Wednesday, September 21, 2016

9/11


The 15th anniversary of “911” has come and gone.  The tributes on TV have ended, the questions my children have about this day in history have been answered, and the moments of silence have gone back to chatter, noise and life as we know it.
I may have looked in all the wrong places, but I didn’t find any “special” tributes or reflections this year, other than the significance of pointing out that it was indeed fifteen years since Americans as a whole witnessed, and mostly survived, the deadliest attack on our soil in our entire history.  We lost nearly 3,000 brave and unsuspecting American souls that day.
On Sunday I was pensive and reflective.  When the National Anthem began playing on TV at the start of the Patriots/Cardinals game, I stood up in my family room.  I believe in what Colin Kaepernick is not standing for.  I believe that there is still racial injustice in this country.  I believe that as citizens of the greatest country in the world, we are entitled to our show of non-violent civil unrest and peaceful protest.  I also believe that 2,977 people deserved my respect and recognition at that moment.  I stood quietly, with my hand over my heart, feeling very lost in the midst of my family members.  I don’t believe that I’ve ever stood before in my own home for the National Anthem.  I needed to do it that day.
I grew up with my parents telling me that they remembered where they were when JFK got shot.  I came home from school in the 6th grade and believed that the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan would be my generation’s “where I was” moment.  I was wrong.
I was on the floor of my living room, ironically doing “airplanes” with my 15 month old son when the second plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center.  The North Tower had been hit just 17 minutes before.  When Matt Lauer interrupted the regular schedule of The Today Show for breaking news, the report suggested faulty air traffic control communication was to blame for the “accident.”  As I watched live from the floor of my home, my son’s belly positioned precariously on the soles of my feet, his hands securely in mine, it was somehow already clear to me that it would be a date that would go down in infamy for my generation.
My husband was in Las Vegas for the Auto Dealers’ Association (ADA) conference.  He was scheduled to come home that Tuesday night.  Like all other Americans scheduled to fly that night, he was unable to get a flight home.  They tried to rent cars, but found no available rentals.  My husband’s boss, an auto dealer, bought a minivan and together with 2 other conference attendees, they took turns driving virtually non-stop across the country to get each of them home to their families.  My husband arrived on a Saturday morning.  I still have the pillow he bought at a Walmart to help him sleep in the van after his driving shift was over.
I’m not sure that I know what I really wanted to write regarding this 15th anniversary of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks.  I just know that I needed to write something.
Image courtesy of aeypix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Three Little Words


Years ago when my children were still small and needed at least one nap a day, I struggled with when to get chores and errands completed.  As most moms would do, I tried to schedule my To Do list around their nap schedules:  laundry, light cleaning, and checking email while they napped at home; errands with the benefit of a drive-through window or those that were at least 40 minutes away, for the out-and-about-sleeping-in-their-car seat nap.  It’s what a mom does to get her stuff done.

On one particular frazzling day I lamented to a friend and neighbor at the bus stop that my youngest refused to nap in the car during my running around.  At 3:15PM while I waited for my two older ones to come home from school, I knew that I was on a very tight schedule to get homework, dinner, and baths squeezed into an evaporating time-line before said youngest completely passed out well in advance of her “scheduled” bed-time.  The trick would be to make sure that she ate just enough food before passing out at the dinner table.  NOT so that her full belly could dispel a middle of the night desire to waken for a more filling meal, but to quell my mother’s guilt over not allowing her a proper nap cycle and unrushed meal.

“I know I am hoping that her missed nap today will mean she will go to bed easily and sleep through the night, but I have a feeling it won’t work out that way.  It never does…”

My friend looked at me, and I swear there was a harp playing off-yonder and a soft illuminating light over her head, when she said, “That’s because sleep begets sleep.  Missing that nap doesn’t make them need sleep more.  Sleep begets sleep.”

Simple.  True.  Life-changing.

I have thought back on those 3 words more times in the last 7 years than I have replayed “The Beach Scene” between Rocky and Adrian in Rocky III, either in my head or on the TV.  If you know me, that’s saying A LOT!

What has changed in my life since then is the realization that anything good begets more good:  a work-out ethic, flossing daily, reading with my children, date night with my husband, volunteering at my children’s schools, seriously decreasing the amount of fried food from my diet, PATIENCE.  When I have made an effort to bring goodness into my life purposely, I have found myself wanting more.  And more.

I never used to agree with people that said that working out gave you more energy.  I always wanted to take a nap after a work-out.  I didn’t believe that floss was necessary unless I had eaten corn on the cob.  I believed that my children would just love to read because I loved to read.  I knew that couples had to carve out time for themselves, but there was always the Empty Nest years to look forward to.  Offering a helping hand to the PTO would have to wait until I had all children in school full-time.  How could I give up French Fries?!  Patience may be a virtue, but God clearly blessed some of us with a loud voice and impetuous nature to deal with the annoyances of life the way that we all truly want to deal with them, while those darned patient people are giving so many second and third chances away.

But when I looked at my life AFTER doing some of these things, I started to see that although I didn’t at first attribute my high spirits to the preceding act, I was, and still am, indeed enjoying a benefit.  I want to work out again, because there is something exhilarating about sore muscles.  I feel like I have done something, and I want to do it again.  After only 4 days of flossing, my gums stopped bleeding when I brushed my teeth.  My children became better readers, and better at keeping to the bedtime routine and I look forward to advanced children’s literature.  My husband became my boyfriend again and I can’t wait to hold his hand and sit next to him on the couch.  The joy that both my children and I get out of running into each other in the middle of the school day is something that I hadn’t anticipated.  I knew I would like it – I didn’t realize that they would like it, too.  It’s really not that hard to NOT swing through the drive-through at McDonald’s or order fries as my side when eating out!  A deep breath goes a long way.  So does excusing myself from the room and taking a “Mommy Moment.”  I find that my children, and adults, actually listened longer, and come back for more interaction or advice if I am more patient to begin with.

Sleep begets sleep.

I could interchange the word sleep for anything really, and it could prove true.  Unfortunately, it also holds true for the negatives in life:  NOT working out yesterday, the day before or today…; being too tired to floss before bed the last 3 nights after already telling my girls, “It’s late and I’m tired.  You can read to me tomorrow night.”  Letting another couple come along on our date is fun adult time, but when I get home, I still feel disconnected from my husband.  No adult time at all leaves me sullen and cranky.  Yelling at my kids about putting their sneakers away – AGAIN – leads to more yelling about backpacks, lunch boxes, dirty laundry, and whose night it is to feed the dog.  Impatience begets more impatience.

Even when I don’t look forward to my workouts, I know that if I can just get it done, I will feel better about myself for the rest of the day, and it will spur me on to get it done the next day.  I love how clean my mouth feels after I have flossed, and I am proud when the hygienist says I’m doing a great job.  (Why don’t they give out stickers to adults?!)  Time with my husband is my oasis in life.  We have 4 beautiful children and although they probably don’t realize it, I am more patient when I have had their dad all to myself.  Reconnecting with him can be as simple as a Sunday morning drive to get coffee and breakfast sandwiches, a movie, or drinks at the bar; while well-filling activities like a weekend away reignites my spirit and makes me happy and engaged in my children’s lives to a greater degree.

Practicing better behavior can become custom and contagious, much like bad habits, nasty thoughts, and insensitive actions all creep into continuous routines until they become a lifestyle.   A good deed, kind word, or encouraging sentiment begets more of the same.  I am constantly looking for ways to make my life and the lives of my family members better and happier.   It’s not about vacations and expensive things.  It is how we look at life and where we choose to put our efforts.  And once we have taken that first step towards goodness – anything good – the path has been paved and the road is already easier, even if it doesn’t initially feel that way.

Begets.  It is a powerful force.  Use it for good.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"FUNDRAISING"

I hate the Jog-a-Thon.  I also love the Jog-a-Thon.  My push me/pull me thoughts about that event are complex and probably don’t make sense to anyone else but me.  I am not out to destroy the Jog-a-Thon.  I am just confused about an event that masquerades as something that it is not.

I hate it mainly for its misguided promotion.  The Jog-a-Thon is a PTO Fundraiser, “one in which every student participates.”  As a fundraiser, it is designed specifically, and solely, to raise money for the PTO.  I question why every student is required to participate in an event that raises money for the PTO.  They are not raising money directly for the school.  Students – and parents – do not have a choice in whether they choose to participate in the events of this fundraiser, despite the fact that they might never actually bring any money to the table for said fundraiser.  In our very own “Connection,” the PTO newsletter, it is stated that “Fundraisers are not mandatory,” yet every student at Burgess Elementary School runs (or hops in the Pre-School) during their regularly scheduled gym class.  This event is not held after school or on a weekend where it would be considered strictly voluntary.  No, it is held during the school day, as a part of the athletic curriculum.

I have a problem with that.
Following all the running, there is lap counting, leader board writing, money collecting, and finally, the pinnacle of the event for the students:  the medal ceremony.  Students in each grade who ran the most laps in the top three spots receive medals.  Although all students who participate in the event receive a gift, and all students who raise a minimum amount of funding receive a second gift, the medals are the pride, joy - and let-down - for most students.  The medals have, for many, become the focus of the event.  Each spring, children all over Sturbridge can be heard saying, “I’m going to get a medal this year!” as their determined hearts put their sights on an unknown number of laps that will guarantee that end.  I have never heard one student, or parent for that matter, say, “I’m going to raise the most money this year!”
It is obvious why we do no put the emphasis on the money itself as an individual goal:  not everyone has access to the money that someone else has.  Many parents struggle with meeting the basic needs of their families, while others are able to relatively easily live in a lap of luxury.  It would seem cruel to always put money as the defining characteristic for any student when it comes to being recognized by their peers, the faculty, or a parent organization.
Why then, is it OK to put the under-achieving, not-athletically-gifted students at the forefront of a “PTO Fundraiser?”  Whether or not they want to, every student is required to run laps.  No one has volunteered their athletic ability, or their glorious aspirations for the day.  The only volunteers are the parents who come out to punch cards and count laps. Yet, each student will be judged on the number of laps that they complete, and awarded an additional prize, to hang proudly, and boastfully around their necks.
(It shouldn’t matter, but I feel compelled to assuage the assumptions that I, or my children, suffer from sour grapes.  To the contrary, all three of my children have loved participating in the Jog-a-Thon.  Two out of three of them have earned a medal, repeatedly, in their time at Burgess.  They return each year to best themselves, in addition to achieving school-wide glory.  There are no sour grapes.  Their achievements are just as revered each year there is not a medal.)
So how can I possibly love the Jog-a-Thon?  Because it also brings out the best in so many students.  The returning joggers’ determination to place each year softens my contempt.  The will to shine, to achieve, and be distinguished from those who did not achieve, spurs on “training,” focus, camaraderie, and competition.    My own children’s indomitable spirit makes attending the event and cheering them on my focus.  I revel in their unwavering pursuit of every lap.  I am fulfilled by their untiring participation and untarnished belief in this event.  They motivate me to believe and be supportive.
I am not so motivated as to want to change the event to better serve my sense of fundraising or athleticism.  But, were the Jog-a-Thon to be revamped into a strictly volunteer event, held outside of school hours, with the full knowledge and expectation that the number of laps would correspond to the amount of money raised or donated, I would fully support it.  If elected participation included medals for high achievers, like so many charity road races do, again, I could “support” it, as all participants are entering of their own volition to sponsor a cause and triumph personally.  If the medals were removed from the current Jog-a-Thon handbook, I would be more inclined to support it.  But as the Jog-a-Thon is currently billed and executed, it is a flawed system that will continue to confound me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

It's Not Neglect

I’m giving myself permission to ignore my children.

I’m not going to ignore true cries for help, and if there’s blood I will definitely come running (blood stains, you know.)  I will respond to requests that include the words “hug,” “catching the bus,” and “make something for Daddy.”  I will also not ignore statements and questions that include the words “milk” and “healthy snack,” as well as “being outside” and “taking Jazz for a walk.”  But outside of that, I plan to ignore my children.

I’m not planning on ignoring them for frivolous gains like catching up on “my shows” or napping, although I would love to do those things.  Rather, I’m going to ignore them for the greater good for all of us: their independence and maturity as individuals and siblings, my sanity and blood pressure, and the creativity in all of us.

I’ve learned slowly not to intervene at the first sound of an argument.  Many times it rights itself before I’ve even entered the room.  I’ve discovered that they make the responsible, caring decision to include instead of exclude, share instead of being selfish, and give repetitive second chances instead of living life as if one incident, behavior, or snappish statement dictates the future of their relationships.  By ignoring them for a few minutes I get a moment to breathe deep, muster patience and decide “how else” I can handle the situation instead of storming their juvenile castle and throwing down my gauntlet of haggard, adult punishments.  Meant to obliterate the problem, they inevitably backfire due to overkill solutions and anxiety-induced anger.  When I ignore the daily outbursts, knee-jerk iPod and TV-focused requests, and calls for help on subjects they clearly already know how to handle themselves, they are forced to find a solution, recommit to finishing the required tasks and step up to complete or accomplish more than they felt they had the energy to do only moments before.  I get a few more minutes to decide if my attention to their request helps or impedes their development.  We all have the chance to discover something new about ourselves, as well as walk away with a sense of pride.

Ignoring my children will give me the opportunity to finish reading the article, page, or chapter that I can become engrossed in.  I can listen to what my husband is telling me, instead of head-nodding and “Uh-huh”ing him and then not remembering what I agreed to do.  I can take the time to enjoy his embrace, not hurry through it to replace it with conflict-resolution and frozen waffle-making.  I will complete the tasks I am caught up in so I don’t come back to them and wonder “Where was I?” or worse, become angry with my children because they took me away from something that now has become a problem:  a pot boiling over on the stove, the dog running out the door un-leashed, my husband’s equally important request for my ear, shoulder or a low-blood sugar necessitated snack.  Ignoring my children gives me back the sense that my needs, and the needs of others around me, are just as important.  It also shows them that their needs, although perceived as paramount in that moment, may need to take a backseat to something else.  It helps to remind them that the other relationships in my life, and my duties, require my attention.  Balance becomes the focus for all of us.

On a completely selfish level, ignoring my children allows me to remember what makes me happy:  reading, writing, sitting in the sun (not to get a tan, but just because I love the feel of the heat on my skin), getting through a grueling workout, working on a jigsaw puzzle, laughing at a stupid TV show, becoming enthralled all over again in the movie moments that defined my youth, and ironically, my children themselves.  By standing back and letting their lives continue around me I can take an avid spectator’s view of their world and their experiences.  I see them becoming the people they will be.  I see them develop a sense of humor, a willful determination, and a heart of gold, each of them having a different sized piece of those characteristics that will help to shape who they are.  I remember who they were as infants, babies, toddlers and preschoolers, and remark on the subtle to drastic changes that they have undergone.  By ignoring my children, I actually keep myself from missing them grow up.

Someday I hope my children look back and take my “ignorance” not for tough love, but for loving love.  I hope they learned that a good book is worth getting lost in.  Puzzles are a great distraction and help to let us see the larger picture in smaller detail, as well as the understanding that every piece is important.  I hope they all discover, and embrace, the writer within them.  I hope they remember less of my snappish moments, and more of my “All right, all right, it’s OK,” moments.  I pray they realize that not just the love of their mother and father, but the love between their mother and father is a part of who they are and how they got here.  I want them to look ahead and realize that their own needs will get lost in someone else’s someday, and that’s OK.  And it’s also OK to bring that focus back to themselves as some point.

But they better not ignore me – ever.

Friday, January 17, 2014

MY LOVE

I love my husband more and more every day.  That is not to say that there aren’t days that I don’t like him very much.  Unfortunately, there are more of those days than I care to admit.  I’m glad that I’ve never been overly obsessed to count them.  That is something that I might have done had we gotten married younger.  I would have bought a specific journal and began keeping notes on the days that he annoyed me or that I wanted to slap him on his bald head.  Then I would periodically go back and read my entries, ticking off the number of days in a year that he less than satisfied me.  And I would no doubt, be miserable.  It wouldn’t matter if those days in actuality outnumbered the days that I loved him dearly.  I would have in writing, as a constant reminder, the number of times that he had failed to understand me, please me, read me right, or reach out to me when I needed him the most.  And I would make that perception my reality and find it hard to be convinced that there was more, better, to our relationship.

We didn’t get married young, we didn’t get married quickly, and we didn’t get married blindly.  Ed and I had known each other for over eight years before we began dating.  We had looked at each other with ambivalence and disdain, depending upon the year, until one day we looked at each other with respect and interest.  We had both grown up and matured, loved and been heartbroken, become independent and future-minded.  We were both on the cusp of 30, me just before it, and he just after.  We wanted more than what we had in our early and mid-twenties.  Unbeknownst to the other, we had both made a silent, personal vow:  the next person we made love to would be the one we married.  Fortunately for us, that next person was each of us, for the other!

Ed and I have such a strong connection to each other when it is just the two of us.  When we have time alone, real time alone, we are all we need.  We laugh; we share tories without jealousy or guilt; we agree on what to do together; we share opinions, fears, dreams and goals; we touch.  And we touch some more.  When Ed and I get a few days away I can’t stop touching him.  It isn’t sexual, but it is desire.  It isn’t about getting into bed, but about getting into his heart.

I know that Ed believes that “Affectionate Touch” is his primary love language, and I would instinctively say the same about me.  I have doubted whether we knew ourselves well enough to admit if maybe we were both wrong.  I used to assume that Ed’s primary love language was “Words of Affirmation.”  But I have found over the years that it doesn’t seem to matter how much I tell him he is doing a great job as a husband, father and man.  Somehow he always feels that I am not happy, or that he is not satisfying me.  Maybe if we would both just touch more, we would both have full love tanks.

Which is why when we get time away from the kids to refocus on us, I think that we do connect so well.  I want to hold his hand, rub his head, run my hands down his back, stroke his leg and knee when we sit next to each other, and otherwise be close to him.  It is instinctive.  I don’t have to remind myself to do it.  It comes naturally because I just want to do it, and because it gives me pleasure, too.  I like the feel of him.  His skin is always soft, even if he hasn’t lotioned.  His hand holds mine firmly, yet gently.  He guides me through public places with an heir of protection.  I love that he is big!  He makes me feel beautiful, sexy and wanted.  I reach out to him because I want to capture every piece of him and keep him with me.  I touch him so that I can remember what he feels like until the next time I touch him.

I would never change our life for anything.  We both agree that we have amazing children who make our family what it is.  We would never risk changing any of them for want of having done things a little differently.  I think we reconnect so easily because we feel like we didn’t have enough “us” time before children.  Yet we are excited that we will be young enough to enjoy each other once the kids are off becoming their own people.  For now, we don’t rush their childhood.  We don’t long for it to be over.  We don’t wish for high school graduations.  We simply anticipate the bittersweet days of childhoods that are the past, adulthoods that will take shape, and the rebirth of the two of us on a more consistent basis.

Ed has answered all of my hopes and dreams for a husband – and then some.  He loves my body, varicose veins and stomach pooch, included.  He supports my desire, and “plans” to become a published writer.  He plans for our future, takes care of our present, and tolerates my occasional romps into the past with “Remember…?” rants.  He dreams, plans, and executes the rational and the extravagant events that are our life.  He keeps me and the kids safe and secure, entertained and active, happy and home-bodied.

I love Ed more and more each day.  I know a day will come sooner than I want it to that will have me wanting to slap his bald head.  On that day, I won’t remember how I feel right this minute.  I’ll wonder how I could feel anything other than frustration and despair.  But there isn’t a journal that will have another blank page ready for the scrawling of an angry, confused and misunderstood wife.  There will be nothing to mark that day as another day that our marriage didn’t go as planned.  Rather it will be a day that I will look back on at another time and wonder how I could feel that way.  It will just be another day.  And fortunately it will be another day that I marvel at the fact that no matter how unhappy I may feel on any given day, I always come back to my husband.  I always know where I belong.  I will thank him for loving me.  And I will love him more than I ever thought possible.

Friday, March 22, 2013

THINGS THAT ARE ON MY MIND TODAY

Two very different things have captivated me today.  I've referenced it before, but I will write it again, as my box from a good friend notes:  "The writer must write what he has to say.  Not speak it."  So here is what I have to say today.


NOT A TOSS-UP

Tonight at my children’s elementary school there will be a Ham Toss.  We are not participating.  We will not be there for a few reasons, the most important of which is the idea does not intrigue me at all.  I do not see the entertainment, humor or athletic benefit to this family outing.  My children do not know it, but there are school activities that they do not attend because I am not interested in it for myself.  It sounds selfish, but I can only sit in an elementary school cafetorium so many times a year and call it quality entertainment.  I pick and choose what events seem the most reasonable for the family as a whole.

Second to not being interested, I do not know the purpose of the event, i.e. is it for fun, fundraising, spirit building or something else completely different that tossing hams in a gym signifies.  I am an information snob:  if you do not give me enough of it ahead of time, I shut down and have no interest to pursue the facts any further.  This could be an event that sponsors, or supports, a great cause but because that information was not on the flier that came home, I am unaware and uninterested.  Logic would tell me that since there was no clear charitable recipient to this activity, then it is for fun.  That takes me right back to reason number one for not participating:  I do not see this as a fun event.

Reason number three flooded into my head this morning as I was getting dressed.  Despite the fact that I have no interest in participating in this evening’s activity, I found myself obsessing about its pending occurrence.  My first thought is, what an incredible waste of food!  Maybe I do not understand the actual event, but the flier did say that it was a ham toss.  How else can I expect the activity to run, except but to assume that people will be tossing hams?  In addition, once said hams have landed on the floor, do the organizers and participants expect those hams to be picked up, brought home, baked and served for dinner?  Am I unaware of a pre-Easter food drive?  I would rather purchase my ham at Stop & Shop than bring home a beaten, floor-strewn ham.  Additionally, how can anyone justify the blatant misuse of food at any time of the year, but particularly heading into a religious holiday weekend?  I think anyone’s God would disapprove of such sloth and squander.

Following closely behind reason number three is reason number four:  where is PETA when you need them?! I cannot help but think of all of the pigs that were slaughtered SPECIFICALLY to be eventually consumed by humans.  Instead, these poor pigs gave their lives to be cured, maple-glazed and then thrown around a gym, only to be tossed in the trash.  If that is not animal cruelty, then I do not know what is.

I am sure I am missing the true spirit of this activity, but for now, I will leave the ham tossing to other Sturbridge residents.  I will continue to be an information snob, concerned with the fate of the pig, while avoiding telling my children that they are missing a town event that they never even knew was on the calendar.  Instead, our family will toss a ball to our dog, have a tossed salad with dinner, and maybe my husband will toss one back with me after the kids go to bed.  That is all the tossing that this family will do tonight.

 

MY BABY, MY SON

I always knew that the day would come that my son was taller than I was, stopped believing in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Clause, and started being more concerned about society’s impression of him than his mother’s impression of him.  I just never figured it would all happen in one eight-day period.

Last Tuesday, March 12, 2013 my son, my first born, my Mini-Me, stood behind me at my parents’ house, and judged by his father while his grandfather wielded a level, discovered that he was indeed a scoche taller than his mother was.  I turned and hugged him, with a smile on my face, and sadness in my heart.  I knew it would come someday, but you never really know how you will feel when you have to reconcile that not only is your child growing into an adult, but that this child, who is still more than one third my age, is now someone else I have to literally look up to.

I am fortunate enough right now that Jakob has never been a behavioral problem child.  I hope that he never will be.  At least for now I am not concerned about how to “handle” him now that he is taller than I am.  He is respectful, lovable, and sensitive and for some reason still loves to spend time with his mom.  I could not have asked for a better son.  He amazes me with the amount of conversation and time that he seems to enjoy with me.  At least as recently as a few weeks ago, he was not embarrassed when I showed up at the bus stop on a snowy afternoon to offer him a ride, and I was delighted when he actually hugged me when he got in the car.  I hold onto those moments, praying that moment is not the last of its kind, and there will be more.

Along with gaining a quarter inch on me, my son has also managed to grow out of his childhood appearance and expectations.  It was Wednesday or Thursday of last week when he pulled at his shirt in such a way to reveal his pants slung down lower than usual, his boxer shorts visible just above the waistline of his jeans.  When I asked him why he was wearing his pants that way, his reply resembled that of any TV pre-teen answering his mom’s questions.  It was brief, barely audible and conveyed the notion that that was what kids do.  It was clear to me at that point, why he had not cut his fingernails, despite two requests from me to do so.

In addition, his last baby tooth came out on Wednesday, March 20, the first day of spring.  How ironic!  My son’s last week of winter at twelve years old brought new height, new fashion and new permanent teeth into his life.  With that comes new revelation.  After losing his tooth, he danced around saying, “Money, money, money!  I can’t wait for you to put money under my pillow!”  I could not even look him in the eye when I asked him why he thought I would be putting money under his pillow.  Again, his reply:  “Because that’s what you do.”  It was a standoff moment and a bluff, but in the end, he had the truth, crest-fallen for a moment, but also even more secure in his position that he was indeed getting older.  When he followed up with, “I suppose now you will tell me that there isn’t a Santa Claus,” I took a different route, expounding on the virtues of believing in magic, wonder, fantasy and beautiful sentiments in life, regardless of what reality actually dictates.  It was not a yes or no answer to the Santa Claus debate, but a mother’s last futile attempt at holding onto something that had already surely slipped away from her.

“Well somebody better tell me the truth at some point.  Because one day I will grow up, get married and have kids.  And if we all wake up on Christmas morning and there are no presents under the tree, I will be just as surprised as they are and I won’t know what to tell them!”  It was not sad, it was sweet.  It was not regret, it was acceptance.  It was not annoyance, it was humor.  It was Jakob.  It  was the perfect coming-of-age moment that any mother could have with her son.  He is not a baby anymore, but he will always be my baby.  Taller, wiser, more socially aware, he is, and always will be, my son.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

WHY HAND-ME-DOWNS MAKE ME A BETTER MOM

I started this piece in April 2009.  At the time, I didn't know what to do with it, only that I needed to write it.  Now that I have a blog, it seems fitting to give it a permanent home.  Since it is 4 years later than when it was originally penned, some of the content seems out of sync with my life, but the sentiment is still the same.  I have edited it appropriately (mostly) for the current time.
 
I have never been a slave to fashion, but I have considered myself fashionable.  I have never been a shop-a-holic, but not because I did not want to buy things, but because I was too cheap to buy them.  In addition, I have never been a clotheshorse but I love new clothes – brand new and new to me.  Therefore, I love hand-me-downs, for myself and for my children.
Hand-me-downs free me from all the stress, guilt and financial responsibility of acquiring the clothes and maintaining them.  Hand-me-downs allow me to sit at home and wait for the fashions to come to me.  I do not have to spend gas and time driving to multiple stores to look at and try on clothes, only to be frustrated with either the fit or the price tag or both.  As a stay-at-home mother of three children, I have found little time to peruse racks and rounders for the perfect outfit.  I tried going to Old Navy to buy a pair of jeans when my youngest was still in a car carrier.  The largest fitting room they had was still not roomy enough for me, my 5-year-old son, 2-year-old daughter, a 5-in-one stroller system and three pairs of jeans.  I left with the same clothes I wore in, vowing never again to clothes shop for myself with three children in tow.  I would rather take three kids to the dentist on the same day than attempt to try on clothes with children peeking under the sides of the changing stall and threatening to open the door and wait for me outside.  There is no outfit sized perfectly to fit with a clearance or sale sticker large enough to get me to do it again.

When my sister shows up at my house with a bag of clothes, I am as excited as if there were gold in those bags.  For me it is a golden opportunity to add to my wardrobe without the hassle of travel time and store associates asking if I need another size.  Why not offer me a new mirror?  One that only shows my face, not how large my ass has gotten.  Why don’t they offer me better lighting instead of the harsh fluorescents that show me every wrinkle and freckle that I have managed to avoid in the soft GE “True” Reveal lighting I use in my bathroom?
My bedroom is the perfect dressing room with the light I like, the accessories I need to determine if the new article truly will go with “that,” and no intrusions on a solitary modeling experience.  If it fits, it goes directly on a hanger and into the closet.  No biting at plastic fasteners to remove tags.  No worries about whether it will shrink the first time I wash it – it has already been washed.  AND NO GUILT.  I did not spend a dime and I increased my wardrobe options for dinner out with family or friends.

With clothes from my sister, I also get the bonus of name-brand clothing.  It is way better than Marshall’s or TJ Maxx!  Remember:  I am cheap.  Even when I have the opportunity to shop, sans children, I rarely buy the good stuff because I want to make my dollar go as far as possible.  I would rather come home with three or four middle-of-the-road quality items, than one expensive one.

As much as I do not enjoy shopping for myself with three children in tow, I dread even more shopping for one of them.  Inevitably, because of either finances or time, I am always shopping for just one child and not all three.  Whoever’s turn it is to be in the spotlight always wants more than I can afford, and as they get older I discover they truly do have their own sense of style and are increasingly drawn to fashions that I do not approve.  (I want to blame someone, anyone, on Disney or Nickelodeon for their influence, but in reality, the Bratz are far more inappropriate in their fashion selections.  Where is Strawberry Shortcake when you need her?)  The two children who are not getting new outfits or new shoes are left to roam and dream and pester me with “Why can’t I get something, too?" and “Can we go home now?”  I find myself shopping for my children only when they truly need something.  It takes sneakers with dog doo on the bottom, ankle-length pants turned capris, and suddenly midriff-baring tops to get me to the store to shop for them.  If only there was a better way…

Enter my neighbors, friends and sister-in-law with bags of clothes from their older children.  I am saved!  My children are all at ages that hand-me-downs are still cool for them.  They are more excited to wear Shawn, Kylie, MyKenzie, Maddie, Payton and Shannon’s clothes than they are to wear anything that came from the Gap or The Children’s Place.  My children cherish clothes already worn by someone they look up to or love.  It is their badge of honor, to be worn with pride, not thrown to the bottom of the closet with too small socks and unisex sweatshirts.  My girls believe that the original owner specifically selected the item and “wanted” them to have it.  My son simply thinks his cousin’s clothes are cool.  As long as my children look forward to wearing their friends and families’ clothes, I will keep accepting those bags.  When the anticipation turns to polite appreciation and finally annoyance, I will be forced to return to the mall to do my shopping.  However, for now, I enjoy shopping out of bags that come to my door with no signature required.

With kids growing out of their clothes faster than they can wear them out, buyer’s remorse is challenged even more when a garment has been pushed to its limit in durability by purity: dirt.  When we first moved into our home, it was only the second finished house on the street.  To our left were two foundations, to our right a nearly finished home except for light fixtures and across from us the largest dirt pile you had ever seen.  On Labor Day weekend, two families closed on their recently finished homes and their children joined our children outside.  We watched as the kids dug at the pile in search of buried treasure.  They scaled its sides to find the path of least resistance to the top.  Much to our disappointment, they descended this grass-less mountain on their bottoms.  Standing, they brushed the surface debris away, turned and scaled again.  One mother looked at me and said, “I can’t believe she just did that in Gymboree shorts.”  I thought God made dirt and dirt don’t hurt.  Well, dirt hurts my kids’ clothes.  Why is dirt so hard to get out?  There seems to be no amount of Clorox 2 or Spray-N-Wash Stain Stick that can fully get out ground-in dirt.
Alas – I need something else to arm myself against the never-ending pursuit of clean, purchased clothes: the hand-me-down!  Gymboree shorts and Lands End dresses are worn with the full intent of daring the odds and inviting the stain battle.  It is not that I encourage my children to smear mud on their laps or wipe the Popsicle drips from their chins with the bottom of their shirt, but I am not as horrified when it happens.  I have come to realize that my frustration with my children does NOT come from them “not listening” to my incessant demands for proper manners – it comes from their lack of attention to pro-active cleanliness.  When I see them swipe the back of their sleeve across their mouth or wipe their hand on the side of their leg, I hear myself inside my head saying, “Now I have to stain stick that.”  It is not my children's lack of manners that drives me to fuss; it is the dread of overly soiled laundry!
So how does all this make me a better mom?  It is not because I take the money I save and lavish my children with iPads, X-Box or a Kindle Fire HD – they have none of these things.  We do not take them on weekend get-a-ways and we do not pay for private anything lessons.  They do not go to private schools and despite my husband’s impression of their rooms and our basement, they do NOT own all the latest and best toys.  Hand-me-downs make me a better Mom because I am not emotionally or financially invested in the products.  I do not wince when they come home from school with paint on their sleeves.  The hives are kept to a minimum when they splash through mud puddles and the backs of their pants are speckled with grayish-brown dots.  I am not lamenting the care I took in selecting the theme or color of an outfit only to have its picturesque front dappled by a Sharpie.  The hand-me-down has saved me from giving my kids “the face" of silent frustration.  The hand-me-down spares my children the wrath of a tooth-clenched mother wielding a Tide-To-Go Pen. 

The hand-me-down has allowed me to “relax” in my clothes. I do not stress about what got on me and I do not stress about whether it will come out. As a mom who nursed all three of her children until they were walking, I became accustomed to chest-level spots and mishaps. The beauty of breast milk is that it does not stain like formula. Nevertheless, all children must graduate from breast to cup and from milk to chicken fingers. And those chicken fingers usually come with ketchup. For some reason my children seem to think nothing of cleansing themselves on my clothes. Whether they are patting my behind gently to tap off the orange crumbs left from Cheetos, or pressing their faces into my stomach in search of a hug, there is always a residue of them left behind.
Even my instincts to cradle them when they are sad or hurt ends in a chest full of tears, snot and anything left on the corners of their mouth from lunch.  If I had spent pain-staking hours searching high and low for the perfect white “T” I would be either pushing them away and handing them a Kleenex, or cursing their little drippy bodies as I retired to the washroom…again. When that perfect (in this case green) “T”was a shirt that had already stood the test of time with another wearer, I’m not as crushed when it comes out of the washer looking only slightly less stained than the way it went in.  One more try later, I resign myself to the fact that the shirt is ruined. I mentally thank Kelli for saving me the $29.99 at Ann Taylor and throw the shirt at the top of my dust-cloth pile.  I have some of the most fashionable dust cloths you can image.
I am not exactly the most put together person or pristine dresser.  I am not impeccable in my appearance or my wardrobe.    I did not grow up as a prissy kid, although I didn’t want to get sandy in the sand box – to me the sandbox was a dirty place that belonged at the beach, and even there I didn’t want sand in my bathing suit…or my shoes.  I have always been good about washing my hands, but in the kitchen I have learned – the hard way – to wear an apron.  So why am I so stressed about my kids being dirty?  I do not know why I am such a messy-phobe.
If I transfer my obsession to my children, am I denying them some right of passage, some divine understanding of childhood?  Am I allowing them to BE children:  carefree, stress-free, un-obsessed and oblivious to the social expectations of adults longing for perfection?  Am I denying myself the joy of watching my children devour life with reckless abandon and determined consumption?  If any of this is true then the hand-me-down allows me to be frivolous and ambivalent.  They even allow me to be devilish for just a few moments when I realize it’s O.K. to spray whip cream into their mouths, and pat floured hand-prints onto their backs when making cookies.
Chocolate cake batter is meant to rise and set in the pan in the oven, but it tastes better when sucked off the back of a sleeve.  Art pieces are all the more masterful when created fully clothed, and completely unsmocked.  Spring days are meant to be experienced outside, lying in the grass, or on the driveway, a Popsicle in hand.  It does not matter if the shirt is from Walmart or the pants are from Old Navy.  It is O.K.  It is a hand-me-down.