Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Not so Broken Home

This post over at GNMParents has me thinking about my own role as a step mom. Over the 7 years I've been married to John, I've come to realize that the post-divorce family all of us have created around Bailey is something very special. This success is due mainly to the behavior of John and C., who handled their divorce with goodwill, who focused most of their attention on making it as easy as possible on Bailey, and who continue to pay attention to what's best for her.

Since John and C.'s divorce and their re-marriages, all of the adults in Bailey's life have worked hard to function as a unit. Oddly, what we've created is a kind of extended family. C. has brought us meals during times of sickness (so have members of C.'s church--amazing) ; she's celebrated the births of Bailey's half-siblings with joy; and she even took us in when that brutal ice storm in 2002 knocked out our electricity. (Strange, I know, but we had a newborn, and really, things are that okay.) So I know that, though divorce is never ideal for a child, Bailey has landed in a pretty ideal post-divorce situation.

C. has also been very supportive of my relationship with Bailey. I can see how it might be difficult to nurture that relationship, but she understands that it is no good for Bailey to feel torn between her two families. And I reciprocate wholeheartedly. I have never spoken a negative word about C., nor has John (luckily we’ve never really had a reason to), and we are careful to be consistent across households about discipline and rules. The result is that at Bailey’s birthday parties and school functions, when we all show up, she is delighted to have everyone there instead of worried about the tension it might cause. It makes me so sad to think of the thousands of children who cringe at the idea of their parents coming together for a special day. What a shadow to celebrate under.

I've also thought very carefully about my place in Bailey's life. Because she already has a very good mom, that's not the role I attempt to play. I see myself as something between a mom and an older sister, without the full authority of a mother (though I do have some, of course) and with a bit less chumminess than a sister. I give Bailey advice when she asks for it, I chime in on family discussions concerning her well being, but I defer to John and C. when it comes to the big things (we usually agree anyway). Because I haven't tried to stand on equal footing with John and C., I have a unique relationship with Bailey. She needs and loves me for different reasons, and in my view, that is a perfect outcome.

I do feel sad for Bailey sometimes, for the loss of her parents' marriage, but I am proud of the family we have built around her. She is surrounded by love, support, and security. Both of her parents have strong re-marriages that model loving, committed relationships for her, and the friendships between all of the parents in her life have taught her that, even when relationships go wrong, courtesy, compassion, and consideration can make what exists afterward a beautiful thing.

A revised version of this post is cross-posted at Momformation

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The No Nanny Diaries

As I mentioned a post or two ago, our beloved babysitter quit us in favor of her education or something, leaving the boys, Mitch in particular, bereft, and leaving John and me panicked since she quit only a week before the semester started. (In her defense, she was trying hard to rearrange her schedule and didn't know for sure that it wouldn't work out until late in the summer.)

So we pulled out all our old nanny-seeking tricks: an ad on the job board at a local university, an email to former students of mine, a request for friends to ask friends. We got several replies, including one from a student I taught last spring, a smart girl whom I really liked.

She started last Wednesday. Yay! And quit last Thursday. Boo.

She has some health problems, which I knew about, and in her email she explained that she'd thought long and hard and had come to the conclusion that her schedule was too grueling to fit in the babysitting, and sorry, she hoped she was giving us enough time to find someone else. Well. The semester started yesterday so...not really.

That makes 2 babysitters quitting in a week's time. Also, over the summer, when I was teaching/directing a couple of writing workshops, the sitter we hired to keep the kids for those 2 weeks quit after her first day, too. She called from her car claiming she was covered in hives from an allergy to our cats.

So what is it? Does our house stink? Are the boys horrible? Are these "I have to quit because" reasons just...excuses?

In my contemplation of the matter, I came up with a list of reasons a babysitter might not want to work for us. Turns out there are a few:

Ant Jubilee 2007. The exterminator is coming on Tuesday, but the ant parties have been really really rockin' lately. Ant infestation = gross people.

The big, boisterous man sitting at the dining room table talking loudly in a managerial tone. AKA Being alone in the house with the husband; AKA Babysitting with a parent present = nerve wracking.

Owen's tendency to relate every detail of his school day in a high pitched voice. Including a comprehensive list of who got X's on their behavior cards and why, what everyone had for lunch, what kind of cars the teachers drive, and a recitation of the carpool pages over the PA.

Mitch's insistence upon physical play. Including jumping into 120 pound sitters' laps and climbing up their legs, begging to be tickled and/or chased.

Paige's mommy-centric-ness. When mommy is not present, she crumbles in a heap on the floor, refusing toys, sleep, and food. Occasionally eebee or Baby Einstein will help, but only for 10 minutes.

The ginormous crack in the ceiling. The former home owner who installed the ceiling fan in the family room did a shoddy job, and now there is a crack zig zagging from the base of the fan to the top of the wall which makes our house = The House of Usher. So the new babysitter grand tour includes a warning not to turn on the fan or sit under it. Or near it. Or sneeze too loudly.

The lawn. It's been hot. Really really really hot. And our lawnmower blade is shot. And it's been too hot to live. And also very hot. So the lawn is a teensy bit overgrown. Add that to the pile of outdoor toys in our carport = we are rednecks.

The cat stink. Our cats can sense when someone new is visiting and feel it is their solemn duty to welcome new people with a steaming pile of cat crap in the litter box so the new people can smell just whose territory it is.

The poop duties. Apart from the cat stink, we have two children whose bottoms must be wiped, one of whom is also big enough to call from the bathroom, "Come WIPE meeeeeee" and then ask the wiper to look at his poo before he flushes it. Newbies are often unprepared for the wide range of poop duties in our household.

Our neighborhood. I like our neighborhood. It's been called a "marginal" neighborhood because of its proximity to a few "undesirable" areas of town, but I have no problem living here. (We did choose this area after all, and its "marginality" comes with living downtown.) Many of our neighbors are super friendly, run of the mill suburbanites. But it happens that one of our neighbors might be a drug dealing thug (or at least kind of look like one), even though he has always been very polite and respectful to us and sweet to our children. See, the girls I hire to babysit who are students at the expensive private college where I teach probably don't come from neighborhoods where the thuggishness of their neighbors is in dispute. And some of them are from very small Southern towns and have family members with very small Southern points of view about difference.

I realize our family may be a wee bit quirky. Our house is a wee bit quirky. Our kids are a wee bit quirky. So maybe it does take just the right person to work for us, though when we've found the right people, they've been incredibly loyal and dependable. Since 2001 we've had 3 long-term sitters, all of whom left because of graduation/senior year internships, and all 3 have been wonderful and have stayed in touch with us because they care so much for our children. So, yes, there are people out there who love us despite our faults.

I suppose we just have to keep looking. Meanwhile, local readers, if you know anyone, please pass along this ad:

Downtown family ISO part-time nanny. Looking for someone with lots of energy and a love of children. Duties include playing with our 3 kids, fixing snacks, and helping kids clean up after themselves. Must have reliable transportation, references, and no cat allergy. Those with skeevishness about ants, fear of ominously cracked ceilings, a low tolerance for babbling, or prejudice toward red necks and thugs need not apply.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Announcement About Mommy Blog Roundup

Help! I need help. I love Mommy Blog Roundup. I not only want to keep it going, I want to keep it fresh and up-to-date. But life is more complicated now that I'm teaching again and trying to start a young writers' workshop and doing a little bit of writing for another parenting blog and writing here. I'm having trouble keeping up with my reading. You can't imagine the number of blogs I subscribe to just to mine for MBRU posts. I just can't get through them all.

So I'm asking (actually, begging) my readers to send in submissions. As you click through your Feed Reader in the next few weeks, please email me posts that stand out, that are particularly beautiful, funny, thoughtful, interesting, original or otherwise extraordinary.

I've made some buttons for those who love blog bling to post on their sites when they are featured on MBRU, so hook your friends up by sending me their best posts (you can nominate yourself too; I won't think you vain).

Please email submissions to:
meanmommyblog {at} gmail {dot} com

Herez mah buttonz:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

High Fives

Indulge me this evening as I hand out some high fives to my kids for the things they are doing lately that make me proud. Starting with the oldest:

She came home aglow with pride (and sweat) today because she completed a 2 mile run, without walking any of it, at track practice. She joined the cross country team at school only 2 weeks ago, and this her first experience with running. So a 2 mile run was quite an accomplishment for her, especially in 100 degree weather.


On the top of the list for Owen is how well he's doing in Kindergarten. Apart from (and in spite of) his noise phobia, he is absolutely thriving at school. His first progress report was outstanding, and he gets into the car every day with so much enthusiasm and zeal. He seems to be forming some real friendships and is taking so much pride in his work. It does a mommy's heart good to see him doing well and feeling good about himself. He's working hard to be better about his fear, too. He told me last week that he managed to get through the start of morning announcements without covering his ears, which I know took a great deal of resolve and even courage.

Sigh. Mitch. He's such the rabble rouser lately, some days I have to work really hard to find positive ways to encourage him. But his big accomplishment this month is potty training, late as it may be (he's 3 and a half). As I have surely mentioned, he's been halfway trained for a year now but had recently been heading backwards rather than forwards, which was frustrating to say the least. So last Sunday night, while changing a particularly disgusting Pull-up, I decreed that, come morning, we were done with the darn things. He'd go commando or wear underwear, but Pull-ups were only for bedtime.

For 2 days we stayed home, and he ran around in a long shirt with nothing on underneath, since I knew he wouldn't go on the floor. And he didn't. After those 2 days were up, he asked to put his pants back on (poor kid) and save a few minor accidents has been doing great ever since. (I guess I should have laid down the law a little sooner, huh?) So I'm proud of him for getting it together before forfeiting the $200 deposit for the preschool class he had to potty trained to enter.

That baby is so. darn. patient. Since Owen started school, she has spent a whole lot of time in the car and running errands. Our routine lately has been morning nap for Paige, lunch, errands, and then straight to get Owen (a 25 minute drive each way plus about 20 minutes in the carpool line). So she's out for nearly 4 hours a day, and rarely does she fuss about it. She takes her afternoon nap in the car, wakes up on the way home from school, and happily babbles to her brothers for the rest of the drive. She's an ideal third child in that respect. She's also starting to "talk" a little bit. We've heard her say (or at least very nearly say) "mama" and "melon" and "uh-oh." Smarty pants.

It's been a big year for all of us. Coming up on Paige's first birthday in October feels like a milestone for our family as much as it is for her. Her birth was a shake-up for us, of course, and was the first of many changes in our lives: new baby, new schools, new jobs, new family routines (with John working at home now). I am starting to feel settled in to all of this change, and it feels good. So yay for all of us and high fives all around.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

This Week On The Young and the Feckless

Bailey learns that Mitch has broken the glass globe off of the leaping dolphin snow globe jewelry box she bought at a beach gift shop. Will she forgive him? Will she retaliate? Will she come up with something more original than, "I TOLD you to stay OUT of MY ROOM"?

After getting a little too comfortable working from home, John shaves for the first time in four days. Will he clean out the sink? Will Ashley serve him with divorce papers if he doesn't?

Ant Family Jubilee continues in the family's kitchen. Not to be foiled by Ashley's mad caulking spree, the ants persevere and discover that they can enter the kitchen from the top of the window, where caulking is, alas, much less convenient. Over night, they find that the cabinet above the stove holds peanut butter!! Much feasting ensues. Tomorrow: Will they discover the forbidden basket of 6 month-old lollipops?

After long weeks of denial, Paige finally comes to terms with the fact that Ashley and John do indeed mean business about the whole staying in the crib thing. Upon this realization, she throws a level 10 fit followed by a pitiful withering onto the mattress and a fitful, snuffling sleep. Will she go to sleep without a fuss tomorrow? Will she stay asleep longer than 20 minutes? Tune in and find out.

Mitch gets kicked out of the ophthalmologist's office when he refuses to stop touching the very expensive equipment and pushing the very interesting buttons on the very expensive equipment while Dr. J checks Paige's leaky eyeball. Dr. J even goes so far as to leave off calling Mitch "buddy," take him firmly by the arm, and guide him to a chair where he tells him, "Sit down, now, fellow." Ashley feels both mortified and relieved. Will she take Mitch with her to Owen's ophthalmologist appointment on Tuesday? If so, will he cooperate? (Actually, you don't have to tune in to find out about this one. The answer is hell no he's not coming.)

Owen wins the "Looking Like a Learner" award in reading class, but when asked for more detail about the criteria for this award, he reveals that (cue loud organ music) HE HAS NO IDEA WHAT "LOOKING LIKE A LEARNER" MEANS! Will Owen look like a learner tomorrow? Tune in never to find out since he has no clue how to repeat the reward-worthy behavior.

Like sand in an hour are the days of our, um, young and feckless...lives.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Back to School

As I mentioned in the last post, the fall semester starts this week. Going back to work always leaves me with mixed emotions. I love the freedom of the summer: long, lazy mornings, days of doing nothing in particular, mosquitoes feasting on my ankles. But by August, I'm ready to have my grown-up time back. At work, I can be me for awhile, instead of mommy.

I especially love office hours (even more so when none of those pesky student people show up). Sitting at my desk in the quiet, with the freedom to type an email without anyone begging for a snack or drooling on the keyboard, is bliss. The minutes fly by, and it's time for class before I know it. I go reluctantly, even though teaching is, after all, the point. And as soon as I get going, I love that, too, in spite of...well...all those things that teachers complain about. Especially when they teach mostly freshman.

All this is to say, my gears are in the process of changing right now. This time of year is always a bit overwhelming, always busy, always stressful. My creative energy will be on the wane. Forgive me a few future lame (or nonexistent) posts. In the words of California's beloved governor, "I'll be back."

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The Good

  • Fall semester starts next week. Work = sanity.
  • Yesterday we booked a beach house in the Outer Banks for September. It will be our first family vacation (that is, first taken as just us, without extended family).
  • The laundry, it is caught up AND put away.
  • The bills, they are paid (my least favorite chore).
  • The boys are letting me read The Mouse and Motorcycle to them. Since finishing Ramona the Brave (our first chapter book attempt), they are finally getting the whole "just listen to the story" thing and will sit (mostly) quietly for a whole chapter. I love it. Now I can foist my favorite books upon them.
  • Mitch wore underwear all day today with no accidents. Yay! Because school, for which he has to be potty trained, starts in 2 weeks, and now I don't have to sneak him in in Pull Ups.
The Bad
  • The heat. Oh lordy the heat.
  • Next week's string of doctors' appointments for the kids, some of which may end with recommendations for surgery (Paige, for a clogged tear duct and/or kidney reflux; Owen, for his ongoing strabismus issue). Sigh.
  • The #$%#@ Mattel recall may mean I have to take away all of Mitch's most favoritest toys.
  • Our sitter quit, leaving us less than a week to find a replacement. Plus, we love her. Damn only-offered-fall-semester Senior Seminar. Damn sitter who wants to finish college and stuff.
  • Ant Family Jamboree 2007 in our kitchen.
The Ugly
  • My unwritten syllabus. Did I mention I have a brand new prep this semester? Which includes Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen? Whom I haven't taught or studied since grad school? Yeah. Better get on that.
  • Next month's electric bill. Isn't the air conditioning supposed to, like, turn off sometimes?
  • Paige's runny nose (oh so ugly, trust me).
  • The--yaaaawn--bags under my eyes.
  • The ice cream-less freezer. WTFlip? It's 101 degrees outside for flip's sake!
  • John's snoring from the bedroom, which I can hear all the way in the living room.
Here's to a restful weekend full of...classic British Lit, I guess.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Love, Mom

When I was little, I'd come home from school, go up to my room, and find the bed neatly made with my stuffed animals on it arranged in some silly anthropomorphic way: peeking out from behind pillows, curled up under the blankets with stuffed paws tucked sweetly under stuffed heads, sitting in a circle as if holding a round table. This was my mother's doing, of course, and she admits now that she got tremendous pleasure out of setting those stuffies up in a new way every day, imaging my giggles when I came home and found them.

My thing is lunch box notes. I love writing them. Sometimes my lunch box notes are so elaborate, I'm afraid Owen's teacher will think I'm an obsessive compulsive freak with too much time on her hands. I compose poems, write rebuses, draw illustrations, decorate with stickers. I am endlessly amused at myself over the clever lunch box notes I craft. The best ones I show to John before tucking them away in Owen's bag. John is never as impressed as I'd like him to be.

Like my mother and I about her stuffed animal jamborees, Owen and I don't really discuss the lunch box notes. I don't think he's even mentioned them more than once or twice, and he never comments on them in detail. In some ways, this is disappointing. It makes me wonder if I'm kidding myself to imagine him reaching into his lunch box with giddy anticipation, excited to see what my notes will say every day. I picture him reading and giggling and smiling to himself and feeling my mom-love from 15 miles away. And maybe that is how it goes, but he never tells me so.

I do have one clue, however, that the notes mean something to him after all. Every day, Owen comes home with a tidy lunch box. In true type-A fashion, he is sure to throw away his scraps and trash instead of stuffing them back in the bag for me to deal with later. But he has never, no never, thrown away one of my notes. Every evening, when I unzip the bag to prepare the next day's lunch, today's note flutters out, neatly refolded. He keeps them. While all else is tossed in the trash, he keeps them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

He is His Brother's Keeper. And Maimer. But Mostly His Keeper.

The sibling love runneth deep in this house. That is, it runneth when they aren't hitting, biting, snatching, yelling, pushing, and tackling each other. But I can live with the maiming (even as frequently as it happens) because of what runs beneath that: the very real, very endearing, and very complex love my children have for one another.

Tonight while John, Paige, and I were finishing up dinner, Owen and Mitch were playing tug-o-war with a jump rope in the family room. Of course, eventually, Owen tried the old "let go while the other person is pulling with all his might" trick and Mitch went flying. He fell against the brick hearth, scraping and bruising his side pretty badly. Mitch is usually a stoic little guy, so when we heard his pained howl and Owen's frantic "I'm sorry, Mitch! I'm sorry!" we knew he was really hurt.

Owen looked on, his brow furrowed in sincere concern, as we iced Mitch's bruise and wiped his tears, and he told Mitch he was sorry a few more times. He kept eying us warily, waiting for a punishment, until I finally told him it was okay. We knew it was an accident. We knew he hadn't meant to hurt Mitch.

After calming everyone down, I went about my 7:00 business: dishes, baby bathing, counter wiping, next-day-lunch making. I could see Owen at the kid-sized table in the family room, occupied with drawing (a common sight in our house) and Mitch on the couch with Dee Dee (his beloved blankie), sucking his fingers in post-accident recuperation. A few minutes later I overheard Owen telling Mitch he'd made something for him; then he handed his little brother the notes in the photo above and quietly explained to him what the words said.

The affection my children show for one another is, without a doubt, the best thing about parenting siblings. Nothing is more gratifying than to know that those I love best in the world are cherished nearly as much by other people. Every morning, every single morning, Mitch's chin wobbles when he wakes up and realizes that Owen is already at school. And every day, Mitch asks from about 10:00 on if it's time to pick Owen up yet. On Saturdays, Owen, the early riser, begs to be allowed to wake Mitch up, and if I tell him no, he makes up excuses to go into their room, clearly plotting to "accidentally" wake him.

Tonight Paige walked (well, stumbled) across the family room behind her push toy for the first time. The boys' excitement at this feat and their cheers and hair ruffling congratulations afterward had Paige beaming. I swear I could almost see an aura of love and admiration around her; she was fairly aglow with it. I've posted before about how heartwarming the boys' adoration of Paige is, but every time I witness it, it bowls me over again. At times like those, I imagine that Paige will always hold a special place in the family, in the sibling order. The boys will always dote on her, encourage her, help her along, and she will bask in their affection, thrive in it.

Before sitting down to write this post, I peeked in at Owen and Mitch, asleep their beds--twin beds that they've pushed together so they can sleep next to each other. When I left after putting them to bed tonight, each was on his own side, tucked in neatly with plenty of space left between them. But just now, at 11:30, they had, as they do every night, migrated toward each other as they slept and were sprawled out in the middle of the bed together, limbs entwined, mouths agape, wearing expressions of pure contentment. The contentment of feeling safe and loved and close to someone who is looking out for you. Someone who looks forward to seeing you every day.

Even if it's only so he can pummel you for overstaying your turn on the computer.

Top Ten Reasons Paige is Lucky She's Cute

1. She doesn't sleep enough.

2. When I carry her, she always looks for, finds, and tries to tear off the ugly, hangy mole on the back of my arm.

3. When she is finished eating, she bats spoonfuls of baby food away from her, slinging sweet potatoes on the wall, the cat, and her father.

4. Since learning to crawl she is constantly on the hunt for objects dangerous, gross, and/or inedible to gum.

5. While nursing, she pinches the side of my breast, catching tiny little folds of skin between her thumb and pointer finger and producing a sensation almost as pleasant as bamboo under fingernails.

6. At the same time, she plants both feet on my belly and bounces herself on my gut, thereby socking me in the stomach and wrenching my nipple upward every time she bounces.

7. She ruins more outfits with her man-sized poops than I have Dreft to rescue them.

8. If I'm sitting on the floor with her and simultaneously trying to do anything else (like, oh, I don't on the computer, not that I do THAT all that often) she will hang on/climb on me relentlessly, grabbing onto my hair to restore her balance if she stumbles.

9. She wants the paci, she doesn't want the paci, she wants the paci, she doesn't want the paci.

10. And...she doesn't sleep enough.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Groovy, Man

I peed my pants a little...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Character Flaws

On Friday afternoons, Owen's kindergarten class has "character education," a class about manners, kindness, and, apparently, good hygiene. This week, he brought home a "Character Calendar," a sheet with a grid that contains several deeds of good character for the students to check off as they complete them: "I was kind," "I did not gossip" (do 5 year olds really gossip?), "I did my chores," "I took a bath or shower" etc.

By Friday night, Owen had 75% of the squares checked off after spending Friday afternoon dashing around being full of good character:

"Mommy, you look nice....Wasn't that kind, Mommy?" (Gallops off to mark the "I was kind" square.)

"Mommy, may I please have some milk. That was good manners!" (Scrambles off with pen in hand.)

I finally drew the line with the following exchange:
"I put a cup in the sink, Mom."
"Good! Thanks!"
"Is that kind?"
"Well, actually that's doing a chore."
"But I already have that square marked off...I'll just call it being kind."

So I had to explain to my darling overachiever that it wasn't really in good character to equivocate about your good deeds or do a half-assed job of being kind, or helpful, or polite just so you can be the first one back with your character calendar filled, wildly waving it over your head on Monday morning, calling, "Teacher! Teacher! Do you want our character calendars? I finished mine already" while all the other kids glare at the back of your head.

He of exceedingly good character took the news hard and stalked off in a most impolite and unkind manner, leaving me to wish he'd done his check marks in pencil so I could erase a few of those suckers.

What hasn't occurred to him is that to complete the character calendar, you have to have checked off THREE "I took a bath or shower" spaces, and in this house? With the chaos of our days lately? That could take some time.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I moved!

So I moved, as you know, since you followed me here. Over at LiveJournal, I was starting to feel like the kid with outdated clothes. Plus, I think there was something about LJ I was missing, because when I posted on their suggestions board that non-members should be allowed to sign their posts with a name, email, and link, most of the responders were appalled that I'd suggest such a thing. There were worried about visitors looking like LJ users and causing confusion. Now I'm thinking LJ isn't a true blog host--that many users there see their sites as "journals" and LJ as more of an insular community.

But I was tired of my visitors having trouble signing comments, and I wanted more control of my template. And Mommy Blog Roundup is on Blogger already, so it's easier to have both blogs at the same host.

I'll leave the LJ site up for awhile until I can get all my posts moved over (more recent posts first) and am sure my droves of readers (snort) have found me at Blogger. So hi! Enjoy signing your comments!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Middle Man

All parents imagine their children in the future, what they'll be like as teens, as adults, as parents themselves. It's hard to know if the roles I see my kids settling into will stick as they get older, but I do have a pretty fixed idea of what Owen and Mitch will be like at 16 and 18. As my older sister recently predicted, "Owen will not be cool enough to hang out with Mitch." That basically sums it up. I can imagine Mitch peeling out of the high school parking lot in some sputtering old sports car with Owen riding shotgun, shouting, "Slow DOWN! You're gonna get a TICKET!"

We call Mitch "the blond bombshell" (bombshell more in the "ka-boom " sense than in the "foxy mama" sense). He's high energy and full o' sass, a personality that childcare experts like to call "spirited" and that I like to call "obnoxious." He is fearless, loud, funny, brave, smart, and capable. He is full of confidence and curiosity. In our family, it's not only his bravado that stands out; he also has his own set of physical features: clear blue eyes and blond hair, Malibu bronze skin in the summer. The rest of us have dark hair and eyes, and resemble one another much more closely.One night when we were out for ice cream, Mitch wandered over to a table that held a family of four towheads. I whispered to John, "He's going to be with his own kind."

Mitch is also the middle child. All of these qualities combined have, I fear, created a child at risk of feeling alienated.

Right now, we can add to the mix an older brother who is drawing a lot of attention for starting kindergarten and an adorable baby sister, the only girl, who has just started to crawl and was recently diagnosed with a health problem that requires much doting and numerous doctor visits that leave Mitch at home. It's no wonder his first line of defense against melting into the background is raucous behavior. And he's three. As any seasoned mother can attest, the terrible twos have got nothing on the tear-your-hair-out threes.

Here's a list of SOME of the trouble Mitch has gotten into today:
  • Broke the printer by kicking it while sitting at the computer.
  • Spilled cherry Italian ice on the rug.
  • Bit Owen.
  • Ran into the family room to divebomb the couch, knocking Paige into a table in the process.
  • Ate one bite of a peanut butter sandwich he'd thrown a fit to get, then declared himself full.
  • Hit Owen. And hit Owen again. And again.
  • Woke Paige up from her nap on purpose.
  • Swiped the doctor's stethoscope at Paige's check up, and when asked to give it back said, "No thank you."
  • Erased two of my shows from the DVR.
  • Splashed juice on the screen of daddy's beloved and very fancy TV.
  • Pooped in his #@%^&# pants THREE times!
  • Unplugged the floor fan and plugged it back in elsewhere.
The list could go on if I felt like sitting here recounting all of it, but I'll give the kid (and myself) a break.

Sometimes when I'm reprimanding him, he gets this look of sheer defiance, a "bring it on beyatch" kind of look. But sometimes, especially when I am watching from a more objective place, when John does the fussing, I can see something softer beneath that look. It's a look made of sadness, defeat, anger, and a little bit of love, and it reminds me that he's only been alive three years, that he doesn't mean any harm in all the trouble he gets into. He's just figuring out the world.

So maybe I can't predict with any accuracy what Mitch will be like when he's sixteen, maybe he'll be a mild mannered boy, a devoted student and a disciplined, no nonsense athlete. But no matter what he becomes, I hope he will always know that, blond hair be damned, he's one of us. A vital, significant part. Keeping things interesting in the middle.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


It has recently come to light that a member of my family is hopelessly addicted to a powerful substance, one that has such a grip on this person that it even disrupts her sleep. She wakes several times a night for a quick fix, though during the day she is able to function normally, if a bit crabbily.

Yes, my boobie milk is that good.

Paige has recently regressed to the newborn stage, where she insists upon waking every hour to have a wee sip of breast milk. I know that her waking is not out of hunger. She eats heartily at dinner, especially now that she's added some table food to her diet. And many nights John puts her to bed with a nice fat bottle of formula. But still, from about 11 o'clock on, she insists on waking and fussing until I let her nurse. She latches on for about 5 minutes and then goes right back out. And it's getting very very old. Very very very old.

I know, I know, I'm a sucker. If I wasn't so wimpy, I'd be a mama with a backbone who makes her too-old-to-nurse-every-hour 9 month old cry it out. But I've always had trouble with that technique. Something in me just won't let me leave my babies bawling and wondering why I'm not coming to the rescue. I have no problem with the technique itself; I just can't seem to follow through.

So I'm walking around rather blearily these days, biting everyone's heads off over the slightest indiscretions.

This hasn't been the best of weeks anyway. We've been casually browsing real estate a nearby town, and I've developed new house fever. Right now it's about a 30 minute drive to and from Owen's school, and since we want all the kids to attend there, it makes sense to move closer, especially since we're past ready for more space anyway. But realistically, we won't be ready, financially or otherwise, to move until at least the spring. I've worked myself into a lather over a couple of perfect houses I've come across in my browsing, lying in bed wracked with angst that we can't do anything about these perfect houses. So I've decided to stop looking for awhile and trust that the right house will appear when we're ready for it. (It will appear, right? RIGHT?)

Another not-so-great part of this week: an email from Owen's teacher asking about his noise sensitivity. She told me that he's been falling apart before the intercom comes on in the morning and in the afternoon, crying and covering his ears. Apparently he also lost it during class, as well, when his reading teacher used an electronic timer during their classwork. We knew that the intercom was bothering him, but he had not shared with us that he'd been as upset as his teacher indicated he was, and it breaks my heart that he has been struggling with this on his own. That he hasn't told us tells how scared he's been shows me that he's trying hard to work through it and that he's a little embarrassed. Poor kid. We do have an appointment set up with a child psych that a friend recommended. I'm hoping it will help. This anxiety is only getting worse, and I'm afraid of what it will grow into if we don't teach Owen to cope now.

And to top it off, it's been over 100 degrees every day this week. Dog days for sure. Yipp-flippin'-ee.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A Sad Milestone

His first at-school meltdown. Oh just rip my heart out and mail it to the top of Kilimanjaro. It did me in. I'm likely to homeschool him from here on out. If only homeschooling didn't require any discipline on my part, I'm sure I could do it.

Many moms of elementary schoolers are probably already familiar with the "stoplight" system of discipline in the lower grades, but in case you're not savvy, here's an overview: Staying on green is the goal. Every kid has a stoplight and a clothespin. The pin starts out on green every day. If a child misbehaves, he gets an "X" on his behavior card. In our school, 4 X's mean the child's pin moves to yellow. Staying on green all week results in the much coveted trip to the treasure box on Friday.

Yesterday John picked Owen up from school. When they got home, Owen blew past me, shirttail out, shoes untied, and went to his room calling back to me, "I gotta unpack my bookbag!" I was puzzled, as he usually stops to say hello and blather about his day for a bit before moving on to anything else. When John passed me, he gave me a dark look. Something was amiss.

Before going back to check on him, I learned from John that Owen had gotten an "X" on his card. Just one. No change to his "green" status, just one little "X." This, apparently, was NOT okay with our little rule Nazi. In fact, it fairly undid him, and, John reported, he bawled all the way home from school. Sigh.

So I had a little chat with Owen, and he told me (after some snuffling and a round of fresh tears) that he'd been playing with his glasses when he was supposed to be doing something else, so the teacher had given him an "X." He got so upset about it, the teacher sent him to the restroom to calm down. I hugged him, wiped his eyes, and explained that everyone makes mistakes, told him that what happened was no big deal and one "X" wasn't the end of the world. I said that know he knew that he needed to listen closely to what the teacher wants him to do. He seemed much better after realizing we weren't disappointed in him.

I'm not sure which part of this is most painful to me. To imagine him feeling ashamed and humiliated and embarrassed with no one to turn to is gut wrenching. That he had to leave the classroom to get himself together is the saddest thing ever. And that he ran past me to unpack his bookbag before I could see any evidence of his "X" bothers me. Did he think we'd be angry about one little mistake? Does he see us as that hard nosed?

My reaction to this relatively small incident is so first-time mom of me, I know. But all of this letting them step into the world alone stuff is hard as hell. What's hardest for me is standing by while he faces moments of sadness or embarrassment or loneliness by himself, without us there to turn to. It's necessary, of course. But he's only 5, and that first push out of the nest is damn hard.

I'm sure I'll feel this way again, as we reach other milestones. Like college. Holy crap, college. Maybe if I start brushing up now, I'll be smart enough to homeschool him to a BA.