Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Reinventing Myself, Once Again

Hey, look, it's me!  I'm back!

Well...  sort of.  I know, I've been MIA for the past six months.  I don't know why, but I just lost my blogging mojo.  Sure, things happened that I could share, but I would rather not post than slap up a blow-by-blow of my family life.  Don't get me wrong - I'm not knocking those who do just that; it's just not me.  I prefer to share something I learned the hard way, peppered with a healthy dose of snark.

So...  I'm back, bitches.

There have been some major changes going on over here.  Nothing bad, fortunately, but changes that are drastically affecting our family's day to day life.  Changes like getting up earlier, kissing the Hubster goodbye much, much earlier, and managing the care and wrangling of offspring from sun up (actually, from before sun up, thanks to the time change) to sun down with only myself upon which to rely.

Well, truth be told, I'm also relying heavily on my insanely helpful parents when it comes to the evening activity shuffle.  Can't not give props to the village.

I will be brutally honest here:  I'm very proud of the Hubster, and I'm insanely excited that he is being recognized financially and otherwise for his abilities and is in an incredibly supportive work environment with start-up-like perks, but I hate - with the fire of a thousand suns - that his commute leaves me alone to handle every. blasted. aspect. of the kids' lives, from school to activities to discipline to bedtime.  I feel like I've been abandoned.  And I feel like a complete and raging bitch when I tell him this.

So?  What am I going to do about it?  Keep bitching, knowing that nothing will change just by bitching, or do something about it?

I am going to do absolutely nothing.


I'll keep bitching.

Not kidding.

Come on now, I've been bitching for so many years that I've practically perfected my technique.

Except...  this time I am going to really think about what it is that I need to make my life work for me.  I know, I've done this before.  But face it - as a mother of young kids, I have to keep doing that because the kids' needs keep changing.  So I have to make changes accordingly.

I'll keep you posted on my progress.  Let's hope its direction is mostly forward.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Growing Pains: Third Grade Edition

The two older boys’ first month of school is almost complete.  J is especially excited because he got the teacher he wanted for third grade.  I’ll admit it; this was the teacher I was hoping he’d get, too, because she has high expectations for her students – she sets the bar high, and then helps the kids strive to reach it.

The first two weeks of school were, well, anticlimactic.  No homework was assigned, and the boys settled into their new routines rather quickly.  Their afterschool activities began gradually, so we eased into our new routine.

And then came the homework.

To provide some context, last year, J’s homework consisted of writing fifteen spelling words five times each and three worksheets.  Per week.  That’s it.  Seriously.  Second grade was a joke as far as homework was concerned.

Third grade is a whole. new. world. 

Monday night means a language arts worksheet and some math.  Tuesday and Wednesday mean some more math.  Thursday means still more math.  Every Friday, there is a spelling test.  This Friday there is also a science test.  Last week, J had to bring in pictures of plants, herbivores, and carnivores to create a food web at school.  There will also be four book projects throughout the year.

In principle, I have absolutely no issue with the amount of homework that J has.  What I do  take issue with is the crying, whining, and hyperventilating that precedes the completion of said homework.  Specifically, this spectacle is reserved solely for the language arts homework.

Last night, J had to read a story called The Fire on the Mountain (or something like that).  The story in brief:  Haptom is a rich guy who has a servant named Arha.  Haptom asks Arha if he thinks it’s possible to survive a night on the mountain without shelter, blankets, or fire, and then suggest a friendly wager to prove it.  Arha declines since he has nothing to offer.  Haptom says that’s okay, if Arha can survive a night on the mountain, he’ll give him land, a house, and cattle.  Arha visits Hairu, the village wise man, for advice.  Hairu tells Arha that he’ll light a fire in the valley, and Arha can see the fire and imagine that he’s being warmed by it.

…I just had to interject here.  I get that the United States is no longer a Eurocentric society, and I support the whole diversity and multiculturalism thrust in education, but if I had a hard time keeping track of these characters’ names (I kept calling Haptom Hampton), how on earth is an eight-year-old supposed to?  But I digress…

Haptom is impressed that Arha has survived the frigid night and asks how he did it.  Arha says that he saw the fire in the valley and imagined that it kept him warm.  Haptom accuses Arha of cheating and refuses to pay up.  Heartbroken, Arha visits Hairu, who decides to help.  Hairu hosts a banquet and invites Haptom.  He prepares but does not serve the food.  Haptom asks when the food will be served.  Hairu asks if Haptom can smell the food; Haptom can.  Hairu says that if he can smell the food, then he must be full since Arhu was kept warm by seeing the fire.  Haptom is ashamed and decides to make good on his end of the wager.

Reads a little bit like a Biblical parable, don’t you think?  I don’t know about you, but I’m an adult and I have a hard time making heads or tails of Biblical parables.  Imagine how an eight-year-old feels.  Cue the waterworks...
The students then have to answer some questions about comparison and contrast.  Like:  How are Haptom and Arhu different at the beginning of the story?  How are they alike at the end?  (this wasn’t too hard for J to figure out; he’s a bright kid, fortunately, but I still had to talk him through the process… he kept getting hung up on the character names)  Where did Arhu’s test take place?  Where did Haptom’s test take place?  (J didn’t make the connection that the banquet was a test for Haptom…  did many other students?  If they are unfamiliar with parables, will most third graders make that connection?  Did they discuss this, or similar stories, in class?
I think my frustration is this:  yes, let’s challenge our kids.  No, we don’t expect enough of them academically.  But if we’re going to present students with challenging material, which this language arts homework clearly is (for a third grader), teachers must teach children the critical thinking skills necessary to move towards mastery of that material.  Simple repeat exposure is not sufficient.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

In Memoriam

I guess today is as appropriate a day as any to start blogging again.  But in honor of the horrific events that happened eleven years ago today, I just can’t do snark right now.  It doesn’t feel right.  In fact, it feels sacrilegious.

In 2001, I worked for a small software developer in New York City.  I was a project manager, where I was responsible for determining what features our clients wanted, writing the engineering specifications for them, designing the graphic interface for the new features, testing those features to ensure that they work properly, writing the user documentation, and then training our clients to use the new features.  Initially, I loved my job.  I loved the combination of techno-geekery and creativity.  I got to design software features and the elements of the graphic interface, contribute to the user guide, and play with software.  But by the fall of that year, the software application I was originally working on and had redesigned was abandoned, my boss and I weren’t getting along very well, and the company was slashing employees left and right.  Oh, and I was also rather preoccupied with my impending wedding.  It was a recipe for near complete job dissatisfaction.
The morning of September 11, 2001 started out pretty much like any other.  I took the train into work, to a job that I no longer enjoyed.  I remember wanting to call in sick, to work from home, but I didn’t because I was supposed to accompany one of our sales reps on a sales call.  Needless to say, that call never happened.  Life as we all knew it changed forever.

Eleven days later, the Hubster officially became the Hubster.  We were married, and were grateful to be surrounded by our friends and family.  Those who couldn’t fly in to join us were missed terribly, but no absence was felt as much as that of Hubster’s friend, the Firefighter.  While everyone who could make it to the ground floor of the towers ran to safety, the Firefighter ran in to help.  He never made it out.

While the Hubster and I started a new life together, others struggled with their horrific losses. 

When I think about September 11, 2001, and watch the television shows honoring the fallen, and read the articles about those who perished, I am immediately ripped back to that gorgeous fall morning.  My stomach clenches, my eyes fill with tears, and then I remember the amazing things that happened in the aftereffect of unfathomable tragedy:  the sense of community, the willingness to reach out to one another and make sure we were safe, and gratitude that I came home safely.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Words. At This Moment, They Fail Me.

Oh, FFS already:

Right now I'm still speechless.  I'll find some words and post them later.

Friday, May 25, 2012

More Baby Steps

I’m a first-born.  And an over-achiever.  Not to mention a people pleaser.  I’m also Catholic.  Mix all that together and what do you get?  Someone who has a hard time standing up for herself and when she does, she feels guilty about it.  Someone who just does. not. like. letting people down, or having people disapprove of a decision she’s made, or be displeased with her.  Ever.

Yeah, I’ve been working on that.  For almost forty years.  Step by step, I’m making headway.

For example:

About three weeks ago I got talked into participating in the From Couch to 5K program at my YMCA. 

For those who don’t know, From Couch to 5K is a ten-week long program designed to prepare non-runners (here I am, waving my arms, non-runner over here!) to run a 5K race.  Starting with a five minute walk followed by a two minute jog followed by another five minute walk, the program gradually builds the time spend jogging until the final week, when you jog for thirty minutes straight.

Ugh, I’m getting palpitations just re-reading that phrase:  “jog for thirty minutes straight.”

Actually, the first three weeks really weren’t all that bad.  I enjoy my solo Saturday morning runs and quickly found that I can run for a minute or two longer than the scheduled times, and then run again for another three or four minutes.  Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but keep in mind that I am That Girl who, in high school, begged the gym teacher to pleeeeeeeeeease let me stop and retie my shoes during the timed mile run because my lungs were on fire.

All of that progress was very exciting for me.  This week, however, my body started to rebel.  For the past year and change, I’ve been working out three days a week – yoga, Pilates, and a half an hour on the elliptical.  Now I’ve added three days of running to that regimen, and my back is not happy. 

Tuesday was rainy, so instead of jogging on the trail, we worked out on treadmills.  Our trainer did what she’s supposed to do and encouraged us, and pushed me to jog faster to better mimic running outside.  My normal response would be to suck it up, begrudgingly increase my speed, and jog faster while whining inside my head.  On Tuesday, I decided that that wasn’t going to work for me.  And I said just that – “No, that doesn’t work for me.”  The trainer looked at me and tried to lay a guilt trip on me, but I just shrugged and kept jogging at my slow pace.  Then she suggested that I increase the incline to (again) better simulate jogging outside.  To humor her, I raised the incline to 1.5.  My lower back quickly voiced its displeasure.  I lowered the treadmill's incline back down to zero and said that magic phrase once again – “That’s just not working for me.”

It felt so good.

I know, I know, sticking up for myself to a trainer when participating in a running program is hardly revolutionary.

But for what might be the first time since I can remember, I listened to my body and instead of pushing myself further, I drew a boundary.  And stuck to it. 

That felt good.

I might not stick with this From Couch to 5K program, but I will definitely stick with listening to my body (physically and emotionally), drawing appropriate boundaries, and sticking to them.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Defining Me

It happened again.  One of my boys did something that compelled a teacher to tell me about it.  After T’s gymnastics class, a boy was sitting down and putting on his shoes when T came up from behind and pushed him over.  The teacher made it a point to let me know that she didn’t see if anything happened before hand (which I took to mean that she didn’t know if the boy had done something to encourage or provoke T), but that she saw T push the boy.

My first thought was something like: Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck.  This woman probably thinks my kid is an ass and I suck as a mom.  You know, because every other mom has such puppet-master-like control over their kids that the mere thought of misbehaving causes such psychic pain that they immediately think otherwise.  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

Now, intellectually I know T made a bad choice.  And intellectually I also know he’s not a bad kid, but your typical five-year-old boy.  He’s at an age where he’s very tactile, very touchy – he is constantly touching me, his brothers, his friends.  It’s not malicious; often it’s the exact opposite, but he doesn’t quite get that others might not appreciate his invasion of their personal space despite his desire to hug them.  But there’s still that voice in my head that says it’s my fault.

And then the Thursday before school vacation, I got a call from J’s teacher.  On the playground during recess, he was wrestling (!!!) with some classmates – boys and girls.  One of the girls fell and hit her head, and J accidentally kicked her.  The teacher said that J acknowledged that he was doing something he shouldn’t, and that he was remorseful that the girl was hurt, but she called me because the girl left school early due to her injury.  (They have recess at the end of their day, just before dismissal.) 

Again, my first thought?  Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.  I thought we were past this.  Will J ever get over this attraction to mischief, or am I going to spend the rest of his academic career as That Mom?  I don’t want to be That Mom.  I want to be That Mom of Those Really Great Boys.

In both cases, I know the boys made bad choices, and made them independent of me.  And yet I feel like those choices are a direct reflection on my performance as a mother, and on me as a human being.  And that these reflections are, for the most part, ugly and negative.  Like there’s this huge, gilt-framed portrait of me (and it’s totally unflattering because the angle makes my already large nose look absolutely humongous) with “Epic Fail” stamped on it in big red letters somewhere in the Halls of Personhood.  In the Motherhood wing.  In the Room of Failure.

I don’t doubt that this obsession with my parental effectiveness is exacerbated by the fact that I am a stay-at-home mom.  I know, I know, just being a mom is a Full Time Job (seriously, working moms, I tip my hat to you; I don’t know how you work a full day and then come home and do what I do), but when you don’t leave the house to go and interact with other adults on a regular basis, you spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about things.  Like the layout of your house (where should we put the piano?), its state of general cleanliness (don’t ask), and how to create a perpetually organized homework station in your kitchen (if you know how to do that, please let me know because I’m desperate).  But mostly you think about your kids.  And whether you’re doing a good enough job raising them.  And what your kid’s teacher thinks, and what your kid’s friends’ moms think, and what your mom friends think, about you as a mother.  You think about how you’re being judged.  Always about how you’re being judged.  I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.  (Please tell me it’s not just me.)

And maybe this is just me, but I feel like there’s a connection between the perceived negative judgments and the fact that I’m raising three boys.  That people tend to think that boy moms whose boys are active (you know, just like typical boys who – gulp – run in the library and touch everything within reach and constantly use their outside voices inside) are somehow not doing as good a job raising their kids as other moms.  Sure, the boys are reflections of me; and since they spend the vast majority of their time with me, it stands to reason that more of my influence rubs off on them than that of Hubster’s.  But I feel that people tend to ascribe the boys’ negative behaviors directly to me and my influence, and that every failure on their part is completely my fault. 

It’s a challenge not to let my boys define who I am as a person.  Right now, I don’t have a career other than Mother.  Sure, I have skills and experiences that were gained prior to, but I put those aside to dedicate my time and my self to raising my children.  They have been gathering dust for ten years, and I’m not sure exactly how or when they will be taken out and put back in use.

In the meantime, I need to keep reminding myself that I am doing my best to teach the boys right from wrong, to treat others with respect, and to make good choices.  And as hard as it is to let my boys go and let them learn from their choices, it’s equally difficult to remember that while they came from me and reflect different facets of my personality (and some of those facets might not be among my finest), my boys do not define who I am.

You know, except when they do awesome stuff like behave impeccably in public (how I cherish those oh so rare occasions), use good manners around adults, and win Nobel Prizes.  Then,  they can define me.  But pretty much only then.

but I *am* being have