Letter to my daughter on her 5th birthday

On each of my kids’ birthdays I compose a letter. My plan is to one day hand over a book of heartfelt letters, proving to an ornery teenager that I do, in fact, know and love him/her, and that my goals as a mother go beyond ruining his/her social life.

Dear Sally,

Today you turn five! Happy birthday! You have a big year ahead of you. I hope that you find as much happiness, wonder, and adventure in five as you found in four. I’m confident you will because that’s the kind of person you are.

Being your mom is one of my life’s greatest joys. You’re such a phenomenally fun kid, and so different from me in so many ways, that I know I’d love and admire you even if you weren’t my daughter. But I’m lucky, because I get to be your mother. I get to revel in messy-haired good morning snuggles, remind you to keep eating during a million and one silly mealtime distractions, and marvel at your laid-back, easy cheer.

I know you’re going to thrive in kindergarten this year. You’re endlessly curious, determined, and not afraid of hard work. These traits have you biking and swimming and doggedly trying to figure out reading, which you’re going to love. I can’t express how proud of you I am when I see you working on something over and over again, trying to master a new skill, wanting to keep up with your big brother. The truth is that you impress me. And it’s a strange feeling for a grown-up to be so impressed by a little kid.

kite

A big part of me wants you to stay little forever. I love your hugs and kisses, your riotous giggles, your little-kid-ness. You’re my baby and always will be.

cuddles

The rest of me is so excited to watch you grow up, see the person you become, watch you stride confidently into the world relying on yourself more and more.

As a four-year-old you’ve been talkative and giggly, independent and creative, intrepid and athletic. On any given day you’ll sing dozens of songs, (or the same song dozens of times, usually from Frozen,) draw some pictures, run around with your brother until you’re sweaty and exhausted, talk to your toys, put your dolls (and random objects) to bed, and tell me a hundred stories, usually starting with, “Did you know…” You make all of us laugh. You can reduce your brother to a pile of gasping giggles at any time with your unique brand of ridiculous humor. As a five-year-old, I hope you continue in all of this, and surprise us with a few new things along the way.

You’re in school now and with that comes some hard work and a new set of social norms and challenges. I’d like to protect you from so many of the difficulties that you’ll face as you go through school, but I can’t. All I can do is offer my listening ear and open arms, help you when you need help, and love you no matter what. I hope that your spirit and confidence only grow as you navigate the new world of school. I hope that you remain unapologetically yourself, unembarrassed and sure.

I’ll miss all of our time at home together now that you’re in school. You have always been so good at entertaining yourself, and you are ever the engaging (if silly) companion. I might be working at my computer only to look up and find this at any given moment:

Dress up

Your flair for dress isn’t limited to when you’re at home.

Fashion Sense

You’re going to grow up a lot this year. It’s probably time to stop accidentally biting your own fingers so often when you eat. And it’s definitely time to drop the baby act. (Please don’t immediately replace it with eye-rolling.) It’s your crutch, and you don’t need it. I want you to always know that no matter how adorably cute you are, and no matter how often that’s the only thing people comment on, you are so much more than that. You have my admiration not because of your smallness or cuteness, but because of your cleverness, kindness, and pluck.

I love you absurdly much, my sweet, whimsical, brave, charming, tenacious, and silly girl. I hope you have the happiest birthday and a wonderful year ahead!

Love, Mom

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?

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

I love me some YMCA

It seems that winter might actually give way to spring one of these days. We made it! There were times I wasn’t so sure we would. This winter has been a rough one around here. My kids watched a gazillion hours of TV; my house suffered messes so extraordinary that arson seemed like the only way out; we all ate mountains of carbohydrates; and they drank buckets of hot chocolate to my buckets of red wine. In all of this indoor festering, we had one saving grace: the pool at the YMCA.

Had it not been for the pool, my children’s little bodies would have fused to the couch. Instead, they had a healthy activity to keep them just on this side of ‘persistent vegetative state.’

I spent hours in the muggy heat, breathing in the steaming vapor and watching my kids bob around in the warm kid-broth. We were not the only people with this outlet. Some days, the pool was so crowded that it was difficult to locate which heads belonged to me as they swarmed in a noisy, watery mosh pit of other heads, pigtails, snot, and pee.

I had to tread a careful line all winter. My kids needed to know that the pool was a bastion of unblemished awesome, but at the same time they needed to know that under no circumstances would I be joining them in the bio-brew. Sure, I could have gone into the pool, like those good parents. I know that the high chlorine levels obliterate any organic matter smaller than a child within nanoseconds. The problem was just that I really, really, really, really didn’t want to go in. I’m not interested in marinating in recently obliterated bio-matter the temperature of Baby Bear’s porridge.

Also, there’s the matter of expectations.

My job is largely about managing expectations, and it’s a delicate balance. I want my kids to have fun, and I want to have fun with them, but most of the time I want them to have fun without my involvement. Join in once, and it will be that much harder to bow out the next time. I am not the mother on the play structures in the park. (Except in cases of necessary rescue.) I am not the mother joining in impromptu soccer games. (Are those mothers always wearing sports bras just in case the impulse to run around strikes? That impulse never strikes me. Never ever.) I am not the mother in bounce houses or on trampolines. (See note about sports bras.)

I am the mother fostering their independence while protecting my inclination to really, really, really, really not want to.

As the sun finally starts to melt the 400 feet of snow outside, I look forward to outdoor pools, to lakes, to rivers and the ocean. These I’ll go into with my kids. (When not freezing.) But until that time, thank you, YMCA, for your chlorinated feculent pools of awesome.