to Town!

            My mother-in-law Barbara is flying up from Maryland later today. No, there won’t be any mother-in-law bashing in this post. I hit the jackpot when I met my husband. I not only got a fantastic husband, but a great extended family as well. My son Owen has been wandering around all week muttering, “I can’t wait for Grammie to be here.”
            The boys were a little disappointed to hear that Grammie’s visit wouldn’t last all the way until Christmas. So in my typical speak before you think style I said, “Don’t worry. We’ll have Christmas before she leaves. I’ll roast a turkey and we’ll make a pie.”
            “Can we open presents?” Owen asked.
            “Can we have apple pie?” James asked.
            “Can we have pumpkin pie?” Owen asked.
            “Of course!” I answered to each of their questions.
            Now the visit is upon us and the house isn’t quite as clean as I’d like it to be for Barbara’s visit. Fortunately, I’ve been married to her son for fourteen years now. She knows I’m absolutely obsessive when it comes to finding great gifts and making tasty meals. But my obsession ends a little before housekeeping starts.
            I try. I really do. Okay, maybe I don’t try that hard. It’s a simple matter of priorities and making choices. Let’s see, I have time to either make homemade meatballs or scrub the bathtub—the meatballs win. I mean, those are really good meatballs. How about this one—there is a pile of shirts that need to be ironed and my kids want me to watch Finding Nemo with them. Nemo and the boys swim away with my time and attention. And, yes to the multi-tasking crowd, I suppose I could set up the ironing board and iron while I watch. But then, how will the boys cuddle up to me when Nemo and Dory encounter the sharks? And I won’t get any popcorn!
            Take right now for instance. There is a week’s worth of unsorted mail cluttering up the dining room table and my mother in law’s plane lands in about an hour. But I’m also trying to make writing a priority. Once again, I have chosen the creative task over the practical one. At least there are clean sheets on the guest room bed, both bathrooms are sparkling, and the dishes are washed… most of them.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Playing Hooky


            This morning as my six-year-old son James was getting his coat on he announced that he wasn’t feeling well. He had been awake for almost two hours exhibiting only the slightest sign of having the sniffles. Being a concerned parent, I naturally responded with sympathy. I believe my exact words were, “Get your coat on.”
            James somewhere, somehow acquired a penchant for drama. So I’m not quick to believe that he’s sick—even when he’s putting on a pretty good show. This morning he wasn’t even putting on his normal Oscar worthy song and dance. I figured he’d be distracted once he got to school and forget about being “sick”.
            A couple of hours later (while lying on the copy-room floor attempting to extract a sliver of paper from the inner workings of the copy machine) my cell phone rang. It was the school nurse. He didn’t seem that sick to her either. But there he was in the nurses office coughing—but only when the nurse said, “You don’t seem to be coughing.” 
            Back in the spring, I wrote the following piece for a writing class. It is written from the point of view of myself as a five-year-old and is based upon a day I remember spending with my dad. Thinking about days like this are probably the reason I left work and picked James up instead of sending him back to class. It's called “The Best Day Ever”.

It’s still dark outside when my mother wakes me up. I want to stay under my green and white gingham bedspread. She lets me hide a little longer while she works on getting my brothers out of bed. I can hear my sister in the shower. Kindergarten starts later than everyone else’s school and they are too busy in the morning to try to get me out of bed early. I love my bed—it is a river raft, and a stage, and a parade float, and a trampoline.
            Eventually my dad comes in to wake me up. They had something called lay-offs where he works so he gets to spend more time with me. He goes to school now too—just like me.
            “Come on My Little Chickadee,” he says. “Time to get up.”
            “I don’t feel good.” I tell him.
            “Why don’t you come downstairs? Maybe some orange juice will make you feel better.”
            “Okay. But I don’t think it will work,” I say with a sigh.
            He gets me an English muffin and a glass of orange juice. It does make me feel better but I still don’t want to go to school.
            “What’s the matter Sweetie? I thought you loved kindergarten.”
            I do love kindergarten. I love learning my letters and numbers. I love snack time—sometimes we get saltines with peanut butter! I love the monkey bars at recess. I even like naptime. I just don’t like the bus. Lisa will make fun of me. She is tall and wears pretty dresses.  She has shiny blond hair like Nellie on “Little House on the Prairie”.  My hair is brown. Lisa makes fun of my sweater—it is navy blue. Hers is pink. She says my sweater is black and looks like a boy’s sweater. I have begged my mother for a pink sweater. But she says my navy blue sweater is very practical—it goes with everything and doesn’t get dirty as quickly. I don’t want to tell Daddy about Lisa.
            “I do like kindergarten Daddy.” I tell him. “I just don’t feel like going today.”
             “Well I wasn’t going to get any yard work done today anyway,” He says looking out the window at the rain. I suppose one day off won’t kill you. Okay. But you have to help me around the house this morning and let me get some homework done.”
            I giggle when he says that. I think it’s funny that Daddy has homework like my sister and brothers. He is studying to be a teacher like Mommy.
            Daddy vacuumed and I dusted. I got to watch “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers” while Daddy did his homework. He bought a small bag of potato chips to have with our lunch. Mommy doesn’t buy junk food so it was a big treat. The best part was playing checkers—I won three times.
            I tried to get Daddy to let me stay home again the next day. But he said if I was well enough to beat him in checkers three times, I was well enough to go to school. At least it isn’t going to rain tomorrow. We’ll be able to play on the monkey bars at recess. Lisa may have a prettier sweater than I do, but she misses all the fun trying to keep it clean.

            So today, instead of telling the school nurse to send James back to class, I said, “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes or so”. He definitely has a little cold—the inconsequential kind most of us work through and try to ignore. We had chicken noodle soup and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. James helped me clean a little and he watched a little TV. When it was time to pick up his big brother at the bus stop, James declared, “I feel better Mom!” Maybe it was knowing he’d miss tomorrow’s Cub Scout Christmas party if he missed another day of school. But I like to think having a little one-on-one time with Mom made him feel better. Hanging out with him certainly made my day a little better.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Do You Believe?


            I have loved Christmas since I could wear little velvet dresses and black patent leather Mary Janes. I’m one of those annoyingly “in the spirit” people who start humming Christmas carols on black Friday and by Cyber Monday I’m singing them at the top of my lungs. Having kids makes Christmas even more fun. I have a new appreciation for what I once considered “tacky” Christmas decorations. The kids see the lights in our neighborhood and I see their faces light up and I forget all about what is  “tacky”.
            My boys are still young enough to believe in the Santa—although the older boy’s resolve is slipping. This year Owen asked permission to set up a video camera in the living room to find out for sure (he actually used the term surveilance). He’s eight, so I suppose the age is right for him to question Santa’s existence. I just wish he wouldn’t do it in front of his six-year-old brother!
            Fortunately there are few things in this world as unshakable as the convictions of a six-year-old at Christmas time. Whenever Owen ponders the possible non-existence of Santa, James responds with, “Well who do you think brings all the toys? Plus he eats the cookies we put out. Duh!”  You would think the fact that I don’t say, “James, please don’t say ‘duh’" like I normally do, would be a dead give away.
            I thought for sure the jig was up two years ago. It was a couple of hours after all the gifts were unwrapped and the boys were enthralled with their new stuff when my husband Dan asked, “Did we forget to put something out?” I too had the same nagging feeling. I checked the basement and sure enough there was a fairly substantial present for each child down there—one of the few that they specifically asked for.
            Since the boys were content with what they had I considered just putting them aside for their birthdays. But I knew that by July I would forget about them all over again. So Dan and I came up with a plan.
            The gifts were on the coffee table in the living room when the boys got up the next morning. The wrapping had gotten a little banged up and torn—that’s what happens when things fall out of Santa’s sleigh.
            “What are these?” Owen asked when he saw the presents.
            “I found them in the back yard when I went to put the trash out last night,” Dan said nonchalantly (how he did that with a straight face I’ll never know!). “They must have fallen out of Santa’s bag.”
            There was this look of near religious ecstasy on Owen’s face as he said, “He IS real!”
            Like every parent on the planet I screwed up. This time my screw up amidst a thousand Christmas details ensured another year or two of belief in Santa for my little boy. That’s my idea of a Christmas miracle.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Bullying

 
            A couple weeks back, one of the bloggers I follow wrote a post on bullying. As I sat down to write a quick comment I found myself writing and writing and writing. Turns out I had a lot to say about bullying. So I cut my comment short and got out my journal and started writing down my own thoughts on the subject. Then Thanksgiving came and I was distracted by apple pie and baked Brie. So now that the boys are back in school I can sit down and focus on more important (and less fattening) issues.
First of all, I want to differentiate between teasing and bullying. Just about everyone endures teasing at some point in his or her lives. It’s unpleasant but a relatively harmless part of growing up. My brothers used to tease me about a variety of things—from my name (do you have any idea how many words rhyme with Vic or Vickie?) to my vanity (little girls—especially little girls who grow up to be actors—love mirrors). But they never crossed the line where I felt threatened or like less of a person. I always knew they were my brothers and they had my back. Come to think of it, they still tease me. But then again, they still have my back. It’s a pretty good trade-off. Bullies, on the other hand tear people down in order to build themselves up. Being bullied can take away your sense of self worth.
From the time I was in kindergarten, I never really fit in at school. In third grade a handful of students were taken out of class and given IQ tests. Much to my teacher’s surprise, I wasn’t weird. I was “gifted” (or maybe I should say I wasn’t just weird). Twenty-two kids from different schools across the city were be bused to a centrally located school for the A2 Program (these days it would be a TAG or Talented and Gifted program). It had some flaws. Basic skills were often overlooked in favor of more creative projects (I’m still a little shaky on arithmetic, but I make one hell of a diorama) I didn’t consider that a flaw at the time and I fit in much better with the kids in the program than I did at my original school.
We were supposed to be together for three years in elementary school and two years in Junior High. That is, until the budget was cut. When we went to 7th grade we were integrated back into traditional classrooms. During the first few years of elementary school we were a little dorky among our peers, now having been separated from them for three years we were officially recognized dorks. We were “A2 Fags” to the other kids. For three years our teachers told us how smart we were, now we were “A2 Fags”.
            There was one girl who gave me a particularly hard time. As I said, I had been teased before, but this was different. There was menace implied in her ridicule. She scared me. I don’t remember her name. I remember her blond ponytail and her “posse” who always flanked her when she harassed me. She cornered me one day after school in the hallway. I don’t remember why I was still there when school was over. But I’ll never forget being in the second floor corridor near the service elevator that day. And I’ll certainly never forget what I was wearing. My mother had just made me a purple and white striped dress—sort of like an oversized sweatshirt (it was the 80’s). I loved it and I was so proud of the fact that she had made it for me. Blondie strutted up to me with her posse and said, “Nice dress.” He voice was sarcastic and threatening.
            I was terrified. There were no teachers around and I was little—I hadn’t quite reached my current towering height of 4’11 and couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds. She had given me grief a thousand times before and I just took it. But this time it really made me angry. I felt so good about that dress. My mother who worked full time and had three other kids had taken the time to make me a dress. And here was this girl with her blond hair and her Palmetto jeans making fun of it. So I forced a big shiny smile on my face and said, “Thanks! It is nice isn’t it?”
            There was this look of fury on her face followed by a look of panic. She was the big bad girl as long as I was the pushover. So she started laughing and literally dropped on the ground and rolled around as if what I had said was so funny she couldn’t contain herself. Her girls looked a little confused and started laughing too.
            It didn’t take someone as smart as an “A2 Fag” to figure out why she was laughing. She never had any intention of hitting me, but she also never figured I’d talk back. Did I think she was going to hit me at the time? Yup. Did I know what to do if that happened? Nope. But I was tired of someone making me feel badly about myself. I knew I deserved better so I finally spoke up. She only gave a hard time one or two more times and the same thing happened. I stood up for myself and she pretended it was funny.
            Now, I know I got lucky. There are plenty of bullies who are going to go ahead and throw the first punch. What then? You can teach your kids to defend yourself but most schools have such strict anti-fighting policies that it rarely matters. Unless you let the bully beat you to a pulp you’re going to get suspended (or worse) for fighting. So what do we do about it? How do we keep our kids from being bullied? And how to you stop it if it starts?
            Instill in your children a sense of self-respect—not self-esteem. What’s the difference? Read this blog post from a fantastic young writer who explains in beautifully. How do you do that? Love them, accept them for who they are, and let them do things for themselves. Nothing builds self-respect like accomplishment. Bullies look for kids who appear to be an easy mark. A kid who walks tall and appears confident is less likely to be a victim. If you can afford it and your kid is interested, maritial arts are great for building confidence (and for knowing what to do if you absolutely must defend yourself physically).
            Talk to them. It sounds obvious, but the big conversations don’t just come out of nowhere. As parents, we know when we ask, “How was your day?” , we never get an answer like, “Today we had fish sticks for lunch, I aced my math test, had art and Freddy said he’s going to stick my head in the toilet if I don’t stay out of his way.”  I usually get a sulky, “Good” from one child and an exuberant “Awesome!” from the other when I ask. But as they’re having their after school snack, doing homework, and while I’m making dinner I get a lot more information.
            Make sure the administration of the school knows who you are. Go to PTA or PTO meetings, volunteer at events, chaperone a field trip. Your concerns are more likely to be listened to if you are known as the involved parent, and not just the parent who calls when something is wrong. And be selective about calling. I know the experts would disagree with me on this one, but I think it’s important for two reasons. First of all, if you call about every little thing, you become the parent who thinks every little thing is an issue—like a well-intentioned boy who cried wolf. Also, I really feel like the age of the helicopter parenting needs to come to an end. Kids have to learn to handle situations themselves or they’ll never earn their own self-respect. When you’re talking to your kids try to find out if a situation is really bullying of if it is just kids “being kids”. If it’s happening repeatedly and your child doesn’t want to go to school it is time to make a call. If he comes home from school one day and has a few scrapes, but everything else seems okay, just keep an eye on him and your ears open.
            Have you noticed how many people you know have stories to tell about being bullied? I mentioned on my Facebook page that my son had been called a nerd on the bus one day. Dozens of my friends chimed in about how great “nerds” grow up to be and how they had similar experiences as kids. Maybe because pre-adolescence and adolescence is all about fitting in, but being a successful adult means standing out. Who came up with that rule? Probably some mean girl with fantastic hair.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Favorite Holiday


            This may be my favorite holiday of the year. No, not Black Friday. I wouldn’t venture to a mall on this sacred day if they were giving out dates with Russell Crowe and Viggo Mortensen (well maybe for Viggo). Today is “National Buy Nothing, Drink Tea and Wear Sweatpants Day” in our house. I’m absolutely thrilled that it’s a rainy day here. If I were inclined to go outside, I’d probably find the weather miserable. But since going outside would involve putting on shoes, I’ll skip it. 
            Yesterday was a marvelous and manic Thanksgiving Day. I got up at 4:30 to head to New Hampshire where much of my family lives. I intended to be up by 5:00 but that OCD of mine kicked in early. By 6:00 we were packed, gassed up, and had made the requisite stop at Dunkin’ Donuts and were on the road.
            I ran the 37th Annual Greater Derry Track Club Turkey Trot with a few members of my family. It was, as we say here in New England, wicked fun. They are all much faster than I am. My brother Jim, nephew Jack, niece Annie, and husband Dan all crossed the finish line10 minutes or more before I did. But I finished—with no passing out, vomiting or injuring myself. So I call it a success. 
            After showering and doing a little baking in my mother’s kitchen we headed over to my sister Katie’s house. After devouring enough Brie en croute for a small city in France (not to mention proscuito, red wine, salami, and gorgonzola-walnut spread) and waiting for the football game to be over (GO PATS!) dinner was served. Katie and her family had ingeniously put together tables in the living room in such a way that all twenty of us could sit down at one large t-shaped table. Having a kids’ table would be torturous to some members of our youngest generation who are rapidly turning into adults. I would love to show you a picture of the set up, but I was having so much fun I didn’t take my camera out all day.
            Somehow we all managed to leave room for dinner—potatoes, squash, turnip, stuffing, cornbread, sweet potato bacon biscuits, peas (I think there may have even been turkey and gravy). As a family, we aren’t big grace-sayers, but my lovely sister-in-law Kim raised her glass at the beginning of the meal to give thanks for our wonderful family. I looked around and thought about how true that was. Not only do I love everyone who sat at that table, but I genuinely like everyone who had gathered. What a blessing! As much as I enjoyed the meal, it was the warmth and companionship I enjoyed most of all. Long after the plates had been cleared we continued to sit and talk. If it weren’t for our long drive home, I could have stayed for hours more. My boys were teary-eyed when we told them it was time to say goodbye to their cousins.
            So today is marvelous and mellow day. Leftover cornbread for breakfast followed by a day of reading, playing games with the kids, a little writing, and maybe an afternoon cuddled up watching a movie together. After that I’ll be spending a little time in the kitchen whipping up a batch of tortilla soup (perfect dish for a rainy day) and another apple pie (I was just too full to fully appreciate my favorite dessert yesterday). I wish you all a happy and unproductive “National Buy Nothing, Drink Tea and Wear Sweatpants Day”.



It isn't Thanksgiving without a chorus or two of "Alice's Restaurant"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanks!


            It’s t-minus forty-eight hours until Thanksgiving Day. You’ve probably noticed that the grocery store is packed with people who only cook once a year and don’t know where anything is. Facebook and the blogosphere are going to be jammed with lists of things people are thankful for and testaments to gratitude. I’m not going to knock that—I think a little extra gratitude could fix a lot of problems in the world. If my children grow up to have integrity, kindness and a sense of gratitude I will feel I did something right.
            So I decided to pull together a list of things I’m thankful for. I don’t have the obvious stuff on here. Of course I’m thankful for my home, my family, and my health. I make sure I say thank you to the Man Upstairs for those and my many other blessings on a regular basis. Here’s a list of the little everyday things that make my life better.

The Little things I’m Thankful For


1.)   My husband loves my laugh lines.

2.)   Strawberries. They’re good for you, have tons of vitamins and anti-oxidants and fiber and yet they are DELICIOUS! And they aren’t the kind of good for you like red wine and dark chocolate where you’re supposed to eat them in moderation. You can eat LOTS of strawberries even if you’re on a diet (unless it’s a low-carb diet which I can’t do—carbs are part of the delicate web that keeps me sane).

3.)   While we’re at it. I’m pretty thankful about red wine and dark chocolate too. So even though you can’t shouldn’t gorge yourself on them, they’re still so tasty and good for your heart and your eyes—and my gene pool is full of bad hearts and macular degeneration (so I have an excuse to eat extra).

4.)   I have a fantastic mechanic. He never tries to talk me into any services I don’t need or talk to me like I’m an idiot (which might be appropriate when it comes to automobile service).

5.)   I’m grateful that my brother Jim asked my parents not to name me Jennifer as they had planned (apparently we had a neighbor with a dog named Jennifer and he objected to me being named after a dog). Don’t get me wrong, Jennifer is a lovely name. It was also the most common girl’s name the year I was born. Plus, they would have named me Jennifer Anne—so my initials would have been JAP.

6.)   My six-year-old still wants me to sing, “Sweet Baby James” to him every night.

7.)   Curbside recycling. It makes being “green” so much easier.

8.)   My blog has seven followers (hey! it’s a start!)—and they aren’t all related to me! Anyone want to make it eight?
Owen's contribution to the list.

9.)   My eight-year-old is still a hugger—and shows no signs of changing.

10.)                  I’m thankful that a crazy trainer at the gym talked me into running my first 5k. I never would have done it if no one asked. I’m not so thankful for her talking me into playing in the dodgeball tournament. I’m still having flashbacks.

11.)                  My husband likes my laugh lines. He does! No, he isn’t just saying that because he wants something—shut up!

12.)                  My cat thinks he’s a puppy. He runs to the door to greet me when I get home and lies on his back so I can scratch his belly. He has the temperament of a dog, but he’s low-maintenance like a cat.

13.)                  Fall in New England. I think it’s the main reason most of us haven’t moved south (that and we get tired of people asking us to say "pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd"). Sandwiched in between the near tropical heat of August and months of ice and snow, the gorgeous weather and scenery are reason enough to stay.

14.)                  My kids still go to bed before 8:00. Yes, they’re up pretty early but having  a couple of quiet hours in the evening is wonderful.

15.)                  Did I mention that my husband loves my laugh lines?


What are the little things you’re thankful for this year? Did you find jeans that make you look fabulous? Did you get carded even though you can’t even remember what you did on your 21st birthday anymore? Does that special someone think you look great with a few extra pounds? Leave a comment—I’d love to know what you’re thankful for this year. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!



Monday, November 22, 2010

Two Actors in the House



            A few months back I was helping a customer design a walk-in closet. If folks don’t come in knowing exactly what they want, I ask them about what they’ll be storing. Do they need a lot of hanging space? Would more drawers be better? Do they have a lot of shoes or purses? He told me, “I won’t need much hanging space. I have one suit and I only wear it once or twice a year.” I looked at him a moment and said, “Firefighter?” He laughed and said he was indeed a firefighter.
            We set up his part of the closet and moved on to the portion his wife would use. “I wish she were here with me, but she’s working.” 
            “Oh,” I said. “Is she a nurse?”
            “Yeah,” he replied. I could tell he was deciding whether to be freaked out or impressed. “How did you know?”
            “I only know a handful of firefighters and they’re all married to nurses—except my brother. His wife is a teacher. It’s Sunday—a lot of nurses work on Sundays.” I told him.
            He must have decided I was just observant and not a stalker. He said it was true that a lot of firefighters are married to nurses. He explained that the two professions were complimentary to one another in a marriage. “You have a lot of empathy for each other.” He said. “You don’t have to explain why a day is tough, because the other person has been through something similar.”  [Yes, I do have really personal conversations with my customers some times. I don’t know what it is about selling bedroom furniture that makes people want to open up to you. Some days I feel like the Dr. Phil of furniture.]
            I was thinking about this as I watched my husband Dan on stage last Friday. It was opening night of the community theatre production of the hysterical British farce Noises Off. He and the rest of the cast and crew had been rehearsing since August. The show was fantastic and Dan was brilliant and charming in it (in my completely unbiased opinion). He had worked very hard memorizing his excruciatingly confusing lines and perfecting his English accent. Everyone’s hard work paid off—the audience was in stitches.
There aren’t many people with young children who are involved in community theatre. It’s a huge time commitment. Three nights of rehearsal for about eight weeks followed by a production week that normally includes four nights of rehearsals followed by a couple of weekends of performances. Not to mention the time outside of rehearsals you spend learning lines, helping to build sets and looking for costumes. All of this while juggling a full-time job and a family. I doubt very much I could be particularly supportive if I didn’t know exactly what he was going through. But we both love theatre and support each other’s involvement as much as we can.
            We can’t both do a show at the same time. We would be away from the boys too much. Even if the babysitting bills didn’t bankrupt us, we’d miss out on them growing up for the sake of a hobby. So we take turns. Beginning in January, I’ll be the one at rehearsal three times a week and Dan will be picking up my slack. But it isn’t simply I pull extra parenting duty now and you do it for me in the spring. Supporting each other in theatre is more than a tit-for-tat exchange. It’s easier to be a fulfilled and happy couple if we’re each fulfilled and happy individuals. Being involved in theatre is something Dan and I both value. I doubt very much either one of us could pursue this avocation if we didn’t both feel passionate about it.
In her book On Writing, Ellen Gilchrist wrote, “There is nothing on earth so much fun as putting on a play, most art is done by solitary people alone in their lairs. In the theatre people get together to create, to fight and compromise and bargain and plot and sometimes triumph.”  This is something I learned when I did my first play in the sixth grade. It was an extravaganza called Fabulous Fixed Franks (an original musical written by a student teacher at my elementary school—that’ll deserve a post of its own some day). Creating a piece of art with others and then sharing it with an audience is very rewarding. Not to mention, people clap when you’re finished. How many hobbies have that benefit?


Friday, November 19, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

            So, I started this little blog in September in hopes it would keep me writing regularly—and it has. And I’ve been really encouraged by the positive feedback I’ve gotten from my friends and once and a while from people I’ve never met. One of the nifty features of Google’s Blogspot is the statistics page. You can track how often your blog is being read and by whom. Don’t get creeped out—it doesn’t say Fred Smith from Walla Walla read this page six times yesterday. But it does tell you what countries your readers are in, what operating systems they use, and how they found your blog—whether they did a key word search, followed a link from another blog, a social networking site, etc.
            I must admit, I’ve gotten hooked on checking my own stats. As you might guess, most of my readers are here in the US. Can you guess which country is second? Romania. Isn’t that crazy? People in Romania (and Singapore and Australia and Russia and South Africa!) are reading my blog. I know it shouldn’t matter, right? Writing this blog is all about personal growth and working on my writing. But as Rachel from Glee once said, “I’m like Tinkerbelle. I need applause to live!” Okay, so I don’t need it to live, but it’s nice to have—like cashmere or a really nice steak.
            So Wednesday night I posted a piece on being prepared. I thought it was pretty funny—maybe not my best post ever, but funny nevertheless. So I went to check my stats yesterday morning and I got this message:

There was an error while fetching stats. Please reload page.

            Bummer, right? But no big deal. I went about my business. It was the first day off I had in a few so I had a pretty long “to do” list. When I took a little break for lunch I sat down with my laptop, checked e-mail, Facebook, paid a few bills, and thought I’d take a quick look at my stats. Once again, I got:

There was an error while fetching stats. Please reload page.

            Sigh. No stat fix for me. The day went on. I ran errands, cooked meals, hung out with my kids, went to parent teacher conferences. Every once in a while I checked in and got the same message.
I can live without knowing the stats. I have lots to do. There is laundry to fold, blinds to hang, training for my Thanksgiving race to be done, the dishwasher needs to be emptied, Christmas shopping, on and on and boringly on… You know what the problem is with all that stuff? They aren’t checking my stats, which is what I really want to do. Ever have a really strong craving for something? Sushi, chocolate, pizza, Mexican food, whatever. But you can’t get it right now so you settle for something else. The craving doesn’t go away. Now you’ve eaten your way through half a bag of rice cakes and you still want a Snickers bar.
I’ve wasted enough time for today (and yesterday!) so I’d better crank up the tunes and get to work. By the way, if you’re reading this from some far off land leave a comment so I knew you were here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Semper Paratus!

 
That’s “always prepared” in Latin. It’s my motto. When you’re anal retentive OCD particular like I am it’s in everyone’s best interest to always be prepared. I’m thinking about this today because I woke up this morning utterly unprepared for the day. Normally, before I go to bed at night everyone’s lunches for the next day are made, dishes are washed, my uniform is ironed, and dinner for the next night is planned. This is not because I am some psychotic Martha Stewart wannabe. It simply limits the amount of chaos we have—chaos ensues anyway. But it’s chaos of the controlled variety.
This morning I was making lunches for the boys while trying to keep them on track to get ready for school, while getting myself ready for work. As a result I forgot to eat breakfast (and things get ugly when my blood sugar gets low) or pack my own lunch. So it meant going through the BK drive thru after the bus stop and eating lunch from the staff café at work. One of these days I’ll write a post about the staff café. Today’s special—steak and cheese subs with onion rings and bacon on the side (there is bacon on the side every day no matter what the meal). You also get a choice of two soups—both cream soups. For dessert? Angioplasti! 
            It is particularly important for me to be prepared for Wednesdays. Wednesdays my husband has rehearsal and the boys and I have Cub Scouts. I need to be prepared to keep 8 or 10 second graders engaged in the early evening at a time I would much prefer to be settling down to a cup of tea or a glass of wine. Fortunately things have eased up a bit now that soccer season is over. This is what the typical Wednesday looked like for me in September and October:

            2:30 Punch out of work and head for home.
            3:00 Arrive home, change clothes, check e-mail, and organize my stuff for Scouts
            3:35 Pick up boys at the bus stop, go to Little Caesar’s, and buy cheap pizza.
            4:00 Arrive home, scarf down cheap pizza, and make boys scarf down pizza, while doing homework.
            4:20 Supervise an eight-year-old getting into Cub Scout uniform and a six-year-old into cleats and shin guards.
            4:28 Pick up Aunt from chemotherapy appointment and drop off across town.
            4:50 Drive from Aunt’s house to soccer practice (if there is time, grab coffee—please Lord let there be time to get coffee!).
            5:00 James’ soccer practice begins and Owen finishes homework at soccer field while I make final preparation for Cub Scout meeting (this invariably involves cutting out little bits of paper on a windy day). 
            6:00 I’m staring at the clock on my phone wondering why practice isn’t over.
            6:05 The coach asks if anyone knows what time it is.
            6:07 The boys load into the van. James strips off sweaty cleats and shin guards while we drive across town.
            6:28 We pull into the church parking lot where the Scouts meet. James finishes changing into his uniform—I swear scouts wear more accessories than RuPaul!
            6:30 Scouts. I can’t remember exactly what happens there—I’m usually too dazed by then.
            7:30 The meeting is over. I usually have stuff I need to talk about with the Cub Master and Assistant Cub Master while the boys reenact The Lord of the Flies.
            7:45 We head for home. They are ordered into the house to brush their teeth, wash up and get ready for bed while I get remove all stray sporting equipment and other detritus from the minivan.
            8:00 The boys are in bed. I read a story and issue dire warnings about getting out of bed for any reason other than using the bathroom.
            8:10 I make the next days lunches and throw away pizza boxes and otherwise prepare for the next day.
            8:30 Relax with a shot of Jim Beam Black and watch old episodes of Glee cup of Tension Tamer Tea and catch up on my reading.

            Fortunately soccer and my aunt’s chemo are no longer a part of my Wednesday routine. So things have eased up significantly. But I still need to have all my ducks in a row when I wake up in the mornings. Otherwise I’ll have to make PB&Js while I ought to be writing in my journal and sowing the seeds that grow into blog posts.
            But this isn’t supposed to be a post about my wacky Wednesdays. It’s a post about being prepared. I was talking to one of the moms that I run into at various activities one day and she expressed surprise at my finding this Den Mother gig challenging. I explained that it wasn’t the Scouts—they’re a good bunch of kids. I was having difficulty finding the time to prepare for meetings. She laughed and said something like, “After doing Girl Scouts for so many years I just wing it and kind of fly by the seat of my pants.” Okey dokey, whatever works for you Honey. I want a plan. And a back up plan. That’s how I roll.
            I have two handbags (that’s a lie—I have a zillion—but I have two that get regular use). One is for days when I’m not with my kids. It has my wallet, cell phone, a couple of pens and my work ID. I keep my keys (of course I have a Swiss Army knife on the key chain) in my pocket so if my purse gets snatched the keys aren’t conveniently located near my address. Then there is the bag I carry when I have the kids with me—it’s a lot bigger. In addition to the above, I also have a small first aid kit, wet wipes, fruit snacks, a couple of small notebooks or coloring books, and a water bottle or two. Yes, sometimes it bothers my shoulder. But I’ve never said, “Geez, I really wish I didn’t bring along something to bribe distract the kids with. They really seem content to wait 40 minutes in the pediatricians office with nothing to do.”
            I only have two kids, so I really could get along without a minivan. But having a minivan means I can really be prepared. In any season you’ll find a gallon of water, a snow brush, a blanket, cat litter, plastic bags, snacks, tissues, wet wipes, a road atlas (hoping to upgrade to a GPS for Christmas—you reading this Sweetie?) and jumper cables in the back of my van. It’s entirely possible that I’m a little obsessive about having everything I need. But the nice thing is, I’m always willing to share with folks that aren’t quite so obsessed prepared.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Reluctant Den Mother


            I’m willing to do a lot of things to help with the activities my children are involved in. I’ve baked for class parties, worked at school book fairs, and hosted an end of soccer season pizza party at my house. This summer I found myself writing and directing a couple of skits for Vacation Bible School. When it comes to Cub Scouts I’ve been more than willing to cook for the blue and gold banquet, ferry kids in my minivan the end of a parade route back to the beginning (where parents had parked). I’ve offered to help design posters and even work on getting a website going. But I have sworn that I would not become a Den Leader. It just isn’t my thing. There are plenty of ways I am willing and able to contribute, but Den Leader (or Den Mother as they used to say in the good old days)? Maybe you ought to talk to my husband about that sort of thing. He’s a guy after all—good with his hands, outdoorsy, not to mention far more patient with other people’s children than I am.
            I didn’t go to many of the den meetings last year. My husband took Owen to Scouts and I stayed home with James unless I was working a night shift—in which case Dan brought both boys along. Cub Scout meetings are torture for children old enough to understand what’s going on but too young to be a scout (it’s equally torturous for the parents of said children). But this year, James was old enough and was itching to sign up.
            This year, my husband has had rehearsals on Wednesday nights, so I’m the one going to Scout meetings. At the first Pack meeting of the year, they asked for volunteers. The Assistant Cub Master suggested that if each parent took on the responsibilities of Den Leader for one month, it wouldn’t be too much of a burden on any one parent. You know what happens next, right? No one raises their hand and says, “Pick me! Pick me!” So I took a deep breath and broke that solemn promise I made to myself, “Mike,” I said to the Assistant Cub Master, “I’ll take the Tigers (first graders) for September and October.” The next thing I knew, he gave me a binder with a weekly curriculum to follow and a website I needed to go to complete something called, “Youth Protection Training”.
Okay, okay, I'll be a leader. But NO uniform. I have to draw a line somewhere.
            Anyone who knows me (and probably someone who has been reading this blog) knows that I don’t do much in half measures (except maybe housecleaning). So I spent a lot of my free time the following week reading the program book, planning and gathering materials. By the next weekend I was prepared—but terrified.
            When we arrived for my first meeting as Den Leader, Mike, said to me, “Jack (the Cub Master) is stuck in traffic and probably won’t get here. Can you take the Tigers and the Wolves and I’ll take the Bears and the Webelos?” I pasted a look of supreme (and phony) confidence on my face and said, “Sure, no problem.” Thank God I have theatre training (it has loads of uses in the real world—believe me). So I took the boys—James, James, Jonathan, Jonathan, and Joshua (seriously—God must have been smiling down on me because I am HORRIBLE with names) downstairs and we made scouting scrapbooks and talked about the Cub Scout motto and the Cub Scout pledge. Much to my surprise, the meeting went well. So well in fact, that the following week I was still the Den Leader for the Tigers and the Wolves, which wasn’t so bad because it was only five boys. Preparation was a bit of a pain in the neck because I needed to create one program out of two to suit the different levels of scouts. It had to be at a level that first-graders could follow and wouldn’t bore the life out of the second graders.
            And then Cub Master Jack called on Saturday afternoon, “Great news! We had a sign up at the Hancock School Friday night and signed up nine new boys!” Um. Nine. New. Boys. “Wow,” I said after I regained consciousness, “How many of them are Tigers and Wolves Jack?”  The count was eight. Eight new boys for me. How was I going to handle this? I bet some of their names don’t even start with the letter J and then I’ll really be screwed I thought.
            Fortunately another parent stepped up to lead the Bears, which allowed the Cub Master to take the Tigers off my hands. Now I have a manageable sized group all the same age. Plus, October’s over right? So, I’m done, right? Because I just volunteered for September and October. Right?
            During my boys’ last check up, their pediatrician told me that he had been a Den Leader for years. Years.
“You know,” he said. “I think there is a gene we could call the ‘V’ gene for people who always end up volunteering for stuff—Den Leaders, soccer coaches, little league.  I hate to disappoint the kids.”
I thought about this conversation when Jack approached me at the last pack meeting. “Are you going to break my heart?” He asked.
“In what way?” I responded.
“Well, you only signed up for September and October. It’s November.” Jack thinks I’m really good at this Den Leader thing—either that or he’s flattering me so I’ll stick with it.”
I looked over at the boys who had become my Cub Scouts over the previous few weeks and I thought about what my pediatrician had said. “You know Jack,” I said. “I think I can stick with these guys through Christmas.” 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

That Sucks


            I try to keep my blog posts funny—or at least light-hearted. This isn’t one of those posts. I got a call this afternoon from a good friend of mine. She was expecting her third grandchild this winter, but the baby died in utero after five months. Like a huge number of women, I’ve experience the loss of a miscarriage. Each time I hear a story of a stillborn child or a miscarriage it brings me back to the weekend in 2001 when I went to bed on a Friday night pregnant and by the time the sun had risen on Saturday I wasn’t anymore.
            I never met my friend’s daughter-in-law, but I know what the tip of the iceberg she’s standing on feels like. I know what it’s like when one day you’re wondering if you’re ready to be a mother and then you realize you won’t know the answer any time soon. I was eleven weeks along, not long enough to feel the baby move but long enough to really feel pregnant. I cannot even fathom the kind of pain a family goes through when they lose a child so late in the game.
I’m not one of those people to keeps many secrets about myself—the “wait 12 weeks to tell anyone rule” wasn’t for me. I remember a co-worker being shocked that I told people I was pregnant so early on (I was probably only 3 or 4 weeks along—I told family members when I was only a week or so late). Joyful news is to be shared—and did I ever share! Even the waitress at our usual Sunday breakfast haunt knew—actually she guessed. Why else would I ask for de-caf? But I have no regrets about telling people. Yes, there were one or two awkward moments months later when someone remarked that I “was hardly even showing”  (I eat when I’m sad—I wasn’t carrying a baby but I was carrying some extra pounds). But for the most part, it was better that people knew that I had been pregnant and that I wasn’t anymore. People gave me a little slack and a little space, which I desperately needed. If no one knew what was going on in my life, they probably would have just though I was moody and incompetent.
One of the most comforting words came from an unlikely source. One of the sales reps for the company I worked for stopped by my desk when I got back from leave. He wasn’t one of my favorite people—he tended to be a little rough around the edges. When I told him why I had been out, he looked me square in the face and said, “That really sucks.” And you know what? He was right. So many people had tried to comfort me with well intentioned platitudes like, “Everything happens for a reason.” But when you’re dealing with a loss, the last thing you need to hear is that there is a reason for it.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that everything happens for a reason. I just don’t think it’s a particularly comforting thought that your grief is part of some master plan. It was a conclusion I had to come to on my own—in my own time. Now that nine years have passed, I truly believe that this experience has made me a more grateful mother and a more compassionate person. But anyone who told me that back then risked me bursting into tears or punching them in the nose.
Exactly one year after I had my miscarriage, I had Owen. He was nine and a half pounds and had a full head of jet-black hair—he didn’t even look like a newborn. He was strong and healthy and nursed like a champ and could hold held his head up before we even left the hospital. Two years later James joined the family adding a new layer of mischief and joy to our house. I have two beautiful, healthy little boys. They make me laugh and teach me something every day. I am thankful for their existence every day. But every once in a while I think of the baby I never named and never held. I learned a lot from that child too. Everything does happen for a reason—and sometimes it sucks.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Run Vickie! Run!


            I’m a runner. That sounds weird to me. I didn’t start running until well into my thirties. I wasn’t a high school or college athlete. The last time I played a team sport was intramural basketball in the 5th grade. Some of my former teammates read this blog. Maybe they can tell you about the only basket I ever made—into the wrong net. Who knew you changed sides at the half (everyone but me apparently)? If I hadn’t been the shortest girl in school my athletic skills still would have been lacking. One might even say hopeless. Even though sports were a mystery to me I was in pretty decent shape. I danced and did Jane Fonda’s workout daily during high school—sometimes twice a day. I guess that’s why I stayed under 100 pounds. I was a little obsessed. I didn’t even know I was thin. There is no skinny like teenaged skinny and there is no stupid like teenaged stupid (apologies to my nieces of that age who are a thousand times smarter than I was back then).
            This week I realized that the running shoes that I bought right after the kids went back to school in September were still looking really new. I think they had only been on my feet once or twice. Not coincidentally, I noticed that my church clothes were uncomfortably tight around the waist. I try to avoid stepping on scales—it makes me crazy, but I knew I had packed on a few pounds. The holidays are rapidly approaching and this is no time to diet. Who am I kidding? Diet—is there a good time to diet? It’s time to rev up the old metabolism. So on Wednesday, I strapped on those still-shiny Saucony running shoes and headed for the Y.
            I got a lot of “Gee we haven’t seen you in a while” sort of comments from the folks at the gym. I work out in the middle of the day so almost everyone else there is a retiree. They are a chatty bunch and they seem to like me. I think they think I’m funny—watching a tiny girl lift heavy things makes them laugh. Plus, I find it very motivational to see old people running and lifting weights. I figure, if they can get there I have no excuses. One day I ran into my uncle (great uncle actually) when I was on my way out of the Y. He said, “I come here every day and I’m 87 years old.” I said to him, “You’re 87 years old because you come here everyday.”
            So I picked my favorite treadmill—second one from the right and pressed manual. I set the incline on 0.5 and the speed at 3.5 to warm up. I popped in my ear buds and started walking.
            At 3.0 minutes I started getting bored. Was it time to up the speed? Surely I don’t need to warm up that much. But I kept walking until after Darius Rucker finished his first song.
            At 5.14 minutes I upped the speed and started jogging. “Wow,” I thought to myself. “It’s been a while.”
            At 6.14 minutes I thought, “Maybe I should have walked for longer.”
            At 7.32 minutes I thought, “Damn, my knees hurt. Maybe I should walk for a while.”
            At 9.02 minutes I thought, “Okay, I’m almost to ten minutes. When this song is over I’ll let myself walk.” But the next song was “Sin Wagon” by the Dixie Chicks. I can’t walk during that song—it’s a running song if ever there was one.
            At 15.17 minutes I thought, “Hmm… that wasn’t so bad. Too bad this sports bra was designed by someone who had never been the victim of gravity, aging or a nursing child. I think I can make it through one more song.”
            By minute 18 or so I reached that runners high people talk about. Those endorphins start pumping and you feel really good. The trick is to get there. Before I was a runner, other runners had told me the first mile was the hardest. It got easier after that. I didn’t believe them until I pushed myself beyond a mile. Once you get to that mile, you want to get to another one and another one. Something might hurt—but it doesn’t bother you enough to stop.
            So I ran that day for about 40 minutes. I talked myself into sticking with it, one song at a time. Each moment my body made some excuse for me to stop, but I talked myself into running for one more song until I didn’t want to make excuses anymore. I managed to run a little over three miles. It wasn’t my best time, but I did it and I felt great.
            A lot of things are like that in life: starting a new job, cleaning the attic, teaching a child to ride a bike, directing a play. It’s always the beginning that is difficult and scary. Once you make some progress and find your rhythm it all comes together. You just need to ignore those aches and pains (whether they are physical, psychological or emotional) and keep on running. You’ll get there.
My fantastic coach and husband with me at my first race. He graciously agreed to run at my beginners pace.