“Is It Hard To Be A Mom?”

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The oatmeal threatens to bubble over the edge of the saucepan, the lid clanging loudly as the steamy mixture pushes against it. I stop mid-shmear and turn the flame down to low. I hate cleaning goopy, half-cooked oatmeal mixture off the burner.

I catch the faintest whiff of smoke and turn toward the pancakes just in time to see the edges char to a crisp. All those chocolate chips gone to waste. I scrape the remains into the trash and start again even though we’re already running out of time.

The goal is to get everyone out the door by 8 a.m. I resume shmearing the cream cheese. Four brown lunch bags stand smartly on the counter in front of me, eagerly awaiting their contents. They remind me of Hanukkah candles just before they’re lit — neat and upright, promising magic and surprise. In go four bright orange tangerines. I wonder if anyone will eat them today.

The middle two are already arguing — it’s barely 7:30 a.m. — and I sigh loudly, trying to drown out their not-so-benign insults and petty complaints about who did what to whom and who started it. Their bickering competes with the day’s list of appointments, meetings, errands and carpools I’m going over in my mind. Is the orthodontist today or tomorrow? Must check.

“Mom,” he taps me on the hip. I spin around so quickly that a tiny glob of cream cheese lands in his hair.

“Yes, what? Do you want more cereal? Will you eat this hard-boiled egg? Do you want some milk?”

“Oh no, no thanks. I’m done,” he says as he drops his plate next to the sink. “In the sink. Can you put it in the sink?” I interrupt him again.

There’s a loud clank as he all but throws it into the sink. “Okay. Mom?” I reach down to pick the cream cheese out of his hair. “Is it hard to be a mom?”

His brown eyes are wide and serious. Such a big question for a 7-year-old to wonder about.

Is it hard to be a mom?

It’s not easy to coordinate everyone’s schedules and carpools and favorite foods. It seems like the fridge needs to be filled every other day, and I worry that my 13-year-old doesn’t eat enough. That’s hard.

I can’t seem to get a handle on who needs to be where when, even though I’ve been doing this for over 15 years, and it’s never been more glaringly obvious than it is now that there’s only one of me and four of them, and all of us have different needs in any given day. And I am the one mostly responsible for meeting those needs. That’s hard.

I recently watched my little guy collide headfirst with a teammate at rugby practice, and heard a bone crack when his brother stopped a soccer ball with his arm. That’s hard. Bee stings, ear infections, broken teeth, headaches … whenever my kids are in pain and discomfort, it’s always hard.

My daughter auditioned for a play and didn’t get the part. My oldest son wasn’t selected to play in the football final. A “C” on the science test even though he studied all afternoon. And it’s always hard to explain that sometimes not everyone is invited to the birthday party and this time it was him.

I think of the Hanukkah candles we will light soon. The desperate search so many thousands of years ago for oil to keep the flame burning in the temple. How that oil, that tiny amount of oil they hoped would maybe keep the candles burning for one night, miraculously lasted eight, and so now we light the candles for eight beautiful nights and remember the struggle and the miracle that came from that struggle. Because anything worth doing is hard, and worth struggling for. Like being a mom.

The oatmeal is cooked, the pancakes are delicious, and I manage to remove all the cream cheese from his hair. I cup his small face with my hands and look straight into his eyes. He’s still waiting for an answer.

“Yes, sometimes it’s hard to be a mom,” I say with a smile. I bend down and kiss him on his forehead. “But it’s not hard to be your mom.”

Happy Hanukkah.

This post first appeared on j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California.

About Last Night’s Leftovers

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The silence wakes me.

Not a whisper. Not a murmur. No ever-growing feet pounding down the stairs. No 7am yells of “jerk, that’s mine.” No muffled electronic music from the Nintendo DS. What is it they play? Smash-something?

Just quiet.

The TV sits black and silent. The remote untouched since yesterday. Neat and aligned on the kitchen counter, right where I placed it before I went to bed last night. It’s not often I get to see it, let alone set it somewhere. It’s the hottest item in the house, the “merote.” Whoever holds it possesses those invincible powers of channel control. Powers not to be taken lightly. The fun teen mishaps on the Disney channel can ruin ones day if it’s the darkness of “Gotham” they desire.

So they hang on to that remote because really their happiness depends on it. Or they hide it amongst the stale chip crumbs and candy wrappers under the bouncy cushions of the sofa. And then pretend they don’t know where it is. So we’re stuck with Cartoon Network. Ninjago forever. There’s yelling. And wrestling. And my bedroom is directly above the playroom, so it’s not only Sensei Wu’s creepy Lego voice coloring my serene Saturday morning dreams, it’s also relentless cries of “Give it” punctured with an occasional “Ow” (is there anything more ear-shattering than the low foghorn of a newly-deepened teenage boy voice?). All before 7.09am. Most Saturdays.

But this morning all was still. The remote benignly in plain sight, powerless as it should be.

And I am up before 7.09am.

Even though there’s no yelling. No fighting. No noise. No extra-loud “Good morning, Mom” to retrieve the iPad in stealth. And definitely no wet kiss on my sleepy cheek.

We are half this week. One dad, two bigs away doing adventurous boy things: planes, trains, rugby and rain. One mom, two littles at home doing not that much: cousins, beach, classic movies like “Annie” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

The quiet is welcome. The kitchen stays clean. The laundry basket is barely full and there is no room for yesterday’s leftover pizza in the suddenly too full fridge. We never have leftovers. Nobody nags for a friend to come over or to go to Target or leaves wet towels on the carpet. Instead of no I say yes: to ice cream, to staying up late, to overpriced magnets at Fisherman’s Wharf. “You’re the best mommy ever,” they chirp with their arms around each other.

But we are half. And what I am is some kind of half-mommy. While less of them should mean more of me, we are incomplete. And so am I.

It is calm and neat and the washing machine is at rest. But the quiet is strange. Uncomfortable. This is not who we are, half of ourselves. Half the conversations, half the laughter, 50 per cent less awkward hugs and sloppy kisses, way less muddy clothes sweaty from intense hide-and-seek in the backyard. Too many leftovers.

I talk and write about my family chaos a lot. How I long for it to be a little quieter. Not so hectic. How I wish there were less groceries, less shoes, less dentist appointments and haircuts. More room, more time for thoughts and words and yes instead of no.

But that would make us not us.

The weak early morning sunrays reflect off the dull silver of the remote. It waits, untouched. When I open the fridge the pizza box slides out from its precarious spot, squeezed above the unopened gallons of milk. It lands on the floor with a loud thwack that echoes around the empty kitchen.

Only one more night of leftovers.

What Did You Want to Be When You Were at College?

Her green-gray eyes always get straight to the heart of the matter.

“A journalist,” I promptly reply. Live on CNN. Big dreams.

“You could’ve been famous, Mom,” those eyes so earnest, so certain.

I smile at her certainty. At her pure eight-year-old belief that if only I had become what I wanted to be then, I would be famous.

“But when I’m a famous actress and singer, then you’ll be famous because I’m your daughter.” Pause. “NYU has an acting school, right?”

The notion of Fame is irresistibly attractive to her. Recognition, adoration, attention. She loves watching Disney’s “Austin & Ally”, the story of seemingly ordinary teens who rise not only to glittery stardom, but also to wholesome lives of friends and fun. As I watch her watching, I see the dreams behind those eyes, the twinkly smile that lights her face as if it were aglow in spotlight.

The ephemeral promise of flashing cameras and screaming fans inspires her to sit at the small, white desk in the quiet corner of her bedroom, hunched over pages of colored paper, writing songs she will later sing to the adoring audience of her mirrored self, hairbrush-ophone tight in her hand. But she is also driven by the good ol’ fashioned belief that if you work hard enough at something you love, you will undoubtedly accomplish success, praise, awards, celebrity. You will be famous.

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It’s as simple and wholesome a belief as the freckles sprinkled faintly across her nose, and every time she imagines her future life out loud I feel warm and hopeful. Yes love, I want to say, it is as simple as that.

Of course, it’s not.

I wanted more than anything to be live on CNN. So I majored in drama and journalism, met a guy, married him, and moved halfway around the world to be a stay-at-home-mom with four kids. They’re the ones reporting live, from the minivan.

Maybe I didn’t work that hard. Maybe I didn’t want it as much as I thought I did. Maybe I got distracted, confused, overwhelmed.

Or maybe my dream changed.

Maybe once I met that guy, what I really wanted was to marry him, have kids and stay home to raise them.

In the humdrum of normal, everyday life in which success is defined by whether I get dinner on the table at a reasonable time (as in any time before bedtime) and by how often I mutter “Stop that” to the boy opening and closing the drawer with his foot, where my claim to fame is the chocolate mousse I make on special holidays, and the only journalism I’ve done in recent-ish years is edit the school newsletter, it’s easy to lose myself in the dreams that didn’t come true. It only takes a small question – What did you want to be when you were at college, Mom? – to stir up immense wistfulness about the great big plans I had for myself. But then, you know, life.

I’m not famous in the world out there. I’m not chasing leads or breaking news or reporting live from anywhere. But here at home? Definite star power. I’m famous for surprise tickles before bedtime, for homemade meat pies, for practical solutions to complicated problems. Their faces (mostly) light up like thousands of camera flashes when I walk in the room. Recognition, adoration, attention.

I look at her intent face, at her little self dressed much like me in black leggings, a tank top and slouchy sweater, and even as I answer that 20 years ago I wanted to be something I’m not, I realize I am exactly what I wanted to be. I wanted to be this.

One Halloween I Went to See a Play on Broadway

One Halloween I bought pumpkins, but didn’t help carve them. The kids asked their dad.

One Halloween I didn’t discuss, plan or purchase costumes. They made, borrowed and raided the dress-up box. Without me.

One Halloween I didn’t volunteer to buy treats for the class party.

One Halloween I didn’t go to the parade at school.

One Halloween I refused to buy candy, and told them to keep the house dark.

One Halloween I arranged for them all to go trick-or-treating with others.

I hate Halloween. I dread it. As soon as summer is over and barely a week into the new school year, it looms. Mentions of costumes, parties, candy, pumpkins creep into conversation around the third week of August when I’m mourning the fading glow of a perfect summer, when the leaves are still green and clinging to their branches, when I’m seven after-school activities deep into my four color-coded desk calendar and I can’t get my head around tomorrow, never mind Halloween that’s still two months away.

I loved it the first few years – when there were two kids to dress up, and we could go trick-or-treating early because they went to bed at 7pm. When they were too young to know about carving pumpkins. We would marvel at the neighbors’ jack o’lanterns, and scary Halloween decorations, collect candy from five houses, and head home. It was low-maintenance, easy, something we watched more than did.

But now, ten years and an additional two kids later, it’s an all-consuming operation. It’s too many costumes, and too much candy, and she has plans with those third-graders, and he is going to that part of town, and the teenager doesn’t want to trick-or-treat but does want to go to a sleepover. Not-so-secretly, I hope it rains.

Yes. I’m the Halloween Scrooge. Not Boo… Bah!

The kids have quickly learnt not to engage too enthusiastically with me about it. To figure most of it out for themselves. They gently suggest a good time to go to the pumpkin patch, because it’s fall, Mom, and the pumpkins look good on the porch. They each pick out a perfect-to-carve pumpkin, and even I choose two for their weird shapes and colors. They creatively brainstorm costumes amongst themselves, and resourcefully borrow and make. We have Batman, a Green M&M and a Zak-in-the-Box this year. I am proud of his originality and creativity – all on his own!

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One Halloween I left my kids with the babysitter for four days, and flew east with my husband.

We visited the Washington Monument and saw the President leaving town in a convoy of low-flying helicopters. We walked the streets of Manhattan in the rain, and took fun photos outside the gleaming Plaza hotel, hundreds of windows twinkling in the twilight.

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One Halloween we rode the subway downtown and then uptown with a mummy, Homer Simpson, kids wearing plaid shirts, torn jeans and blood-like paint (were they murderous hipsters?) and a guy in the most authentic costume ever, except he really is a Fedex delivery person.

One Halloween I sat in a 100-year-old theater on Broadway, and couldn’t wait for the play to start. The set was beautiful: a grand, old house dappled in afternoon sunlight. James Earl Jones’ comic timing was gravelly pitch-perfect and the actress who played the ballet-obsessed sister was my favorite.

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The Trick-or-Treaters back home had fun too! The Green M&M took her small cousin by the hand and showed her how it’s done. Batman all in black got together with his BFF the white ninja and the Dyna Duo hit the ground running, while Zak-in-the-Box bounced his way around the neighborhood. I haven’t heard from the teenager yet but he liked the photo of Rockefeller Plaza I posted on Instagram, so I take that as a sign of life and greeting.

One Halloween I surprised myself. I missed it.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt “One Halloween, I…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Dana from Kiss My List and April from 100lb Countdown.

My Kids Only Want to Talk to Me in the Bathroom

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My kids are pretty self-sufficient. We’re over a month into the school year, they have a vague idea of where they’re supposed to be and when (like school at 8.20am, so stop reading, talking, eating, brush your teeth goodbye), and in theory they are all of the age when they can dress, entertain, toilet and feed themselves. If any of that fails they know how to operate the remote, and although the five-year-old is able to recognize only the sight words he’s learnt during the first seven weeks of Kindergarten (I, am, is, are, the, a, play), somehow he can read the on-screen channel guide fluently. Xfinity is sneaky that way.

So there’s no real need for them to talk to me. And they mostly don’t.

Even when I talk to them. They answer questions with one-syllables, specifically: fine, yes, no, ok (that’s two syllables I know, but it’s barely a real word). They stomp their feet if frustrated, do that “yessss” fist-pump thing if excited, and grunt, yell, whine and tattle-tale in between.

But occasionally they do want to talk to me. And they are very, very selective about when that is. Usually, not always but usually, they talk to me when I am obviously in the middle of something else. When I am clearly not able to give them my undivided attention, which is suddenly exactly what they are clamoring for.

Read more here.