My Kids Only Want to Talk to Me in the Bathroom

bathroom

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.

Shitty Mom Rebranded

vintage_momI call myself a “Shitty Mom” at least once a day. Okay, more than that. A few times a day, minimum. That’s vague enough. Definitely every day those nine letters float breezily across my busy brain like a lazy sky-writer sending a message from up high. And then they slowly fade leaving the faintest outline in their place. Or they brand themselves hot, fierce and quick across my forehead, momentarily leaving an angry red scar. 

I’m not sure any part of that phrase Shitty Mom even deserves capital letters. It’s more like shitty mom. Or shittymom. Whatever. 

I feel like a shitty mom when I don’t walk my kindergartner to his classroom. I need to make my 8.30am exercise class and he knows the way on his own. When I don’t buy my 8th grader the protractor he needs for tomorrow because I can’t face dealing with the Walgreen’s parking lot at rush hour for one protractor, and I thought I’d go later but one thing became ten and I didn’t. When I don’t make dinner every night, or even ensure there is something, anything to eat some time between 6-8pm. When my kids hear me curse, when I yell at them again, when I don’t volunteer for the class party. When I forget to remind my son to wash his face and put on deodorant (seriously?!), or when I tell my daughter her hair looks terrible. I’m like Karen from “Will & Grace”: “Honey, what’s up with that hair?”

Shittymom shittymom shittymom.

It’s okay though. I know I can’t be everywhere all the time. I have four children, each with their own needs, schedules, demands, requirements, tastes in food and personal hygiene preferences. And even if I had one less child, or one child, or one child more (never going to happen) I still wouldn’t be able to be everywhere, be everything, all the time. Plus I have needs and schedules and food requirements of my own – and you know, a lot of the time mine and theirs are not at all compatible. Fish sticks? No thanks. I’d rather have chocolate and a glass of wine.

The truth is, I’m not a shitty mom. I may be preoccupied, always late, mostly impatient, too busy to listen right now, or enjoying my book too much to swim or play with them. But it’s okay, because they are more than okay. They’re happy and healthy and some kind of independent. They get enough sleep every night, their clothes fit, they fight with their siblings and help each other out, laugh, whine, tell stories, and don’t stop eating. They shoot baskets, play soccer, say they’re bored, play Minecraft for hours, and also read and joke around and hang out with their friends.

And some of that happens because of who they are, but a lot of it happens because of who I am. Their not shitty mom.

So I’m rebranding myself. What I am is an Honest Mom. Uppercase Worthy!

As an Honest Mom I know:

A sip of mojito or wine won’t kill you, nor will it turn you into a premature alcoholic. I was having a conversation of my own when you asked if it was water, and I distractedly handed you the glass full of ice, mint leaves and a little too much vodka. Even though you’re ten (or five – it’s happened more than once and to more than one) it’s okay.

I do not have to bring snacks for you wherever we go. It’s perfectly acceptable for your tummy to be rumbly while you play on the slide or climb the big tree at the park. It’s only been an hour since lunch, and you can have a string cheese when we get home. And maybe your tummy is rumbling because it’s digesting.

Speaking of trees, I don’t have to watch your every move as you climb on that one. Or scale those rocks. Yes, it may be a little dangerous. You might fall. Scrape your toe. Even hurt your head, or worse. But you are strong and thoughtful and you can do it. Risky situations teach us to be brave, to know our limits. 

It’s not serious if you hear me curse – not all the time, of course, but occasionally. Words are how we express ourselves, and sometimes the evocative F-word is how I express. Your ears are not going to burn off, and usually the words that are accessible are the ones you’re less likely to want to say in a moment of rebellion.

Similarly, it’s not a federal offense in my book if you use “stupid, idiot, shut up.” I’m not advocating mean language, and there are other words you could use instead, but these are words you hear in the world around you, in movies, even read in books, so why shouldn’t you use them?

I do not have to give you a reason for why I say No. Ever. I am your parent and you are the child, and No is No. Don’t ask why. I don’t feel like explaining for the hundredth time why you may not watch your fourth hour of TV. I don’t actually have a reason why you can’t have a sleepover, it just doesn’t feel right tonight so No. I am not going to tell you again about the value of money, and need versus want, and why it’s not necessary to buy that Lego Mixel, those high-top Converse sneakers, that ice-cream cone. Just No. “Because I said so” is a perfectly reasonable reason. Get on with it. 

Shitty mom shrugs it off. Sighs in resignation or laughs in exasperation. Is fine with the way it is, but wonders if it could be, should be better.

Honest Mom knows it’s not going to get better. This is the way it is. And for her, and her kids, this is the best way.

Honest Mom owns it.

**With deep gratitude to my Honest Friend Lawrence, who insisted we reframe the conversation. Life-changing.**

My Son Has a Secret Life on Skype on Kveller.com

source: kveller.com

source: kveller.com

A few weeks ago I heard my oldest boy Skyping with his friend at 11pm on a Saturday night. And he pretended he wasn’t. Told me he was talking in his sleep. Lied to me.

“Almost everything you and your brother do – in secret – I’ve done,” I told him. I did not Skype late at night when I was almost 13 – 1987 was not a Skype-year – but I certainly found ways to test the limits, break the rules, keep secrets. I wanted him to find a way to relate to me, so that he didn’t feel the need to lie his way out of a sticky situation. Then or ever. His online communication opened the lines for real life communication between him and me.

I wrote My Son Has a Secret Life on Skype and it’s on Kveller.com today. Would love to hear if you’ve experienced similar – either with your own teens or as a teenager yourself. Just when I think I’ve figured some of this parenting stuff out…

E.T. Phone Home

My teenage boy is an alien. And by alien I mean foreign. Far away from me. It’s not so much that I don’t understand him, or that he communicates as if he’s from another planet. There is some of that going on some of the time, but I’m learning to decode and even speak that language (Mmm mmm mmm means “I don’t know” in Teenglish). It’s more like he and I are in different countries, and we call each other only when necessary. To check in. Or remind him to wash his face. Or ask me to email the karate teacher.

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He’s actually not quite a teenager – he’s 12 and a half. Exactly. And I know much is likely to change in the next six months before his barmitzvah. His voice might break. He could grow a whole foot. The glimpses of sullenness and defiance I’m seeing now will probably turn into full-scale epic movies of extreme emotion. I’m bracing myself for way more drama than when I took him to buy “nice” clothes and he grabbed the pants the sales lady held out to him, and actually threw them on the floor. At her feet. Apparently he doesn’t like dressy clothes – frayed cargo khakis and a polo shirt are as “dressed up” as this NorCal boy will go. Thankfully the lovely lady at Nordstrom has two grown sons of her own and remembers those days. But I cringed in horror as I watched my usually even-tempered, go-with-the-flow boy flail in frustration.

We don’t need much from each other, he and I. He usually just gets on with it. Walks to and from school. Even in the rain. Grabs a snack for himself. Does his homework. Gets consistently good grades with seemingly little stress and effort. Brushes his teeth without being told. Jokes with his brothers. Loves his Rubik’s cube. Reads sci-fi books. Watches Psych and Modern Family. I sign his math test or reading log when he asks, he doesn’t beg me to drive on field trips, casually mentions we’re out of frozen waffles (his breakfast of choice) but is happy to find something else to eat.

We spend a little time together in the car, just the two of us, when I take him to his barmitzvah lessons or to karate. But even then we don’t talk much. He answers my questions about school and friends with no more than three to four words. Not in a moody teenage way, just very matter-of-fact. Sometimes he’ll give me a fun fact, or relay a quick story. Ask me why humans are born with an appendix. As we drive passed the park he might yell out the window to someone. “Who’s that?” I ask. “My friend. Michael. He’s in my Spanish class.” Oh.

Remember when I knew all his friends, and their parents, and where they lived? When I could picture him at recess playing basketball or foursquare with those friends, knowing what he was eating for lunch because I packed it for him?

I’m not sad that he’s growing up, becoming independent. I’m not feeling nostalgic or wistfully remembering when he was so attached to me he cried solidly all day every day for the first three weeks of preschool. In my mother-heart I know that he is happy, and thriving, and enjoying his seventh grade life – even if he doesn’t share the details with me. He still loves to eat the cake batter out the bowl. And I leave the chocolate chips out of the banana bread – he hates chocolate.

Our long-distance relationship works for both of us. He’ll happily babysit the younger ones if I ask him to (meaning, if I pay him to). He helps me unload the trunk, fixes his sister breakfast, explains the math problem to his brother. All with no fuss. Unfazed. I can’t remember the last time he needed help from me or his dad, with anything. Schoolwork. A difficult social situation. A problem with a teacher. I don’t worry if he doesn’t come home straight after school, or wonder what he’s getting up to online. Girls are still just friends, if they exist at all in his world, and on the rare occasion I catch sight of him on campus or on the soccer field, he is engaged and social.

His baby brother wakes up wailing, and I bury myself further under the covers. I hear him crying and mumbling to himself, trying to get dressed, but I don’t move. And suddenly this little guy is at my bedside in the half-dark room, and before I even open my mouth to ask what’s wrong, the big almost-man-brother in dinosaur pajama pants is taking him by the hand and leading him out. “I’ll help you,” he says. As if he knows that I need just ten minutes more of quiet.

I am so thankful for this easy boy. Because son number two is not easy – needs so much from me all the time, and always has. Wants to talk and process and find out what I’m feeling and thinking, needs help with his homework, pounds his drums when frustrated or yells that he’s running away from home. And daughter and baby boy have requirements of their own, one being a second grade girl in a family of boys, and the other the youngest of four. Part of the fun and challenge of being a parent, navigating the different personalities and needs and moods of each child. And I wouldn’t have it any different (well, maybe a little different – like just one kid less). But my Big Easy Boy means a little less stress, a quarter of calmness in the frenzy, 25 percent more headspace for something or someone else.

And in his not-neediness I keep him in mind. Fix him an after-school snack. It’s a one-off thing. I’m not even sure if he’s coming home from school. Pastrami on a challah roll with the baby gherkins that he loves – no mayo, no mustard. I leave it on the kitchen counter on a plate, next to a note scribbled on a piece of scrap paper I fished out of the recycling: Daniel. Love Mom. I use the faintest black gel pen. Minimal effort. Minimal fuss. It feels like the most maternal thing I’ve done since I stopped breastfeeding the youngest three years ago.

He calls as soon as he gets home from school.

“Mom? So yeah I got the sandwich… it’s nice.”

I love you, Mom. And I know you love me.

challah

Reposted today as inspired by the Finish the Sentence Friday prompt: “I know my child would rather I not reveal this…” Hosts: Kristi from Finding Ninee and Stephanie from Mommy, for Real. Guest Hosts: Kelly from Just Typikel and Anna from Fitfunner.

Baby, I’m yours

My little guy loves to stroke my arms. And snuggle his face into my neck. “You smell good,” he says, looking up at me with his liquid brown eyes, “Your skin is soft.” His apple cheeks lift up as he grins at me.

His little nose sniffs at me whenever he can – as I help him into the car, he leans toward me a little. When I sit on the couch looking through a magazine, he comes up and smells my shoulder. “I like your smell,” he says with a smile, and runs off. Jo Malone Red Roses. Tide laundry detergent. Just plain old soap. It all coalesces into eau de Mommy for him. Powerful potion.

He rubs his small hand on any length of my exposed skin he can find.Over and over, with gentle, repetitive four-year-old rhythm. My neck, my forearm, my shoulder, my shin. I know he likes the feel of his mommy’s skin – which is soft because it’s getting older, losing elasticity, wrinkling a little bit. I used to love feeling my grandmother’s neck for the same reason – turkey skin she would say, and I’d giggle thinking of her as Granny Turkey, but also because I didn’t know how else to respond, it was like turkey skin! He loves to feel it because it’s soft but also because when he touches his skin to my skin, catches a whiff of Red Roses, it means I’m really his mom, and I’m here, right next to him, for now and for always.

But I hate being touched like that, by anyone. Those featherlight fingertips running up and down my arm make my skin crawl. I can stand it for barely two minutes, before I take his hand in mine, pull him into my lap for a squeeze and suggest he build a Lego tower, or go find his brothers. “Okay,” he says cheerily, all smiles and brown eyes.

He’s my baby, the youngest of four over an eight-year-spread. We didn’t really plan on having four kids. As the story goes, I thought we’d kinda start talking about it… right when I discovered I was pregnant. We didn’t feel we were quite done with three (don’t ask me why, I really couldn’t answer without sounding like a kooky, mystical palm-reader trying to earn a fast buck), but theoretical exploration of having another seemed like the right thing to do. Let’s talk about it.

Ha! Man plans, G-d laughs… 

Even while I knew we were in for a wild ride, I could never have predicted the extent to which adding another beating heart under our roof would drive me over the edge! And he wasn’t a difficult heart to care for – easy baby, no issues with eating, sleeping, developing, growing. Thank G-d. But he was another live being, needing something, many somethings, from me.

Thankfully we all doted on him, took turns playing with him, feeding him. His brothers and sister adored him. Even if I wasn’t available, there was always someone taking care of him. And in a big family, the youngest has to learn to roll with it – more than anyone. Sometimes I couldn’t feed him right when he woke up, because his siblings had to get to school. Or his afternoon nap would last no longer than ten minutes as they and their friends noisily pounded past his bedroom.

And almost five years later he still rolls with it. If there’s nobody in the kitchen, he fixes his own snack. He learnt to dress himself way earlier than his siblings. There’s usually someone to play with him, but he’s more than happy to enter the world of Ninjago alone. As he makes himself tea in a sippy cup, I jokingly say there’s a fine line between independence and neglect – but he has learnt to be independent because there’s not always somebody there to do it for him.JedTea

And most often, that somebody not there is his mom. I am schlepping the others. Or helping them with their homework. Or making one of the 800 school lunches I will make this year. Or being a mom to a 12-year-old, which is very different to being a mom to a four-year-old. Or I’m writing. Or reading. Taking a break from the chirping cacophony of “Mommy.”

Often I have no patience for him: his sister is upset or his brother is stressing about his paragraph on Mark Twain, and I don’t feel like watching the ninja move for the tenth time. Or I’m running late, and I shoo him out the door, but he wanted to go round the back and meet me at the car, and now he’s crying because he really, really wanted to do that. But I don’t have time for a tantrum right now, just get in the car. I don’t even listen to him as he wails, “You never let me do what I want to do.” I couldn’t be further away from him.

But he is always here for me. Urging me to be present. When the house is too quiet (it happens on occasion), and I can’t listen to my own thoughts any longer, I wander into his bedroom, and watch him happily playing by himself. He looks up, all smiles and brown eyes. I sit down on the floor and he climbs into my lap, buries his face in my neck. He strokes my arm for two minutes, and then I hold his little hand in my slightly wrinkly one.

“You’ll always be my baby,” I tell him.

“Not when I’m a dad,” he says, laughing.

“Even when you’re a dad.”

JedNicki2