Thursday, October 3, 2013

Where Am I Going with This?

To those of you who don't know already, I am trying to write a novel.  It's fiction, and that's about all I can say about it right now.  Some days, I write in a frenzy.  I can barely type fast enough to keep up with the scenes flowing from my brain.  I get totally submerged in the fictitious world I've created, and feel weird and out of touch with reality when I finally surface hours later.  Today is not one of those days.  Today is one of the days where I sit and stare at the screen, type two sentences, delete one, get up for a cup of coffee, and do some more staring.  Just now I was typing a scene, and it was like making stuff up out of thin air - hard.  I know I'm really always making it up out of thin air, but sometimes it seems like if I sit still and think about the characters, the story practically writes itself.  Today, the story is on vacation, off on a bender, taking a nap.  It refuses to do any of the work itself and insists I pick up the slack.  On days like today, writing is not fun, it is a chore, which is why I'm blogging instead.  It's like when you sit down to study for a test and suddenly decide your whole apartment needs cleaning.  What can I justify doing instead of sitting with Pages open in front of me, plunking out dialogue one painful word at a time, all the while with the sneaking suspicion everything I write today is going to be crap when I reread it later?.......
Well, now I'm doing the same thing with this post: staring at the screen wondering what comes next.  Guess it's time to get back to not writing.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

On the Fourth Day of Kindergarten...

It is the fourth day of kindergarten, and my mental dust has finally settled on the logistics of the whole drop-off, pick-up thing.  I've now turned my attention towards the aspect of Jack starting school that's a little more global.  It is so disconcerting not to see him all day long for five days a week.  I am enjoying my me time, don't get me wrong.  I love having several hours a couple days a week when both kids are in school and I can be on my own.  It's something I've missed lately.  But for seven hours a day, I don't know at all what Jack is doing.  Intellectually I know this is not bad.  This is the natural first step towards Jack growing up.  Kids get a little bit of independence at a time, until one day, they are truly ready to leave the nest.  This is a good thing.  This is the whole end goal of parenting - raising children to be independent responsible adults.  That's what I believe in my rational thinking mind, but my heart is crying out, "nooooo!  I don't want him to leave me!"
I am happy when I see how comfortable Jack already is in elementary school.  Today I walked him in through the parent pick-up door, instead of the front door so he could see where I'd pick him up in the car (for the first time) today.  He walked in that building ahead of me, confidently lead me on a detour past his classroom so he could show me some art they had in the hallway, and then strolled right into the cafeteria as if he owned the place.  That kid knows what he's doing, and he's come a long way from the toddler who hid behind my legs every time he encountered an unfamiliar, or sometimes even familiar, person.  I am happy, and I am relieved, because I truly did not know how well he would take this transition to kindergarten.  I am sad, though, because my first little boy is leaving me - not now, not next year, but this is the first step in the process.  One day, he will pack up his car and head away from our house for his own adventures in the world, and even though he's only five now, I can see that day coming way sooner than I'd like.
This is what I was thinking about a lot of the day yesterday.  Then Jack came home from school, and he was elated to find out I'm volunteering in his classroom once a week.  He also asked me to come eat lunch with him some day at school.  This morning, he sat in my lap and told me he was sad we couldn't have Jack and Momma day anymore because of school.  I reassured him we would find Jack and Momma time somewhere in our busy week, no question.  So, he's on his way to growing up, right on schedule, and some day he will be gone, but he's not quite done with Momma yet, and I am so very glad.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Kindergarten and Logistics

Today is the first day of kindergarten.  I dropped Jack off at school.  We were later than I wanted to be and got there at 7:40, instead of 7:35, like we were supposed to to meet the other kindergarteners in the cafeteria, so Jack and I walked to his classroom ourselves.  He was light and happy all the way there, until it was time for me to leave.  He hugged me tight and didn't seem to want to let go.  He did, though, and as I left, he had that serious, slightly worried look he gets.  I waved and smiled.  I left the building and walked back down the hill to my car.  I drove home,  I walked in the house, where Gage and Jason were waiting, and I burst into tears.
Jason went to work, and I got a hold of myself, but the rest of the morning, I was on edge.  My mind was going a mile a minute with questions.  What happens tomorrow when they won't let me walk him to the classroom?  Should I drop him off in the car or walk him into the cafeteria where we've been told the kids will wait until their teacher takes them to the classroom?  How am I going to pick him up?  Will Gage walk fast enough with me?  Do I take the stroller?  What if Jack gets nervous because he's not sure how it works?  Where do I park?  How's it going to work when we start car pooling next week?  Oh, yeah, I need to buy booster seat for that...My mind is going in all different directions.
Then I realized what was upsetting me.  Yes, I was worried about Jack, but really I know he'll be okay.  I'm pretty sure he'll enjoy kindergarten after he gets used to it and knows the routine.  Yes, I feel a sadness at my first baby going off to big bad, stay-all-day everyday public school.  Yes, I'm going to miss him.  But what really had me all fit to be tied was not knowing the logistics.  Mmm, I wonder where Jack gets his attachment to routine?  We had a great little schedule with preschool three days a week.  We all knew how that worked, but this is something brand new, and despite having taught elementary school in this very district, I feel like I don't have a clue how best to do things like drop off and pick up, and that seriously stresses me out.
Yes, I went to kinder camp with Jack, and yes I listened, but during that time, I got a call from the preschool saying Gage was acting weird, and since he'd fallen and hit his head pretty badly that day before school, I was concerned.  So I spend a good deal of kindergarten orientation either out in the hall on the phone or sitting in the meeting distracted by my worries about Gage.  I'm sure this contributes to my feeling of being not at all prepared.
I know this feeling will pass.  We will get used to elementary school just like we got used to preschool, but for some reason knowing this does not get me to relax right now.  I am a planner, and it puts me out of sorts when I feel like I can't totally plan ahead for something.  We really just need to go to school for a couple of weeks, try a couple of different transportation/parking options and figure out what's best, but I don't like that. I want to know what's best RIGHT NOW!
Anyway, this rant really doesn't have a point.  I just needed to vent my frustration, and now I feel better...well a little better.  Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Advice Overload

I just read a parenting article that made me feel like a failure as a mom.  I know I'm not a failure, but many times, when I read articles about how I should not rush my kids, stop and smell the roses, nurture their artistic side, take them on amazing vacations, teach them math facts, be sensitive to all their many emotions, listen, don't yell, be authoritative, and on and on, I feel overwhelmed.  It's not that I don't think most of theses things are pieces of good parenting.  It's that I am human.  I am a real woman with a personality, and it is flawed.  I don't like yelling at my kids.  I don't do it often, but every now and then, the mommy bomb goes off because I just cannot take it anymore.  The thing about reading parenting articles is, it makes me uber-analytical about my own parenting.  I start worrying that I've permanently scarred my kids because I am an imperfect parent.  I know this is not the intent of the articles.  They are meant to be helpful, and I wish I could just take them as possibly useful little nuggets of information without obsessing over whether or not I measure up to them for days on end.
I did come up with a thought recently, though, while on vacation without the kids - just about the only time I am capable of original thought.  I am not one hundred percent responsible for the adults my kids will become.  Maybe some of you are thinking, "well, duh," but it was nothing short of epiphany for me.  There are their own genetics, which come from Jason and me, but are hardly within our control.  There will be school, friends, teachers, jobs, random circumstance.  It's not all on us as parents.  When I think about it, the one thing I could do to improve my parenting would be to freaking relax a bit.  When Jack was born, I was a ball of stress.  I was so afraid something would go wrong or I would somehow mess him up.  With Gage I was better, but there's still that whisper saying, "You've been doing it wrong," almost every time I read an article with parenting advice in it.  I don't know why I'm convinced article writers know how I should be raising my children necessarily.  I mean, they're my kids, right?  I know them, and I even have an actual degree in child development and family relations, so I should basically know what I'm doing, even if I'm not perfect.  Sometimes, I actually think if I knew less about child rearing, I'd be happier.  Ignorance is bliss, right?  So since I can't manage to take parenting advice from the experts lightly, I think I'll stop reading the articles.  It's just like when I was fourteen and stopped reading Seventeen magazine, because leafing through it and seeing all the stick-skinny models made me feel bad about myself.  Don't get me wrong; all the information available to parents these days can be great.  It can give you ideas about how to solve problems with your kids, and it can make you realize you're not the only one experiencing something.  I just wish there were a few more articles out there telling us parents, it's okay if you're not perfect.  Your kids are not going to grow up to be serial killers because you yelled at them one time for dumping a whole box of Cheerios on the floor.  They may be serial killers, but it won't be because you yelled at them.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Concerts Through the Years

Jason and I went to see The Killers in concert Friday night, while the kids were with my parents.  I had a blast.  The Killers put on a great show.  They sounded perfect and included some neat tricks, like fire work-type pyrotechnics and masses of confetti falling from the ceiling.  I found myself standing with Jason, a little more than halfway to the front of the arena floor.  Here, the people were thick, but not pressed up against each other, as they would be closer to the stage.  I jumped, danced, clapped, sang and really really enjoyed myself.  It occurred to me I was actually having more fun than I had at most of the concerts I went to pre-children, when I sometimes attended a music venue just because my friends wanted to go.  Don't get me wrong; there were a couple of stand-out concerts I'll never forget.  One was seeing Pearl Jam at South Park Meadows, back in '95, when it was just a big, open field and not the massive shopping center it is today.  I had just turned twenty years old and started my junior year at UT.  It was September, and if you know Austin, Texas, you know it was still hotter than hell.  My friends and I all got separated.  I pushed my way to the front, where I contentedly mooned over the band, despite the bodies pressed up against me so hard I had trouble breathing, the blistering heat, and the doc martened crowd surfers who periodically kicked me in the head.  I obsessively loved every moment of that concert, and when Pearl Jam made their final exit from the stage and the crowd receded, I stood there, staring at the stage with the goofy grin on my face I'd worn all day, sweaty and tired and unable to believe it was over.  Then, there was The Toadies at Austin City Limits Festival, circa 2002.  Again it was, September, this time right around my twenty-seventh (?) birthday.  I started the Toadies portion of the show up front with friends, and ended it up front by myself, as the crowd got to be too much for everyone else.  I was so close, I could see the sweaty pores on Todd Lewis' face.  It was a fabulous set, complete with all my favorites.  I hollered the words to  Tyler and Possum Kingdom along with the band and the rest of the crowd.  Then, when it was over, I dragged my spent body away from the stage, dirty, sweaty, missing an anklet, and entirely happy.
Most of the concerts of my youth weren't like that, though.  There was, for instance, the Lollapallooza sometime in my early twenties, where we spent all day outside in the blistering heat (What is it with outdoor music festivals in the heat of the summer??) anticipating the headliners, Sound Garden and Metallica.  While I was a fan of both bands, by the time Sound Garden took the stage, I'd been standing in a crowd of sweaty bodies pressed against each other for hours.  It seemed everyone around me was over six feet tall, and cut me off from any breeze as effectively as a dense forest.  I tried to be cool and tough and stick it out, but not too far into the set, I began to feel faint and see little stars at the edge of my vision.  Then I started feeling a little sick to my stomach, and there is nothing tough or cool about barfing all over your fellow concert-goers.  I was also unnerved by the idea of passing out in that crowd, as my ass had already been fondled several times while completely conscious.  So I stood on tiptoe, stretched my arm up above my head, and waved my hand at a security guard in the front isle.  I hollered, "I need out!"  The guard reached in, grabbed my wrist and pulled, as the mass of sweaty humanity pushed (None of them wanted to be vomited on, either) and I was free.  I walked to the outside, circled around back, got some water, and watched the rest of the show from the back.  I was so tired by that point, I was relieved when Metallica finished up and it was time to go home.  There were a lot of other concerts.  Many when I went just because it was the cool thing to do, but I was secretly counting the songs until we could emerge from the throngs and get back in the car where it was quiet, and I could sit down.
So why did I enjoy The Killers so much, even though I am ten years older and supposedly lacking twenty-something energy levels?  I mean, I like The Killers, but I don't worship them (or any band anymore, for that matter) like I did Pearl Jam or The Toadies.  Well, for one, I hadn't spent all day drinking Miller Lite in the Texas sun prior to the headliner coming onstage.  For two, I actually have more energy now, since my eating habits have improved, and I am no longer perpetually anemic.  But I think the primary reason is this:  I spent ninety percent of my time in my twenties doing whatever the hell I wanted to do.  Going to a music venue where I could do just that wasn't novel, especially since I went to lots of concerts.  Now, things are different.  I can count the number of concerts I've been to since becoming a mom five years ago on one hand.  I spend ninety percent of my time concerned with the happiness and welfare of the kiddos, always on alert for someone who needs a nap, a snack, a potty, or a hug.  And it is not only novel but absolutely freaking wonderful to be able to stand in the middle of a crowd at The Killers and jump up and down like an idiot or just stand still, if that's what I want to do, without having to be concerned about long it's been since Gage has been to the bathroom or how many hours it's been since Jack has eaten.  I love my kiddos so much sometimes I feel I could just eat them up, and I love that I spend so much time with them.  One thing I'm starting to realize, though, is they also enhance the time I spend without them.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Soap Operas and Bon-Bons

Recently, I read an article about how women, who have taken time off from paying work to raise children, should "lean into" their careers, meaning, they shouldn't feel guilty using child care or letting their children play on their own a bit while Mom tends to her payin' gig.  There were a ton of comments on the article, a lot of praise and sympathetic voices, but also a lot of angry women who felt the article denigrated the stay-at-home mom.  There were several self-righteous declarations stating how deciding to stay home with children was the best thing the commenter ever did, yadda, yadda, yadda.  I read all eighty comments and came away with this:  wow, do we parents ever feel guilty, no matter what our choices are.  If we work, we worry we're neglecting our children and not being the parents we should.  If we stay home, we worry we aren't using our intellectual talents or we are lazy, bon-bon eating soap opera addicts.
I could say I work outside of raising children, but that would be, while not entirely false, a bit misleading.  My father and I have a business we run out of my parents' house, which requires, at most three hours of my attention per week, and I take the kids with me.  For all practical purposes, I am a SAHM.  I have a ton of respect for parents with full or part-time paying jobs.  That is a lot to juggle.  I don't think they are any worse parents than I.  In fact, some parents who have paying gigs are way better at spending quality time with their kiddos than overwrought ones who stay home all day.  That being said, I'm going to address the stay-at-home parent guilt, because that is what I am most familiar with.  
One of the comments I read on the aforementioned article pointed out that some stay-at-home parents work really hard at making sure their job is really hard, like ridiculously over-the-top hard.  They run themselves ragged to play dates and soccer practices and mom and tot swim classes, because they have a need to prove to themselves they work just as hard, if not harder than their spouses or friends with paying jobs.  I know because I used to be kind of like this.  I felt guilty if I had a relaxing couple of hours with the kids, where I just watched them play in the back yard while I drank coffee and did my own thing.  We should be off learning Spanish, or how to knit, or climbing on colorful objects at some indoor play-place, while a teenage employee blows bubbles and talks in a loud, over-the-top, syrupy sweet voice!  I'd feel like my choice to stay home was somehow the lazy choice because I wasn't, at the moment, schlepping my kids all over town to organized activities,  exhausting myself.  That's kind of messed up.  The reason I wanted to stay home was because I love hanging out with kids.  I love watching them play and learn and grow, and not because I love strapping kids into car seats and listening to "Wheels on the Bus," on repeat, as I drive all over town.   And I didn't choose to stay home necessarily because I thought it would be better for them than being in child care.  I chose it because that's what I wanted to do.  That's what I knew would make me happy, so I feel very lucky to be able to do what I want.  It doesn't feel like sacrifice....well, not most of the time.  Sometimes, though,  having a glass of wine in the afternoon on the driveway with my neighbor while our kids play, more or less on their own, running between our two yards, I feel a twinge of guilt, like I should not be enjoying myself this much.  This staying home with kids stuff is supposed to be thankless, grueling work, with no respite!  But how ridiculous is it that I can't relax before nine PM without guilt?  I have a job.  That job is raising my kids, with whom I stay home (or at the park, or at a friend's house, or at the grocery store) all day.  I love my job - not one hundred percent of the time - but all in all it's a pretty sweet deal, and how lucky am I to be doing what I love.  I am not going to feel guilty for being content anymore.  It's the best thing I ever did....yadda, yadda yadda.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Getting the Poison Out

Yesterday, I lost my shit.  And by "lost my shit" I mean I threw a toddler-style tantrum, complete with screaming, kicking the wall and throwing things.  What, you might ask, prompted this break with mature adult behavior at six forty-five in the evening?  Hot Wheels - little metal cars, strewn about the play room, that Gage absolutely refused to pick up.  My reaction may seem a bit extreme, and I am the first to admit it was, but to know what put me in the state of mind to become so unhinged by tiny cars and my own tiny, little person, we have to backtrack a bit.  
I started the day yesterday at a disadvantage.  I woke up tired and irritable due to PMS.  This does not excuse poor behavior, but any woman thus afflicted, can understand it makes  not ripping everyone's heads off a colossal exercise in restraint.  We had to be out the door by nine o'clock for me to get the kids over to my parents' house, so my dad could watch them while I went for my annual exam at the gynecologist  (yee-haw, what fun).  I was having the house cleaned while we were gone, so in addition to the normal struggle of getting everyone dressed, fed, pottied and out the door, I was trying to get everything picked up.  (I am not suggesting you feel sorry for me because I hired someone to clean my house.) I did, I thought, a remarkable job of not yelling at anyone during this process, but by the time I had all of us, including the dog, in the van and was backing down the driveway at precisely nine, I felt like I'd already expended my daily allotment of energy.   
I dropped off the kids, went to my appointment (again, yee-haw) and returned just before Gage's nap.  I put Gage down for a nap, went upstairs and did some work for Dad's and my engineering business we run out of their house.  As soon as Gage woke up, we gathered the amazing amount of crap we take to my parents' for a mere three-hour visit, and stuffed everyone back in the van to head to Jack's soccer class.  At the class, I spent my time trying to watch Jack practice and keep Gage from flooding the place with the water fountain at the same time.  We went by Randall's on the way home to pick up one thing I needed to make dinner, and I decided to (gasp!) leave the kids in the car.  I got sausage, paid, and was back at the van in under four minutes.  No one stole the kids, which doesn't surprise me, because what nut job wants a five-year-old and a two-year-old they are not biologically beholden to take care of??
Back at home, we walked in to the smell of pinesol, which made me smile.  A clean house makes Momma happy, even when she knows it will only last five minutes.  Then, I discovered the cleaning crew had broken a ceramic handprint ornament the kids had done for Christmas, ate the cookies I was saving for dessert, and rearranged the pillows on Jack's bed. (Okay, that last one was only a big deal because Jack was extremely upset about it.) I took deep breaths, and left Jack in his room to scream and, "get the poison out," as Jason says.  When Jack was calm, we went downstairs, where the kids watched Mickey Mouse, while I made dinner.  Dinner was uneventful, except for the kids not eating what I cooked.  Apparently, black beans and rice with turkey sausage is a very suspicious dish and not be trusted.
After dinner, I was emptying the dish washer while the kids played surprisingly nicely together in the playroom.  I thought, "I made it.  It was a really busy day, I was in a bad mood, but I did all right."
Then I walked into the playroom to help the kids clean up before bath and it happened:
Me:  Let's pick up all these cars.
Jack:  Gage dumped them out.
Me:  Gage, come help clean up.
Gage:  (Ignores me while engrossed in a plastic bracelet.)
Me:  Come on, Gage, clean up, clean up...(I sing the clean up song to no avail.)
I pick Gage up, carry him to the cars.
Me:  Toss the cars in the basket, Gage!  Two points! (I try to make a game out of it.)
Gage:  giggle, giggle, giggle (still not cleaning up)

In hindsight, I should've just let it go.  I know I need to be consistent with the clean-up thing, but I knew I didn't have the patience, and I should've just closed the playroom door, gone upstairs with the kids, and forgotten it.  But I didn't.  I stood up, gave a primal scream at the top of my lungs, threw the basket on the tile floor, and kicked the wall with my bare foot.  I guess Jack wasn't the only one who needed to get the poison out.  At this point, both kids started crying, and I immediately felt awful.  Great example there, Mom.  Way to show the kids how to control their tempers.  Now you've scared them.  Jack was sobbing, Gage was crying, "Mama, Mama, Mama!" I sat down on the floor with my head in my hands, and that's when Jason walked in.  " Welcome home to the asylum, honey!!"
Both kids came over and sat in my lap, and we hugged for a while until everyone felt a little better.  I said I was sorry for losing my temper and that I would do better next time.  Then, Gage got up, picked up one of the Hot Wheels and went over and dropped it in the basket.  Then, he looked at me with a questioning expression and said, "eh?" Interpretation:  Is this what you got so worked up about?
Jason gave the kids their bath that night, while I laid on our bed and cried.  It was something I needed to do.  It was cathartic, and afterwards, I felt much better.  I could hear Jason laughing with the kids in the tub, and I was so very grateful to have him, to know that he could be patient with them when I couldn't.  Jack and Gage and I cuddled, read books, and reconnected before Jason put them to bed, and that made me feel better, too.  After that, I had a bath, drank some wine, watched some tv, and went to bed,  And this morning, I felt renewed - ready to take on the day, and the kids.  I even had a few new ideas about how to get Gage to do things like clean up and get dressed that would help it be less frustrating for all of us.  This story doesn't really have a moral or a point, except to say, some days are hard and sometimes I'm not going to handle the hard things well, because I am imperfect, but that's all right, because I am lucky.  I have forgiving children and a husband to share the burdens of life and child rearing with.  Plus, he intuitively knows when to bring home wine.  Thanks, guys.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Five-Year Itch

Lately, when I sit still, I feel antsy.  Whether it's while the kids are playing and for once not in need of my immediate intervention or by myself while Gage naps and Jack is at school, I have this sense there's something I should be doing - something I'm forgetting or something my conscious brain is deliberately ignoring.  Like today:  here I sat on my driveway on a gorgeous afternoon, watching Jack shoot baskets, while Jason and Gage played inside. We'd had a busy day, and I was tired, my allergies were in full swing, but I still had that itch - there was something that needed doing.   I know what it is.  It's time to write, like seriously write, like more than a few lines of blog-style venting and ranting. 
 This fall, Jack will be in full-time kindergarten and Gage will start 2-days-a-week preschool.  The kids are getting a little older, and I'm finally finding myself with some spare time on my hands here and there when I'm not too exhausted to even think.  I hear part of my mind whispering to me,"Write! You need to write!" Then, another part of my mind comes up with an excuse not to.  It's very similar to rationalizations not to exercise.  (I should go run...but I'm tired, I'm hungry, I need to pay bills, it looks like rain...) Part of it, I guess, is that I'm a little lazy.  As much as I enjoy writing and feel rewarded by it, it is work, and it can be frustrating.  More of it, though,  is that I am reticent or even afraid to go leaping off into that abyss.  What if I start writing a book, and I can't finish it?  What if I don't have what it takes to sit in front of my computer for the hours, daily it would take to complete it?  What if I do finish it, and it sucks?  What if I can't get it published?  I know I sound like McFly in Back to the Future (I just don't think I could handle that kind of rejection.)
Of course, I know the answers to all this.  If I never try, I'll never know if I could've done it.  I'll always wonder.  But still it's hard to actually do it, when I can tidy up the kitchen, fold laundry, order things on amazon,  poke around on Facebook, or find a million other excuses not to sit down at my desk.  It's like deciding to clean my whole apartment in college before I could sit down to study for an exam.
In the end, when I think about it, I know I'll do it.  I have to do it, or I'll drive myself crazy with mental self-nagging.  At least, I'll try to do it. I'll take my own advice, often given to Jack about new foods, activities or friends - you'll never know if you don't try.  That kid is so like me sometimes it scary.  So pretty soon, I promise, I'm going to start suffering and write that symphony... er, book.*

* This is a reference to Singing in the Rain, which my sister and I watched over and over to the point of obsession when we were kids.

Monday, February 4, 2013

My Kids Aren't Cute

Years ago, when Jack was my only child and about thirteen months old, in the context of a play date, a friend of mine asked of me and another mom, while the three of us were serenely watching our toddlers play,  "So when do they stop being cute?"  The other mom said with surprise, "Oh!  Never!"  My flip response was, "I guess around four or so."  While I don't think she asked the question with any real seriousness, it stuck with me, and I think of it periodically as I watch my children learn and grow.  Jack is now closing in on five and will go to kindergarten in the fall, and I can say, I think he is no longer cute.  This isn't really as insulting as it sounds.  You see, Gage is almost two.  He has this cute little voice.  He likes to sing songs in his own personal language, which is super cute, and when he dances in his jumping, swaying toddler way, he is so stinking cute, I could eat him up.  (Incidentally, I never understood why cute kids drum up feelings of cannibalism in adults until I had my own kids.)  The way Gage squats down to examine bugs and rocks and acorns is endearingly cute, and when he waves and says, "Bye-eee," to people, they always respond with, "Aw, he is soooo cute!"  I remember it was that way with Jack when he was two, but now his comments and affectations inspire different feelings in me.  I don't remember the last time I told Jack, "You are so cute!"  But I am often in awe of his analytical ability.  I'm always thinking how smart and coordinated and emotionally empathetic he is, and I tell him these things.   He's become so much more complex and competent than cute.  We have whole, real conversations about things that make him curious - actual give and take conversations, instead of an endless stream of his asking, "Why?"  The other day, I came across a video I took of Jack holding Gage in his lap on our couch when Gage was just three weeks old.  Jack was three.  As he talked in his little three-year-old voice, I smiled and thought, "How cute!"  That's when I realized Jack has now, to a large degree, grown out of "cute."  It made me both proud of the big kid he's become and a little wistful and sad that he's lost that simplicity of toddlerhood.  It also reminded me to cherish the moments of Gage's cuteness, because it will be gone all too soon.
As I look forward to the fall, when Gage will start preschool and Jack will make the big move to kindergarten in public school, I remember how scared I used to be when I thought of my little Jack going off to big, public school.  I worried he was too sensitive and sweet and that big, bad kindergarten would eat him alive.  Now when I think about it, I'm still a little apprehensive.  I'm still concerned someone will be mean to him, or he won't feel comfortable asking the teacher for help when he needs it.  But, as my cute little Jack has turned into a competent, problem-solving, resilient kid, in my heart, I know he'll be okay.  I know that, even if everyone isn't always nice as pie to him, he can handle it.  I know that, even if he doesn't know where the bathroom is, he'll ask.  And I know that, even if he feels sad, frustrated, angry or even a little lonely from time to time at school, he'll be all right.  I know that, despite any obstacles or hardships, Jack will make it through school, and not only will he be okay, but he'll be stronger for having overcome the challenges along the way.  This is why it is good he is no longer just cute, because cute only gets you so far in life.  The rest of it -  finding real happiness and satisfaction - takes intelligence, fortitude, introspection and a sense of humor.  All of which is so much more than cute.

Friday, January 4, 2013


Every year, my mom and I go to Austin City Limits Festival.  It's a great conglomeration of bands and musicians from far and wide and right here in Austin.  We get to see some great music by bands we've never heard of, and we get to jump up and down excitedly to some old favorites.  Mostly, it's like a vacation.  We spend three days wandering around hearing great music, eating local food, drinking and relaxing.  When the kids came along, this escape became even more important to me - three child-free days where I can tell off-color stories, curse, drink a little too much and do what I want to do. This past year, though, I felt a little guilty disappearing from my children all day for three days in a row.  They love music, and ACL has a kids area with kids music and activities, not to mention the giant sand pit with accompanying buckets and shovels.  Why not take them on Sunday?  I see lots of people taking their kids, and it would be good for them, culturally.  I SHOULD take them. They get in free, after all, so what's to lose?
So, on Sunday morning I plowed through my hangover from ACL revelry the day before to get the kids ready to go.  I wrestled the double jogging stroller into the back of the minivan.  I packed snacks, water, sunscreen, sand toys and beloved blankies and drover over to my parents'.  My dad dropped us off - Mom, me, the kids and assorted "necessary items" by the bridge where we spent several minutes packing everything into the stroller to walk to the festival.  We walked to the fest and hit up the kiddie area.  Jack said the music was too loud and sat with his hands over his ears looking unhappy.  Newly potty-trained Gage began holding his crotch and grunting, signifying the need to pee, so I rushed him to the portapotty, where we waited in line for five long minutes, me pleading with him to hold it.  He did and we made it out of the potty alive, after Gage had touched every disgusting germ-infested inch of the place. We found Mom and Jack and decided to get something to eat.  Mom and I shared a beer, and Jack and Gage, happier than they'd been all morning,  shared cheese sticks and ice cream.  Then, Gage fell asleep in the stroller, and we headed over to a tent with a giant screen playing whatever NFL game was on that Sunday.  I parked Gage in a quiet corner, and Jack happily sat in Mom's lap watching football.  This was relaxing, but totally something we could be doing at home.  
Forty-five minutes later Gage woke up cranky from a too-short nap, and Mom and I threw in the towel.  We looked at each other, and didn't even need to say it:  Let's go home.  So we did.  We schlepped the monster stroller back to her parked car, crammed it in the back and headed back to their place.  We were both exhausted.
On the way home, I had an internal conversation:  
Me #1:  Hmmm, that was not as much fun as I had hoped.
Me #2: You know Jack doesn't like loud noises or crowds, and you know Gage has to go to the toilet all the time and doesn't nap that well in public.  What did you expect?
Me #1:  I know, but everyone else takes their kids and seems to have a good time, and I thought it would be good for them, culturally, you know?
Me#2:  Okay, A: How do you know everyone else is having a good time with their kids at a crowded, loud music festival, and B:  Even if they are, it doesn't mean you have put everyone in your family through the hassle, just so you can prove something to yourself.  You don't have to cram in all the culture before they're five years old, for Christ sake!
Me#1:  You're right. *sigh* I know.

So next year, I will not put any of us through taking the kids to ACL.  I will go and enjoy it myself, and leave the kids home with Jason or my dad, where they can run around, play games and be the kids they know how to be.  I may not take them year after next, either.  And if they never go to ACL fest with me, I'm sure I'm still a good mom, because this isn't the first thing I've dragged them to to prove to myself I'm exposing my children to a variety of experiences, or to reassure myself  we are doing enough things "as a family."  So my goal now is to let go of the SHOULD.  Things work a lot better when I have a hare-brained idea  like, " Let's take the kids to a wedding that starts forty-five minutes before their bedtime so they can meet my old friends!" if  I take a mental step back and actually envision how said event will go (whining and melting down out of tiredness, first on the kids' part, then on mine, while we don't really get to visit with any of the friends).  We will have plenty of time to do things like that when they get older and can handle it better.  They will have much more fun hanging out and playing with Jason's parents, whom they adore, and Jason and I will have an infinitely better time focusing on "adult time" for the evening.  And, even when I see children my kids' ages at the wedding, dancing and playing and having a good time, I will not regret leaving mine at home.  Those dancing kids are not my kids.  Maybe those kids don't turn into gremlins when awake past eight o'clock, or maybe they do, and their parents just don't mind too much.  It doesn't matter, as long as we've made the best choice for our family, because "quality family time," isn't really quality if everyone's miserable.  Better go out for the evening, relax and rejuvenate so we can spend quality family time at home the next morning, riding bikes, raking leaves, play games and doing things that do work for us at this point in our young children's lives.  Because life is too short to make myself miserable with the SHOULD.