Pride and prejudice

One of my darling boys was honored as one of the Students of the Month in the fourth grade classes. They put a big emphasis on character, as well as academics, and I think it is a good thing to start ingraining in these young students’ minds; that what they do, and how they do it, counts for just as much as regurgitating answers on a test.

Ironically, this same child challenges me every step of the way at home. Don’t get me wrong, he’s very loving. He’s very smart. He can be incredibly kind and affectionate. He’s also so stubborn I forget that he’s a child sometimes. And argumentative. And relentless. I guess, in some ways it isn’t so ironic since these traits are also what helps him succeed in school and will serve him well in his adult life if he learns how to manage them: he’s persistent, he questions everything, he won’t back down from a challenge, he will stand up for what he believes to be right no matter what. And–he doesn’t really care what anyone thinks.

Now, in theory, it’s good to be your own person. It’s admirable to be someone who isn’t easily swayed by the crowd. I don’t worry too much about peer pressure with him. He’s a classic example of “marching to the beat of his own drummer”. However, the flip side of that coin is he is sometimes insensitive to other people’s feelings. He becomes singularly focused and acts like it’s his way or the highway. And I know that he is only nine and that eventually he will mature and some of these traits will mellow into a happy medium where I see just the coin, instead of the positive heads and negative tails. But sometimes it is harder to focus on the big picture and I end up mired in the negative parts.

This morning when he was getting dressed I told him to wear something presentable. He put on this nice button down blue shirt. He combed his hair (more on the hair later). He brushed his teeth. He was looking very handsome and proud and ready for his recognition breakfast. I was satisfied.

Then, he began unbuttoning his shirt. He also has this tendency to wear a nice shirt and leave it hanging open with his undershirt showing which isn’t my favorite look, so I told him that when he came in for the ceremony, he should rebutton.

“I’m not wearing this shirt”.

“Why not? You look so nice! It’s perfect”. One of these days, I will learn reverse psychology.

“I don’t like it.” He starts opening his dresser drawers and I know there is nothing in there. He’s already missed the bus for school and I’m going to have to drive him. This is the sort of thing that makes me nuts. But why? It’s a shirt. Who cares?

“What about this one? Is this nice?” He holds up a wrinkled, possibly dirty, stained t-shirt that once upon a time was pretty nice as far as t-shirts go, but that time had passed.

“No! It’s stained and wrinkled!”

He huffs and puffs back to his room. I follow.

“Don’t you want to look nice? There will be a lot of people there. Do you want your friends’ parents to think you are a slob? That your mommy doesn’t care about the way you look or dress or that your mommy doesn’t take care of you?”

He couldn’t care less. I care. That’s obvious. It was even more obvious to me as I began my little spiel.

“No one said we had to dress nice!” he yells.

“But don’t you want to look nice? Have some pride!”

We open his closet where several nice polo shirts and button down shirts are hanging. He chooses the shirt he wore for school pictures. Excellent. I leave the room to get my keys so I can bring him to school.

Then I hear the dresser drawers again. I come out of my room and he has on another wrinkled t-shirt, BACKWARDS, no less…

“No!”

“But I don’t want to wear a button down, it’s not comfortable! I don’t want to! No one else cares!” He starts stomping and doing his impression of a three-year old not getting their way.

At this point we are late and now I’m going to end up having to wear sweatpants to this thing if we don’t get our acts together.

“Fine!” I yell while doing my own spoiled child impression and stomping into his room looking through the paltry selection of ratty t-shirts. “Look like a ragamuffin! Look like your mom doesn’t take proper care of you. Let people wonder whose mom lets them get an award in messy clothes.”

Now I’ve realized that I’m more concerned about what his appearance says about ME than I care about what he’s comfortable in. We go into his brother’s drawer and he pulls out a faded tie-dye shirt that we got on vacation in San Diego. “How about this one?”

I look it over dubiously. There doesn’t appear to be any visible stains, but who can really tell on a tie-dye? I insist on ironing it and then we race out the door so that he is not late to school on the day he is getting an award for showing good character, assumedly punctuality counts for something.

“What would you think if I wore sweatpants to your award?” I asked, because I can’t let it drop. “Wouldn’t you be embarrassed?” He shrugged. “This is why parents dress up for work. What if I wore sweatpants to work? What do you think they would say? I mean, when you grow up, you have to look presentable. You should always have pride in your appearance. Wearing jeans for adults is dressing down, not dressing up! You think if you wear jeans and a clean t-shirt it is dressing up!!…”

I went on for a while and the kid, to his credit, just let me ramble. Because as I’m going on about the clothes and thinking about how much it really matters in the grand scheme of things, inevitably I came to my own conclusion.

“I guess there are more important things to worry about, huh, bud?”

“That’s right, mom.”

Maybe this kid is on the right track, after all. Being comfortable in your own skin is more important than what other people think. If people are going to judge him or me by his tie-dye shirt and his messy “he-is-growing-it-out-and-it-is-in-the-awkward-stage-and-he-hasn’t-quite-gotten-the-hang-of-gel” hair, let them. They don’t know all the awesome things about him. They don’t know all the awesome things about me as a mom. And if they want to judge a book by its cover, they will miss out on one hell of a story.

photo 1  photo 3

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Full-disclosure Fundraising February

Full-disclosure February on this blog has turned into something more closely resembling fully-withdraw February. It happened kind of naturally and I’m not beating myself up for it, but I will make the observation that despite all my detoxing and positive thinking and lofty goals for spending this month improving my health and writing daily, I am just as tired and cold and inclined to hibernate as I am every single winter.

The good news is that I’m not necessarily depressed about it or feeling like the winter will never end. I even giggled with joy when I discovered that it was still light out at 5:30 when I left work the other night. This is progress.

Yes, my boys are pushing boundaries and climbing walls because of all the time we spend inside. Yes, I have many stories written in my head that I haven’t translated onto the screen. Yes, I think I will always feel like I should be doing more and possibly even different things than I am doing in parenting, in my career, and in my personal life. C’est la vie. At least, ma vie.

In other good news, I have thrown myself once again into fundraising for a cause that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve turned February into Fundraising February and I’m almost a third of the way to my goal. So, I figured that I could feed two birds from one hand and combine my full-disclosure and my fundraising on this frigid February morning.

If you knew me, you’d know I have twin boys who were born prematurely. Thankfully, they were born without much of an ado, other than me being terrified. They only had to stay one extra day in the hospital for jaundice and have only had moderate respiratory issues that we can trace back to their early birth.

If you knew me, you’d know that I now work for the March of Dimes, an organization that is committed to ending premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality. Before I began my work with the March of Dimes, I didn’t realize how serious the problem of prematurity was, nor how many families it affected. I didn’t know how many babies die every year because they are born too soon or because of a serious birth defect. I didn’t realize that preterm birth was the leading cause of death for children under 5.

Now if you really knew me, you’d know that when I found out I was having twins my doctors told me that I would likely have them early no matter what (this turns out not to be true, lots of twin pregnancies go full term). You’d also know that I began having complications around week 20. I had spent the day not feeling well and feeling almost like I was getting my period; achy, crampy, and just generally sick. My doctor directed me to the hospital where it was determined I was experiencing pre-term labor. I received several shots of terbutaline to stop my contractions and was sent home to strict bed rest for a couple of weeks. No work, no nothing. Bed rest. At 20 weeks. Half-way to the finish line with babies that would not survive if they were born at that time. No one said that to me though. No one said, “hey look, bed rest sucks but if you go into labor again and we can’t stop it, which is a very real possibility, your babies will die.”

If you really knew me, you’d know I didn’t come home from that first hospital visit to my own apartment and my cats and the loving, supportive father of these babies who would do everything in his power to ensure that I was able to get us all safely to the finish line. You’d know that instead I went to my dear, loving and supportive friends’ house where they had taken me in a month before because intervention-style they and my cousin decided that I shouldn’t live alone. They basically felt that I couldn’t take care of myself properly, and since aforementioned loving, supportive father of the babies had up and moved out of our apartment and was neither loving, nor supportive at that time, I had very little choice but to agree.

If you really knew me, you’d know I spent those weeks on bed rest in my friends’ home, alternating between feeling extremely lucky and grateful and feeling completely miserable and terrified. You’d know that I blame myself for the complications that continued to plague me throughout my pregnancy. You’d know that I would continue to fight with the father of the babies stressing myself out to the point that my friends once again had to give me some tough love, essentially telling me to cut the shit because they had taken me in to make sure I was safe and healthy and birthed these babies, not so that they could watch me self-destruct and take the babies with me. You’d know that I thought I had it all under control, but in reality I had nothing under control. You’d know that I cried at least a little every day.

If you really knew me, you’d know I eventually got my shit together and realized everyone around me was right and I needed to distance myself from the emotional drama that continued to unfold with the babies’ father and focus on the boys and getting them to the finish line. With the help of my friends, I moved into the home that I would make for the boys. I was reunited with my kitty babies. I was able to work from home, as long as I didn’t overdo it. I finally felt like everything was going to be OK.

If you really knew me, you’d know that I never got to “nest”. I never got to set up our little home. You’d know that my little army of personal angels had to take care of all of that for me because when I drove myself to my perinatal appointment for my 3-D ultrasound–I didn’t come home until 3 months later. You’d know that my cervix was incompetent and that my body was ready to go into labor even though my babies were only 26 weeks and would have a low chance of survival. You’d know that I was admitted into the hospital that day and the father came to show his support and I once again believed everything would be OK. You’d know that when he left, he didn’t come back for eight weeks. You’d know that all the medications they were giving me to stop the labor weren’t working. You’d know at one point I was feeling so sick and I was trying to explain to the nurse that I felt like I was going to pass out, that I couldn’t fully sit up and I couldn’t lay down and I couldn’t catch my breath. I told her I felt like you do when you have swallowed too much water. It turned out the medication had given me pulmonary edema. But you’d know that I had to have an chest X-ray in the middle of the night because they were afraid that I may have an embolism. You’d know that I was terrified that the radiation would harm the babies. You’d know that the technician, who was probably the first person who was able to drive home the seriousness of what was happening, told me that the slight radiation would be better for the babies than me dying during childbirth because of an embolism.

If you really knew me, you’d know that after the first week of absolute mayhem, of trying all the different medications and giving the babies steroid shots so they would have a fighting chance if they were born; the doctors tried a calcium-channel blocker called Nifedipine to stop the contractions. It worked. For the next seven weeks, I waited. I prayed. I took my pills. I let myself be prodded and poked. I took joy in listening to the babies’ heartbeat each day. But I was incredibly lonely and scared. And I forgot all the seriousness of what had landed me in the hospital to begin with. I thought I was out of the woods. I wanted to go home. The doctors ignored me (and probably hated me for continuing to ask if I could just go home now). I had no idea how lucky I was that all the measures the doctors took got me safely into my 35th week of pregnancy. I had no idea what our lives would have been like if my babies had been born in that terrifying 26th week. I had no idea how close we had been to death or to life-long health issues.

If you know me, you’d know our story has a happy ending. If you really knew me, you’d know the survivors guilt I often feel. Especially at work where I have the honor and privilege to work on a support community that the March of Dimes provides for parent and families who have experienced the unthinkable; parents who have watched their babies’ struggle and fight for life in the NICU, who have had to leave their babies in the hospital every day not knowing if they would survive, who have had to hold their lifeless newborns in their arms.

Each year during the March for Babies walk, the boys and I talk about the story of their birth. I’ve told them how scary it was to think they were going to come too soon, but mostly I focus on how lucky we are. Someday they will be old enough to hear the rest of it, if I am brave enough to tell it. Someday maybe I will forgive myself and their father for the undue stress we put on my pregnancy. But every day I am grateful for my friends who were the ones who got me to the finish line, even when they had to drag me there and that is part of the story I tell. Every day I am grateful to the doctors who took zero chances with my sons’ lives. Every day I am grateful to the March of Dimes for the work they do to end prematurity.

If you are so inclined, we would be very grateful for your donation. It is tax-deductible and the research and programs that the March of Dimes funds with your money is nothing short of life-saving:

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And it is because of the tireless work of the March of Dimes that I experienced this moment:

holding my babies for the first time

holding my babies for the first time

Please consider making a donation: marchforbabies.org/caramclaughlin

Somewhere in between

I’ve reached an age with my boys that I have come to realize I am ill-equipped to deal with. They are still little boys in many, many ways, but with very big boy brains and attitudes that none of us are really ready to deal with.

Often I wish that I could go back in time and savor their little-ish-ness more than I did when I was first going through it. I suspect there will be a time in the not-too-distant future when I will wish to go back to this time and be more present and aware.

They are learning so much. They are unexpectedly funny. They are too expectedly goofy. They have big ideas and schemes. They still think that sex is kissing. Farts are hilarious. School is starting to be a drag. Family activities are too. They are struggling for independence and yet not truly ready for big responsibilities. Friends are starting to be chosen on the basis of interests and not necessarily proximity or familiarity.

I was a babysitter and a nanny and I have always maintained that I love children. But truly, I love babies and toddlers…when it comes to school-aged kids, I am at a bit of a loss.

Turns out that I have a hard time relating to my kids. I can talk to their friends. I can talk to my niece. But when it comes to my own offspring I feel utterly hopeless and helpless in a lot of ways.

Books remain a fairly constant way to bond. However, I can’t seem to find a T.V. show that we can watch together without reservation unless it is of the discovery channel/food network/history channel variety. Pure fictional entertainment is tough…we are either a little younger than we maybe should be or at a maturity level I don’t feel comfortable with.

Without knowing too much about the show beyond the singing, I thought maybe Glee would be something we could watch (we have it streaming now through netflix or amazon prime or something). But after having to skip through some more questionable scenes, I had to put the kibosh on it…maybe we can try again in a couple of years.

Even watching the Golden Globes the other evening, I was slightly uncomfortable as JLo came out wearing her revealing dress and looking smoking hot and I am watching G out of the corner of my eye to see what kind of reaction he is going to have to a woman dressed so provocatively. He seemed sort of awe-struck (as I was, frankly) but he was kind of awe-struck by the whole thing, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

The fact is, I am not ready for them to enter that big-boy world and they aren’t prepared either. But they are rapidly leaving behind that little boy world. I guess this is what they call the tweens (even though they are only 9) and it sucks.

They clearly aren’t ready to take on responsibility. That is, unless I constantly nag and remind them of their responsibilities they don’t get done; schoolwork, homework, instruments, sports equipment, Cub Scout requirements…all these things should be becoming their purview and yet, they aren’t. They want them to be. They tell me, “I know!” in exasperated, disdainful tones whenever I remind them of anything. Yet, they don’t do it on their own.

So, I continue to annoy them and they continue to annoy me and we go on not understanding one another and oh, how I miss those baby days! I get glimpses of the little boys that in many ways I still want them to be when they are snuggling with me in the morning or at the end of a long day or when they want something or something is weighing on them or they aren’t feeling well; they still come to me sweet and snuggly and agreeable as can be. But mostly, I just get big boy attitude and assertions of independence and I have to remind myself that this too shall pass.

Because they are becoming big boys. And before I know it they will be teenagers. I think that when they finally are, we may relate a little bit better. But for now the transition is rough. Not a little boy, but not quite a big one either. I want to laugh at the fart jokes, but I also want them to get dressed and out the door in time for the bus without constant supervision too.

I have a feeling these tween years are going to be my least favorite. So if anyone has any recommendations for getting through them, I am all ears. Starting with TV shows we can enjoy as a family that won’t cause any and all of us to blush.

Light side/dark side

As I looked through my many half-written posts and jotted-down notes about ideas I should flesh out, I decided I was too damn tired after all to form good thoughts. I want to write something brilliant about raising my boys in this digital age or during a time of civil upheaval (which seems to be swelling); or something inspirational about never giving up even when life is smacking you upside the head consistently or how incredibly lucky I am to have amazingly strong, smart, resourceful friends who are always helping me out; but after spending a day stranded at home with a kid who seemed pretty sick in the morning only to rebound rather suspiciously in the afternoon, while trying to be productive at work, and waiting to hear the verdict about what was causing the horrible metal-on-metal grinding sound from my car and how much it was going to cost me 17 days before Christmas…I’m fresh out of brilliant insights and inspiring wisdom.

Instead, I’m wondering why the hell little boys’ pajamas seem to stop being sold in sets and only “lounge pants” become available. We’ve got roughly a bazillion pairs of pajama pants stuffed into our drawers–this is only slight hyperbole, G changes into them immediately when he gets home from school and never seems to run out, but I dare you to find more than two pajama shirts in our house.

I was distressed when footsies stopped being available for boys of a certain age, although I have recently been given some as hand me downs that look like they could fit a teenager which is disturbing in a different way. I guess you can really only pull off this look for so long:

C and Luna

Do boys of a certain age stop wearing shirts to bed and I have only just now learned of this? Is it a conspiracy with the t-shirt people? Because lord knows we have no shortage of t-shirts, and sadly, my little boys can just about wear some of my old shirts.

I am sure if I searched high and low (or did a google search for pajama sets), I’d find something that would fit the bill. However, it would be nice if I could easily pick up a pair of PJs during a casual shopping trip or, for instance, while I am online trying to finish my Christmas shopping during Kohl’s friends and family sale.

But no. I’ve got choice after choice for lounge pants, and only Darth Vader with a Santa hat or Scooby Doo with a wreath around his neck for Christmas PJs? Really?

I chose Darth Vader. Welcome to the dark side.

Age 7. Possibly the last cute Christmas PJs.

For the love of the game

People ask me what I do in the winter when there is no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring. – Rogers Hornsby

There are 93 days until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. However, our Little League is way ahead of the game. We had our first team meeting and from what I understand other teams have actually had a practice. It may seem a bit ambitious. A touch over-the-top. But that’s how they roll and I guess we will roll with it.

I’ve always enjoyed baseball. I don’t understand every rule and I’ve been known to switch my allegiance to teams based on the city I am living in, but there is nothing better than sitting in the warm sunshine watching a ballgame. I love the sound of the ball hitting the bat. I love the excitement of a great catch or play in the field. I love the sights and smells of a ballpark. How I love the boys of summer.

I bought the boys their first Spiderman bat and ball when they were about 2 1/2. I remember a colleague asking me what I had planned for the weekend and I said batting practice. “Too soon?” I joked.

Aiming for the fence since age 3

Aiming for the fence since age 3

Luckily, the boys have developed a love of baseball, too, as well as having natural talent (which they didn’t get from me or their father so that’s a genetic mystery). Watching them play has been a true joy for me. But here’s the thing…

There are actual politics in Little League baseball. And parents that take things WAY too seriously. And the need for signs like this on ball fields:

290We’ve been really lucky for the last few years. The boys have had teams filled with great kids and parents. Wonderful coaches who have been firm, but kind; who always seem to give a little extra to my boys, perhaps because I’m a single mom, but mostly I think because my boys are pretty great.

Last year, they had the chance to try out to “play up”. I declined that opportunity for them because they were only 8 and I really felt like they needed another year learning in their 7/8 division. Why go be a little fish in a big pond when you can be the big fish for a change? It was a good decision. They played on a great team, learned and honed their skills, and went on to win the championship.

But now it’s a whole new ballgame (see what I did there?). And I listen to the parents talking amongst themselves about the coaches and managers and administration and the drafts and how it all works. It seems to strongly favor those kids who have connections to the league and my kids are just never going to be those kids.

I’m a competitive person. My boys have inherited that trait. We play to win. But we also play to have fun. And at this age, it should mostly be about fun. We would also like to believe that when we play hard, we will be rewarded. Unfortunately, it sounds like regardless of how hard we may play, some players are just going to be rewarded for being the Coach’s son or for knowing the right people.

And as much as I hate to admit it–this is life, too. It’s not always what you know, but who you know. In fact, a lot of the time it’s like this. I guess it is a life lesson that is best not put off forever, but I wish I could shield my boys from it for a little while longer. Especially since they won’t ever be the Coach’s son.

On the other hand, my boys do have some pretty big advantages; talent, drive, spirit, and a mama who will make sure they are always supported. I will make sure that they continue to know that as long as they do their best, it is good enough. And regardless of winning or losing, regardless of which team they get picked for or if they get picked at all, that there is something to be said for playing for the sheer love of the game.

If they get that and nothing more out of the season, I will consider it a success.