Monday, August 24, 2009

The Fun Parent

Everyone brings something different to the table when it comes to parenting. Jeff and I found this out pretty quickly after the first baby joined our family. Some parents feel comfortable letting the baby fuss for a bit before running in to rescue her. Others would prefer to jump at the first hint of squawking. (I won’t tell you which one of us I’m talking about, I’m sure you can accurately guess).

Fortunately Jeff shared with me his desire for respectful kids early on in our relationship and once the kids started coming he reminded me that if our goal was to have independent, respectful kids, it was imperative that we set down some rules and enforce them. It went against my mothering urges sometimes but he was right. Kids enjoy life more when there are guidelines and structure.

But it’s not just in discipline that we differ in our parenting styles. Take, for example, family outings. One of our favorite weekend activities is setting off to find adventure. One of our favorite destinations is New York City. One cold weekend in December of last year we had planned such a trip. I went against our usual fly by the seat of our pants technique and decided to be a bit more prepared. It was the holiday season, after all, and I didn’t want to miss the special exhibits and tourist spots that only appear in the City in the weeks before Christmas.

I went online and spent hours doing research. I lined up a parking garage and reserved a spot. (who knew this was even possible?) I reviewed all the holiday window decorations and figured out which ones would appeal the most to older kids. Then I made up a map showing the best routes to take to see all those specific windows. Of course I also put on that map the huge Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center and a swing through Times Square. It was all lined up. I was prepared. I did my research and printed out handfuls of papers, maps and tourist instructions.

Then we hit the road.

I organized my papers on the drive down and reviewed the plans with the driver (the husband). He patiently nodded his head and said ‘um - hmmm’ in all the right places.

We arrived in the city and started to make our way to my perfectly planned reserved parking garage spot. On the way there we passed many other garages. Garages that had posted prices much less than the one I had reserved. I had to admit defeat on that point and we pulled into a random garage, saving ourselves ten bucks right off the bat.

The rest of the day followed the same pattern. The wads of folded papers I had stuffed in my fanny pack failed us time after time. Either the exhibits we were going to see were not as spectacular as I had imagined and the kids complained, “we came all this way for THAT?” or the attractions were too far apart to realistically hop from one to the other. Most of my research had been for nothing.

This is when Jeff stepped up and saved the day. With his knack for snooping out a good time, we found things I had never seen advertised on line. We rode the subway to places he’d seen when he was in the City for work and even getting to those spots we came across interesting people and experiences. For every item on my perfectly planned list that didn’t come to fruition he found two others that were twice as fun.

I learned a lesson that day. For the seventeen years that we have had children, Jeff has never failed to show them a fun time when the weekends rolled around. He doesn’t research and plan. He studies the map, but he doesn’t print out dozens of pages off tourist websites. He just follows his instincts and fun finds him. This is not a parenting trait I was born with or one I sought out when looking for a mate, but I am incredibly glad he has it.

And a few weekends ago he came through again. It was a sweltering hot Sunday that made me want to hole up in the one air conditioned room of our house. Going outside didn’t feel like an option. But Jeff isn’t capable of sitting inside on a perfectly good weekend day. He announced to the kids that he was off to find fun and whoever wanted to come with him should put on a swimsuit and get in the van. Two kids took him up on his offer.

When they came back four hours later their cheeks were flush with excitement and they couldn’t talk fast enough as they shared their stories. As they were driving down a back road they had seen a bunch of college aged kids walking into the woods with towels. They pulled over and followed the kids. What they found at the end of the path was a perfect summer fun spot. A wide creek with nice cool refreshing water and deep pools that were perfect for jumping into. The college kids were jumping from small cliffs and before the afternoon was over my boys were trying it too.

This is an activity that my kids would never have found if it had been up to me. First, I would never have found such a spot without my hours of research. And second, I might not have been brave enough to let them jump. But dad found the spot and dad supervised the jumping. And in the end his parenting style came through once again.

I’m just thankful he’s on my team.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What's Love Got to Do With It?

Actual conversation overheard while I shelved picture books yesterday. The two 'players' are a five year old little girl and a three year old little boy who didn't know each other and had just met at the Thomas the train table in the Kids Section of our library. They didn't know I was on the other side of the book shelves, listening in.

After explaining in great detail what game they would be playing with the train set (as he sat by patiently listening) she finished her plan with this announcement.

Her: Let's pretend that we're in love.

Him: What's in love mean?

Her: You don't know what in love means?

Him: (stoic silence)

Her: Okay, well here's what it means. First, you don't know each other then you meet one day and then you like each other then you love each other so much that you have to say you are in love.

Him: How 'bout if it means we don't know each other then we meet then we call my uncle Steve and ask him if we can have something out of his garage and he says okay and gets it for us?

Her: (sighing loudly) I'm just going to have to find someone else to be in love with. You just don't get it.

The beginning of Venus and Mars.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Shared Childhood

Thirty five years ago I was an quiet, shy little girl in Missouri who tried her best to stay out of the way. Being the middle of a pack of five siblings made this goal very attainable. And when you add to the mix a wide variety of foster siblings, sometimes up to five at a time, there was plenty of room to get lost in the chaos. My mom was a saint, but also just a woman. Just one woman who tried to spread her love and attention across many young lives. She loved us with everything she had but logistically there wasn’t a lot of time for one on one nurturing. That’s where my oldest sister stepped in.

She and I shared a room through most of my childhood. She was three years older and a dozen years wiser than I was. She was pretty and confident and popular in school. All the things I dreamed of being but couldn’t quite measure up. But she encouraged me anyway. She dried my tears when I sobbed about the prospect of never having a boyfriend. She tried branching out my fashion style when all I wanted was to wear a button down collar shirt and Levis to school every day. (with or without a belt was my biggest style dilemma) She advised me about hair styles (bangs or no bangs?) and let me read all of her Seventeen Magazines. She was very much like a second mom to me.

Eventually we all grew up and found our own paths. I did find a boyfriend (or two) and settled into my own style of life. On a cold day in November, almost 20 years ago, my sisters stood by me in velvet bridesmaid dresses as I said vows to the nicest guy I’d ever met. They welcomed him into the family with open arms. Then we all moved on with life.

Somehow the years flew by. College degrees were earned. Children were born. Siblings went through painful divorces then happy second marriages. Jobs came and went. We moved our family across the country a few times as two of my siblings settled in Dallas. One sister started out in Dallas and ended up in Atlanta for the long term. Another brother settled in our hometown in Missouri. We each lead very different lives but we will always share a very unique childhood.

Very few people understand what it is like to grow up with dozens of revolving siblings. Kids coming and going through your house, sometimes never even knowing their last names until after they were gone. Explaining to school friends how this new ‘brother’ was related to me was tricky and sometimes awkward. But I always knew I was not alone in this experience. There were four other natural siblings who completely understood my frustrations and insecurities. We each came out of that experience with different life goals. It shaped who we are in different ways.

Because we live so far apart I rarely get to see these four special people in my life. So it was a very rare treat to drive to the airport this week and pick up my sister and my brother, who had flown in from Dallas. As a bonus they brought along one of my nephews and one of my nieces. We had just three days together but it was just enough time to make some really priceless memories.

We took a long hike down the Indian Ladder trail and then visited our favorite pizza place nearby. We did the obligatory tour around downtown Albany, to remind my nephew and niece that New York City is not the capital of New York. We toured the state museum and took pictures by the touching 9/11 exhibit. And of course we rode the free carousel.

When we were not out and about we had just as much fun hanging out at home together. The tire swing was in constant motion and the bike jumps in the woods saw more action than they’ve seen all summer. It was interesting to be around these two children who are related to me yet so foreign to me in their everyday lives. I email my siblings often and every once in awhile we talk on the phone. But hanging out with a child, and with a grown sibling, is the only way to really know them, who they are in life.

Sitting in lawn chairs in our driveway I saw this teen aged child who looked so much like the sister who used to comfort me during my teen years of angst. My oldest sister has raised a pretty great kid who resembles her in more ways than physical appearances. She is kind and thoughtful and has amazing confidence, just like her mom did at her age. Across from me at the pizza joint sat an adorable replica of my brother who had amazing ideas and a great sense of humor.

It was almost surreal, to think we are no longer the kids. No longer the ones wondering where our lives will take us. No longer worried that we won’t get the right college degree or marry the right person. Most of our big life decisions have been made. Now it’s time to watch the new generation take their first steps.

The weekend flew by way too quickly, as I knew it would. I am left with a heart full of new memories and a camera full of pictures. Being around my siblings used to make me feel young again. We were instantly back to childhood, with our same pecking orders and relationships.

But now suddenly we all got old. We all feel the same age. We all feel the pressure of raising good kids in a mixed up world. Even when we don’t see each other every week, or even every year, it is a comfort to know they are out there. Four other people on the planet who know me like no one else. Four other people who understand my crazy childhood. Four other people who will always be welcome to come share a lawn chair on my driveway.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Drive In Movie Threat

When Nina comes to visit from Brazil I am always on the lookout for things to show her. I want her to experience every little thing that could be called an "American" experience. She travels to Chile with her family to ski. She jets off to Europe for family vacations. I don't feel pressure to impress her. I've learned that the simple things appeal to her the most.

Through our children's visits to her house in Brazil we have become more educated about how other countries differ in regards to security. Even in a developed country like Brazil, Nina lives in a very guarded environment. Kidnappings are very real in Sao Paulo. Robbery and muggings are commonplace. They have a fence around their house, their neighborhood, their school, even their mall.

The idea of not locking our doors during the day is foreign to Nina. Casually riding our bikes or walking down our street with no fear was something new for her. Her father sat in our driveway and marveled at the sight of our children riding around our neighborhood, freely and unguarded. It is something I didn't realize I should appreciate.

On one of her last days in America I realized we had never taken Nina to the drive in theater. We have several good ones in this area and I quickly googled the weather forecast to see if there would be any dry night that we could go. The days and movie line ups matched up with the weather forecast so I excitedly went to share these new plans with Nina.

"We're going to a drive in!" I said.

"What is this?" she asked.

I explained the basics of the set up, stressing the great concession stands and comfy lawn chair seats.

She looked confused. Very confused. Then she said, "And is this safe?"

Then I looked confused. "Of course it's safe. Why wouldn't it be?"

After a quick minute to collect her thoughts in English, she spelled it out beautifully.

"Well, you sit out in a dark field with a bunch of strangers, in the middle of the night, with your car and all your possessions wide open and exposed."

Well, since you put it that way.....she kind of has a point.

Fortunately they not only had good weather on the night Jeff took them to see a silly movie about guinea pigs, but no one was robbed and/or assaulted. Must have been that rough tough security guard with the pot belly that scared away the criminals.

Babying Big Kids

It is Sunday night and I just had a very productive weekend. I didn't get any major house projects done. Aside from some light de-cluttering, I haven't done any real house cleaning. Nothing was dug up or transplanted in my water logged front flower bed. We had no visitors, no long chats with neighbors. In fact half of my family was out of town. But the reason I feel so content has nothing to do with concrete accomplishments. It has everything to do with the fact I got to baby my oldest child.

She arrived on the planet just over seventeen years ago and for the past sixteen years she has basically been in charge of herself. Maybe it has something to do with her being pushed out of the 'family baby' position just weeks after her first birthday. She didn't get to claim the title for long. She has always taken on the role of big sister with gusto. She was five, then ten, when her other two brothers joined the family and she instantly became their second mom. Sam was such a fussy baby that if Meredith had not been willing to juggle and rock him for 20 minutes each day, I wouldn't have showered his whole first year of life.

The drawback to this situation is that I rarely get to fuss over my girl. She loves her independence and loves that I call her my personal assistant. But sometimes I miss just being her mom. I miss being able to gush over her and fuss over her. That's why this weekend agreed so completely with my mothering heart. Because Friday morning, bright and early, my all- grown- up girl had her wisdom teeth removed.

Dad took her in for the appointment and just before noon she stumbled through our kitchen door, still groggy from the anesthetic. She mumbled something in my direction and I don't think I could have deciphered it even if her mouth hadn't been stuffed with gauze. I steered her towards our king sized bed and propped her up with pillows. For the first few hours she was barely awake so I fussed over her quietly, tucking in covers, propping up the frozen corn on her jaw to keep the swelling down.

Then she woke up and was able to ask for things. Another pillow for her lower back. A glass of ice water. Maybe some applesauce for her growling stomach. I was thrilled to have the chance to baby her.

On normal days she never needs me for such minute things. In fact she's the one who gets those things for her little brothers when I'm at work. She's always the pamper-er, rarely the pamper-ee. It was a rare treat to have her all propped up, a captive audience, as I came and went through the room. I don't think I've seen her for such a long period of uninterrupted time since she was in elementary school.

I have friends who are still in the little kid stage of life. They have little people hanging on them, tugging on their pant leg, needing something, almost every minute of the day. They use the lock on the bathroom to get a little time alone. They can hardly imagine having big kids, kids who vanish to their rooms and friend's houses in the blink of an eye. Big kids who know how to make their own lunch, bandage their own boo-boos and complete their potty time all by themselves. It is hard to grasp that those types of days will come, when you're tripping over a basket of tub toys every time you take a shower and would pay a million dollars on some days if you could just find one (just one!) bleepity bleep pacifier.

We had those days. I'm sure we did. I have photo boxes full of pictures documenting those days. They seem far away from me most of the time but I know we were once there ourselves. And so quickly they all grew up. They did what kids are supposed to do in a healthy, nurturing environment. They started doing more things for themselves and started helping out around the house. I rarely load a dishwasher these days. I haven't put away kid laundry in years. I mow the grass only if I feel like getting a little sun and/or exercise. Most of the time you will see these chores being done by the big kids who live in our house. They help out around our house to prepare them for being on their own. On their own in a very short time, once you do the math.

So as much as I hate to see my baby girl in pain, I have enjoyed the past three days. I have had the rare chance to be a mommy again to this child who so rarely needs my physical help. It has been a joy to bring her fresh ice packs, the new People magazine, and endless milkshakes.

Because she may be as tall as I am and she may be just twelve months away from graduating and moving on with her life, but for this brief period of time the clock moved backward.

For a few magical days I got to be mommy again and fuss over my sweet, sweet baby girl.

Super Supper Mom

About two hours ago Sam asked me when we were having dinner. I said, "at six."

A few minutes ago he walked up, smug look on his face. "It's one minute till six, mom. And there is no way you can make dinner in just one minute!"

I gave him my best sly smile and said, "it's in the crock pot..."

He shook his head, and as he walked away he mumbled, "whoa...she's good..."

Would someone please make a note that for at least this one day, I impressed my child.