Tag Archives: DC Metro Moms

The Shooting Range

As a parent of three small children in a townhouse community FULL of children, I’m only just starting to experience the anxiety of letting them play outside the safety of our front lawn. At one time, they would happily stay close to home and never considered crossing the street to interact with the older kids. But now that my oldest is five and my younger two are three, I suddenly find myself lapping our block and crossing into the next cul de sac to hunt down escapees.

They’re still a bit young to seriously join the roving gang of elementary schoolers on bikes and scooters. But when the games involve running through the woodsy common areas with plastic guns and gun-like sticks, the possibility for blending in with the crowd becomes more likely.

And as usual, my first concern is how my five year old with communication delays and all of the awkward social behaviors that accompany them will handle this. I worry that Oliver will opt to disengage and continue to play by himself in the dirt. I worry that he’ll try to play with the other kids but be rejected. I worry that he’ll manage to stay with the group but take their game too far and come across as aggressive.

There are so many things to worry about… So ultimately, I just don’t. I follow Oliver’s lead and try not to interfere. But when I see an opportunity to help him figure things out – I do make the effort.

So I recently bought some cheap dart guns from the grocery store. Then one quiet afternoon when the twins were napping and the other neighborhood kids were scarce, I set up a little shooting range for us. I showed Oliver how to cock, insert the dart, aim and pull the trigger. I, who have never expressed any interest in hunting, paintball, popular college “assassin” games or war movies, yet again had to push my own preferences aside to help my child be normal.

And what at thing to teach him! I mean – aren’t we supposed to discourage guns? Or at the very least, tolerate them within limits? I’ve never heard any experts suggesting that you teach your child to be the quickest draw on the block to help him fit in. But at the end of the day, I have little concern for my son’s future of wielding guns on clock towers or in convenience stores. I’m a bit more focused on him not getting pantsed in Kindergarten.

To be honest though, it doesn’t look like I have much to be worried about anyway. When I suggested that we turn our guns on each other (cringe), he didn’t much like that idea. My little pacifist! We compromised by shooting at our reflections in the windows. And a good time was had by all….sigh.

While I can’t say that I think he’ll be quite the gun fanatic that I see budding in his three year old brother, George…he does now have a clue about what to do if he encounters a pick up game of Armageddon with the guys.

I miss the days of watching Oliver toddle around. Of being oblivious to the future of special needs hurtling at us with a speed and force that would literally knock us flat. But you can’t look back. In fact, I’ve found that you can’t look that far into the future either.

It may sound short sighted to say that I’m not worried about the long term effects of encouraging what most parents consider “inappropriate toys,” all in the name of a short term goal to help him fit in. But just as I had no idea that my seemingly typical baby and then toddler would develop such complicated learning and social delays, how could I possibly predict the person he will eventually become? I personally think that he will be someone pretty wonderful. And a few unorthodox parenting strategies will not greatly impact the the bigger picture of his future as a law abiding citizen.

Like I said – he doesn’t seem to be all that gun crazy anyway. In general, he largely ignores the war games going on around him. But the other day while we were standing outside, he actually picked up a stick with the rudimentary shape of a gun and pointed it at one of our neighbors, a very enthusiastic war mongering six year old. He even made a little shooting noise.

I nearly burst with pride.

That same evening I witnessed something truly amazing. My Oliver, who has a hard time figuring out how to even be a follower with the neighborhood kids, actually took the lead.

Our next door neighbors have a cat named Tony. He’s a sweet black and white kitty who lounges around on various front steps and cars. He’s friendly and more importantly, extremely patient with the grasping and groping hands of the local tots.

Oliver loves this cat. He will lie down next to Tony on the sidewalk while petting him. He will follow him around when Tony tires of his advances and tries to leave. I’ve even found Oliver’s little feet sticking out from under our car where Tony had taken refuge (I can’t take my eye of those kids for a minute…) And there was no exception that evening when Tony came strolling around the corner. He was immediately attacked by my adoring son.

After a few minutes, Tony decided that it was time to extract himself from all of that suffocating love. And of course, when the poor cat darted away, Oliver followed. As luck would have it, this grabbed the attention of our six year old neighbor friend and another little boy who was standing nearby. They ran up to see what Oliver was doing.

Oliver just said, “want to go get Tony?” and out of nowhere, a wild chase ensued. Now joined by my twins, the three boys ran like crazy after poor Tony all around our side of the block. They chased him under back porches and crowed with delight when they saw him streak by in another attempt at escape. I would have been happy to just see Oliver joining in the game, but this time he was actually calling the shots, “this way!…there he is….get him!

I have never been so thrilled to see children torturing an animal.

Okay – “torturing” is a rather gross exaggeration… But I think it’s safe to say that Tony would have preferred to spend that thirty minutes sunning himself in the last few rays of daylight.

Of course, none of the children actually hurt, let alone touched Tony. And he’s still fond of us, willing to let Oliver pet him for limited periods of time. But that evening, he was more than just the neighbors’ friendly cat. He was the catalyst for what would be the first time Oliver played with a group of children for that long without losing interest and wandering off. I almost cried to hear him say “follow me!” and then to actually see the other kids do just that.

So yeah – yet another example of allowing behavior that should probably be discouraged. I admit it – I make some iffy calls…but I generally stand behind my choices.

I don’t look too far ahead. It’s simply too much for me to take in. Too many unknowns. Too much worry…too much hope… Instead I try to aim for the more attainable goals in the here and now.

I don’t know much about shooting, but my guess is that you have to keep your range realistic. Anything can happen – sometimes the easiest target might give you the slip. But it goes without saying that you should take your chances when you’ve got a clear shot. One that’s close enough to touch. Even if it seems a bit risky. Life is always risky, so why not take our chances when the odds are in our favor. You take a risk every time you walk out your front door. Just ask Tony.

What Would Pioneer Woman Think?

I often think about how much easier my life as a mother has been made as the result of advancing technology. Need a quiet moment to make a school-related phone call? Put on a DVD. Prefer the kids to read instead of watch TV while you clean the kitchen? Pull out the Leap Frog Tag.

I don’t need to send my children outside to play unsupervised (remember those days when five year olds roamed the neighborhood solo?) just so I can find time for house cleaning and meal preparation. I have an arsenal of electronics at my disposal. Tasks that once took hours to do are now set into motion with the flick of a switch. No wonder we watched The Jetsons and really believed that one day, a full three course chicken dinner could be conjured up by pushing a few buttons on a box in the wall. I mean, I am from the generation that witnessed the dawn of microwave cooking. What wonders would follow?

So while I once dreamed of being Laura Ingalls Wilder and wearing long dresses with bonnets, playing in backyard creeks and hosting taffy pulls, I now shudder to think of cold basin baths, washboard laundering and cooking in giant pots over hearth fires. Pioneer living doesn’t sound like much fun to me as a mother in 2010.

And aside from fun, the real upshot of all of this is that we now have more time to devote to parenting our children. We give them chores to teach them responsibility, not because we require their help to run a household.

We all know about the sociological (or is it anthropological?) phenomenon of “teenagers,” and how this is a fairly modern development. Today, people don’t automatically become adults at age sixteen (or younger). They have so much more time to be kids. But for today’s mother, that boils down to more time to parent. To baby our babies, to cherish our children and to indulge our adolescents’ angst.

What a gift – this extra time. This option to forgo daily chores so that we can spend a few extra hours with our kids. Because for us that only means some clutter and mess – while for Pioneer Woman, it could have impacted the family’s survival.

And I’m not looking at this from a stay at home mom perspective either. Even when I was a working mom, I still had to do all the same housekeeping. So I really relied on my modern conveniences to give me even a modicum of time to devote to simply enjoying my children.

I think all mothers have at least one moment when they are struck by how different life is for us and how trivial some of our child rearing obsessions really are. The stress of preschool waiting lists and taking the perfect holiday card picture will lose some urgency when you consider the number of women who used to die in childbirth as compared to today’s statistics.

That was the big one for me. I was once talking about the number of friends I had (myself now included) who required either planned or emergency c-sections to save the life of the baby and/or mother. And I realized that there was a good chance that fifty percent of my friends would have been dead by age thirty.

At one time, Pioneer Woman got up before dawn to nurse an infant, gather eggs, milk cows, prepare a meal and wonder if her second missed period foretold the birth of yet another baby and all the risk that accompanies that miracle. It certainly puts my own complaints of sleep deprivation and stretch marks into perspective…

It’s so easy for me to get caught up in my own world of real and imagined problems, and I often call upon Pioneer Woman to give me that much needed perspective. She reminds me of the many things I take for granted: good doctors, baby monitors and time (albeit limited) to spend on myself. I can read, go out with friends, buy myself a little something because I had a hard day… I can actually worry about having too much to eat.

I look at my daughter and wonder what her life will be like. Will my own idea of modern ease put her much more advanced coveniences into proper perspective? Will she see me as an example for everything she takes for granted.

Of course it’s all relative. Someday, I’ll be another woman’s Pioneer Woman to be remembered. What will women fifty to one hundred years from now say about our current daily life? Only time will tell. But I do hope for their sake, someone comes up with a better system for dusting and vacuuming. Because no matter how much easier it is for us now with modern cleaning products and appliances – I’d rather be pulling taffy with my kids.

How Do You Want to be Remembered?

I do a lot of yelling. In fact, I often wonder if the neighbors who don’t know me well assume I’m an abusive parent. Whenever I’m outside, I seem to be bellowing at least one of my children’s names and threatening everything from time outs and revoked toys to cancelled trips to Dairy Queen. Whether or not I mean it (it’s often the latter), I think I sound pretty serious.

Of course, my yelling is rarely angry. If anything it’s just a necessary evil. When I’m quiet, no one listens to me. But when I yell, I have a much better chance of moving their attention away from the earth worms they’re torturing and getting all sets of eyes on me.

Unfortunately, the result is everyone in a three block radius being made aware that OLIVER! or GEORGE! or ELEANOR! is NOT LISTENING! or needs to GET OUT OF THE STREET! or BETTER CLIMB OFF THAT CAR!

God – I’m loud.

And I was never like this before – so loud and angry-sounding…. In general, I’m a rather reserved person and I have always been kind and patient with children. In fact, as a babysitter, I was the biggest pushover around. A second helping of ice cream? Of course sweetie. Hmmm – it’s bedtime, but you’re really enjoying this movie…let’s wait until it’s over. What – they’re not allowed to slide down the stairs in laundry baskets?

I wouldn’t say that I was particularly fun myself…but I never got in the way of their good time. And aside from all of that, it would never have occurred to me to raise my voice to any of them. No matter how naughty they were – or how dangerous the situation, they weren’t my children and yelling at them would have seemed unthinkable.

But now I do have children. And I’m not just the easy going babysitter who can be coerced in to allowing pretty much anything that doesn’t involve water and electrical appliances. I’m supposed to make rules and set limits. And then actually enforce them.

So I do a lot of yelling. And I worry about how my children will remember me. Will they look back and see themselves playing happily outside as I scream admonishments at them. Or will they look back and think, “yeah, I guess I really shouldn’t have been throwing dirt at that car…”

As much as I’d like to think they’ll remember the cozier, Rockwellian family scenes of cuddling in bed, reading books or building forts with the couch cushions, who is to say which memories will rise to the surface first. Who knows which will have the stronger resonance. Though I’m pretty sure that laissez faire babysitter I used to be would have a better chance at my preference.

But the truth is – as much as I yell to get their attention outside, I’m also pretty bad about consistent rules and consequences. Until recently, I regarded this as another parenting fail on my part. But in light of this new concern that I’ll be remembered as a mean mommy – that might be a good thing.

Letting children eat leftover birthday cake for breakfast (because they caught me doing it) would be reminisced about with fondness, right? And my tendency to diffuse melt downs with hugs and jokes (and possibly cookies) is a far better image than hours of banishment to naughty steps… So really, I could put a different spin on this lingering shade from my babysitting days if I wanted to. I’m not a poor disciplinarian, I’m just fun (or “not mean”).

I know I’ve made myself sound like a terrible parent with all of the yelling and double desserts…but it goes without saying that I am a responsible mother and I do make sure that we don’t live in complete chaos (notice the disclaimer of “complete”). In the end – like everyone else, I’m just doing the best I can. And I have both hits and misses – sometimes so close together that it’s a wash.

My own mother has often lamented all of the yelling she did when we were little. But the truth is, I have no recollection of this. I only remember her as being the soft, safe place in my world. The true source of unconditional love. And the role model for how much parents should try to understand before passing judgement.

So maybe my worrying is a waste of time. I can’t predict what my kids will remember from their childhood. It may be very little – or it may be every detail. But as long as I keep coming back to my love for them and pride in their every accomplishment, it can’t be that bad.

And I hope that they do remember me sitting around with them eating chocolate cake for breakfast. Because that is far closer to how I feel about them than my displeasure with their dirt focused activities. “Let them eat cake – but don’t let them throw dirt.” That’s how I’d like to be remembered.

Monkey in the Middle

I have three children born in the following order: Oliver, George and Eleanor. And as number two out of three, George won the title of middle child. By default of course, since he’s a twin… But boy, has he lived lived up to it.

When I was pregnant with the twins, I knew that I was having a boy and a girl and that “Baby A” (the one who would be delivered first) was a boy. The order seemed rather inconsequential to me since the c-section that was looking probable would put a single minute’s span between their individual entrances into the world.

So it astounded me when people talked about George being my middle child. How could he be Eleanor’s “older brother” when they shared a birthday and the same 18 months’ age difference with Oliver? It was just silly.

But – laugh as I did, I’ve also found there to be some truth to this. Because George engenders many typical “middle child syndrome” behaviors.

First – he’s very aware of ownership. And once he stakes a claim on something, he will fight to the death to protect what is his. Like all other toddlers, he did his fair share of screaming “MINE!” and redefining “share” to mean “gimmie that.” But it doesn’t seem to be a phase that he’s quickly outgrowing. It’s not that he wants everything…just a few things to lord over his siblings. The red Lightning McQueen sippy cup? His. The scooter with less dirt on the foot board? HIS! Please don’t touch the merchandise. Trespassers will be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law.

And this makes sense to me. Oliver is the oldest and has always had his own things. Two thirds of the toys in our house belonged to Oliver first. Of course, he’d rather play with toilet paper or cups of water (or worse – both)…but that’s another post in and of itself. Most of George’s things are hand me downs.

Also, since Eleanor is a girl – and a girly girl at that – she automatically has her own possessions that the boys have no interest in sharing. She has no need to defend her territory. And as a girl, she is treated differently – more gently. Not on purpose, but I can see how it happens. She gets babied more. And has taken over that role. She’s the baby of the family. And George fell into the only position left in the line up.

Like most other “middle” children, George has had to develop a strong personality to enforce his demands (of which there are many). He is tiny for his age – even smaller than his twin sister – but he is most definitely a force to be reckoned with. Woe to the unlucky traveler who crosses his path when he’s in a temper. The volume of his cries for justice can do more damage to your eardrums than close proximity to amps at a rock concert. He’s a screamer. And he’s loud.

Most middle children I know remind me of George in their need to be seen, heard, understood and appreciated. But I’ve also noticed that many of them – like George – aren’t a true “middle.” For example, they may be number two or three in a family of four kids. Once the number exceeds three, it seems that anyone who isn’t first or last gets a shot at middle child status. It could also be gender…physical or emotional challenges…anything to set them apart from the rest as the one who needs just a little more validation and attention. The one who isn’t handed a position title. Their resumes would include terms such as “self starter” and “results driven.”

So I wonder if it’s the age order or simply the way we treat our children that sustains this family phenomenon. Probably both. The oldest will always have more time and more new stuff as a byproduct of being first. And the youngest will be the last baby – a label that seems to stick. Everyone in between will need to find their own way, and this will be easier for some than others. It’s a lot of work for George, but I think he’s up to the job.

And of course – every family is different. Some have more kids than others…different gender combinations…various challenges and special needs situations… That has to play its part as well. Toss in the element of innate personality and you’ve got endless possibilities for middle child status assignment.

As I typed this, George was either sitting in my lap, climbing over my shoulder like a small monkey or yelling to me from another room. He’s just as good at playing quietly by himself – but he’ll never be lost in the shuffle. My inlaws once referred to him as a “howler monkey” during a beach vacation when he spent the entire week clinging to me and screaming. The fact that we later discovered a double ear infection didn’t change the perception. The nickname stuck for a while.

They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and I wonder if it’s a coincidence that George literally squeaked like a rusty hinge when he was an infant. I would listen to him creaking away as he slept in his infant car seat and marvel at how bizarre it was. I had never heard anything like it in my life. And I haven’t since. George is a true original. Would he have been like this no matter what, or did we unwittingly encourage it? We can only guess…but I wouldn’t change him. My middle child always keeps things interesting.

No One Mentioned Having to Repeat Kindergarten…

…and first grade…and second grade…and high school…

Today, I visited the school that my five year old will be attending in the Fall when he starts Kindergarten. And as I observed the excitement of the children with their little can’t-be-still -for-more-than-five seconds bodies, their colorful art projects adorning the walls and the competent teacher running the show, I was struck by one very powerful memory. I really hated school.

Okay – hate is a strong word. And I did enjoy certain aspects of school…but the tedious work of studying, memorizing and sitting for hours on end? I was never a fan. And while I suppose Kindergarten was kind of a cake walk, looking back, I can see how it foreshadowed the pressure and responsibility of the higher grades and higher education.

To this day, my math skills are pathetic. All of those hours with the algebra tutor? Wasted! I can barely remember how to multiply fractions. And while I always loved reading and plowed through far more of the Summer reading list than was actually required, I dreaded writing the reports. Memorizing definitions for tests? Pure torture.

So while I sat there listening to a story about Frog and Toad and their garden and then watched the kids puzzle out the answers to various questions regarding plot, their bright shiny faces began to blur. While they were jumping out of their seats to scream “seeds!” “soil!” and “water!” – I was thinking “blood!” “sweat!” and “tears!

School for me was a grind. It was a necessary evil and at best, an excellent way to meet friends and learn how to French braid hair. I got good grades in the subjects I liked and mediocre grades in the ones I didn’t, and I lived for the Summer when my time was finally my own again.

As much as I am thrilled that my kids will be starting school and beginning to learn how to navigate the world outside of our cul de sac, I’m also dreading all of that homework to be monitored. I didn’t enjoy doing my own. I seriously doubt that I’ll like doing my children’s science fair projects for them.

But then there is another part of me that thinks a Social Studies text book is just what I need. After forgetting about 80% of what I learned in school, it might be a good idea to have some refreshers on world explorers (what did Ponce de Leon do again?), North American Indian tribes, and the states’ capitals (I’m always stumped by Bismark). It might improve my cocktail party small talk – you’d be surprised how often cuneiform comes up as a topic. Seriously though – I’m often shocked by the things that I really should know, but just don’t remember. So quizzing my children on the difference between a genus and a species may not be such a bad thing.

But all of those years… I look at the Kindergartners and think, “this is just the beginning…armed felons get shorter prison sentences…” So no, I don’t have any desire to go back. I really didn’t hate school – but man, I’m SO glad it’s over.

You often hear people talk about children keeping us young. That we relive our own youth in watching theirs. And that works for me as far as the tree climbing and tea parties go – but I’ll happily skip the P.E. class indignities thank you very much.

Next up: sitting around watching little league games! Damn kids, with their contagious youth.

When is it time to stop picking your child’s nose?

Because I do it all the time. Like every day – several times a day.

Sometimes with cooperation from the “pickee,” and sometimes with resistance that requires a full nelson and lightning fast reflexes for success. But pick that nose I will. Because I cannot abide boogers.

It all started with Oliver. He was one of those snorty newborns. The first night he was home from the hospital, I had to use that suction bulb thing that I found by his head in the hospital isolette. Shortly after his birth, a nurse demonstrated the mouth suctioning I was supposed to perform on him periodically. But after the first day, I decided that he was in little danger of choking on his own saliva. I almost didn’t keep the suction thing, but all the books said to steal everything in the room that wasn’t nailed down since I (i.e. my insurance company) had paid for it. So along with several boxes of cheap tissues and as many panty liners as I could grab, the suction thing traveled home with me via a bulging bag of hospital contraband.

And thank god – because I was beside myself trying to figure out how to stop the first night home snorting that must surely have been a precursor to something requiring a call to 911. I believe it was my aunt who woke up and suggested the suction thing. And I supposed that after climbing over her to reach the baby supplies drawer on the other side of the pull out couch, it was the least I could do to take her advice.

Worked like a charm. His little nostrils were unplugged with two quick squeezes and my long standing career as an expert nose cleaner was born.

Saline drops were another tool in my booger fighting arsenal, and I had the entire process down to a science. After a brief rookie period in which I actually sprayed the solution instead of letting it drip – the first of many occasions upon which I unwittingly caused my children mild to severe discomfort – I had a seamless technique for maximum results with minimal crying.

And I used it frequently since for the first year of his life, Oliver had a perpetually stuffy nose. Other mothers make sure they don’t forget the pacifier when they leave the house – I double and triple checked for my snot supplies.

One of my favorite booger-related memories happened on a trip to visit my in laws in Phoenix. Halfway through the long flight I noticed that seven month old Oliver had an airway obstruction. And the size of what I extracted was unreal. I actually held it up for my husband to see, “oh my god – look how big this is!” His response? “Is that Oliver’s?!” I was scandalized into sarcasm, “no, it’s mine – OF COURSE it’s his!” I mean, really…

Anyway – once the twins came along, I had three victims upon which to hone my skills. I’ve even been called by neighbors for assistance with their newborns’ clogged nostrils long after the Hood children outgrew the suction bulb thing. As someone who birthed three babies in 18 months, I’ve gained a bit of a reputation as a parenting guru. One that isn’t in the least bit deserved with the exception of this one area. No one matches my booger removal mojo.

But years have passed, and while my three and five year olds do know how to use a tissue, I still feel the need to forcibly extract anything from their noses that might resemble something in the mucus family. It’s not quite an obsession…but it’s not far off.

In recent weeks though, I’ve wondered if it’s time to pass the torch. Those kicking feet and flailing fists can hurt. And really – where does it end? When someone breaks my arm? When my teenagers run away from home because living on the street sounds preferable to frequent sneak attacks from a booger obsessed mother?

I’m thinking that it’s time to stop the madness. But it’s going to be hard. You know, it’s allergy season, and the twins appear to have inherited their father’s Spring hay fever. I may have to find distractions – focus my attentions elsewhere.

I have to say, their ears can get very waxy. I wonder if it affects their hearing… Someone call Child Protective Services, I’m breaking out the Q-Tips.

Pearls of Wisdom

One of the things we all do when we become parents is dream about what the future holds for our children. We think about who they are going to be. Or more accurately – who we want them to be.

Every night when I was pregnant with my first baby, I thought about all of the qualities that I wished for him. I wished for kindness and generosity. For self confidence and intelligence. For humor and charisma. For talent and creativity. And happiness.

Then he was born and I just wanted him to sleep.

But in my heart, all of those wishes lived on – and still do. And I tried to do the same for my other children. I had the same hopes for my twins, though a bit less focused.

By the time I was pregnant again, my first child was still a stinky sleeper, and I tended to pass out the minute my head hit the pillow. So there were no thoughtful lists chanted nightly for the twins and their own triumphs of character.

It was then that I gave myself license to tuck those dreams in a pocket where I knew they would be kept warm and alive. Even if I couldn’t recite them by rote. Maybe if I wanted them enough, they would be imprinted in all of my intentions, and it none would go astray. It would be a string of pearls that would never break.

And I think it has been. They’re all still there, permanently knotted on the strongest of fibers – gleaming in the shadows of my pocket. I don’t need to memorize what is in my heart.

It’s been over three years since the last of my babies were born, and I’m now starting to see glimpses of my dreams in their eyes. I smell them in the soft scent that no longer whispers baby. And I feel them in the squeeze of small fingers around my own.

They are becoming people.

And as much as I frequently cup my precious wishes in my palm, I know that it’s out of my hands. I can’t keep my children in a pocket. They have to decide who they are going to be, and it seems that starts as early as…well, now.

It would be so easy to label them. He’s the sweet one. She’s the feisty one. He’s the gentle one. But they change daily – sometimes to my liking and sometimes not.

But you always loved to paint. Where is my little artist?

What do you mean you won’t wear the pretty dress? Dresses are your favorite.

Since when did you stop liking Barney? Nevermind – that’s fine, thanks.

In these small ways, they assert their growing personalities. They try them on like scraps from a dress up box. Cherished one moment – then dismissively discarded. Thoughtless. Artless. Fickle. And free.

But we have our favorites and sometimes we interfere. Put on the pink one – it’s your best color. For all of our good intentions and pride, we so often try to box our children into neatly labeled cubby holes…the nice one…the pretty one…the smart one… And we even do it to each other as adults. Maybe that’s where we learn it – from our own parents. The circle of life. The beat goes on.

And maybe that’s fine. Perhaps it’s necessary to be guided to our strengths. But that’s some power we parents have. And Power is never far from its evil twin, Responsibility.

I honestly do think that as I provide that necessary guidance to my children, I’m just as responsible for following their lead. And protecting their right to choose.

It used to drive me crazy when people would label my twins. She’s the sweet one and he’s the character. Or to assume that my oldest was supposed to suddenly be a mini man at 18 months just for the fact that he’s an older brother.

My daughter has proven everyone wrong. She was the sweet one. She was the quiet one who was often ignored while her twin brother writhed and screamed with reflux pain. I like to imagine that placid little baby getting miffed. The squeaky wheel indeed!

She didn’t stay angelic for long. She is the larger than life child. She sings and dances through the day. She demands her due with a jazz hands finish. But just like that little girl with the little curl, when she is good she is very, very good, but when she is bad… She stomps her feet, hands planted firmly on hips. Her “YES I can!” is less self affirming call to action than blood thirsty battle cry. She is fierce.

But I envy her.

And don’t we all? Don’t we all look at our children and envy their potential. Their bright, shiny newness. Their quicksilver ability to morph into anything they want to be.

I want to foster that. Sure I have to say no sometimes. I have to be firm. But I don’t want to take that ferocity away from her. Especially when I so often wish that I had it myself.

My cousin was apparently much like my daughter at that age, and my mother remembers some good advice that was given to my aunt and uncle. The grandfather who was well known for his “spare the rod, spoil the child” attitude about discipline shocked everyone by warning, “just don’t break her.

Pretty wise if you ask me. And I would say that same advice transcends its original subject. I don’t want to break any of my children of their ferocity or their quirks. As inconvenient as these traits may be for me – it’s my responsibility to protect their individuality.

I was reminded of my string of wishes recently when my grandmother passed away. She left Eleanor a pearl necklace that had once belonged to her own daughter. It was old and fragile and in need of some refurbishing. And when Eleanor is old enough I will have it restrung for her. Like a mother’s dreams for her children, the necklace will be passed on with love.

Everyday, I wrap my own dreams and wishes around my children. But in the end, it’s their choice how to wear them.

They’re Playing Our Song

Have you ever heard a song that transported you back to a memory so visceral that you could close your eyes and feel like you were actually there?

Of course you have – we all have. Music has always been a well known sense memory trigger. And we can all call upon those few notes that evoke something very specific from our past.

When I close my eyes and think of Crystal Gayle singing Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, I’m suddenly six years old and sitting in the back of our family car. Possibly driving to the dentist where I will be forced to endure a nauseating grape flavored fluoride treatment.

If I think of Bob Marley singing Is This Love, I’m 16 and at the beach – a little sore from sunburn, but why worry about wrinkles, as it won’t matter anymore when I’m old…?

If I think of Al Green singing I’m So in Love with You, I’m 27 and marveling at how this once unlikely candidate for a boyfriend will soon be my husband.

But all of these time stopping, breath catching, overwhelming assaults on my fragile sense of the present are eclipsed by another, far more powerful one.

I recently unearthed a CD of lullabies that I played at every bedtime and every nighttime feeding from the time my son Oliver was born through well into his toddler years. Those melancholy strains bring back memories so full of joy and fear and mind blowing wonder that it makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. But mostly cry. The nostalgia is almost unbearable.

Truly the most poignant time of my life thus far was the first year of my first child’s life. Because he was then, and on some level will always be, the great love of my life.

When Oliver was born I felt physically beaten. It was a textbook first delivery with very few surprises. But that 9 lb. 2 oz. little body that pushed its way out of mine took a very serious toll. As an inexperienced first time mother I had no idea that it wasn’t normal to take a full five minutes to lever myself out of a hospital bed, 24 hours after giving birth. Nor did I realize that this level of discomfort should have ebbed after the first few days. But I guessed that something might be wrong when I needed a wheelchair to leave the hospital as other new mothers were sprinting down the hall to greet visitors.

I should have asked for drugs.

This pain is part of my sense memory.

When I tried to nurse him I felt like he was ravaging me. It hurt and wasn’t anything like the bonding experience I read about in books. I used to say it was like trying to hold a wild animal. It didn’t seem normal – all of that biting, flailing and groping. It was only weeks later that my milk production was declared low.

My big newborn needed more from me.

This attack on my body and subsequent sense of failure are part of my sense memory.

Oliver didn’t sleep for more than an hour at a time, and half of that was spent rocking him and trying to put him back in the bassinet. By the time I would get him settled, I only had a half hour to sleep.

Then he would wake up hungry and the painful, frustrating process would start all over again.

This exhaustion is part of my sense memory.

I had pretty bad post partum depression for the first few weeks, but didn’t realize what it was until it was over. All I knew was that I felt like I was staring into the abyss. I knew I loved my baby. Fiercely. But the bands of anxiety that would tighten around my chest as the sun fell lower on the horizon were squeezing me out of my own battered body. One particularly bad evening I couldn’t stop crying and told my husband that I felt like I was losing myself. I have a very clear memory of being up and trying to nurse at 2 a.m. My body ached and Boone had just died on Lost and my baby wouldn’t let me sleep and I just didn’t know if I could make it through.

Again – I should have asked for drugs.

This utter hopelessness is part of my sense memory.

While Oliver’s sleeping never really improved as much as it seemed to for other babies I knew (I was still waking up three to four times a night close to his first birthday) I got used to the pattern. It became second nature. I simply adjusted. Because I looked at his precious little face in the dim light filtering through the window and felt nothing but love. And gratitude. And that unnamed emotion that makes mothers fall to pieces when they imagine a time that this tightly bundled glowworm body would be too big to rock standing up.

I rocked him in the middle of his dark bedroom, drinking in the ambrosia of his peaceful slumber long after he became too heavy for it to be comfortable.

This addict-caliber need for my baby, regardless of the time of day or night is part of my sense memory.

I had to go back to work when Oliver was three months old. And leaving him for full days with another caretaker was possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. We had never before been separated for more than a few hours, and I didn’t know how I could bear it. The last day of my maternity leave I held him for his entire afternoon nap.

I listened to that CD twice and cried for the end of our “just you and me” time.

This sorrow and anticipation of the separation to come is part of my sense memory.

I loved giving Oliver his bedtime bottle (the nursing never worked out for us). It was the only time that my never still boy would cuddle and just “be” with me. He would look up at my face and twist his fingers in my hair until his eyes would start to droop. Then the blinks would last for longer beats and his tired fingers would rest on the bottle. He would often stop drinking as sleep took him, and I would have to give him a little shake to make sure he finished all of his formula. A full stomach will help him sleep better right? Not so much… But I figured it didn’t hurt to try.

I would often linger longer than necessary just to feel the warm weight of him in my arms. To memorize the shadow of eyelashes that brushed his cheeks and appreciate the surety that this was all that mattered in the world no matter what work drama or financial worries might color my days.

This peaceful embrace is part of my sense memory.

When Oliver was a little over ten months old, I discovered that I was pregnant again. It wasn’t planned and threw us for a roller coaster sized loop. I had hoped for a three year age difference between our first born and our hypothetical second child (which ended up being twins). But as always, we adjust. So this vision of siblings close in age became part of our future family dreams. But I did feel the pangs of what this second pregnancy meant: the ultimate end of that “just me and you” time.

There would no longer be one answer to every question: whatever is best for him. Life would become more complicated and attention would not be as easily focused.

This fear of change and intensified appreciation for the time that was left for our mommy-baby bliss is part of my sense memory.

Maybe this is all tied to him being such a crappy sleeper…or maybe it’s because I was a working mother with limited time to spend with him – but I craved my baby like nothing I’ve ever wanted or needed in my life. And the memory of those quiet hours spent in his bedroom, set to the soundtrack our our lullaby CD, holds more power over me than any other.

There was such simplicity in that time without the concerns attached to sibling rivalry and divided priorities. Though in the thick of it, it seemed anything but, with the sleep training books and the nursing problems – then the teething and the baby proofing. But that intense first baby love was stronger than any emotion I’ve ever experienced.

The lullabies we once listened to so few years but so long ago bring all of that back. And it literally makes me swoon.

If you were wondering what CD has this hold on my heart, it’s Lullaby, a collection. I do warn mothers with post partum depression that those “melancholy strains” I mentioned above may make you want to slit your wrists a little bit (before you get yourself some good meds, I mean). But the songs really do create a lovely soundtrack for your own sense memories. As far as lifetimes go, that is.

Like Somebody’s Mother

This year, I realized that I haven’t worn a one piece bathing suit since I was twelve years old. And it’s not because I’ve been living the good life, giving the cast of The Hills a run for their money in the bikini department.

It’s simply because no matter what dress size I’m wearing, I always look a little less bad in a two piece. I’m short waisted and I tend to carry any extra weight in my hips and thighs. And I’ve found that covering my stomach just draws more attention to that.
Even post pregnancies – I’d rather show a little stretched out abdominal skin than wear a bathing suit that doubles for a neon arrow pointing to my cellulite. And even more importantly, I kind of don’t care anymore.

Back when I was a teenager and cellulite was just a twinkle in my genetic code’s eye, I really did care. I wore a bathing suit for no other reason than to get tan, and would only remove my shorts while in a horizontal position where gravity was much kinder. If I wanted a magazine that wasn’t within arm’s reach, I would get dressed before getting up to retrieve it.

Okay – that last one is a bit of an exaggeration. But you get the idea. I was a perfectly normal looking, exasperatingly self conscious and self absorbed young girl. And that’s when I chose the lesser of the two bathing suit evils.

Only once in in the past 20+ years have I even considered a one-piece. It was a summer in my early twenties and I was about to stay with my eight year old cousin for a week while his parents were in Europe. Knowing that I would be taking him to the pool every day and possibly be expected to engage in activities such as diving for quarters and Marco Polo, I felt it was a good time to put practicality before vanity.

One of my roommates had just gotten a super cute, albeit pricey one piece from J. Crew. It was very simple and black, and I thought it would probably be the most flattering option that I would find for myself. So I asked her if I could try it on.

Nothing prepared me for the realization that hit when I did. I stared in horror at how the fabric accentuated the curve of my hips and the roundness of my bottom. How I seemed to grow extra body parts below my waist line – ones that moved as I twisted around to get a better look at my backside. The effect fired childhood memories of my then hip level views of the women surrounding me at the pool and the beach. And I gasped, “oh my god! I look like sombody’s mother!

Because that is the exact image that came to mind: one of those moms getting wax paper wrapped sandwiches out of coolers and donning big straw hats to protect already lined skin from further damage. One of those frugal home stewards who didn’t waste money on expensive bathing suits, and instead just picked something serviceable up from a bargain bin.

So that was that for the one piece idea. Being practical was one thing, but being mistaken for my eight year old cousin’s mother was another.

Now I am so entrenched in motherhood that the memory of that reaction perplexes me. What was so awful about looking like a mother? I mean, I technically WAS old enough to be a mom… But I felt so young then – and “mother” conjured up images of graying hair and sensible shoes and long afternoons of discount shopping. No matter how little sense it makes to me now, it sounded old to me then.

Being in my late thirties, I’d like to say that I could now care less about how I look in my bathing suit. But that wouldn’t be true. In my heart, I’m still lamenting my not-so-slender legs and kicking myself for an under appreciation of that teenage body when I had it. But…

I do care less. I’m too busy running after my small children, and I’m in pretty decent shape as far as the mommies around the baby pool go. And the truth is, no one else really cares.

And THAT has been the body image epiphany of my life. No one cares. I can look great for me or not so great for me, and all anyone else is really going to notice is that I’m a mom.

I’m either carrying a child on my hip or yelling at them to stop splashing. I’m digging through my bag for Goldfish crackers and wrapping shivering little bodies in towels. I’m taking pictures and pushing strollers and searching for lost Thomas trains.

I look like somebody’s mother. And it has set me free – free from that ridiculous egomaniacal fear of how my body is perceived.

I’m serious. At the beach last summer, I actually ran a good distance through a crowd to reach my four year old son who was wandering off into the surf. This from the girl who once said, “jog in my bathing suit? I don’t even stand in my bathing suit.

Now I bend over to help build sand castles and ignore the inevitable stomach rolls that ensue. In front of cute life guards no less!

Because guess what? They don’t care! I’m now old enough to be their mother. A thought that makes me almost giddy with relief.

So when I realized that our family membership to the YMCA with access to an indoor pool would probably call for the purchase of a new one piece bathing suit, it didn’t give me a moment’s pause. Sure – I still think I look better in the bikini, but I also think it would be a bit out of place in a lap pool.

The result was a major milestone in my long journey to becoming a mature adult with well placed priorities. Putting aside old swimwear prejudices, I happily acknowledged the fact that I really do look “like somebody’s mother.”

I finally bought a one piece bathing suit.

And I bought it at Costco.