The list that changed my mind

It’s easy to get bogged down in the daily slog of parenting. Every once in a while, though, something happens that shifts your focus enough to see the small person in front of you in a new light. Even if the moment is fleeting, this break from the slog can feel like a breath of spring air after a long winter.

Sometimes it’s the big, momentous things that shift our focus, someone else’s tragedy; other times it’s just something small and simple that surprises us, showing our kids in a new way. For me, yesterday, it was one of these small things that caused a seismic shift.

Lately, my house has been one of discontent. It’s an unending battle for me to be more patient; a steady struggle for me to not to succumb to the argument; a persistent presence of mind not to immediately blow up over latest sibling conflict. The center of all this friction has been Luke, whose heels seem firmly dug into the mud all the time. Life with him has felt like wading upstream – unrelenting, requiring constant effort and attention, not impossible but not easy. I pinball between frustration, anger, exhaustion, guilt, promises to myself to just be better, and wanting to simply up and quit.

I’ve been waiting for a break. Luke seems to go through periods of disquiet, where he has a hard time with just about everything, resulting in meltdowns, arguments, battles, yelling, obnoxious behavior, and all things unsavory. For both of us. And then slowly he shifts into an easier disposition and time goes by unnoticed until the next episode. I’ve been waiting for this phase to end and so far it appears to be as determined as February to break me – brutal with no end in sight.

So, I can hardly express how happy it made me to find this list. Luke made this schedule the day before his friend came over after school. Excited in a way only he can be, he wanted to ensure they maximized the fun, so he made an itinerary, and it’s so cute I could die.Child's schedule

It’s hard to explain how much finding this list lifted my spirits. It was an immediate relief. The tension stretching me to my outer limits released a little, restoring some much-needed perspective. Luke isn’t an evil genius designed specifically to push all my buttons and drive me to the brink. He’s a kid. A little kid. A sweet, silly, little kid who knows that he might need some rest after so much playing so that he can play some more. He’s a little kid who likes to play with stuffed animals, so he put that on the list to make sure he and his friend have the BEST TIME EVER! He’s a little kid who might be obsessed with Pokemon, and who knows that playing in his room is so much fun he’d better schedule it in for a long time.

How can a child so endearing be so difficult on purpose? He can’t be. None of it is on purpose. He would like nothing more than to be easy to get along with. He sees how different it is for his sister, and I’m sure it makes him feel bad about himself, compounding the internal turmoil that I can’t see and can’t understand, but is the root of all of it. None of it is on purpose though, so I can be compassionate not angry. I needed this list yesterday to remind me of that.

You may not have a child who consistently challenges you, but if you do, then you understand what I mean and my relief at finding my compassion again. I can love this child, and provide the kindness he needs to help restore his inner equilibrium. I can feel good about him, so I can help him feel good about himself in a world that constantly points to how he’s doing this or that wrong. This delightful list illustrates who he really is, how he wants to be all the time, even though he’s not always able.

Naturally I’m going to keep this list forever. I’ll look back at it one day and appreciate its cuteness, but I probably won’t remember how it felt like salvation, like the first warm day of spring. And that’s OK. If I do this right, that’s how all these years will be in my memory. More sweet than fight, more love than strife. Ultimately, that’s the truth even though the slog can blind us to it.

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Embarrassment

When I was a kid my parents embarrassed me, constantly and on purpose. I grew up believing that it was the parents’ right, nay job, to embarrass their offspring. So now that I’m a parent, it’s my job too, right? Well, it turns out I’m still learning that life isn’t fair, because I’m still the one being embarrassed. This time by my offspring – my evil genius Luke.

He’s embarrassed me in so many ways. Opening public bathroom doors when I’m, well, not ready. Talking about indelicate topics in front of other people (“My nipples are small, and so are daddy’s, but mommy’s are big!”) Or, my favorite, throwing an epic tantrum at age 3 because I would not buy him a training bra. That’s right. A training bra.

Here’s the scene: Target, tween girl section. A huge display of training bras in a myriad of attractive pastels. Think: a wall of Easter eggs. But soft and silky, lightly padded (wtf?) and smooth. Luke heaven. He wanted one. Bad.

He walked up to the display wall as if in a trance. Arms outstretched. He touched every bra he could reach. “They’re so soft and pretty. Can I have one, Mommy? Pleeeeaaaaaase??” I hear some snickering from somewhere behind me. “No, Luke, I’m sorry, you can’t have one of those. Those are training bras and they’re for big girls, not 3-year-old boys.”

Fast forward about 8 seconds. Luke is now on the floor screaming and kicking everything in sight. This was not your average tantrum; this one was turned up to eleven. Between the shrieks and sobs he shouted the following things:

“I want a training bra!”

“I am a big girl!”

“I don’t like you, Mommy!”

“Training bra!”

“Training braaaaaaaaa!”

I now have the attention of all Target shoppers. Most think it’s pretty hilarious, and really, I do too. I certainly would have enjoyed myself if this were someone else’s kid. But he was mine and I was expected to take him back home with me.

It’s OK though. I have a plan. I will win this one in the end. With just a little patience, I will have the last laugh. See, I’m storing this memory for future use. It’s a weapon. My embarrassment at the time will be nothing compared to his when I feel the time is right to retell this story. To a group of his friends? To his girlfriend? His future in-laws? All the guests at his wedding? Time will tell when it will come back out. It all depends on how well Luke treats me from here on out.

At last! I will have the last laugh! Revenge will be mine! Bwahahahahahahahahaha!

training bra

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Mommy Dating

This is an updated version of a post originally published in May 2010.

We moved to a new town the spring my son was 15-months-old. So began my adventures in mommy-dating. I hated mommy-dating, but without a job to go to I had no other way of meeting new people. If you’ve never had to mommy-date, consider yourself lucky.

Mommy-dating is just like real-dating, except the scene unfolds at the playground, (or supermarket, library, museum, etc,) instead of a bar. I paid a little more attention to my appearance, and Luke’s, making sure we were both at least mostly clean. Ever on the hunt, I’d scan my surroundings for “attractive” moms.

What makes a potential mom-friend attractive? First, her kid’s age – no matter how cool a mom of a 6-month-old seems, there’s no way she wants to hang out with my wild toddler. Next, she needs to look kind of like me (effort-wise) – I’m not going to be bffs with a fancy mom. Finally, the hover test – if she lets her child roam more than two steps away from her, game on. So, with my sights set on new mom friends, I hit the “singles” scene.

Just like real-dating, I had to put myself out there: I made eye contact; I was approachable; I was friendly; I visited the same places again and again, so I could see the same moms again and again; I made idle conversation with everyone; I introduced myself; I asked for phone numbers. All of this was entirely against my inherently unfriendly nature and I found it exhausting. Worst part: I had an unreliable wing-man. Luke could be completely disarming, or he could throw sand in your kid’s eyes. I never knew which Luke I’d get until it was too late.

In many ways, I think real-dating is less awkward than mommy-dating. With real-dating, the whole pick-up process is expected and normal. Between moms at the playground it’s odd. It’s weird to go from chatting idly about the kids in the sandbox to, “Sooo, maybe I can get your number and we can do this again sometime…?” Truly awful. I’d come home from the park depressed because I hadn’t plucked up the courage to get cool mom’s number, and she hadn’t ask for mine. I’d go weeks hoping to run into her again.

That first summer I was able to set up a number of second dates. You know, a time to see if there is any real chemistry. I was unsure how to navigate these second dates, and several of them were pretty uncomfortable. At what point in a potential new relationship do you show your real self, not the charming version who picked-up this mom? How do you release your real personality? All at once? Or slowly, over time?



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I decided to ease it out. I quickly found that these new moms fell into one of two camps: those who thought I was funny, and those who thought I was horrible.

Through this process of dating and personality slow release, I was able to build a new circle of friends. My mom friends. And then I moved. Now with two kids, aged 7 and 4, I find myself in the lonely trenches as a “single mom” once again. Dating as an older mom is completely different from back when I had just one toddler in tow.

Gone are days filled with library story times and baby swings. Instead, my potential mom friends and I have busy schedules filled with school commitments, sports, and homework. The kids of my potential friends have friends of their own, whose moms I imagine always hanging out together. Before, I worried that a new friend’s child matched mine developmentally, so she wouldn’t be shocked by my kid’s 2-ishness. But now the kids have to actually connect and like one another. I have to date the entire family!

It’s a slow process, made slower by the fact that I’m not nearly as desperate as I was a few years ago as a lonely mom of a toddler. I don’t cruise the pick-up scene like I used to. I wouldn’t even know where to find it. But, if I meet you and like you, and your kids are of approximate age and sex as my kids, and our kids show any interest in playing together, you’d better believe that I’ll be asking for your digits and that I’ll be overly excited next time I run into you at Target!

Mommy Dating