Stumbling

This school year I was (am) determined to stay on top of things. Last year, we got off to a rocky start compounded by an ill-timed vacation from which I feel like we never fully recovered. We also switched up the routine last year by not having a babysitter for after school care and instead the boys attended the YMCA sponsored program. While the Y has been great to us, the after care situation didn’t work for a number of reasons and I felt like I just didn’t have enough control over things.

One of the hardest things about being a working parent is dealing with child care. Finding the right person or daycare or program to take care of your child while you are working is ridiculously stressful. I had been super lucky in the past with having sitters I could trust, but after a few missteps in that direction, using the Y after care seemed like the best alternative. However, it just didn’t work out the way I needed it to. As the boys get older, I need someone who can be there to supervise homework and get them to all of their activities and feed them the food I want them fed, and basically do all the things that I want to be able to do.

So, I’ve found a great sitter and have been trying to establish and maintain a routine in hopes that we can all have a relatively peaceful and productive school year.

It’s been about four weeks and I’m already reaching for the Xanax.

Things aren’t going badly, per se, but I’m reminded almost daily that what I really want to be able to do is just be there for my children when they get home from school. I want to be in control. I want to set the routine. I want to be present. But, alas, I have to bring home the bacon.

Surely, there is a way I can do both. I just need to figure it out.

My anxiety comes from my fear that by the time I will figure it out they will be grown and I won’t have been able to do everything I wanted to do for them. I suppose part of it is having a fantasy that were I fully present during my time with them, my time wouldn’t only be spent as a nagging, stressed out mom who is preoccupied with feeding them, making sure homework is done, making sure her own work is done, making sure their teeth are brushed and their bodies are clean and they aren’t spending too much time in front of a screen and that my role in the house would be more than a glorified housekeeper/landlord.

I want my kids to look forward to their time with me instead of dreading it. I want to enjoy our time together instead of it being a checklist of everything that must get done before bedtime is strictly enforced. In theory, I have a pretty good work-life balance. But in reality, the “life” part isn’t balanced at all. And “me” time–the me-mom balance–is pretty much non-existent.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy working. I have friends who are stay-at-home moms who remind me how good I have it to engage in critical thinking and adult conversations pretty much daily. I’m lucky in that way. I am also lucky I have a job I like for an organization I believe in. Who am I to complain?

But if I could redesign my life, I’d do it a little differently.

And I hear myself telling my boys that they can do or be anything or anyone they want to be. And I feel the urgency as I tell them to work hard now so their opportunities aren’t limited. And I push them and push them because I feel like they need to START NOW and make it happen because I was once so full of potential which I squandered and I find now I am trying to gather the seeds I so recklessly scattered and plant a fertile garden, but it is so hard and it would have been so much easier if I had begun sooner, if I hadn’t gone off course, if I had just realized the future can be affected by the actions we take even when we are at the tender age of ten.

Then I laugh at myself.

If I had done everything that I was expected to do, if I had never wandered down that less traveled path, if I had worked up to the potential my teachers saw in me and never deviated, never daydreamed, never chosen socializing over work, never explored, I would never have even discovered who I am and what I am here to do.

I would probably be no better off than I am now. In fact, I might be living a soul-crushing life of drudgery and living up to other’s expectations.  I might have been a vet, though. Or making a living at being a writer. Or married and a stay-at-home mom. Or a psychologist. There were a lot of other paths I could have chosen. But I didn’t.

I’ll never know.

As parents, we want our kids to be happy. We want our kids to find their lane and what they are good at and what makes them feel alive. We want them to live up to their potential. The trick is letting them discover for themselves. My instinct is to be the Tiger mom. To push and push and know what is best and have them thank me for it later. But that is the EXACT opposite of the path I chose as a child. I had a lot of freedom. My parents pushed me, but not hard. They let me fail. They let me figure it out. They let me.

It’s hard not to be in control.

So, as the new school year unfolds, I struggle to push myself beyond the limitations I have wrought upon myself and to ensure my children don’t follow the same shaky path. Do as I say, not as I’ve done.

And of course, among my many thoughts on how I could be a better parent, I am reminded that if there were another parent to shoulder the load, if I had a partner that was helping to fill in the gaps, if only I could share all of the responsibility of making sure these boys both enjoyed being kids AND reached their potential of being successful and happy beyond their wildest dreams…maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be such a giant ball of stress and nerves all the time.

It’s single parent’s curse, I guess. Maybe I feel the need to push because I want them to prove the statistics wrong. I want them to be the über successful kids of a single mom. I want to make sure that no one will ever say, “Well, it’s no wonder…they were raised by a single mom”.

Part of me knows this is ridiculous.

The other part yelled at them because homework wasn’t done to the best of their ability.

It’s going to be a long year while I figure it all out.

Daughters and sons

According to Facebook, it was National Daughter’s Day. It was sweet; seeing all the pictures of other people’s daughters and the lovely sentiments people wrote put a smile on my face. I love seeing my Facebook friend’s kids’ triumphs and mini-milestones: first days of school, dance recitals, homecomings and proms. And I don’t even hate made up holidays like National Donut Day (because, donuts!) and National Cat Day (because, cats!) But National Daughter Day hit me in a weird place.

Because I will never have a daughter.

I have an incredibly smart, talented, and beautiful niece who is my Goddaughter. I have anot her funny, spirited, and gorgeous niece who lights up my life. I treasure my time with these two lovely ladies like nothing else.

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But I will never have a daughter.

There was a time in my life when the boys were small and I was in a loving relationship when I thought that another child was surely in my future. I wasn’t 100% sure that I wanted another child, but in my heart I thought it was in the cards for me. It may not have been a daughter. But it could have been.

Now, I’m at the age where having a baby isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, but it is highly improbable. It is also improbable that were I to get pregnant that the pregnancy would be smooth and easy given my past history. This wasn’t something I thought much about or dwelled on until today. Until I saw what I wasn’t going to have.

Being the mom of sons is phenomenal. Nobody loves a mom like her son, right? Right. And wrong.

Daughters aren’t easy to raise. I should know, I was one of them. I even made it a point to thank my mom on my last birthday for not leaving me by the side of the road for the gypsies even though I am sure the thought crossed her mind once or a thousand times.

Girls have hormones and drama. Girls have attitudes and catfights. Girls spend a good part of their tweendom being ridiculously self-centered little creatures. When I found out I was having boys, I was relieved. Until I discovered that boys have all of the above too.

But I’ll never know what it’s like to help pick out that perfect outfit. I won’t get the joy and pride of seeing my baby girl do and be all of the things she will grow to do and be as she becomes a woman. There will be no mini-me. I won’t be able to sit and relate to that young woman as she slowly realizes what it has been like to be her mom, to be a woman, to do what we mothers do day in and day out. I won’t have late night confessions and conversations, I won’t cry on her wedding day. I won’t know the joy of watching my daughter grow into the woman I knew she’d be.

I have my nieces. And my cousins’ baby girls. I will watch them grow and love them fiercely. I will enjoy the quiet times of coloring and playing with dollies and learning about music and playing sports and listening about friends, and school, and makeup. I will take joy in their accomplishments. I will build them up and remind them that they come from a long line of super strong women in a family pretty much dominated by super strong women.

My role is to be the aunt and Godmother and cousin of girls, my surrogate “daughters”, but I am the mother of sons.

I know I am lucky to be a mother at all. I will not squander my blessings by wishing I also had a daughter to spoil and love. My two precious boys need to be raised to be strong, loving, creative, smart, funny, capable young men. They will learn this from me. It is hard though, sometimes, to admit that I long for the love of a daughter. That sometimes I feel ill-equipped to deal with the raising of sons that I so wantonly embraced. That maybe, just maybe, it would have been easier to have girl children. At least I would know a little more about what they were going through.

I’ve learned that being a tomboy as a child does not prepare one for the physical energy of boys. I’ve learned that as much as I love boys and love sports and the outdoors and Harry Potter and Star Wars, there are some things I just don’t understand about boys.

I cannot imagine my life without my sons. I would not trade them for daughters. I guess I always assumed my life would contain both. When I found out I was having twins, I kind of thought maybe there would be one of each and that would be that. I’m glad that God knows better than I do.

Apparently, I was not meant to be the mother of a daughter. I just need to work on being the best daughter I can be. And make sure I raise the best sons I can.

Perhaps, someday FAR in the future, I will be rewarded with a granddaughter. Until then, I will delight in the daughters of the world including my nieces–the sunshine of my days.

Happy National Daughter’s Day (because, daughters!)

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.

Top 5 reasons I suck as a mom (or, what my children will discuss in therapy someday)

You know those days where you just feel like the WORST? Well, read below and you will feel better and realize that I’m actually holding down that title, thank you very much.

  1. I yell too much. Every time I lose my cool, I hate myself for it. And yet, I can’t seem to stop. I’ve tried walking away. I’ve tried counting to ten (hundred). I’ve tried reminding myself that whatever I am getting up in arms about won’t matter in one-five-ten years. And all those things work until they don’t. Then when that straw hits my hump, it’s like I am unleashing every single freaking moment of mommy frustration that has ever been. The more I try to stuff my every day frustration/anger/bewilderment down, the louder it seems to be when it finally vomits itself up. And I have great kids. I can only imagine what I’d be like if I had terrors on my hands. Probably locked up in the loony bin.
  2. I am a walking contradiction. I can’t control my temper, yet I want them to control theirs. I set screen limits, yet when I need a break to get stuff done I let them watch TV to their hearts’ content. I want them to be happy, loving, friendly brothers, yet when they are talking incessantly about utter nonsense for seemingly hours on end, I just wish they would be quiet. I want them to keep their rooms tidy, yet my room has piles of books and papers and clothes all over. I complain that they don’t appreciate all I do for them, yet they get spoiled by getting what they want without having to work very hard at it. I’m my own worst enemy in parenting.
  3. I don’t do enough to facilitate their friendships.  Setting up play dates has never been my strong suit. Up until now, I have let Cub Scouts and sports be their main social activities, as well as birthday parties and such. That’s not to say that they’ve never gone over to other kids’ houses to play and vice versa, but it doesn’t happen with as much regularity as it probably should and it is almost always initiated by someone else. I want them to make friends outside of each other, yet I am not actively helping them do that. If they end up socially backward and unable to make friends, I am certainly to blame.
  4. My expectations of them are too high. I expect them to always do their best. I expect them not to sneak Halloween candy when they have been told not to. I expect them to follow my instructions the first time I issue them and not when they feel like it. I expect them to be able to remember to bring everything they need to bring to school with them in the morning and to remember to bring it all home again. I expect them to do their chores without whining and complaining so that they can have play time. I expect them not to run around the house, jump on furniture, and wrestle around. I expect them to hear the word “no” without the world coming to an end. I expect that when someone goes into their room to get dressed, I won’t find that someone naked 15 minutes later looking at trading cards. Really, I expect them to reason and behave like adults.
  5. I worry about them to the extreme. I am always worried about the ways I am surely screwing them up. I worry that they picked up all of the bad habits and traits of both of their parents. I worry that we don’t eat organic. I worry that they won’t have the right “stuff” to fit in. I worry that I yell too much and change my mind too much and don’t do enough for them or do too much for them. I worry that they are exposed to too much violence on TV and in their video games. I worry about bullying. I worry about drugs. I worry about their self-esteems. I worry that they won’t be happy. I worry that they will get sick. I spend so much time worrying about them that I don’t always make the most of the time we have.

I’m sure if I really put my mind to it, I could come up with many more reasons and examples of how I am truly sucking at the parenting thing. But I guess we all have our moments. Would love to hear other people’s thoughts on why they are the worst (or best).

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.