Riding Waves

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By 6:43 this morning I wanted to divorce my children. In any given moment all they need to do is look at one another and the squabbling begins. Refereeing is my least favorite part of parenting without doubt.  It sours my whole day, which is unfortunate when it starts before the day begins.

This morning conflict set in before the second was one even awake. No innocent bystander, she had not-so-passive-aggressively reclaimed a stuffed puppy from him as he snored and sweated in deep slumber. When he couldn’t find said dog upon waking all hell broke loose. She then dared to chastise him for waking her with his emotional outburst! He, in turn, took it out me when I sequestered the pup. Being the bad guy is a crappy job. Why again did I choose this?

Over the weekend I took my daughter to visit a beloved teacher’s newly adopted baby. She had many questions, and I would expect no less. The best by far:

When you adopt a baby does it come with a list of things the baby needs?

I couldn’t help but laugh. Of course there is no list; in this case the baby was handed over with four diapers, a half-can of formula and no name. The situation is no different for birth parents: no user’s manual provided. Each day we wing it, and with each day come the waves of emotions as intense, continuous and unpredictable as day one.

I’m not going to pretend that the emotional highs outnumber the emotional lows. But I will say that the peaks–however few and far between–are what make this parenting thing worthwhile. Last Wednesday was case in point.

From the moment I retrieved the clowns from school they were happy, kind, patient and darling. Off to the beach we went so that my daughter could surf and my son could, as per usual, avoid the sand and water–a challenging task given the circumstance.

Then something completely unforeseen happened: he ran headlong into the water, no parent attached. He let the waves crash over him, enveloping his whole being. With unbridled joy he played in that ocean as if this, in Rapunzel’s words, was the best day ever! This beach boy persona was a side to him that I had never, never seen and now absolutely adore. All those cursed hours of freezing cold mom-and-tot swim lessons and even colder (and much heavier) koala-carries in the ocean were forgiven.

Blood, sweat, tears yield this golden moment. And to top it off, he begged to go to the beach over the weekend so that he could try surfing. Who better to teach him than his surfer sister, who on that magical day caught her first wave from the outside and rode it all the way in? Fast forward to Saturday. With an unprecedented collaboration and fellowship of trust, she gave him some pointers, placed him on that board, turned him to catch his first wave. Up he popped.

No matter that the magical Wednesday was capped off with a ginormous night-time pee accident.

Riding waves indeed.

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The Birth Canal is a One Way Street

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When I think of a childfree life it is not one of glamour, adventure, romance, travel and leisure that I envision. Nope– it’s much more basic, encompassing the minutiae of life. It’s sitting down to a meal where the first bite isn’t interrupted by someone suddenly needing the potty. It’s sleeping consistently without someone screeching from night terrors or dropped Pillow Pets. It’s getting out of a car without cleaning the spilled contents of un-spillable milk boxes that have seeped into the crevices. It’s reading Time Magazine’s The Childfree Life on the toilet, undisturbed.

Clearly my dreams are not lofty. For me the short hours of the school day (thank you, September) most closely resemble a childfree life. Oh to go for a run post-drop-off alone in Torrey Pines is simply blissful! Or to be out in the open waters, surrounded by old school surf dudes and some (gentle) marine life–paradise!

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And when I want solitary time–no people, no conversation, no kids– I might find myself here where a swim in a most perfect pool is just two bucks.

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And of course there is the productivity component: being able to accomplish the goals of the day that require a chaos-free environment such as offering nutrition advice, composing blog posts and writing my yet-to-be-published children’s stories. This is my childfree life.

According to the article in Time Magazine some opt for life sans-children because instead of reproducing they pursued interests, talents and careers that yield a certain lifestyle–one that is comfortable and fulfilling. Why change all that?

I had children fairly young, though not according to North Carolina standards where we were living at the time. There if you don’t have several kids by your late 20’s you were deemed barren. Or so it seemed. I finished school, including a graduate degree, and happily worked for $16.50 per hour.  I enjoyed a comfortable life, but not one so luxurious or exotic that introducing kids might complicate. Into this life Thing One arrived. And we were happy. By the time Thing Two joined us our lifestyle hadn’t evolved too much. In fact, living standards had declined due to our move to the pricier New Jersey. And we made the decision to rely on one income largely because my chosen field was not exactly lucrative. Nannies and daycare would be more costly than my own attempts at raising the clowns.

Yet I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t question my choice. At least once a day. I think anyone who claims that he or she doesn’t at times pine for a childfree life is not being truthful. I’m the first to admit that I am completely challenged, frustrated and depleted by my kids. It’s all too easy to imagine what I’d do with my time without them. So much activity and productivity!

Let me pose this question: would I appreciate a childfree life as much if I were actually childfree? It’s like East Coasters maintaining that they need the seasons to appreciate good weather. West Coasters (particularly down in the SoCal) don’t buy it: living in Utopia doesn’t make it any less satisfying.

But of this I am sure: the birth canal is a one way street. You can’t put the kids back (though no doubt one of mine would climb right in if he could). The fact is I do love my kids.  And the last thing I do before turning in at night is remind myself of that. I take a peek at them sleeping, a peaceful snapshot in which they truly are adorable and almost angelic.

I am also quite certain that had I opted for a childfree life, this would be the image I’d conjure when inevitably pining for children.

 

 

A Tiger’s Funeral

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Have you ever been to a funeral for a tiger? Nor have I. Apparently one took place just the other day right here in this house, but I was banned. I would have brought purple flowers to express my condolences.

The tiger had been a victim of drowning. For that my son holds me accountable. But I wasn’t the one who peed in my bed, resulting in having to wash all items from the bed–tigers included. Yet he doesn’t take responsibility for the tragic accident, maintaining:

Someone peed in my bed….and it wasn’t me!

Regardless of the culprit (and I have my suspicions), everything went straight into the wash in several shifts. I have a finely tuned system, as a veteran should. This time I enlightened my son, involving him in the process from carrying the pee-sheets to re-making the bed so that he might begin to appreciate the answer to the commonly asked question:

What do you do when we are   ______________? (Fill in the blank with any of the following)

  • at school
  • at camp
  • sleeping
  • playing
  • completely unaware of what it takes to keep the household going

Indeed the tiger may have drowned. But he smells a lot better now. Perhaps the tale of the tiger’s funeral will come in handy when I need to remind my kids that even when I inadvertently cause heartache, I’m looking out not only for their olfactory senses, but for their entire moral fiber.

Duchess Kate: No Rest for the Royal?

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Nary a hair out of place, Duchess Kate stepped out of the private hospital wing and into the media frenzy. She looked no different (and no less gorgeous) than when we saw her last, only this time the baby was not in her belly but in her arms. Perfectly coiffed, perfectly dressed, perfectly perfect. Isn’t that how we all felt having just produced a human? At least that’s what she claimed–she is feeling what any new parent experiences. Um, not quite. I’m pretty sure my experience, the ordinary birthing process, was not even close. Perhaps the only commonality is that underneath all of her glam, I’m fairly certain that some of her royal areas are seriously smarting.

Birthing is birthing, whether you’re pushing out king or commoner. But from there nothing is the same. Most moms struggle to shower and dress. We don’t have a personal hairdresser meet us at the hospital. On top of always having washed hair, I’m guessing that Duchess Kate won’t walk around smelling like sour milk–or worse. If she ever does feel like a real new parent she won’t ever let us see it.

This likely won’t change even as her regal offspring grow. Sometimes I think I have yet to emerge from the new parent haze. Eight and a half years in I’m as frazzled as ever and my spawn are no more civilized than when they first arrived. Last night’s dinner was case in point. It’s as if they weren’t in camp all day with the amount of energy they were able to expend popping out of their seats. It was like a prolonged pee-pee dance but without the biological urgency. Thing One was spewing bits of egg that finally stuck to Thing Two’s elbow. Thing Two had chocolate pudding up his nose–only after trying to lick it off his finger. Apparently we still haven’t discovered the meaning of a napkin. And then there was the miniature polar bear flashlight that took an unexpected plunge into the cup of milk.

“IT WAS AN ACCIDENT!”

It’s always an accident.

Except when it’s intentional. Between the two were are in a perpetual state of behavior modification!

I love a good irony. Yesterday when the world was waiting with bated breath (or some of us realized we could set the DVR to CNN) to catch a glimpse of this royal little angel my darling child went off to camp dressed as a red-hot devil. It was alphabet soup day; she chose D for devil. Why?

“That way I can be naughty.”

There’s something to be said for spirited children: they keep you on your toes. I don’t have time to be tired. I’m just glad that I don’t have cameras chasing me around in my haze. Poor Duchess Kate isn’t so fortunate. One day after the immaculate introduction of Britain’s Prince George she’s captured on camera with her flowing mane thrown into a less-than-fabulous ponytail and presumably tired eyes guarded by over-sized sunglasses.

Rest up, Kate, it’s only just begun. If raising a devil is hard work, rearing a future king is simply unimaginable.

 

 

Can You Teach an Old Mom New Tricks?

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These are my toes. They are so far away, and the older I grow the more distant they become. Each morning is a reminder that the questionable flexibility I may have had in my youth is ever fleeting. Never has that been more obvious than in this last week. My kids started a camp which offers transportation–fun for children and parents alike! While we wait for the adorable Brian who drives Van #5 we play games on the lawn. Popular favorites include Toilet Tag and Dead Man, both of which are renditions of the traditional tag. Even inventive names cannot distract me from what is painfully true: I move with the agility, fluidity and swiftness of a tree stump.

A while back my sister-in-law encouraged me to purchase a Groupon deal for Reformer Pilates. Certainly the plan was to enjoy the torture together. However, her work and my kids seem to be in the way. Damn responsibility! So I had to go it alone last week when I tried my first class.

Sporting my beloved Nike spandex shorts, the actual pair that predates the existence of Lululemon, I skulked into class. I wanted to fly under the radar–unlike the bedazzled, Botoxed mom who looked years younger than her accompanying teenage daughter. She was there to be noticed–or rather her enhanced bosom with dangerously large nipples were there to be noticed. My only goal was to make it through the class without becoming permanently tangled in cords and springs.

With just slightly more grace than Tobias Funke I emerged relatively unscathed. I declare success! So much so that I will go back. After all, I do have to be able to reach my toes if only to keep them trimmed. My daughter–the same one who “washed” her hair without shampoo for two weeks because she failed to tell me she had run out, and also the one who constructed a challenge for herself to see how long she could wear a single pair of socks–informed me that my nails were nasty. She took it upon herself to clip them.

Now, I may not be able to school my kids in tag, but dammit I need to be able to keep my toenails in order! Somehow I’m pretty sure that’s not what drives Nipples McGee…

Summer Lovin’

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Sixteen years ago tomorrow we shared our first kiss. Or at least I think we did. Forgive me as time challenges memory. We saw fireworks–literally. Overlooking Boston’s Back Bay we took in the July 4th Pops Spectacular and also celebrated the beginnings of us. It was likely the last time I stayed up late enough for such a display. Four years and a few days later we were married atop Vail Mountain.

This “holiversary” (think Chrismukkah) is witness to our union, friendship and partnership. Like the novel One Day (sorry Anne Hathaway but you ruined the movie for me) the course of an entire year can be examined on a single day, thereby revealing the passage of time and the evolution of a relationship. The day itself may be mundane or remarkable, depending on the year. In 2005 we greeted the day in the hospital, following the second repair of our firstborn’s heart. In 2011 we scattered some of my father’s ashes at the very spot that he gave me away. Other years have been recognized with a simple outing to the community pool or a patriotic small-town parade. Last year involved many, many boxes and an equal measure of stress.

This is the year we reclaim our adventurous spirit. The summer we met–way more fit and a lot less tired– we’d swim in Walden Pond and bike 30-plus miles for our favorite ice cream. We’d walk along the Charles into downtown Boston for a movie or we’d wake pre-dawn to compete in some sporting event…and perhaps even make it to the podium. Then of course we’d eat more ice cream.

How are we going to earn said ice cream this year? We’re doing it SoCal style. That’s right– we are taking ourselves surfing! Forget romance. But I can guarantee comedy. I only wish I could document this destined-to-be debacle for you. You’ll have to rely on your imagination for that.

With the kids in camp on Friday we’ll have a few hours to play, just like we did that summer sixteen years ago.

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The Upshot of Swimming with Sharks

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Above tranquil water at the Cove hovered a healthy marine layer. June Gloom they call it. Where did the water, land and sky converge? Unknown, and I wasn’t going to swim far enough to find out. My mission, simple enough, was threefold: 1) Test out my cozy new wetsuit  2) Avoid marine life  3) Cross “tackling fear of open ocean swimming” off the Bucket List. The results: Done, Done and Done.

The swim itself was surreal–and much more enjoyable than anticipated. The water was warmer than expected (and no, I didn’t christen my wetsuit the old fashioned way as I wasn’t sure I’d keep it). The kelp forests were more abundant than envisioned. The sea life was more active than imagined. I noted plenty of fish and even (gasp!) a shark–though not a man-eating one I am certain. I did have a face-to-face encounter with a seal, also enjoying his morning exercise. Equally startled by one another we locked eyes and then amicably parted ways.

In hindsight it all sounds peaceful. But let me assure you that my thoughts prior to and upon entering the water revolved around seal diarrhea and shark attacks. I’ve witnessed the former and heard tales of the latter, and there I was electing to put myself in the middle of both. Images of these eliminated any lollygagging on my part. Get in, swim hard, get out.

Two weeks later I ventured out on a bright, sunny morning a few miles up the coast. Concerns of seal diarrhea were replaced with some anxiety about contending with an actual surf. I have raced in the nastiness that is the Hudson River and many murky, bacteria-laden lakes, but I’ve never had to break through the surf to reach the open water. New is what keeps it exciting (or so I tell myself).

Pummeled only once or twice I came to enjoy the challenge. Going with it rather than fighting against it, I finally relaxed. Eventually I emerged with fingers and toes–and everything in between–attached. I’ll even go back for more, especially now that my wetsuit has been officially christened.

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