Saturday, March 29, 2008
I truly appreciate that this university has such a program. It is simply nice to know there is some acknowledgment that there are, in fact, graduate students who are also moms and dads. When P was deciding on which program he would ultimately chose, family life was a part of the equation. Let's face it-- sure, he may be the one taking the classes and writing the papers, but the truth is that we all are going to divinity school in some ways. Some schools he looked at were very candid that they didn't have much in the way of support for student-parents. Often the support was by chance, depending how many folks were in like situations where they would self-organize.
This was not the vibe we got from his current university. At the open house for admitted students, there was actually a session for graduate students who were parents. It was printed in the program and everything, and we both agreed that this was a good sign. We met a few current students who had young children who assured us that this was a supportive community, that their children were included in events, and other community members took an interest in their kids and looked after them. Having raised our children on a boarding school campus for the past four years, this was exactly what we were accustomed to, the closest place we could find to the whole it-takes-a-village adage. When I heard this university described in this way, I was sold and gently pushed P in this direction. He was genuinely happy with the program and faculty so it wasn't that he took much pushing.
I moved here with great expectations that we would have instant community, that my children would suddenly have a new cohort of aunts and uncles, and I would feel welcomed and a part of things. With childcare provided during orientation, it all looked promising. The few of us who had younger children immediately found each other and became bonded quickly. However, I can't say this true across the entire student body.
It amazes me how young many of P's classmates are (and remember, he's studying to go into the ministry) and it seems that they, just like many 23-year-olds, don't even think about what it might take to be a parent or how a partner/spouse might feel when joining the community. Often at campus events, advertised as 'community-wide' events, I spend the time corralling the kids off in a corner, never meeting anyone or having anyone approach us. Now, if Peter were in the business program or attending law school, maybe I never would have had an expectation that it would be a warm and welcoming community--unfair stereotypes, perhaps-- but this was the impression we got from the open house. Also, I guess I had different expectations of folks in div school. Not all the students are on the ordination track, but a good number are, and if they are in training to become ministers and priests, I would think it would benefit them to become aware of other folks in the community as good practice for their ministry. A church without kids or families may be a sign that it is not a particularly healthy church. So even if these students are far away from having a partner, spouse or child of their own, it would be good training for them to think about how these other folks fit into such a community.
There are times at the school specifically includes kids and we appreciate it greatly. We appreciate it so much, in fact, that we try to attend all such events even if the timing is not great for our guys. Take tonight, for instance, where there is a huge Easter celebration with cool drumming, etc. There is a part specifically for the children and we received emails intentionally inviting our kids. This is great-- just the kind of stuff we were hoping for-- except for the fact, that the service begins at 7Pm and will last longer than an hour. My boys are normally in p.j.'s at this time, tucking in for a story. I am all for bending the rules for special occasions, but the truth is that my guys are tired at 7PM and if they get to bed at 8:30Pm or after, we will all feel the effects of that in the coming days. We just will. So normally, if there were a 7PM invitation, we would politely decline until they get a bit older. However, since kids are specifically included and were specifically invited and we've been yearning for inclusion, the five of us will head up to school and so be it. I don't mean to whiny about this: something like I want to be included, but only included when it works well for my kids.
So back to this grad student-parent luncheon. It was not well attended but the folks running it were kind and included some kid-friendly food on their lunch menu. They didn't mind F's missing-his-nap fussiness. We got some good information about this area's summer programs for kids so this was helpful. All-in-all, I was glad we attended. While we were packing up to head back home, one of the program's directors got into a conversation with another grad student-parent. The student was saying that she lives in a town where the schools do not have any formal after-school care. "Oh," the director nodded knowingly "that must be because there are so many stay-at-home moms there-- all those ladies who lunch."
Whoa--that comment struck me, and while walking the mile or so home, pushing sleeping F in his purple jog stroller, it played over and over in my head. So here was a director of a family-friendly program, but only friendly to families with working-out-of-the-house parents? Was I worried that she was talking about me? Was my sensitivity to these comment indicative of my own struggle in this role?
I don't think her comment was about all stay-at-home moms per say, more just about families of a certain upper-income bracket. P & I have been fortunate that at various times, one of us has been able to be the primary caregiver. Our boys also attended some daycare. However, through it all, we made intentional choices about work and its implications about family life. Yes, we financially could pull it off with one income, but we made choices so that could happen. Those choices included moving and living relatively simply. Yes, not everyone can make such choices nor do they want to. But just because a family has a stay-at-home parent and the family can afford to make such a choice, does that put them into the "ladies who lunch" category?
I, too, struggle with a prejudice against stay-at-home parents who seem rarely at home with their kids because they appear to have all sorts of help. This is something I need to work on. But still, the director's off-hand remark has stayed with me. Don't we have enough of this judgment and sniping in the parent community? Why can't we all just say that parenting is humbling and hard and each family needs to make its own choices about what works for that family in terms of childcare and work? And thumbs-up to the programs and people who support parents and families and our very diverse, complex choices, and even, at times, invite us out to lunch.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
My sister, Kate, recently visited Atlantic City with a large group of friends for the weekend. She related that she really enjoyed the spa services and it was loads of fun being kid-free with other unencumbered moms, however, she also is just not into gambling. She found A.C. sort of creepy and doesn't plan on returning any time soon. Even though I lived in New Jersey for many years and traveled to the shore towns close to Atlantic City, I have never once been tempted to stop there. I have often shook my head at the large number of buses that pass me, barreling down the Parkway, carrying loads of seniors with their packed quarters on their way to the slots. I admit it-- I just don't get the appeal.
Given this, imagine my surprise to find ourselves recently gambling in Atlantic City. OK. It's not in the way you are thinking. But flying back from Sarasota to LaGuardia, in the smallest plane I've ever traveled in, we found ourselves unexpectedly touching down in ol' A.C. and the visit there was not a particularly pleasant one. Supposedly, the fog in Queens was growing ever thicker and there was a large number of planes waiting to land in LaGuardia so air traffic controllers kept putting off our pilots. We did the air dance, hoping our number might be called, but our little wallflower of a plane kept backing up and circling without getting the official nod to land in New York City. The pilots made a decision to re-route to Atlantic City to refuel before attempting to land at LaGuardia again.
So there we were, making an unexpected and incredibly bumpy landing on the runway in one of the gambling hot spots on the East Coast. Now I am sure the pilots did not think of this setting down as quite the gamble Peter and I did as we assessed our situation. How many Goldfish did we have left? How about lollipops? And what about the laptop's battery? We had yet to fire it up this trip, thanks due to F falling asleep soon after our departure from Florida, finally napping after a week of no naps. Of course, he awoke as our jerky jet bumped through the air as it descended. C and S had been well-occupied in the first leg of the trip, reading the new chapter books that we had strategically purchased the day before (they had already run through the books we bought for going to FL). So-- just how long would our luck hold out?
We sat on the tarmac for an hour and then another with no sense how long we would be there. We were told we were not allowed to disembark, although many folks spotted a passenger out walking a little dog next to the plane. I guess cooped-up pups got some sort of dispensation. Some of the passengers started to get fidgety and a few shouts arose from the seats, although there were no threats of full-scale mutiny. Yet.
F sucked and chewed on a lollipop-- a sure way to stop him from screaming. He wanted another. And another. P and I had to make some tough decisions and decided to save the last few for our eventual landing in New York. The SchoolHouse Rocks DVD quieted F and then S joined in, watching as he, too, grew restless. We siphoned off the snacks and the choices dwindled: no more pretzels, only one more bag of Goldfish, the less-popular toasted peanut butter crackers left. As the time marched on, one of the passengers told us that he was was worried it was getting close the time we might need to pull off a loaves and (Gold)fishes thing as our flight attendants didn't have any more to offer besides some lousy sweet biscuits. I was biting my lip, holding my breath a bit. The boys were hanging in there--but for how much longer?
Good news suddenly spewed from the speakers. We had our new flight plan. The refueling had begun. We would soon be in the air and would try to 'stay low' in order to 'sneak into LaGuardia without too much notice.' I swear the captain said that; I wasn't so sure I liked that idea but I did want to get to New York. We touched down at our correct destination and I breathed audibly. We had made it. The boys were troopers. It could have easily turned ugly but they hung in there. Perhaps we might just be able to fulfill some fantasy travels we've kicked around during some 'what if' talk late in the night. As we walked up the aisle to disembark, we gave a happy smile and a nod, a sort of exhausted but ebullient parenthood-in-arms gesture, toward the other set of parents, who were traveling with two young children. Crisis averted.
While waiting for our bags, a fellow passenger turned to us and said, "I just called my friend to tell him that there are still well-behaved children in the world, and they were all on my plane." We thanked him and gave props to our sons. We later agreed-- next time we fly, we're packing even more Goldfish and lollipops. You can bet on it.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
However, the Easter Bunny never visited our house. I was five months pregnant with the twins when my mom died. It never occurred to me to ask her specific questions about her parenting philosophy and approach before I became a parent so I only have murky childhood recollections about why that big rabbit never made it to our street in the Jersey suburbs. I know that Mom's aversion to the Easter Bunny stemmed from her strong Catholic faith, and I guess she was waging her own battle against the secularization of this religious holiday. And yes, we were never allowed to watch television on Good Friday either-- in solidarity with Jesus's suffering, perhaps? One certainly hears folks say, "Let's keep Christ in Christmas" during frenzied Decembers, but I can't say I've heard a similar statement for Easter time. My parents were not totally Pascal Scrooges though-- we did each get a chocolate rabbit and I know my mom was particularly fond of the black jellybeans. However, these Easter goodies did not magically appear in the night in some bright colored basket filled with those annoying green plastic strips, but were simply handed out by my folks, not sure if that was before or after church.
Given this, I don't yet have a strong sense of what my own family's Easter traditions should be. My only absolute is that the chocolate rabbits must be solid chocolate; none of those hollow bunnies for my fellows. We were away on vacation up until this past Wednesday night so we didn't do much planning for the holiday. We didn't pre-buy Easter goodies or plan if/when we would have an egg hunt. I guess we didn't talk much about the Easter bunny coming either as evidenced by the following conversation, my husband, P, had with our sons (represented by 'B' here for boys) yesterday while trying to exploit the Easter myth to get the guys to behave:
P: I would be careful, guys. You know who's supposed to come tomorrow.
B: Gigi and Bump! [Glad the guys are excited about seeing their grandparents]
P: Well, yes, but someone more important. [He said that, not I, while gesturing with his hands on top of his head.]
B: A moose?
P laughs and responds by sticking his front top teeth out and now putting his hands folded down close to the front of his body.
B: A mouse?
P now starts hopping, teeth out, hands still in front folded down.
B: A kangaroo?
Somewhere, I think, my mom must be as amused by this exchange as I was.
Friday, March 21, 2008
"S," I said, "Let F read that book. There are lots of books you can read but fewer he can. That book is for little kids."
S looked at me and wisely responded, "I'm a medium kid, mom. That means sometimes I am big and sometimes I am little."
Oh, so he caught on. There are times I tell S and C that they can't do a certain thing because it's meant for 'big kids.' Other times, I fall back on the 'that's-for-little-guys' reasoning, explaining why they cannot have a wanted item. Aren't kids so great at noticing and articulating certain truths in the world?
P and I knew that we needed to get the guys out of the house for a run-around early on today. We had so enjoyed all our outdoor time the past week, re-energizing the solar panels in our brains, that we began those dormant discussions about chucking it all and figuring out a way to live on 'our' island in Thailand. We recognized that we all did too much sitting inside these past months even though our winter in CT was incredibly mild in comparison to life in Maine. In FL, we logged in hours at various playgrounds, the beach, a friend's pool, and just walking along the waterfront, stopping so S could climb trees. It was good being outside and today, despite the searing wind and protests from the guys, we bundled up and walked, scootered, and were pushed on a tricycle with a back bar (respectively) to the park. After a few loops on the play equipment, C decided he wanted to swing. Eventually, F and S followed (only after S had a solid 15 minutes chatting up the grandma of the only other kid out playing).
The 'big kid' swings are separated from the baby swings. Normally, F can go on a non-bucket-type swing, but the ones in this park are so high off the ground, he is far better off on the baby ones-- that is after we've won the struggle getting his sneakers through the leg holes. When F, S and I reached the swing area, it was necessary to split up so I sent S off to join C and his dad across the way while I heaved F up into the black rubber. Within moments, S came careening back asking if I would push him on the big swings so I called out to P to confirm the trade. He nodded his assent and while we passed, crossing the muddy divide between the two sets of swings, he said, "C is being really demanding about the right way to push him."
I helped S up onto the swing next to his brother, gave him a few pushes to start him off, and moved over to increase C's height and swing speed. No sooner did my hands touch his back, he began to complain and cry. He wanted dad to push him. I wasn't pushing him hard enough. I wasn't pushing him high enough. I pushed S before I pushed him. Couldn't I just adjust my right hand three centimeters higher, where my left should so clearly be lower by two? Why wasn't I doing it right? The tears fell while the complaints rained.
We've heard a lot along these lines lately and my patience for this demanding and whining behavior has all but pushed me over the edge. To be fair, for the first six months we moved to CT, C was a superstar. While his twin was lashing out in anger daily, making P and me question all of our parenting skills, and F was busy just being a two-year-old, C was quick to listen, to assist, to hug. A couple of months ago, S finally turned the corner-- and it now seems like it is C's turn to fall apart. When I can think compassionately, I realize that this falling must be rough on him. I try to tolerate/ignore some of the complaints, the rude talk. I try to give him extra cuddles when the crying starts, make room on my lap to listen intently when he explains his latest ideas, invite him up to our bed for increased reading together time, bend the 'eat all your fruit' rule at meals, lift his shirt and run my nails along his soft skin when he asks, 'Backscratch me,' even if he doesn't always say please.
This morning at the playground, with the re-introduction of cold wind that makes my eyes tear and nose run, I was not thinking compassionately. All I was thinking was This kid is a pain in the ass, and his crying and demands are making him really unlikable. I barked at him to stop crying. I told him-- yet again-- that he cannot cry over every little thing that disappoints him. He cannot cry over every little thing that does not go his way. He needs to learn to get over it. Finally, if I am not pushing him properly, I guess he'll just have to find a new set of parents who will push him correctly to his proper specifications.
Suddenly a small voice came from the neighboring swing, "But it's OK to cry," S said.
I shut up. For a moment. Then I gulped and agreed, "Well, yes, it is OK to cry. I cry. Dad cries. We all cry. We cry when we are hurt or sad. But, we can't cry over every little disappointment in life. There are times we need to skip the tears and find another way to express our frustration."
There is a balance P and I have been trying to achieve when talking with our boys about crying. We do want them to know that it is OK to cry-- well, some of the time. We don't believe and are trying not to perpetuate the whole 'boys don't cry' thing. We want our guys to be able to recognize and express their emotions. We just don't want them to be uh, crybabies. If we had daughters, we would hold them to the same standard. Wouldn't we? In that moment, S mimicked back to me something P and I had said numerous times and obviously, he had heard us. It is OK to cry.
The two boys then went on to list numerous times that they saw me cry. The time the lamp hit me in the mouth. When I banged my head on the car door. When I talked about my father who had recently died.
C then recalled, "You cried that time in Maine when I didn't want to go into McDonald's." What? Wait? What time? We hardly went to McDonald's-- not because of the childhood obesity epidemic, not because I watched Supersize Me and was sufficiently grossed out by the Big Mac's well-documented, adverse health effects, not because I am so opposed to that corporation's evil marketing to kids. Really, we rarely went to McDonald's because simply, the boys did not eat the food there. I would like to say this is due to their sophisticated palate or a taste for fresher and healthier fare. The truth, however, is that they are extremely picky eaters and don't eat much, including McDonald's. At times, I've wished they would eat McDonald's but I digress here....
I asked C for details about this last-mentioned incident and he went on to recount something that was clear in his mind, but I had so clearly forgotten. After he talked, I still didn't have a good sense of what had happened nor could I remember anything about this happening, but I did not doubt his memory at all. He has an amazing memory and if he said I cried when I tried to get him into McDonald's when he didn't want to go, I am sure I did. Yes, parenting frustration has made me cry on a few *cough* occasions. That time, I must have actually cried in frustration in front of him, instead of in the shower or behind the closed door of our bedroom. He remembered. I am guessing he may also well remember all the times I berate him for crying so much.
So how do you acknowledge their feelings, support their expression, honor their sense of injustice, and respect their sensitive nature that is an integral part of them, while still teaching resiliency and encouraging flexibility and adaptability? Aren't there times when it is not OK to cry?
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
As the boys were chasing each other all over the play equipment, the tuft on the end of the jaguar's tail was ripped off.
"I just don't feel like my jaguar self without the end of my tail." ~ C
Monday, March 10, 2008
"So thanks so much for coming to the show. If you have any more questions, please feel free to email our office in Nova Scotia and someone will happily email you back."
His face crumpled, his shoulders slumped and the tears began to drip down his face. His breath quickened and soon little gasps emerged from his mouth as his crying grew in sound and heaviness. While others around us donned their coats and gathered their belongings, he slumped further in his theater seat, trying to say, "I uh-uh jus-- just uh want-ted uh uh to ask uh- uh a quest, a question."
I put my arm around him, initially feeling his disappointment. "Sweetie, we can email your question when we get home. "
More crying, more uh-uhs.
"Now, come one. We just had a fun time. That was a great puppet show and while I know you are disappointed, we need to remember we had a great time."
His thin frame, now further sliding in between the gap of the seat back and the hinged bottom, started to shudder. As he continued to cry with increased strength, I felt my empathy begin to turn to annoyance. Didn't we just do something cool? Wasn't it so great that we got to go to this puppet show at all? Heck, lots of kids didn't get to ask questions and none of them seemed stuck to their seat in a sagging mess. He just needs to get over things.
Later that night, I replayed that scene again and again in my head and my reactions to his disappointment and crying and the many other times I was exasperated when he just couldn't seem to 'get over' things. And then I thought of a few of the parents who had been interviewed in the film, For the Bible Tells Me So, which I had just seen two days before.
This documentary looks at five families who must face their religious convictions when they learn that they have a child who is gay or lesbian. Let me say upfront that I passionately believe in the full inclusion of GLBT folks in all aspects of life, including marriage and ordination in the Episcopal Church, etc. I went into the film hoping to get a sense of the biblical passages that opponents of gay marriage-- or homosexuality in general-- tend to quote to back up their positions (which frankly, in my heart, just feel un-Christian). I'm not one who will ever be able to quote or argue scripture, but I did leave the documentary with a better sense of these few passages, the context in which they were written, and alternative translations and interpretations than the loud, TV evangelists would aggressively argue.
While I was watching, I was sitting between two friends who were viewing the families' stories through their own perspectives. Both openly gay, they were seeing glimpses of their personal stories and at times, in the darkness of the room, I saw their nodding affirmations. My lens is different and I found myself completely entranced by the stories of the parents interviewed. Not all of these stories had easy or beautiful 'endings,' but I became completely blown-away by some of the parents' own journeys of loving their children and perhaps, learning to accept their kids in ways they never expected-- a few even becoming crusaders not only for their own children, but others who are discriminated against for their sexuality. I was particularly moved by the Reitans, this sweet, white Lutheran Minnesotan family, who become unexpected activists in the gay civil rights movement after their own struggle to come to terms with their youngest son's sexuality. In a simple statement, father and former presidential candidate Dick Gephart says simply, "It's called unconditional love, right? No conditions," when talking about his daughter Chrissy.
Hours after the puppet show, I reflected on that statement with Peter as we lay in bed. So here I would not have an issue accepting a son who is gay--in fact, I actively work not to assume they are necessarily heterosexual-- but, yet, I struggle with this one little fellow's incredibly sensitive nature. (And I am NOT making any links between sensitivity and homosexuality-- these are unrelated here.) Is my unconditional love for him being tested? Yes, as a parent I should be teaching him coping skills, but by continually wishing I could 'make' him more flexible, am I hoping that he is something that he is not?
Friday, March 7, 2008
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Men who do housework may get more sex
You know there have to be a few momma bloggers out there today with links to this article. I will say-- officially & for the record--I wake up in fear each day that P will sit me down for the talk. It would begin something like this: "I do too much around the home and you need to start pulling your weight." He could, you know. He would be justified in doing so.
Yes, folks, I married a fellow who cooks, does wash, dishes, diapers, whatever. He is a true partner and parent in all senses of those words. It helps that he stayed home full-time with C and S when they were a year old so he gets it. He really gets it. Whoops-- not sure I meant that as a double entendre. I suspect he may debate the validity of those findings.
Monday, March 3, 2008
Saturday, March 1, 2008
What Really Goes on in the Bed of Two Nearly 40-year-old Married Folks with Three Sons, Ages Five and Under
What time is the nanny coming in the morning? The same time as the housekeeper?
Did you talk to the cook about the shopping & this week's menu?
Wait, didn't you book the massage therapist for Saturday this week? Side-by-side hot stone, right?