Monday, January 21, 2008

The Three Cocoa Birthday

My little baby boy turned seven today. I still can't believe it. We started the day by ice skating in the park. It was crisp and cold and beautiful out. We practically had the rink to ourselves. As we walked to the bus stop, we decided that we had time for a hot cocoa. We placed our order and warmed our hands inside the cafe while we waited. As the server handed us our drinks, I mentioned that it was Charley's birthday. Within seconds, Charley was whimpering behind his cup. He'd asked for no whipped cream (shocking, I know) and this one most definitely had whipped cream. His whimper turned to sobs and I was about to scoop out the offending cream with a spoon, when a kind woman who had been standing behind us knelt beside him.

"Why, we can't have such crying. It's your birthday after all," she smiled at Charley, winked at me, and took the cup from his hands. "How about a brand new hot cocoa?" Before I could protest, she had leaned over the counter and ordered a whole new drink for Charley. He was astounded. I glanced at the barista to make sure they weren't completely annoyed. He smiled knowingly and waved me off. This woman was obviously a regular. "What kind of books do you like, Charley?" Our new friend asked. "You do like books don't you?" Charley nodded his head enthusiastically. "Well, thank goodness for that. You see, Charley, I own a bookstore. I'd like to invite you to come on over to my store. Let's pick out some special birthday books for the birthday boy."

Normally, I would have intervened. I would have insisted that another drink was unnecessary. I may have even checked my watch and noticed that we didn't have time to stop by the book shop because the bus was due any minute. But something about this woman left me speechless. She was warm, kind, firm, and well, almost Mary Poppins-like. Next thing I knew, we were parading down the street, warm drinks in hand, behind Charley's new fairy godmother. We turned down an alley, halfway down the block. She stopped in front of an old antique store I'd passed many times before.

"We're not quite open yet, Charley. But I'd like to give you the early bird special. Come on in." She unlocked the door and warm air rushed toward us. The store was absolutely magical. Vintage postards and matchbooks lined the tops of glass cases filled with antique shoes and costume jewelry. Janey and Macy were thrilled with the ancient trinkets and toys that filled the shelves. The owner led us to the book shelves and began sorting through titles. She and Charley discussed which ones he should bring home, while the girls and I nosed around the store.

"Ooppsie," Charley stammered.
I turned around recluctantly. Hot cocoa was dripping down the shelves. Our hostess hardly looked up.
"Ah, well. These things happen, you know," she explained. "No need to ruin a birthday, now is there? But someone's going to need another cocoa, aren't they?" Charley beamed. This truly was his lucky day.

As I wiped the sticky cocoa off the books, Janey was sent back to the cafe with strict instructions from the store owner to bring back yet a third hot cocoa for Prince Charley. I was amazed. Somehow this woman had a softspot for Charley, and on his birthday! How could I interfere?
By the time the mess was cleaned up and Janey returned, she and Charley had picked out a stack of books for him to take home. The woman placed the books in a bag and took Charley's cup from his hands. As she secured the plastic lid with heavy duty packing tape, she smiled, "We want to be sure this one makes it all the way home, now don't we?"

As we left the shop and said our good-byes, the woman crouched down to Charley and met him at eye level. "Read lots of books. Lots and lots of books." And so we did.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Food Glorious Food

Janey is 11 and a half. She's changing in every single way and it's hard on her, and everyone else in the house as well. She is moody and irritable and also hilarious most of the time. Lately, she and I have been going head to head on food. My kids have always done a pretty great job making their own choices about food. I don't force them to eat things they don't like. I often suggest that they try something new before deciding that it is disgusting, but they are usually adventurous eaters and know how to make a peanut butter sandwich when they don't like what's being offered.

A few weeks ago I began to notice that Janey was becoming a junk food junkie. I couldn't remember the last time she'd had a vegetable. She ate macaroni and cheese and cereal for days. She scarfed on potato chips and chocolate. I calmly let her know that I was concerned she might not be getting the nutrition she needed. Inside, I was freaking out. As the days passed, I found myself getting more and more controlling. I watched her like a hawk. I was obsessed with what she was putting in her mouth. This was not good for our relationship. We already drive each other nuts. She told me to lay off. She reminded me that her body knew what it needed, and that right then, it needed more chocolate. I left the room, and freaked out again. And then I had to stop. I was making myself crazy.

It didn't take long for me to remember, and I pretty much knew all along, that my obsession with Janey's diet had nothing to do with Janey. It had everything to do with me. I love food. I eat well....most of the time. But, I do have my moments when nothing but chocolate will do. I also suffer from a nagging fear that if I'm not careful, I will turn into a junk food junkie as well. Tonight, the kids are at their dad's. I had popcorn for dinner. I don't want to Janey to know that. I want her to believe that I prepare healthy, creative, nutritious meals for myself, even when she's not looking. But I have the sneaking suspicion that my relationship with my daughter will improve greatly if I can begin to let go of my fear that she is going to turn into me, and just love her, exactly the way she is.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Just One of Those Days

Today was one of those days when I was ready to throw in the towel. Retire. Quit. Wash my hands of this whole parenting gig. I was done. My kids had been away, on vacation with their dad for 6 days last week, and I missed them so much. When they returned last Friday, my reserves were full. I had the patience of a saint. All I wanted to do was be near them, to hear their stories and watch their goofy interactions. The honeymoon ended today, however and I had long, detailed fantasies about what it would be like to go far, far away.......alone, for a very long time.

Maybe it was the whining, or the complaining. It could have been the bickering and the arguing. Perhaps it was the way I came up against resistance and negativity from all three of my kids repeatedly throughout the day. Who knows? Whatever it was has now passed. All three of my cherubs are sleeping soundly and the only sound I hear is the tapping of my fingers on the keys. Ahhhhhh. Peace at last.

One of the things that happens for me when I am having a rotten parenting day, is that I panic. I worry that I will never, ever be able to muster up love or compassion for these rotten kids, ever again. I quickly lose track of the fact that most days aren't like this at all. Most days I actually like my children. But, no. My mind races ahead years, decades, even, to what it will be like in my now grown children's therapy sessions, as they process the tortuous years they endured being raised by such a crazed, heartless mother.

I had a brief moment of clarity today as I listened to the complaining and whining drone on and on. Everyone just wants to be loved, right? In that moment, my children were whining and complaining because they felt unlovable. They were experiencing discomfort on many levels, and struggling with a very basic desire we all have to be loved and accepted. Most days, I am able to love them right on through those bumps in the road. Most days, I can strap on my patience and unconditional love like a suit if armor and walk right through the battlefield. Today, I could not. I am learning that I can't be a great parent all the time. Some days, I just don't have it in me.

I'm noticing a theme in our house these days. Several times a day, I find myself reminding the kids that it's okay to make mistakes. It's actually more than okay, it's necessary and important. I try to come up with fun, silly responses to lighten the mood for Charley a bit, when he holds himself to an expectation of perfection when he's writing his letters or trying to remember how to spell a familiar word. When Janey melts into a puddle of tears because she messed up her knitting, I gently remind her that mistakes are the way we know we're learning something. We joke about how human beings aren't even "allowed" to be perfect. All the perfect ones get sent to Mars because Earth is only meant for imperfect beings. I spend so much time and energy every single day helping my children understand that in this life it's about progress, not perfection. I guess it's time for me to listen to my own advice.

Friday, January 4, 2008

I'm Back

After a long, relaxing holiday break, I'm back. It's amazing how quickly I fall out of old habits. I was getting really good at getting on here and writing regularly and it all fell away when holiday hoopla set in. It was fun, slow, a bit lazy and self indulgent, and now it's time to whip myself back into shape. Early to bed, early to rise. Daily time carved out for writing. Dressed and out of jammies by 10:30am......okay, noon. Anyway, it's a brand new year.

My kids are away for a week. They are traveling with their dad and so far I've received five phone calls. They've hardly been gone 24 hours. The first one came at 4:15 this morning.....A.M. Seriously. Charley was so excited he could hardly get the words out.
"Hi Mama!"
"Hi Charley. Where are you?" I fumbled for my watch. No, it couldn't be......4 am! How could his dad have let him call me this early? Oh, wait. His dad probably thought it would be hilarious for him to call me.
"Mama, we're leaving for the airport soon. Call me in about 20 minutes or something and I'll probably be there."
"Wow, Charley. It's still the middle of the night. You must be excited."
"Yeah, I am. Where are you, Mama?"
"I'm still in bed, Charley. It's 4am."
"Oh, okay. I'll call you later, okay? Bye Mama."
"Bye Charley."
Please let me fall back asleep. next thing I knew it was 8:15am and the phone was ringing again. This time it was Janey. A few more updates came throughout the day. I miss them. The latest message was from Charley. He told me that they arrived in Florida, "It's all the way on the other side of the country, Mama," and that he was having a really, really good time. Wait till they actually get on that cruise ship. Can't wait for the next call.