Tag Archives: children

25 Days of Giving Day Fifteen: Speak Up for Someone Who Can’t Speak for Themselves

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Not long ago, I found myself rushing to the grocery store to get something one of my kids needed the next day for school. It was late and I was tired, preoccupied, and annoyed. Like most moms, I was running behind an endless to-do list that seemed to square itself and multiply whenever I wasn’t looking. Snow swirled outside, it was an unusually frigid night, and a humid chill was biting, snapping, and pushing people indoors. All I wanted to do was get what I needed, check out, and go home.

Turning down the frozen food aisle, I came upon a young boy, about my son’s age, and an old man. The man was huge; well over six feet tall, unshaven, wearing dirty old jeans, suspenders, and an untucked shirt.

The boy? Small. Cowering. A little disheveled as he gazed up at the man while simultaneously trying to avoid meeting the harsh gaze in his eyes. He reached for a frozen pizza, and the old man smacked it out of his hand, mocked his sagging posture, and demanded, “What do you think I am, an ATM?”

The boy looked down at his feet and didn’t say a word.

In that moment, I knew something was wrong.

I slowed down, eased up close, cleared my throat, and tried to make myself known. The old man realized I was there, made eye contact, and didn’t smile. I didn’t smile back. Then he grabbed the boy by the shoulder, threw a glare in my direction, and dragged him toward the door.

I felt a mixture of emotions in that moment…anger, confusion, pain, sadness…but the one that overwhelmed me and now makes me feel ashamed?

Fear.

That man scared me, and in a split second I used fear to assess and rationalize what I was about to not do…my husband was out of town, the kids were home alone, and the storm outside was getting worse. In an attempt to justify my inaction, I convinced myself that the old man was probably the boy’s grandfather, unemployed, and having a bad day.

Except my gut told me that wasn’t the case. The little boy needed help, and I didn’t extend my hand.

I’d give anything to have that moment in the grocery store back, to actually listen to my sixth sense instead of brushing it aside, to have made a different choice. But it’s gone. Left alone, the voice of indecision becomes that of regret, and it doesn’t go away.

I’m now haunted by that innocent child in the grocery store, wondering where he is, and at the same time, who I failed to be. The Challenge for Day Fifteen is to speak for someone who can’t speak for themselves. I realize this opportunity may not present itself today, but it will in the not too distant future. Whether it’s helping an elderly woman who’s struggling to get her groceries from the cart to her car, saying “hi” to a kid at school who seems to always end up on the wrong side of everyone’s jokes, or diffusing a tense situation with a smile, whenever you take the opportunity to help someone who’s in a worse place than you, you give them a voice.

If you’d like to help an innocent child, please visit http://www.casaforchildren.org.

I, Gemini Girl, have interrupted my non-existent programming to bring you the 25 Days of Giving Challenge. Please join me in my quest, over the next 25 days, to make people happy. I’ll share stories of giving escapades that will be sure to wow, delight, or at least not annoy anyone who chooses to participate. Each Day of Giving will be conveniently brought to you via email if you follow this blog. And if you’re already a follower? Pass it onto your friends. If we work together we can change the world, or at least dramatically improve my hit ratio.

Reading Between the Lines When Your Family Cares Enough to Send the Very Best

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Recently, I got this card from my husband and kids:

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On the surface, you could read this as, “You’re an awesome Mom/Wife/Food Sanitation Expert/Cleaning Lady!”

Digging a little deeper though, there’s a hidden meaning behind each of their missives, one that involves birth order, timing, and various stages of psychological development.

Allow me to explain.

Scot, husband, age 43

Bergie,

You are the best wife + best mom in the world we love you so much!

Love,

Chez

Translation

I’m sorry the towel rack in our bathroom has been dangling from one side pretty much since we moved to Colorado, so I’ll use cute nicknames from when we dated 3,000 years ago with the hope that you’ll forgive the fact that I generally don’t do anything around the house anymore because I know if I let chores sit idle long enough you’ll do them for me. I used to think your erratic pre-menstrual hormones were scary, but wow can you handle a power drill like a pro when you’re mad!

I forgot the punctuation and capitalization rules I learned watching Schoolhouse Rock and used “+” instead of “and” because I’m tweeting about my fantasy football league with my dominant hand while I write your card with the one I use to pick wax out of my ears.

Can you make me a panini? All this tweeting and writing and soul-searching is making me hungry.

This is Scot's mustache era, circa December 20 - December 31 2012. I love posting pics of him that he doesn't want any of his co-workers to see.

This is Scot’s mustache era, circa December 20 – December 31, 2012. I love posting pics of him that he doesn’t want any of his co-workers to see.

Taylor, son, age 12

Mom,

You are the best mom ever. #1 on my list. I love you so much!

Taylor

Translation

Listen. I’m practically a teenager so I’m gonna pretty much copy what Dad said but change it a little so it doesn’t look like I cheated. It’s not that cheaters don’t prosper, look at Tiger Woods. It’s just that it sucks getting caught. Again, look at Tiger Woods.

Can I have an iPhone?

That “#1” thing was all mine so can I have $20.00?

Seriously, I started a crappy phone club at school and I’m the only member.

Since you’re already making one for Dad, can I have a panini?

Taylor will probably kill me for posting this pic, but he had a bad attitude last Saturday night when I took him out for a special mother-son dinner so he can suck it.

Taylor will kill me for posting this pic, but he had a bad attitude last Saturday night when we went out for a special mother-son dinner so he can suck it.

Grace, daughter, age 10

I love U

– Grace

Translation

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m the middle child and I’m way too busy to write. In fact, I’d be willing to bet all the money I’m stashing away in my piggy bank for an Ivy League education that you don’t even realize I’m around because I’m too busy absorbing and channeling the arguments between my older brother and younger sister, making dinner, refinishing the front entryway floor, and timing my sprint splits to train for the upcoming state swim meet.

I’m not really into paninis because I’ve just declared myself a gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free vegan, so could you just whip me up a celery root smoothie while I work on some extra credit calculus problems so I can get a head start on my summer enrichment work?

It’s not fair that Taylor gets everything first because he’s oldest. I get straight As every quarter so if anyone’s getting an iPhone it’s me. Also I just finished alphabetizing the spice rack. You can thank me later.

That's Grace teaching our dog to follow commands in Mandarin.

That’s Grace teaching our dog to follow commands in Mandarin.

Essa, daughter, age 8

They diden’t leve me any room. E.

Translation

Being the youngest sucks.

I don’t care if I can’t spell. By the time I’m in high school the ghost of Steve Jobs will have invented a brain chip that will do everything for me so I can work on my tan.

I don’t care what Grace says about geophysics and I’m not wearing any more of her hand-me-downs. My style is totally Nicole Richie meets Kristen Stewart and she’s so Dakota Fanning.

I don’t care what Taylor says about his stupid iPhone because he’s stupid.

Can I have a panini, preferably with no crust, double cheese, hold the tomatoes? I’ll be in my room streaming “America’s Next Top Model” and pretty much raising myself.

Word.

Word.

So for those of you who recently got a seemingly sweet card from your family on a Hallmark-created holiday that looks and feels authentic? Look under the surface. It’s what you can’t see at first sight that will really trip you up if you’re not careful.

If you like this post, you might also like I Think I’m Smarter Than You or Is That Your Daughter’s Bra Hanging From A Tree?

What Do You Do When Your Child Disappears?

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Last Friday, my eight year-old daughter, Essa, stayed home from school with a bad case of everyone-else-in-my-class-is-sick-so-I-wanna-be-sick-too-itis.

As a mother, I’ve experienced these strange illnesses before. My son, Taylor, once had I-can’t-go-to-school-because-I-sprained-my-ankle-and-halfway-through-my-day-off-started-limping-on-the-wrong-foot syndrome, and my other daughter, Grace, recently struggled with I-didn’t-get-my-book-report-finished-therefore-I’ll-cry-until-my-face-turns-an-unnatural-shade-of-puke-so-I-can-stay-home-and-finish-it disorder.

Needless to say, I’m usually unsympathetic to the sudden onset of these strange and often fleeting maladies, but last week, when Essa came down the stairs looking like this, I caved.

Essa’s hair is unusually dark in this picture thanks to highlights expertly applied by the Sharpie she’s not supposed to have in her room. That application, coupled with a furrowed brow, deeply pained eyes, and hair sticking out in so many directions she must have styled it herself, makes for a pretty clean case.

Essa’s hair is unusually dark in this picture thanks to highlights expertly applied by the Sharpie she’s not supposed to have in her room. That application, coupled with a furrowed brow, deeply pained eyes, and hair sticking out in so many directions she must have styled it herself, makes for a pretty clean case.

Knowing Essa wasn’t that sick (she had a sinus infection), I asked her to take our dog, Wrigley, to the bathroom while I shuffled Grace into the car for the four-minute drive to school. Completely unhurried and in zero danger of receiving a dreaded tardy slip, I pulled out of the garage and left Essa behind with Wrigley, talking to a neighbor who lives up the street.

This is where I left my daughter.

This is where I left my daughter.

This part bears repeating, so I will. I intentionally, without thought or concern, drove off without my eight year-old daughter.

When I got home, Essa was gone.

When you leave your child alone and assume that upon returning she’ll be at the kitchen table coloring, in the bathroom, or en route to her room in search of a favorite book only to find she isn’t anywhere she’s supposed to be? The sound of her absence is deafening.

My first thought was that Wrigley had gotten loose, so I immediately ran to the back yard and up into the scrub oak calling their names. No luck. I then jumped into my car and drove the area where we often walk our dog. Twice. Still no Essa. I came back home and searched the house, yard and scrub oak again. Nothing. I next called a monitoring company (when you adopt a dog, the shelter often puts a microchip in him so that he can be returned if he’s lost), with the hope that Wrigley’s chip could be tracked. It couldn’t. Still alone, battling the roaring silence in my house, and scared out of my mind, I started to cry, and in that state of panic, called our neighborhood security. Our security officers, in turn, contacted the county Sheriff, and within five minutes, three security vehicles and two patrol cars screeched to a halt in front of my house.

That's Essa and me in front of the scrub oak where I was trying to find her...obviously on a different day.

That’s Essa and me in front of the scrub oak where I was trying to find her…obviously on a different day.

In almost thirteen years as a mother, I’d never, not even for a second, lost a child.

For me, the most poignant moment in that endless vacuum of time was pulling Essa’s child identity card from my wallet to give to the police officer; the one you think you’ll never use. She’s wearing her favorite softie bunny t-shirt, a pair of puppy earrings that she begged me to let her clip on for her school picture, and a huge grin. My baby was right in front of me, only she wasn’t. It was just a picture of her smiling at the world from the confines of a one-dimensional, laminated card, surrounded by information only meant to be used under the worst possible circumstances.

One officer took the card and left, and I covered my face and sobbed…a release of emotion so guttural and deep that it felt like the entire world had shifted beneath me, shaping itself into a self-created prison I had never, in my darkest nightmares, expected to know.

As I turned toward the house, I saw a little girl and her dog walking down the street in my peripheral view. My little girl and my dog. The confluence of emotions I felt in that moment is almost impossible to describe. Love. Relief. Incredulity. Happiness. Disbelief. Thankfulness. Wonder. I could use a million different descriptors and never get it right.

As she approached, I saw that Essa wasn’t alone. She was with the neighbor I’d left her talking to when I took Grace to school. That neighbor, who’s name I don’t know, who’s house is somewhere up the street, who I’ve exchanged small talk with when I pass her walking our dogs but who’s never been invited into my family’s life, and who appears to be my age (which is to say, not young), thought it was O.K. to take my daughter for a 45-minute walk without my permission.

Even more disturbing to me however, was that Essa thought it was O.K. too.

And that’s why I’m telling this story.

There are at least three important emotions I left out above in trying to describe how I felt when Essa came home. Anger, embarrassment, and shame.

I was embarrassed to call the police when I couldn’t find my daughter.

I was ashamed to admit I’d left her alone.

I was angry with the woman who took her for a walk without my permission.

I was angry with Essa for going.

But most of all, a thousand times over, on top of my conscience, through my heart and back? I was angry with myself. I’m a mother. My primary job is protect my children. My secondary one is to teach them. I did neither in this case.

Somehow, between raising three kids, skirting in and out of once strictly bound parameters that have loosened with time, brushing hair and trimming nails, packing healthy lunches and hiding Halloween candy, I neglected to teach Essa the many shapes a stranger can take, and that just because you recognize someone doesn’t mean you can walk away with them. To her, the lady she left our house with was a nice person with a dog who she could trust. To me? That lady was, and still is, a stranger.

How could I have allowed such a huge disconnect between the two?

Once Essa was safely inside, a compassionate police officer explained that she falls within an age range of children who have a difficult time determining who a stranger really is. We all tell our children the classic “Stranger Danger” stories, often revolving around a creepy man at the mall who attempts to lure them into his car with candy. But what about an adult who doesn’t fit that description at all? What about a person that an eight year-old girl, who still believes in Santa and considers her favorite stuffed animals to be among some of her besties, might see as a friend just because she seems nice?

When it comes to dealing with adults, I’ve always taught my children to be kind, polite, and to defer to authority. I’ve never told them to pull back, be suspicious, say no, or walk away. It’s a gray area, but it’s one that she, and every child, should better understand.

Last Friday, I set off a chain of events that ultimately resulted in the payment of a small price for lessons my entire family has now learned. You only have to turn on the news to see that I was lucky.

I’d like to express a sincere and heartfelt thank you to all the officers who responded to my call. Every person who came to help me find Essa acted professionally, compassionately, delicately, and diligently. It’s a day I’ll never forget, and I will remain forever grateful to everyone who assisted and supported our family.

Shortest Post Ever

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My youngest, Essa, just got her first email address. Of all the puppies, ponies, and Justin Bieber images available on the World Wide Web, this is what she chose as her inaugural missive. To me.

I'm guessing Essa thinks I need a vacation. Or a metaphorical trip to my happy place.

I’m guessing Essa thinks I need a vacation. Or a metaphorical trip to my happy place.

It was titled “Make Drinks.” Did I mention she’s eight? Apparently the fruit and the tree are forever intertwined.

A Strange Tale of NyQuil, Rodents, and Random Christmas Lessons.

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Let me start by inserting a spoiler alert. I wrote this after shotgunning about a gallon of NyQuil.

Yesterday I was bragging to my husband, Scot (who’s fighting off a tiny cold and is bedridden for the foreseeable future…likely until America pole vaults off the fiscal cliff) that due to my impervious genetic make-up, I haven’t been sick for two or three years.

Today I’m tired, achy, sore, and my voice has dropped a couple of octaves (which is actually kind of cool in a Darth Vader-like way when I yell “You don’t know the power of the dark side!” at my kids), I’m annoyed by the presence of a mouse we’re rodent-sitting for my daughter’s 3rd grade class during winter break, and my teeth hurt.

Clearly, I’m sick, which brings me to Christmas Lesson #1: Don’t bring strange animals into your home during the holidays. Or ever. 

Not cute. Image via preparednesspro.com.

I’m sure, due to my clinically proven, bionic DNA, that I’m not sick in the traditional fa-la-la-la-la kind of way, but have actually contracted Hantavirus from the vermin presently residing in a cage in the hall, and must immediately enter a self-constructed isolation chamber to keep my germs from spreading. That my dwelling will contain a posh heavenly bed overnight air-shipped from the W Hotel, soundproofed walls meant to muffle the screams of my children as they beat each other due to lack of parental supervision (remember, Scot’s sick too), and the entire Twilight series on DVD is really none of your business.

As I wait for someone to help me construct my self-constructed parallel wellness universe, I decide to crawl into my daughter’s bed (because as Alpha Mom it’s really all about my health after all, plus Scot’s in ours with his baby cold) and sleep. Due to my spiking fever, I also sweat, a lot, and dream not about sugar plums fairies and stockings hung by the chimney with care, but mimes….evil clown-like ones walking naked around my house with 80s-style boom boxes on their shoulders blaring Kajagoogoo.

Christmas Lesson #2: Read all warning labels before self-medicating and resist the urge to download any bad 80s music while ignoring the aforementioned warning labels.

Don’t bring this dish to your next office holiday party. Image via addictiontreatmentmagazine.com.

After about an hour of tossing, turning, and stalking that cute guy in the A-Ha video, I wake up to find a plate of cold spaghetti, fourteen low-salt Ritz crackers, and a glass of something that looks suspiciously like Michelob Ultra by my daughter’s bed. If nothing else, my kids know that alcohol makes mommy a better person, which could technically be lesson #3, but that would be pathetic.

In a traditional blog post, this is where I tell you how amazing my children are, imply or directly state that they’re more intelligent than yours due to my superior parenting skills, and incidentally, that each just won the World Series Championship of their respective sports (I don’t disclose that they competed in the loser’s bracket and rode the bench the entire season).

I know my kids better than that though, and as you’ve probably figured out, my fever is at its peak, the NyQuil is coursing through my veins (I can’t feel my cheekbones), and there’s nothing normal about what I’m sharing.

Not to be fooled by my children’s faux-sympathy, I realize that in my over-the-counter-drug-induced fog, I promised them they could open presents sent from their grandparents in Kentucky after lunch, because I’m not ashamed to buy time at someone else’s expense when I need to sleep. And I need to sleep. Desperately. But they need me to eat.

Christmas lesson #3: If your children want any big ticket items this holiday season, pawn them off on your out of town parents who feel like it’s somehow their fault that you live so far away.

Our family is A-OK with buying love.

Our family is A-OK with buying love.

And now here I sit, semi-alert on the sofa and banging out this post that may or may not be based on actual events. The kids are skillfully playing the video games I asked their grandparents to send, gifts I requested not to improve their vocabulary or bionicize their IQs, but to buy me the much needed time to do nothing that every parent should have during the holiday season, and really, all year long.

I’m getting sleepy again, so that’s it for my Christmas Tale. It doesn’t make any sense, yet here I am, happily typing away as everything below my kneecaps goes numb. If you don’t like it, feel free to say so. I’ve developed a thick skin (Literally. It’s all rubbery and translucent due to my Hantavirus.). Plus everything feels all warm and fuzzy and blurry right now, which is awesome. I just love the good tidings of comfort and joy I feel when I chug cough syrup, our family spends quality time together.

If you do like my story, consider gathering your loved ones around the fire tonight and passing it on. Maybe it will become one of your family’s most beloved holiday tales, a tradition cherished and requested over and over, so much so that I’ll be forced to self-publish and sell millions of copies so you can read it to them for years to come and I can actually build my aforementioned isolation chamber. In Hawaii.

Truth be told, NyQuil is expensive, and at the rate I’m going, and I could use the cash.

Today marks my one year anniversary on WordPress. This is a slightly edited version of my first post. At the time, only my mom and  some lady I accosted in the grocery store parking lot read it. Thank you to anyone and everyone who’s taken the time to stop by and read my work. Your support is the best Christmas gift ever, even better than a case of NyQuil.

For The Voices We Can No Longer Hear

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I’ve never really used the word “evil”. I don’t like it. Pronouncing it turns my mouth in the wrong direction and my face into an ugly sneer. The word is as powerful as the actions it’s meant to describe, and it makes me feel uncomfortable. Even the juxtaposition of consonants and vowels is wrong, like it was supposed to be entirely different but somehow came to being in a damaged state. A mutant aberration of the English language that was never meant to exist. A freak of nature. A reject. A heinous mistake.

But as I sit this morning, scrolling through twenty-six names, twenty-six beautiful, innocent faces, and twenty-six life stories that are far too short, it’s the only word that comes to mind. I have the luxury of reflection; the ability to peek at bit pieces and highlights of lives I was never supposed to know. You do too, because we’re not dead. Not today, at least, and not at the hand of something that can’t be imagined without the use of that one terrible word.

When you’re given two or three paragraphs to memorialize the life of your child, where do you begin and how can you stomach that there is now, too early and completely unimagined, an end? Do you mention that she’ll be buried with her favorite stuffed animal, Bluie, because, at the age of six, they were best friends? Do you tell the world about your super-secret code, how you’d squeeze your son’s hand three times to say “I love you” and that his four squeezes back meant “I love you too”? Do you share how much you’ll miss sneaking into her room at night while she’s fast asleep, simply to trace the delicate features of her timeless face and wrap your arms around her warm, tiny body? Do you tell millions of strangers what was on his Christmas list, how he felt sure he’d been a good boy this year and that Santa was on his way? How do you explain, in one hundred words or less, that her life was bookended by an infinite reservoir of your love, and that without her, you’re not even sure what that word means anymore?

I’ve struggled over the past two days to find some kind of meaning in this madness, a tender take-away that will somehow still my mind, break the string of awful images bombarding my brain, and commemorate those lives the world has lost.

But I can’t. The crime is too big, the scope too powerful, the pain too deep, and I am too small.

The only way I can think to honor the innocent women and children the world has lost is to fully embrace what I consider to be opposite of evil. Hope. If evil is a one-word definition of the things most wrong with our world, hope is its antidote. It’s a rare flower that, under pressing odds, fights through the squalor of life and grows. It’s a pervasive, persistent feeling in your heart that somehow overcomes the bile in your gut. It’s the power of love taking its rightful place over the power of hate.

I hope medical technology will soon advance to such a degree that minds gone off the deep end can someday be identified, and if not cured, curbed to the point of stability. I hope that this, and the many other recent horrific incidents involving guns, will give serious pause to the politicians who govern them, and everyone who sells them. I hope that families and friends, but especially the parents of these innocent victims, find the slightest amount of solace in the inescapable ache that has wrapped our national conscience in a dull, gray cloak, and that they can somehow feel the only thing we have to give. Our tears.

No one should have to go through the pain of burying a child. Regardless of age, it’s not a natural state of affairs and, under any circumstances, it isn’t right. But this? This is evil.

“Thinking is man’s only basic virtue, from which all the others proceed. And his basic vice, the source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment—on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it, that A will not be A so long as you do not pronounce the verdict ‘It is evil.’” Ayn Rand

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Rachel Davino, 29

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Dawn Hochsprung, 47

Madeleine Hsu, 6

Catherine Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Anne Marie Murphy, 52

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Lauren Rousseau, 30

Mary Sherlach, 56

Victoria Soto, 27

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison Wyatt, 6

How To Check Your Kid As A Carry-On And Get Rich At The Same Time

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I love traveling with my children, especially now that they can schlep my bags. But there was a time when I actually had to haul them around the airport, and that kind of sucked.

Nothing ruins a brand new pedicure like a toddler who’s broken free of his LoJack-inspired five point harness stroller restraints and is stomping on your airport-inappropriate footwear in an impromptu game of “Slam My Sister’s Face Into The Moving Sidewalk” to pass away the painful minutes of a four hour flight delay due to a malfunctioning windshield wiper.

Trust me on that.

These toes are traveling sans-children. Image via Stacie Chadwick, who, by the way, is traveling without children this weekend.

As I stood solo* in the security line this morning en route to L.A. with a cold latte in one hand, a People magazine under my arm, and my iPhone camera balanced on top of my fingertips in an effort to find out if the plane was gonna crash through some kind of free palm reading app called “Lose Those Lines On Your Face, But Use The Ones On Your Hand!” I came across something I found incredibly disturbing.

Palm Reading: “My apologies, but the clairvoyant Madame McBouvier cannot predict your future at this time because she can’t see through those nasty spider veins popping out of the top of your hand. Please try again after visiting your friendly, neighborhood plastic surgeon for a quick tune-up, preferably with a sandblaster.” Image via Stacie Chadwick.

To the naked, un-potty trained eye, the picture below captures the look of a happy, self-reliant two year-old, and that’s where I have a problem. When I traveled with children back in the Mesozoic Era, there was no such thing as a happy, self-reliant two year-old. Not even close.

Why isn’t this kid screaming for her pacifier at the top of her lungs while simultaneously upchucking organic acai berry juice all over her mother’s airport-inappropriate footwear and demanding her parents sing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” in two-part harmony while a steady lava-like flow of snot erupts from her left nostril?”

Problem #1: The Ride

This genius contraption actually has a collapsible handle and is designed so that the toddler-in-transit is positioned backwards. Perfectly placed, she requires no face-to-face human interaction and can be rocked to sleep while her parents use three unencumbered hands to enjoy unlimited Mai Tais and plot their upcoming vacation using the free palm reading app their two year-old downloaded on the way to the airport.

Problem #2: The Portfolio

This cherubic child is holding an iPhone, probably a 5. As her parents wait patiently at the gate three Mai Tais down, she’s killing it trading oil futures. While they get tanked, she’s getting rich, lining mom’s and dad’s IRAs as she doubles down against the Fed.

Problem #3: The Luggage Tag

Notice that this kid is pre-approved as a carry-on. This means her parents get to send her down the jetway with the strollers, and stow her under the bulkhead area of the plane with all of the tiny, kenneled rat-dogs while they suck down even more Mai Tais, use the palm reading app to predict coastal surf conditions, buy a vacation home in Cabo with all their extra cash, and power nap.

I left my baby in baggage claim!

Why do I have a problem with all of this? Because it’s not me. Not even close. But it could be you. If you’re wondering whether or not to have a child in this uncertain economy, I say go for it. Things have changed. While I bask in the glow of a child-free trip to California funded entirely by American Express, you’ll be catching waves in Mexico, drinking Mai Tais on your lanai, and wondering what took you so long.

*Solo: verb /ˈsōlō/ Perform something unaccompanied.

Notice the bold, italicized letters in the text. This refers not to some mind-crushing revelation that will change your life. It’s about a mind-crushing revelation that changed mine: travel without children.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:

How Skate World Changed My Life

An Open Letter to Steve Wynn; Why The Forty Year Oldish Woman Is Your Ideal Guest

Are Our Children at the Core of the Next Entitlement Demographic?

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There’s nothing that tugs at a parent’s heart like the hollow face of a hungry child. On the other hand, there’s nothing that makes a parent’s eyeballs distend, roll backwards, and practically dislocate themselves, like witnessing the antics of a child who feels a little hungry, complains about it, and expects a custom-made meal to be delivered on the spot.

The child, in this example, is mine.

Yesterday, my husband, son, and I hooked up to play a late afternoon front nine (keep in mind that I didn’t know what “front nine” meant until I was about thirty years old) on our neighborhood course (also keep in mind that, growing up, the closest thing our family had to a neighborhood course was, well…nothing). As we repeatedly made our way from the rough to the fairway, into a sand trap, and over the green, my twelve year-old son, Taylor, began to shank his drives. The more balls he shanked, the testier he got, the testier he got, the more he shanked. Why the male gender has failed to acknowledge the symbiotic relationship between these two variables is beyond me. But he’s young and I digress.

Even though his facial expression is familiar, that’s not my son. Image via sportsillustrated.com

Exhausted by a transition from summer to middle school that pushes him out the door every day by 6:45 a.m., frustrated, and possibly a bit disinterested, he stood on the green ignoring a view that could have inspired the creation of the earth itself and asked a simple question.

This is the view my son couldn’t see. Image via ccatcastlepines.com

“Where’s the beverage cart?”

“I don’t know. It’s late in the day, but I’m sure it’ll be around soon,” I said.

“I can’t believe it isn’t here. This is ridiculous,” he replied, grabbing his ball from the fairway and storming toward the next hole (keep in mind that if I had pulled a move like that on my mother, she would have coldcocked me before I had the chance to take a step…by the time I staggered up from my face plant into a bunker, stunned and babbling course etiquette backwards, she would have finished the hole and moved on, with or without me).

That’s not my mom. That’s a vampire. Image via http://www.reasonforchange.com

At the time, my reaction to his mini-outburst was much less measured than I’d like to admit, but I can say in retrospect that he was having a moment. We all have them. Even Oprah. In fact, I have about a dozen an hour on that fateful day each month when standing anywhere within my peripheral vision holds the equivalent danger as juggling molten-hot machetes on a tightrope (keep in mind that if you mess with me on the Tuesday before the Thursday, you’re taking a risk that’s not worth the reward). As the saying goes, the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Image via mszigzag.typepad.com

In hindsight, Taylor was as within his rights to complain as any kid invited to walk a beautiful golf course with his parents could be, which is to say, not at all.

And that’s where I have a problem.

My problem rests on the premise that even though he knew it wasn’t right to lose his temper, he didn’t know that the reason he lost it, contextually, was wrong.

The math breaks down like this: every time we play golf, we walk the course. Every time we walk the course, the beverage cart comes around at about hole five or six. Every time the beverage cart rolls up, Taylor gets a snack, often something more spectacular than anything he could ever pull from our pantry. Every time he gets a snack, we sign the bill.

My husband likes the beverage cart too. Image via golfdigest.com

We do this because we want him to experience things that we didn’t as kids. All parents hope their children have more than they did growing up. By popular definition, “success” is another way of saying “Congratulations, you’ve achieved the American Dream.” The words are practically interchangeable in our culture, even if they sometimes sound hollow.

But I’m finding that for a generation of children being raised today, “have more” doesn’t necessarily mean “do more”, and that’s not good (keep in mind, that our kids will most likely need to “do” a lot more than we did to get ahead when they’re adults).

What did Taylor do to earn a one-on-one trip to the golf course with Mom and Dad? Nothing. Yesterday, that’s pretty much how he treated it. Like nothing. The instant gratification he derives from getting a snack-on-demand wasn’t there, and because of that, he lost sight of the things around him that are much more important.

In many respects, our children are growing up in a world that we never knew existed when we were kids, because it didn’t. Where we played with blocks, our toddlers manipulate touch screens. Remember the days when your Dad schlepped you to the library so you could spend an hour deciphering the Dewey Decimal system to look through an ancient card catalogue and find the one book in the entire city on yellow-bellied marmots for a report? Taylor doesn’t, but he can pull up more images of that nasty rodent than you’d ever want to scroll through on his phone. Do you channel the Von Trapp family and sing songs with your children in the car? Me neither, because my kids’ headphones are shoved so far into their ear canals that they automatically de-wax themselves pushing them in and back out.

The Dewey Decimal System is almost as old as Joan Rivers. Almost. Image via http://www.afterelton.com

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. With the best of intentions, we damage our children. Keeping that thought in mind, I can’t help but wonder if parents who are willing to give their kids anything also take away something critical that means everything. Do I fall into that category? Sometimes. There are things I do well when it comes to raising my children to become responsible adults, but today I’m focusing on what I do wrong.

As the debate around our nation’s entitlement state roars down a bloated, bipartisan road toward a November 6 collision with itself, perhaps, instead of simply targeting the entitlements already being given, we should also focus on how we ensure that our children avoid this path. Does the current road need repair? Yes, but future generations can get a better start if they walk down a street that begins with chores and ends with education. Or begins with education and ends with validation. Or begins with validation and ends with communication. Or maybe our kids should just take out the trash.

If life’s about the journey, our children had better develop strong calves. Image via media.knownew.com

As humans, we’re a complicated mixture of nature and nurture, and it’s the combination of the two that makes us who we are to become. Yesterday? Taylor wasn’t the kid I wanted him to be, but most of the time, he is. He now understands (more fully than he’d like) that a trip to the golf course is earned, not given. I’m not writing this to embarrass him, rather, I’m putting this out there to call attention to myself, with the hope that through my children’s eyes, I learn the exact lessons I’m supposed to teach.

It’s Not Easy Being Me

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If the word “Mom” is supposed to be a term of endearment, why do my kids use it as a four-letter word?

Even though “Dad,” by default, should elicit close to the same response, its aura is closely guarded by the lovely ankle-biters who buzz around my being like well-intended gnats in the same way they encircle his early evening entrance in a bionic halo.

Don’t be fooled. Those ankle-biters are trying to TAKE ME DOWN. Image via Stacie Chadwick

On most days, while Dad can’t do anything wrong, I can’t do anything right, and to use a phrase I can’t stand hearing as my children channel the Von Trapp family and sing it in three-part harmonic rounds?

That’s not my family. Image via larryedmunds.com

IT’S NOT FAIR.

For one thing, Le Magnificent Father has full control of his iPod at all times. No one living in our house under the age of twelve would dare touch his custom Eighties Metal Hair Pie Mania playlist, because anything Dad listens to, regardless of overused electronic synthesizer riffs, is cool.

Dad rocking a sweet, 1987 mullet for Senior Prom. Photo stolen by Stacie Chadwick.

So what if I wanna blast Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” through my Yukon’s three and one-half speaker sort of surround sound stereo and relive that fateful day when 8th grade super-fox Jon Miller asked me to couples skate at the end of the night after the rest of Crosby Middle School had gone home? I can’t. The aforementioned ankle-biters have commandeered my phone and googled some kind of Mom-proof auto lock on Pandora that loops the best of Justin Bieber over and over. Even though I kind of like JB in a non-threatening, could be his mother but won’t admit it, all-ages audience kind of way, if I hear “Boyfriend” one more time this summer I’m gonna take back every compliment I gave him in my fan letter and punch my life-size, blow-up doll right in the face.

Then there’s the whole food pyramid, or nutrition plate, or “no you can’t have the deep-fried Twinkies you saw on Food Hoarders for breakfast or ever” mentality I like to bring to every meal. As I come in the front door with bags full of groceries that I can’t even pronounce, he’s sneaking the kids out the back door to some yogurt place where you get a free set of windshield wipers if you match your weight in ice cream topped with gummy worms and that nasty, congealed, strawberry relish type stuff that’s better used as some kind of adhesive.

Ummmmm, gross. Image via freshcupfrozenyogurt.com

In the spirit of the Olympics? Game, set, and match Dad.

It never fails that when I want our children to pick up what’s left of the house, help fold the clean laundry that ended up on the floor because they hate folding clean laundry, and put out an APB for every flip-flop shoved under the sofa or thrown up on the roof, Dad decides it’s time to go on a yard safari. While he’s out with the nasty coyotes in the scrub oak searching for rabbit bones that can be shaped into some dinosauresque model the kids will think is awesome, I’m keeping it real inside, telling them that they can’t join their dad with the nasty coyotes in the scrub oak and could they please turn off the T.V. and clean their rooms?

Essa on her way into the scrub oak in search of fairies. I hope they don’t eat her.

Yet somehow, they’re able to morph through the wall (because I’m so smart, I lock the doors immediately after seeing Dad tromp up the hill in our backyard in a pith helmet and a game skin back pack) and file out behind their father like sweet little anti-Mom ducklings while I’m left inside and alone to face the nightmare better known as my children’s rooms.

Mom 0, Dad 10,000,000,000,000,000

So yeah, it’s not easy being me, but maybe tomorrow Dad will force-feed everyone Muselix for breakfast, send the kids off to clean the creepy basement camp for the day, and have them weave flowers through my hair on their way up the stairs to write me heartfelt thank you notes right before tucking themselves in for their reasonable bedtimes.

And then again? Maybe not.

I Think I’m Smarter Than You

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No, not you. The you I’m referring to in this post is my seven-going-on-seventeen year-old daughter, Essa.

Running short on time and long on things to do, I had a simple conversation with my little girl the other day that went something like this.

Me: Essa, we’ve gotta pick up Taylor and Grace. Get in your car seat and let’s go.

Essa: Seriously Mom? Car seats are for babies.

Me: No, Essa. Car seats are for kids, and even though you like to think of yourself as someone who falls outside the National Highway Traffic Safety guidelines, you don’t.

Essa: Fine! (cue heavy foot stomping, something large and likely expensive crashing in the laundry room, and an exaggerated door slam)

It takes me about an hour to locate my car keys on any given day, and by the time I’d wrenched them out from under the bin-organizer-thingy in the hall that everyone ignores as they toss their shoes on the floor, I wasn’t in the best mood. When I got outside? This is what I found:

Here’s the thing. On paper, Essa did exactly as I’d asked. She got in her car seat. Never mind that she planted it on top of Taylor’s longboard, raced down the driveway sans-helmet, and flew across the street without bothering to look in any safe direction, raising her arms in some kind of “take that mom” victory cheer at the end.

Technically, she didn’t do anything wrong.

And this is where I detect the germinating seed of a growing problem.

My daughter, in many ways, is a lot like me, but her singular brand of Essaness is emerging about twenty years ahead of schedule…just in time for me to deal with it for the next ten.

So in an effort to keep both of us alive, I’m offering her a one-time only Guide to Getting Through the Next Decade Under the Same Roof as Me. Otherwise? Life as she knows it will exist solely within the confines of the four walls better known as her room, and we’ll both bear the pain of incarceration.

 Ten Ways to Act Like You Respect Me Even if You Don’t

1. Don’t be so obvious. It’s a lot easier to steal my wallet while you’re patting me on the back.

2. Compliment me. I’m especially vulnerable when being told I look younger than I am. Twenty-eight is a good place to start.

3. Tell any adult you encounter how much you admire me: your teacher, a friend’s parent, my therapist…kind words, even if completely fabricated, go a long way.

4. Timing is everything. If you can work it so I hear about this fake compliment right after you’ve told me I don’t look old enough to have had three kids? You’ve earned an entire week’s worth of heavy sighs and exaggerated eye rolls.

5. Pretend to be nice to your brother and sister. When you coldcock your brother in the head right in front of me it stresses me out. Hit him when I’m not around.

6. Don’t do drugs. Period. If you put any substance in your body that I’ve never let into mine? It won’t matter if you fake like me or not because I will kill you.

7. Synch your calendar with my cycle. There’s one day a month when you’re better off camping out in the scrub oak behind the house with a flashlight and some beef jerky rather than crossing my path.

8. Force those huge, expressive eyes to lock meaningfully with mine and channel a vibe of “wow mom, your wisdom just blows me away…thank you for being so magnificent” when I’m trying to teach you something rather than “I’m so blah, blah, blekity blah bored and stuff, and like, anyway, who do you think you are, and you so don’t get me and all that and are you done yet because I have better things to do.”

9. Use your Montessori education to your advantage. Less drama + more smiling = more peace = less restriction = more fun. See? A + B = C = D = E. Simple math that makes no sense is genius.

10. When in doubt, always tell the truth because I’ve not only been right where you are, I’m a step ahead of you. My genetic code is responsible for all the back alleyways and side streets on your map, and there’s no place you might dare to go that I haven’t already been.

I understand the theory of evolution, that my childhood took place in the Mesozoic Era, and you’re way ahead of wherever I was at your age. But slow down. It seems like only yesterday when you climbed into my lap, looked directly into my eyes, and asked if fairies were real. You’re an amazingly intuitive, intelligent little girl, and if you’ll take my hand and hold it over the next ten years like you’ve done for the past seven? I crisscross-applesauce promise I’ll let you go when it’s time for you to fly.