Home alone 

In my almost eleven years as a mom, I’ve left my boys a few times. The first time was obviously the most traumatic since they were only about 14 months old. I had a job interview across the country and I REALLY needed a job that would pay more money and allow me to be more self-sufficient. At that point in time, I’d had a nanny for a few months who was very dedicated and sweet and who had two young girls of her own. She offered to have the boys stay overnight with her for the weekend while I flew to New York from California. I did it and still don’t know how I managed to do so without completely losing my mind.

In retrospect, I probably did lose my mind a bit. On the flight to New York, a red-eye, I ended up passing out somewhat inexplicably and needing an ambulance to take me to the hospital upon arrival. Maybe it was stress, combined with altitude, combined with a couple of beers and cigarettes while waiting to depart, or maybe it was hormones or God knows what else, but it wasn’t pretty. When the doctors advised that I check myself in and have some tests run, I refused. I tried to explain that I had an interview the following day and would be flying back to San Diego after that interview and back to my babies, thank you very much. I promised to get checked out by a doctor when I was back in California and checked myself out of the hospital. My mom and my sister drove to Long Island to pick me up since that is where the ambulance mistook me thinking I was staying there and not where my sister lived–2 hours away.

It was a whirlwind 48 hours and I was never so glad to be home and hold and snuggle those babies. They were alive and cooing and nothing awful or tragic had befallen them and in the end I got the job. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it; leaving my kids with people who were practically strangers to me. But then, all working parents know what it is like to have to leave their kids with a nanny or at daycare with people they have vetted and believe to be good, but one never really knows. Most of the times these are the risks we take because we really have no other choice.

The next couple of times I left my boys on a weekend with my sister or my mom so that I could spend a night with my BFF in a hotel in the city and down at the Jersey shore to celebrate my birthday. These were relatively short jaunts to nearby places and I felt exhilarated rather than stressed. I knew they were fine and I was never more than an hour or so away. The boys barely knew I was gone.

I did a long weekend away when one of my best friends got married in California. It was difficult, but I was so focused on the wedding that I didn’t stress too much. And then there was the New Year’s long weekend when they were four and I went a couple of hours away with my boyfriend and left the boys with my mom. This went relatively well except for me waking up in the middle of the night interrogating him about where the boys were and thinking that someone had taken them out from under my nose while I was sleeping. It was similar to when I’d wake up when they were babies and tear the sheets off my bed having dreamed they were suffocating in the blankets or worried that I’d fallen asleep with them in my arms.

There have been work trips that lasted a couple of nights and one trip to CA to see my friend and her new baby, a couple of nights in Boston to see a speaker I love, and a sanity trip to Cape Cod last summer–all relatively short trips away, all with the boys staying with family and basically maintaining their schedule and life and normalcy.

And they’ve also had nights away at slumber parties and friends’ houses. Happily leaving me behind with a “seeyalaterbye” and going off to do boy things that boys do. This past winter they had the opportunity to do a weekend campout at the nearby (read: 5 minutes) Boy Scout camp in cabins with some of the boys and Scout dads I had grown to know and trust over the past few years. I’ve been OK. I’ve taken the baby steps to let them go out on their own a little bit. I have. Really.

But when they expressed a desire to go on a week-long adventure to sleep away Boy Scout camp, I was a little uncertain. OK. More than a little. Pretty freaked out actually. Doesn’t matter that I had left them before for short periods of time with people they spent lots of time with anyway. This would be the first time THEY were leaving ME. For a week!

After much consideration, I decided to let them go. After all, what is parenthood but a series of these moments where we decide to let our children go.

As the time got closer, I realized they were not going to have a problem being away from me for a week. It was all me. I was the one freaking out. I was the one who was going to need to cope with their absence. I was the one being left home alone.

So far, the experience has been…interesting. I’ve definitely stressed over whether they were OK and whether they were homesick or if they were having a good time. I worry that they are safe and if they can handle any uncomfortable situation which might arise. But the one side-effect I wasn’t ready for was how this independence would make ME feel. Suddenly, they are one step closer to taking the car keys and leaving me for the night. They are one step closer to making their own decisions about how to spend their time whether or not I approve. They are one step closer to leaving me behind to go to college, and forge their own way, and have their own life.

And all this is scary enough without it also shining a light on the fact that over these eleven years, I don’t necessarily know myself anymore when it doesn’t relate to them. I’m mom. Who will I be when they are gone? I’m always mom, and will always be a mom, but it’s been a long time since I had the freedom to think and act independently from them. Soon, they will really be gone and I will be left on my own. What will I do then? Who will I be? What will I spend my time doing?

These past few days have reminded me a little of who I was before the boys came along and who I might be when they leave me behind for good. I took a day off of work to go to the beach and recharge. What will it be like to have all my vacation days and personal days to spend as I choose, not on caring for them when they aren’t in school or taking them to he doctor or dentist or being there when they are sick?

Tonight I thought I might get my nails done or watch a movie, but instead I dropped off their pillows and some cards with a Scout dad who is going up to camp tomorrow and ended up having a glass of wine with some other moms and realizing I’m not alone in my longing to have my boys where I can see them, in arms reach, where I know they are well and safe and enjoying their childhood. It was good to share the letting-go experience with others who are feeling it too.

But I know now my time is coming. Time that I have so desperately wanted and time that I so desperately wish I could keep at bay for a few more years of holding my little boys in my arms and snuggling them and knowing that all was right with the world. Before I know it, I will be alone and I will need to prepared to live MY life again and not just the life of me, mom, but me, ME. How will I do? What will I do?

Some things that have already occurred to me include:

  • Walking around the house naked is so liberating. I will definitely be doing more of that when they are gone.
  • Not needing to make sure that anyone but me has what they need for the day saves SO much time. I can definitely sleep later in the future.
  • I can choose to take off work, wake up at the crack of dawn, spend the day at the beach, and still make it home to get a good night’s sleep without worrying about snacks, riptide, under-tow, snacks, not enough sunscreen, three chairs, snacks, a cooler, an umbrella, snacks, a sheet, sand toys, boogie boards, snacks, bathroom breaks or stopping three times on the parkway for any number of reasons. So efficient!
  • If someone asks if I want to stay and have a drink, I can say: Sure!
  • The gym is open early! I can go before work and never think twice. I might actually be in shape again.
  • I can watch whatever I want on TV and it doesn’t matter how loud. Even if they are cursing. Or having sex. Or blowing shit up. I don’t even have to sneak a peek to see if my boys have overheard what I’ve been watching.

I’m sure there will be more by the end of the week.

What I do need to relearn is how to prioritize those things that are important to me. And how to identify those same things… I’m not even sure anymore what my priorities are beyond them. I guess what I have learned is that in letting my boys become who they are, I need to remember how to become who I am.

Because sooner than I am ready, it’s going to be all me.


Full-disclosure February

February has never been my favorite month.

I do love Groundhog Day. To me, it is the first sign of thinking about spring. Whether it is six weeks or eight weeks or whenever Mother Nature sees fit, no matter to me. A cute rodent is looking for its shadow and the world is wondering if it will be an early spring. Someday I will make the journey to Punxatawney and be a part of the spectacle.

Valentine’s Day? Hmmph. Whatever. I make an effort for the boys. We like to make cute Valentine projects. Love is wonderful. But the holiday is not really my scene.

Superbowl Sunday? Such fun. I love any big sporting event. Competition. Food. Clever advertising. What’s not to enjoy? Although I enjoyed it so much more when I lived on the West Coast and it didn’t start so late in the day.

I’ve got some friends and family with birthdays in February. That’s always something to celebrate. And Fat Tuesday usually happens in February and I can get behind a day of wanton excess.

I discovered I was pregnant in February. That was an interesting year.

It’s the shortest month, so its got that going for it. And once it is gone, Spring is so close you can practically taste it. But alas, if I had to choose one month out of the year to ditch…sorry, February, you’re it.

This year, I decided to combine lots of different elements to make February more engaging, more challenging, and ultimately more transformative (I hope) as we cruise into the Springtime of my 40th year. First, I decided I would undertake the Sober February Challenge.

It is exactly what it sounds like but you can follow the link and read it for yourselves. People do it for all sorts of reasons, but I figure it will be a good way to detox my body and save some money, too. I’ll need that extra money because I am also going to detoxify by changing my diet. I did a similar program last year (no sugar, lots of protein and veggies, moderate fat) and it worked great. I felt so much better and had more energy and I figure THAT is exactly what I need to feel great this February. The only catch is there’s a lot of cooking and meal planning and organic food shopping that needs to happen. But that’s OK, I won’t be spending any money on wine or on alcohol if I go out with my friends, so I can put it toward my meals.

No drinking should also help with quitting my worst vice: smoking. I’ve come so close, so many times. I get to the point where I am only having one cigarette a night or only when I am out having drinks with friends and I think, why the hell can’t I quit? What tethers me to these disgusting, smelly, nasty, cancer-causing sticks? These are rhetorical questions. I’ve tried everything. It’s just going to take sheer will power at this point, but this seems like the right time to do it.

February, since you already suck, I am just going to make this the most brutal 28 days of my life. It will be like boot camp. Only better. And I will come out of it a healthier and happier person.

So, with my no drinking, no smoking, new diet, I figured I would need another challenge to keep me focused on why I am doing all of this–because I want to live another 40 years (at least) to share many more adventures with my children and experience as much of this world as I can and to write about it as I go.

I looked for some good blog challenges to keep me on track like NaBloPoMo did, but I didn’t find any that struck a chord. So, I decided to make up my own: Full-disclosure February.

In looking back at my most popular posts, I noticed that the ones people responded to the most were those in which I was revealing the most about myself. Since September, I have been wanting to write a post inspired by a speaker that I listened to at a conference I attended through my work.

Kevin Bracy was a truly amazing speaker whose thoughts and words have stuck with me all these many months. The conference was for parents who are a part of a very special community Share Your Story, whom I have the privilege of working for and with. It is a support community for parents of premature children or children with birth defects or children who had to spend time in the NICU and for those parents who experienced the loss of their child. Kevin had his work cut out for him as he took on the role of keynote speaker and addressed what these parents were going through in “Finding a New Normal”.

One of the exercises he had us do was to go around our tables and tell a bit of our story using these words, “If you knew me, you’d know…” and THEN go around and say “If you REALLY knew me, you’d know…”. It was a tough, emotional exercise, but revealing. Not only revealing to the people at the table, but to ourselves, to reach into the place that sometimes not even our closest friends see, a place sometimes we don’t even go, and see what we pull out.

I kept toying with the idea of making it a blog post or series of posts. Something along the lines of, “If you knew me, you’d know I was a single mom of twins. If you REALLY knew me, you’d know that even though I’ll often say I thought I was too selfish to have babies and be a mother, my whole life I dreamed of having a big family. A loving husband. Lots of kids that loved one another and looked out for one another. A fairy tale. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and their whole crew. But me. And someone who loved me more than life itself. And a big brood of happy, healthy kids. However, I am stuck with the reality that while I am so ridiculously lucky to have healthy, mostly happy twin boys, I will probably never have that fairy tale. I would love to be married to a loving man and have another baby, but the reality is that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for me. And sometimes I resent the hell out of that.”

Full-disclosure. All February long. I will detoxify my body and my mind and put all my energy into writing (and parenting) (and waiting for Spring).

I’d love for others to join in. If you decide to join, please send me a link! I also think this will only work if my lovely and amazing readers will comment and ask me questions or give me topics on which they’d like my raw and unadulterated answers. Give me something to write about!

No masks this February

No masks this February

The “perfect” myth

I’ve been putting off writing this post because each time I try I feel like my thoughts aren’t fully formed on the subject, and that I need to think and analyze it some more, or I need to pursue it from a different angle. However, this sentence alone illustrates my struggle with my greatest foe: myself. That is, my ridiculously high expectations for myself. My Virgo nature. That nasty, nagging, perfectionist voice which often leads me to doing less and worse despite its intention.

See, the weird logic is this: if I can’t do it exactly right, I often don’t attempt it at all. Or I procrastinate and then rush which gives me this weird “excuse” if things don’t turn out to meet my expectations.

I know that sounds a little counter-intuitive. My brain is a tricky place to live.

I’ve been trying to be more conscious of this cycle; both my tendency toward ridiculously high expectations for myself and my children and the defensive behaviors I have put in place to create excuses for not reaching those self-imposed expectations in the first place.

Although it seems like it would be easy to just lower my expectations, it is proving to be a bit of a struggle. The first step is writing this crappy post. I vowed to just write it. Not think any more about it. Not edit it. Just write, press publish and be done. I’ve promised myself that I can revisit the topic some other time if I’m not satisfied. And I won’t be. But I will write it.

My high expectations seem to be causing some issues at home. I’ve had both of my sons show signs of needing things to be “just so” whether it is the arrangement of stuffed animals on their bed, or playing a video game until they beat a certain level, or breaking down into tears because they made a mistake on a poster for school. I can’t say for certain that it is my influence that is causing them to behave in a similar way to how I do, after all, as someone pointed out, we are a house full of Virgos. Perhaps it is just in their nature, as it is in mine.

The thing is, I do have high expectations. For myself and my sons. And I want them to set their goals high too. And I want them to reach those goals. But I don’t want them to become paralyzed for fear of not performing up to snuff. I don’t want them to refuse to clean their rooms because it means it will take them all day because they will have to move their furniture and put everything exactly where it needs to go including looking through every paper and book that they come across. I don’t want them to not sign up for the spelling bee because they think they won’t win. I don’t want them to ever think need them to do anything perfectly.

For the past couple of years, I have found myself repeating to them that my only expectation is that they do their best and try their hardest. I have flat-out said that I do not expect perfection from them. However, I’ve had them come back at me accusing me of wanting everything to be perfect. What?!

I had to examine my own behavior to see if this was the case. It wasn’t.

Asking them to get garbage off the floor of their bedrooms and get dirty socks (and other things) out from under the bed is not asking for perfection. Asking that they are able to have space to study on their desks and not just have a pile of papers and books and toys, etc. is not perfection. If I had insisted that every book be lined up in order of size, or that nothing be visible on the floor or the dresser, then maybe I could take that accusation to heart.

Asking them to review their homework for mistakes when I had found some and know that they know the answer is not asking for perfection. Asking them to write legibly, to take their time with their schoolwork, and to make rough drafts of essays and reports is not asking for perfection. Asking that we actually make it to the bus on time, that we have all of our belongings when we leave for school and then when we return home is not asking for perfection.

So, no, I think they have some of the intrinsic desire for things to be perfect themselves. And maybe they are beginning to develop some of the same defense mechanisms that I have, in order to comfort themselves when things inevitably don’t turn out to be perfect.

I suppose my challenge as a parent then becomes how to help them put their expectations in the right place. To continue to reiterate that I just want them to do their best and that whatever the result is, I will be proud of them. I need to begin to show myself a little more kindness in front of them. Cut myself a little slack. Cut them some too.

We’ll focus on some of the other amazing traits we Virgos share: being loving, loyal service-oriented people. We can also use our driven, passionate natures not to seek perfection, but to seek contentment. To know that as long as we are doing our best, whatever the result will be good enough.

My "perfect" boys delivering our less-than-perfect cookies to our neighbors on Christmas Eve.

My “perfect” boys delivering our less-than-perfect cookies to our neighbors on Christmas Eve.

One-Liner Wednesday– On raising capable children

If you would have your son to walk honorably through the world, you must not attempt to clear the stones from his path, but teach him to walk firmly over them – not insist upon leading him by the hand, but let him learn to go alone.

– Anne Bronte

Join Linda G. Hill’s One-Liner Wednesday! Pithy wisdom and laughs every week.

If you don’t have something nice to say…

I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. – Voltaire

As a writer and a bibliophile, it should come as no surprise that I am a strong proponent of freedom of speech. Censorship is to be abhorred and I believe that in order for there to be any peace, love, and understanding in this world, people need to have the right to speak their minds and their truths. I’m not a highly political person and don’t often feel the need to evangelize, but there are causes and opinions I hold which I feel strongly enough about that I may occasionally get up on my soapbox… and I don’t ever expect to be shut up about it.

Most people in the Western world take freedom of speech for granted. As my previous statement indicates, I am one of those people. The horrific attacks on Charlie Hebdo have made many of us pause and consider how we feel about this freedom and reflect on what it means and why it is so important.

But I am not going to write about this extremely heavy subject. Not really, anyway.

The other day I was perusing my Facebook feed and saw a post from a fellow parent of a child that attends the same school as my boys. The post was in the community group and was expressing dismay at her dealings with the school over a change to the schedule of the kids that wasn’t communicated to the parents. The school had changed the lunch period of half of the fourth grade class so that half of the class would eat while the other half was at recess and vice versa. Before, they all went out to recess and then ate.

I had found out about the change from one of my sons who announced it on the first day back to school and as a parent who was already concerned that the kids were eating kind of early, I was a little annoyed. My son was annoyed too because he felt like he was going to use up all the energy from eating at recess and have nothing left to get him through the day. The kid eats like it is his job. He could have two breakfasts and still be hungry in an hour. The first thing he asks me when I pick him up at the after-school program is, “What’s for dinner?” He often complains that he doesn’t have enough to eat at lunch and snack and I am packing him a BIG lunch. I shudder in fear over what the teen years are going to be like and have already begun to make budget adjustments to allow for the food intake that is to come.

While reading the thread on the community posts, some other parents were commenting about how they, too, disliked the change, how their kids were disappointed that they were no longer able to eat with their friends, and how the school could have handled the switch better. After all, we were off for two weeks. They could have sent a note home before break letting us know they were switching things up in the new year. So, I thought I would add my two cents and commiserate with the poster.

That was my first mistake.

Once you comment on a post on Facebook, you receive notifications when others comment as well. And of course, this can completely suck you in to whatever happens next.

Unfortunately, what happened next was a little bewildering. Some parents began commenting and disagreeing with the original post. OK by me, of course. Everyone has their own opinion and should be free to express it. Except when they are being a total asshole about it. Maybe then they should keep it to themselves.

Women began calling other mothers pathetic and stupid for being concerned about this unannounced change. They focused greatly on the comment about the kids not being able to eat with their friends and slammed that as ridiculous thing to be worried about. Kids go to school to learn, not to eat with their friends. Yup. I totally agree with that. However, I also agree that socialization is a huge part of school–especially elementary school. And for a lot of kids that struggle in their classroom or with the kids in their class, lunch and recess is a chance to get a break and socialize with whom they choose. For a lot of kids, it is the bright spot of an otherwise crappy day.

But these women were merciless. And rude. And condescending. I had kind of thought the whole mom-shaming trend was going away, so I was surprised at the venom in the comments over a seemingly innocent post.

My second mistake was commenting again. Thinking that if I could politely clarify what the issue(s) were that I would be heard. After all, it seemed perfectly logical to me that whether or not people agreed that socialization was an important part of child development for these 8, 9, and 10 year-olds, they would certainly understand that it was the lack of communication to the parents and kids that was really the issue.

No. Not logical, apparently. And the idea that for a lot of kids, mine included, abrupt change isn’t exactly the ticket to a peaceful existence was equally scoffed at. Essentially, I was told I am sheltering my kid. When is a good time to learn about abrupt change? I was asked.

The answer is never. It’s never a good time and yes, it is a part of life, and yes, we all learn that shit doesn’t go our way a lot of the time and yes, our kids are going to have the rug pulled out from under them many times in life, so I guess they better get used to it. But, call me crazy, when a sensitive child has already had the rug pulled out from under them several times and already has “transition” issues and could use an extra few days and some conversations with a parent about an upcoming change, shouldn’t we endeavor to do that?

Actually, shouldn’t we endeavor to do that for all of our children always if we can? I’m not saying shelter our kids so they will never be able to deal with the unexpected. I’m saying, if we have the ability to prepare our child for what is coming next, shouldn’t we? And if the school has the ability to help us communicate to our children what is in store for them and what they can expect, shouldn’t they? If we don’t just throw our nine-year-olds into the pool of life with a sink or swim attitude, are we sheltering them?

Eventually, the original poster deleted her post because she didn’t want to endure the name calling and comments from those who missed her original point (lack of communication from the school and support thereafter). I was all ready to post another very logical and polite comment to explain what we were really talking about to those who were slamming mothers and children for being soft and not being survivors and for focusing on unimportant things like lunch instead of curriculum, but alas, I couldn’t make my point. Perhaps it is best that I didn’t get sucked further down that rabbit hole and get exposed to more angry, rude mom-shaming.

The thing is, I don’t mind if people disagree with what I have to say. I don’t mind if people disagree with the way I raise my kids. I do mind if people do it in an ignorant, angry, venomous way. You can have your opinion. I can have mine. The original poster wasn’t looking for people to debate her point. She was looking for empathy and commiseration. There were people who commented that they didn’t think it was a huge deal and they understand why the school did it and that they had never had a problem dealing with the administration. They did it in a non-judgmental, objective way. Perfect. But maybe if you can’t state your opinion in a way that doesn’t completely condemn others for not feeling the same way you do, you should just keep it to yourself. At least on Facebook.

Which reminds me of a completely perfect quote from Downton Abbey, “Principles are like prayers. Noble, of course, but awkward at a party.”

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.