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Monthly Archives: January 2013

Here’s a Secret – Don’t Ask your Kids to be Responsible

“Tyler, can you put your clothes away, please?” I ask, although I don’t know why I even bother. I know the clothes will just stay there right in the nice pile on the bed where I left them folded, until ultimately they wind up getting knocked to the floor where eventually, after a day or so of walking past and sighing, I will pick them up and put them in his drawers.

For years, I convinced myself they were too young to really understand responsibility. I excused their behavior, and fell victim to the ultimate mom mistake. I would just do it for them. At the time, it definitely seemed easier.

But then I had a few wake-up calls.

It started years ago, back in Kindergarten with Tyler. When the teacher told him he needed to zip his own coat, Tyler responded, “But you do it so much better.”

When I wanted Michael, my 7 year-old, to accompany me into Target to pick out a bean bag seat that he lobbied for, he barely glanced up from his Kindle to remark, “You do it. I’ll just stay here.”

When I asked Julius, my 5 year-old, to do anything at all… such as to help me to pick up the toys that he had scattered from his room all the way to the neighbor’s yard, he lay on the carpet and moaned, “But it’s going to take soooo looooong,” until the job was pretty much done. He’s a smart one.

They all are. So how come they have such a dumb mother? For years, I made their irresponsibility okay by putting on their shoes because they were lazy, putting their dishes in the sink because they were busy, picking up their crap, waitressing them snacks, finding their lost school books, packing their back packs, reminding them to do their homework, buying them new hats, gloves, sweatshirts, lunch bags for all the lost ones… you name it, I nagged about it and then did it.

It wasn’t like I totally just gave up the ship. I tried. I mean I initiated a number of highly praised reinforcements for positive behavior. There was –

The Responsibility Chart – The  Melissa and Doug magnetic board looked perfect hanging in our kitchen. There were all these cute magnets for brushing your teeth and feeding the cat. Some said, Help Mom and Share. Aw. This worked fantastic as a toy to play with the magnets. Or as pieces to lose, chuck or step on. 

Ohhh magnets! Let's throw them up in air! Yay!

Ohhh magnets! Let’s throw them up in air! Yay!

The Ticket system – I got this idea after visiting Chuck E. Cheese. You get tickets for doing good things and then trade the tickets in for prizes. It was all about positive reinforcement. I got a roll of tickets from Party City and it was on. I started dolling them out for every marginally positive thing they did. You used a fork instead of your hands? Ticket! You used a tissue instead of your sleeve? Ticket! I was trying to encourage them, but by my fourth trip to Game Stop I realized they were playing me.

Allowance – This was suggested by my two older boys with the peanut gallery approval of my youngest chanting, “Money! Money! Money!” Here, they would each do their responsibilities, seemingly simple tasks like, waking up for school, getting themselves dressed, and brushing their teeth. Yeah, it’s that easy to earn a buck in my house. And yet, they couldn’t pull it off. Hmm. 

“Be a Star”  – In this chart, each child is a different colored star that moves up or down according to behavior. When you reach the top, you receive a ‘reward’. If you reach the bottom, you receive a ‘punishment’. On your mark, get set, GO! Will Michael act better than Tyler? Will Julius tell on Michael? Competition was the star here. Who would get to the top first? Who would be crying first? Answer: Me. 

If you can you find the cart hidden behind all the crap, you get a star!

If you can you find the cart hidden behind all the crap, you get a star!

Points! – Our latest, conceived by Tyler. An intricate system modeled after one of his video games where points are given for certain tasks and good behavior. Again, if you get enough points, you win something. Here, there is also the possibility of a ‘knock out’.  If you do three bad things, you lose your points for the week. On paper this was great, but it failed in action. There was a lot more fighting over how many points would be attributed to what tasks than actual task doing.

Nothing seemed to work. Except, me that is. I assessed my attempts and realized that all those systems are really just bribery prettied up to seem psychologically and socially acceptable. Cause, saying, “Kid, clean your room and I’ll give you 5 bucks” doesn’t play well anymore. It’s not the 70’s. Sigh.

And that’s when it hit me. A belt slap straight from the past.

Why was I asking my kids to clean up? Why was I asking them to do anything? And what was with all those rewards?

So, here’s the new system in our house. In action.

“Tyler, put your clothes away.”

No bells or whistles. No prizes or points. I no longer ask. I tell. And guess what? It works.

I Get Schooled By Social Media

Lately, I’ve been trying to learn a thing or two about blogging – how to increase readership, when and how to post things on FB for the most views. Stuff like that. I got most of my info perusing Jeff Bullas’ blog. I started off reading, Signs I Wasn’t a Good Blogger and continued from there. It was good stuff, unless you consider that according to his seven steps, I wasn’t a good blogger.

The last bit of information that my brain absorbed before my 5  year-old started crying for cocoa puffs for dinner, was that to increase FB interaction and encourage comments on your blog, you should ask a question.

Why?

Glad you asked. I wondered that as well, especially since so many of the blogs I read seemed to end in a question. I saw it in action on Facebook pages as well. According to my research, uh Jeff, it’s simple. Ask a question… get an answer. Genius, right? (You don’t need to answer that.)

I figured I’d put my new wisdom into action. I had just written a bittersweet post about my grandmother, who died young and how I regretted our lost relationship. I figured I’d ask an intriguing question on my FB page to encourage people to click the link and read the essay. It was a perfect opportunity. Now I just needed the bait.

After some fiddling, here’s the question I came up with – Has someone you loved, died too soon?

Provocative, I thought with satisfaction.

Within seconds, responses poured in. Wow. That question bit really works. Happily, I began reading comments. Someone had lost grandparents, someone lost a parent. I grimaced a bit, and apprehensively wrote my condolences. More comments. More condolences. The uneasy feeling inflated to a balloon the size of Snoopy in the Macy’s day parade. What have I done?

That’s when the last comment came in. A reader shared her husband’s passing only a month before at age 53. I stared at the screen. Oh my God. I panicked. What could I say to her? What was there to say? How could I put a question like that out there? What the farfignewton was I thinking?!

I shook my head with dismay. I fretted. I worried. I responded with my sympathies. It felt completely inadequate. I felt like a total ass. I needed to stop this immediately. I wrote a general comment about my insensitivity and stupidity and then deleted the whole bit.

I let out a big puff of relief. It was gone. I worried that the people who had opened up and shared would think I was discounting their feelings by deleting the post. I really hoped I didn’t offend them. Jeez, that was some learning experience.

I walked into the living room, the sweat still wet on my brow, needing to confess my thoughtlessness. My husband listened to me go on about people I didn’t really know, who were so open to sharing their sadness, especially the woman who lost her husband.

Do you know what my husband’s response was? Of course you don’t. But it wasn’t, “That’s terrible,” or “Wow, you screwed up.”

He asked, “You know where we keep the important papers, right?”

Uh, what are talking about here? “The important papers?” I repeated hesitantly.

“Yeah, you know, the insurance and our financials and all that.”

I looked at him mutely. How did we get here? I refused to answer. I would not discuss even the possibility.

“Well, do you know where they are?”

LALALALALA. I wanted to scream and cover my ears. No no no!  Instead, I spat at him, “Yeah! I know! I know! Sheesh!”

He smiled and went back to whatever he was doing on his iPAD.

I sat across from him distressed and annoyed and confused, but wiser. I had definitely learned something today.

No question about it.

Are there any questions you wished you never asked?

(Better, right? 😉 )

 

A Foot Spa and A Lost Soul

Every so often, by which I mean, a few times a year, I get all puffed and indignant by the loads of laundry I’m schlepping, and my kids and husband who are throwing balls around my head, and decide, “I can’t take it anymore! Enough is enough! Something must be done for me!”

That’s when I march myself in to get a massage, but of course, I don’t go to any fancy schmancy spa, I’m way too practical and not nearly important enough for that. I go to the local foot spa where for $28, I get to lay down on one of their couches and just close my eyes for an hour.

The foot spa is a dark, questionable hideaway in between a Domino’s Pizza and a small jewelry store, but by the time I’ve shuffled my broken body through the door, I am beyond caring. There are no deadlines or children tugging at my shirt. No legos to step on or video games going beep beep beep. You don’t need an appointment or to give your name. You don’t even undress. It’s just… quiet, while the hands of a faceless person rub you to snore-dom. In that room, everyone is invisible, including you. Bliss.

Today, I was desperately in need of a moment. My body ached. My brain ached. I went to the foot spa on the precipice of mental collapse or consuming an extremely large ice cream sundae which I would lovingly regret. I needed this.

I was silently led to my couch, and barely even noticed the fellow lost and exhausted souls lying nearby. I took off my shoes and my sweater, leaving me in sweats and a tank top and lay down. Ahhh.

His hands were upon me quickly, uh, a little too quickly, kneading my face and my hair. I tried to relax, but his fingers were moving so fast on my face I began to feel like he was molding me into a candy dish. And he was kind of pulling my hair. Ow, dude.

He moved down and started working on my shoulders and neck. I relaxed. This was why I was here. His hands were strong like an ox. I like a deep massage, but his rubbing was taking deep to new depths. I tensed. He was double knotting my knots. I peeked at him through my pretend relaxed closed eyes. Holy mother, he was Asian Hulk.

When he moved onto my body, things only got worse, if you can imagine that. He massaged down my legs with such aggression that I practically jumped from the bed. Hello? You don’t squeeze someone’s thigh!  When he rubbed down my back, I was sure he would break something. I didn’t think this place had great insurance.

Not even close.

Not even close.

I mentally talked myself up to verbalizing a complaint. I told myself again and again to just say, “A little softer, please.” Instead, I mutely mouthed, “help” while convincing myself that soon he would move on to another body part. There was no relaxing, only squinting and holding my breath till he stopped poking my pressure points through to the other side.

Then, it was over.

I survived.

I zipped up my sweat shirt and put on my shoes. My angry masseuse was waiting for me with a peaceful smile and a Dixie cup of water. I had hard time meeting his eye. Did he really not know? I tipped him for beating the crap out of me, embarrassed to be doing it, but more embarrassed not to, and left.

Why couldn’t I just open my mouth? Why did I lay there mute? I heard my thoughts in answer, “You can take it.”

That’s right, I can. But I don’t always have to. Why do I always have to? Next time, I resolved, I’ll say something. Better, I’ll treat myself to a real massage. Maybe. Hopefully. Ah, whatever.

In the comfortable safe haven of my car, after a day of crazy and an hour of torture, I opened my kindle and popped a butterscotch sucking candy. My shoulders dropped as I sucked its sweetness and lost myself in my book. Finally, finally I relaxed.

Have you ever stayed quiet when you should have spoken up for yourself? 

My other grandma…I remember

I remember when I was a little girl, my grandmother, my mother’s mother, lived blocks from my house, and many days my mother would leave me and my brother in her care.  

I remember playing casino and pisha pasha – a card game that no one in our family can remember how to play and no one else in the world remembers as a game.

I remember going to her pool club, where I’d watch her play mahjong while eating cut up pieces of sweet, drippy cantaloupe.

I remember her refrigerator always had layered parfaits of Jello and cool whip, or it might have been pudding and whipped cream, but I think it was Jello. Could have been both.

I remember bananas, pretty little cups with flowers on them and stories of magic.

I remember beautiful holiday dinners and Shabbat candles.

I remember the whole family going out on Sundays for Chinese food and her ordering Subgum Chicken.

I remember singing, “Oh I won’t go to Macy’s any more, more, more…” and “In Bloomingdale’s Department store, you check them on the second floor…”  Clearly, the connection between Jewish women and shopping runs deep.

I remember sitting on her front porch, and as you could in Brooklyn, climbing over to the next porch and the one after that.

I remember playing Red light, Green light, One Two Three and Mother May I?

I remember rocky road ice cream was her favorite flavor.

I remember me being a bit snarky and insensitive, and really not all that nice.

I remember her getting sick.

I remember her dying.

I was 13, when it happened. I remember being so confused and uncomfortable at her funeral, my first real death. I curled in a ball on a chair and cried.

That’s really all I remember, little vignettes, snippets of truth that have been tenderized by age. I only had her a short while, and I regret not being mature enough to listen, learn or appreciate. I regret childish behavior that can never be resolved. I regret not hugging more. I regret being only 13 when she passed, and not having had her for 42 years like I did with my father’s mother. I regret not getting to love her more, to have built a relationship, to really know who she was.

I regret that I can only remember what I remember, and it isn’t nearly enough.

gm terry

“Daddy, what’s a boner?”

Howard and I, along with dozens of other parents with excited, terrified expressions, filed in to the cafeteria of one of our local elementary schools. It was a meeting to brief us all on the upcoming presentation our fifth grade children would be attending in next week – The Adolescent Development program.

Yep, ready or not, it’s puberty time. Very soon your sweet child, who is still running around with his shirt inside out and markers on his hands, will transform into an entirely different animal.  You will need to be there to help guide him through this difficult transition, but there are rules, and you must follow them.

  1. First, you will need to say penis and vagina a lot with a straight face, and explain why dick and pussy are not appropriate, with same straight face. They will want clarification on appropriateness. For example, they might ask if their body parts could be called, Willy Wonker or Vjay jay?*
  2. Things will get hairy. Your child might run out to you naked and show off their sprouting hair and every other sprouting piece of their bodies, or shut themselves up in the bathroom and not come out again for the next four years. Both are normal.
  3. You will be buying more deodorant because sometimes in the near future you will smell something that reminds you of dirty laundry and leftover meat loaf mixed together. You will soon realize it’s not something, but someone.
  4. If you have a girl, there will be self-esteem issues and depression. If you have a boy, avoidance and anger.  Hmm… there’s something familiar about that.
  5. There will be nocturnal emissions. And I’m not talking about your husband’s gas. Just close your eyes, do the laundry and cry in your ice cream.

Now here’s the important thing, listen close. Don’t screw it up. Because you totally can, and then their perspectives on their bodies are eff’d for life. Life! How’s that for pressure? Remember, puberty is not sexuality and shouldn’t be confused as such. Just stick to the facts, man. Answer any question simply, honestly and get out as quick as you can. Do not expand or over-explain. Do not go on and on. It’s just body basics 101. Clinical stuff. Yep, you’re going to bleed every month. Yep, you smell. Yep, you will gain weight. Happens to everyone. Cookies, anyone?

Please do not do what my husband did during his ‘teachable moment”.

Tyler – Dad, what’s a boner?

Dad – Well, it’s a slang term for when your penis gets hard. It’s called an erection. (Perfectly articulated as if we speak about erections regularly – “Morning, honey. I have a big erection. Could you get me the paper?”)

Tyler – So you get an erection for having sex? (Uh, sex? What?! Where, or more accurately, who are all these new words coming from?!)

Dad – Yup.

OH MY GOD, DAD!! What??? How did you eff up so fast, on your first at bat? No no no! Erections are not for having sex. Were we not at the same meeting? Erections are a normal part of body development and function. He’s been having them since he was a baby, remember? No big deal. Now get back in there (shove) and go fix it.

Deep sigh. We’re not even out of the gate and we’ve been sidelined. I can tell this is going to be quite a growing experience, and not just for the kids. I just hope we don’t screw him up too badly. He’s such a sweet boy. I want him to grow into a sweet young man.

When the meeting ends, the shell-shocked parents stand from the cafeteria lunch tables, stretch and look around at each other with corroborated smiles, that border on giggles. We’re all in the same shaky boat heading for the falls and we know it. Up ahead, there are going to be some tricky waters to navigate. All I can say, is hang on to your erections, it’s going to be a wild ride.

*By the way, the answer is no. Those are not appropriate terms for a child’s penis or vagina. Did you get that correct? If not, (shove) get back in there and fix it!

peter brady

Youth isn’t wasted on my son

“I don’t want to grow up.” Tyler, my oldest, then only three, looked up at me with serious eyes full of concern. “I want to be a baby.”

I looked down on him, tears welling. I had done this to him, I thought. I had given him this insecurity, along with his new baby brother. Distraught, with a touch of post-partum depression, I lovingly pushed his hair aside. It was the color of amber, like his eyes. My golden boy.

Of course, I did my best to reassure him that he could never be replaced, but he was no dummy. He heard and smelled his competition from a room away. We all did.

“Silly. You’ll always be my baby, no matter how old you are.” It was the truth. Always. Always. Always. Poo Poo Poo, may he live to be 100.

He looked up at me from his blue racing car toddler bed completely dissatisfied. “No. I want to be a baby!” He confirmed and then tried to crawl up my shirt.

Having a new baby was an adjustment for all of us. I figured he was going through what children typically did when a new sibling entered the household. He would out-grow it, I assured myself. But as the months and years went on, he not only did not outgrow it, he grew more and more resolved. The theme repeated itself, playing out sometimes subtly but often with huge dramatic tears over and over.

At four…

“I don’t like birthdays.”

At five…

“I don’t want to grow up.”

At six…

“I don’t want to grow old.”

At seven…

“I don’t want to die.”

At eight…

“I don’t want you to die.”

At nine…

“I don’t like birthdays. I don’t want to get older and have to leave my house. I don’t want to go away to sleep away camp. I don’t want to go away to college.”

At 10…

Breaking down into tears, desperate. “Mommy, I’m never going to be eight or nine or ten again! Once it’s gone, it’s gone! I mean, I kind of want to be a daddy and all, but…” Looks at me soulfully, sadly before emotion almost swallows his words. “I want to be the baby too.”

My poor, wonderful, sweet boy, he already knows the truth about growing up and growing older. He’s known it all along. And no matter how much I tell him that growing up is an adventure he will love, that he will experience things he can’t even imagine, that he can do and be anything, that the journey is a beautiful trip – the basics truths of life and death are already in him. When your eyes are open, you can’t help but see.

You wouldn’t know it to look at him. He’s a typical fifth grader; smart, goofy, athletic with lots of friends. He doesn’t have that edgy, pre-teen snark. He truly appreciates being young and revels in his childishness, clinging to the remnants of his babyhood. He joyfully snuggles with his mommy, treasures his stuffed toys and loves playing with the younger kids, leading them around like Peter Pan.

He might even engage in a game of ‘House’ where you can be sure he will cast himself as the baby. Or a puppy. They both suit him. So while my 10 year-old, crawling on the floor panting happily like a dog, might seem a little immature to you, believe me, he is wise beyond his years.

 

otto peter

Not actually my son, but the costume worked. Plus, he’s family. 🙂

 

 

 

Date night – alone?

I’m embarrassed to say, it’s a pretty typical nighttime situation. My husband and I finally get the boys to bed. It could be anywhere between 8:30pm-10pm, when we trudge downstairs. He goes to the couch where he sets himself up with the iPad and the sport game du jour, while I either sit in front of my laptop to write an essay or read an essay. If it’s closer to the 10pm mark, I sit for a little, maybe flip the laundry and then head back upstairs. Usually, I give him a little wave before I go.

This is our quality alone time; him on the couch with the ball players, me, in bed with the Real Housewives. We could do worse, but we could certainly do better. I hear that in this young children stage, our behavior is pretty typical. We are tired. Honestly, I’m usually too tired to even mind the lack of time together. I need time to myself just as much as I need time with my husband.

For the record – yes, I have to say it – I think we have a pretty solid marriage. We like each other. We support each other. We met at 15, started dating seriously at 19, got married at 27, and have been married for over 15 years. We know each other. Well. Still, I don’t know if I’m okay that the majority of our time together is spent alone, or that I’m just in it deep, and numb to what’s happening.

Either way, it’s only at certain moments, when I realize we’re missing something. Like the other night.

My husband was down in the basement putting together a ping-pong table that we got as a surprise for the boys. He made his way down there around 9:30pm or so, while I finished up around the house and then immediately went to lie down. Around 11:15pm, he comes into our room where I’m dozing, and says, “Hey, why haven’t you come down the basement?”

Huh? I’m half-asleep. “Sorry. I just thought you were busy putting together the table, and I was tired.”

“Why don’t you come down now? I’m almost done.”

I looked at him, bleary-eyed, and to be honest, slightly annoyed. The last thing I wanted to do was move from my comfy bed and wake myself from my happy haze.

“I really don’t want to.” I pouted.

He looked at me with disappointment. “I thought you’d be interested and keep me company.” He paused. “And I could use your help.”

I jumped on that. I knew it. He needed my help. He wasn’t interested in my company. My expression must have betrayed my thoughts, because he backed out of the room before I even answered. “Forget it. Whatever.”

Well, I got what I wanted. I was alone again, but now I was torn. I really, really wanted to be sleeping, but a part of my brain was flicking little red flags at me. Why didn’t I originally go down to keep him company? Why wasn’t I interested? Why didn’t I even think about going down? Shit.

I pushed the covers aside, got out of bed and trudged downstairs to the basement. He was sitting on the floor, studying the instructions sheet; tools and a half put together table next to him.

I studied his bowed, wavy head of hair and concentrated expression. He hadn’t yet realized I was there; still so cute, yet obviously going a little deaf.

“Hi,” I said.

He looked up and immediately smiled. It was the crinkly-eyed smile, the one I fell in love with.

“I’m glad you came.”

“Me too.” I said and meant it, and sat down on the floor next to him.

Sometimes, you just need a moment to get your head back in the game.

cute and handy... he's the complete package. ;)

He’s cute and handy… he’s got skills! 😉